All posts by Jesse Robichaud

Eastern dealmakers watch feds fumble free trade opportunity

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Free trade across America’s northern border is at risk of remaining frozen in the 1990’s as the veneer of hopeful rhetoric fades from the NAFTA negotiating table. That’s bad news in New England and Atlantic Canada where time-tested trading partners would have benefited from the fulfillment of a more modern, inclusive reboot of the deal.

Although two of the region’s top trade commodities, energy and lumber, fall largely outside the parameters of NAFTA, the renegotiation might have struck pay dirt for this northeastern part of North America that relies on shrewd partnerships and ambitious deal-making to compete globally. Instead, defensive reflexes have crowded out the best intentions of dragging the trade deal into this decade and the ones that lay ahead.

New England and Eastern Canada (Atlantic Canada and Quebec) form an economic neighbourhood of 25 million people sewn together by integrated supply chains and common challenges. Those north-south trade ties predate the east-west corridors that developed later with the enthusiastic assistance of prescriptive government policies on each side of the border.

Then—as now—political agendas had a way of getting in the way of the natural ebb and flow of business across borders. A true new free trade deal, brokered to unleash economic growth and remove obstacles to cooperation, could have helped to outlaw unexpected interference by governments.

Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department announced it had finalized steep duties against Canadian softwood lumber imports despite the protests of American politicians like Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage. He loudly lobbied the Trump administration in favour of more leniency for Canadian imports in order to help save Maine jobs that are closely tied to the sector’s integration north of the border.

LePage also championed the Energy East pipeline before it was cancelled earlier this fall. In response, the Cianbro Corporation is proposing a so-called east-west corridor pipeline that would cut through northeastern states to bypass Quebec and bring Western Canadian oil to Canada’s largest refinery in Saint John, N.B.

A rebooted NAFTA could have found creative solutions to address recurring trade disputes and other obstacles that undermine the confidence needed to promote major ventures and investments on either side of the border.

NAFTA could still be saved, and there is a concerted lobbying effort currently deployed by U.S. businesses and the Canadian government. But if saving NAFTA means allowing the deal to sit frozen in the 1990’s it will be a lost opportunity to build a more inclusive platform for growth in New England, Atlantic Canada, and the rest of North America.

Alternatively, if U.S. President Donald Trump successfully follows through on threats to dismantle NAFTA, the ensuing ad hoc bilateral negotiations could embolden governments to again engage in the business of picking winners and losers among regions and industries.

For all their differences, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Trump each rose to power by successfully appealing to middle class voters in their respective countries.

While Trump appealed to disenfranchised voters in the rust belt and rural red states, Trudeau made inroads with traditionally powerful constituencies in vote-rich cities in Ontario and Quebec. Trump promised to bring jobs and clout back to the states that rallied to his promise to “Make America Great Again,” and Trudeau’s election win shifted the balance of political power back to central Canada.

As the next round of NAFTA negotiations begins in Mexico City on November 19, negotiators from the United States and Canada will try to capture more middle ground to deliver for middle class constituencies on each side of the border. Meanwhile, free traders in New England and Atlantic Canada will go on about their business, striking deals from the sidelines.

Jesse Robichaud is a Consultant at Ensight, a public affairs firm in Ottawa. He served as an adviser to New Brunswick premier David Alward and worked as a journalist in Fredericton and Moncton.

(As published in The Hill Times, The Chronicle Herald, Telegraph Journal, and The Bangor Daily News)

Has Trudeau’s Cabinet delivered on deliverology?

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Remember Deliverology? 2 years ago, Trudeau’s cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall and Ensight’s Jesse Robichaud & Shane Mackenzie review what cabinet ministers have delivered, what they need to deliver before the 2019 election and those items that the government would rather you forgot.

Back on November 4, 2015, change could not have felt more real for 184 Liberal MPs and the middle class (and those working hard to join it) who chose them. On that day the Trudeau assembled for the first time to form a new government propelled by sunny ways, a commitment to evidence-based policy decisions, and a solemn vow to be anything but Stephen Harper.

Rocketing back to a majority government from third party status, newly minted cabinet ministers arrived at the venerable Rideau Hall and would be given an ambitious new accessory: customized mandate letters.

Previous governments had kept those letters private, but the new Prime Minister brought them into the public domain, revealing 5 to 10 bulleted commitments for each portfolio. Drawn from the Liberals’ 2015 platform, the mandate items were considered timely, manageable, and staple promises to achieve in short order.

As we reach the two-year mark of Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet, political observers are prognosticating the path to the 2019 election. Drawing on the Liberal government’s early orthodoxy to “deliverology,” we have surveyed mandate letters to measure signature items that have been delivered, those that remain to be delivered, and those that have not been delivered.

Signalling the new government’s emphasis on tracking progress and getting results, Ministers’ offices appointed “deliverology leads” who would work with key bureaucrats tasked with tracking the rate of delivering on government commitments.

Fast forward two years to today, and the Cabinet has been shuffled twice (January 2017, August 2017), and the mandate letters of some shuffled Ministers were updated in September 2017. The government’s focus on deliverology has fallen off the radar screen of journalists for the most part, but it is still useful in measuring how the government has delivered on its own priorities as it prepares to defend its track record as the 2019 campaign approaches.


  • Canada Child Benefit(CCB): The Liberals have repeated (more than anything else) that they increased the CCB, and have recently indexed it to inflation earlier than announced. This fits their retail politics mindset more than any of their other promises. This is their greatest achievement – and they’ll never let you forget it.
  • Long-Form Census: This was more popular than you might think. It showcased a tangible example of the evidence-based governing promised by the Liberals, and consequentially 98.4% of Canadians filled out a census in 2016, versus 68% when Prime Minister Harper made it voluntary in 2011.
  • Global Leadership: Trudeau has personally acted as Canada’s brand ambassador on the global stage, including signing the Paris Accord and promoting a message of gender-parity politics. He trumpeted, “Canada is Back!” and a recent Insights West poll for Maclean’s shows that 67% Canadians think that this element of his real change plan is his biggest asset.
  • Partnering with provinces and territories: To effectively not be Stephen Harper, Trudeau committed to holding lots of meetings with Premiers. It panned out. The federal government has been able to get Health Accord, CPP enhancement, and carbon pricing agreements with their provincial and territorial partners. These are the big things that Canadians consistently say they care about, and the Liberals have gotten results with only a few feathers ruffled (and vocal opponents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba).
  • Independent Senate: The government promised a non-partisan, independent Senate that would restore credibility to the Red Chamber in the wake of years of scandal and indifference. The Independent Senator’s Group has now become the biggest collective in the Senate and is formalizing its organization. Trudeau has succeeded in redefining the partisan nature of the Senate, but the pace of lawmaking has slowed to a degree that may pose new challenges to the government.


  • Cannabis: The Liberals committed to legalizing and regulating cannabis during the campaign and in the mandate letters. They set a self-imposed deadline of July 1, 2018 and they are currently on track to meet it. Despite the protests and concerns of provinces, chiefs of police and activists, the Liberal government has navigated a minefield of issues by focusing on future consumers and the principles of cracking down on organized crime and reducing dangers to young people. Nevertheless, the pressure is on to deliver a win on time and without pitfalls.
  • Infrastructure: The Liberals committed to ambitious, massive infrastructure investments. Yet most projects announced have not started and cannot be clearly connected to job numbers or economic growth. With the Canada Infrastructure Bank yet to officially star work and a recent delay in billions of planned spending – the Liberals have not charted a clear path to victory on this one.
  • Innovation Agenda: The ambitious innovation talk of the government has not resulted in large-scale action that Canadians can touch and feel. Shortlisting superclusters, an expansion to Futurpreneur and Business Development Bank of Canada, immigration talent streamlining, and some clean growth funds have not yet constituted a slam dunk for government.
  • Phoenix & Procurement: The Phoenix debacle coupled with the public fighter jets fiasco would usually be enough to draw the ire of the public. So far the government has been vocally onside with Canadians in calling it “unacceptable,” but has yet to fix the issues after two years in power.
  • Free Trade: Before Donald Trump’s presidential election win in the United States disrupted the global order and raised NAFTA as a major political issue, the Liberal government began its mandate with the immediate priorities of moving free trade deals with Europe (CETA) and Pacific Rim nations (TPP) over the finish line. Trump’s pledge to renegotiate or kill NAFTA has occupied much of the Liberal government’s energy and attention. The stakes surrounding the ongoing negotiations could not be higher. To show their pro-trade economic bona fides to their centrist voting base – they must show that they can be successful free traders.


  • Deficits & Path to Balance: The Liberals committed to small $10 billion deficits to start, then to reduce year-after-year, with balance coming back in 2019. They quickly abandoned a path to balance. Government talking points have fallen flat on this issue, Liberals are betting it won’t move votes in 2019.
  • Electoral Reform: The Liberals committed that the 2015 election would be the last using “first past the post” balloting. While they met their mandate letter commitment of striking a Parliamentary committee to review options, they let the promise die. The move could have an impact on progressive voters choosing between Liberal and NDP candidates.
  • National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: The Liberals will seek to shirk the blame on this one as it was an independent inquiry, however, the blame is being pointed squarely back at them for how the initiative has soured already. The bungling of this file will overshadow much of their other work that they consider successes on the Indigenous file.
  • Peacekeeping & Fighter Jets: The Liberals are back on top on the global stage, except for when it comes to ponying up the support for peacekeeping efforts. The global community has noticed, but election impacts are less clear-cut. Meanwhile, a near trade war triggered by Boeing has derailed Liberal plans to replace aging F-18 fighter jets with Super Hornets as an interim measure while a promised permanent new fleet is sourced.
  • Restore Home Mail Delivery: The Liberals may have fulfilled commitments around a Parliamentary committee to review options for helping Canada Post to restore door-to-door home mail delivery, but the Liberal mailman has not delivered. When it comes time for the next election, we can’t think of an issue closer to home than mail.

Has the government delivered more than it hasn’t? Yes.

However, when you stack up the promises that they said were do-able in each of these mandate letters – those not delivered stick out for Canadians.

Perhaps the government will shuffle the Cabinet again before the next election, update mandate letters, and rejig a few things in-and-out of the text to shape what reporters and Canadians Google search in 2019.

This Liberal government promised “real change” in power, which means delivering on their platform while also juggling things that came up along the way. At the half way mark, they admit there is always more work to be done. It’s the reason they believe Canadians will grant them another majority win in 2019.

Although, as former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion once opined, “It’s not easy to make priorities.”

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.