Our Year in Action: Safeguarding Competition in a Digital World
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Competition for the Year Ending March 31, 2020
November 6, 2020
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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Industry, 2020.
Cat. No. Iu50E-PDF
Aussi offert en français sous le titre Nos activités de l’année : protéger la concurrence dans un monde numérique – Rapport annuel 2019‑2020.
Table of Contents
- Message from the Commissioner
- Who we are
- Our structure
- What we achieved
- High impact and consumer-focused enforcement
- Promoting pro-competitive policies and regulations
- Investing in our people
- Financial snapshot
Message from the Commissioner
As we reflect on the past year, it is clear that the Canadian economy is more digitally focused than ever before, and the growth of our digital and data-driven economy will likely only accelerate in the years ahead. As a result, the Competition Bureau's vision—to be a world-leading competition agency that is at the forefront of the digital economy and champions a culture of competition in Canada—is more important now than ever before. We set out this vision in our 2019‑2020 Annual Plan and in our Strategic Vision for 2020-2024. It will guide us as we build our capacity in the digital economy and deliver the benefits of competition to Canadians.
The Bureau is taking a proactive approach to competition enforcement and advocacy. Our goal is to help Canadian consumers and businesses reap the benefits of competition in the digital economy. To that end, at the beginning of the year, we indicated that we would vigorously enforce and promote competition where it matters most to Canadians, in areas such as telecommunications, health and biosciences, and infrastructure. We have done just that. For example, a strong telecommunications sector is key within the digital economy and, over the past year, we have completed comprehensive studies into the wireless and broadband industries. We also participated in proceedings and consultations at the federal and provincial levels on device financing and cellphone bill transparency. Our goal throughout was to provide objective, evidence-based advice, guided by the principle that effective, sustainable competition is the best way to lower prices, improve choice and deliver high-quality networks to Canadians.
Over the last year, we have also taken a number of enforcement actions in the online world. Our case against Ticketmaster for alleged misleading pricing claims led to a settlement that included a $4 million penalty and $500,000 towards our investigative cost. We also negotiated our first temporary consent agreement, which stopped travel retailer FlightHub from using false or misleading marketing practices in online flight sales. Through actions like these, we continue to send a strong message of deterrence against false or misleading claims online and to promote consumer trust in the online marketplace.
In addition to these major enforcement and promotion actions, we hosted an international Data Forum in the spring of 2019. The event focused on strategies for competition enforcers to collaborate and keep pace with digital platforms and privacy concerns.
In July 2019, we announced the appointment of our first Chief Digital Enforcement Officer (CDEO). The CDEO has already helped to advance initiatives to modernize our processes, be digital-by-design, and provide employees with new tools to enforce the law. We also stepped up our proactive intelligence gathering efforts by expanding the role of our Merger Notification Unit to detect non-notifiable mergers that could raise competition concerns.
I am thankful for the exceptional commitment of the Bureau's employees in delivering on these goals. We have a small but mighty team of determined and dedicated professionals, and I am proud of the important work we have advanced in the past year to serve the public interest of Canadians.
Who we are
Headed by the Commissioner of Competition, the Competition Bureau (the "Bureau") administers and enforces the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (except as it relates to food), the Textile Labelling Act and the Precious Metals Marking Act (collectively referred to as the Acts).
To be a world-leading competition agency, one that is at the forefront of the digital economy and champions a culture of competition for Canada.
To promote and protect competition for the benefit of Canadians, the Bureau will administer and enforce the Acts with fairness and predictability, to:
- Prevent and deter anti-competitive behaviour and deceptive marketing practices
- Review mergers to ensure they do not harm competition
- Empower Canadian consumers and businesses
- Promote competitive markets across Canada
Our organization is headquartered in Gatineau, Quebec, and has regional offices in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Budget and people
Budget for 2019‑2020: $53.7 MFootnote 1
Full time employees for 2019‑2020: 382 Full-time employees
What we achieved
- The Hudson's Bay Company agreed to pay a $4 million penalty and $500,000 towards investigative costs to settle the Bureau's ongoing litigation relating to advertising and pricing practices for sleep sets.
