Why Rogers’ acquisition of Shaw could one day lead to more competition

Canada’s policy approach to fostering robust competition was deepened with the approval of the Rogers Shaw deal

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Sometimes the story has a bit of symmetry.

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On the same day, the federal consultation on Future of Competition Policy in Canada completed, Minister François-Philippe canned Champagne Contest Statement in the telecommunications sector. That statement informed Canadians that the minister had received “unprecedented and legally binding commitments from Rogers and Vidéotron.”

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The novelty of this statement is twofold. Firstly, because it was a telecommunications merger, the Minister had the final say on the possible transfer of spectrum licenses from Freedom Mobile to Quebecor Inc.’s Vidéotron – the Minister has no such authority over other merger reviews – and secondly because it was a legitimate introduced accountability for many of the allegations made by the merging parties during merger review. This level of accountability has not existed before.

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The announcement was ridiculed online by industry pundits who are upset that this agreement appears toothless. Much like Canada’s competition advice, the minister will need our help to make these commitments truly meaningful. One of the biggest outcomes of the Rogers Communications Inc.-Shaw Communications Inc. saga, it seems, has been to reset citizen expectations and spawn a bunch of competition watchdogs who will continue to oversee the outcome of this merger.

At some point, March 31, 2023 was to be celebrated in a split-screen Heritage Minute for Canada — a moment that deepened our policy approach to fostering robust competition across the country and became a more consistent priority, while also blessing the most massive merger in the history of the nation.

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But while there were glimmers of a competitive focus in last month’s budget — namely tackling junk charges (fantastic) and a commitment to the right to repair (promising, if overdue) — we remain a long way from a state-wide approach to competition policy and enforcement , which successfully advanced the Biden administration. We continue to lack sustained political mastery of competition in Canada.

In addition, there is an opportunity for the competition office to become an even better communicator with the wider public. Commissioner Matthew Boswell surprised many observers with how aggressively he pursued the Rogers-Shaw merger. Even though he lost, Boswell fueled the debate about the competition on a level we really hadn’t seen before.

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However, the consultation document released with the policy review is very technical. Added to this is the somewhat strange structural context in which the office published 50 political ideas for a reform as a contribution to the overall consultation. While this articulation is novel and bold, there is a risk that if (or if) certain changes are not implemented, the Bureau will find itself in opposition to the government it oversees. In fact, the mechanics of the office, which is nested within the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, have continued to jumble throughout the various milestones of the Rogers-Shaw merger.

What does it mean for Canada to take competition more seriously, apart from this statement from the minister? In 2020, the office published a Competitive Scoring Guide, which is essentially a competitive process based on gender analysis and is an exercise that can be incorporated into all government policy decisions. This could bring Canada closer to this comprehensive, intergovernmental approach and broaden the public discussion beyond the Governing Board and the CRTC, as was the case with Rogers-Shaw.

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One can imagine politicians in other jurisdictions googling “canada” and “competition” to see what we are doing with the file. It’s been a slow ramp-up, but progress appears promising. That said, we were completely stripped of the latest G7 compendium of approaches to improve competition in digital markets because we are not taking any significant political action.

Perhaps the legislative review process will be the ying to the Rogers-Shaw yang. But it won’t just be an intergovernmental approach that will revitalize competition in Canada. This requires input, pressure and attention from the rest of us – visible hands in the market – to make that difference.


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https://financialpost.com/telecom/rogers-shaw-takeover-greater-competition-one-day Why Rogers’ acquisition of Shaw could one day lead to more competition

Adam Bradshaw

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