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Hill Life & People

Trudeau voted most valuable politician in 2016, despite some political setbacks: The Hill Times’ 20th Annual All Politics Poll

By Abbas Rana, Ally Foster      

Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale ranked the top three cabinet ministers in 2016.

The three most valuable politicians of the year, according to The Hill Times' 20th Annual All Politics Poll, were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, and Health Minister Jane Philpott. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was voted both the No. 1 most valuable politician in 2016, a runner up in the biggest political comeback category, the second most approachable cabinet minister in his own cabinet, and the second favourite dinner guest in 2016, as he continues to lead his Liberals through a number of political minefields, but with most of his voter support intact, according to this year’s 20th Annual All Politics Poll of politicos and Hill Times readers who took part in the Forum Research survey.

Some 152 people, including 49 Liberals, 26 Conservatives, 12 NDP, and three Bloc Québécois participated in the online survey conducted between Nov. 17 and Dec. 2. The results have been weighted based on party standing in the House of Commons where the Liberals hold 182 seats, the Conservatives 97, the NDP 44, the Bloc 10, the Green Party 1, and one Independent and three vacancies.

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Some of the shine is wearing off this government, with things such as electoral reform, cash-for-access fundraisers, pipeline approvals, and carbon taxes ticking off different people, but Mr. Trudeau and his party are still garnering the strongest support nationally in public opinion polls.

Rounding out the top five in this category were interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, Health Minister Jane Philpott, and anticipated NDP leadership candidate Charlie Angus.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Trudeau also finished in third place in the category of least valuable politician. The top spot in this category went to Conservative MP and leadership candidate Kellie Leitch.

Ms. Leitch has stood out—arguably for the wrong reasons—in a somewhat humdrum leadership contest for things such as proposing a still-undefined screening process for immigrants to determine if they hold anti-Canadian values, and for explicitly linking her candidacy to the ideals expressed by U.S. president-elect Donald Trump during his campaign.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was voted the second least valuable politician, and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef was fourth.—Derek Abma

Best cabinet minister in 2016?

Transport Minister Marc Garneau                  11.4%

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan         9.0%

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale          8.3%

The 30-member cabinet that Justin Trudeau revealed on Nov. 4, 2015 was meant to break the mold and hijack headlines. It was diverse. It was gender-equal. It was young. It was comprised of doctors, a Muslim refugee, a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, a Paralympic athlete, Sikhs, and indigenous members, an openly gay MP, and a war hero. But once the patriotic pride for diversity petered out, and the tagline of “Because it’s 2015” wore off, who performed and who paled in the spotlight?

Transport Minister Marc Garneau was voted the best cabinet minister in 2016, which may be a surprise because he is not flashy and keeps a relatively low profile, but respondents said he has a strong work ethic and is smart.

Canada’s first astronaut in space told The Hill Times that he loves his job “because it’s a technical portfolio and it’s one that I identify with, so I am genuinely highly motivated towards it. It’s the kind of stuff I like to dig my teeth into, so maybe it shows that I’m enthusiastic about my job.”

One senior official in Transport Canada said Mr. Garneau—who also served in the Canadian Navy, and was first elected to the House of Commons in October 2008— is “an exceptional communicator, is perfectly bilingual, and understands the importance of speaking plainly and directly.”

The official also said that Mr. Garneau is “up for anything,” and has been enthusiastic and open to the ideas of using new platforms and mediums, like Facebook Live events.

“He reads everything. He understands his portfolio really well,” said the official. After the launch of his Transport 2030 vision speech—which Mr. Garneau told The Hill Times was his proudest accomplishment this year.

Meanwhile, when asked for his response on being voted the second-best cabinet minister in 2016, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wanted to know if there had been a mix-up between him and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the most lobbied cabinet minister. The laugh that followed—delivered in his booming, radio-worthy voice—echoes what many survey respondents highlighted: that the decorated war hero and retired undercover detective is honest, real, and “calm, cool, and collected.”

