Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brian Tobin and limelight - together again


An interesting story in CBC today says that Brian Tobin Tobin has been appointed as a senior fellow to the Fraser Institute to help develop an energy strategy for North America.

Why is that interesting? I can think of lots of reasons right off the top of my head.

Since Mr. Tobin's longtime intellectual fascination with public policy as a free-standing field up until now has run parallel with Homer Simpson's fatal fascination with cardio exercise, one can't help but wonder why and how he'd end up in this position.

Even if Mr. Tobin had a sudden conversion for the import of public policy over the shallowness of all-optics all the time, why did he pick the Fraser Institute?. Mr. Tobin has never shown any inclination for the right-of-center in the past and could have gone, I presume, to any of a number of left-of-center think tanks. After all, as CBC has reported, Tobin in 1999 said:
"Michael Walker (president) and the Fraser Institute are the most right-wing, Looney Tune institute [or] think-tank that has ever set foot on the soil of Canada".
Finally, while Mr. Tobin has lots of interest in the issue of energy and resources, he has never had any success in these areas; Voisey's Bay was left to his successor and Lower Churchill has yet to materialize.

More specifically in terms of energy plans, he has lots of experience in starting them as this release in 1998 shows, but no experience in completing them.

So what's really going on here? One possibility is that he's acting as a sort of stalking horse for old friend Premier Williams on this issue, perhaps opening the way for an argument for a continental energy grid to get Labrador power to market without Quebec interference.

Alternatively, he just might be burnishing his public policy credentials for a post-Dion run at the national party leadership.

Here's another possibility playing to Mr. Tobin's strength - whatever the product you have, Mr. Tobin can sell it. If nothing else, he can sell the proverbial ice-cubes to the people of the North and he can ensure you are happy with the deal. So perhaps Mr. Tobin's role is less about producing the nuts, bolts and numbers of a continental energy strategy and much more about determining a strategy to sell a continental energy strategy.

Mr. Tobin is not intellectually challenged, make no mistake about that. However his mind does work in certain clearly defined ways and some of those ways have proven to be exceptional.

One thing for sure: as per usual with Mr. Tobin, behind the smoke and mirrors, there's always a hidden back story tucked away.

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