Nutrition North fails Old Crow

The Nutrition North food subsidy program is bad for Old Crow and for taxpayers, says Darius Elias. The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin wants to see his community take control of administration of the program.

The Nutrition North food subsidy program is bad for Old Crow and for taxpayers, says Darius Elias.

The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin wants to see his community take control of administration of the program.

“This is the most difficult, frustrating file I’ve worked on since I’ve been MLA for the Vuntut Gwitchin riding. It’s just unbelievable.”

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

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

The community was not consulted on the change, said Elias.

“The communication level between the department and my community was absolutely ludicrous. There was absolutely no communication whatsoever. They basically came and said this is how it’s going to be.”

Under food mail, shipping costs for food and other necessary item were subsidized.

Old Crow residents could buy eligible items from any store they liked in Whitehorse and ship it home via Air North at a cheaper rate.

The town’s Northern Store also benefitted from discounted shipping rates.

Under Nutrition North, the subsidy was transferred from the freight charge and instead went directly to the retailer.

Old Crow residents can still make special orders from certain Whitehorse retailers, but the price to do so skyrocketed, and you need a credit card.

The quality and variety of foods available at the Northern is far worse, said Elias.

The local retailer ships its perishable food from Winnipeg, and especially in the winter it is often in bad shape by the time it hits shelves.

It costs $26.16 per kilogram for red seedless grapes in Old Crow, said Elias in the legislature last week.

When grocery costs to consumers went up instead of down after Nutrition North was introduced, the federal government increased the subsidy.

Two former managers of the Food North program came out about Nutrition North’s failures in a recent commentary piece published by Nunatsiaq News.

“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.

“The major problem is that now corporations and the federal government have control of where my constituents shop and access to food and the affordability of food,” said Elias.

He has been working with politicians and officials on the territorial and federal levels to reach a solution to the problem.

Across the North, communities are unhappy, he said.

“Everybody has got different reasons across the North as to why it’s not working for their citizenry.”

While little has changed, the federal government is open to suggestion, he said.

“The prime minister’s office, in no uncertain terms he said, ‘Well, come up with a proposal to help fix the problem.’ And so that’s where we are right now.”

Premier Darrell Pasloski has already agreed to partner with him to work on the problem, said Elias.

“The best-case scenario for me is that the Vuntut Gwitchin government and the development corporation take over the program in co-operation with Air North and we simply be accountable directly to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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