House of Commons Hansard #324 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

Order. I need to remind members about referring to the proper names of members of the Parliament. This is the third time this has happened in a row and it gives an opportunity for the podium to be inserted into the hon. member's desk.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize; that was completely unintentional. If you will indulge me, I will start from the top and eliminate the name.

I want to thank the page for the podium here and say that I am very grateful for the opportunity to respond to comments made earlier by the leader of the New Democratic Party regarding the actions that our government is taking to address the very real food affordability challenges that Canadians are experiencing. That includes my neighbours, friends and family in Milton, Ontario.

We have an obligation to ensure that all Canadians have access to food and other daily essential goods. I said yesterday in the House of Commons that it is not as though Canadians can simply buy less food. Food is an essential item and needs to be affordable in our country.

Our government has been actively engaged and committed to improving affordability across the board with the view to alleviating the financial stress that is placed on Canadians. While we are doing that, we are addressing the growing costs of essential goods, including groceries. That requires a very strong consumer advocacy sector as well as timely and independent research on consumer issues. That is why our government is targeting enhanced support for Canadian consumers through additional investments in consumer advocacy work.

Yesterday I was talking about the value and the potential for more ombudspeople in the grocery sector to do research and conduct a bit of introspection with respect to why grocery prices are so high these days. Everybody seems to have a theory or some kind of an idea as to why grocery prices are inflated, but there are different reasons, and very complex reasons actually, because everything we shop for at the grocery store comes from somewhere else these days.

We announced in October 2023 that our government would be tripling our investment in Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's contributions program for non-profit consumer and voluntary organizations. That program's funding was increased to $5 million annually. The additional funds are allowing organizations which advocate directly for the rights of consumers to examine existing and emerging business practices that can be harmful to Canadians, while also recommending actions to improve affordability, increase grocery competition and build on existing government efforts to promote and protect the interests of Canadian consumers.

It is absolutely and abundantly clear that grocery chains in Canada have taken advantage of consumers at various times. The very fact that we have an uncompetitive, consumerist and capitalistic approach to selling food, an essential item in this country, raises eyebrows. As somebody who grew up in non-profit housing, I have to wonder whether there is not more space for non-profit groceries. That is not to suggest that we would not support the workers in those stores, and we would certainly continue to support agriculture workers, farmers and food producers. However, there is a lot of value in removing profit from the essentials.

As a co-op kid, I never hesitate to talk about the value of non-profits. There is one non-profit organization in my riding about whose incredible work I would like to speak: Food for Life, a local charity and organization, a community-serving group that rescues food. In fact, it purchased a couple of refrigerated trucks with support from the federal government. That means that people from the organization can arrive at a grocery store they have contracts with, and before food comes off the shelf and goes into the landfill, the Food for Life experts go in and remove food from the shelves.

Food for Life is supporting the affordability for Canadians on two levels. One, the disposal of food costs grocery stores a lot of money, so they can actually eliminate that cost, which would be passed on to the consumers who shop at the store. Also, the organization is removing high-quality food that will not be sold for one reason or another. I have a lot of feelings about best-before dates. My partner and I often argue about what food has gone bad. I am the type of person who cuts a bit of mould off cheese, grates up the cheese and puts it on my pasta. It does not bother me too much. Perhaps my partner feels a bit differently about cheese mould.

Food for Life and the experts there do an amazing job rescuing food, putting it on shelves, packaging it, storing it and freezing it, and they actually have two free grocery stores. It always raises eyebrows when I tell people that my riding, my region, has two free grocery stores. Anybody back home listening can google “Food for Life in Halton”. People can drop by one of their grocery stores. They have excellent variety: fruit, vegetables, meat, bread and all the essentials.

All that the experts at Food for Life ask for is just a tiny bit of information, nothing terribly intrusive, just so they can continue to serve our community better. I am proud to say that I am a monthly donor to Food for Life. Anybody who is interested can examine the pathway of food waste and how we can redirect food waste toward people who really need it. I just want to stress that the invaluable, incredible work of Food for Life Canada in Halton is doing just that.

Let us go back to some of the projects that our government is funding to further explore barriers to grocery competition in the Canadian context. We have assisted in funding some studies that were completed by the Competition Bureau. It reported that existing barriers in the Canadian grocery sector context include “restrictive covenants” and “property controls”, and retail contracts that limit our control on how real estate is used by competing players in the grocery industry.

Our government is committed to reiterating our commitments to enhancing affordability for Canadians, as demonstrated by our investment through budget 2024. We understand the cost pressures that Canadian families are facing, and they often start with the price of food. That is why budget 2024 launched a national school food program in Canada, the first of its kind, and it will help ensure that more than 400,000 children have access to healthy meals and snacks, so they can remain focused on learning and growing while in class.

I have visited a lot of amazing school food programs. They basically do boxes where they take snacks out of packaging and create little hampers that go to the classrooms. That is to ensure there is a healthy snack available to any kid who might be a little hungry.

There are a lot of reasons a student might be a little hungry, or having a snack attack. It might be because they forgot their lunch at home. It might be because their banana got squished in their bag and they did not want to eat it. It could be because of time poverty; some families just run out of time. Sometimes we forget our lunch. Sometimes it is an affordability challenge and sometimes it is a time poverty issue. Sometimes it is a convenience issue. However, none of those reasons should get in the way of making sure a young kid or student has access to a healthy snack.

I want to give Halton Food for Thought a shout-out and Food4Kids Halton, as they are amazing organizations. The volunteers, the teachers and the parents who show up, and everybody who purchases food for or donates food to these programs, are all saints and I just want to say I appreciate them.

A national school food program will nationalize that and ensure that it does not always just rely on goodwill, donations and volunteers. We are going to ensure that all schools have access to it. It is definitely the case that schools in higher-income neighbourhoods tend to have more volunteers, and they often have more services. We do not want schools in lower, more modest-income neighbourhoods or communities to not have access to these essential programs.

I am really glad that our government is taking the extraordinary step of starting a national school food program. I think 400,000 kids is a lot of kids, and that is a great program and a great way to ensure that young people and students are not going hungry while they are in class.

Our government also believes that a lack of competition in Canada's grocery sector means that Canadians will ultimately pay higher prices to feed themselves and their families. We have actually seen that. It was not that long ago that Loblaw Companies sent out, in Ontario at least, those little $25 gift cards to anybody who went online and signed up. That was sort of its sorry for fixing the price of bread for over a decade. There was a big lawsuit and Loblaw basically said, “Sorry, we were fixing the price of bread. We will make amends by sending everybody 25 bucks.”

As sort of an act of protest, I spent my $25 at Loblaws. I remember doing that, but I think that did not really make up for the fact that it was working against customers. Where we shop is democratic: With our dollars, we want to support companies that have the best interests of their consumers in mind. I believe in customer service and I also believe that companies have a duty to respect their customers. It would be great to see more of that.

Let us go back to some of the significant efforts the Liberals have deployed to ensure that Canada's competition laws are fit for the modern economy. We have also brought forward important amendments to the Competition Act through Bill C-56, and that is the affordable housing and groceries act. These amendments would give further enforcement powers to the Competition Bureau to prevent anti-competitive mergers and to address competition-stifling practices in large dominant players.

It is clear when there is not enough competition in a market. If there is only one store in a community, then it can basically charge whatever it wants. Even when there is more than one store, we can see some of the unfair corporate practices that target more vulnerable communities. Oftentimes, there is a smaller store, like a Shoppers Drug Mart or a convenience store, that is within walking distance to affordable housing. However, with some of the bigger stores, the more discount grocery stores, people require a vehicle to get to them.

In some of those smaller stores, we will see a higher price for the exact same item. I have seen it myself. A can of tomato soup is $2.49 at Shoppers Drug Mart, but if one goes to a No Frills, and it is on for $1.29. Both stores happen to be owned by the same company, so that is an unfair practice. I am not going to be convinced that the shelf cost of an item in one store versus another is actually double.

Finally, our government has made it a priority to maintain something called the food price data hub to give Canadians up-to-date and detailed information on food prices to help them make informed decisions about their grocery options. I am happy to elaborate on the food price data hub in a question.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is still not clear to me whether Liberals are going to support the motion. I will review that the motion is composed of three parts. One is to force big grocery chains and suppliers to lower the prices of essential foods or else face a price cap or other measures, for example, an excess profit tax. The second is to stop delaying the long-needed reforms to the nutrition north program. My colleague from Nunavut spoke very eloquently about how money is being poured into nutrition north, but much of that money is going to the CEO's pay and profits rather than reducing the cost of essential foods to northerners. The third is to stop Liberal and Conservative corporate handouts to big grocers. This has happened a number of times.

