This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development Canada
Bachelor of Arts, Economics (’89)
Louise Levonian’s family came to Canada as immigrants, with very little in the way of material possessions. Growing up, she learned to never take her country for granted.
“My parents didn’t speak either of Canada’s official languages and my Dad found a job in a lumber yard,” recalls Ms. Levonian, who was born here. “If I hadn’t received the education I did, there is zero chance I would be where I am today. I am very, very lucky my parents chose Canada.”
Today, Ms. Levonian is Deputy Minister—the top public servant—at Employment and Social Development Canada. In that role, she leads close to 24,000 employees who administer Canada’s social safety net programming, including the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Employment Insurance.
“We deal with people from birth to old age,” says Ms. Levonian. “It’s a very social and economic mandate, which I love, because we offer support for people making career choices, getting back to work and retiring—thus helping to improve Canadians’ quality of life.”
Growing up, Ms. Levonian knew she wanted to make a difference, but never imagined she would become an economist, much less a deputy minister. She came to Carleton as an Arts student and earned average grades until she discovered Economics.
“Money was something my family worried about. I liked economics because it was a concrete and quantitative approach to finances with a human component. It wasn’t abstract,” she explains.
She remembers asking then Professor Richard Carson about majoring in economics.
“He asked if I had my maths — because without the proper math courses, I couldn’t do it. It was sobering,” recalls Ms. Levonian. “So I went back and took high school math courses over one summer and then came back and did the qualifying year for economics. I ended up liking math so much that I became a teaching assistant in it.”
Ms. Levonian says she remembers the support of faculty members and her peers very clearly.
“Carleton gave me the chance to really learn how to learn. It’s where I grew up and established the foundation in how to think and persevere, to stay on track,” she relates. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be here.”
From there, she earned a Master of Arts in Economics from Queen’s University and entered the public service, eventually becoming a tax policy expert within the Ministry of Finance.
“Working for the public service is the best job anyone could have. The public service brings you in and develops your career with you. You can have many different jobs,” she says. “I worked on pension planning for the Treasury Board Secretariat; the creation of Nunavut in the Department of Finance; agenda planning for the Privy Council; “Blueprint 2020: A Vision for Canada’s Public Service”, a renewal of the whole federal public service, and now as head of one of the public service’s largest departments. I don’t know of any company that can offer opportunities like this.”
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