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At MLI our goal is to influence better federal public policy by positioning ourselves as thought leaders on the issues that are most important to Canadians.

Therefore measuring our influence is essential to measuring our success. Here we report on MLI’s considerable influence in 2016, particularly in the areas of Aboriginal affairs, justice, the economy, health care, fiscal policy, infrastructure and transportation, among others. 2016 was a strong year for MLI in terms of influencing public policy. Our experts were highly sought after for consultations with government, Indigenous organizations and the private sector, and we maintained a high profile in the media. We also again performed well in the foremost international think tank ratings.

Think Tank Ranking

Since its inception the Macdonald-Laurier Institute has performed exceptionally well for a think tank of its age and size in rankings by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Society Program. Previously we were ranked as one of the top three new think tanks in the world, and in 2016 MLI again ranked as the top think tank in Ottawa and one of the top five in the country.

Impact on Policy Issues

During 2016 MLI’s work on policy issues was being noticed, and acted on:

a) Justice

The Justice Report Card, co-authored by Munk Senior Fellow Benjamin Perrin and Dr. Richard Audas, was likely the most successful project launched by the institute in recent years. The report, published in September, analysed the justice systems of the provinces and territories on dozens of metrics. It revealed that in many cases the system was not living up to expectations.

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The report was widely covered in the provincial and national media. It even generated supportive editorials in the Victoria Times-Colonist and the Globe and Mail. More importantly, the report received a significant reaction from decision makers in government. The Manitoba government promised a review of its justice system in a response to the MLI report. And Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley acknowledged the need for significant reform to her province's justice system. The government of Prince Edward Island, the province ranked first in the report card, issued a press release discussing its ranking. The Mayor of Iqaluit said the report rang true with her experiences with victim support in Nunavut, while many territorial officials responded to their jurisdictions' poor rankings. The report also generated a reaction from Newfoundland Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, who proposed to convene representatives of the various branches of the province's legal system to discuss reforms. Ontario has committed to reducing its number of charges stayed or withdrawn, a weakness of the province’s ranking highlighted in the report and supported by a Globe and Mail editorial.

Scott Newark’s companion report on the inefficiencies of the justice system at the national level was reviewed by the Canadian Association of Police Governance (Police Boards) who sent it to all of their members, meaning every police board and police chief in Canada has received a copy along with the association's endorsement. And officials at Statcan contacted Newark to discuss his paper’s findings and how justice statistics reporting can be improved to help guide reform efforts.

The ongoing work Newark has done for MLI on justice system performance has helped encourage a review on the subject by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, advised by Newark, and was used by a major Canadian Police Service in its internal analysis of costing and performance issues. Both Newark and Audas presented MLI’s findings before the Senate Committee and it has been reported that the Committee will adopt MLI’s recommendations for reducing the number and length of preliminary inquiries at trials, among other recommendations.

Newark’s MLI work on the controversial security legislation Bill C-51, border security and counter radicalization was requested for several witnesses who appeared before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in its recent special studies of the Canada Border Security Agency and national security.

Benjamin Perrin’s popular annual report on the biggest Supreme Court decisions of the year received widespread attention in January, creating a national discussion on the role of the court. The release of the paper was covered by the Ottawa Citizen in a story that appeared in papers across the Postmedia chain, and in the National Post. The Citizen also published a Q and A between Perrin and reporter Ian MacLeod. Perrin was interviewed on more than a dozen CBC Radio One morning shows and published an op-ed on the subject in the National Post with reference to the Carter decision on physician assisted suicide.

Perrin was invited to present his report for the Ontario Bar Association’s annual conference.

MLI kept the discussion on the Supreme Court going with its sold out Great Canadian Debate in May between Conrad Black and Irwin Cotler on the resolution: “Canada’s Supreme Court has usurped the proper role of Parliament”.

b) Aboriginal Affairs

In the second half of the year we saw one of the clearest examples of MLI’s influence on Indigenous issues. In the spring of 2016, just as the federal government proclaimed its intention to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, MLI had two papers prepared, examining the practical challenges of undertaking such a task. The authors, Ken Coates and Plains Cree leader Blaine Favel, warned that full implementation of UNDRIP was not possible given the complexity of Canadian laws and policy, and they encouraged the government to concentrate on a practical approach, in collaboration with Aboriginal leaders. Only a few months later, in July, Canada’s Justice Minister adopted a view very similar to MLI’s, calling UNDRIP “unworkable” in Canadian law. The National Post’s John Ivison made the connection between the evolution in the government’s thinking and MLI’s work in his column, saying the Justice Minister “has done the right thing”. And Post columnist Kelly McParland cited Coates’ work on the issue in his own column a few days later.

