Navigator logo

Tall Hat, Clear Eyes, Can’t Lose (w/ Jaime Watt)

This week on Political Traction, host Amanda Galbraith sits down with Navigator’s Executive Chairman Jaime Watt to discuss the U.S. Election and how a group of disaffected Republicans have created one of the most creative and influential PACs: The Lincoln Project. Jaime and Amanda review just two of the organization’s many ads – GOP Cribs and Rats to unpack how they are working to defeat Donald Trump on November 3. Then, the two go head to head in our rapid-fire round to discuss Trudeau’s recent COVID remarks and the trend of majority elections across Canada.

After an unseasonably cooperative summer, the chill of realpolitik is setting in

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on October 25, 2020.

As the warmth of summer has faded and the chill of fall set in, we have felt a similar change in temperature in legislatures across Canada.

From the House of Commons to Queen’s Park to the Alberta Legislative Assembly and the Quebec National Assembly. From provincial capitals to city halls, the tone of pandemic politics has shifted significantly. After seven months of relatively cordial, pragmatic and cooperative policy making, it seems the time for playing “patty cake” across the aisle has passed. Welcome back to reality.

Since March, the story of Canada’s pandemic response has been one of unprecedented teamwork between different parties and levels of government. To be sure, there have been tensions in Ottawa but for the most part, the Liberals have been able to rely on NDP and Green support to pass their COVID-19 agenda. But let’s not assign either party too many brownie points. Neither could afford the consequences of not supporting the government: an election.

However, this week marked a definite turn toward a more confrontational style of governing by the prime minister and his cabinet. Facing the prospect of new Opposition-led oversight efforts, Trudeau and Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez launched a game of high-stakes chicken.

By daring opposition parties to trigger an election, the Liberals have shown they are not afraid to play hardball to avoid legislative paralysis-by-investigation. In so doing, they’ve also made it clear they don’t intend to water down their pandemic plans to please their opponents in the House. So until the NDP and the Greens decide they have had enough, we can expect the partisan brawling to get even messier. So long, sunny ways.

Across the country, a similar process is taking place as political leaders eschew COVID cooperation in favour of closing ranks and turning on their would-be partners.

In British Columbia, Premier John Horgan was quick to turn on the BC Greens who have supported his government since 2017. Not only did the premier renege on his pledge to avoid an early trip to the polls, he’s also laid blame for the election on the other parties. Whether you view Horgan’s decision as necessary pragmatism or opportunistic overreach, his motive is clear: to exploit a pandemic opportunity to sideline his opponents and implement his agenda, his way.

And then there is the most improbable of COVID-induced friendships: the Ontario Conservatives and the federal Liberals. Last spring, Premier Ford and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made the strangest of bedfellows. Ford called Freeland “amazing.” She said, “he’s my therapist.” Now, even that relationship is being tested.

After the Liberals’ throne speech, Ford expressed his disappointment at Ottawa’s reluctance to invest its “fair share” in healthcare. The premier has also accused Ottawa of being too lax with quarantine restrictions and has repeatedly criticized Health Canada for delays in testing across the province.

The awkwardness of this post-honeymoon phase crystallized in a joint announcement by the prime minister and Premier Ford, when the two leaders were asked what had changed in their previously rocky relationship. Ever the realist, Ford’s assessment of the political reality was very straightforward: “A big chunk of them that voted for the prime minister, voted for me. People expect us to work together.”

Ford’s right: Ontarians want him to work with the prime minister and with his favourability numbers sliding, the premier would be wise to listen. But that cooperation will become more difficult as the second wave worsens and provincial and federal priorities diverge.

And as we saw with Ford’s initial disagreements over indoor dining with Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, it is one thing to mend over political disagreements and coalesce around a scientific consensus. It is another thing entirely to find common ground when the nuances in different public health advice leave room for disagreement.

For all of us, pandemic fatigue will grow worse as the days grow shorter. For our politicians, they will grow fatigued with getting along with their natural opponents.

