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Canadian consumers eager for innovative approaches to resolving marketplace problems

Jul 15, 2019 9:00 AM

Canadian governments can better handle consumer complaints and work more capably with consumer organizations, to promote and protect consumer interests, new research by the Consumers Council of Canada found.

Resources at many consumer protection regulatory agencies have dwindled over the years, forcing them to rely heavily on receiving complaints as a method of observing and regulating marketplace conduct. Yet the Council’s recently released report Super Complainers: Greater Public Inclusiveness in Government Consumer Complaint Handling determined that consumers believe “government agencies are only somewhat or not very responsive at all” to their complaints.

The research found that most Canadians have a high degree of trust in governments to handle and resolve their complaints about misrepresented, unhealthy or unsafe goods and services, but they have difficulty finding the government or self-regulatory agency responsible for taking their complaints, and are often dissatisfied with the follow-up and reporting when they do find the right agency. Nonetheless, the research found consumers trust courts, consumer organizations and government more than lawyers, news media, businesses, industry-provided arbitrators and social media as institutions able to help them with a complaint.

A key finding of the research was that consumers place high trust in consumer organizations to handle and help with their complaints. 

“Our organization was all at once surprised, troubled and pleased to find Canada’s consumers trust consumer organizations as much as government agencies to handle and resolve complaints,” said Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer. “Consumer groups have earned the respect of Canadians, but are poorly resourced in many cases to help with complaints. Canada is not like the U.K., for example, where consumer groups receive substantial government financial support to help consumers with their problems and provide education.”

The Council’s research explored Canadian consumer views regarding the effectiveness of current government and self-regulatory complaint handling systems and their appetite for more innovative, inclusive and effective programs. Information was gathered from consumers directly through an online quantitative survey conducted by national research firm Environics Research Group, which included results from 2,000 respondents from across the country.

The research explored some cases of new, innovative approaches globally to deal with consumer complaints. This included: the U.K. “Super Complaints” legislation;  a U.K.-originated, online consumer complaint collection, distribution and management service that entered Canada in November 2018; and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s interactive public complaint database.

“The U.K. government has granted selected consumer groups the ability to launch complaints on behalf of all consumers related to systemic problems in the marketplace that harm consumers,” said Mercer. “This process has delivered results for U.K. consumers in a number of cases already.”

“Consumers Council of Canada invites Canadian consumers to share their marketplace experiences through a system accessible at its Internet homepage. That system refers consumers to about 60 authorized consumer complaint handlers in Canada. Quebec’s consumer groups – Option consommateurs and the affiliated organizations that form Union des consommateurs – offer consumers street-level assistance with their problems.

Consumers Council of Canada has received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada or the Government of Canada. 

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