Saskatchewan desperately needs a better budget plan


by Gage Haubrich

The Saskatchewan government’s first quarter results reveal the cracks in its budget plan.

Budget 2023 initially projected a $1-billion surplus, but after four months, that supposed surplus has been cut in half and is now predicted to be $486 million.

Compared to its 2023 budget, the government is now projecting to take in $529 million less in resource revenue. Last year, it raked in a record amount of resource revenue that helped it balance the budget and was counting on near-record amounts to do it again this year.

Spending is also up compared to the budget. This year, the government plans to spend $408 million more than it budgeted. And that’s the problem. When faced with a large drop in revenue, instead of stopping and looking for savings, the government continues to spend.

If the government had held the line on spending, the province would be projecting a surplus of $893 million instead since tax revenue is up from the budget.

Last year, the government took credit for the large surplus.

“Our finances are strong,” said Finance Minister Donna Harpauer.

But what will provincial politicians say now that more than half a billion dollars is predicted to vanish from government coffers?

Unfortunately, this is the Saskatchewan government way. Spend taxpayer money like it’s going out of style when times are good, continue to spend when it gets tough and pray that some higher power bails out the province with a surge in oil prices.

This year, the government’s resource revenue take is expected to fall because the price of both potash and oil has dropped. Politicians will remark that this is out of their control, but this is nothing new. Resource revenues are predictably unpredictable, and for them to change drastically over the course of a year is not unexpected.

The government decided to hinge the budget on an oil price of $79.50 per barrel. The government now forecasts it will be $5 less. It also predicts that the price of potash per tonne will decrease by more than $30. Over the last year, the price of oil has ranged from $63.64 to $93.74 and the price of potash from $328 to $513.75.

The government is foolish to be pinning its entire fiscal strategy on revenue that is not guaranteed. Something needs to change. Saskatchewan needs a coherent plan to get its finances back on track.

At this point, the government still plans to pay back up to $1 billion of debt, but this plan could be in jeopardy if resource revenues drop further. By the end of this year, the debt will be $18.1 billion, or about $15,000 per Saskatchewanian. Taxpayers cannot afford for the debt to keep increasing.

In the past five years, the government has spent $2.5 billion on debt interest payments. That’s enough money to build 87 new schools or cut the provincial sales tax by one point for each year. Instead, that money has been completely wasted, paying for the government’s inability to keep the budget balanced and pay down the debt.

The Saskatchewan government paid back $1.5 billion in debt last year. It can’t let that good work go to waste by sliding back into deficit.

The government’s first quarter update shows that something needs to be done to safeguard the province’s resource revenues in the good times and weather the storm during downturns. Former premier Brad Wall commissioned a report that recommended the province set up a heritage fund to invest the province’s resource revenue. It’s time to give that report another look.

The first quarter update should be a wake-up call for the government to get control of its finances. Instead of praying for revenues to stay high, the Saskatchewan government needs to focus on reducing expenses and keeping the budget balanced.

Gage Haubrich is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Are sugar taxes really about your health?


Sylvain Charlebois

Sugar taxes are gaining momentum worldwide. A study published in June by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed the existence of 118 sugar taxes worldwide, including 105 national taxes and 13 subnational taxes, impacting 51 percent of the global population. It’s worth noting that this approach receives substantial support from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Many citizens are already subject to this “sin tax” policy, primarily aimed at discouraging the consumption of sugar-rich food products. Over the past few years, some Canadian provinces have decided to follow suit.

For instance, in April 2021, British Columbia imposed a seven percent provincial sales tax on sugary beverages. The primary aim, according to the province, was to discourage consumers from buying high-sugar foods. Yet, even after two years, the BC government has provided little substantive evidence of tangible outcomes of the tax or conducted comprehensive assessments on the tax’s effect on product consumption.

