(Corrects Rickford's age to 46 from 47 in eighth paragraph)
By Louise Egan
OTTAWA, March 19 Joe Oliver, a veteran banker
and former energy minister who championed the controversial
Keystone XL pipeline, was named Canada's new finance minister on
Wednesday, signaling a stay-the-course approach to fiscal and
"I just named Joe Oliver Canada's new finance minister,"
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote on his official
Twitter. "He will continue to strengthen the economy and balance
the budget by 2015."
Oliver takes over after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
announced his resignation from the Conservative cabinet on
Tuesday after eight years in the job. He was the third
longest-serving finance minister in Canadian history and had
vowed not to step down until he was certain the federal budget
deficit was eliminated.
Montreal-born Oliver is a graduate of the Harvard School of
Business and has extensive experience in the investment banking
industry, working at Merrill Lynch earlier in his career and as
executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission. He
later became chief executive officer of the Investment Dealers
Association of Canada (IDA).
At 73, he is one of the oldest cabinet ministers and he has
leap-frogged over some younger stars in key portfolios even
though he was first elected to office less than three years ago.
As the minister responsible for natural resources since May
2011, Oliver has been cabinet's biggest advocate of TransCanada
Corp's controversial proposal to build the Keystone XL
pipeline to take Alberta oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
He has clashed with environmentalists, at one point blasting
those opposed to Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern
Gateway pipeline in Western Canada as foreign-funded "radicals".
Harper appointed Greg Rickford, a 46-year-old lawyer, to
replace Oliver as natural resources minister with responsibility
for the Keystone file. Rickford had been junior minister for
science and technology and also responsible for so-called Ring
of Fire mining projects in northern Ontario.
Rickford has worked in aboriginal communities, referred to
in Canada as First Nations, and was parliamentary secretary to
the Indian and northern development minister from 2011 to 2013.
Harper may see him as an effective interlocutor with native
groups concerned about resource and pipeline projects on their
Markets took the appointments in stride. The Canadian dollar
weakened in early trade, but that was largely due to comments
made by the central bank chief on Tuesday.
"The Harper government has a clear agenda as set out in the
last budget, so the change in leadership is unlikely to lead to
any abrupt changes in policy," said Craig Alexander, chief
economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.
Tom Caldwell, who heads wealth manager Caldwell Securities
and has known Oliver for more than 40 years, said Oliver brings
much stronger financial expertise to the job than did Flaherty,
whose background was in law.
He said that when Oliver was head of the IDA, a body that
oversees investment dealers and trading activity in debt and
equity markets, he was adept at balancing the often competing
interests of large banks and small firms.
"I can think of no better training for Ottawa than the IDA
of those days," said Caldwell, who likened the role to that of
heading the United Nations.
"At least in the UN you have people feigning diplomatic
behavior. None of that veneer existed at the IDA."
Oliver, who had heart bypass surgery about a year ago, is
married with two sons.
He inherits a federal budget that Flaherty made sure would
return to surplus in 2015. Ottawa plunged into deficit as it
fought the effects of the global recession in 2008 after 11
straight years of surplus.
Other parts of his job won't be as easy: he must try to
figure out how to get the sluggish economy and jobs market
growing faster and how to avoid an ugly end to the country's
long post-financial-crisis housing boom.
Canada recovered much more quickly from the financial crisis
than did the United States and Europe, and none of the country's
big banks failed. But economic growth has largely disappointed
in the past year, and the pace of job creation has stalled.
Manufacturers in Central Canada have struggled, while the
country's natural resources sector has benefited from relatively
high commodity prices.
Fears of a housing bubble have been calmed somewhat by
reports showing the market has cooled after Flaherty tightened
mortgage rules four times. But the central bank still sees the
housing market and the record-high household debt associated
with it as a risk to financial stability.
The Conservatives pledged in 2011 to offer tax cuts once
they had a budget surplus, allowing couples with children to
split their incomes to reduce their tax burden.
Flaherty openly questioned the benefit of that proposal
before he left his job and there is likely to be more debate
about whether the government should use its surplus to pay down
debt, cut taxes or undertake other initiatives.
"Over the next few years there is a fiscal dividend on the
order of about C$45 billion ($40 billion)," said Craig Wright,
chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada.
"As we move forward in this era of fiscal dividends, there
will be a number of trial balloons sent up and some will survive
and some won't," he added.
Another area of unfinished business left by Flaherty is his
push for is the creation of a national capital markets regulator
to replace the current system of individual regulators in each
Flaherty and two provinces produced a plan last September
to create a new national watchdog and Oliver's background could
help give that project impetus, former colleagues said.
(Additional reporting by Euan Rocha, Andrea Hopkins and Randall
Palmer; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Bernadette Baum and Peter