Robert R. Kerton

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, former Dean of Arts

Robert R. Kerton.
BComm (Toronto); MA (Carleton); PhD (Duke)
Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Retired: 2008

Areas of specialization: Consumer economics; International consumer policy; Microeconomics of regulation; Public policy


Born in London, Ontario, I went to public school there and high schools at Ajax and Pickering.  While enrolled in Commerce and Finance at the University of Toronto, I discovered that I appreciated economics…though even at that age, the assumption that consumers and firms have ‘full information’ struck me as implausible. Still, I could see that the application of economic principles was crucial to understanding economic issues. My PhD advisor, JJ Spengler, a Past President of the American Economics Association, was well-recognized as a man-of-all-science.  This breadth gave me a keen appreciation of the enriched understanding that can be made by other disciplines. At doctorate time, I found I was demographically lucky (scarce) with an overwhelming number of job offers. I chose the University of Waterloo because it was so confidently different from other universities. Students who choose Waterloo are also different – in a most positive way. Over the years I have thoroughly enjoyed the two-way learning exchange with students bringing work term experience to class.  Second year micro – with practical examples – was one gratifying class.  I created a fun class now called consumer economics and marketing and another applied course in Canadian economic problems.   Later success of students really is impressive and, of course, I always claim more credit than the evidence justifies.

For more than three decades exhilarating exercise included playing competitive basketball with the Pheasants, a faculty/staff team with a respectable record in the University intramural league.  I enjoy working with students, faculty, staff, off-campus teachers, activists, policy-makers and others.  This interest includes the Board of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education: an NGO providing highly effective original material for students at all ages.  I’ve had impressive and unselfish support from University members including staff in several roles, including terms as Chair of Economics, and as Dean of the Faculty of Arts at a time when new graduate programs were initiated in a dozen different departments.  As an Adjunct Professor, I am working with consumer-interest researchers in nine different disciplines, with consumer protection agencies and with consumer NGOs and graduate students to produce a Canadian network to help the country use research for evidence-based policies to make a significant improvement in our standard of living.

Research interests

My research has a focus on consumer economics. Why don’t consumers gain the benefits a competitive economy is supposed to deliver? Can we remove regulations that give favours to special interests yet keep regulations that protect health and safety? Why are there so many scams?  Why does shoddy service persist in the market? I learned much from experience in other countries: in the EU and in research institutes and rewarding work with consumer organizations in more than 20 developing countries.  My wife Bari and our two sons Rob and Derek never complained: they seemed to thrive in every far-flung location.

Particularly rewarding was a span of volunteer advocacy work in Canada- working with others – to help Canada bring in its Competition Act – a process that absorbed 13 years. This led to further public interest presentations on consumer issues. In all, I testified more than three dozen occasions as an ‘expert’ witness at parliamentary hearings and Senate or other enquiries relating to proposed legislation. When private interest lobbyists were strong, little or nothing was gained from my work for the public interest.  It is too late to start, though if the stars suddenly line up.  Progress was made on many issues: trade policy, metrication, truth-in-pricing, consumption taxes, financial sector transparency and redress.

In 1990 I wrote "Financial Quality and the Consumer Interest", in the Canadian Banker / Le Banquier and in 1995, "A Consumer Test for Financial Regulation in Canada,” published in Policy Options Options PolitiquesRight after that I was lucky to be asked to supervise a program of consumer-interest research for the MacKay Task Force on the Future of Canada’s Financial Services Sector. The research on consumer policies in eight countries was published in 1998 in two volumes. That research helped then Finance Minister Paul Martin create Canada’s Financial Consumers Agency (FCAC) in 2001. The FCAC was designed to bring the effectiveness of Canada’s financial services up to the best international level.  The evidence shows that consumer-oriented improvements took place right away at Canadian banks and financial institutions. The Office played a role in avoiding the market misconduct problems experienced in the U.S. misconduct (selling “mortgage-backed” securities, for example) that helped provoke the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008.  Ireland and other countries followed Canada’s example and a decade later the US created its own Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with much stronger provisions.

For the fun and a treasured measure of success I owe sincere thanks to an understanding family, a huge number of collaborators, team mates, colleagues, grad and undergraduate students, friends, administrators and staff supporters.  I have been blessed by people who astonish me with how much help far beyond their job descriptions they willingly perform.

Selected publications

  • 2018.  Robert R. Kerton and Idris Ademuyiwa, 2018. “Financial Consumer Protection in Canada: Triumphs and Tribulations” Chapter 3 in An International Comparison of Financial Consumer Protection; Edited by Tsai-Juh Chen; Published by the International Academy of Financial Consumers and Springer Singapore Pte.
  • 2015. Robert R. Kerton. "Canadian Consumer Movement" in Watchdogs and Whistleblowers: A Reference Guide to Consumer Activism, edited by Stephen Brobeck and Robert N. Mayer; Greenwood Press; pp. 57-61,
  • 2012.  Academic Consumer Interest Research in Policy-Making: Strengthening a Canadian Network. (Ed.) and  Synopses of papers presented at a Workshop supported by the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada and Industry Canada; September 30 at Victoria University, Toronto.
  • 2008, "Yin and Yang in International Trade: Where is Pareto When You Need Him?" Journal of Economic Asymmetries, Vol.5, No. 2 (December); pp. 39-52.
  • 1998. Consumers in the Financial Services Sector, Volume 1: Principles, Practice and Policy ‑ the Canadian Experience, (Editor and Contributor) pp. 267; Volume 2 (Editor): Consumers in the Financial Services Sector: International Experience, Research Papers for the Task Force on the Future of the Canadian Financial Services Sector. Ottawa. ISBN 0‑662‑27146‑7 and ISBN 0‑662‑27147 ‑ 
  • 1995.  "A Consumer Test for Financial Regulation in Canada,” Policy Options / Options Politiques, Institute for Research on Public Policy, 16 (5), June.
  • 1990. “Financial Quality and the Consumer Interest,” Canadian Banker 97 (4); pp. 6-13.  " La qualité des services financières et l'intérêt du consommateur," Le Banquier, Juillet/Août, pp.24-31.
  • 1990. Double Standards: Consumer and Worker Protection in an Unequal World, pp. iv, 41; Deux Poids, Deux Mesures: La protection inégale du travailleur et du consommateur, pp. iv, 46; North-South Institute, 55 Murray St., Ottawa.