Face to Face with Karen McCrimmon


Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Karen McCrimmon is a well-known political activist and social worker in Canada. She was the first woman in Canada to command an air squadron. She has served Canadian interests in Germany and Afghanistan, flown countless humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, and won the Order of Military Merit award for her service. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she joined Liberal Party of Canada in 2008 and became active in federal politics. She is now a consultant for private and public institutions. Karen plans to seek the Liberal nomination in Kanata-Carleton in the next federal elections 2015. Recently she was interviewed by Ravi Kumar, founder of Hindi Center. After having flown many war-planes, Karen now wants to fly the Canadian economy. She has created a roadmap to success for Canada. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

RK: Hi Karen, tell me something about how you entered into politics? People retire and become less active, but you are very active even after retirement?

Karen: I thought of getting involved in politics because I did not like the direction in which my country was going. I think it is all our responsibility to look after each other. I wanted to have a clear conscience that I have done all that I could. 35% of Canadians do not support the present Government. This Government doesn’t seem to care much about the aspirations of the majority of Canadians. The present economic policies do not support people, and I want a different future for my country. Therefore, I decided to do something for my people.

RK: You have a clear agenda for the economic development of Canada. How are you going to achieve your goals that meet the expectations of the masses?

Karen: Right now the Canadian Government seems to be putting all of its eggs into the raw resource extraction basket. I want Canada to become a knowledge-based economy. Canada needs to find a way for people to create their own jobs. This can be achieved through education and knowledge-based economy. We need to encourage entrepreneurship and support start-ups by giving financial assistance.  

RK: Do you feel that the current government's focus is more towards harnessing natural resources and less towards harnessing human resources?

Karen: We have a huge pool of talents. Canadians are well educated and hard-working. So we have huge potential. Canada needs to move into the direction where all of these talents and resources are harnessed properly. However, the current government is cutting the research development funding. They have cut spending on small businesses and start-ups. Canada needs to create more opportunities for them and find a way to increase capital for covering the risks of these businesses.  But we seem to be going exactly the opposite direction.

RK: You are right. How do you see the sustainable development or long-term goals?

Karen: That is another key point. I think we have been focusing on developing short-term plans. Canada does not have long-term plans. In fact, we do not have a strategy or plan for anything. We do not have a national defense strategy, foreign affairs strategy, industrial strategy, nor economic strategy. If you do not have strategy or plan with milestones and goals, I doubt we can achieve any durable solutions. If you do not have a plan, don’t be surprised if you do not get there. Right now, the Canadian Government is more interested in getting short term gains, and it is more interested in setting statistics without looking at larger interests of people. 

RK: Do the general public with whom you interact understand the problems you just mentioned?

Answer: Yes, especially in Kanata within Ottawa. Both of these places have many people involved in technology. They know what the challenges are. When I talk to the business community and people who are trying to start their own businesses, they explain their problems, and the current Government has not been able to address their concerns. Kanata has a lot to offer. We need to develop a support system to help them.

RK: When I was going through the official data related to entrepreneurial development in North America, I found that Ottawa has lots of startups and most of the startups end up in the US.

Karen: Because they do not have any growth capital, all they can do is sell. I feel that this process of selling aspirations must stop. We have to be able to identify those companies and give them growth capital so that they do not have to be sold.  Instead of selling these companies, the owners should be able to focus on growing their businesses.

RK: The US companies are taking full advantage of this weakness?

Karen: Yes. The US companies are much more comfortable in dealing with risk than Canadians ones. What Canadians need to do is to take the risks, in order to move forward, and build a new economy for the future. If we stick with the economy we have today, we are not going to make any progress.

RK: In order tobuildrisk taking abilities of small or medium-sized enterprises in Canada, you need to have a certain kind of policies. What kind of policies will you have?

Karen: This Government does not have a long-term plan. They are looking at short term benefits.  We need long-term investment policies. We need to invest in human resources for our better future. We should do more co-ops with universities. We should do more internships and apprenticeships, and make the students ready to work when they come out of the university.

RK: European Union gives subsidies to people, or companies that hire new peoples. What is your opinion on this?

Karen: We need more collaborative efforts. Canada needs to negotiate with other nations of the world and build up trust based on cooperation. We do not have to be in competition with each other. We need to work together for our better future.

