With the approval of Trans Mountain, the stage is set for the next election

The universe is unfolding as it should.

The widely predicted decision by the Trudeau Government to re-approve the twining of the Trans Mountain Pipeline will set up the dynamic for the upcoming federal election this fall.

That dynamic pits the pipeline approval and its likely eventual construction against ‎the environmental concerns construction will create and the broader issue of fighting climate change and global warming.

The twining of Trans Mountain will actually triple the amount of Alberta oil sands production transported across British Columbia to a terminal on the Pacific Ocean in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

The Alberta Government and the oil industry say the pipeline is essential to its economic health; it will open markets in Asia to Canadian energy supplies that now can be shipped only to the United States and sold at a discount because the Americans are our only customer.

But environmentalist have been equally determined to stop the pipeline. They say in addition to the dangers of a pipeline rupture and oil spill, the number of oil tankers in Vancouver harbour to load on the oil and then sail through the sensitive waters around Vancouver Island en route to Asia will create a whole other level of danger.

Then there are indigenous Canadians along the route in B.C. Originally most seemed opposed to the expansion. But since the federal government bought the pipeline‎ in 2018 to keep the project alive, at least two consortia of Indigenous groups have expressed interest in buying the pipeline if it ever gets built.

In the meantime there is the federal election on October 21st. The Liberals hope there will be shovels in the ground before voters go to the polls, even though in Alberta and British Columbia ‎the chances of reaping any political benefit are slight to nil.

Originally the Trudeau government portrayed the pipeline as part of a grand bargain. Approval of energy projects that would increase greenhouse gas emissions along with provincial carbon taxes that were designed to reduce those same emissions.

But provincial governments that originally supported that approach have now been replaced by Conservative ones that are canceling schemes to reduce emissions, and fighting the federal government in court over Ottawa’s replacement tax that will be imposed in provinces that no longer have their own.

Prime Minister Trudeau is now promising that any money made from either the operation or the sale of the Trans Mountain‎ pipeline extension will be committed to low carbon technology and greenhouse gas emission reduction. It is an idea originally floated by the independent International Institute For Sustainable Development a few years ago. Trudeau hopes it will keep at least some of his greener supporters onside.

For the moment the Conservatives are in a dilemma. Ardent supporters of the pipeline and the oil industry, when the pipeline was re-approved Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was reduced to complaining that Trudeau had not been able to announce a start date for construction.

So did Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who wasted three million dollars in an advertising campaign urging the federal government to give its approval to the expansion. Kenny knew the approval was coming, but wanted to look as though he had something to do with it happening.

The fact is neither of them or anyone else would be able to provide a date certain for construction to‎ benign. There are still future court challenges and other delays that environmentalist and indigenous opponents of the pipeline can launch.

The New Democrats were already opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion, and predictably they have decried the re-approval.

Now as the election campaign gets underway,‎ the NDP will continue to express their opposition, hoping in part to hold off a newly invigorated Green Party that has been threatening to eat into their support.

And with the pipeline re-approval out of the way, the Conservatives will have to concentrate on convincing Canadians the carbon tax is a tax grab and not an environmental program.

The Liberals have removed one uncertainty by re-approving the pipeline. But will that drive potential voters into the arms of the NDP or the Greens?

And while the decision has spiked some Conservative guns, ‎it does clear the decks for a full out debate on the efficacy of the carbon tax, and whether the attack on it will resonate beyond the Conservative base.

As I wrote in a column last fall, there will be other issues at play in the upcoming election –  and at that time no one had heard of Jody Wilson-Raybauld or SNC-Lavalin.

But my conclusion then, and my conclusion now, is how the environment-energy issue plays out will be a key to determining who forms the next government.

Truly, the universe is unfolding as it should.

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.

Ontario Liberals opt for good TV at leadership convention

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, June 16, 2019.

Two weeks ago, the Ontario Liberals began the long and arduous process of rebuilding their shattered party. Now reduced to a caucus of five — or what some impolite wags refer to as “the minivan caucus” — the party membership gathered in Mississauga to determine just how they will go about selecting a new leader next March.

