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Above: Richard Dicerni teaching in an Ivey classroom

Richard Dicerni, a former senior civil servant, was involved at Ivey in many ways – as an adjunct research professor, guest lecturer, and expert advisor to Ivey’s research centres and institutions, just to name a few. The Ivey community is saddened to learn that Richard passed away on August 11. Below, Mahmood Nanji, of Ivey’s Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management, shares details of Richard’s many contributions both to Ivey and to Canada.

The late Jack Lawrence, founder of Ivey’s Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management, lamented about the gap between business and government in Canada, and more specifically, that business leaders didn’t understand policy-makers and policy-makers didn’t understand business leaders. Veteran public servant, Richard Dicerni, was an exception to that view; he understood both worlds exceptionally well and was highly respected and valued in both sectors. He brought a wealth of public policy experience and hands-on business knowledge when he joined the Lawrence Centre as an advisor. In fact, Richard engaged with and recognized the value of all stakeholders and different perspectives. He was the ultimate bridge-builder.

On August 11, Canada bid farewell to Richard Dicerni, one of its finest public service leaders whose passion for sound public policy, good governance, and protecting democratic values was both impressive and inspiring.

Richard had a distinguished career, spanning over five decades, and he served in various capacities across several sectors. He served five Prime Ministers, four Premiers, and numerous Federal and Provincial Cabinet Ministers across all party lines and earned the respect and praise of all. Most recently, he served Premiers Rachel Notley and the late Jim Prentice as the Deputy Minister of Executive Council and Head of the Public Service in Alberta. From 1996 to 1998, he was the President and CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association, and from 2003 to 2005, he was the CEO of the Ontario Power Generation, the provincial utility company. In addition, Richard served on many boards, agencies, and special committees.

A dedicated member of the Ivey community

In 2012, Richard joined the Ivey Business School as an adjunct professor and assumed several different roles in supporting Ivey’s research centres, including the Lawrence National Centre, the Energy Policy and Management Centre, and more recently, the Centre for Building Sustainable Value as its inaugural Chair. During his tenure at Ivey, Richard contributed in numerous ways, including publishing several policy papers, speaking at and participating in roundtable discussions and conferences, providing advice, and teaching students. Richard was also instrumental in co- designing and delivering the leading-edge Senior Public Sector Leadership Program for The Ivey Academy.

“I have admired Richard’s unflinching dedication to public service and academia,” said Sharon Hodgson, Dean, Ivey Business School. “On numerous occasions he provided strategic advice to deal with complex issues and made significant contributions to our community.”

Reflecting on Richard’s engagement with the School, Carol Stephenson, former dean of the Ivey Business School, said she was excited when Richard agreed to join the School.

“Given his unique combination of business and government experience, he had a deep understanding of the issues and always provided practical and insightful guidance to us,” she said.

“Indeed, Richard will forever remain a source of inspiration to all of us who had the privilege of knowing him,” said Romel Mostafa, Director of the Lawrence National Centre.

“Most people know Richard as being wise and strategic. I also knew him as smart, practical, eclectic, and funny. He has imprinted so many people to rise to a better version of themselves, not by telling them to do so, but by being a role model. He contributed to Ivey and the Centre for Building Sustainable Value in both big ways and small. We were truly fortunate to have had him in our midst.”

Tima Bansal, Former Director, Centre for Building Sustainable Value

“Richard was an invaluable member of the Advisory Board for the Ivey Energy Policy and Management Centre, always offering constructive advice and actively supporting Centre events and research projects. His deep experience in energy policy earned him unparalleled respect from senior leaders in business and government across the country, and even in ‘retirement’ he continued to advise governments on a multitude of energy issues. In addition to his generosity and his deep commitment to improving public policy in Canada, he will be remembered for his quick wit and humour that enlivened many a meeting and speech.”

Guy Holburn, Former Director, Ivey Energy Policy and Management Centre

A distinguished public service career

Over the course of his public service career, Richard made an immense contribution to the development of major economic and social policy initiatives that have shaped our country. In 1980, Richard headed a little-known office called the Canadian Unity Information Office as part of the federal campaign against the Quebec referendum. As one observer noted, “Richard was the invisible hand and unsung hero that led federal forces to a victory.” In subsequent years, he was instrumental in the development of the National Literacy Secretariat and National AIDS Strategy. 

In 2006, Richard assumed the critically important role of Deputy Minister of Industry. He worked with retired Ivey professor Paul Boothe, who was Senior Associate Deputy Ministry for Industry Canada, and together they became a formidable and exemplary Deputy-Associate team. When the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, the federal government benefitted from Richard’s extensive experience and strategic perspectives to rescue Canada’s automotive sector from a disorderly collapse.

Richard’s many accomplishments and achievements in government, business, and academia have earned him several prestigious awards, including being appointed to the Order of Canada.

A passionate mentor, an inspiring Canadian

One of Richard’s special gifts was his ability to inspire public servants and to teach and mentor them. Many of today’s senior public service leaders, as well as past ones, will recall Richard’s sage advice – whether it was navigating through a particularly challenging policy issue or a tricky relationship with political officials or transitioning to a new career. He left an indelible mark through his wisdom, integrity, wit, and disarming nature.

In a letter to Canadians on the eve of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Richard wrote, “…there is across the democratic world, a loss of faith in institutions, especially in governments.  There are issues of relevance, of responsiveness, of trust. The advent of social media, which can connect thousands of people, instantly compounds the challenge. I am very confident in the capacity of the public service to be an organization that helps, not hinders your épanouissement.”

We all owe Richard a big thank you for his outstanding leadership in helping to build a better Canada. Rest in peace our dear friend and colleague, Richard.

- Mahmood Nanji, Power Corporation of Canada Policy Fellow, Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management, Ivey Business School

“Richard had a remarkable career in the energy industry and used this extraordinary experience to help build the Ivey Energy and Policy Centre into a leading academic voice on Canadian energy issues. His advice and guidance will be deeply missed.”

Brandon Schaufele, Director, Ivey Energy Policy and Management Centre