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A Place to Grow

As Canada’s most populous province, Ontario is widely regarded as the most consequential jurisdiction for Canada’s newly legalized recreational industry.

On this week’s episode of Legalized, we are joined by Cal Bricker, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Cannabis Store to discuss the opportunities and the vision for the year ahead as the constantly shifting cannabis industry continues to mature.

This is Legalized, A Place to Grow.

**Legalized is a cannabis-specific podcast recorded and produced by Navigator Limited, Canada’s leading high-stakes communications and public strategy firm. Season 4 of Legalized, Canada Versus Everybody, explores how Canada marks up in a globally competitive cannabis industry and how businesses can prepare for potential vulnerabilities along the way to take advantage of Canada’s first mover advantage.

Feel the Byrne

This week, on the “Feel the Byrne” edition, host Amanda Galbraith is joined by Jenni Byrne, conservative political strategist once dubbed “ the most powerful woman in Ottawa.” The two discuss Jenni’s political career in both Ottawa and Toronto, the strategies deployed by the federal parties in the most recent election and the behind-the-scenes when leaders are on the chopping block during a leadership review. Then, the two will go head-to-head in our rapid fire round, with thoughts on Leafs vs. Habs and the U.S. Democratic leadership race.

‘I encourage you to think of yourself as my minister of national unity’

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star on November 24, 2019.

Dear Ms Freeland,

When you were sworn in as minister of international trade in 2015, there was no way we could have known that Donald Trump would become president, nor the challenges he would bring to our bilateral relationship.

No one could have predicted that so much of our bandwidth would be consumed by the renegotiation of NAFTA. Yet, you more than rose to the challenge. You navigated these unforeseen challenges with great success. At the same time, you never lost track of the importance of advocating for Canadian values throughout the world.

Well, times have changed and today, I have a new, equally challenging and unpredictable mandate for you.

That is why, it is on behalf of all Canadians that I am so thankful that you have answered my call to put country ahead of self and agree to serve as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Historically, it may not have been the most coveted of ministries. At first blush, it may not provide as influential a platform as Global Affairs, but the fate of our government — in fact, the fate of our country — may hinge on your success in this new mandate.

Others, of course, have served in similar roles. For example, Stéphane Dion was Jean Chretien’s intergovernmental affairs minister, tasked with mending fences in the aftermath of the referendum.

That you are an Albertan by birth will be a helpful starting point for you as you assume your new duties. But, as the voters have taught us, a token approach to regionalism will do nothing to bring them back onside.

What is needed is not a charm offensive, but a skilled diplomat and political strategist who can build a genuine, enduring and practical consensus. In short, someone who knows how to get difficult jobs done.

I encourage you to think of yourself as my minister of national unity. As with NAFTA, the task at hand will require all of your back-channelling finesse, your technical expertise and your delicate hand in dealing with numerous stakeholders. Your task will be to bring regional factions on board with our agenda, including climate change, pharmacare and economic growth.

Make no mistake, the anger is real. While some had suggested that the so-called Wexit movement would flame out in the weeks after the election, polling now suggests that as many as 30 per cent of Albertans support Western separatism, and three-quarters of the population is sympathetic to the cause. Even if secession is unlikely, a vocal minority may drive the province to take more extreme positions, including the erection of a so-called firewall.

As minister of intergovernmental affairs, it falls to you to manage a hostile provincial government now considering collecting their own taxes, ending the policing contract with the RCMP, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and holding a referendum on equalization payments.

Since the election, I myself have tried to extend a long overdue olive branch to Western Canadians.

Last week, I met with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. I reiterated our commitment to finishing the Trans-Mountain Pipeline and invited him to propose changes to the equalization formula. That the premier left the meeting “disappointed” highlights just how much work you will have to do.

Governments such as Moe’s or Kenney’s, and indeed their electors, may be opposed to ours in political ideology, but as minister of intergovernmental affairs, you are charged with continuing to engage with them in good faith. I am counting on you to do what we were unable to do in our first mandate: keep them onside of our national project and prevent them from fanning the flames of separatism any further.

Every federal government has struggled to appease both East and West simultaneously.

With a resurgent Bloc in Quebec, where, strangely, support for Alberta separation runs even higher than in Alberta itself, and a government in Ontario resolutely determined to govern “for the people,” this will be more challenging than ever.

