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Canadian Chamber Addresses Bill C-56 Before Senate Committee

Canadian Chamber Addresses Bill C-56 Before Senate Committee

On December 13, 2023, we addressed Bill C-56, the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act, before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.

On December 13, 2023, our Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Relations Matthew Holmes appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance to discuss C-56 “the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act.”

He welcomed amendments to the Excise Tax Act for housing supply but suggested adjustments for more support. Expressing concern, he urged careful consideration of the proposed amendments to the Competition Act in C-56, emphasizing the lack of transparency and potential risks. He questioned the urgency and effectiveness of C-56, advocating for robust consultation on consequential changes to the Competition Act.

The full remarks are available below.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the country’s largest and most activated business network — representing over 400 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and more than 200,000 businesses of all sizes, from all sectors of the economy, in every part of the country.

We welcome amendments to the Excise Tax Act that should assist in the creation of much needed housing supply. That said, we have thoughts on simple adjustments to C-56 which would allow Canada to support the development of even more housing with the goal of restoring affordability for Canadian families.

We also commend the government’s efforts to ensure Canada’s competition laws are strong in order to promote competition and foster a thriving economy. While we support the need to enhance competition in Canada, we are very concerned by the manner in which changes have been repeatedly introduced as parts of omnibus implementation acts, ways and means motions, or peppered throughout other legislation such as C-56, without real consultation with the business community or academic experts in what is a very particular area of the law.

Therefore, we urge the Senate to approach the proposed amendments to the Competition Act in C-56 with careful consideration and prudence, and we ask the honourable members of this committee to consider what the urgency behind this bill is? Will these proposed changes to the Competition Act change prices in grocery stores in time for New Years celebrations? Perhaps they will by 2030, perhaps not.

In fact, they could have the opposite effect, even diminish competition, especially given some of the new litigious elements being considered under C-59. The reality is, we don’t know. And quite frankly, it’s almost absurd for me to be speaking to you today about a handful of changes in C-56, when other changes are being proposed in C-59, currently before the House. Intentionally or not, this approach lacks transparency and obfuscates what the actual plan for the future of Competition law in Canada is. And that approach ultimately makes it harder and riskier to do business in Canada.

I recognize the government is under considerable pressure to address the affordability crisis that Canadians face today. It needs to show action, and it needs to convince Canadians it has a plan. Unfortunately, in my view, C-56 does not actually do anything about the real problems being faced by Canadians: at best it is a vehicle for administrative changes. At worst, it broadens the mandate of the Competition Bureau to become something of a price regulator, which would be inappropriate and concerning. By rushing it through with a false sense of urgency, we risk making decisions that could have outsized impacts on businesses of all kinds, as well as consumers and the broader economy.

We maintain that changes to the Competition Act, which are consequential and lasting, should benefit from robust consultation with stakeholders. This has not been our experience with C-56, the changes that preceded it following Budget 2022, nor, to date, with the changes proposed in C-59.

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