Oil up the guillotine

All this ink spilled hand-wringing over the minimum wage and not a single inch of column space dedicated to executives signing off seven figure bonuses for themselves. I have no patience for those kinds of thinkpieces. But this is more like it.

These are Dickensian times. As the entire globe grapples with income inequality, the U.S. government is gleefully handing out tax cuts to billionaires, while Ontarians bicker over a rise in the wage of the province’s lowest earners. It’s a fitting backdrop for widespread anger about one of Canada’s richest families overcharging the masses for bread.

Just before Christmas, spokespeople for Loblaw Companies Ltd. and its parent company, George Weston Ltd., admitted to a scheme to increase the price of the daily staple. This is a big deal: Loblaw is the country’s primary grocer, with over 2,000 stores, including No Frills, Shoppers Drug Mart (which carries bread among its other overpriced groceries), T&T, Fortinos and others.

I imagine most people buy bread at one or two of these stores at least occasionally. My own family shops at No Frills regularly and Shoppers in a pinch. This fleecing has been going on for over 14 years – Loblaw owes us all.

Now, Canadians are able to sign up for a $25 gift card meant to soothe our collective irritation. When Loblaw announced the card in December, it estimated that three to six million people would participate. The company said it expected to spend up to $150-million on this clear attempt at mitigating both financial and public-relations losses.

The gift card tactic seemed to work for a minute, with many people getting excited about what was essentially a bribe. But my household goes through two loaves a week. If I was being overcharged 25 cents each time – an invented number, since I haven’t been given a real one – Loblaw is coming up at least $300 short.

Criminal problems were already off the table, since Galen G. Weston, chairman and CEO, and other Loblaw executives are participating in the Competition Bureau’s immunity and leniency program. That means they’ll face no criminal charges or fines for the decade-plus they spent overcharging an entire country for a basic food.

Start your new workout routine today.

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