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

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

John Delacourt

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