The federal government is close to signing up a third province for its voluntary national securities regulator, with Saskatchewan's government now "optimistic" that it can reach an agreement to join Ontario and British Columbia.
Late last year, when Jim Flaherty was still Finance Minister and pushing the idea, there was optimism in federal quarters that Saskatchewan was close to joining Ottawa's side.
The federal government in September unveiled a plan backed by Ontario and B.C. to create what it called a Cooperative Capital Markets Regulator (CCMR). And now, Saskatchewan is poised to become the next province, giving needed momentum to the project by adding a province that had long held a neutral stance regarding the idea.
"We are still working on it, and believe we will come to an agreement," Saskatchewan government spokeswoman Kathy Young said in response to questions, adding, "we are certainly optimistic."
Ms. Young declined to comment on why Saskatchewan had become more open to the idea of late.
Saskatchewan would be a big addition, despite the relatively small capital markets presence there. With Alberta and Quebec staunchly opposed to the national model, the government needs other provinces to start signing on. Given that the whole premise of the CCMR rests on momentum – once some provinces join, others will feel pressure to follow suit – keeping it rolling is key. Getting Premier Brad Wall's government on side would also provide a win for new Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who took over from the late Mr. Flaherty. Progress on that front could open the door to adding other provinces such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Melissa Lantsman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Oliver, noted that the finance minister has stated that the government is "working diligently with the provinces to complete a deal."
Saskatchewan has been courted by neighbouring Alberta in its attempts to oppose the idea of a national regulator. Alberta's argument at the time was that the two provinces' economies were quite similar, and therefore they should have a commission that reflected their needs. If Saskatchewan went with the national model, it would be a rebuke to the notion that a national setup couldn't work for such an economy.
Saskatchewan has local issues it wants to protect. There are only a handful of publicly traded companies there, but the province does have a labour-sponsored fund sector and will want to be satisfied that any handover of regulatory powers to a national body will not compromise what the province wants in that area. That also provides an opportunity for the backers of the CCMR to show that the plan can be sensitive to concerns in specific provinces.
Last week offered a bit of a false start on the file. Some expected that the government would unveil more details, but when the time came, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said only that there was progress "behind the scenes."
Just over a week ago, when the issue came up in committee meetings at the Saskatchewan Legislature, provincial justice minister Gordon Wyant said, "We still continue to have an open mind with respect to that. It would be fair to say that there continues to be a dialogue. We certainly have some interest." However, he balanced that by saying that the province is committed to the current "passport system" where provincial regulators have focused on harmonizing their rules and limiting duplication. He said that as of last week there had "certainly been no definitive decisions made whether we will or we will not participate."