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‘They are completely intertwined’: Tentative signs of recovery in China help some Canadian companies weather COVID-19 storm


One night in late January, Canadian Jacob Cooke found himself in Jiangsu province in China, desperately trying to find seats on a plane leaving the country and promising his brother, Joseph, he’d make it to Vancouver.

For more than a decade, they had run a business called WPIC Marketing + Technologies with an ocean between them, helping brands from Canada and, eventually, all over the globe launch e-commerce operations in China.

But that night, panic was washing over China after news channels started reporting on the highly contagious outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan province. There was little information about who was most vulnerable, how the virus spreads or what symptoms to expect, but fears were aroused. Soon, trains were shutting down, hotels were closing their doors and slowly, but surely, ways out of the country were disappearing.

“There was definitely not enough information,” Jacob said. “You didn’t know what to believe, you just wanted to get far enough away from it.”

Jacob also worried about his family, including his wife and their two young sons, aged five and nine, who had travelled from their home in Beijing to visit her family in Jiangsu for Chinese New Year, since it looked like they might be stuck there. After spending hours on the phone, he secured seats on a plane leaving Shanghai for Vancouver, and then tracked down a driver to make the six-hour trek to the airport.

Seven weeks later, after Jacob and his family made it safely back to Vancouver, the situation has in many ways reversed: Canada, and most of the western world, are desperately trying to stop the spread of coronavirus, with new measures being announced almost on an hourly basis that shut down parts of the economy, while China is in recovery.

It’s still not clear how the deadly virus will be contained, or what its ultimate toll will be, so the horizon in Canada and elsewhere remains too dark to look for silver linings.

Yet if the worst does not come to pass, the Cooke brothers and others who hold deep business ties to China can see how the global connectivity of our economies may help both countries.

An economic recovery is now taking shape in China. Self-isolation is starting to end, people are returning to offices and work in factories has largely resumed its pre-coronavirus level of activity.

China opened up a portion of its Great Wall this past week.

China opened up a portion of its Great Wall this past week.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

FedEx Corp. on a March 17 conference call said 90 to 95 per cent of large manufacturers in China are now open, as are about two-thirds of small manufacturers. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong and Shanghai SE Composite Index both ended the week on a positive swing after brutal declines since the start of the year.

But as supply chains and demand for goods ramps up in China, they’re slowing elsewhere. Yet there were signs of life even in the depths of China’s outbreak.

Joseph Cooke, president of WPIC, said it’s been a strange year in China. Online sales usually dip during the new year celebration, but they remained steady this year, perhaps because people in self-isolation indulged in “retail therapy,” he said.

As the weeks in lockdown progressed, online sales in China accelerated as brick-and-mortar retail stores stay closed. That also provided a lifeline for many Canadian companies, particularly those that need to move seasonal inventory, WPIC chief executive Jacob Cooke said.

“China coming back online is great for Canadian companies,” he said. “With retail closed here, for example, and a lot of stuff being seasonal, it’s got to move somewhere or it’s going to become useless.”

Some companies’ quarterly earnings reports are already bearing that trend out.

China coming back online is great for Canadian companies

Jacob Cooke

For example, Nike Inc. chief executive John Donahoe on Wednesday reported that his company’s e-commerce sales in China increased more than 30 per cent during the last quarter, even as it had closed 5,000 stores in the country during most of that time.

Other parts of China’s economy appear to be returning to normal as well, offering a potential lifeline to companies from Canada and elsewhere needing to sell their goods.

“I was talking today to someone who was in Beijing and she said, ‘Here’s the thing, there was a traffic jam and I had lunch with someone, and it’s the first time I’ve had lunch with someone in weeks,” said Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada China Business Council.

She said the key to China’s resumption of regular business activity is that everyone has been “incredibly conservative about social distancing and people are taking that very seriously.”

People wearing masks cross a street during after work rush hour, as businesses start returning to their normal routine, in Beijing.

People wearing masks cross a street during after work rush hour, as businesses start returning to their normal routine, in Beijing.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

That has benefited Canadian companies with operations in China as well.

For example, Toronto-based Neo Performance Materials Inc., which turns rare earth and rare metal-based materials into magnets and other products used in cars and high-tech devices, operates four factories in China, all of which are now operating and shipping goods again.

None of its 1,100 employees there have contracted COVID-19, but the company has said it implemented precautionary measures including temperature checks of its workers.

