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Former Toronto Stock Exchange senior executive Kevan Cowan has been named the new head of Canada’s national securities regulator.Philip Cheung/The Globe and Mail

Former Toronto Stock Exchange senior executive Kevan Cowan has been named the new head of Canada's nascent national securities regulator, helping bridge a regional gap between Ontario and British Columbia with his background overseeing the TSX Venture Exchange in Western Canada.

Mr. Cowan's appointment is a sign of progress in the long-delayed project to create a new joint securities regulator in Canada for provinces that choose to participate. Six provinces and territories, including Ontario and British Columbia, have so far signed on to work with the federal government to create the new Capital Markets Regulatory Authority (CMRA), but progress has moved slowly on the new organization.

Provincial ministers in July announced a revised launch date of 2018 for the new body, but many in the regulatory community considered the time frame optimistic because progress has moved slowly.

Mr. Cowan, however, said he plans to ramp up work quickly and is "really optimistic" the new regulator will become a reality, saying he is still targeting a 2018 launch.

"For me this is a historic opportunity after many years and decades of people talking about this," he said in an interview Thursday. "We finally have the proper foundation to build this going forward ....We now have all of the tools and the foundation to do this, and this is happening."

Until the authority is launched and Mr. Cowan moves into the top role as chief regulator, he will serve as the chief executive officer of the Capital Markets Authority Implementation Organization (CMAIO), which is the body appointed to set up and staff the new regulator. He will start the job Monday.

Mr. Cowan spent 18 years at TMX Group Ltd., parent of the Toronto Stock Exchange, rising to the No. 2 position of president of TSX markets and group head of equities, where he oversaw the exchange's core businesses including the TSX, the TSX Venture Exchange and other alternative trading platforms.

Earlier in his career, he was based in Calgary as president of TSX Venture Exchange. Mr. Cowan resigned from the TMX in 2015, not long after the exchange hired Lou Eccleston as its new CEO, saying he wanted to pursue other opportunities.

His background helps the organizers of the CMRA manoeuvre regional concerns about appointing a Toronto-based executive to head the new organization who may not understand regional differences, particularly the demands of small companies listed on the TSX Venture Exchange.

CMRA board chair Bill Black said in a statement that Mr. Cowan's venture capital work in Western Canada combined with his experience at a national level "gives him a board understanding of Canada's capital markets, including small and medium-sized businesses."

Mr. Cowan said he has spent a lot of time in the west and knows many market participants in the region and understands their needs.

"This is very much about a common regulator where all the pieces come together in a greater whole," he said.

Securities lawyer Larry Ritchie, a former vice-chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, said Mr. Cowan's appointment should assure participants in the capital markets that the new regulator will be "flexible and responsive" to different regions and investor concerns.

"His background and knowledge of the venture sector in particular will be a tremendous value, better ensuring that a one-size-fits-all regulator approach will be avoided," Mr. Ritchie said Thursday.

While Mr. Cowan's background at TMX included a focus on commercial business development, he said he also oversaw the regulatory and policy issues facing the exchange, including compliance rules for listed companies. As a result, he said he is familiar with the constant tension between protecting investors while creating open access to capital.

"It's something I've been living and breathing for most of my career," he said.

The new regulatory body has not revealed what roles will be played by current executives of Canada's largest securities commissions, including Ontario Securities Commission chair Maureen Jensen.

The CMAIO said Thursday it will "shortly" select a "nationally regionally diverse executive management team" from participating regulators.

Mr. Cowan said existing commissions "are filled with talented, dedicated, committed, experienced people" but he would not comment on the future roles for existing securities commission chairs such as Ms. Jensen.