Remembering Rod Dobell

We have just learned that Rod Dobell, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the School of Public Administration from 1978-1984, has passed away. Rod’s career mapped onto the evolution of the modern fields of public policy and public administration. He was born in Vancouver, earned a BA and MA in Mathematics in economics and mathematics from UBC in 1961, and then moved to MIT for a PhD in Economics, and was Assistant Professor in economic theory at Harvard University. This was at the time the first schools and institutes in public policy were emerging in Canada and the United States. Rod was appointed as Associate Professor of Mathematics and Political Economy at the University of Toronto and was a founding member of its Institute for Policy Analysis. There he worked with graduate students and public servants to develop and apply various methods of quantitative policy analysis for addressing policy questions. He was special advisor to the Deputy Minister of Finance on long-range economic planning and soon appointed Deputy Secretary (Planning), Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (1973-76), the central agency that served as the ‘general manager’ of the entire public service. The Planning Branch was responsible for designing and implementing the program, planning and budgeting system for the Government of Canada, which remains foundational to the expenditure management and performance reporting system to this day. Many of the officials working for Rod became well-known leaders throughout the federal public service. He then served as Director of the General Economics Branch at the OECD (1976-78).

Not long after, Rod took up the position as Director of the School of Public Administration, then a very new entity, and one of four new graduate programs at the University of Victoria, and only one of four such programs in public administration across Canada. Rod hired several leading edge scholars and started to develop his abiding interest in Indigenous and environmental issues. He was appointed as President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in 1984, then one of Canada’s few well-known think tanks, establishing the President’s office at the University of Victoria, and facilitating several innovative programs of research. During the 1980s, Rod also served as director of research for two Parliamentary task forces on federal-provincial fiscal arrangements and pension reform. He was also a long-serving member of the National Statistics Council. He returned to the University of Victoria and held the Winspear Chair in Public Policy from 1991-1997. When he retired as professor, he joined the Centre for Global Studies, where he was much-beloved fellow and animateur – his curiosity about any policy issue, its connection to many other issues, and his willingness to engage in exploratory dialogue never dimmed and was boundless. For this reason, CFGS named its boardroom the Rod Dobell Room of Dialogue in 2022, a fitting way to remember him. Rod was also honored with a wonderful festschrift in 2011, where the full range of those he worked with and influenced, as well as the range of issues he engaged with, were on full display.[1]

Today, we remember Rod’s remarkable array of accomplishments, but most of all, his curiosity, mentorship, and engagement on ecological, climate, and Indigenous issues, and offer our condolences to Marnie, Lauren, Darcy, and Ken Dobell.

We invite you to sign a condolence board for his family and to serve as a reminder to us all of the impact he had. And, that our loss is felt far and wide.