Nutrition North officials grilled in Nunavut legislature

Federal officials took questions about the beleaguered Nutrition North Canada program in the Nunavut legislature Tuesday.

MLAs concerned about how program affects those in isolated communities

Federal officials took questions about the beleaguered Nutrition North Canada program Tuesday.

The controversial food subsidy program was the only item on the Nunavut legislature’s agenda.

MLAs took the opportunity to ask officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and from Nutrition North’s advisory board about how the program will help people in the North to access healthy, affordable food.

Most of the questions centered around how exactly people are benefitting from the program and how individuals who make food orders can take advantage of the subsidy program.

"The regular Inuk – how can we encourage him to order? We know he can, but how will he be helped if he does not want to get his food from a local store?" asked Tunnuniq MLA Joe Enook.

Stephen Van Dine, director general for territorial relations with AANDC, said this issue is a concern.

Stephen Van Dine, with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, took questions about the Nutrion North Canada program at the Nunavut Legislature Tuesday. (CBC)

"Individuals are disadvantaged in terms of the kinds of things that are available to larger purchasers such as stores and retailers. That is a matter for the airline industry to focus on for sure," said Van Dine.

Another MLA asked if it would be possible for personal food orders to have lower freight costs than retailers.

Van Dine said that will be an ‘area of discussion’.

"We are looking to focus one of the advisory board meetings in February to have a component to engage with businesses, including airlines, to talk about how the program is operating," he said.

The officials argued that although the Nutrition North program has had its share of problems, it’s still better than the old Food Mail program.

Many Nunavut MLAs still don’t think it will make healthy food more affordable in isolated communities.

The program was supposed to come into full force this month. The federal government pushed that date back due to concerns from consumers, retailers and government.

The program’s full implementation is now scheduled to come into effect in October 2012.