Carl Beigie, 69 / Economist, Professor – by Alan Hustak

Written by  //  March 31, 2010  //  Absent Friends, OWN Citation, People Meta, The Salon  //  No comments

‘Gentle intellectual giant’ was an authority on U.S.-Canada relations
Alan Hustak
Special to The Globe and Mail

Carl Beigie was founding executive director of the C.D. Howe Research Institute, the chief economist for Dominion Securities Pitfield Ltd. and McLean McCarthy Ltd., as well as an adviser to Canadian finance ministers in both Liberal and Tory governments.

He was a natural communicator who was often heard on radio and television, who also lectured on trade and general economics at McGill and the University of Toronto. Considered a leading authority on U.S.-Canada relations, the U.S.-born Dr. Beigie, who died on March 4, was an important voice during discussions on the North American free-trade agreement. He said the deal held both risk and promise, but was not by itself enough to bring about the full realization of Canada’s economic potential.

“He was a very solid economist, well-rooted in theory, but he didn’t let theory get in the way of understanding the real world,” said retired economist Judith Maxwell, who was recruited by Dr. Beigie to become director of policy studies at the C.D. Howe Institute.

“He had a tremendous amount of energy, and was a wonderful public speaker. He took a huge interest in the importance of public policy, he set the pattern for that.”

Carl Beigie, the eldest in a family of five, grew up in a blue-collar Cleveland neighbourhood. His father worked as foreman for the East Ohio Gas Co. Carl, who had a life-long fascination with aviation, had hoped to join the air force and become a pilot, but he failed to pass the physical.

Instead, he put himself through the Muskingum Presbyterian College in New Concord, Ohio, by working as a Baptist circuit preacher, then studied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began his career with the Irving Trust Co. on Wall Street, where he became an authority on the Canada-U.S. auto pact.

In 1970 he moved to Canada to further his expertise and in 1973 founded the C.D. Howe Research Institute, which was designed to influence public policy. There, he wrote the seminal textbook, Inflation is a Social Malady.

He might have become Canada’s deputy minister of finance or chairman of the Economic Council of Canada, but the optics of someone from the United States being directly responsible for Canadian economic policy made such an appointment politically impossible.

“He was American by birth, and a Canadian by adoption, and although he defended Canadian interests, because he came from the States, there was a lot of opposition, especially from the New Democratic Party to him taking on any significant role in government, his son David said at a recent memorial service in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “Some people had the wrong idea about him. He was grounded in looking at the issues, not the politics. For him, economics was public policy. He was deeply concerned about deficit spending, and he anticipated a lot of what is playing out today on both sides of the border.

“He was a pioneer in popularizing economic commentary for the man in the street. He was aware that trade relations and budget management had a profound impact on everyday people, but few ever explained these matters in a way regular people could understand. He spent his life trying to boil down economic theories to create this kind of understanding.”

In 1988, Dr. Beigie became academic director of the Executive MBA program at the University of Toronto, and he continued to lecture at McGill until he suffered a stroke nine years ago. “We particularly treasure the memories of him in action in the classroom, gently encouraging and pulling the best from his students,” said long-time family friend Diana Thébaud Nicholson.

“He so loved teaching and it was evident in every moment that he was in front of a class, or chatting. He was indeed a gentle intellectual giant and gifted teacher, with endless patience for those of us whose minds did not move as quickly and easily as his, although little for those who were pretentious.

“He prefaced every reply to a question with: ‘The fact of the matter is. …’ But he was always courteous, making the questioner feel that he or she had really gone to the heart of the matter with a brilliant query.”

Carl Edmond Beigie was born in Cleveland on April 9, 1940, and died March 4, 2010, of Binswanger disease at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. He leaves his wife, Catherine Hall, whom he married in 1961, and their two sons, Darin and David.

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