In recognition of this challenge and in recognition of your proven ability to be more than a spokesmodel and actually get the difficult things done, I have decided to appoint you as my first deputy prime minister.

Yours sincerely,

Justin Trudeau

Cabinet of Curiosities

This week, on the “Cabinet of Curiosities” edition, host Amanda Galbraith sits down with long-time friend, colleague and Managing Principal at Navigator Mike Van Soelen to unpack the anatomy of a cabinet shuffle; from the run-of-show on the day ministers are sworn in, to what happens to the political staffers who get caught in the cross-fire. Then, the two will go head-to-head in our rapid fire round, with thoughts on former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, favourite luncheon clubs and upcoming vacations.

Don’t look for entertainment value in U.S. impeachment hearings

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on November 17, 2019.

On Wednesday, the first public hearings began in an impeachment process that seems to have been crafted for our era of reality television.

Watching the testimonies of Bill Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch, I was struck by the soap-opera nature of the hearings.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her House Democrats have, it seems, learned important lessons from the Mueller hearing.

The criticisms of that process were many: it was too lengthy, too convoluted and, in the end, too boring to convince Americans of the president’s wrongdoing.

And so the war over optics has shifted.

First, the wise decision to act swiftly. Rather than a drawn-out, process-obsessed approach, the Intelligence Committee has moved, in a matter of weeks, to bring the matter onto television.

Second, Democrats have changed the cast of characters. The unfortunate reality of the Mueller hearings was that their main witness, the special counsel, was unconvincing, overly cautious and boring.

Over the coming weeks, Mueller will be replaced by diplomats, civil servants and security officials. Some more colourful than others. Some more persuasive. But there will be enough of them, with enough years of service and individual and collective credibility to dispense with the trope of a “deep state” determined to overthrow Trump.

Ambassador Yovanovitch spoke vividly of gunfire and attacks endured during placements in Mogadishu and Tashkent. Her words remind us that if soldiers are “diplomats in armour,” diplomats are often “soldiers in suits.”

The arrival of decorated military officials like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman will further complicate Republicans’ efforts. If Vindman arrives in uniform, Purple Heart medal and all, it will surely not be lost on the reality TV president.

And, third, there is another substantive shift, one designed to tightly control the narrative. Watch for the democrats to avoid secondary characters like Rudy Giuliani in order to focus on the star of the show, Donald Trump.

Finally, another clever tactic. No more Latin.

After months of “quid pro quo,” Democrats have swapped the phrase for “extortion” and “bribery.” Simple, clear and perhaps most importantly, eye-catching as a chyron on CNN or MSNBC.

Donald Trump has caught wise to the Democrats’ strategy and has, in turn, worked to emphasize that the hearings are simply too dull to deserve Americans’ attention, going so far as to say he has not watched one minute of the hearings.

Republicans, including the president’s son and leading members of Congress, have piled on and roundly described the first hearing as “boring,” uninteresting and a “#Snoozefest.”

Journalists and media networks have taken the bait, publishing headlines that focus on process rather than the substance of the testimony.

“Consequential, but dull: Trump impeachment hearings begin without a bang,” announced Reuters, while NBC News declared, “Plenty of substance but little drama on first day of impeachment hearings.”

True, most of the testimony had already been divulged in closed sessions. And, to be sure, there were fewer fireworks than we saw in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh or even the 40-day Benghazi hearings. But of all things to say about the opening sessions of only the fourth presidential impeachment proceedings in U.S. history, is “boring” really a newsworthy one?

To be sure, it’s important for the proceedings to draw Americans’ interest. Otherwise, what effect will they have outside the D.C. Beltway?

But it is not the job of Adam Schiff or anyone else in Congress for that matter, to entertain. Impeachment, as much as it may feel like one, is not a reality show. It is a crucial, albeit often tedious, process of gathering, evaluating and sharing evidence.

Of course 24-hour television and social media have brought greater spectacle to politics. Some commentators pilloried Reuters and NBC for their flippant headlines, arguing that “journalists wanting more entertainment in politics, is what gave us Donald Trump.”

But the fact remains that spectacle should be the by-product, not the purpose of this most solemn and consequential of political acts. Otherwise, our democracies face the same fate as the declining Roman republic, in which voters were placated not with serious governance, but panem et circenses — bread and circuses.

In the era of reality television, streamed to your mobile 24 hours a day, that is the most frightening reality of all.