Growing chorus opposes Bell-Astral merger

A bigger Bell will force its
content down the throats of
competitors PIAC lawyer
Janet Lo says.
"Even before the CRTC has a chance to hold hearings on Bell Canada Enterprises' (BCE) proposed $3.4-billion takeover of Astral Media, BCE is under fire for alleged anti-competitive conduct elsewhere," Daniel Proussalidis wrote for QMI Agency on Aug. 16, 2012

J. Goss + Associates provides media intelligence services to a number of leading consumer groups. For results contact J. Goss + Associates.

"A bigger Bell will force its own content down the throats of other competitors in the market, and then force consumers to purchase that content regardless of whether they want it or not, or pay higher prices for the content they do want," said Janet Lo with the PIAC, a non-profit organization that works on consumer issues," QMI Agency reported.

CRTC hearings on the Bell's proposed takeover of Astral begin in Montreal on Sept. 10. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will be representing consumers at the proceeds. J. Goss + Associates will be assisting.

Public Interest Advocacy Centre at work
National Post, CRTC  doubles BCE and Rogers payout for MLSE 

"Broadcast regulators green-lit Thursday the transfer of ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.’s TV licences to Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc., setting the stage for the $1.32-billion acquisition of MLSE by the two telecom conglomerates to close. While approval was widely anticipated, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission doubled the financial commitments Rogers and BCE must invest back into the broadcast industry," Jamie Sturgeon wrote for the National Post on Aug. 17 2012.

"Language in the decision also suggests the commission is taking a heightened level of scrutiny to BCE’s far larger $3.38-billion bid for Astral Media Inc., which faces a review next month. Critics of that deal, which include major cable and television distributors like Cogeco Cable and Telus Corp. argue a Bell-Astral merger would create a behemoth that would dominate the broadcast and new-media marketplace. Consumer watchdog groups like the Public Interest Advocacy Centre … have warned the deal would push prices up for subscribers, while limiting competition. … Competition Bureau officials meanwhile have said they are actively reviewing the transaction," the National Post reported.

TELUS s'oppose à l'acquisition d'Astral Media proposée par Bell

TELUS a déposé une soumission au Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes (CRTC), s'opposant à l'acquisition d'Astral Media par Bell et précisant le risque que poserait une concentration de marché sans précédent dans le secteur de la télédiffusion sur les consommateurs canadiens. TELUS appuie la vision exprimée par … le Centre pour la défense de l'intérêt public (PIAC) et ses associés. TELUS se joint à la discussion et s'oppose à l'achat d'un des plus importants derniers groupes indépendants de télévision au Canada» Telbec a rapporté l'août 14.

TELUS opposed to Bell's proposed acquisition of Astral Media

"TELUS supports the views expressed last week … by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and its associates. TELUS is joining the discussion and is speaking out against the purchase of one of the last large independent television groups in Canada," CNW Group reported on Aug. 14.

BCE takes on Astral deal opponents

"BCE Inc. is hitting back at detractors of the telecommunications giant's proposed takeover of Astral Media Inc., most notably Quebecor Inc. …. The country's biggest communications firm issued a release Wednesday saying it would pour tens of millions of dollars into Quebec's broadcast industry as part of the $3.38-billion deal," Jamie Sturgeon wrote for the National Post on Aug. 16 2012.

The deal requires regulatory approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as well as the Competition Bureau. In submissions filed with regulators, such consumer groups as Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Quebec watchdog Option Consommateurs have also criticized the deal, which would cement Bell Media's position as the largest television company in Canada and Bell as the biggest of the big integrated telecom/media conglomerates," the National Post reported.

Facedeals will face ordeal PIAC says 

"Nashville-based ad agency Redpepper is promoting Facedeals, a product in development that would install cameras in the doorways of cafes, bars and other businesses, using facial recognition to offer customers deals personalized to their tastes," Susan Krashinsky reported for the Globe and Mail on Aug. 14

"… the technology may well face opposition if it ever seeks to be implemented in Canada. The very first decision ever put forth by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, in 2001, affirmed that video surveillance in public places – such as via a camera mounted on a business and pointed toward the street – is a collection of personal information, even if it is not recorded.

Unless such a program used signs alerting patrons to the camera, and offered them a separate entrance to the business where they could avoid being filmed – even if they are not registered by the camera as having opted in – it would face certain opposition in Canada, said John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa. (He said) “This is just begging for a complaint, day one, if it comes to Canada,” the Globe and Mail reported.

