Agreements Between Competitors

AuthorJohn S. Tyhurst
C H A P T E R 6
This chapter exami nes “horizontal” collusive and concerted practices —
i.e., agreements and other anti-competitive arra ngements bet ween com-
petitors (other than mergers and joint dominance). First, the policy con-
cerns surroundi ng these practices will be di scussed. Second, the history
of the Canadian provisions will be examined. Finally, their structure
and the legal tests will be described.
Agreement s among competitors t hat reduce competit ion cover
a wide spectrum of behaviour, from clearly harmf ul to potentially
benef‌icial. This is true even for price f‌ixing. At the har mful end of
the spectrum are “naked” price agreements; for example, gasoline sta-
tion operators on opposite corners at a busy city intersect ion who, on
a Thursday night before a long weekend, secretly decide to increas e
the price of gas f‌ive cents a litre for the following four days. Outr aged
drivers, seeing the pr ices at t he two st ations r ise simultaneously Friday
morning, would have little diculty v iewing such clandestine conduct
as worthy of sanction if they were made aware of it.
On the other hand, price f‌ixing may be ancillary to potentially bene-
f‌icial behaviour. For example, lawyers in a partnership may agree on
their fees, including those they will charge for a simple property convey-
ance, which they post on the f‌irm’s website.1 Cooperation made possible
1 Such advertisi ng is, for example, permitted i n Ontario under s 4.2 of the Rules
of Professional Conduct adopte d by the Law Society of Onta rio pursuant to its
authority under t he Law Society Act, RSO 1990, c L.8.
by the partnership on such matters as mentoring junior lawyers, sharing
expertise and support sta, choosing areas of specialization, and sharing
of risk, provides benef‌its which must be weighed against the competitive
impact of its fee agreement. The partnership permits the operation of
an ecient law f‌irm with the resources needed to provide competent
services.2 It is unlikely to create concerns about limiting output, where
there are other f‌irms providing legal services in the area.3
The foregoing examples illustrate the need for competition law to
be capable of screening out harmful behaviour from benef‌icial hori-
zontal collusive conduct. The Competition Act does this in a number of
ways. The principal method is by employing two dierent regimes for
the review of anti-competitive agreements. On the one hand, the Act
creates criminal oences for conspiracies to f‌ix prices, share markets,
and limit production that are not ancillary to a broader agreement. Other
kinds of behaviour, such as agreements between f‌inancial institutions
and bid-rigging, are also subject to criminal prohibitions. On the other
hand, anti-competitive agreements that are not prohibited may still be
examined by way of a civil review before the Competition Tribunal, to
determine whether they are likely to prevent or lessen competition sub-
stantially and should be subject to a remedy.
This two-track approach to the rev iew of anti-competitive agree-
ments, criminal and civil, is relatively recent it came into eect in
2010. It was, however, decades in the maki ng. It was born from the
realization th at the prev ious cr iminal law regime, which had remained
largely unchanged since 1889, was in dire need of reform and replace-
ment. The 2010 reforms g reatly simplif‌ied and improved the law.
2 Presley L Warner & Mic hael J Trebilcock, “Re-Thinking Price Fi xing Law”
(1993) 38 McGill Law Journal 679 at n 21 [Warner & Trebilcock]:
[P]artnership agreement s among professionals almost a lways increase eco-
nomic welfare. Par tners may share admi nistrative and overhead cost s and
provide a broad range of s ervices to clients wh ich professionals working on
their own could not oer. The renow ned American judge Oliver Wendell
Holmes once remarke d that if antitrust l aws were interpreted so as to pro-
hibit partne rship agreements, thi s “would make eternal the bellum omniu m
contra omnes [the war of all against al l] and disintegrate societ y so far as it
could into indiv idual atoms.”
3 Robert Bork, The Antit rust Paradox (New York: Basic Books, 1978) at 265.
Agreements B etween Competitors 265
1) Hard Core Cartels
In 1998, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD), an international organi zation of thirty-si x of the world’s lead-
ing economies, passed a recommendat ion that “[m]ember countries
should ensure that their competition law s eectively halt and deter hard
core cartels.” These were def‌ined as agreements or arrangements “by
competitors to f‌ix prices, make r igged bids (collusive tenders), estab-
lish output restrictions or quotas, or share or divide markets.”4 The
Preamble to the recommendation stated:
[H]ard core cartels are the most egreg ious violations of compet ition
law and . . . injure consumers in many countr ies by raising prices and
restricti ng supply, thus m aking goods and ser vices completely unavail-
able to some purchasers a nd unnecessa rily expen sive for other s.
The justif‌ication for an outright ban on price f‌ixing and market
sharing agreement s rests on the view “that they are so clearly anti-com-
petitive in nature, so devoid of any purpose except the stif‌ling of com-
petition that they may be conclusively be presu med to be illegal without
further enquir y once the Crow n has established that such restrai nt has
4 OECD, Recommenda tion of the Council Concerning Eective Action Against H ard
Core Carte ls (25 March 1998), online: ww /daf/competition /2350130.pdf
[OECD Recommendations Against Hard Core Cartels].
Figure 6.1. The ser vice station: the public’s windo w on price competition

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT