Tories fall into Trudeau’s tax trap: Watt


[:en]As Parliamentarians made their return to the House of Commons this past week, there was a marked difference in the moods of Liberal and Conservative members.

Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives were cheerfully optimistic about their future, while Liberal government members were considerably less upbeat.

The reason: the federal government had just endured weeks of critical commentary from media outlets and interest groups from across the political spectrum and the country itself.

In mid-July, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the government intended to overhaul the system under which Canadian small businesses pay tax, cracking down on “loopholes,” including income splitting, and the taxation of passive income held within a business. The government’s said the changes would affect roughly 50,000 families across Canada — no small adjustment.

The resulting media attention was widespread and highly negative for the government.

The announcement sparked one critical headline after another, coverage that was helped by high-profile campaigns by professional associations like the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Bar Association, whose members benefit greatly from the current tax regime.

Stories sympathetic to independent business owners proliferated, describing the challenge the changes would pose to their existence in the gravest of terms.

The media circus even began to undermine caucus solidarity among the Liberals with several MPs making their criticisms public; never a positive sign as many a veteran politician will tell you.

So, it’s hard to blame the Conservatives for being so thrilled. After all, they have had precious little to cheer about since their October 2015 defeat. Their long leadership race to replace Stephen Harper coincided with glowing, almost “criticism-free” coverage of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Many partisans were left to wonder if they were now in the beginning stages of a long stint on the Opposition benches.

Then, the Conservatives spotted, what they thought, was a winning opportunity in this tax issue. They then used this fracas to focus MPs and hammer Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Question Period. They have even been inspired to launch an advertising campaign blasting the proposed changes.

And yet, none of this has budged Trudeau or altered his approach. And it seems that while unusual, the Prime Minister’s approach is an astute one.

It is well accepted that the last U.S. presidential election demonstrated there is a latent fury among citizens who feel their system is fundamentally rigged in favour of the privileged.

That belief that the game is rigged in favour of the rich is true here in Canada as well. And it is growing.

While it may seem as though there has been less turbulence here, that is because of some structural differences between our countries.

The American system was built to be highly susceptible to changes in mood. In Canada, political parties exert far more central control.

As well, in America, markets are large enough to sustain alternative media points of view for long enough to ferment a wider audience. American political culture is also strikingly more public-facing than it is here.

But that doesn’t mean the same turbulence doesn’t roil underneath Canada’s seemingly politically serene culture.

Canadians believe the system is rigged just as much as Americans do. They believe rich Canadians don’t pay their fair share of tax, and that the system delivers advantages to the privileged that are not available to them.

Canadians of all political stripes, of all demographic groups and from all over the country believe this. No amount of campaigning by doctors and lawyers will convince them the wealthy will be unduly hurt under a new tax regime; in fact, these campaigns may be more likely to push Canadians toward the Liberals.

The Conservatives have fallen into the trap of defending a group of privileged Canadians and allowing themselves to be boxed in against the middle class.

It seems that Justin Trudeau has adopted a lesson Donald Trump taught us all in 2016: conventional commentators, more often than not, are drastically out of touch — and leaders should trust their instincts.

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

(As published in The Toronto Star on September 24, 2017 and on the same date)[:]

Trump and the Art of the NAFTA Deal: Mackenzie


[:en]In the late 1980s, Donald J. Trump appeared as though he had a future in politics. Take a trip back with me.

As a fresh-faced real-estate mogul in New York City in his early forties, Trump chummed it up with Clintons on the party circuit and even had Oprah tempting him into flirting with an eventual run for President.

In the 90s, Trump’s carefully crafted persona expanded into a successful foray into authorship through The Art of the Deal, which spent 51 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

The part autobiography, part listicle recommended 11 unavoidable keys to success in business and to making great deals.

Trump’s tome on deal-making is timely considering that now-President Trump is being tested on one major deal and one of his key campaign promises: renegotiating NAFTA. He criticized the deal as “the worst trade deal” ever signed by the U.S. and said that he would get his country a much better deal.

So, will we find some clues to Trump’s NAFTA strategy in The Art of the Deal as we enter Round 3? Let’s find out by examining his tactics for deal-making:

Think big

NAFTA has big stakes. Tens of millions of jobs depend on it. NAFTA countries’ economies have grown together to become the world’s largest free trade area and have a combined output of approximately $17 trillion (U.S.) worth of goods and services. Renegotiating and modernizing it could be big for business.

Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself

The U.S. has put Mexico and Canada on their back feet in these negotiations by coming to the table aggressively. U.S. trade negotiators charge that hundreds of thousands of jobs “left” or slipped northwards or southwards, and would soon be coming back to them. Canada and Mexico have entered this discussion aiming for a tweak at best to the existing deal. They may be too busy defending their key levers while the U.S. is on the offensive – essentially protecting itself from losing ground.

Maximize the options

This chapter essentially suggests a good negotiator must ensure there are distractions in waiting, including leaving room to negotiate something else – in case this deal falls through. So, if NAFTA falls through – bilateral trade deals with each country remain on the table, although that is not considered ideal for anyone.

