The role of the kamikaze journalist
By Tony Patterson
What most people fail to understand is the role of the kamikaze journalist in Canada. Mike Duffy, once a program host on CTV NewsNet, is a champion of the breed.
Kamikaze journalists are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their profession. Not for them the dry observations, reports and punditing of other mediacrities. Investigative journalism? Pussy. Direct action. Tackle the system head on.
We still feel the “Radwanski effect” in Ottawa, ten years after the blow. George Radwanski arrived in the capital via Financial Times and the Toronto Star. He wasn’t long in town before discovering that top level public servants had virtually unlimited expense privileges. They could travel extensively, book first class accommodation and, if they liked her, take an assistant repeatedly to lunch. It’s not known at what moment precisely he determined that this all must end. But George was by then Privacy Commissioner of Canada, in just the right position to make an impact. With a well-tuned understanding of how the system works, George got the problem before a Parliamentary Committee by inciting it investigate him for a half million dollars that he shouldn’t have spent. Were it not for George Radwanski, would departments now be posting their Deputy Minister’s expense records? The downside is that some of the better restaurants in town and across the river went out of business. Parsimony became the new rule for public servants. The Radwanski effect will never die.
What is likely to be the Duffy effect? Well quite clearly he went after the Senate with all guns blazing. It’s not so clear that he believed he could take down the Prime Minister’s Office as well. The indicator that he might have had the PMO in his sights from the beginning is the apparent coordination with Pamela Wallin, late of CBC. The double-whammy is a first for kamikaze journalism. And who would suspect a woman? But the koolaid is powerful. Mike could have slipped it to her when they crossed paths on senatorial outings.
It’s too early to tell whether he’ll succeed. Bringing down the Senate isn’t as easy as it looks. There are big constitutional barriers. And the PMO? Well, that’s an office, really, and the prime minister will always need it, so it will probably survive.
But the collateral damage is impressive. The Prime Minister is hurt. He may not survive. If the headline “Duffy Takes Out Harper” should ever run, Mike Duffy will be the best known Canadian journalist of all time.
And that would be nice for Mike. There should be an award. The Order of Canada is out, apparently. Those who have followed Mike Duffy’s long journalistic career will be aware as well of his libel suit against Frank Magazine. He is said to believe that the magazine's satirical attacks against him as The Puffster cost him this honour. Frank ceased operations in 2008, the same year Mike fled from its barbs to the relative seclusion of the upper chamber. He may not be pleased to learn that his current celebrity has prompted Michael Bate, Frank's long-time publisher, to announce an electronic restart.
One reader at a time, starting with the GG
By Tony Patterson
At Rideau Hall for the Killam Symposium on Monday the GG was working the crowd with his usual charm and courtesy. I didn't expect him to turn to me, whom he doesn't know, but he did and as we chatted I mentioned I had been drawn to the wall behind him where his predecessors are listed. He asked why. "De Courcelle had the job in 1665," I said. His Excellency seemed aware of that. His look was partly quizzical and partly "please don't start a centuries-long story because there are another two hundred people in the room I have to get to."
I said, "My first European ancestor arrived in Quebec on the Saint-Sebastien in September 1665, the same boat that brought Governor de Courcelle. It's a pleasure now to meet his successor."
That was serendipity enough for me. The name on the wall, the man himself with his aides, the thin thread of connection through nearly 350 years. But the GG had another thought. "Are you going to write family history," asked Mr. Johnston? Gotta love the man. That's what I do here: Rideau Canal And All That.
"Funny you should ask. Would you like to read some of it?"
"Sure," said the GG, "send it along."
Always on my mind Nov. 22
By Tony Patterson
I had just finished lunch at Mother Martin's and was heading to the studio when Pol, the manager, caught up to me at the door. "President Kennedy has been shot," he said. I went into the bar. The TV set was on. The afternoon was a blur but I knew I'd still have to get to the television studio. We were going live at five with the inaugural edition of a new public affairs show called Projection. I was the researcher, writer, interviewer and host for the program. This was fifty years ago, remember. Of course there would be no Projection that night. CBC-Montreal, the whole network and every other network in North America were tuned to only one cataclysmic event. But we had the studio booked and in the show must go on tradition we did our half hour to tape, which rolled the following week. It was my first appearance in a series that would change my family's life in significant ways. I remember the day very well. But I have no memory at all of what that first show was about.
