Will California’s $20 minimum wage become a blueprint for Canada?


Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

The ongoing debate surrounding increasing the minimum wage is not unique to the United States; it is a topic that has drawn attention worldwide, including in Canada.

California has taken centre stage in this discourse with a bold move to significantly increase wages for its fast-food workers. Commencing on April 1, 2024, California’s half-million-strong fast-food workforce will witness a surge in their minimum wage to $20 per hour, representing a staggering 23 percent increase from the $16.21 average hourly wage in 2022.

While this initiative may appear well-intentioned, aimed at enhancing the quality of life for low-wage earners, it is imperative that we critically examine the potential consequences that may arise from such a significant policy shift.

While undoubtedly advantageous for workers, the wage hike will undeniably exert substantial pressure on fast-food operators. In an industry where labour costs traditionally constitute approximately 25 percent of operational expenditures, introducing a $20 minimum wage will have a profound and far-reaching impact. Some employees may even find themselves earning in excess of $25 per hour, a wage level historically unheard of in the fast-food sector. Consequently, implementing this policy will inevitably require operators to re-evaluate and potentially overhaul their business strategies.

One of the most significant implications of such wage hikes is the hastened march toward automation. As labour costs surge, the economic rationale for fast-food establishments to invest in technology and robotics becomes increasingly evident. Automation has already begun to reshape the industry, with self-ordering kiosks and robotic kitchen equipment becoming more prevalent.

With the advent of the $20 minimum wage, the pace of automation is expected to accelerate further as operators seek ways to offset increased labour expenses. Given the current backdrop of escalating food prices and consumer inclination toward staying home to save, raising menu prices is not viable for food chains striving to remain competitive.

While automation undoubtedly offers efficiency and cost savings for businesses, it raises legitimate concerns about the human element in the fast-food experience. As evidenced by the banking industry’s adoption of ATMs, an overreliance on technology-driven interactions can render the consumer experience impersonal and less satisfying. With fewer employees available to engage with customers and prepare food, the very essence of fast food, as we have come to know it, may undergo a fundamental transformation.

Furthermore, the substantial wage increase poses a notable risk to the job market. It is plausible that, in the coming years, the fast-food industry in California may not employ the same volume of people as it once did. A diminished workforce could have cascading effects, impacting the livelihoods of those who lose their jobs as well as the broader economic landscape.

It is important to acknowledge that California’s decision to raise wages in the fast-food sector reflects a more extensive societal concern about the state of fast food. Fast-food chains have often been criticized as purveyors of nutritionally deficient meals, contributing to health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

By significantly increasing wages, California appears to be sending a message that the state’s fast-food industry is not entirely welcome. While many may concur with such a stance, it is vital to recognize that the sector employs well over half a million people and supports food processing and farming within the state and beyond.

Although California’s approach is unique, it has the potential to set a precedent that resonates with other markets, including Canada. As the labour movement continues to gain momentum, other governments, including our own, may encounter similar pressures to follow suit. Currently, the province with the highest minimum wage is British Columbia, at $16.75, while the lowest is in New Brunswick, at $14.75. A jump to $20 per hour would indeed be substantial.

However, governments must proceed with caution. While research on the correlation between minimum wages and job creation yields mixed results, an upcoming study to be published in Manufacturing & Service Operations Management suggests that the benefits of such increases may not be as generous as hoped. Another study, conducted by Purdue University, also indicates that higher minimum wages in the food industry can lead to improvements in food safety and quality assurance practices – an aspect seldom discussed.

The decision to raise fast-food wages in California represents a well-intentioned effort to address income inequality and improve the lives of low-wage workers. Nevertheless, it also raises significant questions about the future of the industry, including the rapid adoption of automation and the potential loss of jobs.

Policymakers must conscientiously weigh the pros and cons of such policies and consider their broader implications for both workers and the fast-food sector. Striking a balance between the needs of employees and the realities of the industry and society at large will be pivotal in achieving a sustainable and equitable solution.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Are shrinkflation warning labels on food coming to Canada?


Sylvain Charlebois

Canadian shoppers are particularly vexed by two issues at the grocery store: volume discounts, which impact seniors and those who live alone, and the increasing trend of “shrinkflation.”

The latter has come under the spotlight over the past year due to substantial price hikes in grocery items. Thankfully, some grocery stores are now taking action.

For the past few weeks, the French supermarket chain Carrefour, the seventh largest in the world, has taken a unique step to tackle the “shrinkflation” issue head-on. It has introduced labels on its store shelves to alert shoppers to the issue. As many now know, shrinkflation involves manufacturers reducing the size of product packaging rather than increasing prices.

