All posts by John Delacourt

Reading Victories in Relief: The Unspoken Trump-Trudeau Accord

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In his address to American governors in July, Justin Trudeau updated his father’s famous quip that sharing a border with their country was like sleeping next to an elephant by describing Canada, in our bilateral metaphor, as not a mouse but a moose,“strong and peaceable but still massively outweighed.” The famously emotionally intelligent Liberal leader’s interactions with his notoriously combustible counterpart have, so far, been conducted on that basis. Liberal strategist John Delacourt writes that Canada has benefited from the approach.

It was, for many who have followed the trajectory and travails of President Donald Trump over the last two years, a moment that had all the potential of a radical and troubling turn in Canada-U.S. relations. On June 21, 2017, a Montreal man, Amor M. Ftouhi, entered the Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan and attacked Lt. Jeff Neville, an airport security officer, with a knife. Ftouhi yelled “Allahu akbar,” while stabbing the officer in the neck and further exclaimed (paraphrased) “You have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and we are all going to die.”

It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of evenings’ worth of Trump’s tweets to anticipate how this could have played out on social media. What was worse, this incident occurred when the Canadian government was investing a great deal of political capital in bolstering our trade relations in key constituencies outside of Washington. With just one tweet, the president could have demonized Canada as a haven for terrorists, led by a leftwing government that would pay for its leniency and inaction with sanctions on the flow of goods and citizens across our shared border. Not only could the NAFTA renegotiations have been at risk; any future bilaterals could have been marked by a shift in tone and a diminishment of bargaining room.

Hours later, there was still nary a tweet from Trump. Those hours stretched to days. An incident that offered an ideal opportunity for the president to fire up his base and bolster a case for some of his most incendiary rhetoric on Islamism and public safety dissolved amid the workaday news cycle of micro-crises and Twitter flame wars. What could be said at all about Ftouhi was said clearly in Canadian news reports; what could not be talked about in Washington was passed over in silence.

But why was there restraint on Trump’s Twitter feed, of all places? Much has been made of Trump’s impulsive nature, his rants that enrage progressives and pundits alike (Trump’s point is often that they are too alike). A shift in tone from a tweet at 4 a.m. could have easily destabilized Canada-U.S. relations and diminished the currency Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, chair of the Canada-U.S. cabinet committee, could summon in their meetings with their interlocutors in the U.S. President Trump might be less impulsive than we think.

We averted this potential crisis because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken Trump’s perspective seriously from the very beginning. This is not the same thing as agreement—either tacit or explicit.

The best illustration of this dynamic recently emerged in one of Trump’s speeches to a partisan crowd in Florida. He said: “I like the prime minister very much. Prime Minister Trudeau. Nice guy. Good guy. No, I like him. But we had a meeting … He said, ‘No, no, you have a trade surplus.’ I said, ‘No we don’t.’ He said, ‘No, no you have a trade surplus … I told my people – in front of a lot of people – I said, ‘Go out and check.’” Trump then affirmed he was eventually proven right – a conclusion Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton felt obliged to correct on Twitter: “U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”

The neutral, matter of fact tone of MacNaughton’s response is telling. Trudeau, his Cabinet and his senior advisers have all resisted speaking ill of the president on social media. This is not a small thing with the president or his office and you can be assured it has been noted. Differences are aired in conversation but they are not then reduced to a series of 140-character reports—or retorts.

It might drive many progressives and journalists to distraction that more isn’t done to counter Trump from his chosen virtual bully pulpit, but the Flint incident is indicative of how to read and understand what success means in Canada-U.S. relations during this presidency. As it is with success in the government’s issues management or its public safety and security files, it’s more about the crises that are averted rather than a tally of victories from a clash of adversaries.

The threats to our economy have been significant. The NAFTA negotiations have not, as of yet, dissolved acrimoniously. The border tax Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pushed for in 2017, proposed to raise revenues to help pay for tax cuts, did not move forward as planned. The risk to our steel industry of a tariff that would essentially shut us out of the U.S. market still exists, but nothing will occur on this front until the Section 232 investigation into steel imports is complete and it has yet to move to report stage.

All of these unfortunate developments could still occur before the end of Trudeau’s first mandate. Anyone following the NAFTA negotiations closely would wager the agreement may be the first casualty in a trading relationship that remains, as so much within the orbit of Trump’s musings, veering perilously close to calamity. And yet, as the Flint incident would affirm, there is strong reason to believe our good fortune is more than provisional.

Can this good fortune go beyond bilateral relations? Probably not. Trudeau may not be, as some might suggest, a Trump whisperer for his interlocutors at the G20. His closest advisers both acknowledge how such a perception might resonate and gently dismiss it. Yes, it is true that Trudeau has been approached in the setting of a multilateral meeting and asked about “Donald” as if he had some better insight into the mind of Trump, but no, there is no more substantial mediating role the prime minister has taken on.

What should matter more to Canadians, especially those whose jobs might be at risk with NAFTA, is that as of December 2017, the president and the PM have spoken on the phone 17 times since Trump’s election. This is more than any other leader that Trump has engaged with in his term of office. Most important, in these conversations Trump has not only acknowledged the validity of the Prime Minister’s perspective but he has listened.

This speaks of a working rapport that transcends their ideological differences. Trump sees in Trudeau an underdog candidate who came from behind, captured the public imagination and overturned the existing order on his charisma and his emotional intelligence; he read the mood of the country and embodied it. The president believes they have this story in common; the advisors around him and apparently the GOP itself are not about to disabuse Trump of this notion.

The result of the Trudeau government’s approach requires a read of Canada-U.S. relations in relief rather than a focus on the foreground. We are now more than a year into Trump’s mandate and there has been no seismic shift in trade relations that has caused job losses or any slowing of economic growth on this side of the border.

The question remains though: does this make Canada any less vulnerable to an unexpected decision by Trump and his inner circle that could have huge consequences for our economy? If you believe that relationships matter, even within the highest executive office, you will find reason to be optimistic. We have been critical but our criticism has not, from the President’s perspective, threatened to puncture the news filter bubbles of his base. The Trudeau government has been respectful of Trump’s rapport with his constituency and he has been respectful of Trudeau’s in turn.

As with so much about Trump’s time in office, this might matter until it doesn’t anymore. To impose a rational construct on this embattled presidency may prove to be wishful thinking. Yet, as it was with the Flint incident, each crisis averted is an unheralded but substantial achievement.

John Delacourt, Vice President of Ensight Canada, is a former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau.

(As published in the Jan-Feb edition of Policy Magazine “Trump and the World” and on

Canada-U.S. Relations: Tweet Storms, Fault Lines and Seismic Shifts

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On a day when those who follow federal politics closely on both sides of the border are no doubt scrambling for their hardcover copy of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s instant bestseller on the Trump administration, it is a fitting moment to look ahead and identify the true, emerging issues that will have the greatest impact on the Canadian economy for 2018. So much media attention is focused on the unfolding drama within the West Wing that it is easy to presume that the geopolitical implications of Trump’s tweets represent the greatest risk for economic stability, never mind world peace. But the Trudeau government will have to contend with far greater concerns than the President’s taunting of North Korea (and/or Steve Bannon) in the year ahead, as it grapples with the defining issue of its mandate: the fate of NAFTA.

In 2018, Trudeau’s team is not going to deviate from what’s working; they have launched the second phase of the “doughnut strategy,” literally going around Washington to focus on high level meetings with their interlocutors at the state level to talk up the advantages of strong trade relations. A strategy that has Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in Kentucky and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in California currently. These are wise moves planned in advance of the next round of talks on January 23rd in Montreal.

The one trip down south to pay the closest attention to, however, is Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Tennessee – from today until Monday.

The agricultural sector’s export potential deserves more coverage and strategic focus; as the second Barton report from the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth affirmed, one in eight Canadian jobs depends on its growth and innovation. Also, the strong tone of accord on agricultural issues has stood out among the NAFTA negotiations, providing hope that we can build on these incremental successes. And yet the Trudeau government’s steadfast resistance to sacrificing supply management could emerge as one of a few key deal breakers in the negotiations. Consider that Trump himself will be in Tennessee for this convention in Tennessee, shoring up support with his base, and it is easy to imagine that a clarion call from the podium – followed up with a tweet in full caps decrying Canadian farmers of course – could mark the beginning of the end for NAFTA.

In the meantime, there are other key decision points in Canada-US relations that have the potential to create a significant impact on the economic picture here. With the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Washington in December, the federal corporate tax rate has dropped from 35 to 20 percent in the US. Canadian manufacturers have warned of the effects of such a scenario; investment flows, especially in machinery and equipment, could start to move southward very quickly. Knock-on decision points with the America First agenda, embodied in NAFTA, also include a hinge point for Canadian steel producers on January 15th; the US investigation into the potential risks that steel imports pose to national security, known as the Section 232 probe, will announce its findings, and there are serious implications here – not least with, say pipeline construction across our shared border. Stories on these developments don’t get the ink or provoke the Tweet storms (or should we say ‘bomb cyclones’) of the House of Cards plot line in Washington, but, taken together, they provide a composite, nuanced overview of where the fault lines are truly emerging with our most important trading relationship. And from fault lines one can best read where a seismic shift emerges.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.

