Don Leitch (Business Council of Manitoba)

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Editor’s note: I outsource the audio transcription, and unfortunately have not had enough time to finish editing the outcome yet! I apologize for any errors in the text below, and welcome any corrections.

David Noël:  Hello and welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in our wonderful province. I’m David Noël.

Today’s guest is unusual, relative to previous guests. He manages to be a business leader in our province without leading a for-profit business, by virtue of being CEO for the Business Council of Manitoba. He has a wealth of experience, and a refreshing outlook on the relationship that businesses should have with government.

If you enjoy today’s episode, and I hope you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. Positive reviews will have a big impact on the success of the show. Of course, please don’t be shy about sharing the show with your friends as well—the website is

Without further ado, here is Don Leitch.

[to Don] Don, thanks so much for taking the time.

Don Leitch:  Pleased to be here.

David:  Can you start by telling us a little bit just what your role is? Who you are?

Don:  I’m President, and CEO, Chief Executive Officer of the Business Council of Manitoba, headquartered here in Winnipeg. It’s a business council representing CEOs from across the Province of Manitoba. They are CEOs of Manitoba headquartered businesses. There are some 70 odd members apparently in the Business Council of Manitoba.

David:  There are a couple directions we can go from there. Let’s start with this. How did you come to be the President and CEO of the Business Council?

Don:  I was recruited to be the President and CEO last year, in 2014, took up my position just over a year ago now. I’m a Manitoban, born and bred. I’ve lived out of the province for a number of years. I’ve been recruited and moved away.

This opportunity came up. I got to tell you, given my backgrounds and my career, this was a perfect job for me, especially at this stage in my career where I’m just bringing everything to the right point, using my experience and my skill set to work with the businesses.

David:  It’s all coming together for you. That’s fantastic.

Don:  It’s a great job.

David:  What was your experience before that? What are the pieces that are coming together?

Don:  I went to the University of Manitoba. I had a science degree. I did a master’s degree in natural resources management, interdisciplinary degree, heavy combination of economic development, environmental consciousness, conservation, et cetera.

David:  Interesting.

Don:  That would be my interest and my passion. As so often is the case, you go to university, your career over a few years takes you in slightly different directions. I did that. I practiced being a natural resource manager for a number of years, getting increasingly into economic activities, economic analysis, economic development, ended up working with a consulting firm, got recruited into government.

I did a lot of policy work, so I gained even more interdisciplinary outlook, left government, did some contract work for the Federal Government on some agricultural commissions of inquiry; phenomenal experience working with some of the best minds in agriculture in Canada at the time. Ended up going back into government at some point. I have the privilege of being asked to be Deputy Minister of the Premier, Clerk of the Executive Council–the senior most public servant position for the Province of Manitoba.

I put in close to 12 years there, phenomenal. I always said, that was the best job in the province. When I was sitting there, I always thought that,  given where I’ve come from and the skills and training I’ve got, that’s the best job for me. I subsequently left.

I went to work for Palliser Furniture as Vice President for a few years. Then I got recruited back into the public sector in British Columbia as their Deputy Minister of Economic Development. I put in four or five years there. Decided to leave government, started my own consulting firm. Did management consulting for a number of years, big contracts, a lot of public sector consulting, some private sector consulting for a variety of clients.

I did a lot at the time for the Government of Alberta. I did a business case study for Travel Alberta taking it outside of government […], and setting it up as a crown corporation.

It’s now succeeding, doing just great, and in my experience following the model. It’s run by a private sector board of directors. It’s accountable to government through the Minister of Tourism. It gets its money. It has an annual business plan, annual performance measures. It reports on them annually. It’s doing extremely successful. That was a real success for me.

I chaired at a national task force on securities regulation. Great experience working with governments and private sector all across the country for seven or eight years.

Then a headhunter came knocking, and this opportunity opened up. I thought, “Great.”

David:  I can totally see what you mean now, by it being the perfect coming together of your experience, because you’ve been working at the border of policy and business for your entire career.

Don:  I was, especially when I was in the economic spheres and activities. Government policy should serve the interests of the public at large. That includes the generators of wealth and employment, and investment opportunities in the private sector. That was driven home when I was doing the Securities Regulatory Task Force.

