Category Archives: Blog

Newman on NAFTA: Mitigating Collateral Damage

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Canada is a trading nation.

That is why developments in the past year to both our current and potential trading relationships are so troubling.

Look at the four pillars of our trade policy. NAFTA, The Trans Pacific Partnership, CETA, the trade agreement with the European Union, and a potential Free Trade Agreement with China.

The most important of these is NAFTA that ties our economy to those of the United States and Mexico. By more than a country mile, the U.S. Is our most important market, with seventy-two per cent of our exports going to the United States.

A year ago, Donald Trump had just been elected President of the United States. He had run on a campaign to either change NAFTA or‎ end the treaty. Almost no one thought that he would be reckless enough to actually end NAFTA, we thought that Mexico with a favourable trade balance with the United States in the hundreds of millions of dollars could be under some pressure. ‎ Canada, with an almost equal trade balance with the United States, we thought was relatively safe.

That view‎ was heightened when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Washington after Trump took office last winter. When it came to Canada, the President said, all NAFTA needed was a few “tweeks.”

Well five months into renegotiating NAFTA the talks are stalled. The Americans have made a series of demands that would gut the treaty as we now know it. Both Canada and Mexico have rejected the demands, but the reality is most of the demands would affect Canada more than Mexico.

For instance, ending the independent dispute settlement mechanism and replacing it with domestic U.S. Tribunals in trade disputes with the Americans would turn every issue into a rerun of the one-sided softwood lumber dispute we periodically have with the Americans.

And the U.S. claim that American companies should be able to compete for Government procurement contracts in ‎Canada and Mexico, but “Buy American” policies could limit Canadian companies from competing in their country, has to be the most one sided trade proposals ever.

There are also American demands for a “Sunset clause,” that could bring an end to NAFTA every five years, new, tougher content rules for contents in cars manufactured between the three countries, and an end to corporations being able to sue governments for damages in trade disputes.

The current stand-off has many observers believing that President Trump will give the required six month notice to end American participation in NAFTA early in the new year.

He will do that to increase pressure on Canada and Mexico to give in to American demands. But if they don’t, NAFTA would be terminated.

If that happens, or even if it doesn’t, Canada had been hoping to expand its trade with the rest of the world through three new trade deals.

A year ago, that prospect seemed bright. It is less so today.

Foremost among the new trade arrangements is CETA. That is the trade and investment arrangement with the European Economic Union that went into effect in September.

Unfortunately, there are problems. In the on-going negotiations to form a new coalition government in Germany, the Green Party has been demanding the cancellation of German participation in CETA. If that were to happen, it would effectively kill the deal.

The other problem looming with CETA is NAFTA. As reported here before, European companies are holding back on ‎investment decisions in Canada until they see if operations they set up in here will also have access to the United States. In other words, if NAFTA fails there will be a negative impact on CETA too.

The other two pillars of our trade policy are in the Asia – Pacific. So far, this autumn, they have both brought disappointments.

The effort to resuscitate the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the United States seemed ready for fruition at the APEC Summit last month‎. But at the last minute Canada balked at signing. Canadian participation in the TPP remains a work in progress.

Likewise, negotiations with China for a Free Trade Agreement. ‎Business people traveling with Prime Minister Trudeau to Beijing and beyond this past week had hoped that the start of negotiations would be announced while the Prime Minister was in China. There was no such announcement. Only that preliminary talks will continue.

So, the trade landscape twelve months on is more complicated, more confusing than it appeared a year ago. The coming twelve months will be more challenging, more difficult and more important than the year just past.

This will have to be the top priority of the Trudeau government.

Because, Canada is a trading nation.

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.

Trudeau’s heartfelt apology to LGBTQ2 community welcomed: Watt

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Formal apologies issued by political leaders are as controversial as they are challenging to get right.

To many, these apologies seem like political tools, cynically used to garner or retain votes in certain communities.

Others see them as a way for the government, at no cost, to show it is acting on an issue. After all, apologies are cheaper than programs.

But for many of those on the receiving end, an apology is a powerful symbol — a way for a government to take responsibility for mistakes of the past.

When it was announced that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would apologize to LGBTQ2 Canadians for decades of, “state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection,” I questioned the impact such an apology would have.

