On Nutrition North revamp, Ottawa plays the family-friendly card

Indigenous orgs will guide new harvesters support program, but details are scanty

A scene inside the Iqaluit Northmart store in 2011. The federal government is targeting what it calls “family-friendly” nutritious food and “northern staples” in its long-awaited revamp to the Nutrition North Canada program. (FILE PHOTO)

By Jim Bell

The federal government is targeting what it calls “family-friendly” nutritious food and “northern staples” in its long-awaited revamp to the Nutrition North Canada program, which Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, the parliamentary secretary to Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, announced today in Iqaluit.

The new measures include a high-level subsidy rate that increases existing subsidies on items like milk and infant formula by 25 per cent.

And its “family-friendly” food list includes ingredients used to make traditional foods like bannock, such as flour, lard, cooking oil, baking powder and salt, as well as butter, rice, pasta, diapers and dried beans.

“The measures combined are intended to have a greater impact on providing fresh, nutritious and perishable food that is more affordable in the North,” a Northern Affairs spokesperson said in a not-for-attribution briefing.

These and other actions, however, are “short-term,” the federal spokesperson said.

Few details on harvesters program

And the federal government is offering few details on its new harvesters support program, which was announced this past November with Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fall economic update.

Under it, the federal government will spend $62.6 million over five years, starting April 1, 2019, to help country food harvesters.

It’s not clear who will decide how that money will be spent and who it will be spent on.

But the Northern Affairs spokesperson said Indigenous organizations will play a big role in managing that money.

To that end, an existing Indigenous working group will continue to look after the interests of First Nations and Métis communities that are covered by Nutrition North.

And a new body, an Inuit-Crown food security working group, will look after Inuit interests and “work towards a sustainable food system in Inuit Nunangat,” the government announced.

Critics slam program for lack of transparency

Today’s announcement, however, does not go far enough in ensuring transparency and ensuring that retailers pass the full benefit of the Nutrition North subsidy to their customers, some critics say.

After today, Ottawa is still not requiring that retailers like North West Co. disclose to the public the real freight rates that they negotiate with airlines, the critics say.

The CIRNAC spokesperson responded, however, by saying that all retailers must subject themselves to audits performed by third-party auditors.

In those audits, retailers must disclose all information to the auditor, including the prices they pay the airlines and their profit margins on food sales, the spokesperson said.

Also, Ottawa promises a communications program aimed at helping people better understand how the subsidies are applied.

But Tracey Galloway, a professor at the University of Toronto, said the measures announced today fail to make retailers accountable and that Nutrition North is a “public policy disaster.”

“The federal government chose instead to window-dress the problem with changes that ensure government money continues to flow into the coffers of a few retail corporations, rather than into the pockets of hard-hit, northern consumers,” Galloway said in an op-ed that will be published later in Nunatsiaq News.

The president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Aluki Kotierk, also said “much more is needed to ensure full NNC subsidies are passed on to consumers.

“This includes working collaboratively with Inuit on the issue of food insecurity in the North,” she said.

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq gave today’s announcement a mixed review.

“I was happy to hear that today’s federal announcement on the Program included a subsidy on more household necessities like diapers and infant food,” Savikataaq said in a statement.

“However, it is not clear that the proposed changes will provide a significant increase in the availability and accessibility of healthy, nutritious foods to Nunavut families,” he said.

Charlie Watt, the president of Makivik Corp., which owns First Air, a major food freight carrier in the eastern Arctic, said today’s changes are a “good start.”

But the former Liberal senator dumped on Stephen Harper’s Conservative government for introducing Nutrition North in 2011.

“The previous Food Mail program was better for Inuit. I don’t know why the Harper government decided to scrap that program when it wasn’t broken,” Watt said.

Also, Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he welcomes the creation of an Inuit specific food security working group.

At the same time, he said he looks forward to a “necessary and foundational systemic changes to NNC so it evolves into an accountable, transparent social program that reduces food insecurity in Inuit communities.”

