Joe Oliver must juggle many pressing issues as he takes over as Finance Minister, but he has one undeniable asset that will aid his transition: Bay Street’s high regard.
With a deep background in investment banking and securities regulation, Mr. Oliver is one of the most experienced people to ever take over the crucial cabinet position. He has both advised on corporate deals and drafted securities legislation.
Yet Mr. Oliver has a tough act to follow. Under Jim Flaherty, Canada maintained its triple-A debt rating in the face of a punishing financial crisis and the federal government clawed its way out of deficits, and is now on the verge of balancing its budget. Mr. Flaherty also earned the respect of his global peers by taking on active roles at major economic summits during and after the Great Recession.
It is unclear whether Mr. Oliver will show the same degree of courage as Mr. Flaherty. The former finance minister was willing to take on causes he deeply supported, such as the creation of a national securities regulator. Mr. Oliver’s background would suggest he is the ideal person to advance the campaign, but it’s still unclear how committed he will be to pushing the agenda forward.
People who know the new Finance Minister believe he will need little time to figure out his portfolio’s intricacies.
“He’s a very bright guy, very knowledgeable, and has a deep understanding of financial markets,” said Bank of Nova Scotia chief executive officer Brian Porter. The two men worked together at the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, a financial regulator that has since been reorganized.
“He’s worked on or around Bay Street for a long period of time,” Mr. Porter added. “He knows how markets function. He knows that markets like consistency and a degree of predictability.”
Mr. Oliver’s intelligence earns praise from Bay Street bankers, lawyers and managers. “He’s an extraordinarily competent individual; he has a very fine intellect,” said Robert Caldwell, director of wealth management at Richardson GMP.
Like Scotiabank’s CEO, Mr. Caldwell got to know the Finance Minister through his involvement with the IDA. As head of the organization, Mr. Oliver had to negotiate with the banks as well as independent shops like Mr. Caldwell’s own wealth management firm. “He was very diligent in paying attention to the small dealer,” Mr. Caldwell said, adding that Mr. Oliver understands the impact that good policy has on individuals, not just big organizations.
Supporters of a national securities regulator are optimistic that he will not drop the ball that Mr. Flaherty carried for so long. Although British Columbia and Ontario, two of the country’s largest provinces, have already come together to create a “co-operative capital markets regulator,” people who are close to the file stress that a federal push is still necessary.
Not only does Ottawa play a key role in pushing for cohesion across provincial borders, the new regulatory system requires both federal and provincial legislative acts. “The Supreme Court found that both the federal government and the provincial governments have a role to play in regulating our capital markets,” said Jeremy Fraiberg, partner at law firm Osler Hoskin & Harcout LLP, adding that the federal government is still expected to oversee systemic risk and criminal law.
Mr. Oliver has been an outspoken proponent of a national securities regulator. When he first ran unsuccessfully for federal office in 2008, he campaigned prominently on a pledge to use his background to help create a national securities commission, saying it was a key priority for Canada.
“There’s a lot of smart people in Ottawa but there aren’t many people with my kind of background, my expertise in securities regulation,” he said at the time. That remains true even today, and especially among the ranks of his cabinet colleagues.
However, there is no word yet as to whether the Prime Minister’s Office champions the idea. If not, it is unclear if Mr. Oliver has built up the goodwill necessary to charge ahead.
But in financial circles, he’s certainly earned respect, coming to the portfolio with even more capital markets experience than Mr. Flaherty had when he started out. “I think it’s an excellent choice,” Mr. Porter said. “It’s a choice that provides continuity for the country.”