- The Bureau advocated for greater competition in the wireless industry in submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
- A former executive from engineering firm Dessau pled guilty to rigging bids on city of Gatineau's infrastructure contracts.
- The Bureau challenged Thoma Bravo's acquisition of oil and gas reserves software firm Aucerna.
- Ticketmaster agreed to pay a $4 million penalty and $500,000 towards investigative costs to settle the Bureau's ongoing litigation relating to misleading pricing claims for online tickets.
- A former executive from Cima+ and a former executive from Genivar (now WSP Canada) pled guilty to an infrastructure bid-rigging case in Gatineau.
- The Bureau hired a new Chief Digital Enforcement Officer to help keep pace with the digital economy.
- The Bureau and other competition authorities of the G7 countries released a Common Understanding highlighting opportunities and challenges raised by the digital economy.
- The Bureau published a market study on competition and consumer habits in Canada's high speed Internet industry.
- The Bureau advocated for more competition in Ontario's liquor industry in an open letter to the Minister of Finance of Ontario.
- The Bureau preserved competition for oil and gas reserves valuation and reporting software by reaching a settlement in Thoma Bravo's acquisition of Aucerna.
- The Bureau called on Canadian businesses to report potentially anti-competitive conduct in the digital economy through its Digital Outreach consultation.
- The Bureau enhanced information-gathering efforts on non-notifiable mergers by creating the Merger Intelligence and Notification Unit.
- The Bureau hosted a trilateral meeting with its American and Mexican counterparts that focused on competition law enforcement and advocacy in the digital economy.
- The Bureau entered into a temporary consent agreement with FlightHub to protect consumers from false or misleading representations that result in hidden fees being charged for flights.
- A fourth engineering executive pled guilty to bid-rigging that cheated the City of Gatineau out of an estimated $1.8 million.
- The Bureau made an additional submission to the CRTC regarding competition in the wireless sector.
- The Bureau sent letters to over 100 companies and marketing agencies that work with social media influencers, advising them to review their advertising practices.
- The Bureau challenged Parrish & Heimbecker's acquisition of a grain elevator from Louis Dreyfus in Virden, Manitoba.
- The Bureau preserved competition in Western Canada's hydrogen peroxide market by securing a remedy following its review of Evonik's proposed merger with PeroxyChem.
- StubHub agreed to pay a $1.3 million penalty for advertising unattainable prices for event tickets.
- The Bureau appeared before the CRTC to advocate for our policy recommendation and address the CRTC's questions.
- The Bureau took action to stop weight loss claims by seller of 'WeightOFF Max!' and 'Forskolin Nx'.
- Engineering firm Roche ltée, Groupe-conseil (now Norda Stelo Inc.) was ordered to pay a $750,000 penalty in a settlement for bid-rigging on contracts in Québec City and Lévis.
- The Bureau concluded its review of Air Canada's proposed acquisition of Transat with a report outlining its competition concerns delivered to the Minister of Transport.
- The Bureau issued a statement regarding enforcement during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
High impact and consumer-focused enforcement
Supporting competition in the digital economy
- 41 commenced
- 40 ongoing
- 34 concluded
The digital sector is the fastest growing sector in Canada. Digitalization has forever changed the way we interact and has transformed the consumer and business landscape. While strong competition enforcement is a cornerstone of any thriving economy, protecting competition and consumer trust in the digital economy is more important than ever. For Canada's digital economy to continue to thrive, consumers need to trust the online marketplace.
Being upfront about the true cost of tickets
Canadians spend billions of dollars online every year buying tickets to their favourite sporting and entertainment events. It is critical that they have confidence that the prices they see online are the ones they will pay. In June 2019, we settled our case against Ticketmaster and affiliated companies over alleged misleading pricing claims for online ticket sales. Our investigation found that the prices advertised were unattainable because Ticketmaster added mandatory fees in the later stages of the purchasing process. Ticketmaster agreed to pay a $4 million administrative monetary penalty (AMP) and $500,000 towards our investigative costs.
In February 2020, we also reached an agreement with StubHub over concerns about its advertising of unattainable prices for online tickets. We found that consumers could not buy tickets at the prices the company advertised because it charged additional mandatory fees. Unless consumers clicked or tapped to turn on optional filters to see prices that included the fees, the fees were only revealed at later stages of the purchasing process. StubHub agreed to pay a $1.3 million AMP and to ensure that prices for tickets to events in Canada include all mandatory fees throughout the ticket purchasing process.
Both of the investigations into Ticketmaster and StubHub followed our past warning issued to the ticketing industry, calling on all ticket vendors to review their marketing practices and to display the true price of tickets upfront.
Protecting consumers from hidden fees
Too often consumers find great online travel deals only to realize the deals are no longer affordable or available by the time they have selected their flight. In October 2019, we took action to protect consumers from false or misleading representations that led to hidden fees for flights. While we continue to investigate the marketing practices of FlightHub Group Inc., we reached a temporary consent agreement that prohibits the company from using false or misleading marketing practices on flighthub.com and justfly.com. We continue to investigate representations for seat selection and flight cancellations, which lead to hidden fees, and allegations that some prices increase after consumers select their flights.
Calling on businesses to report anti-competitive conduct in the digital economy
In September 2019, we called on Canadian businesses to provide us with information on potentially anti-competitive conduct in the digital economy. Over 25 businesses and business associations responded to our call-out. Some of the issues highlighted in our call-out included business strategies that may harm competition, such as: refusals to deal, self-preferencing, margin squeezing and creeping acquisitions. The information we received may be used to inform and support future investigations into alleged anti-competitive conduct in digital markets.
Cracking down on social media influencer marketing
In today's digital world, many consumers follow the day-to-day activities of online personalities who share their interests and whose opinions they respect. These personalities, known as "influencers", are an important source of information for their followers, subscribers, and readers who value their unique points of view on products or services. With the reliance on influencer marketing set to be a continuing trend, businesses and influencers need to be transparent when advertising on social media so that consumers can easily recognize when content is actually an advertisement.
In December 2019, we sent letters to close to 100 companies and marketing agencies involved in influencer marketing in Canada, advising them to review their marketing practices to ensure that they respect the law. We made it clear that influencers need to disclose the relationships they have with a business, product or service they promote. Among other things, we asked them to clearly state if they receive money or commissions, free products or services, discounts, free trips or tickets to events, or have a business or family connection with the brand. We also highlighted the importance of having reviews and testimonials that are honest and based on actual experience.
In January 2020, we held a month-long social media awareness campaign for influencers and businesses who work with them to promote their products. This included providing daily tips to help influencers understand their advertising obligations when they promote a product or give testimonials and reviews. The campaign garnered significant attention from marketing associations, entrepreneurs, influencers and journalists.
Ensuring truth in advertising
- $9.3 million in administrative monetary penalties (AMPs)
- 6 consumer and business alerts
Deceptive marketing practices hurt Canadians and lower trust in the marketplace. To help ensure that markets works well for all Canadians and to maintain trust in the digital economy, we continued to take action against deceptive marketing conduct and encouraged companies to play by the rules.
Making sure the price is right
When companies promote their products and services at sale prices, it is against the law to entice consumers with misleading references to a false "regular price". In May 2019, we concluded our case against the Hudson's Bay Company which agreed to pay a $4 million AMP and $500,000 towards our investigative costs for its pricing and marketing practices of sleep sets in Canada. Our investigation, which began in 2017, found that the Hudson's Bay Company was offering sleep sets at inflated regular prices and then advertising deep discounts on these prices, suggesting significant deals to consumers. As part of the registered consent agreement, the Hudson's Bay Company will ensure the marketing of its sleep sets complies with the Competition Act (the "Act") and maintain a compliance program to minimize the risk of future breaches of the Act.
Bringing competition in the health care and bio-sciences sector into focus
Competitive prices and services for health care and medication are essential for Canadians' health and well-being. This year, we continued to take action to ensure these sectors remain competitive by focusing our outreach to key stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry. We tackled misleading advertising in health and performance products and services and cracked down on conduct that harms competition in this industry.
In July 2019, we completed an investigation into the supply of vaccines for a provincial public vaccination program. This involved allegations that a vaccine manufacturer was trying to restrict off-label use of its products, through a provision in a procurement contract that could have prevented public authorities from using other products and resulted in higher costs for provinces. Ultimately, we concluded that there was no violation of the Act given that the conduct did not materialize. However, if we become aware of similar practices in the future, we will not hesitate to pursue enforcement action to put a stop to the conduct. Following our investigation, we published a position statement to provide guidance to the pharmaceutical industry and ensure this conduct is deterred.
Ensuring trust in natural health products
If claims are not tested and true, consumers are not getting what they paid for. Under the Act, claims about the performance or efficacy of a product must be based on adequate and proper testing conducted before the claims are made. In March 2020, we took legal action to stop Nuvocare Health Sciences Inc. and its President and CEO from making weight loss and fat burning claims in the marketing of certain natural health products. We asked the Competition Tribunal to issue a Temporary Order requiring Nuvocare to stop making the claims about some of their products. The order, granted in May 2020, will protect consumers from harm while we complete our ongoing investigation into whether the company's claims are supported by testing.
Remaining vigilant during the COVID‑19 pandemic
As Canada responded to COVID‑19, we adapted our operations and released a statement assuring Canadians that the Bureau remains vigilant against potentially harmful anti-competitive conduct by those who may seek to take advantage of consumers and businesses during these extraordinary circumstances. This includes scrutinizing evidence and taking appropriate action against companies or individuals engaging in deceptive marketing practices such as false or misleading claims about a product's ability to prevent, treat or cure the virus.
Putting a stop to bid-rigging
- 3 guilty pleas by individuals involved in the conspiracy
- Conditional sentences totalling 59 months and 260 hours of community service
- $750,000 paid in corporate settlement pursuant to subsections 34 (2) and 34 (2.1) of the Act
When bid-rigging happens in the infrastructure sector, Canadians pay the price. Bid-rigging is a criminal offence where two or more parties collude to influence a bidding process.Footnote 2 The lack of a true competitive process drives up prices for contracts and harms governments' investments in new infrastructure projects.
In 2019‑2020, we continued our efforts to protect government spending in infrastructure by stopping bid-rigging on procurement contracts for engineering services. As a result of our ongoing investigation, we obtained a settlement from engineering firm Roche ltée, Groupe-conseil (now Norda Stelo Inc.), which was ordered to pay $750,000 for rigging bids on municipal infrastructure contracts in the province of Quebec. This is the third settlement in this matter, as two other engineering firms were previously ordered to pay $1.9 million and $4 million respectively for their roles in the bid-rigging scheme. The investigation also led to three guilty pleas by former executives of engineering firms Cima+, Genivar, and Dessau for bid-rigging on City of Gatineau infrastructure contracts. They received conditional prison sentences totalling 4 years and 11 months, and court-ordered community service totalling 260 hours.
Working together to prevent collusion
- 18 bid-rigging presentations
- 65 compliance outreach events
- 3 compliance publications
- 1 compliance program reviewed
Raising awareness among procurement officials and other stakeholders about bid-rigging is critical to ensuring that they take measures to prevent the likelihood of wrongdoing, recognize the potential red flags of bid-rigging and report suspicious activities to the Bureau. In 2019‑2020, we provided 18 presentations on bid-rigging to the procurement community and other stakeholders, reaching an audience of approximately 750 participants who play key roles in government procurement. We also continued to promote the Federal Contracting Fraud Tip Line, which was launched in 2017, to help Canadians report suspected fraud, collusion, corruption or unethical behavior in Government of Canada contracting. We received 71 tips since April 1, 2019.