RK: What do you think about diversity?

Karen: Based on my experience in the military, we made the best decisions when we had diversity. The people with their varied experiences and talents around the table always matter when we look for a durable solution. The diversity helps in developing durable and effective decisions. I am a mediator. My job is to find a common interest. I think I can make a significant contribution.

RK:  What is your view on Canadian international relations?

Karen: Canada was considered as a country that was open-minded, collaborative, and respectively of others.  Now, I think other countries see Canada as very competitive and arrogant.  It is one of the fundamental weaknesses of Canadian foreign policy, I think Canada needs to start to change.

RKAre you referring to Canada and NATO links?

Karen:  No, NATO is a consensus-based organization.  I think the Canadian government should sit down and negotiate, to find common ground and persuade people to work collectively in order to increase confidence in our relationships and decisions.  The Canadian Government is not good at this because they are too heavy-handed.  People do not feel that they play an active role or are part of a team.

RK:  You need to build trust.  Your team needs to be grounded in trust.  Otherwise, there is always a chance of moving in different directions.  How do you see this situation?

Karen:  Problems today are very complex.  Since they are complex, a single person or country cannot solve them.  There should be a collective effort to solve such problems.  Building trust among stakeholders is the first step towards solving complex problems.  We cannot have a team without trust.  Therefore, we need to build trust and consensus within our country and grow relationships with other countries as well.

RK: Are you saying that leadership needs to focus on domestic problems, as well as external problems?

Karen:  It is about collaborative leadership, and that is the new way of looking at it.  It is something which our current Government does not understand.  Leadership is a collaborative effort, and it is all about service.  A leader services the team.  That is how it should work.  When a team is trying to accomplish a task, it is the responsibility of the leader to provide vision and strength to the members so that they feel confident about their ability to deliver.

RK:  Since you have a very good vision about team building, long-term goals, strategies, balancing relationships and harnessing natural resources, what kind of role will the immigrant community play to help with your goals?

Karen:  It’s absolutely a key factor as diversity will make Canada stronger.

RK: Often immigrants face unemployment when they arrive in Canada as they are unable to use their skills right away.  What is your plan to address this problem?

Karen:  Finding a way to help immigrants quickly integrate into the system is very important.  One solution is to fast-track the accreditation process.  I want social mobility for everyone, including immigrants so more attention needs to be directed to this issue.

RK:  What about de-regulation of these barriers?

Karen:  The Government should set standards for facilitation, not for creating barriers. I am aware that that this will cost some money, but I think it’s a worthwhile strategic investment that will prove beneficial to Canada.

RK: Recently the US signed an agreement with India that recognizes degrees awarded by Indian-approved universities.  Are you suggesting a similar arrangement for Canada-India relations?

Karen:  This makes perfect sense to me.  It is a start and you have to start somewhere.  "We know that the standard of education in India is very high, so this is an easy one".  While we might not be able to do it for all countries, Canada should explore the use of these types of agreements.

RK:  How do you find Indian community involvement in Canada?

Karen:  "The Indian community here is vibrant, active and very entrepreneurial.  I appreciate that".

RK: Apart from the Indian community, do you have other ethnic communities in you constituency of Kanata?

Karen:  Yes.  There is a very large francophone community as well as Chinese and South–East Asian community including Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese communities.  This diversity has helped Kanata develop a very active business community, especially in the IT and software-related business sectors.

RK:  Do you want to use Kanata as a model of development for all of Canada?

Karen:  Absolutely.  It can be seen as a business ecosystem.  Diversified businesses rely upon each other, and Kanata has emerged as a thriving business hub.  One can always find some good networking opportunities here.  We have a lot of opportunities here not only for business relations but also for social and human relations.

RK:  Do you have any special message for the people of Kanata and Canada?

Karen:  I think Kanata can be the first model for an advanced economy.  This is a long-term vision that I’d like to go for.  We already have our foundation laid:  educated people with experience, entrepreneurial spirit, diversity and a strong sense of community.  High-tech is the strength in Kanata.  If we can create the business ecosystem that we want in Kanata, with support from the government and the educated masses of Canada, we can replicate this model for the whole country.  I am very hopeful with respect to this goal.