And in April, Ivison wrote a column that strongly validated MLI’s positive view on the prospects for reconciliation with First Nations. Ivison cites Ken Coates, writing that Coates “expects to see ‘co-production’ of policy under the new reconciliation framework” in a shift that “will see First Nations granted far greater autonomy, allowing the government to concentrate on ‘problem’ reserves through a more regional policy”.

In early 2016 the book “From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation”, co-authored by Coates and University of Saskatchewan professor Greg Poelzer was a finalist for the prestigious Donner Prize, given annually to the best public policy book by a Canadian. From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation breathes new life into the debate about Aboriginal prosperity. It also received a nomination for the Saskatchewan Book Awards in the Scholarly Writing category.

Coates also received nominations for the Saskatoon Book Award and won a University of Saskatchewan Non-Fiction Book Award for another powerful and influential book, #IdleNoMore and the Remaking of Canada.

Ken Coates’ expertise on Indigenous matters secured him invites to various high-profile events and meetings through the year. To name a few:

  • On May 30, he took part in a panel hosted by the Library of Parliament to discuss “Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Opportunities and Challenges”.
  • On April 6, he had a meeting with the Deputy Minister (and staff) of Natural Resources Ontario to moderate a discussion about resource development issues at the Ontario Natural Resource Forum.
  • On June 1, Coates testified before the Senate Transport and Communications Committee to help prepare a study on the development of a strategy to facilitate the transport of crude oil to eastern Canadian refineries and to ports on the East and West coasts of Canada.

Our Munk Senior Fellow Sean Speer also took to Parliament Hill in April 2016 to slay some of the myths about Aboriginal Canada and the development of natural resources. The prevailing perception – that First Nations communities are largely opposed to natural resource development projects – is wrong, Speer told Senators during his testimony to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.

Also, Coates made a significant impact during a speaking tour of Australia in 2016, and he discovered a terrific appetite for ideas from Canada for dealing with the many similar issues experienced by Australia with engaging Aboriginal peoples with the natural resource economy. He gave a number of presentations in Canberra, including at the Parliamentary Library and the Australian National University, titled “Innovation, Technology and Developing the North: Insights from the Arctic for Australia's Remote Regions and Indigenous Communities.”

Later in 2016, MLI report author Bram Noble participated on a panel for the Ontario Association of Impact Assessment, speaking to the future of EA and Aboriginal engagement in impact assessment. He also gave an invited talk at UBC, and has been invited to participate on a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel at the International Association for Impact Assessment in 2017, addressing Aboriginal engagement and practical implications for impact assessment.

Noble’s MLI project also helped support an academic paper he co-authored and published in September in the Journal of Environmental Assessment and Management, and the authors spoke to their work at the Canadian Association of Geographers’ annual general meeting in Vancouver.

Finally with regard to Indigenous issues, in December 2016 the Senate produced a report titled Pipelines for Oil: Protecting Our Economy, Respecting our Environment, which quoted testimony by Ken Coates and made the following recommendations which are in line with MLI’s input:

  • The Committee recommends that Natural Resources Canada, in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, industry and academia, develop and update annually a working document of best practices in building partnerships with Indigenous communities in the natural resources sector.
  • Appoint permanently an Indigenous peoples’ representative to the National Energy Board. The representative should be chosen in consultation with Indigenous communities.

The committee also recommended that Natural Resources Canada modernize the National Energy Board (NEB) regulatory process by:

  1. Removing governor in council’s automatic final approval (less politicized process)

This is something that is recommended by MLI’s Brian Lee Crowley. The Postmedia story on the Senate report quoted Crowley at length.

c) Infrastructure and transportation

MLI author Malcolm Cairns, a consultant on transportation issues, was asked to brief a member of the panel reviewing the Canada Transportation Act on the findings in his MLI paper, “Staying on the Right Track”. Cairns, who was involved in the 2000 CTA review and is a former rail executive, makes the case that Canada has a well-functioning and competitive rail industry and recommends against intrusive and costly new regulations on freight rail. The CTA Panel, headed by former MP David Emerson (also a member of MLI’s Advisory Council), submitted its report to the Transportation Minister in December 2015 and it was tabled in February 2016. The majority of its recommendations on freight rail policy were in keeping with Cairns’ recommendations, most crucially steps toward removing government interference on the shipment of grain. A quote from Cairns’ MLI paper was highlighted in the Emerson report.

In May, MLI Munk Senior Fellow Sean Speer was invited to consultations with the Minister of Infrastructure’s staff as the federal government worked to develop its plan for infrastructure spending. Speer co-authored a paper in January with transportation expert and former Trudeau (Sr.) adviser Brian Flemming that laid out a plan for better and smarter infrastructure spending by Ottawa.

d) Health care

In March 2016, MLI released the third in its four-video series making the case for major health care reform in Canada. This video explores internationally tried and tested ideas for improving Canada’s expensive and underperforming health-care system. The release of the video led to a number of media interview requests for MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley, including on CBC TV’s The Exchange and Danielle Smith’s radio show, and it received a strong endorsement from Canadians for Sustainable Medicare which called it “an extraordinary video”.

On May 7 before hundreds of attendees at an event hosted by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Brian Lee Crowley delivered a talk on medicare’s fiscal squeeze and the path to health care reform.

Sean’s Speer's work on health care has attracted the attention of numerous stakeholders in the health policy debate. In September he was asked to present on “Re-evaluating the Canada Health Act” at an annual conference organized by the University of Toronto Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, and the Health Law in Canada Journal. In addition, Speer was invited to prepare an article to be included in the February 2017 Health Law in Canada Journal special edition which will focus on the Canada Health Act.

Also in September, Speer was the headline guest at an event organized by Peace, Order and Good Government Canada about the need for health system reform. Finally, Speer participated in high-level stakeholder meetings convened by the McMaster University Health Forum to discuss health system sustainability in Ontario.

e) Internal Trade

On March 24, 2016, MLI Senior Fellow Sean Speer and Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce during hearings on the government’s efforts to modernize the decades-old deal that was supposed to tear down barriers between the provinces, the Agreement on Internal Trade. Speer and Crowley applauded the government’s plan to make internal trade a top priority. But they also warned the committee about the folly of repeating past mistakes and urged the federal government to use its power to liberate trade within Canada. MLI has a large body of work on the importance of Canada’s founders’ vision that Canadians have the right to work and trade freely across the country.

The committee's report in June endorsed MLI's recommendation that the federal government must play a greater role in bringing an end to the barriers to goods, services, people, and capital that plague interprovincial trade and commerce. Crowley and Speer were unique in arguing before the Senate Standing Committee on Banking Trade and Commerce earlier in 2016, that the solution lies in Ottawa, as the committee ultimately concluded. MLI’s 2010 report, “Citizen Of One, Citizen Of The Whole”, by Brian Lee Crowley, Robert Knox and John Robson, lays out in detail MLI’s case for creating a charter of economic rights that would make tearing down internal trade barriers legally binding.

In a major victory for liberating internal trade, and a strong validation of MLI’s work on the issue, a provincial court judge dismissed the case against a New Brunswick man who was charged with bringing beer and liquor across the border with Quebec. The judge was clear in stating that “the Fathers of Confederation wanted to implement free trade as between the provinces of the newly formed Canada,” a position that MLI has long argued.

MLI author Ian Blue was one of Comeau’s lawyers. He wrote in the National Post that the ruling could have far reaching implications for knocking down barriers to internal trade within Canada.

In Sun media papers the following day, Crowley was quoted welcoming the decision: “The Fathers of Confederation forcefully argued that one of the chief reasons for Confederation was to create a single market that would unite Canadians and sweep away the petty and destructive trade barriers that divided us,” he said.

