All posts by Shane Mackenzie

Conservatives’ political kryptonite – good economic numbers for Liberals: Mackenzie

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In the heart of the Ottawa political bubble is another bubble of active users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram centered around Canadian politics (#cdnpoli if you will.)

When I open my phone, I can’t scroll through without finding dozens of tweets from Cabinet Ministers, Liberal Members of Parliament and commentators, and local supporters pulling from a crib sheet of positive economic stats. They note that under the Trudeau government, “Canada now has its lowest unemployment rate in over 40 years,” “Our growth leads the G7,” and that “the economy created about 700,000 new jobs since our government took office.”

It’s clear that the Liberal communications plan is rooted in one of the iron laws of politics enumerated in 1992 by Clinton campaign guru James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

What isn’t clear, however, is whether the Tories have a plan to combat this message. Just two years ago, they were the self-styled party of “economic action” led by a taciturn Prime Minister with a background in economics (a credential repeated ad nauseam by Conservative apparatchiks.)

At the time, Liberals didn’t have much of a response. Although the historical context indicates that Liberal governments are generally more fiscally responsible than Conservative governments, arguments that require listener to consider historical context aren’t often very sexy and don’t win elections.

Despite Paul Martin’s sterling economic credentials as Finance Minister, which gave him license to run and govern as Prime Minister on a platform of aggressive and overdue social reforms, the post-Jean Chrétien Liberals faced down a serious loss of trust following the Gomery Commission being called. After delivering a seemingly mortal blow to the Liberal brand, the Conservatives were able to seize the economic narrative that had underpinned the previous 13 years of Liberal government.

In the present day, however, the Tories haven’t yet had a number to hang over Liberal heads. This message of Liberal economic bona fides is one that is particularly damaging to the Conservative brand.

Deficits are a point that remain an open challenge for the Liberals to rein in, but there are indications that Canadians are okay with being in the red right now, in both senses.

Canadians won’t soon forget that Liberals openly committed to running deficits in order to boost economic growth in times of low interest rates, which are the investments they are now seeing fruit from.

Part of this inability to compete on economic issues comes from the top. Unlike his predecessor, Andrew Scheer, the current leader of the Conservatives, isn’t an economist. His party will need more than a few former Harper-era ministers, and his economic plan will certainly need to be more than simply not doing things that Trudeau is doing, if they want to make economics a battleground in 2019.

All economies are cyclical, and Canada’s is no exception. There will be ebbs and flows in economic growth and employment, neither of which can nor should be controlled by government. However, long-term economic trends are being shaped by increased economic participation by low-income individuals, women and a diverse range of individuals who have been sidelined for too long.

Liberals understand that the biggest untapped resource is those low-income individuals who their transfers seek to directly boost, because these individuals want to contribute, but currently cannot do so because their most basic needs aren’t met. In addition to being simply the right thing to do, helping those struggling with poverty and homelessness also makes good economic sense.

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has been deservedly lauded for his work to provide a national housing strategy, to deliver a coordinated plan to combat homelessness and to improve benefits for seniors and new parents. It’s extremely fitting to place a former economist at the heart of the government’s plan to reduce inequality. It was no accident.

Carville was right: it truly boils down to the economy, especially during elections. We should aspire to create an economy that includes and benefits everybody, especially those excluded for so long.

It’s the right thing to do.

(As published on The Huffington Post Canada)

The Scheer train is stalled. Time to toss out the baggage: Mackenzie

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Andrew Scheer has been leading the Conservatives in the House of Commons and across the country for over six months now. He won the contest over contenders from inside the Conservative caucus and a few running as outsiders (who used to be insiders).

The Conservative ‘base’ is called that because social conservatives really don’t have any alternative party to vote for. They are a key party constituency because they show up consistently at election time, they volunteer, and they are motivated to donate to leaders who share their values — even if they don’t always publicly champion them.

When the final vote came down in the Conservative leadership race, the more overt social conservative candidates — like MP Kellie Leitch and MP Brad Trost — had been eliminated. Their supporters turned to Scheer to combat the Libertarian movement led by Maxime Bernier. Scheer has not had to answer since for his status as a social conservative.

Fast forward six months and Trost and Leitch have been consigned to the Conservative backbenches. They have been given no roles in Scheer’s ‘shadow cabinet’ — a tent so big it even includes deputy shadow cabinet ministers.

Meanwhile, outside of the Ottawa bubble, Scheer’s momentum has stalled. Conservatives are trailing in the polls. They lost two incumbent MPs in recent by-elections to the Liberals. Conventional wisdom says by-elections are stacked against the governing party. So what’s going on?

The CBC recently reported that Leitch and Trost are facing contested nominations to run again for their seats. Challengers are seeking to be the Conservative voice in their ridings.

