Is Nutrition North Canada on Shifting Ground?

The Food Mail program, which was replaced by Nutrition North Canada, helped to create a grocery retailing environment in the north that was markedly different from what exists in the south. One of the most striking differences was the fact that, to participate in Food Mail, retailers and manufacturers were forced to give up control of their product to Canada Post between southern shipping points and northern retail locations. This arrangement was arguably at the root of many of the program’s problems, including major issues with food spoilage. Nutrition North Canada addresses this shortcoming by allowing retailers and manufacturers to maintain control of their product along the retail chain. However, Nutrition North Canada has been unable to address another of the main issues northerners expressed about Food Mail: the inability to know with certainty that the federal government subsidy provided to northern retailers is being passed on to consumers. The Auditor General of Canada demonstrated that this remains unknown, while holding that it is at least knowable – a contention with which the current paper disagrees. We make the case that Nutrition North Canada is a simple subsidy for northern retailers that has been built on a flawed, overly-ambitious policy rationale. If the program is to continue in its current form, it can and should be grounded in a more realistic and comprehensive policy and program approach to the price of food in the north.

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