Stopping harmful conduct before it happens
Providing businesses with the information they need to comply with Canada's competition laws is an essential part of the Bureau's work. Compliance is a shared responsibility. Through our outreach activities, we provide small and medium-sized businesses with the knowledge and tools they need to develop or strengthen their compliance programs, which in turn deters harmful and potentially illegal practices before they take place. In 2019‑2020, we led and participated in 65 compliance outreach events, with over 2,735 participants.
- 234 merger reviews concluded
- 97% merger review service standards met
- 2 merger-related Consent Agreements
Mergers can be a way to increase competitiveness throughout the Canadian economy. However, some transactions have the potential to harm competition and innovation. We review mergers of all sizes and in all sectors to identify and challenge those that pose a threat to competitive markets in Canada.
Preserving competition in oil and gas reserves valuation and reporting software
In August 2019, we successfully challenged a merger that could have led to a monopoly in the supply of reserves valuation and reporting software to Canadian oil and gas producers. During our review of Thoma Bravo's proposed purchase of Aucerna, we found that the companies' software (MOSAIC and Val Nav) competed vigorously with one another and were the only two reserves valuation and reporting software used by Canadian oil and gas companies. The loss of rivalry between the two would have likely led to higher prices, lower quality of services and less innovation with respect to these software, to the detriment of Canadian businesses. In August 2019, we signed an agreement with Thoma Bravo requiring it to sell its MOSAIC reserves valuation and reporting software business to an independent purchaser.
Protecting competition for local famers in Manitoba
To protect and maintain competition for farmers near Virden, Manitoba, in December 2019, we challenged Parrish & Heimbecker's (P&H) acquisition of a primary grain elevator from Louis Dreyfus Company. The purchase gave P&H control of the only two grain elevators along a 180 km stretch of the TransCanada Highway and eliminated the rivalry between two close competitors, which could have resulted in farmers in the Virden area earning less for their wheat and canola. To protect and maintain competition, we filed an application with the Competition Tribunal requesting that the Tribunal issue an order requiring P&H to sell one of the two elevators to an independent buyer. Safeguarding competition in this area will protect farmers from financial harm.
Maintaining competition in the airline industry
In March 2020, we concluded our review of Air Canada's proposed acquisition of Transat and outlined our significant concerns with the proposed transaction in a report to the Minister of Transport. Our review found that the proposed transaction would likely lessen or prevent competition in the sale of air travel or vacation packages to Canadians. Eliminating the rivalry between these two airlines would lead to higher prices, less choice and service, and a significant reduction in travel by Canadians on a variety of routes where their existing networks overlap. The report provided to the Minister of Transport will inform Transport Canada's public interest review of the proposed transaction as it relates to national transportation.
Notification provisions allow the detection of most – but not all – potentially anti-competitive mergers. In 2019, we expanded the role of our Merger Intelligence and Notification Unit, broadening our focus and stepping up our intelligence gathering efforts to detect non-notifiable mergers that could raise competition concerns. Our intelligence gathering captured transactions where there was no indication that the merging parties intended to voluntarily engage with us before closing. In a few instances, we also observed an increase in voluntary communications from merging parties and their counsel on non-notifiable transactions.
Promoting pro-competitive policies and regulations
- 7 representations before regulatory bodies
- 18 other advocacy interventions
Competition is an essential part of a thriving economy. As Canada's competition expert, we provide advice on how regulators and policymakers can promote pro-competitive policies and regulations. We also foster discussion on emerging competition policy issues. In the past year, we advocated for greater competition in the telecommunications, waste management, and liquor industries. We also held a Data Forum to discuss perspectives on how competition is impacted by our increasingly data-driven economy. Our efforts to promote competition are an essential part of supporting a competitive economy.
