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ROB Lunch illustration. Bernard Lord. Credit: Anthony Jenkins / The Globe and Mail. for Dec 22 2012 Illustration of Bernard Lord, president and chief executive officer, Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
ROB Lunch illustration. Bernard Lord. Credit: Anthony Jenkins / The Globe and Mail. for Dec 22 2012 Illustration of Bernard Lord, president and chief executive officer, Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Bernard Lord: The wireless industry lobbyist with a political calling Add to ...

Bernard Lord bought his first cellphone when he was a baby-faced lawyer in the early 1990s.

It was a “bag phone,” and even though it was the size of a brick and had to be carried in a case, it made him feel like 007.

“I thought that I was cool,” Mr. Lord says. “I thought I was James Bond. I’ve got this bag phone and I can talk. You know, I can be in my car and call at the same time. How cool was that?”

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Two decades later, the still-boyish 47-year-old has managed to turn his long-time love of gadgets into a full-time job. Now chief executive officer of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Mr. Lord has become one of the most visible faces of this country’s $19-billion wireless sector.

It’s a high-profile job – and as the chief lobbyist for an industry Canadians love to hate, a challenging one. But it isn’t the prominent role some in Ottawa have in mind for him. Mr. Lord, who, at the tender age of 33, became premier of New Brunswick, has shunned a return to politics at every turn since his two-term reign ended. His name nonetheless remains on the top of would-be kingmakers’ minds each federal election – and, if the time comes, may be touted as a potential replacement for Stephen Harper.

Mr. Lord says he is at a point in his life, after raising two children who are now teenagers, where he could be open to a return to politics – even if he has no immediate plans to do so. “Every time I’ve been asked, I’ve said ‘No.’ It doesn’t mean I’ll say ‘No’ forever. I don’t know,” he says after he orders a California club sandwich and garden salad at The Keg in downtown Toronto.

He adds: “I love public life. I really do. I find it really is an honourable calling. It can be very difficult on families, but when you do it for the right reasons and you do it with passion and conviction, there really is nothing like it.”

That might be true, but for the time being he has his hands full representing an industry that is in the throes of perpetual change. He has been at the helm of the wireless group for just over four years. Still, in many ways, he remains the consummate politician. Flawlessly bilingual and media-savvy, his political finesse has come in handy as he advocates for an industry that is, by turns, assailed and acclaimed.

“I love working with the wireless sector. It is an exciting industry,” he says. “It is technology that is truly transforming our lives in a way that we’ve rarely seen before.”

The pace of that technological change has been extraordinary in recent years. The industry started out in the mid-1980s with what was considered to be an optimistic goal of attracting 100,000 customers by the year 2000. There are now more than 27 million wireless subscribers in Canada – many of whom are more interested in texting and streaming video than actually using their phones to talk.

“I have two teenagers. I see their bills. They can go months and talk maybe 10 minutes,” he says. “But it will never leave their hands and they are using it virtually every hour – even when they’re sleeping because it stays on.”

Technology also paved the way for him to work from home, which is a major reason he accepted the job. Although the CWTA is based in Ottawa (and he maintains an apartment there), Mr. Lord mainly resides in Moncton. That’s clearly a point of pride when he tells me: “I pay my taxes in New Brunswick.”

In fact, like a seasoned politician, Mr. Lord never misses an opportunity to be a booster for his home province. When I order my mustard salmon, for instance, he playfully says: “I hope it is from New Brunswick.” He also likes to tell people that New Brunswick is a great place to raise a family – a maxim that is a source of amusement for his kids.

Just as technology is a source of amusement for Mr. Lord: “I’ve always loved technology. I’ve never been a geek and I am not a programmer in any way, but I love using it,” he says.

Grinning, he tells me that his first computer was the Commodore 64. “It was the most popular computer ever. … It was 64K. It was just fantastic.” And as a young adult, he bought his first laptop during law school at the French-language University of Moncton. Today, he remains a BlackBerry devotee, who uses the Torch and has no plans to abandon the brand: “I love the physical keyboard. I like when I touch the key, I feel it.”

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