We at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute were terribly saddened to hear of the passing of Robert Knox on June 5, 2015. He is survived by his wife Kate, his children Fred, Duffy, Allison, Hilary and Sarah, and his grandchildren, Cameron, Rhube, Brazil, Esker, Cullen, Saskia, Corinne, Magnus and Olin.
Knox was also a friend of MLI and of Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley. His passion for economic freedom in Canada had an enormous influence on MLI’s work on internal trade, one of the first issues the young organization tackled in a serious way back in June of 2010.
Knox was a distinguished federal public servant responsible for the internal trade file starting in 1986 and the Executive Director of the Internal Trade Secretariat during the negotiation of the Agreement on Internal Trade. Following retirement in 1996, he was an active commentator on domestic trade issues and provided advice on the application of the AIT.
"True to his commitment to the national interest, Bob had the intellectual rigour and intestinal fortitude to come round to the view in his later years that the AIT had not achieved all that he and many others had hoped for it. And he had the courage to say so publicly, including in his work for MLI", said Crowley. "He was also a kind and good friend and a gentle but firm mentor. They don't make them like Bob Knox anymore."
Knox's MLI paper, co-authored with Crowley and John Robson, invoked George Brown’s dream that Confederation would make a "citizen of one, a citizen of the whole", meaning that Canadians, regardless of the province they live in, could work and trade freely with one another. The paper called for a renewed and reinvigorated role for Ottawa in internal trade, a vision consistent with that of Canada's founders.
"Bob was completely committed to the vision and mission of creating a seamless, single, national marketplace in Canada for both labour and capital", writes Anna Maria Magnifico, who was herself appointed Executive Director of the Internal Trade Secretariat in 2004.
"Bob was among the very first to contact me to offer his support and perspective – indeed he frankly cautioned that my post was not the easiest I could have chosen. I came to understand the prescience of that remark", Magnifico remembers.
"Throughout my tenure, Bob became my independent sounding board as well as a source of inspiration and ongoing encouragement who skillfully helped navigate me through what can be a quagmire in intergovernmental relations in Canada. On a particular occasion he uplifted my spirits when he wrote: 'You are doing a great job ... Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been paying attention or is irretrievably stupid ... or both.'
"Canada has lost its institutional memory on interprovincial trade and a great patriot. Farewell Bob – thank you for your friendship, your mentorship and your service to Canada”, Magnifico concluded.
Nearly 150 years after Confederation and five years after Knox’s report, this remains Canada’s “unfinished business”, as a recent issue of MLI’s magazine explored in detail, including a contribution from Magnifico. We intend to carry on Bob’s work in our continuing effort to see Canada reach its full economic potential, and Canadians enjoy the economic freedom their founders envisaged.