As the prime minister, Justin Trudeau’s position on this list is a no-brainer, but observers say Trudeau is enjoying some seriously significant sway—even for the head of the Canadian government. His popularity amongst the electorate is still riding high, despite taking hits for appearing elitist thanks to his appearance at cash-for-access events, and on one Bahamian island; and for his fumbling of electoral reform and other walking back of campaign promises, from pipelines to fighter jets.
His stronghold in the polls has cushioned him for the most part, something he could thank the opposition for, given he’s yet to come up against any real competition, with both the NDP and the Conservatives still lacking permanent leaders.
And while some insiders say Trudeau has maintained a reputation for being approachable and collaborative with colleagues both on and off the Hill, another warns in the year ahead he should pay some more notice to the entire Liberal caucus, as taking them for granted is causing a feeling of disengagement.
On the world stage, the perception is that the leader—who is accustomed to moving in elite circles and schmoozing personably and genuinely with the best of ‘em—is enjoying warm relations with other global leaders. But the real test will come as he works to build a positive working relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden had high words of praise—and expectation—for Trudeau when he visited Parliament in December. “The world’s going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister, as we see more and more challenges to the liberal international order than any time since the end of World War II,” he said.
Going into the second-year of his mandate, expectations for Trudeau are ratcheting-up at home as well. There are a number of big promises left to deliver on: legalizing and regulating marijuana; a decision on electoral reform; economic growth that will benefit middle-income families and last long-enough to be enjoyed by future generations; another shot at health agreements with the provinces, and better equipping Canada’s military.
But there are a number of other players that Trudeau will lean on while working to meet these expectations. Insiders say that both he and his inner circle operate on trust, above all.
“If you’re not trusted, you can’t guide the direction of this government,” one insider said.
The road that paved Team Trudeau’s first year in power was not without a few bumps, and despite squarely hitting a pothole themselves, Trudeau’s top two aides are still riding high. In September, the two came under fire when it was revealed the government paid $207,052.11 to relocate them from Toronto to Ottawa after the Liberal Party’s election win.
The pair took it on, and altogether shut it down with one plain-speak Facebook post signed by “Katie and Gerry,” in which they provided a breakdown of their individual moving expenses and stated that, “while the rules were clear and we followed them, we both know that’s not always enough,” agreeing to repay nearly $65,000 of what they expensed.
After a little more than a year at the helm, there still seems to be good-natured debate among political insiders speculating on who carries more sway between the chief of staff and the principal secretary, despite predictably arriving at the conclusion that the two are a prime example of symbiosis. One insider described Butts—a long-time friend of Trudeau—as the driver of the PMO train, while Telford—who ran Trudeau’s leadership campaign in 2012- 13—is charged with keeping the train on schedule
“And Katie’s trains always run on-time,” the insider added.
Telford is a rare find: a numbers-whiz who also happens to be a people- person. She manages the staff and systems of the PMO, and is critical to delivering on the Liberal Party’s promise of evidenced-based policy.
On Twitter, Butts demonstrates his quick wit, biting rhetoric (which he also exercised during his McGill years, when he won the national debating championship twice) and shows he keeps a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in both Canada and the world at any given moment.
And while some on the Hill half-jokingly twist his Twitter handle ‘@GMButts’ into the nickname, ‘PM Butts’—suggesting that he pulls Trudeau’s strings— others insist he is instead a trusted adviser. A literature graduate, Butts is tasked with now crafting his own story—the brand, cohesive messaging, and history that will compose the Trudeau government’s legacy.
Ultimately, observers say that Butts and Telford round out the triad because Trudeau unequivocally trusts them, and nothing gets
you further with the prime minister than longstanding loyalty.
For Navdeep Bains, the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, or, “the minister of everything,” as some say, the working relationships he has been cultivating are the beginning and the end of his political power and influence this year. To read the full sit-down interview P&I’s associate editor Rachel Aiello did with Bains, click here.
Dominic LeBlanc experienced a significant changing-of- hats in 2016, switching from Government House Leader to the minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. But observers say the official titles were never the keys to LeBlanc’s power anyways, pointing instead to his lifelong friendship with Trudeau (whom he babysat) as well as to his intelligence and political savvy.
LeBlanc—whose father Romeo LeBlanc was a minister in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet, a Senator, and a former Governor General—was raised on politics and understands its inner workings, one insider pointed out. He is said to be “very bright” and can reportedly understand—and then speak confidently on—a briefing on almost any topic with incredible speed. It also helps that he’s built an impressive and reliable staff, one observer noted.
One insider called LeBlanc the inner circle’s “go-to guy” and said he has both the trust and ear of Trudeau.
Chrystia Freeland, recently shuffled by Trudeau into the role of Foreign Affairs minister, is said to be viewed by Trudeau’s inner circle as one of the most capable and dependable ministers in the cabinet lineup. This confidence in her abilities is indicated by the fact that she will be responsible for navigating the unchartered territory that Canada-U.S. relations has become under U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration, and in particular, the best person charged with maintaining a strong trade relationship with the protectionist Trump.
Although Freeland was initially criticized for dramatically walking out of negotiations on the Canada-EU trade deal with Wallonia during her time as minister of International Trade, many observers now credit the move as a smart one that allowed the Canadian government to get the deal done.
Observers say Freeland, a former journalist who Trudeau courted heavily to join his team, is smart, disciplined, tenacious, and a strong negotiator. She has written a book about the middle class that Trudeau reportedly considers biblical, has lived in and maneuvered through elite circles in the U.S., and speaks multiple languages, including Russian, French, Ukrainian, Polish, and Italian.
Freeland will also be tasked with championing Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
One of the few things that most political observers agree on is that the economy is king. Finance is arguably one of the most complex files, as well as being the portfolio that average Canadians may care about the most. Steering the Canadian government’s economic policy and crafting the 2017 budget—which will aim to boost innovation and growth—is no small feat.But Morneau, who was a rookie MP when he was handed the file, is said to be a workhorse, and insiders say he never comes to a meeting unprepared. Others call him measured and realistic.But there are many tough and wide-ranging challenges on the horizon. The Canadian government still faces high unemployment rates, especially when it comes to young Canadians.A Statistics Canada study shows that the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 24 averaged at around 13.2 per cent in 2015, higher than in 1976, when it averaged 12.4 per cent.Morneau will also play a role in the implementation of the new infrastructure bank; the formation of an innovation agenda; crafting a poverty-reduction plan; courting more international investment, particularly from China; handling the fallout of the carbon tax and the approval of two major pipeline projects; as well as a possible tax system review.
As Canada’s top bureaucrat, Wernick advises the prime minister on issues relating to the public service. The clerk is responsible for ensuring that the Canadian government has the personnel required to deliver on its commitments, and to ensure that the hive of civil servants in turn have the tools and morale to carry out the work. Unlike his predecessors, Wernick has also been tasked with providing suggestions for a new, more independent appointment process to fill the position in the future.
The previous government had a notoriously strained relationship with the public service, and Wernick symbolizes the larger commitment from Trudeau to repair the partnership in order to harness the expertise and experience possessed by bureaucrats.
Wernick, who has a 35-year career in federal government service under his belt, acts as Trudeau’s ear within the civil service ranks, and as such, is one of his closest advisers. Aside from considering options for his replacement, Wernick is also facing the tensions resulting from the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system, a lack of young people in the service, and ongoing contract negotiations with union groups.
Ugandan-born Barton, the head of the highly esteemed global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has been referred to as one of the most connected people in the world by those who know him. In March 2016, Barton was scooped-up by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to head his economic advisory panel—the advisers that are helping the Canadian government shape the country’s financial future.
Raised in B.C., the Rhodes Scholar has worked as a business expert around the world, including a long stint in Asia, before settling in the U.K. Insiders say he’s an out-of-the-box thinker who can help strengthen ties between Canada and sought-after international investors—particularly in Asia. In January 2016, Barton organized friendly meetings in Davos, Switzerland between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and powerful bankers and investors from a string of economies.
Among a wave of rookie ministers who are still trying to find their sea legs, Brison is even-keeled and reliable, political observers say. The affable East Coast MP has been elected in seven general elections, and broke barriers when, in 2004, he became the first openly-gay cabinet minister.
Jane Philpott has earned a reputation of being one of the more underrated ministers, as she juggles a heavy portfolio that is brimming with big files. Liberal insiders call her “reliable,” and point to the many tough topics that she’s already waded through, and the ones that will pass across her desk in the year to come.
Philpott, who worked as a family doctor for more than 15 years, failed to reach an agreement with the provinces on a new, decade-long health care accord in December but maintains she will still press for one of her main asks: improved funding for mental health services and home care. There is still the possibility of individual provinces reaching bilateral agreements with the federal government.
She also played a significant role in the passing of assisted-dying legislation in June 2016, and this fall, announced the government’s initiatives to completely ban asbestos by 2018.
Hot topics on her horizon will include marijuana legalization and regulation; advancing legislation around the expansion of safe-injection sites; an overhaul on national food labeling and marketing regulations; and improved health services for indigenous communities.
The word “infrastructure” peppered Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fall economic update document 143 times, an indication that the Liberal government still plans to use infrastructure spending as a key tool to bolster Canada’s economy.
The minister mandated to develop a long-term plan for predictable infrastructure funding for provinces and municipalities, and dish out billions of dollars in strategic investments is Amarjeet Sohi, a former public transit bus driver who insiders say is hard-working, kind, and well-respected in Trudeau’s inner circle.
