Chris Gray

Chris Gray is an Associate Senior Consultant based in Ottawa who worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for the Liberals. Chris can be reached at

With the January 20th inauguration date on the horizon, Grassroots connected with two key business influencers in Ottawa to get their perspectives on what Canada’s business environment could look like moving forward, with a Democrat back in the White House.

What does the Democrat win mean for our economy? Biden’s trade plans include bringing back critical supply chains so the U.S. are not dependent on other nations during a crisis, and promising to tighten domestic content rules, which may have implications for some closely linked Canadian manufacturing sectors. Some irritants will remain even under Biden. For instance, Biden promises more ‘Buy American’ policies, and perennial disputes like softwood lumber will not disappear.

Perrin Beatty

“From a Canadian business perspective, it will be good when we have greater clarity, not only about the Presidency, but also about Congress,” noted Perrin Beatty, President & CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“When a President is faced with a Congress where one or both houses are controlled by another party, it becomes even more important for Canada to be present, not just in the White House, but also on the Hill,” Beatty continued.

From an industry specific perspective, President & CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada Derek Nighbor had this to say about the Biden victory: “Historically, the softwood lumber file has been challenging for Canadian producers under both a Democratic and Republican administration. This trade dispute doesn’t only hurt Canadian workers, but it also hurts American families – driving up the cost of lumber that they need and driving up the cost of housing. At the best of times, Americans can only satisfy 75% of domestic demand for softwood lumber. They need Canadian lumber.”

Derek Nighbor

Beatty continued: “We can expect to see fewer capricious trade actions against Canadian products, but we should not assume that, just because the current President has embraced protectionism, having a different party in the White House would mean that the U.S. once again embraces open trade. Both parties have supported Buy American policies, and they will be a continuing concern for Canada.”

“We remain hopeful that the federal government can advance a more productive dialogue under the Biden-Harris administration. More broadly, while we expect there will continue to be protectionist winds out of the U.S., we are hopeful that President-elect Biden’s commitment to dialogue and multi-literalism will help tone down some of the unhelpful rhetoric and bring thoughtful discussion and less unpredictability to Canada-U.S. relations,” Nighbor noted in relation to the natural resources sector.

“The Canadian business community believes it’s important to restore the special relationship with our closest friend and most important customer. We hope that we will see the United States resume its leadership role in the world, including in international bodies like the World Trade Organization. While there are always challenges in our bilateral relationship, they can be overcome if both nations treat each other with respect and understanding. We should never forget that other countries throughout the world envy what Canada and the U.S. have built together,” Beatty concluded.

Prime Minister Trudeau has congratulated President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, setting the stage for positive relations moving forward, and Members of Parliament from all political stripes passed a motion unanimously on Monday calling on the government to invite them to visit Canada, post-pandemic.  The next two months will be interesting, given President Trump’s embattled position on the 2020 election results, amid the national transition to a different administration.

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at

On Thursday, in a sparsely populated legislature, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips rose to deliver the government’s provincial budget, almost eight months after originally scheduled. The incumbent PC budget features a record $187B in spending and forecasts a record $38B annual deficit. In a year like no other, fallout from the pandemic and a struggling economy has forced this government to bury their fiscally conservative tendencies in favour of increased spending to support Ontarians. 2020 continues to generate unanticipated events almost every day.

Budget themes

The budget is themed around 3 main pillars: Protect, Support, Recover, and the overall focus is supporting Ontarians through these tough times. Spending commitments include an additional $7.5B for healthcare to protect Ontarians. $2.4B in new money is allocated to support individuals and businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. Another $4.8B targets recovery funding, including significant infrastructure investments such as $680M for rural broadband. Billions more are committed long-term and beyond this government’s current mandate to help businesses, and to better protect the healthcare system from future pandemics. Visit the Government of Ontario’s budget website to read the budget in its entirety.

Governing in troubled times

Overall this budget has been positively received; however, opposition parties still managed to criticize the government for not spending enough. In a week dominated by the U.S. election, Minister Phillips delivered his first budget in the midst of a crippling pandemic with comparatively little attention and/or criticism. This in itself is a good thing for a government now in the unfortunate position of power during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Governments across Canada and the world are dealing with an unprecedented sea of red ink. While Ontario’s deficit of $38B smashes previous records, it is dwarfed by the projected federal deficit likely to exceed $400B. Despite conservative government’s usual approach of reigning in spending, now is not the time and there is no benefit, not economically nor politically, for spending cuts right now. There are, however, some important budget aspects for business groups and organizations to consider as we look towards 2021.