Are the Liberals supporting the motion and will they bring an end to the corporate handouts that have been given to companies like Loblaws over the last few years in the amount of over $25 million?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I support any and all measures to ensure affordability for Canadians, but I also want thoughtful debate in this House about how we should do it. Just saying the federal government should force a company to do something does not indicate how we might get there. We have heard the New Democratic Party say we should force a company to do this, force a company to do that a lot, but there are not a lot of tangible suggestions in terms of what types of incentives, disincentives or methods that our government could possibly use to force a company to do one thing or another.

We need to find sustainable, durable solutions, not a one-time tax. That is not a policy change, that is just retribution and punishment. I am frustrated, too. Food costs too much in Canada, but I want a solution that is going to feed into the future and make sure we always have affordable food in Canada. I brought forward ideas like non-profits, food rescue programs, more data and more research. These are all durable solutions to the food insecurity crisis that Canadians are experiencing. These one-time tax ideas of enforcing this and enforcing that are not really great policy.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Mazier Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague touched on data, as far as figuring out what Canadians need when it comes to carbon emissions, cost and affordability in Canada.

I am wondering why the member and his government are concealing the results of the $8-billion net accelerator fund. I wonder why they are calling it cabinet confidence when all Conservatives are asking about is the target and how much emissions were reduced by that $8-billion slush fund.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, we are seeing an attempt by the Conservatives to conflate the affordability crisis with climate action and targets that we are using to lower emissions in Canada.

The carbon emissions that are the responsibility of various sectors across the board have all been on the way down, whether it is in the transport sector, the agriculture sector, the grocery sector or the health care sector. These are all large emissions-producing industries, as is the steel industry in my riding. Yes, we invested in the steel industry to ensure that we get coal out of the mix with respect to how we produce steel in this country.

We need to build Canada, we need to help the world build up, and that is going to require Canadian ingenuity and innovation.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Mazier Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

How many emissions does that reduce?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it difficult to answer the question when my colleague opposite will not let me finish.

The truth is we have to invest in Canada to make it cleaner and greener and assist some of the big sectors with those innovations. In the case of Dofasco in Hamilton, when I went to McMaster, I saw the billowing smoke from those coal-fired stacks. In a couple of years, they will be a thing of the past because of our government's investments and interventions. Some of that innovation we should celebrate, not fight over.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in this debate on the NDP motion submitted by the hon. member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford in relation to the price of essential foods and the conduct of grocery giants, such as Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys.

The proposed motion is timely, because by voting in favour of Bill C-59 last week, this House approved the latest initiative in the government's comprehensive modernization of the Competition Act. The relevant clauses were approved unanimously, showing the strong consensus here in this chamber on these issues.

The truth of the matter is that the government has been extremely active in promoting competition in all sectors of the economy, including in the grocery retail industry. It begins with resourcing. In budget 2021, the government increased the Competition Bureau's budget by $96 million over five years and $27.5 million ongoing thereafter. The increase in resources was a much needed boost to the bureau's capacity, and in its own words, “These funds enhance our ability to enforce the law and advocate for more competition. They help ensure we have the right tools to deal with Canada’s competition challenges now and in the future.”

Needless to say, law enforcement will not be effective if the enforcers are not able to carry out their tasks, and that is why this extraordinary increase was crucial to the bureau's functioning. The next step had to do with the legal framework under which the bureau operates, the Competition Act, which was aging and falling short compared to our international partners.

Through the 2022 budget bill, Bill C-19, we took the first step in remedying this, correcting some of the obvious issues. This included criminalizing wage-fixing agreements, allowing private parties to seek an order for abuse of a dominant position and raising maximum penalty amounts to be based on the benefits of anti-competitive conduct. This ensures that sanctions would no longer be a mere slap on the wrist for today's largest economic actors.

The government knew, however, that much more remained to be done. Where the solutions were less readily obvious, the minister turned to the public process, launching a comprehensive public consultation on the future of Canada's competition policy. The process ran from November 2022 through March 2023.

In response to a consultation paper released by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, over 500 responses were received. This consisted of over 130 from identified stakeholders like academics, businesses, practitioners and non-government organizations.

While this feedback was being received, government officials also met with stakeholders in round table groups, allowing them to voice their views and to interact with each other as well. Stakeholders were not shy about sharing their opinions with us. They knew what sorts of outcomes they wanted to be delivered.

There was no shortage of proposals made, some highly concrete and detailed, others more directional in nature. What we heard, however, is that Canadians wanted more competition. Across many domains, the desire to strengthen the law, to enable the bureau to act and to align with international counterparts was evident.

Of course, many also expressed reservations about ensuring we get the details right and warned about overcorrection. The government took those to heart as well, taking inspiration from examples in other jurisdictions and recognizing the careful balancing that must be done when developing new legislation.

All told, the results of the consultation can be seen in two pieces of government legislation.

First, Bill C-56, the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act, was adopted in December 2023. It took some of the largest issues off the table. It eliminated the “efficiency exception”, which allowed anti-competition mergers to withstand challenge. It revised the law on abuse of dominant position to open up new avenues for a remedial order. It broadened the types of collaboration the bureau can examine, including those that are not formed between direct competitors. It established a framework for the bureau to conduct marketing studies, including the possibility of production orders to compel information. Work on this last amendment is already under way, as the bureau has announced an intention to launch a study into the passenger air travel industry.

Bill C-59, the fall economic statement implementation act, 2023, is the second legislative effort following the consultation. As we know, it is currently before the Senate, and the government looks forward to its quick adoption. The amendments to the Competition Act that it contains are incredibly comprehensive. I will provide some of the highlights.

The bill makes critical amendments to merger notification and review to ensure that the bureau is aware of the most important deals and would be able to take action before it is too late. It significantly revamps the enforcement framework to strengthen provisions dealing with anti-competitive agreements, and it broadens the private enforcement framework so that more people could bring their own cases before the Competition Tribunal for a wider variety of reasons; in some cases, they could even be eligible for a financial award.

Bill C-59 also helps address important government priorities by making it harder to engage in “greenwashing”, which is the questionable or false representation of a product or a business’s environmental benefits. It facilitates useful environmental collaboration that might otherwise have been unlawful. It helps to make repair options more available for consumers by ensuring that refusals to provide the necessary means can be reviewed and remedied as needed.

Finally, overall, Bill C-59 makes a number of critical but often technical updates throughout the law to remove enforcement obstacles and make sure that the entire system runs smoothly.

I cannot overstate how important these measures are. The competition commissioner has referred to this as a “generational” transformation. It is by far the most significant update to the law since the amendments in 2009, following the recommendations of the competition policy review panel; arguably, it is the most comprehensive rewrite of the Competition Act since it first came into effect in 1986. Our world has changed since then, and it became clear that the law needed to keep pace to enable institutions that can oversee fast-changing markets and landscapes.

After the passage of Bill C-59, we can guarantee that our competition law will work for Canadians in markets such as the one under scrutiny here, as well as the many other markets throughout our economy.

I am thankful for having been given the opportunity to share a few words.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I realize that the member did not talk about it in his intervention, but I will ask him about the nutrition north program.

Amautiit Nunavut Inuit Women's Association, which I mentioned earlier, reported that the child poverty rate for Nunavut is 35.8%. That is a startling poverty rate in Canada.

Another statistic is that the North West Company CEO's salary was $3.91 million. The nutrition north program gave $64 million in tax dollars to the North West Company to alleviate poverty in the north.

It is obvious that nutrition north is not working. Does the member agree that the Liberal government needs to stop delaying the reform of nutrition north and that it must act now to help alleviate poverty in Nunavut?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, our government has invested and increased the budget by over $150 million to help northerners. Our government is absolutely committed to ensuring that 100% of the retail subsidy is directly passed on to northerners.

Prices are too high in the north. We have worked, and will continue to work, with territorial governments, indigenous partners and people who live in the north and the Arctic to make more progress.

Progress has been made, but there is a lot more work to be done. We are committed to doing it.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member was just talking about some $100 million that was put into a fund.

This morning the Auditor General, in a report, talked about the misuse of funds in the Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund, saying that it is almost a slush fund. This is given that $123 million worth of contracts were found to have been given inappropriately, with $59 million of those being given to projects that never should have been awarded any money in the first place.

The member is talking about the appropriation of those funds for a good purpose, but could he comment on how he thinks the funds in the technology process, which the Auditor General just announced today, should have been used?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member, who has been a good friend for many years.

In terms of the bills I already mentioned, whether it is Bill C-56 or Bill C-59, we are going to make sure that they bring in legislative measures and give more powers to the bureau and the controllers. In that way, they will be able to control those subsidies, including the one that the hon. member is talking about.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, in its motion, the NDP calls on the government to “stop Liberal and Conservative corporate handouts to big grocers”. I wonder whether the member knows what the NDP is referring to, because to my knowledge, there are no subsidy programs specifically for grocers. Obviously, there is the nutrition north program, but the NDP is proposing to boost that program's funding, for valid reasons.

In my opinion, the true fat cats pocketing federal handouts are the oil companies. Big oil makes billions of dollars in profits a year and still receives taxpayer money in the form of government handouts.

That is why I am wondering which subsidy program the NDP is referring to. Can the government member tell me if he knows what the NDP is talking about?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, we can talk about subsidies; particularly, the hon. member mentioned the north. When it comes to northern communities, we all know that the prices are high. To help, our government has invested the $150 million I mentioned. Those are the monies that will go to charities, food banks and other northern organizations so that people will be able to benefit; the people of the north will be able to benefit through those subsidies.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise in support of our NDP motion, which reads:

That, given that the cost of food continues to increase while grocery giants such as Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys make record profits, the House call on the government to:

(a) force big grocery chains and suppliers to lower the prices of essential foods or else face a price cap or other measures;

(b) stop delaying long-needed reforms to the Nutrition North program; and

(c) stop Liberal and Conservative corporate handouts to big grocers.

I am in support of this motion, because what Canadians are experiencing across the country, and in particular in my riding of Edmonton Griesbach, is truly heartbreaking. In my time in my community, I often speak to seniors, young people and those who are doing everything right, but they find that they are continuing to fall further behind. We know that the Liberals' consistent delay in action is truly costing Canadians, not just in their ability to feed themselves, but in so many ways, such as their dignity. On the Conservative side, they like to deflect from the point that corporations are gouging Canadians by reducing all of their fears, their woes and the reality of our economy down to slogans.

However, this is an immensely serious issue that is facing Canadians, and we must have the courage to call out corporations that continue to put this immense greed ahead of the very basic dignity of all Canadians. One in five Canadians is now skipping a meal. Food banks have never been used at the rate they are being used, in the last 35 years. As a matter of fact, the price of food has now reached over 20% of the cost in the last three years. We must be able to control the immense appetite of these corporations that have largely used the postpandemic period, this crisis that Canadians are facing, for their own particular benefit.

We do not have to look all that far in Canada's own history to see that private megacorporations always do the same thing when crisis hits. They jack up the prices. They force those who need those supports most, and they hurt them. They do that because their shareholders are not necessarily concerned about the outcome for regular Canadians. They do not have to ever feel the pain of people who have to look their child in the eye and know that they will not get a meal because they have given it to the child. They will not ever feel the pain of people who have to understand that they have to work an extra four hours and maybe miss the concert that their kids are putting on at school because they need that money to make ends meet. These stakeholders are completely absent of the realities facing so many Canadians, so they continue to jack up the prices, which go higher and higher, so much so that Canadians across the country have now galvanized together to boycott a megacorporation like Loblaws in order to seek their own justice. This is the kind of justice that government should be seeking. This is the kind of justice that these corporations should be subjected to.

Not that long ago, there was a terrible instance that found some of these megacorporations guilty of fixing the price of bread. It is shameful that corporations would fix the price of bread in order to make hand-over-fist profits. We need to have a level of accountability for these corporations.

In addition to this corporate greed, not only should these companies be held to account, but we also see that consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments continue to allow it, and also reward that level of greed. For example, when the Conservatives were in power, they gave $2.35 billion in corporate handouts to big grocery chains, which is shameful.

It gets even worse, because Canadians were promised, in 2015, a systemic change, that justice was going to come to Canada, but what we have seen is more of the same, as the Liberals kept that corporate handout. We do not have to look all that far in our own history. In 2019, for example, we saw a terrible instance where Loblaws needed refrigerators, and guess who paid for it: Canadian taxpayers had to pay for Loblaws' refrigerators. It is shameful. If Canadians had their refrigerators paid for them, imagine that. Imagine that cost alleviated in the household. No, Loblaws got access to a free refrigerator program costing millions of dollars.

These corporate handouts continue and continue, and the Conservatives spend all day trying to convince Canadians that they were never part of the problem, that they have not governed the country for half its existence and that for some reason the problems that we see from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and today were somehow avoidant of their legislation, avoidant of their priorities, avoidant of holding corporations responsible.

We often hear from the Conservatives that these nine years have been tough. Yes, they have been tough on Canadians. My God, they have been hard, but it did not just come from nine years. It came from generations of critically underfunding the social safety net that Canadians rely on.

The member of Parliament for Nunavut speaks, for example, about the nutrition north program. The nutrition north program is so critical and important, so that we can get a basic level of dignity to those living in the north, but what we see is this complete, abject failure by the government to recognize the humanity of these people: relatives, family members, children, babies. There comes a time when we have to question whether systemic racism and the issues that plague the north are present in this issue, and I would suggest that they are, that Canada's own history of deep colonization has played a role in the direct underfunding of areas that are predominantly indigenous. We know that from the history of the Prairies, and we see that in the nutrition north program.

Canadians know that the problem is corporate greed. They know it. I will give an example, and I know the Conservatives will love this one, because I will talk about the carbon tax, their favourite thing to talk about. It is all they talk about all day. In my riding, we have a lot of hard-working individuals, people who own trucks. It takes a lot of money to run a truck. On April 1 of last year, the Prime Minister increased the carbon tax by 3¢. Conservatives say this is bad, but Danielle Smith increased it by 4¢ and that is not even with a rebate. As for the 13¢, though, who is getting the 13¢?

I tell those workers that they are getting gouged. They are getting gouged at the pump by those corporations that are making hand-over-fist profits, because, again, their shareholders demand it. They have never filled up their gas tank in their life. They would not even know the number, but Canadians do, because they are pinching every single dollar they have in order to make ends meet.

What we have is a government that is so out of touch that it is failing to recognize that corporate greed plays a role in this. Then it has its buddies, the Conservatives, to back it up on that and continue to deflect from the truth. That is why we have not heard whether there will be support for this motion. That is why no one wants to talk about corporate greed in this place. When New Democrats force a discussion, as we are today, it is imperative that we are honest with Canadians about the real cost of living and the crisis that contributes to it. When corporations are allowed to continue and continue to gouge, when they are allowed to just go unfettered by raising prices, like three apples for seven dollars, my God, that is unfair. When they are allowed to do that, with no penalty, they will continue.

That is why the bread-fixing scandal of the three major grocery companies is so important for us to focus on as a case study. When they collude together and set the price of bread so that they make maximum profits, and then no one on the Conservative bench mentions that crime and no one on the Liberal side mentions that crime, when is there going to be justice for Canadians?

I am proud to vote in favour of this motion, and I hope my colleagues do too.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier today, we heard our Conservative friends talk about the carbon tax, manufacturers making obscene profits on the backs of Canadians, and the big grocery chains. If that was the case, if that was the true cause of high food prices, would the grocery chain profits not have been much lower, if in fact their input costs had been jacked up so high?

How does the member assess the Conservative message to Canadians on this issue?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, that question from my hon. colleague just speaks to the divide-and-distract position of the Conservatives. They always want to say that it is someone else's problem, that it is always the government that stands as the reason why things are so hard for Canadians, and that the only way to solve it is by electing them. What a convenient solution that is: just elect Conservatives. The truth is, we have done that many times. Canadians have done that so many times, yet we are still in this predicament. Worse yet, we have programs that have largely failed Canadians and cost us billions. We do not have to look too far to remember the Phoenix pay system, one of the most expensive scandals of the Conservative government, which is still impacting regular workers today.

When Conservatives tell me the cost of living crisis is just about the carbon tax and could not possibly be about Loblaws, who are they really working for? They are probably working for those corporations that would benefit from the deflection.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about government policies and how these policies are not serving the average Canadians. In the meantime, he and his party keep supporting the same government. Canadians are listening and wondering what is going on here. Why would the NDP members blame the government and complain about the government while they keep supporting the same government?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

I just hope they get along and talk about the Edmonton Oilers at some point.

The hon. member for Edmonton Griesbach.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will start with two things: Go, Oilers, go. I am so proud of our hometown, and we are going to win the Stanley Cup.

I will address the member's question in just a moment, but I want to challenge him on his position on Palestine. I know he avoided the vote on a free Palestine. He avoided the vote there, and I hope that he has the courage to stand in support of the constituents, whom we both share, who are calling for justice and a ceasefire.

As to the second point, about why we support the confidence and supply agreement with the government, we have set some priorities and we have supplied some confidence. We do not set the implementation, but it is like the old saying about the devil one knows versus the devil one does not know. We know what the government is going to do, and it is going to do it badly, but at least we are there to make sure that it does not go so off track that it hurts Canadians more than it already has. Worse yet, if we do not do this, then guess who is next: the Conservatives, and life is going to get even harder.

The hardest choice for New Democrats in this place is to have to do what we always have to do, which is to ensure that good policies come out of this place. To be frank, good policies only ever come out of minority governments that New Democrats stand vanguard to.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am always pleased to hear the eloquence of the member for Edmonton Griesbach. He fights very strongly on behalf of his constituents.