The business of drafting the rules of a leadership race may well conjure up stereotypical images of smoke-filled back rooms but the work is anything but arcane. Recall how for the federal Liberals, the race that brought Justin Trudeau to the helm of the party also revitalized the entire organization. It brought in a new generation of excited members and garnered a tsunami of earned media coverage.

That’s why so many observers were puzzled by the choice the Ontario Liberal party made last week to effectively keep the rules of the race the same as before: the provincial party decided against dropping membership fees, and more importantly, against moving away from a delegated convention in favour of one-member, one-vote.

Under a delegated convention, riding associations elect delegates, who assemble at a convention and choose the new leader through a series of successive ballots. Under a one-member, one-vote approach, which most Canadian political parties have adopted, all party members get to cast their vote, typically through an online portal. In that model, the convention functions simply as a venue to announce the results.

Even though the Liberals adopted a hybrid system in 1991, which allows party members more say in how delegates cast first ballot votes, delegated conventions have been derided as antiquated; this very newspaper called the OLP’s decision “old-style.”

Old style it may be, but there is, of course, the sheer spectacle of it all. There is a reason that American political parties have continued to opt for delegated conventions. Delegates shifting their allegiances among the candidates in real time, punctuated by rousing speeches from would-be party leaders, all makes for compelling television. And if there is something the Ontario Liberals could use right now it is some compelling television. Brutal has been the fall from government to no-party status.

In January 2013, when the party elected Kathleen Wynne at such a convention, television networks ran non-stop coverage for nearly two days. Eric Hoskins staged a theatrical floor-crossing, feigning a walk to Wynne’s rival Sandra Pupatello before marching over to Kathleen’s camp. CTV News called it a “thrilling” convention and mourned the prospect that it could be the last conducted in this way.

In 1996, when Dalton McGuinty was elected leader, it was a classic dark-horse race that didn’t end until 4 a.m. With delegated conventions, the drama comes baked in.

On the other hand, one member, one vote formats often deliver results that are expected. That’s because the format favours front-runners with large organizational and financial resources. At least that has, more often than not, been the story of the history of the Conservatives in Ontario. Think of Patrick Brown, John Tory, Tim Hudak and Ernie Eves.

The exception, of course, is Doug Ford and it may well be that concern about the emergence of an equivalent insurgent candidate had an impact on the decision the Liberals made last week.

Finally, there is the practical matter of the vote’s integrity. Using an online portal has proven liable to technical difficulties, which can forestall or even overshadow the ultimate outcome. The race to replace Jack Layton as leader of the federal NDP was plagued by hacks and overwhelmed computer servers. The entire unfortunate affair sapped the excitement out of Thomas Mulcair’s victory, and he struggled for some time to regain momentum.

Given all of this, it was no surprise the Liberal party fell short of the two-thirds vote of the members needed to change the system. The race for the next leader will consume the party through March 2020 — already, several contenders have thrown their hat into the ring, including Steven Del Duca and Michael Coteau.

And one way or another, I bet we’ll all be watching.

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

A lesson in valour from Juno Beach

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

On the Normandy coast, the few remaining brave veterans gathered, their numbers depleted by the unrelenting ravages of time. They were joined by politicians from every nook and cranny of our country, military brass, and serving soldiers, sailors and airwoman and men.

And thousands upon thousands of everyday Canadians and French. All gathered to commemorate, and remember, the 75th anniversary of the largest combined military operation in history and, arguably, the crucial turning point in the Second World War: the Allies D-Day landing.

The air was filled with an almost partylike atmosphere. The weather was glorious. Event planners from Veterans Affairs Canada efficiently checked guests off lists and issued colour-coded wrist bands. Along the route, French authorities closed roads and provided motorcycle escorts.

The French stood by the roadside and, all these years later, expressed their enduring gratitude with quiet and solemn waves. Canadian flags, along with those of our allies, flew everywhere — not just from public buildings but from homes and apartment balconies.

Friends greeted friends. They made plans for dinner. It felt peculiar, almost surreal.

As we took our seats for the start of the ceremony, that feeling didn’t change. As lovely as it was, it all felt, in many ways, no different from many other ceremonies. Bilingual. Inclusive of our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Anthems were sung. Music was played. A thoughtful speech was given by our prime minister. It was all, well, appropriately Canadian.

