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Stephen Harper — activist investor? Why the former PM's path after politics shouldn't surprise anyone – Financial Post

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Now 62, Harper is looking to make his mark in perhaps the biggest way since his near-decade as Canada’s leader

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As word circulated late last year that Stephen Harper, Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister, was planning to launch an activist investing fund with a protégé of Wall Street raider Carl Icahn, some eyebrows were raised on Bay Street and in political circles.

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While former prime ministers have not shied away from private sector work after their time at 24 Sussex (if they leave politics at all, that is) in most cases that involvement has come through cushy positions at blue chip law firms, where drumming up business and making introductions at home and abroad has been the order of the day.

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The rough-and-tumble world of activist investing, in which outsiders target underperforming companies and take stakes in them while sometimes less-than-gently encouraging a change in direction, would seem to be a deeper and more hands-on venture into the corporate realm than most have attempted.

Harper was, in the best sense of the word, an activist as Prime Minister

Karl Moore, associate professor of strategy and organization at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management

But the prospect of a former prime minister shaking things up in corporate boardrooms may not be as jarring when one considers Harper’s political legacy. Trained as an economist, Harper was instrumental in upending Canadian politics through the formation of the right-wing Reform Party and later helped unite the country’s sharply divided conservative political factions. When it came to governing, he actively courted business leaders to his team, including recruiting Onex Corp. managing director Nigel Wright to become his chief of staff.

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“Harper was, in the best sense of the word, an activist as Prime Minister,” said Karl Moore, associate professor of strategy and organization at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, adding that he never pulled back from his vision to reshape the country.

“Activist investors have done some good things, and a few not so good to shake things up … and one could argue Stephen Harper did that as Prime Minister.”

Nigel Wright, senior managing director of Onex, was a high-profile hire as Harper’s chief of staff in 2010.
Nigel Wright, senior managing director of Onex, was a high-profile hire as Harper’s chief of staff in 2010. Photo by Christopher Pike / Postmedia News

As in most matters, Harper has in his post-prime-ministerial life refused to follow too neatly in the footsteps of his predecessors, Liberal or Conservative.

Some, like Paul Martin, who was wealthy before going into public life — having run and then purchased shipping company CSL Group Inc. — occupied their time out of office with projects of personal interest. Martin, for example, became involved in a number of educational and entrepreneurship initiatives for indigenous communities and advised the African Development Bank.

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Brian Mulroney returned to law firm Ogilvy Renault, now part of Norton Rose Fulbright, after his run as Canada’s 18th Prime Minister. Before his life in politics, Mulroney had also served as president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada, and afterwards he took up seats on the boards of companies including Barrick Gold Corp., Quebecor Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM).

John Turner and Jean Chrétien, too, returned to the law. Turner joined Miller Thomson LLP, while Chrétien became counsel for Heenan Blaikie LLP and later Dentons Canada. Chrétien also became involved in international organizations dedicated to democracy, peace and solving problems facing the global community.

Following his government’s defeat in 2015, Harper established a private consultancy called Harper & Associate in partnership with his former chief of staff Ray Novak. Upon leaving politics, Harper — who had become heavily associated with western Canada after moving from Toronto to Calgary, where he earned a Master’s degree in economics — worked out of the Calgary office of international law firm Denton’s, where he advised clients on market access and managing global geopolitical and economic risk.

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According to a 2018 article in Maclean’s magazine, his pitch included a pledge to help clients navigate international waters — with the calling card that Harper’s Conservative government had reached several overseas trade deals without public backlash.

The cover of Maclean’s Magazine in August, 2018.
The cover of Maclean’s Magazine in August, 2018. Photo by Maclean’s Magazine

In contrast with many of other former prime ministers, he also went on to become directly involved in a handful of corporate ventures, mostly with an investment focus.

Among them is AWZ Ventures, a Canadian private investment company that invests in Israeli cybersecurity, intelligence and security technology. Harper is a partner and president of the advisory committee at the firm, whose website boasts management and advisors including former directors and senior executives from global security and intelligence agencies such as Mossad, the CIA, FBI, MI5 and CSIS.

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Harper is also an adviser to 8VC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that aims to partner with founders and entrepreneurs to build “transformative” technology platforms, and whose managing partner, Joe Lonsdale, was an early institutional investor in Oculus, a virtual reality platform later acquired by Facebook/Meta, and a co-founder of Palantir, a sometimes controversial data-mining software company.

