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New CSA head warns of 'distractions' from national watchdog debate

In this 2005 file photo, Bill Rice, chair of the Alberta Securities Commission, is seen in his Calgary office.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The "distractions" caused by the controversy over the creation of a new national securities regulator should not be allowed to hinder new policy development at Canada's provincial securities commissions, says the new head of the umbrella organization of provincial regulators.

Bill Rice, who was named chairman Friday of the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), said he wants to ensure that the heads of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial securities commissions can keep making progress even as rhetoric heats up in the debate over a national securities commission.

"I recognize that because of the federal initiative there are distractions and there are some stresses and strains within the CSA that are going to need a little more work," he said in an interview.

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"That will be the challenge over the short term in making sure we all feel comfortable enough with each other and are prepared to rely on each other to the degree that we have in the past."

The CSA develops policies and harmonizes regulations among Canada's securities commissions. Many proposals for new securities regulation are negotiated through the CSA forum then implemented individually by each securities commission. The chairman of the CSA is chosen by member securities commissions from among the chairs of the provincial regulators.

Mr. Rice will head the CSA during a tumultuous period as the federal government moves toward the creation of a national securities regulator. At least three provinces have declared they will not join the national securities commission, and several others have publicly expressed reservations.

Mr. Rice is far from neutral in the debate himself. He has emerged as one of the strongest critics of the proposal, and has become the face of Alberta's opposition to the plan, providing two affidavits that the province has submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada that outline reasons for opposing the new regulator.

He argues that it should not be considered a surprise that he is taking the helm at the CSA because he is a passionate defender of the existing co-operative model of securities regulation in Canada.

"I believe in this system and I'm prepared to make this system work," he said. "I don't see any contradiction at all. It would be somewhat perverse if we had a leader of the organization that didn't very strongly believe in it."

While several groups - including the Canadian Bankers Association and the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance - have argued in submissions to the Supreme Court that the CSA model is slow and cumbersome and doesn't respond quickly enough to emerging issues, Mr. Rice says it has been highly effective and should be a point of pride for the country.

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"I think it's a structure that Canada should be bragging about, that you can take different regions and interests together and build a co-ordinated organization built on consensus, and be very efficient and effective at the job," he said.

Mr. Rice replaces Jean St-Gelais, who has been chairman of the CSA since 2005. Mr. St-Gelais was chief executive officer of the Quebec securities regulator - the Autorité des marchés financiers - but resigned in December when he was named deputy revenue minister in the Quebec government. He will head the province's tax-collecting agency.

Also Friday, Mr. Rice said he disagrees with remarks by Tom Hockin, Canada's representative to the International Monetary Fund, who said Thursday that the IMF and other international regulators want to see Canada adopt a single national securities regulator so it can respond nimbly to crises.

Mr. Rice said it is "a stretch" to believe international organizations have real concerns with Canada's securities regulatory regime, and said Canada has a strong reputation for regulation around the world.

"All of the evidence in the capital markets would suggest Canada is doing extremely well in attracting capital. I don't hear cost issues, I don't hear pricing problems, I don't hear any complaints about how our capital markets are functioning. In fact, it's absolutely to the contrary."

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Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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