Meet Your New Cabinet – A Reset for Risk Mitigation, Bolstering Regional Strengths

This morning, the Prime Minister rejigged his federal Cabinet, a move prompted by the surprise resignation of Scott Brison. Today’s shuffle saw three ministers change roles, the creation of a new ‘Rural Economic Development’ ministry and promotions for two Parliamentary Secretaries.

Canada’s Five New Ministers

  • Jane Philpott, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
  • Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services
  • David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Rural Economic Development

What Does Today’s Shuffle Signal?

With what is presumably his final Cabinet shuffle before election day, Trudeau has signaled that some of the government’s most complex files are going to require his safest hands and strongest performers in the last few months ahead – and he’s taking some valued Ministers out of hot water into positions where they can hopefully play to their strengths.

He’s chosen to stay the course with regard to those portfolios that are proving the most difficult right now, however: Natural Resources, the Environment, Trade Diversification and Citizenship and Immigration. To shuffle the deck this close to campaign would signal that they are vulnerable with some legislation and initiatives still on the table: the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Carbon Emissions Plan and C-69 – the new legislation that seeks to reset the process for greenlighting major resource-based projects (read pipelines and major infrastructure projects). And Trudeau doesn’t want to suggest they have a leadership gap at the head of Citizenship and Immigration, where the issue of irregular migrants continues to fester.

Trudeau is also shoring up the government’s regional strengths and, to a certain extent, setting a pragmatic course for the campaign ground game – the door-to-door fight for every vote that they hope will deliver seats in key and/or swing ridings.

He’s also, with the appointment of a Rural Economic Development Minister, signaling that on key issues like rural broadband, and on regional economic development links with Small Business and Tourism, they’re seeking to address the perception of this government as being too focused on urban issues – and urban ridings.

Five New Ministers – An Inside Look

Hon. David Lametti 

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

  • With David Lametti going to Justice, the Prime Minister’s Office is rewarding a strong performer in the Innovation file with a mandate that, in many respects, has most of the activist components of its mandate accomplished.
  • His job will be to keep a firm hand on the files, play defense rather than offense for the last few months before the campaign. Of particular importance will be his handling of the Huawei file, specifically the extradition of Meng Wanzhou.
  • He is also a strong representative from the Italian-Canadian community, and there have been grumblings in Montreal about adequate representation for this strong Liberal constituency from the beginnings of this government’s mandate.

Biography

Lametti is the Member of Parliament representing LaSalle-Émard-Verdun (QC) and was first elected in October 2015. Prior to his Ministerial appointment, he served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development since January 2017. Prior to that role, he also served as the Parliamentary Secretary to International Trade between December 2015 and January 2017.

Before being elected in the Montreal riding, he was a Professor of Law at McGill University. His law career allowed him to serve as a Member of the Institute of Comparative Law. He was a founding Member of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP), serving as its Director from 2009 to 2012.

His substantial educational background includes, a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, Common and Civil law degrees from McGill, LL.M. from Yale Law School and a doctorate from Oxford University.

He is an internationally-recognized expert in property and intellectual property, with numerous publications, and has taught or lectured in many of the world’s most well-known universities in French, English and Italian.

Hon. Bernadette Jordan

Minister of Rural Economic Development 

  • The Atlantic provinces needed a strong performer with strong links to economic development issues.
  • As a first time MP, she distinguished herself by introducing legislation on abandoned and shipwrecked vessels – a Private Members’ bill that was taken up by government and turned into a government bill, Bill C-64.
  • She played a strong role in the rollout of the Oceans Protection Plan as well.
  • Well-liked among Caucus, she will bring a rural lens to the issues at hand, particularly as a part of the ISED team of Ministers.

Biography

Jordan is the Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margaret’s (NS) and was elected for the first time in October 2015. Today she becomes the first female federal MP to become a Minister from Nova Scotia, bringing the federal Cabinet back to gender-balance and surprising some observers.

Jordan previously served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould. Prior to being elected, Bernadette was a Development Officer for the Health Services Foundation in Bridgewater Nova Scotia, where she spent eight years as part of a team raising millions of dollars for health care in the region.

After being elected, Bernadette was selected by her fellow Atlantic MPs to serve as Chair of the Atlantic Liberal Caucus. The issue of abandoned and derelict vessels has been a major issue and concern in coastal communities, and Bernadette quickly brought forward her private members’ motion, M-40, calling on the Government to take steps to address the issue of abandoned vessels across the country, and it was passed by the House of Commons unanimously in October 2016.

Hon. Seamus O’Regan

Minister of  Indigenous Services

  • O’Regan has had real challenges in the Veteran’s file, most recently comparing his own difficulties with substance abuse in his broadcast journalism career to those faced by those returning from combat.
  • A close friend and colleague of the Prime Minister who was a groomsmen in the Prime Minister’s wedding party, this portfolio represents a strong second chance to prove he’s up to a Cabinet role.
  • Trudeau will be hoping that his high EQ and his vaunted communications skills can finally shine in a portfolio that requires strong mediation and stakeholder relations abilities.

Biography

O’Regan is the Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl (NFLD) and was elected for the first time in October 2015. He has previously served as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. Apart from these mandates, O’Regan is widely acknowledged as part of Prime Minister Trudeau’s inner-circle.

