Sylvia Ostry | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Sylvia Ostry

Sylvia Ostry (née Knelman), CC, OM, FRSC, economist, public servant (born 3 June 1927 in Winnipeg, MB; died 7 May 2020 in Toronto, ON). Sylvia Ostry was the first female chief statistician of Canada, a position that she held from 1972 to 1975 (see Statistics Canada).


Sylvia Ostry studied economics at McGill University where she obtained her bachelor’s degree (1948) and master’s degree (1950). She earned her doctorate from McGill University and the University of Cambridge in 1954.


Sylvia Ostry began her career teaching at McGill University, Université de Montréal and Oxford University. In 1964 she joined the federal public service as assistant director and then director of Special Manpower Studies for the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (1964-69) (see Statistics Canada). She was director for the Economic Council of Canada (1969-72); chief statistician of Canada (1972-75); deputy minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (1975-78); and chairman of the Economic Council of Canada (1978-79). (See also Economics.)

In 1980 she was appointed head of the Department of Economics and Statistics at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. In 1983 she returned to Ottawa and by 1985 she was Canada's ambassador for multinational trade negotiations. Called the "ultimate public servant," she has contributed especially in the areas of labour economics, manpower studies and productivity, for which she was given the Outstanding Achievement Award in 1987, the highest award for federal public servants.

From 1990 to 1997 she was chair of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. In 1991 she was named chancellor of the University of Waterloo. She served as the university’s chancellor until 1997.


Sylvia Ostry authored several publications on demography, productivity and competition policy. She co-authored Labour Economics in Canada (1979) with M.A. Zaidi.

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