Don’t forget MP Paul Dewar’s message of inclusiveness

With Paul Dewar’s way-too-soon death, on Wednesday evening, Canadians lost a giant. A gentle, principled, passionate giant. A giant who dedicated his very life to the service of others.

There will be no shortage of epithets for Paul, but he would likely choose to be remembered for his honest and authentic engagement with his constituents, and for his commitment to their priorities; a commitment that never once wavered.

He will also be remembered as that rarest of parliamentarians: one who, while holding firm to his beliefs and loyalty to his party, set an example of civility and multi-partisan co-operation.

Many a Sunday, for example, I would hear from him about this column.

Dewar’s political career was forged in the long shadow of his mother, Marion Dewar, who served as Mayor of Ottawa from 1978 to 1985. Marion led Project 4000, which saw the establishment across Canada of over 7,000 private sponsorship groups for refugees of the Vietnam War. Her initiative influenced the federal government to increase Canada’s refugee acceptance quota from 8,000 to 60,000.

Paul often spoke of how his mother shaped his view of politics, so it is unsurprising that Dewar’s career was marked by a commitment to social activism and a belief in the potential of politics as a force for good.

After graduating from Queen’s University, Paul taught Ottawa students with special needs, and then worked as an organizer for the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers’ Federation.

In 2006, he ran as the NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre, and was elected to the House of Commons. His colleagues always commented on Dewar’s commitment to his constituency, noting that he would attend community meetings even when they did not directly pertain to his responsibilities.

He had a collegial working relationship with his provincial counterpart, Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi, another instance of his pragmatism over party.

In his role as foreign affairs critic, Dewar was a loud voice for social justice around the world, and a champion for human rights. He pushed the Harper government to denounce nations with homophobic agendas, as in the cases of Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation, and Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Dewar also criticized the downsizing of Canada’s role as peacekeeper, which he saw as crucial to our country’s engagement with the international community.

At the time of his appointment as critic, foreign affairs discourse in the House was dominated by John Baird and Bob Rae. It is a testament to Dewar’s graciousness and decency as a politician that he established strong working relationships with both men.

It is not often that a friendship of this kind develops between a minister and a critic. And yet, Minister Baird made a point of inviting Dewar to travel with him to the Middle East. The two also worked together on issues facing their neighbouring Ottawa ridings.

When Paul found out, in 2018, that his cancer was terminal, he did not retreat into his own problems. Instead, he devoted himself to Youth Action Now, an initiative that supports and provides funding for youth-led initiatives. Thanks to his work, a new generation will be introduced to the principles which drew him to public service.

In November, Dewar accepted the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year Lifetime Achievement award, and in his acceptance speech he struck a tone of collaboration. Speaking to the assembled politicians and journalists, he asked the crowd to remember the moment that first drew them to political work. He then asked them to turn to their neighbours and spend two minutes sharing their initial aspirations and ideas of what can be accomplished through public service.

“Is it not time,” he asked, “to take off the armour of our political party and work together as people representing citizens to build a better country for everyone?”

Paul’s message has never been truer than it is today. As we reflected when George H.W. Bush died earlier this year, there is no limit to what we can accomplish when we put differences aside and work together.

We could offer Paul no better final mitzvah, as our Jewish friends would say, than to heed this lesson as we go into the next election.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, February 10, 2019)

How Black Canadians can make their ancestors proud

This past weekend, leaders from across the country came together for the second Summit of Black Canadians hosted by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation.

It was a weekend of much needed intergenerational and regional connection, sharing, and momentum. Participants included politically engaged lawyers, teachers, artists, business leaders, nurses, doctors, trade unionists, students, historians, community activists, and academics alike.

Many of those in attendance were the same people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to partner and create the dynamic Black History Month programming we see in our local communities every February.

This Black History Month marks the 400-year anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade. Commemoration is taking place in many ways internationally, with the Ghanaian government marking it “Year of the Return” and inviting members of the diaspora back to Africa throughout 2019.

It has been a year since the prime minister acknowledged the UN Decade for People of African Descent, and as we envision the path toward recognition, justice, and development in 2024. We have a long way to go from here. The aspirational pledge by the federal government to participate in these activities and join the fight against anti-Black racism has been slow to come to fruition.

Currently sitting at close to 1.2 million people, the Black population in Canada doubled between 1996 and 2016 — with Ontario serving as the home to 52.4 per cent of the population. It’s important to recognize that each of these communities across the country are distinct. The African diaspora in Canada is the most diverse racial group.

Over the weekend, leaders shared promising practices for challenging systemic barriers in the workplace, advocating toward the inclusion of Black history in school curricula across the country, and ensuring Black arts and heritage initiatives are supported beyond the month of February.

What does success look like? For each distinct African diaspora group, depending on when they came to the country and where they are in the country, the answer is different.