On a March 12 earnings call with analysts, chief executive Geoff Bedford said the supply chain is largely functional again, with his factories able to procure all the raw materials they need.

Still, it’s not all good news. China is still experiencing the repercussions from the lockdown period, including declining demand.

“We are seeing signs of slowing downstream demand from our customers, particularly for supply chains that are located within China,” Bedford said on the call.

He noted that more than 60 per cent of Neo Performance’s sales are related to the automotive industry, including vehicles manufactured for the Chinese domestic market, which is one particular area where demand is softening. But he also noted that trend was already happening the previous year.

Aurora, Ont.-based auto-parts manufacturer Magna International Inc. on Thursday reported that it expects softening demand in China, though its customers there are ramping up again after extended downtime throughout February. Meanwhile, many of its customers in North America and Europe have reduced production rates or temporarily closed.

Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at the Dongfeng Fengshen plant on March 24, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at the Dongfeng Fengshen plant on March 24, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Getty Images

Overall auto sales in the world’s biggest vehicle market dropped 79 per cent in February, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, which does not expect demand to normalize until the third quarter.

WPIC’s Jacob Cooke said Canada’s economy is intricately linked to China’s economy, even if diplomatic spats and trade wars are decoupling the two countries on cultural and political levels.

“They are completely intertwined,” he said. “If either of those pieces go down, it just creates huge problems for the global economy.”

Jacob was in China as it entered the peak of its outbreak and now he’s back in Canada as the coronavirus takes hold here, giving him some insight into how conditions are progressing in both countries.

“This has sort of been the whole process for me,” he said. “You’re basically experiencing it in cycles: you’re either cycling to further and further lockdowns or you’re opening up.”

Right now, Canada and the United States are still cycling to further lockdowns as the number of new cases detected continues to grow daily. But Jacob and his brother Joseph both said it only takes a bit of good news to swing momentum in the other direction.

“I’m feeling like it’s very quiet in Vancouver, and people are staying home,” said Joseph. “Let’s hope we curb the spread.”

Financial Post

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Canadian recession is likely without fiscal stimulus: Scotiabank


Canada is likely to fall into a recession this year unless the government moves ahead with robust fiscal stimulus as the economy takes a double hit from the coronavirus and tanking oil prices, according to the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Scotiabank is the first of the six largest Canadian banks to predict the country could be headed into a recession, though it believes the government will move quickly enough to avert one. A rapid rise in coronavirus cases globally, the sharp fall in oil prices and volatility in financial markets make a contraction in the second and third quarters this year “likely” in the absence of fiscal measures, Jean-François Perrault, chief economist at Scotiabank, said Wednesday.

“A reasonably mild recession appears likely unless timely and targeted fiscal measures are deployed in the very near future to deal with the economic impacts of the virus,” Perrault wrote in a research note.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released $1.1 billion in new funding earlier Wednesday in response to the virus, and said the government is ready to do more if necessary. Trudeau also said his government is prepared to use federal financing agencies to further stimulate the economy if needed, a measure that was deployed during the 2008-09 financial crisis.

But that may not be enough. Canada’s measures pale in comparison to those set out by countries such as Italy, which plans to spend as much as 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) on stimulus measures. Perrault recommends the government roll out a fiscal package equivalent to one per cent of GDP, or just over $20 billion, in order to prevent the Canadian economy from going into recession.

The Toronto-based bank sees the country’s gross domestic product growth slowing to 0.3 per cent for the year in the absence of significant stimulus. Scotiabank’s isn’t the first bearish call to emerge this week in the aftermath of the oil price collapse but it does represent the most aggressive take yet on Canada’s future.

National Bank of Canada Financial and Royal Bank of Canada will release their forecasts later this week. Bank of Montreal was the first of the six banks to revise their forecasts lower this week, with a call for full year GDP growth at 0.5 per cent.

The latest stream of downward revisions include predictions that the Bank of Canada will cut rates to 0.25 per cent by June from its current 1.25 per cent. That’s in line with financial market expectations, according to overnight index swaps trading. The last time the Bank of Canada policy rate reached 0.25 per cent was in 2009. Earlier this month, the central bank cut interest rates by 50 basis points amid escalating coronavirus concerns, matching an emergency move by the Federal Reserve.

