How else to describe Brian Flemming?
IF YOU WERE looking for a hat to hang on his career, you might start with lawyer. (During a legal career that spans six decades, he would eventually serve as counsel — a lawyer’s lawyer — to the two largest, most important law firms in Atlantic Canada). But law was always just Flemming’s wonk-ish jumping-off point.
During the early 1970s, he served as advisor to the federal government for the third Law of the Sea Convention, the one that resolved the then-hot-button 200-mile limit issue.
In 1976, he joined Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s inner circle as assistant principal secretary and policy advisor. His advice led to the Macdonald Royal Commission, which led to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which led to…
His own business career included stints as a director of companies as diverse as Noranda Inc. and First Choice Canadian Communications. He was part owner of a small fleet of offshore supply vessels; he owned a shipyard…
In 2000, he served as chair of the Canada Transportation Act Review and— following 9/11 — became chair and first CEO of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the agency responsible for airport safety, followed by his appointment to the prime minister’s advisory council on national security.
Somewhere along the line — you’ll excuse me for jumping around — he ran unsuccessfully (twice) for parliament; served as vice chair of the Canada Council, vice chair of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a member of the board of directors of the CBC, a founding director of both the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia, a director of Neptune Theatre… not to forget the 13 years he spent as a weekly columnist for the Halifax Daily News.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, we are not here in the Halifax Marriott’s Harbourstone Sea Grill & Pour House — lunching on its Nearly Famous Seafood Chowder and Hail Caesar salad — to discuss any of the above.
We are here, instead, to talk about Flemming’s latest passion: driver-less cars and their potential impact on the world of 2030 and beyond.
Did I mention that Brian Flemming is 77 years old?
Oh, right. I also forgot to mention Flemming is now a senior fellow at the Calgary-based Van Horne Institute, a transportation-issue focused think tank.
“I’ve always been a policy wonk,” he explains.
Last year, he co-authored “Automated Vehicles. The Coming of the Next Disruptive Technology,” a paper for Van Horne, the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE). The short version: automated vehicles are inevitable, they’re coming sooner than we think, and they will change everything from our psychic relationship to the automobile to our need for new highways, mass transit, long-haul truck drivers, couriers, taxis, traffic laws, automobile insurance, highway patrols… Like the steam engine, like the computer, they will disrupt everything about almost everything we now consider normal.
Flemming is fascinated by what he calls the “future of things,” but he worries whether we’re prepared for the consequences. That may explain why he’s been on the road often in the past year talking to groups like the Atlantic Provinces Transportation Forum 2015 and the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.
As he told truckers, automated vehicles will un-employ 560,000 transport truck and courier service drivers (1.5 per cent of the Canadian workforce). “There is a huge ethical issue coming at us that most people… are neither aware of nor care much about.”
Brian Flemming is aware. He cares. So should we. Coffee?
Brian Flemming graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Science degree and planned to become a doctor. But then he met some young lawyers. And the rest is history.
While he was Pierre Trudeau’s policy advisor, Flemming was given the unlikely task of returning a Newfoundland dog — a gift to the prime minister’s family from Newfoundland Premier Frank Moores — to its original owners because the dog had proved too unruly for 24 Sussex Drive. Flemming’s role did not endear him to a young future prime minister named Justin.