Blindsided by NAFTA and Trans Mountain: What’s at stake for the Liberals

With the NAFTA deadline looming large, today’s announcement on the fate of the Trans Mountain expansion project is an unforeseen event the Liberal Government didn’t need 

“Events dear boy, events.”

That was the response in 1963 from retiring British Prime Minister‎ Harold MacMillan, when an interviewer asked which had been the most difficult things he had to deal with during his time leading the British Government between 1957 and 1963.

Today, the second last day of August 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must realize, more than ever before, what MacMillan was talking about.

Because today the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that indigenous tribes in British Columbia, opposed to the twinning of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, had not been adequately consulted by the Trudeau Government before it approved the National Energy Board permission for the pipeline to be built.

And it cancelled the federal cabinet approval for construction to proceed.

This happened on the same day that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland‎ is in Washington with the Canadian negotiating team trying desperately to save the semblance of a North American Free Trade Agreement, that has enough in it for Canada to sign on before an American imposed deadline of August 31st.

And all this is happening just fourteen months before the next federal election, in October 2019. And it is happening just two and a half weeks‎ before Parliament resumes, and the unofficial election campaign begins.

The pipeline ruling today is about more than just building a new pipeline alongside an existing one from Alberta to the Vancouver area ‎to carry oil sands bitumen to tankers that will ship it to Asian markets. Building the Trans Mountain extension is part of the Trudeau Government’s energy and environment strategy. A pipeline in exchange for a carbon tax that rises to $50 a tonne by 2022.

So important is the pipeline to that strategy that in May, the Trudeau Government decided to buy it from its owner, Kinder Morgan, after the American owned company said it would stop funding the project because of the uncertainty about it proceeding.

And perhaps with a real sense of irony, the Government’s purchase of Trans-Mountain was approved on the same day the Federal Appeals Court blocked the expansion from proceeding.

With Trans-Mountain again on hold, and with increasing opposition from Conservatives both federally and provincially,‎ the dual Energy – Environment plan could be close to imploding.

Meanwhile, at the same time, the Trudeau government is reacting to being blindsided by the United States and Mexico in the NAFTA negotiations. Ottawa knew those countries were negotiating without ‎Canada at the table, but believed it was just on issues dealing with automobiles that involved those two countries.

Instead, on Monday, they revealed an agreement that dealt with much more. But not with the issues that mainly affect Canadian – American trade.

Since last year, when the American revealed their negotiating objectives, the U.S. goals have ‎been clear. And they have been particularly detrimental to Canada. They include:

  • The elimination of the independent dispute settlement mechanism with representatives from all three countries to arbitrate ‎trade disputes under NAFTA, and instead revert to American law and U.S. Courts to decide claims against Washington.
  • A dramatic reduction in the amount of American government contracts that Canadian, or Mexican, companies can compete for. This is particularly critical for Canada.
  • And for Canada to abandon the supply management system that governs dairy and poultry production. The dairy regime is particularly contentious. Tariffs on some U.S. dairy imports are close to three hundred per cent‎, effectively closing Canada’s market to U.S. competition.

At least for NAFTA, there is the possibility of a way forward. A partial relaxation of supply management on dairy for greater access to U.S. government procurement and some form of independent dispute settlement mechanism for less protection for Canadian cultural industries and perhaps longer drug patents for American drug companies are compromises that can, and may have to be, made.

The pipeline issue seems more intransigent. Time is of the essence, and more consultations with indigenous groups that don’t want to negotiate on the pipeline but just want to stop it, means the potential pipeline construction schedule is impossible to predict.

Oil sands producers are in worldwide competition with firms ‎throughout the world to supply the Asian markets hungry for energy. Those producers from other countries will be supplying markets while we are still talking.

This is not a promising landscape for a Government just over a year away from an election. The only solace Mr. Trudeau and his colleagues can take is that, to date, the Conservatives are strong supporters of the pipeline that never gets build, and the New Democrats are opposed to it but have no idea how to make up any of the revenue it’s completion would have created.

As for NAFTA, both opposition parties have been supportive of the Trudeau government’s approach. That won’t continue if there is no deal, or a deal judged to be a bad one.  

However, criticism will have to be accompanied by a better plan that could actually work. So far that has been absent.

