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Commissioner of Competition Bureau Canada Matthew Boswell on De, 14, 2022 in Ottawa.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Matthew Boswell has been reappointed as head of the Competition Bureau for a further two years, leading the agency’s enforcement efforts as Ottawa overhauls the Competition Act for the first time in decades.

As the Commissioner of Competition since 2019, Mr. Boswell has argued that the country’s competition legislation is not fit for the modern Canadian economy.

His proponents say he has taken a more vocal advocacy role before Parliament than his predecessors, an approach that has led the government, they say, to launch a review of its merger and competition policies.

“I think there’s been a sea change, and I think Matthew has been the enabler of that change,” John Pecman, who himself served as competition commissioner between 2013 and 2018.

Some advice for Matthew Boswell, the once and future competition king

“Matthew has been the first to actually engage with the parliamentary committees and with the public. I’ve worked for seven commissioners, and I think Matthew has done the most work on that front,” he said.

Last year, Innovation Science and Economic Development launched a consultation on Canada’s competition framework. Under Mr. Boswell’s leadership, the bureau broke with tradition by submitting a public and extensive list of recommendations on competition law reform this past March, said Robin Shaban, co-founder and chair of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project.

“That was pretty bold,” Mx. Shaban said. “Traditionally, the bureau doesn’t comment on what needs to change. If it does, it’s very back-channel and quiet.”

Ottawa has subsequently brought two bills before Parliament.

Bill C-56, the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act, was given royal assent in mid-December. The legislation included a victory for Mr. Boswell on his long-term position that the “efficiency defence” should be removed from law. The defence allowed mergers to proceed if private benefits, such as cost savings for the merging parties, outweighed harms to consumers through higher prices or less choice.

The bill also gives the Competition Bureau more power to conduct market studies, and enables it to target “collaborations” that stifle competition.

Ottawa has also introduced Bill C-59, which builds on the measures of Bill C-56. It includes a series of amendments to the Competition Act that would give companies more freedom to pursue legal challenges on anti-competitive grounds, and amends the merger review process.

Mr. Boswell has committed to bringing forward enforcement guidelines for these new measures.

‘’It is a tremendous honour and privilege to be Canada’s Commissioner of Competition,” said Mr. Boswell in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail Thursday. ‘’I am excited to continue the great work we have done as an organization to protect and promote competition in the Canadian economy.”

Mr. Boswell’s approach has not been universally supported, and some changes to the act have been criticized as politicization by the Liberal government. Some legal experts say the changes amount to “window dressing” that will not help the underlying issues of inflation and high costs for things like groceries.

Others have suggested that the changes could introduce uncertainty among Canadian companies or could scare off those thinking of moving here.

Among the most high-profile of Mr. Boswell’s fights was his effort to block the $20-billion Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. Mr. Boswell was ultimately unsuccessful, costing the bureau $13-million in legal-fee payouts to the two companies.

His vigorous opposition to the takeover was controversial, with the Competition Tribunal itself saying the bureau’s attempts to block the deal and subsequent appeals of the decision were “divorced from reality.”

Aside from telecom, Mr. Boswell’s efforts have also included the grocery and cinema sectors. Earlier this year, the Competition Bureau handed down a $50-million fine to Canada Bread after findings of collusion to fix prices, the latest in a seven-year investigation that is continuing. Mr. Boswell has also taken aim at cinema chains, looking into allegations that Cineplex Inc. was using deceptive marketing practices to sell tickets.

Originally from Ottawa, Mr. Boswell studied law and joined a firm in Toronto, before swapping Bay Street for a position as Crown prosecutor. Later, he joined the Canadian Securities Commission and then accepted a post with the Competition Bureau in 2011, where he has remained since.

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