The Ensight team provides valuable insights and analysis on important issues in Ottawa and the decision makers behind them.

President Winfrey has its allure, but another celebrity is not the solution

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It seems that with politics, just like Hollywood, what’s old is new again.

In Hollywood, the old ideas include Star Wars, Roseanne, Jurassic Park, Jumanji and many more.

In politics, it’s Mitt Romney, Justin Trudeau, Caroline Mulroney and now Oprah.

Winfrey first flirted with politics back in 2008 when she endorsed then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. It is estimated that her support of Obama generated more than a million votes for the candidate and played a significant role in his fundraising capacity.

Since then, Winfrey has never indicated she would be interested in running for the U.S. presidency. As recently as this summer, Winfrey said, she would not run for public office, let alone for president.

How the tides have turned. And now, anticipation is running high. Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday electrified audiences the world over and inspired media to spill thousands of barrels of ink on her potential presidential ambitions.

It triggered 3.1 billion social media impressions, the hashtag #Oprah2020 was part of 50,255 tweets and the numbers go on.

Speculation about celebrities with political aspirations is not new. Just about every presidential election cycle since the Reagan years has seen celebrities hint about running.

However, those flirtations were usually dismissed as improbable, if not outright impossible. Conventional wisdom held that despite initial enthusiasm the lack of conventional political infrastructure doomed these ventures from the start.

Trump’s election to the presidency fundamentally altered that long-entrenched view.

The fact that news networks, pundits, social media, and water-cooler analysts are taking the #Oprah2020 hashtag seriously is because Trump has legitimized the idea that a celebrity can come from outside one of the two old-line political parties and take the Oval Office. As a result, a famous television host becoming the leader of the free world no longer seems crazy.

Perhaps more importantly, the speed and intensity with which Winfrey was able to gain legitimate momentum last week demonstrates that voters are willing to think seriously and differently about what type of person they want to hold high public office.

Does someone’s celebrity alone qualify them to be president or prime minister? Does it matter what has made them famous?

Is this a new way of looking at things or is it merely an evolution of a path we have been on for some time?

It goes without saying, Oprah is in a class with very few others. She is a woman with a very significant following, and with good reason. She has acted as a spiritual leader and symbol of unity in America for decades. She is one of only a handful of people who is recognizable on a first name-only basis.

There are persuasive arguments that a President Winfrey could be a healing presidency; one that may be sorely needed after four years of division under an aggressive president who has significantly exacerbated previously existing tensions.

But there remain other challenges.

The presidency of the United States, like all elected positions, doesn’t come with training wheels. They are complex positions that require leadership, expertise and experience; a sophisticated grasp of the intricacies of public policy and a strong understanding of how power is wielded.

When it comes time to choose our leaders, hopefully we think about his or her experience, qualifications, love of country, dedication, purpose, ideology, policy and legislative expertise.

Hopefully, we don’t think too much about a candidate’s social media followers, television ratings, product lines, award acceptance speeches, hair, or whether they’d be a great person with whom to have a drink.

Celebrities often bring strong advocacy skills. They are often powerful at raising money, awareness and changing people’s opinions. They are often persuasive, empathetic, expert communicators.

And that’s a great start. But what doesn’t follow is a fluency in the sphere of democratic institutions and public policy initiatives. Being a democratic leader requires much more than speaking louder than everyone else. Or having more followers on Twitter.

The fix to what currently ails the American presidency is not more of what injured it in the first place. The challenges of this presidency, the challenges that so many Americans chafe against, will not be solved by doubling down. It may well be better to change course altogether.

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, January 14, 2018)

Canada failed Abdoul Abdi but it’s not too late to do the right thing

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“If it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?”

This was the question posed directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Fatouma, the sister of Abdoul Abdi, at a town hall event in Halifax this week.

Abdi’s is a tragic story that highlights the gaps in Canadian institutions and systems that disproportionately and negatively impact Black Canadians.

Abdi came to Canada as a child refugee from Somalia in 2000 with his sister and aunts. His mother died in a refugee camp while awaiting the three-year process that eventually landed his family here.

Under uncertain circumstances, of which his family continues to seek clarification due to language barriers at the time, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services removed a 7-year-old Abdi and his sister from the care of their aunt. Over the next decade the siblings were separated and Abdi was shuffled between 31 homes.

Abdi’s aunt never stopped fighting for guardianship, and while she obtained her own citizenship she was denied the opportunity to apply for citizenship on behalf of her niece and nephew. While under child protection, Abdi was provided insufficient support to navigate the process of becoming a Canadian citizen on his own.

