Category Archives: Blog

Patrick Brown’s clever strategy is withstanding Liberal attacks: Watt

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The Ontario Liberals have now served in government for more than 14 years. It’s an incredible accomplishment: few governments in Canada have secured so many consecutive mandates, especially in today’s turbulent political environment.

That longevity has not been a fluke. The Ontario Liberal Party has been led by leaders who have connected with Ontarians and keen political operators who move quickly and decisively to play up political advantages and minimize political threats. It’s among the most formidable Canadian political organizations in its era.

The Ontario Liberals have demonstrated an impressive ability to identify and exploit the weaknesses of their political foes. Their reward has been four consecutive governments.

It’s for that reason that this fall has been particularly interesting to watch.

When Patrick Brown was elected the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in 2015, many pundits thought the party had made a grave error. Indeed, many dismissed it as an accident that would have serious consequences for the party.

Brown had been a backbench Conservative Member of Parliament in Stephen Harper’s government, and had been part of a number of votes that could allow the politically savvy Liberals to define him as an unpalatable social conservative.

However, Brown has been far more politically deft in the last two years than the political class in Ontario would have guessed he’d be. He has wisely recognized that 14 years of governance eventually causes a government’s shine to wear off, no matter the party or its successes.

It is natural that in the course of governing the inevitable barnacles will attach to the ship of the government, and a party will take some scrapes and hits that begin to cause serious brand damage. Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are struggling with that challenge.

Brown has capitalized on that by stepping away from the spotlight.

He has systematically shed positions that would alienate mainstream Ontario voters from the PC party. He hasn’t let the party’s more right-wing tendencies get the best of it.

The Liberals have a tried-and-tested formula for winning elections, including the aforementioned ability to identify and hammer away at opponents’ weaknesses. The Liberals also have a superbly organized ground game.

The Working Families Ontario coalition is a centre-left organization developed by a number of interest groups that work to develop election strategies to keep the PCs out of government. Often, the Liberals and Working Families air ads with similar messages and themes that frame their opponents as bad for Ontario.

Thus far, this has been a one-two punch that knocks out opponents. But the last two months have shown that the Liberals have struggled to find an attack on Brown that sticks.

They have tried to compare Brown to U.S. President Donald Trump, pushing the message that the PC leader will bring a new and divisive brand of politics to centrist Ontario. A Working Families coalition ad implies the same, imploring Ontarians not to bring Trump’s politics to Ontario.

Trump is an effective political cudgel. He is about as popular in Ontario as a cockroach infestation in your home.

But Brown’s effective message of political moderation has made those attacks ring a bit hollow. It’s hard to imagine the calm and measured Brown indulging in the divisive politics of Trump.

The Liberals have tried to trip up Brown on such issues as Canadian values, abortion and gay rights, to no avail. He has refused to take the bait.

It is perhaps with this in mind that the Working Families coalition has released another ad, accusing Brown of behaving like a weather vane — an opportunist who changes his views depending on the political winds.

This means the coalition is saying that Brown is an operator who wants to bring divisive Trump-like politics to Ontario at the same time it’s arguing that he takes his political positions based on political wind direction.

Not only is it not a coherent message — it’s downright contradictory.

Brown has learned the lessons of his predecessors, and he has refused to give the Liberals an opportunity to wedge him into uncomfortable positions.

By doing so, he is focusing political scrutiny on a Liberal government that is increasingly under duress. Only eight months before an election campaign, a number of government veterans have announced they are retiring, the media has grown more critical, and the Liberals’ messages to voters don’t seem to be getting through.

Meanwhile, Brown is showing Ontarians that his leadership victory may well not be a mistake after all.

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 12, 2017)

The enduring power of Michelle Obama: Gooch

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Toronto is abuzz.

Tickets went on sale last week for the Economic Club of Canada event on Nov. 28, which will feature a discussion with former First Lady Michelle Obama. The topic of the fireside chat-style discussion is education and equality for girls and women around the world.

I applaud the Economic Club of Canada for donating 1,500 of the 3,000 available tickets to youth aged 14-24, to be distributed through Plan International Canada, however, I’m disappointed to hear that the event will not be live-streamed. There is a key demographic that is missed in this strategy — young people who just miss the age cut off, but are unable to afford the $500 to $800 tickets.

