In The News


Listen in as the PPF's President & CEO Ed Greenspon sits down with policy leaders to get at emerging issues for cities as part of a podcast mini-series called Thinking Out Loud for Concordia University.

From the Internet of Things to transportation and planning to incubators to universities, catch the conversations here.

The government's policy framework on cultural industries leaves many unanswered questions on its vision for protecting the future of Canadian journalism.

By: Ed Greenspon, President and CEO, Public Policy Forum

When it comes to action ensuring the future of serious journalism in Canada, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has a much clearer idea of what she doesn’t want than what she might be willing to accept.
The third pillar of Joly’s “Creative Canada” speech last week, which was about strengthening public broadcasting and local news, was noticeably shorter and thinner than were the other parts. This isn’t entirely surprising. In news, she is confronting one of the trickiest policy areas imaginable, in both economic and political terms.
The minister doesn’t want to bail out the private sector news industry models that are no longer viable. This is while increasing government’s traditional support for creative industries that lack of commercial viability – meaning they’ve always relied on government subsidies. Most notably, she agreed to top up shortfalls in the Canada Media Fund, which came about as a result of disruptions to the business models of cable and satellite distributors.
Joly also doesn’t want to level the tax field by charging foreign sellers of digital services the same HST that domestic players are forced to pay.
She doesn’t want to place financial demands on platform companies like Facebook, Google and Netflix beyond voluntary contributions.
She doesn’t want to be seen to be encroaching on journalistic independence.
And, should she decide in future to take action to support news, she wants to concentrate on local news and the CBC.
In articulating a vision for the cultural industries, Joly has focused on creative industry storytelling that can appeal to global markets.
But the economics of news is different from that of other cultural industries. Unlike novels, feature films or video games, news is highly perishable, and much of it is inherently local, which mitigates against an export strategy. The models that would enable existing news organizations and, notably, digital start-ups, to produce sufficient revenue to finance journalism, have not emerged, and a great deal more experimentation will be required.
Any threat to journalistic integrity is totally unacceptable. But that does not mean there should be no policy on news organizations, which provide coverage of our democracy in its many forms.
The political challenges presented by the news industry are daunting. How can policy ensure the survival of original reporting, which is so vital to democracy, without compromising the independence of the media? Any threat to journalistic integrity is totally unacceptable. But that does not mean there should be no policy on news organizations, which provide coverage of our democracy in its many forms. It just means that the government should not have discretion over individual editorial decisions.
The media policy bridge was crossed decades ago – CBC is the product of policy. Section 19 of the Income Tax Act (which prevents tax deductions for ads targeted at Canadians, but which are placed with foreign newspapers and broadcasters), is a product of a policy –one that will become moot as more ads go digital. The waiving by some provinces of sales taxes on books and newspapers is the result of policy. The CRTC’s new fund directed at local television news is a policy that already has led to the hiring of additional reporters.
Despite Joly’s rejectionist words on aid to media companies, the background documents accompanying her speech indicate she’s not necessarily done with the news file.
In her speech, she made only vague references to the Canadian Periodical Fund, which has long supported magazines and some community newspapers. But the background documents raise the possibility of modernizing the fund to ensure it “responds to industry needs.” Apparently, there’s more to come in 2018.
Joly appears to be headed – if anywhere – toward the principles set out in the Public Policy Forum’s The Shattered Mirror – a study of news, democracy and trust in the digital age, and an initiative led by the forum and news companies and unions that calls for reforms to the Periodical Fund. Both exercises identified the erosion of professional reporting capacity and the weakened ability of news organizations to underwrite digital innovation as the main deficits requiring policy attention.
The minister’s background documents also talk about reforms to improve support for digital innovation, business development and start-ups and, most critically, a possible change to the funding qualifying criteria so “eligibility could take into account original editorial content expenses, including print and digital content.” Reorienting government policy to take into account support for “original editorial” is the essence of The Shattered Mirror’s argument.
There are different routes that lead to that destination. The government clearly doesn’t like route one – imposing a levy on sellers of digital advertising in Canada that don’t invest in Canadian news gathering, and redirecting the money to those who do. The alternative route, having the Periodical Fund rebate some portion of original editorial content expenses to publishers (including digital-only publishers) through a predetermined and nondiscretionary formula, achieves many of the same ends.
The big question is, who would qualify. The Canadian Periodical Fund is currently reserved for magazines and a handful of community newspapers. If the minister wants the fund to be platform agnostic, as she states, the natural criterion is who is spending on original news, not whether they are daily, weekly or monthly, which is an artifact of the print era in any case.
As for the dreaded nonviable business models, which is to say print newspaper companies, the fact is they and legacy broadcasters generate most national, provincial and urban news; they operate leading digital news sites; and one of them, Montreal’s La Presse, has gone digital-only. So, would La Presse qualify for funding and The Globe and Mail not? Would iPolitics qualify but not The Canadian Press (CP)? Would Maclean’s, which currently receives about $1.5 million a year from the Canadian Periodical Fund, or would other publications such as Solid Waste and Recycling or Frank magazine qualify, but not, or
Excluding the major originators of the country’s news, including local news, from a scheme based on original editorial content would make no sense. It is a good thing more thinking time has been allowed around the policy framework.
Several other issues the minister raised cry out for further explanation. She extolled a role for civil society in news, but has not yet offered the means by which nonprofit news organizations can become charities, and to thereby be supported directly by foundations.
Choosing not to extend the HST/GST to US operators in a global economy is one thing. Using policy to place Canadian companies at a disadvantage is something else again.
She explained that she won’t do what dozens of other jurisdictions have already done – force foreign digital services to pay the same taxes as domestic competitors – because Canada already has some of the highest Internet subscription costs in the world. If the minister doesn’t want to tax Netflix (and Facebook and Google, etc.) in order to protect taxpayers, the government can instead level the playing field by removing the tax on the digital subscriptions and advertising of the Canadian providers. Choosing not to extend the HST/GST to US operators in a global economy is one thing. Using policy to place Canadian companies at a disadvantage is something else again.
Then there’s the public broadcaster. Her speech is long on the importance of the role the CBC plays – as it should be. Moreover, she suggests, as does The Shattered Mirror, that the CBC’s mandate should be modified to put a higher premium on its news, documentary and current affairs operations.
She also calls on the CBC to become “a leading partner among Canada’s news and cultural organizations.” Does this mean the CBC should share its content more widely with start-ups and others, which would enrich the entire information ecosystem? Or does she mean the CBC should be given the responsibility of filling the growing gaps in local news resources across the country? In some places, local coverage of city council is so weak that it consists of calling the mayor the day after meetings to ask what transpired.
The minister may prefer the CBC as a vehicle because its finances are healthy, thanks to increases in parliamentary appropriations by her government. A decade ago, the 100-plus daily newspapers in Canada combined had about twice the revenues the CBC has. Today, the revenues of the daily newspapers and that of the CBC have nearly converged, and the CBC is almost twice as big as all the country’s community newspapers combined – nearly 1,000 in total.
The government should be careful not to put too many eggs in one basket, even that of a journalistically excellent public broadcaster. Diversity of news sources is one of the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy.
The Shattered Mirror proposes that a major initiative, to shore up local news, be housed as a nonprofit in CP, which is a 100-year-old bastion of the highest journalistic standards that operates in both official languages and has a presence in communities from coast to coast. A strong CBC and a strong CP, with its local news available to all comers, is the better way to reinforce local coverage of civic affairs.
The same diversity should be sought when it comes to Indigenous news, in this era of reconciliation and evolving nation-to-nation relations. The only mention of Indigenous news in the minister’s speech was in reference, once again, to the role to be played by the CBC. The Aboriginal People’s Television Network was skipped over entirely. The minister will have time to reconsider. Indigenous journalists working for Indigenous institutions should be at the forefront of Indigenous news coverage.
Finally, while the minister appropriately decried “filter bubbles” – the directing of information to a user to reinforce their online preferences – she placed no demands on the algorithm-driven platforms that build these virtual walls. Germany, Britain and even the US have tried to address the filter bubble issue. Although Joly cited a public interest in bursting filter bubbles, she limited herself to praising an unspecified contribution by Facebook to digital news innovation. The one has little to do with the other.
As of now, the government seems to not share the sense of urgency felt by journalists and media owners about the continuing deterioration of journalism in Canada.
But the economic and political situations may well change over the next year. In a little-noticed report in August, Moody’s Investor Service said Postmedia has an “unsustainable capital structure,” and that its finances may be “insufficient to support its operations over the next 12-18 months.” A reading of the tea leaves also suggests the patience of billionaire families like the Thomsons (The Globe and Mail) and the Desmarais (La Presse) to underwrite losses in their news operations may be wearing thin.
The possibility exists for a meeting of minds between the government and the news industry. Among the political hurdles faced by governments on news is a questioning of the defensibility of providing support to companies owned by domestic billionaires and foreign hedge funds. There would be less static if, as part of a future support package, these enterprises agreed to become (officially) nonprofits. In the case of newspaper chains, each individual newspaper could be sold to owners based in the local communities.
In the wake of Joly’s speech, there is still work to be done on the tough policy issues. The good news is there is an apparent willingness on the part of the government to keep the conversation going.
This article appeared in Policy Options on October 2, 2017.

