Many residents of isolated northern Saskatchewan communities are having to choose between heating their homes or eating healthy foods. That information came out this week in a Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce report that examined ways to accelerate economic and social development in the province's north.
While the province says it is doing the best it can, residents and the NDP Opposition say it is not enough.
Caroline Isadore is a life-long resident of Fond du Lac. She runs the local community bulletin board. Fond du Lac is Saskatchewan's most northern community situated on the east side of Lake Athabasca. In the winter, there is an ice road. In the summer, it's fly-in only. When residents like Isadore have to buy groceries, they have to dig deep.
"If you go shopping and you fill up like two grocery bags, that will cost you about $180.00," she says.
Here is why: four litres of milk costs about $19; 18 eggs will cost you $8; bacon is about $12; and a couple of pounds of grapes will run you about $5. The NDP's Northern Affairs critic, Doyle Vermette, says on top of that, the cost to heat homes is through the roof -- about 30% higher than urban areas. He wants the province to lobby Ottawa to increase its northern food subsidy, and he is calling on SaskPower to cut its electrical rates.
"Families have to choose and make those tough decisions. You know, do you have fresh vegetables? Do you have fruit versus covering the utilities, the rent and all your other costs of living?" he asks.
While residents of remote communities in the north pay double or triple the cost of food, the cost of liquor is the same province-wide. That is because the provincial government has for decades assumed transportation costs to its stores and franchises rather than pass those charges on to the people living in those communities. Vermette says it might be time to re-examine that and maybe use that money to help lower the cost of food.
"That's maybe something that residents of the province should definitely be looking at saying, 'Hey, this makes more sense and this is going to do more for a community'," he says.
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority says its practice is the same as what is being done in other provinces.