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Public Interest News: G20 consumer protection / Le taux de pauvreté / ROE Ontario utilities / Digital locks / Canadian Payments Association / Aug. 31, 2011 / Recall unsafe products

PIAC Annual Dinner, Nov. 5: Featured Speaker, Ellen Roseman

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) The Public Interest Advocacy Centre cordially invites friends and colleagues to the PIAC Annual Dinner 2010. This year’s featured speaker is Ellen Roseman, the Toronto Star columnist for personal finance and consumer issues. Roseman is also the first public representative on the board of the Financial Planning Standards Council. She sits on the board of FAIR (Canadian Foundation for Advancement of Investor Rights), Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) and Starnews Credit Union.

$60.00 individual or $550.00 for a table of ten

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) PIAC’s Annual Dinner will be held Friday Nov. 5, beginning at 6:00 PM at the Yangtze Restaurant, 700 Somerset Street, West, Ottawa. Ticket are $60.00 individual or $550.00 for a table of ten. To reserve your place please contact Donna Brady at 613-562-4002 ext. 21 or dbrady@piac.ca or by fax at 613-562-0007. Payment can be made by cash, cheque, Mastercard, VISA or AMEX. If you can’t make it to the dinner but want to support PIAC please make a tax-deductible donation.

World consumer protection body needed: PIAC

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) “The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to support the creation of a financial consumer task force to report to the G20 summit next year. … In a letter to Harper, PIAC executive director Michael Janigan notes the increasing interdependence of financial markets adds urgency to the need for better regulations and practices. “International co-operation on financial consumer protection has the potential to deliver substantial savings for national agencies through the co-ordination of research, the development of standards and guidelines, the sharing of best practice and the avoidance of costly crisis,” CBC News reported on Oct. 15. Text of letter.

Make G20 consider consumer issues and the financial markets

“John Lawford, legal counsel for PIAC, told CBC News that most international financial bodies are at the banking and macroeconomic level, and don’t consider common issues facing consumers. “What we’re trying to do is get this international task force or something which is permanent to advise the G20 on what the consumer issues are in payments and in financial markets so they don’t always have the bank view,” CBC News reported.

Class action tests Quebec new consumer protection legislation: Cellphone contract termination fees

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) “A Quebec law firm (BGA Avocats) has filed two class action suits against Bell Canada and Telus Mobility over the companies’ contract termination policies, potentially creating the first legal test of a new provincial law surrounding telephone contracts. … John Lawford, counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Ottawa, said in an interview that PIAC receives a large number of complaints from the public involving contract termination fees,” Karen Fournier wrote for The Wire Report on Oct. 12

“The problem is it’s an outrageously high break fee, ,,,It doesn’t matter that it’s in the fine print when you sign up. It’s not often a really big feature of the pitch when you’re getting a free phone … It’s legal, but is it fair?” But Lawford said Bell and Telus can argue the new law is unconstitutional because telecommunications fall under federal jurisdiction,” The Wire Report story said.

Endettement: Option consommateurs demande à Ottawa d’agir

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) « Option consommateurs se dit préoccupé par l’augmentation du taux de pauvreté et de l’endettement des ménages canadiens et demande au gouvernement fédéral d’adopter des mesures afin de permettre aux consommateurs d’alléger leur fardeau financier. L’association a présenté mercredi ses observations et ses recommandations à la Chambre des communes à Ottawa, dans le cadre de la préparation du budget fédéral » l’Agence QMI a rapporté le 7 octobre.

« Selon Option consommateurs, le ratio de la dette des ménages par rapport au revenu disponible a atteint un nouveau sommet de 146 % au premier trimestre de cette année. En d’autres termes, explique l’association, pour chaque dollar gagné, un ménage canadien doit 1,46 $. «Les citoyens ont de plus en plus recours au crédit pour financer leur consommation courante comme pour l’épicerie, ce qui devient problématique si les gens ne remboursent pas la totalité de leur compte», a expliqué Michel Arnold, le directeur général d’Option consommateurs » l’Agence QMI a rapporté.

PIAC asks Hon. Brad Duguid to reconsider Ontario energy rate hike decision

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) In a letter to the Hon. Brad Duguid the Public Interest Advocacy Centre asked for a reconsideration of a key energy rate decision. The Ontario Energy Board decision (EB 2009-0084) establishing rates of return on equity for public and private utilities is flawed Michael Janigan, PIAC executive director wrote on Sept. 27. Janigan, who represented the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition at the hearing, noted no evidence was presented suggesting Ontario utilities are having trouble accessing capital. He called the decision to change ROE formula surprising and the decision to hold no further hearings unfair. He writes the decision will cost Ontario consumers $285 million a year. In its letter PIAC asks the Minister of Energy to instruct the OEB to hold full public hearings on the appropriate rate of return on equity for regulated utilities.

The Consumer Product Safety Bill C-36: Option consommateurs urges speedy adoption

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) Option consommateurs urged Parliament to quickly pass C-36, which received its second reading on Oct. 7. The current legislation, the Hazardous Products Act, does not allow the Government of Canada to protect consumers and children by issuing mandatory recalls of unsafe products. Passage of Bill C-36 will enable the government to issue timely and mandatory recalls of products. It will also make it possible to make manufacturers provide test results and studies and to increase the frequency of inspections.

“Bill C-36 is crucial for the safety and well-being of all Canadians,” says Anu Bose, Head of the Ottawa office of Option consommateurs. “It will bring the laws of Canada into line with those of her principal trading partners, namely the United States and the European Union. If the law is not passed, Canada will be seen as a dumping ground for dangerous products by unscrupulous importers, manufacturers and suppliers.”

The Copyright Bill C-32: Digital locks must go PIAC says

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) “The government’s copyright bill is back on the Parliamentary agenda. “If passed, the bill would legalize several well-established consumer practices, permitting you to time-shift TV programs, make backup copies of CDs and DVDs and format-shift anything you have legally acquired, copying your CDs onto your iPod, for example,” Kate Taylor reported for the Globe and Mail.

“But it doesn’t permit you to pick any digital locks that producers might choose to install on their content, which is proving to be its most contentious provision. Critics say the digital-locks language will trump the permitted uses and all three opposition parties have said that needs to be amended. “What the government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other,” notes John Lawford” The Globe and Mail reported on Oct. 6.

Ontario energy regulator blamed for sharp rise in hydro bills

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) “Industry critics say the regulator has abandoned more than 100 years of tradition, in which an electricity utility borrowed money to build an asset and then recovered its costs from consumers once the new power was delivered to their homes,” Karen Howlett reported for the Globe and Mail.

“Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, represented seniors and low-income consumers at board hearings on the rate increase. He said the board set the return on equity based on what utilities earn in the United States, where the risks associated with building new systems are typically greater,” the Globe reported. Mr. Janigan said: “We were somewhat alarmed by the fact that fairness to the utilities was considered first and foremost over fairness to Ontario ratepayers,” The Globe and Mail reported on Sep. 24.

Publicité et consommation: les jeunes répliquent

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) « Le chamois ShamPow – qui absorbe 150 fois son poids … Parodie, bien sûr. Ce court métrage plein d’humour, réalisé par Nicolas St-Cyr, Jean-Marc Léger, Vincent L’Écuyer-Simard et Clément Roberge, élèves de l’école Louis-Philippe-Paré, en Montérégie, dénonce les promesses fallacieuses de la publicité et les risques des achats à distance. Il a remporté le premier prix du concours Ados Zoom 2009-2010, qui invitait les élèves de 4e et 5e secondaire à réaliser un court métrage sur le thème de consommation de leur choix. Organisé par Option consommateurs, ce concours a suscité la participation de plus de 2000 élèves provenant de 27 écoles du Québec. Les vidéos ont été réalisées dans le cadre des cours de français et de monde contemporain » Marc Tison a rapporté pour La Presse le 15 septembre.

Gym memberships among top consumer complaints

(PIAC 19/Oct/2010) “When Mary Jo Morrison of Toronto tried canceling her membership, she learned how difficult, frustrating and expensive it could be,” CBC New reported on Sept. 20. Morrison told the gym, on three separate occasions, she wanted to cancel but the business continued to debit her bank account. When she closed her bank account the gym sent a collection agent after her.

