Compete to win: the Wilson panel report six years later

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by Paul Boothe

Download the full report below.

Executive summary

In 2007, in response to a growing national debate over whether Canada’s economic base was being “hollowed out” by foreign takeovers, the federal government established the Competition Policy Review Panel, led by respected business executive L.R. (Red) Wilson.

The panel’s mandate was to review Canadian competition and foreign investment policies with the goal of making Canada more competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

In 2008, the panel released a wide-ranging report titled “Compete to Win”. The first 17 of its recommendations focused on foreign investment review and competition policy. The remainder of the panel’s 65 recommendations covered a range of topics affecting competitiveness including taxation, skills and immigration, cities, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), trade, intellectual property and copyright, and the establishment of a Canadian Competition Council.

Assessing the government’s progress in implementing the panel’s recommendations, I find mixed results. The government deserves high marks for its reforms of the Competition Act, its business-friendly tax regime, its efforts to expand and facilitate trade, and reforms in the area of immigration and intellectual property and copyright.

However, little progress has been made in three key areas. The investment review process has become more uncertain and actively discourages investment by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), a growing source of global capital. The government has more work to do to loosen foreign investment restrictions in two key sectors: telecom and air transportation. Finally, the government missed an important opportunity to keep an ongoing focus on competiveness by declining to establish the Canadian Competition Council.

The underlying pressures facing Canada as it competes in the global economy have not abated. More than ever, we need all the advantages that a competitiveness-focused policy regime can give. The unfinished business from the Wilson panel should be a renewed priority for a country that seeks to “compete to win”.

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