All posts by Jesse Robichaud

Scheer announces shadow cabinet

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To some political observers, today’s announcement of new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s shadow cabinet does more than reveal the roster of Question Period matchups expected this fall when the House of Commons reconvenes. It can also give a glimpse into the new power dynamics at play within Scheer’s Conservative party, provide clues on the new leader’s policy priorities, and even highlights who has been snubbed.

Predictably, eleven of the new shadow cabinet positions have been filled by MPs who endorsed Scheer. Only three of Scheer’s rivals in a crowded leadership race have been denied a position. Most notably, controversial candidate Kellie Leitch did not receive a critic role. Scheer’s fellow Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, whose support at the convention blew away expectations and helped Scheer narrowly defeat Maxime Bernier, was also excluded. But the move could reignite speculation Trost may be preparing for a leadership run in Saskatchewan where Premier Brad Wall is stepping down as leader of the Saskatchewan Party.

Bernier did not get the role he publicly lobbied for as the shadow minister for Finance, but he says he is pleased to receive another central economic file as the critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). Bernier also served in Harper’s cabinet as the Minister of Industry, the precursor to ISED, and will be familiar with the issues.

Scheer’s changes reflect a leader who is trying to put his stamp on a party that has only had one leader before him. He is balancing the aspirations of his colleagues, favours owed and the need to field a competent political team as the countdown to the 2019 general election continues.

The cascading changes have essentially overhauled much of the Conservatives’ roster of critics aside from exceptions like Calgary MP Michelle Rempel and veteran Rob Nicholson, who each remained publicly neutral during the leadership race. Scheer, though, has not made any changes to his House of Commons leadership which remains in the hands of leadership rival Lisa Raitt as deputy leader, Whip Mark Strahl, Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes, House leader Candice Bergen and her deputies Chris Warkentin and John Brassard. In addition, former minister Diane Finley has been named caucus-party liaison.

On a cosmetic note, Scheer is working to position the Conservatives as a government-in-waiting by naming “shadow ministers” rather than the traditional term “critic.” Time will tell which changes will gain traction and which ones won’t stick, but for now Scheer is focused on quickly ushering in his own era as Conservative Leader.


The Question Period Matchups

Andrew Scheer
Leader of the Official Opposition
Right Hon. Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

Maxime Bernier
Shadow Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development
The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Ziad Aboultaif
Shadow Minister, International Development
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Gérard Deltell
Shadow Minister, Treasury Board
The Honourable Scott Brison
President of the Treasury Board

Shannon Stubbs
Shadow Minister, Natural Resources
The Honourable James Gordon Carr
Minister of Natural Resources

Dan Albas
Shadow Minister, Small Business
The Honourable Bardish Chagger
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Dean Allison
Shadow Minister, International Trade
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of International Trade

Karen Vecchio
Shadow Minister, Families, Children and Social Development
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Matt Jeneroux
Shadow Minister, Science
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science

Erin O’Toole
Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Kelly Block
Shadow Minister, Transport
The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

Pierre Paul-Hus
Shadow Minister, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Scott Reid
Shadow Minister, Democratic Institutions
The Honourable Karina Gould
Minister of Democratic Institutions

Dianne Watts
Shadow Minister, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
The Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Alexander Nuttall
Shadow Minister, Youth, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
The Honourable Kent Hehr
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Michelle Rempel
Shadow Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Peter Van Loan
Shadow Minister, Canadian Heritage and National Historic Sites
The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Canadian Heritage

Todd Doherty

Shadow Minister, Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Asia-Pacific Gateway
The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Pat Kelly
Shadow Minister, National Revenue
The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier
Minister of National Revenue

Luc Berthold
Shadow Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Ed Fast
Shadow Minister, Environment and Climate Change
The Honourable Catherine McKenna
Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Pierre Poilievre
Shadow Minister, Finance and National Capital Commission
The Honourable William Francis Morneau
Minister of Finance

Rachel Harder
Shadow Minister, Status of Women
The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Status of Women

Steven Blaney
Shadow Minister, Veterans Affairs
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Marilyn Gladu
Shadow Minister, Health
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
The Honourable Jane Philpott
Minister of Indigenous Services

Tony Clement
Shadow Minister, Public Services and Procurement
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Public Services and Procurement

James Bezan
Shadow Minister, National Defence
The Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence

Michael Chong
Shadow Minister, Infrastructure, Communities and Urban Affairs
The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Rob Nicholson
Shadow Minister, Justice
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Other Critic Roles:

  • John Barlow, Agriculture and Agri-Food (Associate)
  • Peter Kent, Ethics
  • Rob Moore, Atlantic Issues and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
  • Alain Rayes, Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Bob Saroya, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Associate)
  • Alice Wong, Seniors

The Hill Times – Freeland strikes alliance with populist Maine governor who understands value of trade

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[As published in the August 21, 2017 edition of The Hill Times]

Canada’s NAFTA lobbyist-in-chief has revealed the key but unorthodox ally she has found inside U.S. President Donald Trump’s inner circle—one who is fluent in the president’s own bombastic political language.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a committee of MPs last week that she often speaks with him on the phone to discuss ways the Trudeau government can make its NAFTA advocacy resonate within the administration and, most importantly, in the president’s ear.

But he is not your typical D.C. power broker. He proudly spends as little time in Washington, D.C., as he can, a fact that endears him to the president and the “drain the swamp” supporters they share.

Despite speculation, he has not taken an official role within the Trump administration, although he has joked to reporters he would be happy to serve as Trump’s ambassador to Canada in the summer and Jamaica in the winter.

At least for now, though, when the thoroughly progressive Freeland wants to bounce an idea off an outspoken populist, she dials Maine, the small state where Gov. Paul LePage has raucously ruled as a headline writer’s dream since 2010.

“I have been in close contact with him. I speak on the phone with him often. He is an influential voice in this administration,” Freeland told the International Trade committee last week, as she outlined the labour, environmental, and gender-equality objectives of Canada’s negotiators.

“I have also found him—not solely in conversations with me, but also in his advocacy in Washington—to be very good in explaining a key element of our economic relationship with the United States, which is we build things together. That is a key element and it can sometimes be missed.”

LePage knows Canada well. His first language was French. He lived in New Brunswick through most of the 1970’s, where his adult daughters still live today, and he worked in the province’s forestry sector which is closely integrated with the industry in Maine.

But what makes LePage most valuable to Freeland is that his connection to Canada neatly intersects with a political brand of populism and hyperbole that he shares with Trump.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” LePage said in February 2016 when he became one of the first governors to endorse Trump.

The Boston Globe called it a “bromance” in March 2017, and in April Trump warmly poked at LePage’s recent remarkable weight loss.

“I knew him when he was heavy, and now I know him when he was thin, and I like him both ways,” Trump said.

Many of the blunt adjectives used to describe Trump’s crude and cartoonish political style were tried on LePage first, with the same approximate result among his staunch supporters and detractors.

When Freeland calls LePage, she knows she is the only progressive on the call and it would be naive to think LePage is acting solely out of sentimentality for Canada. But as she reminded the International Trade committee on Monday, the jobs of 38,500 Maine residents depend on exports to Canada in a small state where jobs are scarce. Therein lies the Trudeau government’s NAFTA strategy in a nutshell with its focus on American jobs and our integrated supply chains.

Despite their political differences, when Freeland talks jobs, she is speaking LePage’s language and tapping in to the cold calculation that—like her—his own self-interest and the economic health of his state are hanging in the balance as NAFTA negotiations get underway.

Freeland does her homework, and would know that when Canadian fishermen mounted barricades to block Maine lobster exports from reaching New Brunswick processing plants in 2012, the usually explosive LePage did nothing to cause an international incident. Instead, he calmly identified an opportunity for his state to build up its seafood processing capacity and keep more of its resources, and jobs, at home.

Likewise in June, the pro-jobs governor took the extraordinary step of writing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to lobby against new tariffs on Canadian lumber that would hurt his state and its workers.

“He understands very well the intense and interconnected relationship between Maine and Canada. He happens to have a personal background in the forestry sector and that informs his point of view in a very useful way,” said Freeland.

For now it appears both Freeland and LePage need each other, and so when Canada’s progressive foreign minister calls, it is likely Maine’s Republican governor will continue to pick up the phone.

Jesse Robichaud is a consultant with Ensight, an Ottawa public affairs firm. He served as an adviser to former Progressive Conservative New Brunswick premier David Alward from 2010 to 2014.

A proposal for region building in Atlantic Canada: Jesse Robichaud

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Ensight consultant Jesse Robichaud’s column originally appeared in the St. John’s Telegram, Charlottetown Guardian and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Follow Jesse on Twitter @writeJR.

Sure, it seemed old-fashioned. When Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil visited the province’s Lieutenant Governor last Sunday to trigger a May 30 general election, he was the last provincial or federal politician in Canada with the power to do so purely on his own accord.

As if too much spontaneity was the problem discouraging us all to vote, legislated voting dates have taken some of the fun out of Canadian politics without producing any great revival of democratic engagement. An unintended by-product has been a move to interminable, American-style campaigning that leads in to the official writ period.

Refreshingly, the province which celebrates itself as the birthplace of parliamentary democracy in Canada is the only one left in the country that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon of legislated election dates.

But wait! That Nova Scotia hasn’t yet given in to the trend of fixed election dates may yet present an opportunity to build a more formal foundation for meaningful cooperation across Atlantic Canada.

The release of 2016 Census numbers this week is the latest grim reminder that massive change is needed to stem the tide of the sinking economic, fiscal and demographic metrics afflicting the entire region. The brand of region-building projects needed to turn things around in the East are the same types of major projects that most governments aren’t comfortable undertaking when there is an election waiting around the corner. And the problem in Atlantic Canada is there is always an election waiting around the corner.

With four election cycles in play at all times, it leaves only a few limited windows of opportunity to strike big, game-changing partnerships and initiatives, the kind Atlantic Canada needs today to reset its economic, fiscal and demographic course.

One practical way to widen that window of opportunity would be to finally establish a fixed election date in Nova Scotia and align it and the election dates of each other Atlantic province.

This would move voters, and their leaders, to the same political tide clock, one that can serve as a platform to improve the lives of the 2.3 million people who call Canada’s East Coast home.

In the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the idea of forming a Maritime Union is indeed as old as Canada itself. The Fathers of Confederation hijacked the idea and stretched it west. Now, why can’t the idea be reclaimed, reengineered and stretched eastward from the Appalachian range into the North Atlantic?

Proponents of a formal union of Maritime or Atlantic provinces make many compelling points, but it is terribly unlikely it will gain any traction before it is too late.

Alternatively, a coordinated election date would not only address the issue of political hibernation around campaign and pre-campaign countdowns, it would also provide the opportunity to present voters across the region with referenda on major questions, such as governance of utilities, Crown Corporations, and new policy positions on internal and foreign trade, labour, and immigration.

Think of how common election mandates might embolden premiers to work together to establish positions on urgent matters like softwood lumber tariffs, the renegotiation of NAFTA, and changes to resource rules like fishing quotas.

By working together more formally and creatively, Atlantic Canada can move in the polar-opposite direction of the go-it-alone zeitgeist that has propelled Brexit and Trump-brand politics, and build a collective strength that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Of course, political parties will argue there is already plenty of cooperation going on between the provinces, but that is mostly when cooperation is convenient. Political convenience on really big, important issues is too rare to count on. In Atlantic Canada, premiers share an undeniably genuine desire to improve life in their home provinces, but they also share an equally genuine desire to be re-elected.

These two genuine desires don’t interfere with each other in and of themselves, but when it comes to working together on big ideas and initiatives across provincial lines, the timing of elections are getting in the way of transformative action.

Political Perspectives – Canada’s Trade Future with the EU and UK

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The future of CETA, Canada’s massive trade deal with the European Union, is among the most pressing questions being asked here at home as the world adjusts to the repercussions of the Brexit vote.

After all, won’t the exit of the second largest economy in the EU impact this massive trade deal? Won’t it have to be re-opened yet again?

Earlier this week, following various reports on the status of CETA in the EU, Canada’s chief negotiator held a technical briefing to explain the updated landscape – at least how the Canadian government sees it.  The good news for pro-CETA backers is that it appears as though the deal will move ahead.  But in order to ratify the deal and bring it into force, the following steps now need to occur in both the EU and here in Canada:


1. The EU Commission will submit CETA to the EU Council – done earlier this week.

2. The EU Council will review and agree to advance the agreement based on consensus – as early as this fall.

3. The EU Parliament will debate and vote – will need 50% plus 1 to ratify.

4. Each EU member state (currently 28 countries, including the UK) will then need to ratify through their respective legislative bodies – a process that could take up to 5 years.

However, under EU law, once the EU Council and EU Parliament ratify, over 90% of the agreement will be provisionally in force.  The only parts that will not be are the very limited items outside EU jurisdiction.


1. Order in Council to ratify CETA coupled with federal implementing legislation – could come as early as this fall.

2. Implementing legislation will vary province to province according to each province’s obligations – a process that could also commence as early as this fall.

The most optimistic timeline is that CETA will be ratified by both sides and provisionally in force sometime in the first quarter of 2017.  However, the long and winding road of CETA to date – 7 years and counting – should give even the most optimistic observers reason to pause.  And while it is good news that CETA is moving forward, the potential removal of the UK from the pact – Canada’s largest trading partner in the EU by far – should not be understated.  

Either way, the gains for Canada are enormous and CETA represents Canada’s most ambitious trade initiative to date. The deal covers everything from trade in goods and services to intellectual property, procurement, regulatory cooperation, labour mobility and investment, and it is even seen as environmentally progressive. Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland rightly calls it a “gold standard agreement.” To underscore the level of ambition, approximately 98 per cent of all EU tariff lines will be duty-free on the very first day CETA comes into force. By comparison, only 29 per cent of tariff lines were duty-free on the first day that NAFTA took effect.

– Adam Taylor, Ensight Director

Ensight’s Adam Taylor participates in panel on global arms trade

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Fast’s former spokesperson defends Saudi arms deal

Director at ENsight Canada Adam Taylor speaks while University of WaterlooÕs Political Science professor Bessma Momani, International Civil Liberties Monitoring GroupÕs National Coordinator Monia Mazigh, CBC Journalist Hannah Thibedeau listen during a panel event in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2016. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

Director at ENsight Canada Adam Taylor speaks while University of WaterlooÕs Political Science professor Bessma Momani, International Civil Liberties Monitoring GroupÕs National Coordinator Monia Mazigh, CBC Journalist Hannah Thibedeau listen during a panel event in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2016. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

A one-time spokesperson for the minister behind the controversial $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia gave a full-throated defence of the contract Monday night.

Adam Taylor, who is now a director at the government relations firm ENSight Canada, was former International Trade Minister Ed Fast’s director of communications until 2014, and worked on files including the Saudi arms deal. He was one of four panellists at a forum hosted by ThePanel that sought to examine what Canada’s role should be in the global arms trade.

“I think it’s an easy argument to make from this room,” Taylor said when asked for his response to an audience poll that suggested 53 per cent of audience members thought the government should cancel the contract.

The General Dynamics Land Systems Plant in London, Ontario that will build the light-armoured vehicles heading to Saudi Arabia employs roughly 3,000 Canadians.

To read the full article that originally appeared in iPolitics, please click here. 

Social Media Watch – Federal Budget 2016

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Budget Day 2016 was a busy news day in Canada—but it wasn’t the Trudeau government’s first budget that hogged the headlines and social media activity.

While it did receive traction—particularly around the time of the announcement in the afternoon—the 152nd federal budget was largely overshadowed by the death of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the terror attacks in Brussels. 

On Tuesday morning, Google search interest and social media traction was dominated by Brussels and Rob Ford, which spiked in the immediate hours following the announcement of his death.  

Prime Minister Trudeau’s top tweet of the day was about Rob Ford, which garnered more than 7,100 engagements in a nine-hour span. Trudeau’s second-most engaged tweet was his statement on the Brussels attack that earned more than 2,400 user interactions.

It wasn’t until between 3-6 p.m., prior to and following Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s address, that the federal budget picked up steam and saw an increase in activity.


Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton had the highest volume of posts about the budget among major cities, followed by Winnipeg, Montreal, Hamilton, Halifax and Victoria.

When we look at the top hashtags of the day, #budget2016 and #cdnpoli, keywords such as infrastructure, education, spending, tax, deficit and billion were frequently used, with Trudeau, Morneau and interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose receiving the highest share of mentions.


Trudeau’s budget tweets received moderate but consistent traction, with posts about strengthening the middle class, bringing clean water to indigenous communities and the Canadians with Disabilities Act generating the highest user attention. Negative volume centred around spending, taxes and the deficit, with the Canadian Taxpayer Federation’s Aaron Lee Wudrick receiving strong engagement on his attacks on the government.

This shows the Liberals were fairly successful in framing the Twitter discussion through Trudeau and Morneau’s channels and positioning the budget as sound economic planning. As Ensight found in its Post-Election Research, Canadians voted for change and a $30 billion deficit is certainly that. 

As media coverage of Rob Ford’s death and the attacks in Brussels wanes, Canadians will have greater opportunity to assess whether the Trudeau’s governments investments and tax changes are worth the new red ink.

Jeff Blay, Enterprise Canada


Jeff Ballingall, Navigator Ltd.



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By: Adam Taylor

Many things change in Canada, but some things never will.  Prime Ministers, governments, even political parties come and go, but the critical importance of Canada’s relationship with the United States is one that never changes.  And that’s a good thing for people and businesses on both sides of the longest undefended border and biggest trade partnership in the history of the world.

Not even a historic and unprecedented election race can change the immutable importance of this special relationship. While making choices and setting priorities are the prerogative of any newly elected government, the one thing no one can afford to get wrong is the Canada-U.S. partnership.  Below are some key issues that continue to test the Canada- U.S. trade relationship.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

What’s been billed as the biggest free trade deal ever is now complete and includes new market access into Canada’s dairy sector and changes to content thresholds for cars.  Whether the gives and pains are worth the benefits and gains will be a top file to consider for the Trudeau government.  Here at home the business community is looking for quick direction and a signal.  In all scenarios there are implications for Canada’s trade relationship with the U.S. – not to mention with Mexico, our other NAFTA and TPP partner. 

Softwood Lumber Deal

The agreement that’s been in place since 2006 expired on October 12th and is now up in the air.  Consultations have been ongoing on both sides of the border and the options appear to be either the status quo or a wholesale renegotiation.  As one of the long-standing irritants in Canada-U.S. trade, the softwood lumber dispute has become a barometer measuring the overall health of the relationship.  Figuring out how to move forward on the file will most certainly require attention from the very top – not to mention some delicate negotiations with the provinces.

Country of Origin Labelling (COOL)

Despite repeated wins at the WTO by Canada and Mexico against the U.S., COOL remains on the books.  What’s more is that Canada has threatened retaliatory tariffs should the U.S. not repeal it.  While red tape and new tariffs go against what is often held up as the greatest free trade success story in the world, regional interests have prevented it from being a strictly Ottawa-Washington dispute.  With the WTO set to rule later this fall on Canada’s request to apply more than $3 billion worth of counter tariffs to a slew of U.S. goods entering Canada, things could really heat up on COOL and cause further headaches for bilateral trade.

Regardless of these irritants, the good news is that the Canada-U.S. trade relationships remains strong with over a million dollars in goods crossing the border every single minute totalling $700 billion annually.  The 35-plus U.S. states that count Canada as their top export destination help generate millions of jobs here in Canada, with equivalent benefits flowing south. 

But for all the gargantuan advantages it creates, it is surprisingly easy for even the smallest of irritants to change the tone of the relationship in ways that have real impacts on Canadian consumers and businesses.   The issues that threaten to derail the relationship didn’t take a break during Canada’s lengthy federal election, which means time is now a scarce and valuable commodity that our Prime Minister can’t afford to waste.

Adam Taylor is a director at Ensight’s international trade practice. As a senior advisor to Canada’s former Minister of International Trade, he played a leading role in the Canada-European Union trade agreement as well as Canada’s official entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.


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As Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepare for their official exchange of power, an interesting development on the international trade front has both inextricably linked.  Put simply, they need each other.

Harper built a reputation for maintaining a tight grip of control over his government and its policies during nearly a decade as prime minister, but when he hands the torch to Trudeau he will also be relinquishing control over whether or not his ambitious free trade vision is realized through Canada’s ratification of the massive CETA and TPP trade deals.

And for Trudeau, who came to personify change in the eyes of Canadian voters through a long and hard-fought election campaign, the trade file may be the one aspect of the Harper legacy that he may find no compelling reason to overhaul.

Mr. Trudeau and the TPP

While during the campaign Mr. Trudeau took a nuanced position, he was careful not to oppose it and went to great lengths in a statement to declare the Liberals a party that “strongly supports free trade” as key to creating opportunities for businesses, jobs for Canadians and benefits for consumers.  In the same statement, Mr. Trudeau lauded the TPP as a deal that would remove barriers and expand trade for Canada and promised a thorough debate in Canada’s Parliament. As all trade deals are debated this way, all signs point to a pro-TPP Trudeau government when legislation is ready for debate and the deal needs to be ratified.

Mr. Trudeau and free trade with the European Union

On October 22, 2013, just days after the agreement-in-principle between Canada and the EU had been announced, Stephen Harper was under relentless attack in the House of Commons about what he knew in the Mike Duffy Senate expense scandal.  Yet when it was his turn, Mr. Trudeau did a remarkable thing.  Rising in the House of Commons he said:

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the many Canadians at all levels of government and in the public service who played a role in the achievement of the agreement between Canada and the European Union, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of International Trade and people like former premier Jean Charest. Congratulations.”

He then asked a question about when more details would be made available to Parliament.

Congratulating the government on a policy achievement as opposed to trying to score political points during Question Period is rare in official Ottawa – especially if the government is already playing defense on an issue.  This bodes well for exporters across key sectors of Canada’s economy as they continued to prepare to take advantage of preferred access to the EU market, the largest and most lucrative in the world.

Mr. Trudeau and ongoing trade negotiations

From Japan to India, there are many trade negotiations that were part of the Harper trade agenda that just didn’t get done for various reasons.  To be fair, the urgency for a bilateral agreement with Japan has been lessened now that the TPP is complete and preferred access for our exports to Japan is among the biggest of benefits to Canada in that deal.  And while there are trade-offs in any negotiation, the talks with India had long been stalled due to entrenched interests on both sides, including a reluctance by Canada to offer eased labour mobility and a reluctance by India to grant investor protection and dispute provisions.  However, there’s nothing like a change in government to reset any bilateral relationship so time will tell if these talks get back on track.

Stephen Harper was fond of noting that when he took office Canada could only boast trade agreements with only five countries.   On his watch that number skyrocketed to 51, including transformative deals with South Korea, the EU and most recently with the 11 other members of the TPP.

History is almost certain to frame Harper’s trade record as one of the shining stars of his government’s constellation of economic initiatives. But for all the urgency thrust toward opening markets for Canada’s exporters, businesses, investors and workers by the Conservatives, CETA and TPP are yet to be ratified for reasons outside the outgoing government’s control.

Ironically enough, for trade to truly be part of his legacy, Mr. Harper will need Mr. Trudeau to see these deals through.  Fortunately, at least at first glance and barring any unforeseen development, this is the most likely scenario.

On setting up his Liberal successors to balance the budget, former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney famously said that his policies planted the garden that allowed the Chretien Liberals to pick the flowers.   Where the Harper trade agenda is concerned, the same may be true for today’s Liberal successors led by Justin Trudeau.

Adam Taylor is a director at ENsight Canada’s international trade practice. As a former senior advisor to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, he played a leading role in the Canada-European Union trade agreement as well as Canada’s official entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

Political perspectives – digital expectations following election day

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For millions of Canadians, the nation’s 42nd general election has meant a constant barrage of emails and social media posts from the major political parties and vested organizations. The increased volume of sponsored Facebook updates, donation requests, advance voting reminders and attack videos reflect the growing importance of digital communications in politics.

Unfortunately for Canadians, their Facebook newsfeeds will likely not return to the normalcy of cat videos and baby pictures anytime soon.

Should the election result in a minority government, not only will all major parties be jockeying for popular support for their parliamentary position, but the data gathered during the election will be leveraged to refill depleted party coffers, showcase popular support for select policies and organize for another election that could be weeks or months away.

Further, Canadians will be inundated by third-party groups no longer hampered by strict spending limits that are imposed during general elections. With politicians wrangling over mandates and policies, these organizations will need to utilize digital media to activate support for particular causes or parties. The Trans-Pacific Partnership alone will have unions and business organizations telling Canadians how the deal will hurt or benefit their families. Each side of the debate will be looking to influence party negotiations on policy, with the possibility that the Liberals may drop their tepid support for TPP should the NDP choose to prop up a Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Like TPP, cleavages between the Liberals and NDP will face pressure from each side of the issue. Those vested in national daycare, Bill C-51, electoral and senate reform, climate change, First Nations issues and resource development will have too much at stake not double down and spend heavily to reach, influence and activate like-minded Canadians.

The parties and causes will also assess the messages and mediums that were most effective during the general election and apply these lessons for post-election communications. For the average Canadian, this might mean more pre-roll ads on YouTube, sponsored Tweets or Instagram posts, interviews with VICE Media, or native content on Buzzfeed. As Snapchat and Periscope become more prevalent, Canadian politics may also migrate to these platforms, which Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and other American campaigns are already utilizing. One lesson that all parties will certainly heed, is to vet past social media posts, as all three parties lost candidates and were knocked off message when embarrassing or offensive activity was uncovered.

With the advent of electoral reform, Canada’s next general election may be fought on different terms. However, the growing prominence of digital media will ensure the communication tactics utilized over the past few weeks will continue to gain momentum.

Jeff Ballingall has worked on numerous federal and provincial campaigns, most recently helping to lead the digital efforts of the Christine Elliott leadership campaign.


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By: Adam Taylor

Back in August, the Privy Council Office issued a bulletin entitled “Guidelines on the Conduct of Ministers, Ministers of State, Exempt Staff and Public Servants During an Election.” The document notes that during a writ period, a sitting government and its ministers should only undertake routine activities that don’t bind future governments. It also states the types of activities that should be avoided such as “participating in high-profile government-related domestic and international events, including federal/provincial/territorial events, international visits and the signing of treaties and agreements.” That’s all fairly standard stuff, which is issued every time an election is called.

However, these are not sleepy days on the international stage, as military missions, trade negotiations and peace talks rage on regardless of Canada’s fixed-election date legislation. And therefore it was not surprising to see the document include this amended text:

“For greater clarity, there may be compelling reasons for continued participation by Ministers and/or officials in specific activities such as treaty negotiations. For example, when negotiations are at a critical juncture with timelines beyond Canada’s control, the failure to participate in ongoing negotiations during the caretaker period could negatively impact Canada’s interests. Under such conditions, a compelling case may be made for ongoing efforts to protect Canada’s interests. Irreversible steps such as ratification should be avoided during this caretaker period.”

As Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators and ministers sat down in Atlanta last week, some suggested that Canada should not participate in the negotiations, citing the “Caretaker Convention.” Yet this position does not hold water for the following reasons:

  • Up until now, Canada has been an active participant in the 12-nation talks since formally joining in October 2012. By being at the table, Canada has been able to promote and defend its interests on equal footing with the 11 other countries, in order to shape what is now the largest free trade pact in the world.
  • With the talks now complete, the final outcome directly affects Canadian interests. It was absolutely crucial that Canada be at the table defending its interests in the 11th hour as a final agreement was reached. The opportunity to secure the best outcome for Canada was now. If an agreement had been signed without Canada, any future attempts to join the TPP would likely be seen as an opportunity by our trading partners to extract greater concessions from Canada.
  • Canada’s continued participation in TPP negotiations is merely an extension of the policy direction it has pursued since it initially joined the TPP years ago. Decisions made won’t bind a new government any more that any newly elected government is bound by an outgoing government’s policies. Furthermore, legislation will need to be passed by a new Parliament long before any of what’s been negotiated becomes law. Or a new government could simply choose to remove Canada from the TPP by not ratifying it.

For those arguing that any outcomes reached in Atlanta by the current government is illegitimate, they are essentially arguing that Canada should a) let its interests be decided by non-Canadians; and/or b) that Canada should be left out of the TPP altogether. Both are plausible when you look at who is making this argument. These are the same groups that oppose any trade agreement Canada pursues whatsoever, be it with the United States, the European Union, Korea or any other of our numerous trading partners. They simply oppose trade and will find any reason to advance the anti-trade agenda that best suits their particular, narrow interests. This time, they latched onto the so-called Caretaker Convention and the TPP without the slightest consideration for Canadian interests.

As good shepherds of Canada’s interests, it is the signature responsibility of our civil servants to use their sound judgement to ensure the common good is protected. It is their responsibility to ensure the politics of special-interest groups will be filtered from a debate that should revolve around Canada’s well-being — whether it is election time or not.


Adam Taylor is a Director at ENsight Canada’s international trade practice. He played a leading role in Canada’s official entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.