Debates of Oct. 24th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.
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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Telecommunications Act, as amended, be read the third time and passed.
Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to begin the third reading debate of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act.
This bill would augment the powers of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, to establish a more effective regime and protect consumers against unsolicited telemarketing in Canada.
The bill provides the legislative framework for the creation of a national do not call list. I am sure that every member of the House and probably everyone watching the proceedings today can recall being interrupted by telemarketers during dinner or when spending some quality time with their family and friends. There are times when we are willing to listen to people who want to sell us something. There are also times when we do not want to listen. There are times when pitches made in our homes by certain corporations are just not acceptable. This bill responds to those concerns that Canadians have strongly voiced. They are fed up with unwanted unsolicited telemarketing calls and want an effective solution.
In 2003 Environics conducted a survey of consumers' attitudes toward telemarketing. Eighty-one per cent of the respondents reported receiving unsolicited calls. On average, respondents received over three unsolicited calls each week.
Public opinion polls tell us that unsolicited telecommunications have indeed become an inconvenience and a nuisance to many Canadians. In fact, during the survey conducted in 2003, 97% of the respondents reported a negative reaction to unsolicited calls. Of those, 38% said they would tolerate the calls, 35% said they were highly annoyed and 24% hated receiving those telephone calls. It is clear that Canadians think that unsolicited calls are a problem.
Unsolicited telemarketing has become a serious irritant for many Canadians as existing rules provide little protection for consumers against intrusive unwanted calls. Under the 1994 rules, telemarketers are required to maintain individual do not call lists. These rules have been in place for the past 10 years. Since they were implemented by the CRTC they have been found to be ineffective for the following reasons.
First, the rules have resulted in some confusion among consumers. For one thing, few consumers know that they have the right to register a specific company on a do not call list, but even for those consumers who wish to take advantage of these lists, the task is daunting. Consumers who do not want to receive calls need to put their registration in place on the do not call list of hundreds of different companies. These registrations are placed for three years, after which the consumer must register again.
The current regime is ineffective because it is difficult to enforce. When consumers receive further calls from firms for which they registered on the individual do not call list, it is hard for them to prove that they were registered with that specific company.
Some 14% of the people Environics polled reported that they had tried to make a complaint regarding an unsolicited call. Among this subgroup, a majority of 59% said their complaint was never resolved.
We have heard from Canadians. The reality is that the inability to control telemarketing continues to be a pervasive source of frustration. The time has come for a more effective approach to regulating unsolicited telemarketing, an approach that will benefit both consumers and the telemarketing industry and one that will be easier to enforce.
At the heart of the issue is the need to have an effective tool for enforcement and compliance, and that is the focus of the bill before us. If we create an effective enforcement and compliance regime through rules that are fair and transparent, we have the foundation for smart regulation of telemarketing. For that reason the CRTC requires legislated authority to impose administrative monetary penalties, that is to fine businesses that continue to make unsolicited calls to persons who have registered on a do not call list.
With the ability to fine a marketing company, CRTC will be able to apply penalties that will provide a deterrent and stop companies from making many of those unwanted calls. The use of a national do not call list will improve the effectiveness of the system. For these reasons, we are seeking through the bill to amend the Telecommunications Act to provide administrative monetary penalties for violations of the national do not call list.
The costs of maintaining such a list would include database maintenance, complaint processing and the investigative and enforcement costs. The CRTC has recommended that a third party administrator who specializes in databases should be selected to maintain the national do not call list. With this bill we amend the Telecommunications Act to allow for a third party administrator and cost recovery.
Legislative amendments have been recommended and would exempt calls from the national do not call list for registered charities as defined under section 248 of the Income Tax Act, for companies with existing business relationships, and for calls from political parties. Exempt organizations would be required to maintain individual do not call lists. In addition, survey and polling firms would also be exempt from the do not call list and would continue to be exempt to collect the views of Canadians.
There are certain implementation details that arise from the establishment of a do not call list. For example, how would telemarketers access the do not call data and how often? It is not our intention to delve into these details, but rather to ask the CRTC to undertake consultations with concerned Canadians to determine the do not call system that best suits the needs of all Canadians.
We want to ensure that Canadian consumers have their privacy needs met and give them the ability to choose to be protected from inconvenience and nuisance. The current rules have been ineffective in giving consumers this choice. With this bill we create a system where consumers can take effective steps to stop unwanted telemarketing calls. In this way we will address an issue that Canadians consider to be a major irritant in their daily lives.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Ms. Jennifer Stoddart, congratulated the industry minister on proposed legislation to create a national do not call list for telemarketers. She said:
I think this is a great step forward for privacy. Our Office has been concerned about this issue for some time and we have certainly heard from many members of the public who are frustrated by intrusive phone calls. We welcome this initiative.
Recently, in front of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology the federal Privacy Commissioner delivered a statement backed by nine of the provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners that once again supported the creation of a national do not call list that would enhance privacy by making it easier for individual Canadians to control intrusive telephone calls.
Consumer groups, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, are in favour of the creation of a national do not call list. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has indicated that the creation of a do not call registry would be the most effective, elegant and enforceable solution to the present telemarketing situation. It also indicated that a single list is simple to administer and it is easy to determine when a telemarketer is in non-compliance.
The Canadian Marketing Association, the largest marketing association in the country that represents hundreds of telemarketing companies, supports the bill. Since 2001 the Canadian Marketing Association has recommended that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, establish a national do not call list to cover all telemarketers in Canada.
