Northerners react to AG's Nutrition North findings

'It was really good to hear what the auditor general said,' says Iqaluit food activist Leesee Papatsie, 'because that's what we've been saying all along: the program is not transparent enough.'
'That's what we've been saying all along: the program is not transparent enough,' says Leesee Papatsie, a food activist in Iqaluit who's well known for starting the Facebook page Feeding my Family. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

People in Nunavut are pleased with the auditor general’s findings that said the federal government can’t tell whether retailers are passing on the Nutrition North subsidy to consumers.

Leesee Papatsie is a food activist in Iqaluit, best known for founding the Facebook group, Feeding My Family, which now has over 21,000 members.

“It was really good to hear what the auditor general said,” she says, “because that's what we've been saying all along: the program is not transparent enough.”

In Grise Fiord, Nunavut’s northernmost community on Ellesmere Island, where Nutrition North subsidies fund as much as $16 per kilogram, Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko says she wishes Nutrition North would be replaced with the old Food Mail program.

Under Food Mail, anyone who wanted to ship healthy food north could access a subsidized postal rate through Canada Post.

“It's a fundamental issue that needs to be looked at again and see if it can help us.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt sought to put a positive spin on the auditor's findings. The department manages the $60 million a year program.

"Let's be fair to the auditor general. What he says is that we cannot give the assurance that all of the subsidy actually goes to consumers. That's what he says," Valcourt said.

"Because we have data that has been collected by a third party, which shows clearly that the basket of food has gone down by $110 a month for a family of four and that perishable goods have increased by close to 25 per cent.

"What we are unable to say, however, clearly and without doubt, is that all of the subsidy has gone to the consumers."

Retailers and shippers will have to report their past and present profit margins by next April, the minister added.

'The program is not lowering costs': Bevington

The government's handling of the Nutrition North program drew criticism from the opposition.

"It's damning," Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said in an interview. "It completely confirms what the people of the North
have been telling us."

Added NDP MP Dennis Bevington: "The program is not lowering costs for northerners and it is not targeting all the communities in need."

The Conservative government has defended the program, saying it has given more people in isolated and remote communities access to healthy and perishable foods.

But the auditors found some decidedly unhealthy foods are being subsidized. Ice cream, bacon and processed cheese spread qualify for the lower of the program's two subsidy levels.

Other foods that used to be subsidized under the Food Mail program, such as canned goods and rice, have been dropped. 

The Conservative government, which is made aware of the contents of auditor's reports in advance and given the opportunity to respond before they are released publicly, announced last week it would spend another $11.3 million on the program over the next year.

With files from The Canadian Press


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