Fitzroy Gordon left a legacy of resilience and inclusion

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 5, 2019. 

The Canadian media landscape lost a great leader this week, with the passing of Fitzroy “Mr. G” Gordon, founder and chief executive officer of G98.7FM, at age 65.

Mr. G took pride in combining music programming with meaningful political and social discourse and ensuring the content was available online for listeners around the world to engage. He built the radio station, with the tag line, “The way we groove,” as a space for Black and Caribbean communities in Toronto, Milton, Oakville, Brampton, Aurora and Pickering to come together.

On Sunday afternoons, as the baseline of the Marvin Gaye classic “Heard it Through the Grapevine” hit the airwaves, listeners knew a dynamic political discussion was underway. Mr. G hosted the weekly Grapevine show himself with an aim to share important information on policy, politics and process to cultivate stronger civic engagement among his broad audience. Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum frequented the program in an effort to get their messages out, and Gordon ensured the platform was available to community organizers and grassroots movements alike.

The political impact left by Mr. G is immense. Upon his passing, statements were released by politicians at all levels of government in Canada and abroad. The trail he blazed by founding and sustaining G98.7 is one that will continue to be built on for years to come.

Mr. G was a champion for Canadian newcomer communities. He immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in his 20s and worked initially as a medical equipment technologist before carving out space as a sports journalist, contributing to both Canadian and Caribbean publications. He believed there was lost potential in professionals immigrating to Canada and struggling to find work in their own fields.

The path to launching G98.7 was lined with hurdles. The Canadian institutions Mr. G navigated were complex and took years to overcome. The CBC opposed his initial application on technical grounds with support from Rogers Media, Astral Media, Bell Media and Durham Radio. In the end, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission testing proved no disturbance of the CBC signal. Each challenge faced along the way would have been enough to force most to give up — but not Mr. G.

The legacy he left is one of resilience in building what many deemed to be an impossible dream.

I met Mr. G for the first time at a youth event at Queen’s Park in 2012. He had just completed his decade long journey to launch his station, and shared the need to be resilient when working within Canadian institutions. If we were to find barriers, he encouraged our group to be creative, patient, learn from the process and find a new way.

He taught by example, illustrating the need to do more than take up space as a leader, but create more space for the sharing of Black Canadian stories in mainstream media.

Mr. G endeavoured to cover both local and international news so those with families and interests spread across Africa and the Caribbean could feel a connection to the political realities and current issues beyond Canadian borders. He reported on elections, promoted travel and tirelessly supported disaster relief efforts.

In my final conversation with Mr. G before his passing, he was in the process of launching a representative body called the National Congress of Black Canadians. He was working with a team to lay the foundation for the organization with an aim to uplift Black Canadian populations, and as the website describes, “shed the vestiges of historical and systemic discrimination.”

Mr. G was also in the process of expanding into television. His vision was to connect Black populations from Halifax to Windsor on political issues and beyond. He wanted to bring Black Canadians together, build leaders and build bridges regionally and intergenerationally.

I stand among the thousands of Canadians who found a home in G98.7FM. I’m thankful for the sacrifices Mr. G made in order to dedicate his life to creating this space to connect the music and stories of the diverse African diaspora in Canada.

This week we lost a giant, but he left us with a dream. More than that, he left us with an increased capacity to dream for ourselves and work relentlessly until those dreams are realized.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

Blue conservative wave keeps rolling across Canada

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 28, 2019. 

Each new provincial election brings more evidence that the wave of conservative victories across the country is turning into a tsunami. And with that, the inescapable conclusion that the Liberal brand is, if not in crisis, certainly not what it was on Election Day in October, 2015.

Last Tuesday, Prince Edward Islanders not only elected a PC minority government but were sooner ready to consider the Green Party than re-elect Wade MacLauchlan’s governing Liberals.

For those keeping count of such things, that’s five straight conservative victories. In four of them, the Liberal vote share dropped to the lowest levels seen, wait for it, since Confederation.

And so, it should come as no surprise that outgoing Premier MacLauchlan’s Liberal campaign opted not to reach out to their cousins in Ottawa for assistance. Trudeau, who as recently as August, was greeted on the Island as a rock star has now become a political liability.