OTTAWA - Five things to know about the federal government's move to have the Public Policy Forum review government policies related to the news media:

1. The independent Public Policy Forum review revolves around three questions: Does the deteriorating state of traditional media put at risk the civic function of journalism and thus the health of democracy? If so, are new digitally based news media filling the gap? If not, is there a role for public policy to help maintain a healthy flow of news and information, and how could it be done least intrusively?

2. Many western countries are struggling with the same issues, and significant legal and public policy battles have taken place in Germany, France and Britain, among others. U.S. copyright law allows up to 300 words to be copied online without paying the publisher or author but many European jurisdictions are still battling this out.

For the full article, please click here.


By Katharine Starr, Simon Nakonechny, CBC News

Clerk of the Privy Council says a very different looking public service will emerge as boomers retire

Canada's public service is enthusiastically embracing its revamped role within the new Liberal government, but with an ambitious agenda comes the risk of bureaucrat burnout, warns the country's clerk of the Privy Council.

"Everyone's finding it both challenging and stimulating," said Michael Wernick in his first TV interview, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"I think this government takes its tone from the prime minister — a very open approach, very engaged, very consultative. That's creating a lot of energy, but also a lot of work" for public servants, Wernick said.

"You have to be good at managing work flows and not trying to be a hero and do everything in the last 48 hours. It's putting a premium on good management skills, and those are not skill sets all our senior middle managers have, so we're working on developing them."

An increased workload and new demands hasn't dampened federal employees' spirits though, he said. 

"There does seem to be a bit of a buzz and excitement about being around something exciting."

See full article on



By: Edward Greenspon

Editor's note: This originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

Innovation is fast becoming the new weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody is sure what to do about it. They aren’t even sure what it is.

Perhaps that’s because the conversation on innovation needs fresh voices with more “rubber meets the road” perspectives.

Six new voices recently talked their way into the national discussion at an unusual town hall: the doers spoke and the experts listened. That each of the doers had received one of the inaugural Governor General’s Innovation Awards the previous day invested them with an extra dollop of street cred.

Their most basic message to policymakers was “Do No Harm.” They had insider stories about the perversity of government procurement practices, the dizzying alphabet soup of support programs, the impenetrable tangles of red tape, the mixed record of incubators and accelerators and the rigidities they encounter in post-secondary educational structures. Oh yeah, and the perennial matter of internal trade barriers making a small country even smaller.

Governments that want to help often inadvertently hinder.

The simple proposition behind the town hall led by the Public Policy Forum is that if we are to have an Innovation Nation, its citizens must be heard.

In this case, the citizens have created a wearable technology so people with diabetes can detect on their smart watch what they can’t feel in their feet. They’re extending the lifespan of the lithium ion batteries that power electric cars, attracting the attention of Tesla’s Elon Musk and drawing a dream team of graduate students to Dalhousie University. They’re marrying traditional indigenous knowledge with cutting-edge applied arts and design, using technology and art for social justice and change.

They’re using nanotechnology to create a breakthrough dressing for burn survivors that simultaneously kills bacteria and decreases inflammation. They’ve developed a minimally invasive procedure to treat brain tumours using laser probes guided by MRIs. They have invented a robotic arm that allows people with physical disabilities to manipulate objects. 

They don’t dislike government. They just don’t want to get caught up in its obsessions. One said whenever he hears an offer of matching funds, he heads for the exit. Another observed that governments have dozens of funding programs on offer, more than a small start-up can ever investigate. Nobody wants to divert their discovery and development time to filling out forms.

Governments that want to help will have to slim down and run faster.

They’ll have to be all-in as well when it comes to using their huge purchasing power, in the manner of governments decades ago in helping build a telecommunications sector. The award winners identified an odd paradox in current public procurement practices: On the one hand, economic development departments champion innovation; on the other, public electricity and health care systems display indifference, even hostility, to anything new.

Winnipeg’s Mark Torchia and Richard Tyc have installed their NeuroBlate brain tumour treatment system in more than 35 hospitals in the United States and just one in Canada. The JACO robotic arm faces similar resistance. “I tell politicians they should stop giving me grants and instead give me orders,” says its inventor, Charles Deguire. “If you want to have an innovation nation, your biggest buyer has to be innovative.”

Herein lies a critical cultural gulf. Governments, under siege from the inquiring minds of auditors and the harsh judgments of the failure-intolerant, find it safest to direct spending toward known knowns. In contrast, genuine innovators are outliers chasing the unknown. University of Alberta nanotechnologist Robert Burrell comments that discovery often boils down to seeing what everyone else sees, but thinking about it differently.

Figuring out how to boost up those thinking differently has fallen to Navdeep Bains, whose former Department of Industry has been rebranded Innovation, Science and Economic Development. He’s been mandated to develop an Innovation Agenda that supports economic growth, attracts investment and builds export-oriented companies.

Job One is getting governments, like innovators, thinking and acting differently. If you insist on sticking to code, you’ll keep building what you already know. That’s the opposite of innovation.


University World News
Julie Cafley Issue No:412

The shifting landscape at universities around the world is creating some unfortunate casualties. In the Canadian context, the presidents at the University of British Columbia, the University of Saskatchewan and L’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières are some of its latest victims. In fact, we have seen at least 18 abrupt departures in Canada over the past decade – university presidents with an unfinished first term.

A trend is seen in media reports and opinion pieces, primarily in Canada, the UK, Australia and the United States. These commentaries question presidential resignations, early departures, unfinished mandates and even rare reinstatements, as seen in 2012 at the University of Virginia. 

Journalists, past presidents, and academics endeavour to pinpoint the reason for these shortened mandates. Sporadic circumstances cite a campus scandal. 

However, most articles refer to issues such as a potential disconnect between the board and the president, a concern over presidential management skills and leadership style, or university finances.

Universities both within Canada and internationally are continuing to face greater complexity triggered by global competition, the changing needs of students and employers, decreased public sector funding, issues of accountability and increasing and conflicting expectations from a growing number of stakeholders. 

These complex and unique institutions are transforming before our eyes. This disruption and fast-paced change creates new challenges for leaders.

Increased scrutiny

The roles of university presidents are changing too. And they are under an unprecedented level of scrutiny. Leading through turbulent times and moments of crises requires leadership excellence, an adaptive personality and thick skin. The leaders must simplify complexity and build trust among a variety of parties. 

Elaborate job descriptions are fascinating to read and yet many stakeholders on university campuses do not agree on how the university president should spend his or her time and where the focus needs to be. It takes a trusted leader to manoeuvre with confidence in such a complex system.

Of course, the university itself is a paradox. On the one hand, these are organisations that are radical, forward-thinking and innovative. Big-thinkers are contributing to the next disruptions – pushing the boundaries of thought in the humanities, advancing science and leading technological advancements. 

And yet the governance of universities is rooted in tradition and governance structures are generally slow-moving and often averse to change. This contradiction in approach makes these institutions enormously challenging to govern and to lead effectively.

The changing role of presidents

Within my PhD research, I examined, through the lens of Canadian university presidents with unfinished mandates, the role of the university president. Some of my findings help to uncover a better understanding of the changes that are occurring within universities and the challenges for university presidents who are on the cusp of this change and leading through turbulent times.

My research is unique in the Canadian context, drawing on first-hand accounts from university presidents with unfinished mandates. These presidents shared, in full trust, their disappointments, failures, successes and lessons learned. In doing so, each showed a desire to improve the system and to support other presidents in their mission of leading. Their feedback and experiences had many common threads. 

