Why Mark Strahl is not in OttawaNovember 25, 2021
Send tips | Subscribe here | Follow Politico Canada
WELCOME TO OTTAWA PLAYBOOK. I'm your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey. If you're south of the border, Happy Thanksgiving from your northern neighbors. We hope you enjoy whatever it is you do on this day, be it watching football or catching up on #cdnpoli browser tabs you've had open for forever.
Did someone forward this free newsletter your way? Click here for signup options.
STICKING CLOSE — The Commons was alive late into Wednesday evening with an emergency debate on flooding in British Columbia. One MP not in the House was Conservative MARK STRAHL, who was instead on the phone with Playbook from Chilliwack, B.C.
The four-term MP has missed the past two Tory caucus meetings. His name is in the middle of party infighting about the leadership of ERIN O'TOOLE. There are even murmurs Strahl might be the one to convert the unhappiness of fellow disgruntled Tory travelers into, as the National Post's JOHN IVISON phrased it, a "rebel alliance."
He's on the record opposing a vaccine mandate for MPs, though he told the Toronto Star that he is inoculated. But he tells Playbook none of that is top of mind as he tries to help people in Chilliwack, after catastrophic rainfall temporarily cut off his riding's communities from the rest of Canada.
— Cascading effects of disaster: "The store shelves emptied out very quickly. The gasoline supplies were also depleted, so we started to see fast-food restaurants and things like that shut down," Strahl said. "There was a real uncertainty and anxiety about how quickly those supply lines would be reestablished."
— A little bit of distance: Strahl insists his constituents need the help of someone who knows his way around the federal bureaucracy.
Strahl said he's heard from residents whose commute to work in Abbotsford ballooned from 20 minutes to four hours because of road closures and changing rules about who is even permitted on the roadways. They apply for EI to make up for lost income.
"Some of these things are just now developing, where people are trying to apply for these benefits, but are being told no, maybe you should have been able to get to work, or maybe you made a choice not to go," he says.
How would Strahl grade Ottawa's performance? It's too early for that, he says. "They've done what's been asked of them. But the chickens will come home to roost here shortly, especially on the income support side."
— On the bubble: "I haven't paid much attention to what's been happening in Ottawa. There's just too much work to do here on the ground," said Strahl. Playbook asked about the internecine struggle within the CPC. He embraced brevity. "Those questions will be waiting for me when I get back to Ottawa, maybe next week, maybe the week after."
— Reinforcements at the PCO: A Playbook reader tipped us off to a senior public servant's temporary reassignment to the Privy Council Office. PATRICK TANGUY, who once headed up the emergency management branch at Public Safety Canada, is now coordinating support with Minister BILL BLAIR from the PCO. A spokesperson says the central agency is "uniquely positioned to help with coordination across government."
— Putting the damage on the record: On Wednesday, three of Strahl's caucus mates from B.C. — DAN ALBAS, BRAD VIS and ED FAST — offered the Commons a sense of the situation.
Albas: "Sewer systems are not working, there is no water. In many places, there is no gas or electricity and, thus, no heat. Each night the temperature drops further below zero and does not move much above zero in the day. Residents are in a race against time now to rebuild their lives as much as possible before the true freeze of winter sets in."
Fast: "The scene in Abbotsford is one of unimaginable destruction. Countless families have been displaced, dykes have been breached, pump stations overwhelmed and untold property lost as the carnage swept across our city, and yet I am grateful to live in Abbotsford."
Vis: "The government speaks a lot about addressing climate change. Here is the opportunity to back those words with action through resilient infrastructure, climate change adaptation and mitigation for the 21st century. I call on the government to work with partners to rebuild Lytton, to fund critical infrastructure and to empower First Nations to have more control over disaster management because the current way of doing things is failing."
— Related listening: On THE DECIBEL this morning, ANDREA WOO and ANN HUI discuss the catastrophic impact of the floods on B.C. farms.
