At the BCCTC breakfast meeting, UK Election 2015, what Does It Mean For The UK, Europe & Canada? hosted by the law firm Gowlings, Kevin McGurgan, British Consul General in Toronto begged off commenting on the results because members of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office do not comment on political matters.
However, he did he take the opportunity on the 70th anniversary of VE Day to thank Canada for its contributions and sacrifice that led to the Allied victory.
Before taking up his position in Toronto as HM Consul General and Director-General for UK Trade & Investment in August 2014, Kevin served for four years as the Consul-General in Florida based in Miami.
Earlier in his career, he served short stints in Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, press officer to the UK’s Permanent Representation to the European Union, political and consular officer in Bosnia and as Head of the Political & Economic team in Sweden which focused on European policy issues and counter-terrorism.
This is not his first contact with Canadians. His work in London on the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan enabled him to work closely with Canadian representatives in a neighbouring province. In addition, he also assisted the Canadian delegation to the United Nations in New York implement sanctions in various trouble spots in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
However, a distinguished panel consisting of Andrew Spence, a Scotia Bank vice-president, Mel Cappe, U. of Toronto professor and former Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Hershell Ezrin senior counsel, Global Public Affairs and moderator, Philip Crawley, Globe & Mail publisher & CEO was free from any such constraints.
The members concluded that the majority victory might make future minority governments similar to the Conservative--Liberal Democratic coalition less appealing. The smaller parties now face serious challenges -- finding new leaders and deciding what they stand for.
Regarding the role of pre-election polls in the UK and elsewhere, panel members pointed out that their lack of accuracy may result from citizens, who increasingly now decide how they will vote much later in the process. One panelist noted that the mere act of polling may alter the results in the same way as in scientific experiments as a result of the uncertainty principle which states that just by taking the temperature of a liquid may affect the liquid itself. In contrast, exit polls offer more certainty since people are less likely to lie about how they just voted.
While the media typically focus on voter turnout numbers, elections are usually won or lost by a party’s ability to get its supporters into the polling booth. While leader’ policies and personalities are important, hope and fear are main levers they can pull to gain voters’ attention.
While Mr. Cameron’s job as prime minister is secure, the country he governs is beset with several serious challenges. panel members concluded that internally, the “Scottish question” will continue to be the “low-grade fever” of British politics and the resultant regionalism/nationalism tug of war will add uncertainty to the United Kingdom for some time.
The Scottish National Party winning 56 out of the 59 seats in Scotland was no real surprise after the very close Yes vote in last September’s separation referendum. The panel compared it to the tight 1995 provincial vote in which Quebeckers defeated a proposal to separate from Canada by the slimmest of margins.
Externally, the Conservative Party has gone on record to hold a national referendum by 2017 to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. Panel members hoped that citizens would vote with their heads not their hearts.
Panelists indicated that chances of a so-called British exit or Brexit are low since London has now become the financial, business and legal service centre for Europe that attracts European millenials seeking to climb up the corporate ladder.
London is meeting that challenge through residential and business real estate developments supported by massive infrastructure investments such the Crossrail underground project. One panelist contrasted Crossrail’s rapid progress with the slow pace of Toronto’s own transit plans, which appear to be beholden to local, micro-political interests. However, London’s increasing financial clout may also exacerbate the north-south economic divergence within England and Scotland.
In closing, panelists concluded that the infrastructure sector might be a sweet spot for Canadian investors such as pension funds and hedge funds seeking to expand their portfolios. Among other things, the relevant UK laws and regulations are business friendly making the rights of ownership clear and above board.
To end this informative discussion, John Sleeman a long time supporter of the BCCTC, was inducted as new patron of the BCCTC, he received a medal and talked about his family’s history of trade.