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(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

WorldView

A chatty Mark Carney suddenly takes centre stage Add to ...

Central bankers are usually discreet in their utterances and Delphic in their pronouncements, for obvious reasons. One word out of place, and there’s a run on your currency.

So it took the world somewhat by surprise this weekend to hear Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of Canada, chewing up the Paris airwaves and news pages at a gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers.

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He didn’t just give a lot of interviews – he said the sort of things that central bankers don’t usually say. As a result, Mr. Carney became the leading voice of the G20 this weekend in Europe’s newspapers, on the airwaves of the United States and on Twitter.

On Friday, he set the tone of the G20 summit by telling the world that he fully endorsed the Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations and felt that economic inequality is out of control. His remarks, repeated widely on social-media outlets, crossed the boundary from financial media into the networks covering the protests.

He wasn’t the only financial guru to say this – the Financial Times gave the worldwide demonstrations a strong vote of support on Monday – but he was probably the only central banker to do so.

And then on Saturday, he told Europeans that the 440-billion euro bailout fund so painfully negotiated this month needs to be raised, immediately, to a trillion euros, as a shock program to stabilize the economy. Most economists agree that the fund needs to be at least a trillion – and in fact, many say it should be more like €2.3-trillion – but, again, this wasn’t being said by the guys who sign the money.

And finally, on Monday morning the Bank of Canada chief gave a detailed and much-quoted interview to the Paris daily Le Figaro, in which he called for a massive public-sector-supported injection of capital into all of Europe’s banks, to raise them to the sort of capitalization levels enjoyed by Canadian banks. For good measure, he repeated his trillion-euro bid.

“He’s saying the things about Europe that we Europeans can’t say about it to each other,” one senior staffer from France’s finance ministry said on Saturday.

It was the sort of candour and outspokenness that is usually reserved for campaigning politicians, not central bankers. And, in fact, that was no coincidence.

Mr. Carney was not just at the G20 as the voice of economic reason from one of the few G20 countries that managed to avoid the economic crisis. He is also in the running for leadership of the Financial Stability Board, one of those international bodies that serves as the plumbing of the global banking system. It’s a particularly important body nowadays, as it is overseeing a rather complete overhaul of international banking regulations – and, as such, is central to the world’s recovery from the crisis.

It’s not an elected job, and Mr. Carney, who is considered the front-runner for the title, is not officially campaigning. But he did somehow do an astonishing job of getting his name in the headlines at exactly the right moment, and showed himself to be the sort of shrewd and independent-minded character who would make a refreshing change in the stultifying world of European finance.

Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

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