And then everything changed.

From the beach came 359 young Canadian and French boys, each one representing a Canadian who was killed on that day 75 years ago. And from that beach those kids kept coming and coming.

Each carried boots or flowers or a helmet in remembrance but it was their age, roughly the same as those who lost their lives, which made the greatest impression of remembrance on me.

It was at that moment that I truly understood the difference between valour and courage.

Courage, of course, is the ability to do something one finds frightening, while valour is strength, determination, heroic bravery in the face of unimaginable danger.

Part of the act of remembrance is to remember that these were boys — kids we would call them today — who fought a war which was not their own. They were volunteers, every last one of them, who understood that the duty of a free citizen is the willingness to fight to preserve that freedom.

They took the beaches, many of them in their first military engagement, and remained fiercely committed to holding that ground as the world fell apart around them.

And the beach was only the beginning.

Their belief in a better world drove them further and further — from the beaches of Normandy to the heart of the continent and beyond. Caen, where Canadian flags flew this week alongside the tricolore, was a turning point on this road to salvation. A city martyred for peace and the enduring belief in something better.

And like the city itself, that hope has endured. The veterans who spoke on Thursday told a story that books never could. A story of valour but also the insanity of a time when young people were sent into the world with Canadian emblems sewn not onto their backpacks but rather the shoulders of their uniforms.

And when the war was done and they came home, they went on to be, in the words of journalist Tom Brokaw, the “Greatest Generation,” for their resolve coming of age in the Great Depression and their sacrifice in the Second World War.

Standing on Juno Beach, I came closer to understanding the power of that resolve, realizing how the discipline of one step forward can carry a person — and a generation.

And closer to understanding just how important Laurence Binyon’s words from his poem, Ode of Remembrance, are.

As he said, “we will remember them.”

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

Give our democracy the TLC it deserves

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, June 2, 2019.

As spring gives way to summer, so too will the predictable rhythm of governing in Ottawa and the ever-so-predictable antics of question period give way to the high-energy, much less predictable, winner-takes-all stakes of a federal campaign.

And, as the parties’ planes and buses start their engines, commentators like me will surely lament that the upcoming election will be the nastiest, the lowest, the meanest, the most divisive of all time.

These commentators will then bang on about how, left unchecked, this horrible behaviour will result in the end of the world as we know it — or at least in a mortal weakening of our cherished democracy.

Hands will be wrung over the “Americanization” of our system and of the perils of campaigns targeted at the “low-information” voter. The echo chamber of social media and so-called “attack” advertising will be blamed.

But just before we get carried away and reach for the Prozac, there are two points worth considering: one is the evidence and the second is our role in all this.

First, the evidence. Our democracy is simply not in peril. In the last federal election, and in each of the last elections in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, voter turnout went up. That’s right, participation in each of those elections increased.

It is simply not true, on the evidence, that modern campaigns and modern campaign practices are turning voters off. Rather, the evidence suggests that Canadians respond when a clear choice is offered, when the various competitors lay out distinct differences in their visions, and when other civil society actors get involved.

The tools available to strategists have changed, to be sure. And with those changes come some problems: some structural, some transitory, and some more fairly characterized as growing pains.

But it is a mistake to simply pine for the good old days, which usually weren’t that good. Rather, it behooves us to understand the power of these new tools to level the playing field. To make it possible to reach more people and to do so in a way that is more meaningful and personal.

Barack Obama became president of the United States and leader of the free world by motivating people who had never voted before to vote for him. He accomplished this using the exact techniques that are so often vilified and condemned.

It also behooves us to understand our own role in the electoral process. And our role is not to simply stand at the side of the road, watching as the parade goes by. Our role, the role of each citizen — and note that I did not say each taxpayer — is to become part of the parade.

After all, the way to get politicians to act in a way that’s more to our liking is to join with them in the pursuit of that most important right — the one from which every other right and all freedom flows — the right to freely choose who will govern us.

And that is not a big ask. It is a once-every-four-years ask. And here is what it looks like.

Imagine the impact it would have on our elections, on the politicians who compete in them, on the media who cover them, and on the special interests that have a huge stake in their outcomes, if we all figured out how to get involved.

