The consumer interest in trade and how it’s conducted, and whether the public interest is fully considered, will only get effective expression through consumer groups in the future, as a consequence of the Supreme Court of Canada’s announced decision April 19, 2018, in New Brunswick v. Comeau.
“With today’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada left the hot potato of consumers’ rights in the marketplace firmly in the hands of the federal and provincial legislatures,” said Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer. “A libertine vision of internal trade died in chambers of Canada’s Supreme Court.”
The Council intervened in the case on behalf of Canadian consumers, seeking to remind the court of both the rights affected in the Comeau case and the need for Canada’s constitutional visions to consider the importance of protecting consumers, as well.
“The Council finds the court has placed the responsibility for assuring fair treatment and protection of consumers by supply managers in the hands of governments and legislatures, but our past research has demonstrated significant gaps in enabling the consumer voice in these systems, whether they govern private or public sector enterprise conduct,” said Mercer. “In the wake of this decision, the Council calls on all governments to address this problem seriously. No government in Canada is uninformed about the general substance of our proposed remedies.”
The Consumers Council of Canada conducted research and has made detailed recommendations about ways to improve consumer representation concerning internal trade matters. As part of this research, the Council consulted public and private sector stakeholders to trade reform and the Canadian public through a detailed web panel survey, which sought the public’s expectations about consumer representation and to evaluate publicly palatable options for delivering it.
The Council, in its 2017-18 Annual Report of Activities, sets out the pressures forcing consumer representation from its legitimate role in the economy and public policy processes. The report also highlights some of the measures the Council is undertaking to strengthen its relationship with Canadian consumers. Readers of that and prior annual reports can acquaint themselves with the many ways the Council works publicly and behind the scenes to give consumers a voice in public policy.
“Canadian consumers must learn the hard lesson they cannot ‘win by not playing’, if they want their legal and human rights respected in the economy,” said Mercer. “The need to deal with the complexities of supply management regimes, retail markets affected by artificial intelligence, media companies collecting and manipulating personal data, climate change risk and many other sophisticated issue areas, cries out for consumers to act in association,” said Mercer.
He pointed out consumers interested in making in-kind contributions of their time and expertise should consider membership in the Council. Consumers who just want to insure their views are heard and considered by the Council in its work can sign-up without commitment as participants in the Council’s Public Interest Network. And consumers who are too busy to do either of these things, can always make a small financial contribution to support the Council’s efforts.