Know your market

While Trump may think that his administration speaks for business, industry’s motto is “do no harm” to the existing agreement and arrangements of supply chains. Industry is not onside with the administration’s tactics. It is sheer tone deafness and contrarianism of the U.S.’s Trade Negotiator Lighthizer in saying “tweaks” are not enough.

Use your leverage

Arguably all three countries picked strong negotiating teams with a lot of experience. Well done all around.

Enhance your location

The U.S. got home-team advantage in Washington off the bat, ornate rooms in any nation’s capital will not phase weathered trade negotiators though. No points to anyone. Thankfully it’s still summer weather in Canada going into this weekend’s round. However, if this drags on… winter trade talks could be considered a trade irritant of sorts.

Get the word out

Trade negotiations necessitate a high level of privacy. Trump’s use of his rallies throughout August to loudly threaten again that the U.S. will walk away from NAFTA was a clear play for media and the other countries to induce panic. As neither Canada nor Mexico have taken the bait – both suggesting it was simply empty rhetoric – it seems the safe bet is that cooler heads prevail behind closed doors.

Fight back

President Trump often thinks people are being “unfair” to him. His impetus for calling for NAFTA renegotiation was because it was unfair to manufacturers, and the U.S. wasn’t going to take it anymore. We can expect him to take more swings at NAFTA at his persistent campaign rallies and obviously on Twitter. Does that impact the negotiations? Doubtful. Experts point to the fact that Congress passed a trade implementation bill around NAFTA that would need to be dealt with before Trump could truly pull the U.S. out.

Deliver the goods

Commentators suggest Mexico and Canada will likely concede small things to give Trump a political win back home, but they won’t give away the store. Trump will get tweaks and must declare victory, which is not what he set out to do. Otherwise, he will walk away with no agreement delivered.

Contain the costs

When all is said and done, these negotiations will have cost a lot. If these talks last for longer than Trump hoped, he will be accused of running up the bill for not a lot of return on investment.

Have fun

Trade deals are not ‘fun’. This is an exercise in pouring over countless pieces of paper to amend the wording of an existing agreement that has trillions of dollars on the line. Trump’s rallies may give him an adrenaline boost that thrills him, however, NAFTA should not be a political football. This is a deal that creates many jobs and puts the food on many families’ tables.

Some commentated that Lighthizer’s opening remarks in round one in Washington, “We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement,” sounded as if Trump wrote it himself on the back of a napkin for his Trade Negotiator to toss in.

The President’s fingerprints are present in the negotiations and his unpredictability looms all around it. His Apprentice persona was built as a deal-maker, and now his worldview is being put to the test.

The Art of the Deal – an undeniable major influence on negotiations in the private sector over the last few decades – now sits on the shelf as perhaps Trump’s best legacy.

Then again, he didn’t even write the thing.

(As published in Loonie Politics on September 23, 2017)[:]

The Hunt for an Opposition Leader: Who will the NDP choose to chart their path to power?



In a campaign that is struggling to attract attention outside of NDP circles, our NDP insider Sally Houser lays out the issues and discusses the four candidates and their vision for the party.

On September 18 members of the New Democratic Party of Canada began casting their ballots for a new leader. Although the four candidates made their final pitch to voting members at a “Leadership Showcase” in Hamilton on September 17, it may be as late as October 15 before a winner is decided; the party’s new voting system allows a full week in between ballots to allow candidates to woo the supporters of whoever comes last in the rounds. A candidate needs to win with 50% +1, so we could have a winner on October 1, 8, or 15.

Though the leadership race has not been characterized by wildly differentiated policy proposals, there have been some ideas floated that makes each candidate stand out:

  • Singh has called for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs
  • Caron committed to bringing in a guaranteed income for all Canadians
  • Ashton has promised free post-secondary education
  • Angus plans to dismantle Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)

Climate change talk has ranged from Ashton as the most vehemently opposed to any new pipelines to Angus who, while hardly crying “drill baby drill”, is asking New Democrats to think about transitioning to a renewable economy without throwing a generation of oil and gas workers under the bus.

Meet The Candidates – Who are they and how will they fare?

Charlie Angus – The ‘Prominent and Stable’ Choice
Elected in 2008 to represent the Riding of Timmins-James Bay in Northern Ontario, Angus has been a prominent and often quoted fixture in the NDP caucus. He has significant support among long time party members as well as outside the urban centres. Expected to finish in the top two on the first ballot, it will be crucial for him whether it is Ashton or Caron that gets knocked out in the first round as many of Caron’s supporters view Angus as their second choice.

Niki Ashton – The ‘Millennial and Young Woman’ Choice
Ashton is the only candidate in the race to be taking a second crack at leadership, having run to replace Jack Layton in the 2012. She has a significant amount of support from millennials, particularly young woman. Though her fundraising has been good, her campaign has had some stumbles and seems to be running out of gas. She placed last in the 2012 contest. Her team will have to work hard to get those millennials voting to ensure she doesn’t suffer the same fate this time around.

Guy Caron – The ‘Slow and Steady’ Choice
Elected in Jack Layton’s Quebec orange wave of 2011, Caron represents the riding of Rimouski. His campaign started slow, initially posting poor fundraising numbers but in recent weeks significant endorsements from well-known and respected New Democrats have given him some momentum. Coming on strong in the end game may be enough to edge out Ashton and avoid coming last on the first ballot. He has a lot of second choice support so if he stays in he does have an outside chance to come up the middle.

Jagmeet Singh – The ‘Toe to Toe with Trudeau’ Choice
Singh represents the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton in the Ontario legislature and has served as the Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP. He has positioned himself as the candidate that can best grow the flagging NDP membership base and can go toe-to-toe with Justin Trudeau on flash and style. His team claims that they have signed up 47,000 new members. If those numbers ring true and they’re able to motivate those new members to vote, he could get close enough to 50% on the first ballot to make a win virtually guaranteed. If his vote isn’t motivated, he may not have enough second-choice support to take him over the edge. [:]

MPs Suit Up for Battle – Don Newman on the upcoming Fall session of Parliament


[:en]Parliament is set to resume on Monday, so we sat down with Ensight’s Don Newman to talk about what we could expect to see and what to watch closely.

1. How would you rank Trudeau and the Liberals this summer?

I would rank them lucky. Almost halfway through their first term and they are still comfortably ahead in the polls, at a time when usually a government is facing declining support.

The Liberals have stayed on top despite the unpopular $10-million settlement to Omar Khadar, and despite the now festering controversy over punitive changes to people who have turned themselves into corporations for tax purposes.

The potential problem of still being so popular half way through the mandate is that when their popularity inevitably dips, they will be closer to the next election.

2. Given the recent cabinet shuffle, who are the Liberal ministers to watch this session?

‎Most of the Ministers to watch are not ones that were shuffled. But of those who were, Seamus O’Regan in the quagmire that is Veterans Affairs is probably the one to keep your eye on. Also, how the splitting of Indigenous Affairs into two portfolios with Jane Philpott joining Carolyn Bennett to deal with those intractable problems will be interesting.

But on a day to day basis, Finance Minister Bill Morneau with tax changes and deficits, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr with the Trans-Mount‎ain Pipeline and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with NAFTA, will be front and center.

3. The beginning of this session marks two years in power for the Liberals. So far, has Justin Trudeau delivered? And what does he need to do to ramp up for the 2019 election?

Well Trudeau promised “Sunny Ways” and certainly the mood of the country seems better than under the previous government. That’s atmospherics, but it has to count for something.

On the bigger issues, the Liberals now have to show more progress on big ticket items, like the infrastructure bank and actually getting more shovels in the ground and projects started.

By 2019 they will have to show that they finessed the pipeline issue‎ in B.C. That won’t be easy, with the energy industry and the Alberta Government on one side, and environmentalist and the British Columbia Government on the other.

The Indigenous file has the never-ending potential to go sideways. Look at the difficulties getting the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women under-way.

And of course, the ongoing NAFTA negotiations are a wild card, with the unpredictable President Donald Trump a wild card himself.

4. What’s your best bet for Opposition Leader Andrew Sheer’s first question in Question Period?

Barring some unforeseeable‎ event that captures the headlines that day, the first question will be about tax changes for incorporated small businesses, and the people who currently benefit from the present system.

5. Who in the Conservative ‘shadow cabinet’ is best placed to be effective in their role as critic?

The Finance critic, Pierre Poilievre. I don’t think he knows much about finance but he certainly knows a lot about politics and he plays a rough game in the House of Commons.

The Official Opposition‎ believes that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is a relatively weak performer and they have put their pit bull opposite him. They also think he is vulnerable on both corporate taxes and deficits. Morneau is a relative newcomer to politics and a gentleman. Neither description would apply to Poilievre.

The session will also be a testing period for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. He narrowly won the party leadership last June‎. Now Conservatives will see if they made the right choice.

6. What will be the “sleeper issue” this fall?

Because if there is one it will be a “sleeper’ so it is impossible to predict. However that doesn’t minimize its importance. When Harold MacMillan was retiring after seven years as British Prime Minister, a reporter asked him what his most difficult problems had been.

“Events, dear boy,” he said, “events.”

The unforeseen crisis, and the way a government responds to it, often are the difference between a successful government and one that isn’t.

7. How will the Senate co-operate with the Government with so many Independent Senators and things like the marijuana legislation coming down the pipe.