If we all took the time to read each party’s platform. Bothered to go to an all-candidates meeting and asked a question. Went to a committee room and volunteered. Took a sign or, better yet, signed up to put up signs.

If we gave even $25 to our preferred candidate; wrote a letter to the editor; organized a coffee party with friends, or simply talked to our families and colleagues at work; or walked our young kids with us to the polling station and modelled being an informed voter.

They say the grass is always greener where you water it. Maybe a little water is all our democracy needs.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. 

How Climate Change Could Impact Post-Election Power in Ottawa

This column first appeared in Policy Magazine.

With public opinion polls showing the Liberals and Conservatives in a virtual dead heat five months before the federal election, it is not too early to speculate what kind of Parliament Canadians will elect if the current preferences hold until voting day, October 21st.

The simple conclusion is that no party will have enough seats for a majority government. The other simple conclusion is that either the Liberals or the Conservatives will finish with the most seats. And, neither the New Democrats nor the Greens have any chance of topping the electoral standings.

But that doesn’t mean that either one, or even both of them, may not play a role of great significance after the next election. They may in fact decide whether the Liberals or the Conservatives govern, and for how long they retain power. Even if the Liberals come second, if the NDP and enough Greens elected agree to support a Liberal government, Justin Trudeau could stay as prime minister.

If you go back far enough, that is what happened in 1925. The election that year ultimately set off a constitutional crisis, but that came a year later with a subsequent election. In the 1925 election, also held in October, the Liberals, who had been in power for four years, were reduced to ninety-nine seats. The Conservatives, by any traditional measure, had won, with a total of one hundred and sixteen. The Progressive Party, a western protest party had twenty-four.

But with no one having a majority, the Progressives decided to support the Liberals, even though they had seventeen fewer seats than the Conservatives. The Liberals managed to govern for nine months before giving up office briefly in a confrontation with the Governor-General, and then winning back power in a subsequent election.

The issue that kept the Liberals in power in 1925 was high tariffs. The Conservatives were for them, the Liberals less so and the Progressives not at all. In 2019, the issues that could keep them in office are the climate change files of global warming, carbon taxes and pipeline construction. In the current political environment, the Conservatives have isolated themselves on opposing carbon taxes, building multiple pipelines and downplaying global warming.

In Ottawa, federal Conservatives have labeled the Liberals’ carbon tax a “tax grab” and say they will cancel it if elected. They have also said they will repeal legislation changing the environmental review process for energy projects, cancel a ban on tankers off the northern coast of British Columbia and speed up the stalled construction of the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

All of these are major requests of the oil and gas industry, which of course is headquartered in Alberta. That is the province that recently elected a Conservative provincial government, which cancelled the previous NDP government’s carbon tax, and is joining with Conservative governments in Ontario and Saskatchewan to challenge and replace the Trudeau government’s federal carbon tax.

Added to provincial Conservative efforts, the Globe and Mail reported that federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer met with oil industry executives who’ve formed a pro-oil advocacy organization called the Modern Miracle Network. The meeting was reportedly called to plan strategies for defeating the Liberal government in October.

The Liberals have tried to straddle both the energy and environment issues, spending more than $4 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline when its private backers gave up hope of it being built. But they are far more environmentally focused than the Conservatives. And the New Democrats are more green than the Liberals, and the Greens of course the most environmentally concerned of all.

So, it’s not far-fetched to contemplate a Liberal, NDP and Green arrangement after the next election. Maybe an informal arrangement, maybe an agreement to vote together on confidence votes like the NDP and the Greens have now in British Columbia, or maybe even a co-alition government if the seats in the Commons are more evenly distributed, like the one in Great Britian after the 2010 election in that country.

The glue holding such an ungainly arrangement together would be concern for what people worried about a warming globe, rising tides, forest fires and other disasters call the “challenge of this generation.”

The idea and the effect of such an arrangement would be to block further pipeline development and wind down the oil sands. And with the Conservatives now so openly the voice of the oil patch, it could happen. It could be 1925 all over again.  

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

Trudeau trying to navigate uncharted digital waters

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 26, 2019.

