All posts by Jaime Watt

Toronto police culture still harms LGBTQ community: Watt

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Last week, Toronto celebrated an inauspicious occasion: the 37th anniversary of Operation Soap.

Better known as the Toronto bathhouse raids, Operation Soap saw dozens of Toronto police officers storm four bathhouses and arrest more than 250 gay and bisexual men on a variety of humiliating charges. Lives were changed forever — jobs lost, reputations destroyed, personal relationships left in tatters, lives taken by suicide.

The next night, thousands of LGBTQ Torontonians took to the streets with the message that enough was enough; stunning the city with the ferocity of their protests.

It marked the beginning of change between the LGBTQ community and governments at all levels. Finally, officials began to understand the damage they had inflicted on often vulnerable and marginalized people.

Since that time, there have been all kinds of legislative accomplishments and relationships between LGBTQ people and governments have grown close, if not downright cozy.

Today, it is difficult for many to truly understand the symbolic importance of the Gay Village. Church and Wellesley seems more like a secondary traffic artery, spattered with no-name pharmacies, second-rate fast-food restaurants and unassuming bars — at least from the outside.

But the truth is that this corner has been a home to thousands of Canadians.

It can be profoundly isolating to be a member of the LGBTQ community. To grow up understanding oneself to be “different” is an experience that many of us struggle to shake even well into adulthood.

Toronto’s Gay Village has been a sanctuary, a home, a place to embrace just who you are.

More than one public official has questioned why gay spaces or gay celebrations, such as Toronto Pride, still need to exist when extensive regulatory and legislative changes have been made to protect LGBTQ Canadians.

The last several months in Toronto have provided the answer.

For many years, segments of the LGBTQ community have protested their experiences with police. Advocates have argued that members of the trans community and people of colour continue to be treated differently than cisgender and white members of the LGBTQ community.

They argue these same segments of our community have been silenced, ignored and abused by institutional biases.

This public angst threatens to disrupt the relative harmony many felt had developed between the LGBTQ community and the Toronto police in the decades since the bathhouse raids.

Public battles, like the Black Lives Matters protest at Pride Toronto 2016 and the subsequent banning of the police from participation in the Pride Parade, fractured opinions of the LGBTQ community.

While much progress has been made, it has become abundantly clear that many challenges remain in the way the Toronto Police interact with the LGBTQ community.

Advocates have always had a point, and statistics have backed them up. There have been long-standing issues, including a number of unsolved missing persons cases, a propensity for police to arrest vulnerable people in the community, and sporadic efforts at crackdowns. This has painted a negative picture about the relationship between the police and a community.

Three recent cases have put a starkly human face on these issues.

In late November, 22-year-old Tess Richey disappeared after a night out at Church and Wellesley. Police responded with an investigation, but failed to uncover anything until Richey’s mother found her daughter’s body at a construction site mere metres from where she was last seen. Police called the incident a “misadventure” for several days. Last week, second-degree murder charges were laid.

Alloura Wells, a missing trans woman, was found dead on Aug. 5 of 2016. Police failed to identify Wells until November 2017, when her father went to the media. When he tried to report her missing at a Toronto police station, he said he was told that due to her past history, she was not considered high priority. Instead, he was given a non-emergency line to contact.

But the most infamous case is that of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. Activists and advocates have been warning that older gay men seemed to be disappearing for years now. Last summer, a poster circulated with the pictures of the missing men, warning of a potential serial killer.

Toronto police responded by denying that a serial killer existed. In a move that revealed the community’s distrust of the police, a neighbourhood association organized to provide walks home to allow for a measure of safety for those who felt threatened.

Months later, the community was proved right. McArthur has been charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder. It is alleged he had been targeting gay men for years, killing at least five. The number of charges seem likely to increase as the investigation continues.

That police denied the existence of a threat when one so plainly existed undermines their mission to provide support for a community that is so often the target of violence, harassment and discrimination.

I do not believe there is malicious intent by Toronto Police. Rather, the challenge lies in the nature and characteristics of the problem. When police raided the bath houses many years ago, the laws and regulations which were at the essence of the problem could be pointed to, identified and fixed.

Today’s challenge is actually more daunting. The Toronto Police Service must reflect on how to change a culture and how to protect a community that so desperately needs that protection.

A community of vulnerable people depend on it. And all of us must speak out and acknowledge that change needs to occur.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on February 11, 2018)

Post-scandal PCs poised for a dramatic revival: Watt

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“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain once said after an overeager newspaper prematurely posted his obituary following an illness.

The same might be said of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

For months now, the fortunes of the Ontario Liberals have been in the doldrums. Despite thoughtful efforts by both her government and campaign team to turn things around, the rate of improvement has been discouragingly slow.

So, of course, with the tragic and macabre scene that was Patrick Brown’s resignation, predictions began to emerge that it was the trouble for the Tories, and that Bill Clinton wouldn’t be the only political comeback kid.

Make no mistake — the shocking fall of Brown was a spectacle, but it was not one that will leave lasting damage on the Ontario PCs, as much as many observers might wish it were so.

In fact, it may leave the party in a stronger position than it was just two short weeks ago.

While Brown had proven to be politically adept, and had managed to stay ahead of a number of curveballs thrown at him by the premier, he also struggled to connect to voters. Something about him failed to resonate with Ontarians, though he did appear poised to sail to victory in spite of it.

What is also clear now is that Brown had a significant number of skeletons in his closet that could have easily emerged during an election campaign, dashing any hope of a PC government.

The quick removal of Brown by the party apparatus, along with a caucus that was all-too-happy to throw Brown overboard at the first sign of trouble, demonstrated that the party never truly united behind him following his come-from-nowhere win.

But the party remains surprisingly strong. Tens of thousands of memberships, millions of dollars more than the Ontario Liberals, and a slate of impressive candidates across the province indicate the Tories remain a political presence to be reckoned with.

Perhaps most importantly, the biggest potential pitfall that the party faces has thus far been avoided.

It’s no secret that Progressive Conservatives are prone to infighting and petty internal politics. So, it was fair to assume the vacuum of leadership mere months before an election would create a drama worthy of Shakespeare.

But it hasn’t happened. Instead, a leadership election is being planned that from the outside appears remarkably orderly. While caucus did make a brief attempt to install its own leader without the benefit of an election, that ill-advised move was promptly overturned by the party executive, which organized a speedy leadership that will conclude on March 10.

The astute move ensures the party’s grassroots members will be engaged and mobilized in advance of an election, rather than demoralized and disheartened.

In addition, a PC leadership race with a choice of candidates that includes Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Rod Phillips promises to hoover up media coverage.

Heading into an election, a government’s best weapon is its ability to set the agenda. The PC leadership race will likely scuttle that possibility as it demands the attention of the Queen’s Park media gallery. Ford, in particular, is fascinating to the media and his ability to attract attention will be to the detriment of the Ontario Liberals.

Look at just last week. While the Liberals were trying to talk about the minimum wage hike, all that Ontario politicos were discussing was the optics of Doug Ford announcing his campaign for leadership from his mother’s basement.

Petty and unimportant? Certainly. But a column is a column, and it was all Ontario voters were reading about.

More than that, the slate of leadership candidates is impressive. Elliott, Mulroney, Phillips and potential caucus candidate Todd Smith are all effective communicators with impressive credentials. All are capable of leadership and, most would agree, would more naturally fit the profile of premier than Brown.

Ford, for all of his faults, is a candidate who may just catch fire. The man, as noted, is an impressive communicator who intuitively knows how to get attention — and how to speak to the common person. People rewrite history now, but he came shockingly close to capturing the mayoralty of Toronto in a truncated campaign.

Who could have predicted that the Ontario PCs would manage to take what seemed initially like a disastrous situation and turn it into an opportunity?

For a party that is more used to off-the-rails political moves, this is both a change of fortunes and an exciting time. But they’re not out of the woods just yet.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, February 4, 2018)

This year a critical one for all federal parties: Watt

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As hard as it is to believe, we’re not that far away from another federal election.

As politicians arrive back in Ottawa and the House of Commons resumes sitting on Monday, the 2019 election will be on their minds.

Last year was, comparatively speaking, a tough one for the governing Liberals. While they maintained a comfortable lead in many opinion polls, their numbers were down from the previous year. And so they know that 2018 will be a critical year.

The Liberals have a number of things going for them. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is an incredibly popular leader — a global superstar even — who connects with young Canadians like no politician in Canada in recent memory. The economy is growing, job numbers are strong, interest rates low and the Canadian dollar stable. And, at the time of the writing of this column, NAFTA was still intact.

At the same time, the Liberals face some challenges. The limousine liberal critique is starting to hold. They have failed to deliver on promises made to Canadians, including electoral reform and restoring home mail delivery to everyone. In December, the CBC reported that the Liberal government had passed only half the number of the bills the previous Conservative government did by the same point in its mandate.

So, what do the Liberals need to do to have a successful 2018? Simply put, they need to deliver — on legalizing marijuana and on getting money out the door and shovels in the ground on significant pieces of infrastructure. They need make progress on campaign promises, such as eliminating the need for boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves.

In addition, they need to strengthen their ability to manage issues — for instance, to limit stories about Trudeau’s visit to the Aga Khan’s personal island, and about offshore accounts held by wealthy Canadians, and settlements with former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The Liberals need to focus on their strengths.

The Conservatives have a different priority list, one that looks harder to execute. The party has yet to introduce leader Andrew Scheer to Canadians.

Scheer’s attacks on the prime minister are not working. Trudeau was elected in 2015 largely because he was not Stephen Harper, but a majority of Canadians have wound up liking what they got when they voted for Trudeau.

Scheer needs to focus on developing an exciting piece of policy, a policy that will create a debate, a wedge issue that will increase Scheer’s relevance. Think a flat tax or an increase in the GST alongside a significant income tax reduction.

Sheer needs to move away from simply criticizing Liberal policy and begin to find a way to differentiate himself.

We know that Conservatives connect with Canadians when they talk about lower taxes, family-friendly policies and even a pragmatic but fiscally responsible plan for the environment.

Meanwhile, the NDP, whose leader is without a seat in the House of Commons, is in an unorthodox position. The party needs to find a way to capitalize on this.

