Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic November 21, 2014 - 5:12 pm

Feeding my subsidy: Ottawa spends more on Nutrition North

AAND adds $11.3 million to 2014-2015 subsidy, in advance of Auditor General’s report

PETER VARGA
Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announces more money for the Nutrition North Canada Program Nov. 21 in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announces more money for the Nutrition North Canada Program Nov. 21 in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

The federal government will put $11.3 million into the Nutrition North Canada program’s 2014-2015 budget and add a five per cent annual escalator in future years, Ottawa announced Nov. 21 in Iqaluit.

Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, made the announcement at a brief news conference in Nunavut’s capital.

Nutrition North Canada provides air freight subsidies to food retailers in 103 communities located in the northern territories and the northern regions of the provinces, including Nunavik.

The subsidy, tailor-made for each community, goes to retailers located in remote communities served only air and by short-season sealift services or winter ice roads.

Launched in 2011, Nutrition North replaced a food mail program that subsidized airlines carrying food freight through contracts with Canada Post.

In the government’s opinion, the current program is a success, Strahl said.

To keep it running, the government will add a five-per-cent “compound escalator” to the program’s budget “future years” to keep pace with the growing demand for perishable food in northern Canada’s fly-in, fly-out communities, Strahl said.

“Nutrition North has shipped a total of 61 million kilograms of nutritious and perishable food to northern communities since 2011,” he said, and “the cost of a food basket for an average family of four has dropped by approximately $110 per month.

“This was despite the fact that the costs of electricity and fuel continue to rise across the North,” he said.

“Not only did our government’s Nutrition North Canada program help reduce the prices of food and keep them down. It has done so while the cost of food everywhere else in the country has increased.”

Food prices across the country increased by about four per cent across Canada during the same period, according to Statistics Canada data, he said.

Until now, the federal government has spent about $55 million a year on the program.

With the new funding, that will rise to about $66.8 million a year, or $133.7 million over 2014 and 2015 combined.

The government’s announcement comes less than a week ahead of another NNC event, from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

The Office of the Auditor General is slated to release the results of its audit on the federal program, Nov. 25.

Strahl said his announcement — made on behalf of Valcourt, and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq — had nothing to do with the Auditor General’s report.

“This is strictly building on the success of the program, and additional supports to it,” he said.

Those additional supports will include strengthening compliance standards, he said.

“The federal government reviews a retailer’s compliance on subsidies to customers,” Strahl said.

“In April 2015 there will be additional [compliance] measures that will come online to increase that transparency and accountability of everyone along the chain,” he said.

As part of the program, the government hears advice from the Nutrition North Advisory Board, “to keep it on a sustainable path,” Strahl said.

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