Manitoba seeks ways to lower northern food prices

The Manitoba government is looking to cut the price of milk and other essential foods in remote northern communities.

The Manitoba government is looking to cut the price of milk and other essential foods in remote northern communities.

Premier Greg Selinger says he'd first like the federal government to expand its Nutrition North Canada program, which subsidizes healthy foods in remote areas.

But the province is also talking with food stores about other measures, and is committed to cutting the price of milk.

"We also have had contact with some of the private food providers in the north and we want everyone to come together to find a solution," Selinger said in an interview.

"When I went up there, I saw a jug of milk — four litres — at over $20. We'd like to get it down into the single-digits like the rest of us have."

Discussing options first

It's too early to say whether the province might end up subsidizing either store owners or shipping companies, he added.

"We'd like it to be as sustainable as possible and we want to have a discussion with all our partners before we lock in on the specific solution."

The federal program used to be called Food Mail. It subsidized shipping companies' costs for food deliveries to northern remote communities.

In October 2010, the Conservative government changed the $54-million program to subsidize retailers instead of shippers, and removed subsidies for foods not considered healthy.

But critics say the federal program does not go far enough.

Politicians from the three territories, as well as northern Quebec and Labrador, have asked the federal government to cover more foods and ensure that retailers pass along their subsidies.

Protests were planned for this weekend in communities across Nunavut to draw attention to high prices.

Liberal leader wants unified milk price

Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard has urged the NDP government to mandate one price for milk across the province, so that people in fly-in communities pay no more than people in downtown Winnipeg.

"We have a single price for liquor all over Manitoba. I believe we can do it for milk," Gerrard said.

"It's important for nutrition and in fact, by keeping children healthy we're going to save a lot of money in health care."

Rates of diabetes, tooth decay and other diseases could be cut if people drank more milk and fewer soft drinks, which can cost a fraction of what milk costs in remote areas, Gerrard said.

The Manitoba government already offers several programs to help northern residents access nutritious foods.

The province funds greenhouses and community gardens as well as school nutrition programs that provide healthy foods to students.

The province also offers loans to residents of remote communities who buy large freezers in order to store bulk food orders.