The return of parliament has brought with it renewed hope for some and empty promises for others. Last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons noted that affordability measures are a top priority. MP Kody Blois also stated that conversations at the Liberal caucus meeting focused significantly on affordability, stating that it is the “number one issue for all of us.”
Now that they have acknowledged the problem, what are the options the Trudeau government has at its disposal to solve the affordability crisis facing Canadians?
Fixing price gouging at major grocery chains is one solution on the table.
The House of Commons has been toying with the idea of action on grocery prices for months. Last week, however, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development François-Phillipe Champagne threatened Canada’s five largest grocery chains with further action, including possible tax measures, if a plan isn’t presented to stabilize prices by Thanksgiving.
Last Monday, CEOs from Walmart, Loblaw, Metro, Empire and Costco descended upon Ottawa for a meeting with Minister Champagne. Although the prime minister was unable to attend, Minister Champagne seemed to have no problem handling the situation on his own. The minister did not hold back, issuing threats if the situation wasn’t addressed, and soon.
The CEOs agreed to the government’s terms to come up with a plan to stabilize prices. The government, in turn, met them halfway and agreed to examine the larger food supply chain.
Taking on the grocery industry does not come without its fair share of risk for the Trudeau government. Committing to action means that the prime minister has taken ownership of the issue, and Canadians will want to see actual solutions that result in lower prices. With every complex issue, however, there are a variety of factors at play. Given the double whammy of climate change on crops and global conflict on inflation, it could be argued that there is only so much impact that a grocery store CEO can have.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been vocal on the issue, claiming the reverse. He has stated that the “greedy CEOs” are using “inflation as cover to drive up the cost of groceries.”
Is the government looking to pass the blame onto the grocery store CEOs, or is there genuinely only so much that can be done? Clearly, there is no simple answer.
Last Thursday, the government went one step further by introducing Bill C-56, the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act. The bill would amend the Competition Act to allow the Competition Bureau to compel information from grocery companies, prevent large grocers from monopolizing the industry, and restrict mergers between companies.
Although this is a good start, the Trudeau government will need to do more to address the deeper issues that are contributing to the affordability crisis. Measures such as threatening CEOs and removing GST from rental properties are actions that many Canadians were eager to see, but the work can’t stop there. The prime minister is in a precarious position, and he will have to work to win back the hearts (and bellies) of Canadians.