Before the summer recess it appeared the Senate might dig in its heels and fail to pass the budget bill. In the end enough of the Independents agreed they could not go against the will of the elected House of Commons. The Senate will propose amendments to the marijuana bill. Some may be accepted by the Government, and others won’t. But ultimately, I think the Senate will come to the same conclusion it did last spring. It might delay, but it won’t defeat. [:]

Where There’s Smoke, There May Soon Be Fire – Our Dispatch From The Liberal Caucus Retreat


[:en]For Liberal MPs traveling in from the Kelowna airport to their hotel for this week’s caucus retreat, they were told by the taxi drivers that one of the forest fires that have been raging throughout the BC interior this summer was only 25 kilometres away. Aside from the economic effects, this year’s fires have once again left many families homeless. The fires provided a somber undercurrent to the caucus meetings, a reminder of how fragile prosperity and stability can be right now for all Canadians, despite the recent strong economic growth numbers. One of Trudeau’s first public appearances, astutely enough, was with the Kelowna Fire Department to talk with the front line responders.

But there are other fires to consider too. In the evening, a sooty fog dropped like a shroud over the nearby hills of the wine country. And for many of the new Liberal Members, emerging from contentious caucus sessions over proposed tax policy changes and presentations on plans and priorities, it was easy to imagine that this grey fog was actually the smoke from the battlefield as Trudeau’s team bears down for the 2019 campaign.

Fairness for the middle class. It’s more than a mantra for Trudeau’s Liberals, as we know. It’s a guiding principle and, as Morneau’s key advisors would say, a top line message for both caucus and media in attendance at the Kelowna Delta Okanagan. Morneau’s team worked together like an emergency crew starting Wednesday morning to beat back the brush fires of resistance from caucus to the tax policy changes Morneau has proposed – curbing income “sprinkling” with family members, passive investment income and the conversion of a corporation’s regular income into capital gains. From all accounts this offensive was smart, shrewdly timed and well executed, exactly how you’d want to describe the tactical approach to selling these changes. Morneau must hope that his forthcoming “road show” for these with Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger comes off as well.

In any event, he’ll face an offensive from the Conservatives who are getting battle ready for the fall session as well. Trudeau’s final press conference here in Kelowna was peppered with questions that had him responding to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s broadsides this week – on refugee and immigration policy, on Omar Khadr’s payout and … surprise, surprise … on how these proposed tax policy changes might actually negatively impact a beleaguered middle class and, permit a small variation on the mantra here, those working hard to join the one percent. It’s too early to tell whether these lines of attack will gain real ground for the Conservatives in the weeks ahead, but Trudeau would be wise to read the heavy clouds over the horizon with cautious optimism that a storm might quell still smoldering fires.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight Canada[:]

Scheer announces shadow cabinet


[:en]To some political observers, today’s announcement of new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s shadow cabinet does more than reveal the roster of Question Period matchups expected this fall when the House of Commons reconvenes. It can also give a glimpse into the new power dynamics at play within Scheer’s Conservative party, provide clues on the new leader’s policy priorities, and even highlights who has been snubbed.

Predictably, eleven of the new shadow cabinet positions have been filled by MPs who endorsed Scheer. Only three of Scheer’s rivals in a crowded leadership race have been denied a position. Most notably, controversial candidate Kellie Leitch did not receive a critic role. Scheer’s fellow Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, whose support at the convention blew away expectations and helped Scheer narrowly defeat Maxime Bernier, was also excluded. But the move could reignite speculation Trost may be preparing for a leadership run in Saskatchewan where Premier Brad Wall is stepping down as leader of the Saskatchewan Party.

Bernier did not get the role he publicly lobbied for as the shadow minister for Finance, but he says he is pleased to receive another central economic file as the critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). Bernier also served in Harper’s cabinet as the Minister of Industry, the precursor to ISED, and will be familiar with the issues.

Scheer’s changes reflect a leader who is trying to put his stamp on a party that has only had one leader before him. He is balancing the aspirations of his colleagues, favours owed and the need to field a competent political team as the countdown to the 2019 general election continues.

The cascading changes have essentially overhauled much of the Conservatives’ roster of critics aside from exceptions like Calgary MP Michelle Rempel and veteran Rob Nicholson, who each remained publicly neutral during the leadership race. Scheer, though, has not made any changes to his House of Commons leadership which remains in the hands of leadership rival Lisa Raitt as deputy leader, Whip Mark Strahl, Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes, House leader Candice Bergen and her deputies Chris Warkentin and John Brassard. In addition, former minister Diane Finley has been named caucus-party liaison.

On a cosmetic note, Scheer is working to position the Conservatives as a government-in-waiting by naming “shadow ministers” rather than the traditional term “critic.” Time will tell which changes will gain traction and which ones won’t stick, but for now Scheer is focused on quickly ushering in his own era as Conservative Leader.