Looking ahead

Like other incumbent governments across Canada, the Ontario PCs led by Premier Ford have enjoyed strong support from voters since the pandemic started last spring. Governments have been called upon to provide relief and support for people in times of crisis and that is exactly what Ford’s government has done. While it may seem like a long way off, people on all sides of the political spectrum are starting to look ahead to the 2022 provincial election. The PC government may have abandoned their short-term focus on balancing budgets and restoring Ontario’s finances, but we can expect a heavy focus on measures to promote economic growth in 2021, and a strategy to balance healthcare concerns with economic growth and job creation.

By all accounts this budget is a temporary stop-gap measure. Ontarians need and expect more government relief during this crippling second wave of the pandemic, and the government delivered. Finance Minister Phillips reiterated his commitment to see Ontario return to a spring budget cycle in 2021, and consultations for the next budget will start in a matter of weeks.

What does this mean for advocacy?

Governments have committed unprecedented amounts towards COVID relief, but there will be a limit to how much they can give. When that happens, the focus will be on the private sector to drive economic growth and create jobs. This is important to remember as your organization advocates for support moving forward.

Successful lobbying efforts must be accompanied by strong economic growth plans. More than ever, organizations and business groups must frame their government “asks” around the economic return they can provide. Governments employ a lot of people, but they themselves do not generate wealth, so it will be up to the private sector to help Ontario recover from the financial crater of COVID-19. Ensuring your message is developed with clarity, that it is communicated consistently across all channels, and delivered collaboratively by as many stakeholders as possible can greatly improve your chances of success. An effective grassroots approach to advocacy always pays dividends.

The legislature at Queen’s Park breaks next week for Remembrance Day. Expect government Ministers and MPPs to fan out across the province to sell this budget to Ontarians. With its majority status, the Ford government will pass this budget bill quickly and then focus its attention on what is anticipated to be a more detailed, and less generous, 2021 spring budget. There is work to do on all sides. Let’s just be thankful that the crazy year of 2020 has only a few weeks left!

Photo of Catherine O'Gorman

Catherine O’Gorman is a bilingual public policy and communications professional who works in public affairs, and in a thriving family-run business in Ontario’s agri-food sector. Catherine can be contacted at

Six months ago, I left my policy job with Ontario Public Service, packed up my life in downtown Toronto, and drove to 2.5 hours east to Prince Edward County to begin a new chapter in the agri-food sector with my fiancé.

During my time at Queen’s Park, I worked in the heart of policy development in the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) at the Policy Priorities and Coordination Office, and I loved it! I worked on diverse files including leading the ministry’s participation in municipal conferences, facilitating policy development workshops, evaluating funding applications, providing expertise on ministry priorities and Cabinet committee processes, and providing policy and legislative support to the Minister, Deputy Minister and senior ministry executives.

Last February, my fiancé and I took a huge leap of faith; I left my job at MTO and he left his law practice to move to his hometown and work in his family business, Sprague Foods. His parents are the fourth generation of Sprague’s since the company was established in 1925 and we now work alongside them as the fifth generation. Sprague Foods is family owned and operated and specializes in producing canned soups and beans.

COVID-19: A Surge in Demand

COVID-19 has drastically impacted demand for canned foods. At the beginning of the pandemic, due to supply chain disruptions, demand for canned goods skyrocketed to levels comparable to World War II. Little did we know when we moved in February that a tidal wave of change was coming for our business. Turns out, the timing for our move was perfect. The pandemic surge in demand meant that I quickly started learning about the agri-food industry from a manufacturing perspective and its range of challenges – from supply chain management and managing ingredient or raw material shortages, to regulatory and legislative procedures that are specific to food processing.

Melding Policy Skills with Food Processing

In this new environment I have learned about the importance of relationships across the supply chain, from farmers who produce our ingredients, to truck drivers who deliver finished goods across the country, to the frontline workers who put our product on grocery store shelves. Every part of the supply chain is integral to ensuring Canadians have access to food, especially during a pandemic. This new life gives me a unique opportunity to combine my hands-on agri-food experience with my policy background, which helps me navigate legislative and regulatory challenges and secure government funding.

For example, throughout my work across different levels of government, I often evaluated funding applications from companies and stakeholder groups for a diverse range of programs. Using this practical experience, I drafted Sprague Food’s application for funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and successfully secured $75,000 from the provincial and federal government for product development. Our proposal was one of 75 projects chosen across Ontario to help strengthen the province’s crucial agri-food supply chain.

