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Alberta, Quebec urge slowdown of regulator change

Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton

Ian Jackson

The struggle to create a single national securities watchdog is already four decades old, but the plan's most vocal critics - Quebec and Alberta - insist the process is moving way too fast.

In a joint statement Monday, the Quebec and Alberta finance ministers called on their provincial and territorial counterparts to resist the formation of a transitional regulator until outstanding constitutional issues are settled in court.

Ottawa has been prodding governments to sign special agreements with its transitional team as well as commit personnel to the project by Sept. 30.

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"The deadline imposed by Ottawa is completely arbitrary and is just an attempt to put pressure on provinces and push its agenda in the face of mounting opposition," complained Ted Morton, Alberta's Minister of Finance and Enterprise.

Mr. Morton said other provinces share its view that a national securities regulator is a bad idea. But Alberta Finance spokesman Bart Johnson would not name them.

"They're trying to put the cart before the horse," Mr. Johnson said. "It's a big rush for nothing."

Chisholm Pothier, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's spokesman, said Ottawa is working with "participating provinces openly and fairly," but isn't forcing anyone to sign anything.

"Quebec and Alberta are misinformed. This is why it's better to be at the table than not," he said.

Manitoba has expressed reservations about the plan and New Brunswick is concerned about the potential loss of some 40 provincial jobs. Other opponents fear a loss of stature and influence over financial markets.

Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand complained that Ottawa will use the transitional agreements to sway the courts, which are slated to review whether Ottawa has the constitutional power to regulate the securities industry.

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"This is not a unitary state. It's a federation," Mr. Bachand said in an interview from Calgary. "This has been within provincial jurisdiction for 100 years and it's working well."

Quebec and Alberta are both appealing the federal move before the Quebec and Alberta courts of appeal. Ottawa is seeking a fast-track ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on whether it has the constitutional authority to set up a federal regulator. All three cases are expected to be heard early next year.

In a bid to bring wavering provinces on side, Ottawa said it would house the proposed Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority in a series of regional offices rather than consolidating the agency in Toronto - the heart of the country's financial industry.

Ottawa has long complained that the current regime is an international embarrassment. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has argued that a single regular would provide better protection for investors and cost less.

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