The Question Period Matchups

Andrew Scheer
Leader of the Official Opposition
Right Hon. Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

Maxime Bernier
Shadow Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development
The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Ziad Aboultaif
Shadow Minister, International Development
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Gérard Deltell
Shadow Minister, Treasury Board
The Honourable Scott Brison
President of the Treasury Board

Shannon Stubbs
Shadow Minister, Natural Resources
The Honourable James Gordon Carr
Minister of Natural Resources

Dan Albas
Shadow Minister, Small Business
The Honourable Bardish Chagger
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Dean Allison
Shadow Minister, International Trade
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of International Trade

Karen Vecchio
Shadow Minister, Families, Children and Social Development
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Matt Jeneroux
Shadow Minister, Science
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science

Erin O’Toole
Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Kelly Block
Shadow Minister, Transport
The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

Pierre Paul-Hus
Shadow Minister, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Scott Reid
Shadow Minister, Democratic Institutions
The Honourable Karina Gould
Minister of Democratic Institutions

Dianne Watts
Shadow Minister, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
The Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Alexander Nuttall
Shadow Minister, Youth, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
The Honourable Kent Hehr
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Michelle Rempel
Shadow Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Peter Van Loan
Shadow Minister, Canadian Heritage and National Historic Sites
The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Canadian Heritage

Todd Doherty

Shadow Minister, Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Asia-Pacific Gateway
The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Pat Kelly
Shadow Minister, National Revenue
The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier
Minister of National Revenue

Luc Berthold
Shadow Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Ed Fast
Shadow Minister, Environment and Climate Change
The Honourable Catherine McKenna
Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Pierre Poilievre
Shadow Minister, Finance and National Capital Commission
The Honourable William Francis Morneau
Minister of Finance

Rachel Harder
Shadow Minister, Status of Women
The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Status of Women

Steven Blaney
Shadow Minister, Veterans Affairs
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Marilyn Gladu
Shadow Minister, Health
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health

Cathy McLeod
Shadow Minister, Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
The Honourable Jane Philpott
Minister of Indigenous Services

Tony Clement
Shadow Minister, Public Services and Procurement
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Public Services and Procurement

James Bezan
Shadow Minister, National Defence
The Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence

Michael Chong
Shadow Minister, Infrastructure, Communities and Urban Affairs
The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Rob Nicholson
Shadow Minister, Justice
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Other Critic Roles:

  • John Barlow, Agriculture and Agri-Food (Associate)
  • Peter Kent, Ethics
  • Rob Moore, Atlantic Issues and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
  • Alain Rayes, Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Bob Saroya, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Associate)
  • Alice Wong, Seniors


Trudeau Targets Indigenous, Veterans Files And Promotes Talent From Within



Ensight’s Cabinet Shuffle Political Update

Trudeau Retools Cabinet In Advance Of Fall Parliamentary Session

With the next federal election about to be closer than the last one that brought the Liberals to power‎, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his Cabinet to focus on the unfinished items on the Liberal agenda and fight off attacks from two new opposition party leaders.

Trudeau orchestrated a shuffle early this year in order to recalibrate and position the Cabinet to manage Canada’s relationship with the Trump administration, but this latest shuffle represents something different. This is, in fact, a proactive shift introduced by the Prime Minister to put his government in the best position to deliver on specific priorities he deems critical to the next election, including Indigenous Affairs and Veterans Affairs. It should be noted this won’t be the last Cabinet shuffle before the next election, as a number of veteran Liberal ministers are expected to step aside in advance of the campaign.

At the centre of this shuffle is Minister Jane Philpott, a position she finds herself in for all the right reasons considering her stellar track record at Health Canada. From her deft and swift handling of the opioids crisis to making Health Accord deals with all provinces and territories, her work and activism have been effective and popular. However, industry has been consulted less vigorously under her leadership than in previous governments. Her personal passion for the Indigenous health file has been something she has spoken on many times, and she put her passion to work in partnering with Justice on the physician-assisted death and cannabis files. Her ability to partner with fellow ministers bodes well as she prepares to begin her mandate as it relates to the altered role of Dr. Carolyn Bennett as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister.

Bennett is a 20-year veteran Parliamentarian whose important role will get an expanded support team within Cabinet. She has a personal passion for her work, built on some strong partnerships she has made over the years with First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups across the country. While Bennett’s retirement may yet come – for now, she will continue to advance this key portfolio for the Prime Minister.

Seamus O’Regan, who has been preparing to host Cabinet at a retreat in his riding of St. John’s South—Mount Pearl next month, is another major player today as a new entrant to the Cabinet table. Well-known as a CTV broadcaster, O’Regan is one of the Prime Minister’s best friends, a groomsmen at his wedding, and a close personal confidant. His ability to communicate will be critical in his new role as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence, which was a portfolio that created a plethora of problems for the Harper government. Putting a renewed vigour into the veterans file will strongly signal that Liberals remain committed to the “sacred obligation” promises they included in their last platform. O’Regan’s strengths as a communicator will also help take some of the burden off Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has been embroiled in controversy at moments. O’Regan’s public effort to overcome alcohol dependency has transformed him into a comeback story, and he has worked closely with the PMO to help organize the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to Canada.