Carrefour has begun applying these price warnings to various products, including Lindt chocolates and Lipton iced tea, to pressure leading consumer goods suppliers such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever to address this issue in anticipation of upcoming contract negotiations. This pressure is having a cascading effect through the entire food supply chain.

Carrefour has labelled 26 products with notices stating that the product is smaller than before, with most of these reductions occurring within the last 12 months. This situation could potentially unfold in Canada.

In the past year, Canada has witnessed about 20 cases of “shrinkflation” by major food manufacturers, most garnering significant media attention. Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Phillippe Champagne, who met with food manufacturers recently and has pledged to combat food inflation and increase accountability in the food industry, undoubtedly has “shrinkflation” on his radar.

The Carrefour approach is likely being considered to enhance transparency in food pricing in Canada. Champagne has expressed his approval of the Carrefour initiative. Hardly surprising, given its simplicity, ease of implementation, and potential popularity among Canadians who feel deceived and shortchanged. They are an easy target for such measures.

Historically, “shrinkflation” is often employed when input costs rise. The last time we witnessed numerous cases of this was during the financial crisis of 2008. We are currently nearing the end of another cycle and do not expect to see new cases for some time.

However, Carrefour’s primary incentive appears to be driven by its desire to shame manufacturers and to gain leverage at the negotiating table rather than genuinely benefiting consumers. It is worth noting that food manufacturers also produce privately labelled products owned by grocers. Carrefour’s actions have focused solely on major multinationals without disclosing whether some of its own privately labelled products have also decreased in size, which could be seen as deceitful.

The impact of such a measure is likely to be short-lived. Beyond a few weeks, consumers may revert to their old habits. If Canada were to encourage grocers to adopt a similar approach, it should be implemented uniformly across the board.

To go even further, Ottawa needs to abolish the “snack tax.” Many products have shrunk in size in recent years, making them subject to taxation. Champagne should clarify that any food sold in Canada, if not served, should not be taxed, especially food products that are now too small to be considered as snacks. Many Canadians are unaware that this occurs or that it is costing them daily at the grocery store. Ottawa has the means to rectify this situation.

Do not be surprised if the “shrinkflation” labels become a directive for our grocers by Thanksgiving. It is highly unlikely that we will see a windfall tax or government-mandated price controls, as these measures would have adverse economic consequences. Champagne is astute enough to understand the implications of such actions on our food economy.

Instead, the spotlight now shifts to the Competition Bureau, bolstered by Bill C-56. While this bill might have been overshadowed by events like the India situation and Parliament’s honouring a Nazi during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit, it is precisely the kind of legislation Canadians need. Minister Champagne has accurately read the political landscape surrounding food.

Bolstering the powers of the Competition Bureau is crucial for Canadians, although it will be a protracted process that could span several years. This is why labelling “shrinkflated” products can offer a swift and tangible win both for Champagne and for Canadians.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Barbie’s success masks women’s real-world wage disparity


Barbie box office bonanza can’t hide the stark wage gap faced by women

Katherine Scott, Troy Media

Barbie is the movie hit of the summer. By mid-September, box office returns had exceeded $1.4 billion worldwide – and that doesn’t even account for the revenue from the countless licensing deals Mattel has signed, from Airbnb to Xbox. The company is laughing all the way to the bank, but women aren’t.

Indeed, the movie depicts Barbie Land as a feminist paradise where the supreme court justices, president, and all leading professionals are women. In the real world, women do not run things and don’t earn an equal wage.

Women have broken into most occupations since the Barbie doll was introduced six decades ago, but they remain the minority in many of the high-paying roles we see in the movie. In Canada, only three women made the top 100 CEO list in 2021.

Sixty years ago, women engaged in the paid labour market were concentrated in traditionally “female” occupations, such as teaching, bookkeeping, and nursing. Not much has changed in the intervening years. In 2021, the majority of women (54 percent) were employed in just 20 occupations, all involving the “5 Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering, and cleaning. By contrast, just 19 percent of men were employed in the top “female” occupations.

This follows a pattern: Women breaking into male-majority fields tend to be congregated in particular areas that are seen as inherently or essentially female. For instance, only one in 10 women populate the C-suite, and most are in charge of human resources or the legal department.

The fact that comparatively few women work in the high-paying jobs depicted in the movie is one of the primary drivers of the gender wage gap, which harms all women over the course of their lives, especially those confronting large barriers to employment.

