OTTAWA - Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq never demanded an apology from a Rankin Inlet politician for making disparaging remarks about the federal Nutrition North program, the Conservatives said Friday.
And Aglukkaq is now threatening to take legal action over the comments.
The hamlet's deputy mayor, Sam Tutanuak, told an impromptu council meeting Friday that he is standing by remarks he made this week, saying high grocery prices force dozens of locals to scavenge for food at the local landfill.
Rankin Inlet Mayor Robert Janes said Tutanuak repeated to council what he told APTN News on Thursday — that Aglukkaq's office called the community's senior administrative officer asking for a written apology for the remarks.
The minister, however, is disputing Tutanuak's version of events.
"The allegations made against me by the deputy mayor of Rankin Inlet in an article published by the Aboriginal People's Television Network are completely false and must be corrected," Aglukkaq said in a statement issued by her office.
"The deputy mayor's claims about this conversation are completely false. I am currently reviewing all of my legal options."
Aglukkaq's parliamentary secretary Colin Carrie backed up the minister in the House of Commons, saying she has acted in the best interests of the people she represents.
"She was troubled when she heard about the recent reports about families in Rankin Inlet struggling to find food, so she followed up with her constituents to address these concerns," Carrie said.
"She also contacted the senior administrative officer in Rankin Inlet to learn more about these reports, and at no time did she speak to the deputy mayor ... and at no time did she or her office request an apology from anyone in the hamlet."
Carrie said the minister was simply seeking information so she could better serve her constituents.
Aglukkaq is the MP for Nunavut. Tutanuak could not immediately be reached for comment.
The federal auditor general raised questions this week about the Harper government’s new Nutrition North food subsidy program for remote Northern communities.
In his report, Michael Ferguson said the federal Aboriginal Affairs department had no way to determine whether the program was having the intended effect of making healthy food affordable and more available in the North.
There are some people in the community who do scrounge for items at the local dump, including food, Janes acknowledged. The mayor admitted that even he's been known to visit the landfill in search of auto parts and other salvage.
He called it a fact of northern life in Canada that supplies of fresh food often fall short.
"Every community in the Arctic has some issues with food supply," he said.
"Foods go bad very quickly, especially fresh produce and stuff like that, and sometimes it's just not available."