Inside the progressive think tank that really runs Canada [Canada2020]

Good long read by Anne Kingston:

To study Canada 2020, it’s useful to have some grid paper to better map its myriad interconnections, many which reveal the two degrees of separation that define Canadian politics. Three of its co-founders—Smith, Tim Barber and Eugene Lang, all well-connected Liberals—were also principals in the Ottawa-based Bluesky Strategy Group, a firm whose services include lobbying and media relations (Lang left Bluesky and Canada 2020 in 2013). Pitfield, the fourth named co-founder, has impeccable Liberal bona fides: the son of Senator Michael Pitfield, clerk of the Privy Council when Pierre Trudeau was PM; a lifelong friend of Justin Trudeau, helping him write the stirring 2000 eulogy to his father that paved his way to political office. Pitfield, who also worked for the Canada China Business Council founded by billionaire Paul ­Desmarais, is married to Anna Gainey, elected president of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2014; he ran digital strategy for Trudeau’s leadership bid and also for the 2015 federal Liberal campaign.

Connections between Canada 2020, the Liberal Party and Bluesky can look like a Venn diagram on steroids. Bluesky and Canada 2020 are based at 35 O’Connor St., where the party rented space for a temporary “volunteer hub” during the election. Pitfield intersects with the Liberals professionally via his company Data Sciences Inc., which has an exclusive agreement to manage the party’s digital engagement; two Data Sciences staffers sit on the Liberal Party’s board of directors.

Where there is Liberal news, there’s often a Canada 2020 connection. Take the recent controversy over Rana Sarkar, named Canada’s consul general to San Francisco at a salary twice the listed compensation. Media focused on his friendship with Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s senior adviser. But Sarkar has deep Canada 2020 links, too: he was named to its advisory board in 2015, is the author of a chapter in one of its “policy road maps,” and has participated in its speaker series. The bottom line: to understand this big-L Liberal moment in Canadian politics, you have to understand Canada 2020.

When asked about the organization’s genesis, co-founder Tim Barber points to an Oct. 2003 New York Times Magazine story, “Notion Building,” about the Center for American Progress (CAP), which had recently been founded by John Podesta. Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff (and later an Obama adviser) wanted to take on the right with an enterprise that could book liberal thinkers on cable TV, create an “edgy’’ website, and recruit scholars to research and promote new progressive policy ideas. CAP wasn’t an organ of the Democratic Party, Podesta insisted, though history points to it being just that.

Podesta hates the term “think tank,” Barber says. “I do too. It’s way too passive and conjures days gone by. His view was that there’s an opportunity for organizations to put as much time into marketing and communicating big ideas as coming up with those big ideas.”

Source: Inside the progressive think tank that really runs Canada – Macleans.ca

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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