For some, it is increased representation at all levels of government, and for others it’s ensuring Black Francophone communities are able to gain equitable access to services. Many are focused on eliminating racial profiling, which is an everyday reality in our country. Black Canadians are also among the most common targets of race-based hate crimes, which Stats Canada measured at an all-time high in 2017.

In an 1848 letter to Frederick Douglass, Mary Ann Shadd, the first woman newspaper publisher in Canada, wrote of her take on how we could improve overall life for Black people in North America.

“We have been holding conventions for years — we have been assembling together and whining over our difficulties and afflictions, passing resolutions on resolutions to any extent,” she wrote. “But it does really seem that we have made but little progress considering our resolves … we should do more and talk less.”

This week, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced the resettlement of 150 former modern-day slaves from Libya with another 600 to follow over the next two years. They will carry with them an unimaginable trauma. They will also join a common thread going back hundreds of years of an African diaspora building community and healing on this soil.

During the opening ceremonies of the summit, community elder and President of Black History Ottawa, June Girvan, asked the room to live in a way we could be proud to report to our ancestors.

When I think about what I would report to our ancestors, I would want to channel Mary Ann Shadd by telling the truth about an experience, and helping to pave the way toward the improvement of the lives of new Black Canadians, especially those fleeing persecution.

Over the next few months I’ll be joining Operation Black Vote Canada, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Black Business and Professional Association with a campaign called Dinner+Politics. The campaign is aimed at helping Black Canadians set and carry out their political intention for the upcoming federal election on issues from justice reform to migration and inclusion.

In February, while we celebrate the gains, let’s be sure we draw our attention to continuing to close the gaps toward a better Canada.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Saturday, February 9, 2019)

Parties have work to do as election hits home stretch

Earlier this week, members of Parliament must have felt somewhat disoriented as they returned for a final session in their familiar, yet entirely new, surroundings. The House of Commons chamber has been relocated, albeit temporarily, to a spectacular new space in the West Block Courtyard.

But more than just adjusting to a different home, each of the parties must now come to grips with the notion that this session, the last before the next federal election, will be a different one as well.

And that means somewhere between the cut and thrust of politics as usual, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer must now turn their minds to what it will take to win the next federal election; one that’s literally around the corner.

In the life of politicians, election years are always marked with distinct and different characteristics. Yet, each has one thing in common: there comes a point when time becomes a politician’s chief opponent.

October will arrive in the blink of an eye and they all have much to do. Typically, the government of the day has the upper-hand. There is, of course, a distinct structural advantage in being able to both set the frame of debate and use the machinery of government to drive and deliver your point of view.

That said, the prime minister is finding out former U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was right when he said what worried him the most in politics was, “events, my dear boy, events.”

One needs to look no further than the Meng Wanzhou extradition fiasco for proof.

And while it is true that, for most Canadians, foreign policy issues are seldom determinative of their final vote, this matter touches a much broader and more troublesome range of issues for the government: general competence, economic prosperity and old-fashioned Canadian pride.

And so, the prime minister knows he won’t simply be able to run out the clock. Sunny ways, alone, won’t suffice. No, Trudeau will need to give Canadians a reason to return his party to power.

In 2015, the Liberals ran on a platform that not only excited voters but, in the view of many, stood in stark contrast to a tired, negative one offered by Stephen Harper.

I don’t agree that, by and large, governments defeat themselves. Rather, I think they are elected to do a job and once that job is done, they are required to return to the electorate to articulate just what job they are going to do next.

So, prime minister, what do you have in mind? How will you showcase renewed energy and optimism?

And how will you do it while facing a Council of the Federation that’s very different than the one you met when you first came to office?

Premier Wynne is gone. Clark, Gallant, and Couillard, too. And with them, their Greek chorus.

The challenge for Team Trudeau will be focusing their priorities and agenda during the session ahead and doing so on a playing field that is not the same as it once was.

How could it be? That was before Brexit (or no deal), Trump, irregular immigration, and the all too public diplomatic spats with Saudi Arabia and China.

As for Scheer, Conservatives know they need to significantly broaden their base of support. Reaching out to millennials and urban voters will be critical as the coalition that led to their majority mandate in 2011 no longer exists.

Scheer will work hard over the coming months to convince us that Trudeau is out of touch with everyday Canadians. Simultaneously, he will have to present a clear picture of how he will make life better — materially better — for everyday hard-working Canadians. He will have to put more on offer than just trained seal-like opposition to every Liberal promise or decision.

For example, in 2015, an alternative to Trudeau’s energy and climate change strategy did not exist. And unless you consider the status quo a strategy, one still doesn’t. That must change.