While the few women who do work in non-traditional jobs are typically earning more than other women, they, too, generally earn less than their male peers. Female general practitioners working full-time, full-year, earn just 86 cents for every $1 earned by male GPs, while women lawyers earn just 84 cents on the male dollar.

In fact, women up and down the earnings ladder experience pay gaps, reflecting entrenched systemic bias, the unequal burden of care and outright discrimination.

Simply put, women’s work isn’t valued as highly as men’s. The work done by marginalized women workers is valued even less.

Racialized female lawyers working full-time, full-year, make 69 percent of what non-racialized male lawyers make. Racialized female cleaners make 85 percent of non-racialized male cleaners. Highly gender-segregated labour markets depress wages for all women, but most especially, the earnings of marginalized women.

Barbie has always been positioned as aspirational. All girls can achieve their economic dreams (and unattainable body ideal) by the dint of their hard work and scope of ambition.

But “non-traditional” Barbies are in the clear minority, even today. Fashion models, retail workers of various sorts, and teachers appear time and again. Cheerleaders, flight attendants, actresses and singers too.

Mattel has long understood, and reaped the benefits of, cleaving to the status quo. This film does not challenge, or question, the power relations at the heart of women’s economic subordination.

If you see the movie, consider all that’s being debated when we talk about Barbie. And consider what’s really needed to improve the quality of women’s jobs and their earnings, particularly for the most marginalized.

Katherine Scott is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and serves as its director of gender equality and public policy work.

Eliminating plastics should not jeopardize food security


The decision to eliminate plastic packaging is purely ideological and effectively sidelines the science

Sylvain Charlebois, Troy Media

Plastic undoubtedly remains a significant environmental concern, with widespread consensus that it demands immediate attention. But while addressing plastic bags and utensils presents relatively straightforward challenges, the real dilemma lies in addressing plastic packaging, particularly within the grocery store sector.

This summer, the Trudeau government introduced the Pollution Prevention Planning Notice (P2), a targeted initiative aimed at primary food plastic packaging used for food. P2 seeks to compel Canada’s largest grocery retailers to formulate pollution prevention strategies focusing on reducing, reusing, and reimagining primary food plastic packaging, with a strong emphasis on incorporating recycled materials. Kudos to the government for taking this vital step.

A striking statistic reveals that grocery store food packaging, much of it designed for single-use purposes, accounts for approximately one-third of all plastic packaging in Canada. From juice boxes and produce bags to yogurt containers and meat trays, the sheer ubiquity of such packaging necessitates immediate action. Initially, Environment Climate Change Canada (ECCC) proposed voluntary industry targets, but there is a potential trajectory towards more stringent obligations in the future.

However, recent developments indicate a notable shift in tone regarding this approach, as it seemingly undervalues the commendable efforts the industry has been making to reduce plastics. ECCC appears to remain impervious to reasoning that goes beyond ideology, overlooking the potential consequences of hastily pursuing plastic elimination, effectively sidelining science-based policymaking.

The implications of P2 could have far-reaching effects on our access to fresh produce. Canada imports approximately $7 billion worth of fruits and $3.5 billion in vegetables each year. International trade plays a pivotal role in ensuring affordable food for Canadians. While we export our food globally, we also depend on global markets for our sustenance. Therefore, the economics of food packaging carry immense significance, both domestically and internationally.

Surprisingly, many foreign suppliers who provide produce to Canada remain unaware of P2 and its potential repercussions. Over the years, several food manufacturers, including Nestle, have exited the Canadian market for various reasons, leading to the withdrawal of some brands. P2 could further discourage key suppliers that support our healthy aspirations.

A few years ago, a comprehensive assessment led by one of Canada’s foremost supply chain management and food waste experts, Dr. Martin Gooch, projected that ineffective packaging could lead to nearly half a million metric tonnes of increased food losses and waste – valued at CA$2.5 billion – compared to current levels. It’s worth noting that this estimate is considered conservative.

Significantly, the highest losses are anticipated in perishable commodities vulnerable to damage or those necessitating specialized packaging. Plastic packaging often extends the shelf life of products sensitive to ethylene, a natural ripening agent produced by fruits and vegetables. For example, carrots are susceptible to ethylene produced by neighbouring produce, which shortens their shelf life, affects their appearance, and diminishes their taste. Less appealing produce at retail translates to reduced consumer desirability.

The report’s findings were quite specific, indicating that beans would suffer the most significant increase in losses at 100 percent, followed by soft berries and cucumbers at 90 percent. Leafy greens (73 percent), carrots (61 percent), cherries and grapes (50 percent), beets (45 percent), and soft fruit (34 percent) would also see substantial losses. Across the 20 commodities currently sold prepackaged in plastic, moving away from plastic packaging would result in a 17 percent increase in loss. In essence, eliminating plastics could inadvertently impact food prices at retail.

