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Price check: Why are grocery prices in Canada’s North so high? (Marketplace)

Price check: Why are grocery prices in Canada’s North so high? (Marketplace)


Two moms in two Canadian
capitals, both shopping from the same list. No, you’re not getting that toy. [David] It’s a Marketplace price
check to see who gets the bigger bill. If you think it costs you a
lot to put food on the table, get ready for
some sticker shock. Jo Ellen Pameolik is a
single mom with four kids, and they like to eat. [Jo Ellen] Like, this would
be gone in a day. Honestly. The 2-liter milk, it’d be gone
in one morning because all of my kids eat cereal. The juice that I bought,
it’d be gone within an evening. It’s freezing. [David] Meagan Brisebois
knows what that’s like. I’m feeding four people,
two kids and ourselves. I’ve got two
athletes in the house. So, they eat a lot. I’m constantly eating,
making meals and eating as clean as I can. [David] They’ve
got a lot in common, but how ’bout
those grocery bills? [Skype dial tone] Hi, Meagan, how are you? Hi.
Good, good, thanks. How are you guys? [David] Our two moms are
meeting for the first time, online, ready to compare prices. I want you to meet Jo Ellen. Jo Ellen, this is Meg. -Hi, Meagan.
-Hi, Jo Ellen. -I’m Meagan.
-Meg, do you mind if we just go through some of
the items there? -Of course, no problem.
-Juice. -Do you have–
-Tropicana. -We have it too.
-All right. What’d you pay? I need to find it here. Tropicana orange juice. I paid $3.99. But it was on sale. So, I saved $1.30. So, it’s usually $5.29, you
got it on sale for $3.99. Here it cost you? $11.99. No chance I would buy that. That’s crazy. [♪♪] [David] Crazy doesn’t end there. How much did you
pay for your pickles? $5.39, and I thought
that was quite expensive. I paid $9.99. [David] And it
doesn’t end at food. Okay, let’s talk about shampoo. How much did you pay for that? $5.99. This one was $11.49. That doesn’t even make sense. Like, I would– my kids would
shower less often, maybe. Okay, laundry detergent. This one? Yep. [David] How much did you pay? $17.99. I paid $31.99. Ouch. [David] Ouch is right. And then we also
bought a case of water. We did, too. And it was $4.49. [Jo Ellen] For a 12-pack? No, for 24. I paid $29.95. [♪♪] What? [David] Tally it up, and
Jo Ellen pays twice as much for the same basket of goods. The only difference? Meagan lives in Winnipeg. Jo Ellen lives 2,000
kilometres north here, in Iqaluit. Where high prices
are a fact of life, and efforts to beat them are
as constant as the tundra. [man] I’ll follow you, dear. [♪♪] [David] Just check out the
local post office. It looks more like a
warehouse for Amazon. Almost everyone up here who
can, does order at least some groceries online. It’s way cheaper. We order our rice, our
cereal, our detergent, our garbage bags,
our cleaning supplies. All of those items, the majority
of people from Iqaluit purchase their items from Amazon. But not everyone
across the north have that. Because it’s not
available to them? No, it’s not available to them. [David] No matter
how you cut it, food is hard to come by in
Canada’s North and that’s why it’s so expensive. Andy and Matti, there’s
another pan of potatoes here… [David] Here at the
local high school, teacher Lael Kronick runs a
lunch program every other day. I’m a food studies teacher, and
so in our class we end up having lots of discussions about
food insecurity and some of the issues students are
experiencing in the school and across Nunavut. [David] Food insecurity, the
state of being without reliable access to
sufficient, affordable, nutritious food. Seven out of ten kids in
Nunavut go to bed hungry. Don’t be stingy with the cheese. Give everybody a lot of cheese. [David] For many
of these students, today’s menu of caribou poutine
and a salad is the best meal they’ll have all day. We can’t expect students to be
successful in school if they’re hungry while they’re here. And this is a way we can both
feed students where they already are, and
teach food skills. [David] Back at Jo Ellen’s,
she’s hoping our little pricing test might help make a point. It hurts to know that a
child my daughter’s age, who’s only five, is
actually hungry. It hurts. I can’t imagine,
and that’s my daughter. But it’s the majority of kids in
Nunavut who are hungry. -I love you.
