Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to take the opportunity to participate in report stage consideration of Bill C-23. As colleagues have said, this is a bill that is a result of a great deal of very good work by members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. No doubt the bill has been very much improved as a result of the collaborative approach that members have taken and their commitment to working together to make this a much better bill.
The main elements of the bill comprise the prohibition of deceptive prize notices, enhanced mutual international assistance in civil competition matters, streamlining improvements to the Competition Tribunal process, broadening the scope under which the tribunal may issue an interim order, a limited right of access to the tribunal and specific measures to protect competition in the Canadian airline industry.
On the issue of private access there has been a great deal of debate. There have been a great many witnesses and those who spoke who were diametrically opposed to each other with respect to the right of private access. I will come back to that issue in just a moment and refer specifically to the amendment being proposed by the hon. member who spoke just a few moments ago on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois.
First , I want to talk about deceptive practices. The amendment to prohibit deceptive prize notices addresses unscrupulous promoters who mislead their victims into believing they have won a prize without disclosing the excessive costs associated with collecting the prize. The commissioner has testified that this is a growing problem in Canada and the bureau, quite literally, receives thousands of complaints each year.
We have all heard of Canadian seniors receiving scratch and win cards in the mail. People scratch the card and discover they have supposedly won a prize. They then follow instructions and place a telephone call in order to claim their prize. However, they are not forewarned and they cannot know or be aware that the cost of placing the call is generally greater than the value of the so-called prize.
In short, senior citizens across the country are being targeted by corrupt and unscrupulous individuals seeking to quite literally take advantage and to steal their saved, hard-earned monies.
The approach proposed in Bill C-23 sets out a balance between capturing improper conduct and the legitimate practices of the majority of the business community. No doubt there are legitimate prize contests that do in fact treat citizens appropriately.
With respect to foreign evidence gathering, Bill C-23 proposes amendments that will facilitate the gathering of evidence from foreign jurisdictions with respect to civil competition matters. This is similar to what already exists for criminal matters under the mutual legal assistance treaty to which Canada and several dozen other countries are signatories. I believe these amendments will help us do a better job in a wide variety of areas but notably with respect to these corrupt so-called competitions or prize scams.
On a more technical side, the bill proposes to streamline the tribunal process and broaden the powers available to the tribunal. First, the amendments will permit the commissioner and the person who is the subject of an inquiry to refer to the tribunal any question of law in relation to the application or interpretation of the act. This is also available to private parties that agree to refer a question to the tribunal related to part VII.1 through to part IX of the act.
Also, the tribunal will be able to assess costs. The initial position of the government was limited to the assessment of cost by the tribunal in the case of frivolous or vexatious litigation intended to hinder or delay procedures before the tribunal.
Many witnesses before the committee urged the adoption of the ordinary cost rules of commercial litigation in order to have a proper deterrence against strategic litigation. Therefore the government tabled a motion to reflect this concern. Other changes permit the tribunal through summary disposition to rapidly deal with unsubstantiated matters.
The last amendment proposed with respect to tribunal improvements addresses interim orders. We have heard that certain anti-competitive practices cause irreparable harm to the Canadian economy.
Up until now the commissioner could not apply to the tribunal during an inquiry to obtain a cease and desist order to stop anti-competitive conduct. First he had to obtain sufficient evidence to make a case before the tribunal. The problem is that these inquiries are time consuming and they are resource intensive.
The amendments proposed will now allow the tribunal, when certain conditions are met, to render an interim cease and desist order. The order will be issued for an 80 day period with the possibility of extension where the commissioner has not received the information necessary to complete his inquiry and to determine whether an application should be made before the tribunal.
I want to address the matter of private access. Under the current system, the commissioner is the only person who can submit an application before the tribunal. This monopoly has been the subject of several studies over the past three decades. Many proposals have been made to permit the right of private access to the tribunal without involving the commissioner. One of these proposals was contained in a private member's bill tabled here by our colleague, the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, and was part of the public policy consultation.
A great deal has been said about private access, during the consultations and again during the committee hearings. There were strong views expressed and, I think it is fair to say, a division, primarily between those who belong to the small and medium sized business community and those who belong to Canada's largest corporations, those that are members of the chamber of commerce. On the one hand, there is a concern for a right to private access, and on the other, the concern that Canada not become a litigious society where strategic litigation occurs primarily for reasons of corporate warfare rather than genuine need or concern. The committee worked very hard to try to resolve both, on the one hand the request for private access, and on the other the concern about not creating an overly litigious corporate environment in Canada.
The amendments that we now see and the manner in which private access is described is very much the result of the good work of the committee and very much the result of the compromise which has been reached between the parties that had diametrically opposing views on the matter as they testified before committee. It is for that reason, because we now have, I think, a measure of harmony and a measure of agreement after a great deal of hard work, good work, by members on all sides of the House,. that I would submit that further amendments or further changes at this stage of the game may very well undo, although that would not be the intention, the consensus and the compromise that has now been reached.
There is one other matter I want to speak to during the time that is available to me and that is that the last set of amendments added to Bill C-23 are specific to the airline industry. This industry was severely affected by the tragic events of September 11. Canadian airline passenger volumes have dropped. Airlines have lost passengers to alternative tourist transportation methods. In the midst of this turbulent period, airlines in Canada and abroad are trying to continue normal operations while adjusting to the impact of the events of September 11.
All the airlines have been affected. At the time of the collapse of Canada 3000, the commissioner had sufficient evidence to issue a temporary cease and desist order against Air Canada for abusing its dominant position to the detriment of Canada 3000. Air Canada's competitors, starting with WestJet, identified shortcomings in the Competition Act that could and, they submitted, should be remedied.
The events, as we all know, attracted much media coverage and commentary across the country, especially after the news that additional amendments would be added to Bill C-23 to address the airline industry specifically. We need to remember that since the coming into force of Bill C-26 in 2000, the Competition Act has included a specific regime for domestic air transport. The amendments tabled today will close a potential gap that was created by Bill C-26 and will encourage compliance with the abuse of dominance provisions of this act.
The commissioner has indicated that based on his experience in the use of the temporary cease and desist power he obtained in Bill C-26 it was possible that the order would expire before an application could be made before the tribunal. The commissioner has an 80 day window in which to determine whether to make an application before the tribunal with respect to an abuse of dominant position by a dominant air carrier, but that determination is dependent upon having the necessary information in his hands.
The perverse effect of the rules as they currently work is that if information is not forthcoming and if in fact an investigation is not completed, the dominant carrier to whom an order is made can return to the abusive conduct the day after the commissioner's order expires. Hence, we have amendments designed to extend the cease and desist period, amendments designed to give real teeth to the powers available to the commissioner, amendments which are timely in the context of returning Canada's airline industry to a stable operation.