This week, as more than 25,000 tech execs and entrepreneurs from around the globe descended on Toronto for the Collision Conference, the parallels between Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada and the companies that define Silicon Valley, and (increasingly) Toronto and Montreal were striking.

Both are largely founder-driven.

Both are searching for organic growth, and looking to broaden their total available market — of users in the first instance and voters in the second.

And, both, have lost some of their lustre in recent years with heightened public scrutiny resulting from issues of ethics and values.

So, as panellists discussed topics like, “Move Slow and Fix Things: Can big tech bring back the shine to their fallen star?” and “From Darlings to Damaged: Managing tech’s reputation in an age of heightened scrutiny,” it was perhaps no surprise to see Trudeau and his Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announce a digital charter: Ten principles designed not only to underpin all future legislation but to guide reforms to the existing patchwork of laws that govern our digital lives as well.

Bains and Trudeau say the rationale behind the charter is a desire to restore trust in our institutions and technology, giving Canadians confidence that their privacy is protected while also bolstering a nascent domestic tech industry.

The reality is that it will be impossible to pass meaningful legislation before the House rises in a couple of weeks.

Not that it bothers Team Trudeau. More than a real plan for regulation, the document is a statement of principles, a glimpse of a future Liberal campaign plank.

It is not hard to imagine Trudeau campaigning on this issue — he is young enough to be conversant in online issues. Remember the praise and adulation in 2016, when he stood in front of a chalkboard covered in math equations and handily explained quantum computing to an adoring media?

But he is not alone. His NDP counterpart Jagmeet Singh, who is himself a savvy user of Snapchat, could out flank him by calling for the immediate regulation of tech giants, like Facebook or Amazon.

Across the Western world, leftist political parties are following the lead of the Europeans in regulating tech companies, riding a public “techlash” driven by scandals such as Cambridge Analytica and an endless parade of hacks and data breaches.

In the United States, Democrats jostling for the 2020 presidential nomination are racing to out-do each other in their plans to trust-bust Facebook, the same way Teddy Roosevelt did Standard Oil or Clinton did Microsoft.

There is an audience for all of this because the public believes when it comes to privacy-protecting regulations, government is chronically running three steps behind the biggest, most advanced tech companies.

Consequently, governments now face the same challenge they did in regulating Bay Street. Those who really have the know-how and technical understanding to draft regulations find it much more enticing to work for industry than for government.

In his speech announcing the digital charter, Trudeau referred to the digital sphere as a “Wild West,” a fitting descriptor both because it can be a dangerous place — Trudeau’s remarks were delivered at a conference devoted to combating hate speech online — but also because there exists enormous financial opportunity.

The challenge with the digital charter is thus to strike the right balance between preserving the nascent but lucrative technology ecosystem (a $100 billion industry in Canada) and addressing the public’s sudden concerns.

To do so, the charter includes a number of principles about consumer protections. In addition to obvious privacy and safety rights, users should have control over what data to share, and the ability to transfer it from one company to another without “undue burden.”

This last idea, known as “data portability,” will be a boon to both users, and to startups, by making it easier to transfer personal information away from legacy companies.

The fact of the matter is most companies, operating in a sphere without strict borders, already comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and realize more stringent regulation is on the horizon.

The digital charter is simply the opening salvo in a long war to come over the governance of technology in Canada.

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

The gift of social media helped Trudeau, but it can also take away

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

When Justin Trudeau took the stage in October 2015 to celebrate the Liberals’ majority victory, he spoke of his party’s “positive vision,” for Canada.

Their campaign, he said, had “defeated the idea that Canadians should be satisfied with less, that good enough is good enough and that better just isn’t possible … this is Canada, and in Canada better is always possible.”

As we head into what may well be one of the closest and most unpredictable election campaigns in recent years, his words that night could not be more prescient. This is Canada — and, especially in an election year, Canadians will be looking for something better from their politics.

Four years ago, polling showed that two-thirds of Canadians wanted a change in government. And it was that longing for something new, not just in policy but in style and approach, which Trudeau’s team so effectively harnessed and rode to their majority.

