Wendling to push for lower tariffs, regulatory harmonization

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Peter Kovessy
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Ottawa retail executive Louise Wendling says Canadians are paying inflated prices for consumer goods, and said she plans to lobby politicians to harmonize costly regulations and lower import tariffs in her pending retirement from Costco Canada.

Costco Canada country manager Louise Wendling.

In a speech Friday morning, Ms. Wendling said retailers – already accustomed to dealing with rules that vary from province to province – are increasingly dealing with a patchwork of municipal environmental bylaws.

For example, the City of Toronto had a plastic bag tax which morphed into a complete ban that was subsequently shelved. Ms. Wendling, Costco Canada’s senior vice-president and country manager, also noted the differences in business recycling programs across the country.

The jurisdictional variances add up for national retailers such as Costco, which must pass those costs onto consumers, she said.

As Ms. Wendling prepares to entire retirement – which was supposed to happen in December, but she joked she’s only had 10 days off so far in 2013 – she said she wants to make politicians aware of the costs retailers face and show them the benefits of harmonizing regulations where possible.

“Sometimes when they pass a law, they don’t realize the implications,” Ms. Wendling said in an interview following her talk at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer Alumni Breakfast Speaker Series.

She said she’d also like to see the price gap between Canadian and U.S. retail prices narrowed, starting with a review of import tariffs.

In some cases, she said, tariffs are in place to protect Canadian manufacturing sectors that no longer exist, and are only driving shoppers across the border.

“The business and tax (revenue) we’re losing in Canada because people are shopping in the U.S. is tremendous,” she said.

Ms. Wendling also pointed the finger at U.S. suppliers, who she says have failed to update their prices as the Canadian dollar has strengthened. As a result, in some egregious cases, she can actually buy a product at the retail level in the U.S. for less than she pays as a Canadian wholesale buyer.

Earlier this month, a Senate committee called on the federal government to launch a comprehensive review of tariffs as a way of narrowing the price gap between Canadian and U.S. consumer goods.

The committee says Canadian consumers feel ripped off by higher prices in Canada, but the problem is not as simple as it appears.

It cites factors such as the different size in the market and the fact that suppliers often charge Canadian retailers more than their counterparts in the U.S.

Ms. Wendling, OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce’s CEO of the Year in 2012, oversees a retail chain that includes more than 80 stores across the country doing more than $18 billion in annual sales.

- With files from the Canadian Press

Organizations: Costco, University of Ottawa, Telfer Alumni Breakfast Speaker Series Senate committee Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Canadian Press

Geographic location: U.S., Toronto, Canada

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