PROGRAMMING NOTE: Corridors will not publish from Thursday, Dec. 24 to Friday, Jan. 1. We’ll be back on our normal schedule on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
At the very beginning of this interminable year, Justin Trudeau grew a beard. The beard was Significant, a symbol of a once-youthful prime minister who was now older and wiser and battle-scarred. Many headlines were written. It was a simpler time, when we had nothing better to do than debate the merits of facial hair as an indicator of gravitas. But beard or no, this year has changed Trudeau’s image.
Welcome to this year’s final issue of Corridors. I’m your host, Maura Forrest. In today’s edition: 2020 in the rearview mirror, Doug Ford takes on Ottawa (the city and the feds), and an interview with lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger. Get in touch: [email protected]
A LOOK BACK — Trudeau spent the first two months of 2020 lurching from crisis to crisis, long before the big one hit. On Jan. 8, the Iranian military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing 138 people with ties to Canada.
Closer to home, the minority government was facing mounting pressure over a decision about whether to approve Teck Resources’ C$20-billion Frontier oil-sands mine, which became a symbol of the Liberals’ direction on oil and gas until Teck pulled the plug on its own project. This unfolded alongside a protest by members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation against a pipeline in northern B.C., which morphed into nationwide demonstrations and rail blockades.
Way back in the before times, those battles seemed to be setting the stage for Trudeau’s second mandate, given they embodied all the issues that were most important to him: climate change, Indigenous reconciliation, natural resource development.
— Then March happened: Trudeau went into self-isolation and all that was swept off the table. In the first few frenetic months of Covid-19, the government rolled out emergency support programs and hundreds of billions in spending with remarkable speed. Then in July, the PM went sailing into his latest ethics controversy, this time involving the WE Charity and nearly a billion dollars.
— The (great?) reset: The scandal dominated the news through the summer, when Covid-19 case counts were low. But then Trudeau prorogued Parliament for five weeks — for reasons he insists were unrelated — and flirted briefly with seizing an “unprecedented opportunity” to transform the country, before settling instead for getting through the pandemic with promises of stimulus money to come.
— Somewhere in there: The Conservatives and the Greens elected new leaders. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole made a pitch to working-class voters and union members, while Green Party Leader Annamie Paul put up a surprisingly strong showing in a Toronto Centre by-election. But with all eyes fixed on the pandemic, both are still struggling to be seen.
— The image: Some argue Trudeau grew into that beard this year. In the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert claims Trudeau has become more “cold-blooded,” while the Liberal government’s “days of being associated with unicorns and rainbows are definitively behind it.” In Maclean’s, Shannon Proudfoot reminds us that Trudeau will turn 50 next year and will likely head into his next election campaign “as a grizzled veteran, and not some impetuous wunderkind.” PM photographer Adam Scotti has published this series of photos of 2020, including several of Trudeau looking very tired.
— The record: But if Trudeau’s image has been altered for good, much of what he’s promised to achieve sits where he left it in March. In a recent flurry of activity, the Liberals announced a plan to hike the carbon tax, but haven’t yet had to defend it. They’ve introduced a bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, even as they admitted they wouldn’t be able to lift all boil-water advisories on reserves by March 2021. In the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson argues this Parliament’s record to date is a “thin gruel.”
— The next step: The Liberals have passed almost no legislation since the 2019 election, aside from Covid-19 relief and spending bills. And now Trudeau could be headed for an election next spring (he’s recruiting candidates, by the way), meaning he’d once again be campaigning on a set of promises he really, truly is going to keep this time. Only this time he’d be campaigning with a beard. Presumably.
Who’s up: Covid-19
Call us unoriginal, but we’re going to give this one to the coronavirus. Covid-19, you’ve officially won 2020. Congratulations. You’ve closed our borders, shut down our cities and kept us apart. Despite our best efforts, you’ve snuck into just about every nook and cranny of this country. And just when we thought we were getting a leg up on you with our first vaccinations, you’ve gone and mutated into an even more terrifying version of yourself. When we zig, you zag, Covid-19. Kudos.
Who’s down: Ontario Premier Doug Ford
Nobody wants to be the guy imposing lockdowns. But Ford seems to have upset literally everybody with his Monday announcement that all of Ontario will shut down on Boxing Day. On one hand, doctors and hospitals are alarmed he’s waiting till after Christmas. On the other, municipalities with low case counts are upset they’ve been swept up in the restrictions.
In Ottawa, which reported 19 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she was “disappointed” by the decision. In response, the premier’s office took the high road and accused Etches and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson of being okay “with body bags piling up on their front door steps.” Meanwhile, all of Montreal is still laughing at Ford’s claim that Quebecers will flock to Ottawa “in droves” if the city stays open.
Got someone to nominate? Email me at [email protected].
THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD — When they first began rolling out emergency pandemic relief, the Liberals were fond of saying they were prioritizing speed over perfection, and they certainly seem to be reaping the rewards of that now. After first reporting that 68 companies paid out billions in dividends to shareholders while collecting the federal wage subsidy, the Financial Post’s Victor Perreira and Kevin Carmichael have now found the CEOs of those companies collected C$30 million in dividends themselves. Nearly half of that went to one guy — Québécor’s Pierre Karl Péladeau, former leader of the separatist Parti Québécois.
— Speaking of CEWS: The CRA finally published a database this week of all the organizations that have received the wage subsidy, and it’s been a real gold mine. For Vice, Rachel Browne reported Tuesday that a group run by white supremacist Paul Fromm was one of the recipients. And for Global News, Amanda Connolly reports that Chinese state-owned enterprises, including the Bank of China, have also received funds, as have anti-abortion groups.
— And then there’s the CERB: During an end-of-year interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton over the weekend, Trudeau told the 441,000 people who’ve been sent letters by the CRA warning they may have to pay back thousands in CERB payments that they shouldn’t worry about it. Well, not over Christmas, anyway. Possibly they’ll have to start worrying about it again in January, given Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough has been saying in no uncertain terms that the money will have to be repaid. Meanwhile, the CRA has admitted that staff gave out unclear instructions early in the pandemic that led people to apply who weren’t eligible. But don’t stress! (Yet.)
BORDER STRAIN — The Covid-19 variant that caused Canada and other countries to ban travel from the United Kingdom hasn’t yet been identified here, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday, though she added she wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already in “many different countries.” The issue has prompted Ontario Premier Doug Ford to take aim at Ottawa for not testing people arriving at airports, referring to Canada’s borders as both a “sieve” and a “spaghetti drainer.” (The two are commonly confused, but serve very different purposes — see here for an explanation).
— Ottawa’s answer: Federal ministers countered on Tuesday that Canada does have rigorous screening and quarantine requirements for incoming travelers. They say international travel has accounted for less than two percent of Canada’s Covid-19 cases.
— Waiting game: Health Minister Patty Hajdu also said a Health Canada decision on the Moderna vaccine should be coming “very soon.” Canada is slated to receive 168,000 doses of the vaccine before the year’s end, but that’s contingent on regulatory approval. On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail’s Andrea Woo reported that Canadian snowbirds in Florida could start being immunized within weeks.
EXTENDED LEAVE — Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil has been on medical leave since January, the National Post’s Christopher Nardi reported Tuesday, which his party never saw fit to mention to the public. The MP from Mirabel is still collecting his salary of C$182,600 and claimed C$14,150 in expenses between January and September for a secondary residence outside Ottawa.
TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE — In true Canadian style, Ottawa is looking at buying second-hand planes from commercial airlines in need of pandemic relief to replace its aging fleet of transport aircraft. The government needs to retire the five planes used to transport military troops, prime ministers and other dignitaries, and sees an opportunity to use the purchase to “inject liquidity into the airline industry,” the CBC’s Daniel Leblanc reports. Air Canada is a possible supplier, though one aviation expert warned against trading “old for old.”
For this final edition of a truly terrible year, Corridors asked MPs to name one good thing that happened in 2020. Babies featured prominently.
Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux: In February 2020, my son, Hugh Jeneroux, was born. Due to the pandemic and working remote, I was able to spend a lot of his first year with him.
Liberal MP Greg Fergus: 2020 was a historically tough year. Many people died before their time; many more livelihoods were destroyed and damaged. We’re all feeling the stress.However, if there were one thing that was good, it is that we all rediscovered the importance of community, of personal relationships, of the need for one another.
Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux: If one positive thing comes out of 2020, it wasn’t in Ottawa that I experienced it, but in my riding of Drummond. Groups of citizens have come together to offer different forms of assistance on the ground, others to help businesses adapt to the situation quickly. Rather than be defeated, hundreds of people have rolled up their sleeves to support their fellow citizens and our business people.
Green Party MP Jenica Atwin: My best friend’s baby was born in Fredericton on Dec. 8. Life can be unpredictable and even scary at times, but it is also beautiful and inspiring. This year I have been amazed by the resilience I see in people all around me.
