Matthew Boswell is commissioner of Competition Bureau.
Canada has a deep history with monopolies.
This dates back to even before we were a country, when the Hudson’s Bay charter was granted in 1670. It gave one company a trading monopoly over wide swaths of what is now Canada.
Today, many of Canada’s biggest businesses are the direct descendants of early monopolies in transportation, telecommunications and banking.
Canadians are seeing the impact of increasingly concentrated sectors dominated by giant corporations. They worry about rising bills and grow frustrated by limited choices and poor customer service.
The government of Canada has rightfully taken notice, and is taking action. It introduced initial improvements to Canada’s Competition Act last year, and then quickly launched a comprehensive consultation on Canada’s competition framework.
The recommendations for modernizing our law made by my team at the Competition Bureau in March as part of that consultation are far from radical. They simply aim to get us to the starting line alongside our global trading partners who make competition a pillar of their economic policy.
But not everyone is interested in better and stronger competition laws.
We have been hearing arguments that competition reform is a scary bogeyman that will harm our economy by chilling investment. We are hearing that we shouldn’t update our laws to harmonize with key trading partners because Canada is unique and we need to take a different approach on competition.
Given Canada’s history, we shouldn’t be too surprised when some interests raise arguments against meaningful competition law reform.
When competition law first emerged here at the end of the 19th century, it was for reasons that remain just as compelling today: to give consumers lower prices and make our economy stronger. The law that we work with hasn’t been fully updated in 37 years.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that we’re seeing a vigorous public debate these days about the state of Canada’s competition laws. We need to think carefully about our laws, and bring about thoughtful change informed by experience, research and international best practices.
But we should be very skeptical of arguments against competition reform.
If there is one thing that I have learned as Commissioner of Competition, it is this: Canada urgently needs more competition.
I have been pretty clear that our competition law is no longer fit for our modern economy and lags far behind the best practices in use by other countries around the world.
For example, our law can allow anticompetitive business mergers, creating more concentrated markets, and as a result, higher prices for Canadians.
I know the desire for more competition is shared by many.
The simple truth is that our law needs a thorough update to benefit both Canadian consumers and businesses.
For consumers, it means more choice and greater affordability.
For small and medium-sized businesses, it means a fair opportunity to compete. It also means greater international competitiveness for Canadian businesses. The evidence is clear that strong domestic competition makes businesses more competitive abroad.
And for us all, it means a stronger, more productive economy where overall living standards are increased.
The status quo on competition simply isn’t cutting it any more. Canada’s competition moment is here: Let’s seize it.