Nunatsiavut welcomes Nutrition North changes, but says they're just a start

Increased and additional subsidies for food and other items is welcomed, but the lack of transparency in the program overall is not.

Concerns remain over lack of transparency in the subsidy system

Flour is one of the many items getting an increased subsidy under the Nutrition North changes announced Monday. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

Changes to Nutrition North will be welcomed by Labrador Inuit, but there are still many concerns about the food subsidy program, says the food security co-ordinator for the Nunatsiavut government.

The federal government Monday announced a substantial series of changes to the program. Among them, some new items such as diapers will now be subsidized, and existing subsidies for a range of other items, including infant food and frozen vegetables, will be increased.

"What I have heard from Labradorians, and specifically from folks in Nunatsiavut, is [that's] extremely important, and I believe that will be a very welcome change," Kristeen McTavish told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"But overall the changes are fairly small, and we do realize that the program still needs some substantive overhaul, in terms of how the program is structured."

'A very big lack of transparency'

That structural problem has been a major issue for Inuit with Nutrition North since the program's introduction in 2011, said McTavish, and partly revolves around the fact the subsidies are paid out to stores and suppliers.

"There's a very big lack of transparency about where those dollars go, and how they're passed on to consumers," she said.

"At the core, that's not the right way to be subsidizing food."

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones says the federal government wants to have an open dialogue about Nutrition North with Inuit groups going forward. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Monday's announcement did include changes to how retailers report and disclose subsidies. That's all part of a continual effort to respond to criticism and revamp Nutrition North, said Labrador MP Yvonne Jones.

"We're open to look at other options. If there's a better way of subsidizing nutritious food and essential food that people need in Northern Inuit regions, we're willing to look at that," said Jones, who is also the parliamentary secretary for Northern Affairs.

The Nunatsiavut government was one of five Inuit groups to pull out of government talks over food security in April, saying their concerns weren't being addressed. But McTavish said with this latest announcement, it appears the federal government is taking steps to open lines of communication.

"We're definitely seeing a commitment to work with communities and Inuit to make changes," she said.

Harvester program welcomed

A bright spot for Labrador Inuit in the announcement is the addition of a program to help harvesters access wild game and traditional foods.

"We're very happy about that," said McTavish.

"Under the current program, the ability to access wild foods or country foods is very, very limited."

Details of what exactly that program will entail are slim, but McTavish hopes to hear people's ideas as it develops.

"There's a lot of work to be done still around these changes, and I certainly welcome any input from Labrador Inuit or folks in Labrador as to what they think would be appropriate in terms of a harvester support program," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning