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The Top 100: Power to the PMO

By Christina Leadlay      

Top political staffers call Langevin Block home.

On Parliament Hill, the most relied-on political staffers have desks in 50 Wellington, the Langevin Block. P&I photograph by Andrew Meade
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If you imagine the House of Commons to be a stage, and the politicians the players, the show could not go on without the managers behind the scenes making sure all the props are ready, and the cues spelled out in advance. On Parliament Hill, the most relied-on stagehands have desks in 50 Wellington, the Langevin Block. Those top staffers are more like the show’s directors, seconded by those chiefs of staff scattered about in ministers’ offices across Ottawa that play the roles of producers.

Despite a considerable number of top-level staffing changes over the last year, the bulk of 2017’s list of top staffers carries over from a year ago—good staff rarely go far—but there are a few new names to note off the top.

John Zerucelli, the veteran Liberal campaigner and PMO-based staffer is known as the man behind the tour machine, and
is now working as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s director of operations. Zerucelli is the wizard in charge of planning Justin Trudeau’s dizzying schedule of events and appearances. Colleagues have described Zerucelli as a political visionary who helps bring policy announcements to life.

No great performance should go un-documented, and that’s why Adam Scotti, the prime minister’s official photographer, is another key person behind the scenes. In a highly visual world, where selfies have eclipsed sound bites, Scotti’s dedication, timing and talent with the camera have helped keep Trudeau in the spotlight, and show the side of Trudeau his team wants you to see.

Kevin Bosch, senior adviser for research in the Liberal Research Bureau. (P&I photograph by Jake Wright)

Kevin Bosch, a senior adviser for research in the Liberal Research Bureau and a long-time Liberal staffer, also makes his debut on P&I’s top staffers list. His colleagues crowned him the most discreet staffer in The Hill Times’ 2016 Terrific 25 Staffers list.

“When you watch CTV News or CBC News every night, at least once a week there’s a story showing up there that Kevin Bosch came up with. You just don’t know about it,” political commentator Warren Kinsella told The Hill Times in February 2016.

Another new name for 2017 is Brett Thalmann, with whom Bosch worked very closely for many years at the Liberal Research Bureau until November 2016, when Thalmann left to fill a newly created role in the PMO: director of special projects and administration.

When he’s not managing the chief of staff and principal secretary sections of the PMO (headed by P&I top 25 ranked Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, respectively), Thalmann works with both Telford and Butts coordinating special projects involving the PMO, various ministers and departmental offices.

Also new among this year’s savvy staffers is Janet Annesley, chief of staff to Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr. Annesley is one of a handful of ex-government relations people who transitioned to working in a minister’s office early in the Liberal government’s mandate.

Her background with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers gives her an understanding of the issues in the energy and natural resources sector. Annesley has reportedly impressed her colleagues with her teamwork and competence.

Zerucelli, Scotti, Bosch, Thalmann and Annesley join a special group of political staffers with a reputation for trustworthiness, talent and hard work. The following people are enjoying a repeat performance on P&I’s list.

Among the names carried forward from 2016 are key PMO staffers Dan Arnold, and Zita Astravas. Arnold is director of research and advertising, a position he got after being the man on the other side of the glass analyzing the results of key public opinion focus groups the Liberal’s held during the 2015 federal election.

Astravas, Trudeau’s director of issues management, was tapped by her peers for being best at spin control in The Hill Times’ 2016 Terrific 25 Staffers survey.

With the recent departure of Cyrus Reporter—the former senior adviser who had worked for Trudeau since the Liberals had third-party status—P&I predicts that Mathieu Bouchard, the only senior adviser to the prime minister currently listed, will be relied-on a great deal. The Quebec lawyer is known to be the inner circle’s insight into the province, and the go-to adviser for legal issues. He’s also a friend to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, having worked on her Montreal mayoral campaign. 

Garry Keller is the sole non-Liberal name on P&I’s list. As chief of staff to interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, Keller ranked as the second-most influential staffer in The Hill Times’ 2016’s Terrific 25 Staffers survey. Keller has been a Hill staffer since the 1990s, and without the budget that comes with being in government he’s helped Ambrose build a reputation as a dynamic and popular opposition leader. “He’s brilliant, experienced, and dreamy,” one survey respondent said of Keller.

Rounding out the list of powerful staffers are six chiefs of staff to the cabinet ministers that have big files to watch in 2017, or because their own personal connections make them top government influencers, including: Marci Surkes, chief of staff to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale; chief of staff to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and longtime Liberal staffer Rick Theis; and John Brodhead, chief of staff to Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Brian Bohunicky, minister of National Defence. (P&I photograph by Jake Wright)

There’s also Brian Bohunicky, who returns to P&I’s top staffer list. He has been Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s chief of staff since November 2015, and his experience on Parliament Hill—senior adviser to then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff—means he knows who to talk to and how to get things done.

Vincent MacNeil, chief of staff to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, has an unparalleled breadth and depth of proce- dural knowledge, which makes him a go-to for his peers. MacNeil first began working on Parliament Hill in 1990 as a Senate page, and has held positions in both the Senate and House of Commons. He was voted fifth-most influential staffer on The Hill Times’ 2016 Terrific 25 Staffers survey.

And lastly, a big move in January was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s new chief of staff Jeremy Broadhurst. He had been working as Mr. Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff. He replaces Brian Clow, who in his new PMO Canada-U.S. coordinator role, made the top 25.

Broadhurst was considered the most critical aide to Trudeau, and has a reputation for being trusted and smart while keeping a low profile and making sure files move forward, and ideas are turned into actions, something it’s anticipated he’ll keep up under Freeland as her cabinet position and portfolio covering Canada-U.S. relations becomes an anchor for the Liberals

*Editor’s note: A previous version of this story listed Cyrus Reporter, former senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as one of the most influential staffers. Immediately after publication, P&I learned Reporter had left the PMO for a position in the private sector. Reporter has been replaced on this list with the only remaining senior adviser in the PMO, Mathieu Bouchard.

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