Addressing Corporate Concentration | Event Recap

It’s long been the status quo that the Canadian economy is served by just a few large businesses, but such “corporate concentration” has been on the rise over the past two decades. The result is higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, lower wages and worse conditions for working Canadians, and greater overall income inequality. There emerges the dire need for public policies that would increase competition in the Canadian economy.  

The annual Jack Layton Prize for a Better Canada in partnership with the Douglas-Coldwell-Layton Foundation is a essay competition for McGill graduate students. This year’s winning essay, titled “Invisible Hand, Visible Impact – Unlocking the Role of Competition and Reducing Inequality,” penned by MPP students Chloe Aboud and Sean Celi, underscores the pressing need for policies that foster competition within the Canadian economy. Both students are in the 2023-2024 Master of Public Policy cohort, and their essay delves into the detrimental effects of corporate concentration, including inflated prices, limited choices for consumers, and exacerbated income inequality. Chloe, with an interest in tackling economic development issues, joined the Max Bell School with experience as consultant, earlier completed her undergraduate studies at McGill. Sean has experience in geopolitical and legal research for Refugee Protection and Appeal Division. He did his undergraduate in economics and immigration policy issues at UBC.

The essay competition was followed by a policy discussion at the Faculty Club on April 2, 2024. Leading voices in economics and public policy, the discussion on corporate concentration was led by Robin Shaban, Associate Partner at Deetken and co-founder of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project, and Matthew Holmes, Senior Vice President of Policy & Government Relations for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, with moderation by School director Chris Ragan. 

Robin pressed on ensuring economic freedom through freedom of choices and a need for healthy robust competitive markets. Matthew highlighted the urgent need to cultivate a competitive ecosystem that nurtures the growth of businesses, essentially start-ups and scaling. He lamented the lack of productivity and innovation stemming from monopolistic practices, historically controlled by the government bodies, which undermine broader market competitiveness in Canada. 

In addressing a question on how to enhance economic freedom, Robin emphasized the importance of a level playing field in the labor market and the need for fair business practices, particularly in sectors like telecommunications where disparities across provinces exist. Matthew highlighted the strengths and weakness of Canada’s predominantly small and medium-sized business landscape, suggesting fostering more avenues for scaling and attracting investments through FDI. Discussing the link between innovation and industry concentration, Robin noted that a more competitive market could drive higher levels of innovation, crucial for research and development. Matthew emphasized concerns about Canada’s heavy reliance on commodity exports over manufacturing and criticized protectionist policies hindering growth. Both speakers highlighted the need for regulatory reforms to promote competition, citing examples like changes to the Competition Act and reevaluation of regulations to facilitate market openness and business growth. Matthew underscored the importance of reducing burdens on businesses to spur growth, while advocating for privatization to address issues with public ownership. Lastly, the imperative of fostering a competitive environment was tied to broader economic goals, including Canada’s participation in the net-zero race and transitioning towards a clean economy through an open-market approach.

Watch the recording of the discussion.

This is the third annual essay competition and second accompanying event hosted in partnership with the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation. In honour of Jack Layton, a proud McGill graduate who went on to be a scholar and academic, and then an activist, and eventually a political leader at the municipal and federal levels, and in partnership with the Douglas-Coldwell-Layton Foundation, the Max Bell School offers a graduate student essay contest and accompanying policy discussion each winter.  

See the 2023 panel: "Should Canadians Worry About Inflation? Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?


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