Protecting Canadians during pandemic and driving economic recovery

From: Competition Bureau Canada

Meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (view the full webcast)

December 3, 2020

(As prepared for delivery)

Introduction

Madam Chair and members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.

This committee has a long history of advancing the public policy discussion on competition issues. Canada needs more competition, and your committee’s efforts consistently bring competition into sharper focus. We are happy to support your important work.

In these opening remarks, I want to highlight the importance of competition in responding to COVID-19. Although we face an uncertain future, an emphasis on competition today will not only protect consumers when they are at their most vulnerable, but will also ensure that our rebuilt economy is one where competition drives lower prices, improved productivity, and increased levels of innovation to the benefit of all Canadians.

Mandate and Overview of the Bureau

The Competition Bureau, as an independent law enforcement agency, ensures that Canadian consumers and businesses prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.

The Bureau does this by administering and enforcing the Competition Act. Under the Act, the Bureau investigates a wide range of anti-competitive behaviour, including abusive conduct by dominant companies, deceptive marketing, price-fixing, and bid rigging. The Bureau also reviews mergers and acquisitions to ensure that they do not substantially harm competition. Finally, as Canada’s competition expert, the Bureau promotes pro-competitive government policy.

Competition Enforcement Protects Canadians during the Pandemic

Competition enforcement is more important than ever. Businesses can use crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, as cover to consolidate market power or engage in anti-competitive activity. Vigorous competition enforcement stands opposed to those who wish to capitalize on uncertainty and fear.

Since the first weeks of the pandemic, the Bureau has taken action against businesses making unfounded or misleading claims that their products could prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. As a result of our interventions, most of the businesses have taken corrective action, pulling products that raised concerns from their shelves or stopping the claims. The Bureau continues to monitor the situation and will take further action as needed.

At the same time, the Bureau moved quickly to support the supply of critical products and services across Canada. We issued a statement, which continues to apply, providing the marketplace with a principled yet flexible approach to competitor collaborations designed to support crisis response efforts. Even though this is a significant departure from our traditional enforcement approach, we felt it was the right thing to do in these exceptional circumstances. Having said that, we will have zero tolerance for any attempts to abuse our flexibility.

Sadly, in the months ahead, it is possible that we will see a rise in merger transactions involving failing businesses. In assessing these transactions, we must maintain our normal rigour and analytical framework. Relaxing our standards in a crisis period could cause irreversible enhancement of market concentration, leading to deeper and longer-term harm to consumers and the economy.

Finally, we continue to prioritize competition in digital and data-driven markets. For example, in the past six months, the Bureau has undertaken a number of actions in this area, including:

The Bureau will continue to do everything in its power to protect consumers and businesses from anti-competitive activity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Competitive Policy-Making Drives Economic Recovery

In addition to vigorously enforcing the law, the Bureau also champions pro-competitive government policy. Competition-friendly policies can aid economic recovery by stimulating entry, productivity, and innovation.

To support these efforts, the Bureau has released a Competition Assessment Toolkit for policymakers. This step-by-step guide helps policymakers identify issues that impact competition and encourages them to use the resources available to them-including the Bureau-to maximize the benefits of competition for Canadian consumers and businesses.

We urge governments across Canada to use competition as a focal point in facilitating economic recovery.

Conclusion

We still have a challenging path ahead in combatting the effects of COVID-19. However, even in the face of a global pandemic, we can be sure that our focus on competition today will empower consumers and promote productivity, innovation, and economic growth during our recovery. The Bureau will continue to do all that it can to build a stronger and more competitive Canada.

I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear today. We look forward to your questions.

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