Nfld. & Labrador

'Obvious price gouging' on food prices in Nain, says MHA

The concept of a co-op store is being revived as a possible solution to the high costs of food prices in Nain.

Costs of groceries, other essentials have sparked protests

Torngat Mountains Liberal MHA Randy Edmunds says he was shocked to see prices in the Nain store. (CBC)

The MHA for northern Labrador says the cost of food in the region, particularly in Nain, is "obvious price gouging."

That comment from Randy Edmunds comes on the heels of a protest earlier this week outside the community's Northern store, during a visit by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball. 

"It was appalling to see the difference in prices, and the extreme cost," said Edmunds, who was with Ball when demonstrators confronted the premier. 

"I can appreciate the people in Nain having as much concern as they do because it is overwhelming."

Pictures making the rounds on social media sites show shelves stocked with $7 cans of soup, $16 bottles of liquid dish detergent, and $11 for a package of spaghetti noodles.

Many people have taken to social media to voice their struggle to afford food in Labrador's north. (Lindsey Moorhouse/Facebook)

People living in Labrador's Inuit communities have said they already struggle to feed themselves and their families. 

In Nain and Hopedale, more than 80 per cent of households are dealing with food insecurity in some form, including people skipping meals, or sometimes going full days without eating because they can't afford food. 

Edmunds, who lives in Makkovik, says the future of the other grocery store in Nain is uncertain, and supplies there are low. 

"So it gives the Northern store a bit of a monopoly, and they're obviously capitalizing on that to the extreme," he said. 

The province does have a small air subsidy program in place — about $50,000 split between Labrador's three Indigenous groups, to help pay for food to be flown in to isolated communities. 

Meanwhile, the $60 million federal Nutrition North program is under fire for its lack of transparency, and questions about whether it works at all. 

Protesters confront N.L. Premier Dwight Ball and MHA Randy Edmunds in Nain, Labrador earlier this week. (Elsie Russell/Twitter)

The program gives retailers money to offset the high cost of shipping to remote parts of the North, but a 2014 report by Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson noted merchants are not required to report their profit margins, leaving shoppers skeptical they're seeing any benefits. 

Nutrition North is currently under review, and while that happens, people in Labrador's north are talking about what local solutions are available. 

A co-operative store of sorts was floated by Edmunds years ago, and is something he's discussing with local leaders yet again.

"If the people so decide it's time for this, then we look at the options of what it's going to take, who it's going to involve, and look at the idea and how it's implemented."

The North West Company, which owns Northern store, has not responded to CBC's request for comment.


Matt McCann

CBC News

Matt McCann is the digital assignment producer for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

with files from CBC News