The federal government says it expects the heads of five of Canada’s biggest grocery chains to attend a meeting in Ottawa on Monday to discuss ways to stabilize food prices.
The office of Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told CBC News it asked the CEOs of Loblaw, Sobeys, Metro, Costco and Walmart to attend in person.
Champagne’s office said it sent out the invitation Thursday afternoon as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was delivering his affordability announcement in London, Ont. at the Liberals’ national caucus retreat.
“It’s not okay that our biggest grocery stores are making record profits while Canadians are struggling to put food on the table,” Trudeau told a press conference Thursday.
WATCH: Federal government announces affordability measures
All summer long, the Trudeau government has been hammered by the Conservatives on the issue of affordability. The Liberals are now facing the worst polling they’ve seen since the Trudeau government first took office in 2015.
After what some MPs called a “frank discussion” with the prime minister behind closed doors at the Liberals’ caucus retreat, Trudeau and his ministers announced a series of affordability measures.
“It’s always a good time to fight,” Champagne said Thursday. “We’re going to be fighting and finding solutions to help Canadians. That’s what they want from us.”
Champagne’s office said they’ve asked the grocery CEOs or company chairpersons — not lawyers or other representatives — to meet with the minister in person.
So far, Metro, Loblaw and Walmart have told CBC News their CEOs will be attending Monday’s meeting.
Trudeau said the grocery chains have until Thanksgiving to share their plans to stabilize their prices. If they don’t, he said, Ottawa will take action.
“And let me be very clear,” said Trudeau. “If their plan doesn’t provide real relief … then we will take further action and we are not ruling anything out, including tax measures.”
WATCH: Trudeau threatens grocery chains with tax measures
But the Retail Council of Canada, which speaks on behalf of Canada’s big grocery chains, said focusing solely on grocery stores will not solve the problem.
Karl Littler, senior vice president of public relations with the Retail Council, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics that grocers are also facing higher costs.
“In the face of a storm of broader factors … there’s a limit to what grocers can do alone,” Littler told host David Cochrane in an interview airing Friday.
Littler argued that the prices Canadians pay at grocery stores are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
WATCH: Retail Council says ‘storm’ of factors impact grocery prices
“If they don’t look at what’s below the surface and what’s actually driving food prices, then its not going to be a very helpful exercise,” he said.
A parliamentary committee investigating high food prices said in March that if Canada’s Competition Bureau finds the grocery store giants are profiting excessively from food inflation, Ottawa should consider hitting the companies with a windfall tax on excess profits.
The Competition Bureau found in June that Canada’s grocery business doesn’t have enough competition and is dominated by three domestic giants. It called on the government to encourage new entrants to bring down prices.
After spending months examining Canada’s grocery sector, the bureau concluded it’s mainly controlled by three domestic companies — Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys owner Empire — along with foreign giants Walmart and Costco.
The government said it plans on changing the Competition Act to give the bureau more power to take action. The legislative changes would include allowing the bureau to “compel the production of information to conduct effective and complete market studies,” a government press release said.
The release said the bureau would also be given the authority to take action against “collaboration that stifles competition and consumer choice, in particular situations where large grocers prevent smaller competitors from establishing operations nearby.”
“We’re going to start with the five largest grocers in Canada. They represent about 80 per cent of the market and we’re going to be in solution mode with very clear outcomes and very clear deadlines,” Champagne said Thursday.
Champagne said he’s been looking at what happened in France when supermarket chain Carrefour slapped price warnings on various food products in an effort to shame manufacturers into cutting their prices.
In a statement sent to CBC News, Walmart said it’s “doing everything” it can “to fight inflation and keep prices low” but it needs “the government’s help” to help control “costs from processors to suppliers to retailer.”
WATCH: Grocery chain leaders push back at price-gouging allegations
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that after remaining silent for months on the issue, Trudeau has released a “vague” plan that “doesn’t force CEOs to act.”
“Asking [outgoing president and CEO of Loblaw] Galen Weston nicely to make less profit is like asking [Conservative Leader] Pierre Poilievre to care about climate change,” said Singh. “Canadians are paying for Liberals’ inaction on corporate greed every time they go to the grocery store.
“Just today, Empire released their profits for the first quarter of the 2024 fiscal year. Their net profits rose by $92 million.”
Conservative Party spokesperson Sebastian Skamski blamed Liberal policies — specifically the carbon tax — for higher grocery prices.
“Trudeau taxes the farmer who grows the food, the trucker who transports the food, and then the store that sells it. All of those costs show up on the grocery bills of the families who then buy the food,” Skamski said in an emailed statement.
As complaints about possible profiteering by big grocery store chains grew in number, the heads of three of Canada’s biggest grocery chains were called to testify before a parliamentary committee in March.
“No matter how many times you read it on Twitter, the idea that grocers are causing food inflation is not only false, it’s impossible,” said Weston.
Weston said in March that retail prices have not been rising faster than costs.
Loblaw told CBC News that Weston will be at Monday’s meeting, adding that “beyond the steps we’ve already taken to help, we are always open to discussions about what more can be done across the industry.”
CBC News has also requested comment from Sobeys and Costco.