The pipeline issue will take longer to play out. NAFTA could become clear this weekend.

There are different time frames for each. But the MacMillan’s thesis is playing out. Unforeseen events are certainly the most difficult to deal with.

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.

Ford’s fast-paced summer agenda proving critics wrong

When political parties, who have spent years wandering aimlessly in the wilderness of opposition, eventually come to power, they are often counselled by their new advisers to pause and take a moment to catch their breath.

This advice is offered not just with the best of intentions, but for good reason as well: campaigns are stressful affairs that drain resources and exhaust staff. And then the transition of power — a cumbersome and inelegant process — starts. Choosing a cabinet. Hiring staff. Reconciling the promises of a platform with the realities of government — all while trying to find the bathroom — takes time, effort and attention to detail.

The reality is that getting a government fully up and running takes months. That’s why it isn’t difficult to understand when newly elected parties opt for the easier and safer route of taking their time to establish their footing before surging onwards.

As they have already done with so many conventional approaches, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have opted not to follow that familiar path.

Shortly after their election, the government announced it would bring the legislature back this summer to tackle its immediate priorities. The move was greeted with mixed reviews, to say the least.

Proponents argued that a short session would act as a proof point of directional and philosophical change from the previous government.

Critics, on the other hand, argued the platform on which the PCs were elected was light on detail and provided little guidance in the form of a legislative road map. They cautioned that the opposition knew their way around the house better than a neophyte government would, that traps would abound — that it would be a government that was ungrounded and would be error-filled.

A general consensus seemed to emerge: after the whirlwind leadership change and a frantic election, a Ford government would be far too rickety to provide many meaningful changes during a summer session.

But there turned out to be a problem with that analysis: its foundation.

Ford has carried his campaign for premier, which was driven, focused and on-message, into his government — a government with action as its hallmark.

To the astonishment of many seasoned observers, the new government, which had been told over and over in the lead-up to election day that many of its policies were unrealistic or downright unachievable, proved conventional wisdom wrong.

Firing the Hydro One CEO and board without a massive severance. Reducing the price of beer to a buck. Closing green energy plans without a lawsuit.

All not only accomplished but accomplished with uncommon speed — after all, just weeks have passed since the election.

nstead of the clumsy, disorganized government that common wisdom said it would be, it has demonstrated itself to be a deft and capable one that is far more at home with the machinery of government that might have first been obvious.

Much of this is due to the abilities of the people the new premier has recruited to join his administration. Without a government at Queen’s Park for 15 years, and with a federal government held by the Trudeau Liberals, many experienced conservatives were available to move to a new home.

That is particularly reflected in the premier’s own office.

Dean French, his chief of staff and closest confidant, is familiar with the wheels of power and understands well how to adjust them to ensure a Fordian view of government is delivered.

Jenni Byrne, his principal secretary familiar to many, is a flawless executor of policy initiatives, with an intuitive sense of the values of Ford coalition voters.

But, in the end much of it comes down to the boss himself, a leader who is demonstrating himself to be a disciplined and capable premier.

It has been three months, and this is a government proving itself to be one to be reckoned with — one that is smart, with its finger not just on the pulse of the electorate but also on the levers of power.

Stakeholders beware — this government is one that will go down in the books, and not for its inadequacies.

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, August 12, 2018)

The NDP play the king: Singh takes the plunge

It’s been ten months since Canada’s NDP formally replaced their former leader, Thomas Mulcair.

Mulcair led them into the last campaign on a bold promise of a centrist, fiscally responsible platform that was markedly different for their party. For taking the party further down the track that Jack Layton set them on to — he was roundly turfed.

Enter Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh was a telegenic, youthful voice in the Ontario NDP caucus that was seen as the logical successor to its leader, Andrea Horwath. Yet he wanted to move to the national stage.

He won the federal NDP leadership contest by courting diverse communities and voters who had not voted for their own party in many cases.

His approach was bold because he said that he would not run to sit in Parliament immediately following his win. He would possibly wait until the next general election, unless some tempting riding became vacant in the interim.

It was thought that this strategy would allow him to be out on the campaign trail months in advance of any other leader who had parliamentary duties.

This stance irked traditional political observers, but it is an approach taken by numerous leaders in the past who entered leadership roles from outside the House of Commons.

However, backroom voices prevailed in selling the narrative that he should not wait. He therefore flirted with various areas in Ontario where he had personal roots: Windsor, Scarborough, Brampton. No ridings opened there, and he would face stiff competition from Liberals in the general election.

Additionally, Singh saw that Mulcair’s old Outremont seat was fraught with challenges, and a personal loss for him in Québec would be a poison pill for his party’s 2019 chances.

But an upcoming BC by-election has proven irresistible for Singh.

Kennedy Stewart — NDP MP for Burnaby South — joined a protest in March against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and was arrested, along with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. For their activist bases, this was political gold and showed them staying true to their roots.

Stewart then saw an opportunity to wedge himself into the Vancouver Mayor’s seat after incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson announced he would not run again.

Jagmeet Singh heard murmurs that the seat could work for him. He spoke to his BC Caucus members and they obviously expressed their support, while acknowledging some challenges.

Earlier this week, he made the formal announcement that he would seek the nomination and seat in the by-election upcoming.

His chances are seen as decent, but it will require a lot of luck for him to win the trust of a riding he has never lived in before now.

While some Liberal strategists see an opportunity to embarrass Singh and defeat him in this race — there is an option being floated that is both statesmanly and politically advantageous.

Don’t run anyone against him. Let him win the riding uncontested by the Liberals because A) major party leaders (including Harper in 2002) are usually allowed to take a seat in the House of Commons in a by-election without serious opposition b) Singh is faltering in the polls and if he loses the by-election — the NDP might turf him in favour of a better leader. Enter Nathan Cullen?

This suggestion would mean Singh is guaranteed to lead the NDP into the next campaign, which could put all of his Quebec seats and some in the West at risk of being taken.

Conservatives are also seeing opportunity, considering that they only were a few points behind the NDP and Liberals in Burnaby South in 2015’s general election, which means a tight three-way vote split could come out in their favour.

This is something to be given serious consideration, although other strategists may see that the NDP brand may still be limping out of this by-election regardless of the result.

Jagmeet Singh will face a political battle – unless uncontested – in Burnaby South to convince them that he’s dedicated and not just going to namedrop, former NDP Leader and two-time Burnaby MP in the 60’s, Tommy Douglas the whole time. But the rewards could be great if it means boosting his profile by entering the Commons before the next election.

History will tell Singh’s story, but maybe the NDP shouldn’t have been so quick to ditch the devil they knew, and who had a safe seat in Parliament.

Shane Mackenzie is an Associate Consultant with Ensight. He is a seasoned campaigner at all levels, previously worked on Parliament Hill for Liberal Members of Parliament, and at the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters.

Account Director

,

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

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

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

Required qualifications, skills and aptitudes include:

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

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

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

Responsibilities

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

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

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

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

About Ensight

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

Our approach is based on three pillars:

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

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

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

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

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

Ensight Cabinet Shuffle Analysis

Our Ensight analysis of the Cabinet Shuffle and what it means for your organization.

Political Twitter Parodies Are A Sad Excuse For Free Speech

Is operating a social media account in the likeness and purported voice of a public official “parody” or “impersonation?”

Is there a reasonable limit on this behaviour that is, at best, “trolling” or, at worst, intentionally perpetuating libelous misinformation?

The recent proliferation of Twitter profiles bearing misspelled federal cabinet ministers’ names and using their official portraits has caused confusion among more casual users of the social media platform. Take, for example, several dubious accounts — from @CatheeMcKennnna to @CathrynnMcKenna — dedicated to mimicking the real Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (@CathMckenna).

There are some accounts that are clearly satire. Others gleefully blur the lines between parody and misinformation.

The defence of these accounts was framed well by Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s spokesperson: “Satire can and has been a valid form of political commentary.”

Freedom of speech?

True, it is “free speech” to proliferate accounts that portend to be ministers with a “parody” disclaimer — even if they shamefully mock their name — but it is still the wrong track to be on.

Defending so-called “parody” accounts has become a disturbing pet project of online conservatives in recent weeks, giving rise to an entire #ParodyCabinet.

We weren’t lacking in vitriol in politics before. Canadian politics is not for the thin-skinned, despite our reputation as a polite people. But we should expect better.

There are plenty of people who contact politicians — particularly women, persons of colour, LGBTQ and people with disabilities — repeatedly with a multitude of clever curse words, hate messages and even threats.

Exercise your right to criticize, but take a look inward to ask why you are doing it in such a harmful, potentially abusive way. Why do the operators of these accounts go to such great lengths to defend their right to be vicious behind a veil of someone else’s identity? Why not use their own voice?

While we can hope that people will do their research, and look into the bylines and history of messages from a particular account — Twitter is a platform developed for the quick resharing of bite-sized information. Seldom do threads and coherent understandings come out of the stream of 140-character messages mashed together into a single feed.

This degree of effort would be better devoted to knocking on doors for candidates they support or encouraging non-voters to get involved.

Weaponizing ‘parody’ to mislead

The accounts can use every other tweet to mislead. For example, @rgooodale, a recently suspended account impersonating Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, made announcements and statements that were vaguely believable on first glance.

Verified accounts with the blue verified checkmark are ideal for identifying the true account or accounts of a politician, but the two-tier approach continues can create conversation silos, too.

Why would anyone defend the weaponization of misinformation via anonymity? What are the expectations and hopes we have for our political dialogue?

This degree of effort put into creating phony emails and accounts would be better devoted to knocking on doors for candidates they support or encouraging non-voters to get involved.

Online antics have real-life consequences

I’m also just ashamed in the lack of creativity. Attacking women who are cabinet ministers — yes, let’s be serious, most of the targets have been the women in cabinet, and it’s not just by chance — by pretending to be them and saying a more ridiculous version of what they said is old hat. Try some creative graphic design, hyperbole and old-fashioned self-depreciation instead.

Both sides of the political spectrum have employed this tactic. “Parody” accounts from the progressive persuasion in past have crossed the line as well, including a number that feigned to be former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the aftermath the tragic, terrifying Oct. 22, 2014 shooting incident after his security procedures placed him in a broom cupboard during the event. That, too, demonstrated a severe issue with masquerading as others online.

This anonymous mockery of public officials verges on the more conspicuous approach we’ve seen from online conservative actors like Ontario Proud. Just take a look at the impact of $60,000 of third-party Ontario Proud ads placed during the recent Ontario election, and make your own judgments about the effect malicious online antics have on democracy.

#ParodyCabinet may be free speech, but it certainly isn’t doing our democracy any favours.

Again, these people should have names. They should be unafraid to put their names out there and then call their mothers to explain what they called mostly women in cabinet.

Taking action

Harper’s director of policy and Andrew Scheer’s former digital director have both defended the #ParodyCabinet as satire, labelling any criticism as an attack on free speech, propping up trolls and the more morbid elements of Twitter in the process.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, is taking action against these accounts and took a stock hit this week as a result. It’s still the right thing to do.

I think, for starters, Twitter got it right back in 2014 when they forced notable VICE-published, Richard Feren produced @TOMayorFrod’s account to change its avatar to a different photo than the official portrait.

#ParodyCabinet may be free speech, but it certainly isn’t doing our democracy any favours. If you want to be a contrarian to the worrying state of this, go ahead and call it censorship. Time will tell why online disassociation from what you are saying about others is problematic.

Political leaders like Alberta’s Jason Kenney certainly should not enable it with any form of endorsement in the form of “liking” parody account tweets.

Canadians deserve better

While calling out individuals who troll is perhaps exactly what they want, this cheap discourse is just about where we set the standard for political engagement in this country.

Politicos of all stripes should be more creative and rise above the low-level identity impersonation that is flourishing under the guise of “parody.”

With the 2019 election on the horizon, we ought to be having a more nuanced conversation than a black-and-white distinction between parody and an attack on freedom of speech.

The people who step up to serve the public every week receive hundreds of notifications every day, each with new, terrible, disassociated messages coming from Twitter accounts lacking identifiable information for a constituent with something to voice.

Twitter doesn’t need to host this behaviour, and we should applaud them for taking action. In the meantime, we should keep #callingitout.

Shane Mackenzie, Ensight consultant and Liberal strategist.

