Madam Speaker, the purpose of the motion is to provide members of the House with a greater role in preparing legislation through House of Commons committees. It is only the third of three bills referred to committee before second reading in this parliament.
On behalf of the Minister of Industry I am very pleased that Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and its related statute, the Competition Tribunal Act, will be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. This will give members of parliament a greater role in the development and passage of legislation. It should also be noted that this government bill was developed on the principles underlying four private members' bills.
The initiatives proposed in the bill would ensure that key marketplace framework laws remain effective and efficient in promoting and protecting competition to the benefit of consumers and the business community.
The Competition Act maintains and encourages competition in order to enhance economic welfare, to ensure that small and medium size enterprises have an equitable opportunity to participate in the Canadian economy, and to provide consumers with competitive prices and product choices.
Last year the competition bureau, with the assistance of the public policy forum, undertook extensive consultations on the principles underlying four private members' bills that proposed amendments to the Competition Act. Stakeholders representing consumers, businesses, and the legal and academic communities were encouraged to provide their views. The bill is the product of that consultation process.
The bill proposes improvements to the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act in four key areas: first, prohibiting deceptive contests; second, broadening the scope under which the tribunal may make temporary orders; third, streamlining the competition tribunal processes; and, fourth, facilitating co-operation with foreign competition authorities.
Let me say a bit about deceptive contests. Accurate information in the marketplace is critical to all Canadians. In 1999 provisions were introduced to the Competition Act to address telemarketing scams. However the competition bureau's crackdown on deceptive telemarketers has caused some con artists to migrate to other technologies such as mail and the Internet.
Deceptive contests involve the mass mailing of announcements which tell recipients that they have won a valuable prize. Sometimes the prospective victim is told that he or she must first pay a fee or taxes before delivery. In other cases the recipient is duped into telephoning a toll number to obtain further details or to claim the prize. In most cases the prize turns out to be worthless or of minimal value. That pales in comparison to the charges the recipient incurs.
The bill creates a new criminal offence to combat deceptive contests sent by mail or the Internet. This new provision will prohibit any person from sending by mail or otherwise material which gives the general impression that the recipient has won a prize and that in order to receive such a prize he or she must make a prior payment of money or incur a charge such as a telephone toll.
I will say a bit about temporary orders. Complex competition cases can often require extensive investigation by the competition bureau before any proceedings are commenced with the competition tribunal. In cases of serious anti-competitive conduct a victim might very well have gone out of business before the issue is resolved.
Effective enforcement of our competition laws calls for powers to put an immediate temporary halt to anti-competitive conduct where circumstances warrant. This type of injunctive power is presently available with respect to alleged offences under the criminal provisions of the Competition Act and with respect to the civil reviewable provisions once proceedings have been commenced before the tribunal.
Except in the case of a merger there is presently no interim remedy available to prevent anti-competitive conduct while the Competition bureau is investigating a matter but has not yet filed a case with a tribunal. The bill would fill that gap by enabling the tribunal to issue temporary orders on application of the commissioner of competition.
Turning to streamlining competition tribunal processes, it is important that the competition tribunal not be impaired in its ability to make timely and relevant decisions. The proposals in the bill would amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act to streamline the tribunal processes in three key areas.
First, the tribunal would be empowered to make an award of costs in order to discourage frivolous or vexatious litigation.
Second, the tribunal would be able to summarily dispose of an application without having gone through a full hearing in cases where there is no genuine issue or genuine defence.
Third, a means would be created by which references would be brought to the tribunal on a specific issue. In some cases the outcome of a tribunal case might depend on a single pivotal issue such as the appropriate definition of the market. An early ruling might obviate the need for a full hearing on all the remaining issues. These streamlining measures are consistent with similar procedures followed by most courts.
Facilitating international co-operation is very important. Continuing technological changes and falling trade barriers today have resulted in a rapidly changing global economy. It also raises the risk that the effects of anti-competitive conduct will spill across borders and that the evidence necessary to combat this activity will be located outside Canada. For these reasons we need to be able to exchange information with competition authorities for the purpose of evidence gathering if we are to ensure that our competition laws remain effective.
One of the key objectives of the bill is to provide for enhanced international co-operation on competition matters. There is no better example that I can provide of the benefits that flow from international co-operation than the recent series of cases involving international price fixing cartels. Let me point out that in the last few years there have been over 40 convictions of multinational corporations for price fixing offences under the Competition Act, resulting in fines in excess of $160 million.
These remarkable achievements in anti-cartel enforcement were due to the regime of international co-operation for criminal matters under the mutual legal assistance treaty. A similar tool is now required for the civil provisions of the Competition Act.
Canadians are being well served by our competition laws. The amendment initiatives before us today represent the latest step in a continuing legislative evolution which will ensure that Canadians and Canadian competition laws remain up to date and operate effectively and efficiently.
At this juncture I commend the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, the member for Kitchener Centre and the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine who worked diligently and hard through their private members' initiatives in shaping these amendments.
I note in closing that the public policy forum concluded from consultations that a consensus on private access might be possible. While there have been significant concerns expressed by some stakeholders on the subject, it has evoked some strong support from other quarters. This motion will give the committee the opportunity to explore the benefits and necessity of such a proposal. I personally look forward to seeing whether the committee can find consensus in this area.
I ask that the bill be referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology before second reading. I look forward to hearing the committee's views on the government's proposed amendments.