Category Archives: Blog

Social Media Watch – The Tragically Hip Edition

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Legendary Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip played the final show of its Man Machine Poem Tour in Kingston, Ont. this past weekend, captivating audiences across Canada – 11.7 million tuned in to TV, radio and livestream broadcasts, according to CBC.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the concert, sporting a Tragically Hip t-shirt and jean jacket, to see off the band and frontman Gord Downie, who was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

A photo of Trudeau embracing Downie went viral on social media and in news stories across the country. Tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts about The Hip received the most traction and engagement of any other posts from Trudeau’s accounts over the past week.

Prior to the show, Trudeau praised the band in an interview with CBC host Ron Maclean, discussing the band’s importance to Canadian music. During the show, Downie mentioned the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, specifically mentioning issues around Indigenous peoples.

Some reports suggested Downie was endorsing Trudeau, while others took it as a challenge for Trudeau and the Liberal government to take greater action to address the issue.

The transcript of Downie’s statement during the show reads:

“He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been [ … But] we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help. […] It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out — you’re going to figure it out.”

Downie received an outpouring of support for using the nationally broadcast show as a platform to bring attention to Indigenous issues, so for this week’s Social Media Watch, we decide to take a look just how big an impact it had.

In addition to multiple trending topics throughout the weekend of the concert, social media posts about The Hip and Downie’s First Nations comments generated roughly 20 million potential impressions across Canada over the past week. Peak activity came on Aug. 21, the day after the show, where there were 38,000 captured posts. From Aug. 19-26, there have been a total of 104,034 social posts related to The Hip.

What’s really telling is that Canada has about 14 million daily Facebook users, so when we look at the impressions generated, we can conclude almost everyone in the country who used the Internet or social media came in contact with the story in some way. 

For the week of August 21, The Hip were among the top image, news, video, and general searches in Canada.

We looked at CTV to demonstrate an example of the impact the story had on news and social exposure for Indigenous issues. CTV tweeted a link to a story about Downie’s call-to-action for Indigenous support in the north following the concert, which generated 69,450 potential impressions. Prior to that, the last time CTV tweeted about an Indigenous story was on May 17 related to First Nation children living in poverty on reserves — a tweet that gained 51,000 potential impressions.

This suggests that the Downie story exposed an additional 18,450 people to the issue or increased support by 34 per cent.

Whether or not The Hip was endorsing Trudeau or calling him out to take action, one thing is certain: people paid attention. People responded. And Indigenous issues are once again at the forefront among Canadians and in Canadian politics.

– Jeff Blay, Communications and Digital Coordinator,  Enterprise (, @JeffBlay) and Adam Schwartz, Associate Consultant, Navigator (

Lavoie: Do You Have A Tribe?

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By: Joseph Lavoie, Ensight Principal 

As humans, we are all ill-equipped to live on our own. We’re social animals who have coalesced into tribes since the beginning of time. And for literally ages, most of our tribes were organized along (often fluid) geographical lines. Our tribal associations led to the beginnings of agriculture in Mesopotamia; the rise of cities that we would recognize 5,000 years later, and the invention of writing, among other achievements. Even in more recent times, tribes were largely organized by geography—our local places of worship, bowling clubs, knitting groups etc. Geography placed such an important role in our ability to gather that national hobby organizations have long been structured around local chapters—think boy scouts, girl guides, homebrewing clubs etc.

Today, we’re agnostic towards geography. Thanks to the Internet, tribes that would never have existed in a pre-digital age are now thriving online communities. It’s a completely predictable outcome—our natural instinct to organize and identify with tribes runs deep. In our line of work, we often think about the “ audiences” we need to target to get our message out. It can be easy to forget that these “audiences” are real people—human beings who collectively want to belong to something. We’re often too focused on how we get our message in front of the right eyeballs, we forget to take a moment to reflect on what motivates the people we need to reach, and what shared interests they might have. By addressing those questions, we might stand a better chance of making our content resonate.

