Advance View: No political price likely to be paid

For many retailers, the Christmas buying season will determine whether the ink on their bottom line for the whole year will be red or black. 

People buy a lot of stuff at this time of year – it takes a big chunk out of their pocketbooks.

Consequently, Christmas gift pricing plays a large role in the financial well-being of both consumers and shopkeepers.

That’s what made this December the perfect time for industry minister James Moore to roll out some new teeth for the federal Competition Bureau to supposedly take a bite out of irrational price differences between goods sold in Canada and the same items sold across the border in the United States.

Of course, Moore is just flapping his political gums. The legislation as currently outlined is completely ineffectual. There are no significant penalties for transgressors, and anyway, the Competition Bureau already is short of the resources it needs to cover its mandate – how can it be expected to investigate a whole new set of extra complaints?

Not only that, but the falling Canadian dollar (against the US Greenback) will reduce the current price differences between the two countries, or offer an easy disguise for higher cross-border expenses to hide behind.

But that’s what makes it a particularly clever political manoeuvre for this time of year. Moore’s gesture sounds encouraging to consumers who are fed up with what they see as price-gouging aimed at Canadians, while the retailers and wholesalers who may or may not be responsible for the price differences need not worry that they’ll suffer any consequences.

The timing is also perfect for the Harper Conservatives to reap maximum benefit for the 2015 federal general elections. Legislative initiatives like rebuilding the Competition Bureau take a lot of time. Meanwhile, consumers (voters) can bask in the message that someone is finally “listening” – but there will be too little time to tell whether they’re really being heard.

– B.G.

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