Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food listens to a reporters question during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, May 16, 2012 after his tour of Canada
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
The Conservative government is taking a bite out of the UN right-to-food envoy's critical report on Canada.
In his 21-page report, Olivier De Schutter said if some people in Canada don't have enough food to feed their families, it's in part because the Tories scrapped the mandatory long-form census and abolished the Canadian Wheat Board.
He also took aim at federal budget cuts and Canada's free trade negotiations with the European Union, warning they could endanger the poultry, dairy and egg supply management scheme and so-called "buy local" initiatives and transfer payments to the provinces, which he said need to increase and come with more federal strings attached.
In the final report tabled Monday with the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council - a 47-member body that includes Kazakhstan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the UN special rapporteur called on the feds to establish a national food strategy, noting that in the 2011 federal election all major parties included one in their platforms.
He raises warnings a growing number of people are food-insecure in Canada, quoting estimates that vary between 1.92 million and 4.3 million people.
Conservative cabinet ministers Leona Aglukkaq and Jason Kenney hit hard at De Schutter during his 11-day Canadian fact-finding tour last year, with Kenney calling it "a discredit to the United Nations" for spending his time in a wealthy country like Canada.
Aglukkaq was no more impressed by Monday's report.
She pointed to his failure to visit Canada's North before weighing in on food security there and seemed deaf to related issues like the importance of the seal hunt to the northern diet.
"It's a reflection this person doesn't want to hear the other side, so as far as I'm concerned it's a one-sided report and has no credibility," she said.
Canada's UN ambassador in Geneva, Elissa Goldberg, voiced the government's sharp criticism there Monday, saying De Schutter exceeded his mandate by commenting on agriculture, foreign aid and trade policies.
Opposition parties are accusing the Conservatives of attacking the messenger.
Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc said this report highlights another example of the Conservative government's "abysmal record of embarrassing Canada internationally" and accuses them of failing to tackle poverty.
Last summer, De Schutter visited Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton and met with federal, provincial and municipal officials, Aboriginal representatives, farmers, academics and other members of civil-society groups.
--with files from Brigitte Pellerin