Evidence of meeting #3 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Serge Beaudoin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Tom Wong  Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services
Wayne Walsh  Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

12:20 p.m.

Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services

Dr. Tom Wong

To echo what Serge Beaudoin just said, the ITK together with NICO, jointly through the ICPC process, has drafted an Inuit food security strategy. They are hoping they will be able to finalize it later on this year with the opportunity of different departments trying to support the implementation of that strategy in the future, should resources become available. This would be something, as an example, for an Inuit-led, Inuit-implemented strategy for the years to come.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

One thing that we're reading here in the Northern Policy Institute is the use of drones and airships to deliver food. Is that ongoing, or is it being talked about at all?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

Those discussions or innovations are ongoing, and I think as technology advances those will become more viable, but we're still dealing with immediate challenges. Communities are looking for simple solutions now, but, certainly, we're approached all the time with airships, drones and other ideas of how we can make transportation cheaper, therefore reducing the cost.

One of the things that the Government of Nunavut has consistently come forward with to reduce air costs is to simply extend landing strips in communities that would enable bigger planes to land. If you have bigger planes that can land, you can get more cargo. If you have more cargo on one plane, as opposed to multiple planes, then that will reduce the cost of the food that's brought in.

There are lots of different ways to look at it for sure. We're always looking for innovation.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Would that require another department funding that, such as Transport or Infrastructure, or would that still come from your same department?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

It could be Transport or Infrastructure, and I think the Government of Nunavut itself would have responsibility for some of that infrastructure.

This goes back to the point that addressing food security is multi-jurisdictional. It's complex and we need lots of different partners and actors talking together and working together to land on these solutions.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I agree that it is complex for sure. My only concern is that when it crosses departments, things really grind to a halt, and these people need help. When you're navigating all these things together, the solution takes a lot longer.

Is there any way to streamline this to be a lot faster if that's what they're calling for and we know that's what they're looking for? It makes sense to me—longer runways, bigger planes—yes, of course.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're at time there, but I'll allow for a very quick answer.

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

You asked earlier what my wish list is. Certainly, my wish list has always been to make things more streamlined and efficient. I'm more than in favour of that. It's about looking at efficiencies.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

Mr. Powlowski, you have five minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you.

My riding is Thunder Bay—Rainy River, which doesn't have fly-in communities per se, but within Thunder Bay there are something like 10,000 to 30,000 people from northern fly-in communities, so what we're talking about directly affects a lot of constituents in my riding.

To illustrate the extent of the problem, I recently talked to the food bank in Thunder Bay. The food bank is sending tonnes of donated food up to northern fly-in communities. The chiefs pay for the flights, but that illustrates the difficulty in getting food on northern reserves.

I think one of the big problems with nutrition north, from what I can see, is that the subsidy is so trivial that one questions the value of doing it at all. Nutrition north showed some slides. They had taken pictures of I don't know which fly-in community, something like Attawapiskat, and they showed the price with the subsidy and the price without the subsidy.

A little container of strawberries was something like $10.20 with the subsidy and $10.80 without the subsidy. It's a trivial amount of savings. I can't see anybody saying, “Oh well, I get 60 cents off that basket of strawberries. I think I'll buy that.” It's still $10.20. It's still basically unaffordable.

I'm sure that a lot of money is going into nutrition north, but if it basically means a trivial discount that means nothing to the consumer, is it of any value at all?

February 27th, 2020 / 12:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Serge Beaudoin

I mentioned that I was in Resolute last week. Resolute is in Nunavut. It's 3,300 kilometres northwest of here—quite a distance. If you think Iqaluit is north, it's 1,000 kilometres from Iqaluit. It's a community of about 186 people, so it's a small community.

Walking in to the Arctic Co-op there, there was a breadth of products available. This is a community that receives a high subsidy level, given its level of remoteness. The subsidy is adjusted depending how close or how far you are, or how much access you have.

