Nutrition North needs major overhaul, say MLAs

Nutrition North isn't working, say a group of five politicians from the Yukon, N.W.T.

Nutrition North isn’t working, say a group of five politicians from the Yukon, N.W.T., Nunavut, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

This week the group, which includes Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias, sent a letter with their concerns to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan.

It has been 10 months since the food mail program, which helped to pay for the transportation of goods to remote communities, was changed to Nutrition North. Now the subsidies are provided to the retailers instead.

Not only is the new program not working, the group said it’s now costing people more to get healthy food and necessities than it did before.

“The new program is a step backwards,” said N.W.T. MLA Norman Yakeleya in a news release that accompanied a copy of the letter.

“My constituents are having to pay more than double to ensure a personal food order is shipped to our community,” said Elias in the letter.

A 50-kilogram shipment of perishable foods now costs $96, when it used to cost $40.75 under the old food mail program, he said.

The main problem is that the remote communities are now at the mercy of only one or a few stores, whereas before residents could shop around a little bit more for the food they’d want, the letter said.

In Old Crow, shopping at the only store is a last resort, said resident Megan Williams.

“You’re lucky to be able to get anything that’s good quality in the store,” she said. “So you end up paying quite a bit for something that’s substandard.

“People are not able to access healthy foods. They’re accessing healthy foods less now than in the past.”

But Williams is luckier than a lot of her neighbours. She has a credit card so she is able to keep an account with the Superstore in Whitehorse, which then co-ordinates her orders with Air North’s freight system.

Others in the community send money to friends and family in Whitehorse who then shop for them and pass the groceries on to Air North.

For dry goods, like cereals and baking ingredients, Williams teams up with others in the community to top Air North’s 100-pound freight discount.

“We’re not even touching Nutrition North,” she said. “We just use Air North’s freight rates. It’s still a cost but it’s still less than it would be if we used Nutrition North.”

Under the old food mail program, Williams and others in the community used to order fresh and organic produce baskets from Suat Tuzlak’s Alpine Bakery in Whitehorse.

But Tuzlak doesn’t get those orders anymore.

“It was something I really took pleasure and pride in,” he said. “I feel sorry for them because in a place like Old Crow it’s hard to get good food.”

Tuzlak was even called on for big orders, like bread for community events, he said.

But that doesn’t happen anymore either.

In their letter to federal officials, Elias and his counterparts across the North included precise suggestions.

In the letter, Ron Elliott, MLA for Quttiktuq in Nunavut, emphasized the importance of ensuring proper “oversight, audit and enforcement mechanisms in relation to the transparency of retail food pricing and the application of subsides” under the program.

There is also the need to include more retailers in the eligibility list and “improve access to country foods,” he said.

The real solution would be to subsidize transportation of personal orders again, with exact costs per kilogram for the different levels of designated food, Elias suggested in the letter.

Federal politicians have not yet responded to the letter.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read