John Delacourt: How Today’s Fiscal Update Sets the Stage for Budget 2018 and Beyond

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[:en]Given the serialized episodes of Morneau’s trial in the press over the last month, accompanied by the mid-mandate report cards that are at pains to concede sound policy decisions by this government, what has been lost in these efforts to reframe the last two years are two salient facts that have telegraphed today’s fiscal update:

  • The turning point of the 2015 campaign did not emerge from the cumulative effect of thousands of selfies with Trudeau as he criss-crossed the country, despite what one revisionist version of events would have you believe. The numbers started to move in a favourable direction for the Liberals when Trudeau, at a campaign stop in the last week of August, announced that a Liberal government would run deficits for three straight years in order to commit funding for infrastructure and growing the economy. It firmly placed the Liberals in fiscal territory to the left of Mulcair’s campaign platform, never mind Harper’s. Canadians responded, intuiting there might be something to be said for a more expansive vision for social infrastructure and for social programs.
  • The mid-mandate report card that has ultimately mattered was issued in July of this year, when Bank of Canada President Stephen Poloz raised the bank’s benchmark lending rate from 0.5 to .75 percent. At the time, Poloz remarked upon the policy decisions from the Trudeau government that had spurred the economy and allowed for a far more positive outlook than was emerging even at the time of the last budget: “For instance, the changes to the [Canada] child benefit program has [sic] been highly stimulative: You can see that in the consumption figures. So we would not be where we are today if that had not occurred.”

And, so, a commitment to prioritize stimulative measures over taming deficits, with the new indexing of the Canada Child Benefit as the centerpiece to this fiscal update, should not be a surprise to anyone. The economy is humming along, doing better than any reliable non-partisan economist – including Poloz – would have predicted. And there is evidence of Liberal policy decisions contributing greatly to this state of affairs. One can criticize this update’s timing, of course, and mutter that this is about cushioning Morneau’s rather warm seat in the House right now, but what government, regardless of party or leader, would not be talking about what it’s getting right, and why it has mattered for the economy?

The argument about collateral damage to the Liberal brand, given how challenged this government has been on a few fronts, should not be minimized, of course. From the faltering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry (MMIW) to the reversal on electoral reform to the albatross of the Phoenix Pay System scandal, the Opposition benches do not lack for material to attack this government on, even without a French villa or a helicopter ride to a remote island on the horizon.

Yet for many Canadians, especially the growing number who do not pay attention to what is occurring on Parliament Hill, their perspective could be summed up by declaring you have one job, Justin Trudeau: make the economy grow and in so doing, make things a little easier for me to pay the bills and feel hopeful about my kids’ future. Two years in, this fiscal update confirms the Prime Minister’s managing to do just that.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.
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Don Newman: A Good Day for Minister Morneau

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[:en]In Question Period today in the House of Commons, the questions were relentless. Why did Finance Minister Bill Morneau not place his considerable ‎wealth in a blind trust as every other wealthy cabinet minister has done in the past and is only doing it now?

And when Question Period ‎ended, the Commons went to a recorded vote. The vote was on a Conservative motion that said the Finance Minister was in a conflict of interest, because his family firm Morneau Shepell must have benefited from government policy while he still owned shares.

But Bill Morneau wasn’t in the House of Commons for any of that criticism. He was preparing to present his fall fiscal update when the financial markets closed at 4:00pm.

What did the Fiscal Update Announce?

And while he was waiting he must have been smiling. Because Morneau told the Commons that Canada’s fiscal outlook had improved by $8.5 billion, since his budget last March.

What’s more, the improved ‎fiscal position means more money for the middle class, and those working hard to join it.

The Canada Child Benefit will increase by $200 for a family with two children next July. In 2019, the year of the next federal election, they will get $500 more than they do now.

The small business tax, which was 15 per cent in 2015 at the time of the last election, will drop to 9 per cent in 2019. Oh yes, that is the year of the next election.

The Government has been criticized for running deficits of close to $30 Billion for the past two years. Well this year, the deficit fell from a projected $28.5 billion in the spring budget to a projected $19.9 billion.

Now the projection is that by the fiscal 2022-2023 the deficit will have shrunk to $12.5 Billion. And the important debt to GDP ratio will fall from 30.5 per cent to 28.5 per cent.

How will it play out?

It is a rosy forecast but how will it play out? Well there are some pitfalls.

As the economy improves and inflation looms the Bank of Canada will have to respond by raising interest rates. And as interest rates go up, the Government’s cost of borrowing will go up, and the deficit will start to climb just to service the debt.

Add to that the uncertainty of the NAFTA negotiations and the economic impact of cancelling the treaty would have, there are potential storm clouds hovering over the financial future.

But for now, it was a good day for Bill Morneau. Not only did the Liberals use their majority to easily defeat the conflict of interest motion, as the Minister himself said, “it is a very good fiscal update.”

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.
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How charismatic Singh is a threat to Trudeau: Watt

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[:en]No doubt that the federal Liberals followed the results of the New Democratic Party’s leadership contest with great trepidation.

Jagmeet Singh’s election is a monumental breakthrough for Canada’s community of visible minorities. But Singh represents a formidable new presence on Canada’s political stage for even more reasons.

Singh has that certain “je ne sais quoi” that political operatives search for. He’s emotive and evocative. He’s a comfortable and accomplished communicator, one of the few politicians who can explain ideas in ways that generate interest and support.

Plus, he’s just a downright interesting person, one who sometimes rode his bike to work at Queen’s Park and who practices martial arts during his off hours.

Perhaps even more importantly, Singh has a natural political intuition that has allowed him to navigate several daunting political hurdles in his young career.

Sound familiar?

Singh has many of the same attributes that vaulted Justin Trudeau from leader of the third party into the country’s most important political position in just one election.

It’s easy to underestimate the threat. Trudeau’s qualities were also initially derided. Being emotive was mocked as being weak. Evocative was portrayed as shallow. Opponents were condescending in criticizing Trudeau’s comfort with communicating with Canadians.

The critics were wrong — at least about what Canadians were looking for in October 2015.

The same criticisms that were levelled at Trudeau have been levelled at Singh. While it hasn’t begun at a high volume, the groundwork is being laid. Media reports have already contained rumblings about Singh’s lack of experience, lack of familiarity with federal files, and lack of interest in learning more.

Meanwhile, less noticed in the two years since the Liberals formed the government has been the stability of the Conservative Party. Its fundraising has remained remarkably strong. Polling consistently shows the party with support of 30 to 33 per cent of Canadians, essentially the same level of support it garnered on election day in 2015.

This means that a third of Canadian voters have not budged from the Conservative Party even during its nadir, suggesting there is little room for the Liberals to grow on the right.

By contrast, support for the New Democrats has stagnated since their loss on election day. The party has since struggled to gain attention and to remain united.

The Liberals are keenly aware of the limits of growth on their right wing, and equally aware of the opportunities on the left. That opportunity has driven a decision to take a bold, activist stance on a variety of issues, including Indigenous rights and the environment.

Without a leader, and with Trudeau’s government encroaching on its territory, the NDP has been pushed to the margins of the debate.

Trudeau has a remarkable effect on the national press gallery. It’s hard to imagine reporters would have written stories about Stephen Harper’s socks or Paul Martin’s affinity for Star Wars.

The Prime Minister has an amazing ability to drive media coverage and control the narrative, and the NDP has suffered for it.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without political relevance, the party drifted downward in the polls. Without support in the polls, the party became less politically relevant. The Liberals gobbled up left-leaning supporters.

Enter Jagmeet Singh.

Singh has a similar effect on the media as Trudeau. His is an engaging speaker and can control the narrative. He is the game-changer the NDP needed.

The media coverage of Singh during the leadership contest dwarfed that of his competitors, and the coverage following his election was some of the most positive the NDP has received since Thomas Mulcair’s surge early in the last election campaign.

Singh’s ability to garner the kind of attention that has been paid mainly to the Liberal party constitutes a real threat to prospects for another Liberal majority government.

But New Democrats should also be wary.

Ottawa is not Queen’s Park, and many a politician has stumbled in their transition from politics in a provincial capital to the House of Commons.

That said, Singh has a legitimate shot at taking back for the New Democrats the supporters who drifted toward Trudeau.

Liberal political strategists trying to stake the party in the centre face a scary prospect: a party with dedicated supporters on the right and a resurgent party on the left.

The next two years may be more interesting than political observers had bet on.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on October 22, 2017 and OurWindsor.ca on October 23, 2017)[:]

Far too soon to waste time predicting the next PM: Watt

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[:en]There are still two years to go until the next federal election, but last week media outlets and polling firms began releasing polls and prognosticating about who the next prime minister of Canada will be.

