Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


He wanted Toronto to work for everybody Add to ...

That need to get in, get out, and move on also made elected office problematic for him. He didn't want to be bogged down by the constraints - dealing with a fractious and lumpen council at City Hall, the incessant public and media scrutiny, adhering to the molasses-like pace of the committee structure, kowtowing to ministerial authority, abiding by party loyalty in the provincial legislature and in Parliament.

Instead he had found a unique way to effect change by turning himself into what he called "a civic entrepreneur." He didn't invent that term, but he made it his own. "When I look back," he said, "I feel I have been able to achieve much more for our country and our city by working in this kind of civic entrepreneurial process. I have huge respect for politicians, but it feels to me that this is a very special role and that is the way that I want to be remembered."

David Pecaut was born in Sioux City Iowa in the mid-1950s, the eldest of four children of Richard (Dick) Pecaut and his wife Dorothy (née Kent). His father was a stockbroker who ran a small family-owned investment business; his mother was a homemaker and a volunteer who retrained in her 40s as a painter and eventually became a deacon in the Anglican Church. Both were articulate, intelligent and civic minded, and passed those traits on to their children.

After graduating from high school, David went to Harvard College, working summers in a gory meat packing plant. Compared to that, Harvard was like "a candy store." He wanted a liberal arts education and he got it big time, including studying under Mark Granovetter, the sociologist who developed a networking theory based on the "the strength of weak ties." Mr. Pecaut would later apply that theory - about how people who are not connected by blood or tradition can form powerful social and political alliances - to civic networking issues and causes.

From Harvard, he did an M.A. in philosophy and music at the University of Sussex in England and then moved to Toronto because he was dating a woman there. Everything about Toronto surprised and delighted him - the ravines, the ocean-sized lake, the multicultural population, the history -and the more he lived in the city, the better he liked its openness, its possibilities and its fluidity.

He got a job with Canada Consulting Group, the firm founded by Jim Coutts and management and governance guru David Beatty, and which had links with the global McKinsey consulting company. Five years later, Mr. Pecaut moved back to the U.S. to work with Ira Magaziner, in his consulting firm, Telesis, but he retained his ties with Canada Consulting, and kept crossing the border to work in Ontario for clients including David Peterson's Premier's Council.

That's how he met Helen Burstyn, a communications consultant and senior civil servant in the Ontario government and the mother of two young daughters. They married in 1990 and soon had two more daughters. For ever afterwards, Mr. Pecaut, who coached his youngest daughter's basketball team, delighted in referring to himself as a Martian on Venus because he was the lone male in a household of five women - and a succession of female dogs.

By 1993 he had merged Canada Consulting with The Boston Consulting Group, opening BCG's first Canadian office. He concentrated on e-commerce and intellectual property and built up the local and international practice while feeding his own growing interest in public policy.

He was beginning to attract the attention of Toronto figures such as Anne Golden, then head of the United Way, who, in 1995, tried to hire him to advise the Greater Toronto Task Force, which she also chaired, on an economic analysis of the 416 and 905 sectors.

After a lunch at Acqua in BCE Place, Mr. Pecaut agreed to take on the job, but only on a "pro bono" basis. Already, he knew that there were some projects, especially public policy ones, that he wanted to work on without the cash register ticking, partly because it gave him a freer hand and partly because he saw it as way of contributing to his adopted city.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @semartin71


In the know

Most popular videos »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular