Food prices in Canada: Grocery CEOs in Ottawa for talks

The heads of Canada’s largest grocery chains were in Ottawa on Monday for a hastily called meeting with two top cabinet ministers to discuss the federal Liberal government’s demand for the grocers to come up with a plan to “stabilize” prices.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne held an approximately two-and-a-half-hour meeting with executives from major grocery store corporations in downtown Ottawa. 

The meeting was the result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declaring on Friday that he was summonsing top officials from Loblaw, Metro, Empire, Walmart and Costco to begin discussions to address what a House committee has long been studying: the escalating price of groceries in Canada.

Trudeau’s ultimatum was: Come up with a credible plan by Thanksgiving or he’ll consider “the use of tax measures in order to restore the grocery price stability that Canadians expect.” 

On their way out of the meeting, the CEOs of Sobeys and Metro were the only grocery executives to pass by waiting reporters. Neither signalled that a price drop is coming, but said the table was all committed to finding solutions.

Sobeys CEO Michael Medline described it as a “great” and “very constructive” meeting, but deferred to the politicians on questions about what was discussed.

“Any conversation has to include all the manufacturers, producers, farmers… It’s not just about the retailers. The minister understands that very clearly,” said Metro CEO Eric La Fleche, denying that his company is profiting from inflation.

“Of course we want prices to come down. It’s a global supply chain issue. We received thousands of cost increases, and that’s why prices have gone up in retail,” La Fleche said. “We want to deliver value to consumers everyday in all of our stores.”

This echoed the argument the Retail Council of Canada made in a statement last week, responding to Trudeau’s decision to crack down on skyrocketing food prices.

“Rather than casting blame where the experts agree it does not belong, the federal government should look in the mirror. The government could take a number of steps to make food more affordable,” the council said. 

The retailer advocacy group said that grocers “continue to do what they can… to stabilize food prices,” while stating the cause of high food prices is “driven by increased vendor costs from food manufacturers and producers” caused by global factors including inflation.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have both questioned the government’s ability to get results, noting that the Liberals have known for nearly two years that the rate of inflation for food outpaced general inflation and have “refused to act,” as Singh put it, beyond the one-time grocery rebate that rolled out to lower-income Canadians this summer. 

Champagne is expected to speak to reporters on Parliament Hill imminently.

CTV News was on-scene as the grocery executives and ministers held their sit-down. Recap what they had to say on the way in: 

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