News Release

In memory of Jonathan Rhys Kesselman

March 12, 2024 Print

The staff and board members of the Institute for Research on Public Policy were deeply saddened by the loss of esteemed economist, researcher and frequent IRPP contributor Jonathan Rhys Kesselman, who died in late February.

Kesselman wrote numerous scholarly publications and hundreds of opinion essays that appeared in national newspapers, and made frequent submissions to government committees on a range of issues including tax and welfare reform, income distribution, economic security and social policy.

“He dedicated much of his long and prolific career to analyzing and improving Canadian public policy,” said France St-Hilaire, former vice-president of research at the IRPP.  “He did so by producing timely and cogent policy analyses for the IRPP and other Canadian think tanks. The common thread throughout has been his rigorous commitment to the principles of equity, efficiency and simplicity, and his genuine concern for issues of inequality and social justice in Canada,” she added.

His work contributed to key policy developments related to the Tax-Free Savings Account, the Registered Disability Savings Plan, the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Pension Plan and the funding of Employment Insurance. Through his academic appointments, first as professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and then as Canada Research Chair in Public Finance at Simon Fraser University, he helped train generations of students.

Canada has lost “a compassionate contributor to public policy who worked tirelessly in the public interest,” said David Green, professor at the University of British Columbia. “He made insightful contributions to the academic literature on public finance in a range of areas from wage subsidies to capital gains to a basic income. But, more importantly, he was a true public intellectual.”

A focus on fairness and finding ways to reform taxation and transfers for the benefit of the least well off was a hallmark of his career. He may not have been a household name, but his work benefitted households across Canada, added Green, who worked closely with Kesselman as members of the British Columbia Expert Panel on Basic Income.

In 2023, the IRPP published a book based on the panel’s work, Basic Income and a Just Society: Policy Choices for Canada’s Social Safety Net. In 2022, Kesselman made significant contributions to an IRPP workshop and a subsequent report, Financing Employment Insurance Reform: Finding the Right Balance, providing valuable insights on the history of reform, and the role of Employment Insurance in the economy and Canada’s social safety net. “He shared his expertise for the benefit of public policy and Canadians, which is something we should recognize and celebrate,” said IRPP vice-president of research Rachel Samson.

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