Have you ever wondered
By Tony Patterson
Who makes the decisions behind the big salaries? The July-August 2013 edition of the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business tells the tale in its analysis of the Top 1000 corporations in Canada. The Royal Bank led the list, as it usually does, with its profit of $7.4 billion. Does CEO Gord Nixon consult only himself while collecting $14 million for steering RBC? No way. It’s a Board decision. Directors decide.
Way down at the bottom of the ROB list is gas-producer Encana Corp. of Calgary, No. 1000 with a loss of nearly $3 billion. (ROB ranks the Top 1000 companies in Canada by profitability but just over half of the thousand — 544 to be precise — show any profit at all. The rest are all losers for 2012.) Encana’s CEO last year, Randy Eresman, was paid only $7 million. As ROB meanly calculates, Mr. Nixon’s bank made $542 of profit for every loonie he was paid. Mr. Eresman was paid more than $2,500 for every million dollars down the toilet at Encana. According to a calculation by Corporate Knights magazine, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Eresman were each paid 92 times the average salary in their respective companies, an intriguing coincidence.
Who decides this kind of compensation practice, and why? There’s no denying that, like the Big Mac, it’s an importation from the U.S. of A. Mr. Nixon explains it this way in an interview with Grant Robertson of ROB. “. . . most of my top executives have been offered very big positions in the United States and elsewhere. It is a global market, a competitive market . . .”
Research for the New York Times (June 29), found that for the “top 200 chief executives at public companies with at least $1 billion in revenue . . . the median 2012 pay package came in at $15.1 million — a leap of 16 percent from 2011.” Of course even the most ambitious and self-confident Canadian business executive might feel it a long stretch to become CEO of a multi-billion dollar American enterprise. That’s OK because it’s not necessary to reach the very top in order to become very wealthy. As the NYT points out, “Because the data shows only chief executives’ pay, it does not reveal how good it still is to be a prince . . . compensation of the No. 2 executives at some of these companies would have vaulted them to the top ranks on the C.E.O. roster.”
At least noone in Canada tried to push Larry Ellison last year. The larger-than-life CEO of Oracle took $84.5 million from the company to fund his expensive and enduring pursuit of yachting’s America’s Cup. Peter Munk’s gold-plated lures for directors at Barrick, Frank Stronach’s platinum-lined parachute from Magna, don’t compare. Not since 2001 have we seen anything like it, when Canadian Pacific was split into five independent and self-sustaining companies after a century at the core of Canadian business and regional development. The CEO who made that break-up call received compensation, according to all reports, somewhere above $83 million. This was Canadian money, of course, not American like Mr. Ellison’s. Then again, it was a dozen years ago.
Who makes these decisions? Directors do and primus inter pares of directors is the Chair. The Chair usually gives a lead and the Board decides. In some cases the Chair and the CEO are one and the same. This was the case at Canadian Pacific in 2001, when the Chair and CEO was David O’Brien (pictured). The titles used to be joined at the Royal as well, but they’ve been split for some time now. Mr. Nixon is CEO. The Chair is David O’Brien. Similarly at Encana. Mr. Eresman was succeeded early this year as CEO by Clayton Woitas. But the Chair remains the same as before. That’s David O’Brien.
[Disclosure: Tony Patterson is David O'Brien's cousin.]
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, September 3, 2012.)
Despite the prejudices of outsiders against government and bureaucracy, Ottawa has been the best place in Canada to incubate big ideas and visionaries during my lifetime and even before.