And, finally, what does it say about my New Democrat friends, that a column looking ahead to this year’s election contains nary a mention of Mr. Singh? A lot.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, February 3, 2019) 

The Legislative Runway – What to expect from January to June

Welcome back MPs! The winter/spring parliamentary 2019 sitting begins today and MPs will, for the first time, be debating in their new location in West Block. This is the 42nd government’s last sitting before the next federal election in October 2019 and with just 14 weeks remaining there is a significant amount of legislation to address.  Former liberal leader Stéphane Dion once infamously asked if it was easy to make priorities and the Liberal government will also have to decide what to focus on in the little time they have left.

Five things you need to know

  1. 69 Days Left: Between today and the end of session there are 69 sitting days where MPs will be in the House of Commons. This means that there are only 14 sitting weeks until June. Given the short runway, passing legislation could be difficult in the House of Commons and the Senate.
  2. Constituency Weeks: There are seven constituency weeks until the end of session where MPs will be back in their home ridings. MPs will use that time in their ridings to iron home their pre-election messaging.
  3. Private Member’s Bills: With 34 outstanding pieces of government legislation, the fate of the currently remaining 59 Private Members’ Bills in the House of Commons and Senate are in question. Although there are designated debate allotments for PMB’s, not many will see the light of day in the remaining time left.
  4. Opposition Days: There will be seven Opposition days from now until the end of session, which turns the government’s 69 days remaining into 62 in reality. These days will be used by the Opposition to reiterate their main policy concerns that will lead them into the election and shape their campaign platform.
  5. Budget 2019: Budget 2019 will be the last federal budget of this government, which is expected this winter. This is legislation that the Government will also want passed, and there will be 5-10 days of debate dedicated to this in the House of Commons. But once it gets sent to the now independent Senate, all bets are off on how quickly it gets debated and whether it can pass before the House recesses before the election.

With a packed agenda and all eyes on the next federal election, this will be an exciting legislative sitting to watch.

For a rundown of all outstanding government legislation, see the list below.

Legislation Overview

Senate

  • There are currently nine Government Bills in the Senate
    • Seven of the Bills are at committee stage
    • Two of the Bills are at Second Reading (Criminal Code / Youth Criminal Justice Act & Accessible Canada Act)

House

  • There are currently 24 Government Bills in the House of Commons
    • One Senate government bill awaiting first reading
    • 15 government bills at second reading
    • Two government bills in consideration at committee stage
    • Four government bills at report stage
    • Two government bills at the amendments by the Senate stage

Bills Before the Senate

Within the Senate, there are seven government bills that have been referred to committees and two bills in second reading. There are also 22 Senate Public Bills in the queue that could be considered. There are 13 MP Private Members’ Bills before the Senate for their possible consideration.

  1. Bill C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications

  1. Bill C-55, Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

  1. Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for consideration

  1. Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence

  1. Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

  1. Bill C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

  1. Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms

Status: Referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence

  1. Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Awaiting second reading

  1. Bill C-81, Accessible Canada Act

Status: Awaiting second reading

Bills before the House of Commons

Along with Budget 2019 to be passed in the upcoming sitting, there is one Senate government bill awaiting first reading, 15 government bills at second reading, two government bills in consideration at committee stage, four government bills at report stage and two government bills at the amendments by the Senate stage.

The Senate has put 13 Senate Public Bills on the House’s plate for consideration as well. The House of Commons has 11 Private Members’ Bills making their way through the Chamber as well.

  1. The Bill: S-6

Status: Awaiting First Reading

Summary: An Act to implement the Convention between Canada and the Republic of Madagascar for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income

  1. The Bill: C-5

Status: At Second Reading

Summary: An Act to repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1

  1. The Bill: C-12

Status: At Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-27

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985

  1. The Bill: C-28

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge)

  1. The Bill: C-32

Status: Second reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-33

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-34

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act and other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-38

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons)

  1. The Bill: C-39

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-42

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, the Pension Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-43

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy

  1. The Bill: C-52

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend Chapter 6 of the Statutes of Canada, 2012

  1. The Bill: C-56

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act

  1. The Bill: C-87

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act respecting the reduction of poverty

  1. The Bill:C-88

Status: Second Reading

Summary: An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-82

Status: Consideration in Committee – FINA

Summary: An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting

  1. The Bill: C-84

Status: Consideration in Committee – JUST

Summary: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)

  1. The Bill: C-77

Status: At Report Stage

Summary: An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-78

Status: At Report Stage

Summary: An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

  1. The Bill: C-83

Status: At Report Stage

Summary: An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act

  1. The Bill: C-85

Status: At Report Stage

Summary: An Act to amend the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act and to make related amendments to other Acts

  1. The Bill: C-57

Status: Consideration of Amendments made by the Senate

Summary: An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act

  1. The Bill: C-64

Status: Consideration of Amendments made by the Senate

Summary: An Act respecting wrecks, abandoned, dilapidated or hazardous vessels and salvage operations

Creating a culture of consent on campus

Following decades of student-led advocacy, the federal Liberals are showing leadership with the establishment of a national framework to outline how colleges and universities address gender-based violence prevention and provide support for survivors of sexual assault.