A study on competition in Canada's high-speed Internet industry
- 2,005 Canadian households surveyed
- 12 focus groups with participants from across Canada
- 42,000 comments from online surveys
- 20 written submissions from Internet service providers
High-speed Internet is at the heart of Canada's rapidly growing digital economy. Canadians use the Internet every day to connect with friends and family, run their businesses, make purchases and stay informed. Healthy competition between high-speed Internet providers plays a key role in ensuring all Canadians can access and fully participate in the digital economy. In August 2019, we published the results of our study about competition and consumer habits in Canada's high-speed Internet industry. We found that many Canadians benefit from choice between Internet service providers. Although the majority of Canadian households continue to get Internet from traditional telecom companies, more than one million households use an independent provider for their high-speed connection. Regulations that allow independent providers to buy access to telecom companies' networks make it easier for Canadians to choose a plan that meets their needs and budget. The findings from our study will serve to inform regulatory reviews concerning high-speed Internet and help regulators and policymakers create policies where all Canadians can benefit from high-speed Internet options at competitive prices.
More competition for mobile wireless services
In comparison to other countries, studies suggest that Canadians pay some of the most expensive rates in the world for wireless plans.
In 2019‑2020, we advocated for more competition in the wireless industry to lower prices and improve choice for Canadians, by providing recommendations to the CRTC as part of its review of mobile wireless services in Canada. In our review of competition in Canada's wireless services markets, we found that prices differ greatly from one region to another and that the price of mobile plans continues to be higher where there is no strong regional competitor to Bell, Telus and Rogers.
In May 2019, we provided detailed strategies to the CRTC on how to encourage competition in this area, including improving roaming access for new entrants, reducing the cost of switching carriers by "decoupling" the costs of phones and plans and structuring future spectrum auctions differently to encourage competition.
In November 2019, we recommended the adoption of a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) policy requiring Bell, Telus and Rogers to sell temporary access to their wireless networks to regional facilities based carriers who intend to invest and further expand their own networks. We advanced that such a policy would lead to more competition on price, while avoiding the risk that network quality would decline. In February 2020, we appeared before the CRTC to advocate for our policy recommendation and address the CRTC's questions.
In today's digital economy, data is a critical asset for any firm looking to innovate. At the same time, a handful of digital platforms controls vast amounts of data. Globally, there are concerns about data concentration in the digital marketplace and policymakers are increasingly concerned about how data is collected and used.
In May 2019, we hosted a one-day forum to foster discussion on competition policy in the digital era. The forum brought together more than 100 participants from the business, legal and academic communities, federal regulators and foreign competition authorities to discuss key issues such as digital platforms, privacy and data portability. It was also attended by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Honourable Nadveep Bains, who gave opening remarks and spoke about Canada's new Digital Charter. The forum was an opportunity to advance an important public policy dialogue and gather valuable insight from key stakeholders on the competition issues related to the digital economy, as well as possible solutions.
It also laid the foundation for the critical work the Bureau commenced shortly after receiving Minister Bains' welcome letter, to address the issues outlined in that letter such as: the impact of digital transformation on competition; emerging issues for competition in data accumulation, transparency, and control; the effectiveness of our competition policy tools and frameworks, and our investigative and judicial processes.
Increasing choice and lowering prices for liquor in Ontario
Ontario's current liquor policy limits the number of retailers who can sell alcohol and the price they can charge. This makes price competition difficult and limits the selection of product available to consumers. In an open letter to the Ontario Minister of Finance, the Commissioner encouraged the province to balance policy concerns such as public health and safety with the principles of competition in their review of the liquor policy. The Commissioner indicated that Ontario's consumers and businesses can benefit from a less restrictive system by allowing all retailers an equal opportunity to participate, encouraging competition on price, and supporting proper wholesale pricing. The end result would allow bars and restaurants to offer consumers a wider variety of products at lower prices.
A strong advocate for competition in waste management
When the British Columbia Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy requested our views on competition-related issues that could stem from the adoption of two waste management bylaws in Metro Vancouver, we advocated for competition and innovation. In an open letter to the Minister, we shared our concerns that adoption of these bylaws may lessen competition and innovation for waste management services in the Metro Vancouver area. We encouraged the Minister to consider whether Metro Vancouver's environmental objectives could be advanced and achieved through other means that would allow the area's residents to benefit from vigorous competition.
