Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this motion. I have had the pleasure of sitting on the aboriginal affairs committee for a little over four years now and through my experience, our government's record is one of progress on many different fronts. Whether we look at something like nutrition north, water and waste water, housing, or the FNLMA, we are making real progress on issues that affect first nations.
Speaking specifically about nutrition north, we know for sure that our government has made a very clear commitment to providing northerners with healthy food choices. Given the critical role of a wholesome diet to people's well-being, we are determined, like other Canadians, that northerners have access to quality nutritious food. This is the raison d'être for the nutrition north Canada program.
We introduced the program in 2011 precisely to address the concerns that are raised in the opposition member's motion. We know the cost of living is high for residents of isolated communities all across Canada's north, whether we talk about food, heating oil, housing or transportation, and that is why we have taken action.
Nutrition north increases northerners' access to high-quality, healthy foods. It provides a subsidy to reduce the price of perishable, nutritious food. For the purpose of this program, perishable food can be fresh, frozen, refrigerated, have a shelf life of less than one year, and the items must be shipped by air. A higher level of subsidy is provided for the most nutritious foods, such as milk, eggs, meat, cheeses, vegetables and fruit.
The subsidy also applies to country or traditional foods that have been the staples of northern diets for centuries. The subsidy is available when country foods are purchased through local stores or from processing plants registered with the program. Customers in eligible communities can also purchase such food from registered northern retailers or order it directly from registered southern suppliers.
Northern retailers can claim the subsidy directly or order the food from registered southern suppliers, or country food processors and distributors can sell it in their stores. Eligible social institutions such as daycares can also order the food from southern suppliers. In all cases, the subsidies are passed on from retailers and suppliers directly to consumers.
Subsidies provided under nutrition north are customized to account for the differences in transportation and operation costs. This means that the more remote the community is, the greater the subsidy. For example, the subsidy in Grise Fiord is higher than the rate for Iqaluit. This program follows a market-driven model, which has proven to be a sustainable, efficient and cost-effective means of helping northerners access nutritious and perishable foods.
Not only are communities benefiting from nutrition north, enjoying nutritious food at the subsidized price, they are also enjoying greater accountability and transparency under this program than the predecessor program, food mail. To ensure the subsidy is being passed on to consumers, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has entered into formal agreements with a number of registered food retailers and suppliers. These retailers and food suppliers must confirm, on a monthly basis, that subsidy claims made under the program are valid and accurate and that the subsidy is being passed on to consumers.
A third-party claims processor verifies the invoices and waybills submitted to ensure that the claims being made are in fact valid. The department ensures that it receives clear and well-supported compliance reviews to assess the compliance of retailers and food suppliers with their obligations.
It is also important to note that nutrition north Canada monitors price trends, using the revised northern food basket. This measures the weekly cost of food for a family of four using current nutrition recommendations as detailed in the dietary reference intakes and the newest version of Canada's Food Guide.
The food basket, which is composed of 67 items, is calculated using an average community price for each item. This takes into account the nutritional requirements and food serving recommendations for a man and a woman aged between 31 and 50, and a boy and a girl aged between 9 and 13.
I could use more of my time to discuss further details of the program, but what is far more important is to discuss the results on the ground.
Since its inception in April 2011, nutrition north Canada program has been successful in lowering the cost of food in remote northern communities. The cost of the revised northern food basket for a family of four has been cut, on average, by 7.2% between April 2011 and March 2014. This actually works out to approximately $137 per month.
This drop in food cost is greater than anywhere else in the country. Thanks to retailers' efforts to maximize the impact of the subsidy on food prices, the northern revised food basket was 1.4% lower at the end of March 2014 than a year earlier.
In addition, the average annual weight of eligible items being shipped to northern communities has increased by approximately 25% since the nutrition north Canada program was introduced. This means that northern consumers now have access to a much wider range of nutritious foods at less cost.
The northern nutrition Canada program is achieving results in reducing food prices.
We are making progress and there is no question that affordable food in remote northern communities remains a concern that requires our continued concerted efforts. That is why, on top of nutrition north's existing annual subsidy budget of $53.9 million, our Conservative government committed in the 2014 economic action plan to enhance funding for the program.
On November 21, 2014, in fulfillment of this commitment, the government announced an additional $11.3 million in 2014-15 to increase the program's food subsidy budget. As well, we are implementing a new ongoing 5% compound annual escalator beginning this year.
These additional funds resulted in a subsidy budget for 2014-15 of $65,200,000 and $68,498,000 in 2015-16. This comes to a total of $133.7 million in direct retail subsidies over a two year period to ensure continued access to perishable, nutritious foods for northerners.
Of course, we do not pretend that all the problems have been solved or that we have all the answers. The Government of Canada is just one of many players with an important role in this file.
Since the 1970s, the federal government has gradually transferred responsibility for health, education, social services, housing, airports and language to the territorial, local and aboriginal governments. Members of all levels of government agree that finding ways to work together with other governments, aboriginal organizations and companies to address local food security issues and to further improve access to nutritious food is absolutely essential.
We are ready to do our part and we are more than willing to work with willing partners in the opposition to achieve greater success in the nutrition north program.