He was failed by the very system that was meant to protect him.

For child welfare advocates, Abdi’s story and path from care to the criminal justice system is a familiar one. For the crimes he committed in his youth, which included aggravated assault, time has justly been served. At the moment of his release, as he prepared to reunite with his family and reintegrate into society, Abdi was detained once more.

Without his citizenship in place, Abdi was left vulnerable to the immigration process that could possibly lead to deportation.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder to speak truth to power, advocates across Canada have spoken out with a resounding roar on Abdi’s behalf, garnering attention and seeking immediate remedy for his case.

In response to Fatouma’s question, Trudeau emphasized compassion and empathy while outlining the ways in which he recognized Canadian systems failed Abdi.

“It opened our eyes to something that many of us knew was ongoing in many communities but we continue to need to address,” he said.

While his response was well informed, I would have liked to hear the prime minister name systemic anti-Black racism as a key factor to be addressed.

We need to directly acknowledge the cracks in our government systems through which Black Canadians are falling through at disproportionately high rates so that we can proactively tackle them.

South of our border, the president of the United States has continued his divisive political agenda anchored in anti-Black racism. After hearing of his comments this week I wonder how his defenders continue to uphold him as a leader.

Characterizing Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “s—hole countries,” in an immigration meeting Trump reportedly asked, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

As thousands of Haitian families look to Canada in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind deportation protections from nearly 60,000 Haitian refugees following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, I hope Canada will show the compassion and empathy our prime minister talked about in his town hall this week and take them in.

Canada should be aiming for nothing less than global leadership in the steps we take to address anti-Black racism. To do this successfully we will need active engagement from Canadian political leaders.

They should be proactively partnering with Black communities to identify priorities, set goals, communicate them publicly, and track progress toward success.

It’s difficult to engage in dialogue about policy while Abdi and his family live in crisis, facing this terrifying uncertainty. I hope this nightmare is over for them very soon.

But how is it fair that his story be used to advance public policy before his own livelihood is restored?

It is time for him to be reunited with his family so they may begin the long journey of healing from these painful experiences. That is what’s fair.

And I hope once that happens we can dive deeply into rectifying the systems that failed him, and map our way forward.

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 Sunday, January 14, 2018)

Trump the Disruptor: Don Newman

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Since Donald Trump was sworn into office a year ago as president of the United States with his “America First” agenda, friends and allies have been lamenting the lack of world leadership by the United States.

That is, until December 6th. In a classic case of be careful what you wish for, Trump stood the world on its head by reversing 70 years of American policy in the Middle East. Despite entreaties from everyone including NATO Allies, Arab governments throughout the area and even the Pope, Trump announced he was moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Like Trump, other politicians in the heat of an election campaign have promised to move their country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In 1979, Conservative Leader Joe Clark made that promise. It helped him win a minority government. But once in office, he realized his mistake and enlisted former Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield to help him abandon his pledge. Stanfield led a commission which “studied” the question and recommended against the move.

That’s because the ultimate fate of Jerusalem is an intricate part of any future Middle East solution. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim the historic city as their capital. Now, by siding with the Israeli claim, the most important outside participant in any future settlement has picked a side in the dispute. Trump has made an already intractable problem almost impossible to solve.

However, no longer can it be said that, under Trump, the United States has abdicated its role in the world. The lesson going forward is that as long as Trump is president, the United States will play the role internationally that he is playing in domestic politics.

More than anything else, Donald Trump is a disruptor. He is in domestic politics and he is in international affairs. Untutored in history, world affairs or diplomacy, he responds to situations on an individual basis, unable to see connective linkages between different problems.

For instance, if he wanted to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, why did he not first demand something from the Israelis.

A firm pledge to stop building more settlements in the West Bank as a quid pro quo for the Jerusalem recognition would have gone at least some way to mitigating the reaction to the move. And it would have removed a real impediment to a future final settlement.

Such an arrangement would have been less disruptive than what we now have. But Trump doesn’t seem to care. As a disruptor he thrives on disruption, on throwing adversaries and allies off balance, seeking from their confusion an advantage for America and for himself.

Close to home, Canadians can see that strategy in the current negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement. The United States has proposed several changes to the treaty that are complete non-starters for both Canada and Mexico. Soon Trump will inform the U.S. Congress that he is giving six months notice that he is terminating the deal. Then, in that half-year when NAFTA is in limbo, American negotiators will apply the pressure. Ultimately, Canada will have to decide if a bad NAFTA is better than no NAFTA at all.

In the wider world, North Korea, China and Iran are areas of intense Trump interest and concern. He alternately threatens and then hints at negotiations with them. How they respond at any given time seems to affect both his mood and his approach. Chinese President Xi Jinping alternates between being an ally trying to contain North Korea and a competitor out to destroy American power.

Even with Kim Jong-Un, the erratic North Korean president who is developing nuclear missiles to hit North America, Trump has vacillated between threatening to obliterate his country and negotiating.

When Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017, many people hoped his fiery, uninformed rhetoric of the presidential campaign would be tempered once in power. That he would become more “presidential” in the traditional American way.

That has not happened. One year on, he is as unstable and unpredictable as ever. He dominates the domestic politics of his country. By his actions in the Middle East in December he has shown he will dominate international affairs as well.

America has not abandoned its international role. Under Donald Trump it is just playing it a different way.

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

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Reading Victories in Relief: The Unspoken Trump-Trudeau Accord

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In his address to American governors in July, Justin Trudeau updated his father’s famous quip that sharing a border with their country was like sleeping next to an elephant by describing Canada, in our bilateral metaphor, as not a mouse but a moose,“strong and peaceable but still massively outweighed.” The famously emotionally intelligent Liberal leader’s interactions with his notoriously combustible counterpart have, so far, been conducted on that basis. Liberal strategist John Delacourt writes that Canada has benefited from the approach.

It was, for many who have followed the trajectory and travails of President Donald Trump over the last two years, a moment that had all the potential of a radical and troubling turn in Canada-U.S. relations. On June 21, 2017, a Montreal man, Amor M. Ftouhi, entered the Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan and attacked Lt. Jeff Neville, an airport security officer, with a knife. Ftouhi yelled “Allahu akbar,” while stabbing the officer in the neck and further exclaimed (paraphrased) “You have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and we are all going to die.”

It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of evenings’ worth of Trump’s tweets to anticipate how this could have played out on social media. What was worse, this incident occurred when the Canadian government was investing a great deal of political capital in bolstering our trade relations in key constituencies outside of Washington. With just one tweet, the president could have demonized Canada as a haven for terrorists, led by a leftwing government that would pay for its leniency and inaction with sanctions on the flow of goods and citizens across our shared border. Not only could the NAFTA renegotiations have been at risk; any future bilaterals could have been marked by a shift in tone and a diminishment of bargaining room.

Hours later, there was still nary a tweet from Trump. Those hours stretched to days. An incident that offered an ideal opportunity for the president to fire up his base and bolster a case for some of his most incendiary rhetoric on Islamism and public safety dissolved amid the workaday news cycle of micro-crises and Twitter flame wars. What could be said at all about Ftouhi was said clearly in Canadian news reports; what could not be talked about in Washington was passed over in silence.

But why was there restraint on Trump’s Twitter feed, of all places? Much has been made of Trump’s impulsive nature, his rants that enrage progressives and pundits alike (Trump’s point is often that they are too alike). A shift in tone from a tweet at 4 a.m. could have easily destabilized Canada-U.S. relations and diminished the currency Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, chair of the Canada-U.S. cabinet committee, could summon in their meetings with their interlocutors in the U.S. President Trump might be less impulsive than we think.

We averted this potential crisis because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken Trump’s perspective seriously from the very beginning. This is not the same thing as agreement—either tacit or explicit.

The best illustration of this dynamic recently emerged in one of Trump’s speeches to a partisan crowd in Florida. He said: “I like the prime minister very much. Prime Minister Trudeau. Nice guy. Good guy. No, I like him. But we had a meeting … He said, ‘No, no, you have a trade surplus.’ I said, ‘No we don’t.’ He said, ‘No, no you have a trade surplus … I told my people – in front of a lot of people – I said, ‘Go out and check.’” Trump then affirmed he was eventually proven right – a conclusion Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton felt obliged to correct on Twitter: “U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”

The neutral, matter of fact tone of MacNaughton’s response is telling. Trudeau, his Cabinet and his senior advisers have all resisted speaking ill of the president on social media. This is not a small thing with the president or his office and you can be assured it has been noted. Differences are aired in conversation but they are not then reduced to a series of 140-character reports—or retorts.

It might drive many progressives and journalists to distraction that more isn’t done to counter Trump from his chosen virtual bully pulpit, but the Flint incident is indicative of how to read and understand what success means in Canada-U.S. relations during this presidency. As it is with success in the government’s issues management or its public safety and security files, it’s more about the crises that are averted rather than a tally of victories from a clash of adversaries.

The threats to our economy have been significant. The NAFTA negotiations have not, as of yet, dissolved acrimoniously. The border tax Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pushed for in 2017, proposed to raise revenues to help pay for tax cuts, did not move forward as planned. The risk to our steel industry of a tariff that would essentially shut us out of the U.S. market still exists, but nothing will occur on this front until the Section 232 investigation into steel imports is complete and it has yet to move to report stage.

All of these unfortunate developments could still occur before the end of Trudeau’s first mandate. Anyone following the NAFTA negotiations closely would wager the agreement may be the first casualty in a trading relationship that remains, as so much within the orbit of Trump’s musings, veering perilously close to calamity. And yet, as the Flint incident would affirm, there is strong reason to believe our good fortune is more than provisional.

Can this good fortune go beyond bilateral relations? Probably not. Trudeau may not be, as some might suggest, a Trump whisperer for his interlocutors at the G20. His closest advisers both acknowledge how such a perception might resonate and gently dismiss it. Yes, it is true that Trudeau has been approached in the setting of a multilateral meeting and asked about “Donald” as if he had some better insight into the mind of Trump, but no, there is no more substantial mediating role the prime minister has taken on.

What should matter more to Canadians, especially those whose jobs might be at risk with NAFTA, is that as of December 2017, the president and the PM have spoken on the phone 17 times since Trump’s election. This is more than any other leader that Trump has engaged with in his term of office. Most important, in these conversations Trump has not only acknowledged the validity of the Prime Minister’s perspective but he has listened.

This speaks of a working rapport that transcends their ideological differences. Trump sees in Trudeau an underdog candidate who came from behind, captured the public imagination and overturned the existing order on his charisma and his emotional intelligence; he read the mood of the country and embodied it. The president believes they have this story in common; the advisors around him and apparently the GOP itself are not about to disabuse Trump of this notion.

The result of the Trudeau government’s approach requires a read of Canada-U.S. relations in relief rather than a focus on the foreground. We are now more than a year into Trump’s mandate and there has been no seismic shift in trade relations that has caused job losses or any slowing of economic growth on this side of the border.

The question remains though: does this make Canada any less vulnerable to an unexpected decision by Trump and his inner circle that could have huge consequences for our economy? If you believe that relationships matter, even within the highest executive office, you will find reason to be optimistic. We have been critical but our criticism has not, from the President’s perspective, threatened to puncture the news filter bubbles of his base. The Trudeau government has been respectful of Trump’s rapport with his constituency and he has been respectful of Trudeau’s in turn.

As with so much about Trump’s time in office, this might matter until it doesn’t anymore. To impose a rational construct on this embattled presidency may prove to be wishful thinking. Yet, as it was with the Flint incident, each crisis averted is an unheralded but substantial achievement.

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

(As published in the Jan-Feb edition of Policy Magazine “Trump and the World” and on policymagazine.ca)

Canada-U.S. Relations: Tweet Storms, Fault Lines and Seismic Shifts

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On a day when those who follow federal politics closely on both sides of the border are no doubt scrambling for their hardcover copy of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s instant bestseller on the Trump administration, it is a fitting moment to look ahead and identify the true, emerging issues that will have the greatest impact on the Canadian economy for 2018. So much media attention is focused on the unfolding drama within the West Wing that it is easy to presume that the geopolitical implications of Trump’s tweets represent the greatest risk for economic stability, never mind world peace. But the Trudeau government will have to contend with far greater concerns than the President’s taunting of North Korea (and/or Steve Bannon) in the year ahead, as it grapples with the defining issue of its mandate: the fate of NAFTA.

In 2018, Trudeau’s team is not going to deviate from what’s working; they have launched the second phase of the “doughnut strategy,” literally going around Washington to focus on high level meetings with their interlocutors at the state level to talk up the advantages of strong trade relations. A strategy that has Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in Kentucky and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in California currently. These are wise moves planned in advance of the next round of talks on January 23rd in Montreal.

The one trip down south to pay the closest attention to, however, is Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Tennessee – from today until Monday.

The agricultural sector’s export potential deserves more coverage and strategic focus; as the second Barton report from the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth affirmed, one in eight Canadian jobs depends on its growth and innovation. Also, the strong tone of accord on agricultural issues has stood out among the NAFTA negotiations, providing hope that we can build on these incremental successes. And yet the Trudeau government’s steadfast resistance to sacrificing supply management could emerge as one of a few key deal breakers in the negotiations. Consider that Trump himself will be in Tennessee for this convention in Tennessee, shoring up support with his base, and it is easy to imagine that a clarion call from the podium – followed up with a tweet in full caps decrying Canadian farmers of course – could mark the beginning of the end for NAFTA.

In the meantime, there are other key decision points in Canada-US relations that have the potential to create a significant impact on the economic picture here. With the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Washington in December, the federal corporate tax rate has dropped from 35 to 20 percent in the US. Canadian manufacturers have warned of the effects of such a scenario; investment flows, especially in machinery and equipment, could start to move southward very quickly. Knock-on decision points with the America First agenda, embodied in NAFTA, also include a hinge point for Canadian steel producers on January 15th; the US investigation into the potential risks that steel imports pose to national security, known as the Section 232 probe, will announce its findings, and there are serious implications here – not least with, say pipeline construction across our shared border. Stories on these developments don’t get the ink or provoke the Tweet storms (or should we say ‘bomb cyclones’) of the House of Cards plot line in Washington, but, taken together, they provide a composite, nuanced overview of where the fault lines are truly emerging with our most important trading relationship. And from fault lines one can best read where a seismic shift emerges.

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

Cheers and jeers for 2017: Star columnists weigh in on underrated and overrated politicians and political plays

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Our Politics Page columnists select politicians worthy of praise for their work this past year, some who need to up their game, and who to keep an eye on in 2018.

The page will take a break for the holidays and return on Jan. 14.

Most underrated politician of 2017

Gooch: Premier Kathleen Wynne. At this moment Wynne is working with a personal approval rating below 20 per cent. It doesn’t get any more underrated than that. I remember arriving at the Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention in 2013 as a Sandra Pupatello delegate. Being from Windsor, Pupatello was my introduction to strong women advocates in Canadian politics. I came prepared with buttons that read “Congratulations Madame Premier.”

It was thrilling to stand on the Maple Leaf Gardens floor knowing that our two strongest candidates were women, and no matter the outcome of the convention, we were going to make history by selecting Ontario’s first woman as Premier. Wynne subsequently united the party, ran a successful campaign in 2014 and went to work delivering on the vision she laid out for the province, which she clearly communicated through public mandate letters with her ministers.

She made time in 2017 to travel the province, braving difficult conversations with Ontarians at town hall events. I’ve only known Wynne to be a principled and sincere leader. She is a titan in Canadian politics. As underrated as she is at the close of this year, I think we will see her catch her stride campaigning in 2018.

Sears: Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Completing her second year in the suicide chair of any cabinet, Bennett gets too little credit for the achievements of the Trudeau government in building a genuine program of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. It is always tempting to mutter dismissively, “Problems everywhere still!” instead of marking what progress has been made. More agreements have been signed, more stupid anti-First Nations legal actions by the federal government cancelled, and more money flowed for First Nations health and education than in any time past. The naming of an impressively strong National Reconciliation Council last week, caps a year of real progress.

Not so good: the Missing and Murdered Inquiry remains wobbly, and a reset button may yet need to be hit.

Watt: B.C. Premier John Horgan brought the New Democratic Party back to power in the province for the first time since 2001. Horgan did an impressive job fighting former premier Christy Clark, a formidable politician, to a draw in the most recent election. Then he adeptly formed a coalition with the Green Party, while conceding little of his party’s agenda.

In government, Horgan has so far proven to be similarly adept. The Green Party has bent to his will on a number of issues, and the Liberals have not found areas of weakness on which to attack his government. Horgan is quietly effective, and he promises to be an important player on the national scene, even as the federal NDP struggles.

Most overrated politician of 2017

Gooch: Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. One of my favourite quotes to apply to political organization is, “The only reward for good work is more work.” Singh ran a fantastic leadership campaign in 2017. So good, that the bar is raised for how he delivers on his promise to grow NDP membership to build a strong campaign in 2019. Examining his record as a former member of provincial parliament in Ontario, aside from a friendly personal demeanour, I have difficulty understanding the fanfare.

I think it’s a mistake for Singh to prolong finding a seat in the House. The freedom to travel Canada and build his following is attractive, but the longer he waits, the more action he misses in Ottawa. He has amassed a loyal and passionate following over the course of 2017, an army of excellent organizers for the issues they care about. But retweets don’t equal votes. Singh’s next challenge is harnessing that energy to build and unite his party over the next two years.

Sears: Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre: Every Parliament produces at least one young blowhard politician, who is always loud, always certain, and frequently wrong. They usually grow up or get prematurely retired. In this case, surprisingly, the learning curve has been virtually flat over a decade and he has survived.

Poilievre is a good stuntman always ready with an angry sound bite, so he usually wins showdowns with less adept or self-promotional opponents. He has toned down his rent-a-rant in Opposition, and sometimes appears to be trying to demonstrate some gravitas. This year, though, he hit a new low this with his harassment and character attacks on Bill Morneau. Morneau’s missteps, misjudgments and simply bad decisions have been painful to watch. Attacking the man’s character and personal integrity came to close to Trump-style smears for even some of his own caucus colleagues.

Watt: Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew has not demonstrated nearly the same proficiency as Horgan. A darling of left-wing activists in the West and something of a media star before entering politics, Kinew was elected leader of the Manitoba NDP in September, following the party’s crushing election defeat by the PCs. Kinew was expected to be the kind of exciting leader the party needed to revive itself.

Instead, he has faced a number of issues that have undermined confidence in his abilities. Soon after his election, it emerged that he had been charged both with domestic assault and drunk driving, throwing the NDP off-kilter. His ham-fisted response included denial and silence before he acknowledged the challenges. The NDP under his leadership has continued to struggle to find its footing.

The best political play of the year

Gooch: Montreal mayoral race. Nobody expected it and she was told it couldn’t be done. Yet, Valérie Plante stands today as the mayor of Montreal. She is the first woman in the 375-year history of the municipality to hold the post. It was a stunning upset, and she proved the benefit of a strong ground game by securing 51 per cent of the vote. Going up against an incumbent is an uphill battle that I’m sure most political veterans advised against. But she came with energy, determination, and a plan that Montreal voters connected with.

Sears: The Barton Panel. The Trudeau government’s decision to name a high-level, blue-ribbon panel of federal economic advisers is neither novel nor often of much political value beyond announcement day. The difference this time was, first, the creative choice of panel head in Dominic Barton — among the most respected management consultants in the world, and the global Managing Partner of McKinsey — and in the creative selection of panel members.

Even more impressive has been the way in which the panel has performed: issuing its work in carefully calibrated chunks, ensuring they have been politically battle-tested, and consulting a wide range of stakeholders, before release. And crucially, defending its sometimes surprisingly bold proposals without simply appearing to be paid government sycophants.

Watt: Hands down, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney’s impressive moves over the last year have been fascinating to watch. Kenney, seeing potentially years of being in opposition at the federal level, resigned his seat in the House of Commons to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, a party that was a spent force in the province. Kenney ran with the express promise to pack up the party and merge it with the upstart, right-wing Wildrose party to offer a united conservative alternative to Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

Many were skeptical that the Ottawa-centric Kenney would have enough credibility to take over a party that had previously been resistant to a merger. But Kenney won the leadership resoundingly, and forced a merger. Following the merger, many speculated he would not be able to take the leadership of the United Conservative Party as easily, but he did. Kenney has won two leaderships in the last year and has united a fractured conservative movement. In doing so, he has become the favourite to become premier of Alberta following the 2019 general election.

The worst political play of the year

Gooch: Quebec Niqab Ban. The passing of Bill 62, a law that made it illegal for public services in the province of Quebec to be received by people wearing face coverings was a sad moment in Canadian politics. It was alarming to see a Canadian government targeting a small group of already marginalized women by refusing much needed services. This dangerous political move played on a popular and misguided fear and hatred among Quebecers. This is a time when we need to be combating Islamophobia, not further entrenching it in Canadian policy. I was disappointed to see so few federal representatives speaking out passionately against it, including the prime minister.

Sears: Tax “reform.” If you want to survive one of the most risky ventures in politics — messing with the tax system — you better remember three things: keep it simple, bulletproof your political narrative for change, and ensure you have at least some of those most likely to be impacted by the changes on board in advance. The Trudeau government failed on all three in its badly botched summer tax ‘reform’ campaign.

The changes were impossible for any reasonable person to understand, were defended by attacking tax ‘cheaters’ among farmers, doctors and hair salon owners, and thus successfully incited a broad counterattack. A stunning self-inflicted wound.

Watt: Justice Richard Wagner, recently appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, made a major error this summer when he declined the applications of four LGBTQ advocacy groups for intervener status in a case against the law school at Trinity Western University, a private Christian school in B.C. The case stems from the fact that Trinity Western requires students to sign a code of conduct limiting sexual intimacy to heterosexual marriage, a stance many LGBTQ groups find egregious and a reason to deny Trinity Western status as an accredited law school in Canada.

Wagner, who said that LGBTQ groups were adequately represented in the case, declined to allow them as intervenors, leading to a broad outcry on social media. The decision was later reversed by then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Wagner was jockeying at the time to be named Supreme Court Chief Justice and the issue played badly with a socially conscious government. In spite of his later success in being named as Chief Justice, Wagner’s decision was ill-made.

The most likely to shine in 2018

Gooch: Black women in politics. In 2018, expect to see more Black women running, organizing and engaging in Canadian politics. Canada will be better for it, and political parties will be smart to empower and trust these women as they bring their talents to the political sphere. One race worth watching will be Leisa Washington in Whitby. The political rookie was just nominated as the Liberal candidate to go up against PC incumbent Lorne Coe.

“Men didn’t want to work with me at first. They were afraid of the unknown. ‘Will she outshine me?’ ” Washington shared, in describing her work as a trail-blazing WNBA and NBA sports agent. She has a tough race ahead of her, but she seems up for the challenge. I look forward to seeing Washington and more Black Canadian women shining in political spaces in 2018.

Sears: Jagmeet Singh. As several pundits observed in predicting his victory at the close of the underwhelming NDP leadership contest, the party’s biggest challenge these days is getting noticed, adding that Singh has never walked into a room without becoming the instant centre of attention.

His launch has been far from flawless, but his skills as a communicator, a conciliator and skilled political organizer will emerge more clearly in the New Year. Some pundits have whispered about his ‘ethnicity’ challenges, especially in Quebec. Like Obama, Singh does not need to cite his credentials as an authentic advocate of minorities — including Francophone Quebecers, refugees, and the powerless — they are unavoidably in front of your eyes whenever he speaks. New Democrats are slow to love a new leader. It took Jack Layton several years to achieve his incredible plateau of affection and success. Singh is the first since Ed Broadbent to have moved so quickly into the party’s affections.

Watt: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been a very effective advocate for Canada. Freeland has taken a low-key approach to the NAFTA negotiations, but has emerged as a key player in the government. As trade negotiations heat up, Freeland will become even more prominent on the domestic front. Deeply knowledgeable on the issues, Freeland will continue to demonstrate why she is one of this government’s most trusted ministers. She’s a strong communicator and one to watch moving forward.

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. Robin V. Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, was an NDP strategist for 20 years. Jaime Watt is executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, December 17, 2017)

Breaking Out Of The Ottawa Bubble – A Review Of The Fall Sitting Of Parliament

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Ensight’s Matt Triemstra looks back at the past fall sitting of Parliament and examines how the Conservative’s great performance doesn’t translate into support outside of the Ottawa bubble.

Christmas has finally arrived in the House of Commons. Christmas poems have been recited by both Liberal and Conservative MPs, new Commissioners (Language, Ethics and Lobbying) have all been confirmed and stakeholders have jammed in as many meetings as they could in the dying days of 2017. MPs have now left Ottawa to return to their ridings and the House will remain empty until their return on January 29th, 2018.

But before we prognosticate too much about 2018, we ought to review the fall sitting of Parliament.

For the Conservatives it was exciting. They finally found a narrative that worked and upped their game in question period by keeping the pressure on Finance Minister Morneau, both with regard to changes to small businesses and his own personal financial dealings. Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kent Hehr is in the hot seat for being unsympathetic, Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly is not seen to be handling her files well and to top it all off, there is a rink on the grounds of Parliament Hill that is being ridiculed for costing 5.2 million dollars.

With so much ammunition, the Conservatives had every right to be excited and press their attack and they were rewarded by surging in the polls. Except they didn’t and they haven’t. December is ending just as September began, with the Conservatives still trailing in the polls. What’s worse for Conservative fortunes, is that their caucus was reduced by two MPs, as they lost what should have been safe Tory seats in recent by-elections.

So we are left with this conundrum: a successful Conservative sitting of Parliament doesn’t translate into votes or momentum for them. There is really only one cause for this effect: The Ottawa Bubble. Things that happen in the bubble can defy logic and don’t translate into mainstream momentum in the rest of Canada.

The current Conservative strategy is ‘death by a thousand cuts’, and while it may be effective in the bubble and in the long run, it is not proving to move votes in the short term and outside of Ottawa and that’s problematic for Andrew Scheer, who has less than two years to change the narrative if he wants to win in 2019. The Liberals know full well that if you are riled up over Morneau and small businesses, that you were never likely to vote Liberal in the first place. In the bubble, the Conservatives may have the edge, but the in the real world, Liberals know that their core vote hasn’t changed.

