New research on ways that Canadians try to resolve their consumer problems. It examines patterns in the decision to access the formal legal system to resolve one or more consumer problems, based on ethnicity, level of education and income.
As a part of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice’s Cost of Justice project, Dr. Les Jacobs, a director of the Consumers Council of Canada, and his research associates David Kryszajtys and Matthew McManus examined the ways that Canadians try to resolve their consumer problems. In particular, their research examined patterns in the decision to access the formal legal system to resolve one or more consumer problems, based on ethnicity, level of education and income. The data used for this study comes from the CFCJ’s nationwide Everyday Legal Problems and The Cost of Justice in Canada survey.
The Consumers Council of Canada actively seeks to expand the network and mobilization of knowledge created by public policy oriented consumer interest researchers. Researchers who want to expand awareness of their work and the PPOCIR discipline can become engaged with the Council in a variety of ways. Learn more by clicking here.
In addition, the Council is a participating organization in the Canadian Partnership for Public Policy-Oriented Consumer Interest Research. The PPOCIR initiative is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through a Partnership Development Grant. Learn more by clicking here.
Consumers Council of Canada members were involved providing consumer representation involving two recent high-profile national standards efforts just completed and with the potential to benefit consumers.
Consumers Council of Canada members were involved providing consumer representation involving two recent high-profile national standards efforts just completed and with the potential to benefit consumers.
Council members participated in the development of a new national standard for Home Inspection recently published by CSA Group, with the recognition of Standards Council of Canada.
Council members were involved also in the development of the new National Energy Code for Buildings 2015.
At the committee table or within the Council the following members have been active over the course of years on behalf of Canada’s consumers concerning these two significant initiatives:
Council President Aubrey LeBlanc
Joan Huzar, former Council president, member of the CSA committee that developed the Home Inspection standard and through her past involvement with the Canadian Commission for Building and Fire Codes.
Michael Lio, member and former Council executive director, as a member of the CSA committee that developed the Home Inspection standard.
Patricia Jensen, former Council director, through her membership on the Home Inspector Panel conducted by the then Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services.
Marshall Leslie, current Council director and chair of the Council’s energy and housing committee.
The Council thanks them for their involvement and long-term commitment to these standards initiatives.
The new Home Inspection standard, available for purchase online through CSA Group, is aimed at industry professionals. However, consumers seeking a big picture perspective of what to look for in home inspection service agreements, when they buy or improve a home, may find the new standard helpful. Until now, there have been no independently developed standards for home inspection services in Canada.
The National Energy Code for Buildings harmonizes with Canada’s energy efficiency regulations and industry standards. Updates can be found in standards for lighting, service water, and HVAC systems, such as gas-fired units on rooftops, and for ventilation systems in enclosed spaces like parking garages or warehouses.
The new code is published by the National Research Council and developed by the Canadian Commission of Building and Fire Codes in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada.
The Council has been involved actively in a wide range of issue areas involving housing and energy consumption. A recent panel hosted by the Council has reviewed the impact on consumers of the residential intensification being experienced in Canadian cities.
The Council intervenes on behalf of Ontario’s retail energy consumers before the Ontario Energy Board. It’s members are active representing consumers in Ontario at the Electrical Safety Authority, Technical Standards and Safety Authority, and Ontario College of Trades.
Council members have been active recently in consultations leading to legal reforms in Ontario concerning condominiums and retail energy contracts.
The following research reports have been issued by the Council in recent years relevant to home energy consumption, consumer interests in the housing marketplace and the development and harmonization of regulations and standards:
Residential Intensification: The Impact on Consumers, 2016 Options for a ‘Sustained Institutional Role’ for Consumer Organizations in ‘Internal Trade’ Harmonization Initiatives, 2015 Residential intensification: Density and Its Discontents, 2014 The Impact of Higher Energy Efficiency Standards on Housing Affordability in Alberta, 2010 Sustainable Household Consumption: Key Considerations for a Canadian Strategy, 2009 The Ontario Smart Metering Initiative – What Does It Mean for Ontario’s Residential Consumers, 2009 Renovation Rip-Offs: Problems and Solutions, 2009 Energy Efficiency and Building Codes, 2007 Gaps in New Home Warranty Programs Across Canada, 2007 Consumers’ Willingness to Pay for Climate Change, 2004
To download the Council’s research reports click here.
The Consumers Council of Canada is waiting to hear from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency about a report by the Globe and Mail of flaws in Canada's food safety system. All we can say, is that the observable lack of urgency to respond to this report leads to the conclusion the Council cannot vouch for the food safety system at this time.
Maybe. Hopefully the story goes viral on the Internet, because the readership of newspapers these days is sadly in decline.
Should Canadian consumers be concerned about the line in the sand drawn by the U.S. Department of Agriculture concerning Canada’s meat, poultry and egg inspection systems?
Does this mean Canadian consumers face a serious, immediate risk today when they go to shop at the market?
Probably not. But Canadian consumers do sometimes unknowingly live at the margins of safety, and, as importantly, are deprived of obtaining value for money every day by what they don’t know.
They do face a food safety risk. They risk losing Canadian product choices, given that Canadian food producers must export to survive. In fact, in a global marketplace for food, the inability to seamlessly trade is detrimental to the security and availability, even, of domestic food supply.
Canadian consumers need to understand that both U.S. and Canadian food inspection authorities must maintain a high bar of safety for products to trade internationally.
The food affordability everyone values depends in many instances on food production operating at global-class economies of scale the Canadian market alone may not support.
Don’t think there are not U.S. products held up for entry to Canada. There are.
Don’t think U.S. authorities would draw a line in the sand lightly. U.S. economic interests are affected, too, when news hits the news media casting a pall over the food trade.
Both governments challenge each other to do better with food safety measures, and they should.
However, there are specific concerns Canadian consumers should have today.
Canada’s system of food safety has been undergoing a sea-change in approach to oversight and enforcement. And the voice of Canadian consumers in that process, through organized, institutionally capable representation, is weak. Canadian consumers think consumer groups have resources to act for them, which they simply do not. Canadian public policy has neglected this problem.
Industry and the objectives of governments, whether defined by special interests, ideology, fiscal or bottom-line objectives, or unintended sloth, permeate the food safety system.
Consumers should consider how little has been done by business and government to ensure consumers can make their own informed decisions about food purchases. If action is thwarted to make improvements of services to consumers that are easily visible, just imagine the risk that consumer needs related to less visible matters will go unmet.
Immediate, visible food safety problems that effect business profitability or public attitudes get priority attention, but a complex system like the food safety system should not be managed this way. And this default approach will not serve consumers or the health of the marketplace well.
The new direction for food regulation in Canada is built around moving more of the costs and responsibilities for food safety to industry. Yay!
Industry should be motivated to improve its performance and its cost structure to achieve that performance.
Canadian regulators are supposed to set the expectations, industry is supposed to demonstrate it has taken reasonable steps to meet those expectations, and the attendant risks (defined mostly in economic terms) are left to industry.
So, if industry doesn’t measure up, what can happen? They may find a line in the sand drawn by a close trading partner that denies it access to a significant market. Or they may find themselves penalized in some way for offences against consumers, where there is identified harm.
But what about unidentified harm or hidden ‘situations’? And just because industry has been given responsibility, why should it only be held accountable at virtually the end of the process of delivering to consumers and not throughout the process? What about avoiding harm?
Answering those questions requires oversight guided by risk assessment, and risk models to do that assessment.
Today, CFIA’s evolving regulatory system has a ‘black box’ for a risk assessment model.
Yes, there is an esteemed panel of experts involved with the care and feeding of the model. But there is no consumer group oversight. We’ve never seen it well-explained.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Consumer Association Roundtable, which provided a meagre level of consumer input into the decision-making at the agency has fallen by the wayside after a promising start. Every time the door revolved in the management offices of CFIA in recent years the commitment to consumer representation by the agency’s management seemed to diminish a bit, until now it is nothing.
Even though the Council has participated in the roundtable, our organization learned of the USDA’s disturbing new line in the sand from a news report, not the CFIA.
At this writing, the Globe and Mail’s article has been public for a day, and our organization has resorted to making an entreaty for clarifying information. Not even a polite acknowledgement of that request has been received.
This is despite the fact our organization has shown a strong interest in food trade and safety issues, even participating in a recent teleconference by the Regulatory Cooperation Council, the Canada-U.S. initiative to bring “harmony” to Canada-U.S. trade. Ironically that call was the same day CFIA reportedly received the news of the USDA’s position.
