John McCallum
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John McCallum

Canada’s secretary of state (international financial institutions)

John McCallum describes his new position in the Canadian government as: "junior finance minister". He has held the position of secretary of state (international financial institutions) for a couple of months, having begun his political career just 15 months ago after leaving his post as chief economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.

Politics chose McCallum, rather than the other way around. He says he went into it not just because he's crazy, but because he was approached by prime minister Jean Chrétien and his people while at RBC.

However, he says: "You're not exactly a free agent in politics because you have to say things that are consistent with the government policy when you're in the cabinet." He seems to have experienced this at first hand. At RBC, he supported the proposed mergers of four big Canadian banks into two. Bank of Montreal with RBC and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce with Toronto-Dominion Bank. Officially, both deals were scuppered by Chrétien's government because of competition concerns. Now it seems McCallum is singing the party tune. "The government is neither encouraging nor discouraging of bank mergers," he says. In the government's defence, however, Toronto-Dominion Bank has since successfully merged with Canada Trust.

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