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Nutrition North is a program responsible for providing affordable food in northern Canadian communities. That’s what it’s supposed to do, anyway, but reviews vary depending on who provides them. For example, Stephen Harper, a Toronto-born man who now calls Calgary home, says the program is working well because more fresh food is heading north. On the flip side, hungry northerners are scavenging dumps for food scraps to feed their families. Sticking to that theme, the latest charge against the program is that its advisory board has become a dumping ground for Conservative Party supporters. Could this explain the program’s excellent/horrendous performance?

The CBC reports that, of the six people appointed to serve on the Nurtition North advisory board, five have donated to the Conservative Party. That is what our Prime Minister would call a “strong, stable majority.” The donations ranged from $20 (enough to buy an apple in Iqaluit) to $1,200. Three of the board members are also involved in organizations or businesses that receive government funding, including the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. None of them seem to see any problem with this.

Wilfred Wilcox, the board chair, has donated to the CPC and is involved in an organization that works on the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, but he doesn’t think he has done anything wrong. “Not everything is easy and a good level of prudence in spending is appropriate,” he said, before apparently contradicting himself. “I don’t see how making a few donations is wrong.” He added that he and his wife have known Conservative Environment Minister and print media enthusiast Leona Aglukkaq for a long time. Presumably that was supposed to make things better.

Elisabeth Cayen, another board member, looks as bad as Wilcox. She directs the Nunavut Fisheries Training Consortium, a group that received government funding in 2014. Cayen has donated to the Conservative Party on two occasions, and her husband directs the Nunavut Conservative Association, which directly supports the newspaper connoisseur Leona Aglukkaq. Cayen says none of this is an issue because she is on the board to make food more affordable in the north. She says that she has lived in the north for 25 years, and therefore has valuable experience she can use to improve the program. She gets points for knowing the stated purpose of the program, but she loses far more for thinking that existing in a physical location qualifies her to advise the Minister responsible for a government program. We can imagine that the men and women who scavenge northern dumps are eminently qualified to take her job, and that many would ketchup, mustard, and relish the opportunity.

 

Cayen logic: This woman looks pretty old, so she should serve on the advisory board. One day her kid will be old, at which point the child will serve on the board too.

Cayen logic: This woman looks like she has lived in the north for a long time, so she should serve on the advisory board. One day her kid will be old, at which point the child will serve on the board too.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

 

Danielle Medina, the board’s technical adviser, has given to both the Liberal and Conservative parties. To her credit, she has studied nutrition and food safety. So far, she seems like the most qualified of the bunch. Still, she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her fellow board members donating to political parties. Medina says she gives to political parties to receive tax credits. That makes sense. Since the chief goal of a tax credit is to put more money in a citizen’s pocket, it logically follows that the citizen should give more money to political parties in order to save some portion of the total spent come tax time. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. If the person doesn’t support the political party receiving the donation, it’s actually a really stupid thing to do. Smart or stupid, Medina says she “gives to everybody” (she is, apparently, the only person in the world who enthusiastically gives her money to competing politicians—does she trust them, or does she just love negative advertising?) and that political support is a “private situation.” It would be nice if that were true.

Unfortunately, when the members of a government program advisory board support the governing party in greater proportion than does the general population, it attracts attention, especially when those members are appointed to the board by the governing party. When the government program appears to be an abject failure, those board members come under fire. If it appears that they are unqualified for their jobs and/or unintelligent, they should expect at least a dull roar from the public. It is possible that the board has no real input on the management of the program, and that the board has made several informed decisions that have resulted in poor program outcomes. This is possible, but not probable. The program is more likely failing to feed the hungry because those who manage it, the advisory board, are, in general, appreciated for their political stripes rather than for their skills or qualifications. Still, despite what opposition MPs might say (in their traditionally whiny voices), there is no direct evidence that this is an orchestrated hack show. On the contrary, the direct evidence suggests that this is an unorchestrated hack show. That is much worse.