Mr. John Gustavson, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Marketing Association, stated:
We are pleased to see the federal government has responded to our request to establish a national do-not-call service to address the increasing number of consumer complaints regarding some telemarketing practices in Canada... We believe a compulsory do-not-call service for all companies that use the telephone to market their goods and services to potential customers is the most effective means to curtail consumer annoyance with telemarketers.
Telemarketing has become more and more pervasive. There is no sign that it is going away. The inability to control telemarketers' access to telephones in our homes and businesses has become a source of frustration for a large percentage of Canadians.
The bill creates the right regulatory environment for sensible, smart telecommunicating. It will safeguard the privacy of Canadians and their right to choose with whom they wish to communicate. For thousands of Canadians who may opt to register on the national do not call list, it will mean quiet evenings with their families free of commercial interruption.
Canadian consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of this method of controlling unwanted telephone solicitation. The majority of respondents, nearly four out of five, supported the creation of a national do not call list. Some two-thirds indicated they would likely sign up for a do not call service.
The government is taking steps to give individual Canadians an effective, easy way to curtail intrusive telemarketing and to protect their privacy. I urge hon. members to support the bill.
I also feel it is my responsibility to comment on the work the committee did in making sure that all of the concerns of Canadians across the country were brought to committee. They were raised and dealt with in a very reasonable way. I am very pleased that all parties seem to be very much on side with this bill. I hope for its speedy passage in the House.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Mr. Speaker, one of the concerns that has been raised over and over during the debate is the change charitable organizations will have to make to adjust some of the income that they generate from telemarketing calls. It is important to note that the income they generate based on telemarketing calls often goes toward providing services and community needs.
For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, derives significant revenues from telephone solicitation. MADD will be impacted by the bill and will have to go before the CRTC for an exemption and/or will have to change some of its habits related to telemarketing to ensure that the same revenue comes in.
I ask the parliamentary secretary what other things is the government doing for the not for profit organizations that could potentially be affected by the bill? What will happen if charitable organizations like Greenpeace, police associations, and groups and organizations like the Lions Club find barriers for the use of this type of activity?
What commitment will the government make to those organizations, should they have some disruption with regard to their income and the services they provide to communities? It is important to note that some people will lose jobs and the communities will lose services that are very much needed to address problems that have been identified in the communities.
I ask the parliamentary secretary what specific measures will the government take to ensure the vibrancy of those organizations that are affected by reduced revenue from the banning of telephone solicitation?
Jerry Pickard Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that my colleague worked very hard on the committee trying to get the legislation through and I certainly support and thank him for that.
When we talk about charities and solicitation, it is very important to understand the areas that we had to deal with when we were working on this legislation. We have registered charities and under the Income Tax Act, we can work with the revenues that are coming in. Under the Income Tax Act, we have a guide by which we can encourage everyone to move forward.
If we were to use that section in the Income Tax Act and encourage those people who are raising funds for charitable purposes to register under the act, and have a legitimate sponsor for those collections, then they would have the opportunity to do the calling and that type of work. However, if they are not within the sphere of the Income Tax Act, if they are just not for profit organizations, that would open up a very wide spectrum of organizations which quite frankly would have been very difficult to have any control over.
When we talk about non profit groups, and we can have a myriad of all kinds of organizations, whether it is the firemen or the police in a community, or whether it is the guys playing baseball at the corner, they could be part of that organization of non profit who are raising funds for different purposes. There is no way we could have discriminated the value to Canadians.
In order to set a guideline or a framework under which we could operate and ensure that any funds were legitimately collected, we used the basis of the Income Tax Act. This is relatively consistent with other jurisdictions which have imposed do not call lists as well.
The effort here is to ensure that we look after registered charitable organizations which would function appropriately in the system, but also to ensure we do not get a large, wide section of abuse that could potentially occur with many other organizations that could have been registered as non profit.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, under the bill, the CRTC is authorized to engage and to contract out the administration. I am wondering whether or not there are provisions, either within the bill or within the proposed regulations, that would be made to ensure the protection of privacy of information. This issue of privacy is obviously extremely important and the member may also want to comment on the list itself to explain to Canadians whether this is one list for all or whether this is a list for each specific industry or company.
Jerry Pickard Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON
Mr. Speaker, my colleague's comments are very relevant to the problem that we have had in the past. In the past, there were some 300 lists that one could register for. Bringing this into the spectrum of making it reasonable for the public, there will now be one list. That one list would be put in place and if someone registers on the do no call list, that will be circulated to all of the different companies. All of the groups would have to check in with that and any organizations that are making telephone calls would have to check with the do not call list, the one large list, to make certain that they do not interfere.
As I understand it, that list would be updated on a very regular basis, monthly or whatever time period in the short term, so that when people do register, other corporations have to go back and work in the system and get all of the new registrations that come in within a certain time period.
As well, there will be consultations with groups across the country on an ongoing basis to deal with other problems and other concerns that may come forward with that list. It is the mandate of the CRTC at this point in time to carry on public information sessions and to listen to concerns of the public, as well as set up the mechanisms by which organizations are going to operate the lists and will be able to work within the structure to ensure the application of the do not call list is carried out. All of the concerns that stem around general public concerns will be answered through the organization that will be created. At this point in time, there will be public consultations and input accepted from the public in order to move this forward.
Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on a piece of legislation that has been a long time coming. As my colleagues who spoke earlier said, when we sat on committee, we all laboured with best intentions to get a piece of legislation that would be good for the Canadian public.
