Category Archives: Blog

Four Reasons Not to Forget About Conservatives: A Post Manning Networking Conference Update

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Conservatives from across the country gathered in Ottawa last weekend to attend the 10th annual Manning Networking Conference. This is the brainchild of former Reform Leader Preston Manning and is billed as a discussion around the Conservative Movement in Canada.
Now it would be easy to think that the Conservative Party wields no real power in a Liberal majority government and in the short term, you might not even be wrong. But ultimately the Conservatives will take power back, maybe not in 2019 or even 2023, but history shows us that Canadians will eventually tire of one government in favour of a new one.

The Conservative movement is at a critical juncture and there is a growing realization that it needs to grow and adapt to remain competitive against the Liberals, who Conservatives had hoped had been effectively neutralized in 2011 but were oh so wrong, as it turns out.

Here are four themes from last week’s Manning Conference that could impact your organization’s goals:

1- All Ontario PC talk, all the time: You couldn’t have a single discussion with anyone without being asked who you supported in the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leadership race. In fact, all three candidates (Elliot, Mulroney and Ford) were given stage time where they were interviewed by Anthony Furey. Provincial battles are often seen as a litmus test for federal ones and if you haven’t already, cultivating relationships with the Ontario PC’s, both elected, nominated and staff, would just be prudent. Hedge your bets and although the PCs in Ontario have an incredible knack for self-destruction, it’s too early to count them out.

2- New Ideas: The theme this year at Manning was around new ideas for a new generation and there is a feeling that the movement/party must grow and attract a new demographic. In fact, pollster David Coletto presented data that showed that millennials could vote Conservative, but only if the party could address issues they cared about like immigration and the environment. If your organization has a new idea that requires time to mature and the support of a political party, you are pushing on an open door right now and the time is now to begin seeding ideas.

3- Carbon Tax: There is violent opposition to a carbon tax in conservative circles, but Preston himself made an impassioned plea that it’s not enough for Conservatives to be opposed to a carbon tax, we must figure out and sell an alternative conservative vision for the environment. This is an opportunity for organizations and associations in this space; how can you help the Conservatives create this new vison?

4- Trans Mountain Pipeline: There was much discussion around the frustration with BC and the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Jason Kenney, now Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader, gave a barn burning speech on the importance of Canada’s natural resources and making it a moral issue about how Alberta can support the rest of the Canada through equalization but only if projects are approved. In this instance any organizations with interests in natural resource projects would be well served by working to ensure that they have conservative allies, because as we know, timelines for these projects can eclipse government life cycles.

These are all important discussions taking place now in the Conservative movement that will contribute to the Conservative Party’s 2018 Policy Convention in Halifax set for August.

It goes without saying that you need a strong relationship with the current Liberal government, but while the Conservative party may be bruised and battered, it is rebuilding, and organizations would be well served to not forgot about Conservatives in the pursuit of their public affairs goals.

Toronto police culture still harms LGBTQ community: Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last several months in Toronto have provided the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-scandal PCs poised for a dramatic revival: Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newman on NAFTA (And More): Events Dear Boy, Events

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Those unforeseen occurrences that suddenly demand immediate attention. That is how former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan ‎summed up his most difficult challenges as he was leaving office in 1963.

Fifty-five years later another Prime Minister in a different country might well be pondering the wisdom of those words.

This past week Justin Trudeau has had come into focus two problems that will bedevil him from now until the next election in 2019, and perhaps beyond. One is to some degree out of his hands. The other is directly in his control.

The first, of course is NAFTA. Cautious optimism in Montreal last weekend that negotiations between Canada, the United States and Mexico were finally getting somewhere came to a crashing halt ‎on Monday, when U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer rejected Canadian counterproposals on automobile content rules of origin.

Many people had believed that the Montreal talks might be the last round of negotiations before the United States stopped the meetings and U.S. President Donald Trump made good on his threat to give notice to pull out of NAFTA‎.

At least now there will be two more negotiating rounds before that happens. One at the end of this month in Mexico, and another in March in the U.S.

However, it is now even more certain that what the Canadian Government has feared since last October is indeed true. If there is to be a continuation of NAFTA it will be a radically altered agreement heavily slanted towards the United States. Ottawa will have to decide if there is still enough benefit to Canada to re-sign, or to cut and run.

One place we might run is to a free trade agreement with China. But so far that idea isn’t going very well either. One of the Chinese requirements for a trade deal has been increased pipeline capacity from the Oil Sands of Alberta to Canada’s west coast.

That was one of the factors, although not the only one, in Ottawa’s approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to the lower mainland in British Columbia.

