Food Truck Wars at the Competition Bureau

Are the folks over at Canada’s Competition Bureau unhappy with their choices of local restaurants? Possibly – they sure do take a swipe at their host (the City of Gatineau, Quebec) in a recent report on food trucks. What is clear is that they want Canadian municipalities to review their mobile food regulations (a.k.a. food truck licensing and operation restrictions).

The Competition Bureau states that the Bureau “found no clear evidence that shows detrimental impacts of mobile food services on restaurants.” Instead, they state that these are ”two different business models with different levels of investments and services.”

The Bureau would like to see municipalities: consider:

  • Abandoning the use of selection committees to determine what food trucks operate.
  • Reconsidering whether operating hours are in place for legitimate reasons.
  • Reducing or repealing proximity requirements to prevent food trucks being operate in close proximity to a brick and mortar restaurant.
  • Limiting restricted zones to situations in which there are legitimate traffic management concerns.

Interestingly, the Competition Bureau does not analyze the issue of the use of public spaces for commercial gain and, therefore, the legitimate interest of municipalities in regulating that space. In simply stating that these are different business models, the Competition Bureau failed to engage directly with the complaint by brick-and-mortar restaurants that they have to pay for their space in premium locations whereas food trucks can occupy that space for relatively minimal licensing fees.  The failure to think deeply about this issue is a significant blind spot undermining the Bureau’s analysis.

Will municipalities tell the Competition Bureau to butt-out? Probably. The jurisdiction of the Competition Bureau does not include supervising the public policy decisions made by City Councillors. But if food truck operators wanted to challenge city bylaws, the Competition Bureau has lent a helping hand with a road-map for an argument.

Read the Competition Bureau Report here.