Combatting cartels in public procurement: ICN Cartel Workshop

Speech

Opening remarks by John Pecman, Commissioner of Competition
14th Annual International Competition Network (ICN) Cartel Workshop

October 4, 2017     

Ottawa, Ontario
(Check against delivery)

Introduction

Good morning everyone, and welcome to the 14th Annual ICN Cartel Workshop.

It is a great pleasure to host this international event in Ottawa, especially at this time of year. Fall in Canada is a wonderful season when coffee shops sell pumpkin-spice everything and trees line our streets with amazing colour. If you have a chance to take in the forests of our nearby Gatineau Park, I highly recommend it.

So the air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and to top it off, we are celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday.

Throughout 2017, we’ve been highlighting achievements and milestones of all kinds from the past 150 years. This makes it a great opportunity for me to showcase a few in the area of competition law. I really couldn’t pass up this chance.

We’ve all gathered here with a common interest—fighting cartels. Canada is, in fact, the first country to pass criminal anti-cartel legislation. Our original provision was enacted in 1889, a year before the United States’ Sherman Act. For those of you who are sports fans and like keeping score, that would be one-nothing for Canada. We’re all about competition, after all. But I should probably stop keeping score at this point, before they have a chance to catch up.

All kidding aside, Canada’s 1889 anti-cartel legislation is considered the first competition statute of modern times. So we are about more than just hockey and maple syrup—though I have to admit that our reputation in those areas is well-deserved.

Today, you are all part of another milestone that I am proud of:  The Competition Bureau hosting the ICN Cartel Workshop.

I am glad to finally make this happen. When I was head of the Competition Bureau’s cartel enforcement group a few years ago, I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the ICN Cartel Subgroup 2, which is tasked with supporting this annual workshop. I have very fond memories of the early morning working group calls as my co-chair—Marcus Bezzi of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission—and I worked with the membership to plan the programs of each year’s Cartel Workshop. That experience was inspiration for our stepping up to host this year’s event.

I’m also proud that the Bureau has always taken a leadership role in the ICN. We are a founding member of the network; we have chaired the Steering Group on two occasions; and have served as the ICN Secretariat since its inception. We have been active in all five working groups, and we are currently co-chair of the Agency Effectiveness Working Group and the ICN-OECD liaison.

As a final point of history, I will highlight that the Bureau previously hosted an international cartel workshop—right here at the Chateau Laurier—in 2001.

That was the same year the ICN was formed, and the event was something of a prelude to the subsequent ICN Cartel Workshops. It was a smaller event than we’re putting on this year, but we had highly engaged participants even then. Those included Andreas Mundt, who now leads the German competition authority and is the current Chair of the ICN Steering Group. While he is not with us today, I’d like to thank Andreas for joining us for that workshop 16 years ago, and for all the work he’s done since to champion international collaboration.

Collaboration and convergence

The ICN—like the workshop—has grown considerably since 2001. While it began with just 16 members, it now includes 135 members from 122 jurisdictions around the world.

As Commissioner of Competition, one of my strategic objectives has always been—and continues to be—collaboration with both our international and domestic partners. As I like to say, we can accomplish a lot more together than we ever could alone.

The ICN has become a key platform for sharing experiences and best practices, and for advancing global convergence in competition policy. I’d like to thank all the members—and each of you here today—for your many contributions towards this common goal.

If we look beyond the projects of the working groups, ICN events themselves are important drivers of collaboration. They provide great opportunities for face-to-face networking, building trust and opening lines of communication between agencies. As competition enforcement is increasingly a cross-border issue, there are times when nothing is as valuable and effective as being able to pick up the phone and have a conversation with our counterparts in other jurisdictions.

Combatting cartels in public procurement

This year, the Bureau was particularly interested in hosting the Cartel Workshop because we saw an opportunity to bring a more targeted approach.

This comes after a historic investment in infrastructure by the Government of Canada, which has committed 186 billion dollars in spending over the next decade.

Our theme—combatting cartels in public procurement—aligns with the Competition Bureau’s efforts to protect that investment.

We know that cartels can significantly reduce a government’s ability to ensure the best value and impact of its public spending. Bid-rigging on public contracts can lower project quality and increase prices paid by tax payers by as much as 30 percent. That could put substantial limits on what a government is able to achieve with its tax dollars. And such anti-competitive conduct has a negative impact on the level of innovation and growth in the economy over the long-term.

Combating cartels in public procurement is an important way for all nations to ensure economic growth, job creation, and broad-based prosperity.

In Canada, we have been working with our partners to implement best practices in the tendering of public contracts, and to detect bid-rigging if it occurs.

Earlier this year, in partnership with our federal procurement and law enforcement partners, we launched a Federal Contracting Fraud Tip Line. The Tip Line provides a single point of contact for members of the public and businesses to report unethical business practices in federal contracting.

We have also ramped up our outreach to our public procurement partners at all levels of government. Our goal is to heighten their awareness and to equip them with the latest tools to detect and prevent bid-rigging.

I am very pleased that every Canadian law enforcement and procurement agency that we invited to the workshop agreed to join us. We all have a vested interest and a role to play in protecting the integrity of the public procurement process.

The workshop

Over the next three days, we will delve into bid-rigging detection, investigation, prevention and deterrence.

There are 27 sessions on offer, covering a wide range of topics, including the latest innovations in tender design and data screening algorithms—the future of bid-rigging detection and prevention.

I would like to offer my special thanks to our French-speaking partners for helping us present sessions at this year’s event in both of Canada’s official languages.

As always, the workshop will have a strong focus on participation by attendees. I know that the international expertise we have in the room today will have much to offer in terms of best practices and innovative approaches, for the benefit of enforcement and procurement officials alike.

Thank you once again for joining us. I wish you a very productive workshop and a very pleasant stay in Ottawa.


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