June 28, 2019

Obituary: Remembering John Reid, a lobbyist with a mission: James Bagnall, The Ottawa Citizen

John Reid, Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance

You could tell being a lobbyist was no ordinary vocation for John Reid. Most of the time, until his sudden death June 24 at 69, he was having too much fun.

Yes, part of it was because Reid was a policy wonk and an innovation geek. But there was more to it. After all, for most of the past 32 years he was the public face and president of CATAAlliance, an association of high-tech firms dedicated to pushing tech’s agenda throughout the federal government. That is not an easy job to do over such an extended period.

Two things sustained him. First was the conviction he was on the right side of history. Reid really believed that what was good for tech was good for the country — because this was an industry that produced high-paying jobs and competed globally at the highest levels. He marshalled his time and resources accordingly.

The second bit that kept him going was his enthusiasm for figuring out the world and his place in it. “John was perfectly suited for the tech world because anything new that came by, he’d want to try it,” said Paul LaBarge, a director of CATAAlliance. “He was like a 69-year old kid,” LaBarge added.

To appreciate just how good Reid was in what proved to be his twilight years consider the lobbying effort that preceded Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s first full budget in the spring of 2016. The Liberal’s pre-election platform had called for an increase in taxes on employee stock option benefits — anathema to entrepreneurs who rely on the enticement of stock options to attract top engineering and managerial talent.

Reid’s team briefed Department of Finance officials and Morneau directly. Others from industry made their pitch too, but the CATA lobbyists were persuasive. Days before the federal budget was published, Reid was quietly reassuring his members there would be no tinkering with the stock option formula. These were the actions of a consummate pro.

The range of Reid’s interventions over the years was very wide — he championed the rights of small businesses desperate to get their fair share of federal procurement money, he pushed for subsidized financing for Canadian tech firms, and he encouraged CATAAlliance members to do a better job promoting women.

One of the things I liked about Reid was his astute appreciation of the role of the media. Unlike so many lobbyists who press their concerns indiscriminately, Reid did not try to enlist newspapers as part of an advertising campaign directed at government. He understood such tactics to be counter-productive. Instead, he commissioned dozens of detailed policy papers through his CATAAlliance — these would provide the rationale for his group’s positions. Journalists and others could draw upon them as they saw fit. Meantime, Reid and his colleagues knew exactly who within government to call.

Reid died while vacationing in Geiranger, Norway — northwest of Oslo — with his wife of 30 years Carol Beere. He had always wanted to see the fjords. The cause of death is not known. Reid is also survived by his two children, Kate Voltan and Andrew Beere as well as five grandchildren, Zack, Matty, Jadyn, Valerie and Fiona.

Born in London, Ont., John earned a B.A. with Honours in International Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976. Three years earlier he had qualified for a Diploma in French Language and Literature at the Université d’Aix-Marseille, France. In 1978, he was awarded a Masters degree in International Affairs from Carleton University.

Early in his career, Reid worked as a Commerce Officer at the former federal department of Industry, Trade and Commerce and did a stint at the former Energy, Mines and Resources department — experiences that taught him how government works. Reid picked up some international experience in the financial community in the U.K. and was a research intern at the Copper Council in Paris. Prior to joining CATAAlliance, he directed the legislative activities of the Mining Association of Canada.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made but will be handled at Ottawa’s Hulse, Playfair and McGarry.

The Ottawa Citizen
Updated: Jun 29, 2019, James Bagnall