Queen Elizabeth shows flexibility as social media shifts power to her grandchildren

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 19, 2020. 

For the last 66 years, Queen Elizabeth has skilfully walked the tight rope between being a bulwark of tradition, keeping things more or less as they have always been and skilfully adjusting as England and the world spun forward around her.

Nothing was ever new; just enhanced.

As the Queen has adopted new technologies — from televising her coronation and annual Christmas speech to increasing the use of social media — who can ever forget her “phone drop” to promote the Invictus Games or her arrival by parachute with James Bond at the opening of the London Olympics — she has, by and large, sought to preserve the decorous traditions of the British monarchy.

The give-and-take (or lack thereof) between tradition and modernity is precisely the tension that fascinates so many. It is this tension that is the dramatic underpinning of Netflix’s biographical drama, “The Crown,” which this week got some real-life experience to add to this theme.

The makings of this new episode began when the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan Markle, trademarked “Sussex Royal” and posted a photo to their Instagram account announcing their intention to step back from their royal duties, seek financial independence and take up a new life in North America, all the while honouring “our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.”

While news coverage has been devoted to the announcement’s substance, the medium here is equally as important as the message. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have effectively used social media to leap over their 93-year-old grandmother and family. The Queen of England now finds herself embroiled in a singularly modern predicament: an asymmetrical communications campaign that pits individuals against institutions.

Again and again, we have seen a similar dynamic play out in such situations. While institutions are hamstrung by tradition, bureaucracy, and red tape, individuals are empowered by social media to be self-defining, agile and swift.

Case in point: While Harry and Meghan could rush out their campaign as if it were a lifestyle-brand-in-a-box, (along with the post they launched a website, complete with glossy photographs, inspirational quotations from the likes of Desmond Tutu with web copy written in the tone of an Instagram influencer), the Queen had to resort to issuing her rebuttal statement in two sentences printed on Buckingham Palace letterhead.

The generational divide could not be more clear; nor the implications. This is not a fair fight.

While it may be unpleasant to go up against one’s own family, this dynamic yields the couple a few distinct advantages. First, their new media relations strategy circumvents the depraved British tabloids, and their antiquated “royal rota” system.

While the Royal Family has tolerated no end of vitriol from the press (remember Waity Katie? Or Fergie, the Duchess of Pork?), rationalized by the adage, “We pay, you pose,” Harry and Meghan seek to change the rules, an objective made all the more urgent by the press’ clear double standard when it comes to covering Meghan Markle versus Kate Middleton.

As those same British tabloids have reported breathlessly on the behind-the-scenes machinations at work throughout this entire episode, another advantage has become apparent.

By staking out a clear, public position and then negotiating, the couple most likely stymied attempts by the Queen’s courtiers to delay or dilute their plan. Declaring their intention for a clean break was perhaps the only way for Harry and Meghan to break through the institutional monarchy’s resistance to doing things new.

But if there is a resistance to things new, the Queen, herself, demonstrated last week a willingness to enhance.

In the days since the launch of Sussex Royal, the Queen has followed a playbook of her own. She took charge, summoned all the influence of her court, gathered her family for the so-called Sandringham Summit, and after its conclusion, released a statement cautiously endorsing her grandson’s plan.

But the real news was how the statement was written. One royal historian, speaking to the BBC, remarked that its tone was “unusually personal” with its several references to “my family” or “my grandson.” What’s more, it abandoned the use of formal titles, referring instead to “Harry and Meghan.”

Her Majesty demonstrated, once again, just what it means to enhance.

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

The true cost of military conflict with Iran will be political

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 12, 2020. 

Over the past week, the world has watched, slack-jawed, as Western relations with Iran have slid precipitously from uneasy détente to open military engagement. Canadians, in particular, were stunned by the horrific deaths of our compatriots, shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

As the world now knows, on Jan. 3, a U.S. airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, the country’s most important military leader and the puppet master of Iran’s network of military operations, terror and covert insurgency. Then Iranian forces retaliated with attacks on US Air Force bases in Iraq, seemingly targeted to ensure maximum show of force while avoiding American casualties.

