Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic February 17, 2017 - 7:00 am

We’ve got hard decisions to make on Nutrition North, Carolyn Bennett says

Consultation tour wraps up, minister awaits report from officials

This map shows the current list of northern and remote communities eligible for Nutrition North Canada retail food subsidies. On Oct. 1, 2016, the Liberal government added 37 more communities to the list (shown in purple), most of them First Nations communities in the provinces, and added roughly $13 million a year to the program over the next five years to pay for it. Now that a consultation tour has ended, INAC minister Carolyn Bennett says the federal government still has hard decisions to make on how to revamp the program. (HANDOUT IMAGE)
This map shows the current list of northern and remote communities eligible for Nutrition North Canada retail food subsidies. On Oct. 1, 2016, the Liberal government added 37 more communities to the list (shown in purple), most of them First Nations communities in the provinces, and added roughly $13 million a year to the program over the next five years to pay for it. Now that a consultation tour has ended, INAC minister Carolyn Bennett says the federal government still has hard decisions to make on how to revamp the program. (HANDOUT IMAGE)
A food price protestor in Iqaluit in the summer of 2012. INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett said earlier this month that her government has difficult decisions to make before figuring out how to revamp Nutrition North Canada. (FILE PHOTO)
A food price protestor in Iqaluit in the summer of 2012. INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett said earlier this month that her government has difficult decisions to make before figuring out how to revamp Nutrition North Canada. (FILE PHOTO)

Now that her department’s consultation tour of northern communities has ended, Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said in the Senate Feb. 8 that she and her officials still have hard decisions to make before figuring out what to do with the much-criticized Nutrition North Canada program.

That community engagement tour began May 30, 2016 with a session in Old Crow, Yukon and continued through the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern communities in six provinces. The final meeting was held this past Jan. 26 in Fort Albany, Ont.

So for now, Bennett awaits a report from her officials on that tour, she said in response to a question from Sen. Charlie Watt of Nunavik during Senate question period.

“As you know, we’ve been consulting coast to coast to coast about what the changes to Nutrition North need to be. I will have a report shortly from my department, as well as other reports, and we hope that we will have your advice on this as well,” Bennett told Watt.

She also said her department must figure out what direction to take in responding to food insecurity in northern Canada—which she described as a “difficult challenge.”

One issue is how to take into account the northern allowances that government employees and others already receive to compensate for the high cost of living.

Another is whether to create a social policy aimed at those most in need such as chronically undernourished children, many of whom don’t get enough essential micro-nutrients, such as iron and vitamin D.

One study released in 2009 found that most pregnant women in the Baffin region are malnourished.

Another study, also released in 2009, found that about half of Nunavut’s children don’t get enough to eat.

And the Nunavut government’s Qanukkanniq report card recommended that children in school need lunch and snack programs immediately.

“Are things like Nutrition North a fairness program for northerners who also get a northern subsidy, particularly the people from the South living and working up there?” Bennett said.

“Or should it be an actual food security social policy that is about the preschoolers, 70 per cent of whom are food insecure?”

And making that decision means that after listening to northerners, the department must make some hard decisions, she said.

“We’re going to have to decide whether this is a social program or a fairness issue,” Bennett said.

But she also said, “the system was broken,” and that “it is going to have to be a different way of thinking.”

She also said she’s learned the absence of Nutrition North subsidies for essential non-food items that families require, such as laundry detergent or diapers, are part of the current problem.

“Again, this is actually devastating for family members,” Bennett said.

In a submission to the federal government on the NNC program this past December, the Dieticians of Canada, a national association, said the NNC created some improvements when compared with Food Mail, but that it’s not targeted at those most in need, and that one root problem is a lack of money.

“The NNC program is effectively a form of indirect income support at the broader community level, subsidizing the price of food for all residents, and not targeted as an initiative to reduce household food insecurity,” the report said.

The Dieticians of Canada also said reducing food insecurity in northern Canada requires a “multi-pronged approach” that includes better income support.

“Income-based responses to household food insecurity are designed to provide a solution to address the root cause of household food insecurity, which is lack of money for basic needs within a household,” the group said.

The NNC, replaced the old food mail program on April 1, 2011 following numerous complaints about food mail, including high prices and other issues.

The NNC works by providing direct subsidies to retailers for food shipped by air cargo to a list of 121 eligible communities, based on the weight of the food they ship.

In 2015-16, the INAC forecast spending of about $71.8 million on the NNC. About $68.5 million of that went towards subsidies and about $3.4 million went to staff salaries and benefits, plus operation and maintenance.

Over the same period, Health Canada spent about $2.9 million on the NNC, mostly for nutrition education programs.

But now, the federal government’s spending on the NNC is likely closer to $85 million a year.

That’s because, as of Oct. 1, 2016, Ottawa added 37 more communities, most of them First Nations communities in the provinces, to the eligibility list, and announced an additional $64.5 million in spending over five years to pay for it.

That additional annual contribution will be capped in 2021 at $13.8 million.

Since its launch, Nutrition North Canada has become the target of numerous complaints from thousands of northern consumers, territorial governments and others, many of whom allege that northern retailers like North West Co. and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. have used it to fatten their profit margins.

In November of 2014, the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, tabled an audit report that found NNC does not ensure that retailers pass the full value of the subsidy on to customers.

Following those controversies, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party promised in the 2015 election campaign to revamp the program, a task that Bennett is still working on.

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(26) Comments:

#1. Posted by Umilik on February 17, 2017

Fine, in an act of Liberal “fairness” take away the Northern subsidy received by some employees of some northern employers. But, you INAC folks better redirect those monies to decrease the amount of groceries significantly and increase the accountability of the retailers significantly. So much so that the income lost is offset by price decreases, and those less fortunate will have a lower grocery bill too.

But again, it’s a liberal government…tax me, tax me, tax me.

#2. Posted by think on February 17, 2017

If 70 per cent of kids are not eating properly or are food insecure then there is a big problem. Northern living subsidies and living allowances obviously aren’t benefitting kids. This is not rocket science. Loading up retailers, parents and government workers is obviously not working - for too many reasons. Start feeding kids because no one else is doing it.

#3. Posted by put kids first on February 17, 2017

Government gives too much subsidies to the retailers, who screw around and take too much profit for themselves. Kids wander door to door looking for food in too many communities because in too many cases, mommy can’t stop gambling, daddy can’t stop drinking and most of the family is stoned into oblivion leaving Nunavut’s young carers to fend for themselves. Take a look around your communities.

Co-Op and Northern only sell cheap crap and junk food. Shame on their greed. Nunavut needs programs to clean up its act. Enough with the “subsidies” that do not go where they should or do what they’re supposed to do. Stop giving cash and cheques.

KFC is not a food group. Neither is Timmys.

Broke-ass GN and useless MLAs need to teach people how to feed their families Provide funding directly to school AND community breakfast programs and establish soup kitchens that deliver structured programming to educate families - or at least the kids (‘cause the parents seem too far gone, so screw them).

#4. Posted by Lance on February 17, 2017

“We’ve got hard decisions to make ...” is political double-speak for “we won’t be making any significant changes”.

#5. Posted by Shopper on February 17, 2017

Why can’t they just make this much more simpler? Do a study on freight cost, product cost and subsidize the freight to make it cheaper.
It can’t be rocket science and why is the retailers deciding how much of the subsidy goes towards the products? They just increase there cost than add in the subsidy to make it look like there is a savings there.

#6. Posted by Not everywhere on February 17, 2017

I’m not speaking for the communities but there are a LOT of obese children in the capital.. there needs to be education on eating healthy. These kids are eating sugar sugar sugar all day long..

#7. Posted by Child abuse on February 17, 2017

Yes!! #6. I see more obese kids then starving ones around Nunavut communities.  It should be considered child abuse to not properly feed your kids!!!  Groceries are more expensive up North but the crap aka sugar loaded, high fat and processed food costs WAY more then fruit, vegetables, meats and bread products. 

Stop the excuses people.  You feed your kids crap or don’t feed them at all because you’re selfish or lazy or both.  Get a job, get off social assistance and you’ll have more money to put towards the much needed groceries to feed your 2,4,6+ kids.  Improve NNC but don’t make it another program to enable bad parenting in the north.

#8. Posted by JaneInuk on February 17, 2017

#5. Posted by Shopper on February 17, 2017.
You make too much sense for the politicians. Truly it is a simple as that. Put the purchasing choice to the consumers and subsidies the fright.

#9. Posted by Northern Guy on February 17, 2017

#5 and #8: its not that easy, airfreight costs for perishable products such as milk, meat, eggs and bread are entirely carried by the retailer and passed on to the consumer. NNC does exactly what you are describing by analyzing freight costs and subsidizing them thereby reducing costs for the retailer. The agreement is that the retailer is supposed to then reduce shelf prices accordingly.

Two big questions:
1. Are retailers passing NNC-based savings on to consumers?
2. Does any of this matter if people are too poor to take advantage of properly subsidized healthy food?

Food is expensive everywhere if people think that NNC’s job is to provide free or inexpensive food to northerners then they are dreaming.

In the article, Bennett hints that we might see NNC diverting much of its $68.5 million budget to assist high risk groups like children in schools and pregnant women, leaving the rest to struggle with even higher food costs.

#10. Posted by Colin on February 17, 2017

Part of the nutrition challenge is the lack of home economics teaching in the schools, along with a lack of practical budgeting.

A young Inuk recently told me his cooking class in Iqaluit only consisted of making “sweets and desserts”.

Recently I asked a friend who grew up in northern Newfoundland whether his community had a bakery. He said people wouldn’t even thinking of doing anything but making their own. You can make bread or bannock at a fraction of the cost of store bread. Similarly, Hudson Bay employees only ever had powdered milk and, in the months before ship time, powdered potatoes, rice and noodles. Of course they had frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables that came in by sea.

#11. Posted by Laurie on February 17, 2017

I have an idea…could we have school children in southern canada learn to grow food on school property (fruits, veggies) and transport the food north? Maybe the northern canada children could share something in return. WIN-WIN! The kids all learn life skills, as well as the importance of caring for others.

#12. Posted by Putuguk on February 17, 2017

30% of Nutrition North money ($20M per year) is spent on fruit and vegetables, with meat a distant #2 at 18% of spending ($11.3M), followed by milk at 17% ($11.2M).

Perishables like this are a huge cost to handle, store and transport. I wonder what the $ per calorie benefit is for these foods compared to others.

Sure, they are tasty and great to eat, but are they the priority? 

Vegetables are not the food you use to solve hunger in the Arctic. Yet that is where the money is going. 

How many more tons of meat and milk could you bring in instead of lettuce and oranges?

Fruits/Vegetables are the foods southerners like to eat. Why are we subsidizing someone’s expensive tastes? 

I would be happy to pay market cost for vegetables knowing my tax dollars are rather being spent to subsidize other wholesome types of foods more important in the diet of northern residents below the poverty line.

#13. Posted by JaneInuk on February 17, 2017

#9. Posted by Northern Guy - You are being paternalistic.
I am not interested in the NWC or the Co-op purchasing goods on my behalf. As the consumer, I want to purchase the goods anywhere I feel like, be it in the North or from the South. If the NWC or the Co-op can do a better job than I as the consumer, so be it. The subsidiary is all of us tax dollars, and I don’t care about chasing NWC or Coop to see if they are applying the subsidy- frankly I don’t care. All I need is the choice as the taxpayer and consumer to purchase wherever I feel like and having access to the said subsidy. NWC or the Co-op are the Co-op should not solely determined what I eat because the subsidies go directly to them. I can’t see why this is so difficult to comprehend.

#14. Posted by Paul on February 17, 2017

The food mail program worked much better, can we get this program back again? Just need to make some adjustments and we could have the same prices as down south and the Northwest company would have to start competing again instead of having record profits since this NN started.

#15. Posted by CE on February 17, 2017

Nunavut should get their own store, and own airline that way everything would be much easier,,....... good idea government

#16. Posted by Passionate about old program on February 17, 2017

We need the old program back, the only reason it was changed was because they changed the routing to stop in Val Dor by the time we received it bananas went bad, produce was no longer fresh, people complained ... Simple as that ....this way the people benefit why give the key to the fox for the chicken house?? Why are our tax dollars going to private business never understood this!

#17. Posted by Change on February 19, 2017

Wasn’t the change made due to people on social assistants can use it when they met with the prior MP and mayors across Nunavut to make it better for select few?

