By Medicine Hat News Opinon on January 11, 2018.
Fixing bread prices seems as though it would be more of an issue during the French or Russian Revolutions than in our modern world.
However, the current case of companies accused of adding pennies to loaves over the course of the last 14 years should be a call to arms for citizens.
Considering that our rights are increasingly being framed through the lens of being a mere consumer, consumers should be more concerned than they appear.
People should be incensed.
Instead, we’re all trying to figure out how to get our hands on a $25 gift card being offered as a public relations strategy and mea culpa by Superstore, the company at the heart of the investigation.
Its parent company, Loblaw, deserves some credit. It appears as though company officials brought their concerns about their operations to regulators, who are now looking into seven of the largest grocery chains in Canada.
Exactly how were prices unfairly adjusted and for how long?
If it’s gone on for more than a decade, as is suggested, the cost to consumers would certainly add up to more than $10 million — the maximum fine that could be levied on a such a perpetrator.
A potential fine is also likely less than the gift card offer could cost Loblaw.
But the crucial question then becomes whether the court of public opinion will be more powerful than actual court of law?
Imagine a bank robber, when caught, offering to give the money back, plus whatever interest may be due, and a tidy sum for the teller’s trouble.
One can only imagine a legal team’s argument that considering that they’re already out of pocket, the hit to the reputation is punishment enough.
Can the jury of the marketplace enact enough of a penalty on such a huge corporate entity? As consumers we’d like to think so, but it’s doubtful.
Even now the consumers who could punish the company by taking their business elsewhere are snapping up giftcards to spend at the business in question.
The erosion of consumer protections and the role of regulators in the public imagination has been ongoing for some time.
Citizens are less trustful of government, certainly of how it affects the marketplace, and in the same vein but conversely, of its ability to enforce laws, especially in cases of white collar crime.
A large section of the population has built up a personal and political philosophy that abhors regulation of seemingly every kind.
We live in a free market society — a notion that at its very core is fairness of opportunity and competition as the solution.
All things being equal, we can pay the price or, theoretically, walk across the street.
That only works, however, when the two shops aren’t working together without our knowledge to artificially increase their collective profits.
It’s not just unfair. It’s against the law.
If true, millions of Canadians have been harmed.
You might not be fired up over the bread example, but imagine, however, if pennies on bread was, instead, pennies on gasoline.
Clear rules, sound protections and strict enforcement is required.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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