Galen G. Weston CEO, chairman and president of Loblaw Companies Limited speaks during the company's annual general meeting in Toronto on May 3, 2018. The CEOs of Canada's largest grocery store chains will appear before a parliamentary committee today to answer questions about the rapid rise in grocery prices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Grocer CEOs need to be transparent about why grocery prices are so high: Freeland

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says the CEOs of Canada’s largest grocery store chains need to be transparent about the recent rise in grocery prices.

The CEOs and presidents of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., Metro Inc. and Empire Co. Ltd. — which operates chains including Sobeys, Safeway and FreshCo — are set to testify before the House of Commons agriculture committee Wednesday evening as part of its study on food inflation.

Food inflation has been especially crushing for lower-income Canadians, with grocery prices in January up 11.4 per cent compared to a year ago.

That’s nearly double the overall rate of inflation, which was 5.9 per cent that month.

In a news conference on Wednesday afternoon in Mississauga, Ont., Freeland said she’s happy to see that the committee will be hearing from the CEOs. The deputy prime minister said they need to explain why grocery prices have risen dramatically.

“(The CEOs) absolutely do have a responsibility to all of us to be transparent about why those prices are so high,” Freeland said.

“And I hope they’re going to tell us that the prices are going to start coming down.”

Other executives from the companies have already testified, but New Democrats in particular have signalled their dissatisfaction with the absence of the CEOs themselves.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has inundated his social media feeds with posts advertising his questioning of Galen Weston, the billionaire chairman and president of Loblaw. The party even created a page on its website allowing supporters to RSVP to watch it unfold.

“We are going to put tough questions to them. This has been one of the biggest responses we’ve received from the public,” Singh told reporters outside the House of Commons Wednesday, adding that more than 2,000 people submitted questions for the grocers.

“Canadians are telling us they are struggling. They are having a hard time buying groceries. At the exact same time, these grocery stores aren’t just posting normal profits, high profits. They’re posting record profits. They’ve never done better. Their CEOs are posting massive bonuses.”

Asked what the NDP would do differently to address the situation, Singh said that the government could bolster competition laws and bring in an “excess profit tax” targeting the sector, similar to those introduced by the United Kingdom and Spain.