In the public affairs and advocacy space, tribes are the vocal supporters and fans who believe in our cause (or worse, in a cause that’s mobilizing against us) to the point that they are willing to tell everyone they know about it. And in exceptional cases, they’re willing to step away from the keyboard to express their support in tangible ways: voting at the ballot box, becoming active shareholders, organizing a hostile takeover, demonstrating in the streets, to name a few.

Of course, it’s a cliché to say, but the Internet lets these same activists bring more fuel to the fire. They can use the Internet to self-organize and lend your movement legitimacy, or bring total disruption if you’re on the wrong side of an issue. One hyper-active member can bring more people onside, growing and cultivating an army of supporters. And while activists were once constrained by geography, this has become a thing of the past. This means tribes can become overnight movements that can either build your reputational equity or make your life a living hell, depending on which side of the tribe’s shared interests you find yourself on. The Internet makes the infrastructure easy: all it takes is an Internet connection, a shared interest, and a digital gathering place, and you technically have a tribe. But that alone won’t be enough. A tribe is a living, breathing thing. Something needs to be the glue that holds these individuals together. That could be you and/or your organization.

The Power of a Tribe

But why would you want to build your own tribe? We often tell our clients that one day soon, some outside force will have a direct (and potentially) negative impact on their business. It could be that government is considering new legislation or regulations directly impacting your business. Or the public has decided to side with third-party interests groups targeting you or your industry; or that you’re on the receiving end of a hostile takeover. You’re always at risk. In our experience, most organizations have the appropriate resources in place to do conventional corporate communications, government relations and investor relations, but few, if any, have a program to build a tribe of active supporters. And by failing to build and cultivate tribes, organizations are at risk of being outmaneuvered by tribes with opposing interests. For example, most companies wait until a legislative or regulatory crisis erupts before rallying supporters to their defence. But for such a cry to have any effect, you need to have an attentive tribe at your disposal. In today’s environment, you simply cannot do public affairs well without having a tribe in your corner. But building that tribe is a laborious exercise. So how do you get there?

Identify shared interests.

As with most things in life, the hardest part is starting out. The work of identifying your potential tribe members starts from the inside. Look around. What type of people are working for your organization or your cause? What motivates them? Why do they care about your line of work? Then work your way out. What common characteristics do your shareholders or members have? Why have they decided to align themselves with you? If you already have an online presence, take a look at your fanbase. Ask the same set of questions. Rinse and repeat and you’ll soon uncover common threads—shared interests that unite them. You may even uncover a variety of shared interests, which could be a sign that you have multiple tribes in your orbit that you could foster.

Understand the tribe’s language and speak it. 

In a study by Professor Vincent Jansen from Royal Holloway, even online communities have their own language with a tendency to deliberately use misspelled words, much as people have regional accents when they speak. For reasons I will never comprehend, Justin Bieber fans have a penchant for ending their words with “ee,” as in “pleasee.” Of course, these are literal examples, but each tribe has its own language. They approach issues with a certain view. They have a specific vocabulary (e.g., how some right-wing activists refer to the CBC as the Communist Broadcasting Corporation instead of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or the Toronto Star as the Red Star, for their perceived left-wing bias). If you want to build a tribe, or mobilize one, you’ll stand a better chance if you’re part of the tribe. And that means you have to talk the talk. That’s where public opinion research can be your friend, especially if you tap into big data sources like Facebook topic data.

Map your tribe’s personas. 

Now that you’ve gathered data you need to make it useable. That means fleshing it out and putting it in a digestible format. Using the the findings from our first exercise (finding shared interests), and the cursory information gleaned from the second exercise (getting a feel for the tribe’s language), you now need to gather demographic info that can help you paint a complete picture of all the types of individuals who make up your tribe. Can you distill that information down to easily identifiable personalities—a visual representation of who you need to reach out to with all your outbound communication efforts to make an emotive connection?