Is it an accident that these people decided to contest nominations in ridings represented by two so-con former rivals for the party leadership? Or were they nudged by top party brass to put in their paperwork?

Either way, Scheer should not be losing sleep over the prospect of a shakeup in his caucus.

This is precisely what happened after Justin Trudeau won the Liberal leadership. The promise of ‘open nominations’ — without the leader stepping in to name a parachute candidate — was enticing to those who felt that they had no shot before.

Trudeau would not have some of his key team members right now without vigorous, hard-fought nomination battles among multiple candidates, ramping up enthusiasm among local party supporters.

It also encouraged a few long-time political veterans who had been tightly gripping the reins of their local associations to let go and make way for new blood.

Supposed shoo-ins like Yolande James, Marisa Sterling and Rana Sarkar lost because other candidates were able to organize better, getting more of their supporters out to vote on the day. That, in large part, is how elections are won.

Many of Trudeau’s MPs in strategic ridings launched their political careers through the same open, hotly-contested process.

As everyone knows by now, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown is going through his own nomination troubles. But notwithstanding all the bad press about how shamelessly he has been interfering with nominations, he may come out of the process with a stronger party — and an important lesson for his former caucus colleague, Andrew Scheer.

If Brown can eliminate the party’s baggage and put together a team that he trusts to deliver, he can shake off grim memories of recent Progressive Conservative losses. His party has committed to investments in mental health and child care, to improve accountability and to cut taxes and hydro rates.

In other words, it’s a platform that’s not far removed from what Premier Kathleen Wynne was planning. It’s a platform for a new PC party, a centrist one that shuns the Ford Nation connections of the recent past and looks to make common cause with the sort of voters who used to support Bill Davis. As long as the team selling the plan at the doors does not slip up — or remind people of Hudak, Tory, Eves, Harris, Ford or Harper — a centre-leaning PC party stands to do very well.

Brown, like Scheer, is a social conservative — it’s on the record. So far, he hasn’t had to wear it. And notwithstanding the efforts of the Working Ontario Women coalition, Brown is being given the benefit of the doubt.

When Trudeau went into the task of building the team, he was able to rebrand the Liberal party itself as something fresh, progressive and politically competitive.

Brown has yet to achieve that, but he’s on his way. Scheer may want to look to his example if he wants to rid himself of a few of the relics in his midst.

Scheer has found an approach to his role as Opposition leader that he believes is both tough and fair, and contrasts his leadership style to that of the prime minister. He has to be given credit for attempting to rebrand the Conservatives as the party that cares about vulnerable people, and to rebrand Trudeau’s policies as ones that actually hurt the vulnerable. (I don’t buy it, personally, but he had to try something new.)

Perhaps a nomination strategy that drops the Trosts and Leitchs can help him burnish that image — and steal some of Trudeau’s centrist vote share in 2019.

Shane Mackenzie is an associate consultant with Ensight. He has worked for Liberal members of Parliament and as a social media coordinator for the Liberal Party of Canada, has spent time as a federal public servant and has campaigned at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

(As published on iPolitics.ca)

Two Years of Legislative Progress for Trudeau: What Numbers Really Count For

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This week marks two years since the House of Commons resumed after the Liberal win in 2015. Ensight’s Shane Mackenzie looks at the legislation that has been passed to date and how it stacks up against Harper’s first majority government.

To kick off December 2015 – the newly elected Liberal government under Justin Trudeau threw celebrating out the window in favour of governing: they recalled Parliament to deal with immediate issues.

Two years hence – we look back at two years of work and reflect on the pace of real change. To sum up any government’s accomplishments is not an easy task. Many have tried.

You can break down performance and progress Minister-by-Minister, Mandate Letter-by-Mandate Letter, and/or Campaign Promise-by-Campaign Promise. The government released its own deliverology tracker site that was decried by critics and closely watched by journalists drafting pieces on the government’s admitted “challenges.”

At the mid-mandate mark, we can look at Stephen Harper’s first two years with his own majority (2011-2013) for as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible for Trudeau’s first term. Both sat for approximately eighteen sitting months. Both had majorities that could feasibly push through the same amount of business.

Let’s take a look at the scoresheets:

By the numbers: Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government (Dec 2015 – Dec 2017)

  • Royal Assent given to 28 government bills
  • Royal Assent given to 7 Senate bills (with 3 in the queue for it anytime)
  • Royal Assent given to 3 Private Members’ Bills (with 1 in the queue)
  • 32 bills were defeated
  • 13 bills were abandoned mid-process and will not be proceeded with

By the numbers: Stephen Harper’s Conservative government (June 2011 – June 2013)

  • Royal Assent given to 50 government bills (2 of which were notably large omnibus bills that amended numerous Acts)
  • Royal Assent given to 18 Senate bills
  • Royal Assent given to 15 Private Members’ Bills
  • 23 bills were defeated by this point
  • 5 bills were abandoned mid-process and were not proceeded with
  • 45 bills were left on the table hanging, delayed, dropped or defeated due to September 2013’s prorogation

While these numbers would suggest the Conservatives trounced the Liberals on progress – this sort of analysis equates 1-to-1 numbers of bills passed without looking at what’s in them.