The town was started by the greatest engineering project of the age before railways, the building of the everlasting Rideau Canal. That was before my lifetime, of course, but I feel a certain connection. One of my ancestors was a sapper who came with Lt. Colonel By to help blast, cut, dig and construct that magnificent waterway.
My lifetime was getting underway around the time of WWII when Ottawa was the nerve centre of the greatest growth explosion the country has ever seen. There was an engineer in charge, the controversial “minister of everything,” C. D. Howe. Most particularly Ottawa was where the technology to run the engines of war was conceived. The National Research Council emerged from the shadows under a brilliant scientist-soldier, General Andrew McNaughton, inventor of an artillery targeting device that was a forerunner of radar. From the NRC since have emerged hundreds of devices, systems, ideas and even seeds that have contributed to the betterment of humankind everywhere. Canola (a name made up of Canada and oil) is worth $2 billion a year to Prairie farmers, second only to wheat as an agricultural export. The motorized wheelchair. The first cardiac pacemaker. The crash position indicator, which guides rescue workers directly to isolated airplane crash sites before survivors perish of injuries or starvation. These are Ottawa inventions. The vaccine against infant meningitis. The first electronic music synthesizer. The best way to do computer animation of film. All got started here, at the NRC.
Of course there were some escapees of the ambitiously independent from NRC and its offshoots, even though they were often depending on government contracts to get their fledglings off the ground. Joe Norton founded Computing Devices. His son Mark is still actively supporting various high tech enterprises about town. Denny Doyle threw down his labcoat to establish Digital Equipment Corporation in Canada. It would vie with Nortel as the backbone of the tech-centric west end from Nepean through Kanata.
Nortel arrived as Bell-Northern Research in the early 1960s, attracted by NRC and its offshoot the Communications Research Centre at Shirley’s Bay. CRC would be the heart of Canada’s space adventures, starting with the Alouette program in the early 1960s. Alouette 1 made Canada the third nation to have a satellite circling. BNR became the single most important influence in moving the world’s telecom from analog to digital. This key innovation allowed Mike Cowpland and Terry Matthews to produce the fabulously successful PBX machines at Mitel. Then there was a quarter century run-up to Silicon Valley North, an intoxicating, almost giddy era. The likes of Systemhouse, Fulcrum, Jetform, Mosaid, JDS and Cognos were blooming.
Mitel does different things today, but in the meantime Matthews started Newbridge, now part of Alcatel, and Cowpland founded Corel. Nortel (which assumed BNR in 1996) is gone, the victim of awful business decisions. But the $5 billion patent portfolio it revealed in its death throes was dramatic evidence of the quality of thinking that went on there. There, of course, was here. Ottawa.
Where are the dreamers, the visionaries of yesteryear? As a matter of fact, a lot of them are still around, still dreaming dreams, still trying to make them real. Rod Bryden at Plasco. Terry Matthews at the re-acquired Mitel and a score of startups, Michael Cowpland at Zim, Adam Chowaniec, the Foody family, David Luxton. Denny Doyle still consults with the community out of Doyletech. And the young turks: Alfred Jay at Ramius, Tobias Lütke at Shopify, Paul Vallée and Andrew Waitman at Pythian. Space only prevents a much longer list.
It’s been my pleasure to write about these people through the years. Now I take leave, supremely confident that the end is not here, not even near. There will be a new resurgence of the technology gene. It may even have begun without our noticing. I can’t say precisely what it will bring but whatever it is will rise from a foundation of two solid centuries of technological achievement. Right here in government city.
Summer of coooperatives
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, August 6, 2012.)
May was memorable for Mauril Bélanger, the honourable Member forever of Ottawa-Vanier (eight elections and counting).
He had a really bad day mid-month when he took on the case of the vanishing Confederation Park subway station. Big mistake. His intrusion into the affairs of another level of government was brutally slapped down by Mayor Jim in a rare public chastisement. Wounded, the MP quietly backed off.
