Auditor general to review Nutrition North

Canada's auditor general has agreed to review Nutrition North. The federal program is designed to bring healthy foods to remote northern communities at affordable prices.

Canada’s auditor general has agreed to review Nutrition North.

The federal program is designed to bring healthy foods to remote northern communities at affordable prices.

Old Crow is the only Yukon community eligible under the program.

Nutrition North replaced an earlier program called Food Mail in April 2011.

But critics say that the new program costs taxpayers more and has not achieved the goal of ensuring more affordable nutritious foods make it to the North.

Two former managers of the Food Mail program came out about Nutrition North’s failures in a commentary piece published in newspapers earlier this year.

“Analysis shows that cheerleaders for this program have been using smoke and mirrors in the way food cost information is collected and presented, and have selectively quoted figures in a way that misleads rather than informs the public about northern food costs since Nutrition North Canada came into effect on April 1, 2011,” wrote Fred Hill and Michael Fitzgerald.

Darius Elias, MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, has been calling for a change since Nutrition North came into effect.

Under Food Mail, Old Crow residents could do their grocery shopping in Whitehorse and ship it home on Air North at a highly subsidized rate.

While transportation subsidies still exist, the price increase has made it unaffordable to Old Crow residents, said Elias.

“It’s going to cost them 110 per cent more out of their pockets. And that really affects the physical and financial health of our families.”

Now, the only option for many is to shop at the only grocery store in Old Crow, the Northern Store.

Under Nutrition North the store receives the subsidy on bringing in healthy foods, with the idea that savings get passed on to customers.

But it isn’t working, said Elias.

In April he told the Yukon legislature that grapes cost $26.16 per kilogram at the Northern.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef said in an interview earlier this year that he agrees the program needs tweaking.

“Let’s be frank here. There have been direct examples where food products that are nutritious and healthy have hit the shelves in Old Crow with alarming price rates on them, and that’s unacceptable. That’s something I’m endeavouring to get to the bottom of.”

Under pressure from Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut, the auditor general has agreed to review the program.

In 2012 Elias brought forward a motion in the legislative assembly urging for transportation subsidies to be reinstated as they were under Food Mail.

It passed unanimously.

The auditor general’s report is due to be presented in Parliament in the fall of 2014.

“My expectations are that if they’re going to spend the time and effort to look at the program, my expectations are that it should get better and not worse,” said Elias. “And the problems that exist in Old Crow and across the country should be fixed.”

He hopes that auditors will talk to residents of Old Crow to find out where Nutrition North is failing and how to build a better program.

“The public outcry has been great, and it has been going on for a couple of years now. And I think that if the objectives of the program are to be met to their fullest, then the powers that be should listen to the people who know.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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