Account Director

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Ensight – a federal public affairs firm based in Ottawa and created through a strategic partnership of two of Canada’s leading public affairs and communication companies, Navigator and Enterprise – is looking for an Account Director.

Our ideal candidate is a GR professional with an exceptional network, who can manage account deliverables, provide valuable political intelligence and counsel, build powerful relationships, and drive results with passion and purpose.

We want a hands-on practitioner focused on crafting best-in-class strategy and work products, while also inspiring colleagues to elevate what’s possible.

Required qualifications, skills and aptitudes include:

  • Deep understanding of public affairs issues and communications, including 8+ years of related public affairs professional experience;
  • Exceptional strategic writing and oral communications skills;
  • Strong understanding of best practices in digital communications, with a proven record of leveraging key channels to reach key audiences;
  • Dedication to teamwork and an always-on professional demeanor;
  • Prefer bilingual in English and French

Federal public affairs and lobbying are core to our agency’s business and your role.  Therefore, we expect that you will:

  • Have strong knowledge of legislative and committee processes and procedure for both Chambers and a working understanding of Cabinet planning and priorities;
  • Be eligible to lobby the federal government in accordance with the federal Lobbying Act;
  • Apply an authoritative, strategic lens for government relations on behalf of clients, anticipating the key developments as dictated by the Parliamentary calendar and the shifting political landscape – both regionally and internationally;
  • Support and develop a working understanding of compliance and best practices as articulated by the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner;
  • Be a capable networker and commentator to enrich relationships and opportunities for our clients and build profile for our agency.

Responsibilities

As Account Director, you are responsible for developing results-oriented, strategic public affairs, government relations and communications plans, providing strategic counsel to senior client representatives, supervising account teams in areas including public affairs, government relations, lobbying, media relations, influencer and stakeholder outreach, and social media.

We expect that you will develop strong relationships with clients, and create confidence in your day-to-day running of accounts.

You will service existing business while working with senior leaders to expand client relationships, develop new business and build out the business platform to help the agency achieve growth.  More specifically, you will be involved in pitches to secure business from both current and new clients, developing new business presentations and proposals.

You will also be responsible for monitoring projects to ensure that deadlines and quality standards are met.  This includes coordinating team member assignments and guiding more junior members of the team in understanding project requirements. In addition, you will analyze client budgets to ensure that costs are in line with estimates and deliver on forecasted revenue.

About Ensight

Ensight brings together the right capabilities to Elevate what’s possible in government relations.

Our approach is based on three pillars:

  1. Using current intelligence from our extensive network of contacts, and experience, to develop positions that are aligned with both federal policies and our client’s goals;
  2. Building communities of supporters across Canada to champion our client’s position and show government it will have the backing it needs to act; and
  3. Practicing “Yes, &” thinking to evolve ideas and unearth new solutions.

Because of Ensight’s unique business structure, we can deliver access to more than 100 colleagues in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Niagara, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and London, UK.

Our team includes veteran campaigners and party strategists of every political stripe, plus senior GR, corporate communications, public affairs, grassroots, polling and social media experts to provide a 360-degree perspective on issues and opportunities.  We’ll use advanced intelligence gathering and digital engagement tools to enhance positioning and mobilize influencers.

To apply, please send your cover letter and CV to Opportunities@ensightcanada.com.

** Please visit our website at http://www.ensightcanada.com/ for a full overview of our Ensight team and offering.

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Howard McCurdy blazed a brilliant trail, but his work is not done

We lost a great Canadian political trailblazer and civil rights activist last week.

It is difficult to find the words to honour the powerful legacy left by Howard McCurdy following his passing at the age of 85. The mark he made on Canadian politics is impossible to measure.

McCurdy served two terms as the second Black Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, he is also the last Black politician to pursue leadership of a federal party when he put his name forward for NDP leader in 1989.

Born in London, Ont., McCurdy spent his formative years in Amherstburg, Ont. His political action began early as a teenager, organizing alongside civil rights activists in the pursuit of a more just society and a better future for his family and his community.

He was elected as an alderman in Windsor in 1979 and served two terms before his time representing the federal ridings of Windsor-Walkerville and later Windsor-Lake St. Clair. His contributions during each period of his political career garnered respect from political colleagues, media that covered the issues he advocated for, and local community members alike. His accolades for this work include both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.

McCurdy was an academic before the start of his political career. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Western University, later a Bachelor of Science from Assumption University in Windsor, and continued his studies toward a PhD in microbiology and chemistry from Michigan State University.

McCurdy was the first Black tenured faculty member at a Canadian university, serving 25 years as a professor at the University of Windsor.

During his time at Michigan State, McCurdy founded and served as president of the university’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization sought the elimination of race-based discrimination and the advancement of political, educational, social and economic equality of rights.

McCurdy traced his own ancestry back 150 years, arriving in Canada through the Underground Railroad, and instilled in his children and his community an appreciation and understanding of their history. His talented daughter Leslie McCurdy continues to bring the voices of our ancestors alive in beautiful live performances.

