As Manitoba’s 20th premier—serving from 1999 to 2009—Gary Doer played a significant role in shaping what Winnipeg and the province have become today. He has since served six years as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. and today sits on the boards of eight companies, including two that are headquartered in Winnipeg, Canada Life and IGM Financial. He’s also a director at Power Corp. and Air Canada.
Even though he’s not involved in setting policy anymore, he has no shortage of ideas and he’s still the de facto-president of the Manitoba fan club. He sat down for coffee with Manitoba Inc.’s Geoff Kirbyson.
MBI: There aren’t a lot of former union leaders on the boards of some of Canada’s biggest companies. How did that happen?
GD: I was involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as ambassador so I was always dealing with a lot of companies in Canada. I had a lot of them ask me if I’d be willing to be a board member upon leaving that job.
MBI: When other directors of Canada Life and IGM come to Winnipeg for board meetings, what do you show them?
GD: They’re very impressed with the Forks and the Zoo. One of the things they love about Manitoba is the intellectual pipeline they get out of the Asper School at the University of Manitoba and at the University of Winnipeg. Plus, the communications people coming out of Red River College are top shelf. The things that Manitobans enjoy, the visitors enjoy.
MBI: What would you do if you were premier of Manitoba for one more day?
GD: I would pledge to have one million Ukrainian immigrants be allowed to come to the Prairie provinces. We have the intellectual infrastructure, the cultural infrastructure and the Rusalka dancers are here. We have the space, the urban space and the outdoor space.
MBI: It probably doesn’t seem that long ago that you were part of a photo op putting shovels in the ground on the site of the old Eaton’s building. Now the Canada Life Centre is the focal point of downtown Winnipeg. What do you remember about that?
GD: The first person to visit me after I was sworn in as premier was Mark Chipman. I said, ‘we’ve got a boarded-up Eaton’s building. An arena has to be in downtown Winnipeg and it has to be attractive not only for hockey but for concerts. It also has to be private-sector driven.’ If we could say to the public that the major risk was being taken by the private sector, I thought people would accept the taxpayers’ money going in. We wouldn’t have put a cent in if it wasn’t in downtown Winnipeg.
The second person to visit me was Izzy Asper with a proposal for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
MBI: Are you maintaining your contacts from your time as ambassador?
GD: Of course, the trading relationship is so great. I remember my first Chamber of Commerce meeting as premier. I talked about reducing corporate taxes, investing in education and how we would grow the economy. Then I got ready for the Q&A. I love Q&As. The first guy got up and asked, “What’s he like?” “Who?” I asked. “Jesse Ventura, you just had a meeting with him.” Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the former professional wrestler who became governor of Minnesota. I learned very quickly that people don’t care about the GDP, this or that policy or growth strategies. They want to know what’s Arnold Schwarzenegger like? What’s Barack Obama like? What’s Jesse “The Body” Ventura like?