Bill C-452 proposes to give the Commissioner of Competition and the Competition Bureau broad powers to review the state of competition in entire industry sectors, absent grounds to believe that the Competition Act has been violated. The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (Parliament, House of Commons) in June, 2010. The Committee has now asked for an extension of its review, beyond February 1, 2010, in order to enable it to hear from a wide range of witnesses prior to clause-by-clause review.
Currently, the Commissioner's extensive investigative powers can only be used in relation to an "inquiry" which requires that grounds exist for believing either than an offence has been committed under the criminal provisions of the Competition Act, or that grounds exist for the Tribunal to make an order under one of the civil provisions of the Act. There is no explicit power for the Commissioner to inquire into the state of competition in an industry, absent allegations of wrong-doing under the Act. A predecessor to the Competition Bureau, the Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, made extensive use of sector inquiry powers under the Combines Investigation Act, most notably inquiring into competition in the oil and gas sector for over ten years, between 1973 and 1985, while ultimately failing to find any evidence of wrongdoing. In 2000, Industry Canada and Natural Resources Canada jointly sponsored an independent review of the sector by the Conference Board of Canada, which again found the industry to be reasonably competitive. In response to the introduction by a Private Member of Bill C-452, the grounds for which again focus on competition in relation to gasoline prices, the Competition Bureau has said that it does not need the extra powers.