What a change of circumstances for the prime minister and his party.

Trouble for the Liberals all started with Brian Pallister in Manitoba, then Doug Ford, here, in Ontario, François Legault in Quebec, Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick, Jason Kenney in Alberta and now Dennis King in PEI.

Today, 82 per cent of Canadians are governed by conservative parties.

By any measure, it is a startling rebuke that, six months out from the federal election, is no doubt weighing heavily on Liberals everywhere.

That said, while it is always best to be careful in making assumptions as to federal voting intentions based on provincial outcomes, it is beginning to look like Andrew Scheer’s optimism is warranted. The Liberal ship is floundering. Its cause matters not. The handling of l’affaire SNC-Lavalin. The internecine squabbling. The accumulation of seemingly minor missteps. Or the global rise of populist right-of-centre ideology, the Liberal message is not resonating as it once did.

The three years since the blue tide began have seen the federal Liberal approval rating fall by over 15 per cent. Two-thirds of Canadians now say that Trudeau does not deserve to be re-elected. What’s more, the Liberal’s majority has, through resignations and scandal, become seven members thin.

Add certain losses in some traditional Liberal strongholds and October’s election becomes a daunting prospect.

No doubt some Liberals will console themselves with the old political rule of thumb that when we vote one way provincially, we vote the other way federally. Consider the record in Ontario. Harper won with McGuinty at Queen’s Park; Chrétien with Harris; Mulroney while Ontarians elected both Rae’s NDP and the Peterson Liberals. And, of course, Bill Davis won while Trudeau Sr. was prime minister.

But the past may well not, any longer, be prologue.

As of today, one poll found that the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the 905 region. Although it’s worth noting the Ontario race, provincewide, is closer.

Yes, the election remains six months away. Much can and will change. Trudeau, as we know, is a capable retail politician, and, after all, campaigns actually matter.

So, Scheer’s Conservatives would do well not to start measuring the drapes, just yet. Though Liberal voters seem to be abandoning the party, polls also caution us that it is no longer simply a two party race.

We have now seen provincial voters flirt with both new and insurgent parties, from the People’s Alliance in New Brunswick to the CAQ in Quebec to the Greens in PEI. Whether this wandering eye extends to Jagmeet Singh’s NDP or even Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Trudeau will not be fighting the election he was envisioning a matter of months ago. Gone are two of his most well-respected cabinet ministers, as well as Gerry Butts, his trusted adviser. His claim to a better politics of openness and integrity has been eroded by a year of scandal and melodrama, and he has lost his ideological allies in legislatures from Alberta to New Brunswick.

It’s pretty clear that the lay of the chess board has shifted, and yet much of the Liberal team still appear to be playing checkers.

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

The fragile façade of Confederation

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, April 21, 2019.

Just as it is for most people who do what I do for a living, our office is littered with television monitors tuned to a variety of news channels from around the world.

And like it is for most of us, we become inured to the onslaught of images that come our way. Some real. Some fake. Many tragic. A few uplifting.

But the truth is, the images eventually become electronic wallpaper.

That is, of course, until this week when I looked up from my desk and saw the torrent of flames blasting through the vaulted roof and spire of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Like millions of others the world over, I was stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t take my eyes off the television screen as I thought about not only the immense tragedy unfolding, in real time, before me but how a symbol so strong, that had endured for so long had been revealed so quickly as fragile and vulnerable.

Over its long history, the cathedral has withstood politics, factionalism and terror.

The 13th century gallery of biblical kings installed on the façade served to symbolically align the monarchy and the Catholic Church by implying a continued lineage from the kings of Judah. During the Revolution, these statues were torn from their gallery and publicly beheaded.

As the First Republic ushered in official atheism, Notre Dame was transformed into a monument to the “Cult of Reason,” with religious icons replaced by altars to Enlightenment values like Liberty and Truth. After the restoration, the kings were reinstated and the church returned to its glory as a place of worship.

And even more threatening were Hitler’s plans to bomb the cathedral — along with most of Paris as we know it — rather than allow the city to fall into Allied hands. It was General Dietrich von Choltitz who disobeyed Hitler’s orders and saved the cathedral.