But by end-May Mauril was a star among his parliamentary peers. Appointed May 6 by interim party leader Bob Rae as “advocate” for the co-operative sector in Canada, within days he had conceived a daring – some would say impossible – strategy and got it approved in the Liberal caucus. May 30 was an “opposition day” in the House of Commons. The newly minted co-op advocate would use the time to speak positively about the sector, point out that 2012 is the UN’s International Year of Co-operatives and issue a call to action.
The specific action he proposed was something of a Hail Mary pass, not to say a non-starter. He called for creation of a committee that would sit through the summer to study the status of co-ops in Canada.
But he and other opposition Members in the House of whatever party were gobsmacked when the Harperites caught the pass and said, in effect, “Let’s get to it.” Turns out Conservatives know there are co-ops in every riding, not least in the west, where co-ops have a dominant position in the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The committee was named. An agenda was set July 10 and witnesses scheduled. Hearings ran through the last week of July. A report is to be ready for the House when it returns from recess in September.
There are a surprisingly large number of players in the co-op sector. Not to mention big bucks. Co-operatives including credit unions control assets of more than $250 billion and employ 150,000 people. More than 18 million Canadians are members of about 9,000 co-operatives, including 2,200 housing co-ops, which are home to more than 250,000 people (full disclosure: I’m one of them). There are more than 1,300 agricultural co-ops, 650 retail co-operatives, 900 credit unions and caisses populaires, about 450 co-ops offering childcare or early childhood education, more than 600 worker co-ops — owned by the employees — with a total membership of over 13,000, and more than 100 healthcare co-operatives.
There are many rural and northern communities where the co-op is the only game in town, for child care, health, supplies, financial services. More than 1,100 communities rely on a local co-operative credit union as their only financial institution. But co-op signs are also large and many in major cities across Canada. Here in Ottawa as throughout Quebec, Caisse Desjardins takes a back seat to none in financial matters. A huge co-op more than a century old, it ranks just behind the big five chartered banks.
While it’s useless to predict the outcome of the current parliamentary initiative, you have to respect whatever will bring MPs to meet in Ottawa in July. Mauril, whose riding runs right up beside Parliament Hill and has never elected anyone unLiberal, asked for the co-op portfolio, which hadn’t existed in any party before. He also had himself named “advocate” rather than “critic”, a crucial and original distinction. No dummy he. In an age of questionable economic models, some of which have tipped the world toward financial panic and gridlock, there is something stable, solid and community-supportive in co-operatives. Their value may be about to be rediscovered. If so, a whack of credit will have to go to the Member for Canada’s most predictable constituency.
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, July 9, 2012.)
Pay attention Ottawa. On the bank of the Ottawa River three hundred acres of your choicest land are about to be in play.
As choice as LeBreton Flats, Rockcliffe is many times the size of that historic neighbourhood, which was devastated by fire in 1900 and is still struggling to revive despite its recent acquisition of the swooping architectural masterpiece that encloses the Canadian War Museum. Essentially undeveloped land running in a huge rectangle bordered by St. Laurent Boulevard on the west, the NRC campus at Blair Road on the east, Montreal Road to the south and the Ottawa River, Rockcliffe is the site of a former RCAF airbase.
DND declared the property surplus in 1984, though there were military families still living there a quarter century later. Rockcliffe has been a question all that time. There were problems with property transfers and a land claim by an Algonquin first nation that apparently has been settled with a payment of $10 million. Algonquins may still be involved since they retain a right of first refusal on parcels to be sold from Rockcliffe. But it’s yet to be seen how willing they are to trade cash-in-hand for ancestral land.
The owner-of-record today is the Canada Lands Company. CLC’s mandate is to develop or dispose of properties the government owns but doesn’t use. It’s a player in major cities, such as Montreal (Old Port area and the Benny Farm residential district) and Toronto (Downsview Park, also a disused airfield). At Rockcliffe, a lead manager is to be named this month who will assemble a team of professionals to envision how this extraordinary landscape will be reshaped. Their starting mission is “to develop an exemplary diverse contemporary neighbourhood offering a choice in housing, employment, commercial, institutional and leisure activities which will be defined by the site’s unique setting, along with a commitment to environmental sustainability and long term economic viability.”
