THE BLOG

Conservative "Consumer Focus" More Spin Than Substance

10/09/2013 05:33 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Canadians continue to struggle with job security, stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs for essential goods. Household debt is at a record 166 per cent of disposable income; and with two-thirds of Canadians living paycheque-to-paycheque, family budgets are stretched to the breaking point.

In a country as prosperous as ours it is unacceptable -- and entirely avoidable -- that so many hardworking Canadians find themselves living from hand to mouth. New Democrats recognize that the government can, and must, take action to alleviate this financial strain. Strong, consumer-focused policies like the NDP has proposed for many years are a good first step.

While the Conservatives now seem ready to woo Canadian consumers struggling to make ends meet in their upcoming Throne Speech, it's important to underscore that this is more spin than substance.

The Conservatives' newfound affection for consumers is curious. On numerous occasions the NDP has tried pass consumer-focused legislation which the Conservatives have killed without a second thought.

The NDP Air Passengers' Bill of Rights was unanimously voted down twice by the Conservatives. Recently, the Minister of Transport seems to have had a change of heart, with signals indicating that the upcoming Throne Speech address air travel. It does seem strange when a government votes down a sensible proposal, only to reintroduce similar measures mere months later.

They also voted against a practical NDP opposition day motion which sought to create legislation protecting consumers from predatory credit card companies. This motion included common sense proposals which have already been adopted in the U.S. and other advanced economies around the world.

Further, they ignored the NDP's bid to force Canadian banks to field consumer complaints through the independent Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investment, turning their backs on international commitments the Finance Minister undertook when he signed onto the G20 High Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection. Instead, they've let the fox guard the hen house and allowed banks to choose who will oversee consumer complaints against them.

Finally, it's encouraging to hear that the Conservatives may finally be getting on board with NDP efforts to combat the Canada-US price gap by removing tariffs for certain consumer items. However, the decision is an about-face from the announcement in their last budget that they would be raising tariffs on hundreds of goods from over 70 countries.

From the outset, the NDP vigorously fought these Conservative tax hikes as they will only serve to widen the Canada-US price gap further. We introduced motions to study the impact they would have on the price gap at both the Finance and Industry Committees. However, neither of these studies has been allowed to move forward.

When they originally announced the tariff reduction for sports equipment in the 2013 budget, the Conservatives failed to include important safety equipment like hockey helmets. It was only after the NDP exposed this inconsistency that they hastily announced that hockey helmets were mistakenly not included. This underscores how inconsistent and unfocused the Conservative approach has been.

We need leadership and action on consumer issues. Since the Liberals dismantled the department in the mid-1990s Canada has been without a single department or agency that monitors and protects consumer interests. The repeated failures of our government to protect Canadians from consumer abuses reflect that lack of focused leadership.

The Prime Minister's budding interest in consumer issues suggests political desperation. This may be related to the various scandals and ethical lapses which have bogged down the Conservative caucus; and is ultimately a hollow and transparent attempt by the Conservatives to change the channel.

New Democrats are hard at work every day, putting forward concrete solutions for Canadians. As the Official Opposition, we will continue holding the Conservatives to account for their miserable record on consumer issues, and a future NDP government will be a leader in protecting consumers from the most egregious practices being perpetrated against them.

Memorable Stephen Harper Pictures