Not a hint about the prospect of this disagreement was proffered on that call. In fairness, it wasn’t the U.S. government’s responsibility to bear this news.
Maybe Canadian officials were too flummoxed to speak?
Well, it has been a month and a half since CFIA reportedly got the news from the USDA and they have yet to inform consumer groups about it.
It would be easy to hang CFIA for its loss of voice. But the truth is that other consumer protection regulators have fallen silent or become passive. CFIA, like other federal and provincial regulators, sits at the centre of a “complaints-based” system, in which industry interests are commonly the most frequent complainants.
CFIA and other regulators are “doing their jobs” responding to the complaints they receive. Meaningful complaints cost a lot of money to research and present. Industry is favoured to use a bit of tax-deductible margin on every consumer’s purchase to fund their interests.
This leaves poor consumer groups out of the picture. And, besides, how often do we hear the old chestnut that consumer groups come to the table in public policy discussions with too many ill-considered complaints and not enough solutions? The consumer voice that is disingenuously said to be all powerful is too frequently marginalized, in fact.
The system does not adequately provide for the representatives of consumers to regularly and consistently offer well-developed complaints or participate in solutions development, except possibly when a consumer protection problem has gone already from bad to worse.
And given that the whole system expects consumer groups to be engaged to make a wide range of consumer protection systems work, this is a huge short-coming.
So Canadian consumers should be concerned, yes, that the USDA’s position demonstrates that when it comes to an effective consumer protection regime the emperor wears no clothes.
Can you see the Canadian government standing in the buff elsewhere? Yes.
In fact you can see the Canadian and U.S. governments standing naked together holding hands.
Visit, for example, the product recalls pages of the Canadian government. The U.S. government is very good at identifying risks to consumers from products already sold. (So much for “homeland security” or Canadian security for that matter, but that’s another subject.)
U.S. companies importing goods and re-exporting to Canada, for example, pass along risks to Canadian consumers all the time. It’s pretty easy to conclude that meaningful opportunities for consumer redress as an outcome of these recalls is infinitesimal. And its equally easy to see that in most cases so-called “brand shaming” is not going to make this recall list very effective at creating marketplace pressure for better corporate performance.
Look for yourself. How many of the manufacturers and distributors of these products are household names you recognize? Actually, very few.
Thank goodness the recall list has put us on the road to public understanding … well, if anyone ever has the time and money to find meaning in this avalanche of bad news.
The Consumers Council of Canada does pay attention. But its ability to reach out and communicate to consumers is limited by its resources. It needs money. It needs the in-kind contributions of time and expertise by capable Canadians. It needs interested people to participate in its governance and policy-setting. And it needs to be playing its role better to make the marketplace work better without the need for only regulatory micromanagement.
It needs the governments of Canada and the provinces to get serious about supporting its role and those of other organizations like it. Effective civil society organizations matter in our economy and our system of government: just ask the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Even while operating on a shoe-string – federal spending to assist all of Canada’s consumer groups conduct research or develop as organizations has been frozen at a paltry $1.6 million or so for a generation – Council members are taking steps, to adapt to 21st Century needs for stronger, evidence-based consumer representation.
The Council now provides ways consumers can play their part in its work.
It operates a Public Interest Network to enable consumers to play a part in the research it does to support its consumer representation. Anyone interested in consumer protection should sign up.
It accepts for membership persons with the potential to donate significant time and expertise to its governance and policy development. Come help out. Let’s make something from nothing.
It tries to inform anyone interested in consumer protection in Canada through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Pay attention. Share what you can learn.
It is working on developing a “Consumer Agenda” for Canada that will help Canadians better identify and connect to consumer literacy, representation and redress opportunities. Watch for it. Institutions and professionals involved in consumer protection would be well-served to contact the Council and play their part in its future success.
Every Canadian has a stake in having their consumer rights represented, including to ensure that they enjoy robust food safety protections.
The Consumers Council of Canada wishes to conclude by saying it’s still waiting to hear from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency about a sad state of affairs they’ve had more than a month to think about. We like the nice and conscientious people who work there. But as representatives of consumers we appear to be low on their agenda to inform.
So, all we can say at this moment is that the Council cannot vouch for the food safety system at this time.
