Newer initiatives such as commitments to clean energy technology, rebates for high grocery prices and dental care gained most of the attention, but the 2023 Federal budget also included numerous pledges to address long-standing consumer protection issues.
Topics such as ‘right to repair’, high-cost lending and air passenger rights also received some support in the budget released March 28 by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The financial commitments to health and dental care include $3.6 billion in new spending for the 2023-24 year. With unexpected candor, the budget’s accompanying notes admit: “In recent months, Canada’s universal public health system has been unable to deliver the high-quality care that Canadians expect.” Included in the spending is a continued commitment to universal dental care, first identified last year at least in part to earn the support of the New Democratic Party. Last year’s program for low-income Canadians under age 12 will be expanded to those under 18 and seniors, with full implementation set for 2025. Other health care pledges include funds for substance abuse, suicide prevention hotlines and improving retirement savings for personal support workers.
Shaped by United States government commitments to stimulate spending on the green economy, the budget plans for nearly $21 billion over five years to attract similar investments in Canada. The budget outlines three tax credits for hydrogen investment, clean energy and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).
The grocery rebate is intended to provide some compensation for lower-income families that have been particularly affected by rising grocery prices. Delivered as an extension of the GST rebate, eligible couples with two children could receive up to $467.
Those initiatives all involve considerable spending and considerable impact on consumers. Some lower profile budget commitments attempt to address longer-standing consumer protection issues.
‘Right-to-repair’ was noted in the 2022 mandate letters, but ignored in last year’s budget. This year a pledge was made to introduce a “targeted framework for home appliances and electronics in 2024,” to address how high repair fees and inadequate parts access have pushed Canadians to buy new devices instead of repairing older ones.
The government pledged to lower the criminal rate of interest from current levels (roughly 47 percent APR) to 35 percent APR, and to launch consultations to lower it further. It also planned to adjust the Criminal Code’s payday lending exemption to require payday lenders to charge no more than $14 per $100 borrowed. These measures will require some clarification and development as they can overlap with existing provincial laws, but those details are not included in the budget. In any case, it will lessen borrowing costs for consumers with below-prime credit scores who lack access to credit cards and choose higher cost instalment or payday loans.
Air passengers, another long-time aggrieved constituency, were addressed by a proposal to amend the Canada Transportation Act to “strengthen airline obligations to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations”. It also promised to make the Canadian Transportation Agency’s adjudication process more efficient.
Among the other topics with some import to consumer issues, the government announced commitments to:
- Crack down on ‘junk fees’ – an all-purpose phrase used to describe many poorly disclosed fees that are added to initial prices. Budget documents cite “higher telecom roaming charges, event and concert fees, excessive baggage fees and unjustified shipping and freight fees” as examples.
- Reduce credit card acceptance fees for small businesses. It announced agreement with Visa and MasterCard to lower those fees for small businesses, while “protecting reward points” that those fees finance.
- Triple the number of low-income Canadians who can use its ‘File My Return’ simplified tax return filing system, and work with CRA to help vulnerable Canadians who do not currently file taxes receive the benefits to which they may be entitled.
- Work with international partners and stakeholders to standardize charging ports for phones, camera, laptops and other devices, following a similar European Union initiative.