Nunavut’s Tootoo calls for inquiry into ‘Phoenix’ North food program

Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo says an inquiry is needed into a problematic northern food program. (APTN file)

Independent Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo is calling on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the Nutrition North program – a program he has a nickname for.

“Since it launched in 2007, successive governments have spent a half a billion dollars on the Nutrition North program,” Tootoo said in the House of Commons during question period Tuesday. “In that time the number of houses affected by food insecurity has risen from 33 to over 50 per cent.

“With results that bad we should call it the Phoenix food program.”

Phoenix is the name of the government’s embattled federal employee payroll system that has costs tens of millions of dollars to correct.

The Nutrition North program was introduced by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2011 to replace the Food Mail program.

The Conservatives, including former Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, said it would cover more items and make nutritious food more affordable.

Even Tootoo at the time said it was worth subsidizing the companies that imported food and other staples to the North – and in turn, those companies would charge consumers less.

But the costs of food, ammunition, and everyday items is still prohibitively expensive.

Prompting Tootoo to press the Liberal government to do more.

“Nunavummiut want answers,” he said. “Will you open an inquiry into Nutrition North so we can understand why it has failed so spectacularly and find a way to ensure food security for our communities?”

Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett agreed the situation was not acceptable.

She said pilot programs were being developed to find “made-in-community solutions” to the food insecurity program. She did not mention an inquiry.

Back in November, the Liberals announced some changes to support hunters, a move supported by the Inuit group Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

Prior to that they expanded the program to reach more communities and cover more grocery items.

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