Their “Real Change” platform explicitly laid out the stark contrast between Tory present and Liberal future. Stephen Harper on the other hand concluded his foreword to the Conservative platform by claiming his Economic Action Plan was a success. “It’s working,” he said. “Let’s continue on with what we know works.”

In attack ads and campaign messaging, the Tories characterized Trudeau’s “celebrity” appearance — and especially his hair — as proof of style over substance. On social media, the Liberals responded by claiming that he had both and did so in a way that was charming, pithy and most importantly, viral.

From the new-found power of Instagram to the traditionally influential pages of Vogue, the prime minister managed to capture the attention of the digital age in a way few politicians, Canadian or otherwise, had.

And it worked. Trudeau came to be deemed Obama’s successor as the leader of the world’s progressives.

But what was clearly Trudeau’s greatest asset in 2015 may well be his undoing in 2019.

The problem with a campaign built on self-image and the optics of virtue is that people, inconveniently, expect it to be true. And what is fairly easy to execute in a campaign setting becomes near impossible to implement when governing.

What’s more, the gift social media gives, it also takes away. Unlike campaign advertising or stump speeches — which Canadians know is contrived — the power of social media lies in the sense that what you are seeing is, at least to some extent, genuine.

And so, when Canadians see their PM beaming with pride over his gender-balanced Cabinet or taking a selfie with a young couple while out for a jog, style becomes conflated with substance.

And now, after four years of governing, that conflation has become a collision. The chickens have come home to roost. In short, Trudeau is paying the price of the expectations he set when he promised to be a new and different kind of leader and began to practice the politics of political celebrity.

By dubbing himself the “feminist Prime Minister,” Trudeau opened himself up to the attacks that inevitably followed his expulsion of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from his caucus.

In trumpeting his commitment to Indigenous communities — not least of which being a visit to a teepee set up by activists on Parliament Hill — Trudeau set himself up to be pilloried not only for his slow progress on Indigenous files but for tone-deaf responses to Indigenous protestors.

And by claiming the mantle of Canada’s traditionally welcoming stance on immigration as his own, he has made himself vulnerable to the attacks of challengers who want to paint him as responsible for what they characterize as an unsustainable influx of irregular border crossers.

Many believe governments are not defeated, but rather that they defeat themselves. On the whole, I disagree. I think, in most cases, governments are elected to do a particular job, and when that job is done, another party is called up to bat.

For Trudeau, the job he was hired to do was to bring, in his own words, sunny ways to government.

Now that is done, Trudeau’s challenge is to rewrite his job description in a way that convinces Canadians he still has work to do and is still the best leader for the job.

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

Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde dared to lead

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

Less than a year after their election, it was revealed last week that two Ontario Liberal members of provincial parliament will be formally resigning in the pursuit of new leadership roles.

MPPs Marie-France Lalonde and Nathalie Des Rosiers, representing the ridings of Orléans and Ottawa-Vanier respectively, announced that they will be departing the provincial political arena this year. Their departure, should both go as planned, will bring Liberal seats in provincial parliament from seven to five.

Des Rosiers leaves to serve as principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto, a particularly fitting role considering her extensive experience in university governance and civil rights advocacy.

Lalonde intends to run for the federal Liberal nomination in the riding of Orléans, filling the space left by Andrew Leslie, who is not seeking re-election this fall. Should she be unsuccessful in the bid she has committed to staying on in her current role.

Des Rosiers and Lalonde are dynamic women and dedicated public servants. I look forward to seeing the positive change they will continue to bring as they take on new challenges. Both have been fierce advocates on issues uniquely facing Francophone communities across Ontario and their perspectives will be missed at Queen’s Park.

Just as there is no perfect time to enter the political arena, there is no correct way to leave it.

It would have been something special to hear both of their voices represented in the upcoming Ontario Liberal leadership race. But one must respect the choices they have made for their own leadership trajectories.

Both leaders have a lot to be proud of as they bow out of the provincial political landscape. They served as true functionaries working to transform the systems they were empowered to lead over the course of their political careers, and dedicated, hands-on contributors to the ongoing Ontario Liberal Party rebuilding effort.

Des Rosiers squared up against and handily defeated the former Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin for her seat in a 2016 byelection and was re-elected in 2018.

