The NDP is calling on the federal government to take steps to tackle “greed” and get to the bottom of the rising cost of groceries.
Thursday is an NDP opposition day, meaning the party can table a motion of its choice, allowing MPs to debate all day and vote later.
In general, these motions are attempts by opposition parties to get the government to take action on issues they see as urgent and which might not otherwise be at the top of the agenda.
Seizing their first chance of the fall session to set the agenda in the House of Commons, the new Democrats decided to spotlight the supermarket giants that “made huge profits over the past year” as grocery costs rise, and workers’ wages don’t keep up with inflation.
They call on the government to “recognize that corporate greed is a major driver of inflation, and to take further action to support families during this cost of living crisis.”
Specifically, the NDP wants the liberals to:
- Force CEOs and large corporations to “pay what they owe” by closing tax loopholes;
- Launch an “affordable and fair food strategy” to tackle “business greed”;
- Ask the competition agency to examine the supermarket chain’s profits; and
- Support a House committee study calling on supermarket CEOs to testify about “high food prices and the role of ‘greed’.”
The last point refers to NDP MP Alistair MacGregor’s successful effort, with all parties involved, to have the House Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee investigate the cost of groceries and inflation in the food supply chain.
As part of this work, MPs are expected to call on industry stakeholders, including supermarket executives, economists and farmers, with MacGregor promising to get to the bottom of rising food costs.
“The three largest supermarket chains in Canada have raised the money. If you look at Empire’s net profit, up 27.8 percent in two years. Loblaws profit up 17.2 percent compared to last year, and Metro 7.8 percent,” MacGregor said during Thursday’s debate in the House of Commons on Thursday’s motion, while a colleague sitting nearby could hear “shame.” say.
“It’s important for Canadians to see their MPs address their concerns. It’s important for them to see that people they’ve sent here are discussing this issue sincerely, but also with policies that are going to address it,” he said.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who took part in the debate, said that while there are elements of the motion he agrees with, he said it is not right to tackle the issue completely, because he believes the government is contributing to the rising cost of living.
“The NDP has this motion and they point out that companies should pay what they owe, we agree. They say there should be higher fines for price fixing, well we agree,” Poilievre said . “That’s all very reasonable. Unfortunately, in some ways it doesn’t go far enough because they have a very narrow view of greed. They think it only exists in the private sector. They are ignoring the government’s greed in this motion.”
Liberal MPs also expressed support for seeing rising food costs in the House, but Kody Blois, a Liberal MP and chair of the House Agriculture and Agriculture Committee, said during the debate that it appears the NDP motion is “almost The conclusion seems to have come before the investigation has even happened.”
“And speaking of high corporate profits and high food prices. I think my question to the honorable Member would be, is he claiming that there is absolute price inflation in this country? Or does he think there are plausible reasons why the corporate profits could be higher and food prices higher too?” Blois cited as an example Canadians who bought more groceries than went to restaurants during the pandemic.
In response to his colleague’s question, MacGregor said both could be true at the same time; food prices can rise for a variety of reasons, while large companies benefit from taking the market by storm.
“These two things exist at the same time, and it is high time that parliamentarians take this issue seriously, launch an investigation, get answers and rise to the challenge with effective policies that will tackle inequality in this country.”
Dalhousie University recently conducted a study that concluded that the evidence of “greed” in food retailing in Canada is “weak at best.”
“Indeed, the profits and margins are higher, but still a little bit. Compared to some banks and other major economic players in our economy, the difference is relatively small. We should also keep in mind that many Canadians will benefit from these decent financial results, as most retirement plans in Canada will own shares in at least one of the big three,” wrote Sylvain Charlebois, senior director at the Agri-foods Analytics Labs. Dalhousie University.
Charlebois has said that based on research he was part of, the data suggests grocers may not be responsible.
“That said, some prices in some food categories have behaved unreasonably in recent years, so that doesn’t mean ‘greed’ doesn’t exist. However, accepting that “greed” exists and accusing companies of being abusive is the easy part. Where it becomes a challenge is setting thresholds. How much is too much?” he said.