A regulation in government policy can literally make or break investment decisions across the country. That was a tremendous opportunity. When they offered me this job, I thought, “Boy, dream job.”

In fact, when the Business Council was created, and I was a clerk at the Executive Council…

David:  When was it created, by the way?

Don:  1998. I was the Clerk in the Executive Council. I remember when it was set up, and thinking, “Boy, great idea for those business leaders to set up a council like that.” They announced their first CEO. I thought, “You know, if I wasn’t doing this job, that would be a great job to have.” Little did I know 15 years later, I’d be in a position to be taking the job.

David:  Funny how things work out.

Don:  I’ve got to tell you, for someone like me, it is the best job. It absolutely is.

David:  No kidding. I can see that. Let’s jump into something we were talking a little bit about before the interview started. You said when the Council was founded in 1998, it seemed like such a great idea to you. What’s the difference between the Business Council of Manitoba and something like the Winnipeg Chamber?

Don:  The Business Council of Manitoba is a council, it’s an association of CEOs, chief executive officers of Manitoba based, Manitoba headquartered corporations. The Chamber of Commerce has a broad based membership of large and small enterprises fulfilling a function that’s needed within the business community.

The Business Council is the council of CEOs. It exists to serve their interests, to give them a forum to discuss amongst themselves issues of interest to themselves, for their organizations, and for the province at whole. The objective of the Business Council is to make Manitoba a better place to live, to work, and invest. Their objective is to just quite simply make Manitoba a better place and to advance ideas and thoughts and policies that will move Manitoba forward.

David:  How does a group of CEOs accomplish that?

Don:  First of all, they hire someone like me to run the organization. We do policy work. We do some research. We work extensively with other organizations, academic. We have a close working relationship with the Chambers of Commerce, with the United Way, trying to promote and advance good, positive ideas. We make recommendations into government amongst themselves. The members will have discussions. We’ve got some policy committees that do some work.

We are both responsive to what’s happening and we try and be proactive as well, in terms of, given the wealth of experiences CEOs have and what they’re exposed to in their day to day operations and most of the CEOs, if they’re members of the Business Council, will have operations that are not just simply Manitoba. They’re national and international in outlook and they are the largest employers in the province.

They are exposed to a huge array of issues and policies. They see opportunities, they see challenges. They confer with colleagues and counterparts from across the country and internationally. They bring that wealth of experience back into here and say, “How can we apply all of this knowledge and information to help advance Manitoba and make it a better place?”

That ends up finding its way into documents such as the annual submission to the Manitoba Minister of Finance and the pre budget consultations where we annually put forward some recommendations on what we think would be good policy directions or good program directions or even amendments, changes to existing policies. We should tweak this here, or look at that.

Remember, some of the CEOs are on various volunteer, charity, not for profit boards, organizations. They’re serving on the boards of universities, hospitals, health foundations, getting a lot of exposure. They bring that back and say, “Here’s how we can make it better.” If you’re not pursuing constant innovation and change, you’re going to become stagnant.

What they simply want to do is share their innovative ideas with those in a position to make things happen and…

David:  Is that document the primary way of suggesting things to the government?

Don:  It is one of them. It is one of them and it’s a prime one for the Province of Manitoba in terms of an annual… because that’s when the Province of Manitoba does their budget consultations. That document is an opportunity to say to the Minister of Finance and the premier, and the Government, “Here, across a multitude of departments, are our comments and suggestions.” That’s when they’re putting together their budget, their estimates, their financial plan for the year. We’d like it reflected in that.

It’s been a very good, positive relationship over the years, discussion back and forth. We share that submission as well with the leader of the opposition so that they know where the business community, the Business Council, is coming from in making recommendations.

We will, also, during the course of the year, interact with the Government–I’m talking the provincial government here–on various other individual issues.

David:  What does that interaction look like?

Don:  It will be discussions. Sometimes we’re asked to participate in a little task force or a committee or the government is doing a little consultation on some aspect and they’ll want our input. We’ll do our homework, we’ll work with them. We’ll share our knowledge and information.

We will respond to requests from government for input. Sometimes, we’ll see things, and we’ll initiate into the Deputy Minister’s Office, a conversation around the topic to say, “Here’s something we think we should be aware of, if something is happening.”

We attempt to do that as well, with the Mayor of the City of Winnipeg. We attempt as well to share and have a positive interaction with federal ministers from Manitoba and the Canadian part of it and, occasionally, with the broader Government of Canada, dealing with some deputy ministers, when there are some very specific issues, where we feel strongly and we want to bring about some positive change.

David:  What are some examples of issues like that?

Don:  I can give you one. Over the years, it’s been immigration policy. Immigration policy is critically important to Manitoba, one, to ensure consistent positive population growth, to address skill shortages and unique skill shortages from time to time. There’s a Provincial Nominee Program, where the federal and provincial governments have agreed that the province can identify skill sets that they need, to go out and find the people. They’ll be approved for immigration to Canada. The Business Council for a number of years, we have worked very closely with the federal and provincial governments, to try and reflect our private sector perspective on the skill needs. The shaping of the policy, to make sure it’s sound public policy, reflecting the needs of the employers.

You can bring all the people you want. But if they’re not the individuals, they’re going to come here and take up jobs, and fill the needs. It’s just not going to work. We have worked very, very closely on that. We worked on infrastructure, the need for certain infrastructure investments. We worked closely on promoting CentrePort, the establishment of a central port for transportation, which is every year getting a little more mature and a little bit more development.

They’ve got a huge task ahead of them. Every year, we look more positive movement forward, forward, forward. That again, was another example of the Business Council working with the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, and the Government of Canada, to bring about a very unique initiative, especially when you consider its status, in terms of to provide not quite a duty free, but that special exempt status, where goods can move in and bond and trust to warehouse. Without necessarily having to have all the excess duties and taxes paid immediately, they can come into a bond in warehouse facility, which is very unique in Canada. That’s only to fill those. Incentive port is one of them.

That’s another example, where the business community worked very closely with the three levels of government, to bring about a positive change.

David:  I see. OK. It sounds like the membership then here, the CEOs that make up the membership, have a unique voice into policy. What’s the criteria for your membership here? Besides being a CEO, who decides the membership?

Don:  Membership has typically being amongst the largest employers. Over the last several years, the Business Council has included in its membership mid sized companies as well. You must be invited in to be a member of the Business Council. You have to be a CEO in good standing. Essentially, you have to be of outstanding character, and have demonstrated your own and your corporate commitment to the Province of Manitoba.

The individuals that are members, if you’re engaged in social activity, serving on boards, agencies, special community projects, that all counts to your benefit. What the members of the Business Council want are other individuals that have shown a commitment to advancing Manitoba economically, but also socially and as a community as a better place to live, work, and invest.

We want this to be a positive position. Many of the CEOs are on and have been on the boards of the Winnipeg Ballet, the Winnipeg Symphony, the Winnipeg Opera Society, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Prairie Theatre Exchange, where they’re making a commitment and contributing back into building a better, more livable, enjoyable community. They look at that before, to invite other members in.

David:  Sorry, you may have said this and I misunderstood. Is it a nomination process then?

Don:  No. Members will bring forward through me to the board, comments saying…

David:  I see. So there are candidates that are…

Don:  Here’s someone who would make an excellent member of Business Council. We look at them. We meet with them. We talk to them. They’ll come highly recommended by some colleagues, extended invitation. Usually, the individuals accept the membership. They know who our membership is.

It’s a similar group of like minded individuals, men and women, who are thoroughly committed to the problems in Manitoba. Like I said, some of the CEOs of some of the largest organizations and corporations in the Province of Manitoba.

I should say as well that the members are CEOs of private sector corporations. We do not include in our membership CEOs of crown corporations or academic, or not for profit organizations. You wouldn’t see, for example, our public organizations. You wouldn’t see the CEO of a hospital, or the president of the universities or colleges. It is private sector, for-profit businesses.

It’s the Business Council of Manitoba. It’s not just the CEO council or president’s council. That’s a little different from a couple of other organizations. There are CEO organizations across the country that will have public sector, quasi public, quasi private. This is a pure Business Council CEO.

David:  Has the membership grown, since the inception of the council?

Don:  Yes. At the very beginning, there were a half a dozen individuals, who worked together in 1998 to say, “In the aftermath of losing the Winnipeg Jets and everything else, big business has got to be more proactive. We got to step up to the play. We got to bring forward positive ideas.

