The recent overhaul of Canada’s Competition Act, enacted on June 20, 2024, brings significant changes designed to strengthen competition law enforcement and promote fairer market practices. These updates are a major win for small businesses and consumers, ensuring a more competitive and transparent environment.

The changes introduced include enhanced merger control, a tougher stance on anti-competitive agreements, and stricter rules on deceptive marketing. For the first time, significant civil fines are imposed for abuse of dominance, and the Competition Bureau now has the authority to conduct market studies with comprehensive information-gathering capabilities.

Here’s a closer look at what Canada’s Competition Act changes mean for small & medium businesses:

Enhanced Merger Control

The amendments introduce a two-stage merger notification and review process, similar to the U.S. system. This change increases scrutiny on mergers, ensuring they do not stifle competition. The Competition Bureau now has greater power to request additional information from merging parties and impose higher penalties for non-compliance.

Tougher Stance on Anti-competitive Agreements

The Act now includes a dual-track system for handling anti-competitive agreements. “Hard core” cartel activities, such as price-fixing, market allocation, and output restrictions, face severe penalties, including fines of up to $25 million and imprisonment for up to 14 years. Although this will likely have some questioning Canada’s own dairy industry – which has often been called a cartel.

Addressing Abuse of Dominance

For the first time, significant civil fines are imposed for abuse of dominance. Companies found guilty can face fines of up to $10 million for first orders and $15 million for subsequent orders. Specific provisions related to domestic airline abuse of dominance have been repealed, broadening the scope of enforceable actions.

Stricter Rules on Deceptive Marketing

Misleading advertising now carries tougher penalties, with fines up to $750,000 for individuals and $10 million for corporations. These changes simplify the legal test for abuse of dominance and enhance enforcement against deceptive marketing practices.

Expanded Private Access to Enforcement

Starting June 20, 2025, private parties will be able to apply to the Competition Tribunal for orders under civil deceptive marketing practices and the civil agreements provision.  Prior to this, only the Competition Bureau had authority to challenge anti-competitive agreements. This expansion means allows more stakeholders to play a role in maintaining market fairness.

Introduction of Market Studies Framework

The Competition Bureau now has the authority to conduct market studies with comprehensive information-gathering capabilities. This proactive measure helps identify and address potential competition issues before they become problematic.

Implications for Canadian Small and Medium Businesses

These amendments level the playing field for small businesses by curbing anti-competitive behaviors and ensuring larger corporations do not misuse their market dominance. The enhanced enforcement capabilities and increased penalties serve as a deterrent against unfair practices, fostering a healthier competitive environment.

Increased Market Access

The new regulations reduce the ability of large corporations to engage in anti-competitive mergers and monopolistic practices, creating more opportunities for smaller businesses to compete and grow without being overshadowed by dominant players.

Fairer Pricing and Better Services

With stricter penalties for price-fixing and deceptive marketing, small and medium-sized businesses can benefit from fairer pricing practices. This ensures they can offer competitive prices and high-quality services without being undercut by unfair competition.

Innovation and Collaboration

By preventing anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominance, the amendments encourage innovation. Small businesses can collaborate more freely, form strategic alliances, and explore new business models without fear of being pushed out by larger competitors.

Enhanced Legal Recourse

The expanded access to the Competition Tribunal empowers small businesses to take legal action against unfair practices. This legal support ensures that smaller players can defend their interests and maintain fair competition in the market.

Proactive Market Studies

The Bureau’s new authority to conduct market studies can identify and address systemic issues that disproportionately affect small businesses. These studies can lead to further regulatory adjustments that promote a more inclusive and competitive marketplace.

By ensuring a fairer marketplace, small & medium businesses can compete more effectively, driving innovation and providing consumers with better choices and prices. The Better Way Alliance supports these changes and looks forward to seeing their positive impact on the Canadian economy.

For more detailed information, visit the Competition Bureau’s guide.