Trudeau rates a "C" for year one

Last week when on CTV’s True North Political Panel I was asked to give Trudeau a rating for his first year in office. I gave him a “C” not because I am so partisan, that I can’t say anything positive about him, but because the jury is still out on promises kept or not kept etc.

I saw one article that said he has only kept about 16% of his promises to date. To be fair no government can deliver on everything in their first year. As the Trudeau Liberals are finding out, promises cost money and even free spending Liberals have to draw a line on what gets spent now and what gets pushed further down the road.  Some of that is hidden under the guise of “consultation.”

In his first few months in office all he had to do was show up for work and not trip going up the stairs and the media would give him rave reviews. We are finally seeing more reporters beginning to question the action and also the inaction of the government on various files. As we saw with the limousine scandal ministers are under closer scrutiny and some of the shine has come off of the Liberal government.

When you make a lot of promises, you have a lot of voters and special interest groups waiting for you to deliver on them. They can become very impatient with a government very quickly. His recent waffling on electoral reform is but one example of a file that can blow up in his face. His lack of action on moving forward with files that are crucial for the First Nations and the lack of funding set aside to address their issues is another one.

You may recall that back on February 16th I wrote in the Huffington Post about Trudeau’s spending in his first 100 days in office. He spent a total of $5.3 billion of which $4.3 billion was spent outside of Canada. I predicted then that the needs of First Nations would be pushed aside. While the Liberals made a show at funding, a lot of it was pushed to after the next election. Recently a report was released by bureaucrats in Ottawa that it would cost $2 billion to bring 115 schools up to standard. Of course the money isn’t there now to do so. It was spent to look good in Paris and elsewhere. This is one more file that has the potential to go sideways on Trudeau.

We have the ongoing war in Syria and the war in Iraq and some of our troops are assisting the Kurds. It’s a risky and dangerous mission, one that this “open and transparent” government has gone strangely silent on. This is another file that they can have little control over on a day to day basis.

New governments always find that files that the previous government rejected get dusted off by departments and they are presented again to the new government. Back in April of 2010 I was blogging about the rumours that Canada would be sending troops on an UN African mission. At that time the speculation was the Congo and that General Leslie who has since been elected to the House of Commons, was to be the mission commander. It didn’t happen but here we are in 2016 and there is renewed talk of a UN African mission. This is one more file that can quickly become a mess for this government.

Decisions that are pushed off in the first year or two of a mandate inevitably come to a “yea” or “nay” point in your last two years. With all the promises made and all of the ones not kept to date that is a lot of voters who will be unhappy as the Liberals move into election mode. Until Trudeau starts to deliver on his promises he rates a “C”.


To Claim Or Not To Claim

There has been lots of controversy and quite a few accusations thrown around about various individuals moving expenses. This is politics and mud throwing and making your opponent look bad is definitely the name of the game. Liberal rhetoric in the last campaign- “open and accountable”, a new way of doing things, sunny ways etc. has made this type of issue a perfect one for the opposition parties. More importantly the Liberals have forgotten that in politics perception is everything and some of their moving expense claims appear to the public to be outrageous and out of line.

In reality they have followed the guidelines, hence their standard answer in Question Period. The Conservatives have had a lot of fun with this issue because simply put- some of the expense claims are more than most Canadians can ever hope to earn in salary in a year. The voting public gets this one and they don’t like it. Let us not forget that MPs are also subsidized for their expenses while living in Ottawa, as are our senators. I know quite a few former political staff who accepted jobs and moved to Ottawa knowing none of their expenses would be picked up.

We even have Brad Trost going after a former Conservative Chief of Staff wanting to have him pay back fees etc. It does get a bit ridiculous- if someone who is no longer in the government is fair game, how far back should we go- should we ask Martin and Chretien and maybe Mulroney era staffers to pay back fees?

This does however give parliamentarians a perfect opportunity to look at the guidelines, perhaps this should be a topic for one of the Standing Committees to review and task the committee to come up with new and acceptable guidelines.

Most Canadians don’t get their expenses covered when they move, although you can claim some expenses on your income tax if you moved over a minimum distance to a new job. I wonder what moving expenses media types get covered if they leave Ottawa and move to another city?

