Concerns about the federal government’s Nutrition North Program have been brought to Ottawa.
Dennis Bevington, NDP MP for the Western Arctic riding in the N.W.T., raised the issue during question period last week.
The program, begun in 2011, subsidizes particular food items, like milk, fruits and vegetables, in northern communities. These subsidies are applied directly to retailers. It replaces the Food Mail program that subsidized shipping costs for a variety of food and non-food items. Prices for some food items have increased since the change, said Bevington.
“It costs $17 for a box of cereal in Iqaluit, $19 for a bag of rice in Pangnirtung and $25 for baby formula in Clyde River,” Bevington said in the House. Last month, a motion to have the auditor general review the program was introduced in the N.W.T. legislature.
Darius Elias, MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, the riding that includes Old Crow, has also been raising concerns in the Yukon legislature. Old Crow is the only Yukon community eligible for the program. Local retailer Northern Store benefits from the subsidy. There, a kilogram of red, seedless grapes costs more than $26, he told the legislature in April. He called for the program to be scrapped, saying Old Crow would be better served if the community administered the program itself.
In response, MP Ryan Leef told the News the program has flaws, and that he is working hard to find a solution.
But a solution doesn’t seem to be coming. In Ottawa, Bevington asked the minister of health to pay attention to northerners’ concerns and have the auditor general “investigate this boondoggle.”
Bernard Valcourt, minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, responded by saying the government has paid attention to northerners’ requests for less expensive food close to their homes, and that Bevington should “pay close attention to what is happening in his home.”
“It wasn’t much of a response,” said Doug Johnson, spokesperson for Bevington. Opposition MPs remain committed to examining Nutrition North, and will be making an announcement this week, he said. (Meagan Gillmore)