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By NICK TAYLOR-VAISEY, ANDY BLATCHFORD and MAURA FORREST
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Welcome to the Ottawa Playbook. I'm your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, with Andy Blatchford and Maura Forrest. Today, Finance Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND makes a "major" speech on the economy. We ask everybody in our Rolodex to tell us what she should say. Also, more hints at a mystery candidate for Ottawa mayor. Send in your guesses now!
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GAUNTLET THROWN — Tory interim leader CANDICE BERGEN walked up to a microphone at her Wednesday national caucus meeting and attempted to outflank the governing Liberals on what everybody — you, me and everyone we know — is talking about.
For months, PIERRE POILIEVRE's feisty #justinflation sloganeering has dominated the debate in Parliament and energized rallies all over Canada.
With a big speech coming this week from Finance Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND, Bergen dialed up the kind of folksy, populist-ish hearts-and-minds rhetoric that would fit right in at a DOUG FORD campaign rally.
"Some of you are struggling with feelings of frustration, because it's costing you double what it used to to fill your gas tank, and gas just keeps going up. Some of you are struggling with feelings of desperation, because the groceries to feed your families are higher than ever, and you don't know how you're going to make ends meet. You've worked so hard, and you've always tried your best. And right now your best doesn't seem to be enough."
Next up: the pivot to Covid.
"So many of you, my fellow Canadians, are struggling with feelings of hopelessness. Because the Covid mandates and restrictions are keeping you from living the life that you once knew and loved. There are a lot of you who are struggling, you Canadians who are normally so strong and so resilient, and so full of joy and hope."
— The CPC pitch: Bergen insisted her party has offered "reasonable and pragmatic" solutions over the past few months. Liberals, she said, should take the sales tax and fuel charge — aka carbon tax — off of gas and diesel. They should remove all remaining vaccine mandates. And no new spending.
Enter Freeland, the federal finance minister slated to deliver today what’s being billed as a “major” economic speech to The Empire Club of Canada.
SPEAKING TO AFFORDABILITY FEARS — Don’t expect Freeland to announce any new measures to ease the sting of inflation. Prepare for a political repurposing of previously announced actions.
Freeland will use the lunchtime address to highlight existing government commitments — which are about to come online — that can help households deal with the pain of Canada’s runaway cost of living.
“It will be a suite of measures appropriate to the time,” a senior government official told Playbook, describing it as a “multipoint plan.”
“It’s clear people feel anxious despite this strong [economic] rebound. They don’t feel great and that’s because of inflation.”
— The fine print: The insider said Freeland will highlight forthcoming changes such as a boost to the Canada workers benefit, a refundable tax credit for low-income earners, and, starting next month, a 10-percent increase to Old Age Security for seniors over 75. The official also said Freeland will nod to the government’s promise of a one-time, C$500 payment for folks facing housing affordability challenges.
Since the measures have already been announced, all of them are in the fiscal framework — as first reported by the Toronto Star’s HEATHER SCOFFIELD. Together, the official said they total more than C$7 billion over several years, depending on the benefit.
DON'T MISS THE 2022 GREAT LAKES ECONOMIC FORUM: POLITICO is excited to be the exclusive media partner again at the Council of the Great Lakes Region's bi-national Great Lakes Economic Forum with co-hosts Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. This premier, intimate networking event, taking place June 26-28 in Chicago, brings together international, national and regional leaders from business, government, academia and the nonprofit sector each year. "Powering Forward" is this year's theme, setting the stage to connect key decision-makers with thought leaders and agents of change to identify and advance solutions that will strengthen the region's competitiveness and sustainability in today's competitive climate of trade, innovation, investment, labor mobility and environmental performance. Register today.
Playbook asked an economist, a New Democrat, a former PMO insider, and a pollster to explain what needs to be in Freeland's speech. Here's what we heard.
— The economist's view: When it comes to taking action on affordability, the government is in a tough spot. Experts say Freeland would be wise to avoid any big fiscal injections, which would risk adding fuel to an already red-hot economic furnace.
RANDALL BARTLETT, Desjardins’ senior director of Canadian economics, told Playbook that policy-makers have limited options. But he said targeting some help at low-income earners is one way to carefully move the needle, a little bit.
That said, Bartlett warned the extra spending will still create inflationary pressure. In the end, he argued much of it is a waiting game.
“People make fun of the word ‘transitory’ now, but we know some of this [inflation] is still related to the pandemic, and the consequences of public health measures and policies during the pandemic. Some of this is going to come off at some point. So, for the government to take even more drastic steps at this point to cool inflation could just exacerbate economic weakness and the likelihood of a recession further down the road.
