Household food insecurity (HFI), insufficient income to obtain adequate food, is a growing problem in Canada and other Organisation of economic cooperation and development (OECD) countries. Government political orientations impact health policies and outcomes. We critically examined Canadian political rhetoric around HFI from 1995 to 2012 as a means to support effective healthy public policy argumentation. We analysed a data set comprised of Hansard extracts on HFI from the legislative debates of the Canadian federal and three provincial governments, using thematic coding guided by interpretivist theories of policy. Extracts were examined for content, jurisdiction, the political affiliation of the legislator speaking and governing status. Members of non-governing, or ‘opposition’ parties, dominated the rhetoric. A central hunger-as-poverty theme was used by legislators across the political spectrum, both in government and in opposition. Legislators differed in terms of policy approach around how income should flow to citizens facing HFI: income intervention on the left, pragmatism in the centre, reliance on markets on the right. This analysis is a case-example from Canada and caution must be exercised in terms of the generalizability of findings across jurisdictions. Despite this limitation, our findings can help healthy public policy advocates in designing and communicating HFI policy interventions in OECD countries with a similar left–right spectrum. First, even with a divisive health policy issue such as actions to address HFI, core themes around poverty are widely understood. Secondly, the non-polarizing centrist, pragmatist, approach may be strategically valuable. Thirdly, it is important to treat the rhetoric of opposition members differently from that of government members.