No free lunch

The Feds just announced a new lunch program for students. Over the course of five years, $1 billion has been pledged to feed kids under a national school food program.

Anecdotally, the need is there. Teachers, students and those who are indirectly involved but acutely aware tell stories of kids showing up without a lunch, or a substandard offering to make it through a day of learning. 

Breakfast programs have been instituted in some schools to provide for kids whose parents are on the run too early for a sit-down start to the day or, in the more desperate of family circumstances, where breakfast is simply unaffordable.

Before arguments ensue about choices – whether that be the initial choice to bring children into this world or financial priorities made within a family unit – the fact is that no one should go malnourished in a country as rich as Canada.

It is also well known that convenience factors heavily in meal choices. Pre-packaged goods are easy to rifle into a lunch box and we suppose hectic lifestyles drive that selection. That activity has gone on long enough that for some it may be normal, but looking back, we can recall a time where there was merit in “using up” leftovers. Waste was anathema at one time. Food waste is closing in on 50% for many Canadian households, which is an alarming number.

Encouraging nutrition and wise choices is clearly a public good. The question on many minds, however, is if the federal government is best suited to deliver this plan.

Elsewhere in the news this week, revelations emerged that between the province of Ontario and the federal government, the two levels face interest costs of $27 billion dollars this year. Let’s not confuse that number with overall debt still owed. Most upper-level governments are pitching deficit budgets for this fiscal year. In practical terms, more is going out than coming in. 

Promises linked to child care, pharmacare, housing (finally) and dental care are adding to the debt. While the new math might suggest these investments will prove themselves in time, governments need to ultimately pay their bills. 

That certainly isn’t happening with daily interest obligations of almost $74 million, with more money being borrowed each year. A shake-up is needed in the way Canadians, more specifically politicians and accompanying bureaucrats, view debt. 

A free lunch has never been without a cost.