A key theme underlying each of their comments was the importance of building a sense of trust. Trust was a common element in both their successes and failures. Some presidents regretted the trust that they gave; others were never able to give the trust they needed to. 

Some felt weak links in their relationship with their board of governors, others felt weak links within their leadership team, and many were challenged by both parties.

In my research, six areas of concern emerged as having played a role in undermining their ability to lead. These include board governance and communication; trust within the executive team; mentorship; the role of the predecessor; the effectiveness of the transitional process; and issues relating to diversity.

Two of these themes, board governance and diversity, require specific consideration and action.

Each of the presidents with unfinished mandates I interviewed raised significant concerns regarding board governance and communication. All reflected extensively on their troubled relationships with their board of governors, and, in particular, the chair of the board. In a few cases, a change of chair early in their mandate made the board-presidential relationship more difficult. 

Some admitted they should have made board relations a larger priority and wished they had invested more time in the relationship earlier in their mandate. 

A disconnect with university culture

The informants also shared significant concerns about multiple aspects of board governance. An overall lack of good governance was apparent in each case. All too often, the board implemented a governance review only after the unfinished mandate. 

In the hiring process, there were issues related to a lack of disclosure, and, in some cases, a sense that the board had delegated its responsibility to an executive search firm. 

Other concerns related to ethical issues – ignorance about governors’ roles and basic good governance practices. There was a strong belief that there was a misunderstanding of the complexities of the academic enterprise by board members and a real disconnect regarding the realities of university culture.

Regarding the issue of diversity in university leadership, there is much to do. My informants referred quite openly to the ‘old boys’ club’ within universities. 

In the Canadian context, only 20% of university presidents are women and this statistic has remained unchanged for the past two decades. Furthermore, the last six out of eight university presidents in Canada to have their mandate cut short have also been women. 

In a country where we have gender parity in Cabinet and a larger number of female undergraduate students than male, the university system needs to undergo some radical change in order to be current with the times and provide the leadership that reflects both student and faculty populations.

Unfortunately, much of the commentary and discussion regarding the choice of university presidents still reverts back to the question of 'fit'. When you dive into the research on organisational fit, you quickly learn that this is an outdated concept and often perpetuates the status quo. 

In most cases, in universities and beyond, fit works against the core principles of diversity. Unfortunately, our unconscious bias tells us that a university president is white, middle-aged and male. 

Of course, this is not the type of fit we are necessarily seeking. The important value of diversity at the leadership level needs to be openly discussed and understood. Action is required.

Canada faces a shrinking pool of candidates interested in becoming a university president. These leaders are chosen based on an engaged and inclusive process, involving many campus stakeholders. University leaders, policy-makers, board members and executive search firm leaders have an obligation to take a critical look at how they can do better.

While universities are building, nurturing and developing tomorrow’s innovators, many are plagued by a conservatism in governance structures that impedes change, discourages innovation and perpetuates the status quo. Universities need to lead the effort to change this.

Dr Julie Cafley is vice-president of the Public Policy Forum in Ottawa, Canada.

University World News
Ross Paul08 April 2016 Issue No:408
Canada’s public universities have flourished for years under relatively independent boards of governors. However, with the democratisation of higher education, they are no longer ivory towers but very public and increasingly accountable institutions and there are signs that they are feeling the strain.
One of the most striking outcomes has been an alarming increase in the failure rates of Canadian university presidents. In the past decade, more than 25% have failed to complete their first term of office, a figure that was well below 10% in earlier eras. Some high profile examples have stimulated a lot of soul searching on campuses across the country.
From Montreal to British Columbia
Concordia University in Montreal had consecutive presidential failures in 2007 and 2010. What was particularly striking was that both presidents had been apparently successful as leaders of another Canadian university and yet each left the Concordia job after little more than two years. The university commissioned a full review of its governance and made a number of changes before recruiting again.
A recent high profile case involved one of the country’s top universities when Arvind Gupta was dismissed as president of the University of British Columbia, or UBC, after only a year in the job. The same day his “resignation” was announced, Jennifer Berdahl, a senior research chair in power, gender and diversity, wrote a blog speculating on whether his “soft leadership style” meant that he had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC...”
The aftermath complicated matters considerably. UBC’s board chair, ironically the sponsor of Dr Berdahl’s chair, telephoned to admonish her for her public comments. She also received some pressure from administrators in her faculty and reported on both incidents publicly. 
This led the university to commission a third-party inquiry which concluded that Dr Berdahl’s academic freedom had not been upheld by the university, although it did not find the board chair to have infringed any of the collective agreement or other relevant policies. Feeling vindicated, the board chair nevertheless resigned.
UBC is again seeking a president and Dr Berdahl was named one of three faculty members on the search committee. However, with the faculty association actively considering a motion of non-confidence in the board and many wondering about the viability of a presidential search at a time of such turmoil, she recently resigned from the committee. Her resignation and the Concordia example notwithstanding, UBC is continuing with the search.
It is not always easy to divine why a particular president has been unsuccessful, especially because the reasons are usually masked by non-disclosure agreements. Designed to protect both president and board, they often backfire, both because the information vacuum fuels negative speculation and because the truth, or at least vestiges of it, almost inevitably leaks out. 
This happened dramatically at UBC when the university inadvertently released a slew of emails between the president and board chair that showed how quickly the board had lost confidence in its new president.
While the answers vary per institution, there are remarkable similarities across the country. Julie Cafley, whose 2015 doctoral thesis was the first to examine this phenomenon in Canada, interviewed six derailed presidents and found that, in each case:
The president encountered communications difficulties with some board members and distrust from at least one member of the senior management team;
Board members were misinformed or unaware of their role and responsibilities;
Vital information was not disclosed to the president until after he/she had been hired;
There was an unhelpful predecessor.
In all but one case, there was also little transitional support from the board. After putting so much time and effort into presidential searches, too many university boards then expect the appointee to simply get on with the job. Given that the incumbent has usually come from outside the institution and that the job requires so many different dimensions of leadership, it is folly to think that any individual will be equally experienced and prepared for all facets of the role.
This applies especially to a first-time president, often one who has never previously worked on or for a board. The newcomer will need both mentoring and on-boarding to learn the institutional culture, develop a strong team and delegate responsibility in areas where he or she has less training or experience.
The buck stops at the board
Ultimate responsibility for the success of a president resides with the board. Many of its members are used to running their own businesses and may be unfamiliar with the academy’s preoccupation with process and high tolerance for debate and dissent. Most importantly, board chairs and presidents need to know the crucial differences between management and governance and to respect and support their respective roles.
Not surprisingly, it is increasingly difficult to find well qualified individuals willing to take on a university presidency. Nevertheless, it is still a plum job and there are many people who can perform it well if the board fulfils its responsibilities in an open and supportive way. 
This means ensuring mutually agreed upon, clear and public expectations for what the president is expected to do and how he or she is to be evaluated. Ultimately, university boards get the presidents they deserve!
Ross Paul is a former president of Laurentian University and the University of Windsor in Canada and the author of Leadership under Fire: The challenging role of the Canadian university president (2nd Edition, 2015).