We know that no piece of legislation is perfect. This is one of those situations where this piece of legislation will be an improvement over the current situation.
This is the first speech in which I have the ability to speak a full 20 minutes in my short time in the House. I will take a few minutes to explain the overall general process that I take to approach all legislation. It is important for citizens to understand the overall philosophy and principle of their legislature and I will use as an example, of what is in many ways viewed as a non-ideological and non-philosophical piece of legislation, Bill C-37.
I will go through not only the technical aspects of the legislation, what specifically are the amendments and the overall intent of the bill, but the principles and thought processes I used to arrive at certain decisions to help me decide how to vote on the amendments to the bill.
I find it important to do this with any piece of legislation, no matter how mundane, for two reasons. I believe the principles of all legislation need to be dealt with.
First, one must deal with the principles in legislation because principles provide the logic of legislation for consistency in all law. If we do not deal from an objective principle basis when dealing with law, we end up with chaos. We end up with a purely utilitarian approach to the law and the law does not become a law of justice but becomes the law of the jungle. I think it is important to understand that if we are to have actual good legislation, we must always do it on a principle basis.
The second reason is accountability. As a voter, even as a committee member or as a member of this House, it is impossible to completely keep up on all pieces of legislation. The government and the bureaucracy is so vast that even committee work can sometimes seem like the details are weighing us down.
If one can reference certain key principles, certain key statements, certain key benchmarks to begin with, it helps to be accountable to the electorate because ultimately democracy is the voice of the people. Therefore, if the people can understand the principles, they can understand the fruits of those principles which is the applicable legislation.
I want to explain my thought process. Sometimes principles can come into collision with each other. There can be a little bit of weighing of principles and values and so forth. It is important to understand the thought process and the application because it enhances the accountability of the situation. I believe that accountability is what all members of this House stand for.
It also helps to understand the weighing of the options. That is how I approach the overall body of the bill when dealing with each of these specific amendments. There is an intermixing of the practical in this in order to understand the logic as people in the future read this speech in Hansard or watch it on TV.
I endorse the underlying basic principle of this bill because ultimately, it is a protection of individual personal rights as to the rights of property. I come from the school of thought which has a belief in inalienable rights, balanced, as I have said before in this House, with inalienable responsibilities. One of the inalienable rights that are granted to all citizens is the right of personal property, protection, preservation and promotion of that personal property. This to some degree involves privacy.
Under the British common law concept, in this modern world, our home is our castle. This can sometimes be violated by our technology. We have derived and created various technologies, the Internet, the computer and the telephone for the specific purpose of enhancing our communications. However, there are times when they can all be intrusive and violate our home, our defence, our property, and the key right of an individual.
That is one reason why I specifically support the underlying general principle of this legislation. With the do not call legislation, we are allowing people to say, “My home is my castle. Thank you very kindly, but I do not wish to be bothered. This is my privacy. You are decreasing the enjoyment of my property”.
There are other principles involved here: the principle of personal property, the free exchange of goods, and the property of other people. We have to have some interaction and some balance on that level.
The other thing is that it is not really about commercial transactions. There is the freedom of speech element, and this balances with what I would call the unalienable right of the citizen to liberty and the unalienable responsibility to liberty. This political discourse will come in as I talk about some of the exceptions because all these communication tools enhance liberty by letting us receive and transmit ideas for a free exchange of thought. The telephone has become one of those methods, with of course the Internet, the post office system, door-knocking, face to face communications and other elements. That is another principle that we deal with here, particularly when it comes to political thought.
When we get into the charitable exemptions element of this bill, I will deal with why I think responsibility to community gets involved in that, but there is a principle I believe involved on that level.
That is the overall basis and approach that I take to this. Every element must have some basis in principle. There must be some logic. There must be some application to this. What is my thought process and how did I apply it to each and every one of the specific exemptions put into the legislation: the who, the what, the why, et cetera?
One of the first amendments we made when we got to committee was to put in a three year review, not for some delegated powers to the CRTC or the bureaucracy but to bring the three year review under the authority of Parliament. I supported that. We could argue about the timelines but that was more of a practical application of what would be the best purpose for it. I supported the underlying concept because it does provide for accountability right here in this House. The buck stops here, not just proverbially but in reality.
We are the elected representatives of the people of Canada. We cannot be delegating any more powers than we have to to the bureaucracy, to people who are not directly in that line. For practical purposes, yes, we can. We cannot have 308 persons running the entirety of the government, but we are the people who are responsible. We are the voice. We are one of the defenders, along with the law, the legal system, et cetera, of the basic unalienable rights and responsibilities of the people of Canada.
That is why I supported the concept of a review that comes to the House of Commons, delegated of course to the committee. It is very important for accountability because this piece of legislation, along with all legislation, is fallible. We are not all-knowing; we are not all-wise. We are very fallible as in previous legislation, so it is very important that the element of accountability be put in.
A second amendment that was put forward at committee was to exempt political parties, candidates, ridings, et cetera, from the do not call registry. Again there are exceptions. If people say “Please do not call me”, that will be honoured. I will admit that part of my first thought was that this helps the challengers more than it helps the incumbents because we have better name recognition. So from a purely selfish perspective, the incumbents of this House should in many ways have a self-interest to oppose putting this in, but there is the balance of the unalienable political right of liberty and the unalienable responsibility of liberty that is applied here.
