Bestowing the virtues of Trent University itself (that of leadership and merging the practical with the academic), Professor Emeritus Harry Kitchen of the Economics department has received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his academic as well as practical contributions in economic municipal structures. According to the Governor General’s website, the medal was created in 2012 (the Queen’s 60th anniversary) as a “tangible way for Canada to honour Her Majesty for her service to this country,” while “[a]t the same time, this commemorative medal served to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.”
At the last instalment of the Harry Kitchen Lecture Series in Economics Associate Professor Torben Drewes said that their “goal has been to bring in economists with experience in policy development” as a way of keeping the series in line with Kitchen’s work. This year’s lecturer, Deputy Finance Minister Michael Horgan expressed a familiarity and respect for the kind of work Kitchen did, merging academic interests with economics with on-the-ground economic policy development. Horgan also described Kitchen’s work, like his, as a public service instead of a specific academic interest.
Arthur spoke with Byron Lew, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Economics, who spoke to the depth of thought and usefulness of Kitchen’s work, both in government and in his research. “An academic is accountable to academic groups,” he said, “[Harry Kitchen] was unusual and did his own thing.” The work that has been highlighted by his reception of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal is his work with Canadian municipalities, specifically the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.
He has done extensive work with municipal commissions when the municipalities were restructured around 10 years ago. He would work with municipalities in solving problems like how to structure public transit, how to provide public services to rural areas, how to properly implement property taxation, how governments should invest, how municipalities can be fiscally sustainable, “how best to charge for public services like water, how to set tax bases and that kind of thing.” He even wrote a paper about how to balance funding issues between provinces and municipalities when it comes to hospitals and schools. “His academic publications tended to be inspired by the projects he worked on, so he was able to double up on that,” Byron adds.
His work with municipalities also expanded beyond the borders of Canada, “he gets invited to various places around the world.” When the Soviet Union was restructuring into the Russian Federation he was invited to speak with municipalities about how to transition into a very different mode of taxation. And one of his papers “Local Taxation in Selected Countries: A Comparative Examination,” a paper prepared for the Consortium for Economic Policy Research and Advice (CEPRA), was about learning lessons from all over the world in order to shape economic policy at home. He even delivered workshops for the International Monetary Fund.
“There aren’t to many people who specialize in what he did and that made him quite valuable,” says Lew. He continued by saying, “the stuff he does, it’s got a real practical application, so he tends to talk to groups of working practitioners.”
According to his biography for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), “over the past 15 years, he has completed more than 75 articles, reports, studies, and books on a number of issues relating to local government expenditures, finance, and governance in Canada and abroad. In addition, he has served as a consultant or advisor for a number of municipal and provincial governments, the federal government, foreign governments in Thailand, Russia, and China, and some private sector institutions.”
He has been with Trent University since 1968 and retired 6 years ago wherein the lecture series that bares his name begun. “Because of the area of his research, a lot of important changes came about while he was doing that,” Byron says, adding that “he was able to find what he did best and work with it.” As well as being a diligent and thorough-going researcher and municipal advisor, “students loved him too, he was a popular guy.” Kitchen, despite being retired, is still a scholar and advisor to local governments.