While the prime minister’s record of accomplishment on LGBTQ2 community issues is a lifelong one, and he is clearly an advocate and an ally, I have been skeptical about the politicization of these announcements in the past.

So, was the move political or genuine? Could it be both?

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government to former students of residential schools.

The apology was a powerful one. I was proud that Prime Minister Harper had the courage to say sorry for atrocities that had become a permanent dark mark in Canadian history.

I do not know how indigenous Canadians perceived that apology, but I am confident it mattered for many.

It’s been almost 10 years, yet it still resonates. The apology found the right balance.

Did it make things, right? I don’t know.

What I do know is that indigenous Canadians are still treated unfairly. One in four children in indigenous communities lives in poverty, double the national average. On average, indigenous children receive 22 per cent less funding for child welfare than other Canadian children. Suicide rates among indigenous youth are about seven times higher than among other Canadians. More than 90 indigenous communities still have boil-water advisories.

If we were really, meaningfully sorry, would we continue to let this happen?

I don’t think so, and hence my skepticism about the efficacy of these apologies.

I recognize that the residential school apology is unrelated to the apology to the LGBTQ2 community, and therefore not the perfect analogy. However, I worry that, in general, apologies act as a way to distract our attention on difficult issues where the challenge presented has no quick, easy or obvious answer.

Until this week, I had concluded that I would prefer that politicians make concrete attempts to fix ongoing problems rooted in history rather than simply pay lip service through apologies.

But this week, my view changed.

As a gay man, I found myself in tears when our prime minister stood in our House, the House of Commons, and meaningfully, genuinely apologized to my community.

As I have written in this space before, words matter. I was moved by Trudeau’s words.

“Mr. Speaker, the number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And, on this, we have failed the LGBTQ2 people, time and time again,” he said.

“It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: ‘We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.’ ”

Just as for so long, the taunting, violent words of a school bully mattered, the demeaning locker room words of a teammate mattered, or the derogatory words of a work colleague mattered, the words of a political leader mattered.

And Trudeau’s words were the right words.

The prime minister’s apology came without cost to the taxpayer, but it came with enormous benefit to many. It brought us one important step closer to making true his statement that “for all our differences, for all our diversity, we can find love and support in our common humanity.”

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on December 4, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at the scoresheets:

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

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

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

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

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

The Liberals are still hoping to emphasize quality over quantity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King St. transit plan a kingmaker for Tory: Watt

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Something had to give.

Until very recently, King St. looked more like a parking lot than the central artery of Canada’s financial district.

Today, you can shoot a cannon down the street and be confident that you wouldn’t strike a car or truck.

In July, Toronto’s city council approved a one-year pilot project focused on giving streetcars, bikes and pedestrians the priority on King St. The program, implemented two weeks ago, was designed to ensure that the transit experience for commuters using the King St. corridor would be more palatable. And, it has done just that.

The implementation of council’s decision also marks the unofficial start of next year’s mayoral campaign.

In less than 12 months from now, John Tory will find himself in a rematch with Doug Ford, as well as facing a yet-to-be determined left-wing candidate. (Watch for a Desmond Cole- or Mike Layton-like candidate to join the race.)

Mayor Tory is nothing if not a savvy politician. He knows that 65,000 trips are made every day on the King streetcar. He also knows that many of those making these 65,000 trips are young, left-leaning millennials, who would never in a million years consider voting for Ford. They would, however, consider voting for a transit-focused left-wing candidate.

Remember, in 2014, Tory beat Ford by only 60,000 votes, and Olivia Chow ran a lacklustre campaign. If Chow had performed at a higher level and effectively split the vote, the chain of office would currently be around Doug Ford’s neck.

Tory was largely elected for two reasons. The first: he wasn’t Rob Ford, whom his brother, Doug, replaced as a candidate due to the former mayor’s illness. The second reason was Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan.

On not being Rob Ford, Tory gets full marks, He has brought professionalism, sincerity, thoughtful policy and a steady hand to City Hall.

On SmartTrack, he has faced more challenges. As once promised, transit lines will no longer extend to the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre, the number of SmartTrack stations has been reduced, and significant funding uncertainty remains.

In Tory’s defence, there has been real progress on SmartTrack, and much of its perceived failure can more properly be attributed to poor communication.