Option consommateurs

Alors que ses concurrents craignent que son projet d’acquisition d’Astral lui donne trop d’influence dans le monde des médias, Bell a répliqué mercredi en promettant un nouvel investissement de 80 millions pour la programmation au Québec. Le diffuseur, qui veut acheter Astral pour 3,38 milliards, a également affirmé que le développement du contenu de langue française sera « entièrement dirigé » par l’équipe d’Astral. … Ces propos plantent déjà le décor pour les audiences du CRTC, qui doivent commencer le 10 septembre. … D’autres groupes ont également manifesté leur opposition à la transaction, dont l’Union des consommateurs et Option-consommateurs.
François Desjardins, Le Devoir, 16 août 2012

La Presse, Bell-Astral: le doute s'installe

L'opération publique d'achat (OPA), qui devrait se concrétiser au second trimestre de l'année en cours, a déjà été acceptée avec une immense majorité de 99,8% par les détenteurs d'actions subalternes d'Astral, lors d'une assemblée extraordinaire expéditive. L'arrangement a également été déclaré équitable pour les actionnaires d'Astral par la Cour supérieure du Québec. … . La Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal et Option consommateurs ont aussi joint leur voix au concert de protestations. S
Paul Durivage, La Presse - 08-14-2012

Jason Magder, The Gazette, Bell/Astral bashers get backing

But theirs isn’t the only opposition being voiced on the deal. Quebec’s consumer protection group, Option Consommateurs, said last month it believes a takeover of Astral by BCE would result in higher prices for television service.

And a citizens group based in Vancouver called, said it believes the deal will drive smaller cable providers out of business. “This deal is hugely anti-competitive,” said Lindsey Pinto, a spokesperson for the group.

While she’s happy the cable companies are raising the issue, she agreed it sounds disingenuous for those companies to complain.

“They’re doing the same thing while pushing back against Bell doing it,” she said. “This is very clearly a battle of the giants.” Her group is putting together a public campaign it says would be more representative of Canadians at large.
Jason Magder, The Gazette, Aug. 8

Financial Post, Cablecos fight Bell's Astral deal

Quebec's largest consumer group is condemning the purchase and hoping it doesn't fly. "With that type of size and concentration, the consumers will face higher prices, less choices, less variety of choices and less quality," said Robert Cazelais, president of Option Consommateurs.

The Consumers Council of Canada, a national consumer advocacy group, says the issue highlights the need for a new federal review of the impact of media concentration in Canada and whether it leads to undue influence.

"That would seem to me that it's time to have a look at this again. Are we going in the right direction? Because media concentration is ultimately of concern," said Don Mercer, the council's vice-president of federal matters. No major review of media concentration has been undertaken since the Kent Commission in 1980, and Mr. Mercer said the policy frameworks of the CRTC and Competition Bureau should be examined. Julia Johnson, Financial Post, Aug. 8

Winnipeg Free Press, Delay Bipole hearing to allow proper review: critics

There's too much information and too little time for a proper review of the proposed Bipole III transmission-line project, critics argued Thursday at a Clean Environment Commission pre-hearing. That's why the commission should put the brakes on its Oct. 1 starting date for the mandatory environmental hearing into the $3.3-billion project, said the Bipole III Coalition and the Manitoba branch of the Consumers' Association of Canada. They want an adjournment of at least two months. ...and the Manitoba branch of the Consumers' Association of Canada. They want an adjournment...border. The coalition and the consumers' association also argued the arm' it on the bus ride home." Consumers' association lawyer Byron Williams ...
Bruce Owen, Winnipeg Free Press - Fri Aug 17 2012

Maclean's, Companies are using your private information

You may have never heard of Choicestream, Criteo or m6d, but if you’ve ever looked at a pair of shoes on, odds are they know something about you. They are just three of 13 firms that are notified by the online retailer when you land on its home page. Similarly, a visit to is tracked by eight sites operated by third-party companies, while informs 12 others about your presence on its site….“The era of big data raises new risks about security and data theft,” warns Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, adding that governments, law enforcement and others may also have an interest in people’s online activities and profiles. While most companies have lengthy privacy polices that, for legal reasons, spell out what kind of information they collect, what it can be used for and who they may share it with, the policies can vary wildly from company to company, according to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Chris Sorensen, Maclean's, Mon Aug 13 2012


Toronto Star, RBC client told to leave after complaint

Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), a non-profit mediator. It chose...They are still required by law to use OBSI for investment complaints.) The two banks' defection was harmful to OBSI and the 600 members that finance its operations...  Ellen Roseman, Toronto Star, Aug 15 2012

FCAC, Guide to Credit Card Balance Insurance Now Available

Credit card balance insurance is often offered to people when they apply for, or when they have received, a credit card. To help Canadians decide whether this is a product that meets their needs, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has updated the information it provides to consumers about credit card balance insurance.

