By Terri Smith –
Let’s talk refrigeration and climate change. At the start of April, the federal government awarded multi-billion-dollar company Loblaws $12 million to upgrade the company’s coolers in an effort to meet Canada’s emission targets. Just let that sink in for a minute. This amount is a drop in the bucket for Loblaws, but money that could help countless small, green businesses across Canada.
I didn’t know anything about Galen Weston, chairman of Loblaws, and I mostly don’t shop at any of the stores owned by Loblaws anyway (Real Canadian Superstore, Extra Foods, and Shoppers Drug Mart are the ones we have in Quesnel) so this is a story I had to look into when I heard about it a few weeks ago. And the more I looked into it, the more I was left feeling cold.
This man is one of the top three richest people in Canada, and according to The Georgia Straight, his company made a gross profit of $13.5 billion in 2018. In spite of this gross amount of money, the Weston family claimed that paying a living wage of $15/hour to employees would just be too expensive and they fought hard against it when Alberta and Ontario made plans to institute a living wage last year.
This is also the same company that admitted to being involved in the bread price-fixing scandal that went on for 14 years and which, according to Macleans, may have cost Canadians $400 each.
The National Post also mentions more than $435 million dollars in taxes Loblaws may have evaded between 2000 and 2013.While the corporation was cleared of all charges of tax evasion last fall, they are currently appealing the judge’s decision that they pay back $368 million.
So, this company managed to avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes, but now they are being given $12 million of our tax money? What?! Why?
I watched an interview with Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna and it was painful. She stammered through it looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. She claims that the $12 million awarded to Loblaws will help the giant reduce its overall emissions by 23% in the next three years.
Sounds pretty helpful. Fairly helpful. Probably better than nothing. Part of me thinks perhaps I should just be happy that emissions are being cut no matter how unfair it seems that a company as rich as Loblaws is being handed so much money to do so. But, as The Globe and Mail points out, why give money to a giant corporation to do something they would probably have to do anyway? Changing over to more energy efficient refrigeration units is something that will save this company a ton of money and if the proposed carbon tax does happen, the incentive to do so would already be huge.
Back at Long Table Grocery in Quesnel, I walk past our two broken, second-hand coolers and enter our innovative, but comparatively tiny and incredibly awkward, walk-in cooler-trailer and I am angered all over again. It is places like Long Table and other small, local food stores that will truly make a difference in the world that we hope is to come. A tiny fraction of $12 million could go so far towards helping so many places like this succeed. Just as I believe small-scale, mixed farms can save the world, I also believe small-scale, diverse businesses like Long Table are a part of that picture. The existence of this place helps dozens of other small businesses and farms, and together we all build a web of resilient local businesses and people that have a much smaller carbon footprint.
The Canadian Low Carbon Energy Fund contains over $2 billion that the federal government is allocating to help fight climate change. Most of the money is going to oil companies and other massive corporations. I think the reason this makes me so angry is that these companies being awarded the money are the biggest polluters to begin with. They also already have the money to make the biggest changes.
Until the world gets its priorities straight, you and I can do our tiny part by shopping local and helping small, green business any way we can. That sounds both trite and defeatist. It might be. Avoid Loblaws’ stores, shop local, budget so that you can make good choices. It is possible.
Full disclosure: I only made $13,000 in wages last year, and I still eat organic and local. I really love the life I am living. It is possible to live well and choose well even with less. Make good choices as if your life depended on it. Because it quite literally does, and so does the life of your children and this planet.
An erstwhile market gardener and mother of goat, Terri lives on a small farm near Quesnel, BC. Here she gardens, makes art, writes about local food, teaches workshops, and works at Long Table Grocery as Guardian of the Vegetables.