CAMP Opening Statement to the House Standing Committee on Industry and Technology (INDU) on its Study of Bill C-352 

Thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak with you today. 

My name is Keldon Bester and I’m the Executive Director of CAMP, a think tank dedicated to addressing the harms caused by monopoly and to building a more democratic economy in Canada. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee to discuss the proposed amendments to Canada’s competition law contained in C-352. 

After nearly four decades of pro-consolidation law, Canada is turning the corner on competition policy. With the passage of C-56 late last year, and C-59 being studied in the Senate, this government and in fact all parties have made much-needed improvements to Canada’s competition law. Canada is now on track to have a tougher stance against harmful takeovers, abuses of corporate power, and practices designed to deceive consumers. 

But these changes should be understood as the first step in rebalancing the relationship between dominant corporations and Canadian consumers, workers and entrepreneurs. The work of improving competition in Canada is just beginning. 

As important as strong laws are, just as important is the effective execution of those laws to the benefits of Canadians. The Competition Bureau is putting the powers gained through C-56 to work in investigating the use of property controls to harm competition in the grocery sector. Along with the recently opened market study into Canada’s airlines, the investigation is an early sign that the Competition Bureau understands that its efforts need to be focused where competition matters most to Canadians. 

These efforts raise an important point for future of Canada’s competition law – the need for the quick resolution of competition issues and greater transparency into the work of the Competition Bureau. 

Our strengthened laws cannot help Canadians unless they can quickly address practices that harm competition. Today, competition law investigations are a multi-year process. The ongoing investigation into Google’s practices in the digital advertising market has been expanded after four years of investigation, with no timeline for the conclusion of this expanded investigation. While the update is welcome, for news organizations dependent on a competitive advertising market, another four years is likely too late.  

When investigations become litigation, Canadians can expect to wait another three to seven years for resolution of practices harming competition. If property controls are indeed weakening competition in the grocery sector, Canadians should not have to wait up to a decade for more competition in such a critical market. 

Accordingly, the committee should consider ways in which the investigation and litigation processes could be reformed to speed up the resolution of competition cases.  

One step would be to improve the information gathering powers of the Competition Bureau, with powers akin to those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and other international competition authorities. If an investigation leads to litigation, the ability to stop parties from engaging in potentially problematic conduct while the litigation is ongoing should be strengthened. Finally, to ensure speedy resolution of cases either way, the litigation process should be streamlined and the future role of the Competition Tribunal should be a topic of study. 

Along with more rapid resolution of competition issues, Canadians also deserve greater transparency into the activities of a now strengthened Competition Bureau. Balancing the needs of confidentiality and accountability, Canadians should not be left in the dark on the investigations the Competition Bureau is currently engaged in.  

A positive step in this direction would be to repeal language in the Competition Act that requires investigations to be conducted in private, which currently introduces ambiguity with the Competition Act’s existing confidentiality requirements. While this would still leave transparency in the hands of the Competition Bureau, it would be a clear signal of a desire for greater transparency and a first step towards a Competition Bureau that is more open with Canadians. 

The work of this committee has resulted in a competition law better equipped to protect Canadians from abuses of concentrated corporate power. A necessary next step is to improve the systems responsible for executing that law. 

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your questions.