Plans for Competition Act reform welcome and needed
Competition Bureau must be empowered to act for consumer affordability and choice
FEBRUARY 8, 2022 — On Monday Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced plans to update Canada’s Competition Act. The Competition Act sets the government’s approach to encouraging private sector competition, including evaluating the impact of large mergers like Rogers Communications pending buyout of competitor Shaw Communications. In his announcement Minister Champagne promised a ‘comprehensive’ review of the Act, alongside shorter-term changes to protect consumers, workers, and businesses in Canada.
“From Big Telecom to Big Tech, dealing with the power of large companies in the digital age starts with reforming the Competition Act,” said OpenMedia’s Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “Year after year, people in Canada pay some of the highest prices in the world for telecom services. The Competition Bureau has told us in print that Big Telecom profits are excessive; it is time they’re empowered to act on that conclusion. That means giving the Bureau strong proactive powers to monitor and investigate markets that appear to lack adequate competition, and the power to apply meaningful financial penalties relative to the profits of the companies involved.”
Minister Champagne’s suggestion that the government will re-evaluate the efficiencies portion of the Act is particularly welcome. Section 96 of the current Act, the so-called efficiencies defence, forces the Competition Bureau to consider company claims that mergers will save money and lead to greater overall market efficiency, even if a deal is demonstrably harmful to consumers. Similar clauses do not exist in other comparable countries, which contributes to Canada having some of the weakest competition enforcement amongst its peers.
“The Bureau’s empowerment can’t stop with taking on Canadian companies,” continued Hatfield. “Many internationally-based online platforms engage in a wide variety of abusive data handling and self-dealing practices. Canadian consumers must be empowered to take our data to services we trust, not be trapped in the walled gardens platforms increasingly confine us to.”
Last year, over 61,000 petition signers asked the federal government to block Rogers from buying out Shaw. Over 11,000 people have called for stronger data handling protections through a current OpenMedia petition.