At MLI, our goal is always to influence the development and implementation of sound federal public policy by ensuring decision makers are informed of the best policy options. Measuring our impact is crucial to measuring our success. In the first quarter of 2016, from Jan. 1 to March 31, MLI’s impact was felt particularly in the areas of security, justice, transportation and infrastructure, fiscal issues, national defence and internal trade.
In February, 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 opeds, 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.
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 http://www.maritimearcticsecurity.ca/
The ongoing work criminal justice expert Scott 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.
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. The same materials were provided, upon request, to government officials within various departments and were featured in FrontLine Security magazine, the Police Advocates Journal, as well as other media outlets.
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 paper found that decisions were being increasingly split and that concerns were emerging about the court intruding on Parliaments role. The release of the paper was covered by the Ottawa Citizen in a story that appeared in stories across the Postmedia chain and in the National Post. The Citizen also published a Q and A between Perrin and reporter Ian MacLeod. It was cited in a column by the Globe and Mail’s Konrad Yakabuski and in Canadian Lawyer magazine. 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. MLI kept the discussion on the Supreme Court going with its sold out debate in May between Conrad Black and Irwin Cotler on the resolution: “Canada’s Supreme Court has usurped the proper role of Parliament”.
MLI author Malcolm Cairns, a consultant on transportation issues, was asked to brief a member of the secretariat of the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel on details of his February 2015 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 (and 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 especially highlighted in the CTA review report.
The Liberal government’s agenda
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 MLI Managing Director 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, 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.
Also, in this quarter, 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”.
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.
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 stated on its blog: "In an extraordinary video, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute [MLI] focuses on international health care systems from which Canada can learn."