Canadian Arctic: Cost of Living Comparison

When thinking of Northern Canada, what comes to mind? Maybe the snow, the polar bears, or the cold; however, the cost of living is often ignored or missed. With an entirely different climate, culture, and way of life, the needs of these communities are often not meant. In addition to this, prices for basic goods are up to three times higher than in popular cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton. Even programs that are meant to help citizens afford purchasing these items do not work how they are intended. Having been the subject of mass criticism within communities, individuals’ messaging is often lost before it reaches mainstream media.

Cost of Living

The cost of living encompasses groceries, fuel, and accommodations; everything you need to live in an area. As a reference point, the average person in Toronto will pay $142.71/month on utilities, while in Vancouver the cost is $89.32/month. Neither of these compares to the $476.23/month that the average person will pay for the same utilities in Yellowknife or the $218.00/month paid in Whitehorse. These two cities are also the more accessible of the northern communities; data is not publicly available for remote or fly-in communities.

The most famous image (pictured here) with this cost comparison is that of an orange juice in a remote northern community priced at $26.99, regularly priced at $5.97 in southern Ontario. In light of this issue, the Canadian government has implemented a series of subsidy programs throughout the years that were meant to lower costs and make foods more affordable. However, the needs of the communities have been ignored.

Failure Points with the Nutritious North Program

The Nutritious North Program (NNP) was implemented to replace the Food Mail Program in 2011. The Food Mail Program allows communities to order needed products from locations in the south and have it directly shipped. The Nutritious North Program is meant to subsidize the cost of groceries in local grocery stores to eliminate the need for private orders.

Throughout the years, NNP has been under scrutiny from communities because of its ineffectiveness in delivering on its promises. With food costs remaining the same, and subsidies placed on products that communities do not want or are unfamiliar with, NNP falls short on many of its objectives. Historically placing subsidies on items like dragon-fruit instead of baby formula, NNP fails to acknowledge the needs of these communities.

As of May 1st, 2020, subsidies have been adjusted to better suit the needs of NNP consumers. However, the program is still under criticism as many believe the program assists grocery stores in profiting instead of consumers in purchasing what they need. The critics claim that NNP gives large retailers who have their own airlines an unfair advantage in monopolizing the grocery industry in the north. They also claim that the program still fails to acknowledge that diets and culture are vastly different in the north, placing European nutrition ideals on traditional indigenous cultures that are not accustomed to or wanting to change. Representatives call to have items such as fish and caribou meat subsidized, as well as real necessities such as diapers, baby formula, and toilet paper. With NNP not basing its subsidies around the needs of the communities it serves, it is received as a scam by the citizens. There has yet to be talk of further NNP adjustments to consider these comments.

What can you do?

There are a number of organizations that work directly with these communities. They work with representatives to address their needs and create plans to meet them. By working together, these organizations and initiatives are better received and more effective. Here are a few that you should look into supporting:

TRUE NORTH AID 

This organization funds a number of initiatives with communities in the north depending on their needs.

THE GORD DOWNIE AND CHANIE WENJACK FUND 

This organization - inspired by the Secret Path written by Gord Downie and inspired by the journey of Chanie Wenjack – works with a number of communities to carve the path to reconciliation. 

INDSPIRE 

This charity focuses on Indigenous post-secondary education, supporting students to achieve higher education.

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