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Ottawa looks to lessen food insecurity in remote communities

Gov't to expand subsidies in Nutrition North program, vows more accountability
Food distribution warehouse

Ottawa is making changes to its much-maligned Nutrition North program by expanding the list of non-perishable items, eligible to be subsidized, for transport into remote communities.

The feds said the list includes more family-friendly items such as macaroni, cooking oil, beans, lentils, flour and diapers.

Feminine hygiene products have also been added to the eligibility list to make these products more accessible and affordable for women and girls in isolated Northern communities.

These goods are usually shipped by marine and winter road carriers.

Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett made the announcement in Cambridge Bay, NU on Aug. 21.

To help lower the prices of non-perishable items, the government is introducing a new subsidy level of $1 per kilogram for eligible items shipped by seasonal ground transportation (winter road, sealift, or barge) for all eligible communities.

The government said it's also working to deliver support, called the Harvesters Support Grant, to help lower the high costs to do traditional hunting and harvesting activities on the land.

A compliance and audit review committee will be established in the coming months to improve transparency and accountability through an auditing process.

One measure being proposed is requiring receipts at the point of sale to show how the subsidy is being applied.

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Finding ways to lower the cost of delivering healthy food to remote communities has been a challenge for Sioux Lookout to establish a regional food distribution system.

Ottawa said it's spending more than $127 million to expand program, something the government claims it has been steadily doing since 2016 when consultation began with residents of isolated communities on what goods needed to be included.

"Since 2016, we have listened to Northerners, and their feedback has informed all our changes to the Nutrition North Canada program," said Bennett in a release.

"We have expanded the program to all isolated Northern communities, increased its transparency, and we are working to create a Harvesters Support Grant.

"Northerners told us that they want greater savings on healthy foods that are targeted at supporting healthy families," added MP Yvonne Jones, parliamentary secretary to the minister of intergovernmental and Northern affairs and internal trade.

"The new subsidy on eligible items delivered by surface transportation as well as the addition of feminine hygiene products reflects what we heard from Northerners. Together, we will continue to explore solutions developed by Northerners for Northerners to ensure the program is serving those who need it."

Last December, the government put out a revised subsidized foods list that included milk, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, infant formula, and infant food.