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

The Hunt for an Opposition Leader: Who will the NDP choose to chart their path to power?

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In a campaign that is struggling to attract attention outside of NDP circles, our NDP insider Sally Houser lays out the issues and discusses the four candidates and their vision for the party.

On September 18 members of the New Democratic Party of Canada began casting their ballots for a new leader. Although the four candidates made their final pitch to voting members at a “Leadership Showcase” in Hamilton on September 17, it may be as late as October 15 before a winner is decided; the party’s new voting system allows a full week in between ballots to allow candidates to woo the supporters of whoever comes last in the rounds. A candidate needs to win with 50% +1, so we could have a winner on October 1, 8, or 15.

Though the leadership race has not been characterized by wildly differentiated policy proposals, there have been some ideas floated that makes each candidate stand out:

  • Singh has called for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs
  • Caron committed to bringing in a guaranteed income for all Canadians
  • Ashton has promised free post-secondary education
  • Angus plans to dismantle Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)

Climate change talk has ranged from Ashton as the most vehemently opposed to any new pipelines to Angus who, while hardly crying “drill baby drill”, is asking New Democrats to think about transitioning to a renewable economy without throwing a generation of oil and gas workers under the bus.

Meet The Candidates – Who are they and how will they fare?

Charlie Angus – The ‘Prominent and Stable’ Choice
Elected in 2008 to represent the Riding of Timmins-James Bay in Northern Ontario, Angus has been a prominent and often quoted fixture in the NDP caucus. He has significant support among long time party members as well as outside the urban centres. Expected to finish in the top two on the first ballot, it will be crucial for him whether it is Ashton or Caron that gets knocked out in the first round as many of Caron’s supporters view Angus as their second choice.

 
Niki Ashton – The ‘Millennial and Young Woman’ Choice
Ashton is the only candidate in the race to be taking a second crack at leadership, having run to replace Jack Layton in the 2012. She has a significant amount of support from millennials, particularly young woman. Though her fundraising has been good, her campaign has had some stumbles and seems to be running out of gas. She placed last in the 2012 contest. Her team will have to work hard to get those millennials voting to ensure she doesn’t suffer the same fate this time around.

Guy Caron – The ‘Slow and Steady’ Choice
Elected in Jack Layton’s Quebec orange wave of 2011, Caron represents the riding of Rimouski. His campaign started slow, initially posting poor fundraising numbers but in recent weeks significant endorsements from well-known and respected New Democrats have given him some momentum. Coming on strong in the end game may be enough to edge out Ashton and avoid coming last on the first ballot. He has a lot of second choice support so if he stays in he does have an outside chance to come up the middle.

Jagmeet Singh – The ‘Toe to Toe with Trudeau’ Choice
Singh represents the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton in the Ontario legislature and has served as the Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP. He has positioned himself as the candidate that can best grow the flagging NDP membership base and can go toe-to-toe with Justin Trudeau on flash and style. His team claims that they have signed up 47,000 new members. If those numbers ring true and they’re able to motivate those new members to vote, he could get close enough to 50% on the first ballot to make a win virtually guaranteed. If his vote isn’t motivated, he may not have enough second-choice support to take him over the edge.

MPs Suit Up for Battle – Don Newman on the upcoming Fall session of Parliament

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Parliament is set to resume on Monday, so we sat down with Ensight’s Don Newman to talk about what we could expect to see and what to watch closely.

1. How would you rank Trudeau and the Liberals this summer?

I would rank them lucky. Almost halfway through their first term and they are still comfortably ahead in the polls, at a time when usually a government is facing declining support.

The Liberals have stayed on top despite the unpopular $10-million settlement to Omar Khadar, and despite the now festering controversy over punitive changes to people who have turned themselves into corporations for tax purposes.

The potential problem of still being so popular half way through the mandate is that when their popularity inevitably dips, they will be closer to the next election.

2. Given the recent cabinet shuffle, who are the Liberal ministers to watch this session?

‎Most of the Ministers to watch are not ones that were shuffled. But of those who were, Seamus O’Regan in the quagmire that is Veterans Affairs is probably the one to keep your eye on. Also, how the splitting of Indigenous Affairs into two portfolios with Jane Philpott joining Carolyn Bennett to deal with those intractable problems will be interesting.

But on a day to day basis, Finance Minister Bill Morneau with tax changes and deficits, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr with the Trans-Mount‎ain Pipeline and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with NAFTA, will be front and center.

3. The beginning of this session marks two years in power for the Liberals. So far, has Justin Trudeau delivered? And what does he need to do to ramp up for the 2019 election?

Well Trudeau promised “Sunny Ways” and certainly the mood of the country seems better than under the previous government. That’s atmospherics, but it has to count for something.

On the bigger issues, the Liberals now have to show more progress on big ticket items, like the infrastructure bank and actually getting more shovels in the ground and projects started.

By 2019 they will have to show that they finessed the pipeline issue‎ in B.C. That won’t be easy, with the energy industry and the Alberta Government on one side, and environmentalist and the British Columbia Government on the other.

The Indigenous file has the never-ending potential to go sideways. Look at the difficulties getting the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women under-way.

And of course, the ongoing NAFTA negotiations are a wild card, with the unpredictable President Donald Trump a wild card himself.

4. What’s your best bet for Opposition Leader Andrew Sheer’s first question in Question Period?

Barring some unforeseeable‎ event that captures the headlines that day, the first question will be about tax changes for incorporated small businesses, and the people who currently benefit from the present system.

5. Who in the Conservative ‘shadow cabinet’ is best placed to be effective in their role as critic?

The Finance critic, Pierre Poilievre. I don’t think he knows much about finance but he certainly knows a lot about politics and he plays a rough game in the House of Commons.

The Official Opposition‎ believes that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is a relatively weak performer and they have put their pit bull opposite him. They also think he is vulnerable on both corporate taxes and deficits. Morneau is a relative newcomer to politics and a gentleman. Neither description would apply to Poilievre.

The session will also be a testing period for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. He narrowly won the party leadership last June‎. Now Conservatives will see if they made the right choice.

6. What will be the “sleeper issue” this fall?

Because if there is one it will be a “sleeper’ so it is impossible to predict. However that doesn’t minimize its importance. When Harold MacMillan was retiring after seven years as British Prime Minister, a reporter asked him what his most difficult problems had been.

“Events, dear boy,” he said, “events.”

The unforeseen crisis, and the way a government responds to it, often are the difference between a successful government and one that isn’t.

7. How will the Senate co-operate with the Government with so many Independent Senators and things like the marijuana legislation coming down the pipe.

Before the summer recess it appeared the Senate might dig in its heels and fail to pass the budget bill. In the end enough of the Independents agreed they could not go against the will of the elected House of Commons. The Senate will propose amendments to the marijuana bill. Some may be accepted by the Government, and others won’t. But ultimately, I think the Senate will come to the same conclusion it did last spring. It might delay, but it won’t defeat.

