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Grant Reuber, seen in a 1979 photo, had a connection to the University of Western Ontario for more than 70 years.The Globe and Mail

Grant Reuber, who died in Toronto on July 7 at the age of 90, was a leading Canadian economist with a career trajectory that saw him become a leader in academia, business and the public service. He built the economics department at the University of Western Ontario, was briefly Deputy Minister of Finance in the short-lived government of prime minister Joe Clark and as a banker rose to become president and chief operating officer at the Bank of Montreal.

Grant Louis Reuber was born on Nov. 23, 1927, in Mildmay, Ont. His father, Daniel, and mother, Gertrude, were the children of German immigrants; Grant was an only child who had no interest in farming. After high school, he went to the University of Western Ontario, where he flourished, earning an undergraduate degree in economics. He then went to Harvard, with a year in Cambridge in England. His doctorate in economics is from Harvard.

He then returned to Western, teaching economics and eventually heading the department. His colleagues say not only did he build the economics department by clever hires and lobbying for funding, but he was also a brilliant theoretical economist.

“As a scholar, Reuber was the first economist to explicitly use the inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation,” a release from the University of Western Ontario said. “As a result policymakers could no longer institute policies that lowered inflation without worrying about raising unemployment and vice versa.”

Mr. Reuber was the first dean of the Faculty of Social Science at the university, was vice-president and provost in 1974 and served as chancellor from 1988 to 1992. His connection with the university spanned more than 70 years.

His “stature in the history of our university is virtually unchallenged,” Western president Amit Chakma said in a statement. "No one has played so many important roles within the institution, in addition to distinguishing themselves in the civil service as well as the world of business.”

Mr. Reuber joined the Bank of Montreal as its chief economist in 1977. At the time, Canada, and the rest of the developed world, was transfixed by Stagflation, where economic growth was stagnant and inflation was high. Governments and banks seemed powerless to solve the problem. As an economist with an intimate knowledge of the issue, he was welcomed at the bank.

“Bill Mulholland [the Bank of Montreal chief executive] had quite a healthy regard for Grant,” said Richard O’Hagan, who had been Pierre Trudeau’s press secretary when the Liberal government brought in wage and price controls in a futile attempt to try and put a lid on inflation. Mr. O’Hagan became a senior vice-president at the bank in the 1970s and 80s.

Mr. Reuber was lured to Ottawa in the summer of 1979 as the deputy minister of finance under the short-lived Conservative government of Joe Clark. He helped prepare finance minister John Crosbie’s budget, whose theme was short-term pain for long-term gain. It was defeated in the House of Commons in December, 1979 (although the Liberals would bring in a similar budget under finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s).

Mr. Reuber was soon back at the Bank of Montreal, but as executive vice-president of the bank’s finance group. He was made deputy chairman of the bank in 1981 and president in 1983, adding the title of chief operating officer the following year. In 1987, he became deputy chairman again and stayed with the bank until 1992.

He was No. 2 for a long time, much of it under the CEO, Bill Mulholland, who was a tough, abrasive man originally from Morgan Stanley in New York. Mr. Mulholland would humiliate colleagues in public, as shown in the 1983 CBC/NFB TV documentary Prisoners of Debt: Inside the Global Banking Crisis. Mr. Reuber was tough, too, and could stand up to Mr. Mulholland. It was why he lasted so long in a bank that was in some turmoil at the time.

“It was unusual for an academic economist to go on to a successful bank career," said John Crow, former governor of the Bank of Canada and a friend of Mr. Reuber later in life.

“My father told me this period of his life really energized him. He was about 50 when he left Western. He said in Ottawa, and at the bank, he discovered administrative and managerial skills he didn’t know he had,” his daughter Barbara Reuber said.

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CDIC's Mr. Reuber, left, presents Jim Peterson, a federal minister at the time, with a cheque for $407,073,005 in final payment of its loans in this 1998 file photo.CANADIAN CORPORATE NEWS PHOTO

After he left the Bank of Montreal, Mr. Reuber became chairman of the CDIC, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation. Its main job is to cover depositors’ losses, up to a certain limit, if a financial institution goes under.

There were more than 30 failures of financial institutions in the eighties and nineties, including a 1994 collapse of Confederation Trust Co., which triggered claims of $680-million; the 1991 failure of Standard Trust Co., which produced $1.3-billion in claims; and a spate of high-profile bank and trust-company bankruptcies in the mid-eighties. The CDIC paid out billions of dollars.

Once in his new job, Mr. Reuber switched sides, and shocked the financial community by suggesting there should be limits on the total amount the CDIC paid out to each depositor. There was an existing limit of $60,000, but clever depositors could divide their money into several accounts and receive payment of up to $60,000 for each account.

According to a Globe and Mail article in 1993, “The former Bank of Montreal executive has strong views about the CDIC and how it operates.”

Trust companies in particular were aghast at the prospect of reducing coverage.

“I think the timing is dreadful. It’s a real tragedy,” said Rowland Fleming, then-CEO of National Trust.

The chairman of Municipal Trust called the plan "a code word for eliminating competition.”

That idea was never implemented; multiple accounts are still covered today (the maximum has risen to $100,000). But Mr. Reuber went on to radically overhaul the CDIC in other ways. Money drawn from the federal government had paid depositors at failed institutions. By July, 1998, the CDIC repaid $7.1-billion it owed Ottawa and Mr. Reuber presented a ceremonial cheque of $407-million to the government. Because of all the failures, the CDIC had not been debt-free since 1984.

“For the first time in a long time, the CDIC is now free of all its debts,” Mr. Reuber said at the time. The following year, the CDIC started charging financial institutions premiums based on each institution’s creditworthiness.

During his long retirement, Mr. Reuber led an interesting life, travelling, in particular to the south of France during Canada’s colder months, and organizing a regular meeting of Canadian economists to discuss the policy problems of the day. He collected art and had an extensive garden at his house on a double lot near Toronto’s Casa Loma; he had his home restored and maintained to a demanding standard.

He helped organize the Loran scholarship, awarded to a well-rounded student. Mr. Reuber chaired the jury of the Donner Prize for books on public policy from 1998 to 2008. He was also president of the York Club in midtown Toronto, where he was responsible for allowing women in as members.

When Mr. Reuber was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1986, he was hailed as “a respected economist, university administrator, public policy strategist and leader of the business community.”

Mr. Reuber’s wife, Peggy, died in 1998. He leaves his daughters, Becky, Barbara and Mary, and six grandchildren.

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