The Liberals are still hoping to emphasize quality over quantity.

Trying to measure up a government like this one by its own standard – numbers – seems fair at first, although at the peril of being pedantic: there is more to it than that.

The Liberal government promised ‘real change’, ‘fairness’, and to not be Stephen Harper. That last one being a real linchpin that sealed the deal.

Conservatives had become associated with terms like “omnibus” bills, “prorogation”, “in-camera” committees, and “time allocation” that progressives lamented as being part of a ham-fisted scheme to undermine democracy.

The Liberals could not have spent almost a decade decrying the governing party for how they did things, if they would not improve things and be held to a higher standard once in their place.

They raised the bar on debate by consulting broadly first, evaluated each bill using gender based (GBA+) analysis, made committees more independent, and tried to make their answers more forthcoming.

However, this comes at a political cost. Voters expect results.

It’s difficult to both extend the amount of time spent discussing legislation and compete with a record of ramming things through quickly without remorse or regret.

Context is key. The Trudeau Liberals came in for the first time in 2015 after several years as third-party and several more before that in Opposition. The Harper government got its first majority in 2011 after 5 years of minority government where many of their bills that had been hampered from passing were ready to be reintroduced and rushed through under the guise of being pre-vetted.

It’s also about ideology. The Harper Conservatives made bite-sized bills that were red meat for their base, like mandatory minimums for crimes already considered heinous, back-to-work legislation that pre-empted negotiation or bills that “encourage” action without anything tangible in them.

While the Trudeau government has passed less bills, they have all been impactful or concrete as opposed to purely symbolic.

Governments do a fair number of things that are not easy to track or compare in metrics either: International work or trade agreements; regulatory work; funding and grants; interprovincial agreements or programs; transfers; and deals with private business. It’s also not easy to track the amount of times that the Trudeau government improved the tone, resisted the urge to shut down criticism at committee or put in a program that prevents as opposed to punishes after the fact.

Number of pieces of legislation passed is not a saleable message that Justin Trudeau will look to in 2019. And he tactically shouldn’t. He will focus on how Canada is “fairer” and “more just” in 2019 than it was at the end of 2015.

No tracking sheet or tidy wrap-up report card could show that Justin Trudeau passed more bills than Stephen Harper did, but… wait one minute – Hey, look! The Liberals taxed the 1% and gave more to those with families with children!

Shane Mackenzie is an Associate Consultant with Ensight. He has worked for Liberal Members of Parliament, as Social Media Coordinator for the Liberal Party of Canada, has spent time as a federal public servant, and has campaigned at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

Jagmeet Singh’s First Test As Leader: Mackenzie

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The truest test of Singh’s mettle does not lie in Quebec. Singh’s greatest test for 2019 will be helping his old colleagues in their 2018 Ontario election bid. Ensight’s Shane Mackenzie in Loonie Politics on this:.

The new kid on the national block, former Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP and MPP Jagmeet Singh, has recently swung from provincial to federal NDP politics. He’s settling into the new role as leader of Canada’s NDP, having recently tendered his resignation as MPP for Bramalea—Gore—Malton. Without a seat in the House of Commons, Singh has plans for a cross-country tour to introduce himself to Canadians, with weekly Wednesday stops in Ottawa to meet with his Parliamentary colleagues.

Although, like any new leader – he’s untested. The readiness test of Justin Trudeau was a key focal point (and soundbite) of the last federal campaign.

Readiness was perhaps a proxy for Stephen Harper to make increased age into a virtue for him and Mulcair, possibly as a tactic to squeeze out Trudeau. It clearly backfired. It merely activated some ageist tendencies in his existing base.

Admittedly for the average, moderate voter, “Is he ready?” was still a lingering question on the doorstep during the campaign. Trudeau had to be relentless in his positive message, touring, and ads.

Last week, there were two federal by-elections, including a region of supposed strength for the NDP: Québec. In Lac-Saint-Jean, former Conservative Minister and Quebec political chieftain Denis Lebel resigned his seat. The Conservatives were hoping to hold onto it, while the NDP were hoping to show how bilingual and strong their new leader was. The Bloc Québécois was hoping to regain the seat they held up until Lebel took it.

They all faced an upset in watching it shift over to the governing Liberals who are polling highly in the province.

