Ontario Securities Commission chair and CEO Maureen Jensen is resigning almost a year before her term expires amid tensions with the Progressive Conservative government.
Ms. Jensen, the first woman to lead the securities regulator of Canada’s most populous province, announced Tuesday she will resign effective April 15. Ms. Jensen was first appointed to the position in 2016 by the then-Liberal government. She was reappointed in 2017 to a three-year term that was set to expire in February, 2021.
The resignation follows well-documented differences between a number of priorities the OSC pushed early in Ms. Jensen’s tenure and the objectives of the PC government, which was elected in 2018. These included a proposed ban on certain mutual fund fees that the PCs declined to support and issues around the obligations of companies to disclose risks to climate change.
“There was a consensus there was a real frost between Maureen and the government, so you don’t have to be Kreskin to see this outcome,” said John De Goey, a portfolio manager at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth.
“We have this strange situation where we have the most progressive regulator of the provinces, which is saddled with the most regressive government of the day. And so now we have, far more than in any other province, a very conspicuous tug of war going on.”
Ms. Jensen would not comment Tuesday on her resignation.
In 2018, the Canadian Securities Administrators – the umbrella organization of Canada’s provincial securities commissions – announced that after a six-year review, its members proposed to ban certain mutual-fund commissions. Ms. Jensen had championed the reforms, but almost immediately after the announcement, Ontario’s Ministry of Finance issued a statement that the government did not support the changes “as drafted."
As a result, the CSA has moved forward to forbid those fees with all of its members participating in the ban – except for Ontario.
In the same vein, prior to the 2018 provincial election, the CSA told the public it was considering new rules that would require companies to disclose their exposure to risks associated with climate change. However, after the election of the Ford government – which has waged a very public legal battle with the federal government over the implementation of a carbon tax – the CSA changed tack, saying it was only offering “guidance” on how companies might disclose such risks.
Ms. Jensen has also sidelined plans to move further on reforms on gender-diversity disclosure, which was a priority for the OSC earlier in her term.
In recent months, however, the OSC had taken steps that were more in line with the Ford government’s “Open for Business” mantra. In November, Ms. Jensen released a list of 107 changes the commission was making to reduce what she called the “staggering” requirements for those participating in the securities industry.
The report on reducing regulatory burden introduced a host of changes, including a loosening of the requirement that small- and medium-sized issuers of securities employ an in-house compliance officer. (Ms. Jensen was on record as far back as 2016, when she was first appointed, as having concerns over the “tsunami of regulation” that followed the global financial crisis of 2008.)
That move seemed to signal a thaw between Ms. Jensen and the province. One source said that relations between the OSC and the government improved considerably when Rod Phillips replaced Vic Fedeli as Finance Minister in June. It was under Mr. Fedeli that the Ministry of Finance had objected to the CSA’s proposed fee ban.
Another Ontario government source said Ms. Jensen met with Mr. Phillips as recently as Monday, and that he was aware of her resignation several weeks before it was announced. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Mr. Phillips was the first speaker at the OSC’s annual dialogue day in November, where he praised the commission for its efforts to reduce regulatory burden. In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Phillips thanked Ms. Jensen for her service, citing both her efforts to streamline the OSC and her “focus on greater gender diversity on boards.”
Industry observers echoed similar sentiments about her legacy, which includes the 2016 launch of Canada’s first paid whistle-blower program to encourage more public tips on securities infractions.
Ed Waitzer, a partner at Stikeman Elliott LLP who chaired the OSC from 1993 to 1997, said Ms. Jensen had a knack for stickhandling her many duties: “pro-active on policy, stakeholder engagement, internal management and contending with her counterpart regulators,” he said.
Lawrence Ritchie, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and a former vice-chair of the OSC, singled out her policy initiatives, including her commitment to reducing red tape and pushing for greater disclosure from companies around gender diversity.
Neil Gross, the chair of the OSC’s investor advisory panel, called Ms. Jensen an advocate for investor protection, citing rules for increased transparency, attempts to ban certain fees charged to investors and the establishment of the whistle-blower program. “She’s not been afraid to challenge the status quo or do what’s right.”
Prior to joining the OSC in 2011 as its executive director, Ms. Jensen was the senior vice-president of surveillance and compliance at the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
The OSC’s vice-chair, Grant Vingoe, will assume the role of acting chair on April 15 when Ms. Jensen steps down, Mr. Phillips said.
With reports from Andrew Willis and Laura Stone
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said the Ontario government was unaware of Maureen Jensen's plan to resign as chair of the Ontario Securities Commission until she announced her departure Tuesday. In fact, Ms. Jensen had notified Finance Minister Rod Phillips in advance.
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