He studied politics at St. Francis Xavier University, University College Dublin and obtained a Master’s of Philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge.

Prior to his political career, O’Regan worked as an assistant to the Minister of Justice, and as the Senior Policy Advisor to Premier Brian Tobin in Newfoundland. He then co-hosted CTV’s Canada AM for 10 years.

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould

Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

  • With Wilson-Raybould going to Veterans’ Affairs, she is a strong defensive choice, a Minister who’s demonstrated singular abilities in message discipline, in setting the right tone on serious files.
  • This new role has to be seen as a demotion, however, there will be talk that it is reflective of her inability to “play well with others” in Cabinet.
  • However, she can be proud of what she has achieved in the Justice portfolio going into this new role, as she shepherded difficult legislation through the House – for cannabis and Medical Assistance in Dying most notably.

Biography

Wilson-Raybould was first elected as Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville (BC) in October 2015.

She has had a number of leadership roles in community work prior to her political career. She served as a Director for Capilano College, the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women, the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, and the National Centre for First Nations Governance.

Her passion for Indigenous activism led her to serve as the also a director on the First Nations Lands Advisory Board and Chair of the First Nations Finance Authority. Wilson-Raybould is a prominent part of this government’s Indigenous caucus as she is a proud member of the We Wai Kai Nation.

Prior to her political career, she was a crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and BCAFN regional chief, working on complex treaty negotiations between First Nations and the Crown.

Hon. Jane Philpott

President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

  • With Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott moving over to Treasury Board, Trudeau has selected a newcomer to politics who, in just three short years, quickly established herself as a solid performer. She earned the respect and admiration of the Public Service – a core requirement for the President’s job.
  • Her first challenge where she demonstrated her skillset was the Medical Assistance in Dying Legislation – where the government had to steer a safe course through a narrow channel with faith and advocacy groups on opposite sides of a challenging debate.
  • She then proved herself to be a quick study who worked well with others – including some large personalities – when she worked on the consultations for cannabis legislation with former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Bill Blair, in his former Parliamentary Secretary role.
  • In the House and outside in the scrums, Philpott emerged as a Minister who reassured Canadians there was an adult in the room. She understood the gravity of their concerns and how fractious these policy debates could become especially in her role with Indigenous services. Here was a policy wonk who did her homework and made the case, time and again, for evidence-based policy decisions being foundational for the government’s mandate.

Biography

Philpott was first elected as Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville (ON) in October 2015. Previously, she served as Minister of Health between 2015 and 2017, and was appointed Minister of Indigenous Services in August 2017.

Prior to her political career, she worked as a physician for more than 30 years. This work led her to work abroad, including in the developing regions of West and East Africa. She helped launch Ethiopia’s first training program in Family Medicine through the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration.

She was also Chief of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital and Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. Jane led the opening of the Health for All Family Health Team and the Markham Family Medicine Teaching Unit.

Liberals must pass a cannabis amnesty law

When the Trudeau government set out to deliver on its core campaign commitment to legalize cannabis, success was defined for many by legislation that did not impede on each province’s autonomy over responsible implementation.

The timeline was ambitious, and history was ultimately made on Oct. 17, 2018 with the passage of The Cannabis Act.

Throughout the process, I’d hoped to see more concrete, proactive plans toward the pardoning of Canadians who held records for simple cannabis possession. At minimum, it was essential to remove the $631 financial barrier that stood in the way of a record suspension.

The painstakingly careful approach taken by the Liberal government to avoid making commitments about amnesty at the beginning of its mandate was disappointing, to say the least.

It isn’t enough to simply adopt language conveying concern for racialized communities who are negatively and disproportionately impacted by prohibition. With 500,000 Canadians holding criminal records for cannabis possession, our government had a responsibility to act.

Following the passage of Bill C-45, the prime minister finally committed to move on expediting the processes and removing financial barriers. But there is room to be more aspirational.

In striving toward a fairer Canada, the federal Liberal government would be wise to act on the expert advice of cannabis amnesty advocates like lawyer Annamaria Enenajor — expunge records proactively rather than putting the onus on individuals to undertake complicated processes to see their records suspended.

There is nothing fair about any Canadian continuing to carry criminal records that impede their ability to find meaningful employment and travel internationally, while many of those who criminalized them are literally cashing in on the new cannabis economy.

In the meantime, the spotlight now sits on provincial and municipal governments as they roll out regulations, distribution models and bylaws governing usage.

As was to be expected, provinces are facing shortages in supply with large disparities between legal and black market prices. Statistics Canada reported recently that an average price per gram for legal recreational pot is $9.70, compared to $6.51 when purchased illegally.

Following the 2018 June election, Ontario’s Ford administration changed course on Ontario’s planned distribution model, introducing provincially regulated private sales. This was a significant shift from the previous direction set by the Wynne administration, which aimed to use the LCBO as a conduit to open 40 Ontario Cannabis Stores and scale up to 150 across the province by 2020.

As of this week, Ontario is one step closer to opening 25 private cannabis retail locationsacross the province, after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario conducts its lottery selection of eligible businesses to determine who will be permitted to open up shop come April 1.

Locations will be regionally distributed, with five slated for Toronto. Failure to meet designated deadlines to open stores will result in financial penalties.

Each of the 444 municipalities in Ontario were given the power to opt-out of hosting cannabis stores. With decisions due by Jan. 22, municipal leaders are weighing social and economic impacts — some excited by the opportunity to take part of the first wave of stores, with others building barriers and hoping to slow the tide of change.

Local debates have also erupted across the country as public and private institutions grapple with the new legal framework and enact internal policies. Many condo boards and landlords are disappointingly going as far as banning vaping on balconies. Some universities have outright banned smoking and vaping on their entire campuses.

When it comes to the creation and enactment of progressive cannabis policy, political leaders at all levels have their work cut out for them to course correct and ensure true fairness for all Canadians.

While the logistical challenges are now in provincial and municipal hands, the federal government still has work ahead. Bold plans for cannabis amnesty should have been explored and prepared together with legalization from day one.

It’s time we stop penalizing our citizens for simple possession of a now nationally legal substance and get a simplified expungement process underway.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight.

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 13, 2019)

The increasing power of stirring imagery and moral virtuosity

Only days into 2019 and we have already been sharply reminded of just how much the optics and messages of politics have changed in the last 10 years.

These developments, of course, don’t represent a total change from the past. Image and narrative have long been central to politics. Pictures have built or destroyed the careers of many a politician.

A number of famous examples spring to mind. Richard Nixon taking a so-called casual stroll on the beach uncomfortably wearing a business suit and oxfords. Bob Stanfield helplessly fumbling a thrown football. Michael Dukakis seated in an armoured tank. And Gilles Duceppe wearing a hairnet.

Each was, obviously, an embarrassing and unfortunate photo. But more than that, each created a feeling more powerful than words alone could explain. Although Nixon’s often uncomfortable personality, Stanfield’s fustiness, Dukakis’s aristocratic air and Duceppe’s inability to be authentic had been commented on before, the photos concretely demonstrated and framed those foibles in a way that mere words never could.

But what has changed is the ease and intensity of distribution, the glare of attention, and the resulting focus on narrative over substance.

Our increasingly divided political tribes combined with our drastically shortened attention span gave rise to a class of politicians that focus on stirring imagery, short statements and moral virtuosity. This does, of course, make for exciting politics. It is also the only way that politicians can hope to compete with traditional and social media landscapes as frenetic as the ones that exist now.

Simply put, a long-form white paper regarding pension reform doesn’t stand a chance of competing for clicks against a video of a dramatic kitten rescue on Facebook.

Perhaps the best example of this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s interview on 60 Minutes this week. Ocasio-Cortez is an impressive, articulate and engaging new member of Congress. Just 29 years old, she has been an inspirational figure for the left wing of the Democratic Party. She unseated a long-time, long-in-the-tooth incumbent, who stood for much of what the establishment has long been selling.

Young, telegenic, and entirely unafraid of bold statements that challenge the norm, she has struck a chord with many.

Ocasio-Cortez has mastered the art of the narrative and image. Staging sit-ins of Nancy Pelosi’s office in favour of green climate initiatives, posing for photos with other rabble-rousing new members of Congress and making videos dancing outside of her new office are all attention-grabbing methods that have generated never mind barrels of ink about her but zillions of clicks.

The freshman congresswoman, who would normally struggle for years before gaining even an ounce of power or media attention, has a social media-driven profile that is grossly disproportionate to her actual level of influence in Congress.

But Ocasio-Cortez inexperience has also shone through. When she was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, an opportunity that any freshman member of Congress would kill for, she was pressed on her numerous errors.

Her response should be considered alarming for all. “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” It was revealing.

That sentiment is something President Trump would agree with. Instead of carefully considering facts and ideas, the President has embraced virtue signalling and the construction of narratives.

Quickly and easily reinforcing the impulses of his base (and of hers) has proven monumentally important. Their certitude gets people clicking over the kitten rescue videos. As a result, they get attention and create influence.

But just as easily, those clicks can undermine a serious message. Following the president’s Oval Office address this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference that condemned Trump and dismantled his arguments in great detail.

Their words generated little attention. Instead, the image of the two staring sternly into the camera became a comedic meme that flourished across social media, late-time TV, and eventually on to the news networks.

Perhaps before they spoke they should have remembered that this is the era of 280 characters, not 280 pages.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 13, 2019)

Donald Trump’s continued outsized influence on Canada

Donald Trump sucks the oxygen out of every political maneuver and debate in the United States. Now, it’s possible he might do the same in Canada, as we head towards a federal election on October 21st, just over nine months from now.

Certainly the American President was a dominant figure in our politics for much of 2018. Not quite as dominant as in the United States, but an ominous one here nonetheless. And most of that had to deal with the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

After branding NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever signed,” at Trump’s behest Canada and Mexico were locked in a thirteen month renegotiation with the United States of the twenty-five year old deal. After all the Trumpian threats to tear up the agreement and slapping duties of twenty-five per cent on Canadian steel exports and ten per cent on Canadian aluminum exports and other gratuitous threats, what emerged from the negotiations was a renamed treaty called the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement that is not too much different from the original NAFTA. Dairy Farmers have to give up a small portion of their protected market in Canada, and the steel and aluminum duties remain as trade irritants still waiting to be removed, but aside from those problems the NAFTA talks turned out a lot better than they might have.