I will admit that for some people political calls can be some of the most annoying calls but the freedom of speech element must be protected everywhere, not just on the liberty side but on the responsibility side. It is the responsibility and duty of every citizen, if they want to have inalienable rights, to follow through on inalienable responsibilities, and that includes being fully aware and fully informed of the debate that is going on in the political process, the guarantor of the rights that underline and protect the property rights that underline the legislation. The candidates, the ridings and so forth all tend to blend in on that one level.
Again, there are good arguments as to why this should be a little more restricted but the underlying principles hold and the safeguard of allowing people to personally state that they do not wish to be called should be helpful on everything.
I will note the other exemption built in here, which is the one for polling and surveying. I would hope that when this comes up for a three year review that it will be looked at in a more detailed and thoughtful fashion. The reasoning I have on this is the following. Yes, it is important to have particular information to help in the processing of the dialogue and to help in the dialogue of what people are thinking so that everyone may know back and forth, and polling and surveying does, to a certain degree, help that.
However a fairly interesting thing to note, on a very practical level, is the last two British elections where polling was done both by telephone and survey methods that we are accustomed to in Canada and by an Internet based pollster, YouGuv in particular. It was interesting to note that in the last couple of elections the Internet based pollster was the most accurate.
What I am saying is that perhaps in the future there could be less intrusive ways of still preserving the responsibility of liberty, the responsibility to gather information that there be a free and open dialogue of principle, and perhaps the Internet might be one of the ways because, spam mail notwithstanding, it is a somewhat less intrusive method than a phone call in the middle of suppertime and intruding on one's life at that point.
Another exemption in the act is for charities. This is, again, a question. One of the things that was noted by a witnesses at committee was that when we actually ask people specifically what calls bother them, it tends to be much more the commercial transaction ones than the particular charities.
We all saw the generosity of Canadians when it came to some of the disasters overseas, such as the horrible and horrific tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia. One of the methods the charities use to gather funds is through the phones, which makes up a significant portion of their revenues. In fact, some of the charities were particularly concerned because this could have the devastating effect of wiping them out. I believe the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, if memory serves me correct, was one of the most articulate, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving, et cetera, were also put there.
What principle did I use when I was weighing my vote back and forth? I believe the inalienable right of property also has an inalienable responsibility of property, which is the responsibility to use it for the good, not just of oneself but for the whole community. Taxation does it by force but it is a more compassionate society when people do it willingly and based on an argument not of force but of grace. One of the reasons I supported it is that it does imply a responsibility of the electorate of the populace. Merely to put up a sign saying, “Please don't bother me”, lowers the threshold of our level of responsibility, which is why I supported the underlying concept of exempting charities on that.
I will note again that when it comes to the charity exemption, individual call lists are kept by the charities, et cetera. Undoubtedly they will share these because there is no point calling persons who are considerably hostile and not particularly generous toward certain callers. Very practically, charities call those who have been the most generous.
The next exemption in the bill concerns the identification and purpose of organizations at the beginning of the call. I support this because of an honesty and integrity factor. Unfortunately, Canada has a reputation of being one of the major centres for call scams around the world. I believe this would increase the level of trust and the level of efficiency. It respects people's privacy and their right to utilize their property in a free and non-harassed way.
The final practical amendment to the legislation is the existing business relationship. We heard considerable concern in the committee that even mom and pop operations would not be allowed to call their 50 or 60 customers or their close friends and so on. I do not think that was the intention of the bill. A mechanic would not be able to call up a neighbour to tell him that it has been so many years since he had his car fixed and that it should be taken care of, and so on.
There were also some very practical applications that people might not understand or completely remember. We can think of car dealerships when they have to call a customer because of a defect in an automobile that needs to be recalled. We would not want anything that might in the least way impinge on those business relationships.
Once someone has made a commercial transaction they have indicated a certain willingness already to deal with it. Again, the exceptions and so on can be dealt with on this.
I would note that all these amendments were made at committee, which disturbs me considerably. We often seem to get incomplete legislation being rushed through to committee. There does not seem to be a lot of thought. The government sees a headline, gets itself into an emergency and then tries to put something together without any thought.
We will see this later this week with Bill C-66, the home rebate bill where, after years of not thinking anything about energy policy or the cost to the population for home heating, et cetera, the government quickly pulled something out when it saw gasoline prices spiking.
Perhaps the government should take more time to think things out, to actually have a vision and not just react to every headline. A vision actually gets good legislation done years in advance.
Another comment I wish to make is about the administration of the system. We have seen the government's most famous long gun firearms registry balloon to I believe a cost of $2 billion. I hope this registry is much better handled than that one.
The government has a reputation, which it has earned, of incompetence when it comes to administration, be it in its delegation to the crown corporations by choosing inadequate appointees or just the particular administration of contracts, be it advertising in Quebec or the firearms registry. I would caution the government to actually use some oversight and principles of administration that it has neglected in its previous endeavours.
Those are the principal and practical reasons that I support the legislation and will be voting for it.
However I would caution all members of the House to be careful how we proceed with this one. On a personal note, one summer when I was in university I had finished my tree planting and was waiting for my cheque and I needed to turn a little extra cash. I worked in a call centre for about six weeks while taking an intercession class at the University of Saskatchewan. The one thing we should remember is that many people earn their living from these places. We should be very sensitive to anyone who may be unemployed due general overall economic conditions. Many of these people who receive a minimum wage or slightly more are not well represented in the House of Commons.
