Memo To Andrew Scheer

Don Newman’s advice to the Conservative leader to remember who his real opponent is

Mr. Scheer: The next time Justin Trudeau says he will not take part in a debate during the election campaign, do what he does and don’t show up.

What? You will say. I am not afraid of the Canadian people. I will show up anytime and anywhere to hold the Prime Minister accountable. Canadians deserve to know that that elite, trust fund kid is trying to avoid accountability for the past four years that he has been in office.

Well that might have seemed like a good idea when you accepted the MacLean’s-City TV debate on September 12th before finding out whether the Liberal leader would be taking part. But when you found out that Trudeau was skipping the affair, it was not too late for you to still make all of the claims that he was scared of you and wouldn’t debate, and then have said you wouldn’t show up either.

Mr. Scheer, you are one of two party leaders who will be the Prime Minister of Canada after the votes are counted on October 21st.  It is you and Trudeau people want to see head to head to help them decide which one of you it should be. In any debate no matter how many other party leaders are taking part, it is you and he that are the main show, the other are just the supporting cast.

And when you showed up on September 12th, look what happened. Without Trudeau there was no “big kids” table at the debate. Instead you had to sit, figuratively speaking, at the small kids table with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. And of course they did what small kids always do when a big kid is with them and outnumbered; they ganged up to try and take you down a peg – or even two.

And by and large they did. While you repeated your well rehearsed lines from your TV commercials castigating the missing Liberal leader for things that were true, partially true and untrue about Trudeau, while looking directly into the camera and ignoring the other people on the stage, Singh and May spent most of the evening beating up on you. And since both of them are well to the left of you politically but have relatively the same positions on most issues, much of the time you were getting it from both sides.

It didn’t help matters that Elizabeth May has been doing election debates since 2008. And Singh, who most people thought had disappeared off the political landscape along with his party, was surprisingly effective. In fact, because of the low expectations and his better than anticipated performance, it was probably Jagmeet who gained the most from the evening.

Still he and May are fighting for third place in this election, and a distant third at that. You and the elusive Justin are fighting for the real prize and all the marbles. It may be too late to get out of the Munk Foreign Policy debate on October 1st, that Trudeau has also declined, but know that you will have to be with the little kids again. Your goal needs to be to try and make sure that when the real debates start with Trudeau present on October 7th that Canadians haven’t already decided that you too are a little kid.

 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.

The ‘Big E’ Election—Energy and the Environment

This editorial first appeared in Policy Magazine.

In a country that remains a major oil producing nation and whose energy policy landscape includes political, regional, jurisdictional and Indigenous rights considerations, the term “pipeline politics” doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of the issue. In an election year, things get more interesting.  

This year’s federal election should be the “Big E” election. The E stands for both energy and environment, and in political terms, how they interconnect in a country and for a government that has to balance the interests of a powerful energy industry, a tradition of passionate environmental advocacy and the sustainability of the planet.

That dynamic is the biggest issue facing the country, an issue of national unity, of economic development, of employment, of this country’s environment and Canada’ s international commitments.

The Trudeau government’s approach to reconciling the immediate interests of the oil industry and its 300,000 workers, the environmental necessity to transition to clean energy and the urgency of fighting climate change has been a combination of environmental activism and pipeline development. This seemingly contradictory policy juggle mirrors similar tacks by other governments, including, pre-Trump, Barack Obama’s “all of the above” approach that both supported fracking toward energy independence and increased solar power production by 2003 per cent, among other outcomes. The difficulty of the approach is that relies heavily on communications that effectively explain the overlap to the general public because neither the energy industry nor environmental activists will be completely or consistently satisfied. 

In Canada, that balancing act is complicated by issues of government finance, federal and provincial political and jurisdictional tensions, and the debate over taxes on individuals and corporations. When it came to power four years ago, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government had an energy and environment plan it thought would cover all the bases. It would support and encourage the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries Alberta oil sands oil to a tanker terminal in Vancouver harbour. It would also seek to limit Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and work towards meeting Canada’s climate change commitments.

That was to be achieved by having the provinces put a price on carbon; either by a direct tax or through a cap-and-trade system of sharing carbon credits. Provinces that refused to go along would have the federal government impose its own carbon tax in those recalcitrant jurisdictions, scaling up to $50 dollars per tonne by 2022. The money collected by the federal tax would then be rebated to the province in which it was collected—not to the provincial government, but to individual taxpayers.

Twinning the pipeline would almost triple its capacity to 900,000 barrels per day, opening the potential for oil exports to Asia, particularly, it is hoped, to China. But environmental organizations and some Indigenous leaders have decried the proposed expansion of Trans Mountain, and they have repeatedly fought and delayed its construction in court.