Where There’s Smoke, There May Soon Be Fire – Our Dispatch From The Liberal Caucus Retreat

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For Liberal MPs traveling in from the Kelowna airport to their hotel for this week’s caucus retreat, they were told by the taxi drivers that one of the forest fires that have been raging throughout the BC interior this summer was only 25 kilometres away. Aside from the economic effects, this year’s fires have once again left many families homeless. The fires provided a somber undercurrent to the caucus meetings, a reminder of how fragile prosperity and stability can be right now for all Canadians, despite the recent strong economic growth numbers. One of Trudeau’s first public appearances, astutely enough, was with the Kelowna Fire Department to talk with the front line responders.

But there are other fires to consider too. In the evening, a sooty fog dropped like a shroud over the nearby hills of the wine country. And for many of the new Liberal Members, emerging from contentious caucus sessions over proposed tax policy changes and presentations on plans and priorities, it was easy to imagine that this grey fog was actually the smoke from the battlefield as Trudeau’s team bears down for the 2019 campaign.

Fairness for the middle class. It’s more than a mantra for Trudeau’s Liberals, as we know. It’s a guiding principle and, as Morneau’s key advisors would say, a top line message for both caucus and media in attendance at the Kelowna Delta Okanagan. Morneau’s team worked together like an emergency crew starting Wednesday morning to beat back the brush fires of resistance from caucus to the tax policy changes Morneau has proposed – curbing income “sprinkling” with family members, passive investment income and the conversion of a corporation’s regular income into capital gains. From all accounts this offensive was smart, shrewdly timed and well executed, exactly how you’d want to describe the tactical approach to selling these changes. Morneau must hope that his forthcoming “road show” for these with Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger comes off as well.

In any event, he’ll face an offensive from the Conservatives who are getting battle ready for the fall session as well. Trudeau’s final press conference here in Kelowna was peppered with questions that had him responding to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s broadsides this week – on refugee and immigration policy, on Omar Khadr’s payout and … surprise, surprise … on how these proposed tax policy changes might actually negatively impact a beleaguered middle class and, permit a small variation on the mantra here, those working hard to join the one percent. It’s too early to tell whether these lines of attack will gain real ground for the Conservatives in the weeks ahead, but Trudeau would be wise to read the heavy clouds over the horizon with cautious optimism that a storm might quell still smoldering fires.

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

Scheer announces shadow cabinet

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To some political observers, today’s announcement of new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s shadow cabinet does more than reveal the roster of Question Period matchups expected this fall when the House of Commons reconvenes. It can also give a glimpse into the new power dynamics at play within Scheer’s Conservative party, provide clues on the new leader’s policy priorities, and even highlights who has been snubbed.

Predictably, eleven of the new shadow cabinet positions have been filled by MPs who endorsed Scheer. Only three of Scheer’s rivals in a crowded leadership race have been denied a position. Most notably, controversial candidate Kellie Leitch did not receive a critic role. Scheer’s fellow Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, whose support at the convention blew away expectations and helped Scheer narrowly defeat Maxime Bernier, was also excluded. But the move could reignite speculation Trost may be preparing for a leadership run in Saskatchewan where Premier Brad Wall is stepping down as leader of the Saskatchewan Party.

Bernier did not get the role he publicly lobbied for as the shadow minister for Finance, but he says he is pleased to receive another central economic file as the critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). Bernier also served in Harper’s cabinet as the Minister of Industry, the precursor to ISED, and will be familiar with the issues.

Scheer’s changes reflect a leader who is trying to put his stamp on a party that has only had one leader before him. He is balancing the aspirations of his colleagues, favours owed and the need to field a competent political team as the countdown to the 2019 general election continues.

The cascading changes have essentially overhauled much of the Conservatives’ roster of critics aside from exceptions like Calgary MP Michelle Rempel and veteran Rob Nicholson, who each remained publicly neutral during the leadership race. Scheer, though, has not made any changes to his House of Commons leadership which remains in the hands of leadership rival Lisa Raitt as deputy leader, Whip Mark Strahl, Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes, House leader Candice Bergen and her deputies Chris Warkentin and John Brassard. In addition, former minister Diane Finley has been named caucus-party liaison.

On a cosmetic note, Scheer is working to position the Conservatives as a government-in-waiting by naming “shadow ministers” rather than the traditional term “critic.” Time will tell which changes will gain traction and which ones won’t stick, but for now Scheer is focused on quickly ushering in his own era as Conservative Leader.

 

The Question Period Matchups

Andrew Scheer
Leader of the Official Opposition
VS
Right Hon. Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

Maxime Bernier
Shadow Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development
VS
The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
VS
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Ziad Aboultaif
Shadow Minister, International Development
VS
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Gérard Deltell
Shadow Minister, Treasury Board
VS
The Honourable Scott Brison
President of the Treasury Board

Shannon Stubbs
Shadow Minister, Natural Resources
VS
The Honourable James Gordon Carr
Minister of Natural Resources

Dan Albas
Shadow Minister, Small Business
VS
The Honourable Bardish Chagger
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Dean Allison
Shadow Minister, International Trade
VS
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of International Trade

Karen Vecchio
Shadow Minister, Families, Children and Social Development
VS
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Matt Jeneroux
Shadow Minister, Science
VS
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science

Erin O’Toole
Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs
VS
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Kelly Block
Shadow Minister, Transport
VS
The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

Pierre Paul-Hus
Shadow Minister, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
VS
The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Scott Reid
Shadow Minister, Democratic Institutions
VS
The Honourable Karina Gould
Minister of Democratic Institutions

Dianne Watts
Shadow Minister, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
VS
The Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Alexander Nuttall
Shadow Minister, Youth, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
VS
The Honourable Kent Hehr
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Michelle Rempel
Shadow Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
VS
The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Peter Van Loan
Shadow Minister, Canadian Heritage and National Historic Sites
VS
The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Canadian Heritage

Todd Doherty

Shadow Minister, Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Asia-Pacific Gateway
VS
The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Pat Kelly
Shadow Minister, National Revenue
VS
The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier
Minister of National Revenue

Luc Berthold
Shadow Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food
VS
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Ed Fast
Shadow Minister, Environment and Climate Change
VS
The Honourable Catherine McKenna
Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Pierre Poilievre
Shadow Minister, Finance and National Capital Commission
VS
The Honourable William Francis Morneau
Minister of Finance

Rachel Harder
Shadow Minister, Status of Women
VS
The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Status of Women

Steven Blaney
Shadow Minister, Veterans Affairs
VS
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Marilyn Gladu
Shadow Minister, Health
VS
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
VS
The Honourable Jane Philpott
Minister of Indigenous Services

Tony Clement
Shadow Minister, Public Services and Procurement
VS
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Public Services and Procurement

James Bezan
Shadow Minister, National Defence
VS
The Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence

Michael Chong
Shadow Minister, Infrastructure, Communities and Urban Affairs
VS
The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Rob Nicholson
Shadow Minister, Justice
VS
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Other Critic Roles:

  • John Barlow, Agriculture and Agri-Food (Associate)
  • Peter Kent, Ethics
  • Rob Moore, Atlantic Issues and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
  • Alain Rayes, Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Bob Saroya, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Associate)
  • Alice Wong, Seniors

Trudeau Targets Indigenous, Veterans Files And Promotes Talent From Within

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Ensight’s Cabinet Shuffle Political Update

Trudeau Retools Cabinet In Advance Of Fall Parliamentary Session

With the next federal election about to be closer than the last one that brought the Liberals to power‎, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his Cabinet to focus on the unfinished items on the Liberal agenda and fight off attacks from two new opposition party leaders.

