Stores in North left out of food-price discussions in Ottawa
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says talks aren’t enough; wants to see legislation to bring down prices
Updated on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 at 9 p.m.
Grocery stores in the North have been left out of talks with the federal government on plans to lower the price of groceries but NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says that doesn’t matter — he’d rather see legislation.
“Let’s go after the problem, and instead of asking them nicely let’s force them to lower prices by putting in better protections, stronger laws that would actually bring down prices,” Singh said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News after a recent visit to Iqaluit.
It was the NDP that prompted these talks to happen in the first place.
The House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-Food committee has been meeting with the CEOs of Canada’s five largest grocery chains over the course of the fall sitting, urging them to create plans to lower prices for consumers.
Those five grocery chains — Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc., Empire Company Ltd, Walmart Canada Corp., and Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. — predominantly operate in the south.
The committee is asking those companies to provide updates on their price-lowering strategies ahead of a meeting scheduled for this week.
Nunatsiaq News reached out to North West Company — which controls much of the northern grocery market, where prices on everyday items are often double or triple what they are in the south — to ask to what extent they are working with Ottawa to lower food prices.
Brent Smith, communications manager for the North West Company, didn’t address the question but said his company works to address issues caused by inflation.
He also said the store’s profits so far this year are similar to last year.
“We are responding to the impacts of inflation, which are compounded by higher transportation and operating costs in the North, with greater investments in promotional programs in our stores, sealift inventories, and cost-cutting measures,” he said.
Meanwhile, during his visit to Iqaluit, Singh said he was devastated to hear what families in Iqaluit are paying for groceries.
He said he was shocked to see high prices of around $25 for items such as orange juice and Halloween pumpkins.
In addition to price control legislation, Singh reiterated his call for an overhaul to Nutrition North Canada, where consumers would directly benefit from the subsidy.
“We should put in place policies that bring those prices down and make them more reasonable, and that was the goal of Nutrition North, but it is clearly not working the right way,” he said.
Nunatsiaq News contacted the offices of federal Minister of Industry François-Philippe Champagne and Conservative Northern Affairs critic Bob Zimmer for comment. Neither office responded.
Correction: This story has been updated from an early version.