Q&A with retired oilman Gwyn Morgan
'It's wilful blindness. I was talking about trying to help people overcome problems, rather than gloss over them'
LINDA FRUM | May 25, 2006
On May 16, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's candidate for chairman of the public appointments commission, recently retired oilman Gwyn Morgan, was rejected in a 6-5 vote of the Commons government operations committee. All opposition members of the committee voted against him. During the committee session, Morgan was branded as a racist because of remarks made in a speech to the Fraser Institute in 2005 in which he suggested that politicians needed to make the link between Canada's crime rates and its immigration policies, if the country's crime problem was to be addressed. NDP committee member Peggy Nash, who represents the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park, declared Morgan had "insufficient qualifications and competence related to the proposed appointment." As for his resumé, here it is: Morgan was raised on a farm near Carstairs, Alta., that did not have indoor plumbing until he was 13 years of age. A graduate of the University of Alberta, he had three decades of executive experience in the oil and gas industry, culminating with his position as CEO of EnCana Corp., Canada's largest energy company. EnCana has a market value of $43 billion. Morgan is a past recipient of the University of Alberta's Canadian Business Leader Award, the Ivey Business Leader Award from the alumni of the University of Western Ontario's business school, is a member of the Alberta Business Hall of Fame and, in 2005, was named Canada's Most Respected CEO in a survey of his peers conducted by Ipsos-Reid.
How's your mood?
Well, my mood is that I'm going to have a lot more time to spend on my boat this summer, here on the beautiful West Coast, than I would have had otherwise.
In 2003 you told Maclean's: "If the world deals you a tough blow, buck up and move on." Is that your attitude?
Yeah. That's right. I had a great friend who, unfortunately, passed away recently, a woman named Giselle Richardson. She taught me transactional analysis. She always said, "All you can do in life is your own 50 per cent." What that means is that you can't control other people. You can just do your best. But what I really feel badly about is that the people of Canada won't be given, at least in the near term, a process for ending patronage appointments.
The Prime Minister has refused to name anyone else to take your place. This has caused his critics to accuse him of "petulance."
Harper had two choices. He could have overruled the committee and carried on with the commission. Or, he could have put someone else before the committee. And there isn't anyone else who's going to go before that death squad after what I've been through. So there was no practical way in which he could go ahead unless he overruled.
And do you support the Prime Minister's decision not to overrule?
I do. When the whole basis for doing something is accountability, transparency and democracy -- that isn't the way I would have wanted to start.
At what moment did you understand that the outcome of the session had been decided well in advance?
My wife and I were out of the country on business the whole week before. When I got back to Canada, I read in the Globe a rumour that there was some potential for this. When I arrived in Ottawa on the Monday to prepare with the people from the Privy Council's Office and the Prime Minister's Office for Tuesday's session, it became more clear then. Their intelligence network, if you like, told them this was most likely going to happen.
So you walked into the committee room knowing that it was unlikely that you were going to be approved?
Yes I did. I expected an attack. I expected they would attack my character. But I didn't expect it would be as strong and sustained as it was. I decided I would take the high road and whatever happens, happens. Afterwards I was talking to some people who were in the audience, and they caught something very early, which I guess I noticed, but not to the same degree that they did. I think the first questioner was Joe Volpe. In the first two sentences of his question he referenced [former Winnipeg mayor and defeated Liberal candidate] Glen Murray. Glen Murray was supposed to head the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy for the Martin government in 2005. And he had a pretty rough ride [from the Commons committee]. They concluded that he didn't have the qualifications he needed and voted against him. Prime Minister Martin overruled the committee and appointed him anyway. So as soon as Volpe mentioned Murray -- one of my friends said: "Okay. This is all about revenge." And at least as far as Volpe goes, that's what it was.
Okay -- so if for Volpe it was about revenge, then for Peggy Nash was it about punishing you for comments you made in a speech to the Fraser Institute in 2005? I believe these are the comments she took the greatest exception to: "the vast majority of violent, lawless immigrants come from countries where the culture is dominated by violence and lawlessness. Jamaica has one of the world's highest crime rates driven mainly by the violence between gangs competing for dominance in the Caribbean drug trade. Why do we expect different behaviour in Toronto, Ontario than in Kingston, Jamaica? Similarly, a portion of our Indo-Chinese immigrants have lived in situations where violence is necessary to survive. Again, the violent behaviour continues in Canada. It's fair to say that most immigrants who abuse our society have come in as refugee claimants rather than 'economic immigrants.' This not only means they are more likely to have violent tendencies, but also much less likely to have the skills, training and attitude necessary to contribute to our society."
