Nutrition North still stumbling

The Nutrition North Canada Program still isn't working for Old Crow, the only Yukon community it serves, says Darius Elias.

The Nutrition North Canada Program still isn’t working for Old Crow, the only Yukon community it serves, says Darius Elias.

The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin and interim leader of the territory’s Liberal party says eight months into the program, Old Crow residents are paying more than double for personal food orders shipped to the community.

The main change in the program, besides ditching the moniker Food Mail, was the switch from subsidizing the transportation of food to subsidizing the stores that carry the food, with a focus on more nutritional options, like produce and milk.

For Old Crow, no Whitehorse suppliers stepped up, so the only store in the community, the Northern Store, headquartered in Winnipeg, has to do its best despite the extreme distance.

“Local shoppers are starting to see major price decreases on key nutritious food items,” said a November 22 news release from the company, noting four litres of milk dropped to $12.69 from $15.99.

As well, customers are buying 10 per cent more nutritious food, the release said.

But that isn’t making Elias any happier.

The switch from helping pay for transportation to helping pay for retail is “really having an impact on the family pocketbook,” he said in a news release. “(And it) ignores the reality of how food gets to Old Crow.”

Residents would prefer to shop in Whitehorse, where the variety and shelf-life is much better, than pick through the community store’s shipments from Winnipeg.

But shipping costs to get those Whitehorse orders to Old Crow, inflated with the price of fuel, often offset any potential savings.

“The Government of Canada would not get away with allowing the price of food to double in Whitehorse or Toronto, but it doesn’t seem very concerned that it has happened in Old Crow,” said Elias in his release. “If residents of Whitehorse were only able to shop at one store it would probably get some attention as well.”

Elias intends to bring the issue back into the Yukon legislature when it convenes in December, and he has had a short talk with the territory’s MP Ryan Leef.

“We’re not closing the doors on any suggestions,” said Leef of Elias’ proposal to arrange a unique contract between the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Air North, the airline partially owned by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

“Right now, I’m just compiling all the information and it doesn’t look like there’s any major, major issue with the program itself that we can’t come up with some unique resolution for Old Crow. I’m optimistic that we’re going to come up with something that will work for that community, it’s just going to take the necessary time to work through.”

But for Elias, that’s time wasted.

“My community predicted this would happen and our concerns fell on deaf ears,” he said.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at