Notre Dame has miraculously withstood the threats of history with a stubborn resilience.

I thought about that magnificent cathedral this week. The dreams that inspired it. The skill and courage that it took to build it. The remarkable ability of it to adapt, change and still stay true to its values, I thought about our very own Confederation.

We, of course, don’t have cathedrals built in the 12th century in this country but we do, in their place, have the great Canadian experiment, sometimes called the great Canadian dream.

The dream of an improbably small country spread out among one of the most vast geographies of the world. A country that has — for a mere 150 years — defied the odds to remain united in vision and purpose.

And yet like Notre Dame what seems strong and secure and enduring is perhaps more fragile than we know.

This week we are focused on the remarkable success of Jason Kenney in Alberta. But it is useful to understand that his success follows on Doug Ford in Ontario, Scott Moe in Saskatchewan, François Legault in Quebec and Brian Pallister in Manitoba.

And what do these leaders have in common? Some say a move to the right. But that is a facile understanding. What they really share is an expression from their respective electorates of a desire to retreat from that great Canadian experiment.

In province after province, voters have chosen in their narrow provincial interests and not in the national interests. There are many reasons for this; many legitimate reasons. Regional alienation. Lack of economic achievement. A sense that people are not doing as well as those before them.

But the result is the same: a dangerous diminution of the value of the Canadian experiment. A dangerous diminution in the willingness to let someone else — a fellow Canadian — go first.

Politicians are skilfully, and successfully, exploiting this. Why wouldn’t they? That’s how our system works.

In fact, our system has driven our political leaders to act like the short term managers that have come to populate Bay Street. Worry about the next quarter and hope the long term will take care of itself.

It is too early to tell but we may find that our Confederation, which like Notre Dame is grand and imposing from the outside, may actually be much more vulnerable.

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

With no more women premiers, the landscape of leadership has changed

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, April 21, 2019. 

There were six women sitting at the table as first ministers when Ontario hosted the summer meeting of the Council of the Federation in 2013, steering the way forward on Canada’s biggest immediate and long-term challenges.

Today, there are none.

The council of premiers back then took a collaborative approach to infrastructure investments, trade policy, skills training, strategy surrounding energy, affordable housing, health care and cyber bullying. At the time, between Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta, women first ministers led 87 per cent of Canadians.

Today, with not one woman at the table, Canadian premiers are working together to combat federal plans to address climate change with legal challenges and questionable, taxpayer funded marketing campaigns. And where infrastructure was once the priority, Ontario is working to slow down much needed community infrastructure projects that are led by the federal government.

The defeat of NDP leader Rachel Notley in the Alberta provincial election this past week — and the losses of her women colleagues who sat around the table in 2013 — represents a stark shift in the landscape of leadership among first minister posts in Canada.

This is exactly what Kate Graham explores in the Canada 2020 podcast No Second Chances. Graham, a senior fellow with Canada 2020 uses her research background in Canadian politics, local government, urban politics and public policy to explore the circumstances surrounding women as they take on first minister leadership posts.

Graham notes, “In 2019, why don’t we see more women in Canada’s most senior political roles? No Second Chances is an important opportunity to dig into this very question — starting with discussions with the few women who have been there. There is much we can learn about Canadian politics, and about us as Canadians, through this project — and it couldn’t come at a more crucial time.”

In total, 12 women from all sides of the political spectrum have served in the position of leader for a governing provincial, territorial, or federal political party in Canada. This list includes Rita Johnston, Nellie Cournoyea, Catherine Callbeck, Pat Duncan, Eva Aariak, Kathy Dunderdale, Christie Clark, Alison Redford, Pauline Marois, Kathleen Wynne, Rachel Notley and Kim Campbell.

The Canada 2020 podcast analyzes their experiences from multiple angles, including the unique challenges they faced in governing as women leaders, why they ran, the support they leaned on in the process, and even the family and community conditions that cultivated leadership skills in them from childhood.

The women will be coming together in person for the first time at an event in Ottawa on June 12.

The No Second Chances project is an important piece to the puzzle in understanding the challenges that have faced women in first minister roles and while seeking re-election, and yet there is still far to go in evaluating and breaking down the additional barriers in place that keep women from more diverse backgrounds from these leadership roles.