This month, an advisory committee gave input on the national framework, which will standardize policies surrounding service offerings, prevention efforts, training, response, and reporting processes in incidents of sexual assault. The 2018 federal budget included $5.5 million for the initiative over five years.

The advisory committee is chaired by the Department for Women and Gender Equality and is comprised of survivor advocates, front-line service providers, student leaders, college and university administration professionals, union leaders and community organizations from across the country. Inclusion of a wide range of perspectives at the table is exactly what was needed to drive this forward.

Student-led organizations have worked tirelessly at the grassroots level over the years, pooling resources to launch national campaigns to educate campus communities, government and the public about the crisis at hand.

The Canadian Federation of Students launched the No Means No campaign 20 years ago. There are many who served for years on the front lines of this issue at a time when government didn’t yet see it as a priority.

According to Stats Canada, 41 per cent of incidents of sexual assault are reported by students — and local supports are not currently equipped to respond appropriately.

Navigating available campus supports should be seamless, but this is difficult to accomplish with the complex system of services offered within university and campus communities.

There is also overlap between the kind of supports available at post-secondary institutions and what’s offered in the wider community.

As a university student, I volunteered on the board of my local sexual assault crisis centre. The volunteers and skeleton staff of the organization at the time worked miracles with their budget to meet the community’s demand for services.

I was proud to see former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne show respect to students by sitting down with them directly in 2015 and committing to be an active partner in their advocacy to end rape culture on campuses across Ontario.

Some provinces have since passed legislation requiring, at minimum, the creation of campus sexual assault policies. A lot was learned by the first wave of attempts. Each institution is unique and so were the results of their policy development processes.

Students and front-line workers have been critical of the uneven policies. This federal framework is aimed to fill those gaps by identifying promising practices and holding universities and colleges to account in applying minimum standards.

For most advocates in this space, the work is very personal. I offer my kudos to all of those who have given their time and experience to driving this change from all angles.

Leading sexual violence prevention institutional change-makers Farrah Khan of Ryerson University and CJ Rowe of Simon Fraser University are exactly the best experts to be placed at the helm of drafting the national framework alongside a team of dedicated student activists. The federal government is considering various options to hold colleges and universities accountable to fully implement the framework in a timely manner once approved.

I’m looking forward to reviewing the “Framework to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence at Post Secondary Institutions,” and supporting implementation in any way I am able.

The student movement has come a long way in advocating for and providing supports for victims of sexual assault on campus.

If this is done right, 2019 could be a turning point for these hard-fought campaigns. We are at a pivotal moment when government priority, strategic intergenerational efforts, and collaboration across sectors could result in lasting change.

I hope that following the creation of the framework, each subsequent federal budget will commit to supporting the sustainability of this effort and that more provincial government bodies will come to the table with funding.

It will be impossible to measure the true impact of this work. At its best, this framework can serve as a catalyst to cultivate a culture of consent on campus communities across Canada.

For me, because this advocacy is personal, one life altered is enough.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 27, 2019)

Rebuilding a middle ground is the only way to fix a broken America

So long shining city upon the hill.

There are, of course, those who scoff that the idealistic notion of American exceptionalism never existed at all.

Others might reasonably suggest that, in fact, it vanished years ago — not in one fell swoop, but incrementally with each passing hour of cable news, gerrymandered district, and bruising nomination battle.

Never mind the when and how. There will be plenty of opportunity for the pundit class to deconstruct what went wrong and divvy up the blame.

But exhibit one in the case for its disappearance is the U.S. government shutdown, which, after five long weeks, has found temporary resolution — the stopgap funding arrangement agreed to by lawmakers and President Trump will reopen government until Feb. 15.

This temporary reprieve, notwithstanding, there can no longer be any doubt that there is not only something unmistakably rotten in Washington but structurally so.

It has now become clear that we are watching the death knell of American bipartisanship.

So, what? Politics is, after all, a team sport which is, for many, a zero-sum game. Winners and losers and all.

But, public servants — those who dedicate their working lives to the betterment of civil society — should not be reduced to bargaining chips or cannon fodder in a battle that is not theirs.

The president painted himself into a corner. The Democrats know it. And, as is reflected in recent waves of public opinion polling, so too do increasing numbers of everyday Americans.

This isn’t an arcane policy disagreement over appropriations. No, it’s as real as it is tangible.

There are some 800,000 federal government workers who were furloughed or forced to work without pay. And that has come with consequences.

The Food and Drug Administration was forced to suspend all non-essential work, including food safety inspections.

The FBI Agents Association acknowledged, “the resources available to support [federal law enforcement activities had been] stretched to the breaking point and are dwindling day by day.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission told companies planning public offerings, this month, to delay their plans.

This is not what conservatives have in mind when they preach about smaller government.

Whatever your political leaning, it’s worth recognizing many of our neighbour’s greatest legislative accomplishments have actually been bipartisan achievements, from LBJ’s 1964 Civil Rights Act, to the Apollo mission, to the Tax Reform Act under Reagan or the Americans with Disabilities Act under George H.W. Bush.

And there is data to back this idea up. Political scientists have studied polarization by measuring all 2.8 million Senate votes and 11.5 million House votes between 1789 and 2004.

Their study has found that bipartisanship began to rise in the early 20th century, as Republicans became more moderate, and persisted even as Republicans swung back to the right in the 1980s.

That’s a notion that is, today, hard to imagine. Distant memory is the sight of anyone reaching across the aisle to the other side.

While it was Trump’s insistence on funding for a border wall, a project that could not even win approval when Republicans controlled all three branches of government, that caused an unprecedented impasse, this issue is merely a symptom of a much more pervasive disease.

In his farewell address to the American people, Ronald Reagan reflected, “I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. … in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.”

Principled conservatives within the Republican party would be wise to heed his words.

President Trump may have “owned” the shutdown, but those in the corridors of power have a responsibility to ensure government remains open.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 27, 2019)

It’s a New Era in Canada – China Relations

Forget about a Canada – China Free Trade Agreement. Forget about more access into China’s huge market for Canadian goods and agricultural products. By the time the current dispute between Ottawa and Beijing has been played out to it’s final conclusion, we’ll be lucky if we still have diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Many people will lament that. Particularly Canadian businesses and farmers eager for enhanced access to China. But by the time the dispute over the Canada’s detention of Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of the United States, and the detention of two Canadians in China and the death sentence handed out to a third has run its course, chances are most Canadians will realize that being frozen out by the Chinese is not the problem some would make it out to be.

That’s because the Meng affair is revealing more explicitly and more directly what China is and what it is becoming as its economic, political and military power increases.

China is an authoritarian, repressive, expansive country one party state, ruled by a man who recently declared himself President for life. In the past decade it ‎among other things; developed rocky reefs in the South China Sea into artificial islands and turned them into military bases, disregarded a decision of the International Court of Justice that ruled against China, threatened most of its smaller neighbours, sent more than a million of its citizens to “re-education” camps, and cracked down on many organized religions.

Moreover, it is now practicing “hostage diplomacy” with the arrest and detention of two Canadians in China and the one day trial of another before sentencing him to death. All of the above are more the behavior of a third world dictatorship than an aspiring superpower.

Clearly, starry eyed prognosticators, and there were many of them, who for their own profit encouraged China’s economic rise‎ and predicted that rise would make China more democratic and a full participant in the existing world order were wrong. Rather than join the world as it is, China is trying to remake the world order to fit its own requirements.

Over the years China has used the allure of access to its 1.4 billion person market ‎to extract trade secrets and proprietary information from companies wanting to do business there. It has also manipulated it’s currency to keep its exports competitive. In the United States, voices that have warned of the emergence of China currently have President Donald Trump’s ear. The on-going U.S.- China trade war is about the only thing Trump has done that makes any sense.

And that trade‎ war brings us back to Madame Meng. She was apprehended in Vancouver on December 1st, at the request of the United States Government. Washington wants her extradited to the United States to face charges of bank fraud in connection with the sanctions then in place on dealings with Iran.

The fact that Madame Meng is the daughter if the founder of H‎uawei, the giant Chinese electronics firm and is a senior executive with the firm further complicates matters. As do the comments of Canada’s Ambassador to China, John McCallum.

This past week McCallum told reporters from Chinese media in Canada that Meng had a good chance of avoiding extradition to the United States when her case is heard in a few months’ time.

Some people think the Trudeau Government was using McCallum to signal the Chinese and to try to win the release of the two Canadians being held in retaliatory detention in China. But if that was the case, it destroyed Canada’s argument that the Meng detention and potential extradition is following the rule of international law and its obligations under the Canada-U.S. Extradition Treaty. The Government and McCallum quickly walked back his comments, but the damage was done.

The fact that Huawei’s bid to supply sophisticated 5G equipment to Canada’s internet companies is under a government security review is not helping matters. And nor will the news that this past week Canada signed a $40-million deal with the Finnish telecom giant and Huawei’s rival ‎Nokia to conduct 5G research.

So if you had been hoping for a Canada – China Free Trade deal, hoping for greater access to the giant Chinese market or with less immediate self-interest, hoping for the evolution of China into a responsible, constructive member of the international community, forget it.

There is a new world order, and China is a big part of it. But it is not the world order that most people hoped for.

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

Canada has limited foreign policy options

When the Liberal government came to power, it did away with the approach to foreign policy practiced by its Conservative predecessors and replaced it with something a bit more “idealistic.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embarked on an international media tour during which he repeatedly declared himself a feminist. The foreign service, all the way up to Minister Chrystia Freeland, began to loudly champion environmental and human rights causes in other countries.