Horse race journalism is once again the order of the day, even though the horse race is meaningless this far out from an election.

Needless to say, a lot can and will change in two years — especially in politics. “Political pundit” might as well be a euphemism for fortune teller.

That said, it seems that while horse race journalism may sell, it also may play a negative role in our politics for a number of reasons.

First, coverage that focuses on polls and the race among party leaders starves voters of the coverage and information they need to reach independent opinions about both policies and candidates.

Second, the horse race lens portrays candidates as self-interested who focus only on winning and losing and not on what actually matters, something that has the effect of encouraging cynicism among voters.

And finally, as argued by Northeastern University Professor Matthew Nisbet, horse race journalism leads to coverage that seems to present a false equivalency in the treatment of meaningful issues and allows more readily for the emergence of so-called “fake news.”

This kind of journalism is often terribly uninformed and frequently misses the mark.

While developments over the past few months have been important, there is still a lot we don’t know, making predictions all but impossible.

For example, we do now know who will be leading the major federal parties against Justin Trudeau. We have seen a generational shift in our political leaders, and this will undoubtedly change the tenor and tone of election 2019. As well, for the first time in Canadian history, a major federal party will be led by a visible minority.

However, among the unknowns are what risks are ahead for those in politics. They face many — some they can control and some that they can’t.

Politicians can plan and predict how policy debates will roll out, they can strategize on how to best implement economic and environmental policy. But what they can’t isolate are international flare-ups, natural disasters and unforeseen domestic crises. Voters are often swayed by how politicians react to unanticipated and often game-changing events, not by the mundane and predictable policy debates.

Politicians all face a fundamental problem — how to govern and plan for the next election, but retain the flexibility to react to an unforeseen event.

Prime Minister Trudeau and his Liberal team are well aware of what is needed in the lead-up to the 2019 election. They know that the prime minister is well-liked by a solid percentage of Canadians. They are also acutely aware that about 30 per cent of Canadians — the Conservative base — would never in a million years consider voting for him.

They know that the prime minister now faces a young, hip, new progressive on the left — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. As a result, Trudeau will need to fight to retain a percentage of traditional NDP voters who sealed the deal on his majority mandate in 2015. To do this, Trudeau needs to pursue a firmly progressive agenda and make things right on Indigenous reconciliation and the environment. Easier said than done.

Many commentators have outlined this very game plan for the Liberals, especially since Singh and his Conservative counterpart Andrew Scheer’s secured their positions at the helm of their parties.

But it is naïve to believe that this is how 2019 will actually shake out.

Many things can and some will happen between now and then. The wild cards include:

  • A volatile U.S. president who could, without notice, fundamentally alter Canada’s economic future, trading environment, military requirements, immigration policies and international standing.
  • A North Korea, also with a volatile leader, that supposedly has the capability to strike Canada’s west coast.
  • The potential threat of the kind of domestic terrorism that has affected the domestic politics of other countries.
  • A complete collapse of the residential housing market.

And then there are the potential threats that are not even on the radar. All of this uncertainty makes trying to predict an election still two years away impossible.

So, next time you read a report or watch a panel speculating on who will win the 2019, consider the validity of what is presented and the possible negative impact such speculation may have on our politics.

And if you don’t agree, just ask Secretary Clinton.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on October 15, 2017)[:]

Newman on NAFTA: Your Guide to What Happens Next if NAFTA Talks Fail

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[:en]Despite a charm offensive by Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington, President Trump is again signaling his opposition to NAFTA and his desire to terminate it. Our Don Newman explains what exactly will happen, if and when, the plug on NAFTA is pulled.

NAFTA – What Happens Next?

All may not be lost if the current NAFTA negotiations collapse, as there are at least two fallback positions for Canadians to consider. But if Donald Trump announces that he wants the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, what exactly happens next?

Well the sun will still come up in the east the next morning. Under the United States Constitution, it is Congress, not the President, that has jurisdiction over trade and both the House of Representatives and the Senate jealously guard that authority.

That is why to abrogate any trade deal, the President has to give Congress six months notice that he wants to end it. And with NAFTA that will be a critical six months.