I do not think many members in the House came from minimum wage backgrounds and perhaps we should remember the economic effects as we pass legislation and be somewhat cognizant about the people this may affect in the long term. I think with the exemptions and the way it is handled it will provide a reasonable way to handle it.
October 24th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC
Madam Speaker, I have one observation for the hon. member. Is it not encouraging to see a first time member of Parliament stand in the House and say clearly and unequivocally that he will evaluate legislation on the basis of principle, not simply take a position on particular legislation, whether it is partisan or otherwise, and that the will look at the principle that is involved first and make sure the people understand why he voted a particular way by enunciating what those principles will be? I want to commend the hon. member for making it so abundantly clear as to how he will do certain things.
At the end of his speech he talked about the compassion that we should be directing toward those who are working in call centres. Even though many people object to getting these phone calls, he says that is how some people make a living, and that is important.
When the hon. member worked in a call centre like that did he find that it was a rewarding experience? We like to work, we want to work and the hon. member received a little extra money for doing that. I wonder if he could tell us exactly what his experience was in terms of a personal relationship with the people he called.
Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK
Madam Speaker, having had the pleasure of serving on committee with the hon. member, who is a fairly long serving member of the House, a lot of my growth as a member has been because of him personally and from watching him and other veteran members in the House, in committee and in public.
My personal experience was somewhat interesting. I always enjoy people, period. I can be a somewhat reserved person in some atmospheres but I enjoyed the people, particularly the ones who had been working in the job for two, three, four and five years. They had house payments or car payments, more or less, and were working in call centres basically as a career. About half of the workforce were people like myself, students, part time rotation, short term, et cetera.
It was interesting to hear from the people who were there for longer periods. They took real pride in their work, which is what we should all remember when we are not altogether happy about being interrupted because of one of these phone calls. These people work very hard but they are not the ones who make the major profits. They are just trying to do their best to earn income and to fulfill their obligations to their families and to their bosses in doing their job in the most professional way they can. I actually found it a useful experience in that respect, to see people's dedication to jobs that unfortunately are sometimes mocked as “Mc” jobs.
The people who were there for many years took a very professional attitude toward it. They always arrived on time and made sure the work was done precisely, and that they were courteous, respectful and professional on the phones. That is not to criticize the more transient student population but our effort, energy and level of responsibility was not there.
I found it quite interesting in that respect and I commend the people who did it. It was a useful experience for me and it taught me how to relate to people on the phone and how to react and be sensitive when interrupting people at different times of the day. If one wanted to meet one's quota for the hours, one had to be sensitive to the people on the other end of the phone. I think those were the two things it taught me: sensitivity to the customer, the person at the other end; and a respect for the people who work in this as a career for longer periods.
Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act , and thus to participate in the debate on third reading.
I will start, if I may, by congratulating all parties for their unanimity on the amendment:
That Bill C-37, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 23 to 26 on page 3 with the following:
“paragraph (c) for an electoral district;
f) made for the sole purpose of collecting information for a survey of members of the public; or
(g) made for the sole purpose of soliciting a subscription for a newspaper of general circulation.”
This amendment has already been referred to by my colleague and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, Science and Technology, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup , who was very keen on it. His argument then—and now—is that first of all it is an improvement to the bill and second it reflects the wishes of the public.
There has been much consultation on this subject. Nearly 80% of the Quebec or Canadian population were in favour of this bill. With this amendment, this bill is thus completed. Furthermore, this amendment responds to the desires of the committee. You will recall that there was unanimity on this subject and that the amendment had been abandoned for purely technical reasons. Therefore, once again, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I want to congratulate all of the parties for having agreed to this amendment.
Second, my colleague indicated earlier that the bill would permit the CRTC to administer databases. This is important, particularly with respect to two very specific objectives, namely to prohibit or regulate the use of telecommunications facilities. First, such use must be regulated up to an honest and objective point. Second, any Canadian carrier or any person must be prohibited from engaging in unsolicited telecommunications. That is what we are talking about. This is an extremely important step for the future.
There is a second aspect to this bill: it will provide for penalties. The severity of those penalties should dissuade persons who engage deliberately or fraudulently in unsolicited telecommunications.
My colleague indicated earlier that one of our roles as members of Parliament is to legislate so as to protect the interests of consumers. In that regard, we all know how constantly our fellow citizens are being solicited, mainly by telephone, or by fax. I have received such calls, as I am sure you all have. Families and children under age 18 are also highly solicited—be it for credit cards or pressure buying. The problem exists.
Not only is Parliament responsible for passing legislation in this matter and regulating telecommunications, but it may also prohibit fraudulent telecommunications. This is very difficult. It comes more under the Criminal Code. All the same, we have to send a very clear message that Parliament, Canada, will no longer tolerate these fraudulent telecommunications.
One need only check a few statistics to realize that, at present, Canada is a haven for fraudulent telemarketing. For example, Montreal is the North American hub for unsolicited or fraudulent telemarketing. According to an RCMP investigation, nearly 90% of the premises and facilities for these con artists are to be found in Montreal.
This bill will sound the alarm. After evaluation, however, we will have to be able to take very productive action on this subject. These fraudsters have illicit revenue estimated at $60 million, with individuals easily earning $5,000 a week.
At the moment, the section in the Code allows these criminals to get off with just a very light fine or a short term of imprisonment. So it is difficult in Canada to convict this type of criminal. Furthermore they are very often repeat offenders.
When a bill provides ways of getting around the law, repeat offenders continue to come out on top. They get rich at the expense of those who, unfortunately, are the most vulnerable in our society. Some very honest people are easily fleeced by these professional con artists.
