The federal government has named a new leadership team at Finance Canada, with veteran public servant Chris Forbes filling the deputy minister post vacated earlier this year when Michael Sabia left Ottawa to head Hydro-Québec.
The key department has been without a permanent leader since May, when Mr. Sabia’s departure was officially announced. His move was significant because he has – through a range of roles – been an important source of policy advice to the federal cabinet since the Liberals formed government in 2015.
After becoming deputy minister of finance in December, 2020, Mr. Sabia led the department through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when the government approved massive amounts of emergency spending.
He also oversaw budget announcements of major new government programs that have yet to fully launch – including a $15-billion Canada Growth Fund and $2.6-billion for a Canada Innovation Corp.
The 2022 budget also promised to create a permanent Council of Economic Advisors, which has not yet been acted upon.
Responsibility for dealing with such unfinished business now falls to Mr. Forbes, a career public servant.
Mr. Forbes comes to finance from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, where he has only been in the deputy minister post since February. Prior to that, he was deputy minister of agriculture from 2017 to 2023. That was his first deputy minister job.
He previously held a range of senior positions across government, spending a substantial part of his career at Finance Canada. He holds a master’s degree in economics from McGill University.
Scotiabank chief economist Jean-François Perrault, who worked with Mr. Forbes when they were both at the finance department, said Mr. Forbes is known as a strong communicator and manager. He said Mr. Forbes’s knowledge of the climate policy file was likely viewed as an asset, given the government’s focus on casting environmental policy as central to economic competitiveness.
“I think a very strong advantage of having Chris go over to the Department of Finance at this point time is we are still in the very early days of the green transition, and he was deputy minister of the department that came up with a lot of these plans,” Mr. Perrault said.
“This is obviously an area where the government is investing very, very large sums of money in, and Chris is one of the people in government who’s most on top of these things.”
Mr. Perreault said he would also expect that Mr. Forbes will focus on housing and productivity issues in the run-up to the fall update and the 2024 federal budget.
Mr. Sabia’s appointment at finance was unusual in that he brought substantial private-sector experience to the role, having held senior positions with CN Rail and working as chief executive of Bell Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced Tuesday that Suzy McDonald will move from associate deputy minister of agriculture to associate deputy minister of finance.
Nick Leswick, who had been leading the department on an interim basis since Mr. Sabia’s departure, remains as associate deputy minster.
Two other changes saw Scott Jones promoted to president of Shared Services Canada, which provides IT support for federal departments, from executive vice-president, while current president Sony Perron moves to president of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec.
Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the minister welcomes Mr. Forbes and Ms. McDonald to the leadership team at Finance Canada and looks forward to working with them.