Thanks, Lenore. Thank you for that.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we're studying food security in northern communities.
To ensure an orderly meeting.... We've had some good discussion with our guests—and members of the committee will know—about listening and speaking in the official language of their choice. There's a selector on the interpretation button in the bottom centre of your screen. Make sure that your video is always turned on and speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
If we have translation issues because of technical problems.... All of our guests should have written submissions before us. We have this issue even with committee members, where the audio drops out completely. To ensure that the meeting can continue, we have to be able to do the translated part of our committee meeting; otherwise it is not an official meeting.
That being said, we have six minutes for each of our guests to open with.
I'm going to start with Mayor Randy Jones of Gros-Mécatina, Quebec.
Mayor Jones, you have six minutes. Please go ahead.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, most of all, for the invitation. It's not often that the people of our isolated communities, from Kegaska to Blanc-Sablon, get the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished panel and to get our point across that we do occupy the territory and it is very hard, especially with this pandemic.
We've been dealt a double whammy. We are isolated; on top of that, we have to isolate; and on top of that, we have a curfew. Then, to make matters worse, this winter forgot to come to us. The ice is not good. Our time to travel between communities is in the wintertime, when people get a chance to visit their loved ones, but the ice is just not good enough yet. The trails have been worked at but are still not possible to open. There have been people who have gone through the ice, who have broken through.
We've been having quite a battle to get fresh food produce with the nutrition north program. What I'm going to be asking for, if you people have a chance to look at nutrition north, is that it be more adapted to the realities of our region. I sent out an invitation yesterday to all my fellow mayors, and every one of them responded, and all the stores. It was basically unanimous.
With our travel in the summertime and the fall, and right up until normally the first week of February, we have a boat that travels down the coast, the Bella Desgagné, but it broke down and it threw a bad wrench into the gears of operating on the coast. We've seen the Innu from Unamen Shipu de La Romaine even have to charter planes to bring in diapers and milk and food for the babies. That was not under the nutrition north program at the time. It is now.
We have the most devitalized municipalities in the province of Quebec. We have an aging population. A few weeks ago, we were informed that the Innu of Pakua Shipu, which is next door to me, and Unamen Shipu have a nutritionist who organized food that they would get, in order to make sure they were eating properly and that at least certain meals were completely healthy food.
I spoke to my fellow mayors about it, and this is what we wonder: Is it possible, through nutrition north, that we do the same for our senior citizens down here? They're living on a fixed income that's way below what it costs to live anywhere else, and the cost is more to live here. When we have the store telling us that we should speak to the government to ask them if they could help, because the seniors are not buying much of their produce.... Just to give you an example, in the summertime, a basket of strawberries costs us about $3. Last week, they were $11.98 a basket. Yesterday, there was produce brought in and raspberries were going for $10.29.
This, to me, has to stop.
There is a cost of keeping people in isolation and to have people occupy the territory. That's what we've been doing. Our main industry is fishing, but the villages are isolated from each other. It's only in the wintertime that we get a chance to travel. Now, this year that's not even there, with climate change. We don't have any big industries that cause the problem with climate change, but we're the first ones to notice it.
I don't know how many minutes I have left. I guess I've gone over my six minutes, but basically what I wanted to tell you is, if it's possible, to adjust nutrition north so that it's not too big of a bureaucracy.
And the other thing that the stores have been asking for.... There are a couple of companies that are earmarked to order from; however, only one store per community can get it. That's not fair. That's—
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for inviting me to be part of this study on food security in northern communities.
Last December, Adamie Delisle Alaku, one of the vice presidents of the Makivik Corporation, had the opportunity to give you some information on the beautiful region of Nunavik and on the challenges resulting from its remoteness. I won't repeat the information that he provided during that presentation.
I want to talk about the Parnasimautik report, which was prepared following an extensive consultation with Nunavik Inuit in 2013. The report referred to growing concerns about food insecurity, which affects an alarming proportion of the population; the decline of certain animal species; and climate change. The report emphasized the key role played by the land's resources in the region's food, way of life and economy. It reiterated the need to protect the land and its resources to ensure food security.
These concerns and aspirations aren't new. Local and regional organizations have been focusing their efforts on these issues for several decades. Nevertheless, food insecurity remains very high in the region.
I'll provide some preliminary data from the 2017 Quanuilirpitaa survey. The data is preliminary because the final report should be released in summer 2021.