"Credit card balance insurance is optional. You are not required to buy it to get a credit card," says Ursula Menke, FCAC Commissioner.
"This guide is intended to provide consumers with basic information about credit card balance insurance: what it is, how it protects you, what it costs and how you can get it. It also outlines other insurance options that may offer coverage for outstanding credit card debt. You may find that you are already covered through other insurance you already have."
New regulations that came into force on August 1, 2012 stipulate that federally regulated financial institutions must obtain your consent before charging you for a new optional product or service, such as credit card balance insurance.
Marketwire - Aug. 14, 2012

Slaw, Death Knell for the National Banking Ombudsman?

... I have no doubt that ADR Chambers, the private service currently used by RBC and TD, is independent and impartial and that its neutrals are very well qualified. But I am equally sure that once the new regulations are in place and more service providers are competing for this work, it will be hard for the service providers to resist pressure to keep fees as low as possible and that means spending less time on each complaint.

If there have been problems with OBSI’s ability to provide timely, cost-effective services over the past few years, or issues with the quality of decisions it renders, the answer is to address them through better funding, increased resources and improved quality control, rather than by dismantling the system that has successfully served the financial industry and consumers for more than 15 years. Michael Erdle, Slaw - Tue Aug 14 2012

The Canadian Press, Bank rules to change

Canada's financial regulator is sending out a notice it wants to improve corporate governance guidelines in the banking sector. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) issued a consultation letter to federally regulated financial institutions Tuesday, but made clear its preference is to set out in writing new guidelines for good governance.

OSFI says the current guidelines, first published in 2003, have served the industry well, but adds corporate governance practices have evolved significantly over the past 10 years. The Canadian Press, Aug. 8, 2012

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Public Interest Advocate, Request to CRTC  respecting alleged corruption

TORONTO, Aug. 14, 2012 /CNW/ - Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, has been notified of an alleged case of long-term corruption at the quasi-judicial administrative tribunal that has purportedly served to unjustly enrich shareholders of several corporations, including Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications and Vidéotron.

The serious allegations have been made by Keith Mahar, a former broadcasting industry insider who has recently requested the opportunity to testify about this governance issue before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.  The parliamentary committee has yet to respond to his request.
Public Interest Advocate, Canada Newswire - Tue Aug 14 2012

Ontario Energy Board

OEB launches consumer awareness campaign

TORONTO, Aug. 13, 2012 /CNW/ - The Ontario Energy Board is launching a new multi-media consumer awareness campaign starting Monday, August 13, 2012. The campaign is designed to encourage consumers to understand who they are dealing with if an... The campaign is designed to encourage consumers to understand who they are dealing with if an energy company salesperson comes to their door, and focuses on four main points:

Always make sure you get a business card and look at the salesperson's ID first;
Don't share personal information unless you are sure you want to sign a contract;
Carefully read the contract, disclosure statement and price comparison provided by the salesperson; and
The Ontario Energy Board does not go door to door.
The campaign consists of radio and on-line ads as well as a brochure and a consumer protection video available in 13 languages. All of the campaign materials are available on our consumer website's retail energy contracts page.
Canada Newswire - Mon Aug 13 2012

Hamilton Spectator, Criticism of Union Gas is unfounded

Since 2008, Union Gas has operated under an incentive regulation framework approved by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB). CME and FRPO are parties that supported that framework through negotiated agreements. The framework incents the utility to optimize its revenues and costs. Our customers benefit from an upfront commitment for increased productivity, and from receiving a share of company earnings beyond a pre-set threshold, and have done so every year for the past four years. In 2011 alone, customers received an upfront productivity commitment of $15 million, which served to reduce their rates, and will receive an additional $17 million through earnings sharing.

Steve Baker, president, Union Gas Limited, Hamilton Spectator - Sat Aug 11 2012

Toronto Star, Union Gas collects $60 million in unauthorized fees

Union Gas has pocketed tens of millions of dollars in cost savings without fully sharing the money with ratepayers, some of Union’s biggest customers allege.

The customers compare it to a service business billing its clients for an executive class flight — but then flying economy and using the difference to boost its profit. Only the difference in this case is about $60 million over five years.

Two customers, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) and the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO), are making that case before the Ontario Energy Board. Toronto Star, John Spears, August 07, 2012


National Post, Cybervetting might reveal what it shouldn't

...but you can't hide. This inability to emerge from our past is paralleled in the job market. The Ontario Privacy Commission recently found that 77% of employers perform online background checks on prospective employees and 35% have...
Howard Levitt, National Post - Wed Aug 15 2012

Vancouver Sun, B.C.'s police database PRIME for use by employers

The province’s privacy watchdog has expanded its examination of criminal record checks done by prospective employers to include those in the private sector.

Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham recently completed an investigation that found B.C. government criminal checks into its workers was too broad.“I actually have a greater concern in the fact that some private sector employers are requiring what’s called police information checks which are distinct from criminal records checks,” said Denham this week. Gordon Hoekstra,Vancouver Sun, Aug 12 2012