But Tory’s streetcar manoeuvre on King St. diverts attention from SmartTrack. Among downtown transit uses, Tory is now seen as the Transit Mayor — a genuine hero who has given 65,000 commuters back 30 or 40 minutes a day.

This is wedge politics very cleverly played. The King St. pilot project (which will not be a pilot project for long) splits the electorate. There are two clear sides to this debate — those for the car and those for the streetcar.

Doug Ford has come out swinging. He’s announced that if he is elected mayor next year, he will kill the pilot project in its tracks.

Ford will position the project as an attack on the car, an attack on Torontonians who live outside the downtown core and an assault on businesses and the middle class.

Tory needs the King St. pilot to fend off a challenge from a transit-friendly candidate.

The project gives him cover to run as the fair and reasonable incumbent who made difficult decisions that kept the city moving.

Before the pilot project, Torontonians would have had trouble pointing to a Tory transformational policy.

At election time, this risks becoming a significant challenge for the mayor. As an incumbent, he needs to be able to point to victories that illustrate how he has made people’s lives better.

He has been an effective operational mayor; one who has kept the lights on and the city functioning reasonably well.

The King St. pilot project will become a real and well-understood Tory accomplishment.

This is smart politics. It may have been a difficult decision but it’s one that will help him politically in the next election campaign because it has made the lives streetcar-riding Torontonians a lot better.

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 26, 2017)

Canada right to support Caribbean hurricane reconstruction: Gooch

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The Canadian government joined the UN on Tuesday to answer a call from Caribbean nation states recovering from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which are requesting assistance from the international community for support in reconstruction.

Aside from a larger pledge from the Netherlands, which is intended exclusively for Dutch territories, the Canadian pledge of $100 million over five years was the largest in response, exceeded only by bilateral pledges from the European Union. A stark contrast to the U.S. pledge, which amounted to $4.3 million.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes delivered the announcement in her role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — UN High Level Pledging Conference.

Caesar-Chavannes was an inspired choice to share the news of Canada’s support to the region. She opened her statement sharing of her own Caribbean roots: “I myself, as a daughter of the soil from Grenada, am proud of this close bond and it is a privilege to be able to continue building these bridges between our countries.”

More than 32,000 people have been displaced by the 2017 Caribbean hurricanes, with an estimated 17,000 still in need of shelter. Communities are in the process of addressing immediate infrastructure projects, including schools, hospitals, government administrative offices, and private institutions at the core of local economies.

Livelihoods hang in the balance of this rebuild.

According to Global Affairs Canada the funding will begin by taking into account the needs assessments for both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. The funding further focuses on supporting local efforts, particularly those led by women, ensuring better preparation for natural disasters and reconstruction of essential services.

The Caribbean diaspora in Canada is powerful — according to 2016 census data it is nearly 750,000 strong, and Canada is immensely enhanced culturally and economically by these connections. When the storms hit, Canadian organizations, businesses and individuals sprung into action to ensure emergency supplies reached those in need.

The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) served as a central organizing space for support to the region during the storm. The women in leadership of the JCA focused much of their efforts on Barbuda where the devastation was so widespread that the island was left uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.

Toronto financial professional Akilah Allen-Silverstein stepped forward in support of friends and family in Dominica where 90 per cent of vegetation and structures were lost in the storm. She hosted an event this past week in efforts to replant trees and crops essential to preventing further flooding or landslides.

Akilah also shared the story of her mother, who considers herself lucky as she only lost a roof and was able to ensure her own safety while also salvaging some family albums from flooding. Her mother joined the local reconstruction efforts with a much-needed focus on securing appropriate mental health supports for communities impacted.

The success of these efforts will be defined by our ability to effectively empower women in leadership. Women who are creatively organizing to ensure children and youth don’t see a gap in their education due to the storms as institutions are rebuilt. Women working to ensure those traumatized by the storms have mental health supports. Women who are brimming with entrepreneurial ideas to bring prosperity and wellness back to their communities.

Toronto writer Sharine Taylor welcomed the Canadian investment watchfully: “We need to be mindful of how we play our global citizenship card to ensure it leads towards tangible changes on the ground.”

Sharine is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bashy Magazine, a publication aimed at carving an authentic space connecting the lived experiences of the Jamaican diaspora. I echo her hope that the support Canada is offering does not end up spent on administration before reaching the communities that need it most.