Stranger Things May Happen: The TPP Incident and The Netflix Connection

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Though all may not be lost, the talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Vietnam to put ink to paper on a new, revamped Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) met with quite a road block over the last 24 hours. The impasse was due to one country’s impulsive decision to put up resistance at these multilateral negotiations at the eleventh hour. If that was as far as you read in the first paragraph of a news item, you could be forgiven for presuming President Trump was just being his predictable self. He may not be winning high approval ratings for his performance, but the President does score highly for consistency.

However, Trump was not even at the table for the TPP conversation. The 11 remaining TPP members were meeting, outside of the APEC agenda, and they were seeking an agreement in principle that would not require U.S. involvement. The one to walk away from the table last night, much to the dismay (and even fury) of the other nine members was our Prime Minister.

The answer, in large measure, to the question “why” was a buried lede in this story, and it may yet emerge as the one issue that gains more prominence on the federal landscape in the last two years of this government’s mandate. As CBC’s John Paul Tasker reported, it relates to “the right to regulate, and financially support, the countries’ cultural industries and not fear retribution at a trade tribunal. Importantly, Canada has long said it must be allowed to protect its culture – especially its minority francophone culture – against globalization and cultural assimilation.”

The challenges with questions of intellectual property, digital content – and more to the point cultural content – were not adequately anticipated by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly’s launch of “Creative Canada,” the new vision and approach to Canada’s creative industries. That the Minister chose to foreground a $500 million deal with Netflix to produce digital content in Canada, with no clearly articulated provisions for Canadian content, never mind Francophone content, was met with a fire storm of criticism, especially in Quebec. This week Quebec’s Finance Minister Carlos Leitao confirmed his intention to introduce and implement the province’s sales tax on all online goods and services offered by foreign suppliers – an announcement made in response to Joly’s launch.

Small wonder, given this context, that Trudeau did not want to add fuel to this fire with any agreement in Vietnam – until or unless this issue was adequately dealt with first.

Outside of this episode in Vietnam, the old, familiar litany about foreign ownership and cultural dominance in Canada that the Netflix conversation revived shows no sign of abating, given the state of the NAFTA negotiations. Any substantive approach to dealing with overarching issues of Intellectual Property and Digital Content will have to be addressed and soon, given the 1994 agreement is woefully lacking in these areas. In the wake of two decades of digital disruption that has dramatically affected our cultural industries – not least in Quebec – a great deal of political calculus has to factor in to what the Trudeau government is prepared to give in to at the negotiating table.

This conversation can quickly transform into a fight for the right to tell our stories to ourselves and protect what we value about our cultural identity. To think this issue will just be about jobs in the creative industries here, and how we can effect the least painful transition to a digital economy, is wishful thinking at best. Especially for anyone facing re-election in 2019.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.

The Retail Reset: The Trudeau Government Stares Down The Mid-Mandate Litany

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Ensight’s John Delacourt takes a look at the tea leaves and where the government is at mid-mandate in a new media landscape.

It was just last September that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government in Ontario seized the opportunity of a mid-mandate Speech from the Throne to counter a significant wave of attacks – from both the Opposition and the media – with regard to Wynne’s future and her inner circle of advisors’, given a recent by-election loss in what should have been a safe Liberal seat (Scarborough-Rouge River) and a series of missteps and scandals that had put the Premier’s approval rating below twenty percent. The “social justice Premier” announced her government would remove the provincial sales tax off electricity bills and create 100,000 new child care spaces. This should have been a quick win, red meat thrown to her base with such widespread appeal it would halt, if not reverse, approval numbers that were in free fall.

The rationale to put such people-pleasing “retail” political announcements in a mid-mandate speech is both tried and true; a government can shake off issues that stubbornly refuse to die and remind voters of all the appealing things about the government’s brand that got them elected in the first place. But now, fast-forward a year later, and Wynne’s approval rating has only gotten worse, key members of her Cabinet have announced they’re not running again and the former Liberal stronghold of safe GTA ridings has eroded beyond recognition. Confounding mid-mandate wisdom, the “retail reset” was a bust.

Though the Trudeau government is in a very different place mid-mandate, the Wynne example is instructive. Given the new media landscape where, via social media platforms, supporters by and large only read supportive pieces and opponents of the government are able to bypass everything but the negative because of the “filter bubbles” created in what shows up in our news feeds, the opportunity to sway public opinion with such retail resets is limited to a subset of the electorate that is less committed – but also less engaged. The power of momentum with regard to corrosion of a government’s brand qualities however, has, unfortunately, only increased.

Negative momentum matters more than ever, and, as Hillary Clinton will confirm for you if you mention James Comey, scandals can’t be dismissed and made to go away quite like they used to be.

