Standard of Living in the NorthPublished on 7 February 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Charlie Watt (retired)
Hon. Charlie Watt:
Minister, thank you for being here, and you’re very welcome in the Senate.
Last week, Statistics Canada released a new report called Food insecurity among Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat. A 2012 overall study found more than half, or about 52 per cent, of Inuit adults in Inuit Nunangat suffered from food insecurity. What is this government doing to improve the reality of northerners?
Hon. Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P., Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs: Senator, thank you for all of the amazing work that you have done over the years in terms of the needs of the Inuit people and our understanding of the North as being not only land and sea but ice, and how that is hugely important to how we go forward.
Food security in the North, or insecurity, has been a preoccupation of mine for a very long time, and we know that the solutions will be found in the North. It is about us having to revamp Nutrition North, listening to northerners. It is about making sure that hunters and fishermen have what it takes to be able to feed their families as they used to in the past.
As you know, we’ve been consulting coast to coast to coast about what the changes to Nutrition North need to be. I will have a report shortly from my department, as well as other reports, and we hope that we will have your advice on this as well.
As you know, my parliamentary secretary, Yvonne Jones, from Labrador is very involved in this file, but it is going to have to be a different way of thinking about this in that the system was broken. Leesee Papatsie from Feeding My Family says that it used to be that they could feed their families. These subsidies don’t seem to have worked because other prices went up for laundry detergent or diapers, so as they move their shopping cart out at the end of the week, it costs more. Again, this is actually devastating for family members.
I think that our investments in housing also matter because, again, it’s around disposable income, as you know. So we’re trying to make sure, by working with northerners and the land claim organizations — the Prime Minister will be in Iqaluit on Thursday with ITK — that we will work in partnership with northerners to get this fixed.
Senator Watt: Thank you for your response, minister. It is an important matter to the people in the North — very much so. The price and the high cost are not getting any better. It’s getting worse and worse as the years go by.
On that account, we might have to start looking outside the box and see how we can improve the quality of life in the North. I think this is an urgent matter, and I’m sure that your department is going to deal with that. You mentioned the fact that you’re coming out with a report. I’m looking forward to reading it. Maybe I will have an opportunity to provide some input for it. Thank you for your report that is coming.
Ms. Bennett: Again, this is also about mental health and dignity. People need to be able to feed their families, and the sea and ice were places of abundance. There is this change in life that has been devastating to northerners.
The difficult challenge — and we would appreciate the help of you and all honourable senators — will be: Are things like Nutrition North, a fairness program for northerners who also get a northern subsidy, particularly for the people from the South living and working up there, or should it be an actual food security social policy that is about the preschoolers, 70 per cent of whom are food insecure?
We’re going to have to decide whether this is a social program or a fairness issue. As we look at some of the foods in the grocery stores that, again, maybe we’re going to have to handle a little differently if we’re going to make this work. That will have to be after listening to northerners to help us make that difficult decision.