For a time, this appeared to be working nicely. International media ate it up. Canadians seemed proud that their self-image as a kind and gentle country was reflected in the words and public positions of the country’s diplomats.

Inevitably, there were awkward moments along the way, specifically the costume drama debacle in India. Tensions with Saudi Arabia also surfaced last year when Freeland Twitter-cized the kingdom over its human rights record. It was a shot across the bow at Riyadh that prompted weeks of recriminations.

But recent weeks have brought more serious tests of the Trudeau government’s approach to foreign policy.

First, there is escalating tension between Canada and China over our detention of Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou. It is hardly a fair fight — China is a fully emerged superpower whose real issue is with the United States, not Canada. Unhelpfully, our country, with its inherent resolve to uphold the rule of law, is caught between the two.

Not only that but Huawei’s problems elsewhere in the world are making the problem even more challenging. For example, Poland has arrested a Huawei sales director for spying on behalf of the Chinese government, while other countries have formally put the mobile phone maker on notice that the company will be precluded from participating in their 5G networks.

And now, the stakes have become even higher with lives now on the line. This week, a Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, was hastily sentenced to death by a Chinese court, and other citizens, caught in the Huawei crossfire, appear to have been unjustly detained.

If that’s not enough, the acrimony between Canada and Saudi Arabia has further escalated. Last week, Freeland challenged that country again by personally welcoming teenage refugee Rahaf Mohammed, who had been on the brink of deportation back to her homeland before Canada proactively intervened.

In both instances, we saw the typical diplomatic tit-for-tat play out: statements were issued, fingers were wagged, ambassadors were recalled, and so forth. In an election year, when a government is inclined, for domestic political purposes, to flex its foreign policy muscles, when push comes to shove, the government’s range of options on the international stage are quite limited.

The truth is, the Liberals can do little more than huff and, on a good day, puff that China is acting “arbitrarily,” as the Trudeau government did when it issued a travel warning. Or say, “Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” as the prime minister did when explaining the government’s rationale for taking in Mohammed.

But beyond these statements and the usual diplomatic quid pro quo, the Trudeau government has yet to take meaningful retaliatory action. China sentences our citizens to death; Saudi Arabia withdraws critical investments and repatriates its many foreign students. Meanwhile, Canada does little more than make speeches about our values.

What would decisive action look like?

For starters, Canada could join the ranks of its Five Eyes peers in putting restrictions on how Huawei participates in country’s telecommunications infrastructure. It could terminate the contract to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia for use in a war that has been internationally denounced in Yemen.

These actions, though meaningful, would come at an enormous cost to both government and Canadian business (upwards of $1 billion in the case of arms sales to the Saudis), and inevitably invite further retribution from the bullies on the world stage.

With all this in mind, one sees the appeal of virtue-signalling in lieu of a more muscular foreign policy. It is telegenic, it builds on Canada’s international brand as a mild-mannered do-gooder.

But it may well come at a higher cost than the government ever imagined.

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

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 20, 2019) 

Meet Your New Cabinet – A Reset for Risk Mitigation, Bolstering Regional Strengths

This morning, the Prime Minister rejigged his federal Cabinet, a move prompted by the surprise resignation of Scott Brison. Today’s shuffle saw three ministers change roles, the creation of a new ‘Rural Economic Development’ ministry and promotions for two Parliamentary Secretaries.

Canada’s Five New Ministers

  • Jane Philpott, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
  • Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services
  • David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Rural Economic Development

What Does Today’s Shuffle Signal?

With what is presumably his final Cabinet shuffle before election day, Trudeau has signaled that some of the government’s most complex files are going to require his safest hands and strongest performers in the last few months ahead – and he’s taking some valued Ministers out of hot water into positions where they can hopefully play to their strengths.

He’s chosen to stay the course with regard to those portfolios that are proving the most difficult right now, however: Natural Resources, the Environment, Trade Diversification and Citizenship and Immigration. To shuffle the deck this close to campaign would signal that they are vulnerable with some legislation and initiatives still on the table: the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Carbon Emissions Plan and C-69 – the new legislation that seeks to reset the process for greenlighting major resource-based projects (read pipelines and major infrastructure projects). And Trudeau doesn’t want to suggest they have a leadership gap at the head of Citizenship and Immigration, where the issue of irregular migrants continues to fester.

Trudeau is also shoring up the government’s regional strengths and, to a certain extent, setting a pragmatic course for the campaign ground game – the door-to-door fight for every vote that they hope will deliver seats in key and/or swing ridings.

He’s also, with the appointment of a Rural Economic Development Minister, signaling that on key issues like rural broadband, and on regional economic development links with Small Business and Tourism, they’re seeking to address the perception of this government as being too focused on urban issues – and urban ridings.

Five New Ministers – An Inside Look

Hon. David Lametti 

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

  • With David Lametti going to Justice, the Prime Minister’s Office is rewarding a strong performer in the Innovation file with a mandate that, in many respects, has most of the activist components of its mandate accomplished.
  • His job will be to keep a firm hand on the files, play defense rather than offense for the last few months before the campaign. Of particular importance will be his handling of the Huawei file, specifically the extradition of Meng Wanzhou.
  • He is also a strong representative from the Italian-Canadian community, and there have been grumblings in Montreal about adequate representation for this strong Liberal constituency from the beginnings of this government’s mandate.

Biography

Lametti is the Member of Parliament representing LaSalle-Émard-Verdun (QC) and was first elected in October 2015. Prior to his Ministerial appointment, he served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development since January 2017. Prior to that role, he also served as the Parliamentary Secretary to International Trade between December 2015 and January 2017.

Before being elected in the Montreal riding, he was a Professor of Law at McGill University. His law career allowed him to serve as a Member of the Institute of Comparative Law. He was a founding Member of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP), serving as its Director from 2009 to 2012.

His substantial educational background includes, a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, Common and Civil law degrees from McGill, LL.M. from Yale Law School and a doctorate from Oxford University.

He is an internationally-recognized expert in property and intellectual property, with numerous publications, and has taught or lectured in many of the world’s most well-known universities in French, English and Italian.

Hon. Bernadette Jordan

Minister of Rural Economic Development 

  • The Atlantic provinces needed a strong performer with strong links to economic development issues.
  • As a first time MP, she distinguished herself by introducing legislation on abandoned and shipwrecked vessels – a Private Members’ bill that was taken up by government and turned into a government bill, Bill C-64.
  • She played a strong role in the rollout of the Oceans Protection Plan as well.
  • Well-liked among Caucus, she will bring a rural lens to the issues at hand, particularly as a part of the ISED team of Ministers.

Biography

Jordan is the Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margaret’s (NS) and was elected for the first time in October 2015. Today she becomes the first female federal MP to become a Minister from Nova Scotia, bringing the federal Cabinet back to gender-balance and surprising some observers.

Jordan previously served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould. Prior to being elected, Bernadette was a Development Officer for the Health Services Foundation in Bridgewater Nova Scotia, where she spent eight years as part of a team raising millions of dollars for health care in the region.

After being elected, Bernadette was selected by her fellow Atlantic MPs to serve as Chair of the Atlantic Liberal Caucus. The issue of abandoned and derelict vessels has been a major issue and concern in coastal communities, and Bernadette quickly brought forward her private members’ motion, M-40, calling on the Government to take steps to address the issue of abandoned vessels across the country, and it was passed by the House of Commons unanimously in October 2016.

Hon. Seamus O’Regan

Minister of  Indigenous Services

  • O’Regan has had real challenges in the Veteran’s file, most recently comparing his own difficulties with substance abuse in his broadcast journalism career to those faced by those returning from combat.
  • A close friend and colleague of the Prime Minister who was a groomsmen in the Prime Minister’s wedding party, this portfolio represents a strong second chance to prove he’s up to a Cabinet role.
  • Trudeau will be hoping that his high EQ and his vaunted communications skills can finally shine in a portfolio that requires strong mediation and stakeholder relations abilities.

Biography

O’Regan is the Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl (NFLD) and was elected for the first time in October 2015. He has previously served as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. Apart from these mandates, O’Regan is widely acknowledged as part of Prime Minister Trudeau’s inner-circle.

He studied politics at St. Francis Xavier University, University College Dublin and obtained a Master’s of Philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge.

Prior to his political career, O’Regan worked as an assistant to the Minister of Justice, and as the Senior Policy Advisor to Premier Brian Tobin in Newfoundland. He then co-hosted CTV’s Canada AM for 10 years.

Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould

Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

  • With Wilson-Raybould going to Veterans’ Affairs, she is a strong defensive choice, a Minister who’s demonstrated singular abilities in message discipline, in setting the right tone on serious files.
  • This new role has to be seen as a demotion, however, there will be talk that it is reflective of her inability to “play well with others” in Cabinet.
  • However, she can be proud of what she has achieved in the Justice portfolio going into this new role, as she shepherded difficult legislation through the House – for cannabis and Medical Assistance in Dying most notably.

Biography

Wilson-Raybould was first elected as Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville (BC) in October 2015.

She has had a number of leadership roles in community work prior to her political career. She served as a Director for Capilano College, the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women, the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, and the National Centre for First Nations Governance.

Her passion for Indigenous activism led her to serve as the also a director on the First Nations Lands Advisory Board and Chair of the First Nations Finance Authority. Wilson-Raybould is a prominent part of this government’s Indigenous caucus as she is a proud member of the We Wai Kai Nation.

Prior to her political career, she was a crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and BCAFN regional chief, working on complex treaty negotiations between First Nations and the Crown.