Trudeau orchestrated a shuffle early this year in order to recalibrate and position the Cabinet to manage Canada’s relationship with the Trump administration, but this latest shuffle represents something different. This is, in fact, a proactive shift introduced by the Prime Minister to put his government in the best position to deliver on specific priorities he deems critical to the next election, including Indigenous Affairs and Veterans Affairs. It should be noted this won’t be the last Cabinet shuffle before the next election, as a number of veteran Liberal ministers are expected to step aside in advance of the campaign.

At the centre of this shuffle is Minister Jane Philpott, a position she finds herself in for all the right reasons considering her stellar track record at Health Canada. From her deft and swift handling of the opioids crisis to making Health Accord deals with all provinces and territories, her work and activism have been effective and popular. However, industry has been consulted less vigorously under her leadership than in previous governments. Her personal passion for the Indigenous health file has been something she has spoken on many times, and she put her passion to work in partnering with Justice on the physician-assisted death and cannabis files. Her ability to partner with fellow ministers bodes well as she prepares to begin her mandate as it relates to the altered role of Dr. Carolyn Bennett as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister.

Bennett is a 20-year veteran Parliamentarian whose important role will get an expanded support team within Cabinet. She has a personal passion for her work, built on some strong partnerships she has made over the years with First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups across the country. While Bennett’s retirement may yet come – for now, she will continue to advance this key portfolio for the Prime Minister.

Seamus O’Regan, who has been preparing to host Cabinet at a retreat in his riding of St. John’s South—Mount Pearl next month, is another major player today as a new entrant to the Cabinet table. Well-known as a CTV broadcaster, O’Regan is one of the Prime Minister’s best friends, a groomsmen at his wedding, and a close personal confidant. His ability to communicate will be critical in his new role as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence, which was a portfolio that created a plethora of problems for the Harper government. Putting a renewed vigour into the veterans file will strongly signal that Liberals remain committed to the “sacred obligation” promises they included in their last platform. O’Regan’s strengths as a communicator will also help take some of the burden off Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has been embroiled in controversy at moments. O’Regan’s public effort to overcome alcohol dependency has transformed him into a comeback story, and he has worked closely with the PMO to help organize the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to Canada.

Another new member of Cabinet is Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Having already served as the Deputy Government Whip and then as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau – Petitpas Taylor will be seen as a solid choice to expand the Cabinet. In the Atlantic provinces, Liberals currently have all the seats, and adding Ministers to give further recognition to that fact is something that Atlantic MPs will be pleased to see. The Health Minister role has a particularly high bar to meet following on the heels of Philpott’s tenure. She has succeeded in these two previous roles, yet this will bring the stakes to a higher level for her political future.

Meanwhile, former Paralympian and human rights lawyer Minister Qualtrough will be moving within Cabinet to take over as Minister of Public Services and Procurement. In her current portfolio as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities, she has been busy traveling across the country for consultations on services for persons with disabilities, has been involved with the B.C. wildfire response effort, and has been working to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act. She will now turn her proactive work ethic toward the challenges existing at Public Services and Procurement, including the embattled Phoenix pay system and procurement of replacement fighter jets. With a new NDP-Green provincial government and some polls showing federal Liberal slippage in British Columbia, keeping a tough riding like Delta is an electoral priority to show strength in the lower mainland’s outskirts.

Finally, Minister Kent Hehr will vacate his portfolio as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Defence to make way for O’Regan. However, the move to Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities comes with its benefits for Hehr, who was a noted athlete who remains passionate about sport. His new role may also provide him with more time to focus on getting re-elected in Calgary in 2019. He is the first Liberal Calgary MP since the 1970s.

New ministers will receive mandate letters, signalling updated priorities, from the Prime Minister in the weeks ahead.

Insights and Biographical Notes

Hon. Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister to National Defence

Insights

  • O’Regan’s appointment ensures Newfoundland and Labrador retains a voice at the Cabinet table in the wake of Judy Foote’s resignation from her post at Public Services and Procurement.
  • The former broadcaster is a close personal friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who notably made a public show of support for O’Regan in 2015 when he announced he would seek help for alcohol dependence.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada’s headquarters are located in Charlottetown PEI, and several Atlantic Canadian politicians have been called on to lead the department in the past, such as Greg Thompson, Doug Young and Gerald Merrithew.

Biographical Notes

O’Regan is well known to Canadians as the long-time host of CTV’s Canada AM and as a national reporter for the network.

Born in St. John’s and raised in Labrador, O’Regan worked for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as an advisor to the Premier and to the Minister of Justice. He also served as Executive Vice President, Communications, at The Stronach Group of Companies, and was noted for his role of Ambassador for Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health awareness campaign.

As MP for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland and Labrador), O’Regan has been a member of the House of Commons’ Canadian Heritage committee and he is a members of the Canada-Ireland Interparliamentary Group.

O’Regan made headlines when he proactively sought treatment for alcohol dependence shortly after he was elected in 2015, and he was also named in the scandal surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Christmas vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.

Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health

Insights

  • Petitpas Taylor is a gifted communicator in French and English, and she put those skills to great use as Parliamentary Secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She was notably instrumental in various consultations across the country, including those held for Budget 2017.
  • Petitpas Taylor is a noted advocate on women’s issues whose ability to connect with her own community in Southeastern New Brunswick has translated well to the federal political scene. Her riding is adjacent to the Beausejour riding of Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, with whom she has a productive working dynamic.
  • A noted community volunteer and advocate, Petitpas Taylor burst into federal politics when she shocked local Liberals and defeated former Moncton mayor George LeBlanc to win the Liberal nomination and help lead the red wave that covered every corner of Atlantic Canada in 2015.

