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John Manley waits to testify before the foreign affairs committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 11, 2008. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
John Manley waits to testify before the foreign affairs committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 11, 2008. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Interview

'In marketing terms, I have my own brand' Add to ...

Adam Radwanski: What drew you to this job? It's a little different from what you've been doing previously...

John Manley: Well, it's an opportunity to do in a formal way some of the things that I have been doing in my time at McCarthy-Tetrault. I've found there has been a need for a bit of an interpreter between the business community and government. I've had a bit of a unique perch in both, and I know how incomprehensible the logic of government can be to the business world, and how inexperienced many in government tend to be with the demands of business, particularly in the large corporate world. And I think I can play a useful role between them.

I think the second thing is that one of the great passions of my life is public policy. This is an opportunity to be deeply engaged in some aspects of public policy which have been of interest and concern to me for a long time, including while I was a minister, without having to run for election.

Adam Radwanski: Obviously, you've got a lot of qualifications in both government and the private sector. But do you have a sense of what specifically it was that drew the CCCE to you?

John Manley: They put together a target of characteristics. But I think key to it was the sense that I had a pretty varied experience in government, going from industry to foreign affairs to finance, plus deputy prime minister, and yet I've kind of gone beyond being a real partisan. And I think the work that I did on Afghanistan gave them confidence that I could be effective in dealing with governments of whatever political stripe.

Adam Radwanski: Speaking of getting beyond partisanship, what's the reaction been like from other Liberals? Some of them view this organization with some suspicion. Have you had much response from people you worked with previously?

John Manley: Yeah, pretty positive. Only one said, 'are you nuts'? But for the most part it's been positive. I mean, the Liberal Party in opposition always moves a little bit to the left. But I think they're also very conscious of the fact that they need to have good contacts in the business community - it comes with credibility. And therefore I don't think that they see this as being a negative thing.

There were some people that still hoped I would go back again and run for something, and they're certainly disappointed. I consider that to be kind of flattering.

Adam Radwanski: Is there an expectation that you'll approach the job in a way that's a little bit different from the way your predecessor did?

John Manley: I think everybody brings their own personal style to a different job. From my point of view, I bring a different range of experience than my predecessor had. There's no doubt that having been there so long, having been virtually the creator of the organization, CCCE had become something of a personification of Tom, and that's to his credit. So that's a bit of a hurdle for me to overcome. It'll take time and effort.

In marketing terms, I have my own brand I guess, in the country, and it's not the same as CCCE's. It's not overly contradictory of it, either, but it's different. And over time, those brands have to somewhat merge. So I think that it'll take some time.

I think that we're in a different period, as well, right now. We've seen an unprecedented level of government intervention in the economy, and I think that that in itself means some of the issues for the Canadian business community are different than they were even two years ago. As we emerge out of the recession - and more importantly, we've been through recessions before, but we've never been through a near collapse of the world financial system before, at least not since the 1930 - I think that there's going to be a lot of work to do on ensuring that public policy response is appropriately measured to ensure that we don't suppress innovation at the same time as we try to react to the problems that created the downturn.

Adam Radwanski: You've been outspoken even before this about your concern about a lack of innovation. Is it your job in this role to try to nudge the government on that, or to try to nudge the people who will be paying your salary, or both? How do you see yourself being able to help move that agenda?

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