Tuesday, May 26th13.0°C

A third of Canadian's won't take advantage of new TFSA limits: poll

TORONTO - A new survey suggests about a third of Canadians don't have the money to take advantage of new rules under which Ottawa almost doubled the amount that can be contributed each year to tax-free savings accounts.

The poll done for CIBC found that roughly 34 per cent of respondents said they either didn't have the money to take advantage of the new $10,000 limit or had other investment plans.

Breaking the figure down, 18 per cent of those surveyed said they would probably contribute less than the old limit of $5,500, while 12 per cent said they would not have enough savings this year to make a contribution. Four per cent said they would contribute to other saving plans.

The survey found just 10 per cent said they typically contribute the maximum and would now invest $10,000, while an additional 17 per cent said they would try to increase their contributions above $5,500.

Twenty per cent of those responding did not have a TFSA account and had no plans to open one.

The online survey was conducted between April 30 and May 4, less two weeks after the federal budget announcement.

"It's encouraging to see Canadians are well aware of the increased TFSA limit and that some are focused on increasing their contribution, though not everyone is able to," said CIBC senior vice-president Veni Iozzo.

"Awareness and intentions don't always translate into action, which is why creating a savings plan and following it is so important."

Tax-free savings accounts were started in 2009 and allow Canadians to invest their money and not pay any tax on their gains.

The increase in the TFSA contribution limits was promised by the Tories in the last election. As part of the increase, however, the limit will no longer increase with inflation.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error as they are not a random sample and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

The Canadian Press


Temperature plunge leaves Ontario vineyards scrambling to prevent crop damage

TORONTO - Vineyard owners in parts of southern Ontario are assessing the damage from a record-breaking plunge into cold weather that some growers say has devastated their grape crops.

Both Prince Edward County and the Niagara region were hit with unseasonably low temperatures over the weekend that sent farmers scrambling to prevent frost from killing their fruit.

They rented helicopters, turned on wind machines and set bales of hay aflame in the dead of night, hoping their rescue effort wasn't for naught.

The outcome was mixed: some smaller wineries say their crop was practically gutted in the deep-freeze, which tore through the region late Friday night and into Saturday morning.

"We knew frost was coming but nobody was prepared for what we got here," said Liz Dobson Lacey, sales manager at Lacey Estates in Prince Edward County.

"We still have another couple weeks (before we) see what the real damage is going to be."

At the Lacey Estates, the owners burned hay across their 3.5-hectares of land until sunrise on Saturday morning, but they could only prevent some frost damage.

In the lower fields, where cold air settles, all of the baco and chardonnay grapes were destroyed. Vines on higher land were mostly unscathed, with only about six per cent of the crops suffering damage, she said.

Other vineyards weren't so lucky.

Clark Tyler, manager at Harwood Estate Vineyards, estimates that a mere five per cent of grapes at the four-hectare vineyard survived the frost, and some of his friends lost nearly everything.

"It's difficult to wrap your head around," Tyler said.

"It has been a complete and utter shocker."

Farmers are counting on a stroke of luck, the chance of a secondary bud emerging on the damaged vines. If it survived the frost, the bud could save the crop, but there are no guarantees.

If the buds don't appear, the grape shortage could affect next year's wine selection.

Springtime frost is a persistent challenge for vineyards in southern Ontario, but this year the cold temperatures set a new precedent.

Environment Canada says its station in nearby Trenton logged the lowest temperatures on record for both May 22 (-0.3 C) and May 23 (-2 C) since it began monitoring the area in 1935.

"That in and of itself speaks to the relative rarity of getting temperatures this cold, this late into the month of May," said Geoff Coulson, a warning preparedness meteorologist for the national weather service.

Temperatures also dropped to record levels in the Niagara region where local growers also battled the frost.

A new low of -1.9 C was logged by Environment Canada on May 23, though the impact appeared to be less dire for growers in the area.

Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt bolted into action on Friday afternoon when his iPhone app sent him a frost warning. He rented a helicopter and took to the sky overnight in a fight to keep his crop alive.

Flying over the vineyard pushes warm air, and the heat of the helicopter's exhaust, down onto the grapevines, effectively raising the temperature above freezing. Meanwhile, his colleague drove across the land in a vehicle as he searched for the coldest spots.

"With the work we did with the helicopter we have no damage whatsoever," Schmidt said.

"You've got to get out and do something. If you don't, and you have damage, you're never going to forgive yourself."

Small family-owned wineries face the biggest challenge of deciding whether the financial impact of bad weather outweighs the expense of fighting it.

Wind turbines can cost around $40,000 each before factoring in the ongoing cost of fuel, and helicopter rentals aren't cheap either.

"It's a little tougher on the small guys," Dobson Lacey said.

For now, she plans to keep a close watch on her crop over the coming weeks. If she's lucky, the damage won't be as bad as it seems, but it's still too early to tell.

"This year was looking like a really great year," she said. "Then in less than six hours it was kind of taken away."

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The Canadian Press

Three energy amigos

Canada, the United States and Mexico have established a ministerial-level working group on climate change and energy issues.

Greg Rickford, Canada's minister of natural resources, reached the deal – along with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Pedro Joaquin-Coldwell, Mexico's energy secretary – during a meeting of North American energy ministers.

The working group will focus on a number of issues, including reliable and low-carbon electricity grids, deployment of clean energy technologies including renewables, and energy efficiency for equipment, appliances, industries and buildings.

They will also look at carbon-capture, use and storage, climate change adaptation and resilience emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The Harper government has come under criticism for not developing climate-change regulations for the oil and gas industry.

The latest ministerial agreement follows a December announcement of three-way co-operation on a number of other energy issues, including responsible development of unconventional oil and gas deposits.

"By co-operating with our North American partners, we are enhancing energy security and the environment while strengthening jobs and the economy," Rickford said in a statement.

Formation of the working group follows the announcement last week of new Canadian emissions targets.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that Canada planned to reduce its greenhouse gas missions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – a target she called fair, ambitious and in line with other major industrialized countries.

In the House of Commons on Monday, New Democrat Megan Leslie dismissed Aglukkaq's target.

"It doesn't deliver Canada's fair share of emissions reductions," Leslie said.

Aglukkaq replied by saying Canada would take "a responsible and balanced, sector-by-sector approach to reducing emissions, but protect the economy and Canadian jobs."

The Canadian Press


Who? Alberta's new energy minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd an unknown in the oilpatch

CALGARY - News that Marg McCuaig-Boyd would be Alberta's new energy minister was greeted by the oilpatch with a collective, "Who?"

The newly elected NDP politician from the province's northwest touts education, administration and business consulting in her bio, but nothing related to oil and gas.

The name didn't ring a bell for Martin Pelletier, portfolio manager at Calgary-based investment firm TriVest Wealth Counsel.

He said he was happy to see Premier Rachel Notley reach out to energy industry leaders immediately after the election, but he's concerned about what signal the choice for energy minister sends.

"She appointed someone that probably wouldn't be considered to be high up within her party. That's sending a message of how important she views the energy portfolio, I think," he said.

"Maybe it's sending the wrong message to the energy industry."

Giving the energy portfolio to someone more recognizable would have been a good move, said Pelletier.

That could have been Notley herself, or someone like legislature veteran Brian Mason, who is government house leader and minister of infrastructure and transportation.

Sonny Mottahed of Black Spruce Merchant Capital in Calgary said he'd liked to have seen oil and gas expertise on the energy minister's resume.

"The oil business has so many moving parts. I tend to think you need to have some background in it to be able to fully understand and appreciate everything that's involved in it," he said.

McCuaig-Boyd, 62, did not return messages for comment. But she told radio station CKYL that a review of the province's oil and gas royalties would be a priority.

She said she's excited to take on the high-profile portfolio. And if Twitter mentions are any indication, she knows she's already "under the microscope."

"I think I'll be a good representative for our industry for sure," she told CKYL.

McCuaig-Boyd and her husband have lived on a farm in the Fairview, Alta., area for 35 years.

Jeff Gaulin, vice-president of communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, noted the energy industry has a big presence in that region.

"She would know very well people who work in the industry — if not her friends, then neighbours or colleagues," he said.

"She comes from a community that would very much experience the good times as well as the challenging times, so I think that she would have a level of familiarity with the industry."

Chris Severson-Baker, with the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, said experience isn't everything.

"I think it's much more important that they are a critical thinker, somebody who's able to reach out across a broad range of stakeholders and help create the relationships that the ministry needs to cultivate and is good at making decisions, good at asking the right questions," he said.

McCuaig-Boyd and the new environment minister, Shannon Phillips, have their work cut out for them, said Severson-Baker.

"There's a big backlog, especially on the climate change file," he said.

The to-do list also includes matters related to oilsands tailings waste and renewable energy.

"One of the things we'd like to do is sit down and understand what their priorities are and help them make some decisions about how to prioritize because the list is too long to deal with everything at once."

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The Canadian Press

Energy East pipeline would threaten Manitoba's drinking water: report

WINNIPEG - A new report says a pipeline that would carry one million barrels of oil daily from Alberta to the East Coast would threaten the drinking water of more than 60 per cent of Manitoba residents.

The report by the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition said a rupture on the proposed Energy East pipeline would seep into any number of waterways which feed into Winnipeg's water supply.

The pipeline transporting oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries and port terminals on the East Coast would partly run underneath an aqueduct carrying Winnipeg's drinking water from Shoal Lake near the Ontario boundary.

Dennis LeNeveu, a retired biophysicist and author of the report, said a 40-year old repurposed natural gas line would be used across Manitoba. Such pipelines can get corroded and have ruptured four times in Manitoba in the last 20 years, he said.

The entire length of Winnipeg's 100-year-old aqueduct would be in danger of contamination from the pipeline, which would run parallel to it, LeNeveu said.

"Small, continuous, undetected leaks will occur and seep unseen into the ground causing ground and surface water contamination," he said following the release of the report Monday. "One spill, one leak — it doesn't have to be a big leak — almost anywhere along that line can be carried over our aqueduct."

There would also be "a significant risk of rupture and explosion" from a nearby natural gas line in Manitoba, LeNeveu said. Such an explosion could "easily be as large or larger" than the train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Que., almost two years ago, the report said.

"The smoke plume from such an explosion and fire could necessitate the immediate evacuation of the entire population of Winnipeg should it occur nearby."

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), the company behind the $12-billion pipeline, said it would be safe. Spokesman Tim Duboyce said the company already does a thorough inspection of the existing line with technology that can detect erosion as small as a pencil tip.

Such defects are immediately repaired, he said. Energy East would be monitored around the clock and would be shut down the minute any leak were detected.

"We're proceeding with the preparation of this project with safety at top of mind," Duboyce said.

TransCanada has never had an oil pipeline leak because of a problem with the "integrity" of the line, he said.

Critics say even a small risk of contaminating Manitoba's water is too great.

"There is absolutely no replacement for water in sustaining life," said Vicki Burns, director of the Save Lake Winnipeg Project. "On the other hand, we know there are new technologies that actually will allow us to meet our energy needs without relying on the problems of fossil fuels."

Alex Paterson with the energy justice coalition called on the provincial government to oppose the proposal, even though it is federally regulated. Paterson said the province still controls building permits and conducts its own environmental assessment.

"The reality is, if they wanted to protect the water, the only sure way to protect our water is not have this pipeline go through."

Conservation Minister Tom Nevakshonoff declined to be interviewed. Spokesman Al Foster said in an emailed statement the department was studying the report and it would be taken into consideration during National Energy Board hearings on the project.

