Five byelections will be first real test for Liberal government

0 Comments 28 March 2017

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government. That is what makes byelections so tricky.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 27, 2017.

OTTAWA—Five byelections across three provinces will be the first real test for the Liberal government.

With vacancies in former Liberal ridings, the pressure will be on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grow his majority.

Whatever happens, the outcome will likely result in a rise in diversity, as all ridings were formerly held by white men and several byelection frontrunners are women.

At the moment, the Liberal nominee in the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, appears to have the edge. Mona Fortier served as an assistant to Mauril Bélanger, who lost his battle against ALS last August.

Fortier was endorsed by Bélanger’s widow in a hotly contested nomination which recruited 6,500 new members into what has been described as Canada’s safest Liberal riding.

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government.

That is what makes byelections so tricky. In the case of Ottawa-Vanier, the ruling party does not seem to be in any real danger.

In the heart of the nation’s capital, the riding includes many public servants who are still breathing a sigh of relief that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are no longer in power. By comparison, the Liberals are supportive of the role played by the bureaucracy in developing evidence-based policies.

The population is highly diverse, and supportive of the government’s strong stand in favour of refugee resettlement.

Controversy surrounding identity questions could loom large in the Quebec by-election called to replace former leader and foreign minister Stéphane Dion.

Star Liberal candidate and former Quebec immigration minister Yolande James has changed her position on the niqab, and her nomination opponents are zeroing in on this discrepancy.

While Quebec minister of immigration, James refused to allow a niqab-wearing woman to take French language classes.

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Ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour

0 Comments 20 March 2017

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington praising up Trump on the art of the deal, Trudeau was actually getting a bigger deal done.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 20, 2017.

OTTAWA—It was Canada’s hour in the European Parliament last week.

Even those parties who voted against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement were compelled to proclaim their affection for our country with hand-held signs that said, “Yes to Canada. No to CETA.”

In the end, the vote was not even close, even though parties on the left and the right were opposed.

Some 58 per cent of European parliamentarians endorsed the deal, which sets the stage for speedy implementation.

In one sense, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has U.S. President Donald Trump to thank for the solid show of support.

Since the new American president’s inauguration a month ago, the United States administration has been systemically threatening to close borders, round up refugees and cancel international commercial agreements.

Even though American courts have slowed down some of the initiatives, the obvious message of closed America borders has not been lost on the rest of the world.

Contrary to the core group of Trump supporters, most other jurisdictions feel alienated and confused by the administration’s early direction.

European support for the free trade deal with Canada actually grew because the agreement became synonymous with an anti-Trump approach. One European parliamentarian, Artis Pabriks from the European People’s Party made an oblique reference to the plan to wall off Mexico. “Together we can build bridges, instead of a wall, for the prosperity of our citizens. CETA will be a lighthouse for future trade deals all over the world.”

While Trump vows to close borders and keep foreigners out, the Canadian prime minister is welcoming refugees and signing trade deals with Europe and beyond.

Perhaps the ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour.

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April 6: Sheila Copps to speak at Women for 50% 2018

0 Comments 18 March 2017

New date!

April 6, 2017

Join us for an unprecedented full-day gathering of New Brunswick women and men, coming together to commit to gender balance in elected office and encourage more women to run.

Guest speaker: Hon. Sheila Copps

Register today!

Visit Women for 50% 2018’s Facebook page for more information.

Pre-event news coverage to date:

Huddle Today. “Because in New Brunswick it’s still 1977.” January 11, 2017.

919TheBend.High Profile N.B. Women Pushing For More Female Candidates In 2018 Election.” January 11, 2017

CBC News New Brunswick.Work begins now to elect more women to legislature in 2018.” January 11, 2017.

Acadie Nouvelle.Un mouvement pour 50% de femmes à l’Assemblée législative en 2018.” 11 janvier 2017

New Brunswick Women’s Council.Women’s Council applauds growing movement to increase the number of women participating in New Brunswick politics, calls for changes to political process.” Français.


