Courtney served as Deputy Minister of Finance for 28 years between 1878 and 1906. In 1908, his Royal Commission on public service reform recommended the introduction of competitive exams for new hires to create a non-partisan, merit-based civil service.
Courtney lived at 245 Laurier Ave E (corner of Nelson) between 1875 and 1882. During that time, he worked with the Minister of Finance Sir Leonard Tilley on the 1878 National Policy budget which raised tariffs to support domestic manufacturing activity.
The Department of Finance was much smaller then than it is today but it had more responsibilities: it operated a small savings bank, regulated the insurance industry and audited departmental accounts. Courtney was not only the Department’s Deputy but also Deputy Receiver General and Secretary to the Treasury Board. Courtney took pride in the Department’s ability to increase its workload without any additional staff (it only had 45 employees in Ottawa in 1888).
During his career, Courtney championed important reforms to the Canadian
banking system and the public service despite vigorous political opposition.