Canada says major grocery chains agree to help stabilize prices

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By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's five major grocery chains have agreed to help the government in its bid to stabilize soaring prices, a senior minister said on Monday, following talks to address an issue that is hurting the ruling Liberals.

Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne made the announcement after two hours of what he said were difficult discussions with the chains.

Champagne, who summoned the executives to Ottawa, reiterated a threat that the government could impose new taxes if the chains do not come up with a plan to help address budget-busting price increases.

"They have agreed to support the government of Canada in our efforts to stabilize prices in Canada," Champagne told reporters, without giving details.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said. "We'll keep on pushing them - trust me, this is just the beginning."

The Liberals are trailing in the polls and facing complaints about the high cost of living and a lack of affordable housing.

One of the five executives at the meeting, Metro Chief Executive Officer Eric La Fleche, said the chains were keen to do all they could but dismissed the idea that they alone were to blame.

"We're all committed to finding solutions to stabilize prices ... it's an industry issue. Any conversation has to include all the manufacturers, producers, farmers and everybody," the CEO said.

"It's not just about the retailers, the minister understands that very clearly."

The other chains attending the meeting were Loblaws, Sobeys, Walmart and Costco, which together with Metro represent 80% of the Canadian market.

As part of the government's push to cope with high prices, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week announced a tax break designed to boost the construction of new rental apartment buildings and relieve pressure on the Canadian housing market.

Karina Gould, the minister in charge of pushing the government's agenda through the House of Commons lower chamber of parliament, said she would shortly introduce wide-ranging draft legislation designed to help curb inflation.

Polls show the official opposition Conservatives, who blame high inflation on Trudeau for what they call excessive government spending, would win an election if one were held now, ending eight years of Liberal rule.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)