ECCC’s most significant oversight appears to be its failure to consider Canada’s unique logistical and trade realities. It seems that ECCC is primarily influenced by ideas drawn from European studies. However, it’s crucial to note that in the UK, for example, a far greater proportion of fresh produce sales are prepackaged compared to Canada. Less frequently mentioned is that even these changes would lead to increased labour requirements, higher operational costs, and other forms of pollution, such as supply-chain emissions. More comprehensive data and a thorough scientific evaluation of the consequences are unquestionably required.

There is no denying the urgency of eliminating plastics from grocery stores. However, it is equally vital to understand the potential repercussions of such actions. Currently, it appears that ECCC is indifferent to the future blame that may be solely directed at the food industry for higher food prices when it was the implementation of ECCC’s policies that contributed to this outcome. ECCC is fully aware it can evade accountability.

A more nuanced approach is urgently needed, one that skillfully balances environmental objectives with the practical economic and logistical constraints facing Canada’s food industry.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

This flu season, remember Sweden’s no-mask pandemic success


Shawn Whatley

Troy Media

New COVID variants, cooler weather and crowded classrooms have made many people wonder when, not if, restrictive public health measures will return.

Before 2020, we often shrugged off seasonal flu outbreaks, only to be surprised by overcrowded hospitals every winter. Today, Canada and many other countries seem primed to once again embrace restrictive measures in an attempt to “protect the system”.

Sweden stood alone during the pandemic. The Swedes stuck to the standard pandemic public health protocols of the time. They refused to follow the restrictive European public health crowd, demanding evidence before adopting the new method. As a result, Sweden experienced the lowest rate of excess mortality in Europe.

Why don’t we learn from Sweden?

Sweden’s unique course of action faced skepticism from other governments. Even Britain’s former health secretary, Matt Hancock, dismissed it as he attempted to diminish Sweden’s approach. However, Sweden’s voluntary strategy led to significantly fewer deaths during the pandemic, no matter how you measure it.

At the height of the pandemic, Hancock even instructed an aide to “supply three or four bullet (points) of why Sweden is wrong.”

Of course, Hancock never intended his missives to become part of The Lockdown Files, an investigation by The Telegraph into 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages exchanged within the British government during the pandemic. Regardless, his comments captured what every other government did: dismiss or diminish the Swedish pandemic performance.

While Canada outperformed most of Europe in managing the pandemic, it didn’t fare as well as Sweden. Statistics Canada reported 7.6 percent more deaths than expected between March 2020 and August 2022, with 42,215 attributed directly to COVID-19. Sweden, on the other hand, had an excess mortality rate of just 4.4 percent during the same period, beating Europe’s average of 11.1 percent.

Johan Norberg’s analysis for the Cato Institute explains how Sweden’s emphasis on personal responsibility achieved the smallest economic impact and the least educational loss for students.

Voluntary action does not mean zero restrictions. Sweden limited public gatherings (for example, in theatres and churches) to less than 50 people, but it did not restrict “workplaces, shopping centres or private gatherings.” It banned private visits to nursing homes. Bars and restaurants could offer only table service, and alcohol sales had an earlier cut-off time during 2020 and 2021. Universities and secondary schools were recommended to go online.

However, preschools and elementary schools stayed open. Borders remained open; no curfews or stay-at-home orders were made; no state of emergency was declared. Public transportation kept running, and there were no mask mandates, especially in schools.

Past experience does not guarantee future performance, of course. In a society that craves certainty, medicine cannot entirely eliminate all causes of anxiety. Therein lies the crux.

The emergence of the new BA.2.86 COVID variant has raised concerns among specialists in Ontario and British Columbia. There’s a potential scenario where we may have to deal with COVID, RSV, and influenza simultaneously, referred to as a “tridemic.” Consequently, some are advocating for the reintroduction of mask mandates. However, it’s worth noting that Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last week that mandatory masks would not be enforced in his province’s schools.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an extensive review of “non-pharmaceutical public health measures” for mitigating influenza. The WHO found no evidence that wearing a mask reduced influenza transmission. A Cochrane review published in January also found little evidence to support masking. A study of a London hospital in the United Kingdom during Omicron demonstrated no difference in hospital transmission rates with or without mask mandates.

But despite the evidence, many experts in acute care hospitals seem determined to bring back masks for any virus.