“There are no clear answers because it's an unprecedented situation.… If we had a playbook for this, everybody, every government around the world would be pulling it out right now, right?”
— The NDP view: NDP finance critic DANIEL BLAIKIE tells Playbook the speech will be a big disappointment if all Freeland does is repackage things the government has already done. The New Democrats are pressing the government to boost the GST rebate and the Child Canada Benefit to help cushion families from inflation. The NDP, he said, also wants the government to stop “chasing after” the financially vulnerable to repay their CERB pandemic benefit debts.
“There are things driving inflation that the government is not in control of, but they tend to talk about that as an excuse for not doing anything. The fact that they can't control some of the factors driving inflation doesn't mean that there isn't anything that they can do to help.… They want Canadians to believe that somehow because inflation isn't directly caused by this government, that there's nothing that they can do about it.
“Even though there are global supply chain challenges, even though the pandemic has exacerbated those, climate change is exacerbating those, the war in Ukraine is exacerbating those things — that doesn't mean that the government is powerless to help Canadians get through this time. And now that we're seeing interest rates going up from the Bank of Canada, it's all the more important that government be there for people, or we're going to start to see people lose their homes.”
— The insider's view: Playbook asked Pollara chief strategy officer DAN ARNOLD, the man who led research and advertising in Trudeau's PMO until the end of last year, what Freeland needs to say to gain credibility on the inflation issue with regular people.
Here's what Arnold said (listen up, PMO!).
"Minister Freeland needs to show the government understands what exactly it is real people are feeling and that the government is seized with this issue. That’s easier said than done, of course.
"What she needs to avoid is a lecture on why we have inflation. People get that this isn’t the government’s fault, but they want to see a government with solutions. And the solution should avoid the '7 billion dollar plan to fight inflation' framing that was leaked out. Nobody understands how much C$7 billion is, and nobody doubts the government’s ability to spend money. In fact, some people think spending billions is what created this situation.
"Instead, show what you will do for the young couple who has been outbid a dozen times on their first home, for the commuter who now pays $100 every time they fill their gas tank, for the senior who can’t believe how much bacon costs. Give specifics."
— The think-tanker’s view: Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer KEVIN PAGE tells Playbook that addressing inflation generated by global factors such as supply shocks and pandemic-era expansionary fiscal and monetary policy is far from easy. The remedies would also be politically unpopular.
Page, who heads the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, said targeted measures are the best approach.
“From a political perspective, it is understandable that our political leaders must be seen to be responsive to citizen concerns about higher inflation. If we do not address the causes of higher inflation, it is really about pain medicine. Like in real life, [you] need to be careful with pain medicine.”
— The pollster's view: Playbook asked Angus Reid Institute president SHACHI KURL for her two cents on how Freeland can reassure the country:
"Let’s face it, Canadians are anything but reassured or calm. We are seeing data showing economic pessimism is at levels higher than they’ve been in a decade. Discretionary spending is on a collision course with escalating cost of living. People in their earning and paying years (those aged 35-54) are literally freaking out.
"Freeland will have to sound as though she gets it and have enough substance on offer to calm this anxiety, without in turn rattling the markets."
Tory MP MICHELLE REMPEL GARNER has stepped away from her role as PATRICK BROWN's campaign co-chair. She's considering a run for Alberta's United Conservative leadership.
"Alberta is — and always has been — my top priority. Today, I can confirm that I am giving a provincial leadership bid serious consideration. I owe it to Albertans to give this critical decision my full and complete attention."
CITY HALL WATCH — Dribs and drabs on the mayoral candidate-to-be who could challenge former mayor BOB CHIARELLI and downtown councilor CATHERINE MCKENNEY for supremacy in the council chambers at 110 Laurier.
Here's what else we've managed to surmise: This unnamed potential contender is well known in town, but has never run for office.
The curious-minded city hall set won't have to wait long. A source who's in on the putative run says they're "ramping up for a launch within two weeks."
Who is this mystery candidate? Juggernaut or dud? Feel free to gossip with Playbook's inbox at [email protected] . Your secrets are safe with us — and if you're cool with it, readers who are dying to know.
PRIVACY BILL — The government will introduce legislation today to overhaul Canada’s privacy rules to give people more control over how companies use their personal data.
The bill, currently on the notice paper, appears to be similar to the Digital Charter Implementation Act, which was introduced by former innovation minister NAVDEEP BAINS in November 2020 but died on the order paper.
