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Proposed changes to Canada’s Competition Act could kneecap our already faltering economy


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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

Aaron Wudrick, for Inside Policy

No party wants to be seen as soft on “big business” but that is a bad reason to pass potentially harmful, counterproductive competition policy legislation.

The recent federal budget was widely panned – in particular by the entrepreneurial class – for its proposal to raise the capital gains inclusion rate. As it turns out, “soak the rich” might sound like clever politics (it’s not) but it’s definitely a poor narrative if your goal is to incentivize and encourage risk-taking and investment.

But while this damaging measure in the federal budget has at least drawn plenty of public ire, other harmful legislative changes are afoot that are getting virtually no attention at all. They’re contained in Bill C-59 – the omnibus bill still wending its way through Parliament to enact measures contained in last fall’s economic statement – and consist of major proposed amendments to Canada’s Competition Act. The lack of coverage and debate on these changes is all the more concerning given that, if enacted, they could have a long-term negative impact on our economy comparable to the capital gains inclusion rate hike.

Worst of all, the most potentially damaging changes weren’t even in the original bill, but were brought forward by the NDP at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, and are lifted directly from a previous submission made to the committee by the Commissioner of Competition himself. In effect, they would change competition law to put a new onus on businesses to prove a negative: that having a large market share isn’t harmful to consumers.

MPs on the committee have acknowledged they don’t really understand the changes – they involve a “concentration index” described as “the sum of the squares of the market shares of the suppliers or customers” – but the government itself previously cast doubt on the need for this additional change. It’s obvious that a lot of politics are at play here: no party wants to be seen as soft on “big business.” But this is about much more than “big business.” It’s about whether we want to enshrine in law unfounded, and potentially very harmful, assumptions about how competition operates in the real world.

The changes in question are what are known in legal circles as “structural presumptions” – which, as the name implies, involve creating presumptions in law based on market “structure” – in this case, regarding the concentration level of a given market. Presumptions in law matter, because they determine which side in a competition dispute – the regulatory authority, or the impugned would-be merging parties – bears the burden of proof.

So why is this a bad idea? There are at least three reasons.

First of all, the very premise is faulty: most economists consider concentration measures alone (as opposed to market power) to be a poor proxy for the level of competition that prevails in a given market. In fact, competition for customers often increases concentration.

This may strike most people as counterintuitive. But because robust competition often leads to one company in particular offering lower prices, higher quality, or more innovative products, those who break from the pack tend to attract more customers and increase their market share. In this respect, higher concentration can actually signal more, rather than less, competition.

Second, structural presumptions for mergers are not codified in the US or any other developed country other than Germany (and even then, at a 40 percent combined share rather than 30 percent). In other words, at a time when Canada’s economy is suffering from the significant dual risks of stalled productivity growth and net foreign investment flight, the amendments proposed by the NDP would introduce one of the most onerous competition laws in the world.

There is a crucial distinction between parliamentarians putting such wording into legislation – which bind the courts – and regulatory agencies putting them in enforcement guidelines, which leave courts with a degree of discretion.

Incorporating structural presumptions into legislation surpasses what most advanced economies do and could lead to false negatives (blocking mergers that would, if permitted, actually benefit consumers), chill innovation (as companies seeking to up their game in the hopes of selling or merging are deterred from even bothering), and result in more orphaned Canadian businesses (as companies elect not to acquire Canadian operations on global transactions).

Finally, the impact on merger review will not be a simplification but will likely just fetter the discretion and judgment of the expert and impartial Competition Tribunal in determining which mergers are truly harmful for consumers and give more power to the Competition Bureau, the head of which is appointed by the federal Cabinet. Although the Competition Bureau is considered an independent law enforcement agency, it must still make its case before a court (the Tribunal, in this case).The battleground at the Tribunal will shift from focusing on the likely effect of the merger on consumers to instead entertaining arguments between the Bureau’s and companies’ opposing arguments about defining the relevant market and shares.

Even if, after further study, the government decided that rebuttable structural presumptions are desirable, C-59 already repeals subsection 92(2) of the Competition Act, which allows the Tribunal to develop the relevance of market shares through case law – a far better process than a blanket rule in legislation. Nothing prevents the Bureau from incorporating structural presumptions as an enforcement screen for mergers in its guidelines, which is what the United States has done for decades, rather than putting strict (and therefore inflexible) metrics into statute and regulations.