Singh campaigned in the riding, and was hoping it would show new energy in his party. The NDP placed fourth.

While it may be too early to read the result of week’s by-election in Lac-Saint-Jean as a bad omen for Singh’s tenure, it certainly wasn’t a great start. There has been a continued decline of seats for the NDP in the province since Jack Layton’s Orange wave in 2011.

Frankly, the truest test of Singh’s mettle does not lie in Quebec. Singh’s greatest test for 2019 will be helping his old colleagues in their 2018 Ontario election bid and it hinges on whether he can deliver ‘905’ ridings there. In particular his home regions of Scarborough, Brampton, and Mississauga.

Premier Horwath would put the winds in his sails. He may have seen his old boss as in his way to winning – as somehow he didn’t see a path to getting himself to the Premier’s office – yet better results for the Ontario NDP would set a narrative of the federal NDP being ready for primetime.

Also last week, Singh and Horwath met to do a chummy photo-op and commit to working together to beat incumbent Premier Kathleen Wynne in the next provincial election.

In the last provincial Ontario election, newly minted federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau campaigned side-by-side with Wynne and the Ontario Liberals, despite no official connection between the parties. That tie served him well a year later in 2015.

Additionally, Kathleen Wynne’s formidable campaigning skills and a deep Liberal bench in the GTA mean that the Ontario Liberals can’t yet be counted out.

It is clear that in battleground Mississauga-Brampton ridings, the real test has begun.

This won’t be an easy road for Singh and the Ontario NDP, however. Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown will emphasize his friendship with Narendra Modi as well as a newfound embracing of diversity within his party.

Beyond outreach to the Hindu community, he has been aggressively courting the Tamil community and has been in Gurdwaras across the region. These are lessons that may also be coming from Alykhan Velshi, Brown’s Chief of Staff.

Velshi cut his political teeth as Director of Communications and Senior Special Assistant to Jason Kenney in his time as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity as well as his role as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. This launched him into the Prime Minister’s Office by 2011 as Director of Planning.

Brown sees that Kenney-esque multicultural outreach approach as his secret weapon to pulling the vote back to the Conservative fold. On the other hand, battleground suburban GTA swung during the last federal election from the Conservatives to the Liberals. Getting them back provincially is a linchpin in the PC strategy.

The only thing that could counteract that: Jagmeet Singh using his time in the non-elected wilderness to try to bring people into the NDP fold. While Trudeau and Scheer are stuck in the parliamentary pageantry of Question Period, Singh can devote his entire schedule to building a formidable grassroots apparatus. He has already spent time campaigning provincially in BC during his leadership campaign. This is in his wheelhouse and is his home turf.

If Singh can show early Ontario results, he can carry that momentum to improve the federal NDP fortunes. A strong showing in Ontario next year could translate into 2019 momentum – just as it did for the Liberals. He has his shot lined up, although pulling it off will require hope and hard work.

Lessons on losing: What the NDP can learn from the 2011 Liberals: Mackenzie

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The recent NDP leadership ended decisively, with a first-ballot win for Brampton MPP Jagmeet Singh. Without a seat in the House of Commons of his own, Singh expects (unless an opportune by-election crops up) to be on the campaign hustings on his own for the next two years straight.

He’s an interesting — and possibly risky — choice for the NDP: a federal outsider without provincial NDP government experience, someone who is not a current federal caucus member. But those aren’t really the things New Democrats need to worry about right now.

The larger challenge for the NDP is one of identity — of figuring out who they are and what they stand for. The party gambled in the 2015 campaign on outflanking the Liberals through a balanced budget pledge. That shift in direction left many Canadians uncertain about what a ideologically flexible NDP might do next.

For some lessons on how this self-evaluation process might look, it’s worth taking a look back to 2011, when the Liberals — who also had just experienced a fall from Official Opposition to third party status — initiated a very deliberate process of ‘rebuilding’ their party.

This rebuilding project was a pragmatic process of evaluation — not an exercise in nostalgia. Liberals attended roundtables where they told one another why they were Liberals — what the Liberals should stand for, what policies they should champion, what would convince everyday Canadians that Liberals were a vibrant political movement worth considering again.

In Justin Trudeau’s book Common Ground, he describes his key advisers sitting around a campfire and talking about the possibility that the Liberal party was a spent political force. They talked about how Preston Manning and Stockwell Day created new parties with new names and the same old MPs. (Who knows what that would have looked like? The Progressive Party? The Liberal Democrats?)

Reminder: Before the 2015 election, the NDP had the largest caucus in its history. The election pulled the rug out from under them. In Opposition, New Democrats talked seriously about being ready to govern and pointed to the experience of provincial NDP governments by way of example. Defeat robbed the party of its raison d’être.