The survey repeated a question that had been asked in the previous survey in 2004. Participants were asked whether they had experienced, in the month prior to the survey, a period in which there wasn't enough to eat in their home. Almost 34% of Inuit reported that this situation had occurred in 2017. In comparison, the figure was 24% in 2004. The situation doesn't seem to have improved over time.
To explore the issue further, in 2017, a scale with different questions was used to try to better define the proportion of Nunavimiut considered food insecure. If we include individuals who experienced mild food insecurity, over three-quarters of Nunavimiut reported that they experienced food insecurity in the previous year. The concern is that this proportion is higher among youth. The rate is 87% among youth aged 16 to 19. It's even higher among pregnant women, at 89%.
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services has been providing support to organizations for several years to help create initiatives that contribute to food security, health and well-being. This support may include professional support, funding, training, networking opportunities, toolbox-type resources or recipes, for example. Some of the initiatives involve activities run by community kitchens that use both traditional and market foods. There are activities to encourage people to make healthier food choices, such as in-store activities and nutrition activities in family homes.
Food assistance, such as food hampers and meal distribution, is being provided to people who have difficulty obtaining food. Gardening activities and greenhouse projects are currently being carried out in four Nunavik communities. There's also a growing interest in these types of projects.
Regional resources or projects are being run not only by the regional board, but also by several partners, such as the food coupon program for pregnant women and school meal and snack programs. Emergency food assistance is being provided to people who are currently in quarantine or isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There's also the hunter support program, along with the community freezers found in each community.
To take these initiatives even further, a food security policy is being developed. A regional task force was created in 2015 upon the initiative of the Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government and the regional board.
The task force has partnered with various regional organizations in Nunavik. The task force's goal is to find short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions to improve the accessibility and availability of nutritious food. Four engagement sessions were held in 2017 and 2018. Over 150 people from all the Nunavik communities took part in these sessions. The following topics were discussed: access to traditional foods; promotion of healthy eating; accessibility and availability of nutritious market foods; and local production and processing.
With these topics in mind, the following issues were identified as priorities for policy: improving access to traditional foods; improving the accessibility, quality and availability of nutritious market foods; supporting the development of knowledge and skills; and promoting community partnership, engagement and decision-making.
The next step is to develop the policy. I must admit that the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately put a halt to this initiative. We hope to be able to start work again soon. We must then prepare a five-year action plan and secure the commitment of all stakeholders at the local, regional, provincial or federal level.
I'll conclude by saying that the vision, which is supported by the policy and the stakeholders contributing to it, consists of a food system that includes both traditional and non-traditional foods. The system will be rooted in the land, local resources, and Inuit culture and values.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for giving me the opportunity to speak today.
I'm going to speak specifically to the Food Banks Canada experience right now.
As you know, food insecurity exists in every community across this country. Prior to the pandemic, there were over one million visits to food banks in Canada every single month, and we anticipate that this number will grow in the months and years ahead.
As you also know, food insecurity is even higher in northern communities. The stats are so hard to take. For example, 57% of households in Nunavut are food-insecure.
These crisis-level food insecurity stats are linked with crisis levels of poverty in the north. In every part of the country, food insecurity is a symptom of poverty and low income levels, but in the north, this is combined with very high costs of food, along with the logistical challenges that create limited access to food, which creates a perfect storm for food insecurity in northern regions.
Food banks are not the solution to food insecurity anywhere in Canada, but while government policy and other programs take time to enact, food banks and other community groups are there to provide much-needed support. That said, food banking in the north comes with additional challenges as well, including a lack of resources, a lack of infrastructure and a lack of personnel, not to mention the more difficult challenges of accessing food itself.
During the pandemic—with thanks to the Government of Canada and other national donors—Food Banks Canada was able to support many northern communities with food and funds to address these needs. This includes millions of dollars in funding and over 500 million pounds of healthy frozen protein for over 90 communities across the north.
This wouldn't have been possible without the commitment and help of the local community members who made the food shipments work, and I can't even tell you how much those community members are heroes in making sure the food got to the people in need. They helped find food storage, which is an issue in the north, and especially frozen food storage. They worked on distribution, finding additional partners to get distribution beyond their communities into other communities in need, and they worked to notify community members of available food.
Further, partnerships with third parties, like the Arctic Co-op and Nolinor Aviation, were critical.
All of these partnerships might provide some guidance on how we work together to provide food in the future.
I also wanted to share two quick stories from our funding.
