In memoriam: Claude Castonguay (1929–2020)

Claude Castonguay, actuary and visionary, passed away on December 12 at the age of 91. Castonguay was one of the most prominent members of the Canadian actuarial profession, playing a significant part in the Quiet Revolution that transformed Quebec society during the 1960s. His contributions had a key role in the development of Quebec’s social security system, in addition to his work in the financial services industry.

After studying at Université Laval from 1948 to 1950, Castonguay enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s actuarial science department. Upon his return to Quebec, he began his career at The Industrial Life Insurance Company and pursued his actuarial education on his own. In 1958 he became one of the first Francophones to obtain the title of Fellow of the Society of Actuaries.

From the beginning of his career, Castonguay shared his knowledge by teaching actuarial science at Université Laval, alongside a few other practitioners. In so doing, they helped launch actuarial education in the province.

In the 1960s, he founded an actuarial consulting firm and worked on the report that would lead to the creation of the Quebec Pension Plan and, in turn, the Caisse de dépôt. “It was the first in a series of events that cast light on the actuarial profession. We had the chance to play a major role in laying the groundwork for social security,” explains Yves Guérard, FCIA. A young actuary and new associate of Castonguay at the time, Guérard recalls having worked for weeks on the actuarial calculations that were needed for the plan. “I’ll always be grateful to Claude for opening me the door on an actuarial career that went beyond my expectations.”

Castonguay was then asked to chair the Commission of Inquiry on Health and Social Welfare. The report produced by the Castonguay–Nepveu Commission recommended the creation of a universal health insurance plan. The recommendations were not implemented immediately, but in 1970 Castonguay entered politics as a member of Robert Bourassa’s team. Upon election, he was named Minister of Social Affairs and played a leading role in passing the Health Insurance Act and introducing the province’s medicare plan. “He was conscientious and a man of integrity,” says Claude Garcia, FCIA, and assistant deputy minister of Social Affairs during those years. “Claude wasn’t afraid to surround himself with capable people who could voice different opinions from his own. It didn’t bother him if we disagreed with him, and he never held it against us.”

Claude Castonguay in june 2014 at the Quebec National Assembly. Source: Journal de Québec

He left the political arena shortly before 1974 but maintained an active public presence throughout his life. He joined La Laurentienne mutual insurance company in 1976. After becoming its president in the 1980s, he was involved in the process to integrate and deregulate financial institutions and worked to amend related legislation. At the same time, he maintained his involvement in the health and pensions fields as a policy advisor to decision makers. In the mid-1990s he chaired a blue-ribbon panel examining health insurance in Quebec.

Claude Castonguay was a leading figure in Quebec and Canadian public life. While brief, his foray into politics had a historical impact. But he will be remembered more for his willingness and ability to put his knowledge to use for the betterment of society. He contributed in no small way to the profession’s recognition in Quebec, in addition to inspiring many of his contemporaries.

Members of the Institute have been sharing their memories of Claude Castonguay. Special thanks go to Denis Latulippe, FCIA, professor at l’Université Laval, for his generous contribution to our story. We invite you to share your memories of Castonguay in the comment box below.

“I had the chance to engage Mr. Castonguay on the question of improvements to the QPP. Our views diverged on certain points, but I appreciated how much he liked analyzing and debating the various issues while respecting differing points of view. Quebec and the actuarial profession owe him a great deal. That actuaries have gained such recognition among policy makers is thanks in part to him.” – Michel St-Germain, FCIA, CIA President.

“While our professional paths never crossed, I do have a small personal anecdote I can share with regard to Mr. Castonguay. I was bussing to work one particularly cold and windy day in the 1980s. As I approached the bus shelter, I noticed that a car had stopped, and the driver offered to give me a ride into town. It was none other than Claude Castonguay. I took the opportunity to tell him that he had played a part in my choice of career!” – Marc Tardif, FCIA, CIA Immediate Past President.

“I had the chance to meet Mr. Castonguay a few times, including at a 1980s breakfast when he was president of La Laurentienne. I was struck by his calm presence and his gravitas. I had the impression I was meeting an icon.” – Bernard Morency, FCIA, Chair, CIA Public Affairs Council.

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