With the Liberals currently occupying a significant segment of traditional NDP policy territory, the NDP needs to decide how far left it can go without risking what support it gets from centrist voters.

The NDP should attempt to capitalize on what it sees as the failings of the Liberals, including climate change targets that mirror those of the Harper era, the continued existence of boil-water advisories on reserves, the lack of a national daycare strategy, and the shortage of affordable housing and transportation in urban centres.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has the luxury of travelling the country without worrying about being in the Commons, should spend the next year in major cities and small towns, telling people how he will make life better for them. When a national leader comes to town, the local media follows. Without a seat in the Commons, this is the best way for him to make an impact.

He needs to appoint someone in Ottawa to be a strong presence in the Commons, someone who can find tactical ways to keep the NDP in the national conversation on a day in, day out basis. This is a very challenging task for a third party.

The fact that Trudeau is both a popular and divisive figure makes for an interesting time in Canadian politics.

While he is the odds-on favourite to win in 2019, a successful 2018 for either opposition party could change that. As we saw on Wednesday night at Queen’s Park, anything can happen in politics.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, January 28, 2018)

The Insiders: Sexual misconduct and Canadian politics

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(To listen to The Insiders Panel — Click Here)

At the end of an unprecedented in Canadian politics, we asked Insiders Jaime Watt, Kathleen Monk and David Herle to join us.

On what’s next for the Ontario PC party:

Jaime Watt: “Someone called it a speed bump, I don’t think it’s a speed bump, I think it’s much more serious than that when all the plans that you’ve got go out the window, and you’ve got to start over again… You’ve got to figure out who your leader is going to be and how you’re actually going to run that campaign. But on the other hand, there is a campaign plan in place, money’s been raised, candidates recruited, so leading that campaign might be attractive to somebody. Instead of spending years in the wilderness, someone could come in, take over, and have a campaign that’s a bit like chicken noodle soup – just add hot water and stir, and off they go.”

David Herle: “It creates a lot of uncertainty for the other parties. We don’t know who the leader of the Progressive Conservatives is going to be in the election. We don’t 100 per cent know if their going to stick with their platform… There were a number of items in there that were quite controversial inside the party that were Mr. Brown’s personal stamp on the platform, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. On the other side is frankly Brown was a weak leader, and a weak candidate, and I was looking forward to running a campaign against him, and the odds are quite high that they’ll choose someone who’s more effective.”

Kathleen Monk: “We know that the Conservative party will be in chaos, likely for the next several weeks, if not months, and more than that the party might have been complicit in knowing about allegations of sexual harassment against their leader and not addressing them. And so, for the New Democrats, what do they have to do? They have to be the vehicle for change.”

On the return of Parliament next week:

DH: “I think this spring is likely to be an awful lot about the economy, especially in the context of an attempt to abrogate NAFTA from the Trump administration. You know, from the Liberal perspective, they have worked awfully hard on building networks in the United States and managing this as well as it could be managed, but when you get into an actual intent to abrogate, you’re into potential economic-crisis territory, and so, I think for the government the major challenge is going to be to be seen on top of, and managing, what could be a crisis economic situation at any point.”

KM: “Jagmeet Singh really needs to get known to Canadians and out there on big issues that are important to everyday Canadians. That’s what was heard coming out of his caucus, and he’s going to tackle income inequality – things like wireless and cellular rates, housing affordability, and of course childcare. These are issues that matter to Canadians, but right now the NDP isn’t as visible as it needs to be, and it’s leader certainly isn’t.”

JW: “In many ways Andrew Scheer has the same challenge that Jagmeet has, that he better come up with some policy that differentiates himself and his party that appeals to his core constituency and his base, whether it’s something on tax, or some other issue that he can really own as his own. At the moment just running around in a checked shirt I don’t really think is going to take him from he is to where he needs to go.”

(As published on

Don’t be fooled by the foolishness, Trump is getting things done: Watt

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The spectacle continues.

It’s fair to say that the presidency of Donald Trump looks, from the outside, to be nothing short of a circus.

The last week alone served up a heaping helping of the ridiculous. The president referred to a handful of nations as “s—hole” countries, which the media gleefully plastered as headlines all over their products and platforms, right before roundly condemning the president as racist and ignorant.

Credible media outlets also obsessed over whether President Trump is six-foot-three or actually six-foot-two, and whether he could be defined as obese or not (should this now be known as the “girther” movement?).

The noise is inescapable; a frantic cycle from which we can’t escape morning or night:

First, Trump makes an absurd, flippant remark. Media outlets blare headlines about the comment. The analysis from pundits frowning and condemning politicians begins. The final step: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s unshakable and inscrutable press secretary, stands in front of a room of incredulous journalists and denies that the events ever took place with a look of earnest belief.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It is an avalanche of headlines that has begun to wear down even the most avid politicos.

These occurrences have been presented as evidence of the incompetence of the White House, or as failures of the president more generally. And, indeed, there have certainly been failures. Large and small, this White House has demonstrated that it is more than capable of getting itself into messes – time and again.

For example, the White House regularly sends news releases out with incorrect information or misspelled names. It is the sort of detail that no other White House in history would have missed — and it stands, or at least is interpreted as, an indictment of the “back office” behind the current administration.