Here are the latest revisions from bank economists this week:

Scotiabank — Jean-François Perrault

Sees Canada’s 2020 GDP at 0.3 per cent in absence of substantial fiscal stimulus and 0.7 per cent if there is fiscal stimulus worth one per cent of GDP. Without fiscal stimulus, Q2 and Q3 GDP will contract. Expects the Bank of Canada to cut interest rates by 50 basis points at the next two meetings.

Bank of Montreal — Michael Gregory

Lowers 2020 GDP to 0.5 per cent from one per cent, and sees Q2 contracting by 3.5 per cent. Expects Bank of Canada to cut rates by 100 basis points over the next two meetings to 0.25 per cent.

JPMorgan — Silvana Dimino

Revises down 2020 forecast to one per cent or 1.1 per cent Q4/Q4 basis. Predicts no growth in Q2 and a two per cent rebound in Q3. Expects Bank of Canada to cut by 50 basis points in April with the “heightened risk” for an earlier emergency cut to zero per cent.

Goldman Sachs — Daan Struyven

Revises down 2020 GDP to 0.4 per cent or 0.2 per cent on a Q4/Q4 basis. Sees Canada on “verge of recession” with a zero per cent Q1, -0.5 per cent Q2, 0.25 per cent Q3 and one per cent Q4. Expects Bank of Canada to lower policy rate to 0.25 per cent by its June meeting.

 — With assistance from Erik Hertzberg and Kait Bolongaro

Bloomberg.com



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Prince Harry and Meghan would have to apply for Canadian citizenship like everyone else


Following a meeting Monday with Queen Elizabeth II, it’s clear that Prince Harry and Meghan are coming to Canada for “a period of transition.”

What’s not clear is whether the couple intend to continue to divide their time between the two countries after everything has been arranged; whether they will eventually settle permanently in Canada; or, whether they have their sights set on another country, perhaps the United States, where Meghan is reportedly still a citizen. If they did choose to make Canada their permanent, primary home, would they get any special treatment in regards to Canada’s immigration system?

As the grandson of Canada’s monarch and sixth in line to the throne, one might expect Prince Harry to have some special status in this country. But the Duke of Sussex enjoys no such privilege, nor do any of the Queen’s descendants. Even the Queen does not hold Canadian citizenship, although she could reside in Canada for as long as she wants.

“She has a different kind of status but it’s not citizenship. It’s a state authority,” said Carleton University Professor Philippe Lagassé, an expert on the Westminster system. “She’s the personification of the state, so she doesn’t need a passport to enter. She would have all legal rights because everything done by governance is done in her name.”

This special status, however, only applies to the Queen because Canadian law only recognizes the ruling British monarch.

“It’s a very simple rule — whoever’s their monarch is our monarch,” Lagassé said. “We don’t have any provisions in our law for Royals having particular privileges or status. We don’t even have laws that recognize Royals as being Canadian Royals.”

Canada will not automatically grant the royal couple citizenship, and would need to apply to become permanent residents through the normal immigration process, Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for the immigration minister, told the CBC in a statement. The minister’s office did not respond to the National Post’s request for comment before deadline.

That means Prince Harry will be entering Canada as any other British citizen would, and all British citizens can stay in Canada for up to six months without a visa. It’s the same for U.S. citizens. So Harry and Meghan’s short-term plan could simply be to travel back and forth between Canada and the U.K. at least twice a year — although that would put Meghan’s application for British citizenship at risk.

If the couple wants Canada to be their economic base, visitor visas won’t help them with their long-term goal of becoming financially independent as neither of them would be permitted to work in the country, said Harjit Grewal, an immigration consultant with Sterling Immigration who works in Vancouver and London.

However, it’s entirely possible that Meghan is already a permanent resident in Canada, Grewal said. While she was filming the TV show Suits, Meghan lived in Toronto for nine months of the year for seven years, until she moved to the U.K. to live with Harry in November 2017.

If, during that time, she got a self-employed visa, aimed at people who work in cultural activities or athletics, then she would have been granted permanent residency. That would mean that Meghan is still eligible to live and work — in any field — in Canada, and that she could sponsor Harry and their son Archie.

The couple could also qualify for a business visa, if they chose to invest some of their vast wealth in Canada, Grewal said. He also pointed out that, if Meghan and Harry successfully monetize the Sussex brand, Canada could be eager to fast-track their applications and welcome them as taxpaying citizens.

We don’t have any provisions in our law for Royals having particular privileges or status

Another option is the federal skilled worker (express entry) program, but the couple might not fare too well under that points-based system since Prince Harry doesn’t have a university degree and they are both over 30, Grewal said. Prince Harry is 35 and Meghan is 38.

