Quebec’s status as the only province to have its own protections on upholstered and stuffed articles is under pressure to end them after the endorsement of the updated Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA).
The Quebec government committed to “complete a comparative analysis to identify any material differences between Quebec’s measure and Canada’s measures” as part of a reconciliation agreement between the federal government, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec endorsed in August and September 2020. It agreed to share the results of its analysis with the other provinces, but there was no commitment to make those findings public. The CFTA is an intergovernmental trade agreement to reduce and eliminate barriers to free exchanges of goods and services within Canada.
Ontario and Manitoba both eliminated their protections that governed the sale of mattresses, and stuffed goods such as pillows, jackets and toys. Both provinces cited redundancy of provincial laws with similar federal protections claimed to be in place to support those changes.
Consumers Council of Canada has opposed revoking those regulations in those provinces and written numerous reports on how the federal regulations and federal agencies fail to provide the same public health protections to consumers as those previously provided by 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.
Council representatives recently discussed those important differences with Quebec government officials and urged the province to make the results of its completed analysis public. It also wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau about its concerns that agreements under CFTA should not result in lower public health standards.
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 have been briefly used and then returned to a 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. No proactive federal registration or inspection activity exists to ensure filling is sanitary, except for legislation concerning plush toys.
Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec administered and enforced the specific regulations, and, 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. The Ontario and Manitoba revocation followed pressure from the Retail Council of Canada to reduce the costs and effort of complying with provincial regulations, which could vary.
Ontario approved the revocation of its Upholstered and Stuffed Articles regulation effective July 1, 2019, effectively removing the oversight and enforcement role of TSSA. Manitoba announced the repeal of its Bedding and Other Upholstered or Stuffed Articles regulation, effective Jan. 1, 2020, leaving Quebec as the only province with specific laws governing these products.
In its letter to the Prime Minister, Consumers Council of Canada notes that provincial endorsements of the CFTA agreements concerning this change agenda are from economic ministries and not ministries responsible for public health, perhaps signifying a higher priority being given to some immediate business considerations than to public health standards. It questions the merits of lowering health standards during a public health crisis and warns that lower standards could cause further decay in consumer confidence and “negatively impact the very Canadian businesses who want to save money on licensing and inspection fees.”