Hon. Perrin Beatty

Corporate executive and former politician

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Published, EAC Communiqué, March 1993

P

errin Beatty feels himself to be a product of the community of Fergus, where his family have played a key role for many generations. In coming back to his home town he rediscovers and reaffirms the sense of community, sharing and support which he takes with him when he returns to public life. On February 2, he celebrates 21 years as an elected member for Wellington-Grey-Dufferin-Simcoe to the federal parliament. He has spent exactly half his life in public service.

As a boy he lived in the brick house on Bridge Street, beside his grandmother’s home and opposite the present Fergus Market. At that time the market building was The Lower Shop of Beatty Brothers. Originally the firm was founded by his great grandfather, and was headed subsequently by his grandfather and father till the latter’s death in 1960. They received a great deal from Fergus, and they taught young Perrin that it was his duty to give to his community in return. He attended Fergus Public School, now renamed James McQueen.

One evening when he was 12 years old he and a friend came out of a movie at the Grand Theatre and crossed the street. A family friend saw them looking through a display window and came to speak to the boys, inviting them in. This was the campaign headquarters of the Conservative Party. Perrin Beatty helped in that election, and has been active in every campaign since, a total of six to date. At Upper Canada College he continued his interest in Politics and Canadian History. Later, studying these subjects at University of Western Ontario, he foresaw a possible academic career. However, as President of the student Conservative Club, he was already on the path to a political career.

Just out of university, he was working as assistant to Ontario’s Minister of Health at Queen’s Park when he decided to run in the federal elections of 1972. Since that date he has never failed to be elected in his riding, and has held the Ministerial portfolios of National Revenue, Solicitor General, National Defence, Health and Welfare. He was appointed Minister of Communications in April 1991.

The two portfolios he has found most similar are Defence and Communications. “First of all, both of them are involved with high technology, but secondly, both of them are involved in different ways in the protection of Canadian Sovereignty, speaking to our ability to maintain our independence as a people.” Defence deals with the protection of a land mass, Culture and Communications deals with the sovereignty we already have through our identity. “It’s the element of culture that speaks to our values and heritage and who we are as Canadians, so that it is another vital element in the definition of our national sovereignty.”

The Minister asserts that Canada gained complete exemption for its cultural industries in negotiations with the U.S. on Free trade and NAFTA, and that this allows institutions like the Canada Council to continue without risk of countervail of the subsidies it provides to Canadian artists. In Canada, where the penetration of foreign books and magazines, foreign films and sound recordings is higher than any other country in the industrialized world, it is not xenophobic to defend the means of maintaining what is especially ours.

If we can generate a critical mass of artistic activity, it will give tourists several different things to do and visit.

To protect the Canadian Film industry, for instance, Mr. Beatty is eager to act on the Film Importation Bill tabled by Flora McDonald, but never passed. He would like to separate the American and Canadian film markets in terms of distribution. “Today when the distributors purchase the American rights, they usually purchase the right to distribute in Canada for no added money, as an adjunct to the American market. All the money that flows from distribution flows down to the United States.” The Film Importation Bill would greatly strengthen the Canadian film industry. “My hope would be that we see Canadian film production companies using the revenues they would get from distribution of foreign films in Canada to subsidise the production of Canadian films.”

The difficulty so far, Mr. Beatty says, has been gaining consensus within the Canadian film industry itself. “I met with members of the industry last spring and I was disappointed to find that this consensus just doesn’t exist today.” When the Film Bill was originally tabled, it was less the Americans than other countries who objected. “It was really coming from other partners such as UK, Australia, New Zealand, who were afraid the provision of our Bill would have an impact on their ability to develop film industries in their own countries.”

Mr. Beatty gives the analogy of the book industry, where three out of four books sold are foreign titles. Distribution of foreign titles is for the most part in the hands of Canadian publishers. Revenues from distribution of foreign books go to sustain the publications of Canadian authors, about 75 percent of whom are published in Canada. “We reserve to ourselves the right to make sure Canadian voices can be heard,” he asserts.

As he travels across the country in his work as Minister of Communications, Mr. Beatty finds that the Fergus-Elora area is well known for music and art. “If  you were able to generate figures for the economic contribution made through the arts and through tourism resulting from the tremendous cultural renaissance that’s taken place in this area, you would see the multiplier effects are enormous.” He encourages the vision of an expansion of Theatre as well, saying, “We are very well positioned here in terms of location. We’re part way to Stratford and a short drive from Toronto. If we can generate a critical mass of artistic activity, it will give tourists several different things to do and visit.”

At 42, Perrin Beatty has 21 years of political experience in many fields. He believes his philosophy and attitudes can all be found in Fergus itself, the town his family helped to shape, and where he carries on the tradition.

by John Chalmers, March 1993

UPDATE

The Honourable Perrin Beatty left politics and is now President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

Following the 1993 federal election, Perrin Beatty joined a number of private sector boards and worked as a consultant in the field of communications. He was an Honorary Visiting Professor with the Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, where he taught a course in Communications Technologies and Public Policy. As well, he wrote a weekly column on government and politics for a major Canadian newspaper.

Mr. Beatty was appointed President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1995 and assumed his current position with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters on, on August 15, 1999.