While this is Obama’s first, I expect that this will not be her last speaking engagement in Canada. As her work empowering women and girls through education continues, she will find alignment from thousands of Canadian organizations and individuals who support her vision.

There are powerful opportunities for partnership as the Canadian government rolls out its Feminist International Assistance Policy and increases investments to international organizations supported by the Status of Women Canada.

Michelle Obama’s is a voice the world needs more of. As people watch to see what Barack Obama does following his presidency, my eyes are squarely set on the former First Lady.

A graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle served as the third First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree alongside Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Stepping away from a flourishing career as a University of Chicago hospital executive, in her time in the White House, she made a concerted effort to ensure her legacy was both authentic to her values and reflective of her upbringing.

She advocated passionately for girls’ education through the Let Girls Learn initiative; she danced and gardened her way into the hearts of Americans by raising awareness of the importance of physical activity and healthy eating; and she used her platform to support veterans and their families.

I am not alone in the belief that Michelle could be the first female President of the United States of America, if that were something she wanted. Unfortunately, as much as we all hoped she would, she has shown no desire to run for office.

Her leadership is needed wherever she chooses to bring it, and should she ever change her mind about running for office, I’ll be right there with her in support.

I admire and respect that Michelle Obama never forgot where she came from. In her 2015 speech at the Democratic Convention, she reminded America of its dark past: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent Black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn …”

Among her most memorable speeches was one delivered in 2015, upon receiving an honorary degree from Tuskegee University. She spoke candidly of the unique challenges she faced as the first Black woman in the White House, acknowledging the pain that accompanied the blatant racism that both she and Barack faced. She was portrayed in media as a militant holding a machine gun, described as Barack’s “Baby Mama,” and even compared to an ape.

I hope that as the dialogue around her visit to Toronto continues, commentary won’t shy away from these race issues. The barriers she faced are not unlike those standing before Black women and girls in Canada today.

Like Michelle, Black Canadian girls have shared experiences of being told to aim lower in their education by guidance councillors and teachers. Like Michelle, when speaking passionately about issues of importance to their communities, Black women have been written off as too angry.

While Michelle stands as a positive example for everyone, there is a special connection for Black women and girls in particular. She stands as an example and much needed affirmation that #BlackGirlsRock and anything is possible.

In the words of Ava Duvernay, Michelle is her “ancestor’s wildest dream.”

I’m saving up to purchase a ticket to the event, and have encouraged young people to register through Plan International Canada to hear her speak. You’ll find me somewhere in the audience, beaming just a little bit wider alongside the Canadian #BlackGirlMagic in attendance.

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 on November 12, 2017. Also published on MetroNews.ca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern dealmakers watch feds fumble free trade opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia inquiry may not be enough to bring down Trump: Watt

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Yet another shoe has dropped in the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the last U.S. presidential election.

Close associates of President Donald Trump have been indicted, including his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Many view the Russia inquiry, overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller, as the silver bullet to the Trump presidency. These opponents believe that a finding of collusion will end the regime and bring Trump down.

They reason that, much like the Watergate scandal, the lies and resulting coverup will reveal a deeply compromised president whose tenure will be irreparably damaged.

But critics who think that way continue to be naïve to our new political world.

Even if Mueller finds hard evidence of collusion, it may not be enough to bring down a president who remains buoyed by his supporters. Perhaps even more problematically for these opponents, a successful impeachment may represent a long-term setback for their own side.

There are a multitude of reasons for this, but among the most prominent is President Trump’s remarkable ability to obfuscate and confuse stories. Aided by a network of conservative media outlets, the president has managed to refocus and deflect allegations by constantly relaying messages on irrelevant or tangentially related issues.

For instance, on the same day that the media — CNN the lead among them — were breathlessly reporting the indictment of Manafort for suspicious activity with the Russian government, Trump began tweeting about Hillary Clinton’s relationship with a mining company acquired by a Russian corporation.

The issue had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation. Nonetheless, it successfully gained traction on a number of platforms, including much of television news. The problem is that most consumers of news do so casually at best.

If you had watched the news or skimmed the headlines that day, it would be difficult to not conflate Clinton, Russia, collusion and Trump.

None of this is a coincidence. The Mueller investigation is extremely complicated and the president’s messages only make the issue more difficult to follow.

Trump seems to have a mastery of this communication strategy. He and his White House allies, aided by the 24/7 media cycle, have managed to noticeably turn the dial and intentionally confuse the issue on Russia’s election involvement.