There’s considerable risk attached to Trudeau’s meeting with Trump in Washington

0 Comments 16 March 2017

If Justin Trudeau is too aggressive, he could become another high-profile target in Donald Trump’s world tweet war. If Trudeau is too accommodating, he risks facing the ire of a considerable number of citizens back home who want the prime minister to fight back. The Monday meeting requires a delicate balance.


First published on Monday, February 13, 2017 with The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada shares the longest open border in the world with the United States. Canadians would obviously like to keep it that way.

The Monday meeting between the prime minister and U.S. President Donald Trump will be key to that outcome.

At first blush, the two leaders are very different. Not only are they separated by age. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political values are very different to Trump’s.

But Trudeau grew up with considerable family wealth and notoriety, in circumstances similar to Trump. Trudeau also spent much of his life in the public eye.

The Trudeau brand has been widely known around the world, rivalling that of the Trump brand.

Pierre Trudeau made a name for himself as a leader willing to break with tradition. He built new alliances, from early recognition of the People’s Republic of China to north-south political emphasis on Cuba and Latin America.

Political leaders still positively remember the influence of Pierre Trudeau on international public policy and will be watching this meeting closely.

As for Trump, his first weeks in office have not been well-received internationally. First came Trump’s fight with Mexico, then his disdain for China and two weeks ago was dominated by reports of a nasty telephone call with the prime minister of Australia.

To date, Trump’s strongest relationships appear to be with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Thus far, Canada has not been on Trump’s radar. Trudeau’s visit will be an exercise in keeping it that way.

There is considerable risk attached to the outcome of the meeting.

Most of the risk is on Canadian shoulders. With our small population and integrated economy, Canada stands to lose the most in a trade war with Trump. Much of our interconnection, from the beginnings of the auto pact, to bilateral steel and lumber agreements, is dependent on stable political relationships between the two leaders.

Prime ministers and presidents do not have to like each other, but they need to be able to work together for the benefit of both countries.

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Sometimes ambiguity can be a blueprint for survival

0 Comments 07 March 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.


First published on Monday, February 6, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—In politics, ambiguity is usually considered a sign of weak leadership. But it can sometimes be a blueprint for survival.

When the Government of France weighed in on the question of an independent Quebec back in 1977, they coined a phrase that epitomizes political ambiguity. The “non-indifference” policy was their explanation to support but not to interfere in the move for Quebec separation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.

Today, he probably wishes that he had been a little less categorical. In the heat of a campaign, certainty is a lot more attractive than ambiguity.

Explaining his about-face in the House of Commons last week, the prime minister appeared uncomfortably resolute. Without consensus on electoral change, it would be folly to change the system.

Predictably, the New Democrats attacked Trudeau viciously. NDP spokesperson Nathan Cullen admonished himself publicly to choose his words carefully. He then proceeded to call the prime minister a “liar” and “the most cynical variety of politician” who “spit in the face” of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Cullen’s response was angry, because his party stands to lose the most without proportional representation.

His party is also to blame for the impasse. They chaired the parliamentary committee which effectively set up the Liberal exit strategy.

By endorsing only one alternative system, that of proportional representation, committee members effectively signed the death warrant for electoral reform. The Conservatives said little last week, because they oppose reform. Their insistence on a national referendum on the matter was intended to scuttle any change.

By recommending only one system, and then agreeing to a national referendum, the NDP killed its own goose.

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Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust

0 Comments 02 March 2017

Donald Trump is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

Published on Monday, January 30, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Donald Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust.

So it stands to reason that one of his first acts as president could be to cut all funding to the only two federal agencies with a mandate for arts and culture. Last week The Hill, a congressional news source, reported on a plan to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The NEA, established by an Act of Congress back in 1964, currently receives only $150-million in federal government funds. That represents a pittance of the $10.5-trillion in cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization providing the blueprint for administration budget direction. As for the CPB, its total annual funding from public coffers is less than $450-million.

