The rise of the NDP’s prairie pragmatists- POLITICO

Jennifer E. Engen

Send tips | Subscribe here | Email Nick l Follow Politico Canada

Welcome to the Ottawa Playbook. I’m your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey with Maura Forrest. Today, a spotlight on NDP power players who’ve carved out influence all over Canada. Also, the Tories are once again confronting supply management during a leadership race. And a big Canadian military contingent is looking for a place to stay in Hawaii.

NDP POWER LIST — Ask any plugged-in New Democrat in town about the Prairie Pragmatists in their flock, and they’ll serve up plenty of plaudits.

These trusted operatives roamed the halls of power in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — and have since played instrumental roles in confidence-and-supply deals that delivered power in B.C. and secured influence in Yukon.

They were also central to the latest round of dealmaking in Ottawa that produced a three-year accord with JUSTIN TRUDEAU‘s Liberals.

— The art of the deal: The federal NDP’s hopes for dental care were enshrined in the party’s agreement with the Liberals announced in March. A few weeks later, the program scored a mention in CHRYSTIA FREELAND‘s budget — with the promise of more to come.

It was a big win for the Orange squad, and everyone on that side agrees on the NDP’s biggest strengths heading into those talks: the major players know how government works.

Let’s start at the top:

— National director ANNE MCGRATH, who was there for 2008 talks with the Liberals that nearly produced a governing accord, was later RACHEL NOTLEY‘s deputy chief of staff after the NDP’s historic win in Alberta. From that all-knowing perch in the premier’s office, she watched budgets come together.

— JENNIFER HOWARD, chief of staff to JAGMEET SINGH, has a long political resume. She was an adviser to former Manitoba premier GARY DOER on healthcare issues before getting herself elected to the legislature. She was eventually finance minister. She’s actually passed a budget.

McGrath and Howard are well-known Ottawa insiders. But they’re not the only pragmatists from west of center with fingerprints on winning campaigns and power-and-influence deals.

Here are four more players who might be just as happy if their names didn’t appear in PLAYBOOK BOLD.

But that’s no fun, is it?

— BLAKE EVANS: This parliamentary jack-of-all-trades is functionally chief of staff to both NDP whip RACHEL BLANEY and House leader PETER JULIAN.

Evans worked as a director of research when the Saskatchewan NDP ruled under LORNE CALVERT before falling to BRAD WALL‘s Sask Party in 2007. He was a senior staffer in Manitoba, too, where he first knew Howard.

When Notley won power in Alberta, Evans went there to serve as the government’s director of House business.

More recently, he was also Blaney’s right hand during intense all-party negotiations to approve billions in emergency spending during the pandemic’s early days.

— BOB DEWAR: A former chief of staff to Doer from 1999 to 2003 who managed the NDP’s return to power in Manitoba, this Dewar was also a driving force behind the B.C. NDP’s 2017 deal with the kingmaking Greens that landed JOHN HORGAN in the premier’s office.

Dewar managed the same party’s 2017 campaign, and reprised the role in 2020’s majority win.

Dewar liaised with the Greens for the life of that pact, and offered lessons learned to the Ottawa team as they negotiated with Liberals this year. He also wrote the federal party’s post-election review last year. (He’s also a brother of the late NDP MP Paul Dewar.)

Where he is now: Dewar has retired from Horgan’s office.

— JEN ANTHONY: This is a LinkedIn page filled with government experience. Anthony spent five years in issues management in Doer’s office before managing operations for Manitoba’s NDP caucus.

She hopped to Alberta when Notley took power, serving on the transition team before running issues management and rising to deputy chief of staff.

Later still, in Yukon, Anthony was part of the NDP’s effort to secure a confidence-and-supply deal — a 21-month pact that was the first in the country to include dental care.

Where she is now: Senior vice-president at FleishmanHillard HighRoad in Vancouver.

— ROBIN STEUDEL: Steudel was co-chair of the New Democratic Youth of Canada from 2011 until 2013. She worked comms for both the B.C. NDP and TOM MULCAIR‘s OLO before moving west to Alberta, her home province, to serve as the NDP caucus’s principal secretary.

After Notley’s win, Steudel was chief of staff to then-transportation minister BRIAN MASON before shifting to issues management and then caucus comms.

She eventually headed north to Yukon, where she also played a key role in the Liberal-NDP accord on how to govern the territory.

Where she is now: Co-owner, creative partner and director at Metric Strategies in Whitehorse (a sponsor of the recent Progress Summit in Ottawa).

— What it all means: New Democrats of a certain ilk know how government works because they’ve been there. Whenever there’s a headline about a savvy left-winger who wedged their priority onto the agenda of another party’s government, chances are they’re from a certain part of the country west of Ontario.

GOT MILK? — Well, SCOTT AITCHISON has officially taken on the sacred cow of supply management (we’re definitely the first ones to make that joke, right?).

In a video released Wednesday, the Tory leadership hopeful said the program, which restricts supply of dairy, poultry and eggs to guarantee stable prices for farmers, drives up grocery bills and prevents farmers from exporting their products. He’s pledged to end supply management during his first term in office.

Aitchison, an MP from northern-ish Ontario, may not be attracting crowds like PIERRE POILIEVRE, but he’s positioning himself as a straight shooter who wants to talk policy instead of taking pot-shots.

Still, it’s no small thing to take on the dairy lobby, even if doing so might seem like the principled conservative stance — small government, anyone?

Axing supply management, of course, was MAXIME BERNIER’s big thing back when he was running for Conservative leader, and we all know how that worked out. (Let us take a moment to recall former leader ANDREW SCHEER drinking from a carton of milk at the press gallery dinner in 2017 after narrowly beating Bernier with help from dairy farmers.)

Scheer used to call supply management “a principle that protects our rural economy.” His successor, ERIN O’TOOLE, echoed Scheer’s refrain.

And what about Aitchison’s rival, the freedom-loving Poilievre? He recently told the Western Standard he has no plans to touch supply management, though he did say he supports “more choice and freedom in the agriculture sector.” Just… not that particular freedom.

TASTE TEST — There was a minor social-media dust-up Wednesday after Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing, which hosted a Poilievre meet-and-greet earlier this week, published a letter distancing itself from the Tory candidate.

Let’s just cut to the chase: the real debate here is not whether Steam Whistle made the right call by disavowing Poilievre. The salient question, obviously, is whether Steam Whistle makes good beer: The Toronto Sun’s BRIAN LILLEY has some in his fridge, but possibly wishes he didn’t. Conservative strategist BEN LEVITT says it’s “subpar.” Liberal strategist TIM BARBER was heading out to buy a case.

— Related reading: “If a downtown crowd can get that fired up over Poilievre’s message, it’s safe to say there’s even more of it waiting to be found in all-important 905 battlegrounds,” CHRIS SELLEY writes of the rally. … SUSAN DELACOURT also wrote on the Steam Whistle stop.

HOUSING PROPS — Freedom evangelist PIERRE POILIEVRE‘s backdrop du jour for a 9 a.m. media avail is a modest brick home in suburban North York that’s currently on the market — it’s a three-bed and three-bath one-story house, complete with a “cozy” fireplace and a renovated basement. (The shot on Google Street View even includes a Canadian flag, the perfect touch.)

The home’s current asking price is just shy of C$2.2 million. Watch for Poilievre to comment on the skyrocketing value of this particular property. When it last sold in 2014, the house went for C$961,000 — less than half the current asking price. In 2004, it sold for just C$394,000.

WHO SPEAKS FOR THE CENTER? — That’s the headline on the latest scoop from STEPHANIE LEVITZ on a new advocacy group. “Centre Ice Conservatives will style itself as a landing pad for moderate Conservatives to have their voices heard, with hopes that it will eventually also attract those turned off by the progressive direction of the current Liberal government,” members of the group told Levitz this week.

7 a.m. Deputy PM CHRYSTIA FREELAND will attend the IMF’s International Monetary and Financial Committee meetings in Washington.

9 a.m.  Environment Minister STEVEN GUILBEAULT will be in Montreal to make an announcement on the launch of a new national program to support biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation.

9:10 a.m. Bloc Québécois leader YVES-FRANÇOIS BLANCHET will deliver a speech, and then speak to reporters. He will be accompanied by MPs RENÉ VILLEMURE, MARIO SIMARD and YVES PERRON.

10:30 a.m. Health Minister JEAN-YVES DUCLOS and Seniors Minister KAMAL KHERA make a long-term care funding announcement in Scarborough, Ont. Local MP JEAN YIP will also be in attendance.

11 a.m. Governor General MARY SIMON will host a ceremony at Rideau Hall for recipients of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

11:30 a.m. HELENA JACZEK, minister of economic development for southern Ontario, will be at Windsor’s Dimachem Inc. for an announcement. The company manufactures cleaning supplies and chemical products. Local MP IREK KUSMIERCZYK will join.

12:15 p.m. Freeland will attend the Financial Action Task Force Ministerial Meeting.

1 p.m. PM Trudeau and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami NATAN OBED will co-chair the meeting of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee in Ottawa.

2 p.m. Freeland will attend the World Bank Ministerial Roundtable Discussion for Support to Ukraine.

4:30 p.m. Trudeau and Obed will hold a media availability.

6:30 p.m. Freeland will attend a “working dinner” hosted by Ukrainian PM DENYS SHMYHAL.

WHAT ARE YOU HEARING that Playbook needs to know? Send it all our way.

FROM THE TENDERS — National Defence is looking for hotel rooms in Honolulu from June to August, when hundreds of Canadian military personnel will descend on Hawaii for the annual multinational Rim of the Pacific Exercise. The total ask adds up to 6,544 room nights, and also includes conference space — and four (4) large garbage cans.

The last time the Armed Forces sent a full contingent to RIMPAC in 2018, they stayed at the Marriott Waikiki Complex. The price tag was a measly C$1.3 million for a hotel rated 4 out of 5 on Tripadvisor, good enough to rank 50th of 93 listed hotels in Honolulu.