BY: EDWARD GREENSPON / APRIL 13, 2016 The Globe and Mail

Edward Greenspon is president and CEO of the Public Policy Forum

Canada needs to map out a new growth plan. Everyone knows that. What nobody yet knows is how to organize ourselves to plumb the frontiers of future growth and who does what.

The payoff of getting it right is enormous. Assume for a second a steady-state growth rate of 2 per cent a year over the next 50 years, essentially the working lives of today’s undergraduates. Then imagine that good public policy can layer on an extra one-third of 1 per cent a year, hardly a moonshot.


The difference is an economy at Canada’s 200th birthday $1-trillion larger than otherwise would be the case.

With a population of, say, 60 million by then, that’s about $50,000 a family – year-in and year-out. It’s worth figuring out the route.

Last summer, a drink in Calgary with Joe Lougheed, son of the late and great premier of Alberta Peter Lougheed, reminded me of how this usually works best in Canada. Governing from 1971 to 1985, Mr. Lougheed was a policy visionary and implementer.

He created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, designed to hold back a share of non-renewable energy revenues for future generations. His model was adopted from Norway to the Emirates – nearly everywhere but Alberta, where successors preferred to live in the moment.

Mr. Lougheed was early into innovation, investing heavily in medical research to prepare for a post-petroleum knowledge economy. He created a mini-National Research Council for the oil sands devoted to nothing but improving recovery technologies, an institution that may have saved Alberta heartache and conferred competitive advantage if it, too, had not been subsequently scrapped.

For all his success, Mr. Lougheed wasn’t always universally popular in the business community, especially when he urged pacing the development of the oil sands.

“Some people called him Purple Peter,” Joe told me.

“Why Purple Peter?” I asked.

“Went in blue and came out red,” Joe shrugged.

In fact, he went in purple and came out purple. And if purple represents government and business doing what they each do best with common purpose, therein lies the foundation for rejuvenating an economy that can no longer count on commodities to cars to provide locomotion.

Enhancing long-term growth in Canada requires bringing together the vision and long-term capacities of a confident public sector with the creativity and operational discipline of private operators. And, because it’s 2016, the concurrence of the citizenry is inescapably part of the mix.

Purple was the colour that rescued Syncrude, the second oil sands plant, when it was deemed too risky for private operators alone.

Purple was the colour of the transcontinental railroad, the Seaway, the Trans-Canada highway and, more recently, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, whose director Arthur McDonald was co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.

SNO, 2,072 metres down a working mine shaft, has rewarded Canada with something of a global product mandate in subatomic particle research, with 100 partner institutions worldwide directly involved.

Such century-long investments reap multigenerational dividends, yet go beyond reasonable planning cycles for corporations. If long-termism prevails, they provide a model for the next round of infrastructure spending.

Economic orthodoxies come and go. In the wake of the low-growth 1970s, Western voters rejected the interventionist model of the postwar era.

In the wake of low growth since 2008, voters in Canada overturned the small-government consensus born of the Thatcher-Reagan era.

What comes next is still taking shape. In her book, The Entrepreneurial State, economist Mariana Mazzucato points to the indispensable and underappreciated role of governments in providing entrepreneurs the prerequisites for innovations. Unless the modern state is strategic, flexible and mission-oriented, she warns, top minds will not find it an “honour” to work on the public side of the equation.

A key question for Canada is whether a historically successful public service is sufficiently of the digital times to grab hold of the emerging frontiers of growth.

Being a modern Purple Peter starts with vision, confidence and ambition.


BY: TAYLOR OWEN / APRIL 8, 2016 Open Canada

Canada’s Public Policy Forum hosted its 29th annual Testimonial Dinner and Awards Thursday evening in Toronto, bringing together more than 1,000 people from the country’s business and political communities “to pay tribute to distinguished leaders who have made outstanding contributions to the quality of public policy and good governance.”

This year’s honourees included CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, recipient of the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism, and OpenCanada’s founder and editor-in-chief (and UBC professor) Taylor Owen, who received the Emerging Leader Award.

