Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is looking outside her own department for the new second-in-command who will help steer Canada’s economy through the pandemic and the $100-billion stimulus spending campaign that will follow.
Ms. Freeland is vetting at least five candidates, including veterans of the International Monetary Fund and Bank of Canada, to replace Paul Rochon, who announced Tuesday that he plans to leave Finance Canada on Dec. 14 after more than six years as its senior civil servant.
The civil servant selected for the job is expected to share the progressive plan from Finance Minister and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to run large deficits in order to build back better from the COVID-19 crisis, according to sources familiar with the succession plan. They include three senior bureaucrats in other ministries and officials at the IMF and Bank of Canada. The Globe and Mail is not naming these sources because they are not authorized to speak for the federal government or their current employer.
Mr. Rochon built a reputation for fiscal prudence over more than 20 years in Finance Canada, and was also a senior bureaucrat in the federal Health and International Development ministries. That approach has been tested this year as the federal Liberals ran an estimated $381-billion deficit while dealing with the pandemic, sources said.
Former Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver named Mr. Rochon as deputy minister in 2014. Sources said Mr. Rochon began negotiations on leaving the public service in August, after the departure of former finance minister Bill Morneau, and that his wife recently retired. He agreed to stay to help Ms. Freeland prepare the annual fall economic update, which she delivered on Monday. In an e-mail sent Tuesday to colleagues to thank them for their professionalism, Mr. Rochon said: “I expect the government will be announcing your new deputy minister shortly.”
Candidates to be the next deputy minister at Finance Canada include Rob Stewart, currently deputy minister at Public Safety Canada. Mr. Stewart worked in the Finance Department for 26 years, including stints as Canada’s representative to the G7 and G20. Chris Forbes, deputy minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and another veteran of the Finance Department, is also in the running.
Three women are also contenders for the top slot. Marta Morgan, deputy minister of Global Affairs Canada, is in the mix. The McGill University graduate previously worked in both the Finance and Industry portfolios, and had COVID-19 in the spring. Carolyn Wilkins, currently deputy governor at Bank of Canada, is also on the short list, according to sources. She leaves the central bank on Dec. 9, a departure date that was recently moved forward from May.
Louise Levonian, the IMF’s executive director for Canada, is also being considered. She joined the civil service in 1990 as an analyst in Transport Canada, then moved to Finance Canada in 1998, eventually rising to associate deputy minister. She left for the IMF two years ago.
The next deputy minister’s challenges include figuring out how to pay for existing programs and the $100-billion stimulus package Ms. Freeland promised this week, while running record deficits. To date, economists say the federal Liberals have been deliberately vague on how they will pay for new programs, and need to detail their plans to maintain support from investors, voters and credit rating agencies.
“There is still a high degree of opacity as to how an eventual stimulus package would be financed, raising potential tax risks on the horizon,” said Rebekah Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at Bank of Nova Scotia. In a report, she said, “Ultimately, credibility is earned by execution against plan, but, in the meantime – and particularly important in times of persistent deficits and escalating debt – setting limits on oneself is preferable to markets setting them for you.”
The federal Liberals must also fill leadership roles in a number of other key financial sectors in the near future. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. chief executive officer Evan Siddall’s term expires at the end of December, for example. In a report this week, analyst Geoffrey Kwan and Scott Robertson at RBC Capital Markets said, “No new successor has been announced, so it appears he is likely to remain at the helm into 2021, at the very least for transitional reasons should a successor be named before year-end.”
The CMHC is the country’s largest mortgage insurer and plays a critical role in housing markets. Mr. Siddall has been an outspoken critic of real estate lending policies at the banks and other mortgage providers.
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