Internal Aboriginal Affairs study calls for increased Nutrition North funding



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(A recent food prices protest in Nunavut. APTN/File)

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OTTAWA–The federal government needs to invest more money into its Northern food subsidy program, according to an internal Aboriginal Affairs study.

The study of the Nutrition North food subsidy program for isolated Northern communities was commissioned in 2012 and posted on the federal Aboriginal Affairs department’s website last week.

The study found that with population levels rising at an increased pace and country food consumption dropping, the pressures on the Nutrition North program will continue to increase.

“Consideration should be given to increase the funding of (Nutrition North) to meet this demand,” said the report. “(Nutrition North) should at least be indexed to inflation or to changes in costs that are major contributors to the cost of food retailing in the North.”

The report also found that while Nutrition North did lower the price of the products targeted for the subsidy, the overall cost of food remains high in the North.

“Is lowering prices enough for local residents who are managing their households on limited and fixed budgets? We believe the answer is ‘No,'” said the report. “Those with limited incomes are struggling, and increased efforts must be made to narrow the gap between disposable incomes and the price of a healthy food basket.”

The study also found that Northern attitudes toward country food were beginning to shift. The study found that country food consumption could start dropping as younger generations were “less interested” in living off the land. The study recommended the federal department study the “Greenland model” were country food is sent “straight to local markets.”

The Harper government has said it is increasing the amount of money going to Nutrition North, including an additional $11.3 million investment announced last November for the current fiscal year.

The federal government has also said it will be applying a 5 per cent “escalator” to the “grants and contributions” funds given to food retailers. The escalator will see funding for Nutrition North grow from $65.2 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, to $68.5 million next year.

In a recent report, federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that the federal Aboriginal Affairs department has no idea whether the food subsidy program is making nutritious and perishable food like vegetables more accessible and affordable. The department also has no clue whether northern retailers are passing on the subsidy provided by Ottawa on to mostly Indigenous Northern residents living in isolated communities, according to Ferguson.

In its fall 2014 report, the Auditor General found that the department doesn’t even have a definition for affordability and never bothered to analyze the profit margins of Northern food retailers to determine whether they are making money off the subsidy or passing it on.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the department would be implementing the report’s recommendations and retailers would be required to reveal their profit margins beginning this April.

The study focused on the communities of Aklavik, NWT, Igaluit, Arviat and Igloolik in Nunavut, Garden Hill and Lac Brochet in Manitoba, Fort Severn, Ont., along with Puvirnituq and Quaqtaq in Quebec.

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