Officials from ISED will give reporters a technical briefing on the bill today at 11:30 a.m. Innovation Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE and Justice Minister DAVID LAMETTI will hold a West Block presser at 1:15 p.m.
— The background: The old legislation, Bill C-11, would have required companies to be more transparent about the collection of personal data, and would have given Canadians the right to move their information from one organization to another and to request that it be destroyed.
It also would have given the privacy commissioner the power to order a company to stop collecting data. Fines for violating the law could have been as high as C$25 million or five percent of a company’s revenue.
STEP INSIDE THE WEST WING: What's really happening in West Wing offices? Find out who's up, who's down, and who really has the president’s ear in our West Wing Playbook newsletter, the insider's guide to the Biden White House and Cabinet. For buzzy nuggets and details that you won't find anywhere else, subscribe today.
GARDEN PARTY UPDATE — The PM-less media garden party at 24 Sussex drew its annual crowd of Cabmins, d-comms, press secs and Hill journalists who love a free drink.
— Cabmins under the tent: FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE, MARCO MENDICINO, PABLO RODRIGUEZ, GUDIE HUTCHINGS, GINETTE PETITPAS TAYLOR, JOYCE MURRAY, MARC MILLER, OMAR ALGHABRA, RANDY BOISSONNAULT, SEAN FRASER, KARINA GOULD, AHMED HUSSEN, DAVID LAMETTI, CAROLYN BENNETT, DOMINIC LEBLANC, DAN VANDAL, PASCALE ST-ONGE, and MÉLANIE JOLY.
— The PMO complement: KATIE TELFORD, JEREMY BROADHURST, ANN-CLARA VAILLANCOURT, CECELY ROY and CAMERON AHMAD.
— Noted through the windows: Visible inside a 24 Sussex bay window next door to the outdoor party, keen observers noted a furnished living space with a conspicuous sign on the far wall. It read, simply, "DANGER."
(For the uninitiated, here's a rundown of the state of the official residence without an official resident, given the Trudeaus have spent nearly seven years at nearby Rideau Cottage.)
Around back, Playbook wondered how often the PM's kitchen staff — they still prep the meals on-site — make use of the Big Green Egg smoker that looked well-used.
PARTY TIME FOR QUEBEC — The provincial government's Ottawa office threw a bash on Tuesday night unbeknownst to anyone who didn't get the invite — or the legions of anglos who couldn't decipher it. Playbook got a report on the festivities from an attendee.
— Spotted: Quebec Cabmin SONIA LEBEL; federal Cabmins DOMINIC LEBLANC, PABLO RODRIGUEZ and FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE; Liberal whip STEVEN MACKINNON; Quebec caucus chair RACHEL BENDAYAN; Nova Scotia MP KODY BLOIS; Tory deputy leader LUC BERTHOLD; Tory Quebec caucus chair BERNARD GÉNÉREUX; Tory MPs PIERRE PAUL-HUS and MARILYN GLADU; Bloc Québécois leader YVES-FRANÇOIS BLANCHET, whip CLAUDE DEBELLEFEUILLE, and Dean of the House LOUIS PLAMONDON; Bloc MPs KRISTINA MICHAUD, ALEXIS BRUNELLE-DUCEPPE, MARIO SIMARD and SÉBASTIEN LEMIRE. NDP deputy leader ALEXANDRE BOULERICE was also in the room.
— Other VIPs: PCO clerk JANICE CHARETTE; Ukraine ambassador YULIA KOVALIV; PBO YVES GIROUX; House Speaker ANTHONY ROTA; Indigenous Services DM CHRISTIANE FOX.
— Just the numbers: 50 MPs, 20 senators, 20 ambassadors, too many staffers to count.
— PM TRUDEAU's itinerary notes one item: a conversation with official languages commissioner RAYMOND THÉBERGE.
— Defense Minister ANITA ANAND will participate in a meeting of NATO ministers of defense.
8 a.m. FedDev (Ontario) Minister HELENA JACZEK will be at the Canadian War Museum to make a funding announcement related to Ottawa Bluesfest and tourism in Ottawa.
9 a.m. Freeland will visit small business owners in Toronto.
9 a.m. The PBO will publish a new legislative costing note titled, “Cost of a Dental Care Plan for Canadians.”
12 p.m. Freeland will deliver a keynote address at the Empire Club of Canada.
2:15 p.m. Freeland will hold a media availability.
