Maureen Jensen is resigning as chair and chief executive officer of the Ontario Securities Commission after four years at the helm.
Staff of Canada’s largest securities regulator received the news of her pending departure, which will take effect April 15 — ten months before her term is scheduled to end — in a memo Tuesday morning.
OSC vice-chair Grant Vingoe will take over as acting chair while a search is undertaken for Jensen’s replacement.
In the memo, Jensen, 63, said she has thought “long and hard” about the decision to step aside, and that she had informed Ontario’s finance minister, to whom she reports, of the move on Monday.
The first woman to lead the powerful commission, Jensen was a fierce advocate for investor protection, a stance that appeared at times to put her at odds with her counterparts in other provinces and the policies of the Ontario government itself, which has the power to reject OSC rules or send them back for reconsideration.
In September 2018, shortly after the OSC and Canada’s 12 other provincial and territorial securities regulators sought public comment on a proposal to ban certain mutual fund fees, then-Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli issued a statement saying his government did “not agree with this proposal as currently drafted.”
Fedeli’s move was a rare instance of a government openly disagreeing with the direction of the province’s top securities watchdog, and came as Doug Ford’s Conservatives took a more active position on OSC matters, something that came as a surprise to longtime industry players.
Sources suggested the provincial government’s keen interest in the OSC’s activities would have made the job more difficult for Jensen, who had publicly pushed very hard for investor protection reforms, such as the fee ban and adopting rules that would force financial advisors to put the interests of their retail clients ahead of their own and their firm’s.
In the latter case, she also faced pushback from regulators in other provinces, which led to watered down “targeted” reforms to manage conflicts of interest inherent in the advisor-client relationship.
Two key commissioner appointments last February added grist to the mill for those who worried the Ford government planned to establish a firmer hand on the way the OSC conducted its business.
Mary Anne De Monte-Whelan and Heather Zordel, both highly qualified corporate finance professionals, also had ties to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.
A few months later, in its spring budget, the Ford government introduced a five-point plan with a goal of “creating confidence” in Ontario’s capital markets. The province’s “open for business” plan included setting up a new Office of Economic Growth and Innovation inside the OSC, and requiring the market watchdog to bolster the economic justification for the rules it makes.
Jensen, who declined an interview request Tuesday, appeared to embrace some of the government-backed initiatives. Under her leadership, the OSC established a burden-reduction task force and announced a series of reforms in November that will save market participants millions of dollars.
But one former regulator told the Financial Post earlier they were surprised Jensen did not leave the commission at the first sign of public disagreement between the government and the regulator. Industry players say the last time they could recall such a disagreement was more than a decade and a half ago, and involved over-the-counter derivatives and the use of advisor titles.
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Ken Kivenko, a longtime investor protection advocate who was at one time a member of the OSC’s Investor Advisory Panel, blamed “political interference” for the regulator’s failure to join the other provincial and territorial capital markets watchdogs in the country in banning sales commissions for mutual funds that carry a deferred sales charge option.
He called the departure from what was otherwise a unanimous ban announced in December a “huge loss for investor protection in Canada” and credited Jensen for a series of achievements as chair, including an “empowered, effective” Investor Advisory Panel and a paid whistleblower program.
A statement issued by the OSC on Tuesday announcing Jensen’s departure showed no signs of strain with the provincial government. In it, Jensen thanked current finance minister Rod Phillips along with members of the commission and OSC staff for their “confidence in her leadership and for their dedication to the important mandate of the OSC.”
She said it had been an honour to serve Ontario investors and market participants over the past nine years at the OSC, nearly four of them as chair, calling the role “the most meaningful” of her career.
In a statement from the Ministry of Finance, Phillips thanked Jensen for her service.
“Ms. Jensen’s commitment to public service and contributions to the OSC have successfully positioned Ontario to continue to grow as one of the world’s leading capital markets,” he said in the statement.
“Her focus on greater gender diversity on boards has seen the number of women on boards increase during her time as Chair.”
A trained geologist, Jensen had previously worked as executives director of the commission under former chair Howard Wetston. Before that, she was senior vice-president of surveillance and compliance at the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
When she was appointed chair of the OSC in 2016 by the previous Liberal government in Ontario, Jensen was singled out for her work in implementing the province’s new “comply or explain” disclosure regime to promote increased representation of women on boards of directors and in executive officer positions. At the OSC, she also took the lead on files including a “mystery shop” to assess advice provided to retail investors by advisors across the country, and waded into a contentious overhaul of the regulator’s fee structure.
Jensen’s initial mandate as chair was renewed in 2017, and she was expected to remain in the role until February of 2021.