Agri-Food and Advocacy

The combination of my prior government experience and current involvement with agri-food gives me a unique perspective as I support the team at Grassroots Public Affairs. I understand the challenges of the agri-food sector and the unbelievable stress the pandemic has put on the supply chain.  Now, more than ever, it is important that both the provincial and federal government support the food processing and agri-food sector to protect our food supply and support local growers and producers. It is vital that the agri-food sector is a government priority both during and after the pandemic. 

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at

Oh, what Premier Ford and his cabinet would do to go back a year in time…

Twelve months ago, the Ford government was focused on contract negotiations with Ontario’s teacher unions.  Last year’s fall economic statement indicated the government would fall short of its previous deficit targets, and the provincial deficit would take an extra year to eliminate. Compared to how this year has unfolded, 2019 was a cakewalk.

2020: A Challenging Year

2020 continues to be challenging for everyone, governments included. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Ford government to chuck the playbook from 2019 and essentially start from scratch. Governments have never been very good at planning long-term but nowadays, with the pandemic and changing priorities on a weekly basis, every government’s priority is focused on protecting the health and well-being of its citizens; while simultaneously doing whatever possible to help an economy that has been devastated since the lockdown.

Between the end of March and the legislature’s return to a regular schedule on September 14th, parliamentarians in Ontario had only 21 sitting days to deal with the business of running the province. During the spring lockdown only a skeleton number of MPPs, on all party sides, were scheduled to sit and debate legislature. Despite some MPPs sitting on shortened weeks in July, Queen’s Park was basically deserted, and all staff have been working virtually more often than not.

Government Priorities


From our perspective there are a few obvious priorities for the government for the duration of the scheduled fall session; the first being, not surprisingly, healthcare.

No ministers have accompanied the Premier at his 1pm daily briefing as often as Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott. While Ontario leads the country in COVID testing, there is an increasing backlog of tests to be processed. Premier Ford has always been recognized as a businessman first, so his rise in approval numbers during the pandemic and his focus on the well-being of Ontarians, has been an unanticipated bonus for him. Suffice to say, Premier Ford has impressed many with his leadership during these challenging times.


After a long and trying closure of schools following March break, parents and students alike were eager for schools to reopen this September. Unfortunately, a full return was not possible and depending on where you call home, a significant number of children are not yet in the classroom on a daily basis. While schools and the education system seem somewhat better prepared to handle the health crisis compared to the spring, there is a growing teacher shortage and overall anxiety levels amongst educators and parents are increasing as the pandemic shows no signs of subsiding. The Ford government’s and in particular Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s worst nightmare is an outbreak amongst school children, sending kids back home and parents back to primary educators. Rumour has it Minister Lecce would welcome a change in role, but he’s done an admirable job in the position, so don’t expect him to be going anywhere soon.

Economic Recovery

The last and equally significant priority Premier Ford and his government face this fall is economic recovery. While the safety and protection of all Ontarians from COVID remains top of mind, the last thing Ford wants to do is declare another lockdown with virtually every business closed. Economists already predict sectors of the economy including hospitality, tourism and dining will take years to recover. Restaurants that haven’t closed their doors permanently yet are barely hanging on, and the colder weather won’t help.

Next Steps?

The spring lockdown delayed the spring budget, but Finance Minister Rod Phillips has committed to delivering a budget on or before November 15th. Long-gone are the deficit forecasts under $10B with estimates as recent as a month ago suggesting a record-setting $38B deficit as very probable for 2020. Like their federal counterparts, the PC government is focused on current pandemic challenges over potential long-term financial risks.

Practically speaking, things are far from normal at Queen’s Park. Lobby days and evening receptions remain suspended indefinitely.  Organizations and businesses that plan to lobby MPPs and staff in the coming months will be doing so virtually and by phone. Even when things eventually get back to normal, virtual interactions with government officials will be standard practice.

There have been rumours of the possibility of an early spring election, but don’t count on it just yet. Some will say Premier Ford has never enjoyed such high popularity, but he’s going to be very busy with economic recovery and unlikely to force an election that most Ontarians are not interested in.

The team at Grassroots will be closely monitoring events at the legislature for the coming weeks. Stay safe and stay positive. 2020 has less than 3 months left!

Chris Gray

Chris is a Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Ottawa. Chris can be contacted at

Yesterday, the government laid out its plan to get Canada back on track and move forward from COVID-19. With the Governor General reading the Speech from the Throne, Parliament has now officially reconvened and will begin to sit regularly (using a hybrid model of in-person and virtual sittings) with House of Commons Committees resuming after Thanksgiving.

