The mandate letters just assigned to federal cabinet ministers outline an ambitious agenda to improve the safety and security of Canadians.
The letters from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau theoretically outline the top objectives for each minister in the upcoming legislative session. Many of the priorities follow those outlined in Liberal Party election platforms prior to the election, and others are continuations of previous mandate-letter objectives.
Because the letters are written as priorities and objectives, they generally do not include the legislative and regulatory details about how the objectives would be met. Here are some of the highlights of consumer-related issues found in the mandate letters.
The letters indicate that the mandate of the Commissioner of Competition should be reviewed to ensure “Canadians are protected from anti-consumer practices in critical sectors, including the oil and gas, telecommunications and financial services sector.”
Pledges to address issues in financial services included the establishment of a single independent ombudsperson to address consumer complaints involving banks, rather than the current practice that allows banks to choose external complaint management firms. This ombuds office would have the power to compel binding arbitration (but not levy fines) in place of the current voluntary compliance. A commitment has been made to lower the criminal rate of interest in order to crack down on predatory lenders and to enhance the powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada to review bank fees and charges and require adjustments.
A strengthened Environmental Protections Act would require labelling of chemicals in consumer products, end testing in animals and increase testing of products for compliance with Canadian standards.
A new Healthy Eating Strategy would require front-of-package labelling to promote healthy food choices, and a commitment has been included to restrict commercial marketing of food and beverages to children.
The Right to Repair movement is supported by a few initiatives. There is a 15 per cent tax credit of up to $500 to cover the cost of repairs performed by technicians to extend the life of home appliances. Other initiatives seek to require manufacturers to supply repair manuals and spare parts and amend the Copyright Act to allow for the repair of digital devices and systems.
Multiple commitments address the real estate market and the difficulties Canadians have in finding affordable homes. To reduce speculators, ministers were directed to establish an anti-flipping tax on residences sold within 12 months of purchase, a tax on non-resident owners of vacant, underused housing, a ban on blind biding to improve transparency in real estate transactions and a two-year ban on foreign investment capital in non-recreational residential property.
Ministers were directed to provide seniors with a single point of access to a wide range of government services and benefits.
The creation of a single national Canadian Consumer Advocate, which was included in previous mandate letters was not mentioned. Consumers Council of Canada recommended that proposed mandate be expanded. An e-petition to Parliament supporting of a capable consumer advocate within the federal government received sufficient signatures to be presented to the past session of the House of Commons. However, the election had the effect of ending the immediate obligation to discuss the measure under the rules of the House.