If it can’t get the little things right, how on Earth can it get the big ones right?

And yet, a record is emerging. It is not the record you could have expected based on the thousands of errors, forced and unforced, that have been incurred by the White House administration in the last year.

There are actually a number of impressive legislative accomplishments; accomplishments that go unrecognized thanks to all the noise and nonsense.

For instance, a comprehensive tax reform bill that once appeared doomed due to its unpopularity recently passed the House and Senate despite the hysterical outcry of Democrats. In fact, recent polling indicates that Americans have begun to take a shine to the once-unthinkable bill, and corporations have been making high-profile announcements about returning capital and jobs to the U.S., crediting the changes.

Trump has also had a remarkable run in reshaping the American judiciary. While his appointment of the reliably right-wing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is certainly his highest-profile accomplishment, he has appointed a bevy of lower-ranking justices who will help to reshape and craft America’s legal landscape for decades to come.

But perhaps Trump’s most shocking contribution has been on the foreign policy stage. Once derided as a know-nothing disruptor who would upset the global equilibrium, Trump’s aggressive foreign policy has had significant and positive impact on the world that has received little recognition in public discussion.

His tough talk on North Korea, for instance, has been roundly mocked as unbecoming of a leader. But one of North Korea’s highest-ranking diplomatic defectors went on the record to point out that North Korea looked at former presidents as considerably more “gentle” than Trump, and that his rhetoric has likely spooked the regime into inaction. Indeed, it is notable that the rogue state has significantly slowed its aggressions since the war of words escalated.

Similarly, Trump’s address to the United Nations criticizing the Iranian regime was derided. Pundits argued that it did nothing to unsettle the regime, and had actually united Iranians behind their government. However, just a few short months later, Iran is being rocked by the strongest anti-regime protests in nearly a decade.

The declaration that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel ignited a similar furor. Allied nations and pundits were united in their condemnation that the move would cause unrest in the region.

Instead, protests in the region were relatively minor. While as expected, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a host of other countries condemned the move, behind the scenes, it has been reported that those countries continue to ally themselves ever-closer to the United States than they had been in years past.

Daesh continues to retreat. Russia’s aggressions against its neighbours have calmed. China appears wary of the unpredictable administration.

It is a foreign policy record that many U.S. presidents would have liked.

So, don’t be fooled by the foolishness. Despite the blaring headlines and constant outrage, this presidency has made significant lunges towards its goals.

Voters are noticing. Trump’s approval ratings improved last week to a seven-month high, according to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, though his ratings are much lower than those of other presidents at this point in their tenures.

This is not to say that the Republicans will not be shellacked in the mid-terms, as governing parties so often are. But it may yet be premature to write Trump’s obituary as a one-term president.

CNN may just be had, yet again. 2020 awaits.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, June 21, 2018)

President Winfrey has its allure, but another celebrity is not the solution

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It seems that with politics, just like Hollywood, what’s old is new again.

In Hollywood, the old ideas include Star Wars, Roseanne, Jurassic Park, Jumanji and many more.

In politics, it’s Mitt Romney, Justin Trudeau, Caroline Mulroney and now Oprah.

Winfrey first flirted with politics back in 2008 when she endorsed then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. It is estimated that her support of Obama generated more than a million votes for the candidate and played a significant role in his fundraising capacity.

Since then, Winfrey has never indicated she would be interested in running for the U.S. presidency. As recently as this summer, Winfrey said, she would not run for public office, let alone for president.

How the tides have turned. And now, anticipation is running high. Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday electrified audiences the world over and inspired media to spill thousands of barrels of ink on her potential presidential ambitions.

It triggered 3.1 billion social media impressions, the hashtag #Oprah2020 was part of 50,255 tweets and the numbers go on.

Speculation about celebrities with political aspirations is not new. Just about every presidential election cycle since the Reagan years has seen celebrities hint about running.

However, those flirtations were usually dismissed as improbable, if not outright impossible. Conventional wisdom held that despite initial enthusiasm the lack of conventional political infrastructure doomed these ventures from the start.

Trump’s election to the presidency fundamentally altered that long-entrenched view.

The fact that news networks, pundits, social media, and water-cooler analysts are taking the #Oprah2020 hashtag seriously is because Trump has legitimized the idea that a celebrity can come from outside one of the two old-line political parties and take the Oval Office. As a result, a famous television host becoming the leader of the free world no longer seems crazy.

Perhaps more importantly, the speed and intensity with which Winfrey was able to gain legitimate momentum last week demonstrates that voters are willing to think seriously and differently about what type of person they want to hold high public office.

Does someone’s celebrity alone qualify them to be president or prime minister? Does it matter what has made them famous?

Is this a new way of looking at things or is it merely an evolution of a path we have been on for some time?

It goes without saying, Oprah is in a class with very few others. She is a woman with a very significant following, and with good reason. She has acted as a spiritual leader and symbol of unity in America for decades. She is one of only a handful of people who is recognizable on a first name-only basis.

There are persuasive arguments that a President Winfrey could be a healing presidency; one that may be sorely needed after four years of division under an aggressive president who has significantly exacerbated previously existing tensions.

But there remain other challenges.