3 p.m. Lieut.-Gen. JOCELYN PAUL will assume command of the Canadian Army at a ceremony at Cartier Square Drill Hall.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE — Politicians, dignitaries, officials, staffers and journalists have imbibed C$6,120 worth of beer and wine on official government flights since January 2019, according to documents tabled this week in the House of Commons. More specifically, that’s 432 bottles of wine, 346 cans of beer and five bottles of ice wine.
The prime minister, Governor General and their entourage travel on government-owned Airbus and Challenger aircraft. Alcohol is provided free of charge for officials on those flights, while media traveling with the prime minister pay a flat fee that covers all services, including alcohol.
“Providing hospitality, including food and beverages for official delegations on international flights is considered standard practice,” reads the (slightly defensive) response from Global Affairs Canada to a question from a Conservative MP.
— How do the numbers break down? The documents list 15 trips taken between May 2019 and March 2022. They don’t specify who was on each flight, but some quick Googling reveals that most were the prime minister’s trips abroad, including to the G20 in Japan in June 2019 and the G7 summit in Cornwall, England in June 2021.
A couple of the Governor General’s trips were also listed, including that recent Middle East trip that apparently racked up a C$100,000 catering bill, per the National Post. The alcohol consumed on that week-long trip? A relatively modest 19 bottles of wine and 15 cans of beer for the roughly 30 passengers on board, totaling C$114.
— The booziest trip? A 10-day voyage the prime minister took back in February 2020 to Ethiopia, Kuwait, Greece, Senegal and Germany. The roughly 60 passengers imbibed 95 bottles of wine and 93 cans of beer, at a cost of C$1,415.
— The soberest trip? That would be Trudeau’s trip to Washington, D.C. in November 2021 to attend the North American Leaders’ Summit. The entire delegation of 56 people consumed exactly one can of beer. The cost? C$2.64.
— How does it compare? A few years back, the National Post reported that passengers aboard government aircraft consumed C$8,179 worth of alcohol between December 2016 and December 2017. According to figures provided by the government at the time, roughly C$13,000 of alcohol was consumed on official flights in both 2013 and 2014, when former prime minister STEPHEN HARPER was the one flying around.
So these latest numbers seem fairly modest in comparison — except that there were no government flights between February 2020 and May 2021.
— From MARIEKE WALSH: Ottawa will ‘absolutely not’ reimburse civil servants who refused COVID-19 vaccination and were placed on unpaid leave.
— In the Financial Post, biz council boss GOLDY HYDER writes that USMCA/CUSMA can't just be a successful trade deal. It has to be seen to be successful by politicians stateside. Hyder names three Ds — dairy, digital taxes and defense — as distractions that manage to unite typically intransigent Democrats and Republicans.
— On the Herle Burly pod: ELAMIN ABDELMAHMOUD, author of "Son of Elsewhere".
— APTN digs into a House Indigenous affairs committee report and finds the feds are on track to miss targets to close the infrastructure gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
— In news that surprises precisely no one, Leger found that Liberal and NDP voters prefer JEAN CHAREST and PATRICK BROWN to PIERRE POILIEVRE.
— Border mayors want the federal government to scrap the ArriveCAN app that every incoming international traveler needs to download and use before entry. "When you're riding a dead horse, dismount," said Sarnia mayor MIKE BRADLEY. (Past Playbook trivia: Bradley was first elected in 1988.)
For subscribers, here’s our Pro Canada PM memo by MAURA FORREST: Freeland’s plan to fight inflation.
In other headlines for Pro readers:
— Global banking regulators set out worldwide approach to tackle climate risks. — Fed gets more aggressive in inflation battle. — India takes WTO hostage as key talks drag into overtime. — Elon Musk 'leaning' towards supporting DeSantis for president. — FDA advisers endorse emergency use of Moderna, Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in babies, toddlers.
Birthdays: HBD to former Liberal Cabmin NAV BAINS.
Movers and shakers: Enterprise’s JESSE SHEA, a former Liberal staffer on Hill, is now repping the Canadian Mink Breeders Association. They're focused on Bill C-247, Liberal MP NATHANIEL ERSKINE-SMITH's effort to ban fur farming in Canada.
Crestview's BRYAN DETCHOU is lobbying for the Canadian Association of Exposition Management (read: the people who run trade and consumer shows, which were virtually non-existent during the pandemic).
BRADLEY METLIN, a former Ford government comms staffer who also did a stint at MICHAEL DIAMOND's Upstream Group, is now a senior consultant at Santis, which does GR and public affairs for the healthcare sector.
