Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is challenging the architects of a proposed transatlantic deal between the Toronto and London stock exchanges to show that it will not become more difficult and costly for Canadian companies to list their shares for trading.
"What they should be doing is acting and thinking about what is in the best interests of the country," Mr. Duncan told reporters on Tuesday. "I think they need to engage in a more rational debate as opposed to fear mongering."
Mr. Duncan has made no secret about his concerns that control over Canada's premier stock exchange would move to London under the proposed $7-billion-plus deal. But he shot back at financial services executives who have criticized him for not embracing the merger.
His first target was Bay Street veteran Tom Caldwell, who said in an interview on CBC Radio that the minister has never even visited the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Mr. Duncan proved Mr. Caldwell wrong by displaying for the TV cameras a photo of himself taken on a day when he rang the opening bell at the exchange.
"I think you have to watch the supporters of this thing very carefully," he said.
Mr. Duncan then responded to comments the head of the Toronto Stock Exchange made to Reuters. Thomas Kloet, chief executive officer of TMX Group, parent of the exchange, said Canada's reputation on free trade hinges on whether the proposal to combine the London and Toronto exchanges goes ahead. Mr. Kloet questioned in the interview whether Canada would be sending the "right signals" to the European Union if it were to reject the stock exchange transaction.
Mr. Duncan countered that more pressing questions about the deal must be addressed. In particular, he said, he is hearing concerns from a range of executives on Bay Street that a shrinking number of stock exchanges will make it more difficult for small and medium-sized Canadian companies to list their shares.
The minister said his critics should not be afraid to have a debate on the topic. "We need to understand how many stock exchanges will be left in the world when this is done," he said, referring to a spate of global mergers.
The Ontario government has set up an all-party committee of the legislature to examine the transaction. The committee will look at the impact of the proposal on Toronto's financial services sector as well as the mining industry in Northern Ontario.
The committee will hold at least four public hearings in Toronto in the next few weeks and plans to release a report by April 7.