INAC minister Bennett starts Nutrition North consultations
Liberal government promises meetings with northern stakeholders
Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, kicked off her promised Nutrition North Canada consultations Jan. 9 with a meeting in the Northwest Territories community of Norman Wells.
“This first meeting marks the important work I’ve been mandated to undertake, along with the minister of health, to expand and improve the NNC program,” Bennett said in a statement.
Bennett launched a tour of Canadian cities this past Jan. 6 to meet with families of missing and murdered indigenous women in consultations for a highly-anticipated inquiry into that issue that’s expected to start later this year. She plans a visit to Iqaluit Jan. 29.
But she took time out from that tour to also hold a Nutrition North consultation session in Norman Wells.
That work is in line with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Bennett late last year which instructs her to “work with the Minister of Health to update and expand the Nutrition North program, in consultation with Northern communities.”
It also reflects a Liberal election promise to increase Nutrition North’s annual budget by $40 million over four years and to bring northerners into the process of revamping the program.
“We’ll work with northern communities to make sure the program is more transparent, more effective and more affordable to you,” Trudeau said this past Oct. 10 at an election campaign event in Iqaluit.
Sahtu Dene and Métis leaders, along with Inuvialuit representatives, attended the Jan. 9 Nutrition North meeting, as well as registered NNC retailers and Michael McLeod, the recently elected Liberal MP for the NWT, Bennett said.
And that represents the start of “preliminary discussions on how to work together and ensure that isolated northern families have access to affordable healthy food,” Bennett said.
Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, the parliamentary secretary for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, also sat in on the Norman Wells session.
The INAC department plans to do more Nutrition North consultation meetings similar to the session in Norman Wells, an INAC spokesperson said Jan. 11.
But they’re not yet ready to provide more dates and locations.
“Specific dates and format for public engagement meetings over the coming months are still to be confirmed. Information will be shared on INAC’s website, via social media and public service announcements as soon as it becomes available,” the spokesperson said.
During a visit to Nunavut in June 2012, when she visited Igloolik and Iqaluit as the opposition critic for aboriginal affairs, Bennett said Nutrition North is a “total failure.”
“Generally what I’ve heard so far is that Nutrition North should just be abolished and that people should go back to look at the food mail program and how that could be made better,” Bennett said in 2012.
Nutrition North Canada, which came into full effect April 1, 2011, provides air transportation subsidies for retailers serving more than 100 communities in Nunavut, Nunavik, Labrador, the NWT and the northern regions of provinces like Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
In a report released in November 2014, the Auditor General of Canada found that the NNC program does not verify if the full value of the subsidy is passed on to northern consumers.