November 9, 2017 1 week 6 days ago

Consumer group PIAC may shut down due to cash crunch

Seeking to boost donations

OTTAWA - The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) last week sent out an email appeal saying if it doesn’t raise enough funds by the end of the year, it will have to shut down.

PIAC has long been an advocate on behalf of Canadian consumers – most notably battling Canadian cable, broadband and wireless companies over their business practices and rates, but it is also an advocate for consumers in other sectors, such as financial services and airlines – but its email appeal sent last week says it may not survive much longer.

“This crisis has been caused by factors generally affecting all public interest groups, such as: increased scrutiny of public interest interventions before regulatory boards; flat or falling government funding for consumer research; donor fatigue; unfunded consultation inundation; and increased CRA scrutiny,” reads the email.

We contacted PIAC executive director and general counsel John Lawford who noted the group is waiting on about $150,000 in cost claims decisions from the CRTC dating back almost 18 months. It needs about $50,000 by February to keep paying its small staff and about $200,000 to retire its deficit. If that happens, PIAC will then turn its attention towards boosting donations, which currently make up less than 1% of its income, says Lawford.

The group is largely funded by costs recovery programs for consumer groups - such as from the CRTC and Ontario Energy Board - and research contracts from other government departments.

PIAC also does a lot of unfunded work, added Lawford: largely in financial services such as sitting on the Finance Canada Payments Consultative Committee, responding to consultations from the Department of Finance, advocacy work on payday loans and high cost credit, privacy complaints work, supporting Bill C-49 to create an airline passenger complaints regime, competition law, electronic commerce law, and other consumer protection work.

As of October 1st, PIAC had to stop answering unfunded government consultations and has so far turned down 10 of them.

PIAC’s staff includes Lawford, who is an external counselor on retainer and does not receive a salary as executive director, one administrator, one half-time staff lawyer, one outside counsel on retainer, another external counsel working on OEB files, and it had to let go of its researcher in September.

The group has been working on behalf of consumers (which can be a sometimes thankless task) since 1976. Anyone wishing to donate, can click here.