Food prices rise in N.S. as loonie continues plunge

By Danielle Cameron

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it can also make you go broke.

The value of the loonie has hovered around 70 cents US – the lowest the Canadian dollar has fallen since 2003 – and that’s having a big impact on grocery bills.

The value of the loonie has hovered around 70 cents US – the lowest the Canadian dollar has fallen since 2003 – and that’s having a big impact on grocery bills.

One reason why the low dollar affects the price of food is that Canada imports almost all of it its fresh produce. According to a report by the Food Institute at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, the cost of fruit and vegetables rose last year by approximately 10 per cent.

The same report says costs will continue to rise above inflation this year – that could be up to 4.5 per cent, depending on the product and season.

According to Statistics Canada, over the course of four years, one kilogram of apples jumped from $3.35 in 2011 to $4.12 in 2015.

However, some Canadians will have a harder time getting by. Those on fixed incomes or food assistance programs will feel the sting the most. Diana Bronson, director of Food Secure Canada spoke to The Canadian Press, saying people in remote communities will also find it hard to keep their heads above water.

The Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank and Skills Development Centre, in Halifax’s North End, has operated for 32 years. It too is struggling to keep up with supply and demand.

“Donations are down for whatever reason,” says Stephanie MacWhirter, the centre’s director of development, “so we’ve had to go out and buy groceries, so the food bank shelves are full when people come Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

Stephanie MacWhirter is a director of development at Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank

Stephanie MacWhirter is a director of development at Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank

Relying solely upon donations, raising enough funds is getting tougher. In 2014, 33,256 Haligonians made use of this food bank, and more 4,000 items of furniture were given out.

Every year, the centre also does up between 1,000 and 1,200 Christmas hampers for families in need.

I can tell you personally when I buy food at a regular grocery store, I am absolutely astounded at how the prices have risen,” she says.

Comparing her time in Ontario, MacWhirter says Nova Scotia is one of the most expensive provinces for food, for electricity, and for property taxes. Canada Visa and The Canadian Encyclopedia speak to the economic and industry troubles and high unemployment and underemployment rates of the province, which complicate matters of affordability.

MacWhirter says some of the people Parker Street helps are single mothers fleeing abusive situations, social assistance recipients caught in the cycle of financial dependence, low and fixed-income individuals, and young people strapped for cash.

“We also have an emergency fund, which has sadly been depleted quite substantially,” she says. The fund is in place for situations where someone is about to be evicted and may need cash.

The waning fund is reserved for smaller bills like oil and power, or bus tickets to a job interview. MacWhirter said the rising cost of food could leave less and less money for these other programs.

The lower and middle classes are simply struggling to keep up. “They’re borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” she says. In Canada there is no concrete poverty line, like in the United States.

The Nova Scotia government explains there is a data measurement tool called Low-Income Cut-Off and it is used to measure families’ dire financial status in comparison to the average family around the same size.

In 2013, the province estimated that 64,000 Nova Scotians were on what is called an “after-tax low-income cut-off.” It also reported that 13,000 children belong to households on low-incomes.

In 2015 and 2016, the government intends to provide basic needs for more than 44,000 Nova Scotians who benefit from the Income Assist program, and child benefits for approximately 38,000 children of low-income families.

Around 4.7 per cent of the Nova Scotia population is on some form of government income assistance, according to the government’s 2014-2015 Community Service Statement Mandate.

There are Nova Scotians advocating that people start to buy locally more often, make smarter economic choices, and cut down on waste.

“I don’t know how people can possibly save – by what? Buying a can of beans? You end up buying bad food because it’s cheaper,” MacWhirter says. She says everything from food, to power, keeps going up and up, except for the wages of those on fixed incomes.

“I say to my husband that I do not know how people that are on the poverty line can possibly afford to eat. I really don’t know,” she says.

MacWhirter sees teaching people to grow their own food in community gardens as a step in the right direction.