“John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre says it all comes down to cancelling properly. He says simply telling the gym is not enough. “It is better to write a letter, send it to the gym and to the gym’s head office, and you have evidence you quit,” he told CBC News. “It is a problem you can make into the bank’s problem and the gym’s rather than your problem,” CBC News reported on Sept. 20.

Do B.C. Hydro smart meters make cents?

(PIAC 12/Oct/2010) “The state-of-the-art technology comes with a big price tag, just under a billion dollars. But BC Hydro believes it can recover those costs internally and then pass on additional savings to customers. “We expect $145 to $450 per customer per year,” said Fiona Taylor, the director of smart metering for BC Hydro,” CTV News reported on Sept. 27.

“Critics like Jim Quail, from the (B.C.) Public Interest Advocacy Centre, fear bills will go up. “I would take any claims from BC Hydro about offsetting savings with a big grain of salt,” he said. “This is a totally needless imposition of costs, it’s going to add several per cent – six, seven, eight per cent by itself on people’s hydro bills. … In Ontario, where smart meters are already in a million homes—more than two-thirds of those customers are paying more every month—only about a third are paying less,” CTV News reported. Jim Quail is a member of PIAC’s Board of Directors.

Wireless Charges: Better consumer protection called for

(PIAC 12/Oct/2010) A Global National series on Canada’s wireless industry took “a look at the way that a lot of teens and some of us older folks love to communicate – by text. You can sign up for unlimited plans, but they don’t cover something called premium texts. And they can cost a lot more than ten cents a pop, and you might not even know you’re being charged until they show up on your cell phone bill,” Dawna Friesen reported on Sept. 22.

Global’s Robin Gill reported: “The self-regulated wireless industry insists it has created a foolproof system so before consumers receive texts, they must opt in on-line. They’ll then receive a PIN on their phone, where they opt in again. … Bottom line they say? Read the fine print. But consumer advocates say the terms and conditions aren’t always clear up front.

“From a consumer standpoint, there is a lot of protection that is lacking, and it’s certainly not good enough that the only protection a consumer has is to complain,” PIAC’s Janet Lo told Global National.

Task Force for the Payments System Review: Eight consumer principles

(PIAC 12/Oct/2010) The Public Interest Advocacy Centre welcomes the decision to open up the consultations on the payments system. The Canadian Payments Association, created by the Canadian Payments Act, sets the rules for transferring money. The group, which is dominated by bank executives, clears transactions between institutions. It is responsible for policies like NSF charges and the decision to end cheques in 2018.

On Sept. 17 PIAC released “All along the Watchtower”. In the report the consumer group said confusion is impairing the evolution of Canada’s payments system. The report noted a challenge will be to listen to the voices of consumers, in all their complexity, their responsiveness and vulnerability to changes in the payments environment. The 39-page report calls for a new principle-based framework with a risk management approach. PIAC suggests eight principles including (insofar as possible) technological neutrality.

Coalition asks Prime Minister for a digital transition education campaign

(PIAC 12/Oct/2010) “A coalition of industry associations, politicians and scholars sent Prime Minister Stephen Harper an open letter last week urging the government to launch a public education campaign about the transition to over-the-air digital television broadcasting. … The CRTC has set a deadline of Aug. 31, 2011 for broadcasters and the public to switch to digital over-the-air television broadcasting. Broadcasters will have to change to digital transmitters and consumers will have to purchase digital tuners or televisions with digital receiving equipment,” a Sept. 15 Wire Report story said.

The coalition said low-income earners or people living in rural areas might be particularly hurt by the transition if they are forced to purchase cable or satellite to continue receiving television signals. (Michael Janigan said,) “We believe a communications campaign on this issue should provide information to individual Canadians and communities on the changes and their options; for example, cost-effective alternatives that communities could implement to maintain their access to over-the-air television, including innovative opportunities presented by the digital switchover.”Members of the coalition include the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), among others,” the Wire Report story said.

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