(Published in HuffPost Canada on Thursday, July 12, 2018)

 

 

Don’t Forget About The Senate – Time’s They Are A Changin’

MPs have returned home for the summer after pushing through the Liberal government’s top legislative priorities. With the now closed off Senate’s rubber stamp era – it prepares for a summer of legislative limbo in which elected officials can no longer assume their job is done. Indeed, the Senate’s new independent streak means stakeholders will continue to deploy their lobbying efforts over the summer months, targeting Senators who have empowered themselves to alter bills like never before, as well as MPs who may be called on to revisit legislation once it has been amended by the Senate.

Senators had serious objections to the constitutionality of an impaired driving bill that they argue could paralyze the court system. They worried that the cannabis legalization would give rise to snowbirds being rejected from their usual Florida golf trip because they had a puff of a joint during a Phish concert in ‘85. Senators also complained loudly about how the House of Commons was not giving them long enough to give fulsome review to a suite of bills, while also asking them to pass them within weeks.

The Senate has been increasingly watched by journalists and observers due to their in-flux raison d’être. Their Modernization committee currently reflecting on its own purpose has released twelve reports that add to a long list of other Senate reform proposals.

Instead of volleying back-and-forth on cannabis or even impaired driving – they really only took a stand on a piece of government transportation legislation. They decided that arguments around ‘interswitching’, ‘maritime fairness’, and impacts on commodity movements via rail companies were worth going to bat in the media and legislatively.

What does a Senate that has a more adversarial mandate as an institution mean? Where will Senators draw a line in the sand next? 

By convention, Senators bow to the will of the House of Commons when push comes to shove on government legislation; however, in June of 2017, the Senate sent a forceful message to elected MPs prior to the last summer recess about their right to amend budget bills and even divide them. At the time, some Senators wanted to pull out the Canada Infrastructure Bank element of the budget bill in order to examine it more closely. The government fought to get this moved ahead on, with hopes of delivering on ambitious infrastructure commitments before the 2019 election.

Before this summer recess, the Senate again showed it would pick its battles. It backed down when the stakes were high and their public polling chips were down in terms of getting the government to walk back some of its more politically charged promises, particularly on cannabis.

Senators, in their pursuit of modernization, are using novel tactics – notably sending some government bills to two or more committees depending on the topics the bill touches upon.

Reconciling multiple committees’ takes on the impacts of a bill has been a favoured practice for them. In the House of Commons, we are seeing the Heritage and Industry committees studying component parts of the Copyright Act during its statutory review. This may be something that House committees do more and more on multifaceted proposals.

For the Senate, these new behaviours can be expected to continue. The times that the Senate decides to mount of a direct challenge to the elected House will ebb and flow, particularly if they see that their perceived value by the public could wain.

With each new Senate appointment, the Trudeau government is finding that these recruits’ orientation into the ranks of the independents will depend upon which relationships they form and which Senators they decide to model themselves after. There are a lot of big personalities in the Senate who can make or break a tight vote swinging one way or the other.

For organizations and businesses, a tailored Senate Strategy is no longer a nice-to-have, and now a must-have. 

Going into a busy fall for legislation and a CPTPP Implementation Act to deliver upon – Senators will come back rested and spoiling for a chance to add their two cents.

Until now, Senators and MPs have worked just down the main hall from each other in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. But that is about to change.

During the renovation of Centre Block, the House of Commons will move to an interim chamber in West Block next door. However, the Senate is going father, to a specially built chamber in the Government Conference Centre in the old railway station across from the Chateau Laurier.

Will the physical separation and reduced face-time lead to great policy separation? And what would the consequences of that be? Stay tuned for Senate showdowns in the lead-up to the final summer recess wrap-up before 2019’s election. 

On Pride and politics

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this month’s Pride celebration doesn’t still matter.

For the young lesbian woman living in Northern Ontario who travels to Toronto for the first time and finds a community of over a million supporters.

For the closeted refugee who sneaks off to Pride because his family does not accept him for who he is, but who discovers that he is not alone.

For the nervous mother whose son has just come out to her, who worries about him finding his place in the world, and who sees in Pride an expansive and welcoming community.

Without question, Pride matters for the individual looking to accept themselves for who they are.

But it also matters at a much larger level, and that’s what is too often forgotten.

For activists, it’s a place to protest lingering inequalities and systemic injustices, both domestic and international. A place to come together in solidarity, to highlight the work that still needs to be done without forgetting to celebrate progress already made.

In a recent speech to the LGBTQ advocacy organization EGALE, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke movingly about the day he issued a formal apology for the government’s historical mistreatment of LGBTQ people. He described how he brought his three children with him to Parliament that day, to watch as he delivered his historic speech from the floor of the House of Commons.

And at a time when trans youth attempt suicide six times more often than the average Ontarian, a vibrant display of love and support like Pride sends a powerful message.

Pride, and all that it represents, is good for our community and that means it is also good for business.

That’s why, in part, after looking all over the world, Google CEO Eric Schmidt chose Toronto as the site for his experimental “smart city” project. “In Toronto, we found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness — a beacon of social tolerance,” he explains. “Its recent economic success hasn’t come at the expense of these values, but rather because of them.”

That is exactly the case that Trudeau made to Jeff Bezos when the two met in February. As Bezos decides where Amazon will locate its second headquarters, which will create 50,000 high-paying jobs, we know that the diversity and inclusion that is Toronto and the vibrancy and choice that come with those attributes are critically important. Toronto is, after all, proudly the most diverse city in the world.

When I came out in the 1980s, no political leader would dare be seen anywhere near Pride. In 2017, the prime minister, the premier and the mayor linked arms and marched down Church St. The progress made in a few short decades has been nothing short of remarkable.

So remarkable, in fact, that sometimes it can be easy to forget that Pride is rooted in protest.

And there is self-evidently more to fight for: transgender rights, better HIV/AIDS care for the marginalized, the ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men. I could go on.

This year has been particularly difficult for LGBTQ community. We have been haunted by a serial killer and perhaps by police indifference; an inquiry will seek to sort that out. At the tail end of the parade this year will be silent marchers wearing black, in memory of the pain and trauma endured over the last 12 months.

And, of course, for many of an older generation, that pain and trauma has not only been confined to the last 12 months. Just as quickly as we can move forwards, we can also move backwards. The fight for recognition, the fight for equality, the fight to move from tolerance to acceptance to embrace — it is a fight that will never sleep. Just as rights are granted, they can be just as quickly revoked.

Look no further than south of our border.

At a time when trust in institutions is declining and tribalism is on the rise, a strong sense of cultural identity and cohesion matters more than ever. Some may think participating in Pride is an empty gesture or photo-op. But that’s just not true. It truly is an act of solidarity, love and patriotism.

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

(Published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, June 24, 2018)

2018 Election Report Card: Will the Trudeau government deliver on its raised expectations?

Ensight’s second annual check-in on deliverology – Ensight’s Shane Mackenzie & Jesse Robichaud provide a review of what the Trudeau cabinet and MPs are looking at as they approach the one-year to election 2019 countdown clock. What items are top of mind and what ones may fall by the electoral wayside?

Three years on from the 2015 election – campaign strategists are turning their attention to next year’s federal election. For Prime Minister Trudeau’s incumbent Liberals, the strategic path to re-election will look different than the party’s vault from third place to a resounding pan-Canadian victory last time.

 The Way Things Were

The promise of hope and renewed confidence in government was palpable when voters turned out en masse to elect MPs from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The mere idea that “better is always possible!” gained traction with an electorate whose expectations had been steadily managed downward by the Harper government’s “no nonsense” decade at the helm of government. A previously struggling Liberal vote came to life when the party’s candidates and their leader framed their platform of “real change” promises as a return to openness, evidence-based policy, climate action, large-scale investment, reconciliation, equality, support for families, and diversity.

 The Way Things Are

 No good deed goes unpunished, and for the Trudeau government there will undoubtedly be a political price to pay for raising the bar for what voters should expect from their government. Indeed, the success standard set for Trudeau is higher than in some past elections. And he set it himself.

Once the bar has been raised, it’s impossible to lower it again – and it’s also harder to clear it consistently, as we have seen with issues like electoral reform, climate policy, pipelines, and relations with provincial governments. What’s more, the potential is even greater for self-inflicted wounds on issues like ethics, small business tax changes, and diplomatic fumbles on the world stage notwithstanding Trudeau’s mostly deft handling of the Trump administration.