New pipelines have always been a difficult tightrope for the Trudeau Government to walk. This past week it became even more difficult.

The New Democrats formed a minority government in B.C. last‎ summer. A minority propped up by three members of the Green Party. The NDP and the Greens are opposed to expansion of Trans Mountain. They were also opposed to a giant hydro project in B.C. called the Site C dam.

The dam falls under provincial jurisdiction. The NDP government of Premier John Horgan could have cancelled it, but the NDP risked the wrath and losing the support of the Greens by announcing that the project was so far along it could not be cancelled. The Government could have fallen and an election called. But the Greens did not abandon ‎the NDP.

It is important to know that background to understand what happened this week. Premier Horgan announced that the B.C. Government would do everything it can to stop the Trans Mountain expansion — even though the constitutional power to approve pipelines lies with the federal government, not the provinces.

In other words, he will try to stop a pipeline he has no power to stop, after giving the go-ahead to the Site C dam which he could have stopped‎. Coalition politics can be confusing. To save his Government Horgan has triggered not just a confrontation with Ottawa, he is also into a pitched war with the Government of Alberta, for whom an oil sands pipeline to tide water on the West Coast is a matter of economic life and death.

But it is not confusing for Justin Trudeau. He has no alternative but to push the federal authority to have the Trans-Mountain expansion built. To do otherwise would be an abdication of the Constitution‎, a breakdown of how the country works.

He has to do it in the face of provincial opposition and protests, in the context of legal challenges and potential civil disobedience. He has to do it in the face of electoral setbacks and disruption and fissures with in his own party.

Not only will the Liberal Government be tested. The opposition parties will have to clearly state their positions as well. With less than two years until the next federal election we can now see at least two of the major issues: Pipelines and the environment, and NAFTA and our relationship with the Americans.

And they were brought into clarity this past week’s events.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

This year a critical one for all federal parties: Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liberals need to focus on their strengths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new set of rules needed for reporting and preventing sexual abuse in politics: Gooch

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This was a big week in Canadian politics. As allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct emerged in news reports we saw two provincial party leaders and a federal cabinet minister resign at rapid speed.

A debate quickly unfolded about what type of behaviour is acceptable from political leaders and the process through which allegations should be investigated.

We need to remember that this isn’t simply about plucking a few bad apples. This is a conversation about transforming a culture in political organization designed to protect those in power, and silence those without it.

The women who are choosing to come forward publicly are disrupting a power structure that needs disruption. They are brave and should be believed and supported while investigations take place.

When we discuss sexual harassment and assault prevention supports in politics we also need to consider the grey areas:

  • The unelected power broker who glides untouched through political spheres preying on young volunteers at fundraisers, conferences, and events.
  • The long-time senior staffer who often makes offensive jokes and comments that everyone tolerates and has grown to ignore.
  • The junior staffer who gives unwanted sexual attention to volunteers or stakeholders unnoticed and unchecked.

The spaces through which political operatives and volunteers navigate are intertwined. Each political institution aims to claim ownership only over their own jurisdiction, and this does a disservice to the staff and volunteers involved.

We need streamlined processes and better clarity in the supports offered to victims of harassment and assault in political spheres that close these gaps.

An added layer here is the complexity of political relationships. In weighing the decision to report sexual harassment it can be a struggle to know who to trust and whether they will react in your best interest.

People get involved in politics for many reasons, there are many passionate political staff and volunteers who have entered the political arena excited to make meaningful change. It is a devastating experience to enter this space and face mistreatment while trying to carry out important work.

I think often of the positive contributions to Canadians that are lost as women and men chose to leave politics because it was too painful to see their abuser carry on without repercussion.

The silencing comes in many flavours. In some cases it is as simple as friends downplaying the severity of the harassment. In others, it’s mentors telling you to toughen up if you want to make it in politics.

The game is changing and we need to set new rules.

I am particularly interested in the intergenerational aspect of this discussion as it unfolds. Older women, who have needed to navigate these spaces for years without the supports we are currently contemplating, are powerful allies in the success of this shift.

This is a discussion that requires careful and earnest consultation, consultation that very few established political institutions have been successful at carrying out.

As the 2018 provincial and municipal campaign seasons kick off, there should be well-consulted central and local campaign policies and procedures that are ingrained in the operations of all parties.

Candidates, managers, staff, and volunteers alike have a responsibility to ensure campaign offices and events are safe spaces for everyone involved.

As volunteers join campaigns their training should include these policies. For those who choose to report, processes should be clear and points of contact should be approachable and compassionate.

