A competition Christmas carol

It was Christmas Eve and Ebenantitrust, a senior Big Law partner, was working late on defence pleading in a competition class action case.

Steve Szentesi

It was Christmas Eve and Ebenantitrust, a senior Big Law partner, was working late on defence pleading in a competition class action case. There was no way, if he had any say in it, that a single greedy consumer would receive a cheque for the preposterous allegations being made by class counsel.

On the bright side, things were good and bonuses would be large. Associates had worked hard and the numbers looked very good indeed for partners.

As he was furiously drafting and docketing, his associate Ned dropped by his office to invite him to Christmas dinner.

Ned’s annual (and annually declined) invitation sent Ebenantitrust into a rant against the holidays and those who celebrate them.

“Ned, you should be billing!” Ebenantitrust said. “How will you ever make partner if you keep participating in these silly ceremonies?”

Just then, Ebenantitrust’s assistant, Bob Crunchit, mumbled from across the hall that he thought that Ned’s defence of Christmas was inspirational, to which Ebenantitrust bellowed: “Any more of that sentimental nonsense and you’re fired!”

Ebenantitrust also reminded both Ned and Bob that he already supported the disadvantaged every year anyway by sending his old law books downstairs to the firm’s articling students.

When Ebenantitrust left his office at 2 a.m., he grudgingly gave Ned and Bob the next day (Christmas Day) off before heading home to his house that used to belong to his former partner Jacob Merger. Merger, sadly, had passed away at his desk on Christmas Eve seven years earlier — sadder still, it happened before he reached his annual billing target.

As Ebenantitrust arrived home, and before he could reach his computer to enter more dockets for the file he’d been thinking about in the car, he saw his former partner’s face appear on the door knocker (a giant brass dollar sign).

Startled, he rushed inside and went straight up the stairs to his bedroom and locked the door, preparing to bill a couple more hours before turning in for the night.

Just when he had finally settled in for the night, bells began to ring and his bedroom door flew open. In walked the ghost of his former partner Merger, bound in a chain forged with dockets, accounts and WIP reports.

He told Ebenantitrust that for his lifelong preoccupation with fees, billing and working to clear mergers and reduce competition, he was destined to wander for eternity warning Canadians about anti-competitive markets.

To avoid this same fate, Merger offered Ebenantitrust one chance: to be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of competition past, present and future. Then the apparition vanished as quickly as it appeared.

An hour later, another spirit wearing a white tunic, annotated Competition Act in hand, appeared and introduced herself as the Ghost of Competition Commissioners past. She took Ebenantitrust’s hand and they left his house.

They first visited Ebenantitrust when he was a young articling student learning the ropes of class action defence work. Scenes of him dismissing invitations to social and family events flickered by his eyes — too much research and too many partners to keep happy for such frivolity.

The spirit then took Ebenantitrust to the courts and the Competition Tribunal in years past, which showed him vigorously defending challenges in so many sectors, including real estate, airlines and telecom.

Finally, the spirit showed Ebenantitrust the day that his fiancé, Nelle, left him because he was working seven days a week defending frivolous competition and consumer actions and billing 3,500 hours a year.

When the clock struck again, Ebenantitrust awoke to find his room decorated in holly and ivy with a roaring fire in the fireplace.

A gigantic spirit wearing a green energy robe trimmed in white fur, the Ghost of Legislative Present, took Ebenantitrust on a tour of provincial and federal legislative houses, where they watched lawmakers pass competition and market-related legislation.

They watched a series of “fair” bills being passed by local lawmakers that they said would “protect consumers” — restrictions on ride sharing, quotas on food truck licences, restrictions on private liquor retailing, bans on private pot retailing and restrictions on interprovincial transport of beer. They also looked on as federal regulators took strong enforcement in major consumer sectors, such as bread and mattresses.

Next, they visited Bob Crunchit’s house, where his family was delighting in a Christmas meal far nicer than they had the year before (with an additional $9 saved).

Bob had managed to get their cellphone bills down to $350 (saving $5) and make a little extra money driving for Uber. Nellie Crunchit, Bob’s wife, found a few loaves of bread on sale in their local grocery store, which she thought surely was the result of the recent bread price-fixing probe. Even Cindy Lou Crunchit, Bob’s daughter, managed to find a part-time union job in a provincial pot store that brought in a little money for Christmas dinner.

Then the clock struck the next hour and Ebenantitrust found himself in the presence of a phantom shrouded all in black.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m the Commissioner of Competition Yet to Come,” the phantom said, as they began watching people discussing a man’s death to which they were completely indifferent.

They then travelled to a seedy neighbourhood, where men and women were selling property from the dead man’s house.

Eventually, Ebenantitrust and the phantom visited the dead man’s family’s home, where they were mourning his death.

When Ebenantitrust asked who the dead man was, the spirit pointed to a tombstone that read: “Here lies Tim Little, a regular Canadian who couldn’t afford groceries, gas, plane tickets or his cellphone. He finally expired when his cannabis store was closed after the province monopolized pot.”

Before the spirit vanished, he opened his cloak, smiled slightly and showed Ebenantitrust a glimpse of competition to come, which included private pot and liquor retailing, food trucks on every corner, discount airlines and a fourth cellular carrier. The spirit also showed Ebenantitrust a future filled with federal competition enforcement.

So much jail time for competition law violations and so little policy, Ebenantitrust mused as he watched the future of competition enforcement unfold.

When Ebenantitrust awoke, he exclaimed: “This is the best Christmas ever!”

A changed man, he vowed to become a plaintiff class action lawyer and immediately raised Ned’s and Bob’s salaries. He even sent Ned a new copy of the Rules of Civil Procedure.

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