Biographical Notes

Ginette Petitpas Taylor’s background in social work led her to a 23-year career as an RCMP Victim Services Coordinator where she provided crisis and domestic violence counselling. She is a noted volunteer with the Coalition Against Abuse in Relationships, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Suicide Prevention Committee, she served on the City of Moncton’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, and she has been chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services

Insights

  • Philpott has been one of the Prime Minister’s most competent and trusted ministers, and her shift in responsibilities reflects the continued importance the government is placing on Indigenous Affairs.
  • A medical doctor, Philpott has been noted as an activist minister at the helm of Health Canada.
  • Philpott has led a number of pan-Canadian consultation processes, and has worked closely with provinces and fellow ministers on a number of high-stakes issues like the opioid crisis, physician-assisted death and the development of a legal cannabis regime.

Biographical Notes

Prior to her career in politics, Dr. Philpott has been an accomplished medical physician with many accomplishments in the fields of family medicine, public health, medical education and advocacy for HIV/AIDS.
She worked in Niger from 1989 to 1998 where she practiced medicine and established a medical training program. Back in Canada, she founded Give a Day to World AIDS in 2004, a charity which has raised over $4 million.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Insights

  • Qualtrough’s success as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities has put her in position to take on this new challenge with added responsibilities.
  • Qualtrough’s promotion is a nod to the importance of her riding in the West Coast election strategy of the Liberal party. Delta is an important British Columbia riding for a Liberal government that is hoping to hold on to its recent electoral breakthrough in the next general election.
  • She bolstered the Prime Minister’s confidence in her abilities by showing great poise and competence during the recent wildfires in British Columbia.
    Biographical Notes

Biographical Notes

The MP for Delta led a successful human rights law career in British Columbia in addition to her athletic career and volunteer advocacy initiatives. Qualtrough has been visually impaired since birth, a challenge that did not prevent her from becoming a successful Paralympic swimmer. That success paved the way for her involvement with the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games, and her former role as president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Insights

  • Hehr is the first Liberal from Calgary to sit in Cabinet since 1972.
  • The minister’s successful career in provincial politics has helped to prepare his path to the Trudeau Cabinet.
  • In his new role, Hehr can draw on his personal experience as a Canadian living with a disability caused by a spinal cord injury.

Biographical Notes

Hehr practiced law at a well-known national firm, worked with the United Way and led the Alberta branch of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. He was known as a hard-working Alberta MLA where his priorities revolved around the management of the province’s budget, natural resources, public education and LGBTQ issues.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Insights

  • Contrary to speculation, her inclusion in this shuffle would indicate that she is not resigning anytime soon.
  • Carolyn has a solid relationship with her department, and firm relationships with Chiefs across the country, which is a testament to her work when she was the Liberal critic.
  • Her experience as a doctor will pair well with Dr. Philipott and signals a continued focus on historically underserved communities.

Biographical Notes

Carolyn Bennett was first elected in 1997 and prior to her election she was a family physician and a founding partner of Bedford Medical Associates in Toronto.
In 2003 Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Bennett as the first ever Minister of State for Public Health, a role in which she set up the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed the first Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, and established the Public Health Network.

NAFTA and The Power of Words: Newman

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The difficulty going forward in further rounds of NAFTA negotiations was illustrated in the difficulty agreeing to the communique ending the first round on Sunday, August 20, 2017 in Washington.

American negotiators wanted the communique to refer to the four days of talks as the first round in the “renegotiation of NAFTA.”

But negotiators for Canada and Mexico balked at that wording. They wanted the talks described as discussions towards “the modernization of NAFTA.”

Shakespeare once asked: “What’s in a word?”

Well in this case, plenty. The words the Americans wanted describing the talks underline the approach the United States is so far taking in the negotiations. They want a major rewrite of the agreement that President Donald Trump has characterized as “the worst trade deal ever.”

Canada and Mexico don’t agree. Both countries‎ want to preserve as much as possible of the twenty-three year old agreement, and then modernizing it by adding new chapters to cover e-commerce and other aspects of today’s economy that didn’t exist when NAFTA went into effect in 1994.

The dispute over the communique words was matched by action. During the first negotiating session the Americans took an aggressive approach.

Consider just a couple of their demands.

They proposed that cars made under NAFTA, one of the real success stories of the agreement, have even more of their content manufactured in North America that the 62.5 per cent required for duty free treatment under the treat‎y now.

And that’s not all. U.S. negotiators‎ also want a specific amount of that content actually produced in the United States, rather than in any of the three countries as required now.

The Americans also want to do away with the independent dispute settlement mechanism currently in NAFTA, and have the U.S. Courts rather than panels with‎ experts from each of the countries deciding trade disputes. Canada has already said that could be the “deal breaker,” but the Americans proposed it anyway.

Those and many more issues will have to be negotiated, compromises made and agreements reached in the rounds of negotiating sessions going forward.

Can that be done?

Well there’s one hopeful sign.

In Washington all three countries finally agreed on words to describe what they were working on. They agreed the first round of talks had concluded on “the renegotiation of the modernization of NAFTA.‎”

Perhaps there is hope after all.

Ensight Senior Counsel Don Newman has extensively covered trade issues, politics and elections in Washington. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The Hill Times – Freeland strikes alliance with populist Maine governor who understands value of trade

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[As published in the August 21, 2017 edition of The Hill Times]

Canada’s NAFTA lobbyist-in-chief has revealed the key but unorthodox ally she has found inside U.S. President Donald Trump’s inner circle—one who is fluent in the president’s own bombastic political language.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a committee of MPs last week that she often speaks with him on the phone to discuss ways the Trudeau government can make its NAFTA advocacy resonate within the administration and, most importantly, in the president’s ear.

But he is not your typical D.C. power broker. He proudly spends as little time in Washington, D.C., as he can, a fact that endears him to the president and the “drain the swamp” supporters they share.

Despite speculation, he has not taken an official role within the Trump administration, although he has joked to reporters he would be happy to serve as Trump’s ambassador to Canada in the summer and Jamaica in the winter.

At least for now, though, when the thoroughly progressive Freeland wants to bounce an idea off an outspoken populist, she dials Maine, the small state where Gov. Paul LePage has raucously ruled as a headline writer’s dream since 2010.

“I have been in close contact with him. I speak on the phone with him often. He is an influential voice in this administration,” Freeland told the International Trade committee last week, as she outlined the labour, environmental, and gender-equality objectives of Canada’s negotiators.

“I have also found him—not solely in conversations with me, but also in his advocacy in Washington—to be very good in explaining a key element of our economic relationship with the United States, which is we build things together. That is a key element and it can sometimes be missed.”

LePage knows Canada well. His first language was French. He lived in New Brunswick through most of the 1970’s, where his adult daughters still live today, and he worked in the province’s forestry sector which is closely integrated with the industry in Maine.

But what makes LePage most valuable to Freeland is that his connection to Canada neatly intersects with a political brand of populism and hyperbole that he shares with Trump.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” LePage said in February 2016 when he became one of the first governors to endorse Trump.