Owen addressed the crowd and event chair, PEI Premier Wade MacLauchlan — the transcript of his speech is published below. 

Thank you Premier MacLauchlan. It is an honour to receive this recognition from the Forum, and to be included amongst colleagues and friends who have received this award in the past. And I feel privileged to address this – somewhat intimidating – room.

 I am particularly excited to be presented this honour from the acting and newly minted presidents of the Forum, my friends and mentors Larry Murray and Ed Greenspon. Over the years I have had the tremendous fortune to learn a great deal from them both.

The challenge I’m facing tonight, (they might say irony), is that as I have told them both many times I believe that our industrial-era institutions (our universities, governments, media organizations and think tanks – the places they have spent their remarkable careers running) are increasingly ill equipped for the 21st century.

 It is this moment of transition, from what I would characterize as the analog world to a digital one, from a world of hierarchies to one of decentralized networks, an industrial era to a post-industrial age, that I want to spend a few minutes speaking about.                                                                          

I have spent the past decade studying how digital technologies are transforming the worlds of journalism, international affairs and public policy.  

I would suggest that each of these once distinct spaces and communities of practice are now faced with a radically different operating environment.

One where power is shifting from large organizations to individuals and groups and where participation and authority are moving from the few to the many. A world ruled byinformation abundance rather than scarcity and where our public discourses are mitigated by Silicon Valley platforms rather than the traditional media. Where gatekeepers to power, influence and audience are dissolving (or being replaced by algorithms).

A policy space in which increasingly complex challenges are deliberated in an ever more fragmented and fluid media space. And where the practices, norms and cultures of journalism, scholarship and policy are blurring.                                                                                         

I would argue that this is an uncomfortable world for industrial-era institutions that were purpose-built to provide stability, certainty and continuity.

The reality is that command and control bureaucracies are just no longer needed to make large numbers of people do things. These institutions have simply lost their monopoly on collective action.

What's more, individuals and groups that are successful in this new environment are empowered in ways that sit outside of, and in many ways challenge, the very legitimacy and relevance of our 20th century hierarchical organizations.

Even more problematic, efforts to enforce control and order in the digital space risk either failing (think paywalls), or worse, breaking the network itself.

For example, many of the things states are doing to stop what they perceive as negative actors online, also undermine the free expression and commerce that make the internet so beneficial.

It is a very difficult world for control freaks.

And herein lies the policy challenge, because it is in these legacy institutions that we as a society have embedded our social, ethical and political values.

So as these organizations evolve, decline, or in many cases just go bankrupt, a central governance challenge we face is how to transition the societal values they enabled into this new and evolving space.                                                                                      

And it is here that I want to suggest is the opportunity for think tanks such as CIGI and the CIC, where I am engaged, and indeed for the Public Policy Forum. We desperately need a new generation of think tanks that can serve at this intersection of technology, civil society and governance.

But in this current environment, a failure to adapt and innovate is leading many legacy think tanks to a fate worse than their death: their irrelevance. The days of back room briefings, printed reports and closed workshops are as obsolete as print newspapers.

New communication technologies and platforms, such as the one that I run, OpenCanada, play a role in this transition, but I want to propose that the need for change goes far deeper. The lesson of the digital age is that successful organizations actually structure themselves, and the ways in which knowledge is produced, disseminated and implemented, differently.

So as Ed takes over this institution, an organization which I say with the utmost respect, was built for the policy world of the 20th century, I think there is a tremendous opportunity to experiment confidently in this complex nexus of media, policy, scholarship, activism and governance, and to help us transition as a society to the 21st.

Thank you again for this honour.



To face an age of climate change, Twitter and counterinsurgency, Canada’s foreign policy establishment needs fresh ideas.


Every year, a new book emerges that seeks to “rethink Canada’s place in the world.” Inevitably, as someone who studies and writes about international affairs, I do my part, buy a copy and settle in for the nearly inevitable slog. There is nothing wrong with these books, per se. The authors are often colleagues and friends. Most are written in a smart and accessible manner. They discuss all the big world issues I personally care about—conflict, peacebuilding, development, the United Nations, our relationship with the United States and so on. They prescribe thoroughly reasonable courses of action. They are sometimes even marginally provocative. But they invariably leave me wanting.

Perhaps it is the nostalgia for a golden age of Liberal Canadian foreign policy, when Pearson saved the Suez or Axworthy led on landmines or a small group of elites managed our engagement with the world. Perhaps it is the hyperbole surrounding Canada’s impact in the world—that everything we say and do will resonate through the international halls of power. Perhaps it is the near-ubiquitous Central Canadian worldview. Perhaps it is the often breathless critiques of, or acquiescence to, the United States.

Whatever it is, something is amiss. The Canadian foreign policy conversation is tired. The “road maps” presented are familiar, and there is a notable lack of innovation. There is no excitement.

Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe steady-as-we-go is the best approach to engaging with the world. Maybe there is a moderate, non-partisan consensus among foreign policy professionals over what our role should be, and we should leave the job to them. But I remain skeptical.

Whereas foreign policy was once the domain of the professional bureaucrat and the academic expert, it has since been radically democratized. Long gone are the days when the Department of Foreign Affairs had a monopoly on our voice abroad. Mining companies in Africa, innovative non-governmental organizations run by 20-somethings, private military contractors, blogs written by enthusiasts, do-it-yourself development initiators, social enterprises run by Ivy League entrepreneurs, Emmy-winning documentary filmmakers, and provincial and municipal officials all shape our national foreign policy today. If the foreign policy discourse is going to appeal to those now acting in the world, rather than those who got us here, then it must speak to their aspirations, adopt their worldviews and engage their tools. And they are diverse.


