Ode to a social policy hero: Don Drummond

In my previous entry, I recommended a paper written by Don Drummond and one of his colleagues at the Toronto Dominion Bank.  What I did not mention was that Mr. Drummond has announced his intention to leave his position as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the Toronto Dominion Bank.

I mention it now because I, for one, will be sorry to see him go.  Not so very many years ago, I’d never have guessed how much I could come to admire a senior banking official for his wisdom, insight, and contribution to not only sound social policy analysis, but also sound social policy advice and even advocacy.  A few decades ago, I would never have  believed it possible.  Mr. Drummond has helped me change my mind, and to realize that one can’t assign motive based on job title, and that one can’t know where one’s allies  in that search for sound analysis and advice, especially in social policy will be found.

It isn’t that I’ve always agreed with him; that isn’t the issue. It was how he brought rigor, knowledge and reputation to social policy questions.  For example, his analyses of labour markets, environmental impacts on the economy, productivity and income security were always rigorous; however, he also made them available and accessible to the “rest of us” through mass media.  For example, along with the report cited in the previous entry on this blog, Mr. Drummond also summarized the report in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star.

He has engaged in various aspects of public policy, many with a social policy bent or implication in a variety of roles.  In 2008, he chaired a panel appointed by Ministers responsible for labour markets to advise and report on labour market information. He was a member of the Task Force on Modernizing Income Security For Working-Age Adults, sponsored by the Toronto City Summit Alliance, which recommended detailed and sweeping changes to the Ontario income security system

Late last year, he spoke about the need for governments to act to protect the mental health of Canadians; the Toronto Star described his prescription: “Governments can focus on education and reduce drop-out rates, improve public safety nets, raise literacy rates, and improve the retirement income system.”

He also appeared at distinctively social-policy-related events.  For example, last summer, he shared the podium with Chief Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives to discuss the impact of the recession on social policy and those it benefits, at a Queen’s Conference. In a piece he wrote for TD Bank clients based on that presentation, he called for a transformative response to the recession, and emphasized that “a “transformative” response should place social policy as a centerpiece of strategies to boost economic performance.”

I was at that conference; it was the first time I had heard him speak. To this day, I have not met him. Yet, he is (and has been) one of my social policy heroes.  I am optimistic that he will find himself at a university teaching graduate students, teaching them how to combine a tough mind with a commitment to addressing the needs of the people (especially those who are vulnerable to the forces of the market place) along with the needs of that market, to produce more of his kind of analysis.

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