Many New Democrats haven’t understood that loss yet for what it was. Many Canadians don’t know now what distinguishes the NDP from the Liberal party, what makes New Democrats more qualified than the Liberals to move forward progressive ideas.

Parliament won’t help. Tom Mulcair made a reputation for himself as Stephen Harper’s most savage opponent in the Commons. The NDP’s new leader may not even make it to question period for another two years. In the meantime, Singh has tapped former leadership rival Guy Caron to lead his caucus day-to-day.

Singh has made some moves to distinguish himself from his rivals and, by extension, from the Liberals — such as his pitch to decriminalize personal recreational drug use. But he still has a lot to lose in 2019 and much ground to make up. Prime Minister Trudeau continues to be seen as a symbol of progressivism around the world.

The NDP supporters who voted strategically in 2015 to defeat the Harper Conservatives may be alarmed by recent polling showing a rise in support for the Conservatives — and decide to park their votes with the Liberals for safekeeping. New Democrats likely will be playing defence in certain regions they currently hold, which may draw their attention and resources away from taking Liberal-held seats in urban, multicultural areas.

The only virtue in defeat is the opportunity to become better. Every party eventually needs to restore itself — but the process typically involves some serious self-interrogation. New Democrats need to ask themselves what they can offer that no other party can.

Singh has two years on the outside now, time he can put to good use in rebuilding the party. And being an outsider can have benefits. Singh likes to compare himself to Jack Layton. It took Layton three elections to be considered. Like Layton, Singh can afford to be patient.

But a party leader who leads from the outside runs a risk. The next election will be an evaluation of what Trudeau has done with power. Without an actual third-party leader there to hold Trudeau to account in the House of Commons, Singh’s placeholder Parliamentary caucus representative is going to see his lunch eaten daily by Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer.

Good luck, Jagmeet Singh. The path from third place to first is seldom easy to follow.

(As published in iPolitics on October 8, 2017)

Trump and the Art of the NAFTA Deal: Mackenzie

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In the late 1980s, Donald J. Trump appeared as though he had a future in politics. Take a trip back with me.

As a fresh-faced real-estate mogul in New York City in his early forties, Trump chummed it up with Clintons on the party circuit and even had Oprah tempting him into flirting with an eventual run for President.

In the 90s, Trump’s carefully crafted persona expanded into a successful foray into authorship through The Art of the Deal, which spent 51 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

The part autobiography, part listicle recommended 11 unavoidable keys to success in business and to making great deals.

Trump’s tome on deal-making is timely considering that now-President Trump is being tested on one major deal and one of his key campaign promises: renegotiating NAFTA. He criticized the deal as “the worst trade deal” ever signed by the U.S. and said that he would get his country a much better deal.

So, will we find some clues to Trump’s NAFTA strategy in The Art of the Deal as we enter Round 3? Let’s find out by examining his tactics for deal-making:

Think big

NAFTA has big stakes. Tens of millions of jobs depend on it. NAFTA countries’ economies have grown together to become the world’s largest free trade area and have a combined output of approximately $17 trillion (U.S.) worth of goods and services. Renegotiating and modernizing it could be big for business.

Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself

The U.S. has put Mexico and Canada on their back feet in these negotiations by coming to the table aggressively. U.S. trade negotiators charge that hundreds of thousands of jobs “left” or slipped northwards or southwards, and would soon be coming back to them. Canada and Mexico have entered this discussion aiming for a tweak at best to the existing deal. They may be too busy defending their key levers while the U.S. is on the offensive – essentially protecting itself from losing ground.

Maximize the options

This chapter essentially suggests a good negotiator must ensure there are distractions in waiting, including leaving room to negotiate something else – in case this deal falls through. So, if NAFTA falls through – bilateral trade deals with each country remain on the table, although that is not considered ideal for anyone.

Know your market

While Trump may think that his administration speaks for business, industry’s motto is “do no harm” to the existing agreement and arrangements of supply chains. Industry is not onside with the administration’s tactics. It is sheer tone deafness and contrarianism of the U.S.’s Trade Negotiator Lighthizer in saying “tweaks” are not enough.

Use your leverage

Arguably all three countries picked strong negotiating teams with a lot of experience. Well done all around.

Enhance your location

The U.S. got home-team advantage in Washington off the bat, ornate rooms in any nation’s capital will not phase weathered trade negotiators though. No points to anyone. Thankfully it’s still summer weather in Canada going into this weekend’s round. However, if this drags on… winter trade talks could be considered a trade irritant of sorts.

Get the word out

Trade negotiations necessitate a high level of privacy. Trump’s use of his rallies throughout August to loudly threaten again that the U.S. will walk away from NAFTA was a clear play for media and the other countries to induce panic. As neither Canada nor Mexico have taken the bait – both suggesting it was simply empty rhetoric – it seems the safe bet is that cooler heads prevail behind closed doors.

