The House

Northern food security program updates were 'never designed' for Inuit, leader says

The long-awaited changes to the federal government's food program in the North have missed the mark, says the leader of Canada's largest Inuit organization.
People across the North weighed in on potential changes to Nutrition North, but there are still unanswered questions even after the government updated the program. (Nick Murray/CBC)

The long-awaited changes to the federal government's food program in the North have missed the mark, says the leader of Canada's largest Inuit organization.

"The government of Canada is telling Inuit what to eat," Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told The House.

On Monday, the Liberals announced an update to the Nutrition North program, which included increased subsidies for certain foods and added more foods to that approved list.

However, few details were provided on how they plan to ensure the full subsidy is being passed on to Northerners. Critics of the program say the subsidies will benefit retailers more than the residents.

Food security in the North has always been a problem policy makers have struggled with, as prices crept up to incredible sums — like $70 for a watermelon and $26 for a jug of orange juice.

The newest changes come after Inuit groups walked away from working group consultations earlier this year, frustrated with the government's approach to reforming Nutrition North. Obed called it "tokenism and optics."

Despite the changes to Nutrition North, Obed said that as long as there's a lack of transparency and accountability, the program will fail.

"No matter how it's tweaked, it's not going to satisfy the interests of the people it's intended to serve," he told host Chris Hall. 

He pointed out benefits of the program, like the fact that it accounts for more traditional foods like caribou, seal and whale, and added he hopes the government eventually will recognize that cooperating with Inuit as the program is revised is critical.

But he said he's concerned about the continuing food challenges, the income gap and clarity on the subsidies.

"This was never designed for Inuit."

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