Harper must defend consumers in mail cuts: Roseman

Update: see previous posts – December 11, 2013 Canada Post: We Won’t Deliver (To Urban Homes Anymore)

The Canada Post Corporation headquarters, where President and CEO Deepak Chopra has his office in Toronto.
1 Dundas Street West at the southwest corner of Dundas St. W and Yonge Street – The Canada Post Corporation headquarters, where President and CEO Deepak Chopra has his office in Toronto.

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In 2013, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was so keen to fight corporate abuses that he sounded like consumer rights crusader Ralph Nader.

In last October’s throne speech, he talked about outlawing irritants such as one-size-fits-all cable TV channel deals, high roaming costs for cellphone use outside Canada and extra fees for sending bills in the mail.

In my view, Harper is a politician less committed to righting consumer wrongs than to winning the next election, and he’s still smarting from the failed effort to lure U.S. phone company Verizon to Canada to challenge our wireless providers.

Here is my list of what went right in 2013, and lingering issues to be resolved in the year to come.

The CRTC wireless code: After widespread consultation with consumers, the code took effect in early December. It helps you understand your rights in a contract and limits companies’ power to make changes while a contract is in force.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Jean-Pierre Blais listened to what consumers were telling him and changed the draft code to require no cancellation fees after two years, even if you agreed to a longer term. You can also return your cellphone after 15 days, without penalty, if you’re unhappy with your service.

Ontario’s Bill 55: Ontario consumer minister Tracy MacCharles also paid attention to consumers. One of the ministry’s top complaints was about door-to-door sales of long-term water heater rental contracts, disguised as free upgrades by an existing provider.

In a new law that achieved royal assent on Dec. 16, consumers will have twice as long to change their minds after saying yes at the door (20 days instead of 10). Meanwhile, companies will have to remove equipment installed during the cooling-off period at their cost.

Unsolicited credit card cheques: Federally regulated financial institutions can no longer send “convenience” cheques and must get your consent before mailing them to you. The government changed the rules in July to help people manage their debts.

These cheques, provided by credit card issuers, are usually treated the same way as a cash advance, with interest charged right away and no grace period. And the low interest rates you were attracted to often have a short shelf life.

Credit card fees: The federal Competition Tribunal ruled in August that Visa and MasterCard could raise processing fees on premium card products and merchants couldn’t pass along increases in the form of surcharges.

Consumer groups are happy to avoid paying extra fees for credit cards that provide rewards and rebates. But merchants want to see more clarity on the rising fees they have to absorb. The pressure is now on Ottawa to look at the impact of credit card charges and draft new rules.

Alternative dispute resolution: The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) gets bigger next Aug. 1, taking in portfolio managers, exempt market dealers and scholarship plan providers as members.

This helps consumers, whose only recourse is costly court action. But OBSI faces a crisis of legitimacy, as some investment firms refuse to settle even after a public naming and shaming.

I think regulators should deal with challenges as they expand the mandate. They should launch an investigation of any firms that won’t accept OBSI’s recommendations for resolving a dispute.

Canada Post Trucks lined up, ready to distribute the mail. President and CEO Deepak Chopra is carrying out Harper's agenda.  Harper appointed Chopra in February, 2011 as the head of Canada Post.  If Harper is allowed to follow through on this disservice to all Canadians, Canada would be the only country to completely eliminate door-to-door delivery and deny service to seniors and people with mobility and disability issues.
Canada Post Trucks lined up, ready to distribute the mail. President and CEO Deepak Chopra is carrying out Harper’s agenda. Harper appointed Chopra in February, 2011 as the head of Canada Post. If Harper is allowed to follow through on this disservice to all Canadians, Canada would be the only country to completely eliminate door-to-door delivery and deny service to seniors and people with mobility and disability issues.

Canada Post cutbacks: In the past few years, many of Canada’s phone companies and banks started charging fees to customers who want to get monthly bills in the mail instead of electronically. Now Canada Post plans to phase out door-to-door mail delivery and introduce community mailboxes.

The announcement was made without any public debate. Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra had the nerve to suggest that seniors could enjoy exercise and fresh air by walking to mailboxes far from home.

Canada’s Conservative consumer champions were missing in action as the unilateral announcement was made, said Star national affairs columnist Chantal Hebert. We expect more from a government that wants to take on telecom carriers and even intervene in their business to create competition.

In 2014, Harper/Nader should look for alternatives to drastic cutbacks and stamp price hikes by one of his own Crown corporations.

 

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