Now this will make a fine extension for Rockcliffe Park, one of the wealthiest enclaves in Canada, which the airfield was carved from nearly a century ago. After all, there are only two thousand people living there now. The airfield would essentially double the area of this ex-village where average salaries are twice what other Ottawa residents get paid. It’s a beautiful site. Should go to the most beautiful people. No?
That’s almost certainly what’s going to happen on the present path to decision. If there are other ideas out there, now’s the time to bring them forward. Two that I’ve heard deserve at least to be exposed:
The main campus of NRC, Canada’s primary research agency, abuts Rockcliffe. How about a technology park to bring commercial and entrepreneurial talent close to scientific teams that have global reputations and have won awards from the Nobel to Killam to Oscar?
The University of Ottawa is constrained for space. Located in the heart of the city, it has no way to grow physically to accommodate more students. Also it occupies properties that the federal government could use as it grows to manage the nation that, last I heard, was heading for a population of a hundred million this century.
A previous uO president talked of establishing a satellite campus at Rockcliffe for science faculties. The notion was dismissed by CLC, which didn’t have control then but knew it would some day. The current uO prez has reportedly canvassed profs at the university and found no support for the idea. But it’s not altogether crazed. Université Laval moved from its three century old campus in downtown Quebec City to Sainte-Foy in the 1950s. The Université de Montréal is relocating science faculties to the old train yards in Outremont.
The clock is running on Rockcliffe. Municipal approvals will take two or three years at least. Public consultations are to start this fall, presenting what CLC calls “a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to discuss and address issues of urban reintegration, quality of life and factors important in designing the place where you live, work, learn and play.”
That’s once in our lifetime, Ottawa. Prête attention
No, no I/O
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, June 4, 2012.)
I don’t know who the directors of the recently inaugurated Invest Ottawa (I/O, formerly OCRI) will be. I’ve asked a couple of times. Most recently (May 26) I had this response via email, “Directors being selected soon — watch for ads in local papers.”
Nor do I know how they’re being chosen or by whom. I’ve asked a couple of times. The question has been ignored.
But I think I can assume the I/O directors aren’t on board yet, so to speak. Which means that the troika pulling Ottawa’s new economic development engine — the Mayor, the Chair and the CEO — have free rein. Or to put it another way, there’s no-one else to blame.
Blame? For what?
Well they’ve moved to a building where there’s no parking. I can’t begin to describe the inconvenience this causes all kinds of people and is certain to cause many more every day I/O is open for business. It was a stupid place to put any office that expects significant traffic and if I/O doesn’t expect traffic I don’t know what business it’s in.
But hey, the CEO hadn’t even been appointed when the lease was signed. He has to live with it but it’s not his fault. The City picked the building. Perhaps the Mayor will accept blame for parking.
And while personnel change is to be expected, it’s somewhat jarring when the three most senior executives are summarily displaced. It’s tempting to point to the long association of these three in particular with OCRI’s techno-centric orientation and connect their departure with the relative diminution of tech within the I/O culture a-borning.
But hey, it’s a new CEO’s prerogative to re-assess and re-align the team he’s been hired to lead. Let’s watch who he recruits and how they perform. Time will tell.
Then I received notice of the first ever (first I’d heard of anyway) “Invest Ottawa Partnered Event”. It took place last Thursday at I/O’s parking-challenged office on Aberdeen Street. The “event” at a cost of $199+HST (deep discounted to $59+HST for the now disbanded OCRI membership) was about selling out. To quote the promo from I/O, “2012 will be a banner year for M&A in software, IT and related technology companies, due to a perfect storm of favorable (sic) conditions, in particular the large amount of cash held abroad by major US strategic buyers. It’s the perfect time to sell, but are you ready?”