He said he knew when he stepped into the role as a fledgling MP that he had a lot to learn, but that he’s also never been afraid to ask for help. One of the biggest challenges, he said, was learning the dynamics of the House and the intricacies of how Question Period works.

Mr. Sajjan told The Hill Times that his proudest achievement so far has been the consulting done by his department on the defence policy review.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, meanwhile, was voted the third-best cabinet minister in 2016 for his significant federal political experience and his likeability. He’s considered “solid, steady, and competent” and communicates effectively with a combination of authority and reassurance.

“It’s humbling to be recognized by your peers,” Mr. Goodale said in an emailed response to The Hill Times. “For all its bumps and warts and imperfections, Parliament is the central and most crucial institution of our democracy.  We all need to work hard to make it better.”

Mr. Goodale said his proudest accomplishments in 2016 were helping rescue more than 25,000 Syrian refugees “while protecting our national security and keeping both Canadians and the refugees safe” as well as assisting in battling the Fort McMurray wildfire, while witnessing “the raw courage” and leadership of residents, as well as those who assisted in helping Western Canada deal with the emergency.—Ally Foster

Weakest cabinet minister in 2016?

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef           16.0%

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion    10.3%

Employment and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk                  7.8%

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is a House rookie who has a big job. Her harrowing personal story of fleeing Afghanistan with her family to come to Canada, which was an asset during the election campaign, ended up being a political liability this year when The Globe and Mail revealed in September that Ms. Monsef was not born in Afghanistan, as she had originally claimed. She was actually born in Iran where she lived for a short time until she and her family fled to an Afghan refugee camp before coming to Canada. Ms. Monsef said she didn’t know the truth about her birthplace until The Globe’s story began to emerge because her mother had never told the family the true story.

While respondents who named her as the worst-performing cabinet minister cited poor communication skills and the mishandling of the electoral reform file, there were also references questioning her credibility and honesty, and assertions that “her personal issues have hindered her success” and “distracted” her from her file.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion was ranked the second-weakest cabinet minister in 2016 for his poor communications skills and lack of an assertive backbone.

In June, Mr. Dion sat by while the visiting Chinese foreign minister berated iPolitics’ journalist Amanda Connolly for asking a question related to human rights. In the spring, he quietly gave the approval to push through the Saudi Arabia arms deal, despite concerns over the country’s human rights track record, saying it was his decision to follow through on signing the agreement—not cabinet’s. More recently, he took a lashing over giving a thumb’s-down gesture and a grimace in the House of Commons when the issue of four abducted children was brought up by Conservative MP Michael Cooper who was calling on the Canadian government to do more to bring the Azer children, who were abducted out of the country by their father, back to Canada. Mr. Dion defended his reaction, saying it was aimed at Mr. Cooper, and was not meant to dismiss the seriousness of the case. One participant in the All Politics Poll suggested that many of Mr. Dion’s missteps can be attributed to the fact that he seems to become “lost in a fog in both languages.”

Meanwhile, Employment and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk was ranked the third-worst cabinet minister in 2016. The Winnipeg Free Press reported last summer that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had reduced the minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour’s portfolio by shuffling two large files over to Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. Insiders said the move was the PMO’s warning to Ms. Mihychuk to smarten up. For her part, Ms. Mihychuk, a first-time MP who has nine years of experience as a former Member of the Manitoba legislature, told The Winnipeg Free Press she was relieved to have her workload lightened as she claimed to have “the largest number of projects” of any cabinet minister.

The Winnipeg Free Press also reported that Ms. Mihychuk had been criticized for unilaterally making decisions without government approval. For instance, when she made funding promises to the Manitoba government for aerospace without the proper approval from cabinet, which initially caught Transport Minister Marc Garneau off guard when asked about it. The Free Press also said Ms. Mihychuk has been pushing the prime minister to name regional ministers, and wants to be the senior minister from Manitoba. The Globe and Mail reported in March that she had quietly given the Atlantic seafood industry an exemption to the cap for low-skilled temporary foreign workers they are permitted to employ—causing ruffled feathers with other sectors who didn’t receive the same exemption.—Ally Foster 

Biggest political comeback in 2016?

