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Illustration of Mark Carney, Bank of Canada Governor and chairman of Financial Stability Board. (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)
Illustration of Mark Carney, Bank of Canada Governor and chairman of Financial Stability Board. (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Mark Carney: A common touch, an uncommon task Add to ...

On the eve of the G20 summit in France, he backed the Greek government’s stunning call for a referendum on whether to accept a bailout plan on offer from its partners in the euro zone, implicitly telling markets that the people who feel the most pain from the austerity measures governments take to satisfy bondholders ought to have a say. A couple of weeks earlier, he raised eyebrows when he called the Occupy Wall Street movement an “entirely constructive” response to rising inequality in U.S. society.

“It’s very important [that]people understand the broader economic forces, and what realistic time frames there are for these forces to play out,” he tells me. “Unfortunately, in some countries, the range of policy options they have, given those broader forces and given their starting position, are pretty limited, and it’s a question of choosing the least bad option in the end. But that should take place in as informed a way as possible.”

His strong belief that the public must understand and support steps that their elected leaders take to right the global economy, combined with a steadily growing public profile, have provoked whispers in Ottawa that the next logical realm for Mr. Carney’s career might be politics.

There is no indication he entertains thoughts of a political career down the road and, even if he did, he couldn’t say so. The role of central banker is independent from the political process but, especially in times like these, people need to be sure the Governor and the government he serves are on the same page. Still, some commentators have hailed him as a rare truth-teller in Ottawa, unafraid to speak in unvarnished terms during an era dominated by spin and message control.

Yet, on questions about his long-term ambitions, he has mastered the art – crucial to the job – of keeping certain cards close to his chest. For policy, that means being clear about economic conditions and trends, but refusing to spell out exactly where interest rates are headed. Personally, that means insisting that Mark Carney, whose first terms at both the central bank and the FSB end about three years from now, is just too busy to think about what might come next.

“I don’t have a lot of time to think about anything else, other than doing what I’m doing,” he says. When I press him again on why it was so important for an already stretched man to take on the FSB post, he gives a response that sounds as genuine as it does political, repeating his strong belief that policy can make a difference, that the changes he is seeking are right and have public support, and that there’s a limited window to achieve them.

“There is a limit, obviously, to what any one individual can do,” he says. “But if you care about this stuff, and you have an opportunity to influence things, you’d be crazy not to. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to try my best.”

CURRICULUM VITAE

BEGINNINGS

Born in 1965 in Fort Smith, NWT; grew up in Edmonton.

Earned an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a doctorate in economics at Oxford.

HOME LIFE

Lives in Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood.

Married to Diana, a British-born economist.

Has four daughters (aged 5, 7, 9 and 11)

PASSIONS

Running, tennis, hockey. (Played backup net at Harvard; plays pickup when he can.)

Describes his musical tastes as “eclectic.” Latest favourite is Canadian rap-rock group Down With Webster, who he caught “by accident” after seeing another band at a concert venue.

CAREER

Thirteen years with investment bank Goldman Sachs & Co., in London, Tokyo, New York and Toronto.

Started his public service career in 2003 as one of five deputy governors at the Bank of Canada, under former Governor David Dodge.

From 2004-2007 was the Finance Department's point man at meetings of the Group of Seven club of rich economies.

Appointed Bank of Canada Governor in 2008.

Named chairman of the Financial Stability Board in 2011.

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Follow on Twitter: @jeremytorobin

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