The presidency of the United States, like all elected positions, doesn’t come with training wheels. They are complex positions that require leadership, expertise and experience; a sophisticated grasp of the intricacies of public policy and a strong understanding of how power is wielded.

When it comes time to choose our leaders, hopefully we think about his or her experience, qualifications, love of country, dedication, purpose, ideology, policy and legislative expertise.

Hopefully, we don’t think too much about a candidate’s social media followers, television ratings, product lines, award acceptance speeches, hair, or whether they’d be a great person with whom to have a drink.

Celebrities often bring strong advocacy skills. They are often powerful at raising money, awareness and changing people’s opinions. They are often persuasive, empathetic, expert communicators.

And that’s a great start. But what doesn’t follow is a fluency in the sphere of democratic institutions and public policy initiatives. Being a democratic leader requires much more than speaking louder than everyone else. Or having more followers on Twitter.

The fix to what currently ails the American presidency is not more of what injured it in the first place. The challenges of this presidency, the challenges that so many Americans chafe against, will not be solved by doubling down. It may well be better to change course altogether.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, January 14, 2018)

Cheers and jeers for 2017: Star columnists weigh in on underrated and overrated politicians and political plays

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Our Politics Page columnists select politicians worthy of praise for their work this past year, some who need to up their game, and who to keep an eye on in 2018.

The page will take a break for the holidays and return on Jan. 14.

Most underrated politician of 2017

Gooch: Premier Kathleen Wynne. At this moment Wynne is working with a personal approval rating below 20 per cent. It doesn’t get any more underrated than that. I remember arriving at the Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention in 2013 as a Sandra Pupatello delegate. Being from Windsor, Pupatello was my introduction to strong women advocates in Canadian politics. I came prepared with buttons that read “Congratulations Madame Premier.”

It was thrilling to stand on the Maple Leaf Gardens floor knowing that our two strongest candidates were women, and no matter the outcome of the convention, we were going to make history by selecting Ontario’s first woman as Premier. Wynne subsequently united the party, ran a successful campaign in 2014 and went to work delivering on the vision she laid out for the province, which she clearly communicated through public mandate letters with her ministers.

She made time in 2017 to travel the province, braving difficult conversations with Ontarians at town hall events. I’ve only known Wynne to be a principled and sincere leader. She is a titan in Canadian politics. As underrated as she is at the close of this year, I think we will see her catch her stride campaigning in 2018.

Sears: Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Completing her second year in the suicide chair of any cabinet, Bennett gets too little credit for the achievements of the Trudeau government in building a genuine program of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. It is always tempting to mutter dismissively, “Problems everywhere still!” instead of marking what progress has been made. More agreements have been signed, more stupid anti-First Nations legal actions by the federal government cancelled, and more money flowed for First Nations health and education than in any time past. The naming of an impressively strong National Reconciliation Council last week, caps a year of real progress.

Not so good: the Missing and Murdered Inquiry remains wobbly, and a reset button may yet need to be hit.

Watt: B.C. Premier John Horgan brought the New Democratic Party back to power in the province for the first time since 2001. Horgan did an impressive job fighting former premier Christy Clark, a formidable politician, to a draw in the most recent election. Then he adeptly formed a coalition with the Green Party, while conceding little of his party’s agenda.

In government, Horgan has so far proven to be similarly adept. The Green Party has bent to his will on a number of issues, and the Liberals have not found areas of weakness on which to attack his government. Horgan is quietly effective, and he promises to be an important player on the national scene, even as the federal NDP struggles.

Most overrated politician of 2017

Gooch: Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. One of my favourite quotes to apply to political organization is, “The only reward for good work is more work.” Singh ran a fantastic leadership campaign in 2017. So good, that the bar is raised for how he delivers on his promise to grow NDP membership to build a strong campaign in 2019. Examining his record as a former member of provincial parliament in Ontario, aside from a friendly personal demeanour, I have difficulty understanding the fanfare.

I think it’s a mistake for Singh to prolong finding a seat in the House. The freedom to travel Canada and build his following is attractive, but the longer he waits, the more action he misses in Ottawa. He has amassed a loyal and passionate following over the course of 2017, an army of excellent organizers for the issues they care about. But retweets don’t equal votes. Singh’s next challenge is harnessing that energy to build and unite his party over the next two years.

Sears: Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre: Every Parliament produces at least one young blowhard politician, who is always loud, always certain, and frequently wrong. They usually grow up or get prematurely retired. In this case, surprisingly, the learning curve has been virtually flat over a decade and he has survived.

Poilievre is a good stuntman always ready with an angry sound bite, so he usually wins showdowns with less adept or self-promotional opponents. He has toned down his rent-a-rant in Opposition, and sometimes appears to be trying to demonstrate some gravitas. This year, though, he hit a new low this with his harassment and character attacks on Bill Morneau. Morneau’s missteps, misjudgments and simply bad decisions have been painful to watch. Attacking the man’s character and personal integrity came to close to Trump-style smears for even some of his own caucus colleagues.

Watt: Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew has not demonstrated nearly the same proficiency as Horgan. A darling of left-wing activists in the West and something of a media star before entering politics, Kinew was elected leader of the Manitoba NDP in September, following the party’s crushing election defeat by the PCs. Kinew was expected to be the kind of exciting leader the party needed to revive itself.