Canada, as well as Mexico‎, will then have to determine whether Trump really wants to end NAFTA or whether he just wants to put more pressure on both countries to cave into what they consider unreasonable American demands. This is a negotiating technique that works in real estate and licensing deals and Trump seems to believe it can work in negotiating international trade deals as well.

That, of course, remains to be seen. Mexico has said it will not bow to that kind of pressure, and will end any negotiations. The Canadian government hasn’t said what it would do.

NAFTA in 1987

The past might not be instructive either. At the critical moment in the 1987 negotiations on the Canada – U.S. Free Trade Agreement, Ottawa said the deal could not be completed without an independent system of expert panels to settle the trade disputes that would inevitably arise. The Americans backed down.

But in 1987, if Free Trade had not gone ahead, what was then the status quo would have been maintained. Now, of course, is different. If NAFTA disappears the whole network of supply chains, economies of economic scale and other forms of integration and investment would go with it. There is a lot more at stake than in 1987.

First Fallback Position – Saving Portions of NAFTA

With so much more at stake now than in 1987, Canada, and perhaps even Mexico, may be convinced to keep talking, and to try to save as much of NAFTA as possible working against a six month deadline.

If that is what happens, this is the first fallback position. It means Canadian companies and Associations will have to‎ quickly decide what is absolutely key to their success in the current NAFTA agreement, and what they could survive without.

That will then have to be quickly, forcefully and effectively conveyed to the Government.

But suppose negotiating stops. What happens then?

Second Fallback Position – Engaging US Congressional Committees

In Washington, the NAFTA ball lands in the court of two powerful Congressional Committees with the primary responsibility for trade deals: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

They will be the ones with the responsibility of unwinding the laws, rules and regulations in the United States that comprise the system created to facilitate NAFTA.

They will be the ones who will be subjected to tremendous pressure. Lobbyists representing Governors whose states will be particularly hard hit by NAFTA’s cancellation, ‎the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the auto industry, the agrifood industry and farmers organizations among others, will all pressure the Congressmen and Senators on those committees to save and protect the elements of the NAFTA package that favour their interests.

As well, other Senators and Congressmen who are not on the two committees, will be lobbying those that are, to protect industries or consumers in their districts that have benefited from NAFTA.

This is the second fallback position. This can also be an opportunity for Canadian companies and associations to try and preserve elements of NAFTA. Working with Congressman and Senators, and with likeminded American partners, this will be an opportunity to mount effective lobbying efforts in Washington.

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

So, although NAFTA could be in peril, as Yogi Berra said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

And as the British slogan during the wartime blitz advised: “Keep calm and carry on.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.[:]

Newman on NAFTA: Canada’s Full Court Press in Washington and Why it May Not Be Enough

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[:en]Ensight’s Don Newman on how high the stakes are for Prime Minister Trudeau during the fourth round of NAFTA talks in Washington and why President Trump may just walk away

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is visiting Washington this week to meet with President Donald Trump and important members of the U.S. Congress.

Why this week? Well this is the week the negotiations for a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement could collapse. And Trudeau wants to be seen as doing everything possible to try and prevent that.

The fourth round of talks to revise the 25 year old agreement begin Wednesday in Washington. ‎This is the round where the Americans are expected to put their most contentious issues on the table.

These issues include:

Buy American / Hire American

The controversial demand that United States‎ companies have the right to bid on Canadian Government contracts, but government contracts in the United States are reserved for only local companies, under the Trump administration’s “Buy American. Hire American” plan.

Car Manufacturing

The demand that all cars manufactured in the three NAFTA countries have a minimum of fifty per cent of their content originate in the United States. Present NAFTA content rules require that sixty-two point five per cent of a car must come from any of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico to pass duty free among the three countries. Raising the content rules as proposed by the Americans would mean that NAFTA countries content would be over eighty per cent, with the overwhelming amount of that content American.

Dispute Settlement

And the proposals for a changed dispute settlement arrangement. The Americans say the present method of settling disputes by independent panels whose members are drawn from all three countries is unfair to the U.S. They want U.S. Trade law, courts and tribunals to adjudicate disputes.

Both Canada and Mexico have said this proposal is a deal breaker that will kill NAFTA. And seeing the way U.S. Trade tribunals are hammering Canada in the Bombardier – Boeing dispute and on Canadian Softwood lumber exports, the resolve to say an emphatic “NO” to putting those same arrangements in NAFTA will only be strengthened. But saying “no” to these proposal will give President Trump the opening he is looking for.

