Quebec’s business leaders were quick to applaud the Supreme Court decision striking down the federal government’s efforts at creating a national securities regulator.
A coalition of Quebec companies and business leaders headed by the provincial government said Thursday the decision was a major victory “across the board” for the existing decentralized system of harmonized regulation among the provinces and territories.
Ottawa proposed to set up a national regulator based in Toronto arguing that a uniform Canadian system to regulate securities trading would help bolster investigations into securities fraud.
Ontario was the only province to defend Ottawa’s position calling for a national regulator. Quebec is now urging Ontario to embrace the court decision and join the other provinces to reinforcing the current system.
“It sends a signal to Ontario that it should join the existing provincial system,” said the coalition’s spokesperson Françoise Bertrand, who is president of the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce.
According to the Quebec group, which included business leaders such as media giant Quebecor Inc. the drugstore chain Jean Coutu Inc. and papermaker Cascades Inc. , the current system of 13 provincial and territorial regulators offered the best environment for both local businesses and investors.
Ms. Bertrand said the court decision confirms that the existing system works and that provinces have the ability to oversee securities trading while fostering the emergence new businesses. “We have companies here who issue a small number of shares which were the very foundation of companies such as the Uniprix chain of pharmacies or Couche-Tard convenience stores,” Ms. Bertrand said. “The closer the access is to home the easier it is to exchange views... For businesses that is a valuable asset.”
A national regulator would have meant the loss of jobs and expertise which would have migrated to Toronto, Ms. Bertrand added. She said the provinces have shown that they can offer investors and businesses a stable environment as well as adequate protection against securities fraud, market manipulation, insider trading and other illegal activities.
Maintaining a provincial regulator was of particular significance for Quebec where the language issue is an important factor for many French-speaking business leaders and investors who should have access to services in their language, she added.
No doubt the court ruling was also a signal to the federal government that it should respect provincial jurisdictions and seek co-operative solutions rather than trying to dictate their views on the provinces, Ms. Bertrand said.
“It is a fundamental principle of federalism that we strongly defend. That means co-operation not centralization...and the decision confirms this principle,” Ms. Bertrand said.
The opposition Parti Québécois urged all political parties to take stock of the unanimous Supreme Court decision and demand that the Harper government immediately comply with it.
PQ intergovernmental affairs critic Bernard Drainville was suspicious that Ottawa will attempt to set up a national securities commission through the “backdoor”.
“Mr. Harper has to tell us that he has understood the message and that he accepts the decision and withdraws this idea of creating a Canadian commission,” Mr. Drainville said. The time has come to put a stop to the Harper government’s “ bulldozing approach” with the provinces.
“All we’ve done so far is spend a lot of energy and money to maintain the status quo. We have no reason to celebrate,” Mr. Drainville said.