Things became so bad for the Trans Mountain expansion plan that in the spring of 2018, its American owner, Kinder Morgan, said it was dropping the proposal. To save the project, the federal government bought the existing pipeline and the expansion proposal from Kinder Morgan, for $4.7 billion.

But that didn’t improve the expansion’s chances. Three months later, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled Ottawa had not sufficiently consulted with Indigenous groups, or taken into account possible adverse effects on maritime populations in the waters off Vancouver from a dramatic increase in tanker traffic.

Earlier this summer, almost a year after the court ruling, the federal government said both of those issues had been addressed, and the pipeline expansion was approved for a second time. But some environmental and Indigenous groups are already threatening new court challenges. They will join the government of British Columbia, which is already in court trying to stop the twinning of Trans Mountain, and a start date for the new pipeline remains in doubt.

Moreover, in the four years since the pipeline/carbon tax plan was devised by the Trudeau government, a lot of things have changed. Provincial elections in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick have replaced governments sympathetic to Ottawa’s pipeline for carbon tax proposal with Conservative governments that support the pipeline expansion, but have been scrapping carbon reduction programs and challenging Ottawa’s constitutional right in court—so far unsuccessfully—to impose a carbon tax.

On the winning side so far, the federal government is preparing to impose its carbon tax in the recalcitrant Conservative provinces. But the federal Conservatives have opposed the carbon tax from the beginning, claiming that it is just another tax that will not reduce carbon emissions. And if they win the October election, the federal carbon tax will disappear.

This past spring, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer revealed his own energy and environment plan. It would have no carbon tax per se, but would force large commercial emitters to pay into a fund, which would then be used in the development of green technologies.

The Conservatives support the Trans Mountain expansion but they want to go a lot farther. They want to develop “resource corridors” across Canada. These would be dedicated rights of way negotiated across the country into which new pipelines, high voltage electricity transmission lines, and other ways of moving energy—perhaps even railways—would be routed. Such corridors are necessary, the Conservatives say, for Canada to be the “energy superpower” it must become.

The negotiations over and potential court challenges to such an ambitious plan boggle the mind. But it does lay out a proposal and a vision of an energy future that is much more reliant on pipeline development, without the carbon tax to help transition to an economy with fewer GHG emissions and less global warming.

For its part, Elizabeth May’s Green Party, the national branch of a global brand built on environmental and climate change activism whose positions have been mainstreamed over the past two decades, has labelled its 2019 energy policy Mission: Possible, a title widely seen as overly ambitious when it was published in May.  

The next government will be formed by either the Liberal party or the Conservatives. The only chance the New Democrats or the Greens have to play any meaningful role is if Canadians elect a minority Parliament with one or both of the NDP and Greens holding the balance of power.

But as the campaign gets underway, the lines have been firmly drawn between the two parties who can actually win, on the “Big E” election issue that will do more to shape Canada’s future than any other.  

Policy columnist Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator and Ensight Canada and a Lifetime Member of the  Parliamentary Press Gallery.

For campaign clues, watch where the leaders go

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, September 15, 2019.

With the prime minister’s visit to Rideau Hall on Wednesday morning, Parliament was formally dissolved and the summer’s so-called “fake” election campaign, mercifully, brought to an end.

And with it, Canadians began to hear not just the noise of the campaign messaging but the noise of the parties’ campaign buses and planes as well.

It is that noise, the noise of the leaders’ tours, that is in many ways the canary in the coal mine when it comes to understanding how the election is unfolding.

Watch leaders visit ridings that pundits would describe as unwinnable and you’ll know the party thinks they are on their way to victory. Watch them hold a rally in a “safe” riding and you will know the party’s war room is in full-scale panic.

In 2015, for example, many observers could not believe some of the far-flung places Justin Trudeau was choosing to visit, rather than focusing on ridings with strong Liberal potential in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. What those observers missed was that Trudeau could afford to visit Canadians from coast to coast because he didn’t need to shore up votes. The tour, for those who were watching, foretold the election results.

So, here are some things to watch for in election No. 43.

After his remarks on Wednesday, Trudeau headed to Vancouver-Kingsway for his first rally of the campaign. Historically, the federal Liberals have not been especially competitive in B.C., but in 2015 they did unusually well. This time out you can bet they will be laser-focused on nailing down those seats, especially given the momentum in the province of Elizabeth May’s Greens.

So, no surprise that the prime minister chose B.C. for his kickoff. However, if we see him lingering around the west coast throughout the campaign, that may be a sign of trouble in other Liberal strongholds.

While the prime minister spoke from Rideau Hall, Andrew Scheer was en route to Trois-Rivières to make his case in the Quebec riding, which has not elected a Conservative since 1988. Over the next few weeks, I expect we will find Scheer in similar ridings across Quebec, attempting to capitalize on Jagmeet Singh’s weakness in the province.

