A look at the year that was and predictions for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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