As airport chaos continues, no sign of Liberal government’s promised consumer advocate

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Government documents show that a year ago, Innovation, Science and Economic Development was still working on a mandate for the Canadian consumer advocate

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In 2019, the Liberal government promised a new consumer advocate whose mandate would include transportation complaints — but as travelers face continued havoc at Canadian airports, the new agency is still nowhere in sight.

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Canada’s airports and airlines are experiencing huge problems with delays, cancellations, and lost or delayed baggage. On Tuesday, Air Canada once again took the top spot on a global list of the most delayed major airlines, with 65% of its flights delayed. Toronto’s Pearson Airport is the only airport in the world where more than half of flight departures have been delayed, The Canadian Press reported.

Transport Canada issued a press release on Wednesday providing an update on its efforts to “reduce wait times and congestion.” He said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra met with Air Canada’s CEO on Monday to “discuss current and planned steps the airline is taking to rapidly recruit more employees and strengthen core operations”, following similar meetings last week with airports in the Greater Toronto Area. Authority and WestJet. Air Canada has already canceled 9,500 flights this summer.

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The statement highlighted a number of measures previously announced by the Liberal government, including a task force and the suspension of mandatory random COVID-19 testing. “We are making progress, but challenges remain. A significant number of travelers continue to experience travel delays, flight cancellations and issues with check-in and baggage services at the airport,” he said.

Air passenger lawyer Gábor Lukács said “what we are seeing now is really a consequence of the government’s lack of enforcement of passenger rights”.

He said the airlines “took people’s money. They promised the public to transport them, when they knew, or reasonably should have known, that they could not afford to do so.

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In 2019, then-Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ mandate letter directed him to create “a new Canadian consumer advocate to provide a single point of contact for people who need help with complaints related to federally regulated banking, telecommunications or transportation”.

  1. Mahan Zaeri did not collect her luggage for days after missing a connecting flight to Portugal due to a delayed flight from Vancouver.

    A Canadian spent more time at the airport looking for lost luggage than in Portugal

  2. Travelers line up at Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson Airport.

    Chris Selley: Are the Liberals punishing air travelers out of spite?

Two and a half years later, there have been no updates on the creation of this agency. Government documents obtained through access to information show that a year ago, Innovation, Science and Economic Development was still working on a mandate for the Canadian consumer advocate.

“I am writing to you today to signal that we are continuing our efforts to define a mandate for the consumer advocate and to seek the collaboration of your ministry to help us shape this work,” reads a partially redacted letter from June. 2021 from the Deputy Minister of ISED to his counterpart. at Transport Canada.

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“We often hear that when Canadians want to file a complaint under existing consumer protection laws, they encounter confusing and disjointed rules, which make it difficult for them to find the right place to go for help. to solve their problems,” the letter reads. .

Innovation, Science and Economic Development did not respond directly when asked for an update on the progress of work on a new consumer advocate, or when Canadians can expect the new organization to be. launched. He pointed to the launch last year of a “Consumer Hub” website that provides information to Canadians about existing complaint processes, among other previously announced government efforts.

Daniel Tsai, a lawyer who teaches at the University of Toronto and Metropolitan University of Toronto, said there was “certainly a need” for such an agency. “It’s fundamental to have some sort of impartial agency,” he said.

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“It’s been long overdue.”

He said the government needed to “act as a moderating force of sorts in relation to the industry, which is aimed at trying to make up for the shortfall of the past two years, in the face of COVID-19”.

Currently, Canadians can complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency. But both Tsai and Lukács have criticized the regulator for being too close to the industry at the expense of the consumer.

The House of Commons transport committee recommended last year that the Canadian Transportation Agency “be required to explain the steps it takes to prevent regulatory capture” – a phenomenon in which regulators are beginning to act in favor of the industry they regulate rather than the general public.

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Tsai said it was necessary to “create rails. Basically, the separation between church and state – in this case, industry and regulator.

Once that’s in place, “you’ll have a much more efficient regulator” that’s more focused on consumer interests, he said.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Industry Advocacy Center, said “any visibility or focus on consumer interest at the federal level would be a very welcome development.”

The government should go further than just a consumer advocate, he said, such as a consumer minister or “an equivalent of the (US) Federal Trade Commission to coordinate all business and consumer protection practices. at the federal level”.

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“It would be much better to have someone who can be ignored – a commissioner, probably with very weak powers,” he said.

Still, having a place to “express consumer views” would be somewhat of an improvement, he said. “I guess that person could shake the transport minister by the shoulders and say no, this is serious.”

Lukács was also skeptical about the effectiveness of a new consumer advocate. He said the best course of action would be to increase costs for lawyers who take on certain types of consumer cases. When it comes to large companies that have systemic issues, “I could see a lot more progress, a lot more consumer protection through this kind of justice system solution.”

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