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Manitoba Opposition member raises idea of government action on grocery prices

WINNIPEG — A member of Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats has raised the prospect of a government “clampdown” on grocery prices if the party wins the election slated for Oct. 3, but has not offered details on how that might be possible.

Mark Wasyliw, the party’s critic for economic development, investment and trade, made the comments on the doorstep of a Winnipeg resident, a recording of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.

“We need to get grocery prices down. They’re way too expensive,” Wasyliw says in the recording, taken earlier this month by a homeowner who wanted to remain anonymous.

“And part of the problem is, there’s only a handful of these big companies and they engage in predatory commercial practices that raise the cost of groceries. So we want to clamp down on that on regulation.”

Wasyliw, who is seeking re-election in the Fort Garry constituency in Winnipeg, also discussed issuing more rebates for automobile insurance, which Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance has done in some recent years.

The NDP caucus rejected an interview request for Wasyliw or NDP Leader Wab Kinew on the issue, and instead provided a brief written statement that did not explain what a clampdown on grocery prices might entail.

“There are steps government can take to fight for a fair price for consumers and a Manitoba NDP government will do everything we can to make life more affordable for families,” the statement read.

The Retail Council of Canada said it’s unclear what powers a provincial government has on pricing, and rising grocery prices have been driven by higher input costs including fuel, farm fertilizer, and the supply-chain effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“It’s naive to think that you can manage pricing at a provincial level when it’s such a complex global sector that is so interconnected with global issues and rising costs all along the food chain,” John Graham, the council’s government relations director in the Prairie provinces, said Friday.

The issue of rising grocery prices is being studied by a parliamentary committee in Ottawa. Prices were up 11.4 per cent in January compared to the same month of last year, the committee heard, which was nearly double the overall rate of inflation of 5.9 per cent.

Michael Medline, the president and CEO of Empire — the parent company of chains including Sobeys and Safeway — told the committee in March grocers are not to blame because they have faced rising costs themselves. Galen Weston, the chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., told the committee rising profits have come from clothing and pharmacy sales and financial services.

Also at the national level, the Competition Bureau began a study last fall into grocery store competition in Canada and whether it is affecting the price of food. The bureau has said it plans to publish its findings in June.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cliff Cullen said the province has already taken steps to help people with rising costs, such as cheques that were mailed out last fall and this spring to individuals and families, based on income. He also cited Tory cuts to personal income and business payroll taxes.

Manitoba New Democrats, who have been leading the governing Progressive Conservatives in opinion polls, have already signalled they would make affordability a key part of their campaign for the provincial election.

They have promised to freeze hydroelectric rates, but have not provided details on how that might be done either.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2023

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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