The most frustrating provincial regulation, as far as many northerners are concerned, involves medical emergencies. OHIP will cover the cost of an ambulance to take people to the nearest hospital (which can be hundreds of kilometres away). But they have to find their own way home. That might make sense in downtown Toronto, but in northern Ontario it leaves patients stranded. If they don’t have a relative or friend who can pick them up, the only way home is a taxi. The cab fare from the hospital in Dryden to the centre of Ignace is $210.

These three tales epitomized the gulf in understanding that exists between policy-makers at Queen’s Park and folks in northwestern Ontario for anti-poverty activist Mike Balkwill , a Torontonian who just completed a fact-finding tour of this harsh but beautiful part of the province.

These are tough times in Ontario. Once an economic giant, Ontario now has one of the largest debt-loads of any sub-national government in the world. And on a day-to-day basis for many, Ontario is a province in crisis: 40% of those who suffer food insecurity in Canada live in Ontario; a job in Ontario no longer protects against poverty where 10% of those using food banks are gainfully employed; immigrants, newcomers and other vulnerable groups are over-represented in precarious employment, often working multiple part-time jobs and still not earning enough to make ends meet; social assistance recipients are living at least 40% below any accepted poverty line, and thousands of people, including many youth, are homeless, living in shelters, on the streets or doubled up with friends, and family.

Have food banks reached their best before date?

A panel of experts at Thursday’s York Region Food Network annual general meeting is leaning to the affirmative.

“We hear from people living on low income that food banks play a role in helping them stretch their small budgets,” network executive director Joan Stonehocker said. “However, after three decades, food insecurity continues to be a problem.”

Food banks are not the answer and are likely diverting valuable public support away from real solutions to this complex problem, she said.

Most Canadian provinces are not providing people on social assistance enough money to buy food for a healthy diet, and that will be costly in the long-term, say poverty experts.

Governments will end up paying the price for the health and social problems created by not providing people on social assistance with the money they need for a healthy diet, says professor Valerie Tarasuk. (CBC)

“I think it’s nuts,” says University of Toronto nutritional sciences professor Valerie Tarasuk.

Particularly for the young, said Tarasuk, a poor diet will lead to problems governments will end up paying for.

“To have somebody who grows up and develops chronic conditions like asthma or depression, things that will need treatment for the rest of those kids lives, to have them not perform well in school and therefore not be able to move effectively into the job market,” she said.