A new federal government, with commitments to a national food policy and to a Canadian poverty-reduction plan, presents the opportunity for a new conversation about government accountability and public policy.

Key to this strategy is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment, made following the cabinet swearing-in ceremony, to evidence-based policy-making. This is essential for thinking and acting outside the charitable food-aid box and for moving beyond the public perception that charity is an effective response to domestic hunger when evidence-based research tells otherwise.

Professor Valerie Tarasuk, Canada’s leading food insecurity expert, unequivocally states that “although there has been rigorous measurement of household food insecurity in Canada since 2005, the problem has not abated, it has grown.”

The challenge of food insecurity is one of the great issues of our time.

Canadian research indicates that 12 per cent of Canadians are food insecure, forced into hunger, poor-quality food or both. That’s four million Canadians and one of every six children.

In addition to the human tragedy of this, there are enormous societal costs. A study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that food insecurity increased the cost of health-care services by 23 per cent among those only marginally food insecure, and by 121 per cent among the most food insecure in Canada.

Utrecht takes step toward paying people a salary whether they work or not

It’s an idea whose adherents over the centuries have ranged from socialists to libertarians to far-right mavericks. It was first proposed by Thomas Paine in his 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, as a system in which at the “age of majority” everyone would receive an equal capital grant, a “basic income” handed over by the state to each and all, no questions asked, to do with what they wanted.

To those who say it is an unaffordable pipedream, [Utrecht Councillor Lisa] Westerveld points out the huge costs that come with the increasingly tough benefits regimes being set up by western states, including policies that make people do community service to justify their handouts. “In Nijmegen we get £88m to give to people on welfare,” Westerveld said, “but it costs £15m a year for the civil servants running the bureaucracy of the current system. We will save money with a ‘basic income’.”

Last month, the Ontario Association of Food Banks released its 2015 Hunger Report, a year-over-year monthly use survey that summarizes the Association’s annual hunger count. The survey included 125 member food banks, including Kawartha Food Share in Peterborough.

One of the most notable results of the survey had to do with older people. This year, there was a 35 percent increase in the number of people over the age of 65 using food banks. By any measure, that is a significant and highly disturbing trend. As the number and percentage of older people continues to grow, dramatic increases like this can only mean a substantial decline in the quality of life of more of our elders.

Here are five things Canadians need to know about food insecurity:

1. Food insecurity significantly affects health

2. Household food insecurity is a strong predictor of healthcare utilization and costs

3. Food bank use is a poor indicator of food insecurity

4. An adequate and secure level of household income is strongly linked to food security

5. Relatively modest increases in income have been found to lessen food insecurity among low-income families

No disrespect to food banks, but while the army of volunteers and staff who support these institutions need to be commended for their big hearts and hard work, we need to recognise that charity alone will never solve the hunger crisis.

If we are promoting charity we must promote social justice. Yes, ask for donations, but use these “asks” as an opportunity to increase awareness of the root causes of hunger.

People go to the food bank because they don’t have enough money for food. Eliminate poverty and we can dispense with food drives and food banks. Everyone is happier, especially those who have no option but to turn to food banks for a meal.

As I was driving my son to school Monday morning, he looked over as we listened to CBC radio and asked, ”Why do we keep doing the turkey drive Dad, if what they say is true, and the need increases every year, why do we keep doing the same things year in year out?” he asks. You are right, I answered, we are not doing enough and our efforts are misdirected.

What does not surprise me is the generosity of all Islanders, who dig deep into their pockets and extend a hand to those in need. Year in, year out, families, schools, business and individuals do what they can to help others. Imagine if our collective energy on PEI was to eradicate poverty, Imagine!!

We need a living wage, we need a basic income guarantee, we need to support our farmers, our fishers, innovation in food, and those organisations like PEI Food Exchange and discover real solutions now. Afterall it is 2015, and I did hear someone say they were doing business differently?