When Obama was elected the first time around there was a sense of history being made, and I feel like that isn’t quite here this time around

– Travis Kann

Allie and David are joined by Travis Kann to talk about the fall economic update, CETA (again), the Liberal government’s pay-to-play scandal, and of course, the American election.

 

Fall Economic Update

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the Liberal government will continue with its deficit spending plan. Earlier in the week he announced an additional $81 billion for things like infrastructure and transit, that will be spent over the next 11 years. This includes the creation of a new infrastructure bank. While not surprising, the announcement was met with criticism from the Conservatives – who say the Liberals have failed to create any new jobs but continue to spend, and the NDP – who say that increased infrastructure spending will mean increased privatization to balance it out.

 

CETA, Take Two

With some back-and-forth action and a signed deal, the government – and specifically Minster of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland – can rest a bit easier. The 1,600-page document was ratified this week, and Canadians were paying attention. But it wasn’t all celebrating: online, criticism focused on how much power corporations are given in the deal and the general feeling was that the trade agreement will only help the rich get richer. Additionally, with the deal being seven years in the making, most of the praise for the dealing finally going through was directed at the former Conservative administration, rather than the current Liberal government.

 

Pay-for-Play

The Liberal government just can’t seem to shake its elitist reputation. With the Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner as well as the Lobbying Commissioner both investigating ticket prices for government events, the Liberals are having to defend throwing parties. Tickets for events featuring cabinet members cost roughly around $1,500, causing critics to cry favouritism – with the average Canadian not able to afford the hefty cost, the argument is that there is preferential access to ministers for the rich, allowing them to throw around their influence. However, while it seems dramatic and scandalous, it’s getting much more play in the House and the media than it is with the general population.

 

Transcript of this week’s episode

 

Political Traction is brought to you by Navigator, Canada’s leading high-stakes public strategy and communications firm.

Intro Music.

Allie McHugh, Host (AM): Welcome to this episode of Political Traction. We have Travis Kann back on as a special guest, he is joining myself and David. Hi Travis, hi David.

David Woolley, Panelist (DW): Hello.

Travis Kann, Panelist (TK): Hi Allie, how are you?

AM: I’m great, how are you?

TK: Very well, thank you.

AM: So, we’re going to get right to our top three issues coming out of Ottawa. Our number one issue for the week coming out of Ottawa is the fall fiscal update – super exciting topic.

Clip of Bill Morneau

AM: Basically, the major news here is that this week Bill Morneau announced that the Canadian government will be spending an additional 81 billion dollars over the next 11 years on public transit, infrastructure and transportation. And that they will be creating an infrastructure bank with this additional 81 billion dollars that they are spending. There was a lot of criticism around this. The NDP specifically criticized it, saying that if they’re going to be putting in all this new infrastructure, then it’s going to involve privatizing a lot of things. And basically—

TK: Shocking that the NDP would make that argument, frankly.

(Laugh)

AM: That privatization argument. And other commentary was essentially that it’s a long-term plan, it’s an 11 year plan, and people who are not fans of the government, are saying that they won’t even be in power to see this all the way through.

TK: And I think more importantly, those who are fans of the government might not be able to have any tangible proof that the plan has proven effective come next time the government is seeking a mandate from the Canadian people. This is a long-term investment, and people eventually, with this sort of money and this size of deficit, especially since it’s so much larger than the government promised in the election, are gonna eventually expect results. So we’ll have to see how those results manifest and how Canadians respond.

DW: Well yeah, and we haven’t seen them now, or so far, because this is the reason for the injection of additional funds; is, Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau said that we needed to stimulate the economy to spur growth, and by doing that, we would deficit spend. So now there [is a] need to deficit spend more because the economy has not been stimulated despite all that deficit spending we already did.