The Boston Globe called it a “bromance” in March 2017, and in April Trump warmly poked at LePage’s recent remarkable weight loss.

“I knew him when he was heavy, and now I know him when he was thin, and I like him both ways,” Trump said.

Many of the blunt adjectives used to describe Trump’s crude and cartoonish political style were tried on LePage first, with the same approximate result among his staunch supporters and detractors.

When Freeland calls LePage, she knows she is the only progressive on the call and it would be naive to think LePage is acting solely out of sentimentality for Canada. But as she reminded the International Trade committee on Monday, the jobs of 38,500 Maine residents depend on exports to Canada in a small state where jobs are scarce. Therein lies the Trudeau government’s NAFTA strategy in a nutshell with its focus on American jobs and our integrated supply chains.

Despite their political differences, when Freeland talks jobs, she is speaking LePage’s language and tapping in to the cold calculation that—like her—his own self-interest and the economic health of his state are hanging in the balance as NAFTA negotiations get underway.

Freeland does her homework, and would know that when Canadian fishermen mounted barricades to block Maine lobster exports from reaching New Brunswick processing plants in 2012, the usually explosive LePage did nothing to cause an international incident. Instead, he calmly identified an opportunity for his state to build up its seafood processing capacity and keep more of its resources, and jobs, at home.

Likewise in June, the pro-jobs governor took the extraordinary step of writing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to lobby against new tariffs on Canadian lumber that would hurt his state and its workers.

“He understands very well the intense and interconnected relationship between Maine and Canada. He happens to have a personal background in the forestry sector and that informs his point of view in a very useful way,” said Freeland.

For now it appears both Freeland and LePage need each other, and so when Canada’s progressive foreign minister calls, it is likely Maine’s Republican governor will continue to pick up the phone.

Jesse Robichaud is a consultant with Ensight, an Ottawa public affairs firm. He served as an adviser to former Progressive Conservative New Brunswick premier David Alward from 2010 to 2014.

Freeland sets the tone with enthusiastic, progressive vision for NAFTA

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Chrystia Freeland is optimistic about the outcome of the North American Free Trade negotiations the United States has forced on Canada and Mexico.

We know that, because she said so multiple times ‎earlier this week, the week the NAFTA negotiations begin in Washington.

The Foreign Affairs Minister struck her upbeat pose as she outlined the ‎things Canada will be seeking in what she called a “modernized” NAFTA. Those items will include the positioning of both labour and environmental clauses in the text of the agreement, as well as recognition of indigenous people and feminism in the NAFTA treaty.

How those second two objectives will go over with the Americans and Mexicans are unclear, and the U.S. is also likely to object to any direct mention of climate change in an environmental clause.

Outlining negotiating objectives was forced on the Trudeau Government by the Opposition parties. Under American law, the Trump administration had to reveal its negotiating objectives to Congress a month before the talks were to begin, and so Conservative and New Democrat MPS wanted the same thing‎ here. While the American objectives filled eighteen pages in a fully prepared document, Canada’s were spelled out in a couple of paragraphs in a ministerial speech.

And the presentation of the objectives explain the true nature of the negotiations.

These talks are being held because the Americans insisted they be held. Donald Trump campaigned and was elected on a promise to either change trade agreements to be more favourable to the United States — or end them altogether. In his inaugral address he made it clear. From then on it was to be “America First.”

The negotiating objectives revealed in July underline that approach. The Americans want greater access to our markets, while placing more restrictions on our access to their markets. Such a one sided approach would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

So while Canada will have a wish list for the NAFTA negotiations, the real job of our negotiators is to limit the damage of American demands. We are playing defence throughout this game. How well we play it will determine the future if NAFTA — and to a great degree the health of the Canadian economy.

There is an adage in sports that the best defence is a good offence. Unfortunately, in the NAFTA negotiations beginning this week, that adage doesn’t seem to be true.

Instead, ‎ Canada may well be put in the position of telling the Americans that any new restrictions to Canadian access in the United States will be matched by new restrictions on U.S. Access here. Of course, very much of that tit for tat type of exchange and the whole concept of a free trade agreement would become meaningless.

If that is the way the negotiations develop, then to save NAFTA it will be up to America‎ politicians and business to intervene with the Trump administration.

The Canadian Government has spent the past six months in an unprecedented campaign in the United States trying to convince anyone who might matter in this process how important NAFTA is to America.

There have recently been favourable signs that campaign has been having a positive effect. Perhaps that is why Chrystia Freeland is now so optimistic.

Don Newman In Conversation On NAFTA

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Members of the Standing Committee on International Trade sat down at the table today with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for an open discussion on Canada’s objectives and approach to NAFTA negotiations. When the meeting ended, MPs spoke with Ensight’s Don Newman about what they heard and what it means for Canadian businesses as they await the start of negotiations Wednesday in Washington.

Watch the clips:

1. Hon. Andrew Leslie, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Canada-U.S. Relations), Liberal MP for Orléans

2. Hon. Gerry Ritz, Conservative Trade Critic, International Trade Committee Member, Conservative MP for Battlefords—Lloydminster

3. Kyle Peterson, International Trade Committee Member, Liberal MP for Newmarket—Aurora

Stay tuned for more this week from Ensight as NAFTA negotiations unfold!

NAFTA talks aren’t an isolated issue for Trump, and that matters to Canada

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When the negotiation to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico begins August 16 at a Washington Hotel two miles north of the White House, it will probably pass under the radar in the American capital.

That is because there is so much controversy swirling around President Donald Trump and his administration that unless the President himself decides to highlight the start of the talks, the media, politicians and the public will likely be more focussed on the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea or the investigation of Special Council Robert Mueller.

But while the President may want to herald the start of the NAFTA talks to divert attention from his administration’s other problems, will he ultimately be driven to end them for the same reason?

Will Donald Trump ultimately blow up the ‎NAFTA negotiations in a desperate bid to save his beleaguered Presidency?

Trump campaigned on repealing or replacing NAFTA. He called it “the worst trade deal” ever signed by the United States.

He also campaigned on replacing the health insurance plan know as Obama Care, cutting both personal and business taxes, launching a multi-billion infrastructure program and building a wall along the United States border with Mexico.

So far, no progress on any of these promises.

Instead, the Trump administration ‎is mired in a scandal over whether it colluded with the Russian Government and Vladimir Putin in the election campaign he won to beat Hilary Clinton.

So, desperate for a political “win” to show to his political base, will Trump disrupt and the destroy the NAFTA negotiations?

Never interested in the substances of issues, it wouldn’t take much to convince Trump ‎to do just that.

Remember in April Trump attacked Canadian dairy policies in a speech in Wisconsin. That was the headline in the newspapers and on TV.

The real story went much deeper. I was told that when Trump returned to Washington that evening he told Commerce‎ Secretary Wilbur Ross that he wanted to pull the United States out of NAFTA.

