Consumers Council of Canada supports the e-petition to Parliament looking to establish an independent Canadian Consumer Advocate.
A national citizens e-petition to the government of Canada was opened February 9 and will remain open for e-signatures on the House of Commons e-petition web page until June 9, 2021. The e-petition urges the government to establish a Canadian Consumer Advocate answerable to Parliament to advance consumer interests and represent the consumer voice. The advocate position was first proposed by the Prime Minister in his mandate letters to Canada’s Ministers of Industry, Seniors and Middle-Class Prosperity in 2019.
The petitioners ask for consideration to be given to achieve more than the Prime Minister’s initial proposal, which has made no visible progress since its introduction in the mandate letters. The Council’s 2020 position paper Time for a Real Federal Consumer Advocate strongly endorsed the idea of a national advocate and encouraged the government to consider an expanded role for the office.
In a public statement endorsing the e-petition, the Council said: “the current patchwork approach to consumer protection is failing them. It’s tattered by complex markets, powerful special interests, and new challenges and economic difficulty brought on by COVID-19. A Consumer Advocate can speak for consumers, support their voice through civil society, and ensure their needs are respected in government decision-making.”
Canadians can show their support by signing the e-petition. Signatories must be citizens or residents of Canada and will be required to add their name, email address, province, postal code and telephone number. Individuals may only sign once, and will receive an automated email prompt to confirm their e-signature.
If the e-petition receives 500 or more e-signatures, the Clerk of Petitions will provide a final certification of the e-signatures before the e-petition is presented to the House of Commons. At that time, the Government of Canada will have 45 days to respond. Should the petitioners achieve that goal, this would provide a rare opportunity for consumers to get an answer about consumer protection and representation concerns in Canada and a proposed step towards better addressing them.
The mandate letters focused on federal-regulated areas such as banking, transport and telecommunications. The Council’s paper noted that those enumerated industries have all displayed the value of a national advocate. Banks consistently fail to meet objectives in timely dispute management. The telecom industry has established an external organization to handle all its consumer complaints. And the transport industry is dealing with a mammoth complaint backlog at the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The Council’s paper underscored many other areas of federal responsibility that a consumer advocate could improve, such as the Competition Bureau, the Anti-Fraud Centre and Health Canada. It also identified many other possibilities for the Advocate office: facilitating research, collaborating with provinces and more broadly supervising consumer protection.