Prior to serving at Queen’s Park, she was dean of the faculty of law and common law at the University of Ottawa, and served as general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, dedicating her talents to the protection of human rights, with particular focus on the 2010 G20 summit. She was inducted into both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada for her work on these fronts.

Des Rosiers brought refreshingly thoughtful legal perspectives to debates and has been an outspoken defender of civil rights for a broad range of Canadians. For instance, her current private members bill aims to create independent oversight for — and eventually phase out and eliminate — the use of solitary confinement in correctional institutions across the province.

Lalonde was first elected in 2014 and entered politics with a background in health-care administration.

In government she served as chief government whip, minister of community safety and correctional services, the first minister of francophone affairs and minister of government and consumer services. Her leadership brought collaborative and community-consulted reforms to police oversight under the advice of Justice Tulloch.

She was also known to reach across the aisle when needed to achieve unanimous support from her colleagues in the legislature — in one case to reshape the commemoration of women MPPs in Ontario with a monument on legislative grounds.

Should Lalonde find herself successful in her upcoming nomination bid, and the election this fall, she will bring a great deal of strength to the federal Liberal caucus.

As sizable a void this leaves for the small but mighty Ontario Liberal caucus — which will soon fit inside a compact car rather than the famed minivan — these exits create space for two fresh, energetic voices to enter the provincial arena. With three years ahead of holding the Ford government to account, opposition benches are best stacked with thoughtful, forward thinking leaders ready to work.

Des Rosiers and Lalonde dared to lead. They entered the legislature with sleeves rolled and arms swinging, and their tenacity resulted in positive change for our collective communities.

As they take their talents to initiate change in new spaces, an opportunity awaits for a new generation of passionate and progressive leaders to step forward in these eastern Ontario ridings.

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

Norman case another blow to Canada’s justice system

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 12, 2019

Another year, yet another unsuccessful highly public prosecution.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced a stay of charges against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, ending a four-year circus that took an untold toll on the reputation, finances and family of a career public servant with an otherwise unblemished reputation.

The decision by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) also had a benefit for the Liberal government. It ended the awkward prospect of a trial, which would have featured a parade of high-level cabinet ministers (current and former) along with their colleagues from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office.

Many commentators smell a rat — a desperate measure by a government to save face ahead of an increasingly tight election. I don’t share their view.

Credit where credit is due: Norman’s remarkable lawyer, Marie Henein and her spectacular team, robbed the PPSC of the “reasonable prospect of conviction” test, which the service needed to proceed.

And while Henein went out of her way to praise the integrity of the PPSC, she was not so kind to the Department of Justice and the government itself.

As Henein put it, “No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they are fighting their elected government or any sort of political factors at all.”

This whole sorry business raises serious questions as to what is going wrong with the administration of justice in this country.

Time and again, we have seen high-profile prosecutions collapse or defendants decisively acquitted. It is now clear that there are systemic problems that drive these failings, not least of which is the way investigations are prioritized by police agencies like the RCMP.

Most cases pursued by the PPSC are led by RCMP investigators, who seem to take forever. What’s more, when it comes to significant political and corporate securities cases, prosecutors, it seems, are often not equipped with the evidence they need to see the case through.

Consider the RCMP’s three-year investigation of Sen. Mike Duffy. Years after his suspension from the Senate, Justice Charles Vaillancourt acquitted Duffy of all counts and criticized the Crown for the deficiencies of their case. Shortly thereafter, the Crown decided not to charge Sen. Pam Wallin after another three-year probe by the RCMP.

We have seen this issue at the provincial level as well. In 2017, Gerry Lougheed and Patricia Sorbara were investigated by the OPP for more than two years for alleged bribery violations of the Election Act. The trial was highly politicized and then-Premier Wynne even travelled to Sudbury to appear as a witness. The presiding judge acquitted both Lougheed and Sorbara by way of a directed verdict, arguing that no reasonably instructed jury could convict based on the Crown’s evidence.

It appears there is a common thread that runs from the Senate investigation to that of Mark Norman. Due to the highly publicized and political nature of each, the PPSC and the police forge ahead with cases that will ultimately be abandoned or blown out of the water at trial.