“We’re all doing what we can for running our businesses. Just think, we would have far bigger impact for the Province of Manitoba, if we could act collectively together, so create a Business Council of Manitoba.”

They set out, and they have the founding of the Business Council in 1998. I have to go back to the file, [there were] 14 or 16 members that signed on and say, “We’ll support the Business Council. Let’s go out, and we’ll hire our first president CEO and get launched.”

Then, over the years, they added and added and added. No massive, big recruitment. It’s who are like minded individuals who would want to join and participate with us. So that’s what they did.

I just said it’s 70 odd members now. We’re not setting out to add dozens a year, or anything like that. Many of the founding CEOs are still engaged. Some of them, although they have retired from their corporations that they headed in 1998, remain on as–we called them over the years–”distinguished members”.

They’ve chosen to remain engaged and remain involved, because they continue to see the values of the Business Council. They continue to have an active passionate commitment to the Province and they remain engaged.

I tell you personally, they continue to make a solid commitment. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table when we’re having discussions. As you know, the best solutions come out of a good solid diversified conversation of variety of perspectives to produce the best possible solutions.

David:  How do those conversations work with 70 members?

Don:  Well, they’re not all in the same room all at the same time.

David:  I would imagine not.

Don:  We have policy committees. Policy committees will be on a specific topic or sectoral area. The six or eight engaged interested members, they will have their own individual conversations amongst their colleagues and bring ideas to the table.

Some of them interact with others on a, not necessarily daily basis, but…

David:  On a regular basis, sure.

Don:  …through business or social. We bring those ideas and we’ll forge recommendations. They then come to the board and the board will accept, adopt and approve on behalf of the organization. It’s a board governing structure.

We have a couple of annual meetings where we will have a discussion on policy topics, where we’ll have a presentation of all the required by laws and financials, et cetera. Members have a chance to participate in the governance of their organization.

But, it’s structured like many organizations, where you have a broader based membership. You have a board. The boards are powered to run the organization legally. It has the ability to establish those, in this case, policy committees to do work, consisting of members that are reflective of the broad membership of the organization.

David:  Does the board decide then who the committees are consisted of, or can members opt in?

Don:  Members can volunteer and opt in. I’ve had members, in my year and a bit now say, “Don, I’d love to participate in this.” Some have said, “I’m a little too busy over the next six months to be on your committee. But I’d love to chat with you about it.”

Then we have one or more meetings or conversations on it, get their input, factor it in. If any member wanted to participate on any committee, I certainly wouldn’t turn them away.

It’s not hard to get members, but my style would be, not to overburden and keep going back to the same small subset of members continually on everything. I’d like to spread the workload around, recognizing they’re all busy people.

Some of them are on the road a lot as well, out of province. You want to be smart in terms of how you… the demands you put on their time. They are members because they choose to be members. They choose to be members because they want to make a positive influence and they’re prepared to provide thought and ideas and input.

When you’ve got a dedicated committed pool of individuals with the wealth of experience that the CEOs embody, you can make a lot of good positive headway.

David:  Absolutely. How is the Business Council funded?

Don:  By fees to its members. They pay a membership fee. It comes together. We have a board structure. A president and vice chair, a treasurer and secretary. We do all of our appropriate financial accounting. We report annually to the AGM how we expended the members’ funds.

It’s funded by members’ fees. The Business Council doesn’t seek any public sector funding for its operations or whatever. We do run a program where we partner with government to provide scholarship awards, education awards to Aboriginal students, to promote more Aboriginal student participation.

We do that in partnership where we all contribute to the awards and then we as a business council run the program out of our own resources. That’s an additional contribution we make over and above.

The operations of the Business Council are funded a hundred percent by member fees.

David:  I see. Do you think there is any concern that smaller organizations aren’t represented in the Council?

Don:  Nope. I would say small businesses have several organizations through which they have membership and a representative. We talked about the Chambers of Commerce. There is Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, but there are also others.

There’s the St. Boniface Chamber, there’s the Assiniboia Chamber. So they have plenty of venues. Those are all healthy organizations.

David:  Winnipeg Chamber is fantastic.

Don:  Winnipeg Chamber is, I don’t have the exact number now but it’s in the couple of thousands at least. They have a very good solid membership. Then the Manitoba Chambers office is just up the street here, as the Chambers of Commerce from across the province. So small, urban and rural businesses are well represented.

Then there are a couple of other organizations that they are free to join should they choose to. Any businessman, any individual can always speak out in their own right. They can work through their organization. If they have a good policy, thought or idea or an issue, they can deal directly with the government, and some do. Not all, but some do.

The sectoral organizations, whether it’s the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, or the Heavy Construction Industry Association are all strong associations. They include typically a broader range of membership than we do, from the very small to the very big.

Our members tend to be larger employers. But like I said, we include a lot of mid size employers now, but still typically running in a couple hundred and up. So they’re not small companies. They’re good sized companies.

David:  Is the relationship between the Council and the various levels of government… I don’t want to say adversarial, but I imagine there are components that are sometimes difficult, because the government has to balance different interests than necessarily the Business Council, right?

Don:  The Business Council takes a nonpartisan apolitical approach to policy. We do not support nor endorse any particular party. We deal with elected governments, of various political stripes. We do so to advance policy.

We will at times be advancing a policy that the government may not be willing to pursue or may go part way or say unbalanced, “We agree with you to this extent, but we accept that.”

Our argue is, we will discuss with them. We don’t seek to go and make a public spectacle. We don’t seek to rant and rave. We try to convince people by the strength of our ideas.

Here is a good positive idea that we’re bringing forward. We bring it forward. As I said, we make our annual submissions on the Minister of Finance. It’s a public document. We share it. It goes out after we’ve submitted it to the Minister.

We have a pretty broad list. We share it. It goes up on our website. It’s not a private document. It’s a public document where we say, “As the Business Council, here’s what we suggested to be good public policy and good initiatives for the provinces.”

When we worked with the Province of Manitoba and the Government of Canada on immigration, there was a broad based consultation taking place, including some not-for-profit organizations that are involved in the immigration field. Many of those are involved in settlement services, et cetera.

You have a meeting of the minds. As I said, at the end of the day, the best outcome is when you get a broad based acceptance that that’s the right direction to move. If we can’t convince government on a particular policy, we accept that. It doesn’t mean we won’t come back again the next year or a few months later to say, “Look, we’ve given it some more thought. We continue to hold this position,” and they know that’s our position.

That’s not unusual. I spent a lot of years in government, that’s not unusual where you may deal with an agricultural organization, or, local governments will come to the province with a set view on certain things. The province won’t change and the other view doesn’t change. But you continue to have the dialogue.

At some point, circumstances may change and you may both moderate your views and your positions and you make some further change and advancement.

My personal style is not to be–the word you used–”adversarial” in the sense of opposing, it’s consultative, communicative, sharing of ideas and discussing why we believe it’s a positive step.

The Business Council brings a very unique perspective. They’re large employers. They’re huge payers of tax. They’re generating funds that then get invested back into health, education, infrastructure to make Manitoba a better place.

They’re contributing countless hours as individuals, and through their employees, they’re providing countless amounts of support to community organizations.

Just look whenever there is a charitable fundraising event or a cultural event, you look at the program and you can see who the sponsors are. I guarantee you, almost always one of the sponsors will be a member of the Business Council of Manitoba. They believe in those organizations. They believe in the province and they believe in a higher quality of life, and that includes cultural activities.

Advancing positive ideas doesn’t have to be an adversarial pursuit as you so often see in the political forum, which is very, very partisan. If one party came to us and said, “What have you been telling the government?” We’d say, “Here is what we’ve been saying.” We’re not going to hide it and we’re more than prepared to share it, because if you agree with us, all the better.

David:  This is probably almost more of a personal question to you and it’s an ideological question. This kind of relates back to what I said before about the voice of the small organizations. Do you think being pro big business is always the right approach?

Don:  I wouldn’t say we’re pro big business. I would say the Business Council of Manitoba is pro Manitoba. They happen to be the CEOs of large employers. But as I said, we include many mid size employers.

The views and policies we’re advancing are not in the self interest of any single organization. I can tell you with our policy discussions, it always focuses on what’s good for the Province of Manitoba. It’s not what’s good for the financial services sector, or what’s good for company X or company Y. It’s what makes good public policy.

David:  Is that purely a function of the fact that you’ve managed to gather this group of like minded CEOs who approach it from that perspective do you think?