Lives lived closer together present big new challenges and hoped-for opportunities for Canadians -- particularly families -- as they seek, own or rent homes, a report of an expert panel on 'residential intensification' of the Consumers Council of Canada details.
The report is the second step in the Council's recent efforts to assess necessary actions to meet the housing needs of Canadians in the 21st Century, and makes 24 recommendations based on the experience of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Vancouver, in particular.
Residential intensification affects everyone, because we are all consumers of housing. One’s home may be impacted directly or indirectly as more people can expect to live in heavily populated neighbourhoods. More families are choosing city life, millennials hope for affordable starter homes, seniors need to 'downsize' and live affordably in safe, accessible 'neighbourhoods', and not everyone will or wants to own a home. Consumers' needs vary.
Over a year, the panel of 12 consumers, developers and building experts met to discuss the broad impacts of rising housing densities.
The recommendations on which the panel achieved unanimous agreement address:
municipal planning and resident lifestyles
a new and expanded list of condo owner rights and responsibilities
more disclosure in the marketing of new condos
the prioritization of housing affordability for government agencies
a new definition of affordable family housing
deep retrofits of rental towers
a province-wide building energy rating system
changes to municipal Official Plans
the creation of new density studies for public discussion
"The consumer marketplace for housing has rapidly shifted in major Canadian cities from suburban to urban, from low density to high" said Consumers Council of Canada President Aubrey LeBlanc. "Many consumers, whether embracing or simply weathering the trend, find themselves making homes in unfamiliar territory, uncertain economic conditions.
"The Council was conscious it would need experienced partners to grasp, much less grapple with, the complexity of today’s housing marketplace. We were heartened to find an organization representing the builders of Ontario wanted to share our journey of thinking deeply about how to ensure Canadians can continue in this century to be among the best-housed in the world."
RESCON is a unique association within the building industry that contributes to public policy discussions and standards development in such areas as:
Health & Safety and WSIB Issues
Labour Training and Apprenticeship
Building Code Reform
Procedures and Insurance
"The complex requirements of building at new levels of residential density is requiring a building industry that is more technically sophisticated, planning-oriented and collaborative than ever before," said RESCON President Richard Lyall. "Our industry must be ready to engage with all the players and adapt nimbly to satisfy the rapidly changing needs of today's consumer."
Canada's cities are adapting to economic growth, infrastructure renewal, household formation, globalization and new urban planning paradigms intended to address planning effectively for growth compatible with protecting the natural environment. Intensified use of urban lands for residential and other purposes has become a policy choice deemed to be a necessity for cities. As well, growing numbers of people within Canada and from abroad are attracted to the opportunities offered by Canada's cities, as they seek to realize new lifestyle choices and find ways to meet new and enduring needs.
Builders have embraced the resulting marketplace opportunities and responded with unprecedented levels of construction of condominium apartments and townhouses, using less land per residence than has been common previously in Canada's cities.
As many more Canadians move closer together, not surprisingly some challenges have emerged for consumers, builders and the real estate marketplace.
The Council hopes the panel's report helps the consuming public, news media, elected officials, public servants, industry professionals and Council and RESCON members to better understand consumer issues emerging as a result of residential intensification. This should help current efforts by all interested parties to take steps necessary to achieve consumer satisfaction.
The Council extends its thanks to the 12 panel members, who were chosen for their consumer experience, expert knowledge, and industry know-how and brought their resulting insights to their final report. The panel members were:
John Caliendo, a consumer member of the panel who is Co-President of the ABC Residents' Association in downtown Toronto
Ken Greenberg, an expert member who is President of Greenberg Consultants
Craig Holloway, an industry member who is a Senior Project Manager at the Sorbara Group
Corey McBurney, an expert member who is President of EnerQuality
Linda Pinizzotto, a consumer member who is President of the Condo Owners Association
Don Pugh, an industry member who is a Vice President of Daniels Corporation
Bryan Purcell, an expert member who is Director of Policy and Programs at the Toronto Atmospheric Fund
David Speigel, an industry member who is a Partner and COO at Metropia Inc.
