Improvements to the Nutrition North Canada program are coming Monday, the federal government announced Dec. 6.

This follows the Liberal government’s 2018 Fall Economic Statement, when it proposed to invest an additional $62.6 million over five years starting in 2019–20.

“This investment will help to support several program changes, informed by consultations with Northerners, and to introduce a Harvesters Support Grant to help lower the high costs associated with traditional hunting and harvesting activities. More details will become available in the coming months,” stated Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada spokesperson Stephanie Palma via e-mail.

“Structural improvements to the program will be announced on Monday to reflect what was heard from Northerners during the 2016 engagement on how the program can better help them access healthy foods.”

The following is a historical timeline of Nutrition North from inception to the present.

Historical timeline:

NNSL file photo
In 2017, these Pampers size 4 boxes with 180 diapers cost roughly $40 in the south, while in a territory with the highest birth rate in Canada they sell for $94. Under the old Food Mail program diapers and other essential hygiene products were eligible for subsidy, but not under the current Nutrition North Canada program which replaced Food Mail in 2011.

2011: The Conservative government introduces the Nutrition North Canada program, which replaces the Food Mail program – with the goal to make healthy food more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated Northern communities. In its transition from the Food Mail program, Nutrition North drops items such as diapers, dental hygiene products, toilet paper, shampoo, fishing nets, boat motor parts, ammunition, and gas — the last items are necessary for hunting and fishing.

2013: Political leaders demand that the Auditor General of Canada investigate the $60 million a year Nutrition North initiative.

2014, November: The bulk of the program budget goes to Northern retailers to subsidize certain food items and these savings are supposed to be passed onto customers but Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) doesn’t know if this is happening, the November Auditor General’s report reveals. The program does not satisfy its goal, and it has failed Northern resident.

2014, December: The North West Company’s director of business development Derek Reimer weighs in, saying an additional $11.3 million in funding for 2014-2015 for the Nutrition North program announced Nov. 21 will address already existing volume increases in the program but not actual subsidy rates.

“If there’s no change in subsidy rates, the consumer will not see the impact on retail prices,” said Reimer.

2015, February: Leesee Papatsie, founder of the food activist group Feeding My Family, and North West Co.’s Reimer meet in Iqaluit on the weekend Papatsie called for a boycott the company’s’ stores.

“I was up front. I told him to be up front. Did I believe him? No. I don’t believe they are sincere in passing on savings, that they are making a difference in food prices,” said Papatsie.

2015, March: The federal government announces that Nutrition North savings will soon show up on store receipts to increase transparency.

2015, June: Five reforms to the Nutrition North program proposed by Northwest Territories MP Dennis Bevington were voted down in parliament – 148 votes to 125. All of the votes against the motion but one came from Conservative MPs.

The suggested reforms are:

  • immediately including in the Nutrition North Canada program the 50 isolated Northern communities accessible only by air that are not currently eligible for the full subsidy;
  • initiating a comprehensive review of the Nutrition North program, with Northerners as full partners, to determine ways of directly providing the subsidy to Northern residents and to improve supports for traditional foods;
  • creating equitable program-eligibility criteria for Northern communities based on their real circumstances;
  • providing sufficient funding to meet the needs of all Northern communities; and
  • working with all Northerners to develop a sustainable solution to food insecurity.
NNSL file photo
Passion fruit, left, and dragon fruit are subsidized items under the current Nutrition North Canada program model, while bullets and diapers are not. “We’re going to have to decide whether this is a social program or a fairness issue,” said Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn in the Senate in February 2017.

2015, August: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt announces the implementation of a point-of-sale system for all Nutrition North Canada retailers by April 1, 2016. Shoppers’ grocery receipts will list how and when the Nutrition North subsidy is applied when shopping in retailers registered in the program. Critics say the information posted on receipts or in-store does not impact the high cost of groceries.

2015, October: The Liberals replace the Conservatives as the governing party. The Liberal party repeatedly promised Nunavummiut it would repair Nutrition North. It also promised to increase funding by $40 million over four years, $10 million each year.

2016, December: Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. hosts researcher Tracey Galloway – a long-time critic of the Nutrition North Program – in Iqaluit. Galloway presents her latest findings related to the program, which are similar to the Auditor General report: the program doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for Nunavummiut and it doesn’t work generally to satisfy its own mandate.

Galloway makes suggestions to improve the program, which are similar to most critics:

  • impose and enforce strict price controls on subsidized items;
  • monitor and report food prices, by each community and by each store;
  • bring back measures to monitor food quality;
  • monitor and enforce retailer compliance and claims processing;
  • change the list of subsidized foods, and add essential nonperishable foods, household items, and harvesting and craft equipment; and,
  • remove barriers to personal orders – 92.3 per cent of the subsidy goes to the major retailers, while 3.4 goes to food establishments, 2.4 to individuals, and 1.9 to institutions.
NNSL file photo
A Nutrition North Program consultation in Iqaluit Sept 26, 2016 sees Iqalungmiut ask: If the program is not about food insecurity, but is about selling nutritious foods at lower prices, who exactly gets to decide what is considered nutritious foods? Mistrust about all aspects of the program, and the need for Inuit to make decisions themselves, dominated the conversation.

2017, January: consultations in 23 Northern communities wrap up.

At the Iqaluit consultation Mayor Madeleine Redfern speaks up:

“Millions of dollars of edible foods get thrown out in our landfills. There needs to be a mechanism to make sure that doesn’t happen. And why are we subsidizing dragon fruit or tofu burgers? More staples should be less expensive,” says Redfern, who noted Nunavut dumps are filled with perishable food items people could never afford in the first place.

2017, April:  A compilation of all comments received during consultations on the Nutrition North Canada program has a low-key release April 28, with a brief statement from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett and Health Minister Jane Philpott. No timeline for repairing the Nutrition North program is offered.

Read the compilation report

2018, May: Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, appears in Iqaluit and announces $40 million in federal funding to Nunavut – including 12.7 million to First Air for a new cargo hangar in the capital – on behalf of Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.

Jones says a new program based on food security to replace the existing Nutrition North Program would be unveiled in the next few months, but is unable to provide a time frame.

Jones says food security goes beyond subsidizing the price of fruits and vegetables. Infrastructure investments, such as to First Air’s new cargo warehouse and improved airport facilities, were part of the big picture to bring down the cost of food.

2018, December: Jones is scheduled to announce structural changes to Nutrition North in Iqaluit Dec. 10. The program now includes 121 communities, a 37-community increase. The budget for 2018-19 is expected to be approximately $99 million.

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