I am wondering why he believes Conservatives have never apologized for the 10-year, decade-long bread price-fixing scandal that started right after Harper was elected and continued right through until after the Harper government was thrown out. That took, on average, $400 out of the pockets of Canadian families, with each family paying $400 more than they should have because the Harper government refused to call the corporations that fixed the price of bread to account.

Can the member tell me why Conservatives have never apologized, never said they are sorry to Canadians for allowing that egregious theft from so many Canadian families?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives never apologize for their mistakes. Their consistent message is to say it is someone else's problem. It is at the core of Conservatives to never take accountability for what they have done. Conservatives never take accountability for the fact that they failed Canadians so many times. They never take into account that they have played a role in the economy that so many Canadians are now falling behind in. It always has to be someone else's problem. However, when we catch them red-handed, when we see that during their time in government they allowed big corporations to fix the price of bread, we have to demand accountability. Worse yet, they also paid $2.35 billion in handouts to those same companies, so they are working for them.

That is why the Conservatives never apologized. They are the same ones who made the problem.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2024 / 1:25 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak to our NDP opposition day motion, calling on all parties in the House to stand with Canadians, to stand with us in the NDP, and push for measures to go after greedy grocery CEOs, lower food prices and reform nutrition north. Canadians are struggling. Costs are going up across the board. Nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to grocery prices.

Grocery stores are out of control, and it is Canadians who are getting screwed. On top of it, wealthy CEOs like Galen Weston are raking it in, while Liberals ask them to meekly stop and Conservatives cheer them on. All the while, a couple of CEOs thrive as they live off public money, while northerners, indigenous peoples and all Canadians get screwed.

Over the last three years, the cost of food has increased by over 20%. Food bank usage is at a 35-year high. One in five Canadians is skipping meals. At the same time, the grocery sector made record profits in 2023, raking in $6 billion. It is an unfair system, and Canadians are paying the price.

Nowhere is this clearer than in communities across our north, especially ones that depend on the nutrition north program. Grocery prices in our north are routinely two to three times higher the cost compared to more southern communities. The profits of the largest grocery chain in the north, The North West Company, have gone up 10% since 2022. Its CEO earned just about $4 million in compensation in a single year, which is 98 times what his employees earned. With all those profits, it receives $67 million in subsidies through nutrition north. Are those savings being passed on to northerners? Of course not.

In fact, in larger communities with more than one store, corporate grocers pass only about 67¢ of every subsidy dollar on to consumers. In smaller communities with a single grocery store, greedy grocery CEOs are keeping 67¢ out of every dollar they should be passing on to consumers. The more isolated a community is and the less people have to spend the more they get gouged. It is unacceptable, and that is why we in the NDP have called for a public inquiry. However, we know that the Liberals and the Conservatives do not want to do that, preferring to keep northerners and Canadians in the dark.

This reality did not just happen. The corporate greed that we are seeing has been aided and abetted by successive Liberal and Conservative governments and their policies. It goes beyond food prices in our north. Canada is forcing first nations like Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake, Oxford House, Gods River, God's Lake Narrows and others to live in forced isolation. Instead of working with Wasagamack to build a desperately needed airport, instead of funding all-weather road infrastructure for the first nations that need it, they are forced to rely on winter roads to ship everything in, including food. With catastrophic climate change shortening the window for these ice roads, a period in which things can be shipped in, things are only getting more expensive and only getting worse.

Northern and indigenous communities already have to deal with greedy CEOs' price gouging. Adding the collaboration of successive Liberal and Conservative governments, which refuse to fight to make their lives better, only increases people's struggles. The sad reality is that not one politician would tolerate these prices if he or she were the one who had to pay them.

We can be sure that if the Prime Minister lived in Norway House, a cereal box would not cost $17.99. If the leader of the official opposition lived in Wasagamack, a can of soup would not cost four times what it costs in Ottawa. If anyone here paid over $35 for a six-pack of canned salmon like people in Garden Hill do, he or she certainly would not be rushing to hand out $25.5 million to Loblaws and Costco over four years, like the Liberals did. We would not see the type of corporate coalition support that these successive Liberal and Conservative governments gave out, $2.35 billion in subsidies, to grocery giants if the deputy leaders of the Liberals or the Conservatives were paying $25 for a four-pack of Ritz crackers. No, it would be outrageous, and they would be helping people.

