Changes to the Nutrition North Canada program announced on Wednesday include a new subsidy for non-perishables transported by sea, barge, or winter road.
Feminine hygiene products have also been added to the list of items eligible to be subsidized.
Eligible non-perishable items, like flour and diapers, will now be subsidized at a level of $1 per kilogram if they are shipped by barge, winter road, or sealift.
The federal government said this new subsidy will significantly lower prices of these items as it is less expensive to ship by barge or winter road than by plane. Under the subsidy, a 10-kilo pack of flour becomes $10 cheaper.
In 2017-18, Northwest Territories retailers and suppliers received $3.9 million in subsidies, accounting for 5.3 percent of the total subsidies given out.
Thirteen NWT communities are eligible for Nutrition North subsidies: Aklavik, Colville Lake, Délı̨nę, Fort Good Hope, Gametì, Łutselk’e, Norman Wells, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Sambaa K’e, Tulita, Ulukhaktok, and Wekweètì.
The Nutrition North program has been criticized for years – despite frequent updates – for not making healthy foods sufficiently affordable, and struggling to adequately support people most in need.
In December, a University of Toronto researcher studying Nutrition North’s impact expressed doubt that expanding the list of subsidized items, or increasing subsidy rates, would make the required difference.
Tracy Galloway told the CBC regulated food pricing would be a better policy to pursue.
“This subsidy framework was put in place in 2011, and we have not seen a decline in prices. If anything, they’re going up,” Galloway told the broadcaster at the time. “And they’re going up fastest in places where retailers receive the most subsidy.”
Galloway spoke following the last updates to the program, which included higher levels of subsidies for milk, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, infant formula, and infant food; and increased subsidy rates for perishable food.
The Nutrition North website explains subsidies are provided to retailers and suppliers who apply and are selected to receive them.
“In turn, these businesses are responsible for passing on the full subsidy to consumers,” reads the site.
The Canadian government also said it is establishing a northern-based compliance and audit review process over the next few months “to improve transparency and accountability,” saying northern policy should be “developed by northerners and for northerners.”
“This transparency measure will help ensure northern community representatives have better access to the program’s inner working and compliance audit findings,” explained a federal briefing note on the program updates.
The government said this week’s changes to the program are “directly informed” by feedback from its partners.