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Cabinet blitz and budget fallout

Randi joins CTV’s Power Play Strategy Session Panel for the first time – they discuss the Cabinet and the recent budget. The panellists weigh in on cabinet ministers visiting the US and the government’s relationship with the Trump administration.

Aired on CTV, Mar 29, 2017.

Preventing Populism

‘There is a spectre haunting Europe’and all the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise it.’

When Karl Marx wrote those words in 1848, he was warning the powers-that-be the growing influence of communism. Later that year, anti-establishment and left wing forces led revolutions across the continent. Now, in 2017, a new spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of populism.

Support for populist parties in Europe and across the Western world have been increasing. Spurred on by the success of Brexit in Britain and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States, the battles between established parties and populist insurgents have become the centerpieces of recent elections.

In France, Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate for the far-right Front National, is the top choice for almost half of the voting public. In Germany, support for the anti-EU Alternative for Germany has been growing consistently and is trying to prevent Angela Merkel from forming government in the next election. High polling numbers are the norm for far-right parties across Europe.

Most establishment parties fear that these populist parties — which are anti-EU, anti-globalization, and anti-immigration — will gain power and upend the existing global order. Radical and without a history of democratic service, populist parties in Europe could wreak havoc on the continent’s political institutions and way of life.

The question, then, is how to deal with these parties. In the U.S. the Democrats lambasted Trump for nonsensical policy statements, outright lies, and sexist and racist remarks. He still won. In Britain, all major parties campaigned in favour of continued EU membership, while UKIP, which had only one member of parliament, succeeded in its campaign to leave the EU.

Recently, Sweden undertook a more drastic attempt to stop the rise of a populist party. The 2014 elections left Sweden with a minority centre-left Social Democratic government led by Stefan Lofven. However, the populist insurgent party, the Sweden Democrats, more than doubled their seats and continued to rise in the polls. As Lofven’s government was unable to form an effective coalition or even pass a budget, everyone assumed there would be another election. However, in a shocking turn of events, the opposition centre-right parties agreed to support Lofven’s government (despite their continued dislike of Lofven’s budget) in order to stop the Sweden Democrats from winning a plurality of seats.

This decision appears to have backfired. Sweden faces many of the same issues plaguing Europe — high levels of public debt, a sluggish economy, and growing public discontent with the ongoing refugee crisis . When all parties on the left and right came together to stop the Sweden Democrats, it wasn’t seen as an act of solidarity to protect the nation; rather, it was seen as a self-serving act committed by widely unpopular politicians. Currently, the polls show that if the election was held today, the Sweden Democrats would, once again, double their share of the vote and become the largest party in parliament.

If intellectual criticism, public campaigns, and blocking electoral participation can’t stop populism, how then can establishment parties deal with the growing threat? Finland’s current prime minister Juha Sipil’ offers a potential roadmap.

After the 2015 elections, Sipil’, leader of the rural Centre party, formed a coalition with the conservative National Coalition and the populist True Finns. The True Finns had become the second largest party in parliament and, initially, looked like they would continue to grow year over year. However, two years after joining the government ‘ and two years of continued economic stagnation, high public debt, and a refugee crisis without a foreseeable solution ‘ the True Finns have lost half their public support.

The reason is that populist parties are inherently protest votes. Their membership is comprised of radicals and activists who have little or no experience in actually governing a country, let alone navigating the intricacies of a state bureaucracy. One could call them untested, but their supporters see them as untarnished by the mistakes made by the establishment parties.

However, this untarnished persona disappears quickly when brought into government. When insurgent parties are forced to address the realities of government — and all the deal-making, broken promises, and disappointed constituents that entails — they lose their sheen because they were supposed to be different. They promised a politics that would deal with the ‘real problems’ facing the public (whatever they claim those to be). When this doesn’t happen, the public is faced with the reality that populist parties are not a magic wand that can wipe away the existing problems in the system. In practice, populist parties are no different than establishment parties when they are forced to govern.

Electoral success for populist parties might be viewed as an apocalyptic outcome by establishment parties, but it may only be a pyrrhic victory for populism. As Juha Sipil’ and his dealings with the True Finns show, the most disastrous outcome for populist parties and their charismatic leaders might be forming government in the first place. You can’t be anti-establishment if you are the establishment.