That whole speech was about political correctness and about the things that politicians are afraid to say. Peggy Nash was the most vicious of the group. Her own Toronto riding has huge violence in it. And she continues to blame it on the cutbacks of the previous provincial Tory government. This is the sort of wilful blindness that goes on. In my speech I was talking about trying to help people overcome their problems, rather than glossing over them in the way that she and others do. It's interesting -- right from the very first time that I made that speech I had a lot of feedback. National feedback. And some of the more interesting feedback I got was from individual immigrants. Every one of them said: "Look, we came to Canada to escape violence. And so we want Canada to come down hard on violence. We want the people who are welcomed into the country and commit violence not to go through 10 years and millions of dollars of litigation, but to get out." It was almost as if I had opened, unwittingly, a cascade of feeling. We need to talk about these things. Not in an anti-racial, or anti-immigrant way. We need to say: here are the problems and how are we going to deal with them? We must involve all of the leaders in our communities in an open way. And that's not going to happen with the kind of reaction we've seen.
What was the specific thing you said that Peggy Nash found the most incendiary?
I referred to the Jamaican community. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn't have referred to a specific group.
Why not, though? If you lose the courage to point out the obvious -- who else will do it?
I did say to Joe Volpe in the committee hearing that when I was growing up, when we thought about organized crime and gangs we mostly referenced the Sicilian Mafia. And when we talked about the Sicilian Mafia in that regard -- and people even made movies about it -- no one said you are being racist against Italians. Because most people love Italians. They just don't love those people who are committing crimes. So it's not a racial thing. It's all about behaviour. And this is the same thing. And so if I'm talking about Jamaicans, I'm talking about the ones who commit crimes. There is a huge number of people who come from the Caribbean who are fantastic people. So we have to distinguish between the drug runners and the gang members and the others. We have to find ways of screening them better so that when they come into the country, we know, at least to the extent that it's possible, that they don't have a record in the country that they've come from. And we haven't done that.
Hmm. How racist of you!
Yeah, well, I made my views on the subject clear, but in the end, it didn't matter.
So if revenge was part of it, and intolerance for the truth was part of it, do you have any sense that part of why you were shot down was because the Liberals were embarrassed about the very need for a public appointments commission?
I was shocked that Joe Volpe, who is running for the leadership of the Liberal party, spent a lot of his time trying to tell me that there was already a process in place. He went through all the things you already have to do to make appointments, and told me I obviously didn't understand it very well, because if I did, then I would know we didn't need a commissioner of public appointments. And my answer to him was that I didn't think Canadians would agree. Patronage has been a notorious thing in this country for years. Forever. So I was very surprised that he was going down that road. And later, in his comments as to his alleged reasons for voting against me, he was quoted as saying, "Mr. Morgan didn't seem to understand the process that already exists." Well, I think I understand it pretty well!
What was the political motivation of the Bloc members who voted against you?
Well, the Bloc members didn't like something else I said publicly. I said that one of the reasons why Quebec was economically impaired, and has been for years, has been a combination of labour union rigidity and the separatist movement. Plus the fact that a lot of kids in the educational system are deprived of a proper English education. They get a good French education but they are living in a world where people from China, to everywhere else, are striving to learn English as a second language so they can be successful. And then of course there's the threat of separatism, which constantly sets the province back. I said all those things were reasons why Quebec had a $100-billion debt. So they didn't like that.
So once again, they didn't like your ideas. But isn't this the whole point? The Liberals, NDP, and Bloc shot you down not because you weren't qualified -- but because your personal political opinions do not reflect theirs. Weren't any of them embarrassed to be acting in such a partisan manner on an initiative that was designed to wipe out partisanship in appointments?
What I tried to tell them over and over is that I have views, obviously. not everybody is going to agree with them. But I was going to be part of a team. We had recruited a tremendous Canadian, Roy MacLaren, who was a Liberal cabinet minister and who is well respected internationally. I was happy to get him. He has different views than I do. And we had a wonderful French Canadian woman. Her name is Jacqueline Boutet. And she's been a single mom and she's done tremendously well and she had agreed to come on board. And Hassan Khosrowshahi from Vancouver, who is an Iranian immigrant who came over here and ended up building the Future Shop. He and his wife are so passionate about Canada because they know what we really have here, and they want to try to protect it.
And they were all, like you, going to work for $1?