The New Normal: A Higher Bar for Government and Re-Election

In the natural sequence of telling voters they should expect more, the Liberal government has assigned itself the responsibility of telling voters more about what they have delivered and where they still face obstacles. The term that’s been slapped on this responsibility is “deliverology,” a novel concept for Canada’s government – stemming from Sir Michael Barber’s work in the Blair U.K. government – is built on the chassis of corporate metrics like Key Performance Indicators.

Now – into the summer recess for Parliament – elected MPs are at home in their ridings defending their record of accomplishments and refining their campaign elevator pitch.

 What do the Liberal MPs that make up the governing caucus have to show for it?

  • 73 government bills passed from the House of Commons

Critics are quick to point to how this is less than their predecessors. If you solely base success on numbers of pieces of legislation passed, the benchmark set by the Harper Conservatives after 4 years of majority government (2011-2015) is very high:

  • 122 government bills passed

It’s not just about cold, hard numbers though. The government rightly points out this does not tell the story of “quality over quantity” or reflect the increased time provided for substantive review of these ideas.

The government uses its deliverology approach to fill in its own report card at Canada.ca/results, with an expansive scope that goes beyond legislation to include provincial/territorial as well as international agreements, new funding, strategies or consultations, appointments and other progress markers.

TrudeauMeter.polimeter.org provides a third-party perspective on analysis of promises and estimates the government has achieved 1/3 of its campaign commitments, while 1/3 are in progress, 1/5 abandoned, and 1/5 have not begun, with numbers based on National Post reporting.

Back in 2015, the Trudeau government quickly moved to a more nimble and sophisticated approach than measuring against campaign platforms by providing public mandate letters once in government. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty used to reiterate the message that success in government is about getting “the big things right.”

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – the ballot box question that voters will pivot on regionally or demographically may crystalize closer to Election Day. However, there are some telltale buckets that his team must not forget to demonstrate action on:

  • Health Care: Poll Canadians anytime – they value their health care. Trudeau’s most visible health initiatives were regulating cannabis and major Health Accord deals, but Liberals will have to communicate strongly how they have delivered on this.
  • Canada-U.S.: Whether it’s getting NAFTA done in a cooperative way or whether it’s standing up to Trump on behalf of Canada, Canadians want to see this relationship well managed.
  • Unity: With provinces infighting and fighting the federal government in courts – it’s up to Trudeau to maintain a reputation of being a consensus-builder. This was core to his promises.
  • Border policies and safety: Conservatives believe the government is vulnerable on its handling of illegal migration and terrorism concerns, but Trudeau’s ability to communicate compassion and cool-headed reassurance has played well with voters so far with the cross section of Canadians he relies on for success. Nevertheless, complex and emotionally charged issues such as these can prove volatile for governments.
  • Jobs: A low unemployment rate and a wealth of new companies popping up in Canada is a positive backdrop for Trudeau to walk into 2019 with. The state of the economy always impacts politics.
  • Dollars and cents: Conservative branding conveys lower debt and deficits. Trudeau may disagree about whether they have historically delivered that, but voters buy into the narrative. Contending with this is central to the economic messaging battle.

With almost 500 days until the next election and almost 1000 under their belt in government – the Trudeau government’s track to October 21, 2019 is paved with deliverables and expectations. What gets delivered, and how, will determine this government’s re-election prospects, and the expectations it could carry into a second mandate.

Trump Doesn’t Stand A Chance Against Trudeau’s ‘Team Canada’

The feeling of Canadian national unity and shared purpose is palpable in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to our economic security.

Trump has said he hopes that our country’s retaliatory actions to his tariffs cost us, as a people, “a lot of money.” He wants to punish us for punishing him for punishing us.

Canadians are understandably irate and exasperated about this situation.

Time to huddle up

At times, the Council of the Federation can be fractious on domestic issues — from pipelines to equalization. But when the leaders meet in New Brunswicknext month, Canadians will be looking for results.

The current breakdown of the council includes NDP premiers in Alberta and B.C., three conservative premiers from the Saskatchewan over to Ontario, and five Liberal premiers from Quebec across the Atlantic provinces.

