09/29/2015 03:10 EDT | Updated 09/29/2016 05:12 EDT

Tom Mulcair Commits To Food Plan For Canada's North

IQALUIT, Nunavut — An NDP government would spend $32 million over four years to ensure more northerners have access to nutritious food, party leader Tom Mulcair said Tuesday.

Mulcair, who flew to Nunavut for a one-day northern swing, chastised the government under Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for failing to ensure an adequate supply of affordable healthy food in the North.

"Stephen Harper has used northern communities as convenient photo-ops for years while failing to address the most basic concerns of families: access to affordable food," Mulcair said in a statement on arrival in Iqaluit.

"We will take a different approach."

Mulcair said it's unfair that remote Inuit communities in Nunavut and elsewhere across the North frequently have to rely on unhealthy food simply because it is cheap. Such foods, he said, puts their well-being at risk.

Nunavut, currently held by Conservative Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, is grappling with daunting problems, such as suicides of young people and an unemployment rate more than double the Canadian average.

Mulcair, who said he wants to see locally produced foods used more as well as lower costs for food, also pledged to improve relations with Canada's aboriginal peoples, saying both the Conservatives and Liberals have failed them.

"The NDP is offering a new era of nation-to-nation relations with the Inuit, First Nations and Metis communities," he said.

Mulcair's food plan calls for the money to go into expanding a subsidy program called Nutrition North to include 50 isolated communities he said the Conservatives have excluded from subsidies. The NDP would also review the program, in partnership with northerners.

Territorial politicians have called for action on Nutrition North, while the auditor general has reported that no one knows if the program is working as intended or helping those most in need, Mulcair said.

Running for the NDP against Aglukkaq, Liberal Hunter Tootoo and the Green's Spencer Rocchi is Jack Anawak, a former MP, member of the territorial legislature and former Nunavut justice minister.

He is known for helping stop cruise-missile testing over the territory and pushing to end bans on seal products.

Earlier this week, Mulcair put forward his platform on fighting climate change, a topic of immense importance to the North as global warming causes polar ice to melt and alters the environment.

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