Today the Federal government introduced Bill C-49, an amendment to the Competition Act known as the Price Transparency Act (the “Act”), which is designed to help address “unjustified” discrepancies in pricing of retail goods between Canada and the United States.
The proposed legislation will empower the Commissioner of Competition (“Commissioner”) to launch inquiries into the pricing practices of retailers, manufacturers or other relevant parties where he believes that the selling price of a product or class of products is higher in Canada than that of the same or similar products in the United States. After launching an inquiry under this provision, the Commissioner will be permitted to seek court orders compelling the production of information and records related to subjects’ pricing strategies, including from entities outside of Canada.
The Commissioner will be required to prepare a report in writing on his findings during the course of any inquiry under the Act, and to take all reasonable steps to publicly release his findings within one year of receiving the evidence required.
The publication of such reports based on the confidential information compelled in the course of an inquiry is the key feature of the Act. This is not provided for under current law, and according to Industry Minister James Moore, is designed to allow Canadian consumers to decide when they are being discriminated against as opposed to American shoppers, and to shop accordingly.
Contrary to what some have expected since the government announced that this legislation would be forthcoming in its 2014 budget, the Act does not provide for any new enforcement powers that would allow the Commissioner to challenge cross-border price discrimination in court or levy any fines or other remedies.
The Act is supported by the Retail Council of Canada, the Consumers Council of Canada, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.