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Final witnesses speak during hearing on Rogers, Shaw $26-billion proposed deal

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Rogers and Shaw applications are pictured on a cellphone in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Canada's competition watchdog heard from its final group of witnesses Thursday at the hearing meant to debate the Rogers Communications Inc.'s $26-billion proposed takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.

The deal brokered in 2021 has been fraught with concerns about lessened competition since the Competition Bureau sought to fully block the takeover in May.

Witnesses speaking Thursday focused largely on potential efficiencies tied to the deal, as well as tax implications.

However, over the last four weeks, Chief Justice Paul Crampton, head of the tribunal panel, his co-panelists and the public have heard from a series of witnesses, including Shaw CEO Bradley Shaw, Quebecor Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau, Rogers senior vice-president of finance Marisa Fabiano, economics experts, accountants, as well as Bell, Telus and Freedom employees.

Throughout the hearing, the Competition Bureau argued the merger would lessen competition in the telecom market, trigger higher prices and lead to poor service.

Meanwhile, Rogers and Shaw insisted the deal, which includes a proposal to sell Shaw-owned wireless carrier Freedom Mobile to Quebecor-owned Videotron Ltd., will enhance competition and be better for consumers.

Shaw also revealed it needs the merger because it doesn't see a viable path forward as a standalone company.

The tribunal is expected to hear oral arguments on Dec. 13 and 14, but has not said how soon it will issue a decision.

The Competition Bureau is one of three regulatory agencies that must approve the Rogers-Shaw deal, in addition to the CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Rogers wants to close the Shaw deal by the end of the year, with a possible further extension to Jan. 31, 2023.

The hearings revealed "how much the deck is stacked against Canadians" and how "wealthy executives stand to become even richer" if the deal is approved, said Globalive Capital founder and chairman Anthony Lacavera, in a statement.

Earlier this year, Globalive offered to buy Freedom's assets. Lacavera founded Wind Mobile and built it into the country's fourth-largest wireless business before selling it in 2016 to Shaw, which rebranded it as Freedom Mobile.

Lacavera has long fought the proposed sale of Freedom to Videotron and on Thursday, added that Globalive's bid to purchase Freedom remains open.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.B)

The Canadian Press