On September 1, 2022, Newfoundland and Labrador also implemented a sugar tax on beverages. However, unlike British Columbia, Newfoundland opted for a more subtle approach by imposing the tax at the manufacturer level rather than at the retail level. But like in BC, the tax has not yet undergone a thorough evaluation of its effectiveness. Data regarding consumption or sales simply remains unavailable.

However, the province’s Department of Finance has announced that the tax generated $11 million in revenue over the past year, 22 percent more than anticipated.

The province claims that these funds will go towards supporting programs like a continuous glucose monitoring pilot, a tax credit for physical activity, and the development of leisure, physical activity, and sports. Although these goals are commendable, it’s unclear whether the funds will genuinely be directed towards achieving them.

Scientific studies indicate that municipalities, particularly in the United States, that have imposed such taxes have shown greater success in meeting spending obligations linked to sugar taxes than other government levels. Oakland, Philadelphia, and Berkeley serve as good examples. Nevertheless, some provinces or states may be swayed by conflicting political priorities, with the collected funds becoming entangled in the intricacies of public finances.

Ultimately, it appears that the sugar tax in Newfoundland and Labrador has had little impact on consumer habits. According to a study from the University of California to be published in October, only a fraction of the sugar tax imposed on manufacturers is passed on to consumers. Retail prices barely change, with most of the tax being absorbed by the supply chain. Moreover, available scientific evidence does not consistently demonstrate that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes have either encouraged increased purchases of healthier beverages or led to an overall reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks.

In essence, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador seems to have introduced this tax for the sake of taxation itself – an ill-conceived notion. For agri-food businesses, dealing with a moralistic state represents a significant risk, as they may fear becoming the target of punitive policies in the future, discouraging private sector investments. Newfoundland and Labrador is in dire need of investment.

Taxing food products in grocery stores, regardless of the method chosen, is a complex endeavour. The most effective tools for reducing sugar consumption are education and labelling. Education, in fact, according to IBISWorld, has already contributed to a decline in soft drink consumption in Canada since 1998, when per capita consumption was 117.4 litres.

Consumption was already declining before sugar taxes came along. Today, consumption stands at 48.4 litres per person – a remarkable difference. Furthermore, new rules for nutritional labelling, which will take effect in 2026, will compel manufacturers to affix a label to products high in sugar, fat, or sodium. This will provide consumers with relevant information to make healthier choices.

Taxing for the sake of taxation can open the door to state abuses. It is important to seek balanced, evidence-based approaches to encourage healthier dietary choices.

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

Trudeau carbon taxes undermine his claims he’s making life more affordable


Franco Terrazzano, Troy Media

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims he’s “making life more affordable,” but his own government agencies continue to prove his carbon tax makes life more expensive.

“Nova Scotians saw prices at the pump increase by 14 percent in July compared with June,” Statistics Canada reported. “The introduction of the federal carbon levy in the province and higher wholesale prices contributed to higher gasoline prices.”

It’s not just Statistics Canada.

The Canada Revenue Agency shows the carbon tax currently increases the price of gasoline by 14 cents per litre, the price of diesel and home heating oil by 17 cents per litre and the price of natural gas by 12 cents per cubic metre.

The Bank of Canada, the federal government’s central bank tasked with keeping inflation low, wrote in a note to Parliament’s finance committee: “If the charge were to be removed from the three main fuel components of the consumer price index (gasoline, natural gas and fuel oil) it would reduce the inflation rate by 0.4 percentage points.”

In other words, life would be more affordable if Trudeau scrapped the carbon tax.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer is the federal government’s non-partisan, independent budget watchdog. The PBO also notes the carbon tax makes Canadians poorer.

“Most households will see a net loss, paying more in fuel charges and GST, as well as receiving lower incomes, compared to the Climate Action Incentive payments they receive and lower personal income taxes they pay,” according to the PBO.

The carbon tax will cost the average family between $347 and $710 this year, even after the rebates are factored in, according to the PBO.