During the election campaign last year Trump said he would either reform NAFTA or kill it. Many people have thought killing it is his real objective. Rejection by Canada or Mexico of the one-sided U.S. proposals put forward this week‎ would give him that opportunity. This week’s visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a last ditch effort to prevent that from happening. It is unlikely to be enough.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.[:]

Lessons on losing: What the NDP can learn from the 2011 Liberals: Mackenzie

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[:en]The recent NDP leadership ended decisively, with a first-ballot win for Brampton MPP Jagmeet Singh. Without a seat in the House of Commons of his own, Singh expects (unless an opportune by-election crops up) to be on the campaign hustings on his own for the next two years straight.

He’s an interesting — and possibly risky — choice for the NDP: a federal outsider without provincial NDP government experience, someone who is not a current federal caucus member. But those aren’t really the things New Democrats need to worry about right now.

The larger challenge for the NDP is one of identity — of figuring out who they are and what they stand for. The party gambled in the 2015 campaign on outflanking the Liberals through a balanced budget pledge. That shift in direction left many Canadians uncertain about what a ideologically flexible NDP might do next.

For some lessons on how this self-evaluation process might look, it’s worth taking a look back to 2011, when the Liberals — who also had just experienced a fall from Official Opposition to third party status — initiated a very deliberate process of ‘rebuilding’ their party.

This rebuilding project was a pragmatic process of evaluation — not an exercise in nostalgia. Liberals attended roundtables where they told one another why they were Liberals — what the Liberals should stand for, what policies they should champion, what would convince everyday Canadians that Liberals were a vibrant political movement worth considering again.

In Justin Trudeau’s book Common Ground, he describes his key advisers sitting around a campfire and talking about the possibility that the Liberal party was a spent political force. They talked about how Preston Manning and Stockwell Day created new parties with new names and the same old MPs. (Who knows what that would have looked like? The Progressive Party? The Liberal Democrats?)

Reminder: Before the 2015 election, the NDP had the largest caucus in its history. The election pulled the rug out from under them. In Opposition, New Democrats talked seriously about being ready to govern and pointed to the experience of provincial NDP governments by way of example. Defeat robbed the party of its raison d’être.

Many New Democrats haven’t understood that loss yet for what it was. Many Canadians don’t know now what distinguishes the NDP from the Liberal party, what makes New Democrats more qualified than the Liberals to move forward progressive ideas.

Parliament won’t help. Tom Mulcair made a reputation for himself as Stephen Harper’s most savage opponent in the Commons. The NDP’s new leader may not even make it to question period for another two years. In the meantime, Singh has tapped former leadership rival Guy Caron to lead his caucus day-to-day.

Singh has made some moves to distinguish himself from his rivals and, by extension, from the Liberals — such as his pitch to decriminalize personal recreational drug use. But he still has a lot to lose in 2019 and much ground to make up. Prime Minister Trudeau continues to be seen as a symbol of progressivism around the world.

The NDP supporters who voted strategically in 2015 to defeat the Harper Conservatives may be alarmed by recent polling showing a rise in support for the Conservatives — and decide to park their votes with the Liberals for safekeeping. New Democrats likely will be playing defence in certain regions they currently hold, which may draw their attention and resources away from taking Liberal-held seats in urban, multicultural areas.

The only virtue in defeat is the opportunity to become better. Every party eventually needs to restore itself — but the process typically involves some serious self-interrogation. New Democrats need to ask themselves what they can offer that no other party can.

Singh has two years on the outside now, time he can put to good use in rebuilding the party. And being an outsider can have benefits. Singh likes to compare himself to Jack Layton. It took Layton three elections to be considered. Like Layton, Singh can afford to be patient.

But a party leader who leads from the outside runs a risk. The next election will be an evaluation of what Trudeau has done with power. Without an actual third-party leader there to hold Trudeau to account in the House of Commons, Singh’s placeholder Parliamentary caucus representative is going to see his lunch eaten daily by Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer.

Good luck, Jagmeet Singh. The path from third place to first is seldom easy to follow.

(As published in iPolitics on October 8, 2017)[:]

The changing faces of Canadian politics: Watt

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[:en]As the seasons have changed, so too has the Canadian political landscape.

The October 2015 election of a Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau began a major shift from dominance by Baby Boomers to a younger generation. Voters chose Trudeau’s youth and optimism over the experience of the other party leaders.

