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CTV True North Political Panel

Enjoyed participating in the show today. 

A link can be found HERE


The Only Question Is Why?

There have been a lot of media reports on Prime Minister Trudeau’s strange meeting with the Boyle family. So far the story simply doesn’t add up.

Prime Minister’s just don’t meet with anyone who requests a meeting and it doesn’t matter who that person is or their background.  In most cases, a Prime Minister’s schedule is so tight that setting aside time for a meeting like this would have been very difficult.

It is true that every Prime Minister and party leader for that matter; will make time for meetings/photo ops.  This is a political decision when someone in PMO (usually senior staff) thinks that the session will advance their political agenda. In this case though, there was clearly no upside to the meeting.

Back when the appointment was set up, the entire Boyle story was still pretty sketchy (even if we exclude the recent criminal investigation) and it would be a bit of a stretch to think that voters believed any or all of it. What then did Trudeau or more likely his senior PMO staff hope to accomplish?

When a request for a meeting is made, the most basic first step that his staff should have followed would have been a media/google search, so that they could prepare a briefing note for the Prime Minister. This note would include the person’s background, any media stories and potential questions that might come up and the note would have provided suggested answers. The note could also include items of shared interest or concerns- in other words information that the PM could use to make the meeting a successful one.

If there were red flags or controversies around the person, these should have been highlighted for senior staff and the Prime Minister. It is at this point where the issue moves out of the hands of the junior PMO staff and it has now landed on the desks of senior staff.

Due to the various stories and issues around the Boyle family, it is highly unlikely this basic research wasn’t done prior to the meeting.

In addition, because it was pretty clear that the Boyle story might be of interest to a number of government departments or agencies, including Global Affairs, Immigration and CSIS etc. someone at the senior staff level should have requested additional follow-up and input from those departments. While a request could go from PMO to minister’s offices, one should also have been made through the Privy Council Office (PCO) as PCO is the Prime Minister’s department, and they could have gone directly to officials including the RCMP, in those departments.

Both PMO and PCO would have issues management staff that should be on top of such issues. It is unlikely that PCO would have failed to provide briefing notes on the Boyle saga from the time the issue became public- that is one of the things that they routinely do.

There were more than enough red flags around this potential meeting to raise the question as to whether or not the meeting should have gone forward. Only the most senior staff and the Prime Minister himself would have been involved in making the final decision to go ahead with this meeting.  A decision would also be made at this time as to which person in PMO would staff the meeting, make notes etc.

Unanswered questions include who made the go-ahead decision?

What was the recommendation of Trudeau’s senior staff- were they in favour or opposed to the meeting?

Did PMO consult with other government departments and agencies including security officials?

Did PMO ask PCO for a briefing or recommendation and what did PCO suggest?

No Prime Minister will always agree with meeting every person that is suggested to them. They have a pretty big say in this.

Did Trudeau over rule his senior staff or did he follow their advice?

In the end there are far too many unanswered questions including the simplest one- why?


Looking Towards 2019

Let’s start with a Happy New Year to one and all as we move into 2018.

Unfortunately with a fixed election date in 2019; we know that Canadians will begin to be bombarded with the election messaging that all of the parties will be testing as we lead up to that election. The never-ending election is now a part of political life.

While the shine is starting to come off of Trudeau, the wheels have certainly not yet come off of his bus. Assuming he (or should I say PM Butts) follows the strategy of the Ontario Liberals, we can pretty much bet that we will be seeing a lot of new programs, the re-announcing of funds, and an array of costly items targeting special interest groups whose support the Liberals will need in 2019. There will be plenty of opportunity for both the Conservatives and the NDP (if they ever get their act together) to go after Trudeau and the Liberal government.

The Conservatives will also have a front row seat to the upcoming battle between the NDP and the Liberals for the left wing vote. We should be hoping that it escalates into a major fight as any pro NDP vote that draws votes away from the Liberals is good news for the Conservatives, especially in ridings with tight three way races.

For the Conservatives their biggest issue will be to start moving forward and looking to the future without always referencing the past. While history will be a lot kinder to Stephen Harper than the voters were in the last election, constantly bringing him up when attacking Trudeau only boxes Andrew Scheer in.

Instead of constantly referencing what Harper did on any particular issue IE Harper was right, Trudeau is wrong etc., move on from 2015 and reference Scheer’s and the Party’s current position. Scheer has the difficult task of coming up with policies that are forward looking and which will attract voters, including millennial voters in 2019. We are no longer living in 2015, although you wouldn’t know it listening to some Conservative MPs.

The Trudeau cabinet has a lot of weak ministers- spend more time going after them, their lack of action on key files and their screw-ups. Every time they fail it reflects badly on Trudeau as he has to defend them. It is unlikely that you will ever get one issue that will deliver a knockout blow to Trudeau or shows a fatal flaw in the Prime Minister. Instead, focus on the accumulation of negative issues that over time damage him; and that includes the ministers that he appointed.

And please, not everything this government does or everything that Trudeau says, does or wears; needs a full blown all-out attack. It gets tiresome after a while listening to this stuff, reminds voters that the Conservatives are all about being nasty and negative. More importantly, it dilutes future attacks on key issues when they do screw up. Save the heavy artillery for when it is really needed.

