December 2023 / January 2024


Snow is on the ground now and it is officially winter. With the holiday season approaching, this December / January edition will be the last newsletter of 2023 and the PEN looks forward to connecting with you again in February.

Image Credit: C. Bonasia

Last month, the Ottawa Food Bank released its 2023 Hunger Report, in which it reported an “astonishing surge in visits” totalling over 43,900, or 22% higher than last year. According to the Food Bank, 150,000 people in the city are food insecure, and the rate of food insecurity has more than doubled since 2017, from 1 in 15 people to 1 in 7.

The report attributes this rise to a whole suite of issues that make it increasingly difficult for households to balance budgets, including “government social assistance rates that put people below the poverty line, increasingly unaffordable housing, limited transportation options, high food prices, and incomes that are not keeping up.”

Across Canada, 63% of all food insecure households are on social assistance and more than 30% of these households are severely food insecure, meaning that they experience “extreme deprivation and high risk of poor health outcomes.” In Ontario specifically, 59% of people on social assistance have disabilities, and many of them live in poverty. Food security statistics reveal that systemic racism contributes to food insecurity too, as 31% of Indigenous people in the country are food insecure.

A recent report from the University of Toronto also shows that food security is getting worse in Ontario, and across Canada as a whole. In addition, Canada’s recently released 2024 Food Price Report projects that food prices will continue to rise, and the average family of four is expected to pay $700 more next year for groceries.

“These unprecedented numbers should be a stark wake-up call.”

Even while demand for their services has gone up, the Food Bank has seen reduced funding in the last year as the same forces that make it hard for people to buy groceries also tightens finances for donors. (Less than 2% of the organization’s funding is from the government.) As the report acknowledges, tackling hunger in Ottawa will require a comprehensive effort that strikes at the root of the problem—but what would this look like?

The end of the Food Bank’s report includes a list of possible actions for ending food security, broken down into individual, city-wide, province-wide, and national suggestions. In addition to individually working with elected officials and donating either time or money to support food bank services, the report states that, as a city, we should proceed with developing a planned Municipal Poverty Reduction Plan. In tandem, it also recommends taking action to stem the housing crisis, as well as fund mental health and addiction services.

“While we work to alleviate hunger, people who visit network food programs often return to unstable housing, face impossible choices between food and medication, or skip meals so children can eat. Subjecting people to these situations in the absence of a sufficient social safety net is immoral and unsustainable. We need action now—to come together to mend the holes in the social safety net and keep people from falling through.”

Stories from the PEN!

And now on to the Stories from the PEN, where you can read articles by individuals and organizations stepping up to engage in issues affecting our local communities.

  • Ottawa ACORN writes about Eco-Tenant Organizing in Ottawa, noting that because “tenants have very little control over measures that will make their homes more climate resilient or energy efficient…climate justice is housing justice for renters.”

  • An overview of the Faithfully Green Fund lays out the steps that faith-building organizations can take to cut their carbon footprint with energy retrofit projects.

  • In an Introduction to this year's BIPOC Fellows, former Sustainable Capacity Foundation intern profiles three BIPOC executive directors of environmental organizations—Nelly Leo of Embark Sustainability, Jacqueline Lee-Tam of Climate Justice Organising HUB, and Jasveen Brar of Youth Climate Lab—whose organizations received funding through SCF’s BIPOC Fellowship program.

  • And Jesna Grewal discusses how the Eco-Internships program helps support the international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by training Canadian youth for jobs in the environmental sector.

Image Credit: Hayley Copan

From the PEN Archives

By: Hayley Copan

In the December 1996 edition of the Peace and Environment News, a contribution by Richard Sanders focused on “Community Education in Peace Activism”. Sanders emphasized that a fundamental activity for peace activists must be the involvement of the community, stressing the importance of widespread action to make a difference on a global scale. Canada’s complicity in crimes against peace and humanity created a dilemma for peace educators, walking a tightrope between trying to avoid making people recoil in disbelief and not sugar-coating the truth. Thus, the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade organized a symposium – “Aiding and Abetting Repression: Canada’s Military Exports and the Need for Conversation” – to bring together people from peace, development, human rights, labour, religious, refugee, and youth organizations. This addressed the acute need to build awareness among communities in Canada, making many question the cozy notion that the government promotes only peace on the global stage.

Read the full article, as well as more from the December 1996 issue, in our archives.

Recently at PERC

This month, some members of the Peace and Environment Resource Centre sat down to mail out letters to our supporters—past and present—with an update about the PEN. You can read the letter here.

Image Credit: Charlie Scromeda, PERC Board Chair

Other News

  • In November the City released its Draft Solid Waste Master Plan. Read what EnviroCentre has to say about it here.

  • As Ottawa moves ahead to implement a tax on Vacant Units, 1,525 properties have been audited through the bylaw and the City says there were 3,743 vacant homes in 2022.

  • City councillors from rural wards rejected an extra step that landowners would need to take to clear land for farming, which was proposed as a measure to prevent land clearing like the spring clearcutting in the Tewin suburb.

  • City councillors have also rejected three out of four companies’ plans to build batteries for storing renewable energy, citing a lack of community consultation.

  • Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is calling for major retailers to sign a grocery code of conduct as part of an effort to reign in rising food prices. MacAulay did not rule out the possibility of using provincial or federal action to make that happen if every retailer does not get on board.

    • Michael Graydon, CEO of the Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada association and chairman of the interim board of directors of the grocery code of conduct, said that changes to the code requested by Loblaw’s "would fundamentally neuter the code's ability" to improve how business is done in the grocery industry.

See you next year!

Image Credit: Hayley Copan

—Christopher Bonasia, PEN editor

PERC appreciates all of our readers for giving us this chance to connect with members of our community, and we love being able to provide you with a forum to discuss pressing environmental and social justice issues.

But we also rely on your support to make this happen. If you are interested in helping our organization continue to use storytelling and networking to help individuals, non-profits, and community groups work locally for a greener and more peaceful world, please consider making a donation to the Peace and Environment Resource Centre. You can find out more on our website, or by using this link.

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