A Liberal MLA wants to know why, as people struggle with high food prices, the government didn't use the entire budget of a seniors food pilot program.
The program, which launched in spring of this year, delivers re-heatable meals to seniors experiencing food insecurity for a cost of about $4 a meal. At first, it was only being offered in Georgetown and Cardigan, but was later expanded to Murray River and Murray Harbour.
Barb Ramsay, P.E.I.'s minister of social development and seniors, said despite numerous attempts to promote it, the program didn't see much uptake. During question period Thursday, the minister said that as a result of that, the government didn't spend the entire $250,000 allocated to offer the program.
That's something Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly took issue with.
"They saw the need for food security there. The minister just stands up and says we did not spend an allocated $250,000 on food for seniors when you can go door to door and they're hungry. I don't understand this," he said.
McNeilly said the government should have done more to find ways to put those funds to use.
'What are you doing to make sure food insecurity comes to zero under your watch?' says Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)
"We are in desperate need for something around food and this government doesn't care about Islanders...What are you doing to make sure food insecurity comes to zero under your watch?"
The government said only 16 participants signed up for the pilot. They were served about 1,200 meals.
Ramsay said that amount was allocated to pilot program and funds that weren't spent can be used in other ways.
"It's hard to spend $250,000 on 16 residents in a community," Ramsay said.
"Obviously there's money left to do other things, but we want to explore why the uptake wasn't great on that."
MLA asks why program wasn't launched province-wide
Speaking with reporters outside the legislative chamber on Thursday, Ramsay said the province is reviewing the pilot to better understand why there wasn't more interest in it.
While she didn't specify how the remaining money will be spent, Ramsay did say it will go toward food programs for seniors.
McNeilly also asked why the program wasn't launched in more Island communities, which he feels could have made it more successful.
Ramsay said the program was piloted in those eastern P.E.I. communities because they have limited access to Meals on Wheels, which also provides meal deliveries to seniors at about $4 per meal.
"We wanted to give those seniors an opportunity with this pilot program to see where it went from there. They don't have the opportunity that everybody else does," she said.
"I would love to see it go across Prince Edward Island. That would be my goal, but we have to find out why the uptake was so low."
Minister of social development and seniors says the province will continue to provide meals to the 16 people who participated in the pilot program. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)
The minister said her department partnered with Meals on Wheels to provide the pilot program in Kings County, and the organization's volunteers helped deliver the meals.
She said the province will continue to work with the organization while they try to make a plan for the program's future, and that it's still providing those meals to the 16 people who signed up.
'We wouldn't be duplicating that service'
Meals on Wheels has 11 chapters across P.E.I. and delivers meals to people Island-wide. Last year, the organization delivered more than 59,000 meals to over 1,000 households.
In a statement sent to CBC News, the provincial co-ordinator for the program said they've been "working to support a small organizing committee who have been meeting over the past few months to consider the best path forward" for Meals on Wheels in the Georgetown and Cardigan areas.
The statement goes on to say the organization has reached the final stages of establishing a chapter there.
It also recently set up a new chapter in Cornwall.
When asked whether she feels the expansion of the province's program would duplicate services already offered by Meals on Wheels, Ramsay said the province's goal is to provide its program in areas that aren't being served by the organization.
"We wouldn't be duplicating that service," she said. "We would hope to go, I assume, where Meals on Wheels doesn't already have the service there."