Will Melanie Aitken, the Competition Bureau’s feisty and fearless chief, ax the Maple Group’s bid for the Toronto Stock Exchange?

Will Melanie Aitken, the Competition Bureau’s feisty and fearless chief, ax the Maple Group’s bid for the Toronto Stock Exchange?

The Toronto Stock Exchange (Image: Serdar Gurbuz Photography) 

Recently, the Competition Bureau—that part of the Canadian government designed to protect consumers from anti-competitive corporate behaviour—has started to make something of a splash, from picking fights with the country’s real estate industry over its listings practices to levying a $10-million penalty against Bell Canada for charging higher prices than its advertised rates. And it turns out the reason behind the newfound spirit of vigilance is simple: the bureau hired Melanie Aitken, whom the Toronto Star dubbed “a new champion in the form of a courtroom litigator” and who colleagues call a “force of nature.” She hasn’t wasted time using her powers—beefed up in 2009—and apparently the next issue she’s going to tackle could be the bank-led Maple Group’s $3.8-billion offer for the Toronto Stock Exchange.

From yesterday’s Toronto Star:

Seizing on tough new measures against anti-competitive corporate behaviour, the 44-year-old lawyer is injecting a bit of steel in the laws meant to protect consumers and force business fairness. Company executives, often accustomed to a kid-gloves approach from the federal Competition Bureau, have been put on notice that Ottawa is ready to go to court and seek eye-popping fines to protect consumers…

Aitken, who graduated from the University of Toronto law school and once worked on merger cases at Bennett Jones law firm in Toronto, assumed a key role in Ottawa just when the federal government was moving to beef up the Competition Bureau’s powers.

In January 2009, Parliament streamlined the enforcement of rules against price-fixing by cartels, strengthened the bureau’s ability to probe mergers and raised penalties against companies for certain anti-competitive practices to an unheard-of $10 million.

On the TMX merger, in particular, the issue from the bureau’s standpoint is that Maple Group already owns a stock exchange, which would (critics say) make the combined Maple-TMX corporation a monopolistic consumer-devouring monster. That seems right up Aitken’s alley—either to stop outright or to at least make Maple sell off their less-valued exchange to allow the deal to go through. In that scenario, the question for the Maple Group would become whether it still wants the TMX—but given the amount of money the exchange brings in, we’re going to assume the answer would remain yes. Trading a barely known exchange for one of North America’s largest seems like a decent deal.

Competition watchdog tosses aside the kid gloves [Toronto Star]