Quebec succumbed to federal and industry pressure and became the final province to repeal its laws covering upholstered and stuffed goods.
It was the last battle in multi-year skirmish that pitted public health against economic growth. The repeal was included as part of Quebec’s Bill 103, titled “An act to amend various legislative provisions mainly for the purpose of reducing red tape.” The Act was introduced in October, passed and took effect in early December.
The “red tape” in this instance were provincial laws that evaluated the risks of stuffed goods from a health perspective.
The economic pressures came from lobbying by the Retail Council of Canada, which complained about the costs of adhering to the provincial rules and an 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 most recent CFTA included a reconciliation agreement signed by Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario – the three provinces that once provided most of the proactive oversight of the manufacturing and importation of upholstered and stuffed goods, including children’s stuffed toys and mattresses. Ontario revoked its laws in July 2019, and Manitoba followed in July 2020.
In those cases, the provinces cited redundancy with similar federal protections. But while there were certain overlaps, a KPMG report revealed that the now-repealed provincial protections and current federal regulations were not equivalent, and the regulating authorities do not have the same authority.
Provincial authorities such as Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) once had the ability to carry out inspections and order the destruction of articles believed to pose a danger to public health. Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec once had regulations to ensure only new, clean filling was in these products, because they were focused on the public health risks of infestation and disease spread. And they required manufacturers to label products with that assertion.
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.
As a result, consumers have lost the ability to identify mattresses that had been briefly used and then returned to the store, as the second-hand “yellow tag” requirement will no longer be in force.
The consequences of having economic considerations trump public health was a central argument used by the Consumers Council of Canada representatives in its communications with Quebec and Federal government representatives.
Council representatives met with Quebec government representatives online in February 2021 to discuss the issue. The Council also wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express its concern that CFTA agreements should not lower public health standards. That letter noted that provincial endorsements of the CFTA documents came from economic ministries, not those responsible for public health. It questioned the merit of lowering standards during a public health crisis and warned that lower standards could lead to further decay of consumer confidence and “negatively impact the very Canadian businesses who want to save money on licensing and inspection fees.”
More detailed analysis of the implication of the erosion of provincial safety standards on these stuffed articles is available in a number of Consumers Council of Canada published reports.