One silly card game

Hello, all you idiots. Ready to do some dumb Christmas shopping? Oh dear. You don’t like being talked to that way? Then you’d best have a word with the Ontario government, which is poised to ban retail gift cards with expiry dates because YOU’RE TOO STUPID TO READ THE FINE PRINT.

According to the Sept. 25 Citizen, Government Services Minister Gerry Phillips will bring in a law banning gift cards that eventually expire, as those sold by most major Canadian stores do in 18 to 24 months. For some reason no other jurisdiction in Canada has yet taken this step. Mr. Phillips, according to a related Globe and Mail story, added: “In our opinion, when consumers purchase gift cards for their families and their friends, they do so assuming that they are like cash and they won’t lose their value. Consumers deserve to get what they pay for.”

Undoubtedly they do. Thus combatting fraud is a legitimate and important function of government. But when we buy a gift card with an expiry date and get a gift card with an expiry date we did get what we paid for.

As for the provincial government’s assumption about delusions I was suffering while purchasing goods and services, I would thank them to keep it to themselves if any way could be found of persuading them to do so.

Some nervous Nellies out there might feel the Ontario government has more pressing problems meriting space on its crowded legislative calendar. Like a shortage of electricity even with the province’s fading nuclear and coal-fired reactors going full blast on hot days, or growing health-care waiting lists even after shuffling resources between overstretched specialities. Faugh. Pay it no mind. We’re talking gift cards expiring after going unused for two years because you didn’t really want whatever it was anyway. The humanity.

Having taken a little walk to recover my equilibrium, I’ve discovered that my outrage expired in under 24 minutes. For one thing, a gift card you didn’t get around to using in, say, 17 months evidently didn’t address a pressing need or even a passing whim. The Globe says Starbucks is a major retailer of gift cards. Man, if you don’t need a coffee within 18 months you really don’t need a coffee.

For another thing, there’s no suggestion that the cards expire fraudulently or without warning. A gift card says stuff on it like “Must be used within 18 months” and then all of a sudden it turns out it must be used within 18 months. See if I don’t shop here again.

Since Mr. Phillips is minister of Government Services, not Consumer Affairs, would it be uncivil to suggest that he worry a bit less about merchants keeping their word and a bit more about governments not keeping theirs? Remember when Dalton McGuinty ran for premier of Ontario promising to shut down all the coal-fired generators? When environmentalists tried to redeem this green card the fine print said “Promise void where made.” And he wouldn’t even say if the promise was dishonest or incompetent, whether he’d known all along that there was no way the province could limp along without its coal-fired generating capacity or whether in his 13 years in opposition savaging the government for cluelessness he never devoted a couple of hours to familiarizing himself with tedious minutiae like Ontario’s power needs, actual generating capacity and options for adding to same in clean ways. (See: Nuclear option, dreaded.)

Maybe that’s why he thinks people don’t read fine print on gift cards. Hey, who’s got time for details?

Mr. McGuinty ran for premier promising not to raise taxes, then when he got elected he whacked the populace with heath-care “premiums” he denied were taxes until some clever person read the fine print in some silly old law that said if they were premiums the province had to pay them for its employees at which point … well, you get the idea. You go to the politician with the no-tax-hike card they gave you during the election and they point to the fine print saying “Not valid if we lied” and the ink is still wet because they just added it and you ask for your money back and they laugh so hard a tax increase comes out their nose.

The petty gall of such people promising to protect you against imaginary sharp practices by merchants is astounding. No business would dare sell joke greeting cards that say on the outside “We think you’re too dumb to be allowed to go to the store by yourself” and when you open it, it says “That’s why we brazenly lie to you during elections.”

Those politicians sure are a bunch of cards. They should be dealt with. (Warning: joke expired 24 years ago.)

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson