Alumna Jeanne Pratt followed her curiosity to the top levels of the Competition Bureau

Author: Ed Bowes

Posted on Apr 26, 2021

Category: Alumni

Jeanne Pratt (LLB’97) never wanted to be a “big-firm Bay Street lawyer.” She also never thought she’d be taking on the biggest Canadian and global merger cases and investigating anti-competitive marketplace activities splashed across media headlines. She ended up doing both.

Jeanne came to UNB for law school after graduating from Memorial University in Newfoundland with a BA in political science. She wanted a small school experience and says what she found when she got to UNB was an atmosphere that was more collegial and less cutthroat. “I didn’t get lost in a sea of other students, and we all helped each other instead of competed with each other. I got a really solid general foundation with good prospects after graduation. My 3 years at UNB were awesome.”

She articled at Ottawa’s largest firm and then took some time off after a family tragedy to step away and work in government. A connection put her in touch with Sen. Michael J. L. Kirby, who was sitting in the Senate of Canada representing Nova Scotia. Jeanne served as his chief of staff for two years, doing everything from speechwriting to liaising with Minister’s offices, working on legislation and acting as press secretary. It was here where she got her first taste of competition law in action – when Canadian Airlines went bankrupt and Air Canada was the only viable takeover option. Competition law and politics came to a head, with the federal Cabinet ultimately deciding to suspend the Competition Act for the first (and only) time in history to allow the takeover to proceed. “I learned so much in those two years about politics, how policies are created, how to be an advocate and so much more.”

When her partner, Shona Bertrand (LLB’97, BBA ‘94), whom she’d met at UNB, got a position at a firm in Toronto, Jeanne followed. “I wanted to do litigation work, and found a job at a small boutique firm. I took on a case as part of the legal team for the Commissioner of Competition against Air Canada alleging predatory pricing when WestJet was expanding into the Maritimes. That became my first competition case.”

She later joined a partner in moving to a larger firm and later again joined McCarthy Tétrault LLP with a group of competition lawyers. There she was, smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest and most prestigious firms on Bay Street. She became partner and one of the go-to people in Canada who specialized exclusively in the area of competition/antitrust and related litigation.

In 2009, Jeanne received a call from the newly-appointed Commissioner of Competition with a proposal to become special counsel on a two-year exchange with her firm. Back to Ottawa she went, and two years turned into an executive position as Assistant Deputy Commissioner in the Criminal Matters branch. After two more years she became Deputy Commissioner in that branch, and then in 2015 took on the role of Senior Deputy Commissioner of the Mergers and Monopolistic Practices branch.

“The Competition Bureau, as an independent law enforcement agency, ensures that Canadian consumers and businesses prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace. We’re responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act,” Jeanne explains. “It was in 1889 that Canada put a provision in place to become the first country in world to have modern anti-trust laws.”

“I really like working for the public interest – it adds a certain flavour and satisfaction that private practice didn’t offer. And I get to work on all the best cases across the country. It can get very complex trying to balance all the competing interests, and the stakes are high, and you’re up against some of the best lawyers who represent big corporate clients who have market power. But it’s exciting and very rewarding to apply my skills in the public interest. Every file I work on is important and really matters to Canadians.”

Those cases are often the ones we read about in the headlines. Cases like the Air Canada-Air Transat merger, the Google-Fitbit merger and the retailer bread price-fixing scandal. Then there’s the Facebook case, where the social media giant was ultimately fined $9M for deceptive marketing practices surrounding the privacy of Canadians’ personal information.

“We get a lot of cases from industries like telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, airlines, digital media and the waste industry. Criminal matters like conspiracy, bid-rigging and price fixing can be tough to prove but also really interesting. There are search warrants, phone taps, whistle-blowers and immunity agreements involved. It’s certainly not boring!”

As part of her work, Jeanne travels around the world to build relationships with counterparts from other countries and to learn from one another. “Competition law is an international endeavour. We often have cases that involve companies operating on a global scale and we work with our sister agencies to build a case. You need to trust who you’re cooperating with, so we are constantly building close relationships and sharing best practices.”

One of those close relationships is with Australia, and a few years ago Jeanne got to experience down under close-up. She did a one-year exchange with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and took on the role of Executive General Manager, Merger and Authorisation Review. The Australian executive and his family swapped places with Jeanne, Shona and their family – from the job right down to their houses and cars.

“It was an amazing experience and opened my eyes to a lot of things we could do differently, but also gave me an appreciation for some areas we’re really good at. It was humbling to go into a completely new environment and culture with laws I wasn’t familiar with, as I had to rely more on my management and leadership skills. I was also the only female executive general manager. Thankfully, I’m very curious and love to learn so it was a great challenge for me.”

That curiosity is how Jeanne says she got to this place in her career. “I never had a plan. I just followed my curiosity, which took me to jobs that I had a real interest in. And when you’re genuinely interested in something you do it well and it gets noticed. Being a Newfie that went to law school in the Maritimes, many people didn’t know what to expect when I first started working in Toronto. And as I specialized in competition law, there weren’t a lot of women to show me the way. I was fortunate to have a lot of strong male mentors who invested in me. And I was fortunate to have been brought up by two public servant parents who taught me the ethos of giving back. All of that has led me to where I am now – which is a really satisfying and exciting place.”