Northerners blast high prices for basic foods, including $20 for jug of milk

Steve Mertl
Daily Brew

How would you like to pay more than eight dollars for a head of cauliflower? Or sixteen bucks for a small jar of jam? If you want a peanut butter and jam sandwich, add almost $18 for the peanut butter.

How about $32 for a box of frozen chicken burgers? Fancy some ham instead? A one-kilogram package will set you back more than $18.

That's what residents of Canada's North regularly pay for everyday items.

Laundry soap can run almost $50, juice upwards of $13 a carton. Good old Cheese Whiz, $20.

Northerners are fed up with paying for a few basic items the same amount their southern compatriots might pay for a whole week's supply of groceries.

Sure, it costs a lot to fly and truck supplies into remote northern communities, but northern residents say they're also a captive market for grocers and they need relief.

A series of protests took place across Nunavut over the weekend aimed at drawing attention to the problem of the North's unbearable cost of living, Nunatsiaq News reported.

"It's unbelievable how high our prices are," said one of 25 protesters in Clyde River. "You can go on Facebook and see the pictures, $104 for a case of bottled water, $50 for a bag of frozen chicken. This is beyond shipping costs."

More than 17,000 northerners have joined a Facebook group called Feeding My Family to share their experiences.

Clyde River resident Rebecca Hainnu said she can't buy her daughter apple juice, which costs $3.89 for a small juice box.

"She's used to me saying 'no' to her when she asks for juice, because it is too expensive," Hainnu told Nunatsiaq News, adding pop is cheaper than juice.

That's part of the bigger problem: Highly processed foods and junk food cost less than healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. It's blamed for rampant rates of obesity and diabetes in the North.

[ Related : A loaf of bread costs $7 in Labrador ]

"Nutrition North was supposed to bring improvements to the availability of healthy foods in Nunavut," said Jakob Gearheard, executive director of the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River.

"But we see the same unhealthy food being displayed and sold in our store. Much more than half the store is dedicated to unhealthy food."

Nutrition North Canada, previously called Food Mail, is the federal government's program to subsidize the cost of food deliveries to northern communities. It originally made payments to shippers but the Conservative government revamped it in 2010 to subsidize retailers and ended subsidies for foods considered unhealthy.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger told The Canadian Press he wants Ottawa to expand the $54-million program.

But he's not waiting. The province will look for ways to cut the price of milk and other essential foods in discussions with food retailers.

"We also have had contact with some of the private food providers in the north and we want everyone to come together to find a solution," Selinger said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"When I went up there, I saw a jug of milk - four litres - at over $20. We'd like to get it down into the single-digits like the rest of us have."

Politicians from the three northern territories, as well as northern Quebec and Labrador, want Ottawa to cover more foods and make sure retailers pass on the subsidies through lower pricing.

Meanwhile, Manitoba opposition Liberal leader Jon Gerrard has urged the NDP government to mandate one price for milk province-wide.

"We have a single price for liquor all over Manitoba. I believe we can do it for milk," Gerrard said.