Don:  That’s a large part of it, and remember the genesis of why they were created. How can we collectively influence positive change in development for the Province of Manitoba? They recognized that it’s not by being partisan or very selfishly advancing their own interests.

All these men and women are very accomplished in their own right, and they’re quite capable of making their own advances into decision makers, and governments, and regulators should they wish. They’re all individually often times contacted by government. “What do you think about these regulations for your industry or your sector?”

They will deal with that. We as a business council don’t get engaged in those conversations. We get involved in more of the macro policy advancing for the Province of Manitoba. We’ve taken some strong positions on Aboriginal development and the need to pursue Aboriginal development.

The fact that regrettably for too long, far too many of our Aboriginal citizens haven’t been able to fully and gainfully participate in society, and haven’t had the skills, or the training to pursue… the right kind of jobs, and benefit, and to contribute to the development of the province, and have a broader more prosperous economic base.

David:  What’s the Business Council’s take on that in general? Or rather specifically, what kind of steps can both the business community and the government be taking to ensure a higher participation and success for Aboriginal people?

Don:  We have started, and we have done a lot of work around education and ensuring the Aboriginal community has access to and participates fully in education. Being educated–and it has been proven through experience and research, Canada, North America, worldwide–that when you have a more educated, more highly educated population base, you’re going to be more prosperous, more successful.

People will be more participating in society. Whether they’re a high income earner, or a middle income earner, they’re going to participate more fully, and you have a more satisfied, more fulfilled citizenry.

The Business Council, in partnership with the Province of Manitoba, and the Government of Canada, has advanced the notion of an Aboriginal awards to encourage more Aboriginal students to participate in post secondary education recognizing the single greatest barrier impediment to greater participation of Aboriginal students, graduates of high school–some of whom are young, some of whom are mature students going back to school–the single biggest barrier impediment was lack of financial resources.

Members amongst themselves decided, and they contribute annually over and above their fees, and whatever amount they choose, and it’s significant, they put it into a fund, to the program. It’s matched by the province. It’s been matched the Government of Canada up until recently. They are changing their funding model.

David:  Oh no.

Don:  Well, they’re changing their funding model, but it has produced over $5 million since its inception about 15 years ago, over $5 million in Aboriginal awards to students.

David:  Wow.

Don:  It’s been about 1,900 awards as annual awards measured every year to over 1,100 almost 1,200 students. […] Some got more than one, and some of course go to a one year program. For example, like Red River College where they take a 10 or 11 month program. They get an award, they go, they graduate. They go, and they get their job.

David:  Fantastic.

Don:  Business Council makes their commitment as well that we’re more than open to hiring those individuals should they be qualified. You can’t expect a certain business to hire someone who’s not qualified…

David:  Oh, of course.

Don:  …but we want to encourage them, and if they go out, and they take training, and they got the skill set, wide open opportunities. I can tell you there are non members of the Business Council that made similar commitments to supporting the Aboriginal community.

Several corporations, and businesses around town run their own scholarship, and award programs for Aboriginal students.

David:  Oh, interesting.

Don:  That’s one example of how you can advance. Often, it’s called the Aboriginal agenda, or the Aboriginal economic development agenda. It’s more than just economic development. It starts with education.

We’ve also said if you want to have more Aboriginal students participating in post secondary education, and the program, the award can be used by any Aboriginal student, resident in Manitoba at any educational institution, or secondary recognized in Manitoba.

That could be the U of M, U of W, Brandon University, the University College of the North, Red River, Assiniboine Community College.

David:  Lots of options.

Don:  The student chooses the program, and the institution of their choice. They make the choice. It’s individual choice, and if you qualify, we give you the award, and you pursue your studies.

David:  Fantastic.

Don:  Individuals, mostly young individuals, construct their own path, their own future, and we want to see a greater participation. We also recognized that in order to have that pool of qualified individuals to go into post secondary education, you have to have an increasing number coming out of–graduating, and completing–high school, or high school equivalency.

You want to see a curriculum, and a set of education policies that’s conducive to a higher graduation rate from high school. Because the Aboriginal graduation rate is lower than the general graduation rate, so you got to work at that.

If you want them to be graduating, they have to have successful middle years. Successful middle years, the kids staying in school are dependent on being happy, exciting fulfilling time in elementary.

