This is a message for all the doe-eyed students studying at Western’s Ivey School of Business, or the interns fetching dinner for their bosses on Bay Street after hours: You’re going about things in the wrong way.
Yes, your tenacity is adorable, and many will admire your fidelity to archaic, largely disproven mantras such as “hard work is the key to success” and “opportunities are handed out on merit.” But if you really want to thrive in Canada’s relatively insular business community, there is one surefire path to success: Befriend a Liberal cabinet minister.
How, exactly, you might make that connection – that’s up to you. You might consider attending one of many international summits in which Canada flies out hundreds of delegates to tackle things like climate change and the excessive carbon emission costs of unnecessary travel. Or perhaps you could loiter at Metropolitain Brasserie on Sussex Drive in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, where the right connection could eventually land you a great return on a $20 Caesar salad. Or else, try being born into a well-connected and wealthy family, through which you might befriend an important politician simply by winning the sperm lottery.
However you manage it, though, a friendship with a Liberal cabinet minister may offer you and your business a direct path to one (or many!) lucrative government contracts. For example, if you find yourself celebrating birthdays, travelling or just chatting on the phone with Trade Minister Mary Ng, you and your business might be well positioned to land a couple of government contracts for communications advice, even if the ministry has its own in-house communications personnel.
Or if you trade friendly e-mails, socialize at a private residence and/or exchange gifts with ministers such as former finance minister Bill Morneau, your children’s charity could score a deal (among other government funding) to administer a multimillion-dollar student grant program during a global emergency. But if you just don’t have the time or energy to nurture these relationships, you can speed up the process by looking for Liberal connections within your own family. Indeed, ask around and pay attention to the names in those family group chats, because if you’re lucky, your first cousin’s husband might have some pull in, say, getting you a multimillion-dollar Arctic surf clam licence.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Will I get in trouble for using my connections with powerful people in government for my own financial gain? Also: Won’t my new cabinet minister-friend risk being forced to resign, or worse, for quite blatantly violating Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act?
Well, here’s the best part. If the public heat garnered by your shady business partnership gets too hot, the worst that will happen is that your contract will get cancelled (that is, unless your last name is “Kielburger” and the national attention shines a light on some of the more unsavoury-seeming aspects of your business practices).
Do not be intimidated by stern language from Canada’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who may write that “there is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company,” and who could go on to list the specific sections of the act violated by the real or apparent conflict of interest. In practice, these words and findings mean nothing. Sure, your cabinet minister friend might have to issue a public apology and vow never to do it again (in which case, maybe he or she can put you in touch with another, unsullied cabinet minister?) and claim to take “full responsibility” for his or her decision, whatever that means. But in the end, there are no consequences, and no accountability. In fact, the Prime Minister – who himself has twice been found to have contravened the Conflict of Interest Act – might even lend his own voice to defending you and your cabinet bestie.
So beyond a bad headline or two, and perhaps some futile outrage from the opposition benches, there will be no real repercussions for appearing to leverage your friendship for financial gain. Indeed, this is simply how things work in contemporary politics: the powerful help the powerful, there may or may not be an official finding of wrongdoing, the parties involved may or may not offer apologies, and then everyone moves on until the next ethics violation. And with a status quo like that, why would anyone try to slog it by working hard and putting in your time?
In business, it’s all about who you know. The best people to know in Canada are sitting around the cabinet table.