This summer saw an addition to the Canadian foreign policy canon. Paul Heinbecker, former UN ambassador and lion of the country’s liberal foreign policy establishment, has given us Getting Back in the Game: A Foreign Policy Playbook for Canada. The theme is clear. We are lost. We need a new way. This book will guide us.

Fingers crossed.

Heinbecker tells three stories: a memoir of his diplomatic career, a historical sketch of Canadian foreign policy, and reflections on, and Canadian policy prescriptions for, contemporary global affairs.First, the memoir. Heinbecker has had a remarkable diplomatic career. In the world of Canadian foreign policy, he has held all of the positions that matter—speechwriter and policy maker for prime ministers, top positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and ambassador to Germany and the UN.

In the last capacity, he was stationed in New York on September 11, 2001. His recounting of the year that followed is a highlight of the book, as is his depiction of the tension at the UN in the lead-up to the Iraq war, when he played a key role in promoting a last-minute, and unfortunately ultimately unsuccessful, Canadian compromise. He bore witness to the gathering storm of collective decision making that led to the invasion, and details the way the media and foreign policy establishment created a sense of war fever, where dissenters were ostracized from the policy, media and political establishment. He is also damning of General Colin Powell’s consequential testimony to the Security Council, stating that “little or nothing of what he said has ever been corroborated.”

Future debates over sanctioning war will be better informed by Heinbecker’s recollections, and his reflections throughout the book on our relationship with the U.S., developed from close personal diplomatic engagement, are also wise. But I found myself wanting more memoir. His anecdotes tease rather than satisfy, and feel hindered by diplomatic restraint. For better or worse, Canada rarely produces government insider tell-alls, so, unsurprisingly, Kissinger-esque Heinbecker is not.

Provocatively, this restraint is only lifted when reviewing Harper’s foreign policy, on which Heinbecker is scathing. Harper’s foreign policy has “tended to compensate for inexperience with ideology, to subordinate substance to communications, and to privilege partisan advantage over national interests.” His front-bench and regularly rotating foreign ministers have lacked experience, Heinbecker argues. His regular and unpredictable changes in diplomatic direction, and his disbanding of many foreign policy initiatives for which Canada has become respected, have aggravated our allies. And, according to Heinbecker, his exploitation of international affairs for partisan political purposes—on issues such as capital punishment, Israel and Palestine, human rights and Canadians held prisoner abroad—have added to the perception that he does not take foreign policy seriously.

(Wherever one stands on any of the individual critiques, they collectively provide a good starting point for understanding why we lost the election to the UN Security Council this past October.)

In the second part of the book, Heinbecker reviews the foreign policies of previous federal governments. This is useful as a generic outline, but the lack of overarching themes or lessons means it adds little to the established historical narrative, with the notable exception of an assertive defence of the UN. Rather than making the oft-heard case that the UN is the least bad option for global governance, Heinbecker convincingly argues that it provides a necessary hub for the international community that cannot simply be replaced with regional organizations and ad hoc initiatives. This is a rare moment when emotion enters onto the page, and it reads elegantly.

The final third, and primary objective, of the book is devoted to a “playbook” for Canadian foreign policy. Here Heinbecker lays out a sensible, moderate, middle-of-the-road mix of policies. The diplomat’s voice comes through loud and clear. But the problem with moderate, sensible prescriptions is that they are rarely innovative.On policy stagnation in Ottawa, for instance, we are told we need prime ministerial leadership, a respected finance and foreign minister, more resources for DFAIT, and the operation of the Canadian International Development Agency subsumed under Foreign Affairs. This is all fine, but what should these institutions be doing differently? Surely the problems lie deeper that the size and influence of government bureaucracies. Why is it, for example, that successful young people increasingly do not see the public service as an attractive career? How did CIDA get to its current operational stasis? What does it mean that we have provinces, corporations and non-profits actively defining the Canadian brand abroad? Will reverting to pre-1990s budget allocations and providing greater political leadership really address these and the many other core challenges?

On Afghanistan, by far Canada’s most significant foreign initiative in a generation, we only get two recommendations: no arbitrary withdrawal deadline and a national and parliamentary debate on what to do in 2011. The brevity of these proposals is understandable as few have good solutions for what is an intractably challenging conflict (although both are already out of date, we now have a timeline, established with no debate). But surely these very challenges, and the effects they have had on our role in the world, could be explored. Heinbecker offers no discussion about, for example, how the mission has fundamentally transformed the capacity and purpose of our military, or how it has confirmed our shift from a neutral third-party peacekeeper to a more assertive peacebuilding role that merges development and counterinsurgency, or how it has highlighted the types of conflict we are more likely to face around the globe, or how it has demonstrated the serious operational deficiencies of the efforts led by both NATO and the UN.

On climate change, we are told we need a “made-in-Canada” plan that supports sub-national initiatives, to implement aspects of Copenhagen not linked to U.S. legislation, and to “move heaven and earth diplomatically to make sure we are ‘at the table.’” Again, the core challenges inherent to policy making on climate change are simply avoided. If we believe climate change is an existential problem, as many do, then we should surely be doing more than the tinkering recommended. If we do not believe it is a problem, as much of the Harper caucus does not, then why are we doing anything at all? This is surely a case where the middle position between two extremes is inadequate.

