Food in the 2018 Municipal Election
Food in the 2018 Municipal Election

Food in the 2018 Municipal Election

3 min read
Written by Rachael Chong

Municipal Election Day is coming up on October 22, 2018! In Waterloo Region, we will be voting for regional councillors, regional chair, school board trustees, municipal councillors, and mayors of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Woolwich, Wellesley, North Dumfries and Wilmot.

Politics at the regional and municipal scale seem to me to be more accessible than at the provincial or federal level, with more possibility to influence decisions and the outcomes are felt more immediately in daily life. Importantly, elections can present opportunities to bring issues facing our citizens into public discourse.

Consider the last municipal elections in 2014. Leading up to voting day, Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable ran a campaign called Food Spaces, Vibrant Places. They advocated for supportive zoning by-laws for food spaces such as community markets and temporary farm markets. It was a successful campaign — many citizens showed their support by signing a petition, and many candidates declared their agreement to the terms. I’m not sure how these pre-election intentions were acted upon and discussed in the years that followed by the elected officials, but today in 2018, we do see positive change. Temporary farm markets, in particular, have been recognized as a tool for building community identity, creating access to healthy food, creating a space where neighbours naturally bump into each other and make connections. As part of the Love My Hood community engagement process undertaken by the City of Kitchener, many residents expressed their interest in temporary markets. Echoing this Food Spaces, Vibrant Spaces campaign report, residents also expressed that it was hard to start up such markets. In response, the city of Kitchener has offered a “pop-up” farmers market kit to community groups this year, and published a glossy website that makes it easy to find out which forms to fill out to obtain the required licenses.

In 2018, for those of us interested in the food system, what are the issues in election discussions that pertain to food?

Food insecurity. Food insecurity is a complex issue that needs more people caring and discussing how to deal with it. The candidates this year do not seem to be talking a lot about food insecurity specifically, but they are concerned about topics of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, and income disparity which all are deeply connected to food insecurity. But food organizations are trying to gain support for their particular role in food security work through reaching out during election time. The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank invited candidates to learn about the work it does, and to help sort food at its distribution center. Sustain Ontario, a province-wide farming & food alliance, suggests that equitable access to food will require action at the municipal level to support those on limited incomes, which includes providing affordable housing and transportation. They also suggest that healthy food in schools (through food procurement policies, school gardens, food literacy curriculum, etc.) could be an issue that school board trustee candidates should get behind.

Protecting farmland & sustainable farming. Through a festival and other advocacy efforts, Hold the Line generated awareness of the Countryside Line that is the boundary for city expansion into rural places maintained in the Region of Waterloo’s current Official Plan. Organizers contacted all the candidates to find out their positions on the countryside line, agricultural land, and new development in the region. Their diverse responses show there is a challenge in how to balance development, conservation and farmland interests.

In addition to issues pertaining to equitable healthy food access, Sustain Ontario also lists some sustainable farming issues that could be promoted during election time. Protecting farmland and providing programs that aid new farmers in land procurement are a couple of the actions it suggests municipalities can do. This is a great resource to help voters form questions for their candidates around food.