The three conservative premiers have vowed to fight the federal carbon pricing system in court. The Quebec government may end up fighting the feds over home-grown cannabis. The federal government is also intervening in the Trans Mountain Pipeline dispute between western NDP governments.

The friction and partisanship all goes away when it comes to international issues.

Premiers Brian Pallister and Scott Moe have taken after former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall‘s approach of strategically popping up to score political points by coming out against the latest federal initiatives, notably carbon pricingand cannabis.

Arguably, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not have the cooperative coalition of premiers he hoped for when he walked into government three years ago.

It could be even more challenging with a possible incoming conservative ally in the form of Jason Kenney hovering in victory territory in the Alberta polls.

This could add one more province into the fray over carbon pricing.

Despite differences, a ray of hope for the federal-provincial relationship: a common cause.

The friction and partisanship all goes away when it comes to international issues.

In it together, win it together

Canada-U.S. relations have assembled those across the political spectrum to channel efforts on trade negotiations into a Team Canada model.

Premiers are standing together on this:

Led by its captain, Prime Minister Trudeau, the group of premiers of the provinces and territories coalesce around collective, national goals — in this case, combating U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs and continuing to work toward a renegotiated NAFTA that is good for Canada.

New Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who previously praised Donald Trump, came in early on to say he would support the federal position against the U.S. threats entirely. He understands the political power of the Team Canada approach. For those who doubted his discipline and worried he would begin insult battles with Justin Trudeau, he made the smart call to support the federal efforts. He’s tag-teaming this effort with federal ministers already.

This seismic shift in the Canada-U.S. relationship has not been easy to navigate, and it has taken selfless, long hours to improve our chances of succeeding.

Parliament last week passed a motion unanimously condemning U.S. threats to Canada’s economy. After a moment of political expediency where he criticized the government’s approach, even Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is fully on board now.

Seeing provincial leaders working as one has been a refreshing change in the face of the feud between the NDP premier of B.C. and the NDP premier of Alberta. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and B.C. Premier John Horgan have spoken up in support of the Trudeau government’s approach.

We have seen Premiers across the country aggressively meeting with governorscongresssenators and even Trump’s cabinet.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said it best about this lockstep approach on Canada-U.S. relations: “Canada is playing as a totally united team… that is absolutely essential.”

Tacked onto their usual workload, they have been active in supporting the federal fight for continued trade with a country that most of them physically border.

Action we can all get behind

For quarterbacking this effort, Justin Trudeau gained a 12-point bump in the polls supporting his approach to leadership. And deservedly so.

This collective focus on protecting Canadian jobs and economic security has buoyed faith in our institutions where everyone can rally, when required.

I think we can all say: Thank you, Team Canada.

We appreciate you doing double duty on your jobs as premiers. This is what the best of our teamwork looks like.

We cannot forget the vital role played by our own subnational leaders that have taken up national roles.

Beyond the Council of Premiers, sincere shout-outs are needed for: Chrystia FreelandAndrew Lesliethe entire CabinetAmbassador MacNaughtonthe PMO’s Canada-U.S. unitparliamentary committeesthe Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Groupthe NAFTA negotiating teamformer parliamentariansdiplomatsorganized labour and industry partners.

At this critical juncture, Canada continues to see vocal support from congresspeople, senators and governors in light of our strategic “doughnut”dialogue with the White House about why Canada is a positive partner. We cannot forget the vital role played by our own subnational leaders that have taken up national roles.

Trying to figure out how not to perturb the elephant sleeping next door has been challenging. It takes all hands on deck to even have a chance. The challenge remains.

Ultimately, Team Canada is a good look for the Council of the Federation — and it is especially a good look for its team captain, Justin Trudeau. This will work well for him going into the 2019 election, considering that this unwelcome test is one that history will remember as one that took the efforts of all of our leaders, together.

It’s no wonder you see those who usually fall on the opposite side of partisan issues lining up to applaud Prime Minister Trudeau now. They are hoping to share in the glow of looking statesmanly.

Beyond defending their local economies, they also wouldn’t mind double-digit polling bumps of their own.

Whatever the motivation — truly teaming up is good to see, and far too rare.

Shane Mackenzie Ensight consultant and Liberal strategist.

(Published in HuffPost on Friday, June 22, 2018)