According to Dr. Martha Fulford, an infectious disease specialist in Hamilton, Ont., new mask mandates come down to a matter of optics.

“The sad part is that I think masking is now being done because (hospitals) are expecting increasing patient volumes as (respiratory virus) season starts up,” Dr. Fulford told me. “They have built zero extra capacity, and the masks make it seem like they are doing something. It’s not about data; it’s all about optics. … Now we are just masking for any old virus, it would seem.”

A study published in The Lancet in June indicates that virus transmission mainly occurs when individuals exhibit viral symptoms. The mere detection of virus particles on a nasal swab is likely not as significant as feeling sick. In light of these findings, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s safe to go to work when we feel well, and conversely, we should consider staying home when we feel sick.

In times of crisis, governments crave conformity over individual success. Sweden’s approach may have driven neighbouring governments nuts, but it yielded better outcomes.

Maybe we can learn from them.

Dr. Shawn Whatley served as the past President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and has wide-ranging knowledge and experience in the field of healthcare policy. He is also the author of the highly-praised book on how to fix emergency wait times in Canada, No More Lethal Waits.

Want to learn how grocery competition should work? Look at the U.S.


Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

In the realm of competition within the food industry, Canada finds itself trailing behind its neighbour to the south. While both nations grapple with antitrust concerns, the United States distinguishes itself through its unwavering vigilance against monopolies and publicly owned entities.

Notably, the U.S. Department of Justice actively pursues companies and their executives, often leading to convictions and jail sentences. Remarkably, their investigations are characterized by swiftness, taking mere months instead of dragging on for years. Even complex cases, such as the canned tuna price-fixing scandal, have been met head-on.

Conversely, in Canada, we predominantly rely on corporate goodwill, hoping that companies will voluntarily plead guilty in exchange for immunity. Take, for instance, the bread price-fixing scandal, in which Grupo Bimbo, now the owner of Canada Bread, was fined $50 million but continues to engage in business with the federal government. In stark contrast, Loblaw and Weston Bakeries received immunity by blowing the whistle, and the investigation remains ongoing – an astonishing eight years and counting. The disparity in approach is glaring.

U.S.-based companies have become remarkably cautious and strategic when pursuing mergers and acquisitions. A prime example is the Kroger-Albertsons saga, where Kroger divested itself of over 413 stores to secure regulatory approval, a move akin to Canada’s leading grocer Loblaw’s selling 354 stores prior to an acquisition. It represents a fundamentally different landscape.

According to Mark Warner, a prominent Canadian competition lawyer, Kroger is taking proactive steps to address potential Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerns in the U.S. They are proposing sales as remedies, effectively challenging the FTC to block the merger and leaving the decision to a judge to assess the remedy’s effectiveness. This trend may become more commonplace among well-funded merging companies, particularly as antitrust enforcers become more proactive. In the past, before the Biden administration, antitrust agencies were more inclined to accept proposed remedies and approve mergers. Canada, it appears, still adheres to a similar approach.

Significant transactions have been scarce in Canada lately, reflecting, as Warner suggests, a potential shift in the activist landscape. The most recent major deal, Sobeys’ acquisition of Safeway, required a consent agreement and the sale of 23 stores – merely 1.5 percent of Sobeys’ total operations. This pales in comparison to the rigorous oversight happening in the United States. Notably, some of those 23 stores divested by Sobeys remain closed even after a decade.

However, we must confront a stark truth. While Congress scrutinized the Kroger-Albertsons deal from its inception, few Canadians raise an eyebrow when major grocers change hands. In Washington, antitrust concerns evolved into a highly politicized issue, compelling the involved companies to publicly acknowledge public apprehensions. Now, with food prices on the rise, Canadians are beginning to genuinely care about how the architecture of the industry influences food pricing.

One major divergence between the United States and Canada becomes evident: Lawmakers and policymakers in both nations reached a consensus many years ago that the intricacies of the food industry are too complex for the general public to fully grasp. Instead, the paramount concern of the public lies in how the industry directly affects their daily lives, particularly in terms of food affordability, access, and safety. Consequently, lawmakers in the United States have been willing to proactively shoulder the responsibility of addressing these concerns on behalf of their fellow citizens.

Canada, on the other hand, has opted for a different approach. Many politicians have resorted to accusations of corruption and the “greedflation” campaign as their primary strategies. Regrettably, these tactics often discourage the broader public from engaging with and comprehending the intricacies of food distribution and policies.