Fight back

President Trump often thinks people are being “unfair” to him. His impetus for calling for NAFTA renegotiation was because it was unfair to manufacturers, and the U.S. wasn’t going to take it anymore. We can expect him to take more swings at NAFTA at his persistent campaign rallies and obviously on Twitter. Does that impact the negotiations? Doubtful. Experts point to the fact that Congress passed a trade implementation bill around NAFTA that would need to be dealt with before Trump could truly pull the U.S. out.

Deliver the goods

Commentators suggest Mexico and Canada will likely concede small things to give Trump a political win back home, but they won’t give away the store. Trump will get tweaks and must declare victory, which is not what he set out to do. Otherwise, he will walk away with no agreement delivered.

Contain the costs

When all is said and done, these negotiations will have cost a lot. If these talks last for longer than Trump hoped, he will be accused of running up the bill for not a lot of return on investment.

Have fun

Trade deals are not ‘fun’. This is an exercise in pouring over countless pieces of paper to amend the wording of an existing agreement that has trillions of dollars on the line. Trump’s rallies may give him an adrenaline boost that thrills him, however, NAFTA should not be a political football. This is a deal that creates many jobs and puts the food on many families’ tables.

Some commentated that Lighthizer’s opening remarks in round one in Washington, “We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement,” sounded as if Trump wrote it himself on the back of a napkin for his Trade Negotiator to toss in.

The President’s fingerprints are present in the negotiations and his unpredictability looms all around it. His Apprentice persona was built as a deal-maker, and now his worldview is being put to the test.

The Art of the Deal – an undeniable major influence on negotiations in the private sector over the last few decades – now sits on the shelf as perhaps Trump’s best legacy.

Then again, he didn’t even write the thing.

(As published in Loonie Politics on September 23, 2017)

Trudeau Targets Indigenous, Veterans Files And Promotes Talent From Within

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Ensight’s Cabinet Shuffle Political Update

Trudeau Retools Cabinet In Advance Of Fall Parliamentary Session

With the next federal election about to be closer than the last one that brought the Liberals to power‎, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his Cabinet to focus on the unfinished items on the Liberal agenda and fight off attacks from two new opposition party leaders.

Trudeau orchestrated a shuffle early this year in order to recalibrate and position the Cabinet to manage Canada’s relationship with the Trump administration, but this latest shuffle represents something different. This is, in fact, a proactive shift introduced by the Prime Minister to put his government in the best position to deliver on specific priorities he deems critical to the next election, including Indigenous Affairs and Veterans Affairs. It should be noted this won’t be the last Cabinet shuffle before the next election, as a number of veteran Liberal ministers are expected to step aside in advance of the campaign.

At the centre of this shuffle is Minister Jane Philpott, a position she finds herself in for all the right reasons considering her stellar track record at Health Canada. From her deft and swift handling of the opioids crisis to making Health Accord deals with all provinces and territories, her work and activism have been effective and popular. However, industry has been consulted less vigorously under her leadership than in previous governments. Her personal passion for the Indigenous health file has been something she has spoken on many times, and she put her passion to work in partnering with Justice on the physician-assisted death and cannabis files. Her ability to partner with fellow ministers bodes well as she prepares to begin her mandate as it relates to the altered role of Dr. Carolyn Bennett as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister.

Bennett is a 20-year veteran Parliamentarian whose important role will get an expanded support team within Cabinet. She has a personal passion for her work, built on some strong partnerships she has made over the years with First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups across the country. While Bennett’s retirement may yet come – for now, she will continue to advance this key portfolio for the Prime Minister.

Seamus O’Regan, who has been preparing to host Cabinet at a retreat in his riding of St. John’s South—Mount Pearl next month, is another major player today as a new entrant to the Cabinet table. Well-known as a CTV broadcaster, O’Regan is one of the Prime Minister’s best friends, a groomsmen at his wedding, and a close personal confidant. His ability to communicate will be critical in his new role as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence, which was a portfolio that created a plethora of problems for the Harper government. Putting a renewed vigour into the veterans file will strongly signal that Liberals remain committed to the “sacred obligation” promises they included in their last platform. O’Regan’s strengths as a communicator will also help take some of the burden off Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has been embroiled in controversy at moments. O’Regan’s public effort to overcome alcohol dependency has transformed him into a comeback story, and he has worked closely with the PMO to help organize the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to Canada.

