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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 ...

John Manley: Some of them I know, from the time that I was in Parliament - not a lot of them, quite a few have come in since.

I think they regard me as an honest broker. Part of my brand has been that I usually say what I think, and it's pretty much unvarnished. So I think they would expect that I would continue to conduct myself in that manner. I'm not going to surprise them, because they pretty much will know where I'm going to be coming from. I don't think when I was in Parliament, that I was the most partisan guy anyway - I don't think that was part of my persona. I'm a Liberal, and I've been a Liberal, and I was certainly loyal to the prime minister that I served and the government that I served. But it never struck me as being productive to tear down the other side. So I don't have that background to overcome.

I think that the relationship should be quite functional. I've had some calls from ministers since I took the job saying that they look forward to working with me ... I approached Afghanistan in as open-minded a fashion as I could, and I think both the Conservatives and the Liberals found that helpful.

Adam Radwanski: You alluded to some of the things that are said about the CCCE. There are some people who view it as a sort of a shadowy organization that sets the government agenda. That's no doubt a stretch, but is it as powerful as many people seem to think it is?

John Manley: I think power is widely diffused in the Canadian polity. I mean, I've done a budget - and yes, I received advice from the Council, from the Chamber of Commerce, from Greenpeace - in my budget we had a big green element. When you fashion a budget, even in a majority government, you've got a lot of interests to take into account. I don't think that power is very concentrated at all.

Now, I think the Council has succeeded in a couple of instances in really leading in terms of gaining public acceptance, and then government acceptance, for some major things. Probably the high point of that was the free trade debate in the 1980s, where Tom and the BCNI, as it then was, were very active, and I think contributed to a public acquiescence in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And I think there was a major contribution to attitudes around public finance, which was useful when we came into office in 1993 and had to tackle the deficit. And I think they championed responsible tax reductions, which also became part of the national agenda and very much accepted by Canadians and by government.

So yeah, those things have been there. But they're not behind closed doors; they've been pretty prominent in making those cases.

Adam Radwanski: You mentioned free trade; obviously one of the big concerns right now is protectionism, especially in the U.S. Do you see yourself being able to lend particularly strong advice to the government on that, given that you have experience in both foreign policy portfolios and economic ones?

John Manley: I think so, and I think the key to it is to work with the government by building alliances with U.S. business. It's no secret that it's very hard for Canadian interests to find an ear in Washington. And therefore, we really need to figure out who our allies in the United States can be, and try to get their assistance in getting some of these issues heard. Because I think it's true that U.S. interests are also hurt by protectionism.

So the government's got a role to play, but business has a role to play also. And we have, in the Council, not a small number of members that have important U.S. activities.

Adam Radwanski: Obviously, it's early days still; you haven't even started the job yet. But how will you define your success in it? What's the goal you're setting for yourself in terms of what you want to achieve?

John Manley: I learned as a minister that there were two elements. One, if you want to achieve something, you'd better figure out what it is and work toward a goal. The other is, you never know what events are going to change your sense of priorities overnight, and you have to be able to move with the tide of changing events.

But I'm still at the stage where I want to set some priorities. I want to talk to members of the council across the country, get a sense of the things that they think really need to be emphasized. It's going to still take me some time to give shape to what those goals will be.

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