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Manitoba Tories say premier’s promise to control food prices has rung hollow

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston.

Manitoba’s Opposition Progressive Conservatives say the NDP government’s promise to crack down on rising grocery prices has proven to be an empty threat.

Interim Tory leader Wayne Ewasko pointed to figures released this week by Statistics Canada that show food prices in Manitoba rose last month by 3.3 per cent from March of last year. That rise was faster than the Canadian average, including neighbouring Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Data from the Manitoba government show a similar trend in recent months. Food prices have risen since Jan. 1, when the province temporarily suspended its 14-cent-a-litre fuel tax. The tax holiday is slated to end Sept. 30.

“We’re hearing from Manitobans who thought grocery prices would be down because this premier gave them false hope,” Ewasko said in question period Wednesday.

“There’s been no savings for Manitoba.”

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Last November, Premier Wab Kinew said his government would ensure that grocers pass on to consumers savings from the fuel tax holiday. He said the province would take steps if grocers did not do so, but he offered no specifics.

Grocery companies warned at the time that the price of fuel is only one of many components that determine the retail price of food, and that wages, wholesale prices and other items are factors.

Kinew was unavailable to comment Wednesday as he was on a trade mission in the United States.

Deputy premier Uzoma Asagwara pointed to other affordability measures the government has taken, such as doubling a tax credit for fertility treatment. But Asagwara was unable to specify what actions, if any, the province might take to keep grocery prices in check.

“Is there more work to be done? Sure. Is our government committed to doing that work? Absolutely. And we’re going to continue to push the federal government, and work with our federal counterparts, to move grocery prices … in a better direction.”

Food prices have been a hot topic in the province in recent months.

Last May, when the New Democrats were in Opposition, NDP legislature member Mark Wasyliw said the party would “clamp down” on grocery prices through some type of regulation if it formed government.

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The comment was made while Wasyliw was on the doorstep of a Winnipeg resident, and a recording of it was obtained by The Canadian Press. Neither Wasyliw nor the party offered details of what regulatory methods were possible.

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