Showdown lowdownSeptember 23, 2022
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WELCOME TO OTTAWA PLAYBOOK. I’m your host, Maura Forrest, with Zi-Ann Lum, Nick Taylor-Vaisey and Sue Allan. Today, we recap Day One of Trudeau versus Poilievre. We have another tidbit as the new Conservative leader builds his office. The team behind in-flight catering for Canada's "VVIPs" pledges it's now “no-nonsense.” And the CRA is planning to spend an awful lot of money recouping pandemic benefits it shouldn’t have paid.
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MILQUE-ROAST — Is it just us, or was the long-awaited showdown between JUSTIN TRUDEAU and PIERRE POILIEVRE a bit, well, anticlimactic?
Maybe our expectations were too high. After all, they said all the things we expected them to say. But that’s just it. If you were looking for any surprises, anything off-script, yesterday in the House of Commons was not the place to find it.
— To set the stage: The press gallery was unusually full, as reporters filed in to see the action. Even PAUL WELLS was there! There was a decent showing in the public galleries too, including three small girls who looked like they’d been dragged in by their parents.
The Conservatives roared as Poilievre stood to kick off question period. He started with a quip, in French, about how it was good to see the PM paying a visit to Canada. (Trudeau has been out of the country all week.) Paul Wells laughed.
Then Poilievre asked if the Liberals would cancel their “tax hikes on gas, heating, food and paychecks.” Trudeau said he hoped the Conservatives would support the Liberals’ plan to “get help directly to Canadians.”
— And so on, and so on. Poilievre accused Trudeau of burning a hypocritical amount of jet fuel. Trudeau accused Poilievre of being a crypto bro. YVES-FRANÇOIS BLANCHET said something sardonic about the monarchy. JAGMEET SINGH accused the Liberals of not doing enough to help people with the high cost of living. The Conservatives heckled him for working with them anyway.
A lot of Conservatives asked the Liberals if they would “axe the tax hikes.” CHRYSTIA FREELAND asked a lot of Conservatives if they would share in the Liberals’ “sincere desire to help Canadians.” The Green MPs were also there.
— And then it was over. Paul Wells left.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Trudeau didn’t deliver fireworks, seven years into the job. But Poilievre didn’t really deliver them either, despite his fiery campaign. So much for Day One.
But hey, at least there were hockey players.
— Meanwhile: The real drama yesterday came not from question period, but from the Conservatives’ outrage over a tweet from journalist DALE SMITH, which prompted a highly unusual statement from the president of the parliamentary press gallery.
We’re not going to say much about all that, except that one day, your Playbook host will write a book called “Never Tweet.” It will be a short book.
IN REAL NEWS — Multiple news outlets reported last night that Trudeau has appointed career diplomat JENNIFER MAY as Canada’s ambassador to China. In an exclusive interview with the Toronto Star's TONDA MACCHARLES, May said she wouldn’t shy away from criticizing China. She speaks Mandarin and was first posted to Hong Kong in 1998, and then to Beijing until 2004.
Canada had been without an ambassador to China since December.
HERE COMES FIONA — Halifax Mayor MIKE SAVAGE got to the point Thursday.
“This storm is going to hit us, folks. It's going to hit us in the face.”
Hurricane Fiona is expected to arrive in Atlantic Canada late today or early Saturday as a post-tropical storm. “That does not mean a weaker storm,” warned the Canadian Hurricane Centre’s BOB ROBICHAUD.
Robichaud will deliver a 12 p.m. ET update today with the latest modeling of Fiona’s path — which will determine how and where emergency resources are organized and dispatched.
If the storm tracks west, that would bring the storm closer to Halifax’s metropolitan area. A shift to the east could deal Cape Breton a massive hit.
BILL BLAIR’s office confirmed the emergency preparedness minister has been in contact with the five provinces that could be impacted by Fiona and is ready to support with federal assistance if necessary.
— From CBC this morning: The blow-by-blow of what to expect from Hurricane Fiona.
OLO WATCH — Slowly but surely, PIERRE POILIEVRE's Office of the Leader of the Opposition takes shape. The latest hire is DAVID MURRAY as policy director — the same role he served on Poilievre's leadership campaign.
Murray comes by way of Counsel Public Affairs, where he was account director for federal advocacy and polling. He handled 13 active clients as of Thursday, including Cenovus, Toyota, the Air Canada Pilots Association, GlaxoSmithKline and the newspaper lobby.
