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Public Policy Forum president Edward Greenspon on Canada’s energy transition and why we urgently need a ‘supply rebuild’

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Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features host Sean Speer in conversation with Edward Greenspon, the president and CEO of the Public Policy Forum, about their recently co-authored paper, “The Urgent Case for a Supply Rebuild, Investing in a New Economic Compact for Canada”. The discussion touches on the need for a supply-side revolution including energy, health care, housing, ideas, and people. 

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. The episodes are generously supported by The Ira Gluskin And Maxine Granovsky Gluskin Charitable Foundation.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by Edward Greenspon, who is the president and CEO of the Public Policy Forum and a former editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor-at-large at Bloomberg Canada. I should say that Ed is one of the most interesting and curious people that I know. I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss in my capacity as a fellow at the Public Policy Forum. I’m grateful to speak with him today about a number of topics, including a PPF paper that he and I recently co-authored entitled, “The Urgent Case for a Supply Rebuild, Investing in a New Economic Compact for Canada.”

Ed, thanks for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

EDWARD GREENSPON: Great to be with you, Sean, and thank you for the generous introduction. Of course, being one of the most curious people you know can be taken one of two ways. I’ll be interested to see which way you meant it.

SEAN SPEER: As the former editor of the Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record, you’re a card-carrying member of John Ibbitson’s “Laurentian Elite.” Yet, I think that better than most, you’ve managed to stay connected to real-world questions and their implications for real people in real places. Ed, do you want to talk a bit about what in your background has enabled you to root your policy thinking in the types of people and places that the so-called elite are accused of neglecting?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Yes, well, I kind of think psychologically, to start with, that I’m a perpetual outsider. I’m a perpetual outsider perhaps because I’m from an immigrant family that settled in Montreal. We were Anglo-Montreal Jews. That gave us lots of things to be outside about. I was a tiny, scrawny kid. I was shy. I think I’ve always been more comfortable as a life observer. I don’t think I belong to the Mount Royal Club or anything of that sort.

Of course, life has given me an opportunity to have a window on that world. Then I think that was really reinforced in my first job in journalism, where I went to Western Canada. I worked in a town, Lloydminster, which is on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. I got to know both Saskatchewan and Alberta pretty quickly. It was a town where people did real things. They had grain farms, or they had cap cow operations, or they worked in heavy oil fields. I think you see the real Canada on whose shoulders we’ve all stood, those of us who became Laurentian Elites.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask a related question. An issue that’s been elevated under your leadership at the PPF, at least relative to popular policy and political discourse, is Atlantic Canada, which often can feel a bit distant and neglected for various reasons, including its population and economic size. What caused you to go deep on Atlantic Canada? What are the rest of us missing in terms of the ambition and energy that you’ve seen from business leaders, civic leaders, and policymakers in the region?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, Atlantic Canada has been the forgotten, left-out part of Canada for a long time. A lot of people in other parts of Canada, wealthier parts of Canada, have seen it as a perpetual case of having its hands out and needing that help. Obviously, there’s been some truth to that. I think we’ve seen an Atlantic Canada over the last five years or so that really wants to make it, wants to make it on its own, as a lot of people do in the country who fall behind or regions that fall behind. During the pandemic, we were watching as the population was starting to grow again, it was even starting to grow before a lot of people moved home, but then a lot of people moved home. I think that remote work has been a boon for Atlantic Canada.

I think people can be in a place that they love—and they obviously can’t extract oil from Fort McMurray—but they can do a lot of things from home. We were also seeing some tech startups that were really interesting. One of the biggest deals in Canada in the last couple of years is a high-tech company in Newfoundland called Verafin, which was bought by NASDAQ and nobody in the rest of Canada has ever heard of it. But every graduate of Memorial University knows it because it’s a great place to go to work.

Finally, in the pandemic, I don’t know how you felt, Sean, but I would see my friends in Atlantic Canada, in their Atlantic bubble getting together while I was isolated at home and I started thinking, this place is actually pretty well governed. Then you could notice that they had lower infection rates and ultimately they had higher vaccination rates and I think it’s because there’s a social cohesion that exists in communities that have grown together and fought the odds for a long time. In this world, I think social cohesion is an advantage. 