Both sums are chump change. By contrast, the Canada Council for the Arts is currently funded at a rate of $220-million Canadian dollars annually, almost $20-million more than the congressional allocation for the NEA, in a country with one-tenth the population. The last federal budget boosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation budget by $675-million over five years.
But it is obvious that Trump’s political agenda is not about simply balancing the country’s books. He is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

It may also be payback time for ancient grievances.

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Language politics return to Canada

0 Comments 24 February 2017

Justin Trudeau not speaking English during a town hall in Quebec is less of a political problem than Conservative leadership candidate O’Leary not being able to speak French.


Published first on Monday, January 23, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The politics of language and the language of politics are as Canadian as hockey.

Last week, the Liberals and Conservatives were both facing heat on Quebec’s hot-button language issue.  

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in trouble for speaking too much French, and Conservative candidate Kevin O’Leary for not speaking enough.

Both were defending their language choices for different reasons. Both faced the wrath that can only be unleashed by the politics of language in Canada.
Trudeau, in Sherbrooke, Que., on his cross-country tour, waded into the language issue, by answering all questions during the town hall debate in French, even those that were asked in English.

He prefaced his language switch with a comment in English that “since we’re in Quebec, I’ll respond in French.” Trudeau had obviously decided in advance to stick to the preferred language in every province.  

He spoke mostly English in provinces that are designated as unilingual English, and vice versa in Quebec. The only Canadian province designated bilingual is New Brunswick.

But federal language policy guarantees every Canadian the right to receive federal services in the language of their choice, regardless of where they live.

In pursuit of that right, at least two people have taken the prime minister to task by filing complaints with the official languages commissioner. Those complaints guarantee that this issue is not going to go away any time soon.

It also puts the prime minister in the enviable position of defending his use of the French language in Quebec. This politics of language may actually reinforce support amongst francophones who criticize Trudeau for not being French enough. With a francophone father and an anglophone mother, Trudeau is truly comfortable in both languages but has been denigrated publicly for thinking in English and being less  fluent in his father’s mother tongue.

Holding any political event in Quebec always puts the language issue under the spotlight. Had Trudeau simply responded in the language of the questioner, he might actually have spent more time speaking English, which could have caused a different kind of political flak.

His team obviously calculated that, in the long term, risking the ire of Quebec anglophones was less dangerous than appearing too English in Quebec. He does, however, run the risk of falling short on his avowed support for bilingualism.

If that ever-present language dilemma is all too complicated for politics, Trudeau has a less intractable problem than that of Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary.

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Cabinet changes in both countries speak louder than words

0 Comments 17 February 2017

Justin Trudeau will make sure he is not caught in the crossfire in potential trade disputes. He has nothing to gain by accenting Yankee-Canuck differences.


Published on Monday, January 16, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The new year cabinet changes in Canada and the United States are a keen study in just how different our two countries really are.

With the departure of Stéphane Dion and John McCallum, the face of the Liberal government is even younger and more diverse.

Dion and McCallum had decades of experience in government. Their departures deplete the experiential depth and breadth of the cabinet.

Most ministers don’t only manage their own departments and responsibilities. They may weigh in on major national issues, which impact on the government and the whole country.
Prime minister Jean Chrétien’s decision not to join the war on Iraq, was seen as seminal. Chrétien’s four decades in Parliament played a role in that decision, but he also consulted multiple cabinet members, especially those with lengthy political experience.

Youth has the benefit of energy and drive, but with age comes wisdom. History often repeats itself, which is why some wizened faces in cabinet are a good thing.

The deeper Trudeau goes into his mandate, the more he will need to count on colleagues with experience to weather difficult storms.

The youthfulness of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has been key in attracting a whole new generation of engaged young people. His commitment on issues like marijuana managed to engage a new generation, one that previously had no interest in government.