Another new member of Cabinet is Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Having already served as the Deputy Government Whip and then as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau – Petitpas Taylor will be seen as a solid choice to expand the Cabinet. In the Atlantic provinces, Liberals currently have all the seats, and adding Ministers to give further recognition to that fact is something that Atlantic MPs will be pleased to see. The Health Minister role has a particularly high bar to meet following on the heels of Philpott’s tenure. She has succeeded in these two previous roles, yet this will bring the stakes to a higher level for her political future.

Meanwhile, former Paralympian and human rights lawyer Minister Qualtrough will be moving within Cabinet to take over as Minister of Public Services and Procurement. In her current portfolio as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities, she has been busy traveling across the country for consultations on services for persons with disabilities, has been involved with the B.C. wildfire response effort, and has been working to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act. She will now turn her proactive work ethic toward the challenges existing at Public Services and Procurement, including the embattled Phoenix pay system and procurement of replacement fighter jets. With a new NDP-Green provincial government and some polls showing federal Liberal slippage in British Columbia, keeping a tough riding like Delta is an electoral priority to show strength in the lower mainland’s outskirts.

Finally, Minister Kent Hehr will vacate his portfolio as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Defence to make way for O’Regan. However, the move to Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities comes with its benefits for Hehr, who was a noted athlete who remains passionate about sport. His new role may also provide him with more time to focus on getting re-elected in Calgary in 2019. He is the first Liberal Calgary MP since the 1970s.

New ministers will receive mandate letters, signalling updated priorities, from the Prime Minister in the weeks ahead.

Insights and Biographical Notes

Hon. Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister to National Defence


  • O’Regan’s appointment ensures Newfoundland and Labrador retains a voice at the Cabinet table in the wake of Judy Foote’s resignation from her post at Public Services and Procurement.
  • The former broadcaster is a close personal friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who notably made a public show of support for O’Regan in 2015 when he announced he would seek help for alcohol dependence.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada’s headquarters are located in Charlottetown PEI, and several Atlantic Canadian politicians have been called on to lead the department in the past, such as Greg Thompson, Doug Young and Gerald Merrithew.

Biographical Notes

O’Regan is well known to Canadians as the long-time host of CTV’s Canada AM and as a national reporter for the network.

Born in St. John’s and raised in Labrador, O’Regan worked for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as an advisor to the Premier and to the Minister of Justice. He also served as Executive Vice President, Communications, at The Stronach Group of Companies, and was noted for his role of Ambassador for Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health awareness campaign.

As MP for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland and Labrador), O’Regan has been a member of the House of Commons’ Canadian Heritage committee and he is a members of the Canada-Ireland Interparliamentary Group.

O’Regan made headlines when he proactively sought treatment for alcohol dependence shortly after he was elected in 2015, and he was also named in the scandal surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Christmas vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.

Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health


  • Petitpas Taylor is a gifted communicator in French and English, and she put those skills to great use as Parliamentary Secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She was notably instrumental in various consultations across the country, including those held for Budget 2017.
  • Petitpas Taylor is a noted advocate on women’s issues whose ability to connect with her own community in Southeastern New Brunswick has translated well to the federal political scene. Her riding is adjacent to the Beausejour riding of Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, with whom she has a productive working dynamic.
  • A noted community volunteer and advocate, Petitpas Taylor burst into federal politics when she shocked local Liberals and defeated former Moncton mayor George LeBlanc to win the Liberal nomination and help lead the red wave that covered every corner of Atlantic Canada in 2015.

Biographical Notes

Ginette Petitpas Taylor’s background in social work led her to a 23-year career as an RCMP Victim Services Coordinator where she provided crisis and domestic violence counselling. She is a noted volunteer with the Coalition Against Abuse in Relationships, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Suicide Prevention Committee, she served on the City of Moncton’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, and she has been chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services


  • Philpott has been one of the Prime Minister’s most competent and trusted ministers, and her shift in responsibilities reflects the continued importance the government is placing on Indigenous Affairs.
  • A medical doctor, Philpott has been noted as an activist minister at the helm of Health Canada.
  • Philpott has led a number of pan-Canadian consultation processes, and has worked closely with provinces and fellow ministers on a number of high-stakes issues like the opioid crisis, physician-assisted death and the development of a legal cannabis regime.

Biographical Notes

Prior to her career in politics, Dr. Philpott has been an accomplished medical physician with many accomplishments in the fields of family medicine, public health, medical education and advocacy for HIV/AIDS.
She worked in Niger from 1989 to 1998 where she practiced medicine and established a medical training program. Back in Canada, she founded Give a Day to World AIDS in 2004, a charity which has raised over $4 million.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement


  • Qualtrough’s success as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities has put her in position to take on this new challenge with added responsibilities.
  • Qualtrough’s promotion is a nod to the importance of her riding in the West Coast election strategy of the Liberal party. Delta is an important British Columbia riding for a Liberal government that is hoping to hold on to its recent electoral breakthrough in the next general election.
  • She bolstered the Prime Minister’s confidence in her abilities by showing great poise and competence during the recent wildfires in British Columbia.
    Biographical Notes

Biographical Notes

The MP for Delta led a successful human rights law career in British Columbia in addition to her athletic career and volunteer advocacy initiatives. Qualtrough has been visually impaired since birth, a challenge that did not prevent her from becoming a successful Paralympic swimmer. That success paved the way for her involvement with the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games, and her former role as president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities


  • Hehr is the first Liberal from Calgary to sit in Cabinet since 1972.
  • The minister’s successful career in provincial politics has helped to prepare his path to the Trudeau Cabinet.
  • In his new role, Hehr can draw on his personal experience as a Canadian living with a disability caused by a spinal cord injury.