Just two years later, Trudeau is now the oldest of the three main federal party leaders. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and newly crowned NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are both 38, Trudeau is 45.

Scheer and Singh were chosen by their parties, at least in part, as a response to the youthfulness Trudeau brings to his leadership. The three are the youngest group of federal leaders in Canadian history.

It’s a remarkable shift, especially when contrasted with many Western democracies, whose increasingly older populations embrace greyer, more experienced leaders. (France, of course, is a notable exception.)

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May, 61, faces off in Parliament against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, 68.

In the United States, President Donald Trump, 71, still rails on about 69-year-old Hillary Clinton. Among Trump’s potential rivals in the next U.S. presidential election are California Governor Jerry Brown, 79, Senator Elizabeth Warren, 68, and Senator Bernie Sanders, 76.

But in Canada we are witnessing more than just a generational change.

Singh’s decisive victory last weekend raised the curtain on a new Canadian political pageant — one that is beginning to more accurately reflect the growing diversity of this country.

Growing up in Windsor in the 1980s, Singh saw a Canadian political establishment that consisted largely of white, older, straight men. It was an establishment that did not reflect him, his family or his friends.

In fact, throughout his leadership campaign, pundits and other commentators spoke or wrote in code about whether Singh’s Sikh identity could prove a challenge in a general election.

Just as Barack Obama’s victory was eight years ago, Singh’s convincing win was, at least in part, a rebuke of those whispers — whispers that likely will mean nothing to most Canadians when they cast their ballots in 2019.

Another shift came the day after Singh’s win when Julie Payette, 53, was sworn in as Governor General.

She, too, represents generational change, but she also represents more.

The institution of the vice-regal office is, of course, traditional by its very nature, and despite the dedicated efforts of predecessor David Johnston and his wife Sharon to humanize the post, and their success at genuinely connecting with Canadians all over the country, many see Rideau Hall as far removed from everyday life.

But Payette’s warm and enthusiastic demeanour is as inspiring as it is engaging. Her down-to-earth approach allows her to come across as accessible and approachable. Her ability to speak passionately and eloquently for nearly 20 minutes about our country and its future, without notes, makes her not only genuine and authentic but allows her to connect with her fellow citizens.

A former astronaut who has twice been to space and who speaks six languages, our new Governor General is an impressive person, with a long record of accomplishments. She has long been a role model.

And on Monday, in one poignant moment, Payette blazed a new trail, while at the same time reflecting the current reality of many Canadian families: she arrived at her installation ceremony as a single woman with her 14-year-old son by her side.

According to Statistics Canada, about 20 per cent of families in Canada are headed by a single parent. But until now, a single parent had never served as Governor General.

Payette also chose to affirm her loyalty, rather than swear an oath on the Bible. As religion’s role in the lives of Canadians is changing, here was another example that Canada’s leadership is more closely resembling the population.

There are other important role models whose lives and experiences mirror those of other Canadians. The premier of Ontario is a lesbian and the premier of Prince Edward Island is a gay man.

Canada is a diverse, inclusive and welcoming place. How lucky we are, and how lucky are our children, that our political leaders are beginning to look more like all of us.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

(As published in The Toronto Star on October 8, 2017)[:]

This Week’s First Ministers’ Meeting Marks A Turn in Trudeau’s Dialogue with the Premiers

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[:en]Canada’s Premiers gathered in Ottawa this week but the tone was very different than their first meeting in 2015. Our John Delacourt on a changing perception of government and working effectively with Canada’s Premiers.

In November of 2015, in the early days of this government, one of the significant gestures Trudeau made was to convene a First Ministers meeting, prior to the COP 21 meeting in Paris, to work on a concerted effort to address climate change. There was nothing agreed upon at that time, other than a resolution to meet again 90 days after the Paris meeting, yet it was less about decision making than it was about a new dialogue, a new tone, a new way of working together.

Indeed it had been six years since the Premiers had last met in this fashion. Harper never really warmed to the idea of convening these working sessions; it took the recession to create the suitable conditions for a hanging to concentrate his mind. A little more than half a decade later Trudeau, with a buoyant economy and a spring in his stride, walked into that first meeting intent upon establishing a strong working rapport and a commitment to meeting again soon – and often.

