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By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Competition Bureau watchdog may have to rely more on litigation after its proposed veto of a takeover was overturned, and this could make life harder for companies seeking to merge, the agency head said on Wednesday.
Matthew Boswell, commissioner of competition, noted his bureau had tried this year to block western Canadian oil and gas waste firm Secure Energy Services Inc from buying rival Tervita Corp.
Secure then turned to the independent Competition Tribunal, which denied the bureau's injunction and underscored "the high bar that needs to be met to prevent mergers ... that we allege are anti-competitive," he said.
The tribunal, he said, had acted so quickly that the bureau had not had time to present all its evidence, raising valid questions about the state of competition laws in Canada.
"This decision has significant implications for how we conduct future merger reviews, particularly in cases where there are competition concerns," Boswell said in a speech to the Canadian Bar Association.
"This may mean that we must pursue a litigation-focused approach that is costly and less predictable for merging parties," he added.
Secure relied on the so-called efficiencies defense, which is unique to Canada. Boswell said this procedure allowed the tribunal to allow an anti-competitive merger to proceed if the transaction was deemed to produce efficiency gains that were greater than its anti-competitive effects.
"The efficiencies defense raises significant practical
challenges for the Bureau to estimate and measure anti-competitive harm," he said. "(We should) ask ourselves whether our competition laws are really working in the best interest of all Canadians."
The bureau is an independent law enforcement agency set up to ensure fair competition. It investigates price fixing, bid-rigging and mergers, among other matters.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)