Monday, 25 June 2012

Re: Food Insecurity in the North: An Open Letter by Alex Ittuq to the Honourable John Duncan Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Honourable John Duncan
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Government of Canada
10 Wellington Street
Gatineau, Quebec  K1A 0H4

June 25, 2012

Dear Minister Duncan;

Re: Food Insecurity in the North

Recently on June 21, 2012, on National Aboriginal Day, as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, you were quoted on a TV interview as saying;

"Nutrition North Program is working. Complaints are unfounded and illegitimate".

This is the most insensitive and uncaring comment. It shows disinterest and arrogant assumptions on the crisis of food insecurity in the north.

As Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, a position you took an oath for, there are many things you can do to act, instead of a casually disregarding protests on food insecurity.

Some of the actions that can be considered are;

1. Start a public inquiry on food insecurity in the north and Inuit and First Nations affected;

2. Review the effectiveness of the Nutrition North Program again, before its full implementation on October 2012, of which many more essential items will be taken off the program (food that is not considered extremely nutritious and everyday toiletries and cleaning products);

The review can look into the true effectiveness of the NNP, not in grocery prices but its' indirect contribution to food insecurity and poverty. NNP changed dramatically from the Food Mail Program. There is now sole focus on the most basic nutritious foods, ie. milk, eggs, bread and some vegetables. Nobody can live solely on milk, eggs, bread and some vegetables. There is a supposed increase of milk consumption by 29%. Everyone in the north will now be milked out.

There are many Inuit and First Nations are on income support assistance in Nunavut and NWT, who cannot afford a variety of foods. For the most part, they live on basic food staples or go without food for periods of time. Inuit and First Nations have large extended families and have many children in the household. The children will naturally yearn for sweetened foods once in awhile. Typically, the poorest and those on income support will live on tea, coffee, bannock, Kraft macaroni and cheese, sliced bread, Minute Rice, Cup o' Soups, Klik luncheon meats, hotdogs, boiled chicken legs, spaghetti with pasta sauce and similar staple foods.

Once the time for income support assistance comes or when they receive the monthly Old Age Pension or Child Tax Credit or Universal ChildCare Benefit, their children will tire of all these tasteless staple foods. The children will yearn for apples, oranges, bananas, blueberries, cereal and cheese slices. The prices are; 5lb apples - $13.89, can of frozen orange juice - $11.29, cereal - $12.29 + $0.61 GST to a total of $12.90, cheese slices - $14.69.

But they will also yearn for pop, chocolate bars, potato chips, ice-cream, canned fruit, fruit juice, yogurt and similar sweetened foods. It is difficult for parents to say no to children who've had minimal food staples for the whole month, and so they will buy pop at $5.51 ($5.25 + $0.26 GST). Or they'll ask for cookies at $11.29. Or a small canned fruit at $4.79. Or 2L ice-cream at $16.26 ($15.49 + $0.77 GST). Or an 8-pack of yogurt $15.21 ($14.49 + $0.72 GST).

Their budget from the $100.00 monthly UCCB cheque, for example, for a one-day splurge is already gone.

The other basic necessities that that Inuit and First Nation families splurge on are toiletries, of which will soon to be removed from the NNP list. An 18-package of feminine pads are $20.25 ($19.29 + $0.96 GST). A 24-roll toilet paper is $51.44 ($48.99 + $2.45 GST). 40-garbage bags are approximately $21.00. This does not include the $11.55 shampoo or the $7.55 ($7.19 + $0.26 GST) toothbrush or the $8.28 dish detergent ($7.89 + $0.39 GST).

This does not leave room to worry about the $28.54 head of cabbage or the $8.69 bag of carrots. Or the $11.49 orange juice. Or the bottle of $28.49 cranberry juice. Or the $11.49 corn on the cob. Or the $7.43 broccoli. Or the $9.32 bag of frozen vegetables. Or the $8.20 tomatoes.

In essence, the NNP is counterproductive with its sole emphasis on extremely nutritious foods. It's penalizing northern residents. It's making people stuck in poverty and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. People are unable to make healthier choice of foods from living this endless cycle of 29 days of basic food staples and 1 day of monthly splurges. I guarantee you if you've had Cup O' Soup and Minute Rice for a month, you will yearn for cookies and not a $28 head of cabbage. There is literature and research on perpetuation of poverty, they are not difficult to find and I suggest NNP look them up.

Supposed savings under the NNP will by-pass a large portion of the population in the north because of this cycle. If you don't believe me, a poverty research analyst and a nutritionist can give you a more thorough analysis. The ideal world of northerners consuming only extremely nutritious foods on a daily basis is impracticable and overly romanticized in fluffiness. Southern Canadians are no more prone to junk food cravings than northerners.

3. Have an auditor review the profit margins of Canadian North, First Air, Northwest Company and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd, Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc and Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping. Consider asking a government agency to conduct an ethics and integrity review, similarly as the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada or the Procurement Ombudsman does.

For instance, Northwest Company has holding shares in Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping. NWC retails food, NEAS ships non-perishable foods.

Arctic Co-op Limited has holding shares in Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc. ACL retails food, NSSI ships non-perishable foods.

An example of profiting was the Chair of Makivik Corp. and First Air, who received a $600,000.00 bonus in 2008. Makivik Corp. owns First Air which ships food to northern communities. As a food shipping airline, it conducted business under the Food Mail program. Inuit were shocked but nothing was done.

NWC is the largest retailer in northern Canada and benefits the most from the NNP – read its Annual Financial Report of 2011. There are major increases in profits and debt reduction in the 2011 year, the same year NNP is introduced. Look into their executive salaries. I don't think the President of ACL or its' board of directors make salaries as high as NWC's – at least I haven't heard of similar complaints.

There should be more diligence from NNP to hold these companies accountable, because in essence, NNP is giving them $60 million dollars, merely on trust the funds are applied faithfully. Self-reporting requirements of these companies that purport to pass savings to customers under the NNP may appear neutral on their face in monthly crunched numerical reports but in reality may not reflect the whole truth.

Consider this for example;

NWC has hiring and recruitment policies targeting workers mainly from southern Canada. ACL on the other hand have aboriginal employees from every level from managers, hotel managers to stock clerks and have aboriginal board of directors.

This means NWC is spending $18 million dollars in housing for southern Canadians. Because ACL hires more locally than its' counterpart, there is less overhead costs on operations.

NWC is in the business of profits but because the NNP is a large, direct and readily accessible subsidy providing the backbone of NWC profits, one should question why anything from food to retail to 28% interest rates to 10% cashing fees to $300.00 Heirloom Picture prices are unreasonably exorbitant. They even charge a $1-2 extra for transport within Iqaluit – ie eggs are $5.99 at NorthMart but $6.99 at a convenience store.

The Government of Canada turning a blind eye on NWC's over-pricing while it is benefitting from NNP is utterly shameful.

4. Ask the Bank of Canada to review inflation rates and their impacts on food in the north – see what the Bank of Canada can do to stabilize inflation in the north. Typical stabilization methods used in southern Canada, such as maintaining or increasing the Bank of Canada prime rate for lending, is not useful and effective in the north. Consider stabilization methods on jet fuel and shipping cargo fuel. Also have the Bank of Canada review and compare inflation rates on food in southern Canada and northern Canada.

5. Ask the Food Inspection Agency to be more present, visible and accessible in the north. The Agency can monitor food products for edibility, health and safety. Make complaints easier to do - publicize a toll-free line – hire aboriginal language speakers as call agents. Have the Food Inspection Agency do random audits.

This is important. Many northerners end up buying rotting food, unsafe foods and expired foods. And if they try to get a refund or take the food back, their complaints are turned on them by the retailers.

The Food Inspection Agency should also monitor and audit food and fruit weighing scales. Many times weighing scales are wrong and customers pay higher amounts for food.

Make it easy for northern residents to make complaints on pricing at the shelf and pricing at the till. Nobody utilizes the $10 refund penalty rule because nobody knows how.

Consider placing full time inspectors in the north. This is not a special request. Food Inspection Agency is accessible in southern Canada – make it accessible in the north.

6. Ask Honourable Christian Paradis, Consumer Affairs Minister to review the following;

Creation of regulations for no rates on cashing of government-issued social welfare payments; Old Age, Employment Insurance, Child Tax Credit, UCCB, GST Credit and Income Tax Refunds. NWC charges anywhere from 3-10%, which is not permissible at a bank;

Creation of regulations for Link Cards accounts, withdrawals and transfer fees – at the current rate, they are unreasonably exorbitant. Those who are unable to use credit cards or debit cards have no choice but to use the Link Cards for accounts or transfers;

Creation of regulations on Income Tax filings with NWC – H&R Block provides the service, NWC engages commission arrangement with H&R Block but NWC provides loans in anticipation of refunds, with interest rates and fees that are exorbitant;

Requesting retailers to find ways for further savings that would contribute in whole for more consumer spending leverage, such as the removal of 7% borrowing fee by ACL on individual community co-ops for merchandise;

7. Ask Honourable Shea Gail, Minister of Canada Revenue Agency, to consider;

a)Introducing tax deductions for hunting equipment – hunting equipment can be anywhere from $15,000 to $70,000 a year (snowmobiles, boats, outboard motors, ATVs, trailers, rifles, bullets, gas, oil, tents, wood for qamuti, wood for niksik, hooks, grub box, mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets, tarp, steel for unaaq and steel for hitch, ropes, coleman stoves, heating stoves, light lamps, fishing nets, ice hole machine, floats, hunting clothes (parka, windpants, boots, mitts, hats, goggles)/material/fur and other equipment).

Hunting is not a leisure activity in the north. It's the real-deal hunt for food; seals, caribou, moose, musk-ox, narwhal, beluga, walrus, polar bear, char, geese, ptarmigan, hare. Nobody hunts for trophies. This is a reasonable request. Workers who have to buy their own clothing for work purposes can claim expenses for the clothes.

b) Canada Revenue Canada can increase social welfare payments to reflect northern cost of living;

Old Age Pension
Supplemental Old Age Pension
Employment Insurance
Child Tax Credit
Universal ChildCare Benefit
GST Credit

c) Canada Revenue Canada can also increase income caps for eligibility of certain social welfare payments;

Northern income rates is treated the same as southern income rates, even though northern income rates are inflated to reflect cost of living – thus, someone who is making $55,000 a year in southern Canada is not eligible for Child Tax – similarly, someone who is making $55,000 a year in northern Canada is not eligible for Child Tax even though in reality that income is more akin to an uninflated income of $35,000 in southern Canada rates;

There are uniform income caps for all social welfare payments; Old Age Pensions, Supplemental Old Age Penion, Employment Insurance, Child Tax, UCCB and GST Credits.

The Northern Residents Deduction does not work as effectively as it should. It's only one person per household. There can be anywhere from 2 to 8 adults in a family unit (lack of housing). Only one of them can claim Northern Residents Deduction. Make it available to every adult person in the household;

Northern Residents Deduction only works if you are employed and receive a certain income. It does not provide much benefit to low income families or on income support assistance.

The rate increased from $5745 to $6011 maximum a year - a paltry $266 increase – even though inflation increased significantly and even though there were no rate increases for the deduction for decades. Hire a mathematician and financial auditor – do the math right. For instance, the Government of Nunavut increased the cost of living tax credit to a more reflective rate than the Northern Residents Deduction did.

Introduce Northern Residents Deductions for travel for hunting and camping and not just for southern air travel – ie those who receive VTAs as a benefit are eligible for the deductions but it is not clear whether those private sector employees who are paid 4% vacation pay pursuant to Nunavut's Labour Standards legislation are also eligible for tax deductions;

Review the application of GST in the north.