While the new agreement still has to be ratified by each of the three countries, there was a palpable sign of relief when the negotiations concluded. But that wasn’t the end of the Trump influence in Canada.

In his fiscal update on November 21st last fall, Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not wait for the budget this coming spring to announce major corporate tax cuts. Instead, responding to pressure from the business community to stay competitive with tax cuts enacted at the end if 2017 by Trump and the Republicans in Washinton, Morneau announced $16.5 billion in corprorate tax cuts‎ allowing business write-offs on manufacturing and clean energy equipment.

This foregone revenue will increase the deficit over the next few years, but because of Trump the Liberal Government had little choice.‎ Whether Morneau follows that up with further tax cuts this spring remains to be seen. But whatever Trump does next will likely have a bearing on it.

With NAFTA more or less out of the way, Trump is now engaged in a major trade war with China. And that is having an impact on Canada too. First a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies ‎catches everyone in the cross fire. The shock to stock markets around the world, including Canada in December, is but one example of that.

But Canada is being effected in another way as well.‎ Canada is now caught up in a dispute between Beijing and Washington over the detention of a high placed executive with the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Meng Wanzhou is out on bail in Vancouver pending an extradition hearing that could see her transferred to the United States to face fraud and other charges in connection with American sanctions on Iran. Under the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S., she was arrested after she deplaned in Vancouver and is now out on bail pending a hearing to see if she will be sent on to the U.S.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese Government is furious. But instead of taking out its anger on the Americans, who are big and can strike back, it is taking its anger out on Canada. It is demanding the release of Meng Wanzhou and in retaliation, has detained two Canadian citizens in China.‎

Canada says it is acting according to international law and the extradition treaty it has‎ the U.S.  But China doesn’t care for that explanation, and the waters were muddied when President Trump implied that the Meng situation was really part of his negotiating strategy in the trade war with China.

At the moment the situation is at a stand-off. ‎Meng Wanzhou is out on bail but detained in Vancouver. Two Canadians are detained in China, and Donald Trump is waging his trade war.

How this China chapter plays out ‎has the possibility of becoming a major political issue in Canada, with Donald Trump right in the middle of it.

Whether he thinks about it or not, so far the American President is managing to reach across the Canada – U.S. Border and have an outsized influence on issues that will help shape the Canadian election. And hold on to your hat, he is probably not done yet. There are still nine and a half months to go.

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

Bridging the New Great Divide: Reaching the ‘Persuadables’

While social media have had incalculable positive effects on democracy and human rights, the corruption of social media content and exploitation of personal and aggregate data has adversely impacted democracy on two levels: the propagation of misrepresentational content meant to influence behaviour and the doubt cast on democracy as a system as a result of that propaganda. The 2019 Canadian federal election will be a test of one country’s response to the problem.

John Delacourt 

The story is familiar now. The role Facebook (and, to some degree, Twitter) played in the United States presidential campaign of 2016 has been plumbed by a number of investigations. This includes an ongoing study by the House ethics committee in Ottawa on how users’ information is “harvested” by entities seeking to influence the next Canadian federal campaign. In the U.S., it is clear that foreign actors had access to user information that allowed them to micro-target activation campaigns, stoking fears on such topics as irregular migration and “Benghazi-gate”. 

Could such a misinformation campaign happen here in Canada? At least not yet, says one pollster. In August of this year, Abacus Data Chairman Bruce Anderson provided Canadians with a reassuring perspective on the battle to come. Basing his argument on up-to-the-minute polling numbers, he asserted that about 27 per cent of the electorate, or approximately 8 million Canadians, had yet to make up their minds about which party to vote for in 2019. “Let’s call those people the persuadables,” he wrote. “These are the true battleground voters”—those who could presumably decide the result of the next election. Contrary to the partisan tone and fierce rhetoric that characterize political dialogue on social media, these persuadables are far more centrist. “Canadians are generally suspicious of hardened ideology,” Anderson said. “Across Canada, 89 per cent of Canadians believe the country works best ‘by finding middle ground and compromise,’ and 92 per cent of persuadables feel this way.”

It is in the nature of polling and no fault of the commentator, but Anderson’s snapshot of the electorate offers a static rather than dynamic take on the influence of social media on voter intentions. For a forceful riposte to Anderson’s argument, a few minutes of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s opening speech from his Munk Debate appearance in November would do nicely. Bannon spoke to the resolution that the “Future of Western Politics is Populist, Not Liberal.” Bannon asserts there is no longer a centre – or a centrist perspective—that will hold in the U.S., given the “filter bubbles” social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have created—echo chambers that repeat and reinforce partisan positions. 