Bigger subsidies in all categories

The measures announced today include the following:

• A new, highest-level subsidy rate that targets nutritious items like milk, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, infant formula and infant food. For these items, it’s 25 per cent greater than before.

• A new food list that focuses on northern staples and “family-friendly” items like flour, butter, lard, cooking oil, baking powder, salt, rice and pasta.

• The new family-friendly items also include diapers, dried beans, frozen pizza, frozen fruit, beans and macaroni.

• An increase in the Level 1 subsidy rate by at least 15 cents per kilogram, ranging up to $2 per kilo in some communities.

• In 76 eligible communities, per-kilo Level 2 subsidy rates will rise to at least $1 per kilo. In some First Nations communities in northern Ontario, subsidies had been as low as five cents per kilo. They’ll now get the minimum $1 per kilo.

• Nutrition North will review and adjust subsidy rates annually.

• Greater flexibility for northerners who make direct orders from suppliers, including more options for payment, such as e-transfers, credit cards, cheques and cash.

• Expanding the list of eligible southern suppliers to provide northerners with more choices.

• More help, including financial support, for smaller retailers and family-run businesses to meet the program’s reporting requirements.

• Restaurants not open to the public, such as those located within hotels, will no longer be eligible for subsidies.

• A communications effort to bring more information to communities, so they have a better understanding of how the program works and how its transparency measures work.

• New authority to allow immediate action when a community suddenly becomes dependent year-round on air freight, due to an emergency.

• A review of every community’s supply chain.

Share This Story

(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Don’t overharvest! on

    Each time I see a ‘harvester’s support program’ I cringe; The caribou herds and other populations can not support the population on Nunavut, Nunavik etc. Look at the history…protect the herds.
    Why hasn’t anyone considered following the Sami example, introduce some domesticated reindeer herds; would provide employment and eventually food; has been tried in the Inuvik region with limited , but some success I believe .
    It is incredibly naive to think that with the rapid population growth – country food will be the solution, unless there is a an agrarian approach.
    If you eliminate the herds, they are gone….

  2. Posted by Aaqingittuq on

    This will not be resolved as long as the stores have such a huge part in recouping the benefits and assistance directly from Gov. Only by not allowing NM or Ventures, etc to benefit will this program truly be for Nunavummiut

  3. Posted by Paulossie Napartuk on

    There are a lot of loop holes for the food and retail businesses, all they have to do is wait for the subsidy to kick in, and then hike their prices afterwards, so the subsidy will not have the same effect that is expected of it. So in reality, that increase in subsidy, will eventually get clawed back by the food and retail businesses.

  4. Posted by Putuguk on

    On the face of it, a person earning $150,000 a year gets the same NN benefit as a person on Income Support. Given that the rich actually have money to buy perishable food that a person on income support may not have, the rich actually get a greater benefit similar to the old Food Mail Program which worked on individual orders.

    As NN lowers prices for every consumer, regardless of ability to pay, there is no way that Nutrition North will be an “accountable, transparent social program that reduces food insecurity in Inuit communities.”

    GN added $7.5M to IS per year in 2018 to increase food allowance which is a good thing. But this probably only takes into account food price increases – not much of a change for people living hand to mouth.

    CIRNAC should be partnering with GN to provide food vouchers for IS clients instead. Put the money where it can make the difference between being half starved and healthy.

    All this pointless bickering about NN program administration is getting nowhere. It is irrelevant if the Northern or Coop pockets a few cents for each avocado they sell to a well heeled customer when hungry people up here have never even tasted one.

    • Posted by Kaatut on

      excellent point. and with no repercussions either, unlike over serving of alcohol, for example.

  5. Posted by Adjustment from Neoliberalism on

    These things will not change unless we take a stance against Neoliberalism, the lower middle class families who are in struggle to make the ends meet who are getting taxed heavily in order to get these subsidies have to start looking at taxing these private sectors, the federal government is saying, give these big companies more money, and tax breaks so they can do little to save the price of food on the table

Comments are closed.