This is Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where we are seeing this kind of unacceptable exploitation, deprivation and inequality grow. Indigenous and northern communities deserve better. Canadians deserve better. That is why this NDP motion is so important. It reflects what we in the NDP have been calling to happen for a number of years, which is much-needed reforms to nutrition north so indigenous and northern communities can afford healthy foods, lower the prices of essential food at corporate grocery stores and end the Liberal and Conservative handouts to big corporations.

Speaking of oligopolies and the unbreakable bond between successive Liberal and Conservative governments and the CEOs they cater to, I would be remiss if I did not bring up another corporation, Bell. We will find few Canadian companies that better exemplify this corporate arrogance than Bell Canada.

I have heard from the VP of Bell, Robert Malcolmson, a number of times since we in the NDP summoned the Bell CEO to come to committee on April 11 to explain why Bell cut 6,000 jobs and slashed programming in eight months. We held the CEO to account on behalf of Bell workers, on behalf of Bell customers and on behalf of Canadians.

Curiously, instead of getting to work to make amends with Canadians, Bell Media has been spending its time monitoring my social media and has chosen to send me a number of unsolicited letters that show just how much it does not get it. Let us be clear: It is a company that is an industry setter when it comes to tax avoidance. According to a report from Canadians for Tax Fairness, Bell used a series of loopholes and schemes to avoid paying over a billion dollars in taxes over a four-year period, ranking it as one of the 20 worst companies in the country in that regard.

In terms of corporate salaries, Mirko Bibic, Bell Canada's CEO, in 2023, earned $2.96 million in compensation, despite falling short of Bell's 2023 financial goals. Dividends to shareholders increased by 3.1% during this time. As always, it is workers who pay the price while wealthy CEOs profit.

When the CEO of Bell was at our committee, I confronted him about the reality in my constituency, where most people have little to no choice and have to look to Bell MTS for service. I pointed out how Bell bought out our once proudly publicly owned telecom provider, privatized by the Conservatives in the 1990s, Manitoba's MTS, and promised cheaper rates and better service. Instead, Bell shrunk the workforce and jacked up the rates, leaving many communities still waiting for that better service.

I raised two particular issues. One was the landlines in Dallas, Manitoba, that were not working reliably, forcing Susann Sinclair to communicate with her 89-year-old veteran father by walkie-talkie; landlines not working in 2024. I know for a fact that, following this exchange with the CEO, Bell MTS kicked it into high gear. It contacted Susann Sinclair repeatedly and, most important, it replaced the obsolete equipment servicing landlines in the Dallas area. It replaced it with new equipment that was sitting in storage. Finally, Susann's landlines have been working as they should.

Sadly, the VP of Bell refused to refer to any of that and has, in his two recent letters, incorrectly confused service issues in Bloodvein and Dallas. Bloodvein and Dallas are two different communities. They are not even close geographically. It is time for Bell executives to look at a map of our province and understand where their customers live.

Let us be clear that the service issue in Dallas was resolved, but not in Bloodvein. What is most surprising with my communications with Bell is its continuing refusal to take responsibility. When Bloodvein First Nation needed cellphone service during a wildfire for evacuation purposes, it was told by Bell that it would need to pay $652,000 to turn on a tower that was on its land.

In their letters to me, Bell disputed this even happened and referred to a temporary tower it put up. I was aware of that temporary tower, but the Bell executives got it wrong. It was not in Bloodvein; it was in Loon Straits to service natural resources fighting the fires. The signal did not reach Bloodvein at all. Three years later, and even after our April 11 hearings, Bloodvein still does not have cell service.

I make no apologies for fighting for my constituents. I make no apologies for holding to account greedy CEOs and executives who are making profits on the backs of first nations, rural communities, Manitobans, consumers across the country and workers who have been laid off.

I hope the grocery store CEOs, big oil and telecom giants at Bell Media and the rest are paying attention. Rest assured, we will be working hard to go after them, to go after the profits they make on the backs of Canadians. We will continue to bring the fight for an excess profit tax so they can finally pay their fair share.

While billionaires and CEOs know they can count on the Liberals and Conservatives, northerners, first nations people, people on fixed incomes and Canadians know they can count on us in the NDP to fight for them.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Lower Food PricesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could provide her thoughts with respect to instituting a price cap and how that would help the constituents who she represents or northern residents of Canada, generally speaking. Could she give some sort of an indication on whether she believes there would be any consequence to having a price cap?