Conservatives and progressives communicate within parallel media ecosystems; it is increasingly rare for citizens to identify as centrist or persuadable by either side, given how microtargeted content creates visceral, measurable spikes in the emotions that override rational argument. In the course of Bannon’s debate with Canadian-born American conservative political commentator David Frum, what emerged from Bannon’s speechifying was a stark vision of a divided America, where the working class have been let down by the “global elite.” This is the one per cent who have created the real divide: less a racially or culturally determined demographic than one marked by a widening gulf between have and have-not. Populism, from either the left or right, is for Bannon the only kind of politics that can thrive when such a polarized dialogue is the new normal.

Whether Bannon’s perspective is shaped by the political reality south of the 49th parallel, the conditions for a turn from the centre are emerging here. The precariousness of the economic well-being of “the middle class and those hoping to join it” wisely remains an abiding concern for the Trudeau government. There are 19 million Canadians on Facebook—more than 14 million checking their news feeds every day. This makes us the most active users of the platform in the world. The influencers and validators of public sentiment are firmly established on Twitter as well, with some MPs such as Michelle Rempel and Maxime Bernier—who are more than willing to torque up the populist rhetoric—commanding significant numbers of followers. 

What may be pivotal in this turn from the centre is the continuing erosion of trust in public institutions. Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer revealed that only 46 per cent of the general public here in Canada say they trust their government (as opposed to 61 per cent of the “informed public”). And while 60 per cent are worried about fake news being weaponized for the election campaign, 54 per cent are disengaged with news, consuming broadcast and print stories on a less-than-weekly basis. When distrust, cynicism and ultimate disengagement with politics prevail, they create a vacuum where the forces of disinformation can rush in. These are more than forces of disruption; as the U.S. example affirms, they are forces of persuasion.

The response from the Trudeau government to these forces has been encouraging, with the passing of Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act. As Joan Bryden of Canadian Press reports, it “represents a first stab at grappling with the spectre of social media being abused by bad actors—foreign or domestic—to manipulate election results, exacerbate societal divisions, amplify hate messages or instill distrust in the electoral system.” Measures include banning foreign entities from funding advocacy groups for partisan campaigns, and requiring online platforms to establish a registry of all digital advertisements placed by political parties or third parties during the pre-writ and writ periods (with the added stipulation that the registry remain visible to the public for two years). 

The Opposition, led by Andrew Scheer, seems more sanguine about the threat of foreign actors to the next election. Hamish Marshall, Scheer’s 2019 campaign manager, told a crowd of party faithful at the last Manning Conference that he’s a “huge fan” of building detailed psychological profiles of Canadian voters and targeting them with personalized political messages. The current business model for Facebook is based on such data remaining accessible. Data and dollars remain the highest priorities for any party heading into an election season, so Marshall can hardly be faulted for using the former to drive the latter.

Yet the ground—and public opinion around the world—has begun to shift on these tactics. Around the time Anderson’s firm, Abacus Data, were polling and discovering the number of persuadables remaining in Canada, a significant development in the story of Facebook’s influence on voters occurred in the UK. Sharon White, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, published an editorial in the Times of London calling for regulatory oversight, much in the way the CRTC here in Canada regulates broadcasters. “The argument for independent regulatory oversight of [large online players] has never been stronger,” White wrote, stating that “in practice, this would place much greater scrutiny on how effectively the online platforms respond to harmful content to protect consumers, with powers for a regulator to enforce standards, and act if these are not met.” 

Soon after, Daniel Bernhard, the Executive Director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, affirmed its support for the NDP’s proposed slate of policy measures, “that would go a long way toward restoring Canada’s democratic sovereignty over these foreign corporations and their shareholders.” These included the requirement for social media platforms to “collect sales taxes like everybody else, pay corporate taxes like everybody else, and follow the same laws and rules as everybody else.” The “advertising tax loophole” that allows “Canadian advertisers who do business with media companies, like Google and Facebook, to claim $1.3 billion in tax benefits that are supposed to be reserved for companies placing ads with Canadian media, which enrich our society and secure our democracy,” would be closed. All of these measures would make it a lot harder (and more economically prohibitive) for foreign actors to repeat what occurred south of the border in 2016.

The NDP’s recommendations may lack the necessary political capital to be implemented in the short term; however, when federal legislators, regardless of political stripe, realize they may have practical tools to halt the erosion of accountable democracies and democratic processes, there may be no better place to propose them than in election platforms for 2019. The centre may still hold, with truth and accountability as its lynchpins, and that may emerge as the most definitive advancement for Canadian politics in the next federal campaign.  

John Delacourt, Vice President of Ensight, is a former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau and the author of two books, including a mystery novel. 

(Published in Policy Magazine January 2019)

Michelle Obama sets stellar example for future change-makers

As Michelle Obama embarks on her global book tour, connecting with audiences in promotion of her first book Becoming, she is proving herself to be a powerful political force for the causes she chooses to support.

While she has been clear that she has no intention to run for public office herself, she has turned her attention to sharing her story and strongly advocating for issues she believes in deeply. Her book lays out a blueprint for leadership that reminds us that one does not need their name on a ballot in order to initiate lasting change.

The stories woven together in Becoming are moving. She speaks frankly about her family in the context of the Great Migration and their settlement in Chicago as well as her father’s health challenges with Multiple Sclerosis. Throughout, Michelle is careful with her words, understanding the power of her voice and the responsibility that comes with using it.