Later in the day, Scheer descended on the GTA, another essential battleground for him. If he can manage to secure a sufficient number of 905 ridings, he may have a shot at forming government.

To do so, he will have to deal with the headwinds coming from his provincial cousins at Queen’s Park. A teachers’ strike this fall, for example, could pose more than just a messaging challenge for him. It could require Scheer to spend more time in the province than he otherwise might have planned.

For Jagmeet Singh, worrisome trends from pre-summer polling have not abated and Elizabeth May seems poised to eat the NDP leader’s lunch in B.C. and parts of the Atlantic provinces. The Greens have spent the past year presenting themselves as a viable third option for voters at the expense of the NDP.

If you hear Singh talking about May rather than Trudeau or Scheer, it means he is more focused on saving the furniture, as the cliché goes, than gaining ground. If Singh is forced to spend his time fending off incursions from the Greens rather than swiping seats from the other two parties, that would spell serious trouble for the NDP.

For May, who Canadians seem to have finally grown comfortable with as a political actor, the thing to listen for is yet another apology. If she is caught in another gaffe, Canadians may well be reminded of their past fears of the Greens. And that bloc of voters may then turn back to one of their traditional choices.

The campaign will, of course, bring with it many unpredictable twists and turns that will be impossible to unscramble until Election Day.

That said, watching the leaders’ tour itineraries will provide you with an insight into the thinking of campaign strategists, if nothing else.

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

 

“Minority Report”

A process-laden reminder about what happens in a minority Parliament situation, and what is likely to happen in this one

The current polls and seat projections don’t show either the Conservatives or Liberals geared to win a majority of seats in Parliament after October 21st. They are consistently neck-and-neck in CBC’s Poll Tracker, an aggregate of all the major polling firms’ findings.

What happens if this bears out on October 21st? Well, it does not happen as you may think.

Even in the case that Conservatives win the most seats at 168 seats – one short of a tie in Parliament – by convention they would not be invited to form government by the Governor General.

Here’s what happens: the incumbent party who formed government last gets the first crack. If they do not think that—after consulting other opposition parties—that they could maintain the confidence of the House of Commons, then they would have the Prime Minister resign and allow for the Official Opposition to take a shot.

Civics class has been a while, I know. And there have been a fair amount of misconceptions widely shared on this matter.

Don’t forget that, under our Westminster system, the sitting Prime Minister still holds their title and role for the writ period and immediately following an election. They may not want to give up that spot so easily, despite what the majority of the electorate has said.

In this current landscape, how would this dynamic affect things? How would this likely shake out?

Jagmeet Singh—following on questions about Scheer’s same-sex marriage beliefs—committed to not propping up a Scheer minority government. By extension, one can assume he would have to support Justin Trudeau’s Liberals if he did not win himself.

The NDP have tried to paint the Greens as ‘Conservatives on Bikes’ this election, trying to raise concerns that they are secretly social conservatives. This is their way of marking their progressive territory, while also setting the stage for a minority negotiation situation.

Elizabeth May and her Greens—at first—left the prospect open of supporting a minority government, using that status to leverage more climate-friendly policies. They even wanted to form a cross-party climate cabinet to deal with that issue specifically.

May later was forced to concede that Scheer’s climate plan did not meet her environmental policy standing test. Therefore, she has now said she would not help any government, without drastic changes to their environment plans.

This leaves the conclusion that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, likely at the mercy of the NDP and/or Greens could uphold a minority government. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, without an overall policy flip-flop, would be unlikely to maintain the confidence of the House. Even if Maxime Bernier was to win seats, the feud between he and Scheer would almost ensure they would not gang up.

Scheer could perhaps use the Bloc, however, his predecessor made that path somewhat untenable with his rhetoric in 2008’s coalition snafu.

The 2008 situation is instructive where Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion almost became Prime Minister with the help of NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe. While they did have a majority of the seats together, the Conservatives were successfully able to frame coalitions as illegitimate (and then prorogue Parliament) in light of them alone winning the most seats. Andrew Scheer in a minority situation may choose to go this route again.

A minority Parliament under the propped up Liberals could put Canada in a more progressive direction than some centrist Canadians planned on, however, would keep things interesting for observers. Liberals had planned to balance the economy and the environment, while keeping those centre-right Canadians who could swing Conservative on board. Those may fall off, if deficits continue to grow in favour of climate action spending.

It is for this reason that you will see Liberals targeting the 2/3 of willing swing voters to keep their coalition together and keep their incremental plan moving forward, without having to curry favour from smaller parties.

The Liberals may, after October 21, be in a whole different ball game. The NDP and Green will be jockeying between each other for who gets third, but they may together start to message to voters about what they actually achieve as kingmakers.

In the meantime, Canada has MPs to elect and then they thereafter have some choices to make about who they have confidence in, because that is how the rules dictate we form governments – regardless of who wins the most seats.

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