REGINA, September 11, 1997 -- Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers responsible for consumer affairs met today in Regina and adopted proposals for cooperative enforcement and harmonization in several consumer areas. There was full agreement that the first line of defence is a well-informed consumer. The Ministers agreed to expand public awareness campaigns, providing consumers with the information they need to protect themselves from cross-border scams like telemarketing fraud. The campaigns will build on consumer-awareness measures already in place as well as new initiatives, including exploring the publication of a national consumer resource guide that will be also made available through government web sites.
"We are all alarmed at the recent growth in cross-border fraud and misrepresentation," said the Honourable John Nilson, Saskatchewan's Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who served as host and co-chair of the meeting. "It is now more important than ever that federal and provincial consumer protection agencies work together. This cross-border cooperation will root out long distance swindlers."
John Manley, the federal co-chair and Minister of Industry fully supported the decisions of the meeting: "Everyone loses when fraud occurs. The consumer loses money and legitimate businesses are placed in disrepute," said Minister Manley. "I am very pleased with the agreement reached today to make it tougher for scam artists to operate across Canadian provincial boundaries."
The Ministers approved in principle the establishment of an inter jurisdictional computer- based consumer law enforcement network. The development of this network will be done in the context of each jurisdiction's privacy regime. After reviewing the results of the pilot project of the network, there was full agreement that this electronic system will be a cost-effective way to identify problems and promote cooperative enforcement for Canadian consumers and businesses.
In response to consumers' concerns in the area of gasoline retail pricing, Ministers directed the Consumer Measures Committee to invite consumer and industry representatives and governments who choose to participate to create a joint working group to address consumer issues. They also discussed a number of other issues of concern to consumers, including franchise marketplace standards, financial services and initiatives such as the Credit Card Cost Calculator now available on the Internet. Ministers agreed on the need for officials to further study the use of the Citizen Utility Board concept and approaches to dealing with high interest rates charged by small lenders on short term loans, and to report back at the next Ministers' meeting.
The Ministers also discussed long-term commitments made last year for consumer protection across provincial boundaries. Detailed presentations were made on enforcement instruments now in place between Canada and the United States, as well the work to date of the Bilateral (Canada-U.S.) Working Group on Telemarketing Fraud. Ministers agreed to develop specific cooperative enforcement measures to track, identify and prosecute offending businesses and facilitate inter jurisdictional access to consumer redress.
The Ministers were encouraged by the progress made over the past year on various harmonization measures pursuant to the Agreement on Internal Trade. Eight provinces and one territory are hoping to have passed amendments to their direct sellers legislation by the Spring of 1998. Ministers also discussed cost of credit disclosure, and have agreed to modify provisions regarding lease broadcast advertisements. They were pleased to learn that federal and provincial statutes are expected to be harmonized by July 1998.
Bill Milliken Lisa Ann Wood
Office of the Minister of Industry
Saskatchewan Department of Justice
Lisa Ann Wood