The older I get, the tougher it is to find joy in Canadian winters.
I used to love to downhill ski, snowshoe, and skate on the Rideau Canal. Those things were enough to make a winter in Ottawa bearable. But no more.
The cold, the slush, the salt, the dreariness of recent winters now make me want to get away from it all. (The Rideau Canal didn’t open for skating at all this year.)
I am now happy to flee winter whenever for a few weeks at a time. This year’s place of refuge was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where it was 30 degrees and sunny every single day.
As it turns out, warm weather and sunny skies weren’t the only escape on offer. We also discovered a huge break on high Canadian food prices.
The neighbourhood mini-super in PV offered huge discounts compared to our local grocery store at home. Factoring in exchange rates from pesos to CAD, here are just a few examples:
|Asparagus ( / pound)
|Apples ( / pound)
|Sparkling water (1l bottle)
|Ground chicken (500g)
…And on and on it went.
Restaurants in PV were also significantly cheaper than ones back home.
We ate out a lot. Dinners mainly. And our nicest meals were less than half the price of similar offerings back home.
We all know global supply chains are complex. As Canadians, we can all appreciate that getting the fresh produce we want in the middle of January or February will come at a certain cost.
But why are we paying twice as much or more for grocery staples we also produce at home?
And, when it comes to eating out, are we just becoming numb to two burgers and two beers at the local pub now costing us nearly $75 after tax and tip? (True story from the Byward Market in Ottawa last week.)
Food inflation has been outpacing general inflation in Canada for more than a year, and it’s lowering more slowly than general inflation too. Food costs year over year are still up between 9-10 percent.
When I looked into Mexico’s food inflation rate, the OECD pegged it at 13.25% higher than last year. (Compared to the U.S. rate of just under 11.5%.)
So, I get it. Food prices are going up everywhere. Canada’s food inflation rates are lower than our closest neighbours. But what gives?
First, we started out higher than Mexico and U.S. where climate and economies of scale have us beat. They have much larger populations and grow and process more of their own food. (Until we figure that processing piece out, we are – in a sense – at the mercy of others.)
Secondly, taxes. Governments in Canada have their hands all over every link of every supply chain, taxing it wherever they can at every stage. We pay for that in the long run. (And in many cases we then get taxed again.) Mexico and many American states have low or no sales taxes.
Thirdly, public policy. Canadians have certain costly expectations of what government will do. Mexicans and Americans don’t expect government to fix their teeth, run a national broadcaster or do many of the other things that Canadians do. Nor do governments elsewhere make it as difficult as we do on farmers and food producers to make a living. We pay for that in myriad ways.
There’s still nowhere else on earth I would rather call home than Canada. But I would be lying if I said coming back this winter wasn’t tough. And lying still if my first foray back into food purchases here wasn’t a cold dose of Canadians’ food reality for the foreseeable future.
Chris Day has more than 25-years of leadership experience in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. He has served as a trusted member of executive teams, and as senior advisor to government ministers, CEOs, and other leaders.
Some of Chris’ proudest professional achievements include representing Canada and Canadians on the world stage, and leading several successful advocacy campaigns on behalf of purpose-driven organizations like C3FC.
Chris grew up in a rare Ottawa household where the economic importance of Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sectors were the topic of dinner conversation: his parents both worked for StatsCan’s agriculture division and were responsible for animal census publications.