His resume on the Hill runs deep. Murray got his start in the office of former MP KEITH ASHFIELD, and worked on ANDREW SCHEER's leadership campaign before serving as the party's national pollster on the 2019 campaign. He later toiled in the data and polling trenches at the Conservative Resource Group.
EAT, DRINK AND BE WARY — Early in Thursday’s gathering of the House operations and estimates committee, Liberal MP ANTHONY HOUSEFATHER crunched the numbers from the governor general’s eight-day trip to Expo 2020 in Dubai. If you’ll recall, that’s the one that racked up an C$80,000 in-flight catering bill.
“There were 46 people on the flight and not all of them ate every meal — or not all of them were on all of the legs of the flight. There were eight meals served. And the total cost was $80,367. If you divide that by 46 people, you get $1,744 per person or $218 per meal, which includes breakfast.”
Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force Lt.-Gen. ERIC KENNY explained there are other expenses baked into catering costs, depending where in the world a flight lands — handling, delivery, waste disposal, storage, cleaning and so on.
— Question from Conservative MP PIERRE PAUL-HUS: “We would like to know if we were dealing with caviar and expensive champagne?”
Senior officials from the governor general’s office, national defense and foreign affairs promised they will “reduce costs and maximize efficiencies” in a “no-nonsense environment” — from now on.
For example, noted Canada’s protocol chief STEWART WHEELER, on last week’s flight to the funeral of QUEEN ELIZABETH II, passengers did not have a choice of options on the menu.
— Cutbacks: And ever since the Dubai costs made news in June, Kenny said they’ve reduced the extra meals that get ordered — so-called contingencies to ensure everyone gets their choice of chicken or beef, etc.
Back in the day, they used to order 65 percent more meals than the number of people on the flight. Now, that’s down to a modest 20 percent.
They never did say what was served.
Deputy Prime Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND is in “private meetings.”
8:30 a.m. Indigenous Services Minister PATTY HAJDU and Mental Health Minister CAROLYN BENNETT will make opening remarks at the national summit on Indigenous mental wellness in Toronto. They will make closing remarks at 5:25 p.m.
9 a.m. Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU will visit a school in the National Capital Region to mark Rosh Hashanah.
11:30 a.m. Governor General MARY SIMON will meet with South Korean President YOON SUK YEOL at Rideau Hall. Trudeau and his wife, SOPHIE GRÉGOIRE TRUDEAU, will host a luncheon for the president at 12:10 p.m. Foreign Affairs Minister MÉLANIE JOLY and Industry Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE will also attend.
3:25 p.m. Trudeau and Yoon will hold a press conference.
GIVE IT BACK — The Canada Revenue Agency is expecting to spend C$430 million on staff time and resources to recover pandemic benefits from people who shouldn’t have received them. Which seems like rather a lot, but who are we to say?
The CRA has already spent about C$170 million to recover CERB and CRB payments, and plans to continue its effort until 2026. The numbers come from a document tabled in the House of Commons this week.
— The background: The CERB was launched early in the pandemic to get government money to people who had lost their income due to pandemic lockdowns. It was eventually replaced by the CRB, which wrapped up last year.
The programs were designed to get money out the door quickly, with verification happening after the fact. The revenue agency always said it intended to recoup money from those who weren’t eligible but received payments anyway, either through an innocent mistake or by nefarious means.
— Cost-benefit analysis: But clearly, getting all that money back comes with a hefty price tag of its own. The agency won’t say how much it’s aiming to recoup, but one has to hope it’s more than, say, C$430 million.
— Some other figures that jumped out at us: The CRA says the average amount owed on the “notices of redetermination” it’s been sending out to people is about C$1,500. As of June 2, the largest amount requested was C$14,000. The smallest was — ahem — C$6.75.
— Top of POLITICO this morning: McConnell seeks a Jan. 6 mop-up on his terms.
— The CBC’s DAVID THURTON has the latest intel on the internal drama plaguing the Green Party’s leadership race.
— This morning on It’s Political,ALTHIA RAJ considers the first few days of Pierre Poilievre’s leadership. Earlier this week, JUSTIN LING was on The Big Story pod. Topic of discussion: Can Poilievre grab far-right votes without falling prey to paranoid populism?
