As grocery prices and affordability remain a central focus for Canadians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre are sparring over whether a prominent Conservative advisor lobbied for Loblaw — a frequent target of scrutiny over food costs.
Trudeau says that Poilievre owes Canadians an explanation why one of his chief advisor’s firm is registered to lobby the Ontario government on behalf of Loblaw.
Poilievre’s camp, meanwhile, says that is “laughable.”
“Pierre Poilievre has been standing up for months now pretending that he cares about high grocery prices faced by Canadians. And it turns out that his top advisor is working as a lobbyist for Loblaws. I think Mr. Poilievre owes some explanations to Canadians,” Trudeau said at a housing announcement in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday.
Trudeau made the comment unprompted during the question and answer period of the press conference. The preceding question was about medical assistance in dying and mental health.
Poilievre’s director of media relations, Sebastian Skamski, issued a response shortly afterwards calling the comment “laughable and pathetic.”
“Justin Trudeau’s minister promised to stabilize grocery prices by Thanksgiving. He failed at that as prices have only increased. The Liberals failed and now claim that it’s really the leader of the opposition – not the prime minister and government of Canada – who holds all the power. This is laughable and pathetic,” Skamski said in a statement.
The assertion from the Liberals was first made by Housing Minister Sean Fraser during question period on Thursday, when pivoting a housing cost question to a response on grocery bills.
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“If the Conservative leader wants to help, he can pick up the phone because I’m sure he knows his chief advisor Jenni Byrne is actually a registered lobbyist for Loblaw in Ontario,” Fraser said.
What does the lobby registry say?
Byrne’s firm, Jenni Byrne + Associates, is registered to lobby the Ontario government on behalf of Loblaw, according to provincial lobby records.
The firm is listed as lobbying for Loblaw four times between June 5, 2023, and Jan. 15, 2024.
However, Byrne was not listed as the lobbyist registered.
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“Let’s be clear about the facts here, Jenni Byrne is not and never has been registered to lobby on behalf of Loblaws. The work JB+A does with Loblaws is limited to the provincial level and focused on expanded access to beer and wine and red tape reduction,” Jenni Byrne + Associates senior vice president Simon Jefferies said in an emailed statement.
Jefferies was registered to lobby on behalf of Loblaw in a Sept. 22, 2023 filing in the Ontario registry.
Byrne is a long time Conservative political operative, serving as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign manager in the 2011 campaign when the Tories won a majority. She then served in the Prime Minister’s Office as the deputy chief of staff.
Byrne was also the director of operations and principal secretary for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
She opened her firm, Jenni Byrne + Associates in 2020, before returning to politics to help run Poilievre’s successful Conservative leadership bid in 2022.
The matter comes as cost of living and in particular, the cost of groceries, has become a major priority for Canadian voters. Ipsos polling done exclusively for Global News found that 49 per cent of Canadians say that reducing the cost of everyday items like groceries is their top concern and what they want parliamentarians to focus on in this new session of Parliament. This is closely followed by inflation and interest rates (45 per cent) and access to affordable housing (39 per cent).
The polling also found that the Conservatives still hold a wide lead over the Liberals, but the Grits have reduced it to a single-digit lead.
The Liberals are up three points, to 27 per cent support. The Conservatives slipped four points, but still enjoy 36 per cent support. The NDP are at 20 per cent.
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