Authentic leadership is a difficult balance to strike. In her book she describes her approach to staying true to her voice, “When it came to speaking publicly about anything or anyone in the political sphere: I said only what I believed and what I absolutely felt.”

By way of her leadership example, she’s building a generation of leaders daring to address big and small issues plaguing communities both locally and globally. In today’s international political climate, this is especially necessary.

As First Lady, she set out to achieve measurable progress on issues she cared about. She took a thoughtful and personal approach to choosing her projects and messages, and ensured that her team applied a forward-thinking lens to her work.

She went to great effort to combat child obesity in America with a methodically rolled out Let’s Move! Campaign and gardening initiatives. Her legacy also includes an emphasis on unlocking the potential of girls internationally through education with her “Let Girls Learn” program.

With these, and with each initiative she took on over the years, her leadership style has been collaborative. Recognizing that a goal is best achieved by way of coalition — she brought together government, business, and influencers of all backgrounds in support of measurable results toward healthier communities. That is politics at it’s best.

As she opens this new chapter in her journey, no longer walking the same tightrope that came with being married to the sitting president of the United States, she is expanding her reach. With two million copies of her book sold within the first few weeks of publication, it’s clear her chosen messages are spreading widely.

In her book she went on to speak openly about maternal health and her own challenges faced while growing her family. This was a significant move in shifting the culture of how communities communicate and women are supported through miscarriage and in vitro fertilization.

Importantly, she recognizes the need to counter the leadership example being set by the current sitting president. In her book she is open about her disappointment in his actions, and not just the impact on the safety of her own family, but also the bar set for political discourse as a whole. She states, “In the end, the standards of decency were simply lowered in order to make room for the candidate’s voice.”

I have great faith in the generation of leaders being shaped by Michelle’s example internationally. Her emphasis on prioritizing health and wellness, the importance of nurturing genuine friendships in politics, and being patient with oneself while becoming your best self are all lessons that will strengthen the collective impact of the leaders she is inspiring.

Even though she’s chosen not to run for office, the impact her efforts make on the political issues she touches is immense. She reminds us to speak with conviction. It’s clear this is the opening of a new and exciting chapter for Michelle, and I’m looking forward to seeing what insights and advocacy efforts lay ahead.

And for the millions of change-makers she is inspiring around the globe, many of whom are women and girls, I look forward to the limitless potential being unlocked as each grows more comfortable taking her seat at the table, and using her authentic voice.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, December 9, 2018) 

Presidential successors put Bush Sr. in a new light

Many believe that, in politics, your successor is your legacy.

Consider the straight-as-an-arrow Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter after the Machiavellian Nixon years.

Or the steady, competent, experienced John Tory after the roller coaster term of Rob Ford.

Or more recently, Doug Ford’s approach to smaller government focused resolutely on every day family affordability after more than a decade of big, bold Liberal schemes.

But the state funeral of the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, earlier this week also reminded us that a politician’s successors can also create new frames, and new prisms, with which to view their predecessor.

As every living president, along with not just the entire American political establishment but leaders from around the world — even Charles, the future King of England was there — jammed into the magnificent Washington Cathedral there was an elephant jammed in with them.

And it wasn’t the elephant that serves as the GOP’s mascot and logo.

Rather, it was the astonishing divide between the 41st President and the 45th, President Donald Trump.

As our own former prime minister Brian Mulroney opened his tribute, Trump could be seen slumping in his pew, his arms aggressively crossed on his chest, and a surl on his lips. But he was alone.

The rest of the congregation was right with Mulroney as he offered, “I believe it will be said no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush.”

Mulroney went on to provide a tour de table of Bush’s accomplishments: The Gulf War, NAFTA, Clean Air Act, leadership that was “distinguished, resolute and brave.”

Others went on to describe the 41st president as the last of the “soldier statesmen,” as one of the last of the “greatest generation.”

And with each accolade, with each remembrance, the difference between George H.W. Bush’s leadership and that of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. became more painfully acute.

The sense of loss of decency in public life became clearer.

And with that how both Americans and the world thought about their former president began to change.

After all, despite all his successes, which were recounted this week, Bush lost the presidency in 1992, after just one term.

A young upstart named Bill Clinton seemed more in tune with the times. He reflected the optimism and freshness that was felt across the country. President Bush, on the other hand, while familiar and reliable — not unlike a panelled station wagon that had served dutifully — was more like yesterday’s news.

But Bush only knew one way to be president and he stood by it. He allowed journalists, historians and pundits to see him as a bumbling patrician.

Incredibly, the New York Times story that came to define his presidency reported Bush had been dumbfounded by a grocery store barcode scanner and didn’t know the price of a quart of milk.

The story, and its implication that he was woefully out of touch, had the ring of truth, and defined Bush for a generation.

But that sentiment dissipated significantly this week, as experts reflected on Bush’s presidency in the wake of his passing.

Instead of being a patrician, the pundits crowed about his gentle nature and impeccable manners. Instead of bumbling on policy, experts wrote of his pragmatism and cautiousness in a world that was teetering on chaos.

Some went so far as to say he was the best one term president since James K. Polk in the 19th century.

