Sean Lyall says people in Nain are not happy with the prices they have to play at local grocery stores.
Photos of food items at the stores—a $47 dollar ham, a $17 dollar block of cheese and a $10 bottle of ketchup highlight his point.
“I don’t think low-income families—or any families should pay this amount,” he said.
He said prices are relatively the same at both the community’s grocery stores.
For Mr. Lyall this means the Food Mail Program is not working. The program is a federal government program that is subsidizing Canada Post for the delivery of perishable items such as cheese and ham into communities that are only reachable by plane in the winter months.
The fact that the system is not working as it should caused the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to revamp the more than 40-year-old program. The new program was unveiled in May 2010.
Under the changes, the Food Mail Program will be replaced with a program called Nutrition North Canada. The program will include $60 million in subsidies. (Last year the total food subsidy under the food mail program was $58 million).
The subsidy will go directly to the retailers instead of the current system by which the subsidy goes to the people who transport the goods—Canada Post. The retailers will then be expected to pass on the subsidy to the consumers. They will arrange transportation of goods to the communities themselves.
In a press conference on Mar. 9, Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq acknowledged that many northerners do not feel the food subsidies were being passed on under the current Food Mail Program. Minister Aglukkaq said under the new program they would be able to make the retailers accountable.
In October, changes were announced that were set to take place after March 31. Amongst these changes was the removal of certain items from the list such as canned fruit, ice cream, dried pasta, personal hygiene items.
Minster of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs John Duncan announced at the same press conference that changes were being made to the planned list of foods available for subsidy and that those items announced for removal from the list on March 31 would not be removed.
He said that all foods and non-food items would be subsidized until October, 2012.
“Some retailers needed more adjustment time,” said Minister Aglukkaq.
She said that the extra seasons would give the retailers more time to stock up their warehouses and prepare for the changes. Many of the communities have marine service in the summer months, at which point they could use the much cheaper method of transport to stock up on their non-perishable items, removing the necessarily for these items to be subsidized.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, on top of the Food Mail Program, the province also provides subsidies to stores on Labrador’s north coast to help people pay for fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter months.
Labrador Affairs Minister John Hickey said nothing would change with this program. Their food subsidy goes directly to the retailer and covers 80 percent of the freight cost.
Mr. Hickey said the province monitors the stores with three or four random checks throughout the subsidy season.
The Big Land store manager in Nain, Dean Wyatt, has only been in his position since December but he feels the food prices in the community are reasonable.
He said their business, which is owned by Labrador Investments in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, offers many similar prices to those in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
No freight cost is added to milk, which cost $4.89, he added.
“Prices here are comparable to those in out port communities in Newfoundland,” he said,
Mr. Wyatt said many residents compare their prices to those at bigger Chains like Sobeys and Dominion.
“We just can’t compete with them.”
He said those are the wholesalers that supply them the food and they buy at nearly the same cost you would see on the products in the chain stores.
Mr. Wyatt said he had worked at stores all over the North and the North Coast isn’t nearly paying the price other northern communities are paying.
A list of goods, which are applicable for the subsidy under the new Nutrition North Program, can be found at http://nutritionnorthcanada.ca/fel/index-eng.asp