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Grocers called back to parliament to testify about plans to stabilize prices

Parliamentary committee is asking grocers to submit their plans by early November

A House of Commons committee is asking the heads of Canada's major grocery chains to appear before MPs and explain their plans to stabilize food prices.

The agriculture committee passed an NDP motion last Thursday (Oct. 19) to invite the grocery executives, or summon them if necessary, to testify about the measures their companies are taking to address food inflation.

Earlier this fall, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the major Canadian grocery companies Loblaw, Metro, Empire, Walmart and Costco had presented to the government their plans to tackle rising prices, which he says included discounts, price freezes and price-matching campaigns.

Champagne offered few details about these promotions at the time, saying he wanted the grocers to compete with one another.

Most grocers have also not confirmed the details of their plans. The motion at the parliamentary committee is asking the grocers to submit "a comprehensive report on their strategies and initiatives taken to date and on further actions aimed at the stabilization of grocery prices in Canada." The deadline for the submissions is Nov. 2.

It is also inviting Champagne and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to appear before committee to answer questions.

The Canadian Press reached out to the grocers on Tuesday (Oct. 24) for comment on the parliamentary committee's motion.

Sarah Dawson, as spokeswoman for Sobeys, said the company has not yet received an invitation or request from the committee but that it has "every intention of participating if asked." She said Sobeys has shared its plans with Champagne, noting they "include some of the novel measures" mentioned by the minister.

"Our plans are competitively sensitive and we do not plan to discuss them publicly before they are launched in our stores,'' she added.

Metro declined to to comment, while the others did not immediately respond.

The Canadian Press had asked the grocers earlier this month for more details on their pledges to the federal government.

Walmart was the only company to weigh in, with a spokeswoman saying the company promised to continue offering "everyday low prices," which refers to its strategy of offering low prices on a regular basis, rather than on promotion only.

In an interview with The Canadian Press on Oct. 16, Champagne said he wishes the grocers were "more forthcoming'' about their plans.

The federal government is taking other steps aimed at addressing high grocery prices.

On Tuesday, Champagne announced more funding for non-profit consumer advocacy organizations to help fund projects that focus on retail practices that hurt consumers, and on the development of tools that help consumers make informed decisions and save costs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the decision to pressure grocers to tackle rising prices in September, one of several affordability measures from the Liberals after a summer of polling showing growing support for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have been hammering the Liberals over the cost of groceries, blaming them on Liberal spending, while the NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said the Liberal government's "plan to ask CEOs nicely to reduce prices is ridiculous."

Grocery prices have risen in Canada at a faster rate than overall inflation, although they have also risen dramatically around the world, with many countries seeing food prices rise at an even faster rate.

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