Today, Bush’s legacy stands in marked contrast with the one predicted in 1993, after his re-election loss.

By comparison, President Clinton, who had long enjoyed the highest approval ratings in the country, has suffered from historical consideration. His personal behaviour has clouded his policy successes and his approval ratings have dropped significantly.

It turns out how you lead, like how you live your life, actually matters. That what St. Francis taught is right: in consoling we are consoled, in giving we receive, and in pardoning we are pardoned.

And that’s why I don’t think it is random that the Bush family motto is, “et ius illud,” which when translated to English means, “do the right thing.”

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, December 9, 2018)  

NDP sputtering as Singh’s sticks to risky strategy

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake,” ranks as one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s most famous quotes.

And it is one that a number of the politicians around Parliament Hill would do well to remember.

Last week, Liberal MP for Brampton East, Raj Grewal, announced he would be resigning his seat.

And just as the Liberal government was coping with an unwelcome and distracting event, rookie NDP leader Jagmeet Singh made a significant strategic mistake.

Singh, who has yet to find traction amongst many New Democrats — not to mention Canadians as a whole — has long been without a seat. His party, which has lost significant momentum from its 2011 high, when it obtained official opposition status for the first time, has been struggling.

The leadership contest to select Singh garnered little media attention. And since then, there have been few policy positions that the party has been able to call their own.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has successfully positioned himself as the leader of the progressive movement, effectively overshadowing any attempts by the NDP to gain credibility on a host of issues. Even when the prime minister stakes out more conservative positions, such as with his vocal support for the development and construction of pipelines, the glow of progressivism doesn’t leave him.

Polling and byelection results reveal a party sputtering among voters. Polls have shown the NDP lagging far behind its rivals, and while many question the reliability of traditional political polling, the party’s results in byelections have done little to show them inaccurate.

Outside of Quebec, its results could at best be described as “middling” — and in Quebec, the epicentre of 2011’s success, the party is so far out of the game that it’s not difficult to imagine Quebec NDP MPs being a distant memory by 2020.

To make matters worse, NDP fundraising is at a recent low. The party, which has always struggled to effectively raise the money it needs to be competitive, has raised a fraction of what the Conservatives and Liberals have quarter after quarter since the last election.

The result? NDP MPs are voting with their feet: a significant chunk of the caucus have announced their plans to not run in the next election under Singh.

Not all of this, of course, is due to the fact their leader does not hold a seat. Similar struggles would not be solved by a place in the House of Commons alone.

But the fact the leader does not have a seat only serves to underscore these challenges, to make them more persuasive and to, more generally, lower morale for the caucus as a whole.

In an effort to combat a narrative that is not only developing but cementing, Singh announced he would run in a byelection in suburban British Columbia. It was a strange choice and an awkward fit: Singh had been an Ontario MPP and had little connection to Burnaby. What’s more, the seat is far from a safe one for his party.

Then, a gift appeared seemingly from nowhere: the Liberal MP who represented the very same seat in the House of Commons that Singh had represented in the Ontario Legislature, stepped down. In a byelection, Singh, a political celebrity in Brampton East and whose brother now represents the riding provincially, would have been a shoo-in.

Inexplicably, Singh declined to take advantage of this near-sure bet and has stubbornly clung to his plan to take on a risky seat; a plan with plenty of downside.

It’s a decision that has long-standing New Democrats gritting their teeth. They wonder, rightly, why Singh is risking his entire political future on a riding that he has no connection to — with no real benefit.

Should Singh lose the byelection, it is almost certain that he will face a very unpleasant uprising. It will provide his internal opponents a tangible example of his lack of judgment and confirm the view he is ill-equipped to take on the Liberals in just over a year.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, December 2, 2018) 

Viola Desmond’s legacy a light that shines on other trailblazers

This week marked the official circulation of Canada’s new $10 bank note highlighting the story of trail-blazing entrepreneur and civil rights activist Viola Desmond.

Desmond was selected in a process that spanned years of public consultation to identify an iconic Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulating bank note. Canadians welcomed the concept of widening the net beyond former prime ministers on our currency.

A total of 26,300 submissions were collected in the nomination process, of which 461 qualified. To be considered for a feature on the bank note, nominated candidates were required to have been deceased for a minimum of 25 years.

Following this process, an advisory council identified a 12-person long list, later narrowed to five women. Among the women nominated were authors, artists, athletes, suffragettes, scientists, businesswomen, engineers, politicians and humanitarians — all extraordinary changemakers in their respective fields.

I remember finding myself emotional upon learning that Desmond was selected as the first Canadian woman to be printed on our regularly circulated currency last spring. It came with a sense of pride and belonging that I couldn’t shake.

Desmond valiantly took on Canadian justice systems for the discrimination she experienced in 1946 in a segregated movie theatre, and she dedicated her livelihood to elevating other women entrepreneurs and leaving her community better than she found it. She was the first Canadian to receive a posthumous pardon by the government of Nova Scotia for her appalling treatment. The legacy she left is well deserving of the celebration it is receiving today.

I see in Desmond’s story in the stories of my own family and community members in Southwestern Ontario going back multiple generations — women who quietly worked to transform their communities and endeavoured to make Canadian institutions better for their daughters with little recognition for their tireless efforts.

