The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) created a new, free budget planning tool for Canadian consumers.
It allows consumers to enter basic financial information, then offers a variety of tools to allow them to tailer their budget. It also offers suggestions, links, guidelines and reward badges. Consumers enter the information via the internet, then save the information via a unique link that has no personal identifiers. The spreadsheet can also be downloaded, with similar functionality with the online tool.
One goal, the agency said, is to help Canadians lay out income and expenses to determine needs versus wants, and then set priority for making purchases and commit to a spending plan. Encouraging Canadians to make and follow a budget is part of the National Strategy for Financial Literacy, among other plans.
The Agency said that budgeting is strongly associated with financial well-being, helps people prioritize their spending and is particularly effective when someone faces financial stress.
FCAC noted that its planner incorporates in part the Budget Calculator Spreadsheet under license from Credit Counselling Society.
Following through on a campaign promise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has charged Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains with creating a new Canadian Consumer Advocate.
The pledge was included in the mandate letters released December 13. Trudeau’s letter to Bains includes working “to ensure a single point of contact for people who need help with federally regulated banking, telecom or transportation-related complaints. Ensure that complaints are reviewed and, if founded, that appropriate remedies and penalties can be imposed.”
The letter adds that Bains should use the support of other cabinet members, including the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier and Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte.
The Canadian Consumer Advocate position was part of the Liberal campaign platform. Bains represents the Mississauga-Malton riding. In the new cabinet, Bains retains the innovation and science responsibility, but his ministry's name has been altered to include "industry".
The mandate letter contains 22 enumerated priorities for the ministry, including a 25 per cent reduction in the cost of cellular phone bills, making internet access universal by 2030 and revising the Copyright Act.
You should never put unicorn poop in your mouth. Every parent instinctively knows this, and now Health Canada confirms it.
A November 5 notice warns consumers that Poopsie Cutie Tooties Surprise – a ‘surprise’ toy that contains a “unicorn poop that can be opened on the bottom to reveal the slime surprise inside” – does not meet Canadian toy safety requirements because of boric acid content. Boric acid can be toxic to children if licked or swallowed, and may have long-term effects on a child’s development and further reproductive health.
The Health Canada release advises parents to take the product away from children, and then either dispose of it or return it to the retailer. But no amount of unicorns can guarantee that a recall notice will make a product disappear from online inventories and retail shelves.
The recall notice cites Party City as the product importer, and the product shows as unavailable on the Party City web site, but the same product (based on the UPC cited in the release) shows as available through other online retailers, and at other retail locations across the country. Identically appearing products with a different UPC were easily found at Toronto-area retailers by Consumers Council of Canada staff.
Because the release only references one specific product, there is no information provided about whether other Poopsie Cutie Tooties products (Slime Surprise, Poop Pack, etc.) have related issues.
Health Canada also provides a number of twitter feeds, email notifications and mobile apps to help consumers stay aware of recalls and warnings. It has a Consumer Product Incident Report Form for consumers who have experienced health or safety incidents.
Online product reviews can also provide consumers with some health and safety related information. In the instance of the unicorn poop, more than half of the reviews found through Google and Amazon – even otherwise positive product reviews – remark on the chemical, paint-like smell of the product.
Product purchasers with concerns about product safety should always report their experience to Health Canada. But consumers who may be worried safety regulators are not giving product safety problems the attention they deserve can also share their experiences online at the Consumers Council of Canada homepage.
A group of Canadian consumers recently discovered that the value of gift cards can disappear very quickly.
Most provinces have rules to protect consumers who purchase gift cards, but if the retailer goes out of business, gift card holders are likely to be treated as unsecured creditors with few options.
This story from Cabin Radio describes how a number of Yellowknife, NWT consumers purchased cards for $100 or more at a customer appreciation event shortly before a retailer was set to go out of business. Customers were particularly disadvantaged because the Merle Norman brand chose not to backstop its franchisee’s gift cards, and because the Northwest Territories is one of the few Canadian jurisdictions without gift card legislation.