Test the messages that motivate action.

Now that you have identified the type of individuals that would be inclined to join your tribe, you need to put content out in the ether and see what sticks. You won’t have a true sense of what actually works until you put content out there, but by now you should have a sense of whether it stands a chance.

Be the glue that holds the tribe together.

As you begin to put out and test your messages, you have a much more important objective: build relationships with the people you’re courting. Keep your tribe informed about new developments; ask them for advice; seek their help when you need them to take action; and give back as much as you can. For the most part, email, private messages, and Facebook pages will be the vehicles through which you contact your tribe members. Too often, we’re so focused on trying to get something out of our “list” that we forget how exhausting it is to be on the receiving end of non-stop asks. A tribe will stick with you if you provide value and if you give more than you take.

Building a tribe and then nourishing it is tough work. It takes a lot of time and patience — two things no one can buy. But, with diligent and thoughtful work, it can be done. And these days, it should be done. Favour can change as fast as tribes can be created, and you never know when you’ll need a community in your corner.

Joseph Lavoie leads Navigator’s Digital Practice and has a decade of communications and public affairs experience. Joseph returns to Navigator after serving, first, Foreign Minister John Baird and, then Prime Minister Harper as Director of Strategic Communications.

Social Media Watch – From Rio to the PMO

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This week we saw what an international spectacle looks like on social media. The Olympics in Rio are dominating every platform, with users creating plenty of unique content reacting to the games and ceremonies, sharing news articles from the games, and retweeting content from all over the world.

It’s pretty rare that so many countries are actually engaging with similar content at the same time. The effect is noticeable in the amount of potential impressions for Olympic content compared to the consistently strong social media performance of Justin Trudeau, which have comparable author and post totals. The international scope, provides a broader network for retweets and other types of sharing or amplification causing more people to be exposed to a similar volume of content.

Sticking to Canada, when Canadians weren’t drawn in by the Olympics, they were mostly talking about The Prime Minister’s chest. Justin Trudeau normally generates a lot of social media activity, however this week it was notable how much of it was not directly related to any policy. Strategically, he seems to be allowing the Olympics and his abs to distract from tough economic news also released this week. The fact that it’s summer also helps, but it is notable how little traction stories about Canada’s economy were able to generate beside happier stories.

Social Media Watch will be watching closely to see how The Prime Minister adjusts his strategy in the absence of convenient distractions like summer weather and the Olympics. Will he continue to rely on charisma to distract from what is potentially very bad news or try and transfer the good will he’s been building on social media into viral support for his policies?

– Jeff Blay, Communications and Digital Coordinator,  Enterprise (, @JeffBlay) and Adam Schwartz, Associate Consultant, Navigator (

Social Media Watch – Interprovincial Trade

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Interprovincial trade has been a hot topic in Canada over the past couple of weeks, and many people across the country have taken to social media to weigh in on the issue.

With summer in full swing and federal political issues not as prevalent as they typically are when the House of Commons is in session, Ensight thought this would be a great opportunity to analyze how stories traveled between provinces on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.

As it turns out, the task was a bit more convoluted than expected. We found Canadian news cycles and topics on all digital media—not just social—tend to mirror geographical boundaries. Or at least they did this week.

Overall, news stories on a national or federal level often receive consistent engagement in every province when accounting for population size. These type of stories generate wide spread chatter by amplifying content through national outlets’ far-reaching social media networks.

CBC, The Globe and Mail and The National Post circulate stories of national interest on main feeds, dedicated provincial channels and reporters’ accounts on every main social network. Huffington Post, Vice and Macleans have similar strategies.

This layered amplification technique, where the same content is circulated by multiple accounts in a short period of time, as national outlets coordinate with provincial and sometimes local affiliates to circulate their content with a country-wide scope in smaller markets, means many Canadians often see the same story multiple times in their feeds.

