Under a new consumer protection regulation, businesses in Ontario will have to eliminate expiry dates on gift cards — plastic cards loaded with cash value — as of October 1.

"Cash equivalent gift cards will never expire," Government Services Minister Gerry Phillips said on Tuesday in Toronto.

"These changes the McGuinty government is bringing in are fair to the consumers and, I might add, fair to business. We're moving forward with our changes. We have had the support of a wide range of stakeholders, including the Consumers Council of Canada and the Retail Council of Canada."

Ontario is the first province in Canada to regulate gift cards. Manitoba is considering introducing similar legislation.

Under the new regulations, businesses will only be permitted to charge additional fees for the customization of a gift card or to replace a lost or stolen card. Businesses must also clearly disclose all terms and conditions associated with redeeming the card.

The law will not apply to loyalty cards or prepaid phone cards.

The number of retailers offering gift cards has been increasing. In 2005, 79 per cent of clothing stores offered the cards, up from 36 per cent in 2003, according to Statistics Canada. Similarly, supermarkets experienced an increase from 57 per cent in 2003 to 70 per cent in 2005.