Trudeau’s carbon tax bill is only getting bigger. The carbon tax will increase the price of gas by 37 cents per litre in 2030, according to the CRA.

Trudeau also imposed a second carbon tax through fuel regulations. The second carbon tax doesn’t come with rebates and it’s layered on top of Trudeau’s original tax.

Analysis from the Department of the Environment shows the second carbon tax will “disproportionately impact lower and middle-income households,” including Canadians “currently experiencing energy poverty,” “single mothers,” and “seniors living on fixed incomes.”

Independent government regulators in Atlantic Canada estimate the second carbon tax initially costs between four and eight cents per litre of gas.

By 2030, when the fuel regulations are fully implemented, Trudeau’s two carbon taxes will increase the price of gas by about 55 cents per litre and cost the average family more than $2,000 every year.

While Ottawa has made life more expensive with yearly carbon tax hikes, other countries have provided gas tax relief.

The United Kingdom announced billions of dollars of fuel tax relief. Australia cut its gas tax in half. South Korea cut its gas tax by 30 percent. Germany temporarily cut its fuel tax by 30 cents per litre of gas. The Netherlands cut its gas tax by 17 cents per litre.

India cut its gas tax to “keep inflation low, thus helping the poor and middle classes.”

While Canadians are now paying two carbon taxes, more than 75 percent of countries don’t pay a national carbon tax, according to the World Bank.

Trudeau knows the carbon tax makes life more expensive. After all, the objective of his carbon tax is to increase the price of gasoline, diesel and heating fuel.

Trudeau wants Canadians to think he’s trying to make life affordable. In reality, Trudeau is failing to do the one thing that would immediately make life more affordable: scrap his carbon taxes.

Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The Metro strike could redefine Canada’s grocery industry


Metro strike is a battle against the inexorable march of automation and artificial intelligence in the grocery industry

Sylvain Charlebois, Troy Media

Amidst the summer heat, a cold front has descended upon the Greater Toronto Area. However, this frigid front has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with a growing chasm between grocery giant Metro and its 3,700 striking workers. The consequences of this clash extend far beyond the picket lines, threatening to reshape the entire grocery industry in Canada.

The strike, which started on July 29, has thrown 27 Metro stores across the GTA into disarray. Workers walked off the job after rejecting a tentative agreement recommended by their own bargaining committee – a move that sent shockwaves throughout the industry.

Until this week, the strike impacted only these 27 stores, but its effects are steadily rippling outward. Most Metro consumers in Ontario will likely witness the consequences of this labour dispute through empty spaces in various sections of their grocery stores. Halting trucks departing from distribution centres could sadly result in more food waste, as discarding food may be necessary if the cargo is no longer safe to consume – a bold move indeed by the striking workers.

But make no mistake; this strike is a litmus test for the public’s moral compass, and so far, the workers have garnered substantial support. Despite the potential for a settlement favouring workers to push food prices even higher, the public’s response has been surprisingly muted.

When the “Hero Pay” program was introduced during the pandemic, it revolved around work hazards and the risks associated with the virus. The public sympathized. However, with higher food prices now at the forefront, the context has shifted. This is about making the grocery industry an attractive career option, but more importantly, it’s about ensuring dignified work.

While Metro allocated millions in bonuses to a handful of executives, employees received a gift card of up to $300, exclusively redeemable at Metro-owned stores. It’s no wonder Metro finds itself embroiled in a strike.

Nonetheless, while this dispute undoubtedly centers on wages and benefits, it signifies a larger battle – one that pits traditional labour practices against the inexorable march of automation and artificial intelligence. The workers on the picket lines are not simply pursuing personal gains; they are essentially championing the cause of every grocery store employee in Canada. Their strike symbolizes a broader struggle against a business model that relies on top-heavy organizations while prioritizing low margins and meagre wages.