— For the Line, MITCH HEIMPEL, former director of parliamentary affairs for ERIN O’TOOLE, argues there are no more centrist votes available to the Conservatives: “‘Centrist’ voters who have stuck with the Trudeau Liberals to this point have done so not because they are waiting for some more palatable version of the Conservative party, but because they are — wait for it — Liberals.”
— HEATHER SCOFFIELD is on the latest episode of the This Matters pod to discuss inflation, interest rates and the need for creative solutions.
— From POLITICO’s NAHAL TOOSI and KELLY HOOPER: U.N. limits on display in Security Council showdown.
For POLITICO Pro subscribers, catch up to our latest policy newsletter: Atlantic Canada on alert.
In other news for subscribers:
— Business fears USTR forced labor strategy could mean more tariffs.
— Boeing to pay $200M in SEC settlement over 737 MAX.— World Bank chief walks back on climate skepticism in note to staff.
— Ukraine asks Canada to help rebuild critical energy infrastructure.
— IEA chief: IRA is the ‘single most important action’ for climate since Paris agreement.
Next week’s live edition of Playbook Trivia at the Metropolitain is officially sold out. We’re taking names for our next outing — date TBA. Shoot us an email to reserve your spot.
Birthdays: HBD today to former Senator ETHEL COCHRANE and journo GORD MARTINEAU. Celebrating Saturday: The CBC’s DIANA SWAIN, Ottawa mayoral candidate BOB CHIARELLI and Ontario MPP GREG RICKFORD.
Send birthdays to [email protected].
Spotted:BRIAN MULRONEY, in conversation with PETER LOEWEN at the Munk School last night. The former PM was asked to name an issue he wished he’d spent more time on while in office. “We did a lot on the environment,” he said. “I wish I had done more.”
“Retired” CBC journalist JULIE VAN DUSEN, in the press gallery.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, on the corner of Queen and O’Connor. The former Liberal leader penned a moving tribute to longtime Hill staffer TREVOR HARRISON in the Globe and Mail yesterday. Harrison lived his life “believing he could, understanding, as few people do, how setting an example could give others courage and hope,” Ignatieff wrote.
Harrison’s funeral is happening in Ottawa today, with a celebration of life at Christ Church Cathedral and a reception at D’Arcy McGees.
The Ottawan is looking for nominations for the third annual Best of Ottawa awards.
Movers and shakers:NATHANIEL ERSKINE-SMITH is stepping down as chair of the Liberals’ Toronto caucus so he can have “more time to focus on other opportunities,” he tells Playbook. Other opportunities like running for leadership of the Ontario Liberals, you ask? Who can say! He’ll be replaced by JOHN MCKAY.
MARIT STILES is officially running to be leader of the Ontario NDP.
REEM ZAIA, director of policy and legal affairs to Public Safety Minister MARCO MENDICINO, joined the Children on the Hill daycare board of directors.
(Parents who've enroled their kids in the Confederation Building non-profit include JEAN CHAREST and SHEILA COPPS.)
This week, CSA Group launched the CSA Public Policy Centre. Starting this fall, the center plans to publish a series of policy briefs on topics including the circular economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, housing affordability, digital technologies and remote work.
1 p.m.The House environment committee meets to continue its study of clean technologies in Canada. Witnesses include representatives from the Canadian Fuels Association, Electric Mobility Canada and Efficiency Canada.
1 p.m.The House international trade committee meets to continue its study of Indo-Pacific opportunities, hearing from Grain Farmers of Ontario, Arianne Phosphate and Soy Canada.
1 p.m.The House heritage committee will hear from several witnesses as part of its study of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, including MICHAEL GEIST, the Logic founder DAVID SKOK and PAUL DEEGAN, president of News Media Canada.
— Behind closed doors:The House foreign affairs committee’s subcommittee on international human rights is reviewing a draft report of a study on repressive states; and the House citizenship and immigration committee meets to consider a copy of its draft report on differential outcomes.
Thursday’s answer: Senator ROSEMARY MOODIE is also a pediatrician and neonatologist.
Props to KATELIN CUMMINGS, GOZDE KAZAZOGLU, ANNE-MARIE STACEY, ROBERT MCDOUGALL, DOUG RICE, NANCI WAUGH and MICHAEL MACDONALD.
Friday’s question: What planet will soon be the closest it’s been to Earth since 1963?
Send your answers to [email protected]
Playbook wouldn’t happen: Without Luiza Ch. Savage and editor Sue Allan.