That intergenerational change has served the Liberals well but it also has limitations.

Maryam Monsef came to cabinet with high expectations but had no political experience. She inherited a treacherous portfolio which could have used a veteran’s touch. Her successor is also a newbie. Karina Gould has impressive international organizational experience which could be a useful training ground for this tricky portfolio.

In his first wave of American appointments, the cabinet of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is getting older and whiter.

Neither change should surprise us. Politicians promote those with whom they feel the closest connection.

Young leaders generally encourage younger faces, while older leaders can be more comfortable with those of their own age, gender, and race.

Women often support other women. Leaders hailing from minority communities work hard to recruit those from diverse cultures and races. U.S. President Barack Obama’s cabinet was a reflection of his own personal life experience.

Hillary Clinton surrounded herself with strong women and her team reflected a real gender change that, had she won, would have radically changed the face of the American administration.

Trump is a white, 70-year-old business man. It should surprise no one that most of those whom he has elevated to his cabinet are white businessmen.

For those Americans witnessing the changing face of Washington, it must be tough to see so few minority appointees at the table. It is as though the last 30 years of civil rights progress has been erased and Jim Crow is back to rule the roost.

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Raitt needs O’Leary to split Blue Tory vote

0 Comments 16 February 2017

Lisa Raitt is banking on social media technology and new recruitment techniques, to swell Red Tory, anti-O’Leary ranks within the party with online recruitment. In so doing, she is well-positioned to become everyone’s second choice.


Published first on Monday, January 9, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Lisa Raitt’s campaign to stop Kevin O’Leary was brilliant.

It vaulted her to the front of the news cycle during a January political lull. It also set her up as a foil to the Trump-like tendencies of some of the Blue Tories who are already in the race or thinking of joining.

It would be folly to assume that Raitt does not want O’Leary in the race.

A good part of her message last week targeted Kellie Leitch, and the controversial proposed citizenship test of Canadian values.

Raitt needs O’Leary in the race to split the Blue Tory vote.

If that sounds complicated, two voting rules guarantee a campaign roller coaster ride in the months leading up to the May vote.

First, the Tories have adopted preferential balloting, which means that voters will actually rank their preferred candidates.

Ironically, that same system was one of the options proposed to replace the first-past-the-post general election vote, without much support from the Conservative Party.

The new system means the winner may not be the first choice of the greatest number of voters, but rather the second choice of the majority.

If this sounds complicated, it is one of the reasons that most people exit the conversation when the subject of electoral reform is broached.

But the peregrinations are compelling for political animals who follow leadership conventions with the same passion the rest of us reserve for hockey championships.

The greater the number of leadership candidates, the more Raitt needs to divide the vote in order to come up the middle. 

In other words, she needs the blunt force trauma that O’Leary’s candidacy would ignite to limit the potential migration of Blue Con votes to Leitch.

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The Walrus Talks National Tour: We Desire a Better Country

0 Comments 06 February 2017

Walrus Talks National Tour (cartoon graphic)The Order of Canada and the Walrus Foundation are jointly presenting The Walrus Talks Conversations About Canada: We Desire a Better Country, a national tour featuring 50 members of the Order and 50 youth leaders to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

“This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Order of Canada, one of our country’s highest honours,” said Governor General David Johnston. “Its motto, Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam (They desire a better country), is the source of inspiration for this one-of-a-kind speakers’ series. The diverse and compelling examples of excellence that it will showcase will inspire Canadians and invite them to imagine the Canada of tomorrow.”
The tour runs from March 1 to June 1, 2017 in 13 provinces and territories in just 13 weeks. The tour will connect members of the Order of Canada and Canada’s next generation of young leaders with communities across Canada on what our future as a country could and should be.

All of the events will be streamed live online and rebroadcast by CBC Radio and CPAC.

For tour dates and ticket information, visit

World Design Summit in Montreal

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