Corridors is a new weekly newsletter for MPs, lobbyists, executives, activists and any readers who are interested in what’s going on around Parliament Hill. Every Wednesday we will look at the people pulling the levers of power in Ottawa and the questions that are influencing decisions on Parliament Hill and in the provinces. Join the conversation! You can email us at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]tico.com.
The pandemic has created profound changes in the federal lobbying landscape. Where lobbyists used to meet in person with elected officials in Ottawa, they’re now arranging virtual meetings to advocate on behalf of companies, industry groups and non-profits. But that doesn’t mean lobbying activity has been hampered — on the contrary, numbers shot up this year as organizations jockeyed for pandemic relief and Covid-related contracts.
In an interview with POLITICO’s Andy Blatchford, lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger discussed how lobbyists have adapted to the pandemic and what she’s expecting in 2021. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has the number of lobbyist registrations evolved through the pandemic?
As of the end of November, we were up to 1,700 new registrations, which is quite a high number. Usually, summer months are quieter. Quite the reverse since March — the numbers have continued to rise. We’ve set records of monthly communication reports. It is clear people have adapted to doing lobbying virtually.
Your annual report noted the registry was facing funding constraints. Any development on that front?
I’ve made an additional funding request with the Treasury Board. I’m crossing my fingers that we will have money in the budget. This money is really to enhance the capacity of the IT team. It’s to continue to modernize the registry. I’m not asking for a lot — C$625,000 the first year, knowing full well I can’t hire everybody in the first year. And then ongoing, it’s C$780,000.
Has virtual lobbying had any impact on reporting or on how you do your work?
Because the people are meeting virtually, there appears to be more of them. Because people are saving time — travel time, organization time — now it’s a click of a button. It has increased the numbers in our registry, it has increased the number of questions we get, and our client services team has been extremely busy.
What kind of things are people lobbying about?
When the pandemic hit, the head topic was always health. Obviously, that stayed up at the forefront and remains in the top five. Once the different programs stepped up, economic development became number one and will probably continue to remain number one for a while.
The federal government recently announced in its fall economic statement that there could be between C$70 billion and C$100 billion of stimulus on the way. How do you anticipate that could affect lobbying activity?
I suspect that lobbyists, organizations and corporations will be doing their homework and they will likely reach out to public office holders to get a piece of that money. I expect the numbers in the registry will demonstrate that. I suspect the numbers are going to continue to go up.
Spotted: Rideau Cottage in gingerbread … NDP MP Charlie Angus on the banks of Cross Lake … Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan baking Christmas cakes … A bunch of parliamentarians reading a holiday story … The O’Tooles at Knox Christmas Tree Farm … and Wexford celebrating Hanukkah?
Birthdays: Happy 49th birthday to the prime minister who celebrates on Christmas Day. And best Boxing Day wishes to retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie who will be turning 64 … and to MP Emmanuel Dubourg who will be 62 that day … Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz turns 41 on Dec. 29.
Farewells: Montreal Gazette columnist Don MacPherson announced his retirement at the end of last Friday’s column. “Three years ago, during the great bonjour-hi ‘crisis,’ I wrote that I had discovered the secret of happiness for Quebanglos: just ignore the politics,” he wrote on Dec. 18. “I’ve decided it’s time for me to take my own advice.”
Condolences to MP John Williamson who lost his father earlier this month. “He had a heart for New Brunswick,” the MP shared on Twitter. John Leighton Williamson was a long-time public servant and a heraldry scholar. His obituary shares tremendous details of a life well-lived: “John also enjoyed old films on Turner Classic Movies, the Boston Red Sox, Atlantic lobster and homemade baked beans (but not together), Ten-Penny ale, fresh pies made with New Brunswick wild blueberries, and during St. Andrews’ pleasant summer months a suppertime gin and tonic (Beefeater, of course) while overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay.”
Got a tip, event, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other suggestion for Corridors? Let me know: [email protected]
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Congratulations to Alyson Fair, consultant with Bluesky Strategy Group and former CTV News journalist, who was first to guess that Wilfrid Laurier holds the record as the longest-serving MP in Canadian history, with an impressive 44 years and 11 months in office between 1874 and 1919.
Here’s this week’s question:
Name the Canadian boxer who was the first fighter to agree to a heavyweight championship fight with an African American, losing to Jack Johnson on Boxing Day in 1908.
Email [email protected] with your answers — or with trivia suggestions!
With thanks to Editor Sue Allan, Luiza Ch. Savage and Andy Blatchford