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John Manley

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

When John Manley looks at the future of Canada, the former federal cabinet minister and Liberal leadership candidate sees huge issues on the horizon.

Mr. Manley would love to be grappling with these challenges as prime minister, but that job is taken.

So the 59-year-old lawyer found another way to help shape public policy Thursday, signing on as the new head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). In taking this job, he becomes the new voice of Corporate Canada, a role that has been filled for 28 years by retiring president and chief executive officer Thomas d'Aquino.

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"There's a divide between business and government, and my role will be to bridge that divide," Mr. Manley said in an interview. He will join the CCCE in October, and said issues at the top of the agenda will include regulation of financial services, the U.S.-Canada relationship, energy and the environment (he speaks of the two issues in one breath), and climate change.

"Politicians and business leaders don't speak the same language," Mr. Manley said. "In business, there is a lack of understanding of how decisions get made in Ottawa. Speaking as someone who has spent time in government, there is frustration in Ottawa with the business community's lack of understanding of the full scope of issues."

When his political career ended in 2004 - after stints as deputy prime minister, industry minister, foreign minister and finance minister - Mr. Manley joined a number of boards, including Nortel Networks Corp., CAE Inc. and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and served as counsel at law firm McCarthy Tétrault.

"John has enjoyed life after politics, but he truly misses being part of the policy-making process," said John MacNaughton, who serves with Mr. Manley on the Nortel board, and had a foot on both Bay Street and the political world as founding CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

"He's pro-business, but John has a view of the important role that government must play in the business community, and in society," Mr. MacNaughton said. And while praising Mr. d'Aquino's incredible run, Mr. McNaughton added: "There is a natural life to these jobs. John will be an energetic, articulate, even courageous leader."

The 150 companies whose bosses make up the CCCE collectively oversee $3.5-trillion in assets, and have annual revenues of more than $800-billion.

The new head of the CCCE is that rare breed of Liberal who enjoys the confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as Mr. Manley led a panel on Canada's role in Afghanistan set up by the federal Conservative government.

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"I'm still a Liberal, though some of my Liberal friends were angry with me for accepting the Afghanistan assignment. I like to think of myself as post-partisan," Mr. Manley said.

In his new role, he should enjoy access to the corridors of power, as the head of the CCCE or its staff have met with the Prime Minster's Office or federal Finance officials a total of 15 times in the past 18 months, according to the federal lobbyist registry.

Those talks ranged from tax policy to energy and small business. On at least three occasions, Mr. d'Aquino had face-to-face meetings with Mr. Harper.

"I warmly welcome John as my successor and I am confident that under his leadership … the council's future will be marked by excellence and innovation," Mr. d'Aquino said in a press release.

"John's outstanding record of leadership in the public and private sectors, his passion for public policy, his stature as statesman at home and abroad, and his well-deserved reputation for integrity make him a perfect fit as our council's next leader," said Gordon Nixon, CCCE chairman and CEO at Royal Bank of Canada.

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