— More rain down east: Both coasts have taken a pummeling. Downpours washed away sections of the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland that left Port-aux-Basques isolated from the rest of the province. The province has no timetable for repairs.
NDP pundit SALLY HOUSSER interrupted her turn on Power & Politics Wednesday night to extend wishes to her friends and family: “Unprecedented weather events is quite a terrifying phrase when you come from Newfoundland.”
CLOCK'S TICKIN' — Nearly a month has passed since the new Cabinet was sworn in, and still the Prime Minister's office has made no mention of powerful Cabinet committee membership or new mandate letters for ministers — a key document that sets the government's priorities.
Playbook will count the days that have passed since the pomp and circumstance of a rainy day at Rideau Hall. We'll stop when the documents flow. DAYS WITH NO DOCS: 30
— The exception: Playbook reported Monday on a quietly published order-in-council that set the membership of one committee: Treasury Board, the gang of ministers that manage federal expenditures and serve as the employer of the public service.
HYBRID HOUSE — The House will vote today on a government motion to return to hybrid sittings. Tories and Bloquistes are opposed, but the Liberals have their dance partner in the NDP. One MP thanking his lucky stars: New Democrat TAYLOR BACHRACH, who told Politico last summer that hybrid sittings have eased his 20-plus-hour commutes from Ottawa to remote northern British Columbia.
MR. (DEPUTY) SPEAKER — The Commons appointed Tory MP CHRIS D'ENTREMONT, a former provincial MLA in Nova Scotia, as second-in-command to ANTHONY ROTA. Back for another turn as assistant deputy speaker is CAROL HUGHES, the five-term New Democrat who has an unbroken streak of six years in this side gig.
BRASS TACKS — The biggest keeners in the Commons are hiding in plain sight. Their names are already all over the notice paper, where MPs officially plant business they'd like the House to consider. They've got bills. They've got motions. And they're wasting no time asking written questions that require a government response.
— The tale of the tape: New Democrats have 19 private members' bills on the notice paper, many of which are holdovers from the last session. DON DAVIES leads the way with four, one more than PETER JULIAN, RANDALL GARRISON and LINDSAY MATHYSSEN. Liberal MP YVAN BAKER and Bloc MP YVES PERRON each have one apiece.
Tories are likelier to place written questions on the order paper, a tactic that often — though not always — forces disclosure of detailed replies. They've asked all but four of the 61 listed right out of the gate. Everybody is allowed four at a time. GREG MCLEAN, GARNETT GENUIS and BLAINE CALKINS have already maxed out their asks.
Genuis wants to know how the government defines "fossil fuel subsidy." The wily MICHAEL COOPER is hoping he'll learn just how many times Trudeau's itinerary has included inaccurate information. (Remember that surfing trip to Tofino? Seems the Tories want to make more political hay. But don't expect much substance from the government.)
Bloc MP MARIO BEAULIEU pestered the Liberals for details on how many child-care spaces their new fed-prov deals guarantee for Francophone minorities.
— All politics is local: Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry MP ERIC DUNCAN is curious about Via Rail investments and train traffic at the station near him in Cornwall, Ont.
— Motions: The NDP House leader is utterly dominating the notice paper's list of private member's motions, racking up 14 of 21 on the list. The other seven? Those belong to BRIAN MASSE, the dean of the NDP's caucus.
DOIT PARLER FRANÇAIS — The Throne Speech was widely described as a vanilla document — but sometimes it’s all in the delivery. In this case, Governor General MARY SIMON’s decision to follow tradition by reading part of the speech in French has reignited concerns about her weakness in one of Canada’s official languages. Simon, who speaks English and Inuktitut, struggles in French. After Trudeau named her GG, she committed to mastering it.
The issue, which caused waves in Quebec at the time of her appointment, resurfaced Tuesday as she read the speech. Trudeau Cabinet ministers from Quebec were peppered Wednesday by reporters’ questions about Simon.
