Throughout his many years of public service in Canada, Thomas Shoyama was widely acclaimed across the country for his intellectual strength, his wisdom and humour, his calm confidence and firm objectivity, and a unique ability to reconcile conflicting points of view.
But more than that, Mr. Shoyama – or Tommy, as many knew him – showed a rare gift for inspiring both respect and affection in his staff, his colleagues and the senior government officials with whom he worked.
In 1979, Mr. Shoyama was honoured with the Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada. The citation read, in part, “His strength of character, inexhaustible energy and absolute dedication to Canadian interests…brought him national and international recognition as an outstanding public servant of his country.”
Such accolades – and there were many – were richly deserved,
In 1934, 18-year-old Tommy Shoyama left Kamloops, British Columbia with a small bundle of clothes, his bicycle and $10.00. Four years later, he graduated from the University of British Columbia with degrees in economics and commerce.
After graduation, he helped establish The New Canadian, a weekly newspaper focusing on civil rights issues for Japanese Canadians.
His editorial in The New Canadian published soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor was both eloquent and unwavering in its support for a more inclusive country: “Now that war has come…it is our responsibility to search out new ways in which we may serve our nation. One final responsibility is ours, and it is not the less heavy. It is a challenge not to despair, nor to take refuge in bitterness and hate. This tragic conflict will set back, but it must not destroy, our hopes and aspirations to walk with honour and with dignity and with equality as Canadians among Canadians.”
Though Mr. Shoyama was interned in 1942, he continued to publish The New Canadian, providing a vital communications link among Japanese Canadians during the war.
In 1945, Mr. Shoyama enlisted in the Canadian Army, serving with the Intelligence Corps.
Following his discharge, he joined the Saskatchewan government, working his way up to the position of economic advisor to Premiers T.C. Douglas and W.S. Lloyd. During this period, Mr. Shoyama helped build the prototype for today’s public health care system.
He joined the federal government in 1964 as one of the most prominent members of a score of senior public servants and policy analysts who left Saskatchewan for Ottawa.
Once in the nation’s capital, Mr. Shoyama became senior economist at the new Economic Council of Canada. Three years later, he joined the Department of Finance.
As Assistant Deputy Minister of Federal-Provincial Relations and Economic Programs, he was instrumental in developing a national version of the universal health care system he had helped create in Saskatchewan and in determining the pattern of federal-provincial collaboration in fiscal and economic planning.
He also served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources during the 1973–74 energy crisis.
As Deputy Minister of Finance from 1975-1979, a time of unusual difficulty and complexity, he proved himself to be a strong and perceptive economic advisor to the government.
He later served as an adviser to the Prime Minister on the economic aspects of repatriating the Canadian constitution.
In 1980, at the age of 64, Mr. Shoyama left Ottawa and became a visiting professor at the University of Victoria. He continued working with students there for another 15 years.
Mr. Shoyama’s profound and abiding commitment to public service was recognized through many distinguished awards, including Officer of the Order of Canada and the Vanier Medal in Public Administration.
In 1992, the government of Japan awarded Mr. Shoyama the Order of the Sacred Treasure, in recognition of his many contributions to the Japanese-Canadian community.
In 2007, to honour his memory, the Department created the Thomas K. Shoyama Award to recognize outstanding achievement by a Finance employee.
The department also established the Thomas Shoyama Annual Public Policy Lecture, which invites internationally recognized experts to speak on innovative ideas in public policy analysis.
Many years after Tommy Shoyama left Ottawa, his outstanding achievements are still regarded as the benchmark of excellence throughout the Public Service of Canada.