Two years before the next campaign here in Ottawa, the Opposition’s litany of Liberal reversals, failures or “betrayals” if you will, is established and frequently cited by the pundits. Electoral reform, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, the Innovation Agenda and the big social infrastructure spend that has yet to kick into high gear … these issues should be seared on the minds of voters by now.

However, as James Carville, former advisor to Bill Clinton famously said about Democrats in Opposition, “they produce a narrative, we produce a litany.” All polling numbers affirm that the Liberals’ overarching narrative of fairness for the middle class (yes, “and those hoping to join it”) still coheres effectively, bolstered in this week’s fiscal update by the increase to the Canada Child Benefit payments and the expansion of the Working Income Tax Benefit program. Most important, factoring in the true indicators on the economy’s bill of health – the job creation numbers and the declining debt to GDP ratio, it’s a rosy picture indeed.

And yet … about that villa. And the blind trust thing. And oh yeah, that stuff about loopholes the one percent were taking advantage of, told to us by the guy with the villa …that he seemed to forget he owned … and then the conflicts with those government contracts for his family’s firm … all these revelations start to take the shape and form of a scandal, the government’s first. It is too early to tell if the opposition finally has a narrative it can latch on to and not simply a litany anymore. But when real brand corrosion begins, well … just ask Kathleen Wynne what that might mean.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.

John Delacourt: How Today’s Fiscal Update Sets the Stage for Budget 2018 and Beyond

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Given the serialized episodes of Morneau’s trial in the press over the last month, accompanied by the mid-mandate report cards that are at pains to concede sound policy decisions by this government, what has been lost in these efforts to reframe the last two years are two salient facts that have telegraphed today’s fiscal update:

  • The turning point of the 2015 campaign did not emerge from the cumulative effect of thousands of selfies with Trudeau as he criss-crossed the country, despite what one revisionist version of events would have you believe. The numbers started to move in a favourable direction for the Liberals when Trudeau, at a campaign stop in the last week of August, announced that a Liberal government would run deficits for three straight years in order to commit funding for infrastructure and growing the economy. It firmly placed the Liberals in fiscal territory to the left of Mulcair’s campaign platform, never mind Harper’s. Canadians responded, intuiting there might be something to be said for a more expansive vision for social infrastructure and for social programs.
  • The mid-mandate report card that has ultimately mattered was issued in July of this year, when Bank of Canada President Stephen Poloz raised the bank’s benchmark lending rate from 0.5 to .75 percent. At the time, Poloz remarked upon the policy decisions from the Trudeau government that had spurred the economy and allowed for a far more positive outlook than was emerging even at the time of the last budget: “For instance, the changes to the [Canada] child benefit program has [sic] been highly stimulative: You can see that in the consumption figures. So we would not be where we are today if that had not occurred.”

And, so, a commitment to prioritize stimulative measures over taming deficits, with the new indexing of the Canada Child Benefit as the centerpiece to this fiscal update, should not be a surprise to anyone. The economy is humming along, doing better than any reliable non-partisan economist – including Poloz – would have predicted. And there is evidence of Liberal policy decisions contributing greatly to this state of affairs. One can criticize this update’s timing, of course, and mutter that this is about cushioning Morneau’s rather warm seat in the House right now, but what government, regardless of party or leader, would not be talking about what it’s getting right, and why it has mattered for the economy?

The argument about collateral damage to the Liberal brand, given how challenged this government has been on a few fronts, should not be minimized, of course. From the faltering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry (MMIW) to the reversal on electoral reform to the albatross of the Phoenix Pay System scandal, the Opposition benches do not lack for material to attack this government on, even without a French villa or a helicopter ride to a remote island on the horizon.

Yet for many Canadians, especially the growing number who do not pay attention to what is occurring on Parliament Hill, their perspective could be summed up by declaring you have one job, Justin Trudeau: make the economy grow and in so doing, make things a little easier for me to pay the bills and feel hopeful about my kids’ future. Two years in, this fiscal update confirms the Prime Minister’s managing to do just that.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.

This Week’s First Ministers’ Meeting Marks A Turn in Trudeau’s Dialogue with the Premiers

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Canada’s Premiers gathered in Ottawa this week but the tone was very different than their first meeting in 2015. Our John Delacourt on a changing perception of government and working effectively with Canada’s Premiers.

In November of 2015, in the early days of this government, one of the significant gestures Trudeau made was to convene a First Ministers meeting, prior to the COP 21 meeting in Paris, to work on a concerted effort to address climate change. There was nothing agreed upon at that time, other than a resolution to meet again 90 days after the Paris meeting, yet it was less about decision making than it was about a new dialogue, a new tone, a new way of working together.

