CANADA

The rise of the man behind the budget

BRUCE WALLACE March 2 1987
CANADA

The rise of the man behind the budget

BRUCE WALLACE March 2 1987

The rise of the man behind the budget

CANADA

During his days on the softball diamond in a suburban Montreal gentlemen’s league, Stanley Hartt was known for his witty, nonstop verbal assaults on opponents. And his associates in the Montreal legal community remember Hartt as a brilliant lawyer who led a charmingly chaotic lifestyle.

But since moving to Ottawa in September, 1985, to become deputy finance minister, Hartt,

49, has adjusted smoothly to the rigid behavioral code and discretion required in the civil service. In the process, he has established himself as one of Ottawa’s most powerful public servants and a trusted confidant of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Although Hartt’s greatest challenge —a longawaited blueprint for reforming the tax system expected this spring—still lies ahead, he has already earned Mulroney’s gratitude as a key architect of two federal budgets, including the one that Finance Minister Michael Wilson delivered last week. Said L. Ian MacDonald, a speechwriter for Mulroney and a onetime cohost with Hartt of a CBC television public affairs program in Montreal: “Stanley has the Prime Minister’s complete confidence.”

Still, Hartt is an unlikely candidate for the role of career bureaucrat. After joining the Montreal law firm of Stikeman, Elliott in 1965, he built his specialty in corporate law into a practice worth an estimated $450,000 a year by 1985.

But for several years Hartt also harbored aspirations of becoming an economist—taking a master’s degree in economics at McGill University before turning to law. Said James Robb, a senior partner at Stikeman, Elliott who hired Hartt after spotting him as a student campaigning doorto-door on behalf of Liberal candidate John Turner in the 1962 federal election: “We had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep him with us. But we knew it was worth it because he was so damn bright.”

Through the years Hartt maintained his friendship with Turner. He was a member of the so-called “195 Club,” the informal collection of Liberal delegates to the party’s 1968 leadership convention who stuck with

Turner to the end, voting for him on the last ballot despite the bandwagon building for the man who won the convention and went on to become prime minister—Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Hartt also kept up a friendship with Mulroney, whom he met when

both were young lawyers in Montreal during the late 1960s.

Despite his lucrative law practice, Hartt also piled up substantial personal debts. They stemmed partly from a divorce settlement with his former wife, Linda. Said one friend: “Stanley’s debt was commensurate with his income, and most of it was accumulated because he has a huge alimony and because he remains very, very generous to his family.” As a result, Hartt faced a dilemma when Mulroney approached him about moving to Ottawa. Hartt told friends that he would not be able to meet his debt

obligations on the salary of a deputy minister—between $101,900 and $120,000 a year.

Then, a group of about 15 friends and associates banded together to buy Hartt’s shares in Vasire Food Services Inc., a privately held company that owns several Burger King franchises in Quebec. The arrangement, Maclean's has learned, enabled Hartt to pay off his debts and take the substantial pay cut involved in entering public service. But it was carefully structured to avoid possible future conflicts. Hartt’s shares were evaluated by two independent examiners, and the deal was handled by a trustee so that Hartt did not know the identity of the friends who bought his shares. Said one person involved with the arrangement: “This thing was done properly. We were not stupid.” Added Peter Daniel, the finance department’s assistant deputy minister of communications: “This was not a donation or a gift. Stanley sold an asset in a real operating company and he did it in a way so that there could be no hint of conflict.”

With the long hours involved in drafting last week’s budget now behind him, Hartt will focus his attention on the government’s longpromised tax reform proposals. Already, some Conservative insiders have indicated that Mulroney would like Hartt to replace Paul Tellier as Clerk of the Privy Council—the most senior position in the civil service—once the sensitive tax reform package has been introduced. Associates of Hartt said that he is acutely aware of the political pressures involved both in tax reform and in budget-making. Said one old friend: “There is almost a role reversal in Finance: Michael Wilson is the technocratic number cruncher, while Stanley provides the crucial political input.” The politically sensitive issue of tax reform will put that ability to its severest test so far.

-BRUCE WALLACE with ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Montreal

BRUCE WALLACE

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH