The Harper government suffered a new international embarassment — despite Canada’s wealth, a new UN report charges the federal government with ignoring prevalent and widespread hunger and malnutrition.

The NDP’s Djaouida Sellah (Saint-Bruno-Saint-Hubert) questioned health minister Leona Aglukkaq in the House over food security for Canada’s poorest people.

“Mr Speaker, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has roundly criticized the Conservatives for their incompetence. We know that the Conservatives ignore the problems of malnutrition and health, but now we have learned that by eliminating the long form census they have made the problem worse.”

“I will not accept the report from a UN rapporteur who studies from afar,” replied

health minister Leona Aglukkaq. “The recommendations would not be affordable for Canadians.”

Later, NDP leader Tom Mulcair told reporters, “What’s most astonishing with the

Conservatives is its consistent behaviour. But today, it’s even more galling than usual. We are talking after all about, about a United Nations Rapporteur.

“Whenever someone tells the Conservative government something they don’t want to hear, they attack the messenger. Very personal attack in the House today. They can’t have it both ways. In the House, the Minister says somebody’s coming from away and telling us what to do and how, how to analyse our problems. But he came here, and while he was here, they were attacking him. Now that he’s filed his report, they’re saying it’s from away.He knew what he was talking about, he did a very good job.”

The Harper government is once again engaged in a war of words with a United Nations agency.

Canada can’t credibly preach human rights on the international stage when too many of its own citizens are going hungry, the UN’s right-to-food envoy, Olivier De Schutter, told The Canadian Press in an interview.

His comments come on the heels of a report De Schutter released Monday in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council that cited several Canadian government policies as impediments to fighting poverty.

They include the cancellation of the long-form census in 2009, the ongoing Canada-EU free trade negotiations and the way Ottawa oversees the money it transfers to the provinces for social services.

“That is worrying because Canada, like any other country, is only credible when it preaches human rights to others if it is irreproachable itself,” De Schutter said.

Everyone on welfare is ravenous. How can you not be, when you are living on $606 a month? Most clients at the Stop Community Food Centre live on less than $6 a day, after paying for rent.

We’d come to The Stop at lunch to eat, but first to listen to Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the right to food, talk about his report on Canada.

De Schutter spent 10 days travelling from Montreal to Edmonton last May, visiting farmers, first nations bands, government and activist offices as well as food banks, including The Stop on Davenport Rd. just west of Caledonia Park Rd., where Norman told him about the cucumber from heaven.

On Monday, he delivered his report to the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva. He was broadcast live into The Stop’s dining hall on a movie screen.

A taste of his message about Canada to the UN …

A United Nations representative says Canada needs a national food strategy.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food toured the country in May and his report was just released.

Olivier De Schutter says he’s “disconcerted by the deep and severe food insecurity” facing Inuit and aboriginal people in Canada.

De Schutter says the minimum wage needs to be increased so people can afford to buy food, and the housing system needs improvement so that poor families do not have to sacrifice food to pay rent.

That struck a chord with Diana Bronson, the executive director of Food Secure Canada — a national organization aimed at eliminating hunger.

“I think what the special rapporteur has done is given voice to a lot of these concerns at really the highest international level,” Bronson said.

The face of poverty in Niagara and the nation grew younger than ever as summer turned to fall.

More than half of the faces flowing through the doors of Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold around back-to-school time were kids, said executive director Betty-Lou Souter. All in all, 53% of their clients were children. The normal ratio is 38%.

And yet, Niagara’s not alone, says a report from the Conference Board of Canada. Among 17 compared nations, Canada ranks a dismal 15th in child poverty and working-age poverty alike.

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s suggestion that Ontario should cut back social assistance for able-bodied recipients who have received income support for a long time is a “horrible idea,” according to Janet Gasparini, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Sudbury.

“I think it’s very clear people on social assistance live with far too little money to allow them to participate in the community,” Gasparini said. “Even if there were jobs for all these people, which of course there aren’t — we’re all sitting in communities with unemployment rates of 7% or higher — it’s very hard to look for a job when you don’t have a safe roof over your head or food in your belly.”