In his response, President Trump signalled a de-escalation of tensions, announcing new sanctions rather than retaliation in kind. A collective sigh of relief was shared by many who feared more military conflict.

But in political terms, the past week has set the region back significantly, shattering the delicate progress which has been hard-won and fiercely guarded.

Last week, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel foreign troops from the country. While the vote was non-binding, it signalled a shift in attitude toward the international coalition which has, for over a decade, worked alongside the Iraqis.

Over the past year, the Iranian regime has faced significant challenges to its authority — from both external adversaries and internal dissidents. The reintroduction of American sanctions in 2018 increased economic pressure, threatening the stability of President Hassan Rouhani’s government. In November, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest an increase in gas prices. Many observers spoke of an Arab Spring-like shift in political power. Each of these developments served as a small but significant victory for reformist parties and political moderates.

That all changed this week. Crowds of dissidents protesting Rouhani’s government have been replaced by crowds protesting the United States. President Obama’s nuclear deal is now dead, bolstering hardliners’ claims that any attempt at rapprochement is futile.

And the regime now has a martyr. What many Western commentators overlook about Soleimani is his role as an apolitical figure. Even among moderate Iranians, he was respected for his military achievements and tendency to stay out of domestic politics.

On Feb. 21 — little over a month away — Iranians will vote in a parliamentary election. History tells us the election will be far from perfect, but just months ago, it was predicted that the outcome would be at least a symbolic step toward a more moderate Iran. Instead, the killing of Soleimani has rallied the country against a common enemy, in the process undoing the headway made not only by Western governments but also those inside Iran who have fought relentlessly for their vision of a different way forward for their country.

Over the coming days, in lieu of military engagement, the U.S. will unleash the full extent of economic and political pressure against Rouhani’s government. If Trump can successfully convince America’s allies to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement altogether, the return of sanctions will hit the country hard.

This time, however, Rouhani will have a much easier time redirecting criticism of his regime towards Western nations, instead. For reformers across the Middle East, as well as those of us who would like to see the conclusion of never-ending conflict in the region, that can only be bad news.

So, what does this mean for Canada? We have approximately 800 soldiers spread across the region, including Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, who leads the NATO mission in Iraq. Those figures, combined with the tragic deaths of the 63 Canadians aboard flight PS752, remind us just how much our country has at stake in the region.

As the prime minister said on Thursday, Canadians have questions and they deserve answers, accountability and above all — justice.

Our armed forces — and those of our allies — now find themselves in a quagmire: attempting to safely extricate some troops from Iraq, without surrendering the ground — strategic, diplomatic and ideological — which has been gained thus far.

For now, all we can do is support our military and give them our undying gratitude.

They, more than anyone, realize the true cost of all that has transpired.

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

A look at the year that was and predictions for 2020

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

Most underrated politician of 2019: Only one federal party leader managed to unambiguously improve their party’s lot in the last election: Yves-Francois Blanchet revived the Bloc Québécois with a sharply executed pivot from sovereignty to nationalism. The fifth Bloc leader since 2015, he turned in a tight, eloquent performance in the French-language debates, and then went on to pick up 22 seats.

Now, he intends to make the most of his opportunities in a minority parliament. Just in the last week, he signalled his intent to support the Throne Speech, helping the Liberals clear their first hurdle; and at the same time, threatened the signature achievement of their first term when he opposed the newly agreed-upon CUSMA agreement over a lack of protections for the largely Quebec-based aluminum industry.