Biographical Notes

Hehr practiced law at a well-known national firm, worked with the United Way and led the Alberta branch of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. He was known as a hard-working Alberta MLA where his priorities revolved around the management of the province’s budget, natural resources, public education and LGBTQ issues.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs


  • Contrary to speculation, her inclusion in this shuffle would indicate that she is not resigning anytime soon.
  • Carolyn has a solid relationship with her department, and firm relationships with Chiefs across the country, which is a testament to her work when she was the Liberal critic.
  • Her experience as a doctor will pair well with Dr. Philipott and signals a continued focus on historically underserved communities.

Biographical Notes

Carolyn Bennett was first elected in 1997 and prior to her election she was a family physician and a founding partner of Bedford Medical Associates in Toronto.
In 2003 Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Bennett as the first ever Minister of State for Public Health, a role in which she set up the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed the first Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, and established the Public Health Network.[:]

NAFTA and The Power of Words: Newman


[:en]The difficulty going forward in further rounds of NAFTA negotiations was illustrated in the difficulty agreeing to the communique ending the first round on Sunday, August 20, 2017 in Washington.

American negotiators wanted the communique to refer to the four days of talks as the first round in the “renegotiation of NAFTA.”

But negotiators for Canada and Mexico balked at that wording. They wanted the talks described as discussions towards “the modernization of NAFTA.”

Shakespeare once asked: “What’s in a word?”

Well in this case, plenty. The words the Americans wanted describing the talks underline the approach the United States is so far taking in the negotiations. They want a major rewrite of the agreement that President Donald Trump has characterized as “the worst trade deal ever.”

Canada and Mexico don’t agree. Both countries‎ want to preserve as much as possible of the twenty-three year old agreement, and then modernizing it by adding new chapters to cover e-commerce and other aspects of today’s economy that didn’t exist when NAFTA went into effect in 1994.

The dispute over the communique words was matched by action. During the first negotiating session the Americans took an aggressive approach.

Consider just a couple of their demands.

They proposed that cars made under NAFTA, one of the real success stories of the agreement, have even more of their content manufactured in North America that the 62.5 per cent required for duty free treatment under the treat‎y now.

And that’s not all. U.S. negotiators‎ also want a specific amount of that content actually produced in the United States, rather than in any of the three countries as required now.

The Americans also want to do away with the independent dispute settlement mechanism currently in NAFTA, and have the U.S. Courts rather than panels with‎ experts from each of the countries deciding trade disputes. Canada has already said that could be the “deal breaker,” but the Americans proposed it anyway.

Those and many more issues will have to be negotiated, compromises made and agreements reached in the rounds of negotiating sessions going forward.

Can that be done?

Well there’s one hopeful sign.

In Washington all three countries finally agreed on words to describe what they were working on. They agreed the first round of talks had concluded on “the renegotiation of the modernization of NAFTA.‎”

Perhaps there is hope after all.

Ensight Senior Counsel Don Newman has extensively covered trade issues, politics and elections in Washington. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.[:]

The Hill Times – Freeland strikes alliance with populist Maine governor who understands value of trade



[As published in the August 21, 2017 edition of The Hill Times]

Canada’s NAFTA lobbyist-in-chief has revealed the key but unorthodox ally she has found inside U.S. President Donald Trump’s inner circle—one who is fluent in the president’s own bombastic political language.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a committee of MPs last week that she often speaks with him on the phone to discuss ways the Trudeau government can make its NAFTA advocacy resonate within the administration and, most importantly, in the president’s ear.

But he is not your typical D.C. power broker. He proudly spends as little time in Washington, D.C., as he can, a fact that endears him to the president and the “drain the swamp” supporters they share.

Despite speculation, he has not taken an official role within the Trump administration, although he has joked to reporters he would be happy to serve as Trump’s ambassador to Canada in the summer and Jamaica in the winter.

At least for now, though, when the thoroughly progressive Freeland wants to bounce an idea off an outspoken populist, she dials Maine, the small state where Gov. Paul LePage has raucously ruled as a headline writer’s dream since 2010.

“I have been in close contact with him. I speak on the phone with him often. He is an influential voice in this administration,” Freeland told the International Trade committee last week, as she outlined the labour, environmental, and gender-equality objectives of Canada’s negotiators.

“I have also found him—not solely in conversations with me, but also in his advocacy in Washington—to be very good in explaining a key element of our economic relationship with the United States, which is we build things together. That is a key element and it can sometimes be missed.”