It all boils down to what decisions a political staffer makes and based on those very personal decisions, should the taxpayer have to pay for the results of their decision?

First decision- do I accept the job? If you know in advance that only a minimum amount of your moving expenses will be covered, then that will be factored into your decision.

Second decision- should I sell my home? If you were making that decison today, you know in advance that you will be paying real estate fees (government moves get much reduced rates) and you know you will have to pay lawyer’s fees. You could also keep your home, perhaps rent it out. Not a bad idea considering how volatile political life is and how easy it is to lose your job on the Hill. In a hot real estate market such as in Toronto, this is also something to consider as the value of your home is steadily increasing during your short stay in Ottawa.

Should the taxpayer have to pick up the costs of your personal decision to sell?

Third decision- Should I buy or rent in Ottawa? That is another personal decision. No one tells you that you have to buy a home. You can rent some pretty nice apartments on a senior PMO staff salary. You can also rent some pretty nice homes and still be close to your office. It is a personal decision when you choose to buy a home here. Before you decide to buy, you know that you will be paying our infamous welcome tax. You know in advance that you will pay legal fees. Should taxpayers be on the hook because you made the personal decision to buy and not rent?

Your actual moving expenses IE having a company pack your things up and move them to Ottawa and then unpack them different is a different decision. You have only a few choices in moving companies and you won’t find that much difference in rates. It is not unreasonable to see those expenses covered and the general public IE voters understand those costs.

There is an argument to be made that the costs that are currently covered apply to the civil service, military, RCMP etc. All true, but let us keep in mind that those personnel don’t have a choice when they move. They are told where they are going and when they are going- a big difference.

Going forward, should senior political staff be treated differently when it comes to moving expenses? Now is a good time for our parliamentarians to sit down and look at the process and the cost to the taxpayer. Let us see what they decide to do; after all it is our money that they are spending.


Perception is Everything

I remember reading some comments from Liberal Senator Keith Davies, otherwise known as the “Rain Maker” for his successful stewardship of several Liberal election campaigns. He stressed that in politics, perception was everything- something this latest generation of Liberals seems to have forgotten.

Arrogance and entitlement have always been the downfall of the Liberals, whether it was Justin’s father giving the “Salmon Arm” salute to voters or David Dingwall’s expensing a package of gum, they have left a lasting impression with voters. Now it is quite true that when voters get fed up with the Conservatives they can overlook this Liberal failing- but it doesn’t take much to remind them about what they don’t like about Liberals.

Politicians need to keep in mind that it is the small things that add up over time and it is the small things that get them booted out of office. It’s the continual picking away by the opposition of the day and the media that eventually sours voters on a government.

What was Trudeau thinking when he suggested to his top two staffers in their letter of employment that they could access this relocation program in its entirety? Did he not stop and think this through; did he not pause and wonder what “regular” Canadians might think? Did he just rubber stamp a letter offered to him by a staffer to sign? Clearly someone wasn’t thinking (especially his two top aides).

Now I am not saying that Telford and Butts didn’t follow the rules. All the evidence says that they did. Following the rules is the song they all sing when it blows up in their face. Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice was within the guidelines, but that didn’t matter to voters. Nor does the fact that Telford and Butts followed the guidelines matter- what matters is the perception of what the voters interpret as going on. If the voters feel it is inappropriate, then in their mind it is and they don’t give a damn if you followed the rules or if it was within the guidelines or not.

Voters can be boondoggled on policy matters, but there are some things they understand- especially if it things they also do. People have paid for a glass of orange juice, people have sold homes and moved, and people have paid moving expenses, real estate fees and lawyer’s fees out of their own pocket- they really do get it. Did no one in the Liberal brain trust (especially his top two advisors) not stop to ask the “what if” question? What if this goes public- how will the media and voters react to my claims? Did no one give any thought as to public reaction?

The median family income in Canada is $76,000, median salary around $50,000. Voters look at Butts claiming in expenses close to the yearly income of two entire families, or 2.5 workers’ salaries just for a move to accept a high paying job in Ottawa. These are the same families that would have to shoulder all moving costs on their own. Telford charged more than an entire family’s year income as well. Do you think staff charging over $207,000 to move the short distance from Toronto to Ottawa impressed Canadian voters? What does this say about Trudeau’s promise to do things differently?