Yes, they were all going to work for $1. And I said, look, this is the team we are building. And we have one person yet to come in from Atlantic Canada. But every time I would say that -- they would say, "No, we don't want to talk about those other people. This is all about you." It was petty, partisan politics inspired by various motivations, but at the end of the day, what really happened is that each of the opposition parties decided that they wanted to make life difficult for one of the Prime Minister's prime initiatives.
How was the commission going to work?
This is not obvious from the name, but it was never going to be our role to appoint anyone. The process for public appointments -- and there are about 4,000 of them in Ottawa -- is that each agency or Crown corporation, through their own governance process, comes up with their own candidates. A recommendation then goes to the minister in charge of that portfolio and then the minister sends his decision to the Prime Minister. That chain wouldn't change. What we would have inserted into the process is a code of conduct. Historically what happened was that these were all patronage things. Someone would get appointed -- a David Dingwall or whomever -- without people even knowing the job was open. So there was no transparency, and no significant advertisement. A friend once told me about her experience on the board of a Crown corporation. The corporation needed a new CEO. The board went through a big procedure and submitted their No. 1 name, and some others in order of preference. They didn't hear a thing until somebody entirely different was selected. A failed minister or somebody like that. So obviously, that's what we're talking about. We were going to require that candidates be matched against a posted set of skills. Before a minister could fill a position, he would have to satisfy the commission that the process met the guidelines of the code of conduct. The commission would have the right to audit and look through all of the records. And then, the real teeth of this thing, where people start to shake in their boots, is that we would have reported annually to the Prime Minister, and tabled in the House, the appointments we felt didn't meet the code. And that was the reason we had power. Do you know what's really ironic about this? The Harper government was not only willing to give up one of its most prized possessions -- i.e. the right to make patronage appointments with no questions asked -- but they were also willing to subject themselves to the policing of a commission that was made up of a guy who, sure, was a Tory, but another guy who was a Liberal, and other people who have different backgrounds altogether. As I told the opposition -- you are being given an opportunity here. We had an opportunity to raise the standard of public appointments in Canada to be the best in the democratic world. So, at least for now, until the Harper government gets a majority, we will be deprived of that.
Do you think the residue from this process has the potential to become an election issue?
It all depends on whether people care enough. I hope they do. The public service, generally, were very happy about the proposed changes and it's not hard to understand why. Let's say you're working at VIA or the CBC and you never know who in the heck your next boss is going to be -- but you're pretty sure that their qualifications for the job won't have much to do with them getting the job. It's demoralizing for people. And I'm sad about that. I'm not sad for myself. I'll be fine.
No, we're not worried about you. But in the event there is a Harper majority in the future and he comes back and offers you this job again, would you be interested?
I don't know. I think that I would have to examine at the time what else I was doing. Obviously I believe strongly in what this was all about, and I happen to have, I think, both the skills and the background to do it. But I just don't know.
As so many of the country's editorialists have pointed out, there is a fear that as a result of your experience, other highly capable, leading Canadians will look at this as one more reason to shun public service. And that's a terrible loss for a country that craves a higher calibre political class.
I guess I had an idealistic dream in some ways -- recalling the C.D. Howe period during the war -- where a couple of top executives ran the inflation control board and the war procurement board for $1 a year. Again my great friend Giselle Richardson said to me around the time I was thinking of retiring: "Gwyn, you've got to become a dollar-a-year man because you have a lot to offer." And when Stephen asked me to do this, I said I would work for nothing -- and then, in remembrance of my great friend, I said, "No, no. I won't work for nothing. It's got to be a dollar a year." But the point is, this whole idea of people reaching a point in their lives when they are leaders in their fields, whether in business, education or journalism, and they have reached a point in their life where they aren't as intensely involved in other things. And they would be prepared to apply their wisdom and talents and dedication to helping the country. I had this vision that this little group that we put together of dollar-a-year people -- if we could do this job and be seen to be doing it well and have an experience that would be a positive one, we could really start a trend that way. And how much richer this country would be as a result. That, in terms of the bigger picture, is what I was trying to do. And I feel very badly about that today.
Well, I hope you won't give up on your vision because it's a good one.
I'm going to do what I can to keep that vision from being killed entirely.
But at the same time, I hope you will never be tempted to temper your remarks or refrain from telling the truth as you see it . . .
I will weigh my words even more carefully. But we can't build a better country if we are not honest with each other. One of the problems I have is that my father -- people used to say -- was painfully honest about things. He thought things through, but he was painfully honest. I think I've inherited some of that malady.
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