All too often it seems, prosecutors carry on because they are fearful of dropping these high-profile cases. They take the position that it is too risky for them to exercise their prosecutorial discretion, and they’re fond of saying, “That’s what we have judges for.”

In the process, precious resources are wasted, and untold harm and reputational grief inflicted on those who are accused. Not the least of which is having their lives on hold for years, and the uncertainty that accompanies that.

To be clear, broad prosecutorial discretion is a prerequisite for a healthy criminal justice system. Without wide latitude in exercising that discretion, the Director of Public Prosecutions and her colleagues would be denied the true independence on which we all depend.

But after so many false starts on the part of the PPSC, the question must be asked: at what point does the excuse of a series of unrelated occurrences stop and a troublesome pattern begin?

It is a concern that needs to be raised if the very foundation of our justice system — the public’s confidence in its competency, fairness, impartiality and independence — is to be upheld.

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

Lt.-Gov. Dowdeswell using her bully pulpit to better society

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 5, 2019

In the cut and thrust of the increasingly divisive and polarizing way politics are being practiced today, one of the most worrisome developments is the loss of the bully pulpit.

In some ways an old-fashioned notion, today’s practitioners seem to have forgotten its power of moral suasion, to forge consensus, to truly lead.

The notion of the bully pulpit came to prominence in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, who realized the presidency afforded him an unparalleled platform to promote his priorities and outlook for the nation. Roosevelt took advantage of the prestige of the White House and cultivated relationships in order to convince Americans — and in turn, an intransigent Congress — that the challenges of industrialization required drastic measures in the form of regulation.

Today, politicians have come, wrongly in my point of view, to believe that the bully pulpit itself is no longer a powerful tool. Rather, they favour announcements, programmes and spending.

As one premier once told me “I don’t get out of bed to announce anything less than $100 million.”

The result? Public discourse has become transactional rather than aspirational. More and more, it has become focused on the here and now at the expense of building a better tomorrow.

One civil society leader, instructively not a politician, who understands the power of the bully pulpit — in spades — is Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

Her Honour deeply understands this platform and its uses. In fact, she refers to herself as the province’s “Storyteller-in-Chief,” and broke with tradition in her inaugural speech by stressing not her priority focus but instead her commitment to use the office as a forum for reflection and “a crucible for ideas.”

On Tuesday evening, I watched Dowdeswell in action in her suite at Queen’s Park as she delivered a speech to open her latest exhibit, Speaking of Democracy and provided a textbook example of the bully pulpit in practice.

Her Honour spoke of the strictly non-partisan nature of her role, and her duty as the guarantor of responsible governance. She noted that viceregal representatives have been described “as a conscience … representing the hearts, minds and souls of citizens.”

She then went on to make a point that has stuck with me.

“Democracy,” she said, “is about so much more than government. It is about … how we learn to live together on this planet in peace and harmony. And so I ask questions, hoping to evoke the best of ourselves.”

While Dowdeswell has clearly mastered the use of the bully pulpit, she also benefits from our Canadian system of government with its viceregal offices spread across the country.

As representatives of the Crown in Canada, governors general and lieutenant -governors alike have an opportunity to reach Canadians in a truly unique way. Well beyond their purely ceremonial duties and important institutional role, viceroys can focus their tenure in office on specific initiatives that appeal to our better angels: for Michaëlle Jean it was freedom and cultural integration, for David Johnston, philanthropy and volunteering, for Dowdeswell, issues of citizenship, democracy, the environment and Indigenous reconciliation.

What’s more, they can make their offices truly inclusive and accessible.

Since being invested in 2014, Her Honour has commissioned five exhibitions, accepted over 50,000 visitors to her suite in Queen’s Park and conducted more than 3,300 engagements. She has represented Ontario on international visits from Utah to the U.K., France, Italy and Switzerland, making the case for Ontario’s place in the world. Most importantly, she has visited over 110 ridings across the province, promoting citizenship and meeting with Ontarians to hear their perspectives on the well-being of community and civil society.

In doing so, the lieutenant-governor has used her bully pulpit to help provide everyday citizens with answers to their important questions and has done so in a way that models an approach that partisan politicians would do well to emulate.

A more skilful and effective use of the pulpit is hard to imagine.

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