The government of Canada has 45 days to respond to an e-petition calling for an independent Canadian Consumer Advocate, once that petition is presented to the House of Commons.
The e-petition was filed February 9, with a term of 120 days to gain the 500 signatures required to achieve certification and qualification for presentation to the House. It hit 500 signatures in early May and finished with 578 on June 9, which the Clerk of Petitions has now certified.
So, concerned consumers achieved a key threshhold necessary to receive a response from the federal government concerning consumer protection and representation concerns in Canada, a step petitioners hope encourages systemic reform federally by revitalizing national leadership and coordination to protect consumers.
The Clerk of Petitions now will issue a certificate to the MP who authorized the online publication of the petition. The petition can then be presented to the House by any MP. A record of this presentation will appear in the Journals for that day. The clock is then started on a government response being required.
The e-petition urged the government to establish a Canadian Consumer Advocate answerable to Parliament to advance consumer interests and represent the consumer voice. The initiative was described in Liberal Party campaign platforms. Related responsibilities for implementation were first doled out by the Prime Minister in mandate letters in 2019 to Canada’s Ministers of Innovation Science and Economic Development, Seniors and Middle-Class Prosperity.
However, the petition sought expanded responsibilities beyond those outlined in the mandate letters.
Consumers Council of Canada’s 2020 position paper Time for a Real Federal Consumer Advocate also strongly endorsed the national advocate and encouraged the government to consider an expanded role for the office. It identified that other areas of responsibility could relate to Competition Bureau of Canada, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Health Canada. The office could also facilitate research, collaborate with provinces in areas of shared responsiblity, support the voice of civil society in policy development and regulation, and more broadly supervise consumer protection.
The original proposal outlined three key areas of responsibility, each of which have produced recent sources of consumer angst during the pandemic: banking, transportation and telecommunications. Banks have infuriated consumers recently by nearly simultaneously announcing strong earnings and higher fees during a pandemic. Air transportation customers have watched more public money being lent to airlines while many still struggle to receive refunds for long-cancelled flights. Telecommunications consumers also fear higher rates and reduced competition, which the industry asserts is to the benefit of consumers.
Beyond those three areas, dozens of other consumer problems and opportunities for meaningful consumer representation exist that could be part of a plan of work for a national consumer advocate:
- Telephone and internet fraud
- Housing affordability and questionable real estate market practices, plaguing both buyers and sellers
- Counterfeit and unsafe personal protective equipment available for retail sale
- Widespread concerns about unsafe electrical goods for sale
- Soaring costs of home maintenance, repair and insurance
- The growing divide between rich and poor reportedly contributed to by the credit card system
- Problems with appliance and electronic product reliability, warranty and repairs
- Declining access to reliable news services, especially local and specialized ones.