Conservative MPs now have 44 days to get back in touch with their constituents and find out what is resonating outside of the bubble, before the House resumes in January. And while the current strategy of death by a thousand cuts may work…eventually, no Conservative wants to spend a day longer than they have to on the opposition bench.

But in order to invigorate the nation, the Conservatives need to show Canadians not where the Liberals are failing, but where their policies provide a better and more compelling vision for Canada. The Conservative party needs to outflank Trudeau on the issues that they claim to own. And until they can come up with progressively conservative views on issues like marijuana, LGBTQ2 and the environment (to name just a few) they simply won’t be able to capture the attention of Canadians.

So while most Canadians view Christmas as a break, Conservative MPs should be using the time wisely by retooling their messaging and looking for issues that define them and not ones that slowly cut down the other guy.

Matt Triemstra is a Director at Ensight where he provides public affairs advice. He has over a decade of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.

A critical moment for Black political organization in Canada: Gooch

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Last week at the Toronto Reference Library in Toronto, hundreds of Black Canadian leaders, policy wonks, media personalities, academics, activists, business professionals and artists aligned for celebrations and strategic planning sessions at the inaugural National Black Canadians Summit in recognition of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent.

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Beware of the dark-side of social media: Watt

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Social media is an empowering tool, and one that has breathed new oxygen into our political process. It allows people to organize, to question and to rally. It has enhanced our democracy, and changed it for the better.

Movements like #metoo, which has broken the silence surrounding sexual harassment and assault, have found their power in social media. The quickness, reactivity and openness of social media has meant that men of power who have been abusers no longer control the dialogue.

Those in power don’t have power over social media forums. Those who once had little ability to reach the masses can now do so with no fear of being clamped down on or controlled by those in power.

It is safe to say that without Twitter, there would still be a cone of silence around issues like sexual harassment and assault.

Twitter has been used to shine a light on dozens of other issues. It has helped protestors organize. And it has helped dethrone despots.

Safe to say, social media has changed our world for the better.

And yet, there is a dark side of the moon.

The immediacy, the reactive nature and the openness of social media can cause grave damage, as well. Just as we have seen it used as a formidable tool to topple the powerful, the use of social media can ignite a fire that quickly burns out of control. The lack of control embedded in the use of social media means it can be weaponized against innocent people.

Take, for instance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent apology to the LGBTQ community on behalf of the Government of Canada for historical unfair treatment. It was a moving moment, and one that found cross-partisan support. Canadians across the country took to social media to express their happiness about the decision.

But something not so celebratory occurred. A tweet by a member of the press gallery stated that a section of seats among the Conservative Party ranks were empty, with no context. Others soon took photos and circled the “missing members,” highlighting their names and user names. Tweets in response ominously accused the members of a concerted Conservative walkout to protest the apology.

The social media outcry was swift and harsh. The “missing members” were decried as homophobic, bigoted and insulting. Thousands of tweets harassed the members for their insensitivity, and critiqued the Conservative Party for not having emerged from the Dark Ages.

The problem was, it wasn’t accurate. A number of the “missing members” were, in fact, present, and had simply moved to other seats. Others were at already scheduled events in their ridings or at scheduled personal commitments.

In fact, there was no credible evidence of a Conservative member boycotting the announcement.

But within 12 hours, many Tories faced on onslaught of personal criticism on Twitter by users who had not checked their facts. Those Twitter users gleefully besmirched a happy moment and the personal reputation of roughly a dozen Conservative MPs, entirely erroneously.

In fact, the misinformation continues to circulate two weeks later.

Talk about fake news.

The rush to judgment followed by an immediate backpedal was not an isolated occurrence.

It represents a situation that has occurred hundreds of times over social media in the last several years. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has not yet been learned.

We live in an era that thrives on immediacy, and the rush to produce content has hampered the importance of getting the facts right. It is a problem that we have constructed ourselves, and one that we must fix.

The problem is that the apologies are never louder than the accusations. Headlines that blare of wrongdoing get infinitely more attention than the sheepish tweets admitting wrongful accusation.

The credibility of the social media user is on the line, but, more importantly, so is the reputation of an innocent person who may suffer irreparable harm.

There isn’t a simple fix to this problem. No legislation or Twitter policies or policing will change this. In fact, in an era when the president of the United States plays havoc with the facts, it is more challenging than ever.

It often seems innocuous to press the key that broadcasts information to our entire network. It’s easy and instantaneous and requires little thought.

But that action can have devastating effects. And so the change must begin with us.

We must learn to reread and rethink before we retweet.

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, December 10, 2017)

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)