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New entry point

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Nov 29/06) - It's been four long years since Auditor General Sheila Fraser suggested the entry points for food-mail services to the North be reviewed, but change is finally at hand.

The federal government announced earlier this month that Winnipeg will be an official point of entry for the Food Mail program into the Kivalliq early in 2007.

The announcement is welcome news to the Kivalliq, as residents will be able to order nutritious perishable food items at a substantially reduced freight rate.

Rankin Inlet's Mike Shouldice has been pushing for an improved Food Mail program for a number of years.

He said when the new arrangement kicks in, freight costs on eligible food items will be 80 cents a kilogram out of Winnipeg, as compared to $2.88 a kilogram out of Edmonton.

The $2.88 hits about $4 when a fuel surcharge and airport tax are added on.

"There's been almost a Rankin version of an urban myth on the go that only stores can avail themselves of the food-mail prices and that's simply not the case," said Shouldice.

"The shipping companies have the business relationship with Canada Post, not the individual consumer.

"A family in Rankin will be able to contact a grocery store in Winnipeg with a food mail contract and pay for their groceries by Visa or money order.

"The store takes the order to the airline, which charges 80 cents a kilogram for shipping and then gets the rest of the freight cost from the Food Mail program."

Not all items are covered under the Food Mail program.

Kivalliq residents can view a comprehensive list of allowable goods on either the Canada Post or Northern Affairs website.

Items such as booze, cigarettes, pop and chips are ineligible.

Shouldice said the biggest problems with Churchill as the point of entry for the program are time periods, additional costs and limited selection.

He said consumers have to pay to have their goods trucked to Thompson from Winnipeg, and then sent by train to Churchill before the reduced program rate kicks in, often taking more than a week to receive their order.

"To give an example within the past year, navel oranges were $6.99 a kilogram at a Rankin store at the same time they were $1.18 in Winnipeg.

"With the Food Mail program, you'd add 80 cents for a total of $1.98.

"Chicken works out to about twice the amount for the same price when using the Food Mail program instead of buying locally.

"These are significant savings, and you usually have your order in the kitchen the very next day.

"Some exceptions to such savings are bags of flour or sugar, canned goods or any item of excessive weight."

The change also means most communities will receive food-mail service twice a week, rather than once.

And, while food shipped to Kivalliq communities outside of Rankin will continue to go by truck and rail to Churchill from Winnipeg, the verification of shipments will occur in Winnipeg to reduce the cost and the amount of time the food spends in Churchill.

The food will then be flown to Baker Lake, Chesterfield Inlet, Repulse Bay, Arviat, Coral Harbour and Whale Cove from Churchill.

Businesses in Churchill can continue to ship to all Kivalliq communities.

The cost of shipping the food to Churchill from Winnipeg will be included as part of the food-mail service provided by Canada Post.

Kivalliq residents will no longer have to pay the additional cost of getting the food to Churchill before it becomes food mail.

Yellowknife will also be designated as an entry point for service to Rankin, provided Canada Post's cost of providing service is no greater than that of Winnipeg to Rankin.

Shouldice says the change in the Food Mail program should have little effect on established merchants.

"This system has been used in Iqaluit for more than a decade and you don't see stores closing their doors there because of it.

"People will still have to buy many items locally.

"The change will increase the cost of the Food Mail program to the feds.

"Yahoo, they're putting my tax dollars to good use."