The Canadian Press

Most actively traded companies on the TSX

Some of the most active companies traded Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange:

Toronto Stock Exchange (15,187.40, down 13.36 points):

Trevaili Mining Corp. (TSX:TV). Miner. Down one cent, or 0.93 per cent, at $1.07 on 1.7 million shares.

Niko Resources Ltd. (TSX:NKO). Oil and Gas. Up 1.5 cents, or 3.9 per cent, at 40 cents on 1.5 million shares.

Capital Power Corp. (TSX:CPX). Utility. Down eight cents, or 0.33 per cent, at $23.93 on 1.34 million shares.

Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B). Aerospace, rail equipment. Up one cent, or 0.4 per cent, at $2.48 on 1.3 million shares.

Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (TSX:PRE). Oil and Gas. Down 12 cents, or 1.97 per cent, at $5.98 on one million shares.

Merus Labs International Inc. (TSX:MSL). Pharmaceuticals. Up three cents, or 1.03 per cent, at $2.95 on 920,000 shares.

Companies reporting major news:

Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX). Miner. Up one cent, or 0.07 per cent at $15.12 on 191,373 shares. Barrick, which has been looking to sell non-core assets as it streamlines operations and cuts costs, signed a deal to sell its Cowal mine in Australia to Evolution Mining for US$550 million. It plans to use the proceeds to pay down debt.

Air Canada (TSX:AC). Airline. Up four cents, or 0.32 per cent, at $12.62 on 243,413 shares. Canada's largest airline began its announced crackdown on oversized carry-on luggage beginning with flights out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport. It intends to expand the program across the country in the next two weeks.

The Canadian Press

TSX lower

The Toronto stock market drifted marginally lower Monday in the absence of major economic news and with U.S. markets closed for the Memorial Day holiday.

At mid-afternoon, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 8.75 points at 15,192.01 despite a slight rise in commodity prices.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.06 of a U.S. cent at 81.23 cents.

In commodities trading, the July contract for benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose 10 cents to US$59.82 a barrel, but the energy sector declined 0.53 per cent.

June gold rose $2.50 to US$1,206.50 an ounce, while July copper rose two cents to US$2.83 a pound. The metals and mining sector was down 0.57 per cent.

Overseas, China announced a 50 per cent cut in import duties on a number of consumer products in a move to spur consumer spending and revitalize its slowing economic growth. The tariff cuts, to take effect June 1, cover clothing, shoes, skin care products, baby food and supplies and kitchen utensils.

"Expanding domestic consumer demand is an important measure for steady growth and structural adjustment," China's Finance Department said.

In corporate news, Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) signed a deal to sell its Cowal mine in Australia to Evolution Mining for US$550 million.

Barrick, which has been looking to sell non-core assets as it streamlines its operations and cuts costs, says it will use the proceeds to pay down debt. Its stock was up four cents at $15.50.

Meanwhile, Air Canada (TSX:AC) began a crackdown on oversized carry-on luggage beginning with flights out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport in a program it plans to expand across the country in two weeks. Passengers whose carry-on luggage exceeds size and weight restrictions are sent back to check-in where standard fees apply. Its stock was up six cents at $12.64.

The Canadian Press

Ombudsman says Hydro One mistreated and misled customers about billing problems

TORONTO - Hydro One treated customers "abominably" after a new computer system resulted in huge billing errors for about 100,000 homes, Ontario's ombudsman reported Monday.

In his investigation of the Hydro One billing practices, Andre Marin also accused the Crown corporation of lying to the government and his office about the extent of the problem.

The ombudsman's office was flooded with 10,700 complaints from Hydro One ratepayers about overbilling and "outrageously bad customer service" as the utility scrambled to fix technical glitches with the new system, added Marin.

"Customers felt mistreated and abused when they tried to report these problems to Hydro One," he said. "Customers who had huge sums of money pulled from their bank accounts without warning, or who were hit with outrageous bills, were treated abominably."

As complaints grew, Hydro One deceived the electricity regulator and the ombudsman's office "about the extent and nature of its billing and customer service disaster," Marin said in a special report.

"One of the issues that really concerns me is how they obstructed and lied to the minister of energy's office, the board of directors and the Ontario Energy Board," he said.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli was "disappointed" with the report's findings, and said he had been getting different stories about billing problems from Hydro One officials.

"As this issue was evolving, the seriousness of it kept changing," said Chiarelli.

Misleading the ombudsman could result in fines or even a jail term, but Marin rejected the idea of pursuing charges against anyone at Hydro One.

"We'd have to build a new courthouse because there are a lot of people that you'd have to charge," he said. "Today I'm simply reminding Hydro One not to do it again."

Hydro One lost sight of its duty to the public when it introduced the $180 million customer service system, and had to spend another $88 million to fix its problems, said Marin.

"Hydro One reacted in the worst way possible, with deflection and deception," he said. "It minimized the issue, misled its overseers, relied on public relations spin and put its customers last."

Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello insisted his officials never lied to anyone about the extent of the billing problems.

"We focused on fixing technical issues, but we failed to appreciate how those issues would impact our customers," said Marcello. "We let them down. We didn't treat them well, and we're sorry that we put them through a difficult experience."

Marin warned his office and Ontario's auditor general will lose oversight of Hydro One once the Liberal government's budget bill passes, approving the privatization of up to 60 per cent of the electrical utility. An internal ombudsman at Hydro One would never have released such a critical report on thousands of customer complaints, he said.

"These corporate, internal ombudsmen are sometimes referred to, by themselves, as ombuddies," he said, noting that they would lack the tools, the independence or the impartiality to take their organizations to task.

The Progressive Conservatives want the government to maintain majority ownership of Hydro One while the New Democrats oppose the sale completely, but both are worried about the lack of public oversight once the utility is sold to private investors.

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The Canadian Press

Greek government rules out imposing controls on money transfers if bailout talks fail

ATHENS, Greece - Greece's government on Monday ruled out restricting access to bank accounts and the free movement of money if there is no breakthrough soon in tortuous talks with bailout creditors and its dwindling cash reserves dry up.

The possibility of imposing capital controls — part of a chain of events that could lead to Greece leaving the euro if things take a disastrous turn — "simply does not exist," said Gabriel Sakellaridis, spokesman for the radical left-led government.

He spoke after a senior opposition conservative lawmaker was quoted as saying capital controls could be imposed this coming long weekend — June 1 is the Orthodox Pentecost holiday — or shortly later if the government is unable to make a loan repayment due to the International Monetary Fund on June 5.

Greece has survived for the past 5 years on rescue loans from the IMF and its European partners. But the creditors have held up the rescue loans as long as Greece does not agree to make new economic reforms. Officials in the governing Syriza party say salaries and pensions have priority over loan repayments if push comes to shove amid a growing liquidity crisis.

Experts say Greece could eventually have to impose capital controls to prevent a bank run, when depositors flock to bank branches and ATMs to withdraw their savings. An estimated 30 billion euros ($33.5 billion) have already flowed out of Greek banks since elections were called late last year, but a more sudden surge in withdrawals would cause the banks to collapse.

Such a panic could be triggered by the country — which is already scraping together its last cash reserves — failing to make a payment to the IMF, or any other creditor, or being unable to fully pay pensions and public sector salaries. One Syriza official has said that Greece lacks the money to repay the IMF next week.

In turn, such a market panic would render worthless the government bonds and treasury bills Greek banks use to borrow vital capital from the European Central Bank. Bankrupt and without a functioning banking system, Greece would then have to dump the euro for a new, severely devalued version of its old drachma currency.

"Such scenarios lack any foundation whatsoever, are malignant and are used in a completely irresponsible fashion," Sakellaridis told a press briefing. "The possibility of us having capital controls, or any other development in the banking system, quite simply put, does not exist."

