Canada Keystone Pitchman Oliver Is Canada Finance Chief

Joe Oliver, the former investment banker who has been Canada’s main spokesman on the Keystone XL pipeline, is replacing Jim Flaherty as finance minister, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today.

Oliver “will continue to strengthen the economy & balance the budget by 2015,” Harper said in a posting on his Twitter account. Flaherty stepped down yesterday after almost eight years in the post to seek work in the private sector.

Oliver, 73, is a native of Montreal with a law degree from McGill University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch and Bank of Montreal, and served as executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission.

The government is trying to send a message of “stability” to financial markets by appointing Oliver, said Yaroslav Baran, a former Harper government official who’s now a principal at lobbying and communications firm Earnscliffe Strategy Group. “This will be a sigh of relief for Bay Street,” said Baran, referring to the hub of Canada’s financial industry.

“Given his age, he won’t have his own agenda to realize through the finance portfolio,” he said, adding Oliver probably doesn’t have aspirations to succeed Harper as party leader.

Oliver has been a vocal advocate for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would transport crude from Canada’s oil sands to refiners along the Gulf Coast. In a March 12 speech in New York, he called Canada a “21st century energy superpower” that is “unmatched in reliability, responsibility and potential.”

Resource Potential

Unlocking the nation’s resource potential “can have an enormously positive impact on living standards” in the world’s 11th-largest economy, he said.

“I really believe the things we’re looking at now are pivotal to our economic future,” Oliver said in a March 14 interview in Toronto. “That’s a really important mission to be involved in.”

He was appointed natural resources minister in 2011 after being elected for the first time in the Toronto district of Eglinton-Lawrence. Greg Rickford, the former Science and Technology Minister, replaces Oliver in the Natural Resources portfolio.

Oliver inherits a budget that is forecast to swing to surplus in the fiscal year starting April 2015. “There are still some big decisions to be taken,” said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, in a phone interview yesterday. “Particularly, the government has promised to cut taxes next year.”

Oliver will be a “fine choice” as finance minister, Jim Prentice, vice chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and former industry minister under Harper, said in an interview with the CTV News Network. “Mr. Oliver is respected on Bay Street, he’s respected as a minister.”

Oliver has also been chief executive officer of the Canadian Investment Dealers Association of Canada, an industry group.