Another new member of Cabinet is Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Having already served as the Deputy Government Whip and then as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau – Petitpas Taylor will be seen as a solid choice to expand the Cabinet. In the Atlantic provinces, Liberals currently have all the seats, and adding Ministers to give further recognition to that fact is something that Atlantic MPs will be pleased to see. The Health Minister role has a particularly high bar to meet following on the heels of Philpott’s tenure. She has succeeded in these two previous roles, yet this will bring the stakes to a higher level for her political future.

Meanwhile, former Paralympian and human rights lawyer Minister Qualtrough will be moving within Cabinet to take over as Minister of Public Services and Procurement. In her current portfolio as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities, she has been busy traveling across the country for consultations on services for persons with disabilities, has been involved with the B.C. wildfire response effort, and has been working to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act. She will now turn her proactive work ethic toward the challenges existing at Public Services and Procurement, including the embattled Phoenix pay system and procurement of replacement fighter jets. With a new NDP-Green provincial government and some polls showing federal Liberal slippage in British Columbia, keeping a tough riding like Delta is an electoral priority to show strength in the lower mainland’s outskirts.

Finally, Minister Kent Hehr will vacate his portfolio as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Defence to make way for O’Regan. However, the move to Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities comes with its benefits for Hehr, who was a noted athlete who remains passionate about sport. His new role may also provide him with more time to focus on getting re-elected in Calgary in 2019. He is the first Liberal Calgary MP since the 1970s.

New ministers will receive mandate letters, signalling updated priorities, from the Prime Minister in the weeks ahead.

Insights and Biographical Notes

Hon. Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister to National Defence

Insights

  • O’Regan’s appointment ensures Newfoundland and Labrador retains a voice at the Cabinet table in the wake of Judy Foote’s resignation from her post at Public Services and Procurement.
  • The former broadcaster is a close personal friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who notably made a public show of support for O’Regan in 2015 when he announced he would seek help for alcohol dependence.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada’s headquarters are located in Charlottetown PEI, and several Atlantic Canadian politicians have been called on to lead the department in the past, such as Greg Thompson, Doug Young and Gerald Merrithew.

Biographical Notes

O’Regan is well known to Canadians as the long-time host of CTV’s Canada AM and as a national reporter for the network.

Born in St. John’s and raised in Labrador, O’Regan worked for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as an advisor to the Premier and to the Minister of Justice. He also served as Executive Vice President, Communications, at The Stronach Group of Companies, and was noted for his role of Ambassador for Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health awareness campaign.

As MP for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland and Labrador), O’Regan has been a member of the House of Commons’ Canadian Heritage committee and he is a members of the Canada-Ireland Interparliamentary Group.

O’Regan made headlines when he proactively sought treatment for alcohol dependence shortly after he was elected in 2015, and he was also named in the scandal surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Christmas vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.

Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health

Insights

  • Petitpas Taylor is a gifted communicator in French and English, and she put those skills to great use as Parliamentary Secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She was notably instrumental in various consultations across the country, including those held for Budget 2017.
  • Petitpas Taylor is a noted advocate on women’s issues whose ability to connect with her own community in Southeastern New Brunswick has translated well to the federal political scene. Her riding is adjacent to the Beausejour riding of Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, with whom she has a productive working dynamic.
  • A noted community volunteer and advocate, Petitpas Taylor burst into federal politics when she shocked local Liberals and defeated former Moncton mayor George LeBlanc to win the Liberal nomination and help lead the red wave that covered every corner of Atlantic Canada in 2015.

Biographical Notes

Ginette Petitpas Taylor’s background in social work led her to a 23-year career as an RCMP Victim Services Coordinator where she provided crisis and domestic violence counselling. She is a noted volunteer with the Coalition Against Abuse in Relationships, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Suicide Prevention Committee, she served on the City of Moncton’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, and she has been chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services

Insights

  • Philpott has been one of the Prime Minister’s most competent and trusted ministers, and her shift in responsibilities reflects the continued importance the government is placing on Indigenous Affairs.
  • A medical doctor, Philpott has been noted as an activist minister at the helm of Health Canada.
  • Philpott has led a number of pan-Canadian consultation processes, and has worked closely with provinces and fellow ministers on a number of high-stakes issues like the opioid crisis, physician-assisted death and the development of a legal cannabis regime.

Biographical Notes

Prior to her career in politics, Dr. Philpott has been an accomplished medical physician with many accomplishments in the fields of family medicine, public health, medical education and advocacy for HIV/AIDS.
She worked in Niger from 1989 to 1998 where she practiced medicine and established a medical training program. Back in Canada, she founded Give a Day to World AIDS in 2004, a charity which has raised over $4 million.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Insights

  • Qualtrough’s success as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities has put her in position to take on this new challenge with added responsibilities.
  • Qualtrough’s promotion is a nod to the importance of her riding in the West Coast election strategy of the Liberal party. Delta is an important British Columbia riding for a Liberal government that is hoping to hold on to its recent electoral breakthrough in the next general election.
  • She bolstered the Prime Minister’s confidence in her abilities by showing great poise and competence during the recent wildfires in British Columbia.
    Biographical Notes

Biographical Notes

The MP for Delta led a successful human rights law career in British Columbia in addition to her athletic career and volunteer advocacy initiatives. Qualtrough has been visually impaired since birth, a challenge that did not prevent her from becoming a successful Paralympic swimmer. That success paved the way for her involvement with the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games, and her former role as president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Insights

  • Hehr is the first Liberal from Calgary to sit in Cabinet since 1972.
  • The minister’s successful career in provincial politics has helped to prepare his path to the Trudeau Cabinet.
  • In his new role, Hehr can draw on his personal experience as a Canadian living with a disability caused by a spinal cord injury.

Biographical Notes

Hehr practiced law at a well-known national firm, worked with the United Way and led the Alberta branch of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. He was known as a hard-working Alberta MLA where his priorities revolved around the management of the province’s budget, natural resources, public education and LGBTQ issues.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Insights

  • Contrary to speculation, her inclusion in this shuffle would indicate that she is not resigning anytime soon.
  • Carolyn has a solid relationship with her department, and firm relationships with Chiefs across the country, which is a testament to her work when she was the Liberal critic.
  • Her experience as a doctor will pair well with Dr. Philipott and signals a continued focus on historically underserved communities.

Biographical Notes

Carolyn Bennett was first elected in 1997 and prior to her election she was a family physician and a founding partner of Bedford Medical Associates in Toronto.
In 2003 Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Bennett as the first ever Minister of State for Public Health, a role in which she set up the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed the first Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, and established the Public Health Network.

Don Newman In Conversation On NAFTA

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Members of the Standing Committee on International Trade sat down at the table today with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for an open discussion on Canada’s objectives and approach to NAFTA negotiations. When the meeting ended, MPs spoke with Ensight’s Don Newman about what they heard and what it means for Canadian businesses as they await the start of negotiations Wednesday in Washington.

Watch the clips:

1. Hon. Andrew Leslie, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Canada-U.S. Relations), Liberal MP for Orléans

2. Hon. Gerry Ritz, Conservative Trade Critic, International Trade Committee Member, Conservative MP for Battlefords—Lloydminster

3. Kyle Peterson, International Trade Committee Member, Liberal MP for Newmarket—Aurora

Stay tuned for more this week from Ensight as NAFTA negotiations unfold!

Political Perspectives: Five things to watch as Parliament resumes

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Today (Jan. 22) marks 80 days in power for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As the 42nd session of Parliament returns on Monday, and we approach the “First 100 Days” milestone, here’s a quick list of five things to watch for this session.

Budget 2016 and the deficit: Finance Minister Bill Morneau just wrapped up his cross-country pre-budget consultations. The first budget is widely speculated to be end of March. The size of the deficit is the item to watch for as oil prices continue to decline and the dollar has dipped to its lowest point since 2003.

Opposition and the Progressive Opposition: The Conservative Party is holding true to #NewYearNewYou with a leadership election announced for May 27, 2017. Expect them and the repositioned ‘Progressive Opposition’ NDP to continue to push on issues such as electoral reform, while aiming to portray the Trudeau government’s fiscal plans as irresponsible.

Big agenda items: The government will be moving forward on some of its significant Throne Speech items. The clock is ticking for the government fulfill its promise on electoral reform within 18 months of coming to power, including a commitment that the 2015 election will be the last conducted according to first-past-the-post. In the wake of COP 21 and Canada’s commitments in Paris, government actions to curb climate change and address environmental issues will be watched closely. Infrastructure spending is a hot topic for provincial partners and municipalities who have a lengthy list of to-dos and high expectations. Legislating and regulating marijuana will also be high on the minds of many Canadians.

Items added to their agenda: The Supreme Court has given Ottawa a four-month extension to pass a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide. This is something to keep an eye on in the next several months as provinces and territories work with the federal government to come to a consensus on this emotional and contentious issue.

Senate Reform: With a new process and advisory board in place for appointing senators to the upper house, it’s expected that five of the 22 vacancies could be filled early in the new year, with two from Ontario, two from Manitoba and one from Quebec, to restore regional balance. There are big questions about exactly how the new Senate will work, given that the Liberals promised to make the Upper House of Parliament more independent and non-partisan. Could government legislation be blocked by the newly independent senate?

As Ministers return to question period briefed up, staffed up, and hopefully rested up from the holiday, we will see a more comfortable team working to deliver on the government priorities set out in their platform and throne speech: growing the economy for the middle class, providing Canadians with open and transparent government, and fighting climate change.