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Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell takes part in the Competition Summit hosted by the Competition Bureau Canada in Ottawa on Oct. 5.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Conventional wisdom dictated that Matthew Boswell would be done and dusted after his first term as the country’s competition watchdog.

Conventional wisdom got it wrong.

In late December, the federal government surprised the legal community by reappointing Mr. Boswell to a second, two-year term as Commissioner of Competition. The decision extended a four-year tenure at the Competition Bureau defined by fighting losing battles, wasting taxpayer money and achieving next to nothing for consumers.

Canada desperately needs dynamic marketplaces. Lack of competition in key sectors such as groceries, telecom and financial services mean consumers pay higher prices than they should, and that productivity suffers. And the trend is not our friend. Almost every industry is consolidating around its largest players – more takeovers are inevitable.

In a mature economy, with most sectors dominated by a handful of companies, Canadians need a negotiator running the Competition Bureau who is willing to find common ground between corporate and customer interests.

Instead, the federal government reappointed a pit bull – a former litigator focused on winning at all costs. And Mr. Boswell kept his job despite losing a career-defining case, badly.

For those with short memories: Recall that the bureau continues to be run by a lawyer who federal judges called “unnecessarily contentious” in opposing Rogers Communications Inc.’s takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.

In deciding the fate of the $20-billion Roger’s takeover last year, a three-judge panel heard the bureau’s arguments in the morning and ruled against the regulator over their lunch break – without even hearing from Rogers and Shaw’s lawyers. A tribunal then decided the bureau should pay close to $13-million of the telecom companies’ legal fees.

After that public slap down, lawyers and political types concluded the bureau would get a new boss. Instead, federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced a new term – though truncated – for the incumbent.

“Mr. Boswell has the important role of bringing competition enforcement up to date in an increasingly digital and data-driven market, as well as promoting and defending the marketplace Canadians need,” Mr. Champagne said in a press release last month.

As he starts his second term, Mr. Boswell’s priority continues to be Rogers, his great white whale.

In April, 2023, three days after the Shaw takeover closed, the bureau launched an inquiry into the company’s “unlimited” data plans, which have been around since 2019. Subsequent regulatory filings show the bureau is investigating the campaign for “deceptive marketing” on the grounds that Rogers, along with all the telecom platforms, slows download speeds once customers hit pre-set data limits.

In filings, Rogers argued customers are well aware of the thresholds on data plans, which are spelled out in its advertising. The company said it is “quite concerning” to see the bureau single out one company for advertising that’s common to the industry. Other words to describe Mr. Boswell’s single-minded pursuit of the company include petty and vindictive.

The irony of Rogers’s takeover of Shaw is the deal ended with a win for consumers – the sale of Freedom Mobile cell phone network to Quebecor Inc. – despite Mr. Boswell’s efforts, not because of them. If Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau proves be the disruptive force in Western Canada and Ontario that he’s been in Quebec, last year’s telecom takeovers will be a victory for cellphone customers.

Mr. Boswell is a former prosecutor at the Ontario Securities Commission and provincial attorney-general. Prior to arriving at the bureau in 2011, his career was defined by cases won and lost.

In contrast, most former commissioners were corporate lawyers, who measured success by getting two sides to compromise in order to cut a deal. That common-sense approach – bringing key players into a room to hammer out a transaction – is what’s missing from Mr. Boswell’s approach during his first four years at the bureau.

Over Mr. Boswell’s next term, which begins in February, the federal government has promised to rewrite rules governing takeovers. Reforms are likely to include elimination of what’s known as the “net benefits” exemption, a made-in-Canada rule that allows deals to go forward if there’s a benefit to the overall economy, even if they lessen competition.

The next two years under Mr. Boswell are also likely to see more of the mergers and acquisitions that reshape the entire economy. What if Jimmy Pattison decides to sell his Western Canadian grocery stores, Intact Financial Corp. snaps up another rival in auto insurance or the Audet family puts Cogeco Inc. on the auction block? Consumers will be depending on the bureau to preserve competition.

It’s fair to say Mr. Boswell has an opportunity to be one of the most influential commissioners in the bureau’s history. Let’s hope past blunders prompt the commissioner to rethink his approach and start any review of takeovers with a goal of negotiating, rather than fighting.

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