Long after the storms are no longer deemed emergencies and disappear from the headlines, local communities carry out the difficult work of balancing immediate needs of displaced families while also carrying out long-term reconstruction.

I’m proud that the Canadian government not only answered the call for assistance, but also chose to lead globally with a feminist approach in their response to supporting local reconstruction efforts in the Caribbean.

The resilient women and men rebuilding these communities have a long road ahead. In the words of Celina Caesar-Chavannes, “Canada is proud to stand in solidarity with its Caribbean friends.”

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 26, 2017)

Is CETA Canada’s Last Hope if NAFTA fails? Not so fast, says Don Newman

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Ensight and Navigator’s Don Newman on the potential of CETA to replace any economic loss from a failed NAFTA but why European business are not committing until NAFTA is resolved.

Canada’s safety net may not be as strong as we had hoped.

With the renegotiation of NAFTA stalled by American demands on automobile content, Buy American procurement rules and the elimination of the current dispute settlement,‎ both the Canadian government and Canadian businesses have begun thinking about alternative arrangements.

And it is no idle search. We are a trading nation. More of our GDP is dependent on trade‎ than the any of the other G-7 countries and eighty per cent of that trade is with the United States. Not having NAFTA would not stop all cross border trade with the United States, but it would certainly put a crimp in it.

So what to do if NAFTA expires in a Donald Trump inspired wave of American protectionism? Enter CETA, the ‎Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, which went into effect in September.

It is too early to see the benefits of the agreement yet, but there is optimism on both sides‎ of the Atlantic.

Now, however, some Europeans are saying not so fast. CETA took years to negotiate and the problem of market size was significant.‎ Europe has a population of 350 million people while Canada has a population one tenth of that. But throughout the negotiations the Europeans were aware that as a member of NAFTA, access into Canada was a way into the United States as well.

Trade agreements are as much about investment as they are about the movement of goods. With CETA, Canada stands to benefit from billions of dollars of investments in plants and equipment and the jobs that would come with them, not just to serve the Canadian market, but also the 300 million Americans living south of the border.

But now NAFTA is anything but a sure thing. And I am told by European sources that businesses there are awaiting the outcome of the ‎talks before making any CETA decisions.

In fact, the trade deal we thought could help offset any losses from a cancelled or diminished NAFTA may not be much help after all.

Low key NAFTA talks are scheduled in Washington next month, with a full blown round of negotiations with the Trade Ministers present scheduled for Montreal in January.

But as the NAFTA talks come to the crunch point, it is ironic that the fate of not one, but two trade deals, may ultimately be at stake.

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.

Singh does not need a seat in Commons: Watt

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New NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh does not need a seat in the House of Commons.

There was a time when the Commons was both the symbolic and functional home of Canadian politics, but it matters less today than it ever has before.

These days, proposed legislation is introduced at photo-ops that are both televised and streamed and instantly made available on voters’ social media accounts.

In Ottawa and in the provinces, legislatures have become home to drive-by smears and gotcha politics; places where the behaviour of members, on each sitting day, diminishes respect for both the institutions and the members themselves.

Singh has been leader of the New Democratic Party since Oct. 1. Since then, he has not indicated any plans to run for a seat in Parliament before the next federal election, which won’t take place for another two years.

You may ask whether this is a good strategy for a new, relatively unknown leader who needs to introduce himself to Canadians, become relevant and make a substantive policy impact.

In fact, staying out of the House of Commons will help.

Former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was lauded as an excellent orator and the most prosecutorial and effective opposition leader in Parliament in a generation.

In the end, this had very little effect on the 2015 election results because the political arena has effectively moved outside of traditional, official legislative settings.

The election of U.S. President Donald Trump is emblematic of this. Unlike former presidential hopefuls, Trump garnered support on Twitter, at town hall meetings that resembled rock concerts, and, of course, on the cable news circuit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, too, has perfected the art of playing politics outside of the House of Commons.

Rather than showing up for Question Period, Trudeau answers questions on the shores of the Gaspé, greets factory workers in London or meets everyday Canadians at an event on Vancouver Island. The Prime Minister and his team know well that these opportunities appeal to his base and network of millennial voters.

In a competitive media landscape, the suppertime news matters less today than ever, and the 30-second news clip from Question Period buried in that newscast has little significance.

