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Long-struggling national securities regulator plows ahead, despite holdouts

Bill Black, chair of the board of the Capital Markets Regulatory Authority, says he aims to have a national securities regulator up and running with less fuss than market participants currently expect.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian politicians and business leaders have taken numerous high-profile runs at replacing 10 provincial securities commissions with a single national securities regulator. Each grand effort failed.

Retired insurance executive William Black plans to succeed where others have fallen short by launching what's known as the Capital Markets Regulatory Authority (CMRA) and working with those who buy into the case for a national regulator, rather than waiting for approval from every province. And there's every indication the inaugural CMRA chairman will get the job done, using a low-key approach and leadership lessons learned over three decades of knitting together corporate cultures.

While Mr. Black has been chairman of the CMRA for a year, the organization got rolling in late July, 2016, when the five provinces and one territory backing a national regulator named its 15-person board of directors. The group includes capital markets veterans from across the country, five of whom are women, and a few folks who hail from provinces that have not signed on to the concept of a national regulator.

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Nova Scotia is notable in its absence from the list of provinces supporting the CMRA. Mr. Black is from Halifax; he is the former CEO of Maritime Life. While Mr. Black declined comment on Nova Scotia's plans, or the strategy to bring additional provinces into the CMRA, the low-key approach to winning over reluctant premiers clearly includes sensitivity to regional representation.

"While we would be delighted if more provinces came on board, we can be effective and do a good job for Canadians as we stand today," said Mr. Black in an interview. Newfoundland, Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec are also holdouts.

While the federal government signed off on the CMRA board, there has been an intentional lack of comment on the initiative from Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Mr. Black said past experience showed that bombastic support for a national regulator from Ottawa "is not helpful. This is a provincial co-operative effort."

Job one for the new board is finding a full-time CEO for the CMRA; the official title for the position is chief regulator. The formal search starts this week, and Mr. Black, who is not in the running for the position, said the ideal candidate will likely be a lawyer, will certainly be an expert in securities regulation, but most importantly, will be an "inspiring leader who can create a common culture" across a brand-new organization.

These are skills Mr. Black honed while integrating four insurance company acquisitions into Maritime Life over his 34 years at the company. While previous champions of a national regulator have been lawyers and politicians, Mr. Black is an actuary by training, and an executive known for valuing results over process. When Mr. Black was appointed, Ian Russell, CEO of the Investment Industry Association of Canada, called him "an excellent choice. He is recognized as a proven leader in the business community."

Mr. Black said the long-term goals of the CMRA are to develop and administer a single set of regulations that protect investors, foster efficient capital markets, manage systemic risk, and also to give Canada a "substantive voice in international markets." Supporters of a national regulator say Canada's need for better representation in global securities regulation should prompt provincial leaders to back the CMRA.

"Canada needs to speak with one voice in the international financial community, so the work Bill Black is doing is extremely important," said Janet Ecker, CEO of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance and former Ontario minister of finance. She said behind the scenes, there is strong interest in the CMRA from provinces that have not signed on, and Mr. Black has an opportunity to create a national regulator structured to recognize regional politics with arrangements that "will only make sense to Canadians."

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Ms. Ecker pointed out over the past two years, historically hostile camps have found common ground in capital markets, with Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver financial services groups co-operating on international marketing campaigns. She said that the unified "Canada Brand" from the four major cities helped win recognition from Beijing that made Canada the first country in the Western hemisphere authorized to trade China's currency.

Mr. Black said low-hanging fruit for the CMRA when it comes to new regulations could include national standards on crowdfunding, cross-Canada registration for financial advisers that would make it easier for professionals or their clients to run their affairs across provincial borders and the creation of an "A-team" of securities experts who would be available to any region when a complex transaction unfolds, or a financial scandal is brewing.

The CMRA chairman is serving a three-year term, and when asked what success would look like when he completes the mandate, Mr. Black said his goals are simply to have the organization up and running with less fuss and greater efficiencies than market participants currently expect. It's a CEO's classic under promise and over deliver approach, and early indications are Mr. Black's strategy is just what is needed to forge a made-in-Canada national securities regulator.

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About the Author
Business Columnist

Andrew Willis is a business columnist for the Report on Business at The Globe and Mail, based in Toronto.He has been in business communications and journalism for three decades. More

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