When we assess the challenge of fostering competition within the food sector, it becomes unmistakably clear that this is a substantial obstacle confronting both nations. Yet, the fact that Canada is even contemplating emulating what France has recently undertaken – calling upon the food industry to freeze prices of 5,000 products – serves as a poignant reminder of how out of touch our lawmakers are with the workings of our own country.

If Canadians do not voice their concerns and demand change, they will ultimately receive the food industry they are willing to tolerate.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Grocery chain profits only a minor factor in high cost of food


Steve Ambler

Troy Media

Justin Trudeau has summoned Canada’s top grocers to Ottawa to come up with a plan to solve surging food prices, saying, “It does not make sense in a country like Canada that our largest grocery chains should be making record profits while Canadians are struggling to put food on the table.” He then added that if the grocers do not come up with a credible plan, “we will take further action and we are not ruling anything out, including tax measures.”

This sounds like a threat to punish supermarket chains by taxing them if they don’t lower their prices.

The Trudeau government should get an F in basic economics on at least three counts.

The first count is the idea that imposing a tax on grocery chains would lower food prices. This is patently absurd. Taxes would raise their costs, and some of the increased costs would be passed on to consumers.

The second count is blaming grocery chains’ profits for food price increases.

Grocery chains have been enjoying record profits in absolute dollar terms, but of course, record dollar profits don’t look quite as high when adjusted for the increase in the consumer price index (CPI) since inflation began to surge in early 2021. Also, their volume of sales is huge, translating into pretty small markups over costs.

Economist Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work calculated that the net profit margin in food retailing increased from 1.62 percent in early 2020 to 2.85 percent in early 2023, an increase of 1.23 percentage points in three years. Food has a weight of about 17 percent in the CPI, so the increase in profit margins can explain about a 0.21 percent increase in the CPI. Spread out over three years, this means that grocery chain profits may have added about 0.07 percent to Canada’s headline inflation rates. Not much more than a rounding error.

Much of the blame for increased profit margins can also be laid at the doorstep of the federal government itself. The pandemic lockdowns led to many smaller grocery stores shutting down temporarily, and the temporary closures, in many cases, turned into permanent closures. This had the effect of reducing competition in the food sector, and it’s a well-known fact of economic life that markups in an industry are inversely related to the degree of competition in that industry.

The third count: the impact of the federal government’s carbon taxes on food prices has been considerably higher than grocery chain profits.

Troy Media contributor and Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois, one of Canada’s top experts on food and food distribution policy, noted in 2019 that it is hard to estimate the exact impact because energy is required at all stages of food production from planting the seeds to refrigerating the produce on store shelves. He does cite a study from 2012 suggesting that a carbon tax of $50 per tonne would increase food prices by about three percent.

Since Apr. 1, we have had a carbon tax of $65 per tonne, up from $20 in early 2020, which will have increased food prices by about 2.7 percent. Once again, spreading this over three years and multiplying by the weight of food in the CPI, this works out to juicing food price inflation by 0.153 percent, over twice the impact of grocery chain profit margins. And this, of course, neglects the impact of carbon taxes on prices in other sectors, which also use energy at all stages of the production process.

Finally, we know that CO2 diffuses throughout the atmosphere. To the extent that CO2 emissions are a problem, they are a worldwide problem. Completely eliminating Canada’s emissions would have little or no effect on the world’s climate, and would be more than offset within a year by the increase in emissions from China, which is building six times more coal-fired power plants than the rest of the world combined – a fourth reason for an F in Econ101.

Steve Ambler is a professor emeritus of economics in the École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal.

Trudeau pokes a hornet’s nest in India


Randlolph Mank

Troy Media

Upon returning from a diplomatic assignment overseas in 2006, I was put in charge of one of the Canadian foreign ministry’s Asia bureaus and tasked with developing a re-engagement strategy with India.

Countless drafts were produced before we finally found a modest path forward. Along the way, we were constantly reminded of a hornet’s nest of reasons why we couldn’t engage easily with India: its weaponization of our CANDU nuclear reactor exports in the 1970s; its resistance to liberalization throughout the evolution of global trade rules; its military relations with Russia; its mistreatment of minorities, including Muslims, Sikhs and Christians; and so on.

For its part, India’s main interest seemed to be that Canada should crack down on Canadian Sikhs waging the separatist “Free Khalistan” campaign for an independent homeland in the Punjab region.

Now, suddenly, after almost two decades of modest progress, the diplomatic relationship is again spiralling downward. It comes just as hopes had been raised that India could become the replacement for Canada’s soured relations with China.

The new diplomatic rift erupted following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent troubled visit to India for G20 meetings. He rose in Parliament this week to allege that Indian authorities were complicit in the assassination of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot to death in June this year in front of a Gurdwara temple in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver.

