Canada’s inflation rate rose at its fastest pace in almost 40 years in the year up to May, as the price of just about everything continues to go up fast.
Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that an uptick in the price of gasoline was a major factor causing the overall inflation rate to hit 7.7 per cent. Gas prices rose by 12 per cent in the month of May alone, and are up by 48 per cent compared to where they were a year ago.
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Food prices were also a major factor to the upside, with grocery bills increasing by 9.7 per cent over the past year. Within the food category, the cost of edible fats and oils skyrocketed 30 per cent, the fastest increase on record.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a major factor in that uptick, as Ukraine is one of the world’s leading suppliers of sunflower oil, and the war has caused shortages of the pantry staple.
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Jamil Bhuya, who runs Toronto restaurant Burgers n’ Fries Forever, is feeling those increases acutely. From meat for burgers, to flour for buns and even cardboard for packaging, he’s seen the price of just about everything he needs to run his business skyrocket during the pandemic. Sharply higher costs for vegetable oils for his fryer are just the latest setback.
“We’ve seen things go up literally 50 per cent overnight and it’s been very hard to stomach,” he told CBC News in an interview. He has tried to keep prices low for his customers; he knows there is a limit to how much he can charge without losing business. “Luckily, burgers have always been kind of recession proof and even pandemic proof.”
The cost of home furnishings are also rising at a record-setting clip, with furniture prices increasing by 15.8 per cent in the past year, mostly due to higher input and shipping costs. A major factor in that increase was the start of tariffs of up to 300 per cent on some upholstered furniture from Vietnam and China starting last year, CBC News has reported.
Higher increase than expected
Economists had been expecting the rate to increase from a 30-year high of 6.8 per cent in April, but the numbers for May blew past those expectations. Prices increased by 1.4 per cent in the month of May alone. Seasonally adjusted, that makes May 2022 the biggest one-month jump in the inflation rate in 30 years.
“If you aren’t over 40, you have never lived through inflation like this, and unfortunately, we are not expecting much of a resume going forward,” TD Bank economist Leslie Preston said. “Inflation is expected to remain elevated through 2022.”
The inflation rate rose in every province, from a low of seven per cent in Saskatchewan, to an eye-watering 11.1 per cent in Prince Edward Island.
Consumers are feeling the pinch. Laura-Marie Paynter, a single mother from Toronto, recently got a second job to bring in some extra income for herself and her teenage daughter, but she’s discovered that getting a second job has actually added to her costs in the form of having to pay more for transportation, and having to order food because she’s not at home to cook as much.
“It’s frustrating that I have to take time away from my home and my child in order to keep things in our fridge and a roof over our head,” she told the CBC in an interview.
Canada is not the only country dealing with inflation at its highest level in decades. In the US, the inflation rate tops eight per cent right now, and new data out of the UK shows the cost of living rising at a nine per cent annual clip.
While Canada’s inflation rate is going up swiftly any way you slice it, Statistics Canada made some changes recently to how it tabulates the numbers, giving increased weight to things like shelter, and adding the cost of new and used vehicles to its official index for the first time.
By the data agency’s calculations, the cost of purchasing a passenger vehicle increased by 6.8 per cent in the past year. While that’s lower than the overall inflation rate, it was nevertheless one of the major factors contributing to the higher overall increase, Statistics Canada said.
Bank of Canada now more likely to hike lending rates
The higher-than-expected inflation figure makes it all but certain that the Bank of Canada will raise its benchmark interest rate by three quarters of a percentage point at its next policy meeting in July, in an attempt to rein in runaway price increases.
The central bank slashed its lending rate to 0.25 per cent early in 2020 to stimulate the economy through the pandemic, but in recent months, it has moved aggressively to hike rates. Another 75-point hike would bring the bank’s key lending rate to 2.25 per cent, the highest it has been since the financial crisis in 2008.
While higher borrowing costs are likely to bring down inflation over time, the impact is unlikely to be swift, economist Kiefer Van Mulligen with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said, which is why consumers and policymakers should brace for high prices to stick around.
“Interest rates began to increase in March, but monetary policy does not work overnight,” he said. “Higher interest rates can’t do much to solve some of the most critical causes of current inflation, such as supply chain problems.”