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Don Drummond by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Don Drummond by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Don Drummond: Taking a bite out of debt Add to ...

“It’s not just a question of taking money out for a few years and then life’s good, as it was in the 1990s,” he says. “It’s there forever, and yet you still have to operate quality services.”

Adding to the challenge, he says, is that during the Mike Harris and Ernie Eves eras, Ontario’s public service was rarely “asked to flex its analytical muscles,” causing them to atrophy. As an aside, he warns a similar phenomenon is occurring in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa and says the federal Conservatives would be wise to study Ontario’s experience. “The process of re-building that capacity is under way, but it is a long haul,” he says.

He is careful to note that Ontario isn’t on the proverbial burning platform just yet. Still, he argues that what is now a controllable situation could spin out of reach quickly without his changes. (The province’s deficit could balloon to $30.2-billion by 2017, he says, and its debt load, already worth 35 per cent of annual economic output, could soar to 51 per cent.) “Look at all the European basket cases and when they were last at 35 per cent,” he says. “Greece was the earliest (in 1984), but most of the others were in the late 1990s or the early 2000s. They got their problem basically over the last 10 years, but they just let it go off the rails.”

Throughout the media blitz that followed the report’s release, Mr. Drummond was asked what he thought of a comment from Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who said he will work in the coming weeks to figure out which parts of the report should go in his budget next month – while pointedly noting that it is not Mr. Drummond who will live with the political consequences.

“There is a finite set of possibilities for getting the province back to a balanced budget in a reasonable time period,” Mr. Drummond told me when I caught up with him on Thursday morning. “We picked 362, there’s many other variations. But as you reject some of the 362, they have to be replaced by something else.”

With what he has called a dream assignment now over, Mr. Drummond, 58, gets another shot at renewing his “12-year odyssey” to find a more relaxed existence. He thought he had done this when he left Finance for TD, to no avail. “If anything, I worked even harder,” he says. “I didn’t need to, I just got carried away.”

The plan is to spend more time on his teaching duties at Queen’s University, where he has held a fellowship since leaving TD in 2010. Also, soon he will hear back on funding for an ambitious research proposal to try and get to the bottom of why Canada’s productivity growth is so tepid.

The McGuinty Liberals, meanwhile, were always expected to move swiftly to quash the sense they had contracted out their budget process to Mr. Drummond, to the tune of $1,500 a day. (Mr. Drummond, it should be noted, argues his compensation was a steal, and says he billed just over 50 days despite having worked closer to 100.) In fact, he tells me, the Liberals asked him to talk about the report for 36 hours, and then leave the sales job to them. But in our follow-up chat, while relieved to be through most of the post-release interviews and generally pleased with how the report was received, he didn’t sound like someone eager to happily ride off into the sunset.

“My title at Queen’s is actually ‘Fellow in Global Public Policy,’ so, guess what? I get involved in public policy issues,” he says somewhat defiantly. “So, I’m not going to disappear.”

_____________________

CURRICULUM VITAE

BEGINNINGS

Born and raised in Victoria.

Earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, followed by a master’s in economics from Queen’s University in Kingston.

HOME LIFE

Lives in Rideau Forest, a semi-rural development of country estates near Manotick, Ont., an old mill town on the Rideau River just south of Ottawa.

Married for 30 years to Susane Latremouille, a former researcher at Industry Canada.

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Follow on Twitter: @jeremytorobin

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