-I love you. Does it feel like
it’s Canada for you? No, it’s not. I feel like we’re
our own country, where most of Canadians
don’t pay attention to us. Or they don’t understand,
or they don’t know anything about us. [David] If you’re wondering what
our government is doing about all this… [female voice] Buying groceries
in the north can be expensive for isolated communities
that must rely on food being flown in. [David] A program called
Nutrition North Canada is supposed to make food
like meat and milk, fruits and veggies,
more affordable. [female voice] From now on,
when looking at your receipt, you will know exactly what
savings are passed on to you. [David] Those subsidies
were just increased to nearly $100 million a year. And they do figure in
to our price check. For instance, the Tropicana that
costs three times as much costs even more without
Nutrition North. The ground beef costs
the same as in the south, thanks to those subsidies
which also lower the price of broccoli, peppers,
and, especially, milk. Problem is, most products
are not subsidized. Did you get applesauce? I got this, Mott’s. How much did you pay for that? $2.99. [Jo Ellen chuckles] I bought the exact
same one, exact same one, I paid $9.49. Could have bought four. [David] Under the Nutrition
North program when there are subsidies, they’re usually given
directly to the grocery stores. And in these parts,
Northmart is the biggest, owned by the Northwest Company. Stores receive tens of millions
of dollars every year in taxpayer money creating a lot
of suspicion about why prices are still so high. [Singing] [Cheering] [♪♪] [David] Local Juno award
nominees, The Jerry Cans, wrote a song about it. [Singing] [Singing] [David] The company that
owns Northmart says they’re not ripping
off anyone… [Cellphone ringing] Hi, Derek, how are you? [David] Derek Reimer is the
director of business development at the Northwest Company. We ask him repeatedly for
an on-camera interview, but he’ll only
talk to us by phone. What are the factors that go
into making food prices high in the north? [David] And, he says, there’s
the huge cost of running their stores and warehouses. [David] But given
all the suspicion, we ask analysts to dig into
Northwest’s public records and it seems subsidies
are passed on to shoppers. And the company’s profits,
about 4 cents on every dollar, are about the same as
other major grocery chains. [David] Tell that to
people like Jo Ellen. Every family should be able to,
just like any other Canadian, walk into a store
and buy $3 milk and a $3 box of cereal,
so your kid can eat in the morning. [♪♪] [David] To understand
the animosity, know where it’s coming from. The Inuit are some of the
strongest people on earth. Surviving more than
a thousand years in one of its harshest climates. But after the second World War,
the federal government began forcing Inuit to give
up their nomadic ways. Settling them in new communities
with alien systems of education, healthcare and economics. Jobs were scarce,
and many became dependent on social assistance. There’s so many amazing
things that people do here. [David] Pauline Pemik is a
CBC
colleague who works here in Iqaluit. She’s heard what southerners
say about life in the North. Why do they live there,
why don’t they move? -Why are they trying?
-You do hear that. You hear people say that,
particularly in the south. And my answer to
that is, it’s our home. It’s where we live. It’s not that we can just up and
go and make a new life somewhere else. These people are
ingrained in their environment, the wildlife, the nature. I mean, Iqaluit
wasn’t even a city. It was built by the federal
government and then Inuit ended up maintaining it. So, we didn’t even– we ended up
taking something that we didn’t even want to take care of but
it ended up on our hands so now we’re here and I think that
there’s a lot of struggles but at the same time Inuit
really persevere through that, and they do it together. [David] Still, it’s a
legacy of distrust. With some of the poorest people
in Canada paying some of the highest food prices. [David] This is
yourMarketplace.[♪♪] [David] We’re north of the tree
line, in Iqaluit getting ready for a hunt. -I just bought this yesterday.
-You just bought this yesterday? So, don’t break it! [David] For Inuit, country
food as they call it, seal, caribou, arctic char, is
central to their culture and way of life. And so is sharing it. But as we head
out on the sea ice, there are no guarantees. So now it’s just a waiting game. A waiting game. With anything you catch? I give everything away. You give everything away? That’s how we were raised, we
share everything that we catch. [David] Northern Food may
be the preferred option, but a lot of people up here are
forced to rely on southern-owned grocery stores. Where food prices can be twice
what they are in the south, even with $100 million a year
in federal subsidies from Nutrition North. Many Inuit are struggling
to make ends meet. Folks like Tommy Kelly,
an artist, hoping to sell his carvings
atCBC’soffice in Iqaluit . Everybody’s waiting
for payday, Tommy. Oh, my goodness,
these are beautiful. So, this is how
you make your money? -Yeah.
-Okay. I’ve been carving since
I was seven-years-old. Carving since you
were seven-years-old. My first one was a small seal,
and I sold it for 25 bucks. Oh, wow. And I bought three grocery bags. You bought three grocery bags
with the first thing you ever carved? -Yeah.
-Wow. It was awesome. [David] The numbers
in Nunavut are stark. The average cost of groceries
for a family is $23,904 a year. And yet, nearly 40% of Inuit
adults earn less than $20,000 annually. Combine that with rents between
$3,000 and $7,000 dollars a month, and the concept of food
insecurity becomes very real. [♪♪] I’m just gonna watch you
do it, if that’s alright. Yeah, yeah. [David] Sheila Lumsden is
more fortunate than many, putting food on the table. This is our traditional food
and we get satiated with– by not only our stomachs,
but with our spirit, as well. [David] She’s invited us
for a feast of country food, including some ooyook,
or boiled seal meat. I did manage to find ribs,
but I was saying to my Weeksuk, my fiancé, is that there’s
hardly any uksuk, fat. Normally when we make
ooyook, we like more fat with the meat and you’ll see
why once we cook it. You’re saying to me one of the
reasons you hunt and use country food, harvest country food,
is to stay in touch with your history and be
part of your culture. Mmm-hmm. But when you look at what
groceries cost here compared to how much people make, does that
also play into the calculation? Most definitely. What’s been ingrained
in me from my father, is the desire to not only
eat well but be mindful to not spend too much
money on food. Okay. This is the Louis Vuitton
of arctic luggage, Rubbermaid action packers. [Laughter] [David] Sheila is a good example
of the lengths people go to avoid northern prices
with regular trips to Ottawa to stock up. Have a good flight! -Thank you.
-You’re welcome. [David] And a heavy
dependence on Amazon… Okay, what’s in here? -Rice?
-Amazon. Rice is coming from Amazon. Peppercorns? Usually Amazon,
but because I had room in my luggage, Loblaws.
-Loblaws. -Let me go to your fridge.
-Oh, okay. Ketchup? Amazon. HP sauce? Amazon. What’s going on that a
company– like a big, multi-national
company like Amazon, is the one making some groceries
and other items more affordable for you here than the actual
program designed to do that by the federal government? I don’t know. I know, it’s– I
don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to respond. I just– I love Amazon. [David] It also helps to be
partners with a good hunter. The last time I had
caribou was in Tuktoyaktuk. [David] While we wait
for the seal ribs to cook, Sheila’s fiancé Johnny carves
us an appetizer of caribou. Yeah, try that first
like– try it by itself. That’s refreshing. Like, to see a kabuanak
man enjoy the taste of our traditional food. The history in the north,
a proud history, hundreds and hundreds and
hundreds of years of surviving– Mmm-hmm. –under very difficult
conditions, what goes through your mind when you look today
that there are people who can’t feed themselves? It pisses me off. Yeah. It really does piss me off. And I don’t know if I can
say that on TV– You sure can. But yeah, it upsets me greatly. [David] Back on the sea ice,
they joke that harvesting seal is another form of
grocery shopping. [♪♪] [David] And it certainly
can be as expensive. So, what do you pay for? You pay for gas… Gas. How much does a
skidoo cost for you here? -$15,000.