The bill provides for administrative monetary penalties. This is also linked to the authority to investigate, inspect and enforce. We are convinced this will be effective. This is in the bill. Again, this will be instrumental in putting a stop to these crimes.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-37, as is the Canadian Marketing Association. As we have already mentioned, we support this for a number of reasons.
One of our primary concerns is consumer protection, which we feel is essential. There are other reasons. As I was saying earlier, statistics show that the telemarketing industry employed some 270,000 people in Canada in the year 2000, which is quite significant. This industry plays a role in the economy and has done $16 billion worth of business. It therefore has a considerable impact on communities in Canada and Quebec. If a bill is passed that sets out principles of use and possible penalties for such a large industry, then we will have been effective.
The Bloc Québécois and the Canadian Marketing Association are in favour of this bill. We know that the big players are involved in this association, which is currently the largest marketing industry association in Canada. Its member companies contribute to the Canadian economy by essentially providing 480,000 jobs and by making more than $51 billion in annual sales. These companies have also said they are in favour of this bill.
This association is also a powerful lobby for the marketing sector. Like the Bloc Québécois, it has said that it supports Bill C-37, while at the same time having certain concerns regarding the powers given to the CRTC in the area of regulations. This will have to be monitored closely to ensure that the bill remains as realistic in its final form as in its purpose.
As far as committee proceedings are concerned, the Bloc Québécois helped get the bill amended, to include the necessary exemptions for charities and the media for example. For a bill to be significant, it has to cover all that has to be covered, respect freedom of expression and involve everyone concerned.
Like the Canadian Marketing Association, however, the Bloc Québécois also has some reservations. This is fundamental. Obviously, the bill deals with the registration process. The Bloc Québécois would like the mechanism for putting the registry in place and the associated costs to be clearly stated.
When we talk about the registry, of course, this includes the operation, implementation, monitoring and other costs associated with this registry. Hon. members will recall the gun registry. That was not a very pleasant experience. We have seen the money wasted on that. Originally, it was supposed to cost between $2 million and $3 million. Now, estimates are in the billions of dollars.
When administering a registry, one has to beware of costs. Right from the start, the costs have to be planned and established as realistically as possible. The same is true for the registry's operation. It is imperative that the registry be under the responsibility of an independent organization. We are wary in this regard.
Administration of the registry and everything related to the do not call list must be free of any electoral or partisan intent. This is what the Bloc Québécois is concerned about. Even though the Canadian Marketing Association wants to be entrusted with managing the system that will be established to administer this list, that is not necessarily our preference. The institution that will be in charge must demonstrate greater independence. We must avoid falling into the same situation we have in the oil industry. In this case, a private organization has provided the information in good faith. Eventually, one always gets back to certain protected interests or interests that are in these institutions. In the view of Canadians, the institution that will supervise the registry must be above all suspicion in order to be credible. We must not commit the same mistake that was made with the gun registry. We must arrange things so that the organization responsible for establishing this registry is seen as having the necessary independence, its mandate its clear, and it is managed according to ethical principles.
The Bloc Québécois also wants the law to cover as many people as possible and to be administered in a very fair way. It is interesting to see that all the political parties supported this bill and the amendment. We recognized, first, that there was a problem, that Canadian and Quebec consumers had a serious problem in this regard or as consumers. While taking freedom of expression into account, I think that it is just as important to combat harassment and fraud.
We were speaking earlier about consent for this national list, which is at the heart of this bill. The Canadian Marketing Association has shown beyond any doubt, once again on the basis of a survey, that this bill is important to Canadians and Quebeckers. In the Industry Canada background documents on this bill, an Environics poll done in 2004 showed that 79% of the respondents said they were in favour of the national do not call list and 66% said they were likely to subscribe to such a service. That is very revealing. Ninety-seven per cent of Canadians said that they were annoyed by unsolicited telemarketing calls.
When there is a bill as important as this, which covers virtually all areas of consumer protection regarding unsolicited telecommunications, it is important to support it. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill. We are very happy that there was unanimous support for the proposed amendment. I would also like to ask our colleagues to vote in favour of this bill, which will benefit all Canadians and all Quebeckers.
Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to ask this of the hon. member. Should there be a registry of names of persons who no longer wish to be solicited in future, what would be the terms of operation of that registry? Second, by whom would it be administered? And third, what might be the estimated costs of such a method?
Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse for his question.
When we speak of a registry, there are obviously three points to look at. As has been mentioned, there is the make-up of the administration and the operation of the registry. Also, who is responsible for it, and what are the costs. We are trying to determine how it will operate. A committee will be in charge of operations. The Bloc Québécois and various members of the Committee think that an independent organization is needed to manage this registry.
As for costs, we must also be vigilant and realistic. I spoke earlier of the firearms registry. That is an example which has shown us how big a cost overrun can be. At one point we were talking about millions of dollars, and we ended up at $2 billion. We will have to be very realistic and rigorous in this regard.
I think that the only way to respond to these criteria, that is, administration, operations and costs, is to do so together, including both Parliament and the persons concerned. This will allow us to work toward unanimity on all the regulations by which the registry will function.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Madam Speaker, with regard to the operations, this has come up during debate at both second and third reading.
I do not know if the committee looked into some possibilities, but under the Income Tax Act and on the income tax form itself, Canadians have the opportunity to tick off whether or not they would agree to information on their returns being used by the Chief Electoral Officer in terms of updating electoral lists. I wonder whether or not that came up at committee with regard to using the income tax return for information about whether or not the taxpayer wishes to be put on the do not call list.
Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC
Madam Speaker, I must say that I was not part of the committee. Therefore I cannot answer this question. Someone would have to look into it.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act, now at third reading stage in Parliament. It has had several amendments made to it, including one today that provides an exemption for the newspaper industry, which I am glad to support.
As well, the bill has been part of a committee process that I think has been quite fruitful in making sure that this bill was changed significantly from its original form to its current form, and I believe that it will be passed by a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. All major political parties are supporting the bill. I think there is also support for this bill from the industry itself. I hope that it will get the support of Canadians.
It is the first time that this country will be creating a do not call registry with specific elements which will add penalties and an administration system that is accountable to and also will also report back to Parliament on a regular basis. Not only will the CRTC, once it has this system up and operating, have the responsibility of reporting back to Parliament, but the legislation itself will be reviewed entirely in three years, thanks to an amendment that the NDP proposed and which was supported by everyone else.
This is important because the bill proposes a significant change for not only the rights of individuals in their homes but also potentially for two other sectors, the first one being the call centres that employ Canadians across this country. The second would be the charitable organizations and businesses that rely upon this type of venue in terms of telephone solicitation, as an opportunity to either support their causes and/or secure and procure business or expand upon it for their companies, resulting in profits and jobs for the communities.
These are important discussions that have to take place on a regular basis, because significant shifts could take place in the Canadian economy and alter Canadian lives and objectives. Individuals may have rights in their homes protected further, but charitable organizations could have repercussions to services, and lastly, businesses could too.
With that, I do want to highlight the general public support out there for a do not call registry. In many respects, Canadians have been bombarded by the growth of this industry and the intrusions that it can create in their lives. I think we have all experienced sitting down for dinner to spend some quality time with our families, only to be interrupted by telephone solicitation. Sometimes we are okay with that and other times we are not.
That is why I think the introduction of this legislation as a solid first step is important. At home, in our basic place of residence, which we work every single day to provide for ourselves and our families, we should have the right of protection. That is going to be the first step. We as individuals pay for our homes and for the services of the telephone company operation we subscribe to. We pay for the hardware in our homes, but it is then used as a vehicle to tap into our personal and private lives. That is an issue of civil liberties. There is an element of intrusion into our most important place, our personal residence, and that needs to be looked at.
Also, in our committee we have heard testimony over the duration of the months during which we have dealt with this. Some businesses are predicating upon other businesses and the fact is that it creates problems in the workforce, not only in terms of time management, with time taken up by unsolicited phone calls that are trying to procure additional business, but also in terms of the relationships and the dynamics at a company. In that case, individuals who are in different positions in the company are making decisions about who should or should not contact them about different types of businesses. As well, we have heard indirectly through testimony about faxing, email and spam also contributing to frustration, not only in homes but also in businesses.
A 2003 Environics study showed that 81% of respondents reported receiving unsolicited calls, on average receiving 3.43 calls per week. That was in 2003 before there was an explosion of the industry in terms of more companies using access to telephone numbers to move their products and services. As well, charitable organizations did it too, as they were finding it more difficult to raise funds like they had done traditionally through other venues. In my constituency in Windsor, Ontario, the bingo industry suffered significant losses and challenges due to public policy. As well, there were tourism and border issues that affected not only the tourism industry itself but also the charitable organizations that depend upon it to provide services in the community.
It is important to note what services these charitable organizations are actually providing. Their lost revenue is a loss to the community in terms of what individuals have decided to do in joining together to raise funds to attack a social problem or an issue that is localized or very specific in terms of the remediation that they want to perform in their communities. The loss of these revenue streams has caused significant changes. In the bingo industry it has presented significant challenges in Windsor, Ontario, as well as lost revenues for charitable organizations.
We do know that there has been an increase in calls, with the largest segment of calls from charitable organizations, at 44%. We know that they are particularly vulnerable under the bill. I would take the opportunity at this point to note that charitable organizations contribute significantly to the Canadian economy. It is important to note not just the fact that they do affect individual lives through the programs and services they provide, but also the fact that the entire Canadian economy is significantly impacted.
For example, I will quote Imagine Canada's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology on May 4, 2005. It said:
Cumulatively, nonprofit and voluntary sector groups contribute $75.9 billion annually to the national economy--$34.7 billion if such institutional charities as hospitals, universities and colleges are excluded. This constitutes 8.5% of GDP; 4.0% excluding institutional charities.
This is not an issue just for softball teams or community organizations and groups. Let us say, for example, that it is the Lions Clubs or the different types of Rotary Clubs or groups and organizations that might use some type of system employing telephone solicitation. But hospitals and universities and other types of institutions also require the additional funds derived through either a campaign of giving or of contacting alumni and making cold calls to people outside of their universe to expand their internal revenue sources in order to meet the demands and public policy applied to them, as well as the general goals of society. For example, the colleges and universities training our young people for the future, to meet the demands of a changing economy, have to reduce themselves to being active in these types of venues at times to make sure they can provide those services.
I would also note a specific example of a vulnerable charity, that of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with over 90% of its funds raised through personal donations. That was the testimony of Dawn Regan, director of finance and fundraising for MADD Canada. She said:
Last year we made 775,000 cold calls in our outreach program and MADD Canada received complaints by less than one-half of one per cent of those we called.
