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.