Manley on Manley, the CCCE and corporate lobbying

Image from a recent Hill Times article.

A little while back we marked John Manley's appointment to President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives with a press release. Here's what we said:

This is a match made in heaven for the Canadian and American business lobbies that could always count on Manley to endorse their priorities inside and outside of Parliament. Perhaps no politician has done more to further the CCCE's case for a Fortress North America where business and investment can roam free while citizens in Canada and Mexico endure new U.S. security practices across the continent... There's a long list of occasions where Manley and the Liberal government almost literally photocopied CCCE reports, slapped a Government of Canada logo at the top and called it public policy...

We must have touched a nerve, because without prompting, in an interview with the Globe and Mail's Adam Radwanski today, Manley accuses us of demonizing good folk like him. In the interest of objectivity, let's let Manley speak for himself and see if he comes across any better...

Here's Manley on himself, the CCCE and the need to bridge the (very short) gap between business and government in Canada (all italics mine):

... one of the great passions of my life is public policy. This is an opportunity to be deeply engaged in some aspects of public policy which have been of interest and concern to me for a long time, including while I was a minister, without having to run for election.

The opportunity of the bully pulpit that the president of the CCCE has is to try to respond to priorities that are not just of concern to business, but that are of broader concern to Canadian society. If you've got 150 CEOs - who are some of the most creative and innovative people in the country - focusing on a concern of national importance, then you've got some energy and some input that could be really valuable.

... I think I will have to learn where I want to be public and where I don't. I also know, having been on the receiving end of advice from all kinds of places, that when you're actually trying to achieve something with government, sometimes it's better to stay out of the limelight and work behind the scenes. When you're a minister, you don't like an open letter telling you something that you'd be perfectly happy to hear in a private setting, and in fact might apply. If the president of the CCCE says the government should do X, and they do X, then you're going to have a whole bunch of people jumping on them saying "Oh, they're just doing what big business wants them to do."

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 (Business Council on National Issues), 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.

At risk of further demonizing Mr. Manley, I'm going to venture a summary of what he's just said here:

The CCCE has a bully pulpit with which to create an aquiescent Canadian electorate on issues of importance to big business by using fears-du-jour (like the deficit) to conflate corporate interests (tax cuts, smaller government, monetarist fiscal policy) with the public interest. And the major difference between Tom d'Aquino's brand and the Manley brand will be that Manley tries to stay out of the limelight so he can work on government policy without the inconvenience of having to get elected.

In retrospect, I think we were pretty easy on him in our release.