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair   10.6%

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau        8.8%

Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose             8.3%

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale          4.4%

Despite the perception of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair as one of the least valuable politicians, he was selected as having the biggest political comeback of the last year. On the heels of a disappointing election result last year, NDP members voted in April to send Mr. Mulcair packing and have a leadership race—one that no one has officially signed up for yet. In the meantime, Mr. Mulcair has picked up where he left off before the election, and that is as a cunning and effective critic of the government in the House of Commons. He was even chosen as Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year.

Rounding out the next three positions in terms of big political comebacks was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.—Derek Abma

Who you’d most like to see make a comeback?

Megan Leslie  11.2%

Tom Mulcair                   8.9%

Jean Chrétien                  5.3%

Stephen Harper            5.1%

The person who readers would most like to see make a political comeback is popular former NDP MP Megan Leslie, who lost her Halifax seat in last year’s election and resisted a subsequent effort by supporters to draft her into the party’s leadership race.

Readers shouldn’t hold their breath on this one though.

“Heck no,” was Ms. Leslie’s response earlier this year when asked by The Hill Times if she was considering calls for her to run for the leadership, as she spoke about the joy of not having to work weekends.

Mr. Mulcair finished second as someone people would like to see make a comeback. The next two spots were taken by former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper.—Derek Abma

Which public figure do you wish had run in the last election?

Bob Rae              8.1%

Peter MacKay                 6.6%

Mark Carney 4.7%

The 2015 general election saw a great number of changes: a Conservative government that had been in power for almost a decade gave way to a majority Liberal government; there was an impressive voter turnout increase, with Elections Canada reporting that 68 per cent of eligible voters had cast a ballot, and that it was the largest increase in youth turnout ever recorded; rookie MPs flooded the House of Commons with fresh blood, and the demographics of those MPs was more diverse in both gender and ethnicity than ever before. So, what was missing on Oct. 19, 2015? According to respondents, the following public figures were sorely absent as candidates.

Bob Rae was noticeably passed over by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the handing-out of important roles after the election.

It was a graceful bowing out that he had begun two years earlier, resigning his Toronto Centre seat in 2013 after 35 years in politics to prioritize his legal and mediator work, largely with First Nations groups.

But while Mr. Trudeau may have accepted his modest step into the shadows, it seems politicos have not. Mr. Rae was the first choice for respondents when asked who they wished had run in the last federal election. On more than one occasion, the word “classy” was used to describe the lawyer, who now works at the firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP. Many participants lauded him for his collegiality, honesty, and impeccable communication skills. He’s also really funny.

Peter MacKay told The Hill Times in a phone interview last week he’s “always believed that politics is like prize fighting; if you do it for too long, someone will eventually knock you out.” That being said, he conceded that it’s always nice to hear that people are hoping he’ll return to public life.

The speculation of whether or not Mr. MacKay, a high-profile former Conservative cabinet minister, would step back into politics seemed to begin the very day he announced he was stepping down in May 2015, and only finally took a hiatus after he confirmed he would not seek a leadership bid for the Conservative Party.

“I have no regrets,” he told The Hill Times. “I’m spending much more time with my family than I would have been able to do had I remained in public life.”

Mr. MacKay won six straight elections from 1997 to 2011 in his riding of Central Nova in Nova Scotia, and handled major files within the Stephen Harper government, such as minister of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, and Justice. He is practising law in Toronto with Baker & McKenzie.

When asked why he thinks he’s still resonating with Canadians, Mr. MacKay said that he has always tried to put emphasis on relationships, while just “being decent to people.”

Mr. MacKay said his goal for 2017 is to teach his young son how to skate, and to get back into the courtroom litigating—a “daunting challenge” of catching-up, after years of navigating the front benches of the House of Commons, rather than the legal bench.

Mark Carney, who served as the governor of the Bank of Canada from 2008-2013, is a wanted man in Canadian federal politics, but he extended his term for another year to 2019 as the head of the Bank of England.