In Chipewyan Prairie First Nation in Alberta, funds were requested not to purchase food but to support that community to clear a trail that had grown over, in order to gain access to a lake filled with fish and provide food for that community. This high-impact project will provide healthy traditional food for years to come, as well as providing jobs for the labourers who are going to clear the trail over the short term.
In Iqaluit, the food bank requested that some of the funds be used to provide gas stipends to hunters, as hunting is very expensive. Hunters then share with the community. After one hunt alone, over 100 families in the community received meat.
We encourage any proposed support going forward to be driven by local community needs and to be flexible enough to encompass solutions that don't always rely on food being shipped in from the south, including projects that increase access to country foods.
Food Banks Canada will continue to strengthen the relationships we've built prior to and during the pandemic, and is committed to continuing to offer support to these communities over the long term, but as I said previously, the long-term solutions don't lie in food banking, which cannot address the root causes of food insecurity in the north.
We believe there needs to be a multi-pronged approach, with support for communities now and long-term policy solutions, including increased social assistance rates, so that people have a higher minimum income floor and access to more money if they aren't able to work or to find work; investing in northern economic development, so that communities have access to better-paying jobs and opportunities; reassessing nutrition north through the Inuit-Crown working group and developing a federal program that finally reduces the cost of food in northern communities—because it's clear that the current approach isn't working—and increasing the investment in local food solutions such as the ones I mentioned, including increasing access to country food programs so that local communities can continue to support themselves.
In conclusion, the issue of northern food insecurity will not be solved by food and food alone. The federal government needs to address the systemic root causes of poverty and low income in the north, while it works to reduce the cost of food and increase access to food. Only when all of these issues are addressed will we be able to achieve our vision of a Canada where no one goes hungry.
I want to thank all of our witnesses for their excellent testimony today. You are contributing tremendously to our study on food insecurity.
I want to start with Mayor Jones. As a former mayor, I appreciate your passion and your heart for your people. It was obvious in your testimony. I also come from a northern and remote community. I have to admit, though, it's not nearly as remote and inaccessible as yours.
Near the end of your testimony, when the chair had to cut you off, you were talking about the barriers to the nutrition north program and the entry into that. I think you were about to give some ideas or solutions, or maybe identify what those barriers were.
Could you take a minute or two and finish those comments you were making right when you got cut off?
What I've been told by most of the stores in our communities is that the problem is the bureaucracy, or the paperwork that's involved in order to get the nutrition north program. Since we just got hooked up in the last two months with high-speed Internet, this is all new for us. The people don't have the funding in order to buy the food right now.
We've been struck with the pandemic, like I said earlier. Most of the workers from our region go to Toronto, and all the highways, and that's where they're working. This was not permitted this year. We didn't have any funding to hire those people, so employment is not 100% and poverty is starting to take a hold. The people just don't have the food in order to be able to do anything.
If we had a look at nutrition north and opened it up, so that more of the local people could get access to certain things and suppliers.... There's one at the eastern end of the province, in Blanc-Sablon, and they used to go through that, but he had to give it up, because under nutrition north, they wouldn't give him access to it anymore. Maybe that could be looked at.
Thank you. I appreciate that. That's helpful for us.
I want to move on now to Ms. Beardsley. Honestly, Ms. Beardsley, I have about 11 questions I want to ask you in the three minutes I have left. I'll try to be quick here.
I appreciated many of your comments. I, too, have a wonderful food bank in my community.
You made a brief reference to offering some guidelines for partnerships with which you have had success. I looked on your website, and you talk about a bunch of partnerships with private companies. In your testimony, you hinted at some guidelines on what might make that successful.
Could you expand on that briefly for me?
The main industry of our coast is.... We have 16 communities, from Kegaska to Blanc Sablon. It's a territory that's larger than most countries in Europe. Fishing is the main industry. A few years back—I think 10 years ago—our fish plant folded in our community and we lost 75 jobs. In a town where I live, 75 jobs is like 10,000 jobs in Montreal. That was really a low blow, and we've been trying to recover from it.
I like what Ms. Beardsley said, but I wish that we had those food banks. I never heard about that here. My wife and I have been taking some food and sharing it with people we know are in need. That would be wonderful if we could have access to that.
When you can afford to buy the fish, you do. The way the price of fish, crab, lobster and so forth has gone, the only way one can afford to eat that is if you poach it.
Traditional foods include all foods obtained from hunting, fishing and gathering, such as berries, seafood or plants.
We now recognize that, in general, traditional foods have a higher nutritional value than market foods. Several studies have shown that the protein and iron content of these products ensures that the people who consume them, especially pregnant women, are much less likely to suffer from anemia, a major issue in the north.