No one disputes that Canada needs a healthy dose of competition in a wide range of sectors. But codifying dubious rules around mergers risks doing more harm than good. In asking for structural presumptions to be codified, the Competition Bureau is missing the mark. Most proposed mergers that will get caught by these changes should in fact be permitted on the basis that consumers would be better off – and the uncertainty of being an extreme outlier on the global stage in terms of competition policy will create yet another disincentive to start and grow businesses in Canada.

This is the opposite of what Canada needs right now. Rather than looking for ill-advised shortcuts that entangle more companies in litigation and punt disputes about market definition rather than effects to the Tribunal, the Bureau should be focusing on doing its existing job better: building evidence-backed cases against mergers that would actually harm Canadians.

Aaron Wudrick is the domestic policy director at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. 

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Trudeau’s environment department admits carbon tax has only reduced emissions by 1%

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From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

The Trudeau Liberals had first seemed to claim that the unpopular carbon tax had cut emissions by 33%, only to explain that the figure is merely a projection for 2030 and the actual reduction thus far stands at 1%.

The Liberal government has admitted that the carbon tax has only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent following claims that the unpopular surcharge had cut emissions by 33 percent.   

During a May 21 House of Commons environment committee meeting, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault testified that the carbon tax cut greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent, before his department backtracked to explain that the figure is a projection for the year 2030, and that the true figure sits at a mere 1 percent.

“I will be the first one to recognize it is complex,” said Guilbeault, according to information obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter 

“If you want simple answers, I am sorry. There is no simple answer when it comes to climate change or modeling,” he said, adding, “Carbon pricing works. This has never been clearer.”  

“Carbon pricing alone accounts for around a third of emission reductions expected in Canada,” said Guilbeault, explaining this number was based on “complex statistical calculations.”  

However, Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) pointed out that the numbers provided by Guilbeault’s department do not add up to a 33 percent decrease in emissions, as the department had characterized.  

“How many megatonnes of emissions have been directly reduced from your carbon tax since it was introduced?” Conservative MP Dan Mazier questioned.  

According to Guilbeault, after the introduction of the carbon tax, emissions reduced by five megatonnes in 2018, fourteen megatonnes in 2019, seventeen megatonnes in 2020, eighteen megatonnes in 2021, and nineteen megatonnes in 2022.  

According to Blacklock’s, Guilbeault failed to explain how the environment department calculated a 33 percent benefit.

Conservative MP Michael Kram pressed Guilbeault, saying, “I want to make sure I have the math correct.” 

“In 2022 emissions were at 708 megatonnes and the carbon tax was responsible for reducing 19 megatonnes,” he continued. “By my math that works out to a three percent reduction.” 

Associate deputy environment minister Lawrence Hanson explained that the department’s 33 percent emissions cut is a projection of the emissions cut by 2030, not a current statistic.   

“It’s the distinction between how much the carbon price might have affected emissions in one year versus how much in 2030,” said Hanson. “So when you heard us talking about its responsible for one third of reductions we were talking about the 2030 number.” 

This explanation was echoed by Derek Hermanutz, director general of the department’s economic analysis directorate, who said, “When we talk about one third, it’s one third of our expected reductions. That’s getting to 2030.” 

“Yes, but three percent of the total emissions have been reduced as a result of carbon pricing?” Kram pressed.   

“No, emissions have declined three percent in total,” assistant deputy minister John Moffet responded.  

“And so only one percent of that three percent is from the carbon tax?” Kram asked.  

“To date,” Moffet replied. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, framed as a way to reduce carbon emissions, has cost Canadian households hundreds of dollars annually despite rebates. 

The increased costs are only expected to rise. A recent report revealed that a carbon tax of more than $350 per tonne is needed to reach Trudeau’s net-zero goals by 2050. 

Currently, Canadians living in provinces under the federal carbon pricing scheme pay $80 per tonne, but the Trudeau government has a goal of $170 per tonne by 2030. 

On April 1, Trudeau increased the carbon tax by 23 percent despite seven out of 10 provincial premiers and 70 percent of Canadians pleading with him to halt his plan. 

Despite appeals from politicians and Canadians alike, Trudeau remains determined to increase the carbon tax regardless of its effects on citizens’ lives. 

The Trudeau government’s current environmental goals – which are in lockstep with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – include phasing out coal-fired power plants, reducing fertilizer usage, and curbing natural gas use over the coming decades. 