We can each take an active role in encouraging and supporting women in political leadership and building up new generations of young women leaders, who hopefully won’t be limited in the same ways.

There is a speech delivered by television writer Shonda Rhimes at the Women in Entertainment breakfast in 2014 that captures what is gained when women blaze leadership trails:

“Think of them. Heads up, eyes on the target. Running. Full speed. Gravity be damned. Towards that thick layer of glass that is the ceiling … How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore.

“My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints.”

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

What Jason Kenney’s Return to the Federal Scene Signifies

When Jason Kenney came to Parliament Hill, as a Reform Party MP in 1997, something quickly became clear.

He could do outrage extremely well.

In fact his outrage was so convincing that he was favorable compared with a former MP, Progressive Conservative James McGrath from St. John’s East.

During Question Period McGrath could be writing a letter at his desk, hear his name called for a question, then jump to his feet and lambaste an unfortunate cabinet minister with a question wrapped in outrage.

Then, as the Minister was replying, McGrath would sit down and return to his correspondence, only to repeat the performance with more feigned outrage when he asked his supplementary question.

Kenney could do the same thing, minus the letter writing. In fact he would happily acknowledge that his outrage was manufactured for effect in the House and to attract the attention of TV cameras covering the Commons.

Once the Conservatives became the Government in 2006 Kenney retired the outrage act. After all, it was pretty difficult to be outraged by the behavior of a government you supported and then in which you became a Cabinet Minister.

But after the Harper Government was defeated in 2015, Kenney used some of that outrage when he returned to Alberta to first become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, then to lead the campaign to join the party with the Wildrose Party, to then win the leadership of the combined entity and finally to defeat the NDP Government of Rachael Notley and make himself Premier.

But now that Kenney has the job he wanted, some of the things he is about to do could create outrage both in Alberta and in other parts of the country.

Because in winning over fifty per cent of the popular vote and at least 62 seats in the 88 seat provincial legislature, Kenney ran on an “Alberta First” campaign that raises comparison with the “America First” campaign that propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.

Here are a few of the promises he made on the way to his victory this week.

The Conservative Government he leads will scrap the carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions its predecessor implemented and challenge the Federal Government in court over its plans to institute a federal carbon tax to replace it.

That in itself is not new. In his court challenge he will join every other Conservative provincial government in doing just that. But combined with the fact that Alberta is the home of the energy industry, and the Kenney Government is also lifting the ceiling on oil sands green house emissions, adds a particular weight to the decision. And environmentalists, and Canadians who take the challenge of a warming globe and climate change seriously, those ideas are outrageous.

On the other hand, Kenney and many Albertans are outraged at their neighbours in British Columbia. The New Democratic Government in B.C. supported by the Green Party have gone to court to try and effectively block the building of a new, larger pipeline along the existing route of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

To counter that challenge, Kenney is threatening to implement legislation which would stop shipping Alberta’s energy products to its western neighbour. If that happens, the outrage in British Columbia will be palpable.

However, the B. C. Government is going ahead with it court case. The new pipeline would carry bitumen for Alberta’s oil sands, across British Columbia to a deep water terminal in Burnaby which is part of suburban Vancouver. The B.C. Government is proposing to regulate the amount of Bitumen that can be transported and if it wins the case the pipeline is effectively dead.

Virtually everyone in Alberta believes the so-called “twinning” of the Trans Mountain pipeline is essential to restoring Alberta prosperity to previously high levels. If the pipeline is stopped in British Columbia the sense of outrage in Alberta will go off the charts.

Kenney would like also to revive plans for the “Energy East” pipeline. That is a plan that would convert parts of existing natural gas pipelines and build other connecting parts, to create a new pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen to the Irving Oil refinery in St. John New Brunswick on the Atlantic Ocean.

That pipeline has been effectively blocked by the Government of Quebec, which says it doesn’t want another pipeline traversing its territory and going under its rivers.

Kenney’s response has been to promise that if there isn’t one new pipeline in the next few years, he will hold a referendum in Alberta on the equalization formula under which the federal government redistributes federal tax revenues amongst the provinces.

