They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, which appears to be the case with Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes.
Barnes is following in her late father’s footsteps by attempting to survive on welfare rates for one week. In 1986, then-NDP MLA for Vancouver Centre Emery Barnes took on the challenge of attempting to live on $350 a month. Constance Barnes will live for one week eating only the food she’s able to purchase for $26, the amount typically left over for food once a welfare recipient pays for shelter.
The Welfare Food Challenge was organized by Raise the Rates, which is inviting participants from across the province to spend $26 on food for one week and then share their stories. Raise the Rates is a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in B.C.
As for her shopping list, Barnes says despite getting lots of advice she hasn’t decided on a strategy yet. She does know she’ll be shopping for at least some of her groceries at Sunrise Market on Powell Street, where gently bruised fruits and veggies can be had for $1 a bag. In an attempt to avoid filling up on cheap, but far from healthy instant noodles and macaroni and cheese, Barnes is considering making a giant pot of chili, which she hopes will see her though—alongside a jar of peanut butter.
To ensure a level playing field participants are not allowed to utilize food banks, gardens or accept free meals. “I honestly don’t know what breakfast will look like,” said Barnes. “I ride my bike everywhere, so I’m concerned about my energy.”
Barnes is no stranger to welfare. About 20 years ago, she left an abusive relationship with two young children and survived on welfare. She notes in B.C. welfare rates haven’t increased much since that time. “We need to raise awareness about this,” said Barnes. “And we need to consider what we can do as the park board to help.”
The Welfare Food Challenge begins Oct. 16, to coincide with World Food Day and World Poverty Day Oct. 17.
The park board is shrinking its carbon footprint by reducing its use of paper for reports and agendas and by holding remote staff briefings.
Beginning this month, staff reports and agendas are no longer being printed for use by commissioners. Instead, each commissioner was recently issued an iPad to which reports and agendas are sent electronically. Some agendas will still be printed for public use at park board meetings.
Vision Vancouver commissioner Niki Sharma says the commissioners will forgo meeting in person for staff briefings, which are typically held 18 times per year. Instead, commissioners and staff will meet remotely via their iPads. Sharma notes the park board is the first department in the city to implement such a program. “We’ve already tried it and it works great,” said Sharma. “And it allows a lot of flexibility.”
It’s estimated the new system will save the board about $11,000 annually by eliminating the need for staff overtime, courier costs, reduction in paper use and catering. She adds the intangible benefits include eliminating travel time, which also helps reduce the board’s carbon footprint. These paperless meetings allow staff and commissioners with children to remain at home, eliminating childcare costs.
“This really fits with our mandate to be leaders in greening the city,” said Sharma.