Most overrated politician of 2019: The youngest president in French history won the first election he ever contested in 2017 with a party of his own making called En Marche! Lately, Emmanuel Macron has not been doing much moving. In the last year, France has been paralyzed by months of violent protests from the leaderless gilet jaunts, whose yellow vest-wearing participants seem to take issue with him personally. While Notre Dame burned, the protests dragged on, costing the French economy $6.5 billion and injuring hundreds. All the while, Macron has hemmed and hawed, falling back on his favourite phrase “en meme temps.

As Angela Merkel approaches retirement, Macron has struggled to rise to the occasion as Europe’s champion with comments like the “brain-death of NATO.”

Breakout politician in 2020: If you live in Ontario and have turned on the television or tuned in to the radio any time since the beginning of summer, you’ve probably seen or heard Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. Since the cabinet shuffle in June, he has become the face of the provincial government. Lecce is a rookie MPP, and the youngest education minister in Ontario history, but he has already proven himself to be a capable and disciplined political operator, first as a communications staffer under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and then as an MPP and parliamentary assistant to Premier Doug Ford.

Now, having inherited one of the most expansive provincial portfolios, he is unafraid to stake out the government’s position in media interviews. And he is just getting started.

Worst political play in 2019: The Leaders’ Debates Commission was conceived with good intentions. Debates have long been a central part of Canadian election campaigns, and so the commission was charged with organizing two official debates. The key distinction was that they would no longer be organized by a media consortium.

In the end, the debates were ultimately produced by a different, bigger consortium. The final product featured too many moderators, too many interjections, and worst of all, too many participants. Only weeks before the broadcast, the commission made the inexplicable decision to allow Maxime Bernier to participate, admitting him based on polls that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. As a result, the only English-language debate offered to viewers was an interminable slog.

Best political play in 2019: You may not think of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a political player. But the one-time richest man in the world has been forced into the fray, both by dint of his ownership of the Washington Post and by mounting calls for antitrust action against his company. 2019 revealed that the National Enquirer tabloid had, for some time, been functioning as a political tool for President Trump. And so, the best political play of the year pitted one against the other.

When the Enquirer exposed his extramarital affair, Bezos’ own internal investigation concluded the story had been politically motivated. Outraged, the publication threatened that if Bezos did not withdraw the accusation, they would publish his NSFW selfies. In a brilliant chess move, Bezos published the entire exchange online, along with an open-letter condemning the Enquirer’s “practice of blackmail, political favours, political attacks, and corruption,” and asked, “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”

Now, we know the answer: six weeks after the altercation, the Enquirer was sold off for parts.

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

Trudeau’s ‘hot mic’ video overshadows a crucial meeting for NATO

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, December 8, 2019.

On Wednesday, video emerged of Justin Trudeau, accompanied by a group of world leaders at a NATO summit in London, poking fun at President Donald Trump. In the video, the prime minister made a jibe about Trump’s penchant for impromptu press conferences and his staff’s apparent dismay at yet another off-the-cuff pronouncement.

Since then, there has been much carry on over Trudeau’s comments. Some are outraged, declaring that it’s foolish for the PM to be snickering behind the back of our largest trading partner. Others argue that the comments are merely the predictable outcome of Trump’s own bullying and standoffishness.

Canadians can debate whether it’s wise for their prime minister to be seen criticizing the president while, among many issues that face our two countries, NAFTA 2.0 has yet to pass through Congress.

The reality is that despite the irritant of impeachment and given the dearth of a strong Democratic challenger in the 2020 election, Donald Trump is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Even if Trump does leave office, Justin Trudeau and his successors will find themselves facing a Republican Party irrevocably shaped in his image.

That’s why many, especially those who have worked tirelessly to manage the bilateral relationship, found Trump’s retaliatory comments — in which he called Trudeau “two-faced,” unhelpful.

But despite the frenzied response to the hot mic moment, it’s unlikely that even one of the politicians caught in that moment will be personally set back by the video. Not Trudeau, whose constituents — even those outside his base — loathe Trump and all he represents. Not French President Emmanuel Macron, whose countrymen were no doubt incensed by Trump’s jab earlier in the day about “giving” ISIS fighters to France.

Most of all, the video will certainly not hurt Boris Johnson. The U.K. prime minister is contesting an election next week in a country where 64 per cent of Britons disapprove of Trump’s leadership. Over the past few weeks, Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents have tied Johnson to Trump, raising the spectre of a Johnson-Trump alliance that would sell off the National Health Service and veer the country to the hard-right.

So, to be seen poking fun at Trump in a collegial manner with his more liberal Canadian, Dutch and French counterparts, can only help Johnson’s prospects on Thursday.

But here is the rub. The reality of that moment and the tensions therein reveal the cracks in the alliance as a whole. More importantly, the situation is symptomatic of the divided world in which we now live.

Governments, the world over, have retreated from a global-seeking consensus toward a form of selfish nationalism, which has at its core one question: “What is in it for me?”

Even NATO — a foundational alliance whose existence has been central to the guarantee of the post-Cold War era of peace and prosperity — is not immune to this impulse. Say what you will about the current state of the organization, there’s no doubt that for 70 years it has served as an important forum for governments to publicly declare their mutual support and shared ideals.

As it stands now, the organization is treated less as an important example of multilateral co-operation and more like a communal piggy bank, financial support to which is only reluctantly offered and only to avoid the scorn of President Trump.

In the end, the real cost of that “hot mic” moment is that it has overshadowed what should have been a crucial summit. Consider the timing: Russian interference is resurgent, the leadership of the EU is in question as Chancellor Merkel faces retirement, and far-right governments have swept across eastern Europe.

As NATO leaders were meeting in Buckingham Palace, conflict persisted in eastern Ukraine and the country’s political establishment continued to reel from revelations that emerged from American impeachment proceedings.

What’s more, at the meeting on Wednesday, Hungary’s foreign minister announced that the authoritarian government of Viktor Orban will block Ukraine’s admission to NATO — yet another victory for Vladimir Putin.

You could, of course, be forgiven for having missed such an important development. After all, there were far more important videos to discuss.

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

From Jerusalem: a lesson in the downside of proportional representation

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 24, 2019.

Following months of political upheaval and uncertainty surrounding the future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ten-year dominance of national politics, Israel is now careening towards its third election in a year.

After calling early elections in the spring, Netanyahu’s Likud Party was able to secure a very close victory in April. However, he was not able to gain enough support in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to form a governing coalition.

Last week, former army chief Benny Gantz conceded his failure, as well, to cobble together a governing coalition. In order to form a majority government, Israeli partisan coalitions must reach the threshold of 61 seats in the Knesset — Gantz’s bloc can claim only 44. Netanyahu’s coalition commands 55.

Complicating matters further are the legal challenges facing Netanyahu. On Nov. 21, the Prime Minister was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust—becoming the first sitting Israeli premier to face criminal charges. Gantz has sworn that he will not support a government led by an indicted politician in the highest office.

So, for the first time in the nation’s history, the task falls to members of the Knesset, 60 of whom must throw their support behind a fellow member of Knesset to form government. If they are unable to do so by December 11, the country will be destined for its third election since April.

In a country as rife with divisions as Israel, their task seems Herculean. As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once famously told President Nixon, “You are the president of 150 million Americans; I am the prime minister of six million prime ministers.” Her point: in Israel, political positions are stubborn and alliances between parties seem to shift like sand.

Part of the problem is that historically, the changing circumstances facing Israel have forced parties to fracture, dissolve and rebrand. Developments in the peacemaking process have split parties and divided political allies, while the diverse social, religious and ethnic demographics of Israel mean that political views remain fragmented.

That being said, the situation in Jerusalem today also points to a larger problem: the shortcomings of an electoral system based on proportional representation. From its founding, the state of Israel has practiced one of the purest forms of proportional representation of any modern democracy.

