Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are both stressing the importance of competition law changes to address grocery prices ahead of Tuesday’s fall economic statement.
Ms. Freeland said Ottawa needs to bring in a “major change” to Canada’s competition law as she responded to a reporter’s question Wednesday about the high cost of groceries.
The Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister made the comments in Mascouche, Que., just minutes after Mr. Singh held a news conference in Toronto calling for new competition law changes to be included in the fall economic statement.
Mr. Singh said competition reform to address grocery prices and new measures to expand the supply of affordable housing are his party’s two priorities for the update. He said the NDP and the Liberals are continuing to negotiate over promised pharmacare legislation, but he does not expect that to be part of Tuesday’s update.
On Wednesday, the minister was asked to comment on Canadians’ concerns over grocery prices and the fact that Loblaw Companies Ltd. reported an 11.7-per-cent increase in profit in the third quarter.
“We are absolutely determined to use every tool in the federal government’s toolbox to ensure that prices stabilize,” she said. “We need to make a major change in Canadian competition law. A very important way to bring prices down is through competition.”
The federal government introduced Bill C-56 in September, which contains some competition-related measures such as allowing the Competition Tribunal to make certain orders related to anti-competitive behaviours. The minister’s office said Ms. Freeland’s comments were related to Bill C-56, though Mr. Singh is looking for additional competition measures Tuesday.
Bill C-56, which also includes measures to waive the GST on new rental construction, was introduced on Sept. 21 but has not been debated in the House since Oct. 5. The bill is at second reading and has not yet been sent to a committee for hearings.
The minority Liberal government is part of an agreement with the NDP in which the smaller NDP caucus votes in Parliament to keep the Liberals in power until 2025 in exchange for action on a public list of NDP priorities. Fall updates and federal budgets are key moments for the Liberals to demonstrate progress in delivering on that agreement. The NDP can end the agreement at any time.
The economic statement will be the first update of federal finances since the March federal budget. Since then, the federal government has reached new labour agreements with public sector unions, announced billions in industrial subsidies related to the electric vehicle sector and expanded federal housing programs.
In addition to accounting for new spending, the update will need to incorporate the latest economic developments and show how new assumptions for interest rates will affect federal borrowing costs.
In his news conference, Mr. Singh pointed to his own private member’s bill, C-352, as an example of what he’ll be looking for on Tuesday.
That NDP bill would increase penalties for certain anti-competitive acts. Mr. Singh said his bill would address price fixing and price gouging.
“We want to see an end to those practices by strengthening the protection of consumers and strengthening the laws that are available to the Competition Bureau to enforce better protections for Canadian consumers,” he said.
On housing, Mr. Singh said he’ll be looking for a greater emphasis on non-profit affordable housing.
“We don’t need more luxury condos or more homes that are out of reach for people. We need affordable housing,” he said.
At a housing-related event in Toronto earlier this week, Ms. Freeland said the update will include new housing-related measures.
“Our fall economic statement is based on a responsible fiscal plan that allows us to invest in what Canadians need right now,” she said.
“That is why the fall statement will be focused on two key challenges: making life more affordable for Canadians and taking further concrete action on housing. We know this is an urgent priority for Canadians. And we believe that at the heart of this issue is supply, supply, supply.”