North

Nutrition North program not accountable: Academic

An academic at the University of Manitoba says the Nutrition North program doesn’t do enough to ensure retailers are passing subsidies on to the consumers. ‘It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.’

‘It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse’

Produce is placed on a scale in an Iqaluit grocery store. The Nutrition North program offers direct subsidies to retailers who ship healthy food to communities that don't have roads. Tracey Galloway says the program does little to ensure retailers are passing the savings on to consumers. (CBC)

Another voice is weighing in on the controversial Nutrition North retail subsidy program.

The program offers subsidies directly to retailers who ship healthy, nutritious food to communities without road access. Implemented in 2011, it was a controversial shift from the program it replaced, which offered a flat shipping rate to anyone shipping a larger range of food and household goods north.

Tracey Galloway, who published an article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, says the program does little to ensure retailers are passing the savings on to consumers.

“If we're going to give the retailers the money, then we need a very detailed and comprehensive structure to hold them accountable,” she says.

Instead, the oversight relies on following the consumer prices of a specific basket of food prices, which Galloway says is vulnerable to manipulation. The program also fails to make public how much large retailers are paying in freight in the first place, “making it impossible to see whether [the] subsidy rates reflect the real cost of freight transport to communities.”

“It kind of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Galloway’s concerns echo what people in Nunavut have been saying since the Nutrition North program was first introduced.

The program is meant to help northerners afford healthy food.

Jojo Aningmiuq, a father of four living in Iqaluit, says his refrigerator stays empty for half the month.

“I'm always in debt,” he says. “I have to rely on my dad or my common law's family.”

Aningmiuq says he used to go hunting when he got hungry, but gas and equipment got too expensive.

“I had to start selling my stuff. Snowmobile, rifle whatever. Just to put food on the table.”

MLA George Hickes has regularly criticized Nutrition North in the Nunavut legislature.

“The general consensus is that it just doesn't seem to be working,” says George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk. “That it seems to be more focused on the retailers, not the consumers.”

Aningmiuq’s advice to the federal government is simple.

“Go back to the drawing board.”

Aboriginal Affairs hasn’t yet responded to CBC's request for an interview.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Auditor general of Canada is set to release its review of the program next month.

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