Madam Speaker, it is indeed a beautiful morning and we have a beautiful piece of legislation to start the day off. I commend the parliamentary secretary opposite. This piece of legislation, although far from perfect, is a piece of legislation that we have to look at with some favour.
As the parliamentary secretary declared, the competition bureau has served Canadians well. Although many Canadians who have made appeals and requests of the competition bureau have not always received the redress they desired, or they were not dealt with as speedily as they should have been, it has served Canadians relatively well.
There were some deficiencies in the act which are being addressed this morning. I commend the government for bringing the bill forward.
For the benefit of our viewers this morning I should like to review some of the things the bill will actually do. First, it would facilitate the co-operation between Canadian and foreign competition authorities regarding evidence gathering or civil competition matters.
This is pretty significant. We are getting into a global economy. Industries are operating in other countries. Certain countries are becoming highly specialized in some areas and other countries in others. There is need for international trade. There is need to recognize our respective strengths and weaknesses and to co-operate in developing how we might do it best.
There is a greed element that comes into society every once in a while. Some people want to sort of dominate, take a dominant position in industry, and make everybody kowtow to their particular desires. We need to recognize that we need protection domestically. We also need protection internationally so that there is a fair and reciprocal exchange of information and that the rules of gathering information are comparable.
It would prohibit deceptive notices of a prize aimed at the general public and sent through the mail or Internet. I am sure all members of the House are aware that there are certain unscrupulous promoters out there who provide prizes. They make people think they are getting something. They receive phone calls congratulating them and telling them that we have won a $50 prize, only to discover that to collect the prize they have to send in $5, $10 or some other amount. Then they are thanked for the $10 and they discover that the prize is not really worth $50. It is a scam. It is amazing how many people have been fooled by so-called prizes. They are not prizes at all.
I remember one case mentioned before the industry committee involving the winning of a prize that was worth roughly $50,000. In order to collect the prize the person had to invest $10,000 and the prize was not forthcoming. This is a very significant amendment to the legislation.
Third, it would streamline the competition tribunal processes by providing the tribunal with a power to award costs, to make summary dispositions and to determine references.
We need to look at three points in this area. Sometimes people feel that some other group is unfairly competing with them when the competition is quite fair. They submit frivolous requests to the tribunal which wastes a lot of time and is not productive. These frivolous requests are added to a long list of other legitimate requests. The provision to avoid frivolous applications to the competition bureau is a reasonable one.
We should also look at the scope under which the competition bureau may issue temporary orders. That scope has now been broadened. I cannot emphasize that enough, because there are times when the competition bureau could deal with something that it is currently not empowered to deal with, simply because it is so restricted as to what it may deal with. Let me read a couple of things that can now happen.
At the present time an interim order can be issued by the competition tribunal only after litigation has begun. This lengthy period of time may elapse before the protective action is taken, with the consequence that the target of anti-competitive behaviour may already have taken place and have driven some people out of business.
That is difficult. I cannot help but refer to a particular case that happened in my constituency. I was able to assist a small company that had annual sales of roughly $3 million to $6 million. The source of material which it distributed was being stopped. It could not be supplied with material any longer because the suppliers wanted it themselves. They did not indicate the last part. They simply said they would not provide the material anymore, which meant they could not do business any longer. There was literally a domination in the marketplace. I think it was three companies that had 85% or 90% of the market. They said they could have the rest of the market, putting them into a monopoly situation.
On principle I object to any kind of monopoly. This particular case went to the competition bureau. The bureau had some difficulty dealing with this case but over time gradually saw the merits of the case and dealt with it. The case went to court and an injunction was issued. The companies that had taken advantage of their dominant position had to supply the material. These individuals are now in business and going forward.
Had the tribunal not been able to act in this case, the company would have been broke today. Had there not been a recognition by the tribunal that some serious injustices were taking place, these poor people would be bankrupt, having sunk a lot of money into their business. They still have not finished. They now have to recognize and claim for damages experienced as a result of the anti-competitive behaviour by these people. It looks like that is going forward. I cannot speak about it any further because it is before the courts. I hope it is resolved in favour of this small company and that it recovers its costs.
Some major changes were made to the Competition Act in 1999. I distinctly remember the debate which took place with regard to fraudulent telemarketing and the business of tied selling. This is when a company puts a condition on a price for a particular article. In other words, to get that price one must buy something else. For example, banks, and sometimes other institutions, say that if one buys a particular insurance policy, it will give it to the individual for a special rate, but to get that rate the individual also has to take a mortgage with the bank.
Also, there is the bundling of services to get a better price. For example, to get a lower price from the bank, a customer would have to take the whole package, such as a savings account, a current account, a chequing account and perhaps insurance. There is nothing wrong with that except when it becomes a condition. It really becomes a judgment call as to when one is a condition on the other.
Tied selling is one of those things that the Competition Act says should not ever be done. I agree with this. The question now becomes one of interpretation or one of judgment as to when it happens.
In my final minute I want to suggest the need for government to recognize that not only should the Competition Act be amended as suggested, it should to go beyond that. There are a couple of other proposals that would improve the Competition Act even further. That has to do with the distinction between criminal and civil cases.