A federal program that subsidizes the shipping of nutritious, perishable food by air to remote northern communities could someday run without Canada Post delivering the goods, federal officials told N.W.T. MLAs in Yellowknife on Monday.
In a briefing with territorial politicians, officials with the Indian and Northern Affairs Department said they are contemplating running the Food Mail Program without the national postal service, instead dealing directly with food suppliers in an effort to shave transportation costs.
The idea came after the department began seeking input from northerners on how to revamp the decades-old food shipping service, which cost the federal government $50 million to run last year.
"We run the Food Mail Program not using Canada Post, or perhaps [have] a direct relationship with the major food retailers," Leo Doyle, the project lead on the department's program review team, told CBC News on Monday.
"We don't know where we're going in terms of that. We are continuing to study it, so no decisions have been taken."
The Food Mail Program pays part of the cost of shipping nutritious perishable food and other essential items by air to isolated northern communities that are not accessible year-round by road, rail or marine service.
It helps stores in 135 communities across the North offer healthy food at prices that are not prohibitive.
Department officials told MLAs they are concerned with the program's high cost, but stressed that it will not be terminated.
Discussions at Monday's briefing then moved to the related topic of high food prices in small, isolated N.W.T. communities.
Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya said the Indian and Northern Affairs Department should be subsidizing food prices in small communities to keep them the same as in larger communities, rather than just reviewing the shipping operations.
"A two-litre [carton] of milk here in Yellowknife, they're paying about $5. In Norman Wells, it's about $9.36. Ten pounds of potatoes in Tulita is about $21," Yakeleya said.
"The costs are so extremely high that [that's] all we could feed our family up in our small communities."
Indian and Northern Affairs will present its ideas on how to improve the Food Mail Program later this fall.