In Alberta, it is mistakenly believed that the provincial government cuts a cheque each year, and gives it to the Government of Quebec. It is in fact the federal government which pays so called “have not” provinces out of tax money collected all across Canada.

However, Albertans are outraged by what they believe is an unfair program that victimizes them. People in Quebec will be outraged at the inferences directed against them.

A provincial referendum promised by Kenney will do nothing except raise the outrage level all across the country.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator Limited and Ensight Canada, Chair of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Will Trump ever face a tipping point?

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday April 14, 2019.

Among watchers of the Trump White House, it has become this season’s party game to speculate whether the latest reason for outrage will be the final straw in this quixotic presidency — something akin in significance to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, or the Supreme Court decision compelling Nixon to turn over Oval Office tapes.

History now teaches us, clearly, that both instances helped accelerate the end of Nixon’s presidency, gradually in the case of the Saturday Night Massacre and then suddenly with the judgment pertaining to the Oval Office tapes.

But would it be President Trump’s not-so-coy flirtation with white nationalism (née white supremacy) when in the aftermath of Charlottesville, he declared there were “some very fine people on both sides?” That incident was so outrageous senior Jewish staffers, including Trump’s former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, reportedly drafted letters of resignation, and yet nothing came of it.

Or would it be his attempt to fire Robert Mueller, which was ordered and then retracted when Donald McGahn, White House counsel at the time, threatened to resign?

Perhaps it would be the president’s negligent response to Hurricane Maria and the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico. His chumminess with authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Kim Jong Un. His violation of the Emoluments Clause.

Or maybe even his ownership of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

In every instance, the pattern has been the same. The president simply carries on, while congressional Republicans express concern or consternation, sometimes going so far as to contemplate resignation, but all the while never actually taking any concrete steps toward meaningful oversight.

Now with the U.S. confronting a manufactured crisis at its southern border, news comes that it could take up to two years to reunite children separated from their families under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

Pile on the resignation of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and the subsequent purge of officials within the department as Trump and his hardline immigration adviser Stephen Miller seek a bureaucrat sufficiently compliant to carry out an anti-immigration agenda of questionable legality.

And the question again becomes has Trump’s presidency reached a breaking point?

It has been eight weeks since the president declared a national emergency, unrepentant about using the proclamation as cover to divert billions of dollars towards a border wall that Congress had already pointedly declined to fund.

That the “emergency” was in fact a sham has always been clear, but it was crystallized even more so with Nielsen’s resignation — even as the country remains without a confirmed secretary of defence.

Nielsen, who oversaw the brutal and inhumane policy of family separations, has been hounded from office after she reportedly resisted Trump’s orders to close ports of entry along the border and illegally turn away asylum-seekers. Nielsen had also been backing the nomination of Ronald Vitiello as the new director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a nomination which Trump withdrew as, in his view, the role needed a more intense hard-liner.

Trump’s announcement (by tweet, of course) that Kevin McAllenan would take over as acting secretary of Homeland Security skirts a law requiring Nielsen’s existing undersecretary from filling the role — she too is reportedly skeptical of Trump and Miller’s approach to managing the so-called crisis, and the White House is now heavily pressuring her to step aside to allow McAllenan to step fully into the position.

Were this an ordinary administration in ordinary times, any of these incidents would have been enough to trigger the denouement of a presidency.

The hollowing out of the executive branch of government, by all the president’s yes men, bears a striking resemblance to the Saturday Night Massacre. The president has clearly signalled his intent to fill his cabinet with people who will act in his way, saying, “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.”

And so the question remains: Given this unique combination of the president’s shamelessness and the Republican Party’s craven desire to maintain its hold on power, will there ever come a tipping point? Those waiting for Trump’s Nixon moment may well be waiting a long time yet.

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

Trudeau’s tough lesson in caucus discipline

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday April 7, 2019.

As the clock ticked past 50 days of the SNC-Lavalin omnishambles, the endgame finally came into focus when Jody Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Jane Philpott were ejected from the Liberal caucus on Tuesday. With the federal election not just on the horizon but looking like it will be much more closely contested than previously anticipated, it had become impossible for the two MPs to remain.