Welcome to 2018.



The Political Year Winds Down

We wrap up another year in Canadian politics noting that nothing has really changed in the past year. The parties remain pretty much where they were in the polls, although Trudeau has taken a bit of a hit.

But the Liberals are about to try and change that as I see that Trudeau will embark on yet another warm and fuzzy town hall tour. This is obviously an attempt to get him out of Ottawa and away from the scrutiny of the national media. This is not to say that it is a bad idea. For the Liberals, Trudeau symbolizes their brand and courtesy of Morneau and mistakes by Trudeau himself, that brand is a bit tarnished right now. As we have seen on many occasions Trudeau is good at the wave, smile and pose for a selfie routine.  This is a smart move on the Liberal’s part and also keeps him away from those exotic islands owned by billionaires.

As for Morneau, don’t expect him to be shuffled off anytime soon, although it is needed. One only has to remember Jim Flaherty or Paul Martin in that position to know that Finance ministers need to be politically astute and fast on their feet, Morneau is neither. As for the rest of Trudeau’s cabinet it is time for a reboot and in the case of Hehr that should be “boot” from cabinet.  That is an easy decision for Trudeau (or the people who really call the shots in PMO) to make.

For the Conservatives with two by-election losses behind them it’s time for a bit of a reboot too. They still look and sound like the Harper Tories. They seem to have forgotten that that image and that leader were defeated. We always know what they don’t like, don’t support, don’t agree with and what they oppose.

But, how many Canadians who are not already Conservative supporters can tell you anything about a positive, forward thinking Conservative message? This is not to say their policies are wrong (I happen to agree with many of them) but how they communicate them has to change. How about some forward- thinking policies that target urban centres, millennials, the environment? You can’t always be negative; you have to show positive vision, hope for the future and communicate it to voters.

The NDP have different issues. First of all where is their leader? Other than the ridiculous hype about whether or not he got engaged, Jagmeet Singh has pretty much disappeared from the national scene. Unfortunately Canadian politics is largely leader driven and when your leader prefers to keep a low profile and stay out of the House, the population tends to tune that leader out rather quickly. Add to the disappearing leader, the Liberal move to be more NDP than the NDP itself; and their vote is disappearing.  This shift left by the Liberals is nothing new. Back when Keith Davies was their master strategist, it was common for the Liberals to shift left or right to adopt policies from their rivals and try to cut off any voter shift away from the Liberals. We will see much more of this happening as we get closer to the 2019 election.

For the next few weeks voters can thankfully take a break from Canadian politics, as we focus on what really matters- friends and family.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all, may you have a great holiday season.



Dead Man Walking

Finance Minister Morneau has a habit of walking from one political disaster to another- essentially stepping in one cow patty after another- and for no reason other than his own foolishness.

But behind his missteps lies a bigger issue and that is what did he tell the Prime Minister and what did he tell the Prime Minister’s closest and most senior advisors.

Every minister and Prime Minister, regardless of party affiliation will make some gaffe every now and then- certainly we have seen Trudeau and some key cabinet ministers make some good ones. Usually though it is a slip of the lip when being interviewed or flubbing the answer to a question in the House.

Morneau has taken making mistakes to a whole new level. Either he has poor quality ministerial advisors or he figures he is the smartest one in the room and he knows best. Having been a senior level political staffer for something like 13 years, I know that people who move up to that level are usually pretty good at what they do. That does suggest the minister look in the mirror at the author of his misfortune.

Having been the political staffer in charge of QP for 15 years in both government and opposition roles, I can say that I see Moreau as badly wounded, essentially a dead man walking. Senior PMO staff simply cannot allow this to go on much longer. No matter what channel changing issue they come up with, the finance minister has a habit of knocking those issues off of the front pages every single time.

Morneau is not just in trouble, he is ruining the image of the government while serving as a huge distraction and he keeps knocking the government off its daily message. Speaking from years of experience doing issues management in PMO, that can’t be allowed to go on much longer.

There are other key questions once you move beyond Morneau’s actions and they should focus on Justin himself. It is a simple question- When did he know and what did he do about it? What day did he first learn that Morneau had not set up a blind trust? Depending on that date, what did Trudeau do, suggest, or agree to let Morneau do? Did he know all along or was he sandbagged by his minister? The same questions apply to Trudeau’s most senior staff.

When did Trudeau first learn that Morneau had sold shares, not once but twice?  Did he approve of this not insignificant sale of shares? Did no one anticipate the current line of attack on Morneau? 

In every government, regardless of political affiliation, your finance minister has to be squeaky clean. In politics perception is reality to thousands of voters. Morneau’s self-inflicted wounds have hurt the government and certainly his own credibility.

While it is time to move him, don’t expect this government to act quickly in shuffling him aside. The general rule is to wait until the attacks are done; a holiday break from the House arrives and then do it. For appearances sake they will leave Morneau in place to swing from the noose that he put around his own neck. Such is life in politics. But in the end we all know where the buck stops and it is not on the desk of the minister, it is not on the desks of his ministerial staff nor the desks of Trudeau's senior advisors- the buck lands squarely on Trudeau’s desk. Will he move Morneau or not- that decision will tell us exactly what type of stuff this prime minister is made of; it will be fun to watch

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