MP Ryan Leef wants to see Nutrition North work better for Old Crow.
The federal program has been under fire since it first replaced the earlier Food Mail program in 2011.
Critics say Nutrition North costs taxpayers more, and has not resulted in significant savings for northern residents on food items.
MLA Darius Elias wants the program to be scrapped, and for Old Crow to take control of its own food subsidy program.
Leef agrees that changes must be made.
“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.”
Elias reported to the legislature earlier this month that red, seedless grapes in Old Crow cost more than $26 per kilogram.
“Under no circumstance can I imagine that grapes should ever cost $26 for a kilogram,” said Leef. “That needs to be fixed. So we need to figure out what it is and how it is that that’s actually occurring, and what changes we need to make to make sure that doesn’t occur.”
But while Nutrition North needs tweaking, the goals of the program are good, said Leef.
“The shift in the intention of Nutrition North, I think, is a positive one; I think it’s one that Canadians in general can buy into.”
The Food Mail program subsidized shipping costs on a wide range of food and non-food items. Nutrition North targets specific healthy foods only, like fruits, vegetables and milk.
The subsidy is funneled through local retailers: the Northern Store in the case of Old Crow.
Leef has been working towards a solution with partners at the community, territorial and federal levels, he said.
“I would say this file is one of the more significant files on our attention here in Ottawa. We’ll come to a conclusion that’s going to meet the needs of the Yukon and at the same time respect the value of those sorts of programs and what Canadian taxpayers would expect to achieve in these remote rural regions, and particularly our community of Old Crow.”
In the meantime, a Nutrition North advisor has been stationed in Old Crow, and residents can speak directly with that person if they have complaints, said Leef.
“Some of the grievances are very, very legitimate, and other times they’re basically just the grievances about the reflection of how much people liked the old Food Mail program in contrast to Nutrition North.”
At the end of the day, the program isn’t working until healthy foods are affordable, said Leef.
“When you have a choice between a kilogram of grapes for $26 and some un-nutritious food for much less, you’re going to choose the unhealthy alternative. That’s just a fact of life. And I’d like to make sure that we’re a part of whatever solution generates the choice being the grapes and the lettuce and the tomatoes, and that will only come if they’re affordable, fresh and available.”
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