Paul Rochon, the deputy minister of Finance Canada, announced to staff Tuesday that he is leaving the department’s top post just one day after the Liberal government released its fall economic update.
In an e-mail sent to department staff, obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Rochon said his departure will be effective as of Dec. 14.
“After more than six years as deputy minister of Finance, it is time for me to move on,” Mr. Rochon wrote.
He made his announcement a day after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland released an economic update that outlined plans for a $381.6-billion deficit this year and a future stimulus package worth up to $100-billion.
Mr. Rochon’s e-mail did not provide an explanation for his departure, but he thanked the department staff and his senior team for their work over his tenure and throughout the pandemic. He said he expects a new deputy minister to be announced “shortly.”
“I know that you will provide the new DM the very high-quality support and advice that is your trademark,” Mr. Rochon wrote to staff.
In a statement provided by her office, Ms. Freeland thanked Mr. Rochon for his leadership and service to Canada “through an era of incredible change.”
She added that Mr. Rochon ensured her smooth transition into the Finance portfolio in August and worked “tremendously hard” on the fall economic statement. “His counsel has been invaluable to me in these recent months.”
Mr. Rochon held senior positions at the Finance Department when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government dealt with the fallout of the 2008-09 economic crisis. He was closely involved in international efforts to co-ordinate the global policy response during that period. He later left the department to become associate deputy minister, or ADM, of health and then deputy minister of international development, before returning to Finance Canada in 2014 to lead the department as deputy minister in April of that year.
Bank of Nova Scotia chief economist Jean-François Perrault, who previously held senior positions at Finance Canada, said Mr. Rochon demonstrated the ability to provide non-partisan service to both Conservative and Liberal governments on budget matters.
“I think it speaks to his adaptability,” he said. “He’s an extremely competent public servant.”
Elliot Hughes, a senior adviser at Summa Strategies who served as deputy policy director to former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau, said finance officials have been extremely busy during the pandemic.
“The last seven or eight months have been a real grind for a lot of public servants,” he said, adding it might have been a factor in Mr. Rochon’s departure timing. Mr. Hughes said whoever replaces Mr. Rochon will have a steep learning curve as the government plans the details of the stimulus package promised in Monday’s update.
Mr. Rochon’s departure was described as a loss by other former colleagues, including Kevin Page and Robert Asselin. Mr. Page who worked in the department before becoming Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer, now leads the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy.
“It is a loss, absolutely. Somebody like that who has this incredible experience and confidence of his subordinates is always a loss. On the other hand, you can’t say it’s a surprise. Nobody stays deputy minister of finance year, after year, after year. … It’s exhausting,” Mr. Page said.
“It’s a loss but it’s an opportunity, there are lots of strong public servants that have worked their way up, strong ADMs, senior ADMs at finance.”
Mr. Asselin worked alongside Mr. Rochon when he was Mr. Morneau’s budget and policy director. Now senior vice-president of policy at the Business Council of Canada, Mr. Asselin said six years is a long time in the high-pressure post of deputy minister of finance and the end of the fall update is a natural break in the fiscal cycle for him to leave.
“It’s obviously a loss for the government in the sense that he’s very capable, he brought amazing experience and expertise, but you know everybody leaves at one point,” said Mr. Asselin, adding that it’s normal for the deputy minister to change when a minister changes.
NDP finance critic Peter Julian said he thanks Mr. Rochon for his service.
“I wish him well,” he said. “The timing, of course, raises all sorts of questions that I think many Canadians will have.”
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