Climate change is also a remarkably poignant case of a global collective action problem, one which new norms of global governance must be capable of addressing in order to be relevant in the 21st century. In terms of governance, Heinbecker’s focus is on strengthening the UN and the G20, with sensible steps that could be taken in each case. But in many ways these are the institutions of the 20th, not 21st century, and while they remain pivotal, there are surely opportunity costs to doubling down on them. Is making the Security Council slightly more representative really the best way we can support renewed global governance? What about regional organizations such as the African Union, which are increasingly taking a lead in everything from financial and trade reform to peacekeeping operations? Or trade regimes actively debating radical reforms to global capitalism, such as the Doha round of the World Trade Organization negotiations, or the age-old Tobin tax, promoted by many at the Toronto G20 but dismissed by our government?

While Heinbecker highlights a shift from (U.S.-dominated) unipolarity to multipolarity in international dealings, it may very well be that even multipolarity ultimately fails to account for vast new global forces. There is little discussion of the wide range of new non-state actors and networks that technology and globalized capital markets enable—phenomena that traditional foreign policy language is often ill suited to discussing. The key variable may not be that there are new powers in the multilateral game, but rather the diminished influence of state powers themselves.

Finally, as I sit here in Vancouver, I am astonished that there is so little on Asia in Getting Back in the Game. While the majority of Heinbecker’s proposals entrench Ottawa’s power and seek to reinvigorate old institutions, Western Canada quite literally has its back to Ottawa, and is faced squarely at Asia. How, for example, can there not be a discussion of the Asia Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative? It is hard to imagine a more significant new trade regime emerging in my lifetime than that enabled though this joint government program. With billions of dollars in federal, provincial, private sector and foreign funding, this project has significant implications for the next century of Canadian trade relations, for the development of the oil sands, and for our relations with the United States. It is also part of a shift that strikes at the core of our identity: are we an Anglospheric or an Asia-Pacific nation?

On a related note, the rise of China is also notably under-explored, as is the complex accompanying debate over human rights versus markets that we will increasingly have to come to terms with. It would be useful to know where Heinbecker, a leader in the Liberal human security and rights-based foreign policy agenda of the 1990s, stands on this vexing challenge. There is also nothing on population flows as a tool of foreign policy—a key emerging lever, with both immigration policy and diasporic influence getting increasing academic and policy attention.

And here lies the crux of the problem with this book. It sets out an agenda for the 20th century, rather than the 21st, written by and for the particular demographic that has long dominated this discussion. And by failing to update his worldview, Heinbecker has provided us with a policy platform that feels out of date—one that safely returns us to the (often successful) ideas and guiding principles of the 1980s and ’90s, rather than breaking new ground.

As memoir, Heinbecker’s book is interesting. As a summary of recent Canadian diplomacy, it is useful. As a guide for foreign policy, it falls flat. To borrow Heinbecker’s metaphor, this playbook may get us back in the game, but it is insufficient for us to win.Whether this is the perfect group is irrelevant: it is drawn from the new foreign policy establishment. And in part because of this, the resulting document presents a very different world than the one depicted by Heinbecker.

To start, the project developed a fascinating list of touchstones for our engagement in the world. These new global realities, or “game changers” as Greenspon and company call them, serve as a map of the 21st-century foreign policy playing field. While some, such as Indo-Chinese growth, climate change, terrorism and the limits to sovereignty are familiar to everyone, others are remarkably innovative.

Several get to the core of the idea that multipolarity is being usurped by diffuse and complex patterns of international relationships, an approach that has found voice, but few substantive corresponding policy shifts, in both Barack Obama and Michael Ignatieff. The start of Open Canada refers to the new importance of networks, and the report does a great service to those who wish to apply the concept by spelling out some of its realities: the observations that “ideas have replaced industry,” for instance, and that “information has been democratized” are rightly highlighted as likely the most important shifts in international affairs. Any policies that work against these forces, or that do not actively engage them, should be treated with skepticism.

What follows in the report is a series of brainstormed policy ideas, many truly advancing the discussion rather than retreading hallowed ground. Proposals include replacing CIDA with arm’s-length organizations based on the International Development Research Centre model, debunking the national foreign aid target of 0.7 percent of gross domestic product, granting Chinese-Canadian dual citizenship, building a university of the Arctic and creating a national energy strategy. These may not be the only solutions to problems identified, or even the right ones, but they do reflect 21st-century realities.

In that, such proposals are clearly the product of very different mapping exercises than Heinbecker’s. Whereas Open Canada argues that “there is no prestige at merely being at a table” of multilateral institutions, Heinbecker’s UN goals seem designed to be just this. Whereas Open Canada argues that ideas are the new institutions, Heinbecker doubles down on institutions. Whereas Open Canada prioritizes networks, Heinbecker looks to traditional actors using the traditional tools of diplomacy.

Ultimately, Open Canada provides the basis for a new way of engaging in foreign policy, and has the potential to frame a new generation of discussion. If Heinbecker asks and answers what a good 20th-century foreign policy looks like, then the CIC’s Global Positioning Project asks and begins to answer what a good 21st-century foreign policy looks like. Here is hoping that others will continue what the CIC has begun.


To see just how different a new take on the global realities can be, one need only look at another Canadian foreign policy work published this summer: the Canadian International Council’s Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age.

The report is the product of a year-long effort to chart the 21st century foreign policy landscape. Ed Greenspon, the former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, was tasked with drawing new ideas from an eclectic group of mainly Gen-X leaders in foreign affairs. Notably, this group reflects the diversity of those now representing us abroad, including leaders from NGOs (Gerald Butts, World Wildlife Fund), the private sector (André Beaulieu, Bell Canada), foundations (Farah Mohamed, Belinda Stronach Foundation), academia (Stéphane Roussel, Université du Québec à Montréal), the media (Mercedes Stephenson, Sun Media) and multilateral organizations (John Hancock, WTO).

Taylor Owen is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia and recipient of the Forum's 2016 Emerging Leader Award.


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