Indeed it had been six years since the Premiers had last met in this fashion. Harper never really warmed to the idea of convening these working sessions; it took the recession to create the suitable conditions for a hanging to concentrate his mind. A little more than half a decade later Trudeau, with a buoyant economy and a spring in his stride, walked into that first meeting intent upon establishing a strong working rapport and a commitment to meeting again soon – and often.

At this week’s First Ministers’ Meeting here in Ottawa, it is clear that collegiality is no longer the high priority it once was, given the challenges looming for a government in mid-mandate. Chief among them is bringing revenue in to the coffers. In the first day of the Ministers’ sitting down this week, Trudeau called upon Bill Blair, the former Toronto Police Services Chief and current Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Justice, to deliver the sobering news that the federal government will be proposing a ten percent tax on the recreational use of marijuana.

If there had been sufficient indication this was coming, the Premiers’ reactions suggested otherwise.

You can understand why many of the Premiers felt blind sided and reacted so negatively. One of the fundamental tenets of the government’s rationale to legalize marijuana is that, by providing a regulated, safe and lower cost alternative to the product currently sold illegally, they will drive the criminals out of business. It will be harder to make the lower cost argument when the combined provincial and federal tax on each product sold could be 25 percent.

And even more concerning to many, is the inequitable sharing of the work with regard to the enforcement of regulations, the policing and the changes to laws and bylaws that has to occur. Yet Trudeau, in his follow-up interviews this week, gave no indication that the federal government was prepared to back down from Blair’s presentation.

On its own, it might be overlooked, but given the fallout of liberal members of the Status of Women parliamentary committee flatly walking out and rejecting the decision to elect a Conservative Chair, and in the continuing saga of Morneau’s proposed tax changes facing a revolt from everyone from small business owners to doctors, a new perception is emerging. This new perception paints the picture of a government less receptive than resolute and less sunny than stern.

As the Liberal Government turns its focus to managing the complex, harder work of delivering a fall fiscal update and budget that stays the course for continued growth into the early months of the next campaign, surely Trudeau’s team can recall how tone can direct dialogue, and that picking a fight with the Premiers didn’t work out well for the last Prime Minister.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.

The Singh Victory: Spin Versus Reality

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Jagmeet Singh’s first ballot win today in the NDP leadership contest is going to generate a great deal of copy and punditry from across the political spectrum. Herewith is a quick reality check with regard to the spin, pro and contra-Singh, that you’re about to read and hear.

He’s a 905 phenomenon. Outside of Ontario – and especially in Quebec, the NDP will have trouble making gains and raising their seat count in the next election.

Actually, you could map the areas of the country where Jagmeet’s strongest support is and come up with a worrying picture if you were plotting Team Trudeau’s ground game. Singh’s campaign was able to attract significant numbers for a first ballot victory from parts of the country that include the Lower Mainland and the Greater Vancouver Area, and respectable numbers in urban Alberta as well. Leadership contests are a good read on where the boots-on-the-ground federal campaign support is likely to be strongest and those are communities where key gains for Team Trudeau came from in 2015. As far as Quebec goes, well, in 2008, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives formed a majority government with only 5 seats in la belle province. That’s a victory forged from the old iron of the land of two solitudes, you could argue. But if you’re a political pragmatist, you’d be focused on one thing first and foremost: more seats in the House. If that mantra sounds familiar, it should. It was Jack Layton’s strategy throughout his political career.

He’s young, telegenic and bilingual: he’s the NDP’s Trudeau and could catch fire in the same way in the next federal campaign.

It is true that Singh has great potential to grow the party’s vote beyond an older, traditionally progressive base of support. But the dynamics of federal campaigns do not equate to voters swapping out one young, telegenic candidate for another for one simple reason: it is always about the retail, economic issues. You may be tired of the Liberals’ constant messaging about the middle class, but that’s because you’re listening all or most of the time. As the brain trust behind Stephen Harper’s first election victory maintained to great effect, it is the voters who aren’t necessarily listening that winning strategy focuses on and the simple truth remains for every candidate: whoever connects with a plan for the economy that gives the greater number of Canadians reason to be optimistic will always find their way to 24 Sussex.

Beyond the Spin:
The number of seats across the country where a Singh victory might make the NDP contenders is significant. And very few of those – apart from in Western Canada – map on to where the Conservatives might make gains as well. What this could bode well for is a 2019 campaign result that puts the Liberals into a minority and the Conservatives in a strong position to work effectively with the NDP to ensure stormy weather rather than sunny ways for the Liberals’ second mandate. And that might position the NDP for greater gains than ever imagined when Canadians go to the polls again. That could also be sooner than 2023, given how minority governments can go.

There is enough reason for Team Singh to look ahead that far and be optimistic.