Northerners are the highest paying taxpayers on GST and pay double GST on applicable items. GST is applied on airline and shipping transport and then applied again in retail.

GST is supposed to be exempt on essential foods – this might not be the case when GST is applied during airline and shipping transportation of essential foods.

GST collection is also higher because items are priced 2-20 times higher than southern Canada prices. A $15 package of diapers in southern Canada would be taxed $0.75 GST but the same package could cost $33.00 in northern Canada and taxed $1.65.

Consider ways for exemptions of GST on airline and shipping transportation stage.

Taxing northerners at the current rates is overkill. There should be an assessment of southern income taxes for comparison and see what calculations can be made for a more reasonable and fairer system of taxing.

In conclusion, there is a causal connection to the Government of Canada's aggressive education policies of the 1950's and 1960's and food insecurity in the north. Inuit and First Nations were independent, autonomous and self-reliant before the presence of the Government of Canada. This was evident when Hudson's Bay Co. traded with Inuit and First Nations, because they discouraged settlement near their posts. The more they lived on the land and hunted for food, the more likelihood they would bring in fur for trade from trapping.

This all changed when the Government of Canada decided to force every child to attend school 'for their best interests to learn to engage in the [southern model] wage economy' and constructed schools around HBC posts and churches. This compelled families to move to settlements totally lacking in economy and into a state of government dependence. They could no longer hunt and care for their families as much as they used to.

Indirect forced settlement through massive student recruitment also congregated families, resulting in population booms.

The Northern Allowance and government food transportation assistance derives its' very root from its' recruitment of students; teachers and government personnel were given extra salaries with these to encourage them to come up north to teach.

Once the Government of Canada stopped its' damaging education drive, it began a housing program for every Inuit and First Nations family, making promises of better living. When it became too expensive, the Government of Canada stopped again. It left Inuit and First Nations families in the lurch.

Inuit and First Nations have been stuck in this government-created poverty cycle for decades, of which very little has been done to correct the wrong, except when Inuit and First Nations began suing the Government of Canada for their past mistakes. Very rarely has the Government of Canada taken initiatives to make right for past wrongs.

To casually state that the 'NNP is working' does not take into account the context of food insecurity in the north. Nor does it show interest to reach out for a true reconciliation.

I have not included Prime Minister Harper. I don't think he likes aboriginal peoples – I have never heard him say the word 'Inuit'. I think he has an undetectable aversion to Inuit and First Nations.


Alex Ittuq

P.S. – the following link provides photographs of northern food prices;


Leesee Papatsie, Feeding My Family and group members
Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Sean Atleo, Chief of Assembly of First Nations
Sean Kennedy, President of Northwest Company
Bill Lyall, President of Arctic Co-operatives Ltd.
Oliver De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Food Security
Bob Rae, Interim Liberal Leader
Thomas Mulclair, NDP Leader
Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, MP for Nunavut and Minister of Health
Dennis Bevington, MP for NWT
Romeo Saganash, MP for Northern Quebec
Senator Dennis Patterson, Parliament of Canada
Jean Crowder, NDP MP, Aboriginal Affairs Critic
Carolyn Bennett, Liberal MP, Aboriginal Affairs Critic
Louis Plamadon, Bloc Quebecois MP, Aboriginal Affairs Critic
Honourable Shea Gail, Minister of National Revenue
Honourable Christian Paladis, Consumer Affairs Minister
Honourable Diane Finlay, Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development and Pensions
Honourable James Flaherty, Minister of Finance
Honourable Tony Clement, Treasury Board Minister
Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Michael Ferguson, Auditor General of Canada
Mark Carney, Governor of Bank of Canada
Derek Fildebrandt, National Research Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Producer, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
Producer, CBC National
Producer, fifth estate
Editor, Globe and Mail
Editor, MacLean's Magazine

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