Nahanni Butte, Tsiigehtchic, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk are now eligible to receive subsidies through the federal Nutrition North program.
Food normally brought into these communities by truck or sealift must be flown in during freeze-up and break-up, resulting in a substantial increase in prices, the federal government said in announcing the change on Tuesday.
Nutrition North’s retail subsidy program will now include the five communities during those periods, which northern affairs minister Dan Vandal said would lower the cost of perishable goods like fruit and vegetables alongside the cost of items like diapers and medication.
NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said she only learned during a tour of Tsiigehtchic that the community was not included in Nutrition North despite being cut off twice a year.
Addressing reporters on Tuesday, Cochrane said Tsiigehtchic’s food prices were “horrendous.”
“I had made the wrong assumption when I began as premier that most, if not all, of our northern communities actually had access to Nutrition North,” the premier said.
Cochrane said she promised Tsiigehtchic’s city council at the time that she “would carry forward their concerns and lobby the federal government for them.”
A subsequent review, she said, showed other communities in the NWT “with extreme food costs that could use support.”
Nutrition North currently operates in 121 communities across Canada, 19 of which are in the NWT.
In addition to being considered isolated, a community must meet four other eligibility requirements to qualify, including a lack of access to year-round surface transportation but the presence of either an airport, post office, or grocery store.
Retailers in eligible communities must register with the program to claim the subsidy. Individuals can access the subsidy by shopping at a registered retailer or by placing a direct order.
Addressing food insecurity in the North is an ongoing challenge. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami released a food security strategy last month to address what it deemed “crisis” levels of food insecurity in Inuit Nunangat.
In his closing remarks on Tuesday, Vandal said “no one should go hungry because of where they live.”