Why would Liberals oppose a single securities regulator?

A classic way to sum up the historic Liberal brand strength in federal politics is that voters have tended to turn to the party when the ballot question is something along the lines of, ‘Who speaks for Canada?’

That latent advantage might seem greater than ever when the Liberals’ main adversary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is dogged by a personal history of showing more passion for respecting provincial purviews than building national institutions.

So why would the Liberals put themselves on the wrong side of the no-brainer debate over setting up a national securities regulator? Is there a more obvious example of a policy issue on which Ottawa should use its clout to rid Canada of economic balkanization?

Yet there was Liberal MP Denis Coderre, in Question Period today, lashing out at the government over its plan to act on the sensible recommendation of the Tom Hockin panel, delivered earlier this month, to set up a national stock market regulator.

Previously, Liberals had hedged their bets on the issue, saying they liked the idea, but thought provinces shouldn’t be forced to go along with it. In fact, the Tories pledge to make participation voluntary. That didn’t stop Coderre, though, from asserting that the plan tramples anyway on provincial jurisdiction.

How? Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba, the provinces that don’t like the concept, will apparently be free to maintain their separate regulatory regimes.  Unless, that is, their real concern is that once a national regulatory body comes into existence, the new system will be so appealing, to companies and investors alike, that stubbornly remaining outside it will soon become a practical impossibility.

Whatever the nuances of the debate, it seems strange that Michael Ignatieff would want to start off as Liberal leader defending status quo divisions in the Canadian economy, rather than backing what looks plainly like a step toward greater national unity. And isn’t national unity an indispensable value for the Liberal brand he is trying to rejuvenate?