Joe Oliver had been a member of Parliament less than five years when Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week asked him to step into the place of retiring finance minister Jim Flaherty. After a career in investment banking and securities regulation, Mr. Oliver entered Parliament in 2011 as a kind of retirement project.
In five years, however, he has covered a lot of ground, picked up some political scars and made a name for himself in the Conservative party and in the country. As minister of Natural Resources, he has been leading the fight for the government's favourite pipeline projects over opposition in the U.S. and British Columbia. He moves on to Finance before winning approval for those projects, but he has acquired precious experience in Canada-U.S. relations and in dealing with environmental movements and Canada's First Nations.
As a law graduate from McGill and a business graduate from Harvard, Mr. Oliver is exceptionally well-qualified for the Finance portfolio. He is already well known among bankers and investment managers from his years as executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and his further years as chief executive of the Investment Dealers' Association of Canada. A finance minister must occasionally lay down the law to the money managers of Bay Street. Mr. Oliver knows in great detail how they conduct their business and where the bodies are buried.
He has not yet shown the confidence and easy rapport with Parliament and the public that helped make Jim Flaherty a success at Finance. Mr. Flaherty did the heavy lifting to bring the federal budget back close to balance, but national regulation of securities trading remains unfinished business. Mr. Flaherty clearly recognized the inefficiency of Canada's network of provincial securities commissions and made a good case for pooling of powers and efforts to create a single national structure comparable to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority. He was never able, however, to bring this reform to the top of the national agenda.
From his years of riding herd on investment dealers, Mr. Oliver knows more than most people how badly Canada needs a modern, efficient financial regulatory agency. If he makes that a top priority and persists against provincial obstruction, Canadians will thank him for improving the investment climate, protecting the savings of the public and rescuing the country from the horse-and-buggy era of securities regulation.