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Michael Wilson (Canadian politician)

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Michael Wilson
Wilson at the NAFTA Initialing Ceremony, October 1992
33rd Chancellor of the University of Toronto
In office
July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2018
Preceded byDavid Peterson
Succeeded byRose Patten
Canadian Ambassador to the United States
In office
March 13, 2006 – October 19, 2009
Prime MinisterStephen Harper
Preceded byFrank McKenna
Succeeded byGary Doer
Minister of Industry, Science and Technology
In office
April 21, 1991 – June 25, 1993
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byBenoît Bouchard
Succeeded byJean Charest
Minister of International Trade
In office
April 21, 1991 – June 24, 1993
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byJohn Crosbie
Succeeded byTom Hockin
Minister of Finance
In office
September 17, 1984 – April 20, 1991
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byMarc Lalonde
Succeeded byDon Mazankowski
Member of Parliament
for Etobicoke Centre
In office
May 22, 1979 – October 25, 1993
Preceded byRiding created
Succeeded byAllan Rock
Personal details
Michael Holcombe Wilson

(1937-11-04)November 4, 1937
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedFebruary 10, 2019(2019-02-10) (aged 81)
Political partyProgressive Conservative
SpouseMargie Wilson

Michael Holcombe Wilson PC CC (November 4, 1937 – February 10, 2019) was a Canadian businessman, politician and diplomat who served as minister of finance from 1984 to 1991 and minister of international trade from 1991 to 1993 under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Wilson was a Bay Street investment executive before he was elected to the House of Commons in 1979. He then unsuccessfully ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1983 before being appointed to Prime Minister Mulroney's cabinet. As a cabinet minister, Wilson introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and helped negotiate the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Wilson retired from politics in 1993 and returned back to Bay Street, heading his own consulting and financial services firm. Wilson served as the Chairman of Barclays Capital Canada Inc. from May 2010 until his death in February 2019.[1] He was the Canadian Ambassador to the United States from 2006 until 2009 and the Chancellor of the University of Toronto from 2012 to 2018.

Early life[edit]

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Wilson was the son of Constance L. (Davies) and Harry Holcombe Wilson.[2] Wilson attended Upper Canada College and then the University of Toronto, where he graduated with a degree in commerce in 1959. Wilson joined Harris and Partners Ltd., an investment firm, in 1961. He then worked at the Department of Finance from 1964 to 1966. After, he served as executive vice president of Dominion Securities from 1973 to 1979.[3]

Early political career[edit]

Wilson was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) in the 1979 federal election. In that election, the PCs led by Joe Clark won a minority government. Wilson served as Clark's Minister of State for International Trade, though only for nine months as the PCs would suffer a defeat to the Liberal Party in the 1980 election.[3]

Wilson was a candidate at the 1983 Progressive Conservative leadership convention. He dropped off after the first ballot and urged his supporters to vote for Brian Mulroney, the eventual winner.

Cabinet minister (1984–1993)[edit]

Finance minister (1984–1991)[edit]

Mulroney, as prime minister, appointed Wilson as minister of finance when the party formed a majority government after the 1984 election.

Tax reform: Bill C-139[edit]

Wilson introduced a major tax reform bill, Bill C-139, which was made effective on January 1, 1988. It included reforms for personal and corporate income taxes. The bill expanded the tax base for personal and corporate income; lowered rates applicable to taxable income; supplanted exemptions with credits; and removed certain deductions for personal income tax. The bill replaced the 1987 rate schedule of 10 brackets (with rates ranging from 6 to 34 percent) with a schedule of only three brackets (with rates of 17 percent, 26 percent, and 29 percent). The bill also limited the lifetime capital gains exemption to $100,000; lowered capital cost allowances; established limitations on deductible business expenses; and cut the dividend tax credit.[4]

Goods and Services Tax[edit]