Selfie opportunities, viral moments and authentic human experiences are more captivating and better suited for a generation that is increasingly distracted and uninterested in the everyday workings of government.

Trudeau’s tears over Gord Downie’s death, his photobombing weddings, and his wearing silly socks to meetings with world leaders appeal to his voters and also attract the attention of others.

Singh knows this kind of thing works. That’s why he doesn’t want to be tied down by having a seat in the House of Commons.

Singh can travel the country on his time and by his own rules. This opens the door to more fundraising and important time with regional media outlets. And he’ll have time to focus energy on attracting star candidates to improve the NDP’s odds in 2019.

In that campaign, Singh will find himself fighting two very organized opponents. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have a vast network of disciplined volunteers, fundraisers and strategists. The NDP ground game is far behind. To succeed, Singh will need to spend time diligently strengthening this capacity.

And he will need money. Lots and lots of money. Much of the money he raised during his leadership campaign came from the 905 area around Toronto. But a federal election campaign is very different from a leadership contest and to be successful, Singh will have to raise money from all corners of our country.

And there’s one more crucial thing to consider: there are risks to Singh running in any of the by-elections next month to fill four vacant House of Commons seats. Only one — in Scarborough-Agincourt — is in Ontario, Singh’s home province, and a riding where he spent his formative years. The seat was left vacant by the death of Liberal MP Arnold Chan, whose wife, Jean Yip, is now the Liberal candidate and favoured to win.

If Singh were to run in a byelection and lose, his party’s chances in 2019 would be materially compromised.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the risks of running are far greater than the rewards.

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

( As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, November 19, 2017)

Newman on NAFTA: Why Canada Won’t Walk Away from the Negotiating Table

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Ensight’s Don Newman on NAFTA talks resuming in Mexico City this weekend, why the Ministers won’t be there and when the next make or break period is (Hint – January).

NAFTA negotiations are resuming this weekend in Mexico City.

This time the negotiators from Canada, the United States, and Mexico will be on their own. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, and her counterparts from the United States and Mexican cabinets won’t be there. Not enough progress is expected to be made that their attendance will be required.

Not only that, the cabinet ministers won’t be attending the next negotiating session either. Breaking with the usual sequences of rotating the meetings between the three countries’ capitals, only the negotiating teams will meet again next month in Washington, although it should be Canada’s turn to host the next meeting in Ottawa.

However, Ottawa will be the site of a meeting in January, where the Ministers as well as the ‎negotiators will be present. That meeting could be make or break for NAFTA. Either a new deal will be taking shape or the differences will be too wide to bridge.

Between now and then, the Canadian Government and, by extension, all Canadians will have some hard thinking to do.

We have already decided to stay at the negotiating table as long as the Americans are there. Even though at least three deal breakers were put on the table by the U.S., we are not going to give President Donald Trump ‎an easy out and walk away from the talks.

Instead, if he gives notice that he wants to terminate NAFTA, and provides the U.S. Congress with the six months’ notice required, we and the Mexicans will still be at the table. The termination notice may well be a negotiating ploy, but it will also trigger a constitutional argument in Washington over whether Trump has the unilateral authority to end the deal.

As with everything Trump does, that will be full of controversy and ‎clamour in Washington. In Ottawa, more serious thinking has likely already started and will be continuing.

What is increasingly clear is that the North American Free Trade Agreement that emerges from these negotiating sessions is not going to be a new and improved version of the one in effect for almost a quarter century.

The Trump administration is only going to sign a new agreement that tilts the trade playing field to the Americans’ advantage. The only real question is how much.

In 1987 when negotiations on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal came down to the deadline, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney could have threatened to walk away without an agreement. If he had, and NAFTA had not happened, the status quo would have been preserved, nothing would have changed. In effect, no one would have noticed.

But that is not the case now. For the past twenty-five years the Canadian economy has been shaped around NAFTA.

If NAFTA were to go away, one of the underpinnings of our economy would go with it. This time the status quo would disappear. The impact would be profound. 

That is why the Government is going to have to see what kind of a free trade agreement is left when the negotiations are over. It may well be that some of NAFTA is better than no NAFTA at all. Or it may not be.

And that is why the next two and a half months are so important.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

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