Instead, he has faced a number of issues that have undermined confidence in his abilities. Soon after his election, it emerged that he had been charged both with domestic assault and drunk driving, throwing the NDP off-kilter. His ham-fisted response included denial and silence before he acknowledged the challenges. The NDP under his leadership has continued to struggle to find its footing.

The best political play of the year

Gooch: Montreal mayoral race. Nobody expected it and she was told it couldn’t be done. Yet, Valérie Plante stands today as the mayor of Montreal. She is the first woman in the 375-year history of the municipality to hold the post. It was a stunning upset, and she proved the benefit of a strong ground game by securing 51 per cent of the vote. Going up against an incumbent is an uphill battle that I’m sure most political veterans advised against. But she came with energy, determination, and a plan that Montreal voters connected with.

Sears: The Barton Panel. The Trudeau government’s decision to name a high-level, blue-ribbon panel of federal economic advisers is neither novel nor often of much political value beyond announcement day. The difference this time was, first, the creative choice of panel head in Dominic Barton — among the most respected management consultants in the world, and the global Managing Partner of McKinsey — and in the creative selection of panel members.

Even more impressive has been the way in which the panel has performed: issuing its work in carefully calibrated chunks, ensuring they have been politically battle-tested, and consulting a wide range of stakeholders, before release. And crucially, defending its sometimes surprisingly bold proposals without simply appearing to be paid government sycophants.

Watt: Hands down, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney’s impressive moves over the last year have been fascinating to watch. Kenney, seeing potentially years of being in opposition at the federal level, resigned his seat in the House of Commons to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, a party that was a spent force in the province. Kenney ran with the express promise to pack up the party and merge it with the upstart, right-wing Wildrose party to offer a united conservative alternative to Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

Many were skeptical that the Ottawa-centric Kenney would have enough credibility to take over a party that had previously been resistant to a merger. But Kenney won the leadership resoundingly, and forced a merger. Following the merger, many speculated he would not be able to take the leadership of the United Conservative Party as easily, but he did. Kenney has won two leaderships in the last year and has united a fractured conservative movement. In doing so, he has become the favourite to become premier of Alberta following the 2019 general election.

The worst political play of the year

Gooch: Quebec Niqab Ban. The passing of Bill 62, a law that made it illegal for public services in the province of Quebec to be received by people wearing face coverings was a sad moment in Canadian politics. It was alarming to see a Canadian government targeting a small group of already marginalized women by refusing much needed services. This dangerous political move played on a popular and misguided fear and hatred among Quebecers. This is a time when we need to be combating Islamophobia, not further entrenching it in Canadian policy. I was disappointed to see so few federal representatives speaking out passionately against it, including the prime minister.

Sears: Tax “reform.” If you want to survive one of the most risky ventures in politics — messing with the tax system — you better remember three things: keep it simple, bulletproof your political narrative for change, and ensure you have at least some of those most likely to be impacted by the changes on board in advance. The Trudeau government failed on all three in its badly botched summer tax ‘reform’ campaign.

The changes were impossible for any reasonable person to understand, were defended by attacking tax ‘cheaters’ among farmers, doctors and hair salon owners, and thus successfully incited a broad counterattack. A stunning self-inflicted wound.

Watt: Justice Richard Wagner, recently appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, made a major error this summer when he declined the applications of four LGBTQ advocacy groups for intervener status in a case against the law school at Trinity Western University, a private Christian school in B.C. The case stems from the fact that Trinity Western requires students to sign a code of conduct limiting sexual intimacy to heterosexual marriage, a stance many LGBTQ groups find egregious and a reason to deny Trinity Western status as an accredited law school in Canada.

Wagner, who said that LGBTQ groups were adequately represented in the case, declined to allow them as intervenors, leading to a broad outcry on social media. The decision was later reversed by then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Wagner was jockeying at the time to be named Supreme Court Chief Justice and the issue played badly with a socially conscious government. In spite of his later success in being named as Chief Justice, Wagner’s decision was ill-made.

The most likely to shine in 2018

Gooch: Black women in politics. In 2018, expect to see more Black women running, organizing and engaging in Canadian politics. Canada will be better for it, and political parties will be smart to empower and trust these women as they bring their talents to the political sphere. One race worth watching will be Leisa Washington in Whitby. The political rookie was just nominated as the Liberal candidate to go up against PC incumbent Lorne Coe.

“Men didn’t want to work with me at first. They were afraid of the unknown. ‘Will she outshine me?’ ” Washington shared, in describing her work as a trail-blazing WNBA and NBA sports agent. She has a tough race ahead of her, but she seems up for the challenge. I look forward to seeing Washington and more Black Canadian women shining in political spaces in 2018.

Sears: Jagmeet Singh. As several pundits observed in predicting his victory at the close of the underwhelming NDP leadership contest, the party’s biggest challenge these days is getting noticed, adding that Singh has never walked into a room without becoming the instant centre of attention.

