Despite Stephen Harper's pledge that federal aides would be barred from lobbying for a minimum of five years after leaving government service, Kevin Macintosh, former aide to Democratic Reform Minister Rob Nicholson, is now working for the law firm representing the Canadian Payday Loan Association (CPLA), which is currently lobbying the feds to get rid of the 60 per cent annual interest limit set by the Criminal Code. The feds say Macintosh is exempt because he was a "parliamentary" rather than "ministerial" aide to his minister.
"We're not in the same offices; we do not deal with the same files," explains Nicholson's spokesperson Genevieve Breton. "He was never sworn in as a public office holder." Adds Duncan Fulton, of Mcintosh's firm, Fleishman-Hillard, "Mr. Mcintosh is not subject to any conflict of interest or post-employment code for public office holdres, nor is he subject to the five-year ban."
But says Mike Luff of the National Union of Public and General Employees. "At the end of the day, the payday loan industry is subverting democracy." "The danger is that low-income Canadians will continue to be fleeced and exploited by these companies."
Payday loan outfits charge exorbitant interest rates, sometimes above the legal maximum. They get away with this by disguising most of their charges as administrative fees.
Not so, says the CPLA, which points out that it has been calling on the federal government to allow provinces to regulate the industry.
Says CPLA spokesperson Norm Bishop, "We join the provinces in urging [the government] to move quickly to allow provinces to regulate the payday loan industry, protect consumers and ensure a viable industry."
NDP Consumer and Business Services critic Peter Kormos says banks need to be made friendlier to low-income customers so they won't have to turn to places like Money Mart or Unicash.
"The payday loan industry talks a big game about how it wants to be self-regulated, but clearly, it's prepared to fight regulation tooth and nail," says Kormos. "It'd make Tony Soprano blush."