Created on 2/23/2023 12:02:11 PM
Written by Michael Graydon, CEO of Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada
Published on October 12, 2022
Every day we see news stories describing the impact of soaring food prices or severe shortages of health care workers. Arguably no Canadian is unaffected by these legacy impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic geopolitical strife and inflation rates unseen in decades. Sadly, those with lower income or poor health or who live in remote areas are the hardest hit — they have fewer healthcare resources and lack affordable healthy food options. For many, it seems like an enormous and growing problem with no clear solution.
But there are two simple, inexpensive measures that our federal government could adopt that would help solve these problems, which would reduce grocery bills and facilitate access to health care: facilitate access to foreign workers and adopt a national Self-Care Strategy.
Working our way out of food inflation will lead to better health outcomes
Like other sectors, food manufacturing is being hit hard by labour shortages. In food manufacturing, there are over 45,000 job vacancies. Labour shortages in the trucking industry that food manufacturers rely on to transport more than 70 per cent of their products across the border also hit hard, contributing to shortages of raw ingredients and packaging materials. These shortages directly contribute to the rising cost of food. Surveys of members of Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada (FHCP) taken in the past year show that labour costs for food manufacturing rose by 16 per cent; and according to Food Processing Skills Canada, the employer cost of vacancies in the food and beverage manufacturing industry could total up to $3.1B annually if not addressed.
This is a problem we can solve by facilitating foreign workers in coming to Canada. The federal government should continue to realize its commitment to introducing a trusted employer stream for the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), expand pathways to permanent residence and increase economic immigration. FHCP welcomes the federal government’s decision to temporarily increase the TFWP cap to 30 per cent for sectors including food manufacturing and asks that this be made permanent. Another important way that the federal government can help reduce labour shortage-related food inflation is to expand the Foreign Credential Recognition Program for the agri-food sector and recognize the skills and credentials we may already have here.
Finally, we can’t forget the need to support newcomers to Canada. The government must continue to invest in affordable housing, language supports, public transit, childcare and broadband service, particularly in small to mid-size communities. These investments enable them to live close to their jobs and participate fully in the community and the economy, thereby helping to minimize food inflation.
A solution to healthcare shortages at our fingertips
What if I told you we could quickly make family doctors available to half a million more Canadians at no additional cost? You might think that is wishful thinking, but that is just one of the tangible benefits we would enjoy if Canada embraced a national Self-Care Strategy. Such a strategy would ensure that Canadians have access to the knowledge and products they need to self-treat conditions that currently drive them to the doctor’s office. For example, if just two per cent of Canadians with colds, headaches, or heartburn who seek professional care shifted to self-care, this would eliminate over three million unnecessary doctor visits annually and free up sufficient physician resources to allow an additional 500,000 Canadians to access a family doctor. These are some of self-care’s tangible benefits.
The federal government must commit to a national Self-care Strategy which ensures that Canadians have the health literacy to know when and how they can care for minor ailments and chronic conditions themselves and the access to the products and services that will help them to do so. In Quebec, the government’s Healthcare Plan recognizes self-care's critical role. The federal government should study the opportunities and benefits of a Self-care Strategy and move to provide a no-cost solution to what really ails Canadians: lack of access and knowledge about healthy lifestyle choices and a range of self-care products when needed.
Given the clear link between food insecurity and poorer mental and physical health outcomes, it is imperative that we address food inflation and healthcare shortages in tandem and avoid major consequences for people’s health and wellbeing and for the health care system.
Lower food inflation and greater access to health services and products are literally at the tips of our fingers – all they require is action by the federal government to implement a grocery Code of Conduct and to study a national Self-Care Strategy. That’s why FHCP’s pre-budget submission for 2023 focuses on these opportunities. It’s time that the government acts – for the benefit of all Canadians.