His launch has been far from flawless, but his skills as a communicator, a conciliator and skilled political organizer will emerge more clearly in the New Year. Some pundits have whispered about his ‘ethnicity’ challenges, especially in Quebec. Like Obama, Singh does not need to cite his credentials as an authentic advocate of minorities — including Francophone Quebecers, refugees, and the powerless — they are unavoidably in front of your eyes whenever he speaks. New Democrats are slow to love a new leader. It took Jack Layton several years to achieve his incredible plateau of affection and success. Singh is the first since Ed Broadbent to have moved so quickly into the party’s affections.

Watt: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been a very effective advocate for Canada. Freeland has taken a low-key approach to the NAFTA negotiations, but has emerged as a key player in the government. As trade negotiations heat up, Freeland will become even more prominent on the domestic front. Deeply knowledgeable on the issues, Freeland will continue to demonstrate why she is one of this government’s most trusted ministers. She’s a strong communicator and one to watch moving forward.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics. Robin V. Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, was an NDP strategist for 20 years. Jaime Watt is executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, December 17, 2017)

Beware of the dark-side of social media: Watt

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Social media is an empowering tool, and one that has breathed new oxygen into our political process. It allows people to organize, to question and to rally. It has enhanced our democracy, and changed it for the better.

Movements like #metoo, which has broken the silence surrounding sexual harassment and assault, have found their power in social media. The quickness, reactivity and openness of social media has meant that men of power who have been abusers no longer control the dialogue.

Those in power don’t have power over social media forums. Those who once had little ability to reach the masses can now do so with no fear of being clamped down on or controlled by those in power.

It is safe to say that without Twitter, there would still be a cone of silence around issues like sexual harassment and assault.

Twitter has been used to shine a light on dozens of other issues. It has helped protestors organize. And it has helped dethrone despots.

Safe to say, social media has changed our world for the better.

And yet, there is a dark side of the moon.

The immediacy, the reactive nature and the openness of social media can cause grave damage, as well. Just as we have seen it used as a formidable tool to topple the powerful, the use of social media can ignite a fire that quickly burns out of control. The lack of control embedded in the use of social media means it can be weaponized against innocent people.

Take, for instance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent apology to the LGBTQ community on behalf of the Government of Canada for historical unfair treatment. It was a moving moment, and one that found cross-partisan support. Canadians across the country took to social media to express their happiness about the decision.

But something not so celebratory occurred. A tweet by a member of the press gallery stated that a section of seats among the Conservative Party ranks were empty, with no context. Others soon took photos and circled the “missing members,” highlighting their names and user names. Tweets in response ominously accused the members of a concerted Conservative walkout to protest the apology.

The social media outcry was swift and harsh. The “missing members” were decried as homophobic, bigoted and insulting. Thousands of tweets harassed the members for their insensitivity, and critiqued the Conservative Party for not having emerged from the Dark Ages.

The problem was, it wasn’t accurate. A number of the “missing members” were, in fact, present, and had simply moved to other seats. Others were at already scheduled events in their ridings or at scheduled personal commitments.

In fact, there was no credible evidence of a Conservative member boycotting the announcement.

But within 12 hours, many Tories faced on onslaught of personal criticism on Twitter by users who had not checked their facts. Those Twitter users gleefully besmirched a happy moment and the personal reputation of roughly a dozen Conservative MPs, entirely erroneously.

In fact, the misinformation continues to circulate two weeks later.

Talk about fake news.

The rush to judgment followed by an immediate backpedal was not an isolated occurrence.

It represents a situation that has occurred hundreds of times over social media in the last several years. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has not yet been learned.

We live in an era that thrives on immediacy, and the rush to produce content has hampered the importance of getting the facts right. It is a problem that we have constructed ourselves, and one that we must fix.

The problem is that the apologies are never louder than the accusations. Headlines that blare of wrongdoing get infinitely more attention than the sheepish tweets admitting wrongful accusation.

The credibility of the social media user is on the line, but, more importantly, so is the reputation of an innocent person who may suffer irreparable harm.

There isn’t a simple fix to this problem. No legislation or Twitter policies or policing will change this. In fact, in an era when the president of the United States plays havoc with the facts, it is more challenging than ever.

It often seems innocuous to press the key that broadcasts information to our entire network. It’s easy and instantaneous and requires little thought.

But that action can have devastating effects. And so the change must begin with us.

We must learn to reread and rethink before we retweet.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, December 10, 2017)

Trudeau’s heartfelt apology to LGBTQ2 community welcomed: Watt

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Formal apologies issued by political leaders are as controversial as they are challenging to get right.

To many, these apologies seem like political tools, cynically used to garner or retain votes in certain communities.

Others see them as a way for the government, at no cost, to show it is acting on an issue. After all, apologies are cheaper than programs.

But for many of those on the receiving end, an apology is a powerful symbol — a way for a government to take responsibility for mistakes of the past.

When it was announced that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would apologize to LGBTQ2 Canadians for decades of, “state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection,” I questioned the impact such an apology would have.

While the prime minister’s record of accomplishment on LGBTQ2 community issues is a lifelong one, and he is clearly an advocate and an ally, I have been skeptical about the politicization of these announcements in the past.

So, was the move political or genuine? Could it be both?

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government to former students of residential schools.

The apology was a powerful one. I was proud that Prime Minister Harper had the courage to say sorry for atrocities that had become a permanent dark mark in Canadian history.