As an immediate next step, the government will put the speech to a confidence vote where the Liberals will need at least one party to support them to prevent a fall election – with the NDP being most likely supporter based on commitments to climate, child care and pharmacare. It is also anticipated that the government will soon release its Economic Response Plan (mini-budget) to set in motion the new measures announced in the Speech from the Throne.

With the government expected to survive the upcoming confidence vote, they will look to table the next budget early in 2021. During the Prime Minister’s national address last evening, he noted Canadians need to collectively do everything possible to fight COVID-19, with hopes that some normalcy can return around Christmas.

Overview of main themes

1. Fight the pandemic and save lives/protect Canadians from COVID-19.

  • The Government will support provinces in getting access to PPE’s and faster tests, and will create a Federal Testing Assistance Response Team.
  • Government hopes all provinces will adopt the COVID Alert App.
  • The Government will work to target additional supports for businesses that have to shut down due to a local public health decision.

2. Supporting people and businesses through the crisis as long as it lasts.

  • The Government will launch a campaign to create over 1 million jobs, tools such as direct investments in social infrastructure, training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.
  • Government will extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until next summer. Government will scale up the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to provide more opportunities next year. Over the coming months EI will become the sole system for unemployment benefits.
  • Women have been hit hardest. Government will create an action plan for women in the economy, guided by a task force of experts.
  • The Government will make a significant Canada-wide investment in childcare and build on previous investments. Government will also accelerate the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy.
  • The Government will expand the Canada Emergency Business Account to help businesses with fixed costs; improve the Business Credit Availability Program; and introduce further support for industries that have been hardest hit, including travel and tourism, hospitality, and cultural industries.

3. Build back better, to create a stronger and more resilient Canada (continue to strengthen the middle class, create jobs, build safer communities).

  • The Government will work with Parliament on Criminal Code amendments to penalize those that neglect seniors, work with provinces to set national standards for long-term care, and take action to help people stay in their homes longer.
  • Government will bring forward a Disability Inclusion Plan (with a benefit modeled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement), an employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities, and a better program to determine eligibility for programs and benefits.
  • Government will ensure everyone has access to a family doctor/primary care, and continue to expand virtual care.
  • They will continue to address the opioid crisis.
  • The Government remains committed to pharmacare, will accelerate steps such as a rare-disease strategy, national formulary, and working with the provinces.
  • Government will support regional routes for airlines.
  • The Government will move forward with enhancements to the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, including Canada’s largest cities.
  • The Government will strengthen local food supply chains, and ensure that supply-managed sectors receive compensation.
  • Government will introduce a free, auto tax filing for simple returns.
  • The Government will immediately bring forward a climate change plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal, and legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, including:
    • Create jobs by retrofitting homes and buildings
    • Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters
    • Help deliver more transit options
    • Make zero-emissions more affordable – launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products
    • Moving forward with the Clean Power Fund
    • Support investments in renewable energy and new-generation clean energy
    • Support manufacturing, natural resource and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future
    • Recognize farmers, foresters, etc., as key partners in the fight
    • Will continue policy of putting a price on pollution
    • The Government will ban harmful single use plastics next year and modernize Canada’s Environmental Protection Act

4. Stand up for who we are as Canadians (progress on equality, fights discrimination, reconciliation).

  • Move forward on work related to reconciliation, support capacity building, make additional commitments on clean drinking water, introduce legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before end of year.
  • Take action against online hate, implement an action plan to increase representation in hiring within public service, support contributions of Black Canadians.
  • As part of both the short-term economic recovery and long-term plan for growth, Government will leverage the advantage we have on immigration.

What happens next?

The government does not want to trigger an election with this Speech from Throne, which is why they have leaned to the left on many of their unveiled policies in the hopes that the NDP will provide the support of their 24 MPs and prop up the government for the foreseeable future. However, Jagmeet Singh has stated that the Liberals do not automatically have the NDP’s support; they are still seeking to have the Canada Emergency Response Benefit extended and have paid sick leave offered to every employee across the country.

After some debate in the House of Commons on elements of the Speech from the Throne, the Speaker will call the question of confidence within the next week and a half. The Conservatives have already said that they will vote against the Speech from the Throne. Committees will be re-constituted soon, and the Senate will also open a new session. The Finance Minister is working diligently on a Fall Economic Update that will report on pandemic spending to date and begin to implement the government’s agenda, such as childcare and extending the wage subsidy program. Long term, the government will work towards Budget 2021 to articulate how the government will recover financially from the COVID-19 crisis.