While some in Canada lament the fact that our first-past-the-post system disadvantages smaller parties, Israel is a case in how things can go wrong when those small parties have too much power.

Because the entire country is treated as a single electoral district and there is a very low threshold for representation, the balance of power is all too often held by fringe parties with hardened views — from both ends of the political spectrum.

While some argue that more power for smaller parties lends a greater voice to a wider portion of the electorate, in Israel, we’ve seen quite the opposite. Rather than the party which receives the most votes, it is often the coalition most willing to serve these special interests which is invited to form government. As a result, the balance of politics is heavily skewed towards these parties, despite the fact that most Israelis disagree with their views.

What’s more, the system fosters an unfortunate lack of accountability and transparency in government. Israelis elect a party, not a particular member of Knesset. And the reality of forming government through coalition agreements means that backroom dealings come to matter more than any platform pledges made to the electorate.

So, even though Canadians may feel our system privileges regional interests to a damaging extent, the alternative certainly has its flaws — not least of which is the constant pandering to smaller, extreme parties.

Israelis will likely have to patiently wait another week and a half to find out whether they’ll be subjected to yet another election campaign.

In the meantime, rising political tensions and worsening conflict in Gaza go unaddressed by government – a reminder of the shortcomings of the current system.

For the only democracy in a region ever-more-inclined toward political extremism, that is a very troubling state of affairs.

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

Ensight’s Post-Election Spotlight Series: The NDP

As we reflect on the election and what’s next, we continue to create one-pagers that can help show the shape of the political landscape for you and your team. Take a look at our latest on the NDP & the progressive policy bargaining power involved in minority Parliaments.

Download here.

‘I encourage you to think of yourself as my minister of national unity’

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 24, 2019.

Dear Ms Freeland,

When you were sworn in as minister of international trade in 2015, there was no way we could have known that Donald Trump would become president, nor the challenges he would bring to our bilateral relationship.

No one could have predicted that so much of our bandwidth would be consumed by the renegotiation of NAFTA. Yet, you more than rose to the challenge. You navigated these unforeseen challenges with great success. At the same time, you never lost track of the importance of advocating for Canadian values throughout the world.

Well, times have changed and today, I have a new, equally challenging and unpredictable mandate for you.

That is why, it is on behalf of all Canadians that I am so thankful that you have answered my call to put country ahead of self and agree to serve as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Historically, it may not have been the most coveted of ministries. At first blush, it may not provide as influential a platform as Global Affairs, but the fate of our government — in fact, the fate of our country — may hinge on your success in this new mandate.

Others, of course, have served in similar roles. For example, Stéphane Dion was Jean Chretien’s intergovernmental affairs minister, tasked with mending fences in the aftermath of the referendum.

That you are an Albertan by birth will be a helpful starting point for you as you assume your new duties. But, as the voters have taught us, a token approach to regionalism will do nothing to bring them back onside.

What is needed is not a charm offensive, but a skilled diplomat and political strategist who can build a genuine, enduring and practical consensus. In short, someone who knows how to get difficult jobs done.

I encourage you to think of yourself as my minister of national unity. As with NAFTA, the task at hand will require all of your back-channelling finesse, your technical expertise and your delicate hand in dealing with numerous stakeholders. Your task will be to bring regional factions on board with our agenda, including climate change, pharmacare and economic growth.

Make no mistake, the anger is real. While some had suggested that the so-called Wexit movement would flame out in the weeks after the election, polling now suggests that as many as 30 per cent of Albertans support Western separatism, and three-quarters of the population is sympathetic to the cause. Even if secession is unlikely, a vocal minority may drive the province to take more extreme positions, including the erection of a so-called firewall.

As minister of intergovernmental affairs, it falls to you to manage a hostile provincial government now considering collecting their own taxes, ending the policing contract with the RCMP, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and holding a referendum on equalization payments.

Since the election, I myself have tried to extend a long overdue olive branch to Western Canadians.

