Canada’s competition watchdog will have more resources to use, thanks to additional funding proposed in the April 2021 budget, and no shortage of ways that money can be spent.
The April 2021 federal budget pledged to increase the budget of Canada’s Competition Bureau by $96 million over the next five years, plus annual $27.5-million hikes after that to enhance “its enforcement capacity and ensure it is equipped with the necessary digital tools for today’s economy.”
The budget offered no additional details about how that money was to be spent. It would represent about a 35% increase over the current annual budget of nearly $54 million. Published speculation, however, immediately focused on the Bureau’s highest-profile responsibilities, the Competition Act. The Bureau is often criticized for being too passive, and complex investigations are increasingly digital and expensive.
Some speculation has existed, also, about whether the Competition Act needs to be updated, in part because of the Bureau’s reluctance to investigate some cases – either because they lacked resources to proceed, or lacked confidence in their ability to win certain cases.
Merger evaluations – such as for the upcoming Shaw-Rogers proposed merger – are among the Bureau’s highest profile responsibilities. But it also acts against anti-competitive practices and has concluded recent cases against Toronto-area condominium refurbishers, StubHub, FlightHub, Facebook and is currently investigating the competitiveness of Amazon’s pricing policies.
However, the Competition Act is just one of the four Acts for which the Competition Bureau has responsibility. The other three are the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA), the Textile Labelling Act (TLA) and the Precious Metals Marking Act (PMMA).
More resources for enforcement of those three Acts would be warranted, according to a recent Consumers Council of Canada report on government consumer complaint handling. The report noted that the Bureau “has greatly reduced or abandoned proactive monitoring and inspections under the … three consumer protection statutes that directly address consumer misrepresentation and quality/composition standards in specific sectors of the marketplace. Unfortunately, consumers have no reasonable means of knowing if their consumer products are short weight (CPLA), their apparel is made of cheaper and potentially allergenic fibres (TLA), or their 18K gold wedding ring is actually gold-plated brass (PMMA).”