Progress being made to stabilize food prices in Canada falling on skeptical ears

Canada’s industry minister was defending the government’s actions on trying to force the country’s big grocers to help stabilize food prices.  

The Commons Ag Committee is almost done studying the issue for a second time, and on Tuesday Francois Philip Champagne spent an hour trying to convince the committee, progress is being made.

“This is the action I’ve taken in 5 months: called the grocery CEO’s…we have made a record investment in (the) Consumer Affairs Bureau, and we probably had one of the first meetings on consumers affairs. This is just us, so that’s why I’m saying when I look at our record I feel pretty good.” Champagne told the committee, while also criticizing the Conservatives for lack of action while they were in government.

But many committee members weren’t feeling quite as good. The NDP’s Allistair MacGregor said none of the big grocery company CEOs have outlined any changes they plan to make in how their operate their businesses, calling the minister’s efforts a failure.

“I think what Canadians really want to know (is) they want to see the pendulum start swinging back onto the side of the consumers, back onto the side of farmers, and I think they want to know why should they rely on the good will of CEO’s to lower food prices when we have a major CEO saying that your meeting did not result in anything,” MacGregor said to Champagne. Champagne replied that CEO “is an outlier”, adding he told the Chief Executive Officer that “40 million Canadians have more power than any corporate CEO can believe because we can move our purchasing power.”

Over the last several months the federal government and the NDP have been taking aim at companies like Loblaw, Metro and Empire suggesting those companies are making huge profits while many Canadians struggle to buy food. 

The committee will study all of the input from the past few months and make its recommendations to the commons.

Second Harvest Report 

The food rescue organization called Second Harvest recently released a report that suggests an additional 1 million Canadians will have to visit a food bank for the first time this year. If that holds up, that would mean nearly 3 million Canadians are now accessing the services of a food bank each month. The report also said that at least a third of agencies across the country that supply food had to turn people away last year, because they didn’t have enough supplies to feed everyone in line.  

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, who is board member at Second Harvest, called the report sobering. “The report is not alarmist, it’s actually quite realistic, and so we need to think of ways to help out people,” Charlebois said.

He proposed removed the sales tax from retail food as well as establish a nutritional certificate program where people can use or redeem gift certificates at farmer’s markets. “These programs already exist in British Columbia, Quebec, and right here in Nova Scotia, it’s been quite helpful and I would basically nationalize that program. You get people to get in touch with farmers, you get them to cook, you get them to buy good food – Canadian food, Canadian grown food – so to me that’s a valuable program.”

(With files from Dean Thorpe, CFCW)

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