Research by the Consumers Council of Canada has found the Canadian public will expect well-resourced consumer groups to be part of any stakeholder process attached to the next round of negotiations among the federal and provincial governments concerning internal trade.
While the research found public understanding of the federal-provincial Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) is extraordinarily low, upon learning the trade matters and consumer protections subject to negotiation, Canadians overwhelmingly felt consumer groups should be at the table representing them as consumers.
Research House, a ‘Gold Seal’ member of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, conducted an online survey of more than 2,000 Canadians generally representative of the population as part of the Council’s research.
The researchers also consulted key informants in business, government and consumer groups familiar with the AIT to make recommendations concerning developing a sustainable, institutionalized role for consumer groups in stakeholder processes related to the AIT.
The Government of Canada made internal trade reform a priority in its 2015 budget. Its Reducing Barriers to Internal Trade Economic Action Plan 2015 announced the creation of an Internal Trade Promotion Office within Industry Canada to support federal-provincial-territorial negotiations to strengthen the domestic economy by comprehensively renewing the AIT. The new office is to engage with provinces and territories, businesses, workers, consumers and academia to explore opportunities to address internal trade barriers, including through regulatory cooperation activities. The federal and all provincial governments have agreed to proceed with a new round of decision making under the AIT and have shown an appetite for formal involvement by stakeholders in the process.
The report arising from the Council’s research includes the following recommendations among others:
- The creation by governments of a multi-stakeholder advisory council with balanced representation from business, labour, the professions and Canada’s four major consumer groups: Consumers Council of Canada, Public Interest Advocacy Centre (also representing the Consumers Association of Canada), Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs.
- Federal-provincial agreement to fund in a substantial way consumer group participation, with the primary responsibility for funding divided among the levels of government and business stakeholders, with the funding arrangement independently administered.
- Consumer groups entering the AIT stakeholder process should ensure the engagement of consumers within and beyond their respective organizations, so the concerns of Canadians as consumers are well understood and represented.
“The Canadian public judged the stakes for consumers in internal trade reform were high enough they broadly agree consumer groups should represent them,” said Consumers Council of Canada President Aubrey LeBlanc. “The public also feels the costs of their representation as consumers should be mostly borne by government and business in a way that protects consumer groups’ ability to act independently.”
“Consumers also expect consumer groups to demonstrate high levels of engagement with both the AIT process and with them, to be publicly supported for their involvement” LeBlanc said.
The Consumers Council of Canada has received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in the Council’s report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.