Following the Prime Minister’s statement, his government announced the expulsion of an Indian diplomat, a move quickly reciprocated in New Delhi, which also issued a travel warning for Canada. Trade talks have also been suspended, along with a planned visit to New Delhi this fall of a highly anticipated Team Canada business mission led by our trade minister.

And, with that, the air came out of the much-hyped relationship, and the “Indo” in Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy became tenuous, to say the least.

The Canadian government had high hopes for progress. One of Canada’s top trade negotiators, Cameron MacKay, had been deployed as High Commissioner in New Delhi to capitalize on the potential. The world’s most populous country, India is already Canada’s 10th largest trading partner. Canada exported $11.5 billion of goods and services to India last year, and imported almost $9.5 billion in return. It is also Canada’s single largest source of foreign students.

According to the 2021 census, about 1.4 million Canadians identify as ethnic Indian. The community includes such current prominent leaders as Harjit Sajjan, the federal Cabinet’s emergency preparedness minister; Jagmeet Singh, the head of the New Democratic Party; Niki Sharma, the Attorney General of British Columbia; and Goldy Hyder, the CEO of the Business Council of Canada. Of this diaspora, close to 800,000 identify as Sikh, the largest such group in the world outside of India.

Prime Minister Modi’s government, like others before it, has not been especially tolerant of minorities, certainly not ones demanding a separate homeland in the Punjab. India ranks a lowly 119 out of 165 countries on the Human Freedom Index. It has a long history of inter-communal tension between its Hindu majority and Sikh minority. Hostilities erupted in June 1984, when the Indian military raided Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to root out separatists. Some four hundred people were killed in the raid, and thousands more perished in the bloodshed that ensued. Four months later, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge.

Eight months later, the violence came to Canada.

In June 1985, a bomb planted by Canadian Sikh extremists on an Air India flight from Montreal destined for Mumbai exploded near Ireland, killing 329 mostly Canadians on board. The 2006 Canadian Commission of Enquiry into the mishandling of the case pointed the finger at a lack of co-ordination between Canadian intelligence and security agencies. Those agencies have paid closer attention ever since.

Nevertheless, instead of pursuing closer relations with India as intended, the Canadian government must now deal with a flurry of awkward questions: Where is the proof behind the allegations? Why hasn’t anyone been charged? If the intelligence and security agencies knew about and warned Mr. Nijjar about assassins, why couldn’t they stop them? If those killers came from India, how did they get visas to enter Canada? If they have returned to India, how did they evade our law enforcement authorities? If we knew that the Indian government was involved in such activities on Canadian soil, why did we think we could partner with it on an Indo-Pacific strategy? What measures will we take now to avoid collateral damage to our commercial interests?

Political pundits will speculate about the timing of the Prime Minister’s allegations and his reliance on the Sikh leader of the New Democratic Party for control of Parliament. As a foreign policy matter, if it is proven to have deployed assassins in Canada, ‘Shining India’s’ reputation will be severely tarnished everywhere. If disproved, the same goes for Canada.

Randolph Mank is a former Canadian diplomat and business executive. He currently heads MankGlobal consulting, serves on boards, and is a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Triple Helix, and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

Why Ontario’s Greenbelt is crucial for Canada’s agricultural future


The Greenbelt should remain inviolate, without exception or compromise

Sylvain Charlebois, Troy Media

It’s inspiring to see farmland management taking the forefront in today’s headlines, emerging as a significant political issue in Canada’s largest province – a truly fascinating development.

In a world grappling with the massive challenge of feeding a growing population amidst rising urbanization and environmental pressures, preserving farmland close to cities has become more important than ever. Amid recent political controversies at Queen’s Park, the Greenbelt shines as a beacon of hope – a policy firmly opposed to relentless urban sprawl. It not only preserves nearby agriculture but also bolsters our food security.

A bit of history: In 2005, under the leadership of Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal government took a momentous step by enacting legislation to create the world’s largest Greenbelt. Encompassing the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, and nearly one million acres of prime farmland, it now blankets over two million acres of fertile land. Over the years, its effectiveness in protecting farmland has been consistently demonstrated. A study by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs underscores the undeniable impact of the Greenbelt in preserving prime agricultural land.

The results of this study, released a few years ago, are both enlightening and profound. From 2005 to 2019, only 32 hectares of prime agricultural land were lost within the protective embrace of the Greenbelt. This seemingly small figure takes on immense significance when compared with the staggering loss of 11,172 hectares of prime agricultural land outside the Greenbelt during the same period. The data unequivocally reaffirms the Greenbelt’s fundamental mission: safeguarding agricultural land and preserving natural features.

