• Liberal Caucus

Free School Lunch Program for All Island Children

As we move forward together as an Island, I believe our most important challenge is making sure the benefits of a growing economy are fairly distributed – and in a way that contributes to our future success.

For that reason, the members of the Liberal Third Party are unanimous in their support of a free school lunch program for Island children.

From an educational perspective, it is well-known and understood that children learn better when they are eating properly. The simple fact is this: It’s hard to concentrate if you are hungry.

Now, I understand that most parents are very conscientious about this reality. But as a father and grandparent, I would be very reassured to know that children have access to healthy, well-prepared meals on a daily basis.

Another aspect of this matter resides squarely in the area of fairness and equal treatment.

If a child’s family simply cannot afford the $25 per week that has been suggested as a fee for school meals, this holds the risk of what is called “lunch shaming”.

In effect, these fees can draw lines between the haves and the have-nots – and this has the potential to cause long-lasting social difficulties. Put simply, it’s not fair to families – and it is certainly not fair to the children.

Now, there will be people who object. They’ll say “we can’t afford it” – or “when I was a child, I had to do several hours of chores in the morning before I was given a bowl of cornflakes.”

While I have some sympathy for that perspective, the world has changed.

First of all, people are more rushed. Knowing that a school lunch will be provided does help to reduce pressures on family.

Second, the demands of the workplace are changing rapidly. A strong educational background – which begins in the public school system – boosts a child’s ability to do well over the course of their lives. And as I mentioned, the dependable availability of nutritious food helps with achieving scholastic success.

Third, a publicly-provided school lunch program is all about fairness.

In recent years, the Prince Edward Island economy has done very well. But, many Islanders have not benefited from that success. In many ways, governments have been struggling to figure out ways to make sure that we all get to participate in our province’s growth.

This fiscal year, the current government has $156 million more than it expected in tax revenue and transfer payments. That works out to about $1,000 for every single person in our province.

In 2020-21, the federal government has already announced another $46 million will be paid to Islanders.

Taken together, that is $202 million. It’s quite a windfall – quite a dividend.

So, to my mind – and in the opinion of my colleagues in the Liberal Third Party – a free lunch program in our schools is a tremendous step forward in making sure that Islanders can participate in our province’s success.

A lunch program will help to keep children healthy. It will promote better educational outcomes. And a free school lunch program will clearly indicate one of the values Islanders regard with greatest importance: fairness.

Robert Mitchell

MLA District 10

Charlottetown - Winsloe

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