Mr. Speaker, I was speaking about some changes to the act concerning deceptive advertising and marketing practices.
The Competition Act will offer the bureau two avenues, criminal prosecution whereby the bureau will refer cases to the attorney general if an infraction has occurred, or civil resolution to rectify conduct which, though problematic, has occurred unintentionally. Under the new civil regime most of the deceptive practices now prohibited under the act will remain practically unchanged and will become reviewable matters.
The bureau can call upon either a judicial member of the competition tribunal, the Federal Court of Canada or a provincial superior court. Redress can be obtained through a court order or by way of consent. Orders to publish information notices as well as to pay administrative monetary penalties of up to $200,000 for companies and $100,000 for individuals may be issued. Consent orders may be entered into and will then be legally binding.
Measures such as these will expedite decision making and ensure it is done consistently and by a specialized body in the vast majority of cases. At the end of the day we will have quicker and more effective resolution of instances of misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices.
I now turn to regular price claims, essentially comparisons between regular selling prices and cut rate prices. As we all know consumers like to wait until products they want are on sale rather than buy them at the regular price. Advertising showing how much one can save over the regular price can therefore be a powerful tool to attract consumers. The Competition Act already prohibits materially misleading regular price claims.
Representatives of the retail sales sector as well as some consumer groups have asserted that the act does not give clear guidelines on what kind of regular selling price claims may be made.
Under the amendments the government is proposing, representations as to the ordinary selling price will be valid if they meet one of two tests. One is based on the price charged for a substantial volume of sales. The other is based on the price at which the product has been offered for sale for a substantial period of time. According to the new provisions, when determining whether an order is called for the judge will take into account the nature of the product and the relevant geographical market. Even if the representations fail to meet either test no order will be made if such representations are not otherwise misleading.
On quite another subject, we are proposing amendments to the provisions requiring advance notice to the bureau of large merger transactions. An efficient pre-notification process is essential to allow the bureau to determine whether a transaction would have a negative effect on competition before the transaction is finalized.
A number of measures are proposed that would improve the process for businesses by reducing the regulatory burden for no issue transactions. This will be achieved through reduced information requirements and greater flexibility to waive the requirement for pre-notification or for some of the information required under certain circumstances.
Other measures are directed toward facilitating the review of transactions raising potential concerns. For example, the amend-
ments will provide more realistic conditions for the issuance by the tribunal of a provisional order to delay the completion or implementation of a proposed transaction.
It is widely recognized by experts that some provision for requiring pre-notification of mergers is essential to preserve the effectiveness of the merger review process. A more efficient process will benefit the players directly involved: the bureau and the merging parties. Ultimately improvements are beneficial to society as a whole if they help to safeguard competition, which is still the best way to provide consumers and business with a wide choice of products at the best possible prices.
I will say a few words about the amendments dealing with prohibition orders. The Competition Act provides that the court may, when it has found a person or company guilty of an infraction, issue a prohibition order enjoining the offender from continuing or repeating the offence. Independent of any finding of guilt, the prohibition order can also be issued if the parties consent and upon resolution of a contested case.
Amendments proposed in this area open up some new possibilities. In some cases it may be preferable to require defendants to commit themselves to the adoption of acceptable behaviour. That is why we propose to allow the courts to issue orders requiring defendants to take specific measures to conform to the requirements of the act. Among other advantages this may help avoid lengthy and extensive litigation.
In the past amending the Competition Act has been along and difficult task. The amendment procedure we have adopted is based on partnership and respect among stakeholders often with differing views. The amendments we are proposing reflect a consensus among stakeholders. We hope to build on the choices we have made to provide for a more regular review of the vitally important Competition Act.
As I said in my earlier remarks before we broke for question period, the act is functioning generally well but these changes will enhance its operation.
The details of the bill under review will be considered in detail in due course. I have merely provided an introduction to some of the principal changes contemplated and an indication of the benefits that may result from its passage. This package of amendments is balanced and achievable. It is the result of extensive consultation with stakeholder group representatives and consumers. The private sector, the judicial community, academia and law enforcement agencies took part in the deliberations of a consultative panel created to make recommendations to the government. I thank all individuals and organizations that have worked with dedication to review the Competition Act, as well as those who have provided us with the benefit of their opinions.
Before coming to the House on being elected in 1993 competition law was an area of practice for me. I can say from my experience as a practitioner in this area that the consultation that goes on with the private sector, with people interested in the strength and operation of the Competition Act, is one of the best examples of the system working properly.
The amendments to the act at this time, as did earlier revisions to the act, represent a considerable effort on the part of government and stakeholders to arrive at valuable and timely solutions to sometimes complex issues. The proposals before us today have been carefully developed and considered. I believe they merit the support of the House.
That concludes my remarks on the Competition Act, but I might just take a moment while time still remains to me to say this may well be my last speech before the House. I will not be seeking re-election. As such I wanted to take a moment, first and foremost, to thank the people of St. Paul's riding in central Toronto, for putting their confidence in me and asking me to come here in 1993 to represent them. It has been an honour and privilege to do so.
I also recognize the staff of the House, table officers, pages and all those who assist us in the functioning of our work. If people watching our proceedings on television think it is easy and straightforward, they really need to know the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, behind the curtain, at the table and in the Speaker's chair to assist us in moving business along in the House.
I also thank members of my personal staff in Toronto and in Ottawa who have contributed enormously to my ability to serve my constituents. They have my gratitude.
In closing I will say a word about serving in the House and about my colleagues. Some people refer to serving in Parliament as serving in an exclusive club. I think that is a confusing description. It is exclusive only in the sense that it provides Canadians from all parts of the country the opportunity to meet, work together, share views, learn, grow and do a better job as a result. In that sense it is very exclusive and a privilege.
The House is a microcosm of our great country. It has been my honour to serve.