He insisted that talks with bailout creditors, launched after the Syriza party won Jan. 25 elections on a promise to not make more budget-cutting reforms, would come to fruition "in a short time."

"That is the government's intention and the target we have set," Sakellaridis said. "By the end of May, the start of June, to be able to have a mutually beneficial agreement."

"This government has the duty to pay its obligations both in Greece and abroad," he said. "The liquidity problems are known. We want to meet our obligations, which is why we are trying to achieve an agreement as soon as possible," he added.

Officials in Athens say a deal is close despite an apparent deadlock on key issues, such as demanded pension and labour market reforms.

Greek shares were down about 2 per cent in early afternoon trading Monday.

The Canadian Press

Housing starts to slow slightly this year and in 2016: CMHC Q2 outlook

OTTAWA - Lower crude prices are expected to help contribute to a split in the Canadian housing market that will see oil-producing provinces slow but others gain ground, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Monday.

The federal agency predicted the overall pace of housing starts will slow slightly this year and next, but that there would be regional differences.

"A slowdown in housing starts and resale transactions in oil-producing provinces such as Alberta will be partly offset by increased housing market activity in other provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia, which benefit from the positive impacts of declining energy prices, a lower Canadian dollar and continued low mortgage rates," CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan said in a statement.

"Moreover, since the inventory of completed and unabsorbed units remains above the historical average, we expect the pace of new home construction to moderate over the next couple of years as builders focus on managing the existing inventory."

CMHC's second-quarter forecast calls for between 166,540 and 188,580 housing starts this year and between 162,840 and 190,930 in 2016.

That compared with a first-quarter outlook for housing starts to range between 154,000 and 201,000 units in 2015 and from 148,000 to 203,000 units the following year.

Regionally, Alberta is expected to see a 13.8 per cent drop in housing starts, while Saskatchewan is forecast to slip 21.3 per cent this year. Offsetting the decreases, Ontario is expected to gain 4.3 per cent.

Sales though the Multiple Listing Service are expected to range between 437,100 and 494,500 units in 2015, while the average MLS price is forecast to be between $402,139 and $439,589.

In 2016, MLS sales are expected to be between 424,500 to 491,300 units at an average price between $398,191 and $457,200.

Alberta is expected to be the big percentage loser with a drop in resales of 19.2 per cent this year, while Saskatchewan is expected to lose 9.8 per cent.

Ontario resales are forecast to gain 1.8 per cent, while B.C. is expected to add 6.5 per cent.

The Canadian Press

Carry-on clamp down

With the busy summer travel season taking flight, Air Canada today began clamping down on carry-on baggage.

Airline staff at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have been stationed at both check-in and security checkpoints to ensure carry-on bags meet size and weight requirements.

Bags that meet the airline's carry-on dimensions will receive a red tag, which the airline says will help reduce wait times at security.

Air Canada says carry-on bags which exceed the regulations will need to be checked and "standard fees will apply."

The airline says if passengers get to security and need to check a bag that exceeds size limits, they'll receive a special card to get quickly back to a check-in agent, and then on to the departure gate.

Transport Canada rules allow passengers to carry on two unchecked items.

Air Canada specifies that a personal item can include a backpack, briefcase or laptop computer measuring up to 16 by 33 by 43 centimetres and a standard item such as a suitcase measuring up to 23 by 40 by 55 centimetres including wheels and handles.

Those travelling with an infant on their lap can carry on an additional standard article.

The airline began charging a $25 checked-bag fee last fall on its lowest-class domestic flights and on flights to and from the Caribbean and Mexico. Air Canada has charged for a traveller's first checked bag on U.S.-Canada transborder routes since 2011.

The airline says the tagging program will expand progressively to other airports across the country through June.

The Canadian Press

Fire shuts down gas plant

Cenovus Energy Inc. has shut down production at its Foster Creek oilsands and Athabasca natural gas operations due to a nearby forest fire.

The fire is about 25 kilometres south of Foster Creek.

