Nutrition North Canada Stakeholder Meeting: Summary of discussions

On May 2-3, 2017 the Nutrition North Canada Advisory Board to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada met with stakeholders to discuss the What we heard report, a summary of the key findings from the 2016 public engagement process conducted by Nutrition North Canada (NNC).

Participants included:

The objective of the meeting was to discuss key areas where divergent views prevailed and possible directions forward in order to make adjustments to the program in a sustainable manner. The meeting began with an overview of NNC and the What we heard report.

Small group sessions were organized to harness feedback from participants in five areas:

1. Local retailers and restaurants

During the public engagement process, Northerners suggested there were barriers for smaller retailers to access the program due to NNC reporting requirements. There is the need to balance the principles of fair and accessible program criteria, transparency and fully passing on the subsidy.

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

All meeting participants endorsed finding a way to support the inclusion of smaller retailers through adapting the reporting requirements, such as through a graduated system of reporting that still allows NNC to collect enough data to report price trends, and ensure the subsidy is fully passed on. Suggestions included:

During the public engagement process, Northerners suggested that local restaurants be required to demonstrate that the subsidy is fully passed on, and that they have healthy meal choices in order to be eligible for the subsidy. There is the need to balance the principles of fair and accessible program criteria, transparency and fully passing on the subsidy.

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

All of the meeting participants shared the view that policing restaurants (what they charge and their menus) should be outside federal government responsibility and NNC's mandate. Suggestions on where parties could work together included:

2. Scope of eligible items

During the public engagement process, Northerners were of the strong view that the food eligibility list should support access to healthy food, but there were many divergent views on the scope and content of the food eligibility list itself. There is a need to balance the principles of supporting access to healthy food, subsidized foods are perishable, nutritious and relevant to Northerners, and the subsidy is applied to eligible foods shipped by air.

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

Consistent with the public engagement feedback, most participants supported a universally applied list so all community members can benefit, with some suggestions to target vulnerable populations such as elders or young children (for example, subsidize diapers). There was, however, a sense in the room that NNC could not be all things to all people, its niche is market food, and that the benefits of NNC could be enhanced when working with other partners and programs (such as provincial/territorial income support programs which provide support for incidentals such as detergents, toothpaste, diapers, and so on). Better communication on what exists seemed to be the main theme, for example:

Participants favoured a food list that focuses on nutrition and targeted to support healthy families. Views varied regarding how to target the list itself. Suggestions made by meeting participants on how to proceed included:

3. Community subsidy rates

During the public engagement process, Northerners had many diverging views on what is fair to support subsidy rate adjustments within the NNC budget and the purpose of subsidy rate adjustments (community-specific rates, regional rates, adjustments to achieve regional price comparability or southern centre comparability). There is a need to balance the principles of program criteria are fair and accessible, the subsidy is fully passed on, and market forces create efficiencies in the supply chain.

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

Participants primarily felt that subsidy rates should be set per community as to account for the different realities faced by each community, with a future aim towards regional comparability in prices. Participants held the view that the subsidy rates should be reviewed on a regular basis (suggestions ranged from every one to five years). Similar to the public engagement feedback, there was a range of diverging views and many ideas were put forward. More than half the participants thought the subsidy rates should be based on existing criteria (distance flown, distance from supply centre, population and minimum wage). Others suggested NNC consider other factors such as flight distance plus freight rate, affordability (social assistance income), wellness factors, hydro rates, or rates of inflation. Some proposed the minimum wage factor should be eliminated from current consideration as it was believed it does not reflect the income levels of many communities, and others noted that distance factors into the cost of food, but sometimes closer is not cheaper.

Remaining suggestions took into consideration the food eligibility list in conjunction with the subsidy rates and levels, for example:

Other points raised by meeting participants were:

4. Service standards and food quality

During the public engagement process, Northerners raised concerns with food quality, food spoilage, and there were diverging views on increased choice (NNC model based on reimbursing what is shipped) versus improved quality (a new program model based on what is sold).

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

Participants strongly felt that while food safety and food quality are very important, they fall under the responsibility of other jurisdictions, and it is not a role for NNC to become involved in. Education and consumer awareness were discussed as key to ensuring food quality in stores (take advantage of money back guarantees, ask for other products, raise issues with store managers, understand best before dates), and it was suggested that community led nutrition education initiatives could have the capacity to address this. In addition, retailers could consider putting up signage on how to pick fresh / ripe fruit and posters in local languages. There was discussion on the risks associated with doing business in the North and the numerous factors that affect food quality along the supply chain which are outside of anyone's control (such as weather delays). It was seen that it is the responsibility of the retailer/supplier (packaging, service standards, contracts, monitoring, and spot checks) and the transportation company (meeting service standards, monitoring, and insurance) to ensure the safety and quality of food items sold in stores. Participants felt that there was little that NNC could do in this area, and if NNC had to become involved, the only thing participants proposed was to put a requirement in the funding agreements that the retailer/supplier ensures the airline has insurance to cover food spoilage.

Participants proposed the subsidization of food sold rather than food shipped but that further work and costing should be done before a new program model could be considered. For example, participants suggested:

5. Traditional and country foods

During the public engagement process, Northerners noted the significant importance of country/traditional foods and expressed a strong desire for increased support to access this food. Most Northerners also suggested a separately managed program with a separate budget.

During the stakeholder meeting, participants were asked:

All meeting participants agreed upon the importance of country food to the northern diet, and acknowledged that there was very limited room for increased support of country/traditional food that are sold in stores. One idea put forward was to seek increased funding for nutrition education activities to work with Hunter and Trapper Organizations (HTOs)/Hunter and Trapper Associations (HTAs) and to support community led initiatives being delivered through existing infrastructure (such as cooking classes, Elders and youth programs).

Participants agreed that increased support for country/traditional food harvesters was very important, but outside the purview of NNC and it should remain this way. There appeared to be agreement from all participants that the most pressing need was for subsidies for gas, and ammunition. Some suggested additional support for harvesting equipment and community or personal freezers. Others suggested increased Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) support for communities to assist in addressing the regulatory issues around the transportation and sharing of country foods between communities / jurisdictions (such as, invest in CFIA approved mobile processing units). There were diverging views on how to provide this support, but all tables suggested leveraging funds, and pursuing partnerships with wildlife agencies and hunters and trappers organizations to develop new programs to support better access of country/traditional foods with their foundations built in accordance to the strengths identified in targeted communities. The protection and conservation of all natural resources was identified as a consideration when encouraging the harvesting of country foods. While it was stressed that the need was great, concern was raised regarding the length of time it takes for partnership-based programming to be put in place, and some speculated that it may be better to use NNC funding to provide subsidies for gas, even though it would significantly reduce the amount of funds available for food.

List of participating organizations

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