Moving forward there will be opportunities to engage with MPs and government officials to discuss how your organization’s priorities may fit within government (or opposition) priorities. As noted, there will be a Fall Economic Update, a budget in spring 2021, and given that we’re still living with a minority Parliament, an opportunity to influence a party’s platform. The possibility of a federal election sometime in the next 6 months stands, and the team at Grassroots continues to monitor things daily.

If you are interested in discussing your organization’s communication and advocacy plans, please email us at

Ray Pons is a Senior Communications Specialist at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Ray can be contacted at

Crisis communications are highly emotional. It is a crisis after all. And if, as is often the case, the communication platform is “public speaking” emotional concerns and flat-out fears kick in big time. Fear of the crisis itself, in combination with an innate fear of public speaking, can create a messy mish-mash of the speaker’s mindset resulting in a confusing, rambling message.

The entire experience often becomes overwhelming. Many noble, well-intentioned and intelligent people lose emotional control and are unable to stay focused. Your passion, rage, fury, fears and frustrations can easily get the better of you and your message becomes incoherent damaging both your professional and personal reputation.

The solution depends on your skill to gain, or re-gain, and then resiliently maintain the first of Grassroots’ 3 C’s: Clarity.

Clarity demands that you narrow the focus of all that’s going on inside your head and your heart.

Quiet the white noise. Become fully aware and determine exactly what you must say. Strategically focus on how best to say it. Calculate where and when the delivery will be presented.  

What follows is a simple (not easy) 3 step process that will give you a “slight-edge principle” to trim-tab and be in better control when you need it most.  

  1. Think.
  2. Focus.
  3. Act.


Emotional acknowledgement is the first stage of emotional management (control of self). Answer these 3 questions in depth and with probative accuracy:

  1. What exactly is your deepest concern?
  2. Why?
  3. What must you do to maintain control of F.U.D.S. (Fears, Uncertainties, Doubts, Suspicions)?


Identify 2 polar-opposite possible outcomes:

  1. What is the worst that can happen?
  2. What is the best that can happen?

Strategically focus on the negatives which must be avoided or diminished, as well as the positives you wish to bring about.

With the very best and the very worst, properly established in your mindset you are better equipped to accurately determine the attributes you must manifest to handle your present crisis. Many strong leaders find it helpful to role-model crisis leaders whom they consider impressive. For me, those leaders include Winston Churchill, WWII; Ghandi, emancipation of India; JFK, Cuban missile crisis. Or business crisis leaders; the likes of Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Who are the powerhouse people you admire? Study them, emulate their characteristics of communications to keep you on track, maintain focus.


Think some, focus some, but then by God do something! Execute! 

Crisis tends to get worse not better under dithering leadership. For certain it is valid that analytical thinking, and pondering the enormously wide range of possibilities, are essential to make prudent decisions. But there is also truth to the saying “paralysis through analysis.”

There is rarely sufficient certainty when dealing with any crisis to identify THE solution, the ONE correct decision. Usually it’s about making A decision and having the strength of will to execute on that decision.

Also, be armed with a readiness to pivot, to adapt and face reality of whether the plan is working or not working. Be empowered to make another decision or decisions as the situation evolves. Be strong. Follow your convictions. Trust your instincts. And ACT.

To your success!     

Peter Seemann is a Senior Consultant and Principal of Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at

It was ironically fitting that after an unprecedentedly long, and disrupted leadership race due to COVID-19, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) announced their new leader after more than a 6-hour delay due to technical problems counting ballots. Erin O’Toole won the leadership on the 3rd ballot, defeating front runner Peter MacKay by a healthy margin. Third place finisher Leslyn Lewis ran a very solid campaign and raised her profile significantly. Everyone expects Ms. Lewis has an opportunity to play a leading role in the party moving forward, providing she wins a seat in the next election. Fourth place finisher Derek Sloan trailed the others with 14% support on the first ballot but still did better than many expected.

About Erin O’Toole

While not a household name to those outside conservative political circles, Erin O’Toole is no stranger to politics. Elected in a by-election in 2012, O’Toole served as a minister for various portfolios in the Harper government and placed third in the 2017 leadership race behind Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier. O’Toole’s father, John O’Toole, was a member of the provincial legislature in Ontario for 20 years and primarily responsible for inspiring his son to enter public office. Prior to politics, O’Toole had a 12-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later worked as a corporate lawyer on Bay Street in Toronto. His varied life experiences and strong leadership skills will undoubtedly benefit him as he seeks to unite the party and sell its brand to Canadians. However, like any newly-elected party leader, he has some significant challenges ahead, and the work involved to unite the party across all regions will be significant.

Challenges ahead

Mr. O’Toole’s first challenge will be to unite the caucus behind him. While he earned the support of 36 of his caucus members, a greater number publicly backed other candidates: 43 supported Peter MacKay and 6 supported Leslyn Lewis. Through the endorsement of Premier Jason Kenney and the absence of any rival candidate from western Canada, O’Toole’s support in caucus was disproportionally from the west while his main rival Peter MacKay’s was from Ontario and Quebec. To the surprise of many O’Toole lead MacKay in Quebec after the first ballot, however membership numbers in Quebec’s 78 ridings were tiny compared to Ontario and the west. That doesn’t matter in Conservative leadership races, where every riding across the country is weighted equally. After Mr. O’Toole unites his party in Ottawa, he and his team will begin the even greater challenge of selling the Conservative Party brand to Canadians that are tired of Trudeau. There will be little time to celebrate as Mr. O’Toole’s team transitions in the office of the Leader of the Opposition. New staff will need to be hired and the party must quickly organize for an election that could be triggered in the coming months.

What’s next?

Liberal strategists will likely be dusting off the same playbook they used after the last Conservative leadership race to remind Canadians of the significant social conservative presence in the party. The Conservative Party of Canada is a very large tent with many different groups who, in some circumstances, have opposing views, so uniting them won’t be easy. Had Peter MacKay won with the backing of more centrist Conservatives from Eastern Canada, he would have had an equally challenging time uniting those Conservative members from Western Canada and rural areas. Somehow, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper found a way to keep the party united and focused on its primary opponent – the Liberals. Now, it’s up to Erin O’Toole to do the same. Unlike his opponents, Mr. O’Toole is already an MP, so his transition to leader will be smoother than if he didn’t have a seat in parliament. Given his work ethic and determination to win, I suspect he and his team are already hard at it.

Peter Seemann & Erin O’Toole at the Albany Club’s 2020 Sir John A MacDonald Dinner.

Chris Gray is a Senior Consultant based in Ottawa who worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for the Liberals. Chris can be contacted at

The Prime Minister has decided to prorogue parliament with a new session starting on September 23rd.  There will be a Speech from the Throne, followed by a vote of confidence to be called on the government’s update plan for recovery from the economic devastation of COVID-19. The Liberals are likely to try to appeal to the NDP with the Speech from the Throne, to ensure they hold on to power.

Acting quickly on Bill Morneau’s resignation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named Chrystia Freeland the new Minister of Finance (in addition to her current role as Deputy Prime Minister). Dominic Leblanc is the new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and will continue to hold the role of President of the Queen’s Privy Council. While Morneau and Prime Minister Trudeau had their differences on how best to handle the economy and WE scandal, Freeland and Leblanc are both strong supporters of Mr. Trudeau.

In her historic new post, Freeland will lead the safe restart and recovery of our economy and LeBlanc will work with provinces and territories “to ensure the well-being, health, and safety of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” according to a statement from the PMO. With the government faced with a $343B deficit this year and expectations that the federal debt load will hit $1.2 trillion in 2020-21, she has her work cut out for her.

Effects of prorogation

The principal effect of ending a session by prorogation is to terminate business. Members are released from their parliamentary duties until parliament is next summoned. All unfinished business is dropped from or “dies” on the order paper and all committees lose their power to transact business, providing a fresh start for the next session. No committee can sit during a prorogation. Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and, in order to be proceeded with in the new session, must be reintroduced as if they never existed. On occasion, however, bills have been reinstated by a motion at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached by the end of the previous session; committee work will similarly be revived.

While new laws cannot be made during prorogation, cabinet and bureaucratic business continues, and officials from all parties work out plans for the next session. Whenever the house is not in session, including during prorogation, MPs have a number of other tasks, like connecting with constituents in their home riding. (source: House of Commons Procedure and Practice, edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit).

Moving forward

The government will hold a cabinet retreat in September and the Speech from the Throne on Sept. 23rd to begin a fresh session of the House of Commons. A budget or economic update is planned shortly thereafter.

Regarding engagement, MPs will still be meeting with constituents in their communities. There is a good chance that the government will hold a new round of consultations this fall leading to an economic update or budget. Officials will still be open to have discussions as well. There is an opportunity to engage the new Finance Minister and her office as well.

We will also be watching to see if Chrystia Freeland’s Chief of Staff Jeremy Broadhurst and other staff follow her to her new post. When parliament does finally resume in October the Conservative Party will have elected a new leader, and depending on who wins, may or may not have their leader in the House of Commons. This fall will undoubtedly be a very interesting time politically.