Wilson introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in his 1989 budget. The tax replaced the hidden 13.5 percent manufacturers sales tax (MST), which Wilson argued damaged the Canadian economy's competitiveness as it only applied to domestically-manufactured goods, as opposed to the new GST which applied to both domestic and imported goods. The GST did not apply to basic groceries, prescription drugs, health and dental care, educational services, day care, and legal aid. Following public backlash, Wilson changed the tax's rate to seven percent, down from the original proposed rate of 9 percent. Although the government argued the tax was not a tax increase, but a tax shift, the highly visible nature of the tax was extremely unpopular, and many polls showed that as many as 80 percent of Canadians were opposed to the tax.[5][6][7] Though the Senate with a Liberal majority refused to pass the GST, Mulroney used Section 26 (the Deadlock Clause), a little known Constitutional provision, which allowed him in an emergency situation to ask the Queen to appoint eight new Senators. On September 27, 1990, at the Queen's approval, Mulroney added the eight new Senators, and the GST was passed in the Senate in December and was made effective on January 1, 1991.[8]

Minister of Industry and International Trade (1991–1993)[edit]

Wilson (bottom right) at the NAFTA Initialing Ceremony, October 1992

In 1991, after seven years as Minister of Finance, Wilson became Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and Minister of International Trade. In that role, he participated in negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.


Wilson in 2009

Wilson was not a candidate in the 1993 election, and he returned to Bay Street to head his own consulting and financial services firm. He later rejoined Royal Bank of Canada, and he was Chairman and CEO of RT Capital when that business was sold to UBS AG. Wilson served as Chairman of UBS Canada from 2001 to 2006.

In recent years, he was a spokesman for a lobby group promoting public–private partnerships, and he was the Chairman of the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance. From 2003 to 2007, Wilson served as the Chancellor of Trinity College. In July 2012, he became the Chancellor of the University of Toronto, and he was re-elected to an additional three-year term in 2015.[9]

Wilson was a mental health advocate, having lost a son to depression and suicide.[10] Wilson established the Cameron Parker Holcombe Wilson Chair in Depression Studies at the University of Toronto. He also sat on the board of directors for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Wilson was active in many other organizations, including the NeuroScience Canada Partnership, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, the Loran Scholars Foundation, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

On 30 October 2003, Wilson was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 2010.[11]

On 9 April 2015, it was announced that Wilson was appointed the new board chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.[12] He was also a member of the Trilateral Commission.[13]

Wilson died from cancer on February 10, 2019.[14]

Ambassador to the United States[edit]

Wilson with United States Congressman Dan Burton in 2006

On 16 February 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the nomination of Wilson as Ambassador of Canada to the United States of America. He succeeded Frank McKenna in Washington, D.C. Wilson became the 22nd Canadian Ambassador to the United States on 13 March 2006, when U.S. President George W. Bush accepted his credentials.

Allegation of leaks during 2008 Democratic presidential campaign[edit]

In March 2008, it was alleged that Wilson told the Canadian media that U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama was not serious about his promise to opt out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Liberal MP Navdeep Bains called on Wilson to step down as Canada's ambassador to Washington while the alleged leaks were investigated. Wilson publicly acknowledged that he spoke to then-CTV reporter Tom Clark, who first reported the leaks, before the story aired, but he refused to discuss what was said.[15][16]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson was married to Margie Wilson and was predeceased by son Cameron, who suffered from depression and died by suicide in 1995.[17] Following his son's death, Wilson devoted considerable time to advocate for mental health. The couple had two other children: son Geoff Wilson and daughter Lara O'Brien, both of whom married and have children.[18]


There is a Michael Wilson fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[19]

Electoral record[edit]