He continued in his pursuit for equality and fought against anti-Black racism with the founding of the Guardian Club in Windsor in 1962, and later the founding of the National Black Coalition of Canada in 1969. These organizations laid groundwork that Black Canadian organizers continue to build on today, both locally in Windsor and across the country.

Leading from within institutions is hard work. McCurdy was a thoughtful and brilliant leader who carried his lived experience as a Black man in Southwestern Ontario to every political table and corridor he encountered. He organized and bridged the experiences of Black Canadians across the country. He built genuine and lifelong relationships with his own community members, political influencers and decision makers across party lines.

We’ll never know every private conversation McCurdy had leveraging his political relationships in efforts to address issues that affected Black Canadians, but it’s clear from his public remarks he was committed to moving the needle forward. He set a fierce example of the importance of standing in your truth and bringing not only your own experience, but also the stories and lived experiences of community members to your work. I’m thankful for advocates across the country today, working both within and on the outside of institutions, who have been inspired by his tireless work.

While debating the government’s Employment and Equity Act on Oct. 21, 1985, McCurdy delivered a moving speech to remind his colleagues that though Hon. Lincoln Alexander, the first Black Canadian MP, stood as lieutenant-governor of Ontario, the battle still had not been won.

“My political career began when I was 13 years old … it began when I could not shoot pool in the pool hall in my town and I could not bowl in the bowling alley where I set pins.”

In a 2012 interview, McCurdy recalled how far we’ve come while acknowledging how far we still have to go to improve the lives of Black Canadians.

His legacy reminds us that while it is important to celebrate our success fighting anti-Black racism in Canadian communities and institutions, there is still more work to be done.

Tiffany Gooch is a Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, February 25, 2018)

How to support celebrating Canada’s Black heritage and challenge racism

At the end of January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the official Canadian recognition of the UN Decade for People of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024.

The gesture was three years late and largely overlooked by traditional media, but for some, the very act of a sitting prime minister acknowledging anti-Black racism — and making a public commitment to dealing with it — was a moment of historical significance.

The fight against anti-Black racism in Canada is not new. Generations of Black community members have been tirelessly carrying out this work across the country with insufficient support from government. It’s worth reading through the #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus developed and updated by Anthony Morgan and Huda Hassan for Canadian context.

As a next step, strategies and plans should be developed that include milestones for cross-ministerial policy collaboration with budgeted allocation, public and private partnerships, and sincere, thoughtful regional community consultations to guide the process.

There are opportunities for the private sector, unions, academic institutions, community-based organizations, and individuals to participate in seeking to understand, celebrate, and most importantly, support the advancement of the challenging work ahead.

Some key targets for these plans should include national celebrations of emancipation alongside official apologies for the enslavement of Black people in Canada and the systemic, anti-Black racism that continues to permeate Canadian institutions.

Aug. 1 should be a national holiday celebrating emancipation in Canada. Perhaps as a part of the federal recognition of the decade, the Greatest Freedom Show on Earth in Windsor, Ont., could come alive once more.

On the heels of Canada 150, we have an opportunity to band together to preserve and celebrate Black Canadian history and cultural contributions, beyond the month of February alone. There are extraordinary institutions — specifically many churches, built as sanctuaries and celebrations of Black Canadian freedom — well past observing their sesquicentennials.

Churches like Salem Chapel BME, where Harriet Tubman herself worshipped and organized to emancipate hundreds of enslaved Black families through a courageous journey to reach Canadian soil.

While we study and celebrate Black history let’s take a closer look at both the present and the future we want to create. The federal government should follow provincial leadership and gather disaggregated data, so we can see with numbers how our policies are having a disproportionately negative impact on Black Canadians.

It’s also important to remember that the African diaspora in Canada is beautifully diverse. We have different experiences, and will have different definitions of what success looks like as the Canadian acknowledgement of the decade is carried out.

We must also consider that it is real intergenerational trauma we are exploring and seeking to rectify. In the process, Black Canadians live in different stages of grief that impact how individuals contribute to this mentally and emotionally exhausting dialogue and work.

The federal government has taken an important step forward, and I hope that an equity lens can be applied in the development of policy with consideration to unique barriers faced by Black women, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Tangibly this means policy focus and investments in education, poverty reduction, health equity and especially mental health supports necessary for the success of Black Canadians.

This means acting on our responsibility to respond promptly to the issues facing Black communities at this very moment. This includes cannabis legalization, which should be rolled out with a proactive pardoning approach that ensures individuals with previous cannabis related convictions are not restricted from participating in the legal market.

It requires action to improve the experiences and outcomes of Black workers as they come forward with stories about the racism and micro-aggressions faced when training and working within their respective sectors. It further requires taking an honest look at public and private sector leadership positions and sponsoring a definition of diversity that goes beyond gender.

It means not turning a blind eye to the disproportionate impact of the global migrant crisis on Black families seeking refuge within our borders, and working to correct the systemic injustices, like the risk of deportation of children and youth in care that the case of Abdoul Abdi has shown us.

I challenge Canadians to aspire to global leadership, beginning by taking an honest look at our own shortcomings and contributing to the powerful role we can play as a country in creating better outcomes for people of African descent, both within and outside of our borders.

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.

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, February 11, 2018)

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.

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)