Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to let you know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Churchill.
I rise today to speak in support of this motion put forth by the NDP member for Northwest Territories. I must also add my gratitude in recognizing the tremendous work that my colleague has done for many years in serving as the tireless voice of the people from the territories.
Many communities across Canada's three territories as well as in the northern parts of several provinces are accessible only by air for part of or all of the year. The cost of living and doing business in these isolated communities is higher than in many of the other southern regions of the country. Necessities such as perishable foods must be flown in to the communities, and it is not easy. In my community of Scarborough and Toronto we can walk down the street to a grocery store, but people in many northern communities do not have this luxury. Even though food insecurity is prevalent in Scarborough—Rouge River and north Scarborough, it is far worse in the northern parts of our country, and we need to recognize that. I thank the member for Northwest Territories for his work and for his recognition of this situation.
The NDP has taken a leadership role in trying to alleviate some of the problems by coming up with new solutions that might actually work.
Perishable foods should not cost such exorbitant amounts. For example, in April 2014, the price of two litres of milk was $7.99 in Old Crow, Yukon, compared with $3.35 in Edmonton, Alberta. In Fort Albany in northern Ontario, baby formula costs $60 and two pounds of frozen beef cost $16. These types of prices are through the roof. In Treaty 5 territory, bread costs $6, a jug of milk is $13, and a case of eggs is $37. If we are going to go all out and have the luxury of fresh produce, something as simple as a bunch of grapes will cost $12.
These exorbitant prices occur in communities that are living in crushing poverty, communities where people's main income is about $371 of social assistance a month. I do not know how much $371 can actually buy a person who is feeding a family, trying to feed children, trying to feed three or four mouths.
These types of high prices have been prevalent in our northern communities for far too long. To help with these high costs of food in the north, the federal government created the food mail program in the late 1960s. After 1991, the program was managed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I would like to go through a little bit about this program, especially for the benefit of members of my community who may not know about the nutrition north program because they are in Toronto.
Under the program, Canada Post received a transportation subsidy from the department to deliver items to isolated northern communities. Over the years, because of population growth and increasing fuel prices, expenditures continued to increase and the program often exceeded its budget.
In April of 2011, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada introduced the nutrition north program. The objective of the program was to make healthy foods more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated northern communities.
Nutrition north Canada is a transfer payment program based on a market-driven model. It has an annual fixed budget of $60 million, of which $53.9 million is allocated annually to the subsidy component. The subsidy is provided directly to northern retailers, food suppliers, distributors, and food processors through contribution agreements. Retailers make their own supply chain arrangements.
About 40 retailers, suppliers, and food processors participate in the program, and three northern retailers have accounted for about 80% of the subsidy each year. Why are we giving these subsidies to retailers, suppliers, and food processors, rather than directly to the people who are the end consumers? We are counting on the government giving the subsidies to these retailers and hoping that the retailers will actually transfer these subsidies and cost savings over to the consumers, but in reality we are not seeing that.
I would like to quote Ron Elliott, former Nunavut MLA for Quttiktuq. He said:
That's been one of the problems from the onset of the program. You are providing a subsidy to the people who are responsible to board members or shareholders who are supposed to make profits. So there are conflicting interests.
He is right when he says that when they give subsidies in the hope the retailers will transfer these cost savings on to the end consumer, the retailers are not necessarily going to always make that their priority when their priority is, of course, lining their pockets and making profits for themselves and their shareholders. That is one of the many problems with the system.
However, let me go back. Soon after the program was initiated, complaints began. People were seeing increased food costs compared with those experienced under the old food mail program, which allowed a bit more control for the direct end user.
Norman Yakeleya, Northwest Territories MLA for Sahtu, said:
The transition to the NNCP was painful and frustrating for my people. We are basically at the mercy of our one or two stores, especially when these stores are now saying “believe us — this is how much you are saving and this is what you'll get...no more personal orders.” We feel our choices in the old Food Mail Program were stomped out by the New Improved NNCP.
Nutrition north is a failure because the criteria used to determine which communities receive assistance are flawed, with the result that close to 50 communities that should qualify actually do not receive the full subsidy or the full assistance. We know that at least 46 northern communities that receive either no subsidy or a 5-cent-per-kilogram partial subsidy on the food should actually qualify for the full subsidy.
We are speaking about families and children being able to leave the vicious cycle of poverty. The additional cost for the government to alleviate this situation and lift these families out of poverty would be about $7.6 million. That is what it would cost to add these 46 communities to the full subsidy list, but the government refuses to be there to support these communities that are living in conditions of extreme poverty.
We have also seen the Conservatives spending dollars on advertisements for the government's action plan, or inaction plan. Recently it spent $13.5 million just to promote its budget, but apparently $7.6 million is just too much money to spend on our northern communities to try to alleviate conditions for the many northerners who are living in poverty.
Of the 46 communities that I mentioned, 27 are in Conservative-held ridings. If the Conservatives wanted to at least support their own communities, these 27 communities, they should be able to do something to alleviate the situation, the condition, the reality of our elders in our communities, who are rooting through garbage to scavenge for food.
This really should not be the case. In such a rich country as ours, no one should be living in poverty, let alone so many entire communities.
When I put forward Motion No. 534 to end child poverty in this House, it was because far too many children in this country, 967,000 of them, are living in poverty or extreme poverty. UNICEF's report tells us that one Canadian child in five lives in poverty today. Among our aboriginal children, it is far more extreme: half—one in two—of our aboriginal children are growing up in extreme poverty. Just two days ago, I was in Toronto with Keep the Promise, where children were speaking out and asking our government to work to end poverty among children in this country.
Food insecurity is a real problem in many of our communities, even in Scarborough, but it does not even come close to the level of food insecurity in northern Ontario and in many other parts of northern Canada.
In conclusion, I would like to end my remarks for now with a reminder and a quote from a mother.
Her name is Leesee Papatsie. She is the creator of Feeding My Family, a Facebook page that she created. Of the aboriginal first peoples of this country and how their culture is one of working together and supporting one another and not creating friction, she said:
It's against our culture. The Inuit never protested. Traditionally, for the Inuit to survive, everybody had to get along and we didn't create friction. But if we don't start saying something about high costs, then people will think it's okay.
Our children are going hungry. Our country's children should not be going hungry, and it is our responsibility as legislators and as a government to ensure that all of Canada's children have food and security.