Canada's Oliver says common securities regulator a priority

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, April 22 Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:30pm EDT

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, April 22 (Reuters) - Canada's new finance minister said on Tuesday the creation of a national securities regulator will be a priority under his watch as he draws on his experience in banking and as a provincial capital markets watchdog.

Joe Oliver, who became finance minister last month, indicated to reporters he was keen to make progress on an initiative begun by his predecessor Jim Flaherty, who died on April 10 less than a month after quitting the Conservative government's cabinet.

"Yes it is a priority," Oliver told reporters. "I have been involved in this issue for decades." He added that Canada was the only developed economy without a securities regulator that spans the entire country.

Last September, after decades of failed attempts by various governments, Flaherty and his counterparts from the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia announced they would set up a common regulator between them. The new regulator would replace the current patchwork system of 13 regulators in each province and territory.

The scheme would be voluntary and cooperative, since the Supreme Court had ruled that Ottawa could not unilaterally impose a new system on the provinces similar to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Flaherty's hope, now shared by Oliver, was that other provinces would join in and the new system would be operating by mid-2015.

Oliver said he had witnessed first-hand the problems with the current system during his time as executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and when he worked at Merrill Lynch.

"As an investment banker and a securities regulator I've seen the inefficiency that flows from our current system of each of our 13 provinces and territories having its own securities commission. It leads to not only inefficiency but it leads to an impact on enforcement and on the oversight of systemic risk," he said.

Ottawa hopes the common regulator will help improve Canada's reputation for being lax on white-collar crime and make it easier to detect risks that extend across markets and regions, rather than having a narrow focus on one province.

"I'm hoping that this voluntary delegation-based approach will be adopted, that other provinces will join in and we'll see that initiative go forward," he said. (Reporting by Richard Woodbury; Writing by Louise Egan; editing by Andrew Hay)