The combined imagination of Canada’s entire advertising industry failed to sound convincing on this one: “Let’s have faith in our children" shrilled full-page newspaper ads in which an alliance of publicists attacked Quebec’s imminent abolition of advertising aimed at youngsters under 13. That ban on the commercial manipulation of young minds is a mere wave in the pro-consumer tide promised by the Parti Québécois government, which last week also had to defend its comprehensive consumer protection bill against the big North American automakers. The bill is the toughest challenge yet to
the car-makers’ freewheeling treatment of customers and would hold them responsible for the quality of their vehicles well beyond the usual one-year warranty period—even after they begin to circulate through the used-car market.
The Quebec bill—far more sweeping than anything proposed in other provinces—if passed as is will add a radical and potentially chaotic legal guarantee to all products, not just vehicles. Goods, says the proposed law, “must endure normal use over a reasonable period of time.” Just what normal use and reasonable time periods are would be left up to the courts if Consumer Affairs Minister Lise Payette manages to have the bill passed intact, as she hopes, before the end of the Christmas shopping spree.
In a rare moment of agreement, the car-makers’ lobby—the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association—and Phil Edmonston of the Automobile Protec-
tion Association warned Payette that the open-ended guarantee would plug the courts with long and confusing litigation. Lawyers would be fattened, but automotive firms and car owners would lack clear definitions of their rights and responsibilities until years of legal wrangling accumulated enough precedents to serve as guidelines.
Edmonston, the automakers’ bête noir whose campaign against premature rusting led to introduction of three-year body warranties, urged that a straight three-year guarantee be imposed on passenger cars, a protection he said would add less than $200 to new car prices. The manufacturers, not surprisingly, are fighting to keep the right to define their own guarantees.
The universal though excessively vague guarantee would have real bite: unsatisfied buyers could return cars and other products for full or partial refunds up to five years after the purchase. Again, it would be up to the
courts to decide whether sellers failed to respect their obligations.
Though used-car sales between ordinary citizens will escape the law, commercial used-car dealers would be required to guarantee two-year-old cars for six months or 10,000 kilometres, cars less than four years old for three months or 5,000 kilometres. Automotive repairs would also be covered by a guarantee of three months or 5,000 kilometres and, before work is carried out, customers would be provided with a written evaluation which the final bill must not exceed. Similar repair evaluations would save owners of televisions and major household appliances from nasty surprises.
Other provisions would allow customers of health studios, dating agencies, dance and language schools to break agreements by paying only a 10-percent penalty on the unused remainder of their contracts. Advertisers would be forced to publicize judgments holding them guilty of false claims and judges would be empowered to order remedial advertisements correcting falsehoods.
In addition to penalties of up to $100,000 in fines for corporations and six months’ imprisonment for corporate officers aware of infractions, the bill would introduce the U.S. concept of punitive damages in civil actions brought
by individual consumers.
Payette appears unmoved by opposition to her bill, for she knows the consumers are on her side. An opinion poll published this month shows a remarkable 66 per cent of Quebeckers satisfied by her policies—one of the scarce issues on which both Frenchand Englishspeaking voters appear to agree.
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