It must be said that Dodge picks his spots: He declined to be interviewed for this story, saying through his assistant that he was too busy to commit to a lengthy interview.
One of the things he was doing was preparing the lecture he gave at Queen's University in Kingston on March 4, which happened to be the same day Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his 2010 budget. Undaunted by the possibility he might steal some of the Finance Minister's thunder, Dodge made fiscal policy the subject of his talk.
Without dramatic policy changes, both the federal and Ontario governments are at risk of being trapped in a cycle where their debt is rising faster than revenue, he said. That was not a new line for Dodge, but this time he offered suggestions on what could be done to get budgets back into surplus, some of them "radical," including restoring the Goods and Services Tax to 7% and allowing patients to pay private providers for health care.
"David has always been different," says John Curtis, a former government economist who has known Dodge since 1971. "David is an innovator. What he is doing now is his innovating."
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But the public square into which Dodge was so happy to wander as head of the central bank has become a much quieter place, and not only because Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuttered Parliament for much of the winter. To question government policy too vigorously or too loudly in Harper's Ottawa is to risk a rhetorical drive-by shooting by the Prime Minister's Office.
The government's response to whistle-blower Richard Colvin's revelation that Canadian soldiers transferred detainees to Afghanistan's military knowing they faced torture was to attack the diplomat's credibility. No apology came, even after the evidence grew so compelling that Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk conceded in December that abuse had occurred.
Linda Keen, whom Harper once labelled a Liberal partisan, was fired as head of the Nuclear Safety Commission in January, 2008, after she refused to back the reopening of a nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, because Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. had not performed required safety upgrades.
Nor are private citizens safe.
At a conference hosted by Toronto-Dominion Bank in Orlando on Feb. 4, chief executive officer Ed Clark said that he thought what the government "ought to be doing is now very quickly getting back and tightening fiscal conditions and eliminating that deficit." He also had a thought on how that could be done. "And frankly, it will astound you, but there's a group called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and we had a meeting two weeks ago, and almost every single person said raise my taxes, get this deficit done," he said.
The PMO responded by circulating an e-mail to Conservatives entitled "Millionaire Ignatieff Economic Czar Calls for Higher Taxes." The missive found its way into the Toronto Star and other newspapers. The title was apparently an allusion to a meeting Clark and others reportedly had last spring with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at Stornaway. The e-mail informed Conservatives that Clark "lectured Canadians from sunny Florida" and pointed out that he earned
$11 million in 2009. "He can afford higher taxes. Can you?" Scott Clark, a former deputy minister of finance who was also reported to be at that meeting with Ignatieff, was singled out for similar treatment.
All told, the PMO's tactics have created a chill in Ottawa that is quite distinct from the city's typically sodden winters.
Ignatieff told reporters in February that at least a few people had declined to attend the policy forums his party hosted while Parliament was out because they were afraid of running afoul of the PMO. John Manley, the Chrétien-era cabinet minister who chaired Harper's study on the Afghanistan war, says debate in the capital has become "so inanely partisan, it doesn't even pass for debate most of the time." Wendy Dobson, a former associate deputy minister at the Finance Department who is now a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, says the PMO appears to be operating with a "bunker mentality."
But Dodge can't be so easily dismissed as the people on the PMO's hit list.