This week I got a present from one of the richest people in Canada — Galen Weston. Well, it wasn’t exactly a personal gift, or really even a gift, when you come down to it.
In the mail, I received my $25 sorry-we-ripped-you-off-for-all-those-years Loblaw’s card, sent in penance by the Westons after they reached a deal with Ottawa to admit that bread prices were inflated for 14 years, in return for legal immunity from any real punishment.
Back in December, George Weston Ltd. and Loblaw Companies Ltd. said they both participated in an industry-wide bread price-fixing arrangement. They didn’t offer any accounting of how much their actions took from Canadians, but it was clearly millions of dollars.
Their competitors deny any industry-wide actions, insisting the only collusion was among the Westons.
One hint is that its estimated three million to six million Canadians will sign up for a $25 sorry card, costing the company $75 million to $150 million. But it doesn’t really cost them that much, since the $25 has to be spent in their stores.
Economists have estimated, guesstimated really since we can’t see the books, that families may have been overcharged up to $400 by the price-fixing scheme. This suggests that even after the sorry card payout, Weston/Loblaw may be ahead by at least $2 billion.
Galen G. Weston, CEO of George Weston and Loblaw Companies, is best known to those of us who don’t travel in his social circle for his faux-everyman TV commercials promoting Loblaw’s latest food products.
But he seems to have disappeared from TV screens while this blows over.
“This is a difficult matter and clearly something that never should have happened,’’ Weston told industry analysts.
Yeah, no kidding. He makes it sound like a one-shot oops by a cashier in your neighbourhood store who punched in a wrong number while ringing up your groceries, not the 14-year-long effort to fleece shoppers that it clearly was.
This is the same Galen Jr. who earlier in 2017 complained that minimum wage hikes planned in Ontario and Alberta would cost the company $190 million, or a few months of inflated bread prices. His family’s net worth was north of $13 billion, last time Canadian Business did its calculations.
Galen, I like to think we’re on a first name basis since we’re exchanging gifts, also told analysts that he hopes that card recipients like me will “see it as a meaningful amount that demonstrates our commitment to keeping their trust and confidence.”
Yeah, sorry bud, not so much.
By the way, after activating my card I sent it off to the local food bank. I just hope it doesn’t use your shame money to buy any of your bread.