Last week, I met with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. I reiterated our commitment to finishing the Trans-Mountain Pipeline and invited him to propose changes to the equalization formula. That the premier left the meeting “disappointed” highlights just how much work you will have to do.

Governments such as Moe’s or Kenney’s, and indeed their electors, may be opposed to ours in political ideology, but as minister of intergovernmental affairs, you are charged with continuing to engage with them in good faith. I am counting on you to do what we were unable to do in our first mandate: keep them onside of our national project and prevent them from fanning the flames of separatism any further.

Every federal government has struggled to appease both East and West simultaneously.

With a resurgent Bloc in Quebec, where, strangely, support for Alberta separation runs even higher than in Alberta itself, and a government in Ontario resolutely determined to govern “for the people,” this will be more challenging than ever.

In recognition of this challenge and in recognition of your proven ability to be more than a spokesmodel and actually get the difficult things done, I have decided to appoint you as my first deputy prime minister.

Yours sincerely,

Justin Trudeau

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

Like His Father Before Him, Trudeau Has An Indispensable Lieutenant

Justin Trudeau has found his Marc Lalonde.

Lalonde was famously his father Pierre’s indispensable cabinet minister, serving in a variety of portfolios as each in turn became critical to his government between 1972 and 1984.

Now more than forty years later, Trudeau the son has found a counterpart in his own cabinet.  Chrystia Freeland, who has been moved from Foreign Affairs to Intergovernmental Affairs, and made Deputy Prime Minister as well, is the Lalonde of this generation of Liberals.

Marc Lalonde and Pierre Trudeau forged their political relationship after Trudeau was elected to Parliament in 1965 and was named Parliamentary Secretary to then Prime Minister Lester Pearson.  Lalonde was already working in the Prime Minister’s Office and he and Trudeau soon became allies – so much so that when Trudeau succeed Pearson as Prime Minister, he made Lalonde his Principal Secretary.

Four years later at Trudeau’s urging, Lalonde was elected to Parliament and immediately went into cabinet. Medicare was then in its infancy, a source of controversy with various provincial governments and to some extent with the medical community.

As now, the Liberals had gone from a majority to a minority. Into one of the toughest portfolios, Pierre Trudeau inserted Marc Lalonde as Minister of Health. After the Quebec Election in 1976 that brought the separatist Parti Quebec to power, Lalonde was handed that hot potato.

He was named Minister for Federal – Provincial relations and Minister of Justice.

In the 1980’s the pattern continued.  When the oil pricing fight with Alberta was at its height from 1980 to 1982, Trudeau made Lalonde Minister of Energy.  With the economy in the tank in 1982, Lalonde was suddenly Minister of Finance.

Marc Lalonde retired from elected politics along with Pierre Trudeau in 1984. The Prime Minister and his indispensable lieutenant left public life together.

Pierre Trudeau and Marc Lalonde worked their partnership for sixteen years.  The partnership between Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland is much younger, but has room to grow.

After he became leader of the then third place Liberals, Trudeau recruited Freeland to run in a by-election in downtown Toronto. When the Liberals took power in 2015, he named her Minister of International Trade.

As a former international journalist with the Financial Times, Freeland seemed born to the job. And  when Trudeau moved to her to Foreign Affairs, he left her with the responsibly for the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The NAFTA negotiation was the most important issue of the first Trudeau government.  It still awaits ratification in the United States Congress, and tellingly, Trudeau has left the responsibility for bringing the deal to its final successful conclusion with Freeland, even though her hands will be more than full in her new job at Intergovernmental Affairs.

As was the case in 1980, in the recent federal election the Liberals went from a majority to a minority government. And as was the case then, the governing party has no Members of Parliament from either Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Similarly, the energy industry and the economic health of Alberta in particular, are central to the dispute. In 1980 the issue revolved around how to cut up what seemed like a never ending growing pile of money as Arab oil producers in the Middle East kept driving the international price of oil.

