Consumers Council of Canada representatives met Quebec government officials February 1 to discuss the consumer group’s concerns over consumer and public health protections when purchasing upholstered goods and stuffed articles.
Quebec remains the only province to have its own protections on upholstered and stuffed articles. Those protections are under pressure from a federal-provincial regulatory reform process that has asked Quebec to “complete a comparative analysis to identify any material differences between Quebec’s measure and Canada’s measures” as part of a reconciliation agreement among the federal, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec governments. Endorsed in August and September 2020, that agreement was part of the updated Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), an intergovernmental trade pact to reduce the costs and barriers to free exchanges of goods and services within Canada.
The Council sent a letter December 10 to Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon and Quebec Minister Responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie Sonia Lebel. This letter asked for input into Quebec’s work to complete that comparative analysis, asked Quebec to share the results of its analysis with the public, and to inform whether it intends to eliminate, modify or maintain its current consumer protection requirements. The online meeting was a response to that letter.
Consumers Council of Canada has opposed revoking provinces’ upholstered and stuffed articles regulations and written reports on how the related federal regulations and federal agencies fail to provide the same public health protections to consumers as those previously provided by or resulting from those in Ontario and Manitoba, and still provided by Quebec. In particular, provincial authorities such as Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) had the ability to carry out inspections and order the destruction of articles believed to pose a danger to public health.
The Council’s letter emphasized that “federal regulations and federal agencies do not provide the same public health protections to consumers offered by the specific regulations of Quebec and formerly of Ontario and Manitoba.”
Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer said he appreciated Quebec’s willingness to hear the Council’s views, as consumers lack the ability to participate in internal trade negotiations.
“Canada’s consumers have been given no national forum to address their interests in the area of protection that involves all levels of government,” Mercer said. “The Council has been shocked to find that most provincial governments and the federal government are actively working to lower public health standards. Quebec is being pressured to join the other provinces, without there first being a national objective and method for protecting consumers in the future.”
The Council also wrote to the Prime Minister December 20 to express its concern that CFTA agreements should not lower public health standards. The letter noted that provincial endorsements of the CFTA agreements concerning this change come from economic ministries and not those responsible for public health, indicating short-term interests of some businesses may be trumping public health objectives. It questioned the merit of lowering standards during a public health crisis and warned that lower standards could lead to further decay in consumer confidence and “negatively impact the very Canadian businesses who want to save money on licensing and inspection fees.” A response indicated the letter was “carefully reviewed” and forwarded to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and Minister of Health for their information and consideration.
Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec once administered and enforced the specific regulations governing the sale of mattresses, and stuffed goods such as jackets and toys. In practice, those provinces provided most of the proactive oversight of the manufacturing and importation of these products. As a result, all Canadians benefited from those protections. Both Ontario (revoked effective July 2019) and Manitoba (January 2020) cited redundancy with similar federal protections to support those changes. Both changes followed pressure from the Retail Council of Canada to reduce the costs and effort of complying with provincial regulations, which could vary.
One important consequence of the change should Quebec follow the lead of Ontario and Manitoba is that consumers will lose the ability to identify mattresses that had been briefly used then returned to the store, as the second-hand “yellow tag” requirement will no longer be in force. Current Health Canada regulations do not require upholstered or stuffed articles to be labelled, do not require licensing and do not require only new materials to be used in the filling. There is also no federal registration or inspection activity to ensure that filling is sanitary, except for legislation concerning plush toys.