To the well-read and focused reader, it seems rather obvious that the Trump campaign — or at least some of those embedded within it — worked with agents of the Russian government to release information that would hurt Clinton in the election.

And yet, the general population has far less understanding of this issue. And that will be critical for Mr. Trump’s survival when the inevitable fallout from Mr. Mueller’s investigation occurs.

Trump has a dedicated following that has demonstrated considerable resistance to abandoning the president, and it seems unlikely that the complicated Russia issue will dissuade them any further.

If, in the end, the issue is not a cut-and-tried accusation that has direct ties to the president, it is unlikely that those who have not yet abandoned him will all of a sudden head for the doors. The issue has now been around long enough and has become confused enough that the media apparatus that supports Trump will prove, once again, to be his biggest asset.

As we have seen all year, Trump’s appeal to a loyal base places considerable pressure on Republican members of Congress to remain loyal to the president.

Further to the practical challenges of the Mueller inquiry, it remains a question if it is even advisable to try to tackle the president in this way. Trump was elected to drain the Washington swamp and attack the entrenched Washington interests that voters revile so much.

Should the president be removed from office by the Congress, aided by investigations undertaken by federal agencies, it is almost certain that it would be seen as a coup by his supporters. Trump would claim, and would likely be supported by the conservative media network, that his ouster was the inside-the-Beltway crew yet again protecting itself.

Such an outcome could be disastrous for those who revile Trump’s presidency. Their attempt to eject him from office could well backfire and, instead, inspire a backlash in the next election.

Those opponents of Trump who are watching the investigation unfold with glee need to beware. It is a road filled with traps, detours and blind spots. And while many want to storm down that road with little caution, heed must be paid to the many unforeseen consequences that lie ahead.

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

(As published in the The Toronto Star on Saturday, November 4, 2017)

Creating safe spaces for women in politics: Gooch

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Every so often, a politician makes a public statement that unreservedly merits an apology.

This week that moment came for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

When presented with a question about transparency in land dealings for a Global Transportation Hub, he deflected with a question about the NDP’s approach to allegations of sexual assault within their party.

For Premier Wall to bring this up in parliamentary debate, not with the intention to help victims, but instead as a retort to a question he did not want to answer is reprehensible.

When pressed further Wall stated, “I make no apology for raising it. If we don’t, what other opportunity is there to do? For it to be raised?”

Respectfully, Premier, there are many opportunities where sexual violence and harassment in politics can be proactively addressed that do not include rebuttals to unrelated questions in the House.

Wall has since apologized on Twitter to Rylee Schuhmacher, the young woman at the centre of the case he referred to, but still, he refuses to apologize to the party.

Responding on Facebook Thursday (and shared with her permission) Schuhmacher made a statement ended with powerful words: “Stop politicizing my assault and my trauma. Full stop.”

Wall’s actions this week exemplify the risk of politicization that must be weighed in the decision to report sexual harassment and assault in politics. This is exactly the reason so few come forward with their cases — and this problem is not isolated to one party or one level of government.

In the absence of meaningful intergenerational dialogue addressing how political spheres uniquely perpetuate and protect this behaviour, the Young Women’s Leadership Network has taken up the charge in pressing the issue forward.

I couldn’t be more pleased to see these young women challenging the status quo and rejecting the notion that they should let sexual harassment roll off their backs. When presented with the “whisper network,” a young organizer I met last month inquired as to why it wasn’t the “shout it from the rooftops network.”

With these fierce young women in leadership, the future of Canadian politics looks bright.

Following the overwhelming wave of stories shared through the #MeToo social media campaign founded by Tarana Burke — detractors still question how widespread the problem actually is in Canadian society today.

An Abacus poll published this week further contextualized the issue, finding 53 per cent of Canadian women taking part in the survey have experienced “unwanted sexual pressure.” Further, 77 per cent of the participants did not believe their harassers faced any consequences for their behaviour.

This week, federal Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hadju released a report summarizing the results of public consultations on harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. The report revealed Canadians are less likely to report sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of retaliation.

There is a great deal of challenging work ahead ridding workplaces and political spheres of this behaviour and providing better support to survivors.