Since the earliest days of this scandal, almost every observer has agreed that this was the saga’s inevitable conclusion. The only inexplicable part was why on Earth it took so long for the prime minister to figure out what everyone else seemed to know.

So now the dangerous dissenters and the distraction they posed have been purged and Team Trudeau surely hopes to take this opportunity to finally move on. And as they do, Liberal MPs will reassure themselves that caucus is the stronger for having expelled the non-believers, for having, in Sheila Copps’ memorable formulation, “lanced the boil.”

Politics — at the provincial and federal levels, at least — is a team sport, and these last few weeks have been a test of Trudeau’s mettle as captain.

To extend the sports analogy further, the caucus room is the political version of a locker-room complete with competitive spirit and interlinked fates. It is a place where, to work well, individuals and individual interests must be subordinated to those of the team. But it is also a fragile place that can quickly come apart if individuals decide they are better off on their own than they are together.

Never mind Prime Minister Trudeau’s declaration on Canada Day in 2017 that, “We are strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” As one reporter quipped on Twitter, perhaps the more accurate declaration would be, “We are stronger not in spite of our differences, but because we extinguish them.”

And as much as leaders want to try new and different ways of working, it remains crystal-clear that to play for the Liberal team requires a political catechism: Belief in the party, belief in the platform, and belief in the leader.

And that’s why caucus management, or more bluntly put, the care of feeding of the caucus, is such an essential art.

Over the course of our Confederation, there have been as many approaches to caucus management as there have been caucus leaders.

Sir John A. Macdonald signed into a guest book in Charlottetown as “Cabinet Maker” and with his wife, Agnes, hosted weekly dinner parties for his caucus members.

Brian Mulroney famously stayed close to not only his caucus colleagues but their concerns as well. He remembered the names of wives and the birthdays of children and maintained the Macdonald tradition of having members over for dinner.

Others, like Stephen Harper, took a more professional, if somewhat distant, approach that earned respect by dint of hard work and self discipline.

But despite the differences in leadership styles, one of the fundamental factors that has changed the way leaders relate to their caucuses lies in the way leaders themselves are chosen.

Until 1919, that was the job of the caucus.

That year, Mackenzie King was elected leader at a Liberal Party convention. And with that, Canada began to move away from that model.

In the long run, this meant leaders like Trudeau no longer had to be as deeply attentive to the concerns of their MPs. But, with more and more grumbling by caucus members about the lack of attention they have received from the prime minister, the pendulum may have swung too far.

Now that Trudeau has presumably accepted that caucus management must henceforth be a significant part of his job, the next question is whose management style he might draw from. The Mulroney approach might seem the closest approximation to Sunny Ways; Chretien and Martin, who managed to avoid a public caucus revolt, even amidst a pitched civil war, may too have lessons to absorb.

The prime minister may yet fashion his own approach. He would do well to ensure that between now and the election, his remaining caucus members profess devotion to party, to platform, and to him, the leader.

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

Youth fight back against governments that limit their choices

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday April 7, 2019. 

Last week, young people across the country sent powerful messages to Canadian federal and provincial politicians: We have you on watch, and we will not be dismissed.

We saw 338 young women take their seats in the House of Commons on Wednesday and make forward thinking statements as a part of the Equal Voice Daughters of the Vote initiative. They talked about action on climate change, they spoke of intersectional feminism and Indigenous rights, and they boldly and brilliantly challenged the status quo of Canadian political discourse.

On Thursday we saw thousands of students across Ontario walk out to protest proposed education cuts. Premier Doug Ford made the mistake of underestimating the influence and autonomy of these young people with flippant remarks aimed to minimize their efforts.

The resistance to policy changes and the political status quo alike — like many throughout history — will be led by young people who choose to see through partisan talking points and demand that government work for them.

These young people are a tidal wave intent on shaping the direction of our country. They are watching, they are activating and organizing, and they are taking notes for how they will do politics differently.

They give me hope.

And this is a moment in Canadian history when hope for our political systems is much needed.

In Quebec, the Legislative Assembly is debating what is, in the words of Montreal philosopher Charles Taylor, “An unneeded answer to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The Quebec government has tabled Bill 21, aiming to ban public sector employees who are deemed to serve in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. This would apply to teachers, police officers, prison guards and judges who wear head coverings such as hijabs or turbans.