I don’t object to any entrepreneur selling what she has built at any stage in the process to anybody in the world who wants to buy. A loonie in hand is worth a toonie in future. But is it the job of the local economic development agency to encourage her to do so? I don’t think so. Somebody needs to be blamed for this I/O-partnered event. Not fired. Not disgraced. Just told not to do it again. Because “selling out” is the wrong message for I/O to be delivering. At a time when more and more industry leaders are decrying the “hollowing out” of Canada’s undervalued and vulnerable tech sector, the I/O message should be, “Don’t go, Julie, don’t go. If you need help to stay, we can help.”
I asked I/O about it in an email: “This event is about helping companies sell themselves advantageously, often to buyers in other places. Yet I/O’s business is to help these same companies grow and develop to maturity right here with local ownership if possible. Is there not a shade of counterproductivity in this?”
The question was ignored.
Let’s fill RIM’s app gap!
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, Apr. 30, 2012.)
I don’t know how to resuscitate RIM. Maybe you don’t either. We have to place our bets on the devils we know about: founding genius Mike Lazaridis, new CEO Thorsten Heins and the Ottawa connection.
Ottawa connection? For those who have been out of touch for the duration, the Ottawa connection comprises QNX, Alec Saunders (pictured right on stage at a European developers conference) and shades of Prem Watsa. You know the first two. QNX has built the new operating system, known as BlackBerry 10. But it’s not yet in the phones. They’re pushing for the fall. Alec Saunders is a Waterloo-cum-Microsoft grad who has been Ottawa-bled in a decade-long struggle to get voicetech startup Calliflower off the ground. Now VP of developer relations at QNX/RIM, his goal is to enlist 50,000 app developers this year to . . . . . . develop apps for RIM.
And how about Prem Watsa, 61, CEO of Fairfax Financial. Reserved but revered for his canny and fantastically successful investment record, he’s walking the talk, for sure, becoming a RIM director, laying his money down. That’s good for RIM and by extension good for Canada’s tech sector. Whatever is good for RIM is good for Canada’s tech sector. The worst thing conceivable these days is that RIM should follow Nortel into the crater. God forbid. Prem’s doing his part. When Lazaridis flamboyantly announced he’ll invest another $50 million in RIM, Prem allowed as how he might follow suit. (If either actually did it that day, he’d have lost $8 million in the past month.)
Fairfax is already the fourth largest investor in the company. And it’s here that the Ottawa connection resides. No. 2 and “lead director” at Fairfax is Anthony F. Griffiths. Through the early nineties Tony Griffiths was chair and CEO at Mitel and mentor of the CEO-in-waiting, Kirk Mandy. Griffiths went home to help Watsa become Canada’s Warren Buffet. (As a matter of interest and disclosure, Griffiths was a modest investor in a publication I founded, Silicon Valley NORTH, in the mid-nineties.)
QNX is doing its part. Watsa is doing his. So is Alec Saunders, which brings me back to apps. Alec might not put it this way but he could use some help. Not only is he playing catch up with Apple and Android, he doesn’t yet have in hand the product that developers are supposed to develop apps for. What he has is 95% there and what he needs now is the trust of the community. Developers have to believe that BlackBerry is coming back and that it’s worth diverting some effort from making iPhone apps, or Google apps or now Microsoft apps. BlackBerry created mobile and it’s still early days for mobile. BlackBerry’s still a good bet. BlackBerry’s coming back big time.
RIM is important to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We let Nortel slide with scarcely a sigh. It should never happen again and if we have anything to do about it, it never will. In this case there is something we can do. We can contribute enthusiastically to RIM’s app store. We can build the apps. RIM is us. Let’s get to it.
And here’s something to do right now. Tomorrow, May 1, RIM’s BlackBerry Jam 10 conference for app developers gets underway in Orlando, Florida. If you’re not going yourself, take a minute to let Alec know that we’re here for him and RIM. It’ll be good to share news down south that the home team is putting in extra effort. His eddress is firstname.lastname@example.org.