MLI’s work on internal trade has also clearly helped inform the policy position of Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. In August 2016 he released his policy on the issues which very closely mirrors MLI’s recommendations. Bernier recognizes the importance of the federal government taking the lead in defending the economic freedom of Canadians.

f) International Trade

In November 2016 MLI Munk Senior Fellow Laura Dawson appeared before the Senate standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade to discuss the impact on Canada of then US President-elect Donald Trump’s stated desire to renegotiate NAFTA. Dawson also published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail on the same subject in which she argued that “despite US uncertainty, Canada must stay the course. Disengagement from Mexico will not achieve any policy goal. It will not improve Canada’s relations with the United States, nor will it resurrect the fabled special relationship between Canada and the United States of bygone years.”

g) Security

In February, Munk Senior Fellow Alex Wilner gave an Expert Briefing at the Department of National Defence through the Defence Engagement Program, on the subject of the future of Islamic State (IS). The invitation came as a result of op-eds, media appearances and a paper he published in November 2015 for MLI, shortly following the Paris terrorist attacks, bringing important perspective to that developing story. Wilner established himself as a go-to expert on how Canada and the West should deal with the threat of IS in Iraq and Syria, and implications for security in Canada.

Also in February, Wilner was invited to join and helped run a foresight exercise on the emerging security issues surrounding blockchain, the distributed database technology that enables bitcoin and other crypto currencies, during a workshop organized by various top officials of Canada’s security and intelligence community.

Also in 2016, an MLI paper by Jeffrey Collins and Andrew Pickford on opportunities for Australia-Canadian cooperation on polar issues seized the attention of the Executive Director of the Aerospace and Defence Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (ADIANL) who invited Collins to present the paper at a major industry gathering that takes place in St. John's every October, called the Maritime Arctic Security and Safety Conference.

In April 2016, MLI Munk Senior Fellow Alex Wilner was invited to join a private teleconference and information session run by the Department of National Defence to provide input on the forthcoming consultation process informing the government’s major Defence Review.

h) Fiscal Policy

In October, Munk Senior Fellow Philip Cross testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, to discuss poverty reduction strategies.

Also in late 2016, Cross appeared before the Commons finance committee to testify on Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and the Income Tax Act.

i) Mandate For Change series

MLI’s most significant initiative in the first quarter of 2016 was the continuation of a series of papers begun following the December 2015 Speech From the Throne by the new Liberal government. Titled, “From a Mandate for Change to a Plan to Govern”, the series tackled a different government priority each week with a constructive and engaged tone. Senior Fellow Sean Speer partnered with expert co-authors including Brian Flemming, Ken Coates, Christian Leuprecht, Laura Dawson and numerous others to present the best policy solutions to the government’s goals. The March 22 federal budget included a number of measures specifically recommended in the MLI series, such as:

  • A review of federal tax expenditures, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Brian Lee Crowley, titled “Creating economic opportunity for the Middle Class”.
  • Increased funding for refugee camps in response to the Syrian crisis, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Christian Leuprecht titled “Getting refugee policy right”.
  • A targeted increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for retirees, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Philip Cross, titled “Helping Canadians achieve a secure retirement”.
  • Refraining from rushing on the development of an infrastructure plan and supporting local/community asset management plans, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Brian Flemming, titled “Avoiding shortcuts on the road to infrastructure spending”. This paper also led to a request for Speer to brief the staff of the transport minister.
  • Focusing on practical measures such as funding Aboriginal housing and basic social services including early childhood learning, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Ken Coates, titled “Building a new Aboriginal opportunities agenda”
  • Restoring Parliament’s role in approving annual borrowing, as recommended in the paper, co-authored with Ian Lee, titled “Avoiding the federal deficit quicksand”.

Over the course of the series, Sean Speer was a regular in major media with op-eds in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Sun media and Postmedia papers, and appearances on broadcasters including CBC Radio, CBC TV’s The Exchange and Power and Politics, and CTV’s Power Play, in addition to BNN.

Speer testified at the invitation of the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications on the future of energy infrastructure in Canada. “Something extraordinary is happening”, Speer told the committee. “Indigenous peoples and resource companies have, through a bottom-up process of experimentation and cooperation, begun to develop economic partnerships”. During the hearing, Senator Doug Black said of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, “I am very appreciative that you continue to offer thoughtful contributions on issues of national importance, particularly on the energy file, so I wanted to start by thanking you very much”.