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This article was published 25/5/2017 (1097 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Pallister government is correct when it says that food bank use increased 2.4 per cent immediately after the NDP raised the PST in 2013.
Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Cliff Cullen has been throwing that stat at the NDP all week as he defends raising the minimum wage annually at the rate of inflation.
But poverty activists said Thursday that the increase Cullen cites was not only one of the smallest annual increases in significant food bank use under the NDP, they argue that the PST is not a significant factor for Manitobans needing emergency food help.
And, they pointed out, Cullen missed the chance to take credit for a 2.9-per-cent decrease in food bank use during the NDP's last year in office, after the Opposition Tories pushed then-premier Greg Selinger's government into boosting the rent portion of welfare payments.
The annual national and provincial HungerCount shows that use of food banks rose 53 per cent in Manitoba between 2008 and 2016, Donald Benham, Winnipeg Harvest's manager of hunger and poverty awareness, said Thursday.
The provincial HungerCount is conducted annually and becomes part of the national database, he said.
"We do this by isolating one month — March is an average month. We deal with about 400 emergency food services, in 54 of (the province's) 57 constituencies."
Annual detailed data are available here.
The most recent available data show 61,914 Manitoba adults and children used a food bank at least once during March 2016.
"Sometimes it goes up by two or three per cent, or down two or three per cent," Benham said. "The more important number — there's more than a 50-per-cent increase since 2008.
"More important than the PST is what people get on welfare."
Benham said the 2.9-per-cent drop came after the Progressive Conservatives pushed for the Rent Assist program to cover more than just rent, leaving more of the welfare payment in recipients' pockets to pay for food and other basic necessities.
"The NDP resisted," he said. "The Progressive Conservatives put a great deal of pressure on them."
Lynne Fernandez, a labour issues expert with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the PST increase from seven per cent to eight is irrelevant, as far as food bank use is concerned.
"PST is not charged on many of the items that low-income people spend all their money on," she said. "It’s just weird that the blowback is coming in 2017 over a completely unrelated issue."
CCPA Manitoba director Molly McCracken said that the higher PST was also in effect when food bank use dropped. Of far greater impact on reducing the need for emergency food assistance would be a higher minimum wage and a higher personal basic tax exemption.
"(Cullen) is playing politics with poverty, which is unfortunate," she said.
Benham said that the 400 emergency food services include soup kitchens and school breakfast and lunch programs. The only constituencies without emergency food services are Fort Whyte, Tuxedo and Brandon West, held by Premier Brian Pallister, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson, and Tory MLA Reg Helwer.
Even so, residents in those ridings go to neighbouring constituencies to get food, Benham said, adding the implementation of a basic guaranteed income would reduce the number of people who need help.
Updated on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 2:00 PM CDT: Adds graphic