While the couple have no legal status, in the eyes of many Canadians, there is a cultural connection to the country as members of the Royal family, Lagassé said, but that doesn’t change the law.

“To what extent do you bend the law to accommodate people of fairly significant means?” Lagassé said. “It becomes a political question, not a legal one at that point.”

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‘That’s no joke’: Taking aim at Trudeau, Trump’s campaign chief compares U.S. job numbers to Canadian losses


For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it seems the fallout from his Buckingham Palace video slip-up is set to run and run.

In the days since the PM’s unguarded remarks showed him cracking a joke at U.S. President Donald Trump’s expense at a NATO summit in England, he has found the clip being used both by Trump’s allies and foes to further their own needs.

At a reception on Tuesday evening, Trudeau was caught on camera with France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands laughing at Trump’s long press appearances. “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” said Trudeau. Trump said the clip showed Trudeau was “two-faced.”

In a news conference after the summit, Trudeau said his “jaw drop” comment had been referring to Trump’s unexpected announcement that the next G7 summit will take place at Camp David and he had meant no offence.

However, that doesn’t seem to have appeased the Trump side, and on Friday Trudeau was taken to task by Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.


Brad Parscale, campaign manager for the Trump 2020 reelection campaign, attends a campaign rally for U.S. President Donald Trump in Bossier City, LA, U.S., November 14, 2019.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

On Friday Bloomberg reported that Canada’s job market weakened, unexpectedly, for the second month in a row. Citing Statistics Canada figures, Bloomberg reported that Canada shed 71,200 jobs in November — the biggest drop since 2009. In total, Canada has added 285,100 jobs in 2019.

Pouncing on the November drop Parscale, citing Bloomberg reporting run online by the Financial Post, highlighted the fact that American job gains under Trump compare favourably to Canada’s numbers. The most recent U.S. Labor Department figures show the U.S. gained 266,000 jobs in the same month.

“Let’s see,” Parscale wrote in a post on both his Twitter and Facebook accounts, the latter of which was shared by Trump’s own Facebook page.

“President Trump is fighting for America and our economy just ADDED 266,000 jobs. Justin Trudeau was laughing it up in London and the Canadian economy just LOST 71,200 jobs. That’s no joke. Trump wins. Again.”

Parscale’s stinging rebuke came soon after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had chimed in on the Trudeau clip, posting a campaign video to Twitter in which he used the video to take down Trump, suggesting he is a laughingstock to other world leaders.

“The world is laughing,” read the text over that clip and others of Trump’s trips abroad. “We need a leader the world respects.”

As of Thursday evening, Biden’s Twitter video had garnered more than nine million views. The campaign soon posted it to Facebook and told Reuters it was also promoting it to likely caucus-goers in the early presidential nominating state of Iowa on Instagram, YouTube and Hulu.

The Biden campaign also used the video in a fundraising pitch on Thursday, asking supporters to help turn the online ad into a TV spot.

— with files from Reuters and Bloomberg



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Disgraced Prince Andrew retains Canadian military roles


Prince Andrew, the much-disgraced Duke of York, stepped away from public life late last month in the aftermath of a disastrous interview on the BBC. In the weeks since, organizations around the world, including the prince’s old Canadian private school, have raced to cut ties with the bungling royal. His own mother reportedly cancelled his 60th birthday party.

But the Queen’s middle son hasn’t yet lost all his official appointments. Despite his close ties to a notorious sex criminal and his own ham-fisted PR efforts, Prince Andrew remains the titular head of three Canadian military regiments, the Department of National Defence (DND) confirms.

“As is the custom, the Duke of York holds the honorary title of Colonel-in-Chief of The Princess Louise Fusiliers, The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada and the Queen’s York Rangers,” Jessica Lamirande, a DND spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

It took a full week of questions from the National Post for the DND to confirm even that much about the scandal-plagued prince. The department refused to answer any follow up questions on the record. Todd Lane, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s press secretary, meanwhile, said the minister wouldn’t comment at all beyond the department’s statement.

A government source, however, speaking on background, said Prince Andrew’s announcement that he was stepping away from public duties put the Canadian military into an unprecedented and somewhat baffling situation. No one within the department knew at first what it meant for Prince Andrew’s role within the Canadian Armed Forces. His statement, broad and vague, did not address his military roles, in Great Britain and across the Commonwealth, at all.


Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, presents The Duke Edinburgh’s Gold Award to recipients during a ceremony at the Government House Saturday May 18, 2013 in Victoria.

Chad Hipolito /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

“This has never happened before,” the source said.

A statement Sunday from a royal spokesperson did little to clarify the situation: “The Duke of York has stepped back for the time being and will not be undertaking any public duties on behalf of his Patronages or associations.”

The title of Colonel-in-Chief isn’t merely symbolic. It can’t be wiped off a web page and forgotten. In fact, it’s not clear the Canadian government could rescind Prince Andrew’s appointments at all, even if it wanted to.

“The position of Colonel-in Chief is a symbol of a direct relationship between the Sovereign and the members of that regiment,” said Richard Berthelsen, an expert on the Crown and Canada. “It’s not like a patronage. It has a much deeper meaning. It is something that is official and is recognized in the Canadian Forces as having significant importance to history and heritage of that unit.”

Commonwealth regiments can only be granted a royal colonel-in-chief by the Queen herself. Most appointed serve in that capacity until they die. The Queen Mother was Colonel-in-Chief of the Toronto Scottish Regiment for 64 years, until her death in 2002.

On rare occasions, elderly royals have asked to be relieved of their appointments as part of a larger retirement from public life. Diana, the late Princess of Wales, voluntarily gave up all of her military appointments when she left the Royal Family. But Garry Toffoli, the executive director of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust, doesn’t think anyone has been forcibly stripped of such an appointment since the outbreak of the First World War when foreign royals, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, had their British military titles revoked.

The Canadian government source said the department does not expect Prince Andrew to carry out any of his ceremonial duties in Canada while he remains in the royal penalty box. (During the past 20 years, he has presided over more than a dozen events linked to his positions as colonel-in-chief.) Should the Canadian military decide at some point that it wants to formally end its relationship with the prince, Toffoli believes the process would likely take place through back channels, from the Prime Minister to the Governor General or directly to the Queen itself. “It’s never happened that I’m aware of,” he said. But “there’s nothing stopping a prime minister from a making a recommendation, a very strong recommendation, I suppose.”

Even then, Toffoli believes it highly unlikely that Prince Andrew would be stripped of his titles. “Somebody would approach Andrew and ask him to voluntarily give up the appointment,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re at that state at this point,” he added. “We never get to that point.”



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Canadian economy faces a prolonged period of sluggish growth


Canada’s economy is shifting into a lower gear as some of the country’s growth drivers begin to lose steam.

Statistics Canada will release third-quarter gross domestic product numbers Friday that will probably show a sharp drop in growth. According to the median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey, the country’s expansion slowed to a 1.3 per cent annualized pace in the three months through September, down from an unsustainable clip of 3.7 per cent in the prior period.

It’s a return to sluggish growth that may become the new normal for a Canadian economy seeing many of its engines of growth sputter, from investment and exports to weakening consumption as the nation’s households cope with high debt levels.

Beyond the third quarter, economists predict another 1.3 per cent reading in the final three months of 2019. Next year doesn’t look much better, with growth seen running at about 1.5 per cent in 2020. That’s a sufficiently prolonged period of below-potential growth for markets to anticipate the Bank of Canada will cut interest rates as early as January.

Canada’s exporters have floundered in the second half of the year. After a rebound in oil shipments temporarily boosted real exports in the second quarter, they’ve since flat-lined, falling 0.3 per cent since June in volume terms. Waning exports are also hitting manufacturers, whose shipment volumes decreased 1 per cent in the third quarter, led downward by oil and coal.

You don’t have a domestic demand story that’s strong

Brett House, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank

Business investment remains sluggish, down 22 per cent since oil prices began collapsing in 2014. While the Bank of Canada’s latest indicator of business activity ticked up, the central bank still sees investment as a 0.4 percentage point drag on 2019 growth. Until global uncertainty and trade tensions abate, Canadian businesses are unlikely to make major capital expenditures.

Consumption has long propelled Canada’s economic growth, but cracks may be forming, even with a robust job market and wages growing at the fastest pace in a decade. Economists expect consumption to pick up in the second half of the year, but that’s coming off a second quarter that was the slowest since 2012. The lack of vigour is most apparent in a retail sector that’s seen volumes flat over the past year.

“You don’t have a domestic demand story that’s strong,” said Brett House, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank.

