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  • Behind the Scenes: The Life and Work of William Clifford Clark
  • P.E. Bryden
Behind the Scenes: The Life and Work of William Clifford Clark by Robert A. Wardhaugh. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010, 560 pp. Paper $37.95, Cloth $80.00

When W.C. Clark entered the federal civil service in 1932, he joined a small community of scholarpractitioners dedicated to problem solving and the sound management of the national economy. Clearly, given the time period, the former challenge was the most pressing, and would remain so throughout the years of Depression and Second World War. But by 1945 there was little question that deputy minister of finance Clark and his office full of “Clark boys” had established the modern bureaucratic state in Canada and ensured that it had been built on sound and stable footings. Unquestionably male and middle-class, the bureaucracy of which Clark was such an integral part was also well trained, hard working and, unlike the civil service of today, both exceedingly well respected at home and abroad, and composed of individuals who were destined (and privileged) to toil in anonymity. In this magnificent biography, author Robert Wardhaugh looks Behind the Scenes—as much as it is possible—and gives us an important analysis of the early evolution of the Canadian civil service, as well as providing an interesting perspective on the design of some of the most important policies of the Depression and Second World War era.

William Clifford Clark was born in rural Ontario, the son of a farmer. Having shown impressive aptitude for studies, he earned a scholarship to Queen’s College in Kingston at 17, and he continued to impress his professors there. Among them was economics professor Oscar Skelton, who directed Clark to Harvard to pursue doctoral studies. There, Clark began work on a thesis on the prairie grain trade, establishing his Canadian credentials at the same time as impressing his American supervisors with his brilliance and hard work. But the PhD was never finished; Clark returned after three years to a position in the Economics Department at Queen’s (now University) for the princely salary of $1,000 per year. There he remained, increasingly interested in the application of scientific methods to business (p. 25), until the siren call of American capitalism lured him to Chicago and a senior position with the F. W. Straus and Company real estate giant.

But Clark was never completely comfortable in the United States, never removed himself entirely from the academic circuit, and never stopped thinking about the economic situation in Canada. In early 1931, he returned to Queen’s. His public declaration of support for a central bank (p. 49) and his commentary on the deepening Depression put his thinking in line with Prime Minister Bennett and earned him a reputation as “a prominent, if not the prominent, economist in Canada” (p. 57). None of this went unnoticed by his old professor, O.D. Skelton, now the undersecretary of state for external affairs, [End Page 281] who quickly began to lure him toward Ottawa. By the fall of 1932, Clark was Canada’s fifth deputy minister of finance, a position he would hold until his death in 1952.

Biography offers a useful perspective on policy formulation, and in this book we have not only an exhaustive examination of the public (and exhausting) life of Clifford Clark but also an important illustration of the ways in which a focus on a key player can shed some light on how policies are designed. What becomes clear through the lens of the individual is just how messy the policy process can be. There was always a great deal going on in the world of Clifford Clark, all within the environment of partisan politics. Appointed by R.B. Bennett, for example, Clark began his federal career a proponent of a central bank, and was instrumental in both the formation of the Bank of Canada and the choice of Graham Towers as its first governor. The two would dominate the financial scene in Canada for the better part of the next two decades. But in addition to his role as “godfather” (p. 90) of...


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pp. 281-282
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