One asked Innovation Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE how he felt, as a francophone, hearing the French language “massacred.” Champagne replied that it’s always important to defend the French language and bilingualism in Canada. He later said: “She, like others, has said that she will make efforts to learn French.”
— What next: Sen. CLAUDE CARIGNAN introduced a bill Wednesday to amend the Language Skills Act, which he says was designed to ensure key officers of Parliament know both official languages.
“The appointment of Mary Simon to the position of Governor General when she neither understands nor speaks French is a blatant lack of respect for more than eight million French-speaking Canadians,” the Quebec senator said in a statement. “The Governor General is the head of state of Canada, how can anyone justify her not being able to communicate with French-speaking citizens?”
— Worth noting: The Queen, who can speak fluent French, is Canada's head of state. Simon is her representative.
NEWSROOM DIVERSITY — Just as this newsletter hit your inbox, the Canadian Association of Journalists published what it calls the "most filled-out diversity survey in Canadian media history." More than 200 newsrooms submitted demographic data that represented 3,873 journalists. (Full disclosure: Your Playbook host contributed to the early development of the project.)
— What did they find? A lot of white folks. Almost half of newsrooms say their journalists are exclusively white. About eight in 10 employ no Black or Indigenous journalists. Two-thirds don't employ Asian people. White journalists worked in 97 percent of newsrooms.
— The gender split: 52.7 percent of journalists included in the survey were women.
— The unknown unknowns: The CAJ couldn't track down race data for 25 percent of journalists, 98 percent of whom work for the CBC and Postmedia. (Both organizations attributed their high numbers of "unknown" data to "individuals who chose not to self-identify on internal staff surveys.")
— Management gap: More than 80 percent of supervisors identified as white. It's a different story down the masthead. Women account for 61 percent of part-time employees. "Black and Middle Eastern journalists are twice as likely to be working part-time jobs as full-time ones," writes the CAJ. About 45 percent of interns aren't white.
Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU lists only "private meetings" today. (Putting the finishing touches on a few of those to-do items that Playbook and others are watching closely?)
Conservative leader ERIN O'TOOLE will hold a news conference at noon. MP MICHELLE REMPEL GARNER will hold her own newser at 10 o'clock on "energy workers and the Liberal Speech from the Throne."
NDP leader JAGMEET SINGH will meet with the Canadian Medical Association at 11:15. He'll join MP JENNY KWAN and a pair of Ontario health-care workers for a press conference at noon. He'll be in the House for QP.
Procurement ombudsman ALEXANDER JEGLIC is hosting a virtual event at 1 ET to talk about his work and hear from attendees about "concerns and experiences in doing business with the federal government."
ROBIN SILVESTER, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, delivers a "State of the Port"' address at 12:30 PT. The feds just pledged C$4.1 million to the port authority to work through supply chain disruptions.
What are you hearing that you need Playbook to know? Send it all our way.
A reader named LAURIE MACE asks: “How many of our MPs in this session actually live in the ridings they represent? I’d welcome some opining about whether or not it is significant to their roles.”
What do you think? Should MPs live beside the people they represent? Do you have any examples of elected folks whose homes are far from their constit office? Drop us a line.
Pro subscribers should not miss the Pro Canada PM memo from ANDY BLATCHFORD: Retooling Canada's pandemic aid
In other headlines for subscribers:
— U.S. doubles duties on Canadian softwood lumber.
— France fires warning shot at Amazon, Alibaba ahead of Black Friday.
— Failure to vaccinate poor countries fans fears of uncontrolled outbreak.
— White House launches new energy division.
— Biden's dilemma: Releasing oil and reducing emissions.
— CHRYSTIA FREELAND agrees to slight broadening of COVID-19 wage and rent subsidy, the Globe’s BILL CURRY reports. Here’s Bill C-2. The finance minister also confirmed that she plans to release “some form” of fiscal update this fall.
— The CBC's AARON WHERRY writes: The Conservatives' inflation argument is flawed — but it still might work.
— “Why does the NDP exist?” ERICA IFILL asks in The Hill Times. “No seriously.”