The company pulled 1,800 people from the site due to the fire's proximity to the only access road to the facilities.

Cenovus says once the fire is under control and it is deemed safe to return, operations will resume as soon as possible.

Foster Creek, which is jointly owned with ConocoPhillips, has average daily production of approximately 135,000 barrels.

The Athabasca natural gas operation produces about 20 million cubic feet per day, most of which is used as fuel for Foster Creek.

The Canadian Press

Singing the cellphone blues

Wireless carriers automatically renewing customers' contracts without their consent. Clients being kept on hold for hours while trying to cancel their services. Mysterious charges from unknown third parties popping up on customers' phone bills.

These were some of the most commonly cited allegations in hundreds of complaints lodged by consumers with the CRTC about telecom companies between January and August of 2013. The Canadian Press requested the documents via Access to Information legislation in September 2013 but did not receive them until March of this year.

A few of the appeals are heart-wrenching. One complainant alleges Bell wouldn't stop harassing him about his deceased wife's account, even though he had paid it off.

"Losing my wife of 45 years was hard enough, but dealing with ineptitude like this makes it even harder," he wrote.

Bell said it works to resolve all complaints but it can't comment on what happened in this case because it would need to know the identity of the complainant, which was redacted by the CRTC. The CRTC noted that it was copied on the complaint that was sent to Bell CEO George Cope and the federal regulator closed the file.

Another wrote to the CRTC in desperation, accusing Bell of shutting off service for an "unknown reason" and that five calls to the company had failed to resolve the problem.

"Please please help me," the complainant wrote. "I'm 77 years old and just lost my wife and I need my phone and Bell won't fix the error that they caused."

In its response letter to the CRTC, Bell said it had accidentally disconnected the customer's phone line a week earlier than requested but restored service a few days later. The customer received a $56.44 credit as a good will gesture.

Other complaints contain personal details or wacky anecdotes.

One complainant alleges Bell cut off his phone service on Halloween night, leaving him unable to pick up his girlfriend, who was left waiting for him alone outside.

Again, Bell said it works to resolve all complaints but can't comment on this specific case without knowing the identity of the complainant. The CRTC said it does not intervene in billing, marketing practices and quality of service.

Another person alleges he was trying to get Telus service trucks to stop speeding through his neighbourhood when company employees flashed him the middle finger.

Speaking generally and not about the specific complaint, Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the company expects its technicians to provide a high level of customer service and they try to resolve such instances immediately. The CRTC said the complaint was outside its scope.

Many of the gripes were about billing issues and were referred to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services. In one instance, Telus provided a customer with a $2,435.25 credit for erroneous charges, taxes and interest.

BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. say the number of complaints filed about telecom companies has been steadily declining as all three companies have worked to improve customer service.

"These specific issues demonstrate that we're not perfect at Telus," said Hall. "We are striving to bring the number of complaints down to zero."

Ottawa has introduced a number of regulations in recent years to address some of the issues contained in the complaints.

In June 2013, the CRTC introduced a new wireless code that allows customers to cancel their cellphone contracts after two years without incurring penalties. The code also makes it easier for Canadians to unlock their phones so they can be used with another carrier.

The federal government has banned telecommunications companies from charging customers for paper bills, and as of late January, customers have been able to cancel their telephone, Internet and cable services without providing 30 days' notice.

An annual report from the complaints commissioner suggests the measures are having an effect.

The commissioner accepted 11,340 complaints by the end of 2014 – down 17 per cent from the previous year.

Roughly 32 per cent – or 3,651 complaints – were about Bell, down nearly seven per cent from the previous year. Rogers and its discount brand, Fido, came in second with 3,284 complaints, a decline of about 31.5 per cent.

Telus received 653 complaints, roughly six per cent of the total and a decline of about 26 per cent.

Hall said the decline indicates that the company's focus on improving its customer service is working.

"That said, one complaint is too many," said Hall. "We learn from them. And if we need to change a policy or a practice, we'll do that."

