Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Niagara Falls.
I am happy to rise today and respond to the motion introduced by the hon. member across the way for Windsor West regarding telecommunications services in Canada. In fact, it is an item we are discussing at the INDU committee and is something that both of us have opinions on.
I would like to use my time to speak specifically to the concerns that have been raised by Canadians about aggressive and misleading sales practices.
Since coming to office, our government has made it clear that we understand that to achieve fast, reliable telecommunications services, we need to focus on three core objectives: quality, coverage and affordability. We understand that to make progress on these three goals, we need a competitive marketplace in which consumers are treated fairly.
Currently, there are measures in place to empower Canadians in their relationships with their telecommunications service providers. This includes, for examples, the creation of a consumer code of conduct. There is also a dedicated organization to help resolve the complaints Canadians have specifically about their telecommunications service providers. It is called the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services, the CCTS. The CCTS reported that in 2018-19, it had successfully resolved 92% of the complaints it received.
Furthermore, the CRTC has strengthened its own measures over time. In 2017, the CRTC revised its wireless consumer code with changes, including a ban on cellphone unlocking fees. That provided savings for millions of Canadians and also made it easier for them to switch providers if they chose to.
Our government recognizes that more needs to be done. The CCTS 2018-19 “Mid-Year Report” shows that a large proportion of complaints received are about home Internet services. In addition, Canadians have expressed serious concerns about the sales practices used by certain large telecommunications carriers. We share those concerns. That is why, in June 2018, we directed the CRTC to launch a public inquiry to thoroughly investigate this matter and to consider potential solutions. We required the CRTC to investigate what provisions carriers have in place to mitigate the risk of consumers being subject to misleading or aggressive sales tactics. Furthermore, we specifically called for the CRTC to address the most feasible ways to strengthen or expand the scope of existing consumer protections, such as its codes of conduct. We also asked the CRTC to consider creating new codes of conduct that relate specifically to new issues so as to further empower consumers to make informed decisions with respect to their telecommunications services.
In short, we want to ensure the fair treatment of all Canadians. The CRTC led the inquiry, and the Competition Bureau also participated, given its expertise in combatting deceptive marketing.
In February 2019, the CRTC released its report on misleading and aggressive sales practices, which confirmed that such sales practices were taking place.
That these practices occur is unacceptable. They harm consumers, in particular vulnerable Canadians, and are a serious concern for the CRTC. The CRTC confirmed that they exist in all types of sales channels, including in stores, online, over the phone and door to door. The CRTC also believes that the internal measures put in place by the carriers to address misleading or aggressive sales practices are not achieving their stated goals.
In its report, the CRTC outlined a range of measures to address the matter of these sales practices. In the near term, the CRTC has an Internet code of conduct already under development. The CRTC also noted that it was necessary to establish such a mandatory code of conduct to address consumer contracts and other related issues.
The CRTC sought comments on a draft Internet code, which is based on provisions in two of its existing codes of conduct: the wireless code and the television service provider code.
Issues addressed in this draft include contract clarity, bill shock, bill management tools, service outages, equipment issues and barriers to switching service providers. The CRTC also sought public comments from Canadians with disabilities and companies that worked in this field on the kinds of experiences, barriers and challenges they faced.
Final comments were received this year, and a decision will follow shortly.
Furthermore, in the near future, the CRTC plans to launch a secret shopper program to monitor behaviour in the marketplace and will also create information tools to help consumers better understand their rights and the avenues they have for recourse.
The CRTC has an ambitious agenda for future action, which will require multiple regulatory processes to consider and to implement. Among others, it will consider expanding the CCTS's mandate to include handling complaints about misleading or aggressive retail sales practices. It will also consider requiring service providers to ensure their offers and promotions match the consumers' needs and means. Any new measures will add to the consumer protections already in place. This is a good thing, giving more protections for Canadian consumers.
More broadly, our government is taking action to ensure Canadian consumers are at the forefront of all future regulatory decisions in telecommunications.
Having a customer focused agenda, our government recently announced a proposed policy direction that would require the CRTC to consider competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation in all its telecommunications decisions and demonstrate to Canadians that it had in fact done so.
Through this proposed directive, we will ensure that telecommunications policy will be made through a consumer-first lens to ensure Canadians have access to quality services at more affordable prices, focused on their needs as consumers. The proposed policy direction includes a specific focus toward measures that will enhance and protect the rights of consumers in their relationships with telecommunications providers.
The record shows that Canadians have shown significant support for this policy direction.
Following the publication of the proposed policy direction, we sought feedback from Canadians. Over 64,000 Canadians wrote to their members of Parliament and sent copies to my colleague, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, to indicate their support for the general policy direction. Another 14,000 Canadians signed a petition in support of the policy direction.
This proposed approach will be a clear and binding direction to the CRTC and apply to all its decisions on a going forward basis. One of my colleagues will soon speak more on our policy direction to the CRTC and how it will put consumers at the forefront of decisions.
It is unequivocally unacceptable that Canadians are subjected to aggressive and misleading sales practices. This government has responded with concrete and effective actions to protect and empower Canadian consumers. Our government will continue to stand up for consumers to ensure they are treated fairly. In addition, we will ensure that the technical tools are there to ensure we have access to the services, technically speaking, getting broadband available across all of Canada.