December 2, 2011

Mark Carney, banking superstar

PETER BLACK, Canadian Dispatch

---- — When he retires at some distant date, Mark Carney may reflect on his legacy.

Will it be, as the headlines say, as the man who saved the global economy from greed and corruption? Or as the governor of the Bank of Canada who gave the country plastic currency to replace cotton bills?

Either way, on the international financial scene or in the daily exchange of untold millions of dollars in retail sales, the 46-year-old Carney is getting noticed.

He was already a guy to watch in the stratosphere of world banking circles, largely for his early warnings about the imminent fall of the U.S. financial houses that wrought the 2008 collapse.

Then, a few weeks ago, Carney, born and raised in the remote Northwest Territories, about as far from Wall Street or Davos as you can imagine, was named head of the Financial Stability Board, described as the watchdog of world banking.

This development prompted Canada's national news magazine to put Carney's handsome mug on the cover under the headline: "The Canadian Hired to Save The World".

His job will be to head up the unit the G7 created in the wake of the Asian financial meltdown of the late 1990s to keep banking outfits around the planet in line. While not equipped with any specific powers to compel banks to comply with corrective measures, it can use the not-inconsiderable power of "naming and shaming," as one observer put it.

Obviously, the state of the European economy is on top of the pile in Carney's in-box at the Financial Stability Board.

In a speech in Montreal this week, he warned that the teetering situation of the eurozone is "barely contained" but, "It's absolutely possible to find a solution to this problem. They have the means. They have the solutions. But they have to put them into practice. And better to do that this week, not next year."

This superstar banker, if you will, is the protege of the man credited with whipping Canada's financial house into order, to the point where Canada's economy is routinely ranked among the most stable in the world. Paul Martin was the Liberal finance minister from 1993 to 2002, when he became prime minister. His most notable quote might be his vow in 1994 to slay the ballooning federal deficit come "hell or high water" (which happens to be the title of his recent memoirs).

Martin brought his business savvy and social conscience to politics but also his determination to take the tough steps necessary to bring under control critically deteriorating government finances. Much to the anguish of federal employees and provincial governments, Martin pulled it off, and in 2006, he left the incoming Conservative government with a healthy surplus.

Martin also head-hunted this young phenom in the financial world. Carney had been an investment banker in London, Tokyo and New York but in 2003 accepted the offer to become deputy governor of Canada's central bank.

In 2008, Carney ascended to the top banking job — by far the youngest to hold such a lofty post, and arguably the most outspoken. For example, in a recent TV interview, this banking czar described the Occupy movement (which began on Wall Street) as "entirely constructive. I understand the frustration of many people, particularly in the United States. You've had a big increase in the ratio of CEO earnings to workers on the shop floor."

Carney has three years remaining in his mandate as governor of the Bank of Canada, which means he'd still be less than 50 when he'll be free to pursue other things.

Naturally, there is already media speculation that the banking wunderkind will be hotly courted to make the leap into federal politics, perhaps following in the polished wingtips of his mentor Martin.

If that were to be the case, Carney's legacy might be considerably more historic than having his name on Canada's new polymer money — or saving the world.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at