If perception in politics as Keith Davies maintained was everything, so far we have seen-

-a media blow up over Trudeau trying to charge his two nannies salaries to his office budget

-Sophie wanting extra staff to support her work

-ministers trying to pretend that they didn’t use limousines

-extravagant moving expenses charges

The old Liberal narrative is being refreshed in the voters mind and once again “they are entitled to their entitlements” rings true. It is time for them to come out of their ivory tower and time for them to start asking the “what if” questions and give voters a break- if they don’t voters can even the score at election time.


The Clock Ticks Down"

As the clock ticks down to the opening of the Fall session of the House of Commons the public is starting to see the first real signs of life in both the NDP and Conservative leadership races. Of course the real question remains who wants to be the equivalent of a “caretaker” until the 2019 election is out of the way. At this point unless Trudeau commits a monumental blunder or his government gets embroiled in some type of scandal it will be hard to take him down in the next election.

The Conservatives with the incredibly stupid length of time that they have given their leadership race have all but guaranteed that Trudeau will not face a very effective Opposition until this race is decided. When your best and your brightest are slugging it out for the prize, they are distracted from the task of countering the Liberals in the House. That task will generally fall to the second tier of MPs. The only bonus to that is that once in a while one of these MPs steps up and becomes a star.  

As with most leadership races (regardless of political party) the voting public will be treated to leadership candidates turning on each other like dogs fighting for a bone. While the nastiness and name calling might end in May 2017, the divisions and animosities created will linger on until well after the 2019 election.

On the Conservative side we already seeing the usual assortment of fringe candidates put their name forward. One of the few ways that they will be able to stand out from the crowd will be to take more extreme policy positions. In addition we can be pretty well guaranteed that various factions will be refighting the battles of the 1970s and 1980s. This will not only give the Trudeau Liberals some wonderful ammunition for the 2019 election, but quite possibly drive away more moderate voters. In the end it will be the inability to raise funds on an ongoing basis that will knock most of these candidates out of the race. Unfortunately leadership candidates will find it all too tempting to put “me first” in an all-out effort to win and they will ignore the long term damage to the party brand.

While Mulcair is getting a dose of the usual backstabbing that goes on after a leader is blamed for an election loss, the Conservatives are still waiting for a high profile candidate to want the job. O’Toole and Raitt are still waiting to be heard from and as neither is labelled as coming from the Reform or PC side of the founding parties they can claim to represent the new party. MacKay has promised an answer soon and Andrew Scheer is supposed to be interested. All we have seen from O’Leary to date is posturing and an ability to milk the media for self-promotion. Certainly the publicity isn’t hurting his business interests. Speaking of which can you imagine how interesting it would be if he was every faced with the prospect of putting all of his business interests into a blind trust. It would be shades of Paul Martin all over again, but probably a lot more complicated.

Time is quickly marching on as the unofficial decision deadline of October is rapidly approaching. Who will be in? Who will be out? At this point in time it’s not something the voting public cares about.



Rest in Peace Elsie

Canada has lost an amazing politician with the passing of Elsie Wayne. Many remember her as tough, demanding, principled, often unbending. She was quite a character.

I was very fortunate to work with her when I was the Director of Question Period and the head of the attack team. I could always count on Elsie to show up at the early morning prep meeting with ideas for issues that she wanted to push or points that she wanted to raise. We shared an understanding of what she felt was a need to speak up for her beloved constituents and on occasions when the discussion around the table would get  a little heated, she would glance my way and give a wink to indicate, don’t worry about it.

I best remember her for her work on behalf of the merchant seamen especially during their hunger strike on the Hill. Elsie would always stop by them and make sure they were ok, often bringing them into her office to warm up. Elsie never let up on this issue and eventually the government would recognize the services of the merchant marine and offered a compensation package to them.

There was also the lighter side to Elsie- her Christmas sweaters that would light up that she wore to QP or the time that we had our Christmas Party on the Hill and she went around replacing all the red light bulbs with blue ones.

Elsie was quite a character, if you met her, you remembered her. She was always Elsie, not Mrs. Wayne. Canada has lost a giant of a politician and a dedicated MP for her constituents. Rest in Peace Elsie and thank you for your service.

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