As always, Grassroots will be here to support your ongoing advocacy priorities.

Chris Gray is a Senior Consultant based in Ottawa who worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for the Liberals. Chris can be contacted at

As provinces start to re-open and allow larger gatherings and businesses to resume operations, and Canada’s COVID-19 numbers continue to improve, we are hopeful that parliamentary meetings will also resume in a normal fashion come this fall. After weeks of socially distanced in-person meetings and online communication to conduct parliamentary business, the special COVID-19 Committee will cease to exist. Parliament plans to meet four times over the summer months to ensure MPs have an opportunity to interact with the government regarding Canada’s plan to recover from the pandemic.

In a recent report, the parliamentary budget officer said this year’s federal deficit could hit $256 billion due to COVID-19. The result is the combination of an estimated $169 billion in federal spending on emergency aid and a historic drop in economic output. The budget office estimates the economy could shrink by 6.8 per cent in 2020, the weakest showing since 1981 and double the record of 3.2 per cent shrinkage in 1982. We await the Liberal government’s fiscal “snapshot”, that will be presented to the House of Commons on July 8th, to see what their projections are moving forward after the COVID recovery spending blitz.

With Conservatives on the verge of selecting their new leader, it will be interesting to watch frontrunners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole as they turn up the heat and seek support. As the August 21st selection date grows closer, our money is on MacKay for leader. MacKay has backed away from earlier comments that he would try to force a fall election, citing the country’s need to focus on COVID recovery.

2020 Pre-Budget Consultations

The House of Commons Finance Committee has signaled its intention to proceed with 2021 federal budget consultations by inviting stakeholders to submit a brief for consideration by August 7th. This is a good opportunity for organizations to kick off engagement with government officials and MPs. The Finance Committee’s theme this year will be measures to restart the Canadian economy.


It was just seven short months ago the Liberals held onto power with a minority government. Given how the Prime Minister and the government have responded to the COVID crisis, Canadians are giving them a thumbs up – if an election were held now, polls suggest the Liberals would win a majority with 191 seats in the House of Commons.

338Canada Electoral Projection from June 14, 2020
Source: 338Canada

While we at Grassroots don’t anticipate an election this fall, it’s prudent for organizations to be prepared with a plan, just in case. The opposition parties stated early in the year that a fall election could happen, but COVID restrictions has likely put a hard stop to that. And now with the Liberals riding high in the polls, the other parties, particularly the Conservatives, will want to get back to parliament to hold the government to account for all additional spending commitments. Couple this with the upcoming U.S. election that Canadians will undoubtedly watch very closely, the appetite for a federal election will be low.

The House of Commons will return in September and we expect some semblance of normality in the proceedings, with in-person sittings and committee meetings. Also, pre-budget consultations with the Finance Committee will kick into high gear and many organizations will look to meet with committees, MPs and officials (either in-person or virtually) to advance their priorities with government.

Key Dates to Remember:

  • July 8th – Government presents fiscal update to the House of Commons
  • The House of Commons meets on July 8th, July 22nd, August 12th, August 26th
  • August 7th – Finance Committee pre-budget consultation process closes
  • August 21st – Conservative leadership results announced
  • September 21st – Regular House of Commons sittings resume

Peter Seemann is a Senior Consultant and Principal of Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at

If you thought the last few months of politics at Queen’s Park were a blur, you’re not alone. While the legislature normally breaks for the summer around this time, a revised schedule is now available online for the coming months. Due to time lost during the COVID 19 lockdown, a rotating number of legislators and staff will find themselves sitting for 3 weeks in July. Currently the plan is to be away for August and return to a normal schedule in September.

In the meantime, let’s consider a few government priorities.

COVID-19 Reopening

To say COVID-19 has dominated everyone’s attention since March, remains an understatement. Speaking to numerous government staff over the last few weeks, everyone agrees that besides the massive and ongoing response to tackling the pandemic, little else is getting done. Most major announcements outside of the Ministry of Health all relate to COVID (i.e. Education on school programs, Agriculture on temporary foreign workers, etc.), while Finance and the Treasury Board do their best to get a handle on what the bottom line looks like.

With Toronto and Peel Region finally getting the green light to enter Phase 2 of re-opening, the government is cautiously hoping the infection numbers continue their downward trend. Evident by the massive beach party last weekend in Toronto, Ontarians are eager to get out and celebrate the arrival of summer after 3 months of social isolation.