Now the dispute is over getting pipelines built at a time when there is wide spread environmental concern over climate change, and when the Alberta oil sands and Canadian oil and bitumen from the oil sands are selling at a discount to already depressed oil prices.

In 1980 the fight between Ottawa and Alberta lead to the formation of groups calling for the separation of the Western provinces from the rest of Canada. Similar groups have been forming recently, although separation now seems more problematic than it did then.

These are the problems Freeland is now taking on. Finish the re-negotiation of NAFTA. Solve the problem of Western Alienation. Sounds like the kind of job that requires a Marc Lalonde.

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.

Don’t look for entertainment value in U.S. impeachment hearings

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 17, 2019.

On Wednesday, the first public hearings began in an impeachment process that seems to have been crafted for our era of reality television.

Watching the testimonies of Bill Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch, I was struck by the soap-opera nature of the hearings.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her House Democrats have, it seems, learned important lessons from the Mueller hearing.

The criticisms of that process were many: it was too lengthy, too convoluted and, in the end, too boring to convince Americans of the president’s wrongdoing.

And so the war over optics has shifted.

First, the wise decision to act swiftly. Rather than a drawn-out, process-obsessed approach, the Intelligence Committee has moved, in a matter of weeks, to bring the matter onto television.

Second, Democrats have changed the cast of characters. The unfortunate reality of the Mueller hearings was that their main witness, the special counsel, was unconvincing, overly cautious and boring.

Over the coming weeks, Mueller will be replaced by diplomats, civil servants and security officials. Some more colourful than others. Some more persuasive. But there will be enough of them, with enough years of service and individual and collective credibility to dispense with the trope of a “deep state” determined to overthrow Trump.

Ambassador Yovanovitch spoke vividly of gunfire and attacks endured during placements in Mogadishu and Tashkent. Her words remind us that if soldiers are “diplomats in armour,” diplomats are often “soldiers in suits.”

The arrival of decorated military officials like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman will further complicate Republicans’ efforts. If Vindman arrives in uniform, Purple Heart medal and all, it will surely not be lost on the reality TV president.

And, third, there is another substantive shift, one designed to tightly control the narrative. Watch for the democrats to avoid secondary characters like Rudy Giuliani in order to focus on the star of the show, Donald Trump.

Finally, another clever tactic. No more Latin.

After months of “quid pro quo,” Democrats have swapped the phrase for “extortion” and “bribery.” Simple, clear and perhaps most importantly, eye-catching as a chyron on CNN or MSNBC.

Donald Trump has caught wise to the Democrats’ strategy and has, in turn, worked to emphasize that the hearings are simply too dull to deserve Americans’ attention, going so far as to say he has not watched one minute of the hearings.

Republicans, including the president’s son and leading members of Congress, have piled on and roundly described the first hearing as “boring,” uninteresting and a “#Snoozefest.”

Journalists and media networks have taken the bait, publishing headlines that focus on process rather than the substance of the testimony.

“Consequential, but dull: Trump impeachment hearings begin without a bang,” announced Reuters, while NBC News declared, “Plenty of substance but little drama on first day of impeachment hearings.”

True, most of the testimony had already been divulged in closed sessions. And, to be sure, there were fewer fireworks than we saw in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh or even the 40-day Benghazi hearings. But of all things to say about the opening sessions of only the fourth presidential impeachment proceedings in U.S. history, is “boring” really a newsworthy one?

To be sure, it’s important for the proceedings to draw Americans’ interest. Otherwise, what effect will they have outside the D.C. Beltway?

But it is not the job of Adam Schiff or anyone else in Congress for that matter, to entertain. Impeachment, as much as it may feel like one, is not a reality show. It is a crucial, albeit often tedious, process of gathering, evaluating and sharing evidence.

