The federal Nutrition North Canada food subsidy program will include some exceptions for Old Crow, but it's not clear if Yukon's northernmost community will get better food at affordable prices as a result.
Nutrition North officially replaces the federal Food Mail Program on April 1, changing how the federal government subsidizes the cost of groceries in remote northern communities.
The new program will remove the subsidy from transportation, and will instead give it to retailers, which will be responsible for making their own freight arrangements and passing on the savings to consumers.
The Nutrition North program will focus mainly on subsidizing the costs of healthy, perishable foods in Canada's North, meaning products not considered to be healthy will no longer be subsidized.
But residents in Old Crow, a fly-in community that has one store, have said the new program could result in less choice, more expensive food and less nutrition in their community.
"We do recognize the unique circumstances of Old Crow," Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan told reporters in a teleconference Thursday.
Longer list of eligible foods
While federal officials have already changed its list of grocery items that are eligible for a subsidy, phasing out many items that are deemed not to be healthy and perishable, Duncan said an exception will be made for Old Crow.
"The eligibility list will continue to include most of the shopping items that were previously allowable," he said.
However, officials did not say what items Old Crow's expanded list will include.
Nutrition North acting director Leo Doyle said the new subsidy will give retailers more flexibility to send groceries to Old Crow.
"So that could mean that a retailer who's closer to to the community of Old Crow might have an interest in serving the community," Doyle said.
However, no retailers based closer to Old Crow have applied to participate in the new program, so Doyle said much of Old Crow's groceries will continue to be shipped from Whitehorse and southern Canada.
Communication plan starts this week
Meanwhile, Duncan said the federal government is rolling out its communication strategy on the Nutrition North program this week, although federal officials had previously said they would launch that strategy later this month.
The move comes as Ottawa reacts to recent photographs showing extremely high grocery prices in Arctic Bay, Nunavut. The photographs sparked controversy, but also some debate, Duncan said.
"Some of the recent controversy I think has not been counter-productive, I think it's actually been healthy," he said.
"People are now engaging in debate, discussion, and wrapping their heads around the fact that there will be a set of choices in front of them that kick in when the program is launched in April."
Duncan said the Nutrition North communication plan will include posters in stores, mail-outs to northern communities, and officials visiting some communities to explain how the program will work.