Montreal's business community urged Finance Minister Joe Oliver on Wednesday to "reconsider" Ottawa's efforts to create a national securities regulator.
"All solutions that will be chosen must respect that willingness of Montreal and Quebec to develop their competencies to regulate financial markets," Board of Trade president Michel Leblanc said while introducing Oliver for his first speech in Quebec since his appointment a month ago.
He said the province's business community is deeply worried about any system — even voluntary — that would threaten its expertise and potentially cost jobs in the city's financial cluster.
Oliver didn't address the warning in his speech, which mainly highlighted the government's desire to balance the budget next year and help families by lowering their taxes.
Quebec voters made ‘clear decision’
The minister applauded the election of the Quebec Liberals, saying voters made a clear decision on their membership in the Canadian federation.
"I want to assure you that we will work constructively and enthusiastically with Premier (Philippe) Couillard," Oliver said.
"The opportunities are remarkable because Quebec has the elements necessary to know a new prosperity. In fact, I can already foresee the emergence of Quebec among the major economic powers in the country."
Oliver also said the government will further reduce the tax burden "on the heart and soul of our communities" when the budget is balanced in 2015.
Oliver hopes ‘voluntary’ approach will be adopted by all provinces
On Tuesday, the minister said the creation of a national securities regulator will be a priority for him after working for decades on this issue, including as executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and head of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.
Last fall, former finance minister Jim Flaherty and the governments of Ontario and British Columbia said they would establish a common regulator.
"I'm hoping that this voluntary, delegation-based approach will be adopted — that other provinces will join in, and we'll see that initiative go forward," Oliver said told reporters in Nova Scotia on Tuesday.
Quebec has objected to the replacement of the patchwork system of 13 provincial and territorial regulators.
‘It’s just words for now’
The province mounted a successful challenge to the Supreme Court, which ruled Ottawa could not unilaterally impose a new system.
Leblanc said when he discussed the issue with Oliver before his luncheon speech Wednesday, he got the feeling the minister was "sensitive" to the concerns about maintaining Montreal as a financial and derivatives hub in Canada.
"So we'll see, it's just words for now," he later told reporters.
Leblanc also urged the minister to strengthen venture capital in Canada by locating a fund of funds in Montreal.
"My sense is that the federal government has not yet found the way it wants to proceed with venture capital," he said.