It is, simply put, an egregious limit on the rights of Canadians to practice their faith. Regardless of the intention of the bill, it disproportionately negatively impacts hijab wearing Muslim women who work, or hope to work, in public service roles.

Proponents of the bill argue that matters of religion should be private. So should be a teacher’s decision each morning to cover herself the way she chooses. There are many in favour of the bill who do not think it goes far enough, believing it should apply to those in positions of political leadership as well.

Take a moment to think about the consequences of that.

Premier François Legault has asked for calm and respect as his government works to limit debate in an effort to expedite the bill, which goes as far as invoking the notwithstanding clause to override potential federal blocking. He considers Bill 21 to be a widely supported and reasonable compromise, but there are some issues for which a compromise should not be reached.

History has taught us that even majority support for political direction does not always make it right.

This isn’t about a few people being upset. It’s about thousands of Canadians, mostly girls and women, being disenfranchised and discriminated against by their government. These are unreasonable restrictions on the rights of one group in an effort to appease another.

While the bill is likely to pass, resistance is mounting. Municipalities and school boards across Quebec are uniting in opposition, some going as far to suggest they will not enforce it. Legal professionals are also sternly warning against the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause.

In the words of John Lewis, “We have to continue to fight. And sometimes you have to fight some of the old battles over and over again for the next generation, for generations yet unborn. You, too, can make a contribution, and you must.”

A woman’s professional qualifications have nothing to do with how she chooses to cover herself, regardless of her reason. We need teachers who can help young people reach their full potential and inspire a belief that their efforts can change their circumstances. We need good police officers and guards. We need fair and wise judges.

The Canada we build should be one of potential without limits. Our governments should be endeavouring to remove barriers, not moving to create new ones.

Every girl in Canada, hijab wearing or otherwise, should be empowered to lead.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

The true cost of SNC-Lavalin: 53 lost days

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday March 31, 2019.

Although it may feel like ancient history, and remembered about as clearly, it was just last week that Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced the Liberal’s final, pre-election budget, a 460-page basket of goodies titled “Investing in the Middle Class.”

A government’s last budget before an election is usually its most strategic, and effective, opportunity to not only communicate its vision and priorities but to make the case for why it deserves another term in office.

Properly executed, a pre-writ budget acts as a powerful framing device for the election ahead and allows the government to springboard seamlessly from governing to campaigning. What’s more, it is an opportunity that is not available to the government’s opponents.

On the other hand, a fumbled pre-election budget can result in a nosedive, as the Progressive Conservatives under Kim Campbell learned with their “lame duck” budget in 1993.

Morneau and Trudeau were clearly looking forward to a springboard effect when they introduced a budget tailor-made to appeal to that favourite market of this government: the middle class and those working hard to join it. Millennial homebuyers, seniors, women, there was something targeted at everyone.

But if a finance minister rises in the house to unveil a budget and no one hears him, can it make a difference?

Well, for the Liberals, it would appear not.

Trouble began almost immediately, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rising on a point of order to accuse the government of “an assault on democracy,” just before leading opposition MPs out of the House.

The assault on democracy was, of course, a reference to the real frame emerging around this government: the weeks-old scandal of its handling of SNC-Lavalin that the Liberals can’t seem to outrun.

The Globe and Mail broke the SNC scandal on Feb. 7 — 257 days out from the next federal election. And since then, essentially every day has brought with it the drip-drip-drip of negative news. The result? The Liberal’s proactive message machine has been rendered useless.

Today, the Liberals find themselves 204 days out from voting day and yet no closer to any resolution on SNC. And to make matters worse, their last, best opportunity to “change the channel” is now behind them.

As a crisis manager, it is clear to me that the cost of the SNC-Lavalin scandal to the Liberals has become twofold: the scandal itself as well as those 53 lost days. In crisis communications, each lost day — each lost hour — in which your message is not getting out, or in which your messages are reactively instead of proactively focused, is an hour or a day in which you are losing the message battle.

And things got materially worse for the government this week. The budget simply has no chance to compete with the release of a recorded conversation between Jody Wilson-Raybould and Michael Wernick.

