House of Commons Hansard #196 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wildlife.

Topics

Royal Assent Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Competition Act
Government Orders

May 31st, 2002 / 12:10 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Liberal

Claudette Bradshaw for the Minister of Industry

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Senate's amendment to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. Bill C-23 is before us today in the form of a Senate amendment which corrects a small technical problem between the English and French text in subsection 106.1(4) of clause 14.

Bill C-23 is vital economic legislation designed to strengthen and modernize our existing competition laws to the benefit of consumers and businesses alike. For example, the legislation would prohibit the sending of deceptive prize notices which target the most vulnerable members of our society. It would enable Canada to gain access to evidence in other countries concerning civil competition matters. It would broaden the scope under which the competition tribunal may issue interim orders. It would improve the competition tribunal process. It would allow individuals and businesses to apply directly to the competition tribunal for relief from certain anti-competitive conduct. In addition, it would provide additional measures to protect competition in the Canadian airlines industry.

The bill has been carefully reviewed by both Houses of Parliament. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology carefully listened to a broad range of witnesses and concluded that Bill C-23 takes a balanced approach. Members will recall the bill passed the House of Commons with all party support on December 10, 2001.

Section 106.1 of Bill C-23 would allow for the possibility of a consent agreement between a person, other than the commissioner of competition, that has made an application to the competition tribunal for an order to be made under sections 75 or 77 of the Competition Act and the person against whom the order is sought. This provision would provide that such an agreement can be registered with the competition tribunal if the terms of the consent agreement are consistent with the provisions of the Competition Act. However, any consent agreement made under that section would have to be published in the Canada Gazette to give third parties an opportunity to examine the consent agreement.

During its consideration of Bill C-23 the Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce suggested that a minor discrepancy existed between the French and the English translations in subsection 106.1(4) of clause 14 of the bill. Indeed, according to the English version of the subsection 106.1(4), a person could within 30 days after its publication register a consent agreement. This would not leave a third party any time to make an application to have the consent agreement cancelled or replaced or to even examine the agreement. This would defeat the obvious purpose of the provision which was to allow third parties a chance to challenge the consent agreement.

The French version however indicates that the consent agreement can be registered only 30 days after its publication. The French version gives an appropriate effect to the provision. On May 2, 2002, the Senate committee reported back the bill with one minor amendment to subsection 106.1(4) to correct this discrepancy. The English version of subsection 106.1(4) has been corrected to that effect and now reads that the consent agreement “shall be registered 30 days after its publication”.

It is now up to members in this place to adopt this minor amendment and provide for speedy passage of Bill C-23. In so doing we will enhance the competition law enforcement in Canada to the benefit of consumers and businesses alike.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Senate amendment to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. The Senate amendment is a minor amendment which removes the word within from clause 14, subsection 106.1(4). Subsection 106.1(4) states:

The consent agreement shall be registered within 30 days after its publication unless a third party makes an application to the Tribunal before then to cancel the agreement or replace it with an order of the Tribunal.

The amendment takes the word within out to read: “The consent agreement shall be registered 30 days after its publication...”.

We are supportive of the amendment as we were supportive of the bill at all stages of its proceeding. The bill was sent to the Senate at first reading on December 11, 2001, and at third reading in the Senate it was sent back to the House of Commons on May 9, 2002, to remove one word, which as I see it, does not really alter the intent of the clause. That really makes one question what the purpose of the other place is as presently constituted. It again makes a call for a truly effective Senate which can only happen if it has democratic legitimacy.

The official opposition has been supportive of Bill C-23 at its different stages. The process the bill went through was certainly superior to the manner in which most bills are passed by parliament because it was sent to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology before second reading which typically indicates that the government was open to substantive amendments. The bill was substantively amended in committee. The most significant amendments, as many members know, concern the creation of a new right of so-called private access which is the right of a person or business to seek a legal remedy against the anti-competitive conduct of another.

This takes away the ability of the competition commissioner to act as a gatekeeper before the tribunal. People can access the tribunal regardless of whether the commissioner agrees the case should go forward or not. We should point out that the commissioner himself was in favour of this change when he appeared before the committee two separate times.

There was a consensus in committee among all members that this limited right of private access, and it is important to note that it is quite a limited right of private access, is not extensive. It was a reasonable step toward improving Canada's competition policy regime. The Canadian Alliance continues to believe that competition itself is the best form of discipline for people, for citizens and for businesses. Competition law cannot replace the effect that competition itself has on the economy.