NRC president sends corrections, explanations
1 May 2012
Mr. Tony Patterson
4-108 Queen Elizabeth Driveway
Ottawa, ON K2P 1E5
Dear Mr. Patterson:
As you are aware, in the summer of 2011, I refused your request for interview. At the time, we were doing very few as I was very pre-occupied with internal matters. You subsequently published a blog painting me in a very poor light. I am more than willing to accept fair and even unfair criticism. However, erroneous and blatantly misleading commentary falls into a different category. Your blog contained errors of fact, some of which we discussed yesterday, and many other statements that were directly or indirectly very misleading.
Yesterday when I pointed those things out, you said you thought "the article would have elucidated an immediate response from me". I told you the tone of your article actually said much more about you than it did about me, so I didn't feel that it was worth my time to respond.
In spite of those issues, when you called again a few days ago for an interview, I agreed to speak with you. When we connected, I immediately expressed my concerns about your prior blog and asked for an apology before proceeding further. You refused. Even so I agreed to provide clarifications regarding some of the errors and misleading statements in your blog. I also told you your subsequent response and actions would form the basis for determining whether there was any point in future discussions.
As committed, a few specific issues related to your July 2011 blog are addressed below by providing your words in italics followed by my clarifications:
1. "It's an image he pushed toward conclusion on his home turf, until he pushed too hard and got himself turfed out." "When four provincial R&D initiatives were merged into one under the name Alberta Innovates in January 2010, he was invited out."
I advised the ARC Board in the fall of 2007 to start looking for a successor. Not long thereafter, Alberta began to redesign its innovation system. The ARC Board and I both agreed to stay on at the request of the Province to provide continuity and input while Alberta completed their design and completed the legal transitions of the system. That ultimately occurred January 1, 2010 at which time I and the Board both departed.
Rennie and the rest
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, Apr. 02, 2012.)
News of the passing on March 12 of Rennie Whitehead (pictured below with wife Nesta and PM "Mike" Pearson) is a moment most apt to recognize the immense contributions of the British to Canadian science and technology.
Rennie was 94. For generations of British scientists and engineers coming from Britain through the post world war decades he was the dean, an unofficial title he inherited when W.B. Lewis died in 1987. Rennie always deferred to the brilliant W.B., who had worked with Ernest Rutherford, became head of Atomic Energy of Canada research and was known as the “father of the CANDU” reactor. These two were perhaps the biggest names in tech to set sail for the land of the maple since John By of the Royal Engineers came to cut the canal and set Ottawa en route for Silicon Valley North. But they were far from alone.
Peter Hackett brought a Ph.D. from the University of Southampton to the National Research Council, became VP there and later founding CEO at the National Institute for Nanotechnology. He remembers evaluation forms for applicants at NRC that “had a line for postgraduate degree with three boxes to check: Oxford, Cambridge and Other.” The story has been often enough told of the comings of Michael Cowpland and Terry Matthews to Microsystems International, which failed, and their subsequent successes with Mitel, Corel and Newbridge. They were not the only ones. Don Smith ran a later version of Mitel. Bob Harland and Dick Foss co-founded Mosaid. Peter Leach became CEO of CITO (Communications and Information Technologies Ontario).
Rennie Whitehead stood out, though, in the sheer diversity of his impacts. One of the pioneers of radar pre-WWII, he came to be associate professor of physics at McGill, despite a warning that he was emigrating to an “ill-developed country where scientific research is in its infancy.” He would later allow that “there was some truth” in these remarks, but promptly set out to give them the lie.
He led design and installation of the Mid-Canada Line of radar defence. It was Cold War time after all, an era of missiles and defence systems, requiring leading edge electronics skill. Joining RCA Victor Canada as head of R&D, he hired research physicists by the bunch, possibly for the first time in Canadian industry (Northern Electric Research Lab was established in 1957, but Bell-Northern Research wasn’t underway until 1971). RCA Canada would get a good slice of work on the ISIS and Alouette satellite programs. By 1960 RCA labs in Montreal had more Ph.D. physicists on staff than any other company in Canada and was winning research contracts here, in the U.S. and further afield.