The Task Force

The Task Force

We talk with the Honourable Anne McLellan about the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation’s recommendations for how to legalize recreational consumption in Canada.


Anne McLellan, Chair of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation; Mark Pugash, Director of Corporate Communications, Toronto Police Service.

Impeaching Trump could hurt Democrats

Getting Trump dumped early would result in a far more conservative Mike Pence in the Oval Office and would also galvanize base support for Republicans.

Less than three months into Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, whispers of impeachment are becoming louder.

Ladbrokes, a British bookmaker, has Trump’s odds of leaving office via impeachment or resignation before the end of his first term at 10/11. I am not a betting man, but with those odds, do not expect a large payoff.

Allan Lichtman, the professor at American University who has famously predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984, has written a book on what he refers to as Trump’s imminent impeachment.

Impeachment talk is almost a fetish in American presidential politics. For George W. Bush, the issues that prompted such talk were the Iraq War, the Valerie Plame affair, the treatment of PoWs, wiretapping, and the government responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

For Barack Obama, the issues that prompted such talk included the notion that he wasn’t born in the U.S., the handling of the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, the federal directive on gender-neutral washrooms, and the alleged failure to enforce immigration laws.

In reality, only two of the 45 presidents in American history — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have suffered the humiliation of an impeachment vote, and neither was actually convicted. Richard Nixon dodged impeachment over the Watergate scandal by resigning.

That said, the allegations of foreign influence seem far more damaging than an affair with a staff member.

Trump is facing three specific risks.

First is his unsubstantiated claim that Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones at the Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. On Monday, FBI Director James Comey delivered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president, saying he ‘had no information’ to support Trump’s allegations.

The second is the ongoing and now-confirmed FBI investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. If it is proven that any collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign helped elect the president, and that members of the Trump team were aware and helped co-ordinate these efforts, the Trump administration will be in serious jeopardy.

And finally, at the congressional hearings to confirm Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned last week that if Trump were to bring back waterboarding, he could ‘get impeached.’

Alas, the impeachment process is akin to the process to amend the Canadian Constitution — in that it is frequently discussed, but is designed to be difficult to carry out, and is likely never going to happen.

This is for good reason.

While liberals might fantasize about a Trump impeachment, the results of such a scenario might not be what they envision.

The likelihood of a Trump impeachment is significantly greater than was the case with either Bush or Obama, but it is important to keep in mind that Trump maintains an 80-per-cent approval rating with Republican voters and that the president’s party controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Barring a confession, or something as dramatic as, say, a nuclear crisis, it would be up to Democrats to start the impeachment process.

While such an effort would temporarily stymie the Republicans’ legislative agenda, it would be detrimental to the Democrats’ long-term interests.

If Trump were impeached, or if he resigns, Vice-President Mike Pence would become president. Pence is a skilled legislator, a more disciplined politician and has a far more aggressively conservative agenda than that of Trump.

Democrats ought to know that a Mike Pence presidency would almost certainly undue more of Obama’s legacy than the erratic, easily distracted and unpredictable Trump. A return to the Bush years might not be exactly what the Democratic Party is looking for.

In addition, an impeachment of President Trump would only serve to reinforce his narrative that the special interests of Washington will do anything to protect themselves. His impeachment would only galvanize his base of support and further anger those legions of Americans who feel that President Trump is their voice against interests that have long been aligned against them.

His impeachment would be a personal attack on them, their values, and their way of life.

Trump’s ideas and his way of doing politics are not exclusive to him. Pushing him out of office could increase the likelihood that a similar, or perhaps more erratic, candidate emerges in time for the 2020 election.

Democrats should instead look inward and refocus their energy on the 2018 mid-term elections and on rebounding in the 2020 presidential race.

It was a strategy that worked well for the Republicans in 2008, allowing them to sweep local and national offices across the United States.

It would be a wasted opportunity for the Democrats to pass up in favour of distracting, and ultimately pointless, impeachment attempts.

locquote>Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative stockquote>

Jason Kenney and unite the right

“It was hardly shocking, but it was certainly significant.’ — Jason Hatcher

This week, we’re joined by special guest Jason Hatcher. Jason is a Managing Principal at Navigator, leading our Western Canada operations from Calgary. He joins the podcast to discuss Jason Kenney’s plan to unite the right as the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.