Yet everyone should be concerned about the possibility of a spike in infections as people let their guard down, and what that might do to our already crippled economy. Suffice to say, there are lots of fingers and toes crossed in and around Queen’s Park these days.

Provincial Budget

Back on March 4th the provincial government announced their annual budget would be presented on March 25th. That date was scuttled when Premier Ford declared a provincial State of Emergency on March 17th. Since then, government expenditures, particularly for healthcare, have skyrocketed and tax revenues have plummeted due to the forced closure of so many businesses and industries. This perfect storm of economic turmoil is causing sizeable uncertainty, but Ontario is not alone and engages daily with their federal counterparts in Ottawa, as governments look to support Canadians during these difficult times.

As of last fall, the projected annual deficit for 2020/21 was estimated at between $6-9B. A report released in May by the Financial Accountability Office suggested Ontario’s annual deficit could balloon to over $40B as a result of the pandemic. This unforeseen economic catastrophe will completely derail the PC government’s plan to balance the provincial budget by 2023. Finance Minister Rod Phillips announced in March that a full budget would not be released until this fall.

Despite the reality of things changing on a daily basis, staff at Finance will be working overtime during the summer months to try and get a handle on things. The legislature is set to resume on September 14th, and we anticipate a budget date during the first full week of October.

Cabinet Shuffle

It’s normal for majority governments to look at shuffling their cabinet around the mid-way point of their term, and in recent days the Premier has fielded questions from reporters on the topic. Expectedly, Ford did not tip his hat on any specific plans but noted he was blessed with a great team and that he had “20 caucus members who could jump into cabinet in a heartbeat and be just as good”. So, let’s speculate on what changes might occur if a shuffle does in fact happen.

First off, the Premier and his government have enjoyed increased public approval in their handling of the pandemic since March. With that in mind, don’t expect any of the prominent faces seen daily with the Premier during his COVID updates to be changing positions. Finance Minister Phillips, Health Minister Elliott, Education Minister Lecce and even Labour Minister McNaughton are all likely to remain in their current positions going forward. However, there may be promotions of some younger and more diverse faces from caucus to full ministerial roles, including:

Photo of MPP Stan Cho

Stan Cho (Willowdale)

Currently the PA for Finance, MPP Cho was previously PA to Treasury Board. Widely recognized as a rising star, he has the added benefit of representing an important Toronto riding, and is the most likely new face to enter cabinet.

Photo of MPP Michael Parsa

Michael Parsa (Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill)

MPP Parsa is currently the PA to Treasury Board and was previously the PA for Small Business. A tireless worker, he has an excellent track record of listening to people’s concerns, and his own experience as a successful small business owner puts him in a favourable position with Premier Ford.

Photo of MPP Christine Hogarth

Christine Hogarth (Etobicoke–Lakeshore)

Involved in provincial politics for many years, MPP Hogarth was a staffer during the Mike Harris years.  She understands politics at the grassroots level and has done well in her role of PA to the Solicitor General for Community Safety. Also representing an important riding in Etobicoke, her chances of being promoted to cabinet are good.

Photo of MPP Nina Tangri

Nina Tangri (Mississauga–Streetsville)

Prior to politics, MPP Tangri enjoyed a successful career in the private sector boasting over 30 years’ experience in financial management. Last year she was promoted to PA under the Minister of Economic Development. Given the importance of holding on to GTA area ridings, promoting a capable MPP like Tangri can only help the government with its re-election bid.

Photo of MPP Lindsey Park

Lindsey Park (Durham)

While still relatively unknown, MPP Park is a very capable and competent politician ready to serve in cabinet if asked. A lawyer by trade, she has stayed in the role of PA for the Attorney General under both Ministers Mulroney and now Downey. Ms. Park’s riding has a good mix of rural and urban areas so she could easily step into a variety of roles, especially if the Premier is interested in giving his cabinet a more youthful element.

Fall Session

While MPPs will continue to sit for July, things are far from normal at Queen’s Park. All of us are optimistically looking towards the fall in the hopes that regular face-to-face visits will resume come September. Despite the singular focus on COVID, the government is likely eager to move forward with other priorities, yet no one knows exactly when they will be safe to do that. Post-COVID, government focus will be restarting the economy and priority will be given to any and all advocacy initiatives based around economic growth and job creation.

Many industry groups have been pleading with government for emergency funding, but resources are limited. Therefore, as you look ahead to restarting your advocacy plans this fall, be mindful to highlight what’s in it for the government so they take notice and provide support.

Grassroots will be monitoring government activities throughout the summer months, and is your eyes and ears at Queen’s Park as you need it.

Stay healthy and enjoy the summer!