I ran into Jack Mintz at a recent backyard barbecue and was looking for a news scoop.
“So, Jack, are you going to be the next president of the University of Calgary?” I asked, hushing my voice.
What he said next caused me to choke on my lamb lollipop.
“I haven’t been contacted at all about it, but if I am I’ll seriously consider it,” said the world-renowned economist, author and researcher.
I was shocked! No scoop and so far, anyway, no Jack for the U of C!
How is Mintz not at the very top of the U of C’s search committee list to replace Elizabeth Cannon, who is scheduled to depart at the end of December after a stellar eight-year run as the university’s first woman president and vice-chancellor?
I’ve since learned that no interviews have been conducted yet to fill the vital position, meaning there’s still a good chance Mintz could be tapped. That’s a relief. It’s not very often someone of the calibre of Mintz is available to take on such a role. The timing is perfect.
Best known in Calgary as the director of the School of Public Policy at the U of C — a post he held and raised to great profile and esteem from January 2008 to July 2015 — Jack’s curriculum vitae, at 31 pages, is a humbling experience to read.
After getting an economics degree from the University of Alberta, he obtained his master’s degree in economics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., before earning his doctorate from the University of Essex in England.
Mintz and wife Eleanor have a daughter who works as a social worker and a son who is a professor of philosophy and education. They love to dote on their six grandchildren, but it’s difficult to understand when Mintz finds the time, as he continues to publish research papers on a regular basis as president’s fellow at the School of Public Policy and then he makes that research digestible for the general public through media interviews and columns he writes for various publications.
In the past 10 years, Mintz has been quoted, mentioned or has written in the Herald 328 times and in the National Post 454 times. Plug his name into Hansard, the official verbatim record of the House of Commons and he is mentioned 352 times by virtually every political party.
The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, federal governments (both Liberal and Conservative), provincial governments, numerous businesses and non-profit organizations around the world consult Mintz for his expertise in economics. In short, Jack Mintz is Canada’s pre-eminent researcher and expert in tax policy.
Tim Hearn, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Imperial Oil, has known Mintz for more than 15 years. When Mintz was president of the C.D. Howe Institute from 1999 to 2006 he called Hearn to join the board of the institute, which Hearn ended up chairing for a time, saying, “Jack did an outstanding job there.”
Mintz led the institute while on leave as an economics professor of the University of Toronto — a post he held from 1989 to 2007 before taking on the Palmer Chair in public policy at the U of C.
Again, Mintz asked Hearn to help him with his new School of Public Policy on its advisory board.
While not an expert in the criteria for a university president, Hearn says he has known several and suggests “Jack would be a superb university president.”
Mintz was a master at demonstrating strong capacity in both strategic and visionary capabilities, says Hearn.
“I got to see him do that at both the C.D. Howe Institute and at the school — which basically just rose out of nothing in a very short period of time, thanks to Jack,” said Hearn.
Mintz, with his international reputation, would help create a strong brand and image for the university and he would undoubtedly be excellent for the university’s fiscal health as well, said Hearn.
“At the School of Public Policy, Jack was a prodigious fundraiser,” stated Hearn.
“Our fundraising was over 80 per cent private and 20 per cent public. In most faculties on universities, it’s the opposite,” explained Hearn, who says while travelling with Jack once, he excused himself to take a call from the prime minister, who was seeking his advice.
Reached Wednesday, Mintz chuckled at my tenacity on the subject and then waxed poetic about the importance of universities on the well-being of a community.
“I’ve read a number of studies about the various factors that lead to economic growth for a jurisdiction and one of the very important factors is a university,” he said.
Think of the state of Massachusetts, he says. There’s Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Boston College and the list goes on and on.
The best countries in the world — the places people want to live — all have strong universities, and Mintz includes Canada in that mix.
“I think people underestimate the importance of universities to the well-being of the community and the world at large,” he says.
Mintz points to the uplifting story of some U of C geomatics engineering grads playing a huge role in helping to accurately provide 3D maps of the flooded cave system that trapped the Wild Boar soccer team of 12 youths and their 25-year-old coach. The last members of the team made it out safely on Tuesday after being trapped for two weeks to the relief of the entire world.
If governments in Canada listened to Mintz’s research rather than pandered to populist politics, everyone would be much better off.
That’s another plus about Mintz. He is non-partisan.
“He crosses political lines well because he’s always taken an approach that public policy is based on evidence-based research, not political expediency,” said Hearn.
“He’s also really likable. People really like Jack,” added Hearn.
To the University of Calgary’s presidential search committee, here’s a hint: Jack Mintz is hiding in plain sight. You should hire him. Now that would be a good scoop!
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