Predictions had barely been tabled for who would replace Jim Flaherty as finance minister before it was announced late Tuesday that his successor would be Joe Oliver, the federal government’s (now former) natural resources minister.
Oliver is a relatively new MP, having only been elected in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding in 2011, but he’s quickly become a prominent member of the Conservative caucus due to the high profile of the natural resources portfolio. For a few years now he’s been a go-to talking head from the government for the Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and now Energy East pipelines, which have received no shortage of media coverage. Oliver’s personality also contrasts with Jim Flaherty, with a slightly more combative reputation than the former finance minister. This clip from CBC’s Power & Politics gets fairly heated, at least by the standards of Canadian politics (skip to around 6:30 in the video):
While the pipelines have become intertwined with the Conservatives’ “Economic Action Plan” (their branding of the federal budget), Oliver’s natural resources file isn’t the only thing that makes him suitable for the position of finance minister. He’s also spent several decades of his life working as a Bay Street investment banker, getting a notable start with Merrill Lynch. Oliver also has an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Harvard.
During his years on Bay Street Oliver became CEO of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, and the executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC). In 2006, when he was president of the IDA of Canada, he took part in the OSC’s creation of a Joint Securities Intelligence Unit, which works with the RCMP to detect securities fraud.
Oliver’s priorities seem most closely aligned with predecessor Flaherty in the area of securities regulation. The former finance minister made clear, particularly near the end of his time in parliament, that a national Canadian securities regulator is badly needed to combat financial crimes. Oliver has expressed a similar sentiment. Back in 2008, when he made his first (unsucessful) bid for a spot in parliament, he gave an interview to Investment Executive, which noted his wish to work with Flaherty on unifying the provincial securities regulators:
If the Conservatives — and Oliver — win, he hopes to assist incumbent Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in creating the highly debated national securities regulator, which will unify all the securities commissions across the country.
Regulatory improvement in general seems to have been a primary interest of Oliver’s for the past several years. In 2002, while still president and CEO of the IDA, Oliver gave a speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in which he praised the American Sarbanes-Oxley Act (commonly referred to as SOX), which put in place a sweeping set of regulations for securities markets in the U.S. SOX came in the wake of several corporate malfeasance disasters, including the demise of Enron. Oliver and the IDA recommended at the time that Canada should adopt SOX for companies interlisted on the TSX and a U.S. stock exchange, or develop a set of rules that would incorporate SOX into Canada’s regulatory system.
As for the Canadian companies operating primarily on the TSX, however, Oliver advocated for a set of “Made-in-Canada” improvements to the country’s securities regime in order to avoid burdening small and medium companies with “excessive regulation.” He presented the IDA’s recommendations that same year to the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Included in the IDA’s proposal was a requirement for CEOs and CFOs to personally sign off on company financial statements, and “increase the penalties of criminal liability and obstruction of justice” for securities fraud.
Oliver has also been involved with two prominent international securities organizations. He’s been on an advisory committee for the International Council of Securities Associations, and has chaired the Consultative Committee of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO). The ICSA is made up of 17 member organizations that make regular recommendations about the global marketplace to a number of prominent economic bodies, such as the OECD. IOSCO’s membership, meanwhile, accounts for the regulation of about 95% of the world’s securities markets, according to its website.