At this week’s First Ministers’ Meeting here in Ottawa, it is clear that collegiality is no longer the high priority it once was, given the challenges looming for a government in mid-mandate. Chief among them is bringing revenue in to the coffers. In the first day of the Ministers’ sitting down this week, Trudeau called upon Bill Blair, the former Toronto Police Services Chief and current Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Justice, to deliver the sobering news that the federal government will be proposing a ten percent tax on the recreational use of marijuana.

If there had been sufficient indication this was coming, the Premiers’ reactions suggested otherwise.

You can understand why many of the Premiers felt blind sided and reacted so negatively. One of the fundamental tenets of the government’s rationale to legalize marijuana is that, by providing a regulated, safe and lower cost alternative to the product currently sold illegally, they will drive the criminals out of business. It will be harder to make the lower cost argument when the combined provincial and federal tax on each product sold could be 25 percent.

And even more concerning to many, is the inequitable sharing of the work with regard to the enforcement of regulations, the policing and the changes to laws and bylaws that has to occur. Yet Trudeau, in his follow-up interviews this week, gave no indication that the federal government was prepared to back down from Blair’s presentation.

On its own, it might be overlooked, but given the fallout of liberal members of the Status of Women parliamentary committee flatly walking out and rejecting the decision to elect a Conservative Chair, and in the continuing saga of Morneau’s proposed tax changes facing a revolt from everyone from small business owners to doctors, a new perception is emerging. This new perception paints the picture of a government less receptive than resolute and less sunny than stern.

As the Liberal Government turns its focus to managing the complex, harder work of delivering a fall fiscal update and budget that stays the course for continued growth into the early months of the next campaign, surely Trudeau’s team can recall how tone can direct dialogue, and that picking a fight with the Premiers didn’t work out well for the last Prime Minister.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.
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The Singh Victory: Spin Versus Reality

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[:en]Jagmeet Singh’s first ballot win today in the NDP leadership contest is going to generate a great deal of copy and punditry from across the political spectrum. Herewith is a quick reality check with regard to the spin, pro and contra-Singh, that you’re about to read and hear.

Contra:
He’s a 905 phenomenon. Outside of Ontario – and especially in Quebec, the NDP will have trouble making gains and raising their seat count in the next election.

Actually, you could map the areas of the country where Jagmeet’s strongest support is and come up with a worrying picture if you were plotting Team Trudeau’s ground game. Singh’s campaign was able to attract significant numbers for a first ballot victory from parts of the country that include the Lower Mainland and the Greater Vancouver Area, and respectable numbers in urban Alberta as well. Leadership contests are a good read on where the boots-on-the-ground federal campaign support is likely to be strongest and those are communities where key gains for Team Trudeau came from in 2015. As far as Quebec goes, well, in 2008, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives formed a majority government with only 5 seats in la belle province. That’s a victory forged from the old iron of the land of two solitudes, you could argue. But if you’re a political pragmatist, you’d be focused on one thing first and foremost: more seats in the House. If that mantra sounds familiar, it should. It was Jack Layton’s strategy throughout his political career.

Pro:
He’s young, telegenic and bilingual: he’s the NDP’s Trudeau and could catch fire in the same way in the next federal campaign.

It is true that Singh has great potential to grow the party’s vote beyond an older, traditionally progressive base of support. But the dynamics of federal campaigns do not equate to voters swapping out one young, telegenic candidate for another for one simple reason: it is always about the retail, economic issues. You may be tired of the Liberals’ constant messaging about the middle class, but that’s because you’re listening all or most of the time. As the brain trust behind Stephen Harper’s first election victory maintained to great effect, it is the voters who aren’t necessarily listening that winning strategy focuses on and the simple truth remains for every candidate: whoever connects with a plan for the economy that gives the greater number of Canadians reason to be optimistic will always find their way to 24 Sussex.

Beyond the Spin:
The number of seats across the country where a Singh victory might make the NDP contenders is significant. And very few of those – apart from in Western Canada – map on to where the Conservatives might make gains as well. What this could bode well for is a 2019 campaign result that puts the Liberals into a minority and the Conservatives in a strong position to work effectively with the NDP to ensure stormy weather rather than sunny ways for the Liberals’ second mandate. And that might position the NDP for greater gains than ever imagined when Canadians go to the polls again. That could also be sooner than 2023, given how minority governments can go.

There is enough reason for Team Singh to look ahead that far and be optimistic.[:]