One respondent who praised Mr. Carney on The Hill Times’ 20th Annual All Politics Poll said, “he is a brilliant mind, who has demonstrated stability in times of chaos. He would be a brilliant finance minister.”—Ally Foster

Favourite up and comer?

Conservative MP Gerard Deltell 9.3%

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel                 4.6%

Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux      4%

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith 3.7%

Rookie Conservative MP Gerard Deltell, who represents Louis-Saint-Laurent, Que., was voted the No. 1 favourite up-and-comer politician in 2016. A former journalist for TQS, TVA and Radio-Canada and CIRO-FM, Mr. Deltell was a provincial legislator for seven years in the National Assembly of Quebec prior to getting elected in the last federal election. He was the last leader of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) prior to its merger with the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ). Mr. Deltell is the Conservative Party’s finance critic, and is a strong performer in the Question Period. Considering his political and media experience, numerous Conservatives have urged the fluently bilingual MP to run for the leadership but he told The Hill Times last week that he’s not interested.

“I enjoy being the Member of Parliament for Louis-Saint-Laurent, Que., here in the House of Commons,” said Mr. Deltell.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel was ranked the second best up-and-comer in 2016, followed by Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux and Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.—Abbas Rana

Most approachable cabinet minister?

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger         6.5%

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau        6.0%

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr             5.8%

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan         5.4%

The dual-portfolio-holding cabinet minister Bardish Chagger won in the category of most-approachable cabinet minister in this year’s poll, followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr.

The rookie MP won the last federal election by a margin of about 10,434 votes over then-incumbent Conservative MP Peter Braid. When Mr. Trudeau unveiled his first cabinet in November of last year, Ms. Chagger, 37, was appointed as the junior minister for Small Business and Tourism, but in August was also given additional responsibilities of the government House leader.  In an interview with The Hill Times, she said she was “honoured” to receive the recognition as the most approachable cabinet minister, adding that the Liberal government wants to raise the “bar on openness, transparency and accountability.”

“I’m humbled and honoured to receive such a recognition,” said Ms. Chagger in her Centre Block office last week. “It really comes from the lead of the prime minister and kind of his vision as to how this place can work. And I really believe that all Members of Parliament can work together. We’re here all elected to do a job to represent Canadians to represent our constituents.”

Nine-term Liberal MP and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale, a workhorse and no-nonsense cabinet minister, was voted the cabinet minister who most respects Parliament, followed by rookie cabinet minister Health Minister Jane Philpott and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

During his 23-year federal parliamentary career, Mr. Goodale has held several portfolios including Agriculture and Agri-Food, Natural Resources, Public Works and Government Services and Finance. In opposition from 2006 until the last federal election, he served as the opposition House leader and the Liberal Party’s deputy leader after Mr. Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal Party.  Provincially, Mr. Goodale served as the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party from 1981 to 1988.—Abbas Rana

Most important issue facing the country?

Economy           30.5%

Climate change             13.7%

Trump presidency/Canada-U.S. relations                11.8%

When it came to the most important issues facing Canada in 2017, a majority of respondents said the economy, followed by climate change and the environment, and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency and Canada-U.S. Many respondents who chose the economy as a top-of-mind issue for 2017 also mentioned jobs, and in other cases, trade—with the latter also tying into the election of Mr. Trump south of the border, who’s stated opposition to a number of trade agreements, from NAFTA to TPP. —Laura Ryckewaert

What political promise is least likely to be kept?

Electoral reform           50.6%

Balanced budget          16.2%

Climate change             4.7%

The new Liberal government had more than 200 commitments in its 2015 campaign platform and of those 50.6 per cent respondents said the Trudeau government is least likely to keep its promise to reform the current first-past-the-post voting system by 2019. Indeed, many political observers and columnists have already declared the government’s electoral reform efforts “dead,” calling the consultation process a “fiasco.” The second “least likely” political promise was to return to a balanced budget by 2019—TD Bank economists in October predicted a deficit $5-billion higher than forecasted for this fiscal year—followed by promises on climate change and the environment at 4.7 per cent.—Laura Ryckewaert

Biggest problem facing Parliament?