That is a massive campaign, very much related to the type of work MADD does, and if it is in jeopardy because of this bill we will see MADD going to the CRTC with an application to make sure that they are going to be exempted so they will not be frozen out. It will have to make major adjustments to its actual operations.
It is important to note that when we looked at the first changes to the bill back at first reading, it was the intent at the time for the government to create two types of lists that would be on the do not call registry, one with a complete element that would have all of the different charities pooled into one and separated. There was criticism of that. I give the government credit for listening to the opposition parties, as well as those individuals who provided testimony at the committee, and making the change to Bill C-37 so that this would not happen. Hence, we have an improved bill.
The CRTC will be responsible for creating the independent body. I am somewhat concerned about that. The really important measure is that it will be able to impose fines on individuals and companies. There will be automatic mandatory penalties. This will put some focus on those that are doing the abusive telephone solicitation, which is what has created some of the ill will regarding telephone solicitation.
A committee member noted previously that regarding these intrusions that usually the person on the other end of the line is someone who is often trying to provide for his or her family. It is someone who wants to be productive and is involved in a very successful and growing industry. However, at times we find the calls frustrating.
What is important about this change is that it imposes administrative monetary penalties, AMPs. This is different from the situation right now with the Canadian Marketing Association which has only a voluntary list and does not have those penalties.
It is important because those people, companies or charities who are abusive will have to deal with the complaints and the penalties within a short period of time. There is a two year timeframe for resolution to make some type of decision on a claim.
I know it takes a long time to get through the system and it probably seems very long for the individual who has made the complaint. Multiple complaints about a person or a company can stack up. Hopefully, with the original complaint process and the fact that the investigation will take place we would see the behaviour adapt. Otherwise it will take a maximum of two years to get from the complaint to the final adjudication of whether or not it has happened and whether it is valid. That could be frustrating. It will cause the industry to be more accountable and many Canadians are talking about accountability these days.
One of the Environics polls indicated that 38% of people said they tolerated telemarketers, 35% of people were annoyed by telemarketers and 24% of people said they hated telemarketers. We know we have a significant issue here from Canadians who are expressing some dissatisfaction. This is another reason that all parties support this bill. It is one that I would like to reflect upon in terms of what has happened in the United States.
I think the U.S. has had a successful introduction. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission allowed for a national do not call registry in late 2002 and it began in October 2003. Over 62 million Americans registered their phone numbers in the first year. A survey reported that 92% reported fewer telemarketing calls. U.S. telemarketers are required to scrub telephone numbers from their calling lists every three months and are charged fees for access to the do not call registry.
It is also important to note that the registry itself will be paid for by the users of the registry. We have had discussions about the costs of other registries and their implications to Canadian taxpayers. This registry will be paid for by the industry.
We have to make sure that when the CRTC is setting up the registry that it is efficient. The problems that will be associated with the charities and the business organizations will be compounded if the registry is not efficient. They will potentially be going through a transition, depending upon their industry, related to this legislation. At the same time they will also have to pay which could lead to a compounding system.
The United States has a registry. In Canada I believe the CRTC is to have the registry up and running within 19 months. Nineteen months was the target date expressed at committee to have it set up so that Canadians could start to register and have that screening process evolve. Following that there will be the three year review which will take place in the House of Commons. A report must also be tabled in the House of Commons within six months after the end of each fiscal year.
There will be some ongoing information once we pass the bill that will keep it very much primed. It will not move away from this House for five years or more with very little to do in terms of parliamentary business.
That has been one thing I have expressed some difficulty with on the issue of regulations. When we pass regulations in different bills, often parliamentarians do not get to see the effects of whether the regulations are having the influence or are following the right process in the legislation that we passed. That is currently being done atrociously in our drug industry. One of the issues at the industry committee was the continued evergreening and the draconian laws that affect our generic drug industry versus the pharmaceutical companies. This bill makes sure that we would review the legislation on a regular basis.
I do want to point out that call centres created 40,000 new jobs between 2002 and 2003 and forecasts are for a 7.9% growth in the industry over the next three years. The Canadian customer contact centre study noted that 90% of the call centres have an inbound focus, being hotel reservations, help desks, et cetera, and that only 10% deal with making outbound calls. Of that 10% of the centres that make outbound calls, 50% of those are to the U.S. We have an industry that is very important to the Canadian economy and it has been growing. Once again, I think it is important to be taking a first step in this bill that is a little more timid in the sense that there will be some exemptions. Some changes to the bill might happen later on.
I will conclude my speech by noting a couple of different points related to the industry. There were changes noted to the business relationships and I congratulate the government and all committee members for doing so. There were reservations expressed by the Canadian Association of Direct Response Insurers, H&R Block Canada and a series of other small businesses which have different types of relationships with customers that were not necessarily what we would normally think them to be. Some of them have contact with their clients in a matter of months, and for others it is years. It differs depending on the industry.
There were some amendments made that really improve this bill. This is something that we can point toward. On many days it is like a soap opera in the House of Commons and there is a lot of discussion about high profile things. At the same time when parliamentarians work together, we can accomplish things that are often in the best interests of all parties. The Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology did a good job on this bill. I thank the chair of the committee for making sure that we completed this legislation.
This is something that was in the New Democratic Party's election platform. We are certainly happy that we have been able to be part of this for Canadians. We look forward to making sure that the bill really works for us. We will be calling for supports if there are harmful effects from this intervention on the industry, charitable organizations and businesses. We believe that our role has not finished in this regard. Our role has just begun. We are happy that this is something that can be rolled out to Canadians very soon.