the north face summit series Conservative disaster

COMMENTARY: Around the Arctic December 10, 2015 8:30 amIn the Oct. 19 election, every Conservative candidate in these ridings was defeated, including two cabinet ministers, Leona Aglukkaq and Greg Rickford, and two other Conservative incumbents, Ryan Leef and Rob Clarke.

The Conservative vote in these 10 ridings collapsed. While the total number of votes cast increased by 20 per cent between 2011 and 2015, the Conservative vote decreased by 27 per cent.

The Liberal vote almost tripled, delivering five of these 10 seats to the Liberals. The NDP vote decreased by about one per cent, but the party ended up with only four of these seats, since it lost one to the Liberals and one to the Bloc Qu while gaining one from the Conservatives.

The Conservative, Liberal and NDP platforms all included additional funding for this program: $32 million over four years from the Conservatives and NDP, $40 million from the Liberals.

In all cases, this money was to be used to extend the program to communities that had been excluded from Nutrition North when it was launched as a replacement for the Food Mail Program in 2011, despite the fact that as recently as June of this year, the Conservatives had voted against an NDP motion that would have done exactly that. In the end, their desperate about face was too little, too late.

The Auditor General scathing report of November 2014 pointed out how Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada had mismanaged this program. The department accepted all the recommendations.

The Liberals have also committed to fixing this program, but apart from extending it to other communities, no details on the fixes required were provided.

Since the Auditor General performance audits do not comment on the merits of policy, that report had no discussion of whether the decision to replace the Food Mail Program with Nutrition North Canada was sound, sensible, supported by northerners, and evidence based.

The department spent at least $2 million on a review of the Food Mail Program between 2008 and 2010. No final report on that review was ever released,
the north face top Conservative disaster
though one was written at great expense, and even the published interim report and the report of the Minister Special Representative were removed from the department web site not long after the new program was announced.

No credible case for the decision could be made. Frantic and false comparisons of Nutrition North Canada and the Food Mail Program have appeared more recently as ministers and officials tried desperately, but apparently without success, to convince northerners that the decision has benefited them.

Large, though undisclosed, amounts of money have already been spent evaluating the implementation of Nutrition North Canada. Earlier this year, consultants involved in the program review were rewarded with a multi year contract for well over half a million dollars to try to address deficiencies in the program they helped to design.

While we applaud the Liberals commitment to extend this program to include all isolated northern communities and to somehow fix it, they must first understand the inherent limitations and deficiencies in this means of delivering a food focused transportation subsidy.

Officials and Ministers in fact stated they were replacing a transportation subsidy provided to Canada Post with a so called retail subsidy, without realizing that making payments to retailers and wholesalers, determined through a consideration of air transportation costs, the weight of goods shipped and nothing else, as far as can be determined, was simply an alternative means of delivering a food focused transportation subsidy.

An astute member of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut pointed that out in remarks he made in the Assembly in October 2011, but the senior official responsible for the program insisted that made a clear decision to move out of transportation based subsidies and apparently continues to believe that.

The report of the Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada established by the Council of Canadian Academies also recognized that Nutrition North Canada is a transportation subsidy, but the panel had no mandate to make any recommendations.

We would encourage Liberal MPs from these ridings, the new minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, and our new Liberal government to re examine the delivery mechanism used for this program and to seek advice from subject matter specialists both in northern and southern Canada, to provide an alternative perspective to that coming from those deeply associated with this failed program and with a vested interest in defending it, and a history of doing so.

As our new prime minister has stated, better is always possible in Canada.

But tinkering with Nutrition North Canada, as it is currently structured, is not necessarily the best answer. Northerners deserve better and will expect demonstrable improvement in food security in isolated northern communities by the next election in 2019.

Fred Hill managed the Food Mail Program in different capacities at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada from 1991 until 2010, in collaboration with Michael Fitzgerald between 2008 and 2010.
the north face top Conservative disaster