Friday, May 05, 2017

Clarence Lyle Barber

One hundred years ago today my father, Clarence Barber, was born on a farm near Wolseley Saskatchewan. His father was a farmer who sent milk to Regina, paying my father as a child to milk the cows. However, his mother had been a school teacher who highly valued education.

Clarence Barber
My dad was the second of four sons, three of whom would receive a PhD. In his early years he attended a one room school house, and loved to tell the story of being called on to give an answer in the late morning, but only after he had put on his skates to play hockey during the lunch hour.

He entered the University of Saskatchewan in 1937 three years after graduating from high school (the depression prevented him from starting sooner). By 1943 he had degrees from the University of Saskatchewan (1939), Clark University in Massachusetts (an MA in 1941) and had completed his course work for a PhD at the University of Minnesota (received in 1951).

At the conclusion of a summer course at the University of Chicago during his doctoral studies, the course professor, Frank Knight, handed him a copy of John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Although trained to that point by Chicago school free market economists, my father, as a result of this encounter, became a life-long Keynesian with an ongoing interest in seeking practical solutions to the economic difficulties facing ordinary people.

After two years in the RCAF he left the air force early in 1945 to participate in the preliminary work at the then Dominion Bureau of Statistics that would lead to the postwar creation of Canada's national accounts.

By 1949 he was established as a professor of economics at the University of Manitoba, where he would remain until his retirement in 1983. However, he worked for one year each at the Queen's (1954-55), McGill (1964-65) and the University of the Philippines while serving as an advisor with the United Nations in Manila in 1959-60.

His very accomplished career had some real high points:
  • He published a seminal article titled simply Canadian Tariff Policy in 1955 that articulated for the first time the theory of "effective protection" provided by the tariff.
  • He served as Director of Research for the Manitoba Royal Commission on Flood Cost-Benefit from 1957 to 1959. Without his pioneering work in cost- benefit analysis, the Red River Floodway around Winnipeg might not have been built. 
  • He served as President of the Canadian Association of University Teachers in 1958-59, at a time when it was dealing the academic freedom scandal at United College in Winnipeg arising from the dismissal of Harry Crowe.  
  • In 1966 he was appointed by the Government of Canada as the only member of the Royal Commission on Farm Machinery, delivering its final report in 1970. 
  • In 1972-73 he served as President of the Canadian Economics Association.
  • In 1977 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. 
  • From 1982 to 1985 he was a member of the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada. 
  • In 1987, he was appointed to the Order of Canada and to the Order of Manitoba in 2001.
His personal side was captured well in the Lives Lived column written by my brother Dave and published in the Globe and Mail in the summer of 2004 following his death at age 86 the previous February 27.
But it wasn't always hard work. In the early 1960s, he built a summer cottage on an island in the Lake of the Woods where he would spend the summers reading and relaxing. He loved to build and fix things: tables, a toy castle, a boat. My brothers and I joked that dad's handiwork was evident when we discovered some broken object that he had pasted back together in some ingenious manner.
Most importantly, he bestowed upon me and my brothers a profound sense of fairness, critical thinking, and acceptance of others. His favourite phrase was, "Where's your evidence?" Always sticking up for the underdog in defending an alternative viewpoint, he loved to debate issues of the day at the dinner table. At the height of Brian Mulroney's problems, I declared: "You know, dad, nobody likes Brian Mulroney." He replied emphatically, "In certain parts of Quebec, they do."  
A world traveler, he took my mother (affectionately known as "Babs"), me and my three brothers all around the world (with stops in the Philippines, Japan and London) when we were just kids. All this travelling exposed us to other cultures at a very young age - that was important. And he passed on to all of us a deep love of music; his record collection included everyone from Miles Davis to Ravi Shankar, Miriam Makeba and Glenn Gould. 
During the cold prairie winters he loved to ski and curl. But eventually Babs persuaded him to retire to a warmer climate in 1985 in Victoria, B.C. He developed a love of gardening, walking, and creating lists of the top 10 books he had read in that past year. Incredibly well-read, his lists reflected a huge curiosity about the world around him. He would often send these out at Christmas time as recommendations to friends. I marveled at the huge diversity of subjects on these lists. My dad championed the values of compassion, fairness and equality. Underlying his life and career was a deep thoughtfulness and kindness to others. If the measure of a man is whether he has made a difference in other's lives then my dad succeeded gloriously. 
There is nothing more for me to say except that we all still miss him.