I saw generations of Black Canadian women in rural and urban communities across the country who fought courageously to break glass ceilings while carrying an additional load combating racism in Canada.

It is thrilling to see a Black woman on the Canadian $10 bill, but we also have a long way to go to ensure Canadian women are earning their fair share of these dollars today. We’ll need continued advocacy aimed at seeing that women of all backgrounds feel the benefits of work being carried out to close the gender pay gap.

Desmond’s character can be seen today in women continuing her tradition of building supportive communities for women entrepreneurs as they seek genuine inclusion. Emily Mills of How She Hustles is a trailblazer in these efforts, blazing her own path changing Canadian institutions for the better, while serving as a prism reflecting light that shines onto her on more Canadian women deserving of recognition.

Mills hopes the circulation of the bill doesn’t only change how we see the past, but rather serves as a catalyst to change how we act in the present, “We don’t have to wait until someone is long gone for us to acknowledge that they stood up for something they believed in.”

I’ve framed my first note, and will be gifting a few for family and friends to cherish over the holidays. I’m also considering ways I can better support organizations and individuals carrying out the spirit of Desmond’s work today.

This includes organizations like Black History Ottawa as they take a leadership role in the delivery of the Connecting the Dots project aimed to connect the rich histories, lived experiences, and intergenerational promising practices of Black Canadians from coast to coast. Within the past year, they’ve visited Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Windsor researching local stories.

There are countless local opportunities for engagement in carrying out Desmond’s legacy today, both in supporting women’s economic empowerment, and challenging Canadian institutions to address systemic racism.

With each exchange of the bill comes a teachable moment, an opportunity to discuss the invaluable contributions and sacrifices made by women and Black women across our great country — and with that a moment of self-reflection to consider how each individual effort can continue to shape our country for the better into the future.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 25, 2018)  

Canada’s political leaders must overcome international and internal strife

Those of us who had hoped for a more placid year ahead are likely to be disappointed.

If anything, Canada’s closest allies are facing even more difficult and uncertain times than had been predicted.

Brexit, which by any measure was a monumental task, has grown more complicated and troublesome in recent weeks. Whilst once it seemed that Theresa May’s Conservatives could safely steer the United Kingdom out of the European Union with the support of a united government, that seems a stretch today.

May faces defections and resignations from her own caucus and cabinet on an almost daily basis. The opposition seems unlikely to provide her government cover, and allies in other parties are dropping like flies. No-deal on Brexit seems increasingly likely, as does an election — one that could see Jeremy Corbyn, the radical and divisive leader of the Labour Party, elected Prime Minister.

Stability in the United Kingdom is as hard to see as a polar bear in a blizzard.

The United States is in little better condition. President Trump has battled the media and critics since the beginning of his presidency. When the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, it signalled a whole new phase in the country’s internecine conflict.

It seems inevitable that Nancy Pelosi will take the speaker’s gavel. Under her leadership, the Democrats will formalize the opposition to Trump in a way that hasn’t been possible for two years. The democrats will wield subpoena power, chair committee investigations and erect roadblocks that will frustrate, if not freeze, Trump’s agenda.

The next two years of U.S. politics will largely be an acrimonious battle between branches of government, hindering their ability to move important government initiatives forward in a meaningful way.

This sustained period of international unrest presents challenges for Canada — particularly now that there is an increasing lack of ideological alignment between our provincial and federal governments.

The Trudeau Liberals have ushered in a number of policies that are cheered by progressives but jeered by conservatives. The challenge, much as in the U.S., is that opposition and partisanship are becoming far more entrenched. Right wing parties have been elected across the country in the last two years, and their leaders have made little secret of their distaste for policies originating from Ottawa.

The relationship, in particular, between Queen’s Park and the federal government has been strained and Doug Ford is joined by a host of premiers who seem to have little interest in idly accepting the policies the federal government is intent on implementing. These differences are real, differences based in policy disagreements fundamental to each government’s outlook.

That said, there are areas of cooperation that governments of all stripes and colours can find. What’s more, it is critical they do so to ensure the continued stability of Canada’s economy.

In that regard, there have been glimmers of hope in the apparent appetite for finding areas for collaboration.

Premiers have begun working proactively with one another to eliminate trade barriers between provinces. These barriers have been invisible anchors on the Canadian economy, stifling access, innovation and competition.

Perhaps just as importantly, an olive branch was extended when Ford indicated that he would be happy to work with the prime minister if the goal was to create jobs. There are other policy opportunities for the premiers and the PM to find alignment in and mutual benefit from — not the least of which is ensuring Alberta’s oil can find its way to market.

The Ontario government mentioned its commitment to helping solve Alberta’s heavy crude problem in its Fall Economic Statement, and the PM this week reiterated that the status quo cannot continue. After all, the Canadian economy is losing an estimated $80 million a day.

The Alberta question is approaching a boiling point. It is against this backdrop of international instability and internal strife that the federal government has requested a first ministers’ meeting next month.

All involved in this meeting would be well served to recognize the opportunity before them. With their eye on the international horizon, Canadians are watching that their governments deliver more than a lump of coal in their stockings.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 25, 2018)