Recently a male friend and long-time political organizer approached me, in earnest, for advice on how he could be helpful in addressing this issue. He was mortified as he reflected on his own contributions to creating a culture that was disrespectful toward, and unsafe for, women in politics. He wanted to know how he could serve as an active and outspoken ally.

I didn’t know how to answer at the time. Not knowing the specifics of individuals victimized by his behaviour, no matter how much time had passed — my instinct was to ensure their well-being before he went about centering himself in the discourse. This wasn’t about him or the journey he underwent to wake up to how his behaviour was impacting the women he worked, studied, or organized alongside.

That being said, I’m glad he and so many men are waking up and looking for ways to help.

So, how does one effectively ally in creating safer spaces for women in politics?

While considering how you will or have changed, take it a step further — forget the “bro code” and actively work to call out inappropriate behaviour when you see and hear about it.

Support individuals and organizations carrying out the front-line work of supporting survivors or building campaigns.

Remove the stories shared publicly by the brave souls who choose to report sexual violence and harassment from your political arsenal.

Most importantly: believe survivors.

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 on Saturday, November 4, 2017)

Let the Attacks Begin: Van Soelen

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Patrick Brown doesn’t want to be a target, nor does he want his party to be one.

Like hockey’s most elusive players, he is taking the right strides to make his opponents’ job of hitting him and his party more difficult.

Many grassroots Progressive Conservatives still suffer from nightmares of how the Liberals and their surrogates have successfully defined Tory leaders and policies in recent election campaigns.

A big part of the coming election will be about who defines Patrick Brown and the PCs. Will it be Brown himself and the party, or will it be the Liberals and their third-party surrogates?

In June, the Ontario Liberals will enter their fifth election since Dalton McGuinty led them to power in 2003.

It is shaping up as a contest between the overexposed and the still unknown. It’s the 15-year track record of McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne versus Patrick Brown and … what?

One of the Liberals’ most trusted surrogates, Working Families Ontario, recently released new attack ads, indicating the group can once again be counted on to try to negatively frame the Progressive Conservative leader.

While some say that Brown’s public profile is not as prominent as it needs to be at this point, I think he appreciates some important lessons from past Ontario PC losses. The first is to understand who you are, so you can say who you aren’t, which is valuable given Working Families’ tactic of using attack ads to define PC leaders.

Brown has made crystal-clear that an Ontario PC government will not be a champion of social conservative issues. This removes a huge cudgel from the hands of Working Families.

Negative advertising works when it pulls on an existing narrative thread and embellishes it. However, attempts by Working Families to paint Brown as a social conservative with a hidden agenda will be difficult when a number of actual social conservatives are complaining Brown has abandoned them.

The good news for Ontario conservatives and moderates hoping for a change at Queen’s Park is that Brown seems comfortable in his own skin. His public profile will come; in the meantime, Brown has succeeded in defining himself with audiences as a progressive conservative focused on growing the economy, delivering good government, and helping those most in need.

Brown’s emerging political agenda seems a natural fit for him. This is good news because authenticity is the best shield a modern politician can wield on the campaign trail.

As an example, I don’t think Premier Wynne has ever looked more awkward than when she’s been called on to defend the Hydro One sale. I don’t believe it’s something she ever really believed in as a self-described “activist,” and her lack of authenticity comes across when she talks about the issue.

The other challenge for surrogates like Working Families is that the Liberals were forced to pass rules limiting third-party advertising during the formal election period and six months beforehand. This means the union-backed ads must run before many voters are likely to be paying attention.

Of course, while the Liberals would like to focus on defining Brown, they face the reality that they have hard work ahead to change voters’ negative impressions of the Liberal government. No campaign of attack ads and wedge politics will be enough to avoid having to defend a stale 15-year record in government.

Mike Van Soelen is a Managing Principal at public affairs firm Navigator Ltd., and has served in many roles for Conservative governments at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa

(As published in The Toronto Sun on November 4, 2017)

Has Trudeau’s Cabinet delivered on deliverology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DELIVERED:

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

TO BE DELIVERED:

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

NOT DELIVERED:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Patchwork of Pot: Watt

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As the Trudeau government’s July 2018 deadline for the legalization of marijuana looms, Canadians are beginning to focus on the social and economic implications of the change. As political strategist and policy advisor Jaime Watt writes, both the federal government and its provincial counterparts have work to do to allay some serious concerns before next Canada Day.