If that was too much of a mouthful, how about a quick example.

Someone following CBC on Facebook or Twitter who lives in BC, likely follows CBC’s BC channel as well. The main account, for CBC and any national outlet, produces more content than the area-specific account. Since they coordinate retweets or shares, anyone following both sees national stories as content from the national and local accounts but the sharing does not go both ways. Therefore, local stories are rarely amplified on national accounts. For example, it is unlikely for someone in PEI to be invested in Saskatchewan’s provincial election enough to tweet about it.

From a digital communications perspective, this confirms that the established categories for printed news—sorting content by scope and physical geography—still apply on social media. Digital content makes it easier for users to consciously seek out news from other provinces, but that’s not the focus here. In terms of natural amplification or the free trade of digital content between provinces, generally, people get national news from national sources and will only encounter something from an outlet in another province in their news feed if the story is somehow related to them, which in many cases, would technically mean it’s not a local news story.

This was confirmed when we analyzed discussion this week around interprovincial trade.

From July 23-29, the topic generated an estimated 2,912,458 impressions, including 51 per cent retweets, 46 per cent being original posts and three per cent comments.

The data shows there were plenty of accounts sharing news articles and related content, but very little commentary, suggesting the issue is of interest to Canadians, but is not resonating on an emotional level, which is often required to generate significant social media engagement and commentary. It is very difficult to discuss trade deals in 140 characters, so most of the content was sharing news articles with an occasional blanket statement of support for the idea.  

Looking at sentiment around the topic, 58 per cent was positive, 40 per cent neutral and two per cent negative. Neutral posts are related to amplification—retweets and shares—suggesting Canadians are pro interprovincial trade as a concept.

Since the framework of the hypothetical deal is still very much in flux, we’d expect the volume of negative activity to increase as more details are finalized—not because Canadians will suddenly change their minds, but that the volume of negativity surrounding the concept of reducing restrictions on trade between provinces is so low. At present, social media is very much in favour of what’s been reported so far.

As talks progress and people inevitably disagree with some aspects of whatever decisions are made, they’ll voice their opinion on social media. This will cause negative sentiment to increase from two per cent, however, baring some major change in the national psyche, we expect Canadian social media chatter will still favour interprovincial trade.

– Jeff Blay, Communications and Digital Coordinator,  Enterprise (, @JeffBlay) and Adam Schwartz, Associate Consultant, Navigator (

Social Media Watch – Political Barnstorming at the Calgary Stampede

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The first weekend of the 2016 Calgary Stampede was full of political events and it was evident on social media.

The Conservative Party of Canada held its Stampede Barbecue on Saturday, July 9, where ​former Prime Minister Stephen Harper endorsed Calgary Midnapore MP Jason Kenney as the next Alberta Progressive Conservative leader. This event led all political social media activity connected with the Stampede this past week, with Harper and Kenney generating a combined 3.4 million potential social impressions.

Breaking it down, Harper received the most traction with 1.9 million impressions, which included 62 per cent retweets, 26 per cent original posts, 12 per cent replies and a high volume of positive sentiment, suggesting the majority of engagement was from a friendly audience that helped amplify positive or branded messages.

Kenney gained 1,522,778 potential impressions with percentages similar to Harper—60 per cent retweets, 35 per cent original posts and 4 per cent replies. That said, he didn’t get the same volume of unblemished positive coverage as Harper—likely due to the fact he remains more active in partisan activities and is running a controversial campaign to unite Alberta’s Wildrose and PC parties.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP also generated a fair amount of traction this week—primarily related to the Premier’s Pancake Breakfast, with 96,145 potential impressions. But unlike Harper and Kenney, sentiment around Notley came in at 97 per cent negative. While much of Notley’s activity involved positive photos from her breakfast event, the majority of commentary from users on social media was not favourable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada were not active through the first weekend of the Stampede. Trudeau’s social content focused on his trip to the Ukraine and the LPC accounts were mostly retweeting content from Trudeau and MPs. Some Liberal MPs did attend and post about the Stampede, but didn’t receive any notable traction.