Spotted: International Trade Minister MARY NGpacking Fisherman’s Friend to WTO meetings … MP MICHAEL COTEAU, celebrating DEBORAH COX, newly inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
MP CHANDRA ARYA, taking time in the House on Wednesday to recognize some Ottawans who are not seeking re-election this fall: Mayor JIM WATSON, councilors JAN HARDER, KEITH EGLI and SCOTT MOFFATT.
A family photo of the Ford campaign team, c/o senior comms adviser TAUSHA MICHAUD (formerly ERIN O'TOOLE's OLO chief of staff).
Media mentions:CHARLIE GILLIS and SUMAIYA KAMANI have joined The Logic.
Props to the Globe’s 2022 interns: STEPHANIE BAI, EMILY FAGAN, BEN MUSSETT, PATRICK EGWU, JOY SPEARCHIEF-MORRIS, MAHDIS HABIBINIA, JAKE KIVANÇ, HOPE MAHOOD, TAEHOON KIM, AMBIKA SHARMA, TAHMEED SHAFIQ and ZAHRA KHOZEMA.
Legendary Edmonton Sun sports reporter TERRY JONESgot the dreaded call from Postmedia HQ in Toronto saying his job had been eliminated after 55 years. Sen. PAULA SIMONS reminisced: "My favorite memory of your reportage was when I was directing Edmonton AM, and we called you up to your eyewitness report of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Truly, a journalist for all seasons. Thank you for the stories."
Keep up on House committee schedules here.
Find Senate meeting schedules here.
9 a.m. Former Liberal MP WAYNE EASTER and former senator DIANE GRIFFIN are at the Senate’s agriculture and forestry committee today to talk about Bill S-236. Griffin introduced the bill right before she retired from the red chamber after turning 75 in March. Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown is also on the witness list.
9 a.m.The Senate energy, the environment and natural resources committee meets in camera to discuss Bill S-5 and “future business.”
11 a.m. Auditor General KAREN HOGAN is up at the House public accounts committee, as well as department officials from Indigenous services, infrastructure, PCO, CMHC and treasury board, to answer MPs’ questions about a set of audits tabled last year.
11:30 a.m. Former PCO clerk IAN SHUGART and ex-foreign affairs DM MORRIS ROSENBERG are at the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee to answer questions about the Canadian foreign service “and elements of the foreign policy machinery” inside GAC.
11:30 a.m. The Senate internal economy, budgets and administration committee is scheduled to meet, partially in camera on financial and administrative matters.
3:30 p.m. American Civil Liberties Union deputy director ESHA BHANDARI is at the House access to information, privacy and ethics committee this afternoon to speak on facial recognition technology.
3:30 p.m. Conservative MP BEN LOBB is a witness at the House agriculture and agri-food committee’s meeting to speak on his private member’s bill, Bill C-234. Seven department officials from agriculture and agri-food, environment and finance are also on the witness list.
3:30 p.m. The House transport, infrastructure and communities committee meets to continue its study on cutting red tape and costs on Canadian airports.
6:30 p.m. The House science and research committee continues its study of small modular nuclear reactors. Ontario Power Generation president and CEO KEN HARTWICK is on the witness list. The second half of the meeting will go in camera to talk about “committee business.”
11 a.m.The House public safety and national security committee meets to consider a draft copy of its report about its study of ideologically motivated violent extremism in Canada.
11 a.m.The House fisheries and oceans committee will go over a draft report of their marine cargo container spill study. “Committee business” is also on the agenda.
11 a.m. The House citizenship and immigration committee meets to consider a draft report of its study on differential outcomes in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada decisions.
3:30 a.m. It’s an in camera day for the House human resources committee. They’re penciled in to talk about drafting instructions for their upcoming report on the housing accelerator fund.
Wednesday’s answer: June’s full moon is known as a Strawberry Moon. Coming up next: The Buck Moon, aka Hay Moon, and Thunder Moon.
Props to BOB GORDON, KEVIN BOSCH, NANCI WAUGH, DOUG RICE, ROBERT MCDOUGALL, SOPHIA NICKEL and SHIFRAH GADAMSETTI.
Thursday’s question: Who told the House of Commons: “Politics has taught me that progress is not linear. It happens when enough good people fight long enough and hard enough to make things right.”
Send your answers to [email protected]
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Correction: Wednesday’s edition of Playbook misidentified Lisa Raitt’s party affiliation. She is, of course, a Conservative.
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