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ARCHIVE: 5 MINUTES WITH . . .


David Stewart-Patterson

A Passion for Promoting Good Public Policy

David Stewart-Patterson
Vice-President, Public Policy
The Conference Board of Canada
May 30, 2011

David Stewart-Patterson brings decades of expertise and experience in the fields of journalism, public policy analysis, and corporate relations to the position of vice-president, public policy, The Conference Board of Canada.

Stewart-Patterson joined the Conference Board’s leadership team in May 2011, assuming the role held by Gilles Rhéaume, who is retiring in June 2011 after 30 years at the Conference Board. Stewart-Patterson is responsible for research and networks in the areas of innovation, national security and public safety, health, energy, environment, and transportation policy. He comes to the Conference Board after 15 years with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), where, for the past seven years, he held the post of executive vice-president. In that role, he engaged in strategic policy development and advocacy, working directly with the chief executives of major corporations, senior government officials, and political leaders in Canada and abroad.

Before joining the CCCE, Stewart-Patterson worked as a reporter, editor, and senior manager in print and broadcast media, including The Globe and Mail and CTV. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism.

A bilingual native of Montréal, Stewart-Patterson is currently vice-chair of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which last year provided experienced mentors and no-collateral financing that enabled young Canadians to launch 600 new businesses. He also is a director of The Prince’s Youth Business International, a U.K.-based global network of charities supporting young entrepreneurs.


InsideEdge: What are the most pressing policy issues facing Canada today? How do you hope to influence these issues through your work at the Conference Board?

David Stewart-Patterson: Canada has been enjoying a remarkable degree of success within a very troubled world, but there are some daunting challenges ahead. Two issues in particular worry me.

The first is demographics. Canadians continue to live longer and healthier lives while having fewer children than in past generations. The resulting strain on our pension and health care systems is already visible. The pressure on public services will only get more intense as the relative size of the working-age population shrinks and squeezes governments’ tax base.

The second is the continuing challenge of global competition in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. Almost any kind of work, especially the most valuable work, can be done anywhere in the world that companies can find the talent they need.

It's unfortunate that as the policy issues we face grow more complex, the overall tone of public discourse has become more simplistic.

To maintain and improve our quality of life, Canadians will have to be relentless in building the skills of our people, creating an economic and social environment that attracts both talent and capital, and driving innovation within the public and private sectors alike—and the Conference Board is unmatched as an organization with the capacity to develop ideas and encourage better decision-making.

InsideEdge: What do you enjoy most about public policy research, discussion, and formulation?

David Stewart-Patterson: I initially chose journalism as a career over computer science because I decided that people were more interesting than machines. The issues that matter most to people’s well-being are highly complex and cross multiple disciplines. I like listening to different perspectives, spotting the patterns and connections that lead to creative solutions, and finding the points of agreement that can enable consensus on moving those ideas forward. I’m the opposite of a specialist; in fact, I sometimes call myself a “compulsive generalist.”

InsideEdge: Good public policy requires engagement with citizens, along with expertise in the subject area. How well do Canadian leaders communicate policy options and decisions to the public, and how can they improve?

David Stewart-Patterson: It’s unfortunate that as the policy issues we face grow more complex, the overall tone of public discourse has become more simplistic. Much of this is due to the evolution of the media business. I have watched the shift to 24-hour news and the fragmentation of audiences sap newsroom budgets while ratcheting up the demand for instant reporting rather than careful investigation and detailed analysis.

New technologies have expanded the boundaries of democratic dialogue, but the pressure on leaders to condense their views into eight-second clips and 140-character tweets squeezes out nuanced discussion. The challenge is to get better at using both new and traditional media to talk about what matters and why, in order to create the space for the more detailed work needed to develop effective solutions to important issues that matter to all of us.

InsideEdge: Before joining the Conference Board, you played a prominent role at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). How will your experience with the CCCE benefit the Conference Board’s research? What will you do differently at the Conference Board?

David Stewart-Patterson: My work with CCCE enabled me to engage with a wide range of big-picture policy issues from fiscal and tax policy, international trade, and climate change to national unity, health care, and corporate governance. At the same time, in spending 15 years working directly with Canada’s leading CEOs, I was able to gather a host of insights into the many connections between corporate strategy and public policy—all of which I bring to my new role at the Conference Board.

I called young entrepreneurs the fuel injectors of our economic engine: How well they are able to function will determine both how far it carries us and how fast we get there.

The big change is that our focus at CCCE was on advocacy. The issues we addressed and what we said about them were limited by our ability to generate consensus across a very diverse group of business leaders. As an independent think tank, the Conference Board has much greater freedom to dig into a broader range of issues and to speak candidly about the evidence we develop and what that evidence says about the best path forward.

InsideEdge: You are actively involved with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) and The Prince’s Youth Business International. Why is supporting youth entrepreneurship important to you?

David Stewart-Patterson: I first became involved with youth employment issues during the “jobless recovery” of the mid-1990s, and I always found my volunteer time supporting Canada’s newest and smallest businesses to be a rewarding counterpoint to my work on behalf of the country’s largest enterprises.

Speaking at the 2009 Global Forum on Youth Entrepreneurship in Edinburgh, I called young entrepreneurs the fuel injectors of our economic engine: How well they are able to function will determine both how far it carries us and how fast we get there. The CYBF now enables the launch of hundreds of new businesses in Canada every year and is recognized as one of the best organizations of its kind in the world, and I never cease to be inspired by the entrepreneurial energy and creativity that can be unleashed when young people gain access to start-up financing and good advice from experienced mentors.


David Stewart-Patterson David Stewart-Patterson
Vice-President, Public Policy
The Conference Board of Canada