Where There’s Smoke, There May Soon Be Fire – Our Dispatch From The Liberal Caucus Retreat

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For Liberal MPs traveling in from the Kelowna airport to their hotel for this week’s caucus retreat, they were told by the taxi drivers that one of the forest fires that have been raging throughout the BC interior this summer was only 25 kilometres away. Aside from the economic effects, this year’s fires have once again left many families homeless. The fires provided a somber undercurrent to the caucus meetings, a reminder of how fragile prosperity and stability can be right now for all Canadians, despite the recent strong economic growth numbers. One of Trudeau’s first public appearances, astutely enough, was with the Kelowna Fire Department to talk with the front line responders.

But there are other fires to consider too. In the evening, a sooty fog dropped like a shroud over the nearby hills of the wine country. And for many of the new Liberal Members, emerging from contentious caucus sessions over proposed tax policy changes and presentations on plans and priorities, it was easy to imagine that this grey fog was actually the smoke from the battlefield as Trudeau’s team bears down for the 2019 campaign.

Fairness for the middle class. It’s more than a mantra for Trudeau’s Liberals, as we know. It’s a guiding principle and, as Morneau’s key advisors would say, a top line message for both caucus and media in attendance at the Kelowna Delta Okanagan. Morneau’s team worked together like an emergency crew starting Wednesday morning to beat back the brush fires of resistance from caucus to the tax policy changes Morneau has proposed – curbing income “sprinkling” with family members, passive investment income and the conversion of a corporation’s regular income into capital gains. From all accounts this offensive was smart, shrewdly timed and well executed, exactly how you’d want to describe the tactical approach to selling these changes. Morneau must hope that his forthcoming “road show” for these with Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger comes off as well.

In any event, he’ll face an offensive from the Conservatives who are getting battle ready for the fall session as well. Trudeau’s final press conference here in Kelowna was peppered with questions that had him responding to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s broadsides this week – on refugee and immigration policy, on Omar Khadr’s payout and … surprise, surprise … on how these proposed tax policy changes might actually negatively impact a beleaguered middle class and, permit a small variation on the mantra here, those working hard to join the one percent. It’s too early to tell whether these lines of attack will gain real ground for the Conservatives in the weeks ahead, but Trudeau would be wise to read the heavy clouds over the horizon with cautious optimism that a storm might quell still smoldering fires.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight Canada

Ensight’s John Delacourt weighs in on social media best practices for parliamentarians – as featured in the Hill Times

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#cdnpoli: social media like Twitter can polarize voters and over-simplify issues