Just a clarification on the NDP’s point about the infrastructure spending: they’re not criticizing the additional infrastructure spending, they’re criticizing the creation of an infrastructure bank, which the Trudeau government says is going to use four to five dollars of private cash for every one dollar of government cash in order to fund these infrastructure projects. The NDP are saying, ‘Well, how are you going to get that money and there’s gonna have to be some sort of incentive to private enterprise to give this four to five dollars for every one dollar.’ And as a result, that will likely end in toll roads or additional user fees, so that these companies that give money can turn a profit of some sort. Otherwise, they’re – I think legitimately – they’re saying there doesn’t appear to be a clear path to why these companies, out of the goodness of their heart, would wanna give so much more money than the government’s willing to invest in infrastructure.

TK: Well yeah, it’s not exactly a leap to suggest that private companies are in the business of making profit. I feel like it sounds like we’re being highly critical of the Liberal government though for making such a large investment in infrastructure. No one should be surprised, and they said they would do exactly this during the election, right? So I think the Liberals, I mean, are doing exactly what they said they do. They’re spending a little more, I mean it’s sort of how long is a string sort of situation. I think right now they shouldn’t be concerned, and I think the Canadian conversation demonstrates they shouldn’t be concerned cause no one is sort of up in arms about this. I think where they need to start worrying is in their forward-looking planning – maybe not next election but the election after that, when they’ll be an expectation that this sizeable investment was worth it.

DW: Well and they’ve even said that they have no plans to balance the budget up to 2022, which is the last fiscal–

TK: David, the budget balances itself.

(Laugh)

DW: Well exactly, but in a way it’s not an issue, right? The whole point, well not the whole point, but a benefit of deficit spending in terms of a government’s politics is they can spend all this money to make it appear that they are doing something now, and generate support among voters, and when the real costs of having such a large debt actually come to pass, it’s going to either be the people that it’s going to effect, either currently can’t vote, or Trudeau won’t be in office and most of the people who he is campaigning with right now won’t be in office anymore. So, in a sort of crude political way, deficit spending can always be a win for governments because they never really have to deal with it because it’s such a long run, or a long term plan…

TK: Are you saying Justin Trudeau’s not going to be our Prime Minister forever? Cause looking at current polls and you know…

DW: Oh I’m on record on this podcast as saying Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister until he doesn’t want to be anymore. But I think part of the reason that he’s able to do that is going to be that once he leaves, he will be leaving this massive deficit that he won’t ever have to address during his mandate.

TK: And let’s not forget, Stephen Harper governed later in his mandate with a deficit as well. And it wasn’t only until months before the election that they fixed that, right? So, it’s not unusual for any party, regardless of your political stripe, to look to deficit spending as a means of demonstrating action to the electorate to strengthen Canada’s economy.

AM: Right, and in terms of the Canadian conversation, this was kind of middle of the pack for our issues. But there wasn’t a whole lot of commentary expressing strong opinions either way. The majority of it was basically just sharing the news that this increased deficit spending was going to be happening, and the news of the infrastructure bank. So, people were just, you know, reacting to the announcement basically, but not really doing anything beyond that. Where it did get a little bit of negative commentary was actually people took it as an opportunity to talk about CETA, which is actually our second topic. So I think we can move onto that one.

TK: Wow that was a segue!

AM: I know right? I really planned to transition that one well.

Clip from Chrystia Freeland

AM: So CETA was our second topic coming out of Ottawa, and I was surprised actually at the amount of volume that this one got. Out of our three topics coming out of Ottawa, this was the top one. And I guess the deal getting signed made a big impact on people.

TK: And being as long in the tooth as I am, having worked on the previous iteration of Traction, when we were looking at CETA when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the tentative framework that has now been ratified, Canadians really didn’t care, and that’s in part, I think, because Stephen Harper and his government took a very low-key approach. Not only to negotiations but to finalization of the framework agreement. And I think it’s in part also because, I mean, the past week, week and a half, has been kind of crazy leading up to the ratification. I mean you guys last week talked about Minister Freeland crying, and then since then, there’s just been high-stakes negotiations, and backroom deals, and Justin Trudeau leaving then not going, and his plane breaking down on the way. It’s been quite the bumpy ride to get to where are. And a little old fashion drama I think caught Canadians attention.