It has also been demonstrated that good fats, especially certain omega-3s, protect against cardiovascular disease. We're discovering more and more products that seem to protect health.
That's one of the major things that have hit us this year. You know, there's Harrington Harbour. It's an island, and up until three days ago, those people were stuck on that island and could not get to the mainland. They burn wood, and every other year they get the ice bridge that goes to the island and they get their wood [Technical difficulty—Editor
]. I saw a guy coming out with a load of wood, and he lost his komatik or sleigh, or whatever you want to call it—we call it komatik. He turned to go back and he went through the ice. That's terrible.
Then last night I had a call. My son-in-law was down between here and Saint-Augustin. He has the contract to mark the trail, and he had met up with two Innu ladies who were coming from La Romaine. He doesn't know where they went or how they passed to get to where they were, because it's not marked and there's an 11-kilometre bay they have to cross to get to Saint-Augustin. They were way inside of that. Their skidoos broke down and he had to take them to the camp and let them call on the cellphone to get somebody to come and pick them up.
We are the first to see the effects of climate change. You know, we're in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and look at what's happening here. It's the same thing with the fishery. When the fishery started to go, we raised the alarm first that there was a problem with the fishery. Lo and behold, we were right.
This climate change is hitting us full front, and it's impossible to explain and tell you the effect it's having on the people of our community. Wintertime is the time they do their chores. They cut the wood. They go fishing, ice fishing, rabbit hunting and all that, and that's not even on the table.
This is why this program is so important, so we have nutritious food for people, especially the seniors, and we don't have to worry. That's the most cherished asset we have—the seniors—and we don't want to see anything happen to them because of this pandemic. We want them to have nutritious food to eat.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Hello, witnesses. Thank you very much for this great testimony. It has been very nice hearing about the contributions you're making here and within the communities.
I'll start with the mayor. I may have missed some of it, but right off the top you were talking about some of the barriers to accessing some of these programs. I believe it was nutrition north that you were referring to. You talked about the bureaucracy involved in accessing some of the programs.
One, did I get the program right? And two, can you explain some of the bureaucratic hurdles you were talking about?
This is what I've had come from some of the store owners who sent me their problems with the nutrition north program. Nutrition north is a great program, but there are things that need to be changed.
It's so far and there's so much paperwork to do that not every supplier will keep their licence in order to sell to nutrition north. On the eastern end of the province, we have two municipalities, Bonne-Espérance and Blanc-Sablon. They are connected by road, and they normally buy their produce. It comes across on the ferry from Newfoundland. There is a supplier in Blanc-Sablon, but due to the bureaucracy and so much paperwork that needs to be done, they just don't bother with it. It's too much to do.
I don't know if you understood what I said, but we are a 90% anglophone community, and that needs to be done mostly in French with all the suppliers, and some of the people just don't have the ability to do so. Some of us do speak French, but for the ones who can't, that's a problem. It's not by choice; it's a geographical error if you want to look at it that way, but we never ever knew that the rest of the province was French until we could get out and see the big centres.
Thank you to all the witnesses who are here today for all of their context, perspective and insights. It's so valuable for this committee and for everybody studying this important issue of food insecurity.
Mayor Jones, I just wanted to let you know that while you were talking, I googled Harrington Harbour. It looks like the type of place I'd love to visit one day. It's beautiful. I know it's a place fraught with challenges, but it's an amazing-looking place. I'd love to visit one day.
My first question is for Mrs. Rochette. Sorry if my French isn't very good.
Mrs. Rochette, my question concerns the interaction between
the land program, the provincial version of the federal program—the harvester grant—
and the harvesters support grant.
Do these programs work well together?
If not, how could we improve this area?
Some grant programs directly support hunters and aim to bring hunting and fishing products back to the communities, where they can be pooled and made available through community freezers. This component is primarily managed by the Kativik Regional Government, as I said earlier.
There's also the return to the land program. This program is managed by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services. The goal of the program isn't necessarily for people to go hunting or fishing, but for them to go out on the land, whether it's to fish or hunt or simply to camp out and learn to live in the wilderness.
These two programs can be looked at together. However, the main goal of the return to the land program is to give seniors and youth access to the land. Otherwise, without access to snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles, it's difficult for them to carry out these activities.
I'd say that the two programs complement each other, but that they don't have quite the same goals. One focuses mainly on supporting food security, while the other is more about providing knowledge and access to the land with a view to improving mental health.