TORONTO (Reuters) - An energy official and former federal judge is set to be the next head of Canada's largest securities commission, with the mandate to help create a national regulator that may make his job irrelevant.
Howard Wetston, named on Wednesday to head the Ontario Securities Commission, was vice-chair of the organization from 1999-2003 and is a former director of the federal competition bureau. He currently heads the Ontario Energy Board, which regulates electricity and natural gas.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who nominated Wetston, said Wetston will play a proactive role as Canada seeks to create a national securities regulator to succeed 13 separate provincial and territorial institutions.
"He's exactly the type of strong intellect, forceful personality who I believe is committed to a common securities regulator that we need to have there," Duncan told Reuters.
Ontario, home to Canada's main stock exchange and most of its financial sector, wants the new securities watchdog to be based in Toronto. But Alberta and Quebec, fearful of losing influence, are fighting the very concept of a national regulator with the Supreme Court of Canada.
"We also believe very strongly that (Wetston) will protect the interests of Ontario in the ongoing evolution of the common securities regulator that's under attack by Quebec and Alberta," said Duncan.
Wetston, 63, will replace David Wilson, whose five-year term expires this month.
"Howard knows the OSC, the quality of its people and its work as an effective securities regulator," Wilson said in a statement. "I offer my best wishes to him in the role of guiding the OSC through the immediate challenges of regulating the province's capital markets."
Ontario has been criticized for having a diminished voice in national securities policy over the last 20 years and observers said Wetston could change that.
"He has views and is not afraid to express them... He's open and he listens to reason and he works well with people," said Paul Moore, a securities lawyer who served alongside Wetston at the OSC.
The nomination, reported by Reuters on Tuesday, is subject to review of Ontario's standing committee on government agencies, which will vote on the new appointment within weeks.
"It's interesting because part of the speculation was that the appointment would be a transitional appointment in view of Ontario's commitment to the creation of a national regulator, and Howard does not appear to be that kind of appointment," said securities lawyer Philip Anisman.
Asked if Wetston could later lead a new national body, Duncan said this was possible. "By leading the OSC, you're the regulator for the vast majority of financial markets in Canada, so the next step to being the common securities regulator for Canada is not inconsistent," he said.
Doug Hyndman, former chair of the British Columbia Securities Commission who heads the transition team for a national regulator, said he had worked with Wetston in the past and was looking forward to working with him again.
And continuing the chorus of support, Poonam Puri, an associate professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School described Wetston as an excellent choice.
"He's extremely well regarded and he'll bring tremendous experience and good judgment to the position," she said.
Editing by Janet Guttsman