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Food charter signing by Canmore council to wait for staff report

“I don’t know what this entails. We can sign onto it. I would just like more information to dig into it to see where exactly we are where are we going to dig into, what are we going to effect. … A lot of the things in there are outside of the municipality’s scope and it’s higher levels of government. I want to get more clarity.”
20210226 Banff Food Rescue 0046
A box full of vegetables collected from local grocery stores for the Banff Food Rescue on Friday (Feb. 26). The volunteer-driven organization's goal is to provide food security in the Bow Valley by keeping good food from becoming food waste. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers now prepare bags of food to hand out at evening distributions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Participants are encouraged to donate $5 for a bag of food. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – If the Town of Canmore is going to sign on to the Bow Valley Food Alliance’s food charter – which seems likely in the future – it will have to wait for another day.

Canmore council directed Town staff to return with a report to outline what would be expected if council were to authorize signing the charter, what the municipality would be able to do to enact change and how it could impact the future decision-making ability of council.

At different points in the brief debate, all members of council noted the importance of food affordability in the Bow Valley.

However, where the members split was the impact signing the charter would have and the information they received from the Bow Valley Food Alliance (BVFA) at the Jan. 18 committee of the whole meeting.

“I don’t know what this entails. We can sign onto it,” said Coun. Jeff Hilstad. “I would just like more information to dig into it to see where exactly we are where are we going to dig into, what are we going to effect. … A lot of the things in there are outside of the municipality’s scope and it's higher levels of government. I want to get more clarity.”

The BVFA appeared at council’s Jan. 18 committee of the whole meeting.

Councillors wanted to know the specific ask that would come of the Town if they joined the charter.

The concerns noted that with previous councils agreeing to similar arrangements, they have come into conflict with policies and provincial legislation while also giving certain expectations of what can and cannot be completed.

“From Coun. McCallum’s questioning at the last (committee of the whole) meeting, there wasn’t a lot of answers to what exactly we’re getting ourselves into,” Hilstad said. “There’s a lot of great things in there. It’s a great document, but right now there’s very limited definition on who’s doing any of it and a lot of the answers were ‘we’re going to figure that out’. That’s great, but I don’t feel comfortable signing on without knowing our role going forward.”

Coun. Joanna McCallum, who asked many of the questions at the Jan. 18 meeting attempting to gain clarity, added she preferred additional information before moving forward.

“Before I sign on to the charter, I’d much prefer some more research, review and recommendation.”

Mayor Sean Krausert – who brought forward the motion to sign – was supported in debate by councillors. Wade Graham and Jeff Mah with moving ahead in signing the charter.

“I think it’s important to recognize that affordability and addressing cost of living means us keeping all of those sectors on our radar – granted there are only some things we can do within our jurisdiction. … With food, I think it’s one small step that shows our commitment in this regard. This is aspirational. It’s about values,” he said, noting his belief of the four drivers of the high cost of living in Canmore are housing, transportation, food and childcare.

Mah echoed Krausert’s sentiments saying it was “descriptive opposed to prescriptive” and that “it’s meant to signal, much like when we started signalling climate emergency, it heightens to the community it is on our radar and another lens we’d see our decision making through.”

After being established in 2016, the BVFA mission is to address and advocate food concerns and issues in the valley. Its goals have it support community-based food systems and food security issues that are faced by many residents.

The charter looks to help strengthen local food systems and programs to better address food affordability concerns and accessibility. It also helps with policy guidance for elected officials.

Food movements have grown in popularity and food charters have been adopted by several municipalities in Canada.

The Town of Banff signed the food charter last September and Improvement District No. 9 was the first to do so in April 2020.

Work on the food charter first began in 2018 with a series of workshops and community conversations over the course of 18 months that involved food producers, health practitioners, non-profit organizations, cultural groups and residents.

The charter has eight values that aim to support community-based food systems, accessibility, health and social justice among other priorities.

The two-page letter from the BVFA to council highlighted how the charter aligns with many of the Town’s priorities such as its strategic plan, affordability, sustainability, Truth and Reconciliation and wildlife co-existence.

“We are also grateful for the ways that the charter has provided opportunities to begin building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities as well as between different municipalities across the Bow Valley,” stated the letter that was signed by Avni Soma, the vice president of BVFA, and Lauren Kepkiewicz. “We look forward to continuing to use the charter as a tool to strengthen pre-existing and build new relationships in the future.”

A pair of research reports were released in the summer that examined the strengths and weaknesses of food security in the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn. The two papers also outlined recommendations to potentially help the two municipalities.

The 22-page paper on Canmore listed 10 strengths such as community gardens, cultural food groups and community meals. However, there were also 10 challenges in affordability, social injustice and disparities.

The paper had 11 recommendations for the Town, among them being supporting diverse food systems, developing and advocating for ecologically regenerative food systems and increasing support for community food programs.

One of the issues discussed was the jurisdiction a municipality has in the role of food security, specifically with much being in the realm of the provincial and federal governments.

“It’s going to have to be a discussion with admin no matter. It would be best to see it through the lens of their workload and to see how it fits within our budget,” McCallum said. “I also think there’s larger partners at play who weren’t included in the charter that I asked questions about and that, in my opinion, is a larger part of the picture and puzzle.

“At the end of the day, (administration is) going to be the ones who tell us what we can and cannot do and what is out of our jurisdiction, so we won’t be able to just get on with it until we ask them what we’re able to accomplish.”

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