Conversely, grocers across Canada are watching closely. If the workers succeed in their demands, it could set a precedent that resonates far beyond the picket lines. The prospect of fair wages and improved working conditions may become the new normal, but it could also usher in a seismic shift in how groceries are delivered to our shelves.

Automation and AI are knocking on the doors of the grocery industry, promising efficiency and cost savings. If workers secure concessions through this strike, grocers might be encouraged to explore alternative avenues, such as increased utilization of AI and automation. The traditional model of hiring around 80 full-time employees to operate a store could give way to hiring fewer than 50 workers with higher wages and an entirely different skill set focused on managing and maintaining automated systems. The public should prepare for this potential transformation as well.

As the strike continues, it is likely to intensify with each passing week. The longer it endures, the deeper the scars it will leave on both sides. The grocery industry, like many others, stands at a crossroads. How it navigates this strike and its aftermath will establish a precedent for the entire Canadian labour landscape.

If Metro’s workers succeed in their fight for fair compensation and humane working conditions, the way grocery stores operate in Canada could undergo a profound transformation. The substantial influx of self-checkouts, as irritating as it may have been to many Canadians, could only mark the beginning of this evolution.

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

Demand rising for Canadian oil


Canada’s heavy oil outshines WTI benchmark

Deborah Jaremko, Troy Media

Demand for oil from Canada is rising as world oil consumption hits new records.

Heavy, sour oil grades like those Canada primarily exports are experiencing what one analyst calls a “price renaissance,” outperforming the U.S. light, sweet oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI).

“Heavy is the crude that wears the crown,” Toronto-based Rory Johnston, founder of Commodity Context, wrote recently.

“While the most commonly referenced light sweet crudes are on an uninspiring price run, heavier crudes are actually having a pretty great year. As just one example, the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS), a heavy sour crude that represents Canada’s main crude export blend, is up a whopping $15 per barrel (about 20 percent) year-to-date.”

That’s compared to an increase of about US$5 per barrel for WTI this year.

There are several reasons for the higher Canadian heavy oil prices, says Phil Skolnick, New York-based oil market analyst with Eight Capital.

Maintenance at oil sands projects has reduced available supply while, at the same time, demand has increased. The new Dos Bocas refinery in Mexico is drawing heavy oil away from refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and petrochemical plants in China are ramping up production using heavy oil from both Canada and Latin America, Skolnick says.

Additional demand is expected when the U.S. government purchases sour crude to refill its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“Demand is increasing for sure,” he says.

Canada’s oil exports to customers outside of the United States reached a record 291,000 barrels per day this spring, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.

Meanwhile, American oil imports from Canada remain steady at above 4.5 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Even though it’s not a global benchmark like WTI, the improved pricing for heavy crudes like WCS is important because it has “a material impact” on the earnings of producing companies and nations, Johnston wrote.

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office has said that an increase of US$5 per barrel for Canadian heavy oil would add $6 billion to Canada’s economy over the course of one year.

With the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion now more than 80 percent complete, Canada is closer to expanding its ability to supply growing oil demand in global markets, with the benefits flowing to Canadians.

Deborah Jaremko is director of content for the Canadian Energy Centre, a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

Red tape and waiting lists push doctors out of healthcare and toward independent practice


Emmanuelle Faubert, Troy Media

When workers quit a workplace in large numbers, we tend to dwell – and rightly so – on what that workplace is doing wrong.

When those workers are doctors, though, and what they’re leaving is our government-run health system, the focus shifts from what might be changed to convince them to stay to what can be done to make it harder for them to leave.

We saw this at play in a recent Globe and Mail article on Quebec family doctors leaving the government-run system to work for, or launch their own, independent healthcare facilities. Instead of asking why doctors were leaving, the authors focused almost exclusively on what pieces of legislation made it possible for them to work outside the system.

So why are more Quebec family doctors leaving the government-run health system?