Closer to home, Harper became a director at Toronto-based real estate firm Colliers International, a global leader in real estate services and investment management with operations in 65 countries and $4 billion in annual revenue.

Ed Waitzer, a former chair of Bay Street law firm Stikeman Elliott LLP, who is an investor in AWZ and did legal business with Colliers over the years, said Harper has proven himself to be “excellent” as a director and adviser.

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“While we may differ on policy issues, I find him thoughtful, diligent and strategic,” Waitzer said, noting that their paths crossed previously when Harper was in government and Waitzer was involved in initiatives to create a national securities regulator and strengthen business ties between Canada and Chile.

In their dealings, Waitzer said, Harper has brought “experience, judgment and ability to deal with people (through skills) gained from earlier parts of his career.”

Former politicians, and particularly highly placed ones such as country leaders, are typically retained because they bring access to prospective investors or investment opportunities, and credibility.

“Good ones also bring a unique perspective and good judgment,” Waitzer said.

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Harper could be brash while in office, pushing hard for pipelines and energy development, curtailing media access and heavily scrutinizing charities, including funding an audit crackdown by tax authorities.

But courting controversy is not uncommon in public office and it is unlikely to get in the way of good business in life after politics, said Waitzer, who retired from Stikeman last year.

“Any public figure worth his/her salt has baggage. If not, it means they never took a stand on issues worth fighting about.”

Prime Minister designate Stephen Harper gives his victory speech during his election night party at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary inn 2006.
Prime Minister designate Stephen Harper gives his victory speech during his election night party at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary inn 2006. Photo by Tim Fraser/Postmedia

Waitzer said Harper will undoubtedly “add value” to his latest venture in activist investing with partner Courtney Mather, a former portfolio manger at Carl Icahn’s investment fund manager Icahn Capital — if they get the firm up and running as planned.

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According to a Bloomberg News report, the firm is to be called Vision One, and the intent is to target mid-sized companies — including those in the consumer and industrial sectors — in which they could unlock value through governance improvements, among other changes.

Harper would be chairman and Mather, whose professional designations in chartered alternative investment analysis, financial analysis, and financial risk management, would serve as chief executive and chief investment officer.

Educated at Rutgers and the U.S. Naval Academy, Mather spent more than a decade at Goldman Sachs & Co., from 1998 to 2012, where he became the managing director for private distressed trading and investing and was responsible for finding investment opportunities for both Goldman Sachs and the firm’s clients. He has also served on the boards of Newell Brands and Caesars Entertainment.

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Nigel Wright, senior managing director of Onex who was a high-profile hire as Harper’s chief of staff in 2010, said in an email from Onex’s London office that he had been told about Harper and Mather’s investment venture and provided materials. Wright said he did not feel comfortable discussing the plans unless the principals — neither of whom responded to requests for comment from the Financial Post — were ready to elaborate.

In April, Reuters reported that activist investors pushing for boardroom changes were outperforming broader market, with smaller players and upstarts such as Ancora Alternatives and Honest Capital LLC ringing up double-digit gains.

But getting established isn’t the easiest path, even for investment industry stars.

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Jim Keohane, a former senior pension executive and adviser, recalled one such senior pension executive who tried to start his own fund in 2008 but returned to the pension world when he was unable to raise sufficient funds.

“He had a very strong track record and was unable to secure funding, Keohane recalled.

Not only are activist funds capital intensive but they are competitive, he said, noting that large funds such as The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and other Canadian pensions heavyweights are already set up with dedicated in-house teams and pools of capital to take meaningful positions in companies whose boards and managers they seek to influence.

“It will be very challenging to get this off the ground,” he said, though he added that Harper’s former job as Prime Minister of Canada — and his reputation from that time — will undoubtedly be a draw for some.

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“I would say that he has strong business acumen. I am sure that a lot of people would take a meeting with them because they would be interested in hearing Mr. Harper’s views.”

Government is suspicious of business, and business is suspicious of government

Karl Moore, associate professor of strategy and organization at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management

Harper’s ties to the business world were evident throughout his time in public office.

Though most Canadian prime ministers have tapped the business community to some extent for advisers, Harper made a decisive move early in his nearly decade-long tenure that began in 2006 by plucking high-profile executives to join his party — even courting controversy to do so.

“Mr. Harper went out of his way to recruit David Emerson, former CEO of various enterprises, and Michael Fortier, (a Bay Street lawyer and investment banker at Toronto-Dominion Bank) in the financial industry, into his early cabinet,” said Ian Brodie, another former chief of staff to Harper and now undergraduate program director in the department of political science at the University of Calgary.

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Fortier served as the minister of both public works and government services and international trade, while Emerson served as trade and foreign affairs minister.

Neither political ally was easily attained.

“Emerson was poached from the Liberal caucus and Fortier was appointed to the Senate in order to let him sit in cabinet,” noted Brodie.

The Senate appointment was a rarity and was therefore somewhat controversial, while Emerson’s appointment led to a conflict of interest and ethics inquiry, which found no wrongdoing.

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Moore, who has lived and taught in the United Kingdom and the United States, said there is an uneasy relationship between the public and private sectors in Canada that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

“The back and forth between government and business does not happen in Canada the way it does in the U.S. and U.K.,” he said. “There’s something where government is suspicious of business, and business is suspicious of government.”

There are some notable exceptions, such as Bill Morneau, who served as Justin Trudeau’s finance minister for nearly five years after running human resources consulting firm Morneau Shepell for a couple of decades.

That typical Canadian reticence was also not evident when Harper tapped Wright in 2010, then a senior executive at successful private equity firm Onex, as his chief of staff. Onex has been known for decades as one of Canada’s most successful buyout firms, with an international profile and $47 billion in assets under management.

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I remember he told me his big focus was on doing international work, he didn’t want to really focus on Canada

Jack Mintz, chair of Alberta Economic Recovery Council

Jack Mintz, chair of Alberta Economic Recovery Council — whose members include Harper and which was created to provide insight and expert advice on how to protect jobs during the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent collapse in energy prices — said Harper was always focussed on the international stage and did not pay particular attention to the line between the public and private sectors when building his team in government.

“Nigel is extremely smart and actually he was really an excellent Chief of Staff,” said Mintz.

“And he was looking for a big change.”

Harper was relatively young when he became Prime Minister, and still in his mid-fifties when he left politics, Mintz noted, adding that it’s not usual for Canadian politicians to seek “life after office.”

Now 62, he is looking to make his mark in perhaps the biggest way since his near-decade as Canada’s leader.

“After he stepped down as Prime Minister we had lunch together and I remember he told me his big focus was on doing international work, he didn’t want to really focus on Canada,” Mintz said.

“I think he wanted to maybe sprout his wings.”

• Email: bshecter@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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With debates over, Conservative leadership candidate turns to final membership push

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OTTAWA — Now that the second official debate of the race is out of the way, Conservative leadership hopefuls will turn their attention to signing up as many supporters as they can before a fast-approaching deadline.

The party’s leadership election organizing committee says it is already breaking records for how many new members candidates have drawn in ahead of the June 3 cutoff date for new members being able to vote.As of last week, officials were bracing for a voting base of more than 400,000 members by the deadline.

In comparison, the party had nearly 270,000 members signed up to vote in its 2020 leadership contest.

The six candidates vying to replace former leader Erin O’Toole met on stage Wednesday for a French-language debate in Laval, Que. — a province where the Conservative Party of Canada has never won more than a dozen seats.

A rowdy crowd of several hundred booed and cheered throughout the night as candidates took turns lacing into each other’s records, including on controversial pieces of Quebec legislation.

Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, a perceived front-runner in the race who has been drawing large crowds at rallies across Canada, repeatedly stressed his opposition to the Quebec secularism law known as Bill 21, which prohibits certain public servants in positions of power from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Ontario mayor Patrick Brown — considered his main rivals — both accused Poilievre of not clearly stating his position on the law when speaking to Quebecers, which he denied.

Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis, as well as Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber, are also vying to be leader.

Grassroots Conservatives are looking for leadership candidates who can draw many new faces into the party, including in Quebec where membership numbers are low.

Under new rules adopted last year, a riding must have at least 100 members in order for candidates to nab the full amount of points available to them in the ranked-ballot system used to determine a winner.

A winner is chosen when a candidate earns more than 50 per cent of the votes. In the event they don’t, whoever earns the fewest number of votes nationally is dropped from the ballot and the votes they received are redistributed to whichever candidate was marked as their second choice.

Speaking to reporters following Wednesday’s debate, which saw Charest and Brown repeatedly attack Poilievre but not one another, Charest said Brown should not be underestimated in the race.

Entering as the mayor of Brampton, Ont., Brown had a reputation in Tory circles for his ability to organize from his time as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives.

He has spent the race criss-crossing the country, meeting with different immigrant and ethnic communities, encouraging them to take out a membership in the party to change Canada’s conservative movement.

Among those he’s focused his attention on are people from the Tamil, Chinese, Sikh, Nepalese, Filipino and Muslim communities.

Brown promises them a better seat at the political table and pledges to end the lottery system to make family reunification easier. He has also spent the last few weeks equating Poilievre’s name with two of the world’s most controversial right-wing leaders — former U.S. president Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician who recently failed to win a general election.

“The guy I’m running against is trying to replicate what you’d call the Trump version of conservatism or the Le Pen version of conservatism,” Brown told Muslim community members in Surrey, B.C., last week.

In another recent address to a Muslim gathering in Burnaby, B.C., Brown took aim at the crowds Poilievre has been attracting.

“Sort of looks like a Trump rally,” he said, before criticizing the lack of racial diversity.

Brown made similar remarks during Wednesday’s debate when he accused Poilievre of trying to court the support of people akin to Pat King, a leading voice of the Ottawa convoy protest who has also espoused the so-called white replacement conspiracy theory.

Poilievre has denounced King’s remarks.

After Quebec, Poilievre was set to travel to New Brunswick, followed by Thunder Bay, Ont., Winnipeg and Saskatoon. He will bring his campaign message of “freedom” from everything from the cost of living to COVID-19 public-health restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Your Promises Are empty and Similar

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“Your promises give us such a thrill,
but they won’t pay our bills,
We want money, that’s what we want(&Need).

The Political Parties in Ontario are trying to bribe us all with our own money. Election Madness, with the NDP promising should they be elected to form the next government, they would set a weekly price cap on the price of gasoline. The Conservatives have promised to temporarily cut the gas tax starting in July. Liberal Steven Del Duca says price caps do not work, while the NDP claims tax cuts do not prevent Energy Corporations from raising their prices.

The Liberal’s platform plank regarding Transit points to a buck-a-dollar ride. The NDP is calling for free transit (possibly in certain regions).

The Doctor shortage is easily solved, so The NDP claim, by hiring 300+ more doctors and thousands of nurses. Their pay will have to be very high in order to attract professional medical talent to Ontario. Medical Professionals have moved to The USA, receiving salaries and enticements many of our current medical pros could only dream of.

So we have political leaders promising billions of dollars to attract our attention and hopefully our vote. Where this money is coming from is usually not discussed. Real numbers are never presented. We have experienced massive spending these past three years, and the international and domestic lenders are demanding to be repaid, yet these promises continue. Not one Political Leader has the courage to tell us the truth, believing we “cannot handle the truth”, but that we would rather sit in the glow of imaginary promises that one only hears during an election.

A powerHouse Premier with a broad array of accomplishments, a Liberal Leader trying to gain a few seats and save His leadership status, a NDP Leader whose very political life is under review(She does not win, She’s gone), a Green Party Leader also seeking a few more seats. That is their political state presently. We are waiting for certain tax increases to come. Someone has to pay for these political visions of future circumstances. The bills and invoices are in the mail, and will certainly arrive this July.

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers”.(N.K)

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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Opinion: The paranoid style in Conservative politics has deep roots – The Globe and Mail

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Here are some of the things certain candidates for Conservative leader think, or want Conservative voters to think, threaten Canada and Canadians.

Candidate Pierre Poilievre warns his followers that the government of Canada “has been spying on you everywhere. They’ve been following you to the pharmacy, to your family visits, even to your beer runs.”

The government hasn’t been doing anything of the kind, of course: A private company prepared a report to the Public Health Agency of Canada on population movements during the pandemic, using anonymous, aggregated cellphone data. The data allow researchers to count how many people visited a pharmacy or a beer store, not which people did; still less are individuals followed from place to place.

But Mr. Poilievre knows his followers don’t know this, and is quite content to mislead them. Just as he is when he claims he opposes allowing the Bank of Canada to issue a digital version of the dollar because the government would use the data generated thereby to “crack down” on its “political enemies.”

The point isn’t that such data couldn’t be misused in this way. The point is that Mr. Poilievre asserts, without evidence, that it is happening now, and assumes, without evidence, that worse will happen in the future – not as a possibility to be guarded against, but as an inevitability. This is the very definition of fear-mongering. Or, indeed, conspiracy theory. It encourages not prudent skepticism of government’s capacity, but baseless paranoia about government intentions.

But this is statesmanship itself next to the fears he and others have been spreading about the World Economic Forum, which sponsors an annual gathering of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland, that is the grand obsession of conspiracy theorists everywhere.

Mr. Poilievre hasn’t come right out and said what he thinks the WEF is up to (unlike former Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan, now the leader of the Ontario Party, who earlier this month accused the organization’s leaders of plotting to put microchips in “our bodies and our heads”), but he has made a point of saying that he will ban any member of his cabinet from attending its meetings – though several members of Stephen Harper’s cabinet did, including Mr. Harper himself.

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Then there’s candidate Leslyn Lewis, whose particular fear is the World Health Organization, or more precisely a package of amendments to its International Health Regulations put forward earlier this year by the United States. The amendments seem chiefly aimed at preventing the sort of information vacuum that hampered efforts to contain the coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak, notably stemming from China’s refusal to level with the world about what it had on its hands – but also abetted by the WHO’s own credulousness.

Thus, a critical amendment would require the WHO, should it find there is a public-health emergency “of international concern,” and having first offered assistance to the affected country, to share information with other countries about it, even if the first country objects. (Until now it had been left to the WHO’s discretion.) In conspiracy circles this has been cooked up into an open-ended power for the WHO to force countries into lockdown, take over their health care systems, even, in Ms. Lewis’s formulation, suspend their constitutions.

Where does one begin? The WHO does not have the power to dictate policies to member states. No country would ever agree to give it that power, let alone all 194 member states at once. And of all those countries, the least likely to agree to any such transfer of national sovereignty, let alone propose it, is the United States: the country that, for example, refuses to this day to participate in the International Criminal Court. The only way it could be done even in theory would be by passing the necessary enabling legislation through each country’s legislature, not by simply ratifying an amendment to a regulation.

We’ve been this way before. Remember the Global Compact for Migration? That anodyne collection of best-efforts promises of international co-operation in dealing with the world’s refugees was the subject of an earlier Conservative panic attack. Supposedly we would be permanently surrendering control of our borders to United Nations bureaucrats. It hasn’t happened, because that’s not actually how the world works.

Neither did Motion 103, a non-binding resolution of the House directing that a committee hold hearings on Islamophobia, lead to a ban on criticism of Islam, as still another Conservative fear campaign had claimed. Probably some of its proponents understood this at the time, but lots of their supporters didn’t.

And so it continues. Vaccine mandates become “vaccine vendettas.” Carbon pricing is equated with Chinese-style “social credit” scores. The Bank of Canada’s purchases of government bonds in the middle of the sharpest economic contraction since the Great Depression are depicted as if they were directly bankrolling the Liberal Party.

This cynical act is sometimes dressed up as “sticking up for the little guy” or “taking on the elites.” It is not. It is exploitation, pure and simple, shaking down the gullible for money and votes. It’s a con as old as politics. Before Mr. Poilievre can promise his audience to “give you back control over your lives,” he has to first persuade them that control has been taken away from them – and that he alone has the power to give it back. Or rather, that they should give him that power.

Populism has deep roots in the Conservative Party, at least since John Diefenbaker gathered the disparate populist movements that had sprung up in the West under the Progressive Conservative banner. As the party of the “outs,” those who for one reason or another were excluded from the Liberal power consensus, it has always tended to attract its share of cranks – not just populists but crackpots.

What’s different today? Three things. One, the targets of populist wrath are increasingly external to Canada: bodies like the WEF or the WHO, whose remoteness from any actual role in controlling our lives only makes them seem more darkly potent, to those primed to believe it.

Two, the “outs” no longer simply reject a particular political narrative, but increasingly science, and reason, and knowledge: the anti-expertise, anti-authority rages of people who have been “doing their own research.”

And three, the crackpopulists used to be consigned to the party’s margins. Now they are contending to lead it.

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