— Top of POLITICO this morning: BRAKKTON BOOKER on the uncomfortable truths hidden inside the Ahmaud Arbery verdict.
— APTN’s TINA HOUSE reports from First Nation communities in B.C., hard hit by last week’s flooding are bracing for what comes next.
— The millennial and Gen Z dream of home ownership is being exploited in ways that just make houses more expensive, the Globe’s ROB CARRICK writes.
— Inflation is about to get way worse in 2022 — and nearly everyone in Canada will feel the pinch, JASON MARKUSOFF writes in Maclean’s.
— At the Hub, SEAN SPEER worries that many Canadians have "surrendered their sense of individual agency and in turn succumbed to a collective aimlessness."
Birthdays: We scoured the world for this birthday greeting to TYLER BRǓLÉ, 53 today. … HBD + 1 to STEWART REYNOLDS, aka BRITTLESTAR.
A slip of the finger in Wednesday's Playbook aged BRAD WALL by a decade. The former Saskatchewan premier is, in fact, 56. (h/t to reader ALAN KAN for pointing out the typo.)
Reflections: LISA RAITT published a raw, heartfelt post on Facebook that shared the miraculous ups and crushing downs of her husband's long fight against Alzheimer's: "With the bad does come the good. I love my Bruce dearly and every moment I have with him is a blessing. For maybe 20 minutes a visit, 2 times a week he is 'there' with me. And that’s what keeps me going."
Remembered: MANMEET SINGH BHULLAR was honored in the House on Wednesday on the anniversary of his death. The Alberta politician was killed in 2015 when he stopped to help a motorist on a highway north of Red Deer. MP MANINDER SIDHU told the House: “Meepa, as many of us called him, inspired so many of us in this chamber. His passion, drive and energy was contagious and he touched many lives while he was with us.”
Spotted: Israeli foreign minister YAIR LAPID greets RONEN HOFFMAN before a new posting as ambassador to Canada. ... KEN BOESSENKOOL, wheels up. … Green MP PAUL MANLY, withdrawing from the race to be interim leader of his party shortly before AMITA KUTTNER was named to the role. … CBC reporter PETER COWAN grateful for the kindness of rural Newfoundlanders.
Movers and shakers: KARL SASSEVILLE is now Health Minister JEAN-YVES DUCLOS's deputy chief of staff. ... Crestview's BILL ANDERSON is repping Blue Ant Media on the Hill. … Dentons Canada's MICHAEL AGOSTI is lobbying for Champion Petfoods, which wants the feds to "resolve a trade dispute, which is causing material harm to the client and firms in the agri-foods sector more generally."
SCOTT THURLOW posted a few November meetings on behalf of Dow Chemical, including two with a phalanx of ADMs in the climate change space and a third with ELLIOT LOCKINGTON, the chief of staff to associate finance minister RANDY BOISSONNAULT.
DAN BREZNITZ is the 2021 winner of the Balsillie Prize for Public Policy for his book, Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World. Finalists include GREGOR CRAIGIE, ANDRÉ PICARD and JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD.
Wednesday’s answer: JOHN DIEFENBAKER’s dog HAPPY was the first canine to reside at the PM’s official residence. Reports state that it was a yellow Lab, though this photo suggests not. Here’s a feature from the Globe on all the pups that followed.
Props to ZEV LEWIS, GANGA WIGNARAJAH, MICHAEL MACDONALD and WAYNE FLEMING, who added these details: “Happy bit the PM’s wife, Olive, and was put down.”
Thursday’s question: A question from international current events. Sweden named its first female prime minister this week. What is her current status?
Send your answers to [email protected]
Have a petition you want signed? A cause you’re promoting? Seeking to increase brand awareness amongst this key audience? Share your message with our influential readers to foster engagement and drive action. Contact Alejandra Waase to find out how: [email protected]
Playbook wouldn’t happen without Luiza Ch. Savage, editor Sue Allan, Zi-Ann Lum and Andy Blatchford.