-Bullets cost? $30 to $40 dollars. Do you have to buy
or build a– About over $1,000 dollars
to build the– [Speaking Indigenous Language]. [David] The federal government
knew it needed to do more to lower food costs. And so, it’s just revamped the
Nutrition North program with new grants to help hunters
pay for their harvesting, higher subsidies for more food
products and even a few non-food items, like diapers. But many here know it’s
still not enough to solve food insecurity. And if not, why not? In a country where accessible,
nutritious food seems like a basic right. [David] This is
your Marketplace. [♪♪] [David] The brutal beauty of
Nunavut speaks to the hard life of many who live here. Food is expensive to
harvest and costly to buy, even with a hundred million
in federal subsidies from Nutrition North. And with seven out of ten
kids going to bed hungry, food insecurity is now at its
highest level since they started keeping track. We’re in Ottawa to ask why
isn’t more being done about it? Hi, how are you, I’m David. Hi David, Yvonne.
Nice to meet you. [David] Yvonne Jones is a
liberal MP from Labrador. There’s Cape Saint Louis,
there’s Mary’s Harbour. Okay, so this is
where I grew up, and today I live
here in Goose Bay. [David] Jones has been asked by
Prime Minister Trudeau to help find a way forward
on food security. Part of the solution for the
federal government has been this Nutrition North subsidy, it’s
been around for eight years and in that time the needle’s
actually gone the other way, that the hunger has
actually got worse. So why should anybody have
confidence that Nutrition North remains any part of
the solution now? Nutrition North
is one component, and that is where the
problem has been in the past. So, it is a problem,
it’s been a problem, Nutrition North
has been an issue. No, Nutrition North
is one component, the problem has been thinking
that Nutrition North alone could fix food insecurity. It can’t fix food
insecurity alone. There has to be an accumulation
of programs and services that accompany it, and this is
where governments in the past, in my opinion, have failed. But you’ve been part of the
government for four years now. This is still a problem. It is still a problem, but it’s
one that’s getting addressed, and I think that’s the
key piece right now. One of the things we heard in
the north was about what is covered by Nutrition North. Why subsidize something
like an exotic dragon fruit, but not toilet paper? That’s a good question,
it’s a really good question, and I always– I have always
said it’s not necessary to people who live in the north
who’re going to eat the exotic kiwi fruit, but they’re going to
need to have access to personal hygiene products, they’re
going to need to have access to diapers for their kids. [David] That’s why the list now
includes a few non-food items. And government is investing
more in infrastructure and innovation, while
promising more to come. Nutrition North cannot
be a stagnant program. It has to be an
evolving program. If we’re not
prepared to do that, we are going to fail. -And despite all our best–
-Failure’s a bad option here. Absolutely. Failure means people go hungry. And they are going hungry. People are going hungry. What do you think, you’re
in government and you are saying that? Because I’d be lying if
I didn’t recognize it. [David] We’ll be tracking her
promises, and those prices, back here on Baffin Island
where innovation is already taking hold. I think it’s really neat, like
there’s so many different plants, like, everywhere! I love it! [David] The next generation
trying the next thing. [♪♪] There’s all these
cool looking puffy ones, all different types of kale,
it’s a good variety of food. And if you were to go to the
store and buy something like this instead? Super expensive
and not as fresh. Like, we get to try food that
they don’t even ship up here because we grow them ourselves.
-That’s really cool. [♪♪] [♪♪]

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