Consumers Council of Canada (CCC) - 2009-10

1910 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario
M4S 1Z5
Tel.: 416-483-2696
Fax: 416-483-4128

1. Consumer Groups' Capacity to Assess Potential Consumer Impacts of Policy Proposals

$56,700

The Cabinet Directive on streamlining regulations has given rise to a new Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS). That new RIAS is intended to incorporate, among other things, an assessment of the impact of proposed policies and regulations on consumers. The Consumers Council of Canada will do this research project to assist the Office of Consumer Affairs with the development of a draft guide to be used in assessing the impact of proposed policies and regulations on consumers, to be called "Assessing Potential Consumer Impacts of Policy Proposals – Guide for Policy Analysis."

The Council's project is to address the following questions:

  • How feasible is it for government agencies to use consumer organizations to assess that impact?
  • In particular, what is the capacity of consumer organizations to provide value-added assessments that will have credibility?

Expected Outcome

The report on this research project will be used to develop the mechanisms by which consumer groups can be used to assess the impact on consumers of proposed regulations.

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2. Mapping the Changing Landscape of Wireless Plans

$53,700

The Canadian government has completed a much-anticipated wireless spectrum auction which will enable several new wireless service providers to emerge over the next few years. The consumer adoption rate for wireless service will increase rapidly with many new operators and/or service plans. Consumer complaints related to wireless charges are many and include: Access fees ($6.95), Incoming text messaging charges, Call Detail Record availability for bulk minute plans, Billing inaccuracies, Prepaid wireless service expiry policies, Hidden charges, Extended contracts and hidden fees. Research in the wireless prepaid and postpaid area is required to understand consumer satisfaction and concerns with unfair policies.

The key research questions include:

  • What are the sources of the consumer complaints?
  • What types of wireless plans are offered? What is the consumer experience?
  • What are the complaint types and should any consumer protection legislation be introduced?
  • Have other countries introduced any consumer protection related to wireless services, particularly prepaid?
  • Are there key lessons for the consumer? How should the consumer be made aware?
  • What should the government do to enhance consumer protection?

Expected Outcome

The research will identify the source of complaints and make recommendations to address unfair practices. This research will build upon the Council's work related to advocating a ban on gift card expiry dates and exposing issues related to prepaid long distance calling cards in an expanded capacity related to telecommunications. This project enhances the Council's research capacity and will solicit input from other voluntary and industry groups.

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3. Tax Free Savings Accounts – Early Experience (TFSA)

$58,700

Since January 2009, Canadians are able to use a Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA) as part of their personal financial planning. Introduced in the February 2008 Federal Budget, the new TFSA has the ability to radically alter the way Canadians save for the future and manage their investments. Over the balance of 2008, there has been a great deal of speculation about how much and how Canadians might use this new program. The Consumers Council of Canada will investigate and evaluate the early patterns of TFSA usage among Canadian consumers. Basic questions such as the level of use, awareness, and contribution levels will be helpful.

The key questions for this research are:

  • What is the level of consumer awareness of this new policy?
  • What are the early consumer experiences with the program, and how can they be improved?
  • What is the source of early TFSA contributions?
    1. new net savings
    2. an alternative to RRSP contributions
    3. a substitute for RRSP features such as the Home Buyers' Plan and Life Long Learning
    4. an alternative to non-registered account investing
    5. an alternative to debt repayment
    6. a replacement for RESP contributions
    7. an alternative for payments for Universal Life Insurance coverage
  • Is there any evidence of other changes to the Canadian financial services industry, such as:
    1. the introduction of group TFSAs as part of employer-sponsored compensation packages
    2. financial institution packages that combine TFSA contributions with its eligibility for loan collateralization to secure additional borrowing
    3. sophisticated investors using TFSA to otherwise reduce taxable income
  • A review of online and print materials.

Expected Outcome

CCC research plans to provide insight into the initial consumer reaction to this new initiative. The research will also provide consumer feedback about difficulties and knowledge gaps experienced. Initial information about the investment choices consumers are making in their plans will also be useful. An impartial and comprehensive report should be conducted and made available to both policy-makers and consumers.

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4. What Assures Canadian Consumers?  Enhancing Credibility and Confidence of Claims made About Social Responsibility

$58,075

Consumers consistently tell researchers that they are concerned about the impact of the products they purchase and that they prefer to make purchases from organizations that take social and environmental responsibilities seriously. In Canada, 68% of the public are reportedly paying attention to issues related to social responsibility in their purchasing decisions. But there remains a major gap between consumers' concern and their everyday action – even where information is available to guide choices.

This project proposes to better understand what elements help to enhance the credibility among consumers of reports and claims about social responsibility made by organizations, and identify how to assure the public in their decision-making on socially responsible purchases, in order to build smart, people-centred assurance practices that both empower consumers and strengthen marketing performance.

Expected Outcome

The principal output will be a concise research paper outlining key concepts for consideration of consumers and a framework for effective assurance to empower consumer choice and strengthen market performance of Canadian businesses that effectively demonstrate socially responsible activities and behaviour.

The development of the framework will be informed by research on best practices and where possible will also feature case studies and practical tips including enabling characteristics and guidelines for designing, implementing and assessing an effective assurance framework. Ultimately the objective of this project is to change behaviour of both consumers and companies to promote sustainable consumption.

This research will contribute to the objectives of the developing standard and provide helpful guidance on the question of "what assures consumers?" on social responsibility.