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A champion of ethics and collaboration in public service, former city manager Shirley Hoy receives honorary degree

A dedicated public servant for more than 30 years, Shirley Hoy has spent much of her career on the unsung but crucial work that makes governments more efficient, ethical and transparent.

For her “outstanding service to the university through her tireless commitment to its governance, and for her outstanding service to the local community,” Shirley Hoy today received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from the University of Toronto – her alma mater.

“When I got the call from President [Meric] Gertler, I thought he’d dialled the wrong number,” Hoy said in her speech to the Class of 2021. “I’m not a renowned academic, did not establish any multinational corporation or become a star in any field of arts, culture or music.

“I have been a quiet public servant for many years.”

Yet Hoy’s leadership, skills and experience in public administration have helped transform multiple levels of government. The community-minded volunteer brought the same high ethical standards and commitment to values that defined her government work to organizations such as the University of Toronto, the United Way and Unity Health.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants to Canada, Hoy attended high school at Lawrence Park Collegiate in Toronto. She earned a BA in sociology and a master's degree in social work from U of T in the early-1970s, and a master’s degree in public administration from Queen’s University.

Hoy’s career in public service began in 1980 with the former Metro Toronto government. She worked in several positions before making the leap to the province in the early 1990s, where she served as an assistant deputy minister in three different portfolios. She later returned to municipal government and rose to the position of city manager, which she held for almost seven years. She stepped down in 2008. 

As city manager, Hoy led a public service with more than 30,000 staff and provided expert advice to the mayor and city council to ensure the efficient delivery of city programs and services. It is a challenging position, and in the early part of her tenure, Hoy had to contend with a garbage strike, the SARS outbreak and 2003 blackout that affected Ontario and much of the northeastern United States.  At the same time, she was rolling out new internal processes related to auditing, ethical standards and procurement while also overseeing the development of the city’s 311 non-emergency info line.

Hoy’s commitment to public service includes U of T, where she served as a governor from 2008 to 2017, including a year as chair of Governing Council and three years as vice-chair. During her term, Hoy fostered relationships with the 50 governors (who include faculty, staff, students, alumni and government appointees), and focused on strengthening ties between the council and the president’s team to support the university’s short- and long-term goals.

“With regard to major issues, there is a lot of consultation done with the broader community before final decision-making at the Governing Council,” Hoy told U of T News in 2016. “It’s this collaborative process that allows us to provide the best experience for the entire university community.”

To U of T’s Class of 2021, Hoy spoke about the importance of an impartial, ethical and professional public service and of the value of co-operation.

“Governments often do not have the answers,” Hoy said. “The pandemic has demonstrated again and again that governments must employ meaningful collaboration and partnerships with the private, non-profit, and academic sectors, which are often more nimble and effective in achieving results.”

Hoy noted that Canada must draw on the best minds “to have any hope of success,” in fighting climate change, achieving social justice and ensuring economic prosperity. For governments to solve these societal challenges, Hoy said, they will need input from people with many different kinds of skills and experience – from the humanities, the social sciences and the STEM disciplines (science, technology engineering, and math) – and she encouraged today’s graduates to consider careers in public service. For now, though, she urged them to enjoy their convocation.

“You deserve to celebrate the culmination of the years of hard work, perseverance and sacrifice by you and your family,” Hoy said. “Under normal circumstances, convocation is a joyful and emotional celebration; in this year of pandemic, your achievements are even more poignant. Your dogged determination and resilience are inspiring us all.”