'We're coming after you:' Ford vows to make price gouging illegal

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that his cabinet is planning to issue an order that will make price gouging illegal.

While Ford did not provide specifics about the order, he said that government will come after any company engaging in price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A message to anyone who price gouges – we’re coming after you. We’re going to come after you hard,” Ford said during his daily press briefing on Thursday.

“I have zero, zero tolerance for price gouging,” he said. The Premier specifically called out Pusateri’s Fine Foods, a Toronto-based grocery chain, which had reportedly been selling Lysol disinfecting wipes for $29.99.

“That’s disgusting, absolutely disgusting (that) a company like that would be selling hand wipes for that cost,” Ford said.

Pusateri’s has since apologized, saying the price hike was a mistake. Anyone who purchased the wipes will receive a full refund.

Steve Szentesi, a competition and advertising lawyer based in Toronto, said that it is not illegal for companies to raise prices on products as they see fit under the Competition Act. The exception within the Act is when there is a conspiracy between companies to fix prices of a product, as was the case with the alleged bread price-fixing scandal.

Szentesi said the government has several options when it comes to capping pricing.

“The route that some government may consider in Canada is to enact legislation where they regulate the price of certain products,” Szentesi said.

“My guess is they would pass legislation and regulations that lists products that would be subject to price control and then determine on a pricing mechanism – whether that’s a specific price, a cap on it or that a company cannot increase the price more than (a certain amount.)”

Price gouging has been a particular concern during the coronavirus pandemic, as supply chains strain to keep up with a surge in demand for specific products, such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and even toilet paper.

Canada’s Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell released a statement late last week that said the Competition Bureau “remains vigilant” against anti-competitive conduct as the country grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

“We encourage anyone with information about potential collusion, false or misleading advertising or other forms of deceptive marketing to contact the Bureau,” Boswell said.

“We will do everything in our power to crack down on these and any other anti-competitive activities in order to protect Canadians.”

Loblaw chief executive Galen Weston has vowed that the grocery store chain would “not raise a single price on any item to take advantage of COVID-19.

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