Of course 24-hour television and social media have brought greater spectacle to politics. Some commentators pilloried Reuters and NBC for their flippant headlines, arguing that “journalists wanting more entertainment in politics, is what gave us Donald Trump.”

But the fact remains that spectacle should be the by-product, not the purpose of this most solemn and consequential of political acts. Otherwise, our democracies face the same fate as the declining Roman republic, in which voters were placated not with serious governance, but panem et circenses — bread and circuses.

In the era of reality television, streamed to your mobile 24 hours a day, that is the most frightening reality of all.

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

It’s time for Andrew Scheer to overcome his pride about Pride

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 10, 2019.

Since the launch of the federal election, which feels like an eternity ago, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has been dogged by variations on the same question:

Will you attend a Pride parade?

Do you believe homosexuality is a sin?

Why did you compare equal marriage to a dog’s tail?

Never mind, some would say, that the questions themselves can seem unfair. Until Global’s David Aiken pressed the other leaders this week with the same question, Justin Trudeau, who professes to be a Catholic, the same as Scheer, and Jagmeet Singh were not asked their views about what’s sinful; adjudicating sin not generally being within a prime minister’s job description.

Yet the questions could not have come to Scheer — or his advisers — as a surprise. Every conservative leader before Scheer has also faced this line of questioning, and every one has been able to rebut it more effectively.

That Scheer has been unable to muster a good enough answer has become a primary criticism from those who would rather see someone different lead the party into the next federal election.

I am personally sympathetic to Scheer. As a gay man of my generation, I have known many friends and colleagues, and especially many conservatives, whose own opinions have evolved and progressed over time.

For many, it has been a prolonged journey, which I have found personally painful to witness. But for most, the destination has been one that has come to transcend acceptance to become one of inclusion.

That’s why it is so difficult to understand how Scheer can profess respect for all Canadians but be unable to categorically state that homosexuality is not a sin.

All that said, it is not too late for him to have his own come-to-Judy moment.

Premier Doug Ford staged a quiet evolution of his own this past summer. After a lifetime spent skipping Pride parades in favour of the family cottage, the premier made a low-key appearance at the York Pride Parade. He was enthusiastically welcomed; marching in parades has come to be in the job description of every politician at every level.

Whether Ford’s decision represents a change of heart or a political calculation in a province where 1-in-15 residents participate in Toronto’s Pride Parade, the gesture meant the same thing: Ford is prepared to be the premier for all Ontarians, regardless of his views about their sexual orientation.

Conversely, that Scheer cannot bring himself to make the same token gesture sends a different message to not only each and every LGTBQ Canadian, but to their family and friends as well: his religious beliefs are so deeply held, they outweigh even his desire, as a career politician, to win the most important race of his life.

To many Canadians, this decision reads not as pious adherence to devout religious belief, but an irrational prejudice so overwhelming he puts it before good optics, good politics, even basic common sense.

Even if by now, Scheer’s pride about Pride prevents him from backing down from his position, there are concrete policies that would have assuaged these concerns. The Conservatives could have vowed to end the blood ban; they could have outflanked the Liberals on the matter of LGBTQ refugees — in 2009, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney introduced special measures to admit gay Iranians as refugees; the list goes on.

Adopting any one of these would have been smart politics. It would have allowed Scheer to say that while Trudeau is about shallow optics, he is about real action.

No doubt the party will continue to litigate the matter internally. If Scheer survives the April leadership review, he will need to find a way to answer those nagging questions.

In doing so, he may find it worthwhile to engage with Eric Duncan, the newly elected 31-year-old MP for Stormont — Dundas — South Glengarry. Duncan is openly gay and has never been to a Pride parade. But in a deeply rural riding, he won more votes than nearly any other Ontario Conservative, very nearly eclipsing veteran MP Peter Kent.

Duncan is living proof: There is a path to victory that runs through honesty, sincerity and genuine inclusion. What’s more, we have decided, as a country, that it is a Canadian path.

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