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Canada: Stabilizing Food Prices Could Take Months

When I first heard this, I was aghast. Especially after the high drama of grocery chains unveiling their food price control policies last week. Why will they take months to take effect? I guess I’m a little naive, but I thought food prices would drop NOW…

Minister Champagne - © 2023 CTV NewsCanadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Uncomfortable
in interview on CTV News’
Question Period this past Sunday…

The government made a big show of demanding the big 5 supermarket chains come up with measures to stabilize, and then reduce food prices. The grocers revealed their plans last week but many folks questioned their sincerity.

What happened was, the grocers took advantage of the timing and claimed their usual year-end holiday season ‘ discounts, price freezes and price-matching campaigns’ were phase one of their response to government demands. That seemed cynical to many observers who noted that the overall effect of that policy was going to be nil.

The Minister explains…

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne initially told Canadians that he expected food price controls to begin taking effect ‘within days’. I guess he just meant that the usual fall marketing dance by supermarkets would start at its usual time: Thanksgiving.

Appearing on CTV News’ Question Period this past Sunday night, Champagne backpedalled furiously. He ‘explained’: “It’s not like a switch you flip and you say, ‘Oh, it’s Thanksgiving, and suddenly everything is solved’. […] I’ll be on their back for months. […] This is day four. This is just an initial set of measures. This is an ongoing process.”

We were kind of warned

You could say the grocers did kind of warn us that food prices wouldn’t actually begin to moderate in any major way immediately. They bought themselves time by invoking the usual seasonal marketing program as phase one of a larger plan. But they demurred from revealing any details of future measures they might take.

Why? I think it’s because they don’t really have a plan. I think they’re counting on food prices to come down on their own. Economists say they expect global economic conditions affecting fuel, fertilizer and other production costs to moderate by the middle of next year.

Champagne orated around in circles: “I’m saying if things happen, and we push them and we continue to push, then we’re all better off. […] If you say prices are going down, great. […] What I’m saying is that [the goverment has] been a catalyst to say, ‘you need to do more, and you need to do it now.”

Not really an ‘order’

But Canadians could be excused for expressing skepticism about the government’s effort. Champagne, and the Liberal Government as a whole, originally said it was ‘summoning’ grocers to the capital to ‘demand’ food price reductions ‘immediately’. Not ‘inviting’, as it had done in the past. Not ‘asking for’. Not seeking action in phases, over months.

I think many Canadians were expecting the government to do what some other national legislatures (mainly in Europe) have done. We were looking for them to slap price caps on some foods and decree reductions of up to 10 percent on the retail prices of others.

No way. And Canadians aren’t happy at all with the food price plan announced last week.

The Liberals must consider their position

It’s clear the government must act more decisively and more dramatically to retain the confidence of the voters who out them in charge.

A recent Nanos Research poll shows, if a federal election was held now, the opposition Conservatives would win enough seats to form a majority government. And federal majorities have been rarities in Canada in recent decades.

~ Maggie J.