AM: Yeah, so in terms of the Canadian conversation on this one, it’s interesting that you mention what everyone was talking about before because, analyzing the conversation, the top retweet overall was from Stephen Harper on this one, saying you know, ‘Congrats to everyone who worked on the deal, great job.’ And there was a bunch of commentary saying, you know, ‘Your administration was the one who put in all this work, like thank you so much, we miss you as Prime Minister.’ And then all of the commentary in regards to Trudeau was negative, saying ‘You were only responsible for this last leg’ and then all of this criticism that has been surrounding the deal in terms of the power it gives corporations, and whether or not free trade is in everybody’s best interest. Anything that was negative about the CETA deal was pointed at the Liberal government, and all of the praise for getting it through was directed at the previous administration.

DW: Yeah and I think that makes a lot of sense because the people who are opposed to free trade are probably farther to the Left than the Liberal Party is. A bulk of them probably aren’t Liberal Party supporters, and likewise the people who are so energized about free trade who feel the need to go out and tweet or post on Facebook about a free trade deal, and their support of it, are probably conservative or more Right wing voters who….

TK: It was actually just former Trade Minister Ed Fast from a bunch of dummy accounts.

(Laugh)

DW: So I think ultimately, I think as Travis mentioned right before the show, Navigator has done research before where we’ve found that Canadians overwhelmingly like free trade, they think it’s a good thing. So Trudeau has this sort of big middle of Canada who I think probably don’t care about the trade deal. If they have to have an opinion about it, they’re going to think that it’s good – because they believe free trade in general is a good idea – but they’re not going to be vocal on social media. The people who are going to be vocal on social media are these people who are really polarized when it comes to free trade, who think about free trade on a daily basis. Or have a sort of philosophical belief about free trade, which I’m going to hazard a guess that most Canadians do not.

AM: Well, not only that, but also the Liberal government’s messaging around the CETA deal was that it was going to increase and benefit the middle class, on both sides of the Atlantic. So, people who were also critical of that entire statement from the get-go from the Liberal Party also had an opportunity to jump in and say like ‘What have you done for the middle class so far? How are you going to prove that this is going to help the middle class?’ So, they opened themselves up a little bit to criticism that seems like it’s about CETA, but is also just about their entire middle class platform with this one.

TK: And to reverse your earlier segue Allie, it’s I mean perhaps coincidental, but it’s convenient for the government that they got to sign CETA and make the argument that they weren’t making inroads on their agenda to support the middle class. The same time that they announced and presented to the Canadian electorate a really activist economic agenda in terms of infrastructure spending. So there is quite a bit of activity from the Liberal government this week on taking action to further the agenda they did promise during the election. So, all in all, probably a good week for them on that front.

AM: Yeah, so moving on from CETA, the third issue coming out of Ottawa that got pretty much no traction whatsoever, was the pay to play issue that has been kind of plaguing the Liberal government from the get-go. So, recently, I mean since November of 2015, the Liberal government has been facing some criticism that they are giving certain prioritized access to people who can afford to attend their fundraisers, their functions for which they are charging somewhere around 1500 dollars a ticket.

Clip from Parliament

AM: So the maximum that somebody can give in political contributions for any calendar year is 1525 dollars, so this falls just right under that. But they are suggesting that if you are able to pay for one of these tickets to a dinner, an event where somebody’s speaking, then you are getting this access to cabinet ministers and decision makers, and able to have undue influence on them that other people who would not be able to afford these events would not have.

TK: And to be fair, it’s not unusual to Liberals to host fundraisers with cabinet ministers and invite Canadians, whether they be business leaders, or otherwise, to attend and have face time with the minister. Nor is it unusual at the federal level, it happens in provinces across Canada. The problem for the Liberals here is, let’s not forget what kicked them out of office the last time around, which was residual resentment over the sponsorship scandal, and the belief that the Liberals have become a little too entitled, a little too comfortable with power in Ottawa. And it’s sort of a same narrative that’s taking shape around Premier Wynne here in Ontario with similar accusations and now apparently coming charges against some senior Liberal officials in connection with a by-election up north in Ontario. I think, I mean the Canadian conversation, as I’m sure you’ll point out Allie, isn’t necessarily on fire – there’s barely any discussion. Maybe it’s because people’s attention is elsewhere. The only thing I’d say is that it’s just it seems a little early in the Liberal’s mandate in Ottawa to be having to defend themselves against accusations of cronyism. And while I don’t think it’s going to have any ramifications right now, I would just, you know, a cautionary note – to sort of ensure that this sort of narrative doesn’t take hold too early, or it’ll just make their life that much more difficult when they’re seeking re-election.

AM: Well, and the recent development also in regards to this is that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is now investigating, also the Lobbying Commissioner is also investigating, so even though these are two new developments, like you pointed out, nobody seems to care that much. It seems like it should be a bigger deal than it is. But really, it got no traction. I mean the announcement of the investigation came out on October 27th, the Liberal Party took it seriously enough to put a blog post up from the president of the party up on their site on October 28th. There was some traction on the 27th about the investigation, absolutely no uptake on the Liberal Party’s response on the website so…

TK: And I have to assume there won’t be any really uptake until a really damning report from one of those commissioners, or there’s evidence to suggest that 1500 dollars bought a government decision, which I have a hard time believing that would ever occur. But it’s not necessarily the fact that it did occur, it’s the perception that it might have occurred.

DW: And it’s also not necessarily just 1500 dollars, right? It’s a room full of people all giving 1500 dollars who all work in a similar industry, and all now have access to Liberal cabinet minister or the Prime Minister himself. I think the most troubling issue with this from the Liberals perspective should be that, it’s sort of, every issue that we’ve talked about today, including this, sort of lend themselves to this narrative about the Liberals which is, while they talk a good game or while they talk in Left wing terms, they are governing in sort of neoliberal, neoconservative ways. They are governing as a free market party, and as a party that’s dedicated to rich people. So, I don’t think taking this sort of money from high-paying lawyers and business executives necessarily helps the Liberals distance themselves from this rich-getting-richer narrative that has occurred from the CETA deal or their private infrastructure bank. That said, do I think that will be a defining factor in the next election? Probably not, unless these sorts of things continue to occur. But it definitely opens up the NDP to sort of regain some ground and syphon off that very enthusiastic Left wing support that we saw elect the Liberals so powerfully in the last election. Based on their rhetoric, if these sorts of things continue to occur, the Liberals are going to leave themselves open for a very easy attack from the Left in the next election. Keeping in mind that that is obviously a long way away, and a week is a long time in politics.

TK: I’ve got to respectfully disagree with David on this point. And I’m not one to be known to defend Liberal governments at any level, but I just, I think the enthusiasm with which millennials looked to Justin Trudeau wasn’t necessarily in any policy terms. Although I think they were very much attracted to his approach to the environment, to health care, the idea of, you know, a fairer, more equitable economy, certainly. But it was in his tone and his approach to politics that really sort of excited people. And I think we’re seeing evidence…I mean, just look at the Trudeau government’s imposition of a carbon tax onto the provinces, and the discord that that caused between federal/provincial relations. I think it’s that sort of behavior that might start to turn people off, and to just demonstrate that you know, Trudeau, Harper, Liberal, Conservative — it’s politics as usual. That’s their, that’s the soft spot they’ve got to watch for. I mean I think they’ve done a lot to sort of demonstrate their commitment to the middle class, not only though their child benefit, a very generous benefit, as well as CETA and now their activist spending program. So, but I think it’s in this tone, in this approach to politics, that might do them in. And I’ve got to say it’s the same thing that may be plaguing Kathleen Wynne here in Ontario, right? She was elected on a promise to do politics a little differently and now the scandals are piling up, and the charges are coming in, that don’t really make her look all that different to Dalton McGuinty, and that’s gonna be her problem come next election here in Ontario.

AM: Yeah and like we’re seeing both of those things in the Canadian conversation. Like David pointed out, the criticisms of kind of this sort of elite governance that they’re getting a lot of flak for lately. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that those people who are criticizing the government are probably people who didn’t vote for them anyways. But we are seeing a kind of uptake, as Travis pointed out, in terms of people talking about ‘You are continuing with the previous administration’s mandates, why hasn’t any of this changed? Why haven’t you made amendments to X, or why aren’t you changing the terms of Y?’ So, we will have to keep an eye on that and see how that develops, and whether or not that does start to slowly chip away at their overwhelming popularity that is still holding a year later.

Moving on to our next topic, which was overwhelmingly (no surprise) the top issue for the Canadian conversation, given that the election is next week. It is the American presidential election in the final weeks.

DW: Oh, there’s an election going on!

TK: Oh!

AM: Yeah, right?

TK: Well, as much as we can call it an election given that it’s rigged…

DW: Well, both sides are now saying that.

AM: That it’s completely rigged.

DW: Hillary is saying it’s rigged…Everybody, everything is rigged apparently!

AM: So if you’ve somehow been living under a rock, which I’m sure nobody has and I’m sure everyone is aware, the FBI has reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. And people are pretty mad about it, basically. Except for Trump – Trump is not mad about it.

TK: Oh a quick point of clarification. They are investigating emails related to her aides and her campaign team, she has neither seen nor were they sent to her.

AM: So the investigation seems to have expanded from just Hillary Clinton’s emails, also to Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner, who is no stranger to —

TK: Controversy.

AM: Controversy also. And Canadians are kind of just weighing in the way they’ve been weighing in all along. It’s not our election, so the funny stuff that’s been coming out in terms of people talking about how disillusioned they are with the whole process, and how really pessimistic they are about this entire outcome is dominating a lot of the conversation.

TK: Which is really too bad, cause this election could be quite historic. I mean right, with the election of America’s first female president, or first orangutan president –

(Laugh)

DW: Jack-o-lantern president.

TK: It just, it really is too bad that people aren’t focusing…I mean, when Obama was elected the first time around, there was a sense of history being made. And I feel like that isn’t quite here this time around. I mean, there are probably many reasons, many of which are related to Hillary Clinton. It’s just, it’s upsetting to me…I dunno. What a missed opportunity.

DW: I saw a poll earlier today from Wall Street Journal NBC News conducted it. It showed the unpopularity ratings of Clinton and Trump. Trump’s is 44 percent, Clinton’s unpopularity is 41 percent. To put that in context, among the American people, Vladimir Putin’s unpopularity is 38 percent. So, I think that’s part of what undercuts the historic aspect of this election is that, Hillary Clinton is such a unlikeable figure to so many Americans that they don’t, they sort of don’t even recognize her as necessarily the first female president. That’s sort of an afterthought. She is in so many people’s minds because they know so much about her and Americans have lived with Hillary Clinton as a public figure for so long, they’ve made up their minds. She’s not the first woman president, or the first female president, she’s the first Hillary Clinton president, and a lot of people aren’t happy about that. Whereas Obama was sort of more of an unknown, he was this senator who rocketed onto the scene, and people were able to imbue him with a lot of what they wanted him to be, regardless of what he actually stood for. Because Hillary’s a known quantity, that can’t happen this election, which is I think why we’re seeing, why we aren’t seeing these parallels with 2008.