Democratic/electoral reform            18.3%

Behaviour/respectfulness   11.6%

Knowledge/integrity of MPs               9.3%

Respondents were relatively divided on the biggest problems facing Parliament, but most said democratic and electoral reforms. On top of changing Canada’s federal voting system, the Liberal government’s democratic reform agenda includes commitments to allow for more free votes, creating a new Supreme Court and Senate appointments processes, amending the House’s Standing Orders, or House rules, and making the House more “family-friendly.”

Behaviour and respectfulness in Parliament was voted the second biggest problem, followed by lack knowledge of their roles as MPs and the integrity of MPs.—Laura Ryckewaert

Which House committee is the best on Parliament Hill?

Special House Electoral Reform Committee     17.3%

House Citizenship Committee        7.8%

House Finance Committee    7.4%

House Health Committee      7.3%

Survey-takers voted the Special House Committee on Electoral Reform the best House committee in 2016 because of its mandate. The all-party committee, chaired by veteran Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, spent almost $700,000 and the better part of last year working on cross-country consultations on electoral reform. The committee recommended a referendum on a new proportional representation electoral system, but instead the Liberals have opted for an online survey on democratic persuasions.

The House was Citizenship and Immigration, chaired by Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, was voted the second best in 2016 for its good work and substantive reports, especially on the federal government’s Syrian refugees resettlement initiative in Canada. The House Finance Committee, chaired by Liberal MP Wayne Easter, was voted the third best Commons committee in 2016 for its thorough pre-budget consultations.

The House Health Committee, chaired by Liberal MP Bill Casey, was voted the fourth best Commons committee in 2016 for its work on the opioid crisis in Canada and its study on the development of a national pharmacare program.—Rachel Aiello

Which Senate committee is the best on Parliament Hill?

Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee     11.7%       

Senate Social Affairs Committee    7.8%

Senate National Affairs Committee         6.4%

Senate Human Rights Committee  6.2%

The top Senate committee in 2016 was the Senate Aboriginal Peoples. Headed by Senate Liberal Lillian Dyck, the committee was ranked the best for its important work and agenda. The Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee ranked second best, headed by Conservative Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie, who’s considered “super competent and amazingly intelligent.” The Senate National Finance Committee, chaired by Conservative Senator Larry Smith, was voted the third best Senate committee in 2016 for its attempts to push back and amend the government’s middle-class tax bill, C-2. Finally, the Senate Human Rights Committee, chaired by Senate Liberal Jim Munson, was ranked the fourth best Senate committee in 2016. It has spent most of the session looking at Canada’s international and national human rights obligations and looking at the integration of newly-arrived Syrian refugees and the challenges they are facing.—Rachel Aiello

Which House or Senate committee is a complete waste of time?

All     13.5%

Special House Electoral Reform Committee     8.1%

House Official Languages Committee     6.3%

Commons Board of Internal Economy     5.3%

Despite all the nice things said by respondents about some of the top House and Senate committees, more respondents said most or all the House and Senate committees “were a complete waste of time. Respondents picked the House Special Committee on Electoral Reform, followed by the House Official Languages Committee, and the all-powerful and secretive Commons Board of Internal Economy, which is not actually a committee, as duds. The government has promised to open up the House Board of Internal Economy, the House management committee, so stay tuned.—Rachel Aiello

Where is your favourite happy hour place in Ottawa?

D’Arcy McGee’s  14.8%

Métropolitain Brasserie         12.9%

Brixton’s   7.4%

A Liberal spot for many years, D’Arcy McGee’s at the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets, ranked the top watering hole for happy hour in 2016, followed by the Métropolitain Brasserie at the corner of Sussex Drive and Rideau Street, and Brixton’s on Sparks Street. Given that the other 64.9 per cent of respondents had “other” top picks, it’s more than highly possible that one of these Hill staples could get bumped off the favourite list next year, but then again, they’re popular for a reason. The South Block Whiskey Bar on Sparks Street is gaining popularity among Liberals now that Hy’s has closed and Zoe’s in the Chateau Laurier Hotel is always a good spot for political players.—Rachel Aiello

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