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Renovating The House?


Sally Housser joins the Strategy Session panelists to discuss the sexual harassment allegations that surfaced against three prominent politicians over the past week, and just how deadly they are to a politician’s career. The panelists also discuss the Ontario PCs’ challenges as they face a leadership vote.

Aired on CTV News on January 26, 2018

It’s Not Over For Ontario’s PC Party

In the poker game of politics, human frailty remains a trump card.

Despite the emotionally charged tone of the #MeToo movement and the rush to judgment enabled by social media, voters, for the most part, understand that bad things – and bad people – happen to good organizations. They can accept that one allegedly rotten party leader does not necessarily spoil the whole Tory basket.

The ability to preserve the reputation of a brand and contain structural damage is greater when the basic tenets of containment strategy are followed. This applies equally in the private, public and political sectors and we’ve seen it unfurl repeatedly – and with varying degrees of success – in recent months: Identify and publicly dispose of the alleged perpetrator; acknowledge and support victims; encourage other victims to step forward; review policies and protocols; make and announce appropriate amendments; commit to a transparent and accountable culture. Turn the corner, drive on.

The case of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is, however, a little more complicated than that.

First, there is the awkward fact that, as in many other such cases, there were unsubstantiated rumours circulating as far back as Patrick Brown’s 2015 campaign for leadership of the party. In the past, it’s been possible to dismiss these matters as partisan backbiting. But the compound interest on denial and disregard has proven dear in every case from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore.

The Tories will have to confront that back story before they move forward and it’s not going to be a pleasant process for anyone directly – or indirectly – involved. To turn the adage on its head, a receding tide strands all boats.

On a practical front, there is the matter of the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005.

Then-premier Dalton McGuinty introduced the legislation, fixing provincial election dates in the fall. Electoral reforms introduced in 2016 moved that date to June with a view to ostensibly improve voter turnout when the days are warmer and longer.

That fixed date re-doubles the logistical challenge facing the provincial Tories – especially given that their opponent, Premier Kathleen Wynne, is a seasoned and shrewd retail politician. Even prior to these allegations, the Premier has been gaining ground in the polls. Her carefully calibrated press conference in light of the allegations against Mr. Brown once again demonstrated her political savvy.

The Tory task is even more daunting given that all existing policies and platforms were custom-built by and for a Patrick Brown campaign. That means the positions have got to be sufficiently consistent yet different, to preserve core voter support while establishing an appropriate distance from their now-disgraced leader.

But the challenge is not insurmountable if focus and discipline prevail. And that is a big “if” in any campaign.

The Tory party has 200,000 members and has, to date, been outpacing both the Liberals and NDP in fundraising. The Liberals are at a historically low-ebb, and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats have failed to break through in several by-elections.

The Tories have, furthermore, recruited several high-profile candidates and have a number of caucus members with solid election experience. There is also a wealth of exiled federal Tory talent upon which the Ontario party can draw.

If this endeavour is to succeed, between now and June 7, the Tories must settle on a party leader and a new leadership team, continue to raise campaign funds, review and renovate their policies, burnish their tarnished brand and reassure voters that they have the machinery in place to lead the province.

In other words, it is that rare moment in politics when actions will speak louder than words. And if the Tories can do all that by June 7, they will be resoundingly victorious regardless of whether or not they are elected by the voters of Ontario.

Deirdre McMurdy is a Principal at Navigator Ltd.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Foolishness, Trump Is Getting Things Done

Donald Trump can be credited with a number of impressive legislative accomplishments that go unrecognized thanks to all the noise and nonsense.

The spectacle continues.

It’s fair to say that the presidency of Donald Trump looks, from the outside, to be nothing short of a circus.

The last week alone served up a heaping helping of the ridiculous. The president referred to a handful of nations as “s—hole” countries, which the media gleefully plastered as headlines all over their products and platforms, right before roundly condemning the president as racist and ignorant.

Credible media outlets also obsessed over whether President Trump is six-foot-three or actually six-foot-two, and whether he could be defined as obese or not (should this now be known as the “girther” movement?).

The noise is inescapable; a frantic cycle from which we can’t escape morning or night:

First, Trump makes an absurd, flippant remark. Media outlets blare headlines about the comment. The analysis from pundits frowning and condemning politicians begins. The final step: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump‘s unshakable and inscrutable press secretary, stands in front of a room of incredulous journalists and denies that the events ever took place with a look of earnest belief.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

These occurrences have been presented as evidence of the incompetence of the White House, or as failures of the president more generally. And, indeed, there have certainly been failures.

For example, the White House regularly sends news releases out with incorrect information or misspelled names. It is the sort of detail that no other White House in history would have missed – and it stands, or at least is interpreted as, an indictment of the “back office” behind the current administration.

If it can’t get the little things right, how on Earth can it get the big ones right?

And yet, a record is emerging.

There are actually a number of impressive legislative accomplishments that go unrecognized, thanks to all the noise and nonsense.

For instance, a comprehensive tax reform bill that once appeared doomed due to its unpopularity recently passed the House and Senate despite the hysterical outcry of Democrats.

In fact, recent polling indicates that Americans have begun to take a shine to the once-unthinkable bill, and corporations have been making high-profile announcements about returning capital and jobs to the U.S., crediting the changes.

But perhaps Trump‘s most shocking contribution has been on the foreign policy stage. Trump‘s aggressive foreign policy has had significant and positive impact on the world that has received little recognition in public discussion.

His tough talk on North Korea, for instance, has been roundly mocked as unbecoming of a leader. But one of North Korea’s highest-ranking diplomatic defectors went on the record to point out that North Korea looked at former presidents as considerably more “gentle” than Trump, and that his rhetoric likely has spooked the regime into inaction.

Indeed, it is notable that the rogue state has significantly slowed its aggressions since the war of words escalated.

Similarly, Trump‘s address to the United Nations criticizing the Iranian regime was derided. Pundits argued that it did nothing to unsettle the regime, and had actually united Iranians behind their government. However, just a few short months later, Iran is being rocked by the strongest anti-regime protests in nearly a decade.

The declaration that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel ignited a similar furor. Allied nations and pundits were united in their condemnation that the move would cause unrest in the region.

Instead, protests in the region were relatively minor. While as expected, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and a host of other countries condemned the move, behind the scenes, it has been reported that those countries continue to ally themselves ever-closer to the United States than they had been in years past.

It is a foreign policy record that many U.S. presidents would have liked.

So, don’t be fooled by the foolishness. Despite the blaring headlines and constant outrage, this presidency has made significant lunges towards its goals.

Voters are noticing. Trump‘s approval ratings improved last week to a seven-month high, according to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, though his ratings are much lower than those of other presidents at this point in their tenures.

This is not to say that the Republicans will not be shellacked in the mid-terms, as governing parties so often are. But it may yet be premature to write Trump‘s obituary as a one-term president.

CNN may just be had, yet again – 2020 awaits.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

Mixed Verdict In Gas Plant Trial


Amanda Galbraith joins City News to discuss the verdict in the Ontario gas plant trial involving former top McGuinty political aide David Livingston. How will the other political parties use this to their advantage?

First aired on City News on January 19