Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says the process for stabilizing food prices is “not like a switch you can flip,” but rather one that will likely take weeks and months, after he announced an agreement with major grocers this week that he vowed will lead to steadier prices “soon.”
Champagne and the federal government have been promising action to address grocery costs for weeks, and set a deadline for the CEOs of Canada’s five largest grocery chains to come up with a plan to “stabilize” prices by Thanksgiving.
This week, Champagne said Canadians will “soon” start to see grocers taking certain measures to address prices — including price freezing, price matching, and discounts on certain products — but he didn’t say by what metric shoppers can judge whether the plan is working.
Champagne also told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, the process of lowering prices will likely go on “for months.”
“It’s not like a switch you flip and you say, ‘oh, it’s Thanksgiving, and suddenly everything is solved’,” he said. “I’ll be on their back for months.”
“This is day four,” he added. “This is just an initial set of measures. This is an ongoing process.”
Champagne emphasized that the Thanksgiving deadline was one for grocers to come up with a plan, not to actually achieve stabilized prices by this weekend.
At this time last year, food inflation reached 11.4 per cent, the fastest rate of year-over-year growth in more than 40 years. It has since slowed — to 6.9 per cent in August — but it’s still well above headline inflation, which hit 4 per cent for the same month.
Meanwhile, the Liberals are pushing ahead with changes to Canada’s Competition Act through Bill C-56, the so-called Affordable Housing and Groceries Act, which aims to strengthen protections for Canadians when it comes to the country’s grocery sector competition.
There are also plans in the works to establish a grocery “code of conduct” to support fairness and transparency in the sector.
But when pressed on whether the federal government should have acted sooner to implement those measures, taking into consideration the amount of time food prices have been at record-setting highs, and that they appear to now be coming down slowly, Champagne said it’s “not about credit.”
“I’m saying if things happen, and we push them and we continue to push, then we’re all better off,” he said.
“If you say prices are going down, great,” he added. “What I’m saying is that we’ve been a catalyst to say, ‘you need to do more, and you need to do it now.’”
The industry minister also said his government’s actions in the last few weeks were not influenced by the Liberals’ slipping popularity in the polls.
Recent data from Nanos Research shows if a federal election were held now, the Conservatives would win enough seats to form a majority government.
But Champagne said the numbers are not what pushed his government to act.
“This is about what I hear,” Champagne said. “We’re acting, but look at other countries, this is an ongoing process, and no one is suggesting that we’re done.”
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello