Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from the Northwest Territories for bringing forward this motion on behalf of all of us who represent the north.
We are here to raise awareness of and demand action on the shameful fact that the people who I and many of us represent are going hungry. They cannot afford to keep healthy food on their family's table. Elders and kids have no food in this country, Canada. I fundamentally believe that Canadians are simply not okay with that fact.
I want to begin by giving a quick snapshot of what the people in my own riding of Churchill are dealing with on any given day. John Robert Throassie from Tadoule Lake said, “You go to the Northern Store with $200 and you'll be lucky if you get one week of supplies”.
A constituent from Tadoule Lake shared with me that a four-litre jug of milk is $15. Darryl Beardy from York Landing, which has been excluded from nutrition north, said that a four-litre jug of milk is $12. Julie-Anne Saunders reported to me that, at one time, strawberries in the Northern Store in York Landing were almost $13, and ground beef was $14.
This has been a historic week for Canada. Our Truth and Reconciliation Commission has come to a close and has given us all a clear mandate. Justice Murray Sinclair said it best when he said:
Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem—it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.
He spoke directly to the leaders in Canada and the government and asked us to take up the spirit in actions of reconciliation in all we do.
The commission has given us a road map with 94 recommendations that clearly define what the government's role should be in making our broken country whole again. For our part, New Democrats are fully committed to following these recommendations.
I want to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations in the context of nutrition north, because when indigenous peoples are going hungry in the north and the government does not take action to address it, there can be no reconciliation. The TRC report said:
We believe that in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and to move towards more respectful and healthy relationships, the Government of Canada, in meaningful consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, must recognize and address the broader context of the child-welfare crisis. This includes matters of child poverty, housing, water, sanitation, food security, family violence, addictions, and educational inequities.
More succinctly, the formidable indigenous performer, musician Tanya Tagaq tweeted on Tuesday:
#MyReconciliationIncludes the ending of the food crisis in Nunavut. Subsidize the shipping costs.
We have heard it from indigenous leaders; we have heard it from the government's own Auditor General; and I personally hear it constantly on the ground in the communities that I have the honour of representing. Northerners cannot access affordable healthy food where they are. People are going hungry. People are getting sick. The need is urgent, and we cannot wait any longer for action.
I want to acknowledge the work of Leesee Papatsie, a creator of the “Feeding My Family” Facebook page, who is known as a hero in many communities that I represent. She said:
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.
She said their children are going hungry.
My riding in northern Manitoba includes 14 communities that are eligible for nutrition north. They are Bloodvein, Berens River, God's Lake Narrows, God's River, Garden Hill, Lac Brochet, Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River, Oxford House, Red Sucker Lake, Shamattawa, St Theresa Point, Waasagomach, and Pauingassi
In response to numerous complaints about the effectiveness of nutrition north from my own constituents, along with six of my colleagues, I wrote a letter to the Auditor General asking for a wide ranging financial and operational audit of the program. The Auditor General agreed, and in 2014, a damning report was released that found huge gaps and a general lack of accountability in the management of the program.
No wonder people in the communities I represent are calling for action. They know the program is not working.
I also acknowledge communities like Churchill and Pukatawagan that, yes, have a railway but are still remote, and people cannot afford healthy food to feed their families.
I have been advocating for the program to be fixed, and for some time, my requests have been met with an infuriating lack of action on the part of the minister and his staff, who admit freely to me that the problems and inequities that exist within the program are there, but they are in no hurry whatsoever to fix them.
I repeat, people are going hungry in our north. Elders cannot afford food. Parents cannot afford to buy healthy food for their children. Parents who cannot afford food for their kids cannot wait for the federal government to choose to prioritize the issue; they need it fixed now.
My colleagues and I are brought here today by the serious health needs of the people we represent. What could be more fundamental than addressing third-world food shortages?
One of the worst issues we are facing in the north is that some communities, which by all accounts are the most northern and face the greatest levels of food insecurity, are excluded entirely from nutrition north, and there is no credible reason. There are indigenous communities in my riding that urgently need to be included in the program, because even a program that is not working as it should is better than no program at all.
The communities are York Landing, Brochet, and Tadoule Lake, which is the farthest north first nation in northern Manitoba. They must be included immediately in the program. We also recognize that there are other communities, as I mentioned, that need to be considered and included.
Time is up for the current government. What we are saying today is that the government has to step up and immediately contribute the funds necessary to include these excluded communities. It is an easy and straightforward step in the right direction. Children are going hungry.
We have crunched preliminary numbers and approximately $7.5 million would be needed to include the excluded communities. We can do this today and simultaneously commit the House to look critically at the nutrition north program from the ground up, and do the work necessary to make food security a reality for northerners. We need to go back to the table and fix this broken program
I want to read into the record the words of one of my constituents, Sheila Marie Beardy from Pukatawagan, who said:
I live in an isolated First Nation of Pukatawagan, Manitoba, where the only means of travel in the summer is by plane or train (twice a week) and in the winter we do have a winter road for 3 months and the high cost of living is ridiculous! We only have 1 store which is called the Northern Store.... Many of our Community Members struggle due to the high cost of living in our Community....
I also think of the northerners who are making a difference every single day trying to establish food security, food sovereignty, in their communities. I think of the work that is being done currently in Garden Hill by Darcy Wood and Shaun Loney, working with local young people and people in Garden Hill to establish community gardens. I think of the work of Diana DeLaronde-Colombe in Wabowden, who for years has been working to establish greenhouses and raise chickens on a small scale in communities in our north. I think of the late Oscar Lathlin and leaders in our provincial government who fought to establish some ability to support food security in our north.
However, the role we need to see here is the one played by the federal government. We in the NDP understand that food security for northern indigenous peoples means more than just nutrition north. We need to address the food crisis in the north and work together for sustainable, indigenous, and northern-led solutions.
In conclusion, I stand in the House to ask the Conservative government to stop taking the north for granted. Stop using northerners for photo ops. I ask the Conservatives to respect the north and stand with northerners to put an end to the food insecurity they and we face.