The Alberta Liberals were more active, posting a number of photos and content from the Stampede that generated 114,664 potential impressions. Forty-eight per cent of were retweets, 35 per cent replies and 17 per cent original posts, showing the party received moderate amplification. Sentiment was 70 per cent neutral, 18 per cent positive and 12 per cent negative.

This social media activity suggests the Stampede is one of the few instances where the Conservative and NDP parties have received more traction and engagement than the Liberals, who have typically dominated digital since the most recent federal election.

– Jeff Blay, Digital and Communications Coordinator,  Enterprise (, @JeffBlay) and Adam Schwartz, Associate Consultant, Navigator (

Social Media Watch – Pride and Politics

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Pride events are celebratory occasions for many Canadians—a time to come together and recognize the history, courage and diversity of the LGBT community.

But it also has its political connotations, with heightened attention on LGBT issues and challenges from media and government. In recent years, Pride has become a signature political event for parties of all stripes to display their inclusiveness and support for diversity.

Toronto’s 36th annual Pride Parade (#PrideTO), Canada’s largest parade of its kind, had no shortage of political undertones. As NDP leadership candidate and Ontario LGBTQ Critic Cheri DiNovo, who has been participating in Pride events for more than 45 years, tweeted following the parade, “Pride is political or it isn’t Pride.”

Joined by Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Justin Trudeau became the first sitting Canadian prime minister to march in a Pride parade, generating significant social traction and media coverage.

As Ensight’s post-election research suggests, by voting for Real Change, Canadians made a decision to restore the values they view as traditionally defining Canada and our society, including civility, kindness and inclusion.

While he’s participated in Pride events before, by doing so as Prime Minister, Trudeau is once again setting a different tone for Canadian government. And opposition parties followed suit.

This year’s Toronto Pride parade saw unprecedented participation from the Conservatives. Interim leader Rona Ambrose, Ontario Progressive Leader Patrick Brown and declared party leadership candidates Kellie Leitch, Michael Chong and Maxime Bernier marched with members of LGBTory Canada, an advocacy group that’s sparked a Tory shift on gay rights.


The Conservatives successfully leveraged the LGBTory tagline as a natural amplification point for an existing outreach strategy. As a result, they received substantial traction with 1,799,482 potential impressions between July 3-6—68 per cent of which were retweets or shares, showing their message was being spread by their supporters.

DiNovo, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and members of the Ontario NDP LGBTQ Committee marched on behalf of the NDP, but the party lacked social activity and missed an opportunity to build off a social campaign they launched in June called #endtheban (not to mention a perfect Pride hashtag #NDPride) aimed at lifting restrictions on blood donations of the LGBT community.

During Pride, there were 18 social posts using the hashtag that generated only 383 potential impressions. The top post from an NDP member was from DiNovo—not about Pride itself, but about her support for Black Lives Matter’s protest, which halted the Pride parade for 30 minutes. The NDP’s federal accounts did not post about Pride.

But no politician or party received more attention than Trudeau, whose Pride posts generated viral exposure both in Canada and internationally, including highly-shared news articles from the BBC and Mashable.

Social posts mentioning ‘Justin Trudeau’ garnered 27,607,769 potential social impressions between July 3-6. His top social post was a Facebook video that has been viewed 4.9 million times, while the top five articles related to his Pride appearance gained a total of 137.1K social shares.

As we’ve examined in past editions of Social Media Watch, (see our analysis of Trudeau’s yoga pose) positive news about Trudeau always performs well, often gaining more social traction and media attention than opposing parties or stories that are perhaps more controversial.

As the Conservatives and NDP look towards the next election, they’ll be seeking a leader who can step into the social media environment as capably as Trudeau.

