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Consumer protection provisions in budget bill is ‘federalism as its finest’: Sen. Pratte

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Consumer protection provisions in budget bill is ‘federalism as its finest’: Sen. Pratte

Bill C-68 was adopted in the Senate on Monday.

Two years after a contentious consumer protection proposal was removed from budget implementation legislation, the Government has followed through on its promise to create a new law embodying the principle of cooperative federalism.

Bill C-86, the second piece of budget implementation legislation for 2018, was adopted in the Senate on Monday. It includes a new consumer protection regime for bank customers.

In December 2016, budget implementation legislation included a proposal to provide uniform consumer protections — such as the regulation of credit card fees — across the country. The proposal in Bill C-29 sparked a vigorous debate, as many Senators highlighted that some provincial laws were more robust than the provisions proposed by the federal Government.

At the time, Independent Senator André Pratte took issue with the fact that the proposed federal regime would trump any provincial law relating to the protection of consumers. In particular, he raised concerns that a federal regime would eliminate protections contained in the Quebec Consumer Protection Act, which already provided legal recourse for consumers who believed they had been wronged by a financial institution.

In response, Senator Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate, successfully moved an amendment to the bill to remove the consumer protection provisions. The Government said it would revisit the issue at a later date.

The Government delivered on that promise in its latest budget bill.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau responded to Government of Quebec officials in a letter, stating that new federal protections in Bill C-86 would complement, not replace, Quebec law.

“Consumers will continue to enjoy the same protections offered under provincial law, while getting new protections from the banks under federal legislation,” he wrote.

Sen. Pratte, who sponsored Bill C-86 in the Senate, said the new law will allow customers to benefit from “the strongest elements of both federal and provincial consumer protection laws.”

He added that while he learned a lot sponsoring the bill – which also includes a new pay equity regime to correct injustices against women; significant modernization of the Canada Labour Code; and changes to increase the autonomy for First Nations – he believes the Government learned something, as well.

“It learned that it can fully exercise its jurisdiction in one area — in this case, banking — while still carefully respecting provincial jurisdictions — in this case, consumer rights,” he said during his third reading speech. “This is federalism at its finest.”

Consumer protection provisions in budget bill is ‘federalism as its finest’: Sen. Pratte