The reason; before his speech attacking CANADA a small group of Wisconsin dairy Farmers told him they had been adversely affected by a change in Canadian dairy regulations.

It took the combined efforts of the Prime Minister, the Global Affairs Minister and the Canadian Ambassador in Washington to talk the President out of killing NAFTA.

That was before Trump’s current problems had reached the boiling point.

Now the water is getting really hot for the President. Will the NAFTA negotiations be a victim of all the other problems besetting his troubled Presidency?

Pivot, Pivot, Pivot: The dog days of summer have arrived, pivot but don’t halt your GR efforts

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The Ottawa bubble has all but emptied and we have arrived at the dog days of summer. MPs are at BBQ’s and ribbon cuttings, political staff are recovering from a gruelling parliamentary session and Ministers are on hiatus and basking in the glow of no daily question period. And while the actual machinery of government doesn’t completely grind to a halt, it certainly slows to a snail’s pace. But your organization still has government relations goals and priorities, so how do you advance them?

The answer is not halting your GR efforts, the answer is pivoting and looking regionally.

If you are like me, you can’t hear the word ‘pivot’ without hearing it yelled by Ross Gellar from Friends while trying to move a couch up a stairwell and while pivoting didn’t end up working for them, it will work for your organization.

When MPs are in Ottawa they are typically inundated with national priorities. Legislation, motions, committee responsibilities, but in general those things don’t always help ensure an MP’s re-election. Their summer ‘break’ is their opportunity to reconnect directly with their constituents and frankly is not a break whatsoever, for as much as these MPs enjoy being associated with a party, it is there dedication to their constituents that is essential to their re-election.

So for your organization, engaging with MPs locally should be high on your priority list. During the summer months, instead of asking how the government can help you, ask how your asks can help advance your MP’s re-election goals? If you have members across the country, this is the perfect time to motivate them to meet locally with MPs in their constituency offices.

Secondly, the summer months provide a great opportunity to work on re-tooling your asks of government. Work on your pre-budget submission, dig into legislation that you didn’t have the capacity to review in detail in the spring, map out the parliamentary calendar throughout the upcoming year and take the time to ensure your priorities match up with the government’s agenda. If your organization isn’t talking about NAFTA, then maybe it’s time to enter the conversation since it is literally seizing everyone in government?

Third, how can you use the summer months to build the social capital you need to build political capital in Ottawa? While business Ottawa may be asleep, that doesn’t mean that the government isn’t listening.

How can you dust off your digital arsenal to ensure that you can build broad based public support and use research to bolster your asks and give the government the confidence they need to say yes to you.

For many of us in government relations, the summer months represent a reprieve of the daily House of Commons drama and while you may need to take a much needed and deserved vacation, don’t take your foot off the gas of your GR goals during the summer. Pivot to meeting your MPs regionally and retooling your asks, but don’t halt all together, because the effort you put in during the summer months will pay off dividends in the long run. And to close with a final Friends reference, remember that you’ll never be ‘on a break’ from government!

Trudeau’s Troubled MMIW Inquiry Requires a Reset – and Fast

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The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) was one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s many election promises aimed at the Indigenous population. The promise is one of the few he has delivered on, launching the inquiry shortly after the 2015 election with the promise to listen to families.

The recent resignation of inquiry commissioner Marilyn Poitras is, however, just the latest sign that the inquiry is struggling to fulfill its mandate and in need of a reboot. Many Indigenous leaders are calling for an inquiry grounded in cultural beliefs and processes led by community members. They want the existing framework to be dismantled and replaced with a more community driven model; the inquiry must also focus on the resiliency of the Indigenous community as much as violence against its women. Ultimately, for these leaders, the process must be about healing just as much as a quest for answers.

Since its inception the inquiry has been flawed. Bureaucracy is driving the process, losing sight of the inquiry’s goal: justice for the victims and increased safety for Indigenous women and girls. Families feel ignored and frustrated.

The election of Prime Minister Trudeau brought hope for Indigenous people. His promises of reconciliation and renewed nation to nation relationships certainly evoked the best of those sunny ways. The Prime Minister’s thoughtful and fresh approach to working with Indigenous Canadians was such a departure from the status quo that it was burned into the minds of Canadians hopeful for meaningful change.

Many governments struggle to deliver on key promises in their early days, even when those commitments are deeply important to its leader and rank-and-file. But nearly halfway into the government’s mandate, there should be an urgent push within the government to understand why the inquiry has stalled and what is required to renew its momentum.

To borrow a metaphor from the long road trips of summer, the current struggles of the inquiry is a flashing check engine light for the Trudeau government. The responsible driver knows to get the light checked and address the problem. Other drivers simply ignore the light and hope for the best. This issue is simply too important to carry on with business as usual.

The missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and their families deserve answers and healing. This inquiry must move forward and it must be done right.

Sara Monture is Ensight’s Indigenous Practice Lead. A results-oriented strategist, Sara is a skilled organizer, researcher, writer and facilitator from Six Nations of The Grand River Territory.

Milestones You Need To Know For NAFTA

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The NAFTA negotiations are only a month away. But next week we should find out at least some of the changes the U.S. Government will be trying to make in the 25 year old three way trade deal between Canada the United States and Mexico.

July 17th is the deadline for the Trump administration to notify Congress of its broad goals in the trade talks. For most of June, the Commerce Department and the Office of the Trade Representative heard representations from virtually every sector of the U.S. Economy‎.

The groups that made those representations are now about to find out whether their issues will be on Washington’s negotiating list.

Those that make it, and those that don’t, ‎will get a chance to make their case publicly. That is because the Trade sub-committee of the House Ways and Means Committee will hold public hearings on July 18th to hear representatives from the manufacturing, agriculture and service sectors of the American economy.

These hearings are important, because any final NAFTA agreement will have to be approved by the full Ways and Means Committee and by the Senate Finance Committee before being sent to the ‎House of Representatives and the full Senate for a vote.

The second date to watch for is August 14th. That is when NA‎FTA negotiations ‎can legally begin. August 14th is a Monday. Washington usually does not like to work in August, but in this case it probably will.

That is because of a third date, December 15th. That is when the Mexicans would like the talks finished. Both Canada and the U.S. are doubtful that can happen, but the Mexicans are pointing out that Presidential elections will be held there next July. A left-wing candidate has been leading in the polls and they don’t want the NAFTA negotiations to become the dominant issue in the polls.

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.

Ready, Set, Spend: Six questions to ask if your organization is ready to participate in the 2018 Pre-Budget Consultations

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Earlier this month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance launched their 2018 Pre-Budget Consultations.  This is the venue for organizations, corporations and Canadians alike to submit their ideas for where the government should be spending money in 2018.  The 10 Members of Parliament on the Finance Committee, chaired by MP Wayne Easter, will devote a considerable amount of time to reviewing all the submissions, hearing from witnesses and ultimately tabling a final report in Parliament.  The report will be considered by the Minister of Finance as he develops next year’s budget.

