Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part today in the second reading debate of Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
My intention is to outline the provisions of Bill C-454, which proposes extensive amendments to the Competition Act.
Bill C-454 contains a number of provisions that were in earlier legislation, specifically Bill C-19. However, Bill C-454 not only alters some of the provisions that were in Bill C-19, but also introduces some new provisions.
As such, I would caution my hon. colleagues to give this bill very serious attention. Any amendments to the Competition Act will be of great interest to a wide range of stakeholders across Canada.
To show how great an interest, I would refer hon. members to the Competition Policy Review Panel. As hon. members will recall, in July of 2007 the government announced the creation of the panel, which has as the central part of its mandate a review of key elements of Canada's competition and investment policies, including the Competition Act. In the context of its consultations, the panel received approximately 140 written submissions.
Given the importance of the Competition Act for Canadians, I would like to take a few minutes to review some of the provisions of Bill C-454.
First, there are some provisions in Bill C-454 that are the same as those in Bill C-19. For example, Bill C-454 would decriminalize the price discrimination, predatory pricing, discriminatory promotional allowances and geographic price discrimination provisions of the Competition Act. These provisions would then be dealt with under the non-criminal abuse of dominance provisions of the act.
Bill C-454 proposes to allow the tribunal to order restitution to consumers affected by deceptive marketing practices. In addition, the bill gives the tribunal new power to impose interim injunctions to stop the disposal of assets by anyone engaged in deceptive marketing practices. This is to ensure that there is property available for such restitution.
However, there are several key provisions in Bill C-454 that are different from what was contained in Bill C-19. Bill C-454 proposes to add three different types of financial consequences to deter abuse of dominance. I understand that all three would be applied at the same time.
First, the Competition Tribunal could order an administrative monetary penalty, or AMP, against individuals and companies that engage in anti-competitive conduct: up to $10 million for a first offence and up to $15 million for each subsequent one.
Second, Bill C-454 gives the tribunal the ability to order an additional AMP on top of the one I just mentioned. This second AMP would be an amount not greater than the profits generated by the anti-competitive conduct in question.
In addition to these two AMPs, Bill C-454 would allow private parties to pursue separate private litigation before the Competition Tribunal when they believe that a dominant firm has abused its market position. At present, only the Commissioner of Competition may bring abuse of dominance matters to the tribunal. In relation to private access to the tribunal, Bill C-454 includes a provision to grant the tribunal the ability to award damages to private parties.
Next, Bill C-454 introduces a proposal to change the definition of “anti-competitive act” for the purposes of the abuse of dominance provision. Bill C-454 would introduce the concept of “exploitative conduct” into the Competition Act. In other jurisdictions, particularly the European Union, this phrase has been taken to mean excessive pricing or price gouging.
As I understand it, an attempt to deal with price gouging would be viewed as a form of price regulation that would have far-reaching implications for the Canadian marketplace. As such, this provision should be carefully considered.
As we know, price regulation is essentially a matter of provincial jurisdiction. I am quite sure that the sponsor of the bill and his colleagues would not want to intrude on a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
Moving on to the issue of deceptive marketing practices, Bill C-454 proposes a series of financial consequences. The provisions in Bill C-454 include an increase to the existing AMP: from $50,000 to $750,000 for individuals and from $100,000 to $10 million for corporations. For subsequent violations of the act, the proposed AMPs are $1 million for individuals and $15 million for corporations.
At the same time, Bill C-454 provides for an additional AMP for deceptive marketing practices, up to the amount of profits generated by the practices. Again, it appears that both AMPs could be ordered by the tribunal at the same time. Bill C-454 would also amend the list of factors the tribunal considers when determining the appropriate penalty for deceptive marketing practices.
Bill C-454 also amends the anti-cartel provision of the act, section 45. The proposed amendments would strike the word “unduly” from section 45 and raise the level of fines that would be imposed. Section 45 is one of the key provisions in the Competition Act.
As I understand it, removing the word “unduly” could expose to criminal liability conduct currently regulated by provincial or federal law. For example, it is not clear whether provincial authorization of certain price-fixing arrangements, such as through marketing or supply management boards, would continue to shield such arrangements from criminal liability under section 45 if the amendments proposed in the bill are passed.
I see that my time is nearly up. Finally, I would like to say that Bill C-454 would change the rules regarding pre-notification of mergers, by lowering the threshold at which companies considering merging would have to notify the commissioner of their intent. In this regard, we should ask ourselves whether the costs imposed on businesses are warranted.