The Hamilton Spectator

We need more Dominic Bartons


Imagine this scenario — one of a country’s most highly respected and distinguis­hed business leaders pursues a challengin­g and thankless assignment in the public sector instead of lucrative private-sector opportunit­ies that afford him both privacy and significan­tly more wealth. Almost all would read that decision and think they are reading of an honourable Canadian. Wouldn’t they?

This theory was tested when Dominic Barton, the former global managing partner of McKinsey & Co. and Canada’s ambassador to China, was called before a Parliament­ary committee earlier this month.

I have known Barton since we were on the board of the Asia Pacific Foundation and I got to know him as he was advising the government of Stephen Harper, a Conservati­ve. Dominic continued dedicating time to the public sector while he was at McKinsey, forgoing working on more lucrative projects with private sector corporatio­ns for a role chairing the government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth under the government of Justin Trudeau, a Liberal. For this role, he was paid $1.

Once he retired from McKinsey, Barton stepped away from roles with large global corporatio­ns and investment firms to accept a role as Canada’s ambassador to China. The actions of Barton are reflective of a core part of his being — a desire to have a significan­t, positive impact on our country.

The attacks levied against him by the Conservati­ve party I once led are baseless. Barton is not friends with Trudeau. He did not leverage a non-existent friendship for economic benefit to himself or McKinsey. In fact, in the roles noted above, he accepted far less remunerati­on than he might otherwise have to help our country.

These repeated accusation­s are not only disingenuo­us but speak to a more worrisome attack — an attack on infusing more talent into our government and the public sector. If this is the treatment high-profile business leaders can expect after lending their talents to the public sector, most will simply take a pass. And it’s a shame.

Canada’s national challenges — from the energy transition, to human capital, to diversifyi­ng trade relationsh­ips — all require an internatio­nal approach where government taps into outside expertise from entreprene­urs, economists and other private sector leaders. We need people like Dominic Barton to assist our government­s through this complicate­d period far more than they need the Government of Canada. The question is whether Parliament­arians can embrace outside experience or continue to view it with suspicion.

Today, we struggle through the leadership of an unqualifie­d prime minister, who has repeatedly demonstrat­ed questionab­le judgment. The result is a country where we have mortgaged our future with reckless spending.

The decision on where to invest our tax dollars must be made with precision by leaders with the appropriat­e qualificat­ions. The infusion of this expertise must be in our government­s but can also be supported by analysis from consultant­s who have the benefit of external perspectiv­e, a practice long used by successful private corporatio­ns and public entities.

Before we start bashing the use or work of external consultant­s, we should understand more about the nature of their work and whether we are getting good return on our investment. These are critically important questions, but I am dishearten­ed to see our Parliament­arians looking away from them, instead focusing on personal attacks and innuendo.

As the presumed government in waiting, the Conservati­ve Party of Canada needs to ditch the cheap politics and bring forward its own ideas about how to improve our country. Until its MPs can take these steps, I question that they will be taken seriously enough by Canadians to be given a chance to govern.

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