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Simon Reisman

June 19, 1919 – March 9, 2008

Sol Simon Reisman, son of a Jewish immigrant garment worker, was born in Montreal, Que. He graduated from McGill University in Montreal in 1941 and the London School of Economics in 1942 with BA and MA degrees in economics and political science respectively. Upon graduation he served overseas as a junior officer and troop commander with the Royal Canadian Artillery and in 1945, after distinguishing himself during campaigns in Italy and Holland, Reisman studied under the famed theorist Harold Laski at the London School of Economics.

In 1946, Reisman entered the federal Government with the Department of Labour and in the same year transferred to the Department of Finance. Within this department, Reisman was a member of Canada’s delegation to the first General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks, which took place in 1947, and he went on to attend all GATT sessions between 1948 and 1954. In 1955 and 1956, he served as assistant director of research for the Royal Commission on Canada’s economic prospects—the Gordon Commission—a commission concerned with the foreign, particularly American, acquisition of Canadian resources and businesses. He advanced through the ranks of the Department of Finance to become the director-general of economic and international affairs in 1957.

In 1964, Reisman was promoted to deputy minister of the newly established Department of Industry, and three years later he became secretary to the Treasury Board. He finished his civil-service career from 1970 to 1975 as deputy minister of finance. The crowning achievement of his federal public service career was as Canada’s principal negotiator of the 1965 Canada-United States Automotive Products Agreement, or Autopact. He received the 1974 Outstanding Public Service Award, and in 1978 was awarded the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions to the public service of Canada in several senior posts.

Reisman took on a number of boards of directorships in private industry, including Ranger Oil Ltd. and George Weston Ltd. He also formed the high-profile corporate consulting firm Reisman-Grandy Ltd. with James Grandy, former deputy minister of industry, trade and commerce. Starting in June 1978, he worked for the federal Government as a temporary adviser. He conducted a review of the 1965 Autopact inquiry into the automotive industry; and his report, tabled November 1978 in the House of Commons, argued for a better Canadian automobile parts industry.

In 1985, he accepted the position of chief negotiator for the federal Government in the native land claims of the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic. Reisman subsequently resumed his work as a consultant to business and Government until 1985, when he was chosen by the prime minister to be ambassador and chief negotiator for the then-pending Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, which became law in 1988.

Known for his colourful and sometimes controversial public persona, Reisman’s accomplishments solidify him as a key player in building Canada into a modern economic power.

Featured Photo: Simon Reisman, [ca. 1975]. Ottawa Jewish Archives, R-007
Clipping: Simon Reisman Honored at Public Service Division Dinner. (1975, May). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 2.