The Consumers Council of Canada has reached out to the Ontario Government about the need to strengthen representation for retail consumers in the policy setting and regulatory environment for energy. Large scale structural change is afoot in the sector driven by efforts to meet needs for energy and provide protection from the direct and indirect effects of climate change.
Climate change is remaking Canadians’ relationship with the economy and impacting their daily lives.
Meanwhile, a combination of aging infrastructure, past misadventure and the need to reduce the carbon footprint of consumption has brought Ontario’s electricity sector to a point requiring major reform, to upgrade its organization and governance, improve its efficiency, better manage taxpayer’s risks, and to ensure and improve the reliability and affordability of electricity as a vital energy source.
“Let’s not repeat the mistakes made in prior efforts to reform the energy sector,” said Council President Aubrey LeBlanc. “For example, it has taken a generation for government and the Ontario legislature to debate and develop protections against the predatory sales practises of some door-to-door energy retailers. It’s about time consumers were made safer on their doorsteps.”
Governments should operate within an economic policy and consumer protection framework that is sensitive to the need to both reduce and ameliorate the impacts of climate change and positively affect the lives of people.
The Government of Ontario, in the lead-up to its budget, has made a series of announcements with the potential to better serve Ontario consumers.
However, in order for consumers to “buy into” the direction of reform and shoulder their responsibilities, they must be assured their rights will be respected. They must be not only represented in associated decision-making processes, but must also have an independent point of access and engagement of their own to the process, so that representation takes place on a fair footing relative to the many other powerful interests seeking to influence energy and climate change policy and its implementation.
“As a representative of consumers to the Ontario Energy Board, an immediate concern the Council had in speaking to the government was to be assured that our role there will be respected and that we can work together to make progress on strengthening the consumer voice through not only the Board but also in work that needs to be done to help consumers in many other ways,” LeBlanc said. “The Council is reassured that the government is listening.”
Changes in the energy sector of the scope being proposed call for a robust and inclusive initiative to strengthen consumer representation nationally. The Council shares the Ontario government’s conviction that improvements should be made to ensure retail ratepayers are heard and better represented.”
“The Consumers Council will work diligently with the government based on a shared commitment to implement reform that serves Ontario’s consumers and strengthens the Consumers Council’s capacity and role, at the Ontario Energy Board and in helping consumers navigate a marketplace impacted by climate change,” said LeBlanc.
The Council will judge the progress of the reforms based on whether it finds itself with improved capacity to play its role independently and authoritatively representing the province’s energy consumers.
Energy sector reform is a single if very significant policy response to efforts to achieve sustainable prosperity.
Climate change and a generational shift is changing the profile of Canadian housing needs. Creative responses will be required to meet the need for safe, secure, environmentally responsible, affordable housing.
The Council has been working for more than a year, increasing its understanding of the consumer impacts of housing intensification and has advocated for improvements to Ontario’s Condominium Act and the national building code, among other things. Adoption of the improved national building code could be embraced more quickly by all provinces.
More and more Canadians are making the choice to live in high- and mid-density residential settings. This is a new way to live for many people, whether they are young or old.
“There is a strong reason to work with policy makers and the industry to make this transition a successful one for Canadian consumers,” LeBlanc said. “Careful work on regulation, standards, oversight and enforcement, and consumer education is essential.”
Transportation gridlock has become a burden for consumers, the environment and the economy that must be acted upon. A strong response is required to address wasteful gridlock in southern Ontario, in particular, that is costing consumers time and money, and leading to damaging vehicular emissions. Highway congestion is slowing the heartbeat of the national economy in ways unseen to many Canadians and also makes consumers who live or visit the region less safe as they go about their lives.
Solutions to consumers’ needs must come through stewardship and innovation. The online economy is growing and emerging, shaped by and shaping the marketplace. It presents new opportunities, risks and rewards for consumers. It is creating new trade routes, redefining community, challenging personal privacy, providing tools to organize, inform and transact, and creating new requirements for consumer protection globally. Every consumer protection issue area today is touched by the revolution in information technology.
“Many chess pieces will need to be moved simultaneously to responsibly meet the needs of Canadians, in Ontario and elsewhere across the country,” said LeBlanc. “We live in a complex, interdependent and connected world, where people around the world will depend on each other for consumer protection.”