SEAN SPEER: I want to take up another subject that you’ve championed in your role as PPF president. You’ve committed the PPF to the energy transition in general and in particular the proposition that the goal shouldn’t be to “phase out the oil sands” but rather to drive down emissions in Canada’s energy mix from conventional oil and gas to renewables. That proposition, while I suspect is intuitive for a lot of our listeners, is not without controversy. There are voices who’ve come to cast these questions as not merely about lowering emissions but actually about re-engineering our economy. Do you want to talk a bit, Ed, about your decision to frame the PPF’s work this way, and what would you say to its critics?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Thanks for the perception that goes into that. I came to PPF in part because of energy. As I mentioned, I started off in a happy oil town on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and my last job in journalism was at Bloomberg. One of my responsibilities there was to be global managing editor of the energy environment and commodities group, which had journalists in 22 countries covering about 50 countries. Canada wasn’t doing so great on energy policy, as far as I’m concerned. Successive governments were not doing well. I was in charge of our Keystone [pipeline] coverage. We couldn’t get a pipeline built. We managed to antagonize a pro-pipeline governor of Nebraska. We were inept in a bunch of ways and it was frustrating to see that. Also, we weren’t having a real debate about the way the world is changing.

Now, I think climate change, and I’ve always thought that climate change is very real and very scary and very damaging, and if you believe that and believe that we need change and you want change that’s actually going to take hold, and work and not going to lead to a tremendous amount of resistance that slows it down. I am not anti-oil. I’m anti-emissions. And if you can get the emissions out of the oil, then that’s fine by me. I think you want to do this in a way that has the least disruption possible economically and socially and not the most disruption.

And for some people, they may have an agenda that’s disguised where they really don’t believe in economic growth. They don’t care about that. They’re probably doing okay themselves or don’t care if they’re doing okay, and they’re willing to leave people behind. They think that they’ll be a just transition, but just transitions are things that are said by the Laurentian Elites that you mentioned earlier, not by the people who have to go through the transition.

We came up with a way of looking at this that we called “aggressive decarbonization.” We have to invest heavily in things like carbon capture. We’re not pro-oil sands. If the oil sands can’t get the emissions out, then they’re not going to survive. Now, there is an irony in Canada that I don’t think most people recognize, which is that our oil is high carbon intensity, so we really got to do something about it if we’re going to continue to produce it. Our gas is actually low carbon intensity, lower than most of the world so our gas is good for not just us, but for the world. It pushes out coal, it pushes out dirtier gas and as long as gas is around, we should be developing it.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s stay on the climate file. You talk to a lot of Canadian business leaders about the goal of net zero and the scale of investment needed to net out emissions in the production of energy, in industrial processes, transportation, et cetera. We have less than 30 years to meet the government’s own legislative goal. I guess two questions for you Ed: first, how realistic do you think the net zero target is, and second, what technology or idea have you encountered that makes you optimistic about the prospects of actually delivering on the goal?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Now, while, I’m pretty agnostic about the goal, the goal is necessary. We’ve got to figure out a way to do it and we want to figure out a way to do it without shutting down the economy because that will not be politically sellable, or economically sensible. I started thinking in the Energy Future Forum that we have to think a lot about electricity as well. I have some knowledge of oil and gas, but I don’t think I know all these areas as well. The first thing I saw is, “Oh, my, we’re going to need a lot more electricity. What are we doing about that?”

Not only are we getting more supply, but we’re stimulating demand by encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, which is a good thing. We’re stimulating demand by saying that home heating should move to electrification and industrial production should move towards electrification.

Most people seem to think we’re going to need somewhere between two and three times the electricity that we have now. I stop and think of that. I think another or maybe two more Niagara Falls, another, maybe two more James Bay, another, maybe two more Point Lepreau in New Brunswick. Whatever it may be, we need a lot more of it. It took us 150-plus years to get to what we have now. We’ve got to do this by 2035, or by 2050. It’s got to be clean by 2035 and it will have to be much more of that.

The lowest hanging fruit is to be more efficient, to be smarter in our use of it. Right now, the way our electricity system operates, you have to build that so it can be at a peak. If it’s a cold day, and you have electric heating, you’ve got to use all the electricity in the system because there’s not yet storage in the way there is gas stores as it goes along. This is challenging, and I don’t think we figured it out. I actually think that Canada’s done well over the last couple of years. I think we’re in a good position because we have a climate price. That’s not the only route to a policy. You can invest very heavily or regulate. There are other ways to go. We have a mix of policies. We’ve offered incentives now for carbon capture that takes a great potential to move carbon from the atmosphere to caverns underground.

