Canada has a growing number of families who are food insecure – many of them living in northern communities where food is too costly
Iqaluit, Nunavut – Tired of paying sky-high prices for food, thousands of Inuit organized protests across Nunavut and in Ottawa over the weekend.
The Canadian Press reports that residents in Canada’s northern communities are paying as much as $20 for a head of cabbage and $15 for a small bag of apples. Not to mention $82 for a case of ginger ale.
Some residents began a Facebook page called Feed My Family, which now has thousands of Inuit posting pictures and price tags from their local grocery stores. The Canadian Press reports that the site was the impetus for the protests organized to draw attention to those food prices.
Inequality and food insecurity on the rise
It was also the recent report from Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur for food, which may have helped to fuel the protests.
De Schutter was in Canada last month to look at whether poor people here have adequate diets and at social policies to support people with low incomes.
What he found, says CBC.ca, was that inequality is increasing and the top 10 per cent of the country is 10 times more affluent than the bottom 10 per cent. He also found that Canada fails to adapt its social assistance benefits and minimum wage to the rising costs of basic necessities, including food. He also estimates that Canada has two to three million people who can’t afford the diets they need to lead healthy lives. And one million First Nations people and 55,000 Inuit are in a desperate situation.
Northern remote communities are paying for the costs of shipping the food. And while hunting is available, for many the cost of the equipment and gas are just too high.
One price for milk in Manitoba
The Manitoba government is looking at ways to respond to the issue. The province announced that it is looking to cut the price of milk, which in Northern communities costs $20 for four litres, and other essential foods, reports the Canadian Press.
The premier, Greg Selinger, says he would like to expand the federal government’s Nutrition North Canada program, which subsidizes healthy foods in remote areas. But the province is also talking with food stores about other measures.
The province says it’s too early to say whether it will end up subsidizing either store owners or shipping companies, says the Canadian Press. There used to be a federal program called Food Mail that subsidized shipping companies’ costs for food deliveries to northern communities. In October 2010, the federal government changed the $54-million program to subsidize retailers instead of shippers and removed subsidies for foods not considered healthy.
Politicians from the three territories, and northern Quebec and Labrador, have asked the federal government to cover more foods and ensure that retailers are passing on their subsidies. Residents in fly-in communities should pay no more for milk than residents in Winnipeg, says Jon Gerrard, the province’s Liberal leader.