The reduction and eventual elimination of so-called “fossil fuels” and a transition to unreliable “green” energy has also been pushed by the World Economic Forum, the globalist group behind the socialist “Great Reset” agenda in which Trudeau and some of his cabinet are involved. 

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The EV battery ‘catch-22’

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From The Center Square

While setting aggressive goals for electric vehicle market share, the Biden administration also wants tariffs and or restrictions on the importation of vehicles and the minerals needed for their batteries – creating heightened concerns over supply chains in what can be described as a “Catch-22” situation.

Solutions to some of the problems include battery recycling and increased domestic mining, however, the U.S. is currently limited in its capacity for both. Federal funds are spurring new recycling plant projects, but questions remain on whether there will be enough used material to meet projected needs.

In his e-book, “The EV Transition Explained,” Robert Charette, longtime systems engineer, and contributing editor for IEEE Spectrum, says making the transition is harder than anyone thinks. He recently told The Center Square it is truer now than it ever was.

“None of this is simple,” he said.

His argument centers on the lack of planning and systems engineering on initiatives that are politically, not engineering, driven. While change is possible, he suggested it would require trillions more in government spending and enforcing those changes through law.

Charette identified many serious issues in setting up the EV battery infrastructure – and even if those challenges are met, he said, there may be tradeoffs between affordability, security and environmental concerns.

Profitability. Battery recycling is a still-developing process which is time consuming and expensive. The cost of purchasing recycled materials may be more costly than buying them new.

Manufacturing demand and potential backlog. The U.S. will require eight million batteries annually by 2030 to meet the government’s EV target, with increases each year after that.

Standardization. Batteries vary in configuration, size, and chemistry.

Domestic mining. While decreasing our dependency on outside sources, what are the environmental impacts? It can also take years to acquire permits and get a lithium mine up and running.

Mineral shortfalls. Secure and sustainable access to critical minerals like copper, lithium, cobalt, and nickel is essential for a smooth and affordable transition to clean energy. An analysis by the International Energy Agency indicates a “significant gap” between the world’s supply and demand for copper and lithium. Projected supplies will only meet 70% of the copper and 50% of the lithium needed to achieve 2035 climate targets.

The report said that “without the strong uptake of recycling and reuse, “mining capital requirements would need to be one-third higher. The agency also emphasizes China’s dominance in the refining and processing sector.

Transportation of discharged batteries classified as hazardous waste is one of the costliest steps of the recycling process. Experts suggest updates to federal EPA and DOT regulations for how battery-related waste is classified. In addition to health and safety, they say clearer definitions of what constitutes hazardous waste would help reduce transportation costs. Many recycling plants are being built in regions where production sites are located to address this.

Supply chain and skills gap shortages. The timetable set by the government is not aligned with the capabilities of the current supply chain. Software plays a key role in the management and operation of an EV battery, and automakers are competing for a limited supply of software and systems engineers.

Competing interests. The goal is to create a circular battery economy, reducing the need for raw materials. However, an EV battery that is no longer useful for propelling a car still has enough life left for other purposes such as residential energy storage. Experts propose a battery material hierarchy where repurposing and reusing retired EV batteries are more favorable to immediately recycling them, detouring them out of the cycle.

Charette says the biggest problem with recycling projections is that they are built on assumptions that have not been tested.

“We won’t know whether these assumptions hold until we reach a point where we are recycling millions of EV batteries,” he said.

Because most EV lithium-ion batteries produced through 2023 are still on the road, the International Council on Clean Transportation reports that the majority of materials being used as feedstock by recycling plants currently come from scrap materials created during battery production.

According to Charette, manufacturers also claim future generations of batteries will last 15 to 20 years, which he says would put a bigger kink in the used-battery supply chain.

Another issue contributing to consumers’ reluctance to buy an EV is the inability to determine the overall health of your battery. Current testing methods are inefficient and costly.

EV adoption has so far not met projections and with all the competing interests, Charette said the market will ultimately tell us what direction the situation is headed. He is also intrigued over the impact government pressure will have on the eventual outcome.

He said many individual components have yet to be worked out, adding that although there is a vision, “we’re a heck of a long way from that vision to getting where we need to go.”

In his opinion, battery recycling issues are even further behind than transitioning the electric grid to renewable energy sources.

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