The CEO Poll: Chastising the Competition Bureau

Performance one of the worst in a COMPAS poll during the Harper government.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

The federal Competition Bureau barely earned a passing grade for its overall performance in the latest opinion poll conducted by COMPAS Inc. COMPAS surveyed 119 leaders of Canadian businesses, who assigned a mean grade of 52 out of 100 for the Bureau’s performance.

That’s one of the lowest scores earned in a COMPAS poll during the Harper government. Only a 2007-2008 budget proposal—to end the right of companies to deduct the interest costs from borrowing to purchase foreign affiliates—earned a lower score.

The panel believes the Bureau has conducted too few investigations, but also feels the Bureau’s tactics can be unfair when it does launch an inquiry.

The Bureau came under fire for its methods earlier this year after it examined the takeover of Lakeport Brewing Income Fund by Labatt Brewing Co. The Bureau was criticized for using misleading information to obtain a court order as part of its investigation. An independent review concluded earlier this month the Bureau had not abused its powers.

Even so, the panelists were displeased with some aspects of the Bureau. Most of the respondents believe the Bureau should consult with the companies it is investigating first before requesting a court order for corporate information, so these requests are not made in secret. The respondents also felt the independent reviewer should have consulted with Labatt’s lawyers, and not just those from the Bureau.

COMPAS noted the CEOs’ comments in the poll indicate a lack of familiarity with the Bureau’s operations, a sign the Bureau has not clearly communicated its role to the public, according to the research firm.

But a few CEOs had strong opinions about the Bureau. “Our Competition Bureau is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money,” wrote one. “Time to trash it and start with [a] clean sheet of paper.”

Others felt the Bureau’s role of ensuring competitiveness in Canadian markets is not currently a priority given the country’s waning manufacturing industry and uncertain economic climate. According to one respondent, “We seem to be nationally focused on the wrong issues to ensure our commercial long-term survival.”