Hon. Jane Philpott

President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

  • With Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott moving over to Treasury Board, Trudeau has selected a newcomer to politics who, in just three short years, quickly established herself as a solid performer. She earned the respect and admiration of the Public Service – a core requirement for the President’s job.
  • Her first challenge where she demonstrated her skillset was the Medical Assistance in Dying Legislation – where the government had to steer a safe course through a narrow channel with faith and advocacy groups on opposite sides of a challenging debate.
  • She then proved herself to be a quick study who worked well with others – including some large personalities – when she worked on the consultations for cannabis legislation with former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Bill Blair, in his former Parliamentary Secretary role.
  • In the House and outside in the scrums, Philpott emerged as a Minister who reassured Canadians there was an adult in the room. She understood the gravity of their concerns and how fractious these policy debates could become especially in her role with Indigenous services. Here was a policy wonk who did her homework and made the case, time and again, for evidence-based policy decisions being foundational for the government’s mandate.

Biography

Philpott was first elected as Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville (ON) in October 2015. Previously, she served as Minister of Health between 2015 and 2017, and was appointed Minister of Indigenous Services in August 2017.

Prior to her political career, she worked as a physician for more than 30 years. This work led her to work abroad, including in the developing regions of West and East Africa. She helped launch Ethiopia’s first training program in Family Medicine through the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration.

She was also Chief of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital and Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. Jane led the opening of the Health for All Family Health Team and the Markham Family Medicine Teaching Unit.

Liberals must pass a cannabis amnesty law

When the Trudeau government set out to deliver on its core campaign commitment to legalize cannabis, success was defined for many by legislation that did not impede on each province’s autonomy over responsible implementation.

The timeline was ambitious, and history was ultimately made on Oct. 17, 2018 with the passage of The Cannabis Act.

Throughout the process, I’d hoped to see more concrete, proactive plans toward the pardoning of Canadians who held records for simple cannabis possession. At minimum, it was essential to remove the $631 financial barrier that stood in the way of a record suspension.

The painstakingly careful approach taken by the Liberal government to avoid making commitments about amnesty at the beginning of its mandate was disappointing, to say the least.

It isn’t enough to simply adopt language conveying concern for racialized communities who are negatively and disproportionately impacted by prohibition. With 500,000 Canadians holding criminal records for cannabis possession, our government had a responsibility to act.

Following the passage of Bill C-45, the prime minister finally committed to move on expediting the processes and removing financial barriers. But there is room to be more aspirational.

In striving toward a fairer Canada, the federal Liberal government would be wise to act on the expert advice of cannabis amnesty advocates like lawyer Annamaria Enenajor — expunge records proactively rather than putting the onus on individuals to undertake complicated processes to see their records suspended.

There is nothing fair about any Canadian continuing to carry criminal records that impede their ability to find meaningful employment and travel internationally, while many of those who criminalized them are literally cashing in on the new cannabis economy.

In the meantime, the spotlight now sits on provincial and municipal governments as they roll out regulations, distribution models and bylaws governing usage.

As was to be expected, provinces are facing shortages in supply with large disparities between legal and black market prices. Statistics Canada reported recently that an average price per gram for legal recreational pot is $9.70, compared to $6.51 when purchased illegally.

Following the 2018 June election, Ontario’s Ford administration changed course on Ontario’s planned distribution model, introducing provincially regulated private sales. This was a significant shift from the previous direction set by the Wynne administration, which aimed to use the LCBO as a conduit to open 40 Ontario Cannabis Stores and scale up to 150 across the province by 2020.

As of this week, Ontario is one step closer to opening 25 private cannabis retail locationsacross the province, after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario conducts its lottery selection of eligible businesses to determine who will be permitted to open up shop come April 1.

Locations will be regionally distributed, with five slated for Toronto. Failure to meet designated deadlines to open stores will result in financial penalties.

Each of the 444 municipalities in Ontario were given the power to opt-out of hosting cannabis stores. With decisions due by Jan. 22, municipal leaders are weighing social and economic impacts — some excited by the opportunity to take part of the first wave of stores, with others building barriers and hoping to slow the tide of change.

Local debates have also erupted across the country as public and private institutions grapple with the new legal framework and enact internal policies. Many condo boards and landlords are disappointingly going as far as banning vaping on balconies. Some universities have outright banned smoking and vaping on their entire campuses.

When it comes to the creation and enactment of progressive cannabis policy, political leaders at all levels have their work cut out for them to course correct and ensure true fairness for all Canadians.

While the logistical challenges are now in provincial and municipal hands, the federal government still has work ahead. Bold plans for cannabis amnesty should have been explored and prepared together with legalization from day one.

It’s time we stop penalizing our citizens for simple possession of a now nationally legal substance and get a simplified expungement process underway.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight.

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, January 13, 2019)