Bill C-45, Canada’s cannabis legislation, was tabled in the House of Commons last April, signalling Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to proceeding with legalization. While the bill establishes a strict framework for production, sale and possession, major issues such as distribution, enforcement and road safety have been left for provincial and territorial lawmakers.

Provincial governments have expressed concerns about the July 2018 deadline that was assigned to them, but would be wrong to delay meaningful consultation, planning and preparation. Canada’s patchwork of competing regional, demographic, and cultural factors will greatly impact the entrance of legal recreational cannabis into the market.

The industry’s success or failure will be based on the ability of local decision-makers to work with producers and users to present a safe, legitimate, and fairly-regulated product.

Polling indicates that Canadian provinces will face challenges in this respect. According to Cannabis in Canada, Navigator’s monthly online public opinion tracking survey of 1,200 participants, Canadians hold significant reservations about the disruptive effect retail storefronts could bring to their communities.

Seventy-three per cent of Canadians believe that legalization will unclog the court system with needless cases and prosecutions for possession of marijuana for recreational use. An equal number believe legalization will provide marijuana users access to quality-controlled products that meet government requirements for strict production, distribution, and sale.

Despite this widespread understanding, concerns remain as July 2018 nears.

Our polling indicates that 44 per cent of Canadians currently support legalization, 37 per cent oppose. This lack of consensus suggests that both governments and producers have work to do. As a result, the response of provincial governments will show their best attempts at responding to these concerns.

Cannabis in Canada polling tells us a great deal about these motivating factors.

For example, government retail store fronts are the most popular model with support from 56 per cent of Canadian respondents.
In Ontario, the Wynne government, which faces re-election in June 2018, will be reluctant to delve into any controversial initiatives that distract from key campaign pillars.

Government retail outlets appear to be the route of least resistance. Their plan to distribute through a government-owned system and an online-based order service comes as no surprise. This model, they believe, allows the government to directly manage the output of legal recreational marijuana into the marketplace in a way that is reflective of current public opinion, which is a major motivator with less than eight months until Ontarians pass judgment on their current mandate.

The risk: if the government’s network of storefronts proves not to be consumer-friendly, black market producers and the current dispensaries operating in major cities will continue to thrive.

New Brunswick has taken a different approach. Premier Brian Gallant faces re-election, and therefore has been very vocal about his belief that the cannabis industry can drive economic growth. His government has created a Crown corporation to oversee sales, paired with two private cannabis businesses, and is procuring bids for retail solutions.

By working with established producers and market contributors, Gallant’s government feels it can balance social responsibility and provide a consumer-friendly product at a fair price.

A third approach, which is expected to be taken by British Columbia’s recently elected NDP government, will be forced to deal with the unique challenge of developing a legal framework in an environment where recreational marijuana is already widely distributed.
Remember, the City of Vancouver has provided business licenses to several existing dispensaries. Interestingly, only 46 per cent of British Columbia residents support legalization.

Understanding the potential impact of illegal dispensaries currently operating in communities will influence residents. This, of course, will be balanced with input from the active dispensaries, their customers, and ancillary businesses that advocate for a path to legalization. Premier John Horgan has expressed an understanding of this balance and has indicated that existing dispensaries will play a role in the province’s cannabis framework.

Regardless of the province, proper training for retail employees has emerged as a consistent priority for Canadians. Seventy-four per cent support the introduction of training and certification programs for marijuana retailers and 88 per cent believe such programs, if implemented, should be mandatory.

Political sensitivities, stakeholder management and catering to local environments will factor in all three government’s decisions about how to implement training programs.

Another voter concern that Canadian provinces will have to confront pertains to the location of storefronts. While only 37 per cent of Canadians actively oppose the legalization of marijuana, 50 per cent of all Canadians oppose a privately-owned recreational cannabis dispensary opening in their neighbourhood. Talk about NIMBYism.

All provincial governments will want to avoid any confrontation regarding concerns about proximity to schools and other community spaces. Provinces like British Columbia will be expected to develop rules to address these concerns.

While these evolving concerns will influence government activity in the coming months, ultimately, licensed producers hold responsibility for their own successes and failures.

After years of campaigning for legalization, licensed producers will be actively scrutinized by investors, regulators and concerned members of the public. If industry leaders are unable to adapt to a new regulatory framework and scale up to meet demand, Canadian concerns about the impacts of legalization are likely to worsen or remain unchanged.

As governments do the heavy lifting, licensed producers and other market participants should be working together to establish shared priorities and communicate collective commitment to responsible business practices that address health and safety concerns, while unlocking economic opportunities for communities.

If Canadians do not have the confidence in quality-controlled, regulated products, both governments and industry will share the blame.
The path towards successful legalization requires a collaborative and thoughtful approach that builds confidence among Canadians.

Partisan politics will inevitably impact decisions on this subject. However, by understanding these pressure points producers will successfully set themselves on a path to respond to local concerns and to meaningfully participate in a safe, legitimate, and fairly-regulated environment.

Contributing writer Jaime Watt is Executive Chairman of Navigator Ltd., a national public affairs and government relations consulting company.

(As published in November’s Policy Magazine and on policymagazine.ca)

Mid-Term Downturn: Newman

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If the first year for a new government is a honeymoon, the second is a time to launch major initiatives, and the third is where everything begins to fall apart, then, so far, the Justin Trudeau government is closely following the script.

As it passes the second anniversary of its election and begins year three of a four- year mandate, the government that promised “sunny ways”, a new way of doing things, and a more equitable Canada is finding the agenda it ran on more difficult to enact and more controversial to pursue.

Compounding the natural third-year problems of any government, just as the difficulties hit the Liberals they lost their comfortable status of having no real opposition.

The Conservatives chose Andrew Scheer as their new leader last June after multiple ballots winnowed through a large field of candidates. In October, Jagmeet Singh needed only one ballot to dispatch three other candidates to become the leader of the New Democrats.

Singh does not have a seat in Parliament and doesn’t plan to seek one until the next general election in October 2019. Whether that is an effective strategy remains to be seen, but as of now the NDP is re-energized by its unconventional choice of leader.

More importantly, as the Official Opposition, the Conservatives are set and planning for the next election. With a caucus of almost 100 members, many of them former cabinet ministers, and many MPS with more political and House of Commons experience than the Liberals across the aisle, the Conservatives are set to be an effective Opposition. That is true, even if the as-yet-unproven Scheer proves to be no more than adequate as leader.

The problem is further compounded by timing. Just as the opposition parties are getting their acts together, issues and events are also coming together.

Almost immediately is the problem of NAFTA. Will the trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico that has been a cornerstone of this country’s prosperity be renewed, or as President Trump has threatened, be cancelled by the Americans?
If the deal is cancelled, the government will have to have a Plan B ready quickly, or there will be politically and economically damaging consequences.

And after trying to have it both ways at the same time, the Liberals are going to have the square the circle on environment and energy development. The twinning of the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver has been approved, but construction has yet to begin and legal and environmental challenges threaten to hold it up indefinitely.

The unofficial quid pro quo for new pipelines is putting a price on carbon. In 2016 the Liberal government and every province but Saskatchewan agreed to put a price on carbon beginning in 2018. The price on carbon, the so-called carbon tax, is to go into effect next year and reach $50-a-tonne by 2022. So far, no sign of a shovel in the ground to build a new pipeline.

This contradiction will test the government’s mettle the coming months, particularly Energy Minister Jim Carr and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. Carr has been a competent pair of steady hands in the first two years of the Liberal government. McKenna hit the headlines early with the signing of the Paris Accord on climate change and the agreement for a carbon tax. Now, both will have to be at their best in the next two years to bring their contradictory constituencies to an agreement. It won’t be easy.

And the government will have to get the way it communicates its messages under control. The disastrous roll-out this past summer of the government’s small corporations tax changes shows just how weak strategic communications actually is in the Trudeau government. Unless addressed, this fault could be fatal.

All of this does not mean the Liberals situation is hopeless. Far from it. Justin Trudeau is the most dynamic party leader, and the Liberals are firmly rooted in the big cities and urban communities across the country where most of the population lives.

What it does mean is that the Liberal government must learn the lessons of the past two years, sharpen its focus to concentrate on the things that must be done rather things it would like to do, and regain control of the political narrative.

And one other thing. It must reach out to the people who can help it do those things—even if those people were born before 1965.
If those deficiencies are addressed in what will likely be a stormy third year in office, then Trudeau and his Liberals may look forward to a rosier fourth year.

That’s the year when governments who successfully weather a difficult third year go on to be re-elected.

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

(As published in November’s Policy Magazine and on policymagazine.ca)