Why Are My Groceries So Expensive?
Because career politicians have failed us
At the beginning of January the Jim Pattison Group announced the exit of its Chief Operating Officer, former Premier of British Columbia Glen Clark.
The Jim Pattison Group, founded by Jimmy Pattison—the 162nd richest man on the planet, according to Forbes’ real time tracker—is a private corporation based in British Columbia, Canada. Among others, the Jim Pattison Group has coal, forestry, automobile, advertising, entertainment, and media divisions. They also own food brands and grocery stores like Western Family, Sun Rich, Save-On-Foods, Buy-Low, Nature’s Fare, Nester’s Market, Urban Fare, and many more.
Coming from a background of union organizing, Glen Clark was first elected to the Legislative Assembly for the BC NDP in 1986. He soon became Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations and later served as Minister of Employment and Investment before becoming Premier in 1996 after then Premier of British Columbia Mike Harcourt resigned in the midst of scandal. Glen Clark served as Premier for three and a half years before also resigning in scandal following an RCMP investigation and allegations that he’d accepted favours in return for approving a casino application. He was later exonerated on all charges.
Two years after his resignation, in 2001, Jim Pattison contacted Clark and offered him a job at his corporation. This wasn’t the first time Pattison reached out. According to the Vancouver Sun, Clark and Pattison met in 1986 soon after Clark had been newly elected as MLA. In a 2009 article entitled Funny things happen when Glen Clark meets Jimmy Pattison, it’s said that Pattison was so impressed by meeting Glen Clark he told someone afterwards, “Send him to me. He’ll be a millionaire in no time.”
In 2016 BBC documentary HyperNormalisation filmmaker Adam Curtis makes the case that politicians lost control of reality in the mid-1970s and never gained it back. Curtis frames the film with Donald Trump, beginning with his involvement in New York real estate at a time when government was beginning to cede authority to the banks, and ends the film with Trump’s run for presidency.
As detailed in The New Yorker review that calls the film “essential,” the term HyperNormalisation refers to what happens to reality when we accept doublespeak as truth. As Western leaders refused to take accountability for their actions, spinning, instead, false narratives—or “perception management” as the Reagan administration called it—politicians did their best to trick the public into thinking that everything was trucking along just fine. Essentially saying: Nothing to see here. We’re on top of it. Carry on as normal.
Meanwhile, the world crumbled—global warming and wealth inequality increased at compounding rates. Reality tipped further and further out of balance.
HyperNormalisation might explain why most of us aren’t out on the streets screaming and protesting. Many of us were born into this disconnect, raised in a liminal space between the reality we witnessed with our eyes and the reality coming out of the mouths of our elected officials.
While food price inflation has grown “much faster than general inflation” for decades, as Phoebe Stephens explained for The Tyee, it has worsened exponentially in the past 20 years. Average grocery bills increased by 70% between 2000 and 2020. But 70% over 20 years is nothing compared to what has happened since the beginning of the global pandemic. In two years, food and agribusiness billionaires reportedly raised their collective wealth by 42% while a whole sixty-two new food billionaires came into being.
Where is the political will to change this, you might ask? If we accept Curtis’ theory, it does not—nor can not—exist. At least not within our current political system. It is clear, at least to me, that this system is too far past being fixed. How many years have people been fighting for the greater good within this system and how little has it mattered?
I will go as far to say that we are no longer living in a democracy, that we are living under a corporate, industrial regime—a regime that we kill us if we continue to normalize to its increasingly genocidal behaviour.
While the BC Green Party has advocated for windfall taxes (i.e. taking money from corporate profits and giving it back to the people) and the federal NDP have called for a probe into grocery store profits, we have to accept that while these efforts might give temporary relief, the only real solution is systems change.
One form of systems change would be implementing Citizens’ Assemblies in the place of our current governance. Citizens’ Assemblies have been called for, and in some cases like in Ireland with abortion laws, implemented around the world. We even had our own Citizens’ Assembly here in British Columbia where randomly selected citizens deliberated and came to the conclusion that electoral reform is necessary for a healthy democracy. Unfortunately their decision was struck down by the government. You don’t see many career politicians advocating for electoral reform because it would likely leave them without a job.
Back during the 2020 snap election in BC (the election I participated in as a candidate), I spoke with Dr. Maayan Kreitzman about what implementing Citizens’ Assemblies might look like on an episode of my podcast called “Restructuring Democracy” which you can listen to online, Spotify, or iTunes.
In this space, we will continue to talk about participatory democracy, democracy by random selection (which, according to my friend Zain, is how democracy began in the first place), Citizens’ Assemblies, and so much more. For now, I encourage you to contact your elected officials and ask them what they’re doing to keep your grocery costs reasonable. While you’re at it, perhaps also ask them what they’re doing to mitigate corporate and industrial greed. Then maybe ask them what they think about Citizens’ Assemblies. Or, you know, one step at a time… Consider what you might do—what action you might take—if you stopped normalizing; if you stopped accepting inflation, corporate greed, and career politicians as normal and started advocating for something new.
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I shared on Twitter – was looking to tag you, but I see you've jumped ship 🤣