The subsidy in that community—the high subsidy—is $12 per kilogram flown in, so the price of milk I was looking at is comparable to what you could find in various southern communities. Fresh fruit and vegetables are pretty much the same if you look at the scope. For frozen fruit and vegetables, it also looked rather comparable, so we weren't in the range of the $12 strawberries.

That being said, though, things that weren't subsidized, like a bag of chips, cost $13. There's a bit of a disincentive there, but the program is meant for nutritious food.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Well, it would be an interesting thing to look at then because certainly, as I remember in the pictures, the price of food was basically unaffordable. This was in northwestern Ontario. It's not as far to fly, so a subsidy that is adequate for really remote places but inadequate for places that are less remote may be a real possibility and something to look at.

The second issue that I heard of with the nutrition north program is that the Northern store—a big store where they're selling a lot of stuff—can apply for the subsidy and get it back, whereas for smaller retailers, the actual process of filling out the forms is so burdensome that a lot of people don't do it.

12:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Serge Beaudoin

We're constantly looking at how we can create a balance between streamlining administration and ensuring that the subsidy actually gets passed on to the consumer. Many of the mechanisms that are in place, verifications of the claims that come in and whatnot, are there to ensure that the consumer is getting the subsidy passed on.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I have a quick final question. Local sourcing of food certainly seems to me to be the way to get to self-sufficiency.

You talked about CanNor and $15 million over five years for things like greenhouses, but that's only north of 60. It certainly seems to me that in those northwestern Ontario fly-in communities.... DeBruin's tried to start a greenhouse in Fort Severn. I think a number of women had their own plots. Is there nobody in Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs who has the mandate to look into and be involved in attempts to gain that kind of self-sufficiency within those communities south of 60?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're over our time again. Could you just reply very briefly?

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Serge Beaudoin

I would just say that this, I think, would fit into programming perhaps in Agriculture Canada, for instance, that put out its food strategy recently. It has some programming.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

Ms. Bérubé, you have two and a half minutes.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Since the 2019 evaluation of your program, food insecurity has increased in the Nunavut community. Can you explain to me why food insecurity rates have increased in Nunavut since the Nutrition North Canada program was launched?

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Serge Beaudoin

Thank you for your question.

We constantly monitor the rate of food insecurity. Improvements that wer made recently, in 2019, may not yet be fully reflected on the ground. For example, I mentioned the new harvesters support grant. Funding for this grant will be allocated imminently, in March of this year. The measures have not necessarily had time to take full effect on the ground.

Overall, statistics indicate that food insecurity has been reduced since the program was implemented in 2011. There is always more to be done, and that is why we have round tables with our partners to hear their concerns and find solutions to better meet needs. It is on the basis of these conversations that we make adjustments to the programs. We also adjust product funding rates and the list of eligible products. I will give you an example.

During our consultations, we realized that, as part of the subsidy aimed at nutritious food and having maximum impact in that area, there was a list of foods to make bannock. We adjusted our list to make sure that we included the products to make bannock. There are things that we can subsidize to get them out there, based on the needs expressed to us.

It is through this dialogue that we can get there and make progress.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

What is the federal government doing about growing food insecurity in Nunavut and other northern indigenous communities?

You say food insecurity is decreasing, but we know it is still going on. It's a process and things vary from area to area.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Please keep your answer brief.

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Serge Beaudoin

Thank you for your question.

I do not want to downplay food insecurity, which is very important.

It is through dialogue with our partners that we will be able to reach solutions. We have a program and we can adjust the parameters of the program. However, by engaging in a broader dialogue with partners and our other colleagues in federal departments, we can find solutions. That is what we are trying to do. The dialogue is ongoing.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Gordon Johns, please.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

One of the big concerns we have in the NDP is the knowledge of Inuit culture within the relevant departments. Can you maybe reflect on your programs and their need to succeed, and do you feel that staff at every level of the department have knowledge in terms of Inuit culture?