The Ontario and federal government announced moves in recent days on serious consumer protection issues the Consumers Council of Canada has highlighted for years as requiring prompt action.
- Make it possible to ban unsolicited, door-to-door sales of certain household appliances, including water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners and water filters
- Regulate the home inspection industry through required licensing and proper qualifications for home inspectors, as well as minimum standards for contracts, home inspection reports, disclosures and the performance of home inspections
- Strengthen consumer financial protections with new rules for alternative financial services such as payday loans, including extended repayment periods and more time between loans, as well expanded rules against unfair debt collection practices.
- Move on more support for municipalities to provide affordable housing.
Nationally, Transport Canada announced legislation would be pursued to provide greater transparency, clarity and fairness for Canada’s air traveller, including clear standards for the treatment and compensation of passengers. While details are to be worked out, this is a positive first step towards improving airline travel for Canadians.
The Council has been outspoken on consumer discontent with the state of air travel, and is concerned about changes happening in the travel marketplace.
The Council has addressed the door-to-door sales problem before Ontario legislative committee hearings and by supporting recently a private members bill initiated by MPP Yvan Baker.
The Council has long been active in housing issues, conducting a panel on residential intensification, research on home renovations, home energy efficiency and providing consumer representation to Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority and the Electrical Safety Authority. It’s members actively participate in standards development at CSA Group, which recently issued a standard on home inspection.
The Council has pressed for greater professionalization and standardization of home inspection services.
The Council has worked hard for two years on research seeking to separate myth from fact concerning high interest lending and the effectiveness of regulation and criminal law enforcement in Ontario and across Canada, issuing two research reports:
“The Consumers Council welcomes what has been a strong day of consumer protection initiatives in Ontario and by the federal government, but there is much more work to be done,” said Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer. “The new world of global e-commerce and regulatory change resulting from international trade agreements, while bringing benefits to consumers, are also posing consumer protection risks. Consumers and those who seek to represent them are not playing on a level field with business interests scrambling for advantage.
“One way to correct that imbalance, better protect consumers and take a practical step towards democratic reform would be for governments across Canada to correct that imbalance and show greater seriousness to strengthen consumer representation concerning matters that affect consumer rights.”
Consumer rights, which have matching consumer responsibilities, are to:
- basic goods and services which guarantee survival
- be protected against goods or services hazardous to health and life
- be given the facts needed to make an informed choice
- choose products and services of satisfactory quality at competitive prices
- express consumer interests in the making of decisions.
- be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services
- acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer.
- live and work in a safe environment which permits a life of dignity and well-being
- privacy, particularly as it applies to personal information.
Many of these United Nations-recognized rights are abused. Across the political spectrum, people world-wide are protesting: the Brexit vote in the U.K., opposition to the CETA agreement within the European Union, the strong anti-free trade sentiment in the U.S. election, and, in Canada, deep unhappiness by some with CETA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). And public anxiety exists about real estate, banking and telecom transactions; excessive interest rates and debt traps; ongoing product safety recalls; lost jobs to sweat shops, resulting in damaged communities and families; and e-commerce problems and Internet fraud.
In the negotiation of trade agreements such as the Canadian Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), the TPP, NAFTA, and CETA, large businesses have been primarily consulted. Unnecessary problems are occuring for consumers that, with proper consumer group institutionalized participation, might have been avoided, to the benefit of the economy. The result of these problems is voices raised against the reality or appearance of undue influence.
The Consumers Council of Canada believes the public and consumer representation deficit can be addressed and consumers better reassured:
In 2014-2015, the Government of Canada through the Office of Consumer Affairs, Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) funded research by four Canadian consumer groups into methods to achieve greater regulatory harmonization to promote trade. The Council’s study, Options for a Sustained Institutional Role for Consumer Organizations in Internal Trade Harmonization Initiatives, included a survey of 2,000 Canadians. It suggests doable, innovative improvements to public consultation that Parliament, or the government on its own, could easily make and that Canadians could support:
- A Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Council (MSAC) to include Canada’s four major consumer organizations (Consumers Council of Canada, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs). This would provide timely advice directly to the Committee on Internal Trade (the council of territorial, provincial and federal Ministers responsible for the AIT);
- The inclusion in this advisory council of other key civil society groups.
- Rules of engagement for advisory council members to ensure all voices are effectively heard, that discussions are productive and no one dominates.
- Funding of consumer groups for this purpose in ways that ensure their independence in performing necessary research, representation and consultation with Canadians as consumers. Cases may exist to do the same for some other civil society groups, too.
“Balanced against a rising dissatisfaction that could damage global trade and trigger economic decline, the cost of such an initiative would be miniscule and merited,” said Mercer.