The Nutrition North Canada (NNC) program found its way into the ministerial mandate letters for both the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and the Minister of Health stating that they will work together: “to update and expand the Nutrition North program, in consultation with Northern communities.” This is an active choice by the federal government to respond to the issue of high northern food prices through an investment in an existing program. This choice is particularly interesting because Trudeau, in an October 2015 statement, admitted that this program, under the stewardship of the Conservative government, was a failure.
There is a clear need for the policy to consider alternative causal explanations of food insecurity in Canada’s north. To start, this would include direct acknowledgement of indigenous peoples as the primary clients of Nutrition North Canada funding. Following this, a food sovereignty logic can be applied, and a food systems approach can be considered. Both of these policy solutions would give depth to the Nutrition North program as they suggest targeted investment in several places in the food system rather than a single target: a subsidy for the shipping cost of food. Additionally, there is a need expressed in the evaluation literature and Performance Management Strategy 2016 for transparency and accountability from the implementing parties of the subsidy program.
Indigenous and Northern issues face unique and sometimes contradictory imperatives in policy creation. The fundamental contemporary debate surrounding Nutrition North Canada is between the urgency of food security and the crucial nature of moving towards a renewed Indigenous-Canada relationship. One major critique of the Food Mail Program (FMP) is the underlying premise of a voluntary shift of northern peoples from nomadic to sedentary, market-based lifestyles. An alternative narrative to the one presented in the FMP formulation exists. In the 1940s and 1950s, major shifts in the caribou population led to extreme starvation in the Inuit population of the Kivalliq region. Compounding this, in the 1950s, the Government of Canada forcibly relocated Inukjuak people (northern Quebec) to the settlements of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, in order to achieve high north sovereignty. At the same time, the fox fur trade began to decline, leaving a generation removed from hunting traditions without employment or an income. This important context expands the problem definition to include difficulty accessing country/traditional foods with causal factors including climate change, unfamiliarity with new environments, and colonial influences. Where food prices are a simple issue, climate change and decolonization are immeasurably more complex.
The choice to reformulate the Nutrition North Program through reinvestment in the current system should be analyzed as an active choice by the Liberal government to uphold the main logical framework of the policy. By leaving the core of the program similar, the responsibility for its success is shifted off of the shoulders of the current government as they are attempting to solve a program that is broken rather than create something of their own. However, the critiques that challenge the success of Nutrition North go far beyond what is possible to change through stronger evaluation and greater financial investment. As the program moves forward past the consultation process, it must consider whether it is willing to move beyond the scope that it has currently modeled and into something that explains a wider array of causal factors to the problem of northern food security.
About the author: Paige Ladouceur is first year student at Carleton University in the Masters of Public Policy and Administration program. She currently works as a Research and Intelligence Project Co-ordinator at Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada. Paige has previously worked as a Research Assistant on the First Nations Food and Nutrition Survey.