The government having last week issued the 2023 federal budget, Liberal representatives have spread out across the country to promote its new measures.
That’s how Bill Blair, the president of the Privy Council and Minister of Emergency Preparedness, could be found in Wellesley on Monday. He was visiting Pym’s Village Market to tout the budget and hear from the independent grocer.
Pym’s manager Katie Devries said while she liked what she heard from the minister and Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis, she also expressed concerns about the actions of the big players in the grocery industry, particularly those that supply products to the store.
“You can walk into a Walmart and pay $4.99 for a box of cereal. Our wholesale price from Sobeys is $7. How can we justify Sobeys charging us so much more than what they can retail it for?” she said following the visit.
“If we’re paying $7 for a box of cereal, you’re not going to pay $9 when you can walk into Walmart and get it for five – that’s sort of an unfair competition thing. How do you compete with that? How do you change that? I don’t have the answer to that, but I wish I did.”
Devries said she appreciates the work the government is doing to investigate the record profits that large grocery chains are making. That includes last month’s questioning of the CEOs of Loblaws, Empire Foods and Metro by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Devries wanted better answers, however.
“I don’t feel like I really got an answer as to why. If you look at the billions of dollars that Loblaws is making in profits, how do you justify that? It’s the Canadian taxpayer that’s paying. It’s the grocery buyer that’s paying,” she said.
The minister also answered questions about the April 1 carbon tax increase, which went up $15 to $65 per tonne and whether that is causing undue stress to average Canadians.
“People are stressed….These are difficult times, people are worried about the price of groceries, they’re worried about putting gas in their car, they’re worried about the rent. And that’s one of the reasons we’re working so hard to try to address affordability issues,” he said.
Blair said the government needs to do a better job of helping Canadians understand the carbon tax rebate that they receive four times a year. Based on income in Ontario the rebate can be up to $488 for an individual, $244 for a spouse or common-law partner, $122 per child under 19 or $244 for the first child in a single-parent family.
While Blair highlighted the planned grocery rebate that was included in the budget, it is only a one-time payment of up to $467 for eligible couples with children or $225 for seniors and $234 for single Canadians.
“We are dealing with a once in a generation increase in inflation, particularly in food inflation,” he said.
Blair called inflation a “temporary setback” that he is hopeful will be resolved with the Bank of Canada’s multiple increase to the interest rate over the last year.
“Putting something permanent in place for a temporary problem isn’t, in my opinion, the right thing to do. People are struggling right now,” he said.