Then Ottawa called and Rennie became principal science advisor to two prime ministers (Pearson, Trudeau), wrote terms of reference for the newborn Science Council of Canada, which was unfortunately, misguidedly canned by another PM (Mulroney) and sat for the country on the most prestigious international science councils. He left to finish his career as a consultant after responsibility for advising government on science policy was moved from the Privy Council Office to a newly minted but powerless ministry of state in the mid-1970s.
If you’re not old enough to remember Rennie in his prime, perhaps you’ll recall Arthur Carty. He was also science advisor to a couple of prime ministers (Martin, Harper), appointed in 2004, the first since Rennie. And he came to much the same end in 2008, ushered out of PCO to marginalization in a department. He now heads the Institute for Quantum Computing, one of Mike Lazaridis’ philanthropies, at the University of Waterloo. He too is a Brit.
OCRI finally gets a name
By Tony Patterson
(Published originally in Ottawa Business Journal, Mar. 05, 2012.)
I/O in digital speak — input/output — describes communication between a tech system and the world outside. Last month Ottawa got its own I/O connector. Invest Ottawa will help develop Ottawa’s goods and services, present them to the world and bring local business what it needs (talent, capital, recognition) from away.
I/O is the third vitalization of OCRI, a good idea gone awry. Born in the 1980s as the Ottawa-Carleton Research Institute, OCRI was the heart of a tech community that grew to be known around the world as Silicon Valley North. For two decades it was the builder of networks, applauding success, featuring leaders, encouraging mentors, facilitating partnerships. It was a model of its kind and much imitated. You can see its modern iteration at Communitech in Waterloo, a direct descendant.
The first column ever I wrote for OBJ (April 2, 2001) concerned OCRI’s merger with Ottawa’s economic development agency, OED. My instinct was to take a swing at the union, because I thought I saw a winner taking on a loser, risking dilution of its essence in the deal. But I didn’t swing. I gave a “cautious benefit of the doubt” to the takeover. I should have trusted my instinct. Dilution was exactly what happened.
My comment to the new CEO at that time, Jeffrey Dale, was “OCRI is now an acronym in search of a name.” He reminded me of this recently and said, “Now it has a name.”
Invest Ottawa will tighten focus and add capabilities, while shedding non-core activities such as school breakfasts, secondary school programs, recruiting members and staging events. Mayor Jim Watson is putting his hands on as co-chair. The city will pump in $3.6 million annually, an increase of better than 50%. I’m going to risk the same mistake and give I/O an optimistic wave of welcome. But I think it bears close watching to make sure our baby doesn’t disappear with the disposables.
Bruce Lazenby and his team, not all of whom have been hired, have a powerful new tool to work with. The city’s money has bought incubation space for as many as 90 startups at 80 Aberdeen in Little Italy, the new I/O headquarters. They’ll have access to growth accelerators such as financial, legal and marketing assistance, mentorship, export intelligence and trade missions. This model has proved successful in Waterloo and Toronto and had been on OCRI’s “to accomplish” list for five years or more.
Of course it makes sense to shuck the ed programs and school breakfasts. Worthy as they are, they’ll find other sponsors. And they’re tangential at best to economic development, at least in the short run. But shedding membership and events gives rise to other considerations.
You might notice, for instance, that they don’t talk much about technology at Invest Ottawa. It’s knowledge-based business they’re concerned with, which when you get down to it is just about any business. As Mr. Lazenby has famously said, “If you get off the bus in Ottawa and say, ‘I want to start a barbershop’, we’ll help you out.”
There was a time when OCRI membership and participation in its programs and events were part of the fabric of the tech community in Ottawa. I/O will not give that same impetus to community and connection.
On the other hand there will likely be tight cohesion among the 90 startups in I/O’s accelerator program. They may well become evangelists for a new era of clusters and networks. And while any new knowledge-based startup will be welcome at 80 Aberdeen, nine out of every ten are pretty certain to be technology-based. Because that’s what Ottawa does best. That’s our natural advantage. Even if we speak it softly these days.
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