- 19 international fora meetings and workshops
- 10 capacity building activities with international partners
- 2 international agreements signed
Today's digital and data-driven economy is truly borderless. To foster competitive and innovative digital marketplaces, it is more important than ever for competition agencies to share best practices and work together on enforcement and advocacy matters. Building and maintaining strong partnerships improves the Bureau's ability to deliver results for Canadians.
In 2019‑2020, we continued building strong partnerships with other competition and law enforcement agencies to protect competition in Canada, tackle international anti-competitive activity, and promote the convergence of competition policies. In October 2019, we hosted a trilateral meeting with the heads of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Mexico's Federal Economic Competition Commission, which focused on competition enforcement and advocacy in the digital economy. We continued to work with our international partners and share best practices by playing a leadership role in organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Competition Network (ICN) and the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN). In June and December 2019, we participated in the OECD Competition Committee meetings, as well as the Global Forum on Competition.
In May 2019, it was announced that the Bureau will assume the ICPEN presidency from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. During our term, we will focus on promoting truth in online advertising and building consumer confidence in the digital economy. To deliver on this, we will draw on our experiences in fraud prevention, big data, and marketing practices in the digital economy.
Tackling the challenges of the digital economy together
The rapid pace of innovation that is fueling the digital economy brings with it unprecedented opportunities for businesses and consumers worldwide. However, it also raises new questions and challenges from a competition perspective. In 2019, we met with competition authorities of the G7 countries and the European Commission to discuss the issues faced by competition agencies around the world and released a Common Understanding highlighting opportunities and challenges raised by the digital economy.
We continued to champion research and global discussion on gender and competition. In November 2019, the Bureau participated in a panel discussion organised by the American Bar Association: "Competition Policy and Economics: What's Gender Got to Do With It?"
We are also undertaking work with the OECD to support research on gender and competition. The two-year project will focus on the relationship between gender and competition, how competition can contribute to gender equality, and how OECD countries can ensure gender inclusive competition law enforcement and policy.
Increasing cooperation on fair and effective procedures
Fair and effective procedures are essential to sound competition law enforcement and can increase opportunities for international cooperation. In May 2019, we helped found the ICN Framework on Competition Agency Procedures. The framework aims to foster fair, consistent and effective procedures in competition law enforcement around the world and encourages open communication and transparency between competition authorities about the rules governing their investigation and enforcement procedures.
Strengthening domestic relationships
Fostering strong and collaborative relationships with our domestic partners is essential to help ensure that Canadians can benefit from a competitive marketplace and consumers and businesses are safe from harmful conduct. Strong domestic partnerships allow for better collaboration, cooperation and information sharing on enforcement cases and other matters of mutual interest. In 2019‑2020, we continued to build and strengthen relationships with key domestic stakeholders and existing partners, including by holding 190 meetings or calls with agencies, regulators and academics.
A strong voice for competition
In 2019‑2020, the Commissioner and other Bureau senior officials gave five speeches highlighting the importance of competition, focusing on topics such as honest advertising in the digital age, the role of competition in the digital economy, and the impact of data on competition. This includes a speech given to the C.D. Howe, focused on how to build a culture of competition in Canada.
We also published a number of new or revised guidance documents to help Canadian businesses understand their obligations with the Acts we enforce and raise awareness of fraud and deceptive marketing so consumers can enjoy the full benefits of today's digital economy.
For example, in March 2020, we published volume five of the Deceptive Marketing Practices Digest, which focused on three marketing issues that impact consumers and businesses in the online marketplace:
- the collection of consumer data in exchange for "free" online products and services;
- unsubstantiated weight loss claims; and
- the advertising of unattainable prices in the car rental market.
In June 2019, we also released updated guidance concerning compliance with the labelling statutes to help dealers of consumer textile articles containing filling or stuffing understand their labelling obligations.
Alerting Canadian consumers and businesses
- 27% increase in social media followers
- More than 1,100 posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube
- 659,971 visits to the Bureau's website
- 88 new or revised publications and press releases
Throughout the year, we published six alerts informing Canadian consumers and businesses about issues that matter to them. In August 2019, we alerted the public to fake government websites which attempt to scam Canadians out of money and personal information and provided tips on how to recognize these scams. In May 2019, we warned consumers about "forever prices" offered by telecom sales representatives, which actually refer to monthly promotional discounts and do not guarantee a fixed price.