CTV reported last week that Canada will send 800 soldiers, sailors and aviators, as well as four warships, a helicopter and a patrol plane.

— In unrelated news: The Public Health Agency shelled out C$7.9 million for a contract with the U.S.-based pharma company Elusys Therapeutics, which produces Anthim, an antitoxin used to treat anthrax (better safe than sorry).

— The CBC’s JOANNE CHIANELLO has uncovered shocking new allegations about RICK CHIARELLI.

ERICA IFILL weighs in on PAUL WELLSnew enterprise. “For all of what he’s saying he’s going to do, he needs his own team and production studio to do it,” the podcaster and Hill Times columnist writes.

— CBC’s FIFTH ESTATE reports that the federal government has privately sanctioned several Canadian recycling companies for shipping illegal, unsorted household trash to developing countries, but is keeping the list of those names secret.

— POLITICO elections guru STEVE SHEPARD and our interactive team have predicted how every single midterm election race will go — and things are looking good for Republicans. In the House, Democrats’ five-seat majority is highly endangered, and the Senate is also in clear danger.

— Truck convoys — from Canada’s “Freedom Convoys” to Mexico border blockades — have been in the news this year, generating copycat protests. CityLab argues 2022 is the “Year of the Political Traffic Stunt.”

On this week’s Global Insider pod, IVO DAALDER, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and now President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, leads a discussion with CARLA ROBBINS (Council on Foreign Relations), ELISE LABOTT (Zivvy Media) and POLITICO’s RYAN HEATH on the dangerous new phase of Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

— More pods: Former Tory leader ERIN O’TOOLE talks about meaningful reconciliation with retired Sen. MURRAY SINCLAIR … Liberal MP NATE ERSKINE-SMITH brings on climate scientist and former B.C. Green leader ANDREW WEAVER.

For subscribers, here’s our Pro Canada PM memo: Can we get much higher?

In other headlines for Pro readers: 
6.7 percent: Statistics Canada reveals ‘inflation horror show.’
How Biden could respond if Russia hacks the U.S.
Major overhaul of kids’ online safety advances in California Legislature.
Democratic lawmakers will meet with Italian and U.N. officials in Rome to discuss rising global food insecurity.

Birthdays: HBD to former MP ANDY MITCHELL. … Distinguished Munk Fellow BRIAN STEWART celebrates a milestone today (8-0)!

Spotted: Canada’s Ambo to the U.S. KRISTEN HILLMAN in Alaska with Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) and Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-Alaska).

Movers and shakers: The CAJ Award Finalists have been announced!

The Prime Minister’s Youth Council is accepting applications until April 24.

Media mentions: JAREN KERR bids adieu to the Globe and hello to the Financial Times. “I relocate to New York City this fall,” he tweeted.

Overstory Media Group announced its acquisition of The Coast, a Halifax weekly.

TRAVELING ON OUR DIME — Tuesday’s Playbook sure got you typing. After we crunched the numbers on just how much carbon was burned by touring Cabinet ministers boasting about their budget, our inbox felt the full weight of your feelings.

We also learned that WAYNE EASTER may be retired, but he’s still got opinions about expectations of politicians. We’ll start with his candor:

“It is such small politics to attack Cabinet ministers for being out promoting the budget — that is where they should be. And there is nothing like feedback from the ground. When in regions, they meet with folks and tour areas to better understand Canadians’ concerns.

“On JT [PM Trudeau]: Yes indeed, his schedule should have been such that he wasn’t flying back across the country — practically meeting himself.”
Wayne Easter, former Liberal MP, finance committee chair and Cabinet minister

“Totally disagree with all this jet-setting. Use telecommunications to communicate. What a bunch of hypocrites … and on our tax dollar!”
Mary Turner, Barrie, Ont.

“Would it be better to take the train, car or just walk? Tough decisions if they want essential face-to-face communication. Or they could just stick to social media, the destroyer of community togetherness.”
Barry Wansbrough, Bracebridge, Ont.

Want to write us a letter? Send it this way.

Wednesday’s answer: It was Bank of Canada Governor JOHN W. CROW who said, “Confidence among Canadians that the money that they earn and the money that they save will keep its value is the essential contribution that monetary policy can make to sustained low interest rates.”

He made the comments Feb. 27, 1991 after the Bank of Canada and the federal government introduced targets for reducing inflation.


Thursday’s question: This one comes from frequent Playbook trivia player ROBERT MCDOUGALL. (He’s never missed a question!)

Way back when, voters in a handful of federal ridings sent two MPs to Ottawa. A sitting prime minister once shared one of those multi-member seats with a former premier who, if you can believe it, held the province’s top job for the first two years he was an MP.

Name that MP/premier. For a bonus mark, name the PM who repped the same riding.

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 and editor Sue Allan.

Next Post

Supreme Court decision hurts Puerto Ricans who need federal benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images Efforts to expand a federal program for disabled, elderly and blind Americans suffered a setback on Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico residents should be excluded from receiving those benefits. The program, called […]
Supreme Court decision hurts Puerto Ricans who need federal benefits