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New rule allowing businesses to charge credit card fees won't apply in Quebec

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New regulations allowing businesses in Canada to pass credit card fees onto customers will not apply in Quebec.

The measure is prohibited by the province's Consumer Protection Act, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), but elsewhere in Canada, the rule officially takes effect on Thursday.

However, since businesses will need time to adapt their payment systems, consumers may not be affected until early November.

The rule is the product of a multimillion-dollar class-action settlement involving Visa and Mastercard over so-called "swipe fees" that cut into business profits.

The fees range from one to three per cent and are highest for cards with loyalty perks such as cashback rewards and points-earning systems.

"In the end, it’s the small and medium-sized business owners that pay for the points of consumers," said Francois Vincent, the CFIB’s vice-president for Quebec.

Vincent said it’s a financial burden that is increasingly difficult for businesses to shoulder, especially small retailers.

"In a medium-sized grocery store you can have 1,000, 2,000 transactions a year. It can cost $200,000 in fees to a giant company and less than $10,000 for debit transactions," he said.

Should they sign up, merchants would be permitted to charge an additional fee to consumers at the point of sale to make up for the loss.

Vincent said the charge has been capped at 2.4 per cent of the purchase price. He said shoppers could always opt to use a debit card or cash to complete their purchase to avoid the fee, though they'll miss out on any perks the card offers.

QUEBEC BUSINESSES SHUT OUT

According to a CFIB survey, only 19 per cent of businesses in the nine other provinces would opt to charge customers a credit card fee.

Still, Vincent said even if the fee isn’t very popular at the moment, all provinces should be governed by the same regulations.

He points out that business owners in Ottawa will be permitted to charge a fee if they choose, while merchants across the river in Gatineau, Que. are prohibited from doing the same.

"We are living in Canada and why could some businesses in the rest of the country have the possibility that retailers or small businesses in Quebec would not have?" he said.

To that end, the CFIB intends to meet with Quebec’s new justice minister and ask for an update to the province's Consumer Protection Act to level the playing field.

"Businesses don’t want to put that surcharge on the customers," but the reality of small business owners — now grappling with inflation, high payroll taxes, and rents — also needs to be taken into account, he said.

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