Fraud Prevention Month
Fraud can target anyone. From young teens to the elderly, from consumers to big corporations, everyone is at risk. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, in 2019, Canadians lost over $98 million to fraud.
In 2019‑2020, we continued to fight fraud by helping Canadians stand up to scammers, supporting the activities of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre alongside our partners at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police. In March 2020, we launched our 16th edition of Fraud Prevention Month, a nationwide awareness campaign led by the Bureau to help Canadians recognize, reject and report fraud. Working with our many partners, we shared tips on how to spot and stay protected against widespread scams, including digital fraud. We launched a social media campaign, participated in awareness events and published a consumer alert to warn Canadians about subscriptions traps related to free trial offers. While we had to halt the campaign in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic, we still reached an estimated 22 million people on Twitter in only two weeks of activities. This represents an increase of 406% in engagements and 184% in impressions compared to the same period last year.
In mid-March, we refocused our efforts and messages around the COVID‑19 pandemic. We worked with other enforcement partners to warn consumers about companies that are taking advantage of the public's fears by misleading consumers with the advertising and labelling of various products and services.
Investing in our people
- 101 training and information sessions to develop employees' skills and expertise
- 50 events related to workplace wellness, official languages, diversity and inclusiveness
Delivering on our mandate requires a highly skilled and diverse workforce. To ensure this, we continued to invest in our people, by equipping them with tools and the knowledge needed to perform at their best and providing them with opportunities to develop their skills and expertise. This included information sessions hosted by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association on topics relating to competition law. We also improved efficiencies across the organization by deploying more modern and digital tools and information sessions to assist employees in using new technology in the workplace.
To support our teams, we continued our strong commitment to foster a healthy, inclusive, and civil workplace through our wellness campaigns and civility in the workplace programs. We promoted our core values such as transparency and respect by offering mandatory training on unconscious biases and harassment prevention to all employees. We also undertook various workplace wellness, diversity and inclusiveness initiatives. For example, we organized the Bureau's first Human Library, during which real people (books) were "loaned" to employees (readers) to challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. We also offered our employees free weekly yoga sessions, access to a mindfulness app, and laid the groundwork for a number of evidence based mental health pilot projects in the coming year. Finally, we launched the Bureau's Informal Network Program, which helps employees connect with colleagues and benefit from the diverse experience of their peers.
Modernizing our enforcement tools
In the summer of 2019, we hired a Chief Digital Enforcement Officer (CDEO) to help us keep pace with evolving technologies and business practices in the digital economy. Our new CDEO will help us implement new intelligence-gathering tools, such as advanced analytical models, algorithms, automated processes, and artificial intelligence capabilities, as well as develop a digital strategy.
To keep up with the digital age and encourage creativity and innovation in the workplace, in 2019‑2020, we established the Bureau Innovation Garage, a dedicated space for project teams and keen innovators to test new concepts, pilot big ideas and explore new technologies and methodologies.
A new Strategic Vision for the digital age
In February 2020, we published our Strategic Vision for 2020-2024, outlining how we will focus our efforts and renew our organization for the digital age. Our Vision will act as a roadmap for how we will build capacity in the digital economy and deliver the benefits of competition to Canadians. Our ability to achieve our vision centres on our greatest resource: our employees. As part of our Vision, we will invest in new dynamic tools and training to increase our capacity and ability to handle and analyze the vast amounts of data common to today's digitally-focused investigations.
The Bureau's budget for 2019‑2020 was $53.7MFootnote 3, including $16.5M from user fees.Footnote 4
Expenditures were $52.4M, consisting of $37M in salary for 382 full-time equivalent employees and $15.3M in non-salary expenses.
Table 1 presents the Bureau's authorized budget and expenditures for the year.
|Fiscal Year 2019-20||Budget||Expenditures|
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