Why we can’t trust the Competition Bureau

by Jack Locke

There could be hell to pay for suggesting one of Calgary’s top law firms is behind the reason Canadians cannot trust the federal Competition Bureau.

It could also explain why the Competition Bureau has not found the oil and gas industry guilty of collusion or price fixing.

Imagine you are the Commissioner of Canada’s Competition Bureau. Melanie L. Aitken can do so, because she fills that position.

Melanie L. Aitken, Competition Bureau Commissioner, former partner at Bennett Jones.

Ms. Aitken joined the Bureau in 2004 and was appointed the head of the agency on August 4, 2009, for a five-year term. But before she joined government, she was a lawyer in private practice and in 2003 became a partner in the Toronto law office of Bennett Jones, the prestigious Calgary legal services firm.

Bennett Jones’s roster has included such luminaries as former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed and former Supreme Court Justice and Air India inquiry investigator John Major, amongst others.

“From 2003 to 2005, Ms. Aitken was a partner at Bennett Jones LLP, practising commercial and competition litigation,” reads Ms. Aitken’s official government biography.

Bennett Jones is oil and gas power central. They’ve represented Canadian oil giants like Shell Canada and international giants such as the Korea National Oil Company, and have provided legal services to multi-billion dollar oil and gas deals.

“The reputation of Bennett Jones has been built upon the oil industry, and that is especially true of our Calgary office” the Bennett Jones website proclaims. There can be no disputing it.

However, their influence in shifting Canada’s integrity has to be questioned.

Ms. Aitken’s predecessor at the Competition Bureau, Sheridan Scott, stepped down in 2009. After leaving public service, Ms. Scott, joined Bennett Jones to work in their Ottawa office and is now a partner with the firm.

Former Competition Bureau head Sheridan Scott.

Sheridan Scott was Canada’s Commissioner of Competition from 2004 to 2009. She oversaw at least one empirical study(2005) that looked at gasoline prices from production to retail pumps which concluded everything is legal and above board.

But the study’s conclusion was not a true investigation in the criminal sense. It was a white paper that served as a poorly produced defence of gasoline prices.

Calling for an investigation into price-fixing, collusion, abuse of market dominance is what I had called for when I filed a Competition Bureau complaint earlier this week. (see Oil Companies Give Me Gas, Lockeblog, May 17, 2011.)

The reply from the Competition Bureau was far too swift and far too toothless for a body that is composed for the purpose of protecting Canadian citizens and consumers. Their reply was not much different than one I would expect from the offices of Bennett Jones.

“Businesses are generally free to set their own prices, at whatever levels the market will bear. Individual gasoline suppliers taking advantage of tight supply to increase their prices would not raise issues because charging high prices at times of actual or anticipated excess demand, is not contrary to the Act.”

It did not answer the issue in my complaint, but I must admit it was a very good non-answer.

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One Response to “Why we can’t trust the Competition Bureau”

  1. DAVID PYLYP Says:

    The Home and Auto insurance industry earns between 12 and 20% on every home and auto policy written and are forbidden by their rules of conduct (RICO) to discount to earn or sway business.

    That needs a look see.

    David Pylyp
    Accredited Senior Agent Living in Toronto

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