#18. Posted by Dan Budd on February 19, 2017

Legalizing the sale of “Traditionally Prepared Aboriginal Dried Fish” would empower those who run out of cash to get ALL the groceries they need.  I would fly up and TRADE 1,000 lbs. of dried fish needing no refrigeration and no bones for $5,000.00 of groceries purchased here at my local Canadian Superstore.  This plan I have would require no government subsidies.  Its a win win win situation.  Care givers can feed their children, I can start a business and the government collects taxes from my business and my employees.

#19. Posted by Dave Davis on February 19, 2017

#15, A great idea to have their own store, but not an airline. Having once owned a business in Nunavut I learned how to get the best freight prices. Chartering is cheaper than commercial airline. My idea would be for a store owner in a community to partner with a southern supplier and once or twice a week charter an aircraft to deliver the food. Arrange each return flight with passengers going south. Having no back haul for airlines up’s the cost of operation. Seats can be removed for freight, stored aboard and put in place for passengers returning. Possibly there is a gov’t regulation now not allowing this dual use of a charter. Outlet would have to be managed by a local board and operate on a set profit margin to eliminate greed. Only necessity is paying what ever the price for a good accountant with wide experience.

#20. Posted by Diet on February 19, 2017

#12 Putuguk is right.  The money should go where it’s needed. 

Today the same subsidy goes on hamburger, roast, steak, lamb and fillet mignon.  If you have the money to pay for the expensive meats, go ahead and buy them.  Leave the subsidy money to help those who are having difficulty affording any meat at all. 

Just to be clear, survival in the arctic is a matter of calories, protein and nutrients.  Calories come mainly from fat, and secondarily from meat. Protein comes primarily from meat. Nutrients can come from fruits and veggies (not a significant part of the traditional diet), fish guts or from vitamin pills at a much lower cost to purchase and to transport.

Personally, I like the taste of a fresh apple or a lettuce and tomato sandwich, but a hamburger (no bun) will keep you going a lot longer and provide necessary protein.

#21. Posted by Fat Kids on February 19, 2017

Like # 7 I see fat kids gorging themselves on pop, bars and chips and fast foot.
It is so sad because Inuit were also so fit, it is shocking to see in one generation their kids balloon into kids with no character in their faces, only fat cheeks and neck, not even looking like themselves.
Com’on people, smarten up.  Eating these fattening things along with the candies and the juice puts on dangerous fat on young kids, that can shorten a person’s life due to heart attacks, strokes and general bad health.
Get strong with kids about what to eat and feed them right.

#22. Posted by airline employee on February 20, 2017

A few issues with your proposal. A, Quick Change aircraft are rare. First air used to have a few 737-200’s that were quick changes, but the 737-200 is getting awfully expensive to maintain and run. Hence them selling them.

However, say an aircraft was acquired. You fly it up full of cargo to YFB, and then put seats in and fly it south. Now those seats are south. So, do you fly the plane empty with the seats back north? Sure, you might be able to put cargo in the belly, but you can do that with passengers anyways.

Third, you’ve brought all those passengers south. Now they want to go North, but you have the plane flying cargo on the northbound run. So, First Air or Canadian can just offer a deal if you book with them round trip (Not to mention the frequent flier points you’d get booking with them)

In my opinion, the best solution would be to subsidize the freight for things like milk, eggs, bread, meat etc. Basically subsidize the stuff that forms a health nutritious diet.

#23. Posted by shopper on February 20, 2017

Please bring back food mail, make some minor changes and have everyone be able to use it. It was so much better.

#24. Posted by Sparkey on February 20, 2017

I think a good start would be to remove the GST of the cost of the freight for food. That’s a 5 percent savings right of the top. Every bit helps.

#25. Posted by Mariner on February 21, 2017

The Food Mail Program worked well except when unscrupulous suppliers started to include not food commodities in with the orders. This led to food subsidies paying for non-food items which drove the cost up.

#26. Posted by Jeremiah Ivalu on February 21, 2017

The Government of Canada can easily solve this issue by building highways to the north. If the airlines started competing with transport truckers, the cost of freight would be significantly lower, as low as southern Canadian prices. Stop this monopoly by First Air and Canadian North because they can charge whatever amount they want and get it, too.

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