The budget was a critical opportunity to turn the page, and yet two days after it was introduced, it had fallen off the front pages of the national media. In its place was a return to a regularly scheduled program of SNC revelations. By Saturday, the lead story in this newspaper’s business section was calling it a “forgettable budget.” By all accounts, that headline nailed it. The budget has already been thoroughly forgotten.

The budget did not fare much better on television, either. The day after its release, CBC’s Power and Politics covered it only notionally, before moving on to a smorgasbord of other news, including Celina Caesar-Chavannes’s resignation, Jane Philpott’s remarks that there was “more to the story” on SNC-Lavalin, and the marathon voting session underway in Parliament. CTV’s Power Play similarly skimmed the surface, while Question Perioddevoted an entire segment with the chyron, “Budget overshadowed by SNC-Lavalin.”

And although political parties can often circumvent traditional media through the skilful use of social media, the budget was, by all accounts, a flop there as well.

Between March 16 (two days prior to the budget, when hype begins) and March 24, the budget was tweeted or posted about on Facebook 31,938 times. SNC-Lavalin? 408,101 times.

And so, as the calendar counts down to election day, the news cycle has little room left for the prime minister’s message of sunny ways.

A prospect that portends stormy days ahead for the government and its message.

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


Should We Expect Theatrics In The Senate Now That Cameras Are Rolling?

(Published originally in HuffPost Canada)

The week of March 19 was auspicious for two reasons. Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled his long awaited Budget 2019 and senators went live on television.

While MPs have had television cameras recording their proceedings since 1977, the Senate has been reluctant to adopt. Partly it was a technological limitation in their old chamber, but now that they’ve moved into a new building, due to the Centre Block renovations, they’ve been thrust into the modern era.

The arguments in favour of television abound: more education for Canadians on what happens in the Senate, an increased spotlight on what this new independent Senate is doing along with the larger case for democracy being well-served through increased transparency.

But equal are the arguments against. Knowing that cameras, and by extension Canadians (albeit not likely many), will be watching them will invariably change how the senators conduct themselves. Knowing you are being constantly recorded will either encourage you to always act professionally, or will give senators who want to obstruct legislation a chance to grandstand their blocking tactics in a public way.

If that sounds familiar, its because that’s exactly how the House of Commons operates. The most watched portion of the House of Commons proceedings is usually Question Period, a daily theatre for a viewership that rarely extends beyond the Ottawa city limits. And you only need to look to last week’s budget for proof.

Conservatives, upset over the prime minister’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case and prompted by the antics in Justice Committee, loudly advertised that they would use every procedural tactic to delay the budget. So far so good, with a majority Liberal government, the Opposition only has so many tools, and it’s fair game to use them to their fullest extent.

Unfortunately one of the risks of announcing your strategy is that it allows the government to outflank you. And outflank them they did when Minister Morneau rose on a point of order to table the budget documents and immediately took his budget messages to the media in the lobby before giving his speech.

In retaliation, when the formal budget speech did finally occur, the Conservatives turned to kindergarten antics and drowned out virtually the entire speech by pounding on their desks and eventually walking out. In addition, the next day the Conservatives also successfully engineered over 30 hours of voting in the House of Commons.

Would these tactics have been effective without cameras in the House of Commons? The answer is simply no. Are the Conservatives justified in their outrage over SNC-Lavalin? Certainly. But drowning out the minister’s speech and calling a marathon voting session are only effective tactics if Canadians see them happening.

The Opposition in the House calculated, rightly as it turned out, that it would be worth whatever public backlash they would face from their antics and certainly much of the immediate budget media coverage did include the Conservatives tactics — so, a win for sure.

So senators, be careful what you wish for. Will senators rise to the challenge and continue to project an air of calm tranquility or will we see a resurgence of partisan politics?

The Senate is certainly evolving, they are in a new physical building and its membership has been changing under our current prime minister. But the next existential crisis for them will be how they conduct themselves when Canadians are watching. They will need to do some soul searching and ask if Canadians even want to view two increasingly divided houses.

Matt Triemstra is an Account Director at Ensight where he provides public affairs advice. He has over a decade of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.