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EDITORIAL: Nunavummiut deserve equal access to essentials

Nutrition North Canada is intended to reduce food insecurity in the North. In the past, Nunavut News has used a comparison of a basket of goods to demonstrate the disparities between food prices in northern and southern Canada.

A Twitter user brought to our attention that CBC's Marketplace team recently did the same. The results were concerning, yet somehow unsurprising and illuminating at the same time.

In this case, a family from Iqaluit was paired with a family from Winnipeg and asked to buy the same groceries and necessities.

(The Twitter user noted that they had each family buy a case of bottled water, the cost of which makes it irrelevant to the daily existence of Nunavummiut, unless there's a boil water advisory or the GN is providing drinks at a meeting. The Iqaluit mom paid $29.95, while the Winnipeg mom paid $4.49 for the same 24-pack.)

Overall, the price comparison showed the Iqaluit family paying more than twice as much as the Winnipeg family for the same basket of goods.

It's a challenge the Nutrition North Canada program was supposed to help solve. Some would say life was better under the former Food Mail program.

There's no denying Nutrition North is flawed, and people work hard to find ways to cut costs. At the top of the list for those living in Iqaluit is Amazon and the free shipping they are able to access in the capital. For the rest of Nunavut, this is not an option. That case of water we mentioned is almost the same price on Amazon. Outside of Iqaluit, people in a bind will pay the high price. In other words, Amazon has replaced Food Mail, but only for those in Iqaluit.

Adding Amazon – or a stop at Costco when visiting the south – into the mix is also a point of privilege. To use these options, you have to have a credit card, meaning good credit and a consistent job, and in the case of a Costco run, you need to be in a position to get down south. These options are not available to many Nunavummiut.

So the system that was supposed to improve life for Nunavummiut is creating a divide. Shoppers can complain about the North West Company's NorthMart and Northern stores, and yet Marketplace consulted financial analysts found the company's profits are in line with other grocery retailers across Canada. And they found that the company is passing on government subsidies to consumers.

This leaves the government's supposed fix as the remaining problem. Even the feds admit it's failing many.

We will see whether planned changes to the subsidy lists will make a difference. It shouldn't be too much to expect the federal government to find a way to enable families across Nunavut to access the same basic needs as those enjoyed by families down south.

It's incumbent on those overseeing Nutrition North to reflect on the needs of real people, and to find solutions that put all Nunavummiut on equal footing with the rest of Canada. Whether that means a return to Food Mail or Amazon free shipping for everyone, we're open to any solution that will reduce the cost of living.