For starters, doctors leaving for independent practice say it allows them to focus more on a set number of patients, treating cases with varying degrees of gravity. In contrast, the government-run health care scheme would have them work more on urgent and critical care.

While such care is obviously necessary and laudable – treating illnesses such as cancer should remain a priority – what these doctors have recognized is that there’s a whole range of patients with less severe but nevertheless critical medical conditions who go untreated for years on government-managed waiting lists.

Patients with manageable diseases, such as asthma, can spend months on a waiting list just to get some tests done when they visit their regional hospitals in Quebec. These people spend a long time worrying about what medical issue they might have, suffering from an untreated ailment, all because the health system doesn’t prioritize them.

As Dr. Jad Hobeika explains, he left the government-run system because he was “uncomfortable with the number of patients on waiting lists” for some ailments, and he decided to do something about it by joining an independent practice. He can now provide treatment for those patients for whom long waiting lists were the only kind of care government-run establishments would provide.

For others, leaving the government-run health care scheme is a way to concentrate on their passion for medicine, as opposed to filling out endless forms.

According to a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian doctors spend about 19 million hours per year filling out paperwork. Put differently, out of every 40 hours a family doctor works in this country, about 9.7 hours is administrative work.

Some of this is insurance or employment-related – the famous “doctor’s notes” used to justify an absence come to mind – but a good part of it is also directly connected to our single-payer insurance scheme.

In Quebec, the billing system is so complex that an entire cottage industry of public insurance billing professionals has popped up to reduce the burden on doctors billing medical acts to the government-run health plan.

As such, some doctors pay thousands of dollars per year for administrative subcontractors to enter the medical treatments they’ve provided into the correct box of long administrative forms so that they can receive their compensation.

It’s no wonder some opt for an independent practice, where billing is much simpler and more direct.

And then, of course, there’s also the question of more flexible scheduling, as doctors working within the government system have much less say about where and when they work.

Given these realities, it’s no wonder some doctors are looking to spend less time working within the government healthcare scheme and more working as independent providers.

Unfortunately for them, Quebec’s legislation doesn’t allow for mixed practice. This means that doctors who want to bill the government-run health plan for medical acts are prohibited from having any other clients. This sort of “either/or” approach means that if you’re tired of dealing with some aspects of the government system, your only option is to leave it altogether.

If Quebec were to allow this, some doctors in independent clinics would no doubt choose to work part-time within the government-run system as it offers more income stability.

And instead of focusing on what legislation can be adopted to keep doctors captive in the single-payer system, maybe we could think about addressing their concerns and try to understand why some of them decide to leave for independent practice.

Emmanuelle Faubert is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

In an increasingly dangerous world, we desperately need a new era of détente


Randolph Mank, Troy Media

Advancing peace proposals for the Russia-Ukraine conflict is risky business. No one likes appeasement. NATO countries, including Canada, are all-in on military support for Ukraine, seemingly the only solution to Russia’s 2022 invasion.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have been killed or wounded, and millions of refugees have fled.

Things could actually get worse. Bidding farewell to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of his visit to Moscow in March this year, China’s President Xi Jinping remarked ominously: “Right now there are changes – the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years – and we are the ones driving these changes together.”

Are wars really unavoidable? Must military solutions always be exhausted before diplomacy can begin?

One determining factor is the tendency of countries to stick within exclusive security alliances or ‘spheres of influence’. While it’s instinctive for smaller countries to seek the military protection of larger ones, it creates a bloc in thrall to a dominant power. This produces group think. It can also put soldiers in the lead over diplomats, which is dangerous.

This is what happened during the Cold War. The opposing sides came to realize the dangers of continuous confrontation, especially with nuclear-armed missiles pointed at each other. By the 1970s, they decided to pursue détente, a deliberate effort to ease strained relations through active diplomacy.

Détente is precisely what is needed again, and the Cold War experience offers a plausible template.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) – a Finnish initiative – was launched in 1973. By 1975, 35 participating countries agreed to the Helsinki Accords, which committed signatories to ongoing negotiations on everything from arms control and disarmament to confidence-building and human rights. (I was a junior delegate to the 1984-86 Stockholm Conference, which focused on formulating confidence-building measures.)

The CSCE process kept otherwise hostile camps at diplomatic tables for 21e years. It led to the establishment in 1994 of a permanent organization called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Alas, the OSCE’s ineffectiveness in handling the Russian invasion of Ukraine is precisely why a new process is needed now to deal with modern threats. China’s rise as an adversary, and its current alignment with Russia, means the process needs to be more inclusive. Giants like India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and others, also need to have a voice in a new ‘global conference on security and cooperation’.

Of course, the G20 annual summit already convenes the major powers. But it has proved useless for resolving conflicts. Facing criminal charges at the International Criminal Court, Putin has been unable to participate for fear of arrest. Undoubtedly, a similar scenario would prevent Xi’s participation if China were to initiate its threatened military action against Taiwan.

So, unless shunning is our only diplomatic tool, a new process drawing on the Helsinki Accords model would be helpful. The first step would be to negotiate a new accord relevant to the world’s changed circumstances. Areas for cooperation would include:

            •           arms control and disarmament, including nuclear as well as new weapons technologies (cyber, A.I., space, biotech, hypersonics, etc.), plus terrorism,

            •           human rights,

            •           sanctions,

            •           economic development, and again

            •           confidence-building measures.

Keeping hostile parties at negotiating tables is precisely the point. The longer, the better. Ideally, such a process would become permanent. Members would commit to annual meetings and convene urgently in response to unfolding conflicts. Smaller non-member states engaged in conflicts could be invited, as necessary. Without changing the legal role of the UN, it would do what that body was originally designed to do, but absent the handicaps of a too-exclusive, veto-wielding Security Council, and an all-inclusive and therefore unwieldy General Assembly, all based on U.S. soil.

Establishing a new institution comes with its own set of challenges, such as forging the political commitment, selecting an apt location, determining membership, and honestly addressing the weariness of frequent summits. Fighting first and turning to diplomacy only when the parties are exhausted is a difficult habit to break.

Skeptics will argue that it’s pie in the sky to suggest otherwise. No great powers and certainly no authoritarian leaders would ever come to the table and risk existential compromise. But these hurdles are worth trying to overcome. We have done so in the past.

In the end, diplomacy will always be preferable to fighting and dying over disputes between states. In an increasingly dangerous world, we desperately need an era of détente and a new place for diplomacy to operate.

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.

The growing impact of climate change on Canadian diets

Sylvain Charlebois, Troy Media

Headlines are dominated by reports of wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, Yellowknife, and the raging fires in Kelowna. These wildfires pose a significant threat to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a region that contributes a remarkable 25 percent to the province’s total agricultural output.

The Okanagan Valley plays a pivotal role in the cultivation of apples, peaches, pears, and various tree fruits, serving as the primary producer. Replacing trees in the event of damage can take several years, which is unsettling news for farmers and consumers alike.

The media inundates us with increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters, making it clear that climate change has become a significant player in our reality. But how does this affect our dietary choices?

In partnership with Caddle, we conducted a nationwide study surveying 5,450 Canadians about their eating habits to measure the impact of climate change on their perceptions of food security. The results, based on a survey conducted just a few weeks ago this year, are revealing and raise questions about the growing influence of climate change on what we put on our plates.

The survey reveals that more than half of Canadians, a staggering 52.3 percent, are either very concerned or extremely concerned about climate change. This concern is not unfounded, as 73 percent of Canadians believe climate change affects weather patterns, resulting in higher temperatures in Canada.

When it comes to food production, 61 percent of Canadians believe that climate change is impacting Canada’s ability to produce food. However, it is heartening to note that despite these concerns, 60.3 percent of Canadians believe we will continue to have access to the same foods regardless of climate-related changes and patterns. This suggests a certain confidence in the resilience of our food system.

