Is MP Maxime Bernier the last small-c conservative in Stephen Harper’s caucus loyal to the principle of provincial autonomy that guided the Fathers of Confederation?
The question becomes more and more relevant these days considering the federal government’s intention to go ahead with the creation of the National Securities Commission, a new regulatory body.
Finance department bureaucrats in Ottawa have tried for years to take over the jurisdiction of stock-market regulations given to the provinces by our constitution. They have convinced the minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, to draft a bill creating a national securities regulator that they will present to the Supreme Court for validation.
The provinces have been responsible for some of these rules, and these rules have stood us in good stead so far. A council of all the provinces but Ontario harmonizes securities regulations and co-ordinates a passport system that maintains a certain level of uniformity and transferability.
In these recent times of economic crisis, Canadians take great pride in the regulations of the markets and banks, which have kept the country away from the financial troubles that have shaken down Europe and the United States. Compared with its neighbours, Canadian capital markets managed without any severe damage.
Many provinces disagree with the current federal Conservatives’ Trudeauism in this matter of securities regulation. Alberta treasurer Ted Morton and Quebec’s finance minister, Raymond Bachand, are leading the charge to keep the system decentralized and competitive.
Last week, Maxime Bernier joined them by writing an op-ed to reiterate his belief that securities regulation is a provincial responsibility. He even gave some advice to the two provinces that will defend their rights before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court will hear the case next April and it will decide whether the current bill drafted by Ottawa is constitutional. Flaherty’s bureaucrats will argue that we’d better eliminate the competition between the provinces to create an “Ottawa knows best” monopoly.
Bernier reminds Alberta and Quebec that they will need to challenge more than the pure respect of specific articles of the 1867 Constitution Act to win their case. The federal government is trying to show that the new reality of securities trade is more and more inter-provincial or even international, so federal supervision is in the national interest. Bernier rightly points out securities trade has always been inter-provincial and international, even in pre-Confederation times.
While Harper is making speeches in Quebec this week to take credit for the cooling of separatist sentiment, his finance minister is fuelling separatist feeling through a major federal invasion in a provincial jurisdiction. What’s more, he has succeeded in the rare feat of uniting politicians of all stripes and the business community against him.
Flaherty goes even further from the party line by pushing for legislation to modify the rules that have worked so far just when Conservatives are launching their ad campaign to convince us they represent the economic stability Canadians need.
If Flaherty wants to be a consistent conservative and help those who will run under the same banner as him in the next election, he better calm down his bureaucrats’ appetite for more power, stop behaving like an Ontario-centrist and, in short, scrap the Canadian Securities Act.
— Duhaime is a freelance writer