Looking for Mr. Wright

The lateral arabesque by Jim Prentice from government to business augurs well for both worlds. The former minister of the environment will be able to guide CIBC in the ways of government and public policy without having to lobby or get anyone’s knickers in a knot over conflicts of interest, perceived or otherwise.

Prentice joins a short, but distinguished, list of senior officials and politicians who have recently made a similar leap to the private sector. Others include Frank McKenna, Kevin Lynch and David Dodge. Fewer are the wandbearers who leave business for public service. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (from Goldman Sachs) and Nigel Wright (from Onex) come to mind, but there should be more. There are many aspects about U.S. politics that are not admirable, but the ability of that country to allow high-level exchanges between business and government is something Canada should emulate.

Nigel Wright’s two-year excursion into the Prime Minister’s office could cause other business leaders to spend some time in public service. His ethical wall, as he calls it, has been built. What he needs in the next few weeks is to find a policy fight he can win with his new boss, Stephen Harper. My sense of the prime minister is that he doesn’t take advice well. In order to succeed in his role, Wright needs to change that failing of past office-holders. If Wright can be seen to make a difference, others from business may also conclude that Ottawa can be a good place to combine private ambition and public duty.

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