So if you are an organization in Canada with an idea, why should you participate in this process?  Here are six questions to ask your organization:

1. Why should we bother making a submission?

This is the Government of Canada’s formal mechanism for collecting information from Canadians on what to include in Budget 2018.  All the submissions are shared with a committee of 10 Members of Parliament and you may also have the opportunity to appear as a witness before the committee. While not every item eventually included in the final budget will have gone through this process, it does allow for you to formally put your request on record.  For your organization, your pre-budget submission becomes an important tool to showcase your asks of government and provides an opportunity to bring your issues forward through all media channels; you can frame a release or op ed around your asks and your rationale.

2. Does our proposal align with current government initiatives?

Early in the life of Justin Trudeau’s government, the Prime Minister took what was an unprecedented move by releasing the cabinet mandate letters to the public.  These letters included the specific initiatives that each Minister would be responsible for. The priorities draw heavily from the commitments in the Liberal campaign platform and Ministers are expected to track and report on the progress of their commitments in order to get results. Fast forward 18 months and the mandate letters continue to hold sway, to the point where stakeholders who cannot align with the mandate letters are virtually ignored.

Not every ask of government will always align nicely with the priorities of the middle class, nor do they always need to, but where possible, every effort should be made in your pre-budget submission to remind MPs and Ministers on how you can help them deliver on the objectives articulated in their mandate letters.

3. Do we have cross party support for our asks?

This is a majority liberal government, so ultimately the Liberals can pass anything they choose, but that’s not good politics and is certainly now how sunny ways is supposed to work.  Your pre-budget submission allows you the opportunity to reach out to MPs on all sides of the aisles for support.  You’ll need that support when MPs have to agree on a witness list and you’ll need that cross party support to have your recommendations included in the final report that is reviewed by the Minister of Finance.

4. Do we have public support?

In addition to MP support, you need to ask yourself if your proposal has public support amongst everyday Canadians. Will what you’re asking for be well received by the public?  Is it an easy sell for the Government? Also for a government committed to evidence-based policy, can you point to a body of peer reviewed research or data that supports what you are asking for? Additionally, this pre-budget period is used by the government as a way to identify high priority community projects that they can greenlight and roll out over next summer – just months before the next campaign begins, and the more you can point to broad support from other stakeholders and Canadians, the easier it will be for the Government to include in the budget. Social and civic capital = Political capital.

5. What does success look like?

It’s actually not the norm for specific companies or organization to be named in a Budget, unless there is a politically safe and legitimate reason to do so.  In general, it is the role of the federal government to create the right programs and funding mechanisms, to allow as many organizations as possible a chance to succeed.  So instead of asking what you could do with 1 million dollars, ask how the government could invest 1 million dollars in a fund that you could access.

6. What will it take to achieve our ask in the budget?

Finally, if you are an organization committed to making a pre-budget submission, you’ll want to know what it will take to drive it across the finish line.  Ultimately you will need an internal champion within government, someone who will push to see your wish list realized. Many stakeholders assume that they need to lobby the Department of Finance, but ultimately the Minister of Finance will be receiving recommendations from his cabinet colleagues.  So if the lead Minister in your portfolio doesn’t include your item on their wish list, it becomes a much harder sell with Finance.  Your efforts need to be focused on relevant MPs and Ministers to ensure that they all support your asks and in turn that your lead Minister places your project on their priority list that they submit to Finance.  After that it will just take a determined and sustained effort to get in front of the right audiences and ensure that you have the right buy in from Canadians.

Conclusion

Ready, Set, Spend!

This may seem like jumping through hoops, but it is an important part of the democratic process.  The Government is sincere in its desire to hear the feedback from Canadians, but given the competition for a limited pool of funding, make sure your organizations asks yourselves those key six questions if you want to stand apart from the rest.

A proposal for region building in Atlantic Canada: Jesse Robichaud

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Ensight consultant Jesse Robichaud’s column originally appeared in the St. John’s Telegram, Charlottetown Guardian and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Follow Jesse on Twitter @writeJR.

Sure, it seemed old-fashioned. When Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil visited the province’s Lieutenant Governor last Sunday to trigger a May 30 general election, he was the last provincial or federal politician in Canada with the power to do so purely on his own accord.

As if too much spontaneity was the problem discouraging us all to vote, legislated voting dates have taken some of the fun out of Canadian politics without producing any great revival of democratic engagement. An unintended by-product has been a move to interminable, American-style campaigning that leads in to the official writ period.

Refreshingly, the province which celebrates itself as the birthplace of parliamentary democracy in Canada is the only one left in the country that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon of legislated election dates.

But wait! That Nova Scotia hasn’t yet given in to the trend of fixed election dates may yet present an opportunity to build a more formal foundation for meaningful cooperation across Atlantic Canada.

The release of 2016 Census numbers this week is the latest grim reminder that massive change is needed to stem the tide of the sinking economic, fiscal and demographic metrics afflicting the entire region. The brand of region-building projects needed to turn things around in the East are the same types of major projects that most governments aren’t comfortable undertaking when there is an election waiting around the corner. And the problem in Atlantic Canada is there is always an election waiting around the corner.

With four election cycles in play at all times, it leaves only a few limited windows of opportunity to strike big, game-changing partnerships and initiatives, the kind Atlantic Canada needs today to reset its economic, fiscal and demographic course.

One practical way to widen that window of opportunity would be to finally establish a fixed election date in Nova Scotia and align it and the election dates of each other Atlantic province.

This would move voters, and their leaders, to the same political tide clock, one that can serve as a platform to improve the lives of the 2.3 million people who call Canada’s East Coast home.

In the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the idea of forming a Maritime Union is indeed as old as Canada itself. The Fathers of Confederation hijacked the idea and stretched it west. Now, why can’t the idea be reclaimed, reengineered and stretched eastward from the Appalachian range into the North Atlantic?

Proponents of a formal union of Maritime or Atlantic provinces make many compelling points, but it is terribly unlikely it will gain any traction before it is too late.

Alternatively, a coordinated election date would not only address the issue of political hibernation around campaign and pre-campaign countdowns, it would also provide the opportunity to present voters across the region with referenda on major questions, such as governance of utilities, Crown Corporations, and new policy positions on internal and foreign trade, labour, and immigration.

Think of how common election mandates might embolden premiers to work together to establish positions on urgent matters like softwood lumber tariffs, the renegotiation of NAFTA, and changes to resource rules like fishing quotas.

By working together more formally and creatively, Atlantic Canada can move in the polar-opposite direction of the go-it-alone zeitgeist that has propelled Brexit and Trump-brand politics, and build a collective strength that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Of course, political parties will argue there is already plenty of cooperation going on between the provinces, but that is mostly when cooperation is convenient. Political convenience on really big, important issues is too rare to count on. In Atlantic Canada, premiers share an undeniably genuine desire to improve life in their home provinces, but they also share an equally genuine desire to be re-elected.

These two genuine desires don’t interfere with each other in and of themselves, but when it comes to working together on big ideas and initiatives across provincial lines, the timing of elections are getting in the way of transformative action.

Budget 2017: Ensight’s analysis on the Liberal’s 2017 federal budget

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Ensight’s Don Newman provides his analysis on the 2017 Federal Budget following lockup in Ottawa.

Overview

After plenty of speculation, Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled his second budget in the House of Commons this afternoon.

It was a budget heavy on details announcing the government’s long anticipated Infrastructure Bank, and with more substantive language surrounding innovation and clean technology.

As we approach the two-year mark of this Liberal government, the realities of deficit and fiscal management have begun to weigh heavily on the government’s ability to introduce new measures and strategies. These economic and fiscal circumstances have left Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet in a difficult position, one which is made even more complex by the expectations the government has set for itself has set with regard to ‘delivering’ for the middle class.’

Still the government’s focus on key areas around skills training, innovation and infrastructure will undoubtedly play well with Canadians. And if you are eager for beneficial and substantive tax changes to policy, many pundits agree you will likely only have to wait until the Finance Minister’s fall Fiscal Update.

Given the uncertainty that exists south of the border, today’s budget marks a conservative, stay-the-course approach that expands on initiatives previously announced, particularly around infrastructure, skills training and innovation. Major changes to tax policy or with regard to the privatization of assets are not off the table, as the government does not want to limit its access to future revenues if necessary. However, Morneau has decided to keep those line items out of this budget, presumably because there will be more to announce in the fall, when there is a clearer sense of the direction the US economy takes.

Key Budget Themes

 

Infrastructure

After announcing that Canada would establish its own Infrastructure Bank in his 2016 fall economic update, Finance Minister Bill Morneau followed through today with the government’s plan to establish the arms’ length bank, which it plans to see begin operations by late 2017. Morneau’s budget announced that the selection of a CEO to run the bank will begin shortly, and confirmed that the bank is expected to invest 35 billion in Canadian infrastructure projects over 11 years. Of that amount, $5 million will be invested in green infrastructure projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality and water systems, and promoting renewable power. Another $5 million will be earmarked for public transit and transportation projects. Morneau also announced that Canada Infrastructure Bank will be data-driven, and create partnerships with provinces, territories, municipalities and Statistics Canada to improve decision-making capacity.

Skills

Budget 2017 introduces the “Innovation and Skills Plan” which is focused on creating centres for innovation and creating good and well-paying jobs that would strengthen the middle class. The plan targets the areas of advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources. The plan also sets targets to grow Canada’s good and services, increase the clean technology sector, double the number of the high-growth companies in Canada and expand the level of support for job training under the Labour Market Transfer Agreements.

innovation

The Liberal government followed through on its commitment of a $950 million investment in industry-led super clusters in sectors such as manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital technology, health and bio-sciences, infrastructure and transportation.

Government envisions the super clusters as virtual centres of collaboration between researchers and industry in the hopes of boosting capacity for commercialization of new products and services while building Canada’s competitive advantage on a global scale. The government is wagering that the end result will be a more diverse and deep talent pool for Canadian industry, better opportunities to connect from business-to-business, new risk-sharing opportunities and new entryways into global supply chains.

Finally, the Liberal government also announced a new $1.26 billion five-year Strategic Innovation Fund that is intended to consolidate and streamline existing business innovation programming in the aerospace, automotive and technology sectors.

Clean Technologies

Another important element of the Liberal plan related to both climate issues and economic growth was also delivered in Budget 2017. The Liberal government has provided new clarity on how it would deliver support to Canada’s growing clean tech sector, namely through the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada and the Department of Natural Resources. That support will include $380 million in equity investments over three years delivered through Business Development Bank of Canada to help firms seeking to scale their technology and business. Another $570 million in working capital was also committed over three years to help clean tech firms looking to make investment in assets, inventory, talent and market expansion. And for “first-of-its-kind, high-capital-intensive, early commercial-scale clean technology,” government has earmarked $450 million for high-capital-intensive clean technology companies. Natural Resources Canada will also gain an added $229 million in 2017-2018 to support R & D initiatives while another $200 million will be entrusted to NRCAN, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Agriculture and Agrifood Canada to invest in clean tech in natural resource sectors.

taxes

Budget 2017 takes measures to ensure that the tax system is fair for all Canadians by closing loopholes, cracking down on evasion and eliminated items that favour the wealthy. The government will invest an additional $523.9 million—over five years—to prevent tax evasion and improve tax compliance. The Government is also committed to undertake a wide-ranging review of tax expenditures and will make changes to simplify the tax system and make existing tax relief for individuals and families more effective and accessible. EI premiums will also increase by about $25 per year for Canadians earning up to $51,300. Finally, the government will take steps to maintain the resiliency of the financial sector.

trade

The Budget takes steps to ensure that products and people move quickly. As announced in the 2016 Fall Economic Statement, the Government is investing $10.1 billion over 11 years in trade and transportation projects. This investment will build stronger, more efficient transportation corridors to international markets and help Canadian businesses compete, grow and create more jobs for Canada’s middle class. A new Trade and Transportation Corridor Initiative will help to improve the quality of trade infrastructure across Canada—from border crossings in the south to airports in the north. This Corridors Initiative will prioritize investments that address congestion and bottlenecks along vital corridors, and around transportation hubs and ports providing access to world markets.

transport

Budget 2017 provides $229 million over four years, starting in 2018-2019 to Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada for clean transportation innovation and programming.  It also creates a $10.1 billion Trade and Transportation Corridors Initiative that will invest in gateways and ports.  A further $50 million will go to Transportation Canada to enhance the collection and analysis of transportation and trade-related data in order to assist targeted investments, support innovation and track results.

debt

After accounting for Budget 2017 proposals, the budgetary balance is expected to show deficits of $23.0 billion in 2016–17 and $28.5 billion in 2017–18. Over the remainder of the forecast horizon, deficits are expected to decline gradually from $27.4 billion in 2018–19 to $18.8 billion in 2021 –22. The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to decline gradually after 201 8–19 to the end of the fiscal horizon, reaching 30.9 per cent in 2021 –22.

Next Steps

Budget 2017 now sets the stage for the Liberals’ second year in office and as we draw close to the two year anniversary, this is also a Government that needs to build a firm foundation so that they can quickly pivot to ensuring that they are well positioned to win re-election in 2019.

As Ministers and MPs alike fan out across the country to promote this Budget, they will be asking Canadians to trust their stay-the-course budget and hope that they announced enough measures to keep the hungry electorate at bay.