Posts

Peter Seemann

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


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

Healthcare

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.

Education

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 chris@grassrootspa.ca.


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 info@grassrootspa.ca.

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


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.

Think

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)?

Focus

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.

Act

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!