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Deutsch, John James

Professor, Economist, Researcher, Editor, Civil Servant, Vice-Principal and Principal of Queen’s University 1911-1976

John Deutsch is probably the most prominent economist to ever come from Regina, Saskatchewan. The policies he developed while working for the federal government had a profound effect on Canadian fiscal policy. Deutsch also worked to educate young people as a faculty member and later the Principal, of Queen’s University.

John James Deutsch was born in 1911 in the tiny hamlet of Quinton, Saskatchewan. He was the eldest of 17 children from a humble farming family. Deutsch worked hard to pay his way through Campion College in Regina. From 1930 to 1933 Deutsch was a member of Campion’s teaching staff while simultaneously doing work at the University of Saskatchewan.

Deutsch’s brilliance and hard work eventually paid off with a scholarship to Queen’s University. Deutsch graduated from Queen’s in 1934 with a degree in commerce and economics. This was the start of a lifelong relationship with Queen’s that would not end until Deutsch’s death in 1976. He was a postgraduate student in economics until 1936 when he became a research assistant for the Bank of Canada, then a fledgling organization. He was then appointed to the Rowell-Sirois Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations, where he became the research director. When the report was completed in 1940, Deutsch returned to Queen’s as a professor.

He was not a professor for long; it was wartime and duty called. Deutsch became secretary of the Canada-United States economic committee and later served as wartime assistant to Deputy Minister of External Affairs. Deutsch was instrumental in establishing Canada’s National Selective Service program during the war as well.

After the war, Deutsch became an editorial writer for the Winnipeg Free Press. He joined another Royal Commission as secretary just a year later, reporting on the classification of senior civil service positions.

In 1947 he was hand-picked for a secret mission by Prime Minister MacKenzie King. His duty: to negotiate a new trade agreement with the United States. Deutsch’s efforts apparently paid off and he negotiated a deal that would have broadly liberalized Canada-U.S. trade. Prime Minister King rejected the deal at the last minute, however. Deutsch remained in the public sector for several more years, becoming Director of the International Economic Relations division of the Finance Department (an Assistant Deputy Minister position) in 1953. He followed this by becoming Secretary of the Treasury Board later that same year.

However, he found himself dissatisfied with the federal civil service and in 1955 retired from public service to take a position as a professor in the Economics Department at the University of British Columbia. He was head of the department until 1959, when he returned to his alma mater, Queen’s.

He served as Vice-Principal, Administration at Queen’s until 1963, when he became the Chairman of the Economic Council of Canada. The Council was an advisory body that encouraged the federal government to take new directions in the field of economic policy. In 1967 he quit public service for good and became principal-elect of Queen’s, taking over as Principal in 1968. He held the post until 1974, but remained a professor of Economics until his death in 1976.

Queen’s University has honoured John Deutsch’s accomplishments by naming the John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy (JDI) for him. The JDI promotes research and informed discussion of Canadian economic policy through conferences and publications.