Michael Wilson, a highly respected former politician, Canadian businessman and passionate mental health advocate, has died at the age of 81, according to several media reports.
In an emailed statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the former federal finance minister — who helped negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement and ushered in the federal goods and services tax — was “one of the most intelligent, decent people I have ever met, inside or outside of politics and public life.”
“He was a steady, capable MP, minister and ambassador and led in historic changes such as free trade and the GST which transformed Canada for the good,” Tory said. “But if it’s possible, he may have contributed even more in his life after politics when he became a pioneer in raising awareness of mental illness and for his incredible contributions to post-secondary education through the University of Toronto.
“Michael Wilson was a gentle, considerate giant in business, in public life, as a diplomat in Washington, and in our community,” he continued. “He will be sadly missed and on behalf of all of the people of the city of Toronto, I express sincere condolences to his wife, Margie, and the entire Wilson family.”
Michael Holcombe Wilson was born on Nov. 4, 1937, and raised in Toronto, where he attended Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. He worked on Bay Street for two decades before diving into politics and being elected as Conservative MP for Etobicoke Centre in 1979.
At the time of his death, Wilson was serving as chairman at Barclays Capital Canada, a position he assumed in 2010. His death was confirmed to the Globe and Mail on Sunday by Bruce Rothney, chief executive officer of Barclays Capital Canada, who said that Wilson died after a battle with cancer.
Wilson previously served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 2006 to 2009 and as finance minister and industry minister under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He was also appointed chancellor of the University of Toronto in 2012 and served two terms before he was succeeded by Rose Patten.
Wilson was more recently recognized for his passionate advocacy for mental health, becoming chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2015. His son, Cameron, died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 29, a personal tragedy that Wilson touched upon in a recent Toronto Star opinion piece.
“Mental health has always been an area where I advocated, even before Cameron became ill,” he wrote in the November 2018 op-ed. “I used whatever influence I had to spark quiet conversations in the halls of Parliament and in my constituency office.
“For every life that ends in suicide, at least 25 people are forever changed,” he continued. “My life is one of them — and it has taken a winding path.”
Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar