Wednesday 8 February 2012

One-on-one with Federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement

I have always appreciated the opportunity to sit down with members of the provincial and federal cabinet. Last Friday I was invited to meet Federal  Treasury Board President Tony  Clement, the man responsible  for the  overall management of the federal government's financial, human resources, and administrative activities.   The Treasury Board establishes policies and standards for management practices in a wide range of areas and oversees their implementation across the federal government.  Clement is responsible for preparing the government's expenditure budget (the Estimates) and monitoring program spending in departments. He was previously the Minister of Industry and Minister of Health, having been elected in 2006. During his eight years as Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament he served as Minister of Health and of the Environment.

My interview with Clement was made possible by the Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), an organization which reminds of the former Canadian Jewish Congress  in its golden years. I spent 11 years as the national director of communications for the CJC. During most of that time, we were recognized as the Parliament of Canadian Jewry and did the type of political advocacy CJPAC now does. It is no doubt  because of the impressive work of CJPAC, and of course B’nai Brith Canada, why CJC was finally shut down.

Clement in Parliament.
CJPAC is a unique national, grassroots, independent organization. Its mandate is to activate the Jewish community in the political process in order to advance relationships with members of the Canadian political community and foster Jewish and pro-Israel political leadership. CJPAC mobilizes grassroots across the country, builds relationships with elected officials – of all political parties – and works for Jewish community interests, on a multi-partisan basis, during and between elections. CJPAC is Canada’s only political, national, membership driven Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy organization and does not endorse political parties. It works with elected officials regardless of their partisan affiliation to advance the interests of our community. See the very bottom of this article for more.

Corey Anne Bloom
Clement addressed some CJPAC leadership in a board room on the 20th floor of the downtown  Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton accounting offices. I was greeted upon my arrival by Corey Anne Bloom, a partner at the firm.  Full of charisma, she on the CJPAC board and the type of individual which gives this organization instant credibility. It was her initiative to host the meeting with Clement and as such she guided me to a private room where Clement and his chief of staff Tenzin Khangsar were waiting. I must say there was an immediate feeling of comfort as Clement rose to shake my hand. He was very easy to talk to and we addressed a myriad of items, some of which included his “closed to the media”  CJPAC address.

In my Suburban city column, Clement elaborates upon the party’s intent to win some Montreal ridings in the next election – albeit some four years from now.

I was surprised to learn that Clement has “Jewish” background. “I’m an immigrant to this country, and my maternal grandmother, my ‘bubbie,’ was Jewish — from Syria,” he explained. “Canada has lived up to the promise that encouraged my parents to decide to seek their lives here with me, their four  year old son by their side. That promise is embodied in the values that I learned at an early age ― hard work, tenacity and a constant optimism that a great land like Canada always instills.”

Clement’s grandmother  was born in Aleppo. Her family, the Djebbahs, were Jewish mercantile traders  and spoke Arabic.  His mother, Carol (née Drapkin)  married Greek Cypriot  Peter Panayi in Manchester, England. They later divorced. She remarried Ontario politician John Clement, who adopted Tony. “My father was born in Cyprus, so I am very interested in the fact that Israel and Cyprus are conducting a joint venture in gas and oil exploration. I hope this will be successful for both countries. To have both sides of my heritage represented in that type of economic activity is very pleasing.”

While Clement  noted that he never really talked to his grandmother about her Jewish roots, his mother has agreed to put in writing as much as she remembers. “Obviously it is part of my heritage that I do not wish to lose,” he said.

Turning to Canada’s leadership during the global economic crisis, Clement said that  our country has been recognized around the world.  “Last year, both the IMF and OECD forecasted we would have among the strongest economic growth in the G-7 in 2011, and again this year,” he remarked in his speech to CJPAC. “And for the fourth year in a row, the World Economic Forum rated the Canada’s banking system as the world’s soundest. In addition, three credit rating agencies — Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s — have reaffirmed their top investment-grade ratings for Canada.  Forbes magazine recently ranked Canada the world’s best place to do business.

“By any standard, Canada has weathered global economic crisis and ongoing financial uncertainty well, particularly when compared to most other developed nations. And, while we remain concerned about the number of Canadians who are still out of work, Canada is one of only two G-7 countries to have recouped all of the jobs lost during the global recession. Indeed, more Canadians are now working, than before the downturn. Almost 600,000 more Canadians are working today than when the recession ended, resulting in the strongest rate of employment growth during the recovery by far among G-7 countries. But we are not out of the woods yet. As we emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we know Canadian families are worried about their jobs and their financial security.

“We understand that our role as government is to create the conditions in which Canadians will thrive. And we believe that it is the ingenuity, the aspirations and the determination of Canadians that is the driving force behind economic growth and jobs ― just as it was for my family, and I’m sure many of yours. But Canadians and their government have also learned valuable lessons from economic crises throughout our history. Over the years, Canadians have learned that chronic deficits are a mortgage on our future. Chronic deficits create higher taxes, and lead to less opportunity and less freedom for our children and our grandchildren. Ultimately, they squander our treasure.

Clement has been known for embracing the power of new Internet-based technology and innovation. “Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are used by all Canadians, including media and our government, to inform, raise awareness and keep in touch,” he said. “Think about our technological advances within the past ten years, and how we communicate now as opposed to 2002. Here in Canada, the government recognizes that these tools and ideas can be a potent agent of transformation. So we’re taking advantage of them to improve the efficiency of our operations and the quality of the programs and services we provide to Canadians. This includes using Internet-based tools that allow people to share information, engage in a dialogue and collaborate in the creation of content.

Clement explained  that he had the honour of hosting the first Government of Canada Tweet chat on Twitter, where he invited Canadians to ask me questions live on the Internet.” The topic was Open Government, and the experience was amazing,” he said. “That’s why Web 2.0 are all becoming an integral part of a modern, open and collaborative workplace, and an effective way to enhance communications and connect with Canadians.”

Postscript on CJPAC. Here is a statement that their Quebec chief Steeve Azoulay sent me:
"CJPAC is charged with engaging the Jewish and pro-Israel community in a way that charities and lobbyists cannot. There are many organizations that perform outstanding work with both Government and the community. However, these organizations are funded by charitable dollars and therefore cannot be involved directly in political action. CJPAC, on the other hand, is able to fill this role because it is funded by individual and corporate non-charitably receipted donations. Since our mandate is categorically different from that of any other organization, it’s extremely unlikely that our work was a factor in the restructuring of CJC – which is borne out by the interviews with CIJA/CIC/CJC leadership and board members throughout their restructuring process.”