And how did he find his way to be in charge of our finances?
Joe wasn’t a party member – but had been acquainted with Bob Hawkesworth, Kevin Taft and Brian Mason through council business, and he knew people in the NDP party.
Then, Rachel Notley came calling.
“Rachel was getting ready, felt there would be an election soon, and asked me to run. And I did. We had a great team, lots of wonderful volunteers.”
Most Calgarians know his reputation in a general way. Long term City of Calgary Alderman, social worker, champion of poor people, advocate for immigrants, nice guy – and now he has a daunting new job, Alberta Finance Minister and President of Treasury Board in the new Notley NDP government, arguably the second most powerful position, and everybody in Alberta is aware Joe Ceci will table his first budget a week from now.
What qualifies you to handle the provinces finances?
“During my fifteen years on City Council I was involved with a budget every year. I sat on budget committees, on the board of Calgary Housing Company. I remember, my first year – I worked very hard and got myself really well informed – and Sue Higgins said ‘hey Ceci, I thought you were a social worker’. City budgets have grown to be very large. We always had to balance our budget – every year. Always!”
His was born in Toronto, third born of four children. His parents both children of Italian immigrant farming families – near Simcoe, Ontario. Mom was a homemaker with good English skills (Italian is her second language). She became a go-to person for help within their community as explainer, letter writer. Dad farmed, served in the war and returned. They married, moved to Toronto. Dad did factory work and then went into a contracting business with friends. First concrete, then home building. “He had the biggest hands!”
All four Ceci kids went to university.
Joe did grades one-thirteen in Toronto, then studied social work, earning his degree from the University of Western Ontario. He remembers being ‘liberal’, involved in student politics in his faculty. His first job was in Calgary. He arrived, along with a buddy, on Hallowe’en day, 1980. Joe worked at Cambyr Counselling. His buddy at the Foothills Hospital. The buddy introduced Joe to a co-worker, Christine. A nurse. When she went travelling for a year in 1984, Joe wrote letters but after six months went off to join her. She returned to Calgary, he to Toronto, broke but determined. He worked, saved, and returned to Calgary. Joe and Christine married in May 1986. No kids. He resumed his career in social work as a counsellor. In 1986 he began work on his Masters Degree which he obtained from the University of Calgary in 1986. He then went to work in his field, for the City of Calgary.
“I got to know the workings of council, I wanted to make a difference for people on the margins – I thought I could do more working at the policy making level”.
Joe and Christine checked out a library book on how to get elected in municipal politics – read it, and Joe ran for Alderman. Friends ran a fundraiser that produced $600, and Christine was his campaign manager. “My wife is a VERY well organized person. We won by eighty-eight votes.” He served five terms, re-elected by a larger margin each time.
Why step down?
“I found the same issues make the rounds every two-three years and I found council member positions were very entrenched, so I didn’t run for a sixth term. I set up a consulting practice to work with smaller municipalities to address poverty issues, to push the provincial government on developing a poverty reduction strategy. I worked with an agency, Momentum”.
Why are you successful?
“Remembering who I am and where I come from – and why I think this work is important and valuable. You don’t do this work for yourself, but to make things better. It’s all about taking risks – pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, making something out of the situation you are in”.
What has held you back?
“Maybe if I’d studied law … .”
[Joe was gracious and generous, free flowing with answers in this interview except for on-point questions on financial issues. While he agreed they were ‘very good questions’ he says they will be addressed in his Oct. 27 budget. Fair enough. I’ll be checkin’ ]
How do you see your ‘new’ business – overseeing Alberta’s finances – going forward over the next quarter?’
… instilling confidence for Albertans who’ve been struggling, instilling confidence for investors to see Alberta as a great place to invest – and demonstrating that we are putting in place a framework for things to be better in 2016.
And over the next five years?
… it will be a better place than today because there will be substantial investment in this province – as we will outline in the upcoming budget.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… quality, intentional-ness, delivery … trust. Personable, conscientious – do I feel listened to, respected. Local.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Joe Ceci, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’d like to think it has to do with integrity, creatively, someone who can bring value to this situation.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I don’t ask people to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Lead by example. Try not to gripe about my life – to show thoughtful hard working examples of how things can get done.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… my mother, she’s 90, she’s very ill.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my wife – helping me, sharing and helping me to recognize what I can’t do – and helping me get there. She’s been a lot more disciplined than me. Mentors like Jack Scissons (a City of Calgary planner) who showed me how to get things done. My siblings being mentors to me.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… quite out of balance! I have to be intentional in carving out time.
… time with friends, running with my wife, cycling, going to the library, concerts – listening to music. [Joe’s appreciation of music began early – in junior high and high school, he played the viola]
What do you read?
… economic data, budgets, financial statements. Before I got this job I used to read a lot of crime noir novels, books and biographies about music. Anything Bob Dylan,
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