Toronto resident Christine Le says she and her parents used to spend between $95 and $200 per week on groceries. Now, with rising food costs, that figure can reach $250.
“It’s crazy,” Le, a resident of the Jane-Finch neighbourhood in the city’s north-west end, told CBC Toronto. Le reached out to CBC Toronto through its audience listening work in the Humber River-Black Creek riding during the ongoing provincial election.
According to the latest Consumer Price Index from Statistics Canada, food prices are up 8.7 per cent compared to last year. Growing grocery bills are the result of a number of factors that include global supply chain problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, among others.
In her neighbourood, Le said, “I don’t think people can actually afford healthy food in general.”
WATCH | CBC News goes grocery shopping with Christine Le to see just how much food prices are going up:
Grocery shopping in Jane-Finch shows how much prices are jumping
Humber River-Black Creek residents, and a food organization that helps them, hoping for more support from whoever wins the provincial election.
Shopper Sola Sofekum said his grocery bill is about $60 to $65 more these days compared to a year ago, and he’s resorted to cutting out extras like ice cream.
“There are definitely some things I don’t buy anymore,” he told CBC.
During the pandemic, Zakiya Tafari, executive director of Afri-Can FoodBasket in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, worked with the city to create Black Food Toronto, which is committed to getting fresh produce weekly to those in the community who need it.
In one weekend, the wait-list grew to 6,000 households, Tafari said.
“We see food as medicine. And if we can encourage people to eat healthy now, that’s going to save so much money in our health-care system down the road,” he said.
Tafari would like to see more support for organizations that supply nutritious foods and support good health.
During this provincial election campaign, Ontario’s major political parties are making promises they say will help ease the burden of rising grocery costs. But that’s not all. They’re also proposing ideas to strengthen and secure food supply chains in the province to ensure grocery shelves are well-stocked.
Here’s what the contenders for your vote are proposing to do about food prices and supply.
The Progressive Conservatives didn’t put forward any explicit measures to lower the cost of groceries in their 2022 pre-election budget.
Instead, the party points to myriad tax relief and social support programs, such as the Low-income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit, which it says can help individuals and families have more money on hand to pay for groceries.
“With minimum wage workers and low-income families seeing the cost of groceries and other essentials rising every day due to external factors, it has never been more important to provide tax relief,” the budget reads.
With respect to the agri-food industry in Ontario, the PCs point to a number of funds and strategies the last government implemented or was working to implement before the legislature dissolved ahead of the election campaign.
Their budget document says if the party forms government, $10 million would go to a “Food Security and Supply Chain Fund” next year to boost Ontario’s food supply.
The PCs say they are formulating a plan for food security and supply chain stability “informed by agriculture and agri-food leaders.”
The party says the plan would aim to boost domestic food production and the strengthen the reliability of Ontario’s food supply.
The PCs also tout a proposed strategy to promote innovation and technology in Ontario’s agri-food sector.
The Liberals say they would remove the provincial portion (eight per cent) of the harmonized sales tax (HST) on prepared foods under $20. That would include items like roast chickens and sides available at grocery stores.
“People across Ontario are seeing the prices they pay for food increase faster than their wages — a trend that also eats into restaurants’ margins. This is happening while companies with little or no competition — like banks and mega-grocery retailers — have continued to increase their profits,” the Liberal campaign platform says.
The party says it would pay for the HST cut with a one per cent surtax on companies in Ontario earning more than $1 billion and the introduction of a new tax bracket for Ontarians earning more than $500,000.
“Ontario is blessed with an abundant food supply, but a few big companies dominate food retailing and processing. They control prices, levy new fees on suppliers and make significant profits,” the platform says.
The party says it would drive down food prices in the long term by “legislating fair and open negotiations between retailers and suppliers,” but offers few additional details.
The party is also proposing to expand the province’s Student Nutrition Program by offering a free “Ontario-grown” breakfast for all K-12 students who need one.
The Liberals also say they would explore reforms in the agriculture sector in Ontario, but don’t put forward many specifics.
“We’ll also make Ontario’s food supply chain more resilient by preserving farmland and promoting sustainable farming techniques, as well as investing in additional regional processing capacity and reviewing potential restrictions on foreign ownership of farmland,” the platform reads.
The NDP says it wants to create a provincial food strategy “that puts healthy, locally sourced food onto Ontario tables, supports agriculture jobs in food processing, transportation, biofuels, and retail, and helps young farm families and first-time farmers with mentorship, financial advice and loan guarantees.”
The party says in its campaign platform that a New Democratic government would regulate the price of gas through the Ontario Energy Board to help to lower the costs of shipping food, but doesn’t offer further details.
Additionally, the NDP says it would support supply management reforms. While the Dairy Farmers of Ontario is strongly in favour of the price fixing mechanism, saying it’s necessary for the industry’s financial well-being, opponents of supply management say it inflates dairy prices.
The NDP also voiced support in its platform for a “Grocery Code of Conduct.” The proposal would potentially govern the relationship between grocery chains and food suppliers. It would, for example, address pricing disputes between suppliers and chains, like the recent rift between Frito-Lay and Loblaws.
The Green Party says it would provide start-up funding for “community-owned healthy food markets,” and set purchasing goals for government institutions to buy food produced in Ontario.
“It’s increasingly expensive for Ontarians to put food on the table, and the current sprawl agenda of paving over the farmland that feeds us does not help this,” the Greens’ platform says.
The party promises a Green government would introduce a nutritious lunch program for the public school system.
It’s also pledging to never send any surplus food to landfill, but instead use it to feed animals and people.
Like the NDP, the Greens are also proposing a grocery code of conduct that would be “mandatory, enforceable, transparent and benefits both customers and farmers.”
The Greens also emphasize that they would make investments in developing the agri-food sector and in farmers, but don’t offer many details.
The party is promising to “continue to enhance the supply management system” by adding more farm products to it.