Alex Speigel, an industry member who is a Partner at Windmill Developments
Brian Smith, a consumer member who was President and CEO of WoodGreen Community Services when this project began and has since retired and joined the Mayor's Task Force on Toronto Community Housing
Marianne Touchie, an expert member who during the project was the Building Research Manager at the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto
Sybil Wa, a consumer member who is an Associate at Diamond Schmitt Architects
The panel was fortunate to receive presentations from the following individuals, who in their capacity at the time, shared their experience and knowledge:
Mike Cote, Vice President, Builder Relations, Tarion Warranty Corporation
Tony Gioventu, Executive Director, Condominium Home Owners Association of BC
Heather Grey-Wolf, Director, Regent Park Revitalization, Toronto Community Housing
Matthew Hellin, Senior Policy Advisor, Condominium Modernization Project, Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Michel Labbé, President, Options for Homes Non-Profit Corporation
Robert Levit, Director, Master of Architecture Program, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto
Peter Moore, Project Manager, Condo Consultation, City of Toronto
Dana Senagama, Senior Market Analyst, Greater Toronto Area, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Phil Simeon, Manager, Condominium Modernization Project, Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Bryan Tuckey, President and CEO, Building Industry and Land Development Association
Marshall Leslie acted as facilitator of the panel and wrote the report. He chairs the Housing and Energy Committee of the Consumers Council of Canada.
Working together as the Consumers Council of Canada our members form the most active, Canada-wide, multi-issue consumer group. The Council is respected and well known to governments and the news media. Representatives have standing with building code and standards development organizations, the Ontario Energy Board, regulators such as the Ontario Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the Electrical Safety Authority and other bodies dealing with the built environment. The Council’s approach to consumer representation is to work with industry and government to give expression to the consumer voice, and to work constructively to identify and produce solutions to problems.
A new report by the Consumers Council of Canada cautions that overly complex privacy and terms and conditions statements can put Canadian consumers and businesses at significant legal risk and undermine the trust between customers and online businesses.
This comprehensive study, funded by the .CA Community Investment Program, included qualitative reviews of online terms and conditions statements, interviews with experts, as well as a survey of Canadian Internet users.
"We believe enlightened companies will see these recommendations as a way to reduce their own business risk and strengthen trusted relationships with their customers," said Howard Deane, who authored the report for the Consumers Council of Canada.
A large number of consumers do not read or understand the terms and conditions statements that they agree to. Consumers cite the complexity and length of these statements as core to their decision to ignore them. Statements often have one-sided wording, leaving consumers with little choice but to accept.
Most consumers are at risk due to misunderstanding online terms and conditions statements and the liabilities they assume, including privacy risks. Misunderstood agreements could find their legal standing challenged by consumers.
Complex terms and conditions statements may undermine the trust between consumers and businesses and consumers report feeling that companies with complex terms and conditions do not have their best interests in mind. The report cautions that businesses are undermining their relationships with their customers and that rights-consciousness among consumers is growing.
The Consumers Council of Canada has made 12 key recommendations, from including plain language summaries, to allowing consumers to print, email and save agreements, to writing headlines and tables of contents in the “consumer voice” to facilitate understanding.
The Consumers Council of Canada pointed to the Canadian e-commerce company Shopify as showing awareness of the need for consumer-friendly terms and conditions statement. The company includes both a full legal text, but also a plain language summary of the terms, with easy-to-understand reviews of changes.
"The Consumers Council of Canada is pleased to be able to engage the important public discussion about better ways to reach agreement online," said Aubrey LeBlanc, President, Consumers Council of Canada. "The Council respects the commitment CIRA showed to a safer more prosperous Internet for all by financially supporting the research project leading to the guide. The views in the guide are ours, not theirs. But we share with them the commitment to make the Internet a great ‘place’ for consumers."
David Fowler, director of marketing and communications for the .CA Community Investment Program, said: “Trust and confidence is absolutely critical to electronic commerce and this practice of companies using long, complex, and poorly-understood terms and conditions statements has the potential to undermine these important commercial relationships. With so much at stake for the growth and development of e-commerce, it’s critical that businesses come to terms with this issue and communicate with their customers in ways they can understand.”
About .CA and the Community Investment Program
Through the Community Investment Program, .CA funds projects that demonstrate the capacity to improve the Internet for all Canadians. The .CA team manages Canada’s country code top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. A Member-driven organization, .CA represents the interests of Canada’s Internet community internationally.