We strongly support the view that competition law must not be set up to protect certain businesses. That is not the purpose of competition law. Competition law must do what it can to facilitate competition against itself. That was one point that the commissioner made over and over in his presentation to us.

The official opposition is satisfied that the bill is a step toward these broad goals and therefore supports the bill as amended by the Senate.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act, and the amendment proposed by the Senate.

As we know, Bill C-23 was made up of three private member's bills. There were some very interesting features. Before the proposed changes included in Bill C-23, only the commissioner of competition could file a complaint before the competition tribunal.

Bill C-23 now provides for a private access that will allow people to directly launch court proceedings, on their own behalf, regarding competition issues. This new provision of the act will apply to four areas: refusal to deal, exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restriction.

However, while these changes were interesting ones, they did not revolutionize the way of doing things in Canada when it comes to competition. The provisions of Bill C-23 remain weak, and they do not go to the bottom of the issue of competition in Canada.

In its 2000 election platform, the Bloc Quebecois said, and is still saying, that the Competition Act should be amended to guarantee competitive prices to consumers. This is the basis of the issue of competition.

It is all well and good to allow third parties to argue a case on their own before the Competition Tribunal, but if the Competition Bureau does not have the adequate means to carry out its investigations, what good does it do? We must not circumvent steps. Ensuring truly competitive pricing to consumers must remain the cornerstone of our actions.

For this reason, I had moved a motion in the House that would have reviewed the implementation of section 45 of the Competition Act and reviewed the word unduly. The current wording in this section allows multinational corporations to raise prices, particularly in the case of gas.

Allow me to give an example. On a street with five gas stations, the prices all go up at the same time, and at the same hour. Under the current law, the Competition Bureau cannot launch an investigation based on this observation. There must be written proof of collusion. This is virtually impossible to obtain these days. Unfortunately, Bill C-23 does nothing to correct section 45.

However, I have not lost all hope. The Standing Committee on Industry published a report on April 23, in which it proposed some good amendments to the section. The Minister of Industry should seriously consider these proposals.

The Standing Committee on Industry said the following:

That the Government of Canada create a two-track approach for agreements between competitors. The first track would modify the current criminal provision (section 45) in two ways and allow the criminal justice system to deal with “hard core cartels”, in other words conspiracies that have no compensatory social value.

This would remove the word unduly from the phrase “to lessen, unduly, competition”. As such, horizontal agreements between competitors should not have to limit competition unduly or deliberately in order to be considered a conspiracy against the public interest. Such an amendment would be welcome.

Therefore, I am pleased, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, to support this amendment from the Senate. It is very important, particularly since, from a legal perspective, the French and English versions are often different. As a result, it was important to make this change, and I congratulate the members of the other chamber.

This is also an opportunity to point out how much progress we have made when it comes to competition; however, there remains work to be done. I hope that the minister will take note of this and make amending section 45 a priority for his department.

Bill C-15B, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the third reading stage of Bill C-15B, an act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and the Firearms Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to make a few comments on the proposed changes to Bill C-23, which now comes to us by way of the red chamber.

First let me say that the amendment made by the other place seems to be minor, so I plan to comment on some of the larger aspects of the bill. I will start with some of the long overdue changes that the bill makes in the powers of the Competition Tribunal and the commissioner as they relate to air competition.

I had hundreds of constituents stranded when Canada 3000 collapsed. As members will recall, Air Canada's new subsidiary, Tango, had just been launched and the Competition Bureau was on the verge of slapping Air Canada on the wrist when Canada 3000 went under.

I am not confident that the minor baby steps the bill takes in the right direction will result in better or cheaper air service in Nova Scotia. I am encouraged by the new carriers that say they will be braving the skies to compete with the reality of the virtual and quite brutal monopoly held by Air Canada in Atlantic Canada, but I fear and I know that many of my constituents also fear that we will see a repeat of the Canada 3000 fiasco.

Bill C-23 does nothing to stop Air Canada from using its new subsidiaries Tango or Jazz, or whatever new dance step name it comes up with, to simply undercut new competitors and drive them out of business by having the deep pockets to survive an expensive fight. I fear that in a year we will back where we are now with travellers in Atlantic Canada paying very high prices for poor service provided by an Air Canada monopoly.

I wish that the government and the Senate had come up with real regulations that would have stopped Air Canada from effectively killing competition. I wish that the Minister of Transport had a vision of air service in Canada that went further than the office of Robert Milton. Bill C-23 does nothing to tell me that he does.

