Measuring, and Ending, Poverty in the North

With the passage of the Poverty Reduction Act in 2019, Canada now uses the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as its official poverty measure. The MBM uses five major components, food, clothing, transportation, shelter, and other necessities, to determine who is above, and below, the poverty line.

Now, Statistics Canada is in the process of developing the Northern Market Basket Measure (MBM-N) in order to reflect life and conditions in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

I have lived in the North my whole life. I now live in Ulukhaktok, a fly-in community in Northwest Territories. To me, living in poverty means no housing or poor housing, overcrowding, no shelters, abuse, addiction, poor hygiene, and poor attendance in education. Our younger generations cannot go to school hungry anymore, you cannot learn on a hungry stomach.

In reviewing the MBM-N, I find it quite surprising that a handful of people can create a metric to figure out how much food I deserve to have in a “basket.” I find it degrading that there is a list provided to me of what I deserve to have, and also the quality of it.

But most of all, fly-in communities such as Ulukhaktok should not be compared to Northern communities that have road access. There is no road access in my community, so we pay for our food to be airlifted. There is a massive price difference in food in comparison between Yellowknife and Ulukhaktok. In my household to feed my family of five costs about $400 a week. That does not include hygiene products, baby products, or clothing.

Health Canada wants us to follow Canada’s food guide. But how could we possibly do that when the price for fruits, vegetables, meat, and grains are at an alarmingly higher cost here as compared to the rest of Canada?

Budgeting has become a very big part of my daily life after moving back home to Ulukhaktok from Yellowknife. It is not just food. Living in a very remote community means that everything around here is very costly. The price of gas, heating fuel, power, and internet just to name a few. The federal and territorial governments need to look at supplementing the costs of freight for groceries to communities with no road access. The governments need to work with the airlines and local food providers to make sure Northerners have access to healthy food at a reasonable price just like the rest of Canada.

But it’s not just the cost of living. The minimum wage for Northern communities needs to be a lot higher in order to sustain a healthy and comfortable lifestyle.

We also need to be looking at and respecting the Inuit ways of life. The Harvesters Support Grant works for all First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people to sustain our ways of life. Hunting is a big part of Inuit livelihood, and it brings food to the table. But it costs money to travel on the land to hunt.

For example, a three-day hunting trip would cost on average $800-$1,000. If you come back to the community unsuccessful, it puts a big dent in your budget. If you come back successful, that would put food on your table for a few months. You would save a lot of money by not having to buy processed meats from the local grocery store. You would have healthier food on your table to feed your family. So, the government needs to invest in this program to honour our Inuit ways of life. It is a healthier way of life and it is a way to keep our culture alive. We talk about decolonization, this is one part of it.

The MBM-N too needs to work with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people. We should be a part of the team since we are the ones who understand the North and our unique struggles. In this way, the work of ending poverty can be successful. No decisions should be made for us without us at the table. Our people need to be involved. Governments also need to make improvements on collecting statistics in the North so that we can get accurate counts on poverty.

I see poverty first hand. I’ve seen it my whole life. I see families that are hungry. We know the issues and the problems of the Northwest Territories, so let’s take action and make change to end poverty in the North.

On January 5, 2021, Statistics Canada released “Proposals for a Northern Market Basket Measure and its disposable income.” This paper describes the proposed methodology for estimating the cost of goods and services included in the “basket,” as well as calculating disposable income. This first paper focuses specifically on a measure for the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. A separate study will be conducted for Nunavut.


  • Janine Harvey is a social advocate and supporter of Inuit culture based Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories.

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