Nunavik shoppers pay 48 per cent more for food than southerners: study
“Even after our subsidies, we’re still paying the price”
KUUJJUAQ—A new study probing at the cost of living in Nunavik confirms what most people in the region already know: it costs more to live in the North of Quebec than in its South.
But the two-year study launched by the Kativik Regional Government and Makivik Corp. digs deeper into the issue than previous surveys have, tracking the spending habits of 450 Nunavimmiut households in six communities.
The bottom line: Nunavimmiut pay 13 per cent more overall to live where they do than they would if they lived in Quebec City.
When you break the numbers down, Nunavik pays 48 per cent more for store-bought food than in the southern city and between 15 and 23 per cent more for transportation, clothing and personal care.
“Even with the cost-of-living agreement we have in place, we’re still 13 per cent above,” said KRG chair Jennifer Munick. “Even after our [provincial and federal] subsidies, we’re still paying the price. And that’s hard to swallow.”
To come up with the new data, the Laval university-led study looked at the weekly budgets and shopping receipts of households in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq, Tasiujaq, Salluit and Umiujaq.
Researchers wanted to do more than just compare prices north and south, but also to get a sense of what a northern shopping list and budget looks like.
“You have to capture what the family actually buys, and then you can weigh the prices by consumption patterns,” Laval sociologist Gérard Duhaime, who led the study, told regional councillors in Kuujjuaq Nov. 29.
In 2015-2016, for example, Nunavimmiut devoted 37 per cent of their budget to store-bought food, compared to 15 per cent in Quebec.
But if you break down food spending in Nunavik among different income groups, you’ll notice a change: high-income Nunavimmiut spend about 30 per cent of their budget on food, while that number jumps to 43 per cent for low-income families in the region.
Another even greater difference: high-income Nunavimmiut allot about a quarter of their budget to transportation, while the low-income group spends only one per cent on the same thing.
For Munick, that suggests the KRG needs to re-think its own subsidies to make sure these are directed at the people who need them most.
The KRG and Makivik currently offer six regional subsidies to offset the price of gasoline, elders’ expenses, airfare, household appliances and harvesting equipment, country foods and other essentials.
“When you look at our gasoline subsidy, for example, we’ll have to adjust,” Munick said. “Because our goal is to help low-income families.”
The only budget item the study found Nunavik paid less for was housing, by about 28 per cent, given that the vast majority of Nunavimmiut live in social housing.
“That tells us that housing is a very important cost-of-living program in itself, even if that’s not how people think of it,” Duhaime said.
The KRG and Makivik will use the new data to negotiate a new and permanent cost-of-living subsidy with the Quebec government, which helped fund the $500,000 study.
Since the region’s current agreement ends at the end of 2016, Nunavik will likely opt to extend the subsidy for a year, for an amount of $12,000, to give the regional government time to prepare its negotiations, Munick said.
She and other Nunavik leadership believe the study provides the region with strong case for better funding.
“We’ve always said how expensive it is to live up north, this proves it and it’s going to be a tool for us to face the government,” said Tunu Napartuk, regional councillor and mayor of Kuujjuaq.
But Sarollie Weetaluktuk, a regional councillor for Inukjuak, said the participation of Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq in the study skews the results, arguing those communities are the largest and have more job opportunities than other Nunavik communities.
“When you’re at 31 per cent unemployment rate in your community, you struggle,” he said.