On another change that Bill C-23 makes, I congratulate the government. The section dealing with protecting our seniors from unscrupulous direct mail and telemarketers' offers that lie to people as a way to steal their life savings is long overdue. The problem is not unique in Canada, but our laws seem to have been well behind the times.

As the Library of Parliament brief on the bill correctly notes, in June 2001 the U.S. senate permanent subcommittee on investigations heard testimony from victims of and experts on telemarketing fraud. Almost all of them described Canada as a haven for such fraud. The committee heard that phone scams swindle more than $35 million every year from Americans, mostly seniors, and although apparently some fraud originating in the U.S. is aimed at Canadians, it is only a small fraction of the amount aimed at Americans.

Experts praised the U.S.-Canada working group on telemarketing fraud that has reportedly caught a few of the perpetrators. Project Colt was formed in April 1998 to co-ordinate efforts among the RCMP, the U.S. customs service, the FBI and various arms of the Quebec police. Since its inception the project has returned $12 million to victims. Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border met in Ottawa in June 2001 to discuss these and other related issues.

The creation of an offence of deceptive notice of winning a prize will help protect poor and vulnerable people. It is easy for those of us here who make a good salary and who have a huge infrastructure to support us in our work to simply warn people that if someone is promising something for nothing they should not believe it, but there are so many Canadians who live with poverty, who are seniors with inadequate pensions, who have a lack of education and struggle with minimum wage jobs or live with disabilities. They live in a society where culture is based on success, with happiness equalling wealth. When we look at TV or read the sage opinions of our opinion leaders, who are all business leaders because pro-business leaders own all our media, we see that the only goal in Canadian life is to be wealthy, that this is how Canadians would be happy.

This culture leaves those who are poor desperate to become rich, not only so they can get better things, but because it is a culture that says if a person is poor, that person is a failure. Therefore when someone who is poor gets a notice in the mail falsely saying they have won money, the joke is extremely cruel.

When these notices are being used to try and take money from those who already have too little money, then it should be a crime. The creation of this criminal offence in the bill and the mandating of officials to proceed with the prosecution of this crime as a criminal and not an administrative offence is a very good thing.

One last section of the bill I wish to comment on is the increase in international co-operation to investigate competition offences. With globalization becoming a greater reality, we need to have international codes of conduct that transnational corporations have to live by.

Too often companies are using differences in laws and differences in the way that records are kept to escape basic responsibilities, like the paying of a fair share of taxes as good corporate citizens, protecting the environment, and treating workers safely and fairly. I would hope that the provisions of the bill that deal with requests by foreign states for assistance in gathering evidence in Canada required for prosecution of competition offences in a foreign country are a first step by the government to creating rules for the international corporate community.

Using the bill, with references to agreements for foreign states, Canada may enter into an agreement if the Minister of Justice is satisfied that the laws of the foreign state are similar to Canada's; that the confidentiality laws of the foreign state are similar to Canada's; that the agreement will contain provisions for circumstances where Canada can refuse assistance and applicable confidentiality provisions.

As well, the agreements will contain undertakings that the foreign state will provide similar assistance to Canada. Information will not be used for any other purposes. Information will be returned or with consent destroyed. All information will be confidential. The Minister of Justice will be informed if there is a breach of confidentiality. The agreements will contain a termination provision.

The act further states four different judicial orders by which evidence may be gathered for use in a foreign proceeding. These orders are: search and seizure order, which is search and seizure of the evidence; evidence gathering order, which is the examination under oath of a person; a virtual presence order, when a person's virtual presence is requested by video link or similar technology; and finally, lending exhibit order, which requests the loan of an exhibit admitted as evidence.

Let us see these forms of international co-operation as a beginning in the real regulation of all international corporate activity.

I hope that the next step the government brings forward is a Tobin tax, an international environmental protection standard that international companies must respect and enforce in order to have truly international enforceable labour standards.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this bill and to follow my colleague from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. As is always the case, she delivered a very thoughtful and insightful speech regarding this legislation.

Bill C-23 amends the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. Its purpose is to maintain and encourage competition in Canada, surely something this government, as previous governments, should be actively pursuing. It therefore plays a central role in our Canadian economy. The role is becoming increasingly important because we are becoming more global as a nation in terms of our trade, direction and access to foreign markets. The number of mergers is increasing and many sectors of activities are converging in the business world.