– Jeff Blay, Enterprise (, @JeffBlay) and Adam Schwartz, Associate Consultant, Navigator (

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

– Adam Taylor, Ensight Director


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By: Will Stewart

Sometimes events take place deep inside the Ottawa political culture that are telling indications of where a political party is heading.  While these events often play out in press events, the House of Commons, and other public venues, they are often missed by the general population but give keen observers insight into the future.

Today, Aaron Wherry from the CBC writes a very good piece on the use of time allocation motions in the House of Commons.  Wherry is no stranger to this topic having written articulately on the issue previously in Macleans.

Time allocation, also known as Standing Order 78, or closure motions, are typically introduced by the governments of all stripes to limit debate on a government bill. Also typically, these motions are introduced by the government to cries of foul behaviour and the death of democracy by opposition parties of all stripes.  While they have never been introduced by the NDP, and are consistently bemoaned by the NDP, we don’t have any data points on how they would behave if they were the government for obvious reasons.

Outside of Ottawa, perhaps even outside of Wherry and myself, there are few people paying attention to the Liberals’ new found re-discovery of time allocation motions.  The Liberals made much use of Standing Order 78 when last in power, and the Conservatives were legendary addicts to closure motions.

The reader may rightfully ask “So what?” at this point.  Both the Liberals and the Conservatives do it in government, and every party complains about it when it is done to them in opposition.  This is clearly not news.

But it is.  As I alluded to at the outset, this could be an indicator of issues to come for keen observers.

Immediately after the recent federal election, our research professionals fanned out across the country to conduct research on why people voted the way they did and what they expect from the government.  Our research report can be found here.

One of our key findings was that voters expected this government to behave differently than what they perceived to be the insular previous government.  They had little knowledge of specific policies proposed by Trudeau and, frankly, did not care to know.  What voters we spoke with were focused on was the way in which Trudeau would govern.  They were, and are, looking for a different approach.

Trudeau campaigned on running a more accessible, open and transparent government, and this pledge struck a chord with voters.  Canadians told us they crave a government that is more civil and less exclusive, and they will be watching Trudeau closely on this issue.

Unlike Harper, who believed he would be judged on how many of his promises he could accomplish, Trudeau will be judged on his behaviour in implementing change.

Liberals constantly, and consistently, stood in their place in the House of Commons and complained about time allocation motions.  Their protestations worked.  Canadians now see various mundane procedural motions such as closure, prorogation, and in camera meetings as negatives in politics due in large part to the Liberals themselves in opposition.  Ironically, as they use these same legitimate tactics themselves, it is their own success in driving their message then that will cause them problems now.

To date, the Liberal talking points have been “they did it too” or “we do it less”.  From a political point of view these messages are a dangerous tactic. Like a refrain from The Who song “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, it only serves to hurt the very core of the brand that brought Justin Trudeau to 24 Sussex – that he is different than the guy they just booted out.

At the end of the day, will a time allocation motion cause the government to be defeated at the polls? No. Time allocation motions are a legitimate part of our system, just as prorogation and closed door committee meetings.  I support the need for them and the use of them regardless of the party in power. What we are seeing, however, is a party that is transitioning from the true believers in the third party adjusting to the realities of governing.  How they make that adjustment now will set the stage for how they are judged later.

And the name of that song from The Who?

“Won’t Get Fooled Again”


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(Left-Right) Ian Morton of Scout Environmental, Gail Carmichael of Shopify, Minister Bardish Chagger, NAO the Robot and Brian Loveys of IBM, Lauren Friese of TalentEgg and Don Newman at IGNITE at ARC the Hotel in Ottawa. May 11, 2016.

(L-R) Ian Morton of Scout Environmental, Gail Carmichael of Shopify, Minister Bardish Chagger, NAO the Robot & Brian Loveys of IBM, Lauren Friese of TalentEgg & Don Newman at IGNITE, an evening of lightning talks presented by Ensight, at ARC the Hotel in Ottawa. May 11, 2016.