Rogers spokeswoman Heather Robinson said the company has been investing in improving its customer service.

"Much has changed in the time since those complaints were initially lodged," Robinson said in an email, adding that the company always checks with customers before renewing their contracts and provides refunds to clients who are billed for services via premium text messaging that they did not request.

Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said the company works to investigate and resolve all complaints it receives.

"Bell may have a greater total number of service complaints than other companies, but it's worth noting we are by far Canada's largest communications company with more than 21 million customers in every province and territory," Michelis said in an email.

The Canadian Press

6 unusual CRTC complaints

TORONTO - Consumers lodged hundreds of complaints against telecom companies between January and August of 2013. Here are six of the more unusual complaints, obtained by The Canadian Press through an Access to Information request:

No answer on Halloween:

One person alleges Bell accidentally cancelled their phone service instead of renewing their contract. "They shut my service off the night of Halloween, and I was supposed to pick up my girlfriend when she called. ... My girlfriend was also out of contact with me and waiting alone outside on Halloween."

Bell said it investigates and tries to resolve all service complaints. It said it can't look into how a specific complaint was handled without identifying information, which was redacted by the CRTC. In regards to this complaint, the CRTC said it does not intervene in issues such as retail rates, equipment, billing, marketing practices and quality of service.

Flipping the bird:

Another complaint alleges Telus trucks have been speeding in his neighbourhood. The complainant says he hasn't been able to get in touch with a manager and the client representative he spoke to laughed at him. When he told one of the trucks to slow down, the Telus employees allegedly gave him the finger.

Speaking generally and not about the specific complaint, Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the company expects its technicians to provide a high level of customer service, but that they are a large organization and won't always be perfect. He said they try to resolve such instances right away. The CRTC said the complaint was outside its scope.

Blowing the horn:

A complainant alleges Telus told them restoration would take weeks after its workers interrupted service for nine customers while installing equipment. The complainant says they look after a young woman with multiple sclerosis.

"She has been using an air horn to get our attention, which I'm sure is annoying the neighbours. Last week our 7-year-old grandson was sick at school and they couldn't reach us. ... We need our phone back."

In a response to the CRTC, Telus said it expedited the repairs, although clients were still without service for more than two weeks. The complainant received a one-month credit for roughly $63 plus tax. Hall, the Telus spokesman, said the company operates in rural areas where there is no full-time technician and if a customer loses service, its policy is to send a technician to the site immediately. He said the incident is likely due to human error.

Closed account:

Another person alleges that during the four months since his wife died, Bell has phoned him repeatedly to get him to pay and close the account - despite the client saying he already did that. "Losing my wife of 45 years was hard enough, but dealing with ineptitude like this makes it even harder."

Bell said it can't provide comment on what happened with the specific complaint because it would need to know the identity of the complainant, which was redacted by the CRTC. But Bell said it investigates and works to resolve all complaints it receives. The CRTC noted that the complaint was sent to Bell CEO George Cope and it was copied on it. The CRTC said the file was closed.

Mobile home park outage:

A complaint from the owner of a mobile home park alleges up to 20 residents were without service for months. The complainant says they spoke to Telus about repairs, but the company kept delaying.

The CRTC forwarded the request to Telus and asked the carrier to provide a report to the agency within 20 days. Hall, the Telus spokesman, said that during service outages in rural areas where there is no full-time technician, the company aims to send an employee to restore service as soon as possible, adding that any delays are likely due to scheduling errors by dispatchers. "Our focus is on minimizing that."

Breaking the door:

A complainant alleges a Rogers technician who came to install service to his or her home damaged a door. The company allegedly refused to compensate the customer for the broken door.

The CRTC said it provided the complainant with a contact number for Rogers. Rogers did not respond to the specific allegations contained in the complaint but a spokesman said in an email that it takes all complaints seriously. "We investigate all complaints and work to make things right," Kevin Spafford said.

The Canadian Press

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