One bright spot in the GDP numbers could be housing, which has rebounded as borrowing costs decline and buyers adjust to tighter mortgage rules. Home sales rose 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, the fastest quarterly pace since the end of 2017. Most economists estimate residential investment picked up for a second straight quarter.

Bloomberg.com





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Canadian telecom complaints hit record high, with Bell leading the pack


Complaints about poor wireless, internet and TV service reached a record high this year as consumers expressed increasing frustration over issues such as billing and disconnection notice periods.

In its annual report released Thursday, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) disclosed that the number of accepted complaints jumped 35 per cent during the 12 months ended July 31, to 19,287 — the largest volume in the organization’s history.

Most of the complaints related to billing surprises and non-disclosure of contract terms, issues that have made up the majority of complaints to the CCTS since its inception.

“It’s concerning that the numbers are going up,” said Howard Maker, head of the Commission of Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

He said that some telecom service providers may be testing the limits of the Wireless Code as they develop new product offerings in a dynamic communications services market. But he expressed surprise nevertheless that providers continue to run afoul of rules in areas such as disconnection, where notice requirements are explicitly detailed.

The report shows that customers complained most often about their wireless service, followed by internet, TV and landline phone. Bell, Rogers, Telus, Virgin, Freedom and Cogeco were the primary targets.

Montreal’s Bell Canada accounted for by far the largest number of complaints, responsible for 30 per cent of the total with 5,879 accepted complaints. Bell’s confirmed breaches of the Wireless Code doubled to 29 per cent on a wireless customer base of 9,834,380, as of the end of its third quarter.

Toronto-based Rogers Communications, which had just under 10.8 million wireless subscribers at the end of the first quarter, came in second with 1,833 complaints.

Both Bell and Rogers saw their share of overall complaints decline, with Bell dropping from a 33-per-cent share to 30 per cent, and Rogers dropping from 10 to 9 per cent.

The share for Vancouver-based Telus, however, increased by 1.5 per cent to 8 per cent, with the number of complaints jumping by 71 per cent to just over 1,600 — partly due to the company’s interpretation of the code regarding new contract terms when a customer changes wireless plans.

Overall, the CCTS saw a 42 per cent increase in the number of service provider violations of the Wireless Code, with the most common involving the failure to provide documentation to customers and to provide proper notice before disconnection of service.

Billing was again the predominant irritant for phone, internet and TV customers, with complaints typically arising after fees for monthly services were higher than expected, for example when a promised discount wasn’t honoured. Next common were complaints related to disclosure of information and a lack of clarity about service contracts, followed by service delivery and credit management issues. Just over 900 complaints came from small business customers.

Billing issues have increased by more than 144 per cent over the past five years to 20,000, with Bell accounting for more than 37 per cent, the report says. TV complaint issues were more than three times higher than in 2017-18 in part due to the fact that 2018-19 was the first full year of accepting TV complaints.

Maker said the overall increase in complaints can likely be partly attributed to consumers being more aware of their rights.

“Now that you have rules and minimum standards, customers are better informed,” he said, media coverage of telecom sales practices may have made more consumers aware that they can file a complaint online any time for free at ccts-cprst.ca.

“Record numbers of complaints, rapid industry change, and our own desire for continuous improvement have motivated us to focus on our dispute resolution process, and we’re looking at ways to improve our service to make it more efficient, effective and transparent,” Maker said.

The volume of complaints has been ratcheting up following a decline with introduction in 2013 of the Wireless Code, leading the CCTS to add regulatory personnel and refine its dispute resolution process. The CCTS accepted 14,272 complaints in 2017-18, a 57-per-cent annual increase over the 9,097 total in 2016-17, although issues resolved have also risen, to 91 per cent in the latest period.

On Jan. 31 the CCTS will begin to administer a fourth code, the Internet Code, which was issued by the CRTC earlier this year. The new code will apply to large internet service providers and is intended to make it easier for customers to understand service contracts, plan prices and promotions.

Wireless, TV and internet service complaints reach an all-time high

Below are the telecommunications companies that received the most complaints, ranked by the number of complaints received.

Bell Canada: 5,879 accepted complaints, 30.5 per cent of total

Rogers: 1,833; 9.5 per cent

Telus: 1,610; 8.3 per cent

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Virgin Mobile: 1,253; 6.5 per cent

Freedom Mobile: 1,147; 5.9 per cent

Cogeco Connexion: 1,039; 5.4 per cent

Michael Lewis

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