LePage knows Canada well. His first language was French. He lived in New Brunswick through most of the 1970’s, where his adult daughters still live today, and he worked in the province’s forestry sector which is closely integrated with the industry in Maine.

But what makes LePage most valuable to Freeland is that his connection to Canada neatly intersects with a political brand of populism and hyperbole that he shares with Trump.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” LePage said in February 2016 when he became one of the first governors to endorse Trump.

The Boston Globe called it a “bromance” in March 2017, and in April Trump warmly poked at LePage’s recent remarkable weight loss.

“I knew him when he was heavy, and now I know him when he was thin, and I like him both ways,” Trump said.

Many of the blunt adjectives used to describe Trump’s crude and cartoonish political style were tried on LePage first, with the same approximate result among his staunch supporters and detractors.

When Freeland calls LePage, she knows she is the only progressive on the call and it would be naive to think LePage is acting solely out of sentimentality for Canada. But as she reminded the International Trade committee on Monday, the jobs of 38,500 Maine residents depend on exports to Canada in a small state where jobs are scarce. Therein lies the Trudeau government’s NAFTA strategy in a nutshell with its focus on American jobs and our integrated supply chains.

Despite their political differences, when Freeland talks jobs, she is speaking LePage’s language and tapping in to the cold calculation that—like her—his own self-interest and the economic health of his state are hanging in the balance as NAFTA negotiations get underway.

Freeland does her homework, and would know that when Canadian fishermen mounted barricades to block Maine lobster exports from reaching New Brunswick processing plants in 2012, the usually explosive LePage did nothing to cause an international incident. Instead, he calmly identified an opportunity for his state to build up its seafood processing capacity and keep more of its resources, and jobs, at home.

Likewise in June, the pro-jobs governor took the extraordinary step of writing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to lobby against new tariffs on Canadian lumber that would hurt his state and its workers.

“He understands very well the intense and interconnected relationship between Maine and Canada. He happens to have a personal background in the forestry sector and that informs his point of view in a very useful way,” said Freeland.

For now it appears both Freeland and LePage need each other, and so when Canada’s progressive foreign minister calls, it is likely Maine’s Republican governor will continue to pick up the phone.

Jesse Robichaud is a consultant with Ensight, an Ottawa public affairs firm. He served as an adviser to former Progressive Conservative New Brunswick premier David Alward from 2010 to 2014.[:]

Freeland sets the tone with enthusiastic, progressive vision for NAFTA


[:en]Chrystia Freeland is optimistic about the outcome of the North American Free Trade negotiations the United States has forced on Canada and Mexico.

We know that, because she said so multiple times ‎earlier this week, the week the NAFTA negotiations begin in Washington.

The Foreign Affairs Minister struck her upbeat pose as she outlined the ‎things Canada will be seeking in what she called a “modernized” NAFTA. Those items will include the positioning of both labour and environmental clauses in the text of the agreement, as well as recognition of indigenous people and feminism in the NAFTA treaty.

How those second two objectives will go over with the Americans and Mexicans are unclear, and the U.S. is also likely to object to any direct mention of climate change in an environmental clause.

Outlining negotiating objectives was forced on the Trudeau Government by the Opposition parties. Under American law, the Trump administration had to reveal its negotiating objectives to Congress a month before the talks were to begin, and so Conservative and New Democrat MPS wanted the same thing‎ here. While the American objectives filled eighteen pages in a fully prepared document, Canada’s were spelled out in a couple of paragraphs in a ministerial speech.

And the presentation of the objectives explain the true nature of the negotiations.

These talks are being held because the Americans insisted they be held. Donald Trump campaigned and was elected on a promise to either change trade agreements to be more favourable to the United States — or end them altogether. In his inaugral address he made it clear. From then on it was to be “America First.”

The negotiating objectives revealed in July underline that approach. The Americans want greater access to our markets, while placing more restrictions on our access to their markets. Such a one sided approach would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

So while Canada will have a wish list for the NAFTA negotiations, the real job of our negotiators is to limit the damage of American demands. We are playing defence throughout this game. How well we play it will determine the future if NAFTA — and to a great degree the health of the Canadian economy.

There is an adage in sports that the best defence is a good offence. Unfortunately, in the NAFTA negotiations beginning this week, that adage doesn’t seem to be true.

Instead, ‎ Canada may well be put in the position of telling the Americans that any new restrictions to Canadian access in the United States will be matched by new restrictions on U.S. Access here. Of course, very much of that tit for tat type of exchange and the whole concept of a free trade agreement would become meaningless.

If that is the way the negotiations develop, then to save NAFTA it will be up to America‎ politicians and business to intervene with the Trump administration.

The Canadian Government has spent the past six months in an unprecedented campaign in the United States trying to convince anyone who might matter in this process how important NAFTA is to America.

There have recently been favourable signs that campaign has been having a positive effect. Perhaps that is why Chrystia Freeland is now so optimistic.[:]