Regardless of any narrative spun by the Ford government regarding land protection and any purported compromises involving prime farmland, one unassailable truth remains – the Greenbelt should remain inviolate, without exception or compromise.

Other urban centres in Canada have paid a steep price for unchecked urban sprawl. Take the example of the island of Montreal, where some of Quebec’s most fertile agricultural land now lies beneath asphalt and concrete. Ontario cannot afford to repeat such a blunder.

Preserving the Greenbelt isn’t just about resisting urban renewal and development; it’s about finding space in the real estate sector. Today, we have the opportunity to expand residential areas while simultaneously safeguarding our capacity for food production and farming.

Well-planned public transportation and communication networks can facilitate urban development while keeping the Greenbelt intact. Preserving the Greenbelt also offers urbanites the prospect of agricultural proximity.

Preserving is not just about food security; it’s very much about education and our collective awareness of food production. The stark rural-urban divide in Canada has led to misguided policies detrimental to farmers. This disconnect is further exacerbated by the fact that, according to Statistics Canada, 98.4 percent of Canadians do not reside on farms. Allowing urban residents to at least glimpse farmland is vital for fostering a connection between Canadians and farming. For many Ontarians, driving through the Greenbelt may be their sole opportunity to witness a working farm.

And let’s be honest. Preserving our biodiversity, especially near or within urban centres, can only benefit our collective mental health. Numerous studies have highlighted the importance of green spaces for our mental health.

In essence, the Greenbelt policy was not just a commendable idea; it was an imperative. It ensures the protection of green spaces near Canada’s most urbanized region. It is essential for food security, education, awareness, and the well-being of our society. These vital aspects should never be open to sacrifice.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Classic car contest raises money for cancer support


Saskatchewan car contest fuels $510,560 donation to cancer foundation

Dale Johnson, Troy Media

A classic car contest has raised more than half a million dollars for cancer support in Saskatchewan.

A bright orange 1970 Dodge Charger RT with a 6.4 litre, 500-horsepower crate Hemi engine was displayed at car shows across Saskatchewan throughout the summer. This resto-mod, which combines a classic car style with modern technology, is valued at $185,000.

People could buy tickets, either for a chance to win the car or for a 50/50 draw. In all, $510,560 went to the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan, the fundraising partner of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.

Submitted photo. A bright orange 1970 Dodge Charger RT with a 6.4 litre, 500-horsepower crate Hemi engine was displayed at car shows across Saskatchewan throughout the summer. This resto-mod, which combines a classic car style with modern technology, is valued at $185,000.

“Not only did this car raffle raise funds for cancer care in Saskatchewan, but the tour also allowed us to raise awareness about the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan,” explains Nora Yeates, CEO of the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan.

The Foundation helps facilitate the best possible outcomes for Saskatchewan cancer patients and their families by supporting innovative treatments, funding the latest technologies, and funding outstanding cancer care for Saskatchewan cancer patients and their families.

The Charger was donated by a group of private donors. One of the people behind this fundraiser is former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – who happens to be a car buff. Wall, who has owned several classic cars, is a dedicated Dodge devotee. His first car was a 1966 Charger that he bought while he was in high school.

Submitted photo. A bright orange 1970 Dodge Charger RT with a 6.4 litre, 500-horsepower crate Hemi engine was displayed at car shows across Saskatchewan throughout the summer. This resto-mod, which combines a classic car style with modern technology, is valued at $185,000.

I once asked him, “What was the best vehicle you ever owned?” He responded: “A 1966 Dodge Charger, a 1973 Dodge Challenger 340, and my 1967 Dodge Coronet 500 are all tied for first.” So it’s really no surprise that Wall would be behind this project. The Charger was built by the Knight Automotive Group.

The winner of this car is Joe Holtorf of Neuanlage, a hamlet located between Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

Holtorf loves cars and motorcycles – everything from 1968 to the mid-’70s. He has fond memories of a 1975 Dodge Dart he owned many years ago. His father died of cancer, and he thinks the Cancer Foundation is a good cause because it helps people. And now he’s the winner of this 1970 Dodge Charger GT.

“I’m just super stoked,” he says.

Also, in the 50/50 draw, Brian Trebish of Yorkton, SK., won $56,160.

Although Holtorf is considered the major winner, there are lots of other people benefiting – because of the $510,560 this car raised for the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan.

Dale Johnson is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who has worked in TV, radio, print and online.