Yet, Canadians are worried about food availability. Nearly half, or 47.1 percent, fear climate change will affect food availability. Some have already noticed these changes, with 40.1 percent of Canadians reporting alterations in the availability or variety of certain foods during the summer over the past few years.

What is even more intriguing is that environmental concerns are now influencing the dietary choices of some Canadians. Nearly 38 percent of them often or always consider the environmental impact of their food choices during the summer. This demonstrates a gradual shift toward a more sustainable diet, one that is conscious of its environmental footprint.

However, there are regional disparities across Canada. Quebec, with 48.1 percent, has the highest percentage of respondents who consider the environmental impact of their food choices during the warmer months, while Saskatchewan, with only 26.4 percent, has the lowest percentage. These differences may be attributed to various factors, including regional dietary habits and awareness of climate issues.

In conclusion, the findings of this study clearly indicate that Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of the connections between climate change and their diet. The natural disasters regularly afflicting our country make us reflect, and environmental concerns are increasingly influencing our dietary choices.

It is crucial to note that the growing awareness of climate issues in our diet does not necessarily mean we should panic or completely give up meat, for example. The transition to a more sustainable diet can be gradual, by choosing environmentally friendly options, when possible, while still enjoying the foods we love.

Small actions, such as buying local and seasonal produce and reducing food waste, can have a significant impact on reducing our ecological footprint. The key is to stay informed, make informed choices, and support more sustainable agricultural and food practices that benefit both our health and the planet.

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

There are better tools to make housing more affordable


by Marc Lee

Troy Media

Federal government ministers have just gathered for their annual late summer cabinet retreat, knowing that housing affordability is a top priority for Canadians.

This is because, for a growing number of people in Canada, the housing market is broken. At its core, Canada’s housing market is afflicted by decades of financialization – the treatment of housing primarily as an investment rather than a place to live.

The cost of home ownership remains close to all-time highs relative to incomes. Tight rental markets have given landlords tremendous bargaining power to raise rents sky-high. And homelessness is pervasive across the country, from street and park encampments to people getting by in RVs or couch surfing.

Housing affordability is worse than in 2017 when the federal government announced the National Housing Strategy (NHS), which recognized in legislation that “housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person” and that “the right to housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law.”

In practice, the NHS has failed to live up to those ideals. If anything, the NHS is supporting the ongoing financialization of Canada’s housing stock by emphasizing low-interest loans to private developers building market rental housing.

To remedy this, the federal government should amplify its support for non-market housing, including low-cost financing for co-ops and non-profit rental housing. The feds should also put federal land into use for the development of non-market affordable housing, and double down by acquiring additional public land.

New units can be produced at lower cost by cutting out developer profits, pressing local governments to waive development fees, and eliminating the GST on new rental housing.

Once these upfront costs of getting new housing built are covered, the stream of rental income from new housing can be used to repay the initial investment.

Another needed change is for Indigenous communities, which saw a paltry $4 billion allocated for Indigenous housing in the 2023 federal budget – rather than the $56 billion investment in urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing recommended by Canada’s own National Housing Council.

If it was ambitious, the federal government could build one million new non-market and co-op housing units over the next decade. It could create housing policies with specific targets for Indigenous peoples, seniors, people with disabilities, immigrant families, lone parents, and people fleeing domestic violence.

By renovating the National Housing Strategy (NHS), it can genuinely and positively impact those who bear the brunt of Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis. The feds should also continue the Rental Construction Financing Initiative to provide low-interest loans for all rental housing projects – tied to more stringent criteria on providing affordable units – as higher interest rates continue to raise the cost of building.

In addition, federal support for the community housing sector to acquire existing affordable rental buildings would go a long way to keeping properties out of the hands of real estate investment trusts (REITs) aiming to renovict tenants to charge higher market rents.

British Columbia’s new $500 million Rental Protection Fund for non-profit housing providers to purchase existing rental buildings should be a model for a federal program.

These investments are not particularly costly from a budget perspective because, in most cases, the federal government would retain land or other assets.

An ambitious fiscal effort is needed for the federal government to make housing a human right. All of the tools above are available; what’s missing is the political will.

Marc Lee is a senior economist with the British Columbia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Decoding Canada’s food inflation maze

Sylvain Charlebois, Troy Media

July’s food price data tells us a lot about why our grocery bills are the way they are.

Some Canadians might not acknowledge it, but things are getting a bit better. Our food prices increased a bit less this month, going from 8.3 percent to 7.8 percent. To make it simpler, even though food is still expensive, the prices aren’t going up as fast.

Because of this, we might soon see some essential unprocessed food items like sugar, flour, and coffee get a bit cheaper. However, the latest figures from Statistics Canada reveal a nuanced depiction of the myriad elements influencing the costs of our food. For example, bad weather like droughts and too much rain, especially in the east, made some food more expensive this summer. However, big problems from the past, like the pandemic and issues in Ukraine, don’t really affect prices anymore.

The current monthly report shows how different food prices have changed. Meat got a bit more expensive, increasing by 1.3 percent from June to July. This could be attributed to a combination of factors affecting beef prices, shifts in consumer preferences, disruptions in livestock production in Canada and the United States, and fluctuations in international trade dynamics. Veggie prices also went up by 1.2 percent, which may indicate local and global supply uncertainties, exacerbated by potential weather-related disruptions impacting harvests in certain regions.

Notably, bakery and dairy products have seen slight increases of 0.8 percent and 0.6 percent respectively. These subtle increments reflect the intricate processes of production, transportation, and the numerous factors converging to deliver these staples to our tables. Meanwhile, the one percent decline in fish prices may highlight evolving consumer behaviours or shifts in the availability of imports.

Fruit got a lot cheaper, going down by 3.4 percent. While this reduction could be welcome news for consumers, it also underscores the vulnerabilities that can disrupt getting fruit from farms to stores, especially in summer. Transportation bottlenecks, trade imbalances, and shifts in global demand are all contributing factors to such fluctuations.

Even in the broader context of the G7 nations, Canada’s food inflation data presents a unique narrative. Despite the fluctuations, Canada maintains the second lowest food inflation rate within the G7, underscoring a level of economic resilience in the face of global challenges. Only the United States currently boasts a lower food inflation rate, at 4.9 percent.

Quebec and Ontario, the country’s most populous provinces, demonstrate varying rates of food inflation. Quebec, with the highest rate among the provinces at 9.4 percent, reflects distinctive regional dynamics. In contrast, Ontario’s rate of 7.2 percent highlights a potentially different balance of supply and demand factors. While Ontario’s weather has been favourable for harvests, Quebec has experienced excessive rainfall that has damaged a significant portion of crops.

The discussion surrounding the carbon tax is also noteworthy. Amidst this intricate landscape, the impact of clean fuel and carbon taxes on food prices warrants consideration. While these policies aim to promote environmental sustainability, their direct influence on July’s food inflation remains uncertain. The complex interplay of market dynamics and government interventions makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact effect of these measures.

In the broader context, the increasing cost of lodging is becoming a significant concern for many Canadians. Rising shelter expenses are likely to place additional strain on Canadian households’ food budgets. The latest quarterly results from grocers reveal a growing preference for store brands and discount stores within a more cost-conscious consumer market, a trend likely to persist into the upcoming fall season.

In the end, July’s food price data isn’t just about numbers. It shows how strong Canada’s farming is compared to other places, even if we don’t always see it. After dealing with high food prices for 18 months, it’s clear that our food system can handle tough times. This should remind us all to work together to make sure everyone in Canada can get good, affordable food.

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