Timing, in the acting business, means everything. So it is by remarkable coincidence that Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre is mounting playwright Mark Leiren-Young’s musical about the Vancouver Stock Exchange and its most flamboyant promoter, the late Murray Pezim. Easy Money is set to debut in early May, right on the heels of last week’s announcement about details of the merger between the VSE and the Alberta Stock Exchange. A play about Pezim, a man who relished excess, vacillated between riches and ruin and drew the world’s attention to the VSE through his promotion of the rich Hemlo gold discovery, could not be more timely.
In a rehearsal hall on Granville Island, three actors are learning the lines of a scene where Pezim thumbs his nose at staid Toronto and decides in the late 1960s to shift his business to the wild and woolly VSE. “Who needs Toronto and who needs Bay?” The actors sing. In real life, the restructuring of Canada’s stock exchanges will see most of the junior company listings leaving Toronto for the new, as yet unnamed, merged VSE-ASE.
The new national junior exchange will include the Canadian Dealing Network, owned by the Toronto Stock Exchange. In addition, junior listings will be gleaned from the Montreal Stock Exchange, and possibly the small Winnipeg Stock Exchange.
The boards of the VSE and the ASE jointly issued recommendations last week on the structure and breakdown of responsibilities at the new western-based exchange. Member firms still have to ratify the proposed changes, and are expected to do so by the end of June. But Calgarians, who were ardent about wanting the headquarters of the new junior exchange, have had their wish partially granted—they will get
the corporate office, responsible for planning, corporate finance and overseeing regional offices in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. Mayor Al Duerr notes Calgary has the second-largest concentration of corporate headquarters in Canada. “So,” he says, “there are logical reasons to locate the corporate office here.”
Vancouver will have responsibilities for the trading operations, including compli-
ance. “Certainly it implies a compromise where neither city can claim to have the head office,” says Tony Hepburn, president of Odium Brown Ltd., a Vancouver investment house. John Woods, editor of the Vancouver-based Canada Stockwatch, which tracks listed companies, says it is going to be hard to figure out where the power in the exchange really lies. “I don’t know who they are trying to keep happy,” Woods says, “but they definitely have their feet on both sides of the creek.” Technicalities like the location
of the head office, however, have remained a matter of supreme indifference to most of the Vancouver business community. “It’s all cyber-technology anyway,” says Peter Brown, chairman of Canaccord Capital Corp. and the most powerful broker in Vancouver. “I could be trading stocks from my bathtub in Alaska.”
The new junior market, which will complement a senior equity exchange in Toronto and a derivatives market in Montreal, is expected to begin operations later this year following regulatory approval. All is on schedule, reports ASE president Tom Cumming. While Toronto’s Bay Street reeled last week at the abrupt resignation of TSE president Roland Fleming, Cumming said neither that development nor the public hearings the Quebec Securities Commission announced for the proposed changes to the MSE will alter plans in the west. “There are only 140 or 150 junior listings on the Montreal exchange and if they want to keep those,” he said, “it won’t slow us down.”
Details about who will be at the helm of the new exchange are unclear—both Cumming and VSE president Michael Johnson will act as co-chief executive officers until a new president is appointed. Cumming, however, does not shy from expressing interest in the job: “I’d very much enjoy it.” Johnson is apparently keen, too, although he has not commented, remaining shuttered in his Granville Street office, avoiding media interviews and press conferences.
In Vancouver, it has been members of the VSE board of governors who have been doing the talking about the new exchange. They hope it will provide competition for the Washington-based Nasdaq, which over the past few years has been luring away a lot of Canadian junior companies. “If we have a fair, well-regulated market with known standards, then more Canadian companies will be attracted to us,” says VSE board chair, Roslyn Kunin. Board members hope that Calgary’s expertise in oil and gas and Vancouver’s understanding of the mining business will strengthen the new exchange. And, they emphasize, this is not a regional exchange, but one that will operate nationally. ‘We had to take off our British Columbia and Alberta hats and start thinking about the country as a whole,” says Norman Thompson Jr., president of Union Securities Ltd. of Vancouver. We were getting decimated globally.”
Still, the more sentimental VSE watchers feel wistful about the end of the 92-year-old Vancouver exchange, despite the scandalous reputation it never could quite shed. That sense of nostalgia is echoed in the subtitle of Leiren-Young’s play: The Biz, The Pez and the V.S.E. (R.I.P!). No doubt, Murray Pezim would have a few things to say about what is happening to his beloved VSE. One can almost hear the wisecracks rumbling from his grave. □
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