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How Stephen Poloz plans to remake the Bank of Canada Add to ...

First things first. When you want to mention the new governor of the Bank of Canada in conversation, think of Edgar Allan Poe and laws: Poe-Laws is what to say.

That wasn’t obvious to a lot of people in early May when Stephen Poloz was presented as Canada’s ninth central bank governor. So persistently was Poloz’s Ukrainian surname being mangled that a spokesman sent reporters a mass e-mail explaining how it should be pronounced.

Four months later, Poloz says the attempts to rhyme his name with Bozo are fading away. So it goes in the rock-star era of central banking: Stephen Poloz is on his way to becoming a household name.

His embrace of celebrity has been a measured one. He declined all interview requests after his appointment, and in the months that followed he talked to only two publications: the alumni magazines of Queen’s University in Kingston, from which he graduated in economics in 1978, and Western University in London, where he earned a master’s in 1979 and a PhD in 1982. Otherwise, he has kept a low profile, sticking to the Bank of Canada’s template script.

This deliberate approach, apparently, is Poloz’s way. “He paces himself well,” says Jim Dinning, who was chairman of Export Development Canada’s board of directors when Poloz became the Crown corporation’s chief executive in 2011. But now Poloz is ready to step out of the shadow of his two predecessors: Mark Carney and David Dodge, whose presence in the federal sphere eclipsed that of most front-bench cabinet ministers. When the Bank of Canada agreed to give Report on Business magazine the first in-depth interview with Poloz at the end of August, it proposed three possible dates for a face-to-face meeting. I got greedy, and countered that I would take two of the three options, in Ottawa and Calgary. Poloz accepted.

Poloz was keen to talk about how he intends to deepen the central bank’s dialogue with executives, both to enhance the bank’s collection of anecdotal data, and to ensure Canada’s primary economic actors understand the country’s monetary policy. “If uncertainty is holding you back, then I do see us having a role to play and telling a coherent story,” he says. “That’s one element of uncertainty that we have a crack at.”

The governor started the process in Calgary, where he had breakfast with executives. Poloz knows he could pick up the phone, but he relishes face time. He intends to hold sessions similar to the one in Calgary as often as he can.

My conversations with Poloz ranged beyond the central bank’s talking points to his leadership style (like Barack Obama, he leads from behind); to the exchange rate (still a very important factor for businesses, but there is little the central bank can do to influence price); to the future for Canadian manufacturing (there is one).

Refreshingly, Poloz is comfortable with the words “I don’t know,” and clearly relishes the pursuit of an answer. He tells me twice over our two days together that he has told the bank’s staff that they will tell their grandchildren about the work they’ll do over the next few years. When I suggest that the fight against the 2008-2009 financial crisis will make for better war stories, Poloz stops just short of calling that the easy part. “We were fighting fires, but it was not a cerebral leap forward.”

And at one point, it became clear that whatever was keeping Poloz out of the limelight, it wasn’t shyness—when he answers a question that is none of my business.

It was almost universally believed that Carney would be succeeded by Tiff Macklem, his No. 2, who had proven himself an able and dedicated policymaker during the financial crisis, when he was at the department of finance. But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty went against consensus. Even though Poloz had been absent from the inner sanctum of economic policymaking since 1995, when he quit his job as the Bank of Canada’s head of research to join Montreal-based advisory firm BCA Research, Flaherty nonetheless gave him the nod.

Poloz’s dark-horse status had nothing to do with a lack of ability. He spent the first 14 years of his professional life at the Bank of Canada, and co-workers talked about him as a future governor. His PhD thesis, “The Demand for Money in a Multicurrency World,” was so strong that it spawned three academic journal articles, a rare accomplishment. Poloz’s research at the Bank of Canada contributed to the groundbreaking decision to adopt an inflation target in 1991.

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