September 2nd, 2022 | ryan tyler

These are your Canadian Oligarchs

They control what you buy, what you see on television, what you hear on the radio, how you access the internet and so much more.
You've heard about the Russian oligarchs who control Putin and direct much of Russia's culture and politics. They're a group of billionaires who own much of the Russian bureaucracy and most of the institutions and corporations that steer Russian culture. They control Russia's fertilizer industry, farming industry, energy industry, manufacturing, media and most of the country's telecommunications. We've heard the media demonize them and paint a picture of pure corruption, while explaining how allowing a small group of billionaires to control so much has turned Russia into an oligarchy. However, we've heard a lot less about Ukraine being an oligarchy and even less (or nothing at all) about how so many Western nations are similarly controlled by billionaires. Particularly, in Canada, we haven't heard much about how a small handful of billionaires and wealthy dynasties control the media, the internet, distribution channels, supply chains and many of the country's policies. 
More than anyone else, Canadians love to pump smoke up their own asses when it comes to how perfect and clean their country is. Sure, most of Canada is controlled by a few wealthy families, but they aren't corrupt like the ones that control Eastern Europe. Our dynasties and oligarchs would never do anything nefarious like those gangsters in Russia. 
If you buy any of that, you haven't been paying attention. 
Only five short years ago, the Loblaw group of companies was caught fixing the price of bread. Between 2001 and 2015, their price fixing scheme resulted in a 96% increase in bread prices across Canada and an overall inflationary increase of 45% for food. As of now, no one has ended up in prison and no significant fines have been paid, despite the penalties under Canadian law being a maximum of 14 years imprisonment and $25 million in fines for such indictable offences. 
Loblaws wasn't the only company involved in the fixing scheme. The famous grocery chain, Sobeys, had allegedly demanded its retailers coordinate bread prices with other retailers and distributors.
For almost 15 years, a small handful of grocery and distribution chains were inflating the price of bread to enrich themselves and to control the market. For 15 years, they got away with it and, to date, have paid nothing in penalties. Months after the news broke, Sylvain Charlebois from Dalhousie University said, "Two months ago, if you would have asked me if there was any collusion in the industry, I would say likely not. Now, I'm asking myself where else in the grocery store is there collusion other than bread. That's the real question, I think. And so the Competition Bureau has to look at this case very seriously, beyond bread."
Beyond bread, where else in the Canadian grocery industry has there been collusion? It's a legitimate question for Canadians to be asking. 
If it can happen with bread, it can happen with almost anything else. If the offenders could escape prosecution and evade being caught for nearly 15 years, there are signs that Canada's systems to deal with such corruption have, themselves, been corrupted. If that's the case, who corrupted them? It would have been the bureaucrats and politicians that made friends in all the right places.  
We can't accuse any of the wealthy families and billionaires of corruption, but we can acknowledge that their monopolies and control aren't necessarily good for Canadians. Allowing a few billionaires to control segments of every major Canadian market is a bad idea, but we've been doing it for decades and we have been allowing them to strengthen their control and expand their monopolies. In 2013, while the prices of bread were still being fixed, Loblaws expanded its empire with the purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart. At the same time, Sobeys acquired Safeway. Just last year, Canadians learned that two of the country's largest telecom companies, Shaw and Rogers, would merge. 
To acknowledge the unhealthy control and monopolization of some of Canada's biggest industries, we need to acknowledge the people and families responsible for it. 


The Sobey And Weston Families

Sobeys, Safeway, IGA (outside BC), Thrifty Foods, FreshCo, and Foodland are owned by the Sobey family through Empire Company Limited and Class B Holdings Limited. Superstore, No Frills, Shoppers Drug Mart, Fortinos and Extra Foods are owned by the Weston family through Loblaws and George Weston Limited. Both the Sobey and Weston families have controlling stakes as majority shareholders of their companies and subsidiaries. 
In 2019, Loblaws received a $12-million grant from the Trudeau government to buy refrigerators. Allegedly, this happened after Loblaws lobbyists attended a Liberal fundraiser. This compelled the NDP's ethics critic, Charlie Angus, to accuse the Liberals of favouring Loblaws, saying, "They’re very comfortable with the prime minister, they’re attending fundraisers with the prime minister and senior staff from the minister of environment’s office. So this is a very comfy, cozy relationship. For the Liberals to say they won this challenge fair and square is ridiculous."
The Sobeys have their own building and business school at Saint Mary's University in Halifax. The family has had significant influence in Nova Scotia through their foundations and endowments. Recently, Derek Power accused Donald Sobey, who died in 2021, of sexual assault. The alleged assaults were called an "open secret" while Power was in his twenties and attending university in Halifax. 
The Weston family originates in Ireland and its current Canadian heir is Galen Weston Jr., who married a member of the prominent Bata shoe dynasty in 2005. Junior became the executive chairman of Loblaws in 2006 and has placed himself in commercials for the company's line of President's Choice products.
The Sobey family has an estimated net worth of $3 billion, while the Weston family has a net worth of more than $9 billion. 


The Shaw And Rogers Families

The prominent Shaw family, best known for Shaw internet and cable, own an astonishing amount of Canada's media through Shaw Group Ltd. and some family trusts. Through majority ownership, the Shaw Family controls Corus Entertainment, which runs the Global television network, StackTV and a number of other television networks, including Slice and the History Channel. 
Rogers Communications, founded by Edward Rogers in 1935, owns CityTV. Until 2019, Rogers owned McLean's magazine and Chatelaine. In 2014, Rogers took over Hockey Night In Canada through Sportsnet. Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays and, along with Bell, several other sports franchises in Canada. 
Despite being fierce competitors, the Shaw and Rogers families have been friendly and close-knit for more than 30 years. Both Jim Shaw and Edward "Ted" Rogers were reported to be friends with mutually shared respect. 
In August of 2022, Rogers Communications announced that its acquisition of Shaw would be finalized by the end of the year, despite being delayed by the Competition Bureau. In May of 2022, the Bureau filed for an injunction to stop the merger, citing Canada's shrinking level of competition in the telecommunications and wireless industry. Following the second major outage at Rogers in 2022, support for the Rogers-Shaw merger dropped, particularly among traders. 
The Shaw family may have an inherited net worth of at least $2 billion, while the Rogers family has a net worth of $10 billion.


The Other Families

The Thomson Reuters Corporation, owned by one of Canada's wealthiest families, operates Reuters on the world stage. Reuters is one of the world's largest news organizations and Thomson Reuters was accused in 2019 of working with U.S. immigration to deport and investigate immigrants. Thomson Reuters was one of the Clinton Foundation's largest donors. 
The Irving family are Eastern Canada's wealthiest energy industrialists. Through JD Irving Limited, the Irving family owns shipyards, newspapers, security services and toilet paper. In 2017, the Trudeau government scrapped a shipbuilding deal with Davie Shipbuilding after James Irving wrote a letter to Harjit Sajjan and Judie Foote. The new shipbuilding contract then went to the Irving family.
The Saputo family owns and operates a vast chunk of Canada's dairy market, while the Desmarais family have had controlling interests in several Canadian sectors and have been accused of having an unfair advantage in business due to their close relationships with Liberal prime ministers, including Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
If there was ever a question about who has influence over Canadian leaders and policies, look no further than the families discussed here. Before scoffing and criticizing other countries, perhaps we should start looking in our own backyard.
September 2022

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