It also means that kids are school ready for kindergarten or grade one. We know even in the City of Winnipeg, there’s a huge variation by district, and neighborhood, from research the school divisions in the province have done, how ready four, and five, and six year old kids are for going to school.

Some are more ready than others. Why? Because if you have more better early childhood development, more preschool activities, if you are in full time day care where you’re getting a lot of stimulation, and education, and social interaction with other kids, you are better than the kid who hasn’t had any of that.

We’ve also said we’ve got to have a very progressive set of policies provincially on early childhood development, and we’re encouraging that. Yes, that will be costly, but that’s a challenge for all of us, and governments in particular.

Because you know it’s going to cost money, how do you accept the principle? Can you get your mind around accepting that principle, and then starting to work at it? It doesn’t mean that we say, “Hey, we’re going to do it,” and suddenly, next year, you’re at 100 percent early childhood development program.

David:  This is interesting, because this is an example of something that’s…I would certainly agree it’s very good policy, but it doesn’t really directly relate to anything business, at least not in the short term, at least not for the members, right?

Don:  Yeah.

David:  Is there a lot of work like that that the Business Council does that is just something that you all agree is good policy, and you just want to see it happen?

Don:  Yes, there are. We ought to take the research, and make recommendations on education, because, remember, it’s to make Manitoba a better place to live, work and invest.

David:  Yeah, but to be honest, when you first said that, I thought that you were just saying that. [laughs]

Don:  It’s relevant. You see now, we get into detail, and you’re seeing it is fundamentally important to have a solid education system. The success of the Province is contingent on that education system.

David:  This is taking a longer term view. Eventually, it’s going to come back around. It’s going to be good for everybody, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit any businesses in the short term.

Don:  On the Aboriginal side, we recognize that right now, school aged children, one of the five are Aboriginal. Very soon, if you look at the demographic trends, one of the four kids entering the public school system–K through 12–are going to be Aboriginal.

You want them to come. You can’t have one of the four kids being in that pool of the least prepared for school, whereas other components are more highly prepared. How do you deal with that?

You probably do want to have a focus, and pay a lot of attention to school preparedness amongst Aboriginal students, but also amongst recent immigrant families. Because the research is showing that people who immigrate come to Manitoba, that they are getting settled.

Some of them are highly successful immediately, some of them are coming, and it’s a struggle, and they are getting used to a society and cultural change, and the kids aren’t quite as ready. You want them to have an equal chance to success.

Let’s not forget that in several sections of the city where we have high Aboriginal, and high immigrant populations, we want to focus on that, and make sure we’re addressing them.

We’ve also done work to your point on health, and health reform. Why? Not because it’s a business issue. Because it’s important to provide reasonable cost, reasonably priced health services for the Province of Manitoba.

The Province of Manitoba, the government has got a huge issue in terms of containing health cost. The view isn’t just cut health cost. It’s how do you manage the systems, how do you manage the processes to gain efficiencies to provide them at a reasonable cost, but deliver the service you need.

It’s nothing that any business leader and CEO isn’t doing within their own corporation. How do you manage and contain costs? They pursue lean manufacturing approach. They pursue lean processes within all of their operations, whether it’s finance, administration, IT.

You want to make sure they’re efficient, cutting out needless steps, delivering what you need at the end of the day. We’ve said the government for several years, “Be prepared to pursue lean concepts.”

How do you become most effective, and most efficient through your processes? Government of Manitoba has been pursuing the lean philosophy as most governments in Canada have been doing, because they recognize that…

The old efficiency experts, they used to see the old British movies where the efficiency experts, going from this machine to that, you’re taking 14 steps. You can go and take 12. If you took 12, you’d be more efficient, but if it takes 14 steps to get the machine A to machine B, the guy is not going to do it in 12 unless he grows 6 inches.

Bring the machines closer together, or something. It rolls back to fundamental principle designs. It’s just a concept around health, and health funding, and health management that you’ve got to apply the same kind of approaches to managing billions of dollars in expenditures as you would in any other enterprise.

As you would expect the guys building the highways, and the roads to be very efficient. You’ve got your design standards, certain base for substrata, certain base for gravel, certain base of concrete, certain depth for asphalt, you build good highways.