The amendments which will be brought about as a result of Bill C-23 were proposed to make it easier for the government to co-operate with foreign competition tribunals. Specifically, it is fair to say the global economy is more important now. Governments have the ability to co-operate with each other when dealing with multinational organizations. Bill C-23 was introduced to streamline the competition tribunal process. Any process dealing with quasi-judicial bodies must be streamlined to make it more effective.

The bill was introduced to broaden the tribunal's ability to issue temporary orders. The competition commissioner and tribunal need to be able to react immediately to situations, even if the actions are temporary, to put cease and desist orders in place and to allow some kind of remediation to occur.

Bill C-23 has tough new measures to deal with anti-competition practices in the airline industry. It is very timely. Canadians across the country know the difficult times the airline industry has been through. The demise of Canada 3000 is a case in point. Although the competition commissioner was in that instance prepared to put cease and desist orders in place, the process of applying for the order and having to put it in place is often not quick enough to stop the damage that takes place through the predatory and overtly anti-competitive practices that sometimes occur.

One concern about the Competition Act coming from the House industry committee process is that the privacy rights to access are questionable. Private parties must have the right to apply directly to the competition tribunal for remedies concerning refusals to deal, tied selling, market restrictions and exclusive dealings.

It is important for people to be able to challenge what is considered to be fair practices by the competitor trying to put out smaller competitors simply through the use of these kinds of tactics. It is also important to the well-being of members of the small business community to be able to fight back. This legislation will provide them with an opportunity to challenge larger businesses that are trying to put them out of business. It levels the playing field and arms the small businesses with a form of protection, a blanket approach.

It is important for companies, corporations and small businesses as well as individuals to have the ability to advance their causes even though the competition tribunal may not think they are as important as other issues. They are permitted under this act to force that issue at times when they may be giving lesser priority.

As in many cases, once something is put on the back burner the damage may already be done for delay can be the deadliest form of denial. Private access also means that if the competition commissioner feels that something is not as important as, say, airline restructuring, it can go through the process and not be tied up for years.

In many instances we have seen, coming from the field myself, that the lawyers who get involved use the process as a weapon essentially against their adversaries, such as tying the issue up, filing motions, making appeals, dragging the issue out. The costs are often prohibitive. Very often in civil cases and in certain instances in the criminal court the costs can result in a real injustice, an injustice that never sees resolution or the light of day.

Bill C-23 will create additional case law that will provide the business community with a better understanding of what the laws of the land are and how they might fall under the practices considered not to be in the best interests of competition. It will also develop case law that can be used for the furtherance of fair business practices. It would result, I suspect and submit, in precedent and stare decisis in the court that will set the bar, set the standard.

The act inevitably will result in a flurry of legal activity and challenges that will test the parameters of the bill. That is healthy and to be expected. Members of parliament should understand fully that passing new laws will result in challenges. That should never be a bar or attempt to dissuade lawmakers from doing what they are expected to do.

Bill C-23 in particular will put in place new penalties, including fines of up to $15 million for an airline acting in an anti-competitive fashion. This could result clearly in taking someone out of the competition altogether and should act as a real deterrent. To use the criminal and civil codes as a standard, deterrence is an important element in putting these parameters in place for the way in which businesses conduct themselves.

One of the concerns that was voiced about the Competition Act was that the legislation had no teeth to allow the competition commissioner to respond in a way that would stop predatory behaviour. The legislation finally will contain some teeth so that the competition commissioner will have meaningful input into keeping anti-competitive behaviour at bay and real consequences when that line is crossed.

The ability of the competition commissioner to extend cease and desist orders beyond the current 80 days is also very important. It is important because of the time it takes to prepare a case and to bring the complaint against the competitor. It is also very timely and allows the application, which sometimes has not been processed before the cease and desist order expires, to come forward.

In conclusion the Progressive Conservative Party is very pleased to see the extension. We are pleased to see the amendments contained in the bill. It makes the process and the legislation more meaningful. It adds more pith and substance to what is currently in place to protect competition and businesses, large and small. It is an important bill for those reasons that have been set out and the reasons enunciated by other members of parliament.

We must ensure that the bill is passed in a timely fashion. To do otherwise would be irresponsible. As the clock is ticking and time is running out, we urge the government to undertake to pass the bill forthwith. We must make sure that competition, particularly in the airline industry, is real and is healthy. For those reasons the Progressive Conservative Party fully supports Bill C-23.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, amendment read the second time and concurred in)

Competition Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Devillers Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 1.30 p.m.