I do not know how indigenous Canadians perceived that apology, but I am confident it mattered for many.

It’s been almost 10 years, yet it still resonates. The apology found the right balance.

Did it make things, right? I don’t know.

What I do know is that indigenous Canadians are still treated unfairly. One in four children in indigenous communities lives in poverty, double the national average. On average, indigenous children receive 22 per cent less funding for child welfare than other Canadian children. Suicide rates among indigenous youth are about seven times higher than among other Canadians. More than 90 indigenous communities still have boil-water advisories.

If we were really, meaningfully sorry, would we continue to let this happen?

I don’t think so, and hence my skepticism about the efficacy of these apologies.

I recognize that the residential school apology is unrelated to the apology to the LGBTQ2 community, and therefore not the perfect analogy. However, I worry that, in general, apologies act as a way to distract our attention on difficult issues where the challenge presented has no quick, easy or obvious answer.

Until this week, I had concluded that I would prefer that politicians make concrete attempts to fix ongoing problems rooted in history rather than simply pay lip service through apologies.

But this week, my view changed.

As a gay man, I found myself in tears when our prime minister stood in our House, the House of Commons, and meaningfully, genuinely apologized to my community.

As I have written in this space before, words matter. I was moved by Trudeau’s words.

“Mr. Speaker, the number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And, on this, we have failed the LGBTQ2 people, time and time again,” he said.

“It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: ‘We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.’ ”

Just as for so long, the taunting, violent words of a school bully mattered, the demeaning locker room words of a teammate mattered, or the derogatory words of a work colleague mattered, the words of a political leader mattered.

And Trudeau’s words were the right words.

The prime minister’s apology came without cost to the taxpayer, but it came with enormous benefit to many. It brought us one important step closer to making true his statement that “for all our differences, for all our diversity, we can find love and support in our common humanity.”

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on December 4, 2017)

King St. transit plan a kingmaker for Tory: Watt

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Something had to give.

Until very recently, King St. looked more like a parking lot than the central artery of Canada’s financial district.

Today, you can shoot a cannon down the street and be confident that you wouldn’t strike a car or truck.

In July, Toronto’s city council approved a one-year pilot project focused on giving streetcars, bikes and pedestrians the priority on King St. The program, implemented two weeks ago, was designed to ensure that the transit experience for commuters using the King St. corridor would be more palatable. And, it has done just that.

The implementation of council’s decision also marks the unofficial start of next year’s mayoral campaign.

In less than 12 months from now, John Tory will find himself in a rematch with Doug Ford, as well as facing a yet-to-be determined left-wing candidate. (Watch for a Desmond Cole- or Mike Layton-like candidate to join the race.)

Mayor Tory is nothing if not a savvy politician. He knows that 65,000 trips are made every day on the King streetcar. He also knows that many of those making these 65,000 trips are young, left-leaning millennials, who would never in a million years consider voting for Ford. They would, however, consider voting for a transit-focused left-wing candidate.

Remember, in 2014, Tory beat Ford by only 60,000 votes, and Olivia Chow ran a lacklustre campaign. If Chow had performed at a higher level and effectively split the vote, the chain of office would currently be around Doug Ford’s neck.

Tory was largely elected for two reasons. The first: he wasn’t Rob Ford, whom his brother, Doug, replaced as a candidate due to the former mayor’s illness. The second reason was Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan.

On not being Rob Ford, Tory gets full marks, He has brought professionalism, sincerity, thoughtful policy and a steady hand to City Hall.

On SmartTrack, he has faced more challenges. As once promised, transit lines will no longer extend to the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre, the number of SmartTrack stations has been reduced, and significant funding uncertainty remains.

In Tory’s defence, there has been real progress on SmartTrack, and much of its perceived failure can more properly be attributed to poor communication.

But Tory’s streetcar manoeuvre on King St. diverts attention from SmartTrack. Among downtown transit uses, Tory is now seen as the Transit Mayor — a genuine hero who has given 65,000 commuters back 30 or 40 minutes a day.

This is wedge politics very cleverly played. The King St. pilot project (which will not be a pilot project for long) splits the electorate. There are two clear sides to this debate — those for the car and those for the streetcar.

Doug Ford has come out swinging. He’s announced that if he is elected mayor next year, he will kill the pilot project in its tracks.

Ford will position the project as an attack on the car, an attack on Torontonians who live outside the downtown core and an assault on businesses and the middle class.

Tory needs the King St. pilot to fend off a challenge from a transit-friendly candidate.

The project gives him cover to run as the fair and reasonable incumbent who made difficult decisions that kept the city moving.

Before the pilot project, Torontonians would have had trouble pointing to a Tory transformational policy.

At election time, this risks becoming a significant challenge for the mayor. As an incumbent, he needs to be able to point to victories that illustrate how he has made people’s lives better.

He has been an effective operational mayor; one who has kept the lights on and the city functioning reasonably well.

The King St. pilot project will become a real and well-understood Tory accomplishment.

This is smart politics. It may have been a difficult decision but it’s one that will help him politically in the next election campaign because it has made the lives streetcar-riding Torontonians a lot better.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 26, 2017)