On January 31, 2013, Mr. John Pecman, Canada's Interim Commissioner of Competition (Commissioner) met with representatives of the business and legal community at the offices of McCarthy Tétrault to discuss the Competition Bureau’s (Bureau) current priorities.
Mr. Pecman has had a long and distinguished career with the Bureau. He has worked in every enforcement branch of the Bureau and has held a variety of increasingly senior positions since joining the Bureau almost 30 years ago.
In his comments, the Commissioner identified the Bureau’s main priorities for his term:
enforcing the Competition Act (Act) based on strategic cases and regulatory interventions;
ensuring transparency and predictability in enforcement; and
building trust through enhanced collaboration.
With regards to the Bureau’s enforcement mandate, the Commissioner indicated that Canadians should continue to expect vigorous enforcement of the Act. He gave a brief overview of the Bureau’s recent and ongoing enforcement activities, including judicial proceedings. The Commissioner also discussed the recent consent agreement reached with Air Canada and United regarding the decision of the two corporations to enter into a joint venture on 14 routes between Canada and the United States, noting that the consent order ensures that passengers will not face higher prices and decreased choices on those routes.
The Commissioner also spoke about the Bureau's investigation relating to a conspiracy to fix the price of retail gas in certain Québec’s municipalities. The investigation, in which the Commissioner played a predominant role while serving in the Bureau’s Criminal Matters branch, resulted in 39 individuals and 15 companies being charged with criminal price-fixing. The Commissioner noted that, to date, 30 individuals and seven companies have pleaded guilty with fines totalling over $3 million, and that of the 30 individuals who have pleaded guilty, six have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment totalling 54 months.
The Commissioner also addressed the Bureau's use of its formal powers under the Act, and announced that, going forward, in non-merger, civil matters formal inquiries, the Bureau’s first course of action to obtain information from the target of the investigation will be to obtain a legally binding section 11 order from the court. As a result, in such matters, the use of voluntary requests for information will now be limited to exceptional circumstances.
With respect to merger review, the Commissioner indicated that, in order to enhance its communication and transparency with stakeholders, the Bureau would strive to publish an increasing amount of position statements describing its analysis of a particular proposed merger and summarizing its main findings.
Finally, reaffirming the Bureau’s commitment to transparency and predictability in enforcement, the Commissioner indicated that the Bureau continues to be open to working with the bar and other relevant stakeholders, including business groups, law enforcement agencies and federal, provincial and municipal procurement bodies to improve and clarify its procedures. To that end, the Commissioner noted that the Bureau intends to work with the bar to clarify its procedures with respect to electronic document production and leniency programs. The Bureau also intends to develop clear guidelines on the price maintenance provisions of the Act in the near future.