The problem is, this COVID thing isn’t over. We all have to put our big kid pants on, and keep our fatigue in check.

Confidence Game (w/ Matt Triemstra)

This week on Political Traction, host Amanda Galbraith speaks with Matt Triemstra, the Vice President and General Manager of Navigator’s Ottawa office, Ensight. The two discuss the week that was in our nation’s capital, and break down exactly what happened with the various motions and votes that took place. Then, the two go head-to-head in our rapid-fire round to discuss Halloween, Borat, The Pope and Alberta’s new COVID test.

Supreme court nominations have become a blood sport — our own top court shows they need not be

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on October 18, 2020.

It seems a safe bet that, if one were to survey Canadians, more of them would be able to identify Amy Coney Barrett than any one of the judges who sit on the Supreme Court of Canada.

This may well be attributable to the fact that Barrett has, in many ways, become just another act in the ongoing circus that is the Trump administration.

But more than that, Barrett’s nomination marks the latest milestone in the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court, this time around, driving Democrats to seriously consider such radical options as “court-packing” by expanding the number of sitting justices.

While it’s true that we in Canada haven’t allowed our own Supreme Court nominations to become poisoned by partisan politics, the instinct to construe our own court in the image of the United States runs strong.

The media searches constantly for a simple, some would say simplistic, frame to understand the court’s dynamic, similar to the left-right, Republican-Democrat divide that characterizes the U.S., as with the “Gang of Five” of the 1990s or the Laskin-Spence-Dickson “LSD Connection” of the 1970s.

These efforts have foundered, however, because the Supreme Court of Canada, thankfully, continues to defy the reductive allure of partisanship. Why is that?

Well, let us begin with what Canada gets right. For starters, there is the nomination process itself, which in 2016, was formalized as an independent advisory panel.

Even before this reform, nominations were characterized by the relative absence of scandal. Even the messier instances, such as the Nadon Affair in 2013, tend to turn on narrow, technical grounds, such as regional representation.

No one in Canada is “Borked,” in the manner of Ronald Reagan’s 1982 nominee whose confirmation was the first to be destroyed in the partisan crucible of the Senate. We have yet, on a relative basis, to let our process be hijacked by zero-sum partisans.

But perhaps the most influential difference of all, in Canada, there is a mandated retirement age of 75. Had the late Justice Ginsburg served on the Canadian bench, she would have been forced out about a decade ago.

Instead, in the United States, federal judges can sit for life, due to a long-standing interpretation of Article III of their Constitution, which stipulates that justices “shall hold their offices during good behaviour.” Intended to reduce partisanship by insulating justices from the need to face voters or seek later employment, it has in fact made matters worse as lifespans have lengthened, raising the stakes of an open seat.

All that said, our own justice system is far from perfect. One need look no further than a pair of recent Supreme Court of Canada rulings that have escaped popular notice.

In a ruling in the case of R. v. Chouan, the Supreme Court found that the Trudeau Liberals’ changes to the jury selection process were constitutional. The Liberals had eliminated peremptory challenges of potential jurors, ostensibly in response to anti-Indigenous discrimination.

But the matter is not so cut-and-dry, and numerous legal groups representing racialized minorities had begged the court not to go along with the proposed changes, positing that they would have the opposite effect, making it instead harder to toss racists from the jury pool.

Another recent ruling, the case of Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, found the two men did not deserve a new trial, despite the improper selection of their jury.

Taken together, these rulings highlight the potential for a slow erosion of our own justice system. Many defence lawyers have rightful concerns, but the media and the public in this country remain fixated on the Barrett nomination instead.

It is a shame for these very real dangers to Canadians to be lost or overlooked in favour of the seductive tribalism that brought us such unhelpful memes as “Notorious RBG.” There may be much amiss in the American system of justice — but in resting on our laurels, we risk ignoring concerning developments in our own. Our justice system is imperfect, and it requires constant vigilance, not just cheap armchair moralizing.