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Former Governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge. (Sean Kilpatrick/ Globe and Mail)
Former Governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge. (Sean Kilpatrick/ Globe and Mail)

ROB Magazine

Welcome to Dodge City Add to ...

Dodge, too, was in attendance at that meeting with Ignatieff, leading to speculation that the Liberal leader had ambitions of recruiting him as a potential finance minister. Yet the PMO so far has restrained itself from roughing up Dodge, even though he, too, has been critical of Ottawa.

Since the Bank of Canada operates at a distance from partisan politics, Dodge benefits from an air of neutrality that he might not have enjoyed had he retired as the deputy minister of finance who implemented Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Finance Minister Paul Martin's policies.

His tenure as Bank of Canada governor coincided with average annual economic growth of 2.6%, making it one of the more prosperous periods in recent Canadian history. In the aftermath of a recession, Dodge is associated with the good times.

But perhaps the thing that protects Dodge most is that, unlike former civil servants and politicians who have gone on to become corporate hired guns, he doesn't appear to have come back for personal gain.

The ironic thing about the information age is that for all the easily accessible facts and ideas, there are fewer and fewer voices who are universally trusted. Yet Dodge could be one. Curtis says his friend of almost 40 years is first and foremost a teacher.

In interviews, Dodge has a tendency to answer questions with a one-word question of his own. Here's Dodge in an interview with Business News Network in February, responding to a suggestion that China's moves to tighten bank lending were related to stronger household consumption: "Very little of that lending was lending to households, right? That was lending to enterprises, whether state-owned or quasi-state-owned or private, right? And lending to local authorities and lending to railways and so on. Let's be very careful."

Dodge's method isn't to tell, but to help you understand. He doesn't insist he's correct, but he challenges you to think hard about why he's not.

"I think it's better to have a Dodge out there, improving understanding of economics and public policy in general, rather than have government people who just have to give press releases," says Curtis, who is now a distinguished fellow at the Waterloo, Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.

By re-engaging, Dodge is "filling a vacuum in the public discourse," says Dobson. "If you've got someone who has some star power and is able to talk in a balanced way and hold people's attention, I say, bring it on and let's have more of it."

It's not rigorous enough to be considered a convention or widely accepted enough to be called a matter of etiquette. But there does exist in Ottawa a notion that current decision makers should be given the benefit of the doubt by those who came before them.

"Any of us who are 'formers,' you need to tread a bit carefully when you are dealing with what your successors are doing, because you don't have all the information," says Manley, who is now president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. "There is a view, and Finance has always had that view, that the economy is so important that no one else should even dabble in it," concurs Curtis.

In March of last year, Dodge tested that sensitivity. In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail, Dodge was asked about the prospects for Canada's economy. These were the darkest days of the recession and forecasts were a sensitive subject in Ottawa. Both Carney and Flaherty were facing considerable criticism for taking too rosy a view of the future.

The Globe's question concerned the rebound and whether it would come once banks dealt with all the toxic assets on their balance sheets. The answer, after a preamble, was "anybody would be dreaming in Technicolor to think that you're going to get through this by the end of the third quarter of this year, and that the financial system is going to be all resolved." Later in the interview, Dodge was pretty clear about Flaherty's assertion that he could balance the budget: "They're not going to do that. It's totally unrealistic."

Flaherty's political opponents and the more pessimistic economists on Bay Street had a field day with Dodge's remarks, and the story was the talk of Ottawa for days. The government was less than thrilled, although officials would only say so privately. "When you leave as governor, you should back off," said one insider. "The government's feeling is that a governor should be quiet for a year or two. There's a kind of code of conduct that Dodge didn't follow."

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