NAO the robot is a fan of the Trudeau government’s campaign slogan about sunny ways. 

“I’ve been hearing a lot about sunny ways—this is very exciting,” the humanoid robot, powered by IBM Watson, said in response to human companion and IGNITE co-presenter Brian Loveys of IBM Canada. “I’m getting solar panels installed next week.”


Minister Bardish Chagger high-fiving NAO the Robot at IGNITE.

Drawing laughs from the audience and answering questions ranging from politics, artificial intelligence and the Stanley Cup playoffs (not to mention high-fiving Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger) NAO the robot was certainly a crowd favourite at IGNITE, an evening of lightning talks presented by Ensight.

From providing concierge and retail services to harnessing cognitive capabilities to detect security issues and perhaps most impactful, the stages of melanoma cancer, artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years and NAO is a prime example of what the future holds.

“From all the market evidence and everything that we’re seeing at IBM, this is a key area of investment for us and we see this exploding in the future,” Loveys said in his presentation.

NAO and Loveys gave one of four powerful lightning talks at the May 11 event, which took place at ARC the Hotel in Ottawa and was also livestreamed on Periscope. Three other speakers took the stage to speak on a wide-range of current topics and how innovation in their sector and their ideas can inspire a shift in thought on public policy.

Gail Carmichael, Manager of External Education Programs at Shopify, focused her talk on computer science, coding and women in technology. As more Canadians understand at least some computer science, Carmichael believes there is a major potential for innovation to increase in Canada. 

An important part of this growth, she says, will be introducing computer science earlier on in education, putting an emphasis on problem solving over complex programming, and creating a more inclusive environment in the tech sector.

“It’s really difficult to recruit women and other underrepresented groups and truthfully, it’s even harder to retain them,” Carmichael said, adding that members of these groups face issues like stereotypes and low confidence in their ability. “Ensuring students get insight into what computer science is when they’re in K-12—understanding it’s all about solving problems and not programming per say, is a huge help. Curriculum and pedagogy at all levels has to be carefully redesigned to be inclusive and engaging to a much broader range of students.”

Like Carmichael, fellow speaker Lauren Friese, founder of student and graduate-focused career website TalentEgg, has seen a shift in education—particularly in the millennial generation. Her focus was centred on the challenges post-secondary students and graduates face when transitioning into the workforce.

The Liberals promised to invest $1.3 billion over three years to create jobs and opportunity for young Canadians, while creating 40,000 youth jobs each year for the next three years through a new, annual investment of $300 million into the renewed Youth Employment Strategy. 

“Of course it’s important to increase the total number of jobs available or open to youth in this country,” Friese said.

But in order to truly level the playing field and reward the investment many young Canadians make after high school, Friese says school-like training programs must be made viable for companies that don’t currently have the size or corporate responsibility budgets.

“By creating programs that subsidize the risk of hiring these inexperienced grads and incentivizing their training for employers, by disrupting a system that relies so heavily on the decision-making ability of a high school student, we can promote, instead of discourage, their innovation potential.”

Scout Environmental CEO Ian Morton touched on a completely different set of areas that have been prioritized by the current government—the environment, climate change and indigenous communities.

His company is using innovation to address groundwater contamination issues in northern Canada. He cited the $409 million commitment in the federal budget to invest in waste management issues in indigenous communities and emphasized the need to focus on how to design infrastructure to withstand extreme and changing climates.

“Climate is changing rapidly in these communities and we do not have the infrastructure to support a circular economy—roads, rail and engineered sites,” Morton said. “We need new ideas on waste management, including how to fund programs in the north. Let’s think about how we measure and monitor health in a lot of these contaminated sites.”

Ensight is looking forward to hosting IGNITE again in the future to continue this type of free-flowing policy discussion with government and stakeholders.

Jeff Blay, Enterprise Canada

Twitter: @JeffBlay