Consumers Council of Canada Executive Director Ken Whitehurst is quoted in the story. He noted that civil claims might be the only option for any recovery. He also noted that consumers with no other recourse could consider complaining to the Competition Bureau of Canada or to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The Federal Government’s Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides a link to the different provincial rules on gift cards, but as Ontario’s Consumer Protection site notes “If you have a gift card for a business that has closed, your options may be limited.”
Here are a number of guidelines for consumers to protect their gift card or gift certificates’ value:
1. Don’t rely on brand image when buying a gift card. Know who is issuing and standing behind it.
2. Read the terms and conditions to understand how the merchant may attempt to limit its liability to you.
3. Understand your rights and the laws in the province or jurisdiction you live in.
4. Don’t hesitate to report any problem collecting on a gift card to your provincial or territorial consumer protection department. Some say they can have non-binding influence with the merchant or franchisor.
5. Share the experience with the Consumers Council of Canada through https://www.consumerscouncil.com, so we can work on improving protections for consumers in the future.
6. If the value of a gift card is large, enter a claim for restitution in writing with the merchant and franchisor. In the event a bankruptcy ensues, unsecured creditors could receive partial compensation.
7. Some businesses will negotiate an exchange of products still in inventory in order to settle, if they haven’t already filed for bankruptcy. Consumers can propose creative solutions to get all or part of their value back.
8. Be suspicious of gift cards sold just days before a business closing and alert authorities. Fraudulent misrepresentation to raise cash by a business that expects to soon fail is not acceptable. A consumer who feels unsure about whether they have been defrauded, can discuss their experience with Canada's Anti-Fraud Centre.
9. Although consumer protection law may provide your rights, it may be up to you to enforce those rights through a court to collect against them.
10. If enough consumers are harmed and the right of claim is relatively clear, lawyers experienced in class action may be interested in making a case for you and other consumers as a class, without cost to the affected consumers. The Canadian Bar Association has an online “find a lawyer” service to help identify lawyers experienced in class action.
An effort by a a long list of powerful consumer electronics companies to prevent certification of a class action lawsuit against them for price fixing has been rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Consumers Council of Canada, represented by Harrison-Pensa LLP, intervened in the case, because it dealt with a range of issues vital to the protection of Canadian consumers seeking redress in the case and in the future through class action lawsuits.
“Consumers Council of Canada applauds the decisive judgement of the court in this case,” said Council President Don Mercer. “The decision means that consumers and other claimants who are victims of price-fixing will not find the courtroom doors closed to them on technical and procedural grounds. Big companies who fix prices and hurt consumer markets will have to face the claims against them on their merits – just as it should be.”
The case, still before the courts, involves allegations of price fixing involving optical disc drives and related products against Toshiba Corporation, Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Corp., Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Corp. Korea, Toshiba of Canada Ltd., Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Samsung Electronics Canada Inc., Samsung Electronics America, Inc., Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V., Lite‑On IT Corporation of Taiwan, Philips & Lite‑On Digital Solutions Corporation, Philips & Lite‑On Digital Solutions USA, Inc., Philips Electronics Ltd., Panasonic Corporation, Panasonic Corporation of North America, Panasonic Canada Inc., BENQ Corporation, BENQ America Corporation and BENQ Canada Corp.
In summary, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that:
The class action could proceed (ie. certification was upheld).
Consumers who bought from other companies besides the defendants (called “umbrella purchasers”) could be part of the class.
The deadline to file a lawsuit (called a limitation period) could be extended if the conspiracy was not discoverable, or if it was concealed by the defendants.
Two avenues of legal redress, under the Competition Act and under the common law, did not exclude each other and could both be advanced.
In order to have a common issue related to proof of loss certified, the plaintiff needed only establish a methodology that was sufficiently credible or plausible to establish loss reached the requisite purchaser level (ie. the plaintiff did not, at the certification stage, need to show a methodology for proving that the conspiracy harmed every member of the class).