1988 Canadian federal election: Etobicoke Centre
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Michael Wilson 24,338 48.4 -8.4
Liberal Mary Schwass 20,342 40.5 +10.6
New Democratic Phil Jones 4,815 9.6 -3.2
Libertarian Janice E. Hazlett 373 0.7 +0.2
Green Isabel Van Humbeck 187 0.4
Communist Dan Goldstick 81 0.2
Commonwealth of Canada John J. Benz 70 0.1
Independent Jeanne Gatley 62 0.1
Total valid votes 50,268 100.0
1984 Canadian federal election: Etobicoke Centre
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Michael Wilson 34,026 56.8 +9.7
Liberal Jim Brown 17,853 29.8 -11.6
New Democratic Phil Jones 7,657 12.8 +2.0
Libertarian Shirley Yamada 339 0.6 0.0
Total valid votes 59,875 100.0
1980 Canadian federal election: Etobicoke Centre
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Michael Wilson 26,969 47.1 -4.2
Liberal Joe Cruden 23,715 41.4 +3.7
New Democratic Dan Shipley 6,181 10.8 +0.6
Libertarian Norman R. Andersen 308 0.5 +0.1
Marxist–Leninist Anne Boylan 88 0.2 +0.1
Total valid votes 57,261 100.0

1979 Canadian federal election: Etobicoke Centre
Party Candidate Votes %
Progressive Conservative Michael Wilson 31,498 51.3
Liberal Alastair Gillespie 23,141 37.7
New Democratic Dan Shipley 6,237 10.2
Libertarian Norman R. Andersen 272 0.4
Communist Nick Hrynchyshyn 112 0.2
Independent Helen Obadia 54 0.1
Marxist–Leninist James H. Reid 38 0.1
Total valid votes 61,352 100.0


  1. ^ "Barclays rolls out big guns". The Globe and Mail. 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
  2. ^ "Wilson, Hon. Michael Holcombe, P.C., B.Comm. | Encyclopedia.com".
  3. ^ a b Hillmer, Norman (13 February 2008). "Michael Holcombe Wilson". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 December 2023.
  4. ^ Carter, George (28 January 2007). "Taxation in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  5. ^ Simpson, Jeffery (7 January 2011). "The GST Hated By Many Stands The Test Of Time". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  6. ^ "Canada's 9% Sales Tax Proposal Stirs Discontent". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. 1989-09-19. Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  7. ^ "Brian Mulroney looks back at GST with no regrets". CTV News. 28 December 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  8. ^ "When Brian Mulroney upsized the Senate to pass the GST". CBC. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  9. ^ "About the Chancellor". University of Toronto. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
  10. ^ "Students are not fragile flowers – we must care about their mental health". TheGlobeAndMail.com. 5 October 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  11. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "The Governor General of Canada". GG.ca. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Statement from Louise Bradley on the appointment of new board chair". Mental Health Commission of Canada. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  13. ^ "THE TRILATERAL COMMISSION" (PDF). www.trilateral.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-26.
  14. ^ Kiladze, Tim; Andrew-Gee, Eric (10 February 2019). "Former finance minister, ambassador and businessman Michael Wilson dies at 81". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved Feb 12, 2019.
  15. ^ Clark, Campbell. "Envoy faces calls to resign in NAFTA leak probe". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  16. ^ Harper, Tim (11 March 2008). "Envoy's role in leak questioned". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  17. ^ Macdonald, Cynthia (10 December 2015). "A Canadian Hero for Mental Health". University of Toronto Magazine.
  18. ^ "Michael Wilson - obituary". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  19. ^ "Michael Wilson fonds, Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2020-09-16.

External links[edit]

Parliament of Canada
21st Ministry – Cabinet of Joe Clark
Cabinet post (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
  Minister of State for International Trade
24th Ministry – Cabinet of Brian Mulroney
Cabinet posts (3)
Predecessor Office Successor
John Crosbie Minister for International Trade
Tom Hockin
Benoît Bouchard Minister of Industry, Science and Technology
Jean Charest
Marc Lalonde Minister of Finance
Don Mazankowski
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Trinity College
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Toronto
Succeeded by