They’re efficient and effective. How do you build a good health system? How do you reform the health system? We’ve contributed. We have people over the years working on policy committee, and engaging with the province on little past courses working groups, et cetera providing their ideas and thoughts to try and advance the system.

That’s part of the known adversarial advancement of positive change that aren’t ever necessarily seen in the public venue where we can say, “Well, here’s the policy we advanced, and here’s what they did.” It’s through our commitment we’ve worked with somebody in government to do something.

David:  Just to play devil’s advocate here for a minute, do you think there’s any dilution in your message that can happen when a group of business folks start attacking social issues?

Don:  No, I don’t. I think the Business Council of Manitoba does and will continue to advance solid positive messages, and recommendations around economic development and business.

We recognize the importance of the non-economic, the non-business, with the social aspect, the health aspect, the cultural aspect on why we have to address those issues, because successfully grappling and dealing with all of those on a policy basis leads to a better Manitoba, and that’s what we want.

If you’ve got a better Manitoba, we’ve got a more prosperous Manitoba, and that’s not just economic, or fiscally, but more prosperous in the sense of a healthier population, a more educated population. More fulfilled population. On the environmental side, we don’t recommend anything other than proper environmental stewardship.

At any given time, government, at the end of the day has to balance, and weigh things up, but we believe in a sustainable approach to economic development. That includes management of our land, and water resources.

Many of our members are agricultural based. They know the importance of protecting, maintaining, and enhancing the land base. You’re not going to see them do anything to jeopardize their livelihood. Just as a farmer who won’t run his farm into the ground.

David:  Of course.

Don:  There’s next year’s crop to grow, so that’s why you have zero tillage and you have all those concepts that are very, very proven scientifically to be very beneficial for land management, so you just have to apply it on a broader basis.

David:  That makes a lot of sense. I think we’re coming up on time here, so there’s one final question I want to ask you, and it takes a bit of a turn from everything we’ve talked about until now.

I’m curious, as someone who started interviewing business leaders, and have gotten some exposure to a few people that I think are very impressed in what they’ve accomplished. You obviously have exposure regularly to a lot of business leaders who have accomplished incredible things.

I’m curious if there is any traits in common that you see with, and that you’ve identified that you think are interesting? Either personality traits, or habits of theirs that you think distinguishes someone who is able to find that level of success?

Don:  Let me tell you, I’ve met all of our members, worked with all of our members. Each one is an individual, and each one is very, very unique, but let me tell you that they are all intelligent practical individuals. They all have a commitment for what it is they are doing. They want to succeed.

I would use the word driven, but not in the connotation where someone is driven to the exclusion of everything else. They are driven in the sense that they have a vision, and they have an objective and they know the path they’re pursuing. They’re working towards goals and objectives.

Because of where they are now, they’ve had lots of experience. They know how to where they got to be, and it starts with intelligent thought, commitment, hard work, team building.

They all run highly successful organizations where they’ve spent time on employee relations, building a team, building a solid executive team, building a solid management team, working on having a well compensated satisfied workforce that are committed to the organization just as they are.

That doesn’t vary between them. In this room, I look at the pictures of the former chairs, and I know how they all in their own right are very committed.

Do they have a variety of interests professionally and personally? Sure they do. All the goals from transportation to financial services, to manufacturing, urban, rural. What holds them all together at the end of the day is this understanding, and belief that there’s something bigger than just their corporation, and they define that as the Province of Manitoba.

They’re part of this community, and as they succeed, they know the province will succeed. They know that they can contribute to the success of the Province of Manitoba, and they get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of advancing that broader agenda, and not just their own corporate agenda.

That’s why I said we’re making policy recommendations. We don’t come with recommendations that’s what’s good for company A, B or X? It’s what’s good for the Province of Manitoba, what makes sense?

If it comes to the point where they got to deal with government on a specific issue that’s going to directly affect their organization, they typically deal with that on their own. There are times through the Business Council has spent on advancing the broad agenda.

It’s a knowledge of where they want to go, and what they want to contribute, and seeing it in a strategic perspective as well. They’re big picture thinkers. They really are big picture thinkers.

David:  Interesting. That’s a really useful observation. Thanks a lot for your time, Don. It’s been a pleasure.

Don:  It’s been really good, Dave. I really appreciated this. Thank you.

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