To be effective, politicians should strive for authenticity, and avoid canned posts.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 12:00 AM
The effective use of social media may at one time have given a politician an edge over their opponent. But in a world where President of the United States Donald Trump uses 140-character tweets to address and announce policy issues, and Justin Trudeau is known as the ‘selfie prime minister,’ having at least a bare-minimum presence on social media has practically become a prerequisite in politics.
“It’s part of our job. That’s how people communicate,” says Twitter aficionado and Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.) “You’d be leaving out a whole cross-section of your community” if you weren’t on it, she said.
Ms. Rempel said she’s used various social media platforms to hear from her constituents on issues, including crowd-sourcing opinions on M-103, a Liberal MP’s anti-Islamophobia motion, which she voted against.
“It’s given people platforms and it’s become a very interesting [way] to exchange ideas, but I think it’s also forced us to sensationalize content,” she said. “You’re looking for that 140 characters. Donald Trump is a good example of that,” in that he simplifies “complex policy actions.”
In Canada, and the United States, Ms. Rempel, who is the immigration critic for her party, said putting immigration policy “down to 140 character soundbite” can be detrimental.
“I’m not sure it’s been the best thing for public policy,” she said.
Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs specialist with Full Duplex, said social media is changing the way politicians seek out support.
“It used to be that when you worked in politics you tried to reach the squishy middle, people who were pragmatic about issues,” he said. Now, he said there’s quite a bit of “shoot first, ask questions later” strategy going around on social media.
“They’re doing what Donald Trump does,” he said, in that they put something out that might enrage most people, but caters to their base.
“You put out the idea, you may or may not have to apologize,” he said. “The only people who are going to care about the apology is the opponents.”
Because of this strategy, which Mr. Blevis said Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch (Simcoe Grey, Ont.) is employing, “we’ve become extremely polarized.”
While Mr. Trump might be a good example of having a polarizing Twitter account (just look at the responses to anything he tweets out), no one can deny his authenticity is an asset.
John Delacourt, a former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau who now works at Ensight, said on Facebook and Instagram, “authenticity rules.”
“There is nothing that just becomes wallpaper quicker than a clip or a shareable that is just an MP at a podium delivering an award or delivering a speech. It looks canned,” he said. What does work well are live videos as direct addresses, or live videos featuring constituents, because “in a short video you create a short narrative,” he said. And, on social media, it all comes down to the story you’re telling, and the brand you’re delivering, Mr. Delacourt said.
Mr. Delacourt said one of the most useful platforms for politicians is Instagram. “Instagram has a great deal of potential, and as a way of taking a piece that you do from one platform to another,” he said. It also appeals to younger voters, who might not be as engaged on Facebook or Twitter.
The Hill Times took a look at the Canadian politicians who are leading the way in social media use. While some of them are better on some platforms than others, they all have a unique strength.
Top 10 Canadian politicians to follow on social media:
1. Justin Trudeau
Instagram: @justinpjtrudeau
Snapchat: justintrudeaupm
Without a doubt, the prime minister’s social media presence is one that’s been honed to near-perfection. While his Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages are obviously curated by staff, with well thought-out captions to photos, and posts always seamlessly appearing in both official languages, his followers don’t expect the prime minister to have time to personally update them. The team behind his social presence knows what they’re doing. The dissemination of an Instagram photo of Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) greeting a newly-arrived Syrian refugee at Toronto Pearson Airport was an instant “shareable” moment, Mr. Delacourt said. “And in many respects, of course there was a level of authenticity there, because we all knew this wasn’t staged, this was something that occurred in real time.”
“What the PM is incredibly good at, is he has an active working conversation with those who are working with him,” Mr. Delacourt said, which can make up for the fact that it’s not actually Mr. Trudeau behind the posts. “I think of Adam Scotti who’s working with him,” he said, referring to Mr. Trudeau’s photographer. “There are years of a simpatico relationship there.”
2. Rona Ambrose
Facebook: @ronaambrose
Instagram: @ronaambrose
Snapchat: rona.ambrose
After the last election, in which the Liberals used social media to their advantage to encourage the youth vote, the official leader of the opposition knew she had to step up her game if she was to keep pace. “Behind the scenes” videos of Ms. Ambrose show her clapping, laughing, and clapping some more as she prepares to deliver weekly video updates to her followers. And arguably, one of the best #cdnpoli mannequin challenges was done by Ms. Ambrose and her team, showing the full official opposition office standing still as if turned to statues. The “mannequin challenge” is a social media craze of filming a room full of people frozen in position that took the world by storm last year.
3. Jagmeet Singh
Facebook: @jagmeetndp
Instagram: @jagmeetsingh
Snapchat: jagmeetsingh
Jagmeet Singh is seen here posing for a mirror selfie. On his Instagram page, he demonstrates a stylish and casual brand.
In the Ontario NDP, Mr. Singh is making waves as an up-and-comer whom we might see a whole lot more of if he decides to enter the federal NDP leadership race. Mr. Singh was recently profiled in GQ Magazine, thanks in large part to his avid social media use. Mr. Singh updates his followers constantly on his Snapchat and Instagram accounts. Follow him to get a glimpse of the life of a polished and trendy politician, including selfies, protest photos, and video messages on issues he cares about.
4. Michelle Rempel
Instagram: @michellerempel
Ms. Rempel is as fiery on Twitter as she is in Question Period. She is an entertaining politician to follow, since she doesn’t shy away from a good debate. “I think people engage and find the content more useful to them when it’s an authentic reflection of the person,” she said. “There’s a flavour of me. It’s not a cardboard cutout.”
5. Naheed Nenshi
Twitter: @nenshi
Facebook: @NaheedNenshi
Instagram: @nenshi
Speaking of Ms. Rempel’s debates, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was one of the latest to get into a sparring match with the Calgary Nose Hill MP. But dramatic arguments aside, Mr. Nenshi is a good example of knowing your brand and staying authentic. It’s one of the reasons he was able to get into it with Ms. Rempel in the first place. In all likelihood, staff-managed accounts don’t get into arguments on Twitter.
6. Carolyn Bennett
The minister of indigenous and northern affairs demonstrates her social media savvy by hosting weekly Q&As via Facebook. Every Sunday night going back years before she took over her current ministerial role, Ms. Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ont.) has consulted her constituents using one of the most widely used platforms. While her Instagram only has two posts, Mr. Blevis says her effective use of Facebook and Twitter puts her top of mind as one of the best Liberal ministers for online engagement.
7. Tony Clement
Facebook: @tonyclementpsm
Instagram: @tonyclementcpc
Snapchat: tonyclementcpc
For the avid #cdnpoli follower, Mr. Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) provides a nice depth for his audience. Photos and posts often come from his point of view, like an Instagram of his guitar, or the snow outside his Huntsville home, instead of a collection of photographs of him at different events. But, the most entertaining part about following Mr. Clement is his use of Snapchat filters, which add different features to one’s selfie, such as dog ears, or a flower crown. Mr. Clement said he prefers the thematic ones, such as the pizza-slice face for National Pizza Day, and the Hello Kitty one for Valentine’s Day.
Mr. Clement said he does most of his own social media, though his staff might help him with Facebook now and again. Asked how much time he thinks he spends on social media in a given week, Mr. Clement said with a laugh that he’d rather not answer, as it could get him in trouble with his wife.
Mr. Blevis said Mr. Clement’s style on Twitter “is interactive.”
“Most MPs, 80 per cent of their content would be communications. Regular tweets like, ‘look at me, look at me, look at me.’ They’ll retweet and they’ll almost not reply at all. The average MP reply rate is five per cent. He has about a 40 per cent reply rate. He was looking for questions to answer,” Mr. Blevis said.
8. Niki Ashton
Twitter: @nikiashton
Facebook: @MPNikiAshton
Instagram: @nikiashtonmp
Every person The Hill Times spoke to pointed to Ms. Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.) as one of the best users of social media. Mr. Blevis said Ms. Ashton knows how to use different platforms for different purposes.
“It’s not just about having popular tools like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, it’s knowing which ones to use, and how,” he said.
Otherwise, if people follow you on more than one platform, they are getting the same message blasted to them over and over.
In an interview with Mr. Blevis for his podcast, Ms. Ashton told him that within First Nations communities, Facebook is very important for staying in touch over long distances. So, she uses Facebook specifically for listening to First Nations communities in her riding.
However, one downfall of Ms. Ashton’s social media strategy is her use of two separate Instagram accounts. One was created only recently, which Mr. Blevis speculated could be because she is planning on creating a more curated image before announcing her run for the leadership of the NDP. However, upon looking at both Instagram accounts, Mr. Blevis said there was no reason for the two of them to be separated. The content could be merged into one account, and her followers would hardly know the difference.
9. Jim Watson
Instagram: @jimwatsonottawa
An exchange on Twitter shows how Jim Watson responds to almost everyone who interacts with him, making him one of the more accessible Canadian mayors.
The Ottawa mayor is a natural choice to follow for those living and working in Ottawa. Mr. Watson has a certain affinity for engaging with his followers. On Twitter, he will often reply to those who start a conversation with him, whether it be criticism, praise, or simple conversation.
10. Gary Anandasangaree
Twitter: @gary_srp
Mr. Delacourt pointed to Mr. Anandasangaree (Scarborough-Rouge Park, Ont.) as someone who has been effective at reaching out to diverse communities in his riding through social media. On Twitter and Facebook, Mr. Anandasangaree posts frequently about Tamil Heritage Month, which was created under his own private member’s bill. He also invites his constituents to celebrate Black History Month with him, shares stories of Tamil heritage in Newfoundland, and links to reflections on the impact of superstar boxer Muhammad Ali.

Political Perspectives – Perfect Timing For Liberal Summer Caucus Retreat

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By Greg MacNeil, Vice President

Moments ago, the Prime Minister wrapped up his post-caucus retreat media availability. This is the first time the caucus has gathered together since June. Unlike the recent Cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Liberal members did not have to share rooms with each other.

The timing of this year’s Liberal summer caucus retreat could not have been better for the government. After more than a week of news articles about inappropriate expenses submitted by Cabinet Ministers, the government used the retreat as an opportunity to reset and focus on core mandate promises like addressing climate change and encouraging economic growth.

While policy discussions were the primary focus of the retreat, there were lengthy discussions about operations. Specifically, how offices are handling expenses in order to avoid future distractions. Due to a change implemented at Treasury Board, Access to Information (ATIP) requests are being processed faster. Given this new reality, more stories about inappropriate expenses are bound to happen unless there is a cultural change in each office. More political oversight of expenses is being instituted in order to avoid future mistakes.

Caucus members were also told about some of the staff changes made in ministers offices. Specifically, many of the changes that occurred were done in an attempt to increase communications capacity in offices that are expected to receive more public attention over the coming months.

Over the next month, the government is expected to focus more on international relations. This morning the government pledged up to 600 soldiers and up to an additional $450 million in funding. The Minister of Defence will be going to London in two weeks to discuss with partner nations where these commitments are needed.

Next week, the Prime Minister and Minister Dion, will be heading to China to discuss ways in which the two nations can strengthen their relationship. Following these bilateral discussions, the PM will attend the G20 summit in Beijing. Lead ministers at the G20 summit will be Minister Morneau and Minister Freeland. The government is widely rumoured to be pursuing a free trade agreement with China. Minister Freeland is expected to raise a number of current trade irritants with the Chinese government. One of the more high-profile non-tariff trade barriers expected to be discussed is the recent restrictions on Canadian canola. Keeping in the spirit of Sunny Ways, the Minister is planning to give Chinese Government a jar of Canadian Canola Oil.