TK: Right, well 2008 couldn’t stand in sharper contrast to 2016, right? I mean, Obama in the end, I mean through his own very brilliant communications, became a symbol of hope for America’s future. 2016 is defined by cynicism, it’s defined by the idea that politics no longer represents the people, and I mean it’s just such a marked contrast that it’s astonishing. And it’s partly a failure of both candidates to inspire a more positive vision for America’s future, but it’s also just the American people sort of having been promised so much for so many years, now sort of maybe taking a look and saying ‘I’m not buying what you’re selling.’

David: Well this is also, look at the campaign slogans as compared to 2008. Obama’s was Hope and Change, very broad…

Allie: And yes, we can…

David: And yes, we can, exactly.

Allie: Can you imagine anyone saying yes we can this year?

David: Well I would argue that the only person who has a campaign slogan as powerful and as recognizable as yes we can is “Make America Great Again”, is Donald Trump. But Hillary has sort of forced this to be a personal election by making her campaign slogan “I’m with her”. As opposed to 2008 where it was really an ideological election, this is an election is about personalities. And I think that’s why we’re seeing this.

Travis: Well, first point, the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan is “stronger together”. But second point, the ‘I’m with her’ moniker was an attempt to tap into and leverage the transformational opportunity her candidacy provides, to elect America’s first female president. It is a huge deal but it’s just lost. It’s astounding to me that millennials look to the potential of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and her election and sort of shrug and go “I don’t care that she’s a woman, I don’t care I have the opportunity to elect America’s first female president.” Every time, and Hillary Clinton will make the same argument, and she has, every time Hillary Clinton has a job and she’s doing that job, people overwhelmingly support her. I mean, as Secretary of State, her approval ratings were higher than Obama’s. The moment she puts her name on a ballot and she re-politicizes her personality it’s all of a sudden so polarizing. And it’s interesting to me, and I don’t think all of it is Hillary Clintons fault, I think actually it’s mostly not her fault. I think its she’s a woman who’s had to navigate her way through an incredibly challenging, grinding, awful political system in the states. And she’s done it quite effectively and with great success. And so, not every woman can do that; not every woman who does that is likeable to the average person. But she’s a likeable gal, and she’s done an amazing job and she’s strong and she’s effective.

Allie:  And to that point also, her experience as First Lady always gets thrown back at her as a negative in her career, like you don’t learn a lot being First Lady? It’s interesting actually that Michelle Obama’s position as First Lady is often lauded and that she’s considered of having a great deal of political prowess having been First Lady whereas Hillary Clintons position it’s often bought up as a criticism and a negative for her.

Travis: And a lot of the baggage she wears as First Lady wasn’t her fault, it was Bill Clinton. And yet Bill Clinton is still viewed as this messiah of democratic politics…

Allie: Who plays the saxophone…

Travis: Right, I mean, it’s insane! When we sit down and analyze this election cycle after Hillary wins on November 8th, I think we’re going to have a to take a hard look at the challenges women face in politics.

Allie: So, election’s on November 8th – David, how many people are you betting that Trump is winning?

David: How many people? I’ve put a fifty-dollar bet with one person. I did it a year ago that Trump would be president, I think before the first debate even. So, we will see on Tuesday if I’m right. For a while there I thought I was going to win that 50 dollars, I no longer think that I’m going to, but I’m always willing to be surprised and to be fifty-dollars richer.

Travis: Yeah, I mean no one could have expected this October surprise. But I think we all need to recognize that Trump’s pathway to victory through the electoral college votes is still incredibly difficult. And I’d be shocked if we didn’t wake up November 9th with Hillary Clinton as our president – Herstory made.

Allie. Herstory made. Thank you both for coming on the show today.

Travis: It has been my distinct pleasure.

David: Thank you as always, Allie.

Allie. And just a quick note, programming note: we will not be having our show next week.

Travis: What, c’mon?!

Allie: Parliament is on a break week and we are also taking a break next week so we will be on the following week after that. So, no show next week, but the week after we will be back. So, thank you both again and we’ll talk to you later.