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Performance audit scheduled
Auditor general's office identifies Nutrition North program as high-risk; findings to be presented in fall 2014

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 5, 2013

Nutrition North has a performance audit on the horizon. The recent announcement came on the heels of demands from political leaders and Northern residents over the past few months.

NNSL photo/graphic

Northwest Company executive vice-president Michael McMullen holds a package of tomatoes on April 1, 2011, the day the Nutrition North program launched, that was $0.86 cheaper than the day before. The office of the auditor general has decided to conduct a performance audit on Nutrition North. - NNSL file photo

Six members of Parliament passed a motion in June requesting the office of the auditor general look into the Nutrition North program, while territorial MLAs in the NWT, Nunavut, and the Yukon passed motions requesting the same in their respective legislative assemblies.

MLAs across the North are looking forward to some hard facts about Nutrition North's performance.

"I think the audit is a good idea," said Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli. "There have been concerns from people in the high Arctic that have been very public about their dissatisfaction with the high cost of goods transported up North."

Meanwhile, Nadli continued, in the southern parts of the NWT, there are equal concerns in terms of the high cost of living and high cost of goods being transported to the territory from the south.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya also said he was glad to see an independent committee taking a look at what has become a controversial program.

"It's a very positive move. It's good for the people in the North to get a performance audit by the auditor general to really have a look at the whole program,' he said. "People have been complaining to us about the program, the accountability, the transparency, and if it's really serving the needs of the people at the community level."

Yakeleya said the people want to know what the transportation costs are for each stop and each pickup.

"How are those costs added to a litre of milk or a pound of apples or any of those types of products that are on the Nutrition North program? Maybe there should be an independent committee that would (oversee) the numbers of the Nutrition North program ... so when you're biting into an apple, you know how much you're biting into."

Leesee Papatsie, founder of the lobby group Feeding my Family that hosted protests in Nunavut communities, said regardless of how the audit turns out, the number of elected officials and members of the public who "spoke with one voice" about their concerns is huge step forward.

"I think it's great. What's great about it is Feeding my Family has been about coming together to have one voice and the elected officials all did that on their own, where they requested (the audit).

"They all came together for one cause and that itself is amazing to see," Papatsie said. "I'm really glad because this will put the issue of hunger in the North out more. The awareness for it is great. My hope is to have food prices come down eventually."

However, the office of auditor general Michael Ferguson decided to audit the program last fall _ before most public concerns were expressed.

"In determining what to audit, the office focuses on the areas in which federal government organizations face the highest risk," stated

Ghislain Desjardins, media relations manager for the office, in an e-mail to News/North. "Also, the office pays particular attention to requests for audits from parliamentary committees or from members of Parliament; however, the ultimate decision about what to audit rests with the auditor general ... the decision to audit this program was made last fall before the request by MPs."

While a concrete date has yet to be set for the audit, the auditor general's office plans to present its findings in the fall of 2014.

The auditor general's office will not release information on the scope of the audit until the Speaker of the House of Commons has been informed of what the audit entails, which is approximately one month before findings are presented to Parliament.

The Nutrition North Program provides subsidies to retailers for certain food items. These savings are supposed to be directly passed on to customers, however, some are concerned about the lack of enforcement and accountability of the system.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which administers the program, stated the office of the auditor general informed the department of the audit last fall and no changes to the program are planned in the near future.

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