Morneau goes corporate with his new advisory council

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If you want some insight into what makes the Justin Trudeau government tick have a look at some of its most recent important appointments.

No -- not those much ballyhooed Senate appointments.

Look rather at who Trudeau's finance minister, Bill Morneau, named to his new Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

Morneau said the purpose of this new body is to provide counsel on "concrete policy actions to help create long-term conditions for economic growth focused" -- surprise, surprise -- "on the middle class."

After Morneau named the Council's members last week, the most common headline provided perfect image building for the Trudeau government.

It said: "Women form the majority in Ottawa's Council of advisers."

That's even better than the "because it's 2015" 50/50 cabinet.

It's now 2016, so mere gender parity is no longer, it seems, enough.

But if you read the list of Council appointees, you'll realize the fundamental issue is not gender at all. What is more important is who these people really are and where they come from, whether male or female.

Let's have a look.

Half are from the private sector

The Council's chair is Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of the mammoth, trans-national corporation, McKinsey & Co.

McKinsey calls itself the global management consulting company -- and is it ever global. It has offices in 61 countries: from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan, from Nigeria to the Philippines, from Slovakia to Chile to Australia.

It operates almost everywhere, including four locations in Canada, and its purpose is to serve its (mostly) corporate clients.

McKinsey provides executive coaching, works to help companies adopt new technologies, helps streamline organizations, and much more. It even advertises itself as a turn-around specialist, taking on a failing companies and helping make them profitable again.

One of McKinsey's key values is confidentiality. The firm does not publicize the list of its many clients worldwide. Clients can count on the firm's absolute discretion.

So we do not know what companies, in what kinds of business, have used McKinsey's service.

McKinsey pointedly does not say there are certain businesses that are off limits. It seems to be open to working for any organization with the cash to pay for its services.

Dominic Barton is top man at McKinsey.

Although originally from Canada, he is now based in London, U.K., and, in addition to his role on Morneau's Council, is Chair of the Seoul Business Council and the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.

He is a truly global economic citizen -- and you can draw your own conclusions as to the kind of advice he is likely to give to his friend Bill Morneau.

More than half of the Council's members come from the private sector, and, aside from Barton, they include:

Elyse Allen, CEO of U.S. corporation General Electric's Canadian subsidiary; Brian Ferguson, CEO of Cenovus, a major tar sands company; Carol Lee, co-founder and CEO of Linacare, a Vancouver-based cosmetics company; two executives from the world of finance, Kenneth Courtis, chairman of California-based Starfort Investments, and Katherine Barr, a general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, also based in California; Angela Strange, a partner at the management consulting firm Andreessen Horowitz; and, finally, Carol Anne Hilton, CEO of Transformation, a company that provides business advice to First Nations communities.

From the public sector there are Mark Wiseman, CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, who has worked closely with Barton over the years, and Wiseman's Quebec Caisse de dépot et placement counterpart, Michael Sabia.

From the not-for-profit sector there is Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of the MaRS Discovery District. And from academe there are Suzanne Fortier, principal of McGill University, and Christopher Ragan, an economics professor at McGill and chair of the Ecofiscal Commission, an independent group whose goal is to research connections between the worlds of economics and environmental sustainability.

It is, all in all, an eminent group, and will no doubt give the minister some useful and interesting advice.

No environmentalists, poverty specialists or labour people

But it is a very corporate group, and somewhat tilted toward non-Canadian corporations at that.

There is nobody from the Canadian labour movement, nobody from Canada's Indigenous communities except for one business consultant, nobody from social action groups that speak for the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the marginal, and, aside from the Ecofiscal man, nobody whose prime interest and expertise is in the environment.

Perhaps the government will go elsewhere to get the sort of advice the kind of people left off the finance minister's Council might offer.

There are other ministers in the cabinet than Morneau, after all, and they are free to seek counsel wherever they see fit.

Some of them might occasionally stray from the corporate boardrooms when they seek wise and experienced expertise.

But the economy and how it is managed is central to what any government does, and certainly central to what this government has said it wants to do.

That the minister of finance should have cast such a narrow and limited net in recruiting his key advisory body is a matter of quite legitimate concern.

During the election campaign, the Trudeau Liberals made a big point of portraying themselves as the progressive choice, and many voters bought in. They abandoned the traditionally left-of-centre NDP and cast their ballots for Trudeau's candidates.

Now, those who invested so much hope in the Liberals on election day might want to keep an eye on how this new corporate-dominated Council works and what influence it has on policy. 

Photo: flickr/ KMR Photography

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