I think we’re actually doing reasonably well relative to other countries despite what we might have heard coming in with COP27, which is that Canada is failing. I don’t think we’re failing by the way that Europe’s failed and failed in many ways because of overreach even before the Ukrainian war but, oh my God, we got a lot of work to do.

I don’t know what technologies are going to make it work. I don’t know if small modular reactors, which people describe as being like nuclear submarines, that actually work. Well, I’m glad we’re experimenting with it. I’m glad that there is an investment with OPG in Ontario working with Canada Infrastructure Bank, and they’re starting a project. The Province of Saskatchewan is relying very heavily on small modular reactors for hydrogen. Really exciting.

Some people like their hydrogen green and don’t like it blue, which means that they like hydrogen that comes from electricity, essentially, but they don’t like hydrogen that comes from natural gas. Again, I, and I’d say the government of Canada now, I’m neutral about that. The question to me is how much carbon does hydrogen emit, not how did we get to that point. The measure is what’s its carbon intensity and Government of Canada in the Fall Economic Statement explicitly said that that’s its measure now, and then let the technology people, the engineers, duke it out to have the best hydrogen that we can. I’m excited about these things. Whether they’re going to work by 2050, I don’t know.

SEAN SPEER: You’ve been closely following developments in Washington, particularly the poorly named Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS Act, which both involve significant public investments in domestic technological development and adoption including in a number of areas where Canada has aspirations about being a clean energy leader. Accepting that net zero is not a purely economic goal in which we can rely on markets to do the heavy lifting, it’s a political economy goal concerned with non-market considerations like the sustainability of the planet, what, Ed, is the role of public policy and what adjustments should Ottawa and the provinces be making to their own policies based on what we’ve seen out of the Biden administration?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Okay, the Inflation Reduction Act, as you said, I think it was Larry Summers who talked to Senator Joe Manchin into how this can be an Inflation Reduction Act to get him over on side—and maybe it’s true because it can put more supply in the economy, which is something perhaps we’ll talk about later—but this Inflation Reduction Act is a breathtaking piece of contemporary modern policy and it’s got a lot of money into it and it speaks, as does the CHIPS Act that you talked about, to the geopolitical tensions and energy transition pressures both at the same time.

What it does is it puts something like $375 billion or so in the Inflation Reduction Act itself, a lot of it toward energy transition and really highly incentivizing hydrogen companies or carbon capture companies or electric vehicle manufacturers, battery manufacturers, to make this transition, to make it more quickly by dangling tax credits in front of them. There’s no stick, it’s all carrot. And therefore, a lot of companies in Europe, companies in Canada, they’re thinking, “I think I might just do that hydrogen project in the United States because it’s so good.” You have to get competitive with that and nothing has shaken Ottawa as much in the last five or six years as the new energy industry might move south because of this IRA and so we’re going to have to meet up with that.

There have been some victories for Canada and there are some threats I guess. One of the victories was you may recall that President Biden was saying that they were only going to offer subsidies to electric vehicles that were manufactured in the United States, but that changed in the IRA in that a $7,500 subsidy now will be available to any EV that’s manufactured with critical minerals that come from a country with which the United States has a trade agreement.

Well, that would be Canada and not China, so we better start developing our critical minerals but that’s another answer. That brings in the geopolitical aspect. That’s a big, big win to keeping a car industry manufacturing in Canada. At the same time, a lot less publicity of the production credit for batteries that are manufactured physically in the United States. Again, I start wondering why is that? Well, I think why it is because in the United States, of course it’s all about the United States. All politics is local, and all policy is local, but they don’t have much critical mineral capacities so they need to work with partners like us on that. They got a lot of production capacity. So, when it comes to batteries, they can be protectionist, and this is a huge shot.

It opens up a whole other major strategic issue for Canada. As the world’s dividing into camps geopolitically, we’re clearly in American camp. Geography and values put us there, a whole bunch of things put us there, but the Americans are not as generous as they were in the Cold War and ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. We’re in a camp, we’ve got to make sure we have things to offer that are relevant to it so we don’t get shut out of battery manufacturing, as an example.

SEAN SPEER: It’s a ton of insight there Ed, and a good segue to our paper which we released in early November. I should just say what a joy it was to work with you on it and it’s been fun to see some of the reaction, good and bad, since its release.

Maybe I’ll just start by asking you to talk about the rise in the Anglo-American world, it seems like every day there are new voices in organizations arguing for a new supply-side agenda. It takes on different names, the Abundance Agenda, Supply-Side Progressivism, we call it the Supply Rebuild. What’s the core insight here?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Yes. Well, let me say two things first, Sean. One, it was so much fun working with you on this, but you brought to the table the idea, particularly, that we’re talking about a system of thought here. We’re not just talking about individual policies. We’re talking about how the world thinks about the solutions to today’s problems. We need to think about them differently in the age we’re in with energy transition issues, geopolitical issues, a lot of things. You connected up very early in the going from the collapse of Lehman Brothers up to the start of the Ukrainian war. How many days was that, Sean?

SEAN SPEER: Almost 5,000—4,910.

EDWARD GREENSPON: That’s a period of time where we’ve been waiting for: what is the new economic paradigm? In the post-war years, we had a Keynesian paradigm which served us well. When it ran out of gas, we had a neoliberal, Friedmanite type of orientation, which, again, moved away some of the clutter that had built up in the Keynesian model, and then ran out of the steam itself, I think, with the role that financial deregulation played in the collapsed economy in 2008, 2009. Since then, we really haven’t had an answer. Now we’re beginning to see an answer emerge, and you connected those dots quite brilliantly.

That answer is that we need to move our economic attention more from the demand side to the supply side, which means that when you have a collapse of the economy in ’08, ’09, or again in the pandemic, you prime the pump by putting a lot of money into the system either through the central bank or through the government and you give people purchasing power to make sure the economy goes. That’s a very effective but very blunt instrument. And, ultimately, playing defence is not playing offence. What we need to do now is turn our attention to how can we increase supply in our economy.

I know both of us have talked a lot and been frustrated, and some things that we’ve discovered as we’ve gone a long way. We talked a few minutes ago about building electricity. That’s a lot of building that has to go on. I don’t think either one of us would have known that Canada had such a low quotient of ICUs compared to other G7 countries. We need to build skills and skilled labour. We have low intellectual property in Canada. There are all kinds of things that have to be built up both physical and intangible. You and Robert Asselin wrote important papers for the Public Policy Forum about the intangibles economy. We got to get building, and all countries have to do this for the energy transition if nothing else. We have to do it.

It reminded us of the 1950s when we built the St. Lawrence Seaway, we built a TransCanada Highway, we built a TransCanada Pipeline, we built campuses, we built suburbs. We built so many things. It’s one after another. We opened up our immigration to bring in skilled labour from Europe which was just recovering from the war. That’s the monumental challenge that we have again.

It’s a challenge of relevant issues that people might be thinking about, like inflation for instance. Inflation is demand and supply finally got to work with each other. You can do what the Bank of Canada is doing. It only has that one instrument to try to curtail demand a bit so supply can catch up. You can also invest long-term in supply, which is a good answer, and I think that’s why all countries are moving towards it.

Sean, I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask you a question, but does it create a bridge politically where one might be able to find a consensus?

SEAN SPEER: It’s funny, Ed, I was going to ask you precisely the same question. One of the exciting things about the Supply Rebuild, it seems to me, as a framework for thinking about economic policymaking, is it involves two parts. There is the active role for governments to catalyze investment in the supply of energy technology, housing, biomedical capacity, et cetera. There’s also the unblocking role that government has to recognize for itself. That is to say that one of the impediments to the supply that we think we need in our economy is that government policy, often for well-intended reasons, has come to serve as a brake on the private sector’s ability to produce more supply. Housing, of course, being a good example.

Let me turn that question to you, Ed. Because it seems to me the left-wing case or the progressive case for the Supply Rebuild is reasonably self-evident. We’re talking about market shaping rather than merely market-enabling policies. We’re talking, as I said, about a more active role for government to catalyze private investment in new technologies. But what about the conservative argument? What parts of the Supply Rebuild in your view may resonate with The Hub’s more right-leaning listeners?

EDWARD GREENSPON: I don’t know The Hub’s listenership intimately but I suspect it wants to build things. That’s what we’re talking about is frustrated, getting in the way of building things. I have three kids who are outside the house now and would like to own homes of their own at one point. One of them actually has been able to purchase a condo. Housing supply: we’ve got to get over the blockages to supply. That’s not the whole question but is part of the question which is under-appreciated and under-addressed. In the energy system, whether you care about the old energy system or the new energy system, or in my case, both, then you’ve got to build and you’ve got to invest in both. You’ve got to attract investment dollars. You’ve got to attract investment dollars from countries that we’re competing with for those dollars.

I do see things that will resonate for conservatives as I do see things that will resonate with center left to center right—for people for whom outcomes are more important than ideology. There is something for everyone in the supply agenda and there’s something generationally important because we’re building stuff that our kids will use in the way our parents and our grandparents built the post-war economy that we’ve fed magnificently off of. Incomes have been fairly stagnant in this country, or our real income has been stagnant for a lot of years. We got to break out of that by just not riding on the investment that came 20, 30, 40 years ago, but investing in real productive assets.

SEAN SPEER: Well said. A criticism of the paper is that it grants too big a role for government in shaping market outcomes through ostensibly some combination of R&D investments, tax preferences, regulatory forbearance, et cetera. Why don’t you take that argument head-on? Why do you think that a more active role is needed? What, if any, steps can we take to avoid the kind of distortions or politicization that is frequently cited as an objection to these ideas?

EDWARD GREENSPON: I think that the public has an interest that has to be represented at the table now, as they did, let’s say, in terms of the pandemic. Take Operation Warp Speed in the United States as an example—that’s even a Trumpian thing. There was a role for government there in they were going to put a lot of money up to incentivize private companies to come up with vaccines much more quickly and going to reduce regulation while not ignoring safety in the process. That’s a pretty good model for where we are and the kinds of challenges that we have now.

In the Cold War, I think the government was involved in that military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower complained about upon leaving office, or worried about, but that was because there was a larger public goal which was to make sure you didn’t lose the Cold War, make sure you didn’t fall behind the Soviet Union. I think we have big, big, big issues today. I think the people who are criticizing the paper are living in a little bit of a precious space perhaps, where they’re not affected by this. They’ve missed that we have a new Cold War on and I hope that we can keep that new Cold War as lukewarm as possible while not sacrificing our values, but not isolating China in the way that the Soviet Union was less isolated.

Certainly, a lot of my friends in Saskatchewan where I used to live will want to continue to sell their potash to China and other people want to sell lumber et cetera to China. I don’t think we want to write them out of the equation, but this is the geostrategic issue and business is going to need some directional leadership from government which will say, “Look, I think we got to work on this. We’re willing to put tax incentives here because we’ve got to protect our supply lines, and you can’t move all your labour over to China and therefore, create a situation like we’ve had politically in the United States and Canada where angry people left behind rebel against the system, with some cause, with some reason.”

The energy transition does the same thing. It just can’t be left to markets alone but we don’t want to return to statism because the state moves slowly. Governments and markets have different functions and governments take a longer time to do things because they have a guardian function. Markets are more efficient. One way to think about it is: Government when necessary, if necessary, and, if not necessary, leave it to the market. But I think we’re at a point where it has to be a partnership. There’s a lot of risk involved in change and government has to help defray that risk for business.

SEAN SPEER: I should just say, in parentheses, Ed, I regret that we didn’t use Operation Warp Speed in the paper because I think it’s a perfect example in that it reflects both the catalytic role that we envision as part of the Supply Rebuild, and the unblocking role—in effect, the two in tandem. That may be the subject of an op-ed or something in the future because I think it’s a really powerful encapsulation of how we’ve come to conceptualize the role of public policy in this broader framework.

EDWARD GREENSPON: That creates learning opportunities for governments and business. And one of the learning opportunities is that because approvals did move more quickly, now we’re moving into a period where instead of approvals being sequential—we’re going to do this part, once that’s done, we’re going to do this, and once that’s done, we’re going to do this. Now they’re rolling where two or three parts are starting to happen at the same time. The same approvals are occurring but in a much more efficient manner. Therefore drugs that can save lives that might have taken four years, five years to take to market will take two years, or three years. I can’t see a downside there.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask a penultimate question about the broader geopolitical backdrop that you’ve mentioned a couple of times in our conversation. It’s been characterized as the return of “geo-economics,” which basically conveys the growing interconnectedness between economic and geopolitical considerations. Think for instance of the weaponization of energy exports by the Russians in the lead-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Do you want to reflect a bit, Ed, on how the Supply Rebuild relates to Canada’s broader geopolitical interests? Why, in other words, is building and producing more stuff here, ultimately, in Canada’s interests in the world?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, we don’t trust the Russians anymore if we ever should have. We don’t trust the Chinese as much as we used to. I don’t begrudge the policies of the 1990s or the 2000s, or even into 2010 and beyond. China today is not the China that we hoped it would be and now it’s proven that. Maybe tomorrow it will be. Maybe in 10 years, 20 years, it will be. Obviously, it’s a very important country, but in the meantime, we don’t want to be subject to blackmail from countries on critical aspects of our economy or our lives. This includes the supply chain for the new energy systems which are far too reliant upon China. Critical minerals are processed by and large in China.

