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Competition Bureau chief Melanie Aitken stepping down

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Canada’s competition commissioner is leaving her post two years ahead of schedule, the Competition Bureau said Thursday in a short statement.

Melanie Aitken will step down in September, according to the Competition Bureau. She was appointed to a five-year term in 2009, and promptly made a name for herself as an aggressive watchdog who wasn’t afraid to take on some of Canada’s largest industries.

“At the outset, I identified clear goals to reinvigorate enforcement ... I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do,” Aitken said in a statement, without elaborating on her plans.

Aitken came to the bureau after being seconded to the Justice Department from law firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP to work on competition files. She then took over its mergers division, which was thrust into the spotlight after a federal judge slammed the agency for overstepping its boundaries when investigating the Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. takeover of Lakeport Brewing in 2008.

An independent review cleared Aitken's department in 2009, and she was soon appointed commissioner. At the same time, Parliament handed the bureau sweeping new powers.

These powers allowed for fines up to $25 million for anti-competitive behaviour such as price fixing and gave commissioners the power to delay mergers by up to a year while reviewing them.

Her highest-profile victory came in her pursuit of more open real estate markets in 2010. Her office succeeded in changing the way consumers interact with real estate agents -- where they once had to hire an agent for an entire sale, she reached an agreement with the Canadian Real Estate Association that now allows for consumers to buy a la carte services from real estate agents.

That means someone selling his house can now hire an agent just to list the house on the Multiple Listing Service for a flat fee, without employing the commission-based agent through the entire sale.

Canada’s Industry Minister Christian Paradis praised Aitken for her “committment to public service and the promotion and preservation of competitive markets.”

"Her many contributions to the Competition Bureau over the last seven years have made a lasting impression,” he said. “Thanks to her dedication and determination, the Bureau is well recognized by businesses and consumers alike for ensuring that Canadian competition laws are respected."

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