Sliding food costs help offset rising gas prices to slow inflation

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OTTAWA — The country”s annual inflation rate slowed to an unexpectedly weak 1.6 per cent last month as the continued decline in food prices played a big role in offsetting the higher cost of gasoline, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The agency”s latest reading shows the pace of inflation decelerated from February”s year-over-year reading of two per cent, which was right on the Bank of Canada”s ideal target.

A consensus of economists had predicted 1.8 per cent inflation for March, according to Thomson Reuters.

Statistics Canada”s consumer price index shows some of the biggest downward forces on inflation were lower prices for clothing and footwear, which declined 0.9 per cent, and food, which fell 1.9 per cent.

A closer look at the data shows that, compared to a year earlier, the cost of fresh fruit dropped 12.4 per cent while fresh vegetable prices fell 10.2 per cent. The report says year-over-year food prices fell 1.9 per cent in March — a sixth-straight monthly decline.

The agency says higher costs for transportation and shelter made big contributions to the upward pressure on prices. For example, gas prices increased 15.2 per cent last month.

The higher prices for travel tours, which rose at a 6.8 per cent rate, were also among the primary contributors to the change in inflation.

Excluding food and energy prices, the report said annual inflation was up 1.7 per cent last month, which follows a two per cent increase in February.

Across Canada, Prince Edward Island was the only province that saw its annual inflation rate accelerate last month.

The agency also released rates for major cities, but cautioned that figures may have fluctuated widely because they are based on small statistical samples (previous month in brackets):

  • St. John”s, N.L.: 4.0 per cent (4.2)
  • Charlottetown-Summerside: 1.5 (1.3)
  • Halifax: 1.3 (1.5)
  • Saint John, N.B.: 2.8 (2.9)
  • Quebec: 1.0 (1.2)
  • Montreal: 1.0 (1.0)
  • Ottawa: 1.6 (2.0)
  • Toronto: 2.1 (2.4)
  • Thunder Bay, Ont.: 1.5 (1.8)
  • Winnipeg: 1.6 (2.3)
  • Regina: 0.6 (1.6)
  • Saskatoon: 0.6 (1.4)
  • Edmonton: 1.5 (2.5)
  • Calgary: 1.3 (2.1)
  • Vancouver: 1.7 (2.2)
  • Victoria: 2.2 (2.4)

Here”s what happened in the provinces and territories (previous month in brackets):

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 3.8 per cent (4.2)
  • Prince Edward Island: 1.7 (1.5)
  • Nova Scotia: 1.3 (1.4)
  • New Brunswick: 2.8 (2.8)
  • Quebec: 0.9 (1.2)
  • Ontario: 1.9 (2.3)
  • Manitoba: 1.6 (2.3)
  • Saskatchewan: 0.6 (1.4)
  • Alberta: 1.3 (2.2)
  • British Columbia: 2.0 (2.3)
  • Whitehorse, Yukon: 2.7 (2.7)
  • Yellowknife, N.W.T.: 1.5 (2.1)