An organization to watch in the coming months is the Young Women’s Leadership Network led by Arezoo Najibzadeh and Yasmin Rajabi. In the absence of co-ordinated multi-partisan, and even non-partisan leadership and action on the issue, they are currently preparing a sexual violence support kit for political campaigns.

In the process of supporting those who are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, the Young Women’s Leadership Network intends to consult with survivors, community groups, and experts to ensure plans are reflective of the variety of experiences faced by young women in politics.

This is difficult and exhausting work. I commend these young women for refusing to accept the status quo and dedicating their attention and energy to making this fundamental shift in Canadian political culture.

I hope that with this momentum we will see more women, particularly young women and women of colour, bringing their talents to Canadian politics at all levels, and I hope we will all see it as our job to help facilitate safer spaces.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star and Metro News Canada on Sunday, January 28, 2018)

The Insiders: Sexual misconduct and Canadian politics

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(To listen to The Insiders Panel — Click Here)

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

On what’s next for the Ontario PC party:

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

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

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

On the return of Parliament next week:

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

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

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

(As published on cbc.ca)

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

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The spectacle continues.

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

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

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

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

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

Wash, rinse, repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newman On NAFTA: Trump Has Done It Again, Expect The Unexpected In Montreal Next Week

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Ensight’s Don Newman on what to watch for as NAFTA talks resume in Montreal next week, when President Trump could give the mandatory 6 month notice or if the talks should go on hiatus until the Mexican election on July 1st.

Don’t be surprised. Donald Trump has done it again. As negotiations resume in Montreal next week on changing NAFTA, there is now confusion over how long the talks will continue.

The talks effectively stalled over a series of American demands that neither Canada nor Mexico can even contemplate agreeing to. It has been widely anticipated that after the Montreal round concludes January 28th, Trump would inform the U.S. Congress that as President, he was giving the mandatory six month notice that he planned to take the United States out of the NAFTA treaty.

It is generally understood in Washington that Trump believes that during the six months that the clock runs on the withdrawal announcement, Canada and Mexico will be panicked into making concessions on the U.S. demands that have been are so far unacceptable.

This week he conceded as much. He tweeted that “NAFTA is a bad joke,” and he told the Reuters News agency that he believes it will take a NAFTA cancellation notice to drive the talks to a favourable American conclusion. However, he said many people don’t want him to do that, at least not yet.

Those people are ‎many in the American business community, the farming and agri-food industry and the Senators whose states would be directly affected by a NAFTA termination notice.

They are arguing that signaling an end to NAFTA would adversely affect the roaring American Stock Markets, and dissipate many of the benefits of the massive tax cuts Congress passed just before Christmas.

So it is against that backdrop that the talks will resume this coming week in Montreal. Already, there has been a change to the schedule. Now Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Mexican and American counterparts will hold their Media conference on Monday, Jan. 29th, one day later than planned.

Whether or not that extra day will be helpful in resolving the deal breaking demands of the Americans remains to be seen.

As a memory refresh, among those demands, is that a new NAFTA would have a five year sunset clause, unless all three countries agreed to renew it for another five years.
That the findings from independent dispute settlement panels would no longer be enforceable and that the ability of companies in one country to sue the government of another would be curtailed.

And that access to countries procurement contracts in the United States would be limited to the dollar value of procurement contracts available for American companies in Canada or Mexico. Given the discrepancies in the size of the U.S. Economy to the other two, that proposal would mean American companies would have access to all Canadian procurement contracts, and Canada to only a small percentage of those available in the U.S.

Equally unacceptable are demands for increased American content in automobiles manufactured under NAFTA. And the perennial demand that Canada’s supply management dairy marketing system be disbanded.

Having planned to apply the pressure of a threatened withdrawal as soon as possible, now Trump has been musing that perhaps the three country negotiations should go on hiatus until after July 1st. That’s not out of any respect for Canada’s Birthday. July 1st is also the date of Mexico’s Presidential election, and as Trump has pointed out, the closer to the election the harder it is for that country to make the concessions the United States wants.

If he decides to wait, that doesn’t mean the Americans won’t use the withdrawal threat. It just means a change in timing.

Because Trump still believes that a trade agreement can be negotiated the way he negotiated real estate deals, with bluster and threats, as he detailed in his book, “The Art of The Deal.”

And many in his administration believe that the full out campaign Canada and Mexico have launched to save NAFTA,‎ in more or less its present form, means that the current agreement favours those countries to the detriment of the United States. That being the case, both Canada and Mexico should have things to give in the current negotiations.

So with that as the American perspective, and an “Art of the Deal” negotiating mentality, don’t be surprised by anything that could transpire at the Montreal NAFTA negotiations next week.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

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)