Security of supply has always been an issue and China has never forgotten it. It makes sure it has diversified supplies of things that it doesn’t know. Europe forgot that and allowed itself to become dependent for 40 percent of its gas on a single supplier, Russia, and a single supplier with geopolitical ambitions and motivations. That was just bad policy. Everybody could see that coming. A lot of people have been betting that for 10 or 15 years. Even within Germany. They got lulled into a complacency because the gas was cheaper, it was easy to get, and they wanted to maintain good relations.

For Canada, we cannot be returned to a world of autarky where we’re going to make everything for ourselves. We’ve got to be in a trading system, but that trading system has to lean more heavily, not exclusively, but lean more heavily towards self-sufficiency. Again, in the pandemic, we saw a supply breakdown in places. We’ve realized, “Oh my God, we have no vaccine capacity.” We’re the only G7 country with no manufacturing capacity on vaccines. Well, that’s not very healthy, but also, we didn’t have very much to trade with countries to get the vaccine. We traded money and we did a superb job of getting ourselves in position given how far behind the starting line we had placed ourselves in the previous quarter century.

We don’t want to be behind that starting line anymore. We’ll be where we have advantages just like critical minerals. This comes to the core of the supply question that we’re talking about, Sean. We have critical minerals. They are in the ground in remote places. Are we going to take two decades to get them out of the ground and make them useful? Because I don’t think we have two decades. How are we going to shorten that to a shorter timeframe? Germany, which needs liquified natural gas now, has built an intake facility in six months because they have to. You never want to sacrifice safety in doing that but you do want to sacrifice a lot of redundancy and inefficiency.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s wrap up with a broader question about ideas. The paper’s introduction says that we, you and I, believe that ideas matter. You’re someone who worked in journalism for a long time and now runs a think tank. You’ve basically dedicated your professional life to that proposition. How do you think ideas take shape and gain a hold over policy and politics? What, in other words, Ed, causes an idea to be elevated from say a think tank paper to a multi-partisan consensus?

EDWARD GREENSPON: Well, first off, you said earlier about some of the reaction to the paper’s been bad and some of it is good and I smiled a little to myself because I don’t think there is any bad if there’s a reaction. Because it promotes public debate, it promotes public thinking. It seeps into the consciousness and I think that’s very important. When I see important kinds of change, particularly where it comes to ideas permeating across party lines into society—because it can’t be changing your ideas every four years. That doesn’t work. There’s broader national interest at stake, broader public interest at stake.

I can recall very much in my journalism career, in 1993, I became the Ottawa bureau chief of the Globe and Mail. And we were just entering a period of consensus that you wouldn’t have known by watching the 1993 election but the Liberals and Reform [Party] which had been elected and the remnants of the [Progressive] Conservative Party were converging on some key ideas. Within two years of that period, they had converged on free trade, which the Liberals had been against. They were the original authors in Canadian history of free trade policies but they’d been against the free trade agreement in 1988. Then they were against NAFTA but then they signed NAFTA and they came out for free trade. Deficits: the country got into a critical period and there was a strong consensus that built up around the idea that you cannot run deficits in this manner perpetually at this size and be spending as much of the national income on interest rates as we were doing.

I think outside circumstances and ideas and people in leadership positions, they come together, and these ideas are the real drivers because they enable people with imagination who find that they’re running out of options, they give them fresh ways of looking at the world and acting. I think that’s what a good think tank is trying to do and that’s what a good political party is trying to do. You’ve got to be communicating constantly with your supporters to bring them along. And to give some credit to Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, they did that in the Liberal Party in their day. It was that or a real breakdown.

SEAN SPEER: I should just say, as we wrap up, that the story that Ed just outlined about the creation of this multi-partisan consensus in the early 1990s is the subject of one of Ed’s previous books along with a co-author called Double Vision, The Inside Story of The Liberals in Power.

Ed Greenspon, president and CEO of the Public Policy Forum, my friend, boss, and co-author of our recently released paper, “The Urgent Case for a Supply Rebuild, Investing in a New Economic Compact for Canada,” thank you so much for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

EDWARD GREENSPON: Thank you for the shining conversation, Sean. It’s always great talking to you and together finding some roots to a better future.

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