But even without him, you consumers can—and do— win protection through do-it-yoursel protest
Q:Who Needs Ralph Nader? A: Canada
THE NATIONAL SENCE
But even without him, you consumers can—and do-win protection through do-it-yoursel protest
THE CANADIAN consumer — and that’s you — as revolutionary? Fanciful as our sketch makes it seem, you really are a revolutionary of a kind. A reluctant one perhaps, certainly an unorganized one, but you have Ottawa, the provinces, and even business, hopping. You’ve forced more legislation that protects the consumer to be passed in the past five years than during the previous 50.
There’s been good reason for this quiet revolution that really is quiet. Consumers have watched prices soar 13 percent since supermarket boycotts in 1966 got Canada the world’s only national cabinet minister for Consumer Affairs. The purchasing power of their dollar has dropped 16.5 cents since then. And consumers have not hesitated to tell the Minister, Ron Basford, in 12,000 letters last year alone, what they resent: poor
people having to pay the heaviest borrowing charges; gimmick “cents-off” deals (off what?) and phony “specials” in stores; poison warnings printed in the tiniest type; unsolicited credit cards and pie-in-the-sky promotions in the mails; toys that can poison or maim; ridiculous bills from dentists, plumbers and automobile re-
pairmen; industrial pollution. Outside of government the same spirit prevails. The Metro Toronto Better Business Bureau’s 12 phones cannot handle all the daily complaints about crooked charter-flight operators and oppressive credit collectors. Consumers write 250-300 letters daily to the Canadian Advertising Advisory Board, asking, or complaining, about advertising ethics. That’s pressure.
The media have become tribunals of consumer dissent, producing Action Lines, hot lines and exposés of sharp practices that prod
business and governments (consumers write 250 letters daily to two Toronto newspapers alone). There’s a jargon word to describe this restive frame of mind — “consumerism.” Basford defines consumerism as a proper “protest against inadequate information, misinformation, misleading advertising, fraud, deception and hazardous products.” Not bad, but crusading Ralph Nader in the United States adds a dimension especially relevant to the 1970s: consumers also demand protection from the “involuntary consumption” of air and
water pollution, pesticides and nitrates in foods, despoliation of lakes and countryside. Put more succinctly, a Basford aide says, “People must not be run over by their economy.” Consumerism is as open-ended as that.
Canadian consumers have more clout than they realize. But they are leagues behind the United States in organized militancy. There, trade unions bankroll consumer groups; here, Canadian branches of the same unions have copped out. American lawyers are beginning ta form “public-interest” firms to oppose the big lobbies in Washington and represent consumers in courts; few Canadian lawyers have picked up the challenge, and even from them (see page 5) there’s more theorizing than action. Ron Basford says, “We need some Ralph Naders in Canada.” So we do, but Naders need funds, to test and research and lobby. And so far, in spite of an increasing number of voices now urging the unions, the law, the advertising industry — and Basford — to help provide seed money for all these things, very little money is coming forth.
Nonetheless, the revolution has come to Canada. And you, gentle consumer, are in it. □
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