Cost Of Living: 1) Soldiers Asking For Donations To Help With Housing, Food Costs: Memo To Gen. Eyre; 2) Major Canadian Grocers Won’t Confirm Discounts, Price Freezes Feds Promised Last Week

1) Soldiers Asking For Donations To Help With Housing, Food Costs: Memo To Gen. Eyre

Courtesy of Barrie360.com and Canadian Press Published: Oct 10th, 2023

The military’s chaplain-general says morale among troops is the lowest it’s been in recent memory as many soldiers struggle with the cost of living. 

In a briefing note sent to the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, chaplains say more Armed Forces members have been asking for help to make ends meet. 

The chaplains note that they expect donations to Together We Stand, a non-profit that supports military families, to double this year. However, they say that is a short-term solution.  

Some soldiers have said they’re considering releasing from the military to avoid postings in certain locations.

Recent changes to the military’s housing allowance have created new challenges for some. The Armed Forces announced in March that the new allowance will be based on salary, rather than where a soldier is posted.

The new program is available to an estimated 28,000 soldiers, but around 7,700 members would become ineligible and thousands of others would see their monthly payments reduced. Officials said that would result in a savings of $30 million a year.

In August, the military decided to phase out the old housing benefit gradually, to help thousands of members who were set to lose the payments. 

Troops who would have seen their housing benefit decrease under the new program will continue to receive some payments until July 2026. 

Still, the memo said the high cost of housing is a concern for many.

“Of special note are those members who made financial commitments in 2022 at the height of the housing market, or after receiving posting instructions in early 2023: some are now facing significant challenges to meet their financial obligations or to find appropriate housing,” the note said.

Staff shortages at many bases and wings have led to “ever-present” tensions and conflicts in the workplace, in particular in places where there are different rules for military and civilian staff about working from home.

“In understaffed environments where normal operations must be maintained, reconstitution is basically being looked upon now as just another word, rather than as something that will revitalize the CAF mission and make a real difference in the professional lives of members,” the memo said.

It also said a new performance evaluation process was experienced very negatively, with many saying the system was prone to glitches and has taken too long to implement. The system has “strained relationships with subordinates” and left people feeling like their work is not appreciated at a time when they’re taking on more duties because of short-staffing.

On a positive note, the memo notes that some members say their workplace “appears to be getting psychologically safer” and they can communicate issues with their chains of command. 

Members’ ability to take additional time off for religious observances received support. 

There has also been positive feedback, especially from female members, about dress code changes that allow people to better express their individuality. 

But the chaplains also say the new dress code is receiving criticism from some members who feel it “may be eroding a sense of common mission, identity and team cohesion.”

“The pace and extent of change within the CAF impacts many areas of military life concurrently, including benefits, evaluation and culture. Though unintended, these changes, concurrent with CAF efforts to reconstitute the force, has resulted in many CAF leaders and members feeling more undervalued and underappreciated than at any point in recent memory,” the memo concluded.

The briefing note was sent to Eyre last month. It was based on information gathered by chaplains across the Canadian Armed Forces in the first six months of the year.

Eyre was not made available for an interview and his office did not respond to a list of questions sent on Friday. 

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Defence Department said there has been a great deal of change within the Armed Forces in the last few years and “it is not surprising there is some angst over what these changes mean” for members.

In response to questions about why CAF members are relying on donations, the department pointed out that many members were granted raises this year.

“The government of Canada recognizes and appreciates the outstanding contributions made by the Canadian Armed Forces and their families, and is committed to fairly compensating CAF members for their service,” the statement said. 

2) Major Canadian Grocers Won’t Confirm Discounts, Price Freezes Feds Promised Last Week

Courtesy of Barrie360.com and Canadian PressPublished: Oct 11th, 2023

By Nojoud Al Mallees in Ottawa

Major grocers in Canada are not yet confirming whether they have committed to special promotions to stabilize grocery prices, as was recently promised by the federal government. 

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced last week that the grocers have presented initial plans to stabilize prices, which include discounts, price freezes and price-matching campaigns.

The Canadian Press has reached out to the grocers —  Loblaw, Empire, Metro, Walmart and Costco — to confirm what exactly each of them has promised to do. 

Metro declined to comment, while Loblaw, Empire and Costco have not responded to requests for information. 

In a written response, a spokeswoman for Walmart Canada said the company plans to keep offering “every day low prices,” which refers to Walmart’s strategy of offering low prices on a regular basis, rather than on promotion only. 

“Last week, we shared with the government how we will continue to deliver every day low prices for Canadians during these challenging times,” said Stephanie Fusco, senior manager of corporate affairs.

“We’re taking action to fight inflation and keep prices low and, in our submission, also provided several suggestions on the role government and regulators can play in curtailing food price inflation for Canadians.”

The federal government gave an ultimatum to grocers in September, saying they should present plans to stabilize grocery prices by Thanksgiving or face potential tax measures as a consequence. 

The move came in response to the pressure Canadian families are facing as grocery prices continue to rapidly climb. Grocery prices in August were 6.9 per cent higher than they were a year ago. Meanwhile, the country’s overall inflation rate was 4.0 per cent. 

Recent polls show support for the governing Liberals dropping as affordability remains top-of-mind for voters. 

Champagne’s announcement last week on the commitments from grocers included little detail. The minister did not provide clarify whatproducts may be subject to special promotions, for example.

When pressed by reporters on how Canadians will know these promotions are any different than the ones regularly offered by grocers, Champagne said he does not want to disclose what each company has pledged to do.

“I’m saying those are examples of what we see in the plans, because I want the market to compete. I cannot say I received that from Loblaws, I received that from Metro, I received that from Costco, I received that from Walmart,” he said on Thursday.

“Each grocer has different actions. So it will be up to Canadians to judge them.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh slammed the Liberals’ approach on grocery prices during a news conference last week, saying their “plan to ask CEOs nicely to reduce prices is ridiculous.”

The industry minister has repeatedly pointed to other countries, such as France and the U.K., as examples for grocers to follow, as countries around the world have struggled with skyrocketing food prices. 

In August, the annual rate of food inflation was 13.6 per cent in the United Kingdom and 9.8 per cent in the eurozone. 

The French government reached a three-month agreement with supermarket chains earlier this year for them to cut prices on hundreds of staples and other foods, which is expected to be extended through the summer. 

In the U.K., grocery giant Asda announced in June its plans to freeze prices on 500 products until the end of August. 

Other European countries have mandated price controls for staple foods. Hungary, for example, put price caps in place last year for products such as eggs and potatoes.

Patricia Dent

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