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How a Master’s in Taxation Law helped Ron Friesen return to his professional roots

February 12, 2024


When Ron Friesen first enrolled for the Master’s in Taxation Law, he had no idea that it would take almost two decades to get to his graduation from the program.

From his early days as a chartered professional accountant in the 1980s, Friesen had always nurtured an interest in a taxation law degree, finally taking the plunge with Osgoode’s Professional LLM in Taxation Law in the mid-2000s while he was heading up the taxation department at Sun Life Financial in Toronto.

However, a major professional milestone forced Friesen to put his academic ambitions on the backburner shortly after his enrolment:

“They promoted me,” he says, explaining that his new role involved a move to Sun Life’s U.S. headquarters, where he eventually worked his way up to become chief financial officer for the company’s life insurance operations south of the border.

“About 15 years later, I was semi-retired and I wanted to do something different, so I decided it was a good time to finally pursue the taxation law LLM,” Friesen adds.

The U.S. move marked a something of a turning point in Friesen’s career: after more than two decades in senior taxation positions at accounting giant Ernst and Young, BMO Financial Group and Sun Life itself, his day-to-day focus switched to bigger-picture strategic and treasury work aimed at improving the company’s bottom line.

When he left Sun Life, Friesen returned to Canada, remaining in senior executive roles for a credit union-owned company and an insurance company, before he decided the time was right to get back into the taxation weeds. Re-enrolling for his Master’s in Taxation Law was the only option he seriously considered, Friesen says, because he believed it would perfectly complement his existing experience in the field.

“I liked the profile of their taxation law LLM, which gets more into the theory and policy, rather than the technical aspects,” Friesen says. “I also thought it would be very beneficial to come at tax from a legal perspective, which is quite different to the way we approach things in the accounting world.”

Since 2020, Friesen has been working for the Department of Finance in their tax policy group and credits the taxation law program’s extraordinary faculty – who include some of the top tax practitioners in the country – with helping him get back up to speed so quickly after 15 years away from intensive taxation work.

“Ten of those years were in the U.S. and my mind was not focused on tax, but on the many other things I was responsible for,” he says. “Having the curriculum is one thing, but who teaches it and how it’s taught are a huge factor. I think it’s really super the way they bring in instructors with practical experience from the industry and professional firms.”

Still, Friesen recommends a spell in business to any tax advisor who wants to take their practice to the next level, so that they can experience life in the shoes of their clients.

“It’s so much easier for the tax advisor and the client when you have real business experience. If you really want to be a productive, value-added tax advisor, there is no better way,” he says. “When you’ve seen it, done it, advised on it and then you also understand taxation law and all the jurisprudence around it, that’s an even more powerful combination.”

Want to learn more about the Professional LLM in Taxation Law? Sign up for an Information Session!