Sohi, who immigrated to Canada from India, is also tasked with navigating the creation of the new infrastructure bank, which would aim to attract the investment of private capital into Canadian infrastructure projects, such as toll highways, green technology, high-speed rail, and a national broadband system, to name a few.
He will also be working on an affordable housing strategy, with particular focus on improving housing opportunities for indigenous Canadians.
Another big hitter in the PMO is Mike McNair, the former investment banker who has crafted policy for Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, as well as leading the Liberal Research Bureau before building the platforms that carried Trudeau to a majority government in October 2015.
McNair took flak in August for dressing-down a Globe and Mail reporter for asking Trudeau a relatively softball question at a party, and threatening the future of the relationship between the PMO and the Globe if the journalist used the answer Trudeau was reportedly happy to provide.
And while some criticized McNair for his actions, it also shows loyalty and protectiveness—qualities that many say are of the utmost importance in Trudeau’s inner circle. Going forward, McNair will be integral to helping the PMO and cabinet turn the long list of policy promises into accomplishments in the government’s second year.
Brian Clow is one of the newest faces in the PMO. Prior to the Jan. 10 cabinet shuffle, he was the chief of staff to then-International Trade minister Chrystia Freeland. Clow also worked as the issues manager during Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, and spent time in Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office.
Clow, who the National Post reported as having a great eye for detail and strategy, will be a critical adviser as Trudeau works to find common ground with the new Trump administration.
When he first stepped into the spotlight as Canada’s new minister of National Defence, Sajjan—a decorated war veteran and retired undercover detective—was described as “fearless” and “bad-ass” by those who knew him.
A year into the portfolio, he was voted as one of the top-performing cabinet ministers in The Hill Times’ annual All Politics Poll, and was touted for being honest, genuine, down-to-earth, and always “calm, cool, and collected.”
Sajjan, who served four tours of duty, including as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan, was a rookie MP when he was made minister. He admitted that learning the ins and outs of House procedure, and honing his communications skills were both challenging, but said he never hesitated to ask for help from his colleagues.
But Sajjan is going to need to remain “calm, cool, and collected” as he now faces a slew of tough questions related to his file, including the deployment of Canadian Forces to overseas peace missions; ongoing instability in the Middle East as a result of Daesh; reducing wait times for veterans’ pensions; moving forward on the creation of a new defence strategy; improving services for soldiers and veterans who are suffering from operational stress injuries; and making some tangible progress on the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.
Journalists, pundits, and media observers of all political stripes agree that the difference between Trudeau and former prime minister Stephen Harper’s press relations is like night and day. According to a Dec. 15, 2016 story from The Hill Times, Trudeau held nine press conferences in the National Press Theatre since winning the election. In the course of his near-decade in power, Harper held only five.
Then, there were the 71 smaller media scrums; the photo shoots, covers, and interviews with several high-profile global outlets, such as Vogue and BuzzFeed; and the countless selfies he has posed for—the traffic jam of Olympic athletes in the House of Commons, anyone?
The gatekeeper and designer of Trudeau’s relationship with the media rests with Kate Purchase who, as well as managing press secretaries, co-ordinates the rollout of major announcements and the messaging around policy, making her a fundamental figure in the PMO.
In May 2016, Mark Wiseman announced that he would be stepping down as president of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board after four years to take on a number of high-level roles with BlackRock, the world’s largest money- managing firm, which oversees an estimated $5-trillion in assets.
According to a press release issued at the time by BlackRock, “As Head of Global Active Equity, Wiseman will oversee more than 350 portfolio management and business professionals across the Americas, EMEA, and Asia Pacific regions, responsible for investing over $275 billion in equity-based investment strategies.”
That’s a lot of money, and don’t think Justin Trudeau and his team haven’t noticed.
Wiseman sits on Bill Morneau’s economic advisory committee, and likely played a part in orchestrating the November 14 convention in Toronto—hosted by BlackRock—which brought some of the world’s deepest pockets into private meetings to learn about what Canada has to offer in terms of investment. Wiseman’s spouse, Marcia Moffat, is also the managing director for BlackRock Canada.
Tom Pitfield and Anna Gainey may be the most connected couple in Ottawa, aside from Justin and Sophie-Grégoire Trudeau.
Pitfield is president of the all-powerful Canada 2020, an organization that is marketed as “Canada’s leading, independent, progressive think-tank,” but that is inextricably linked with Trudeau and his closest allies. Pitfield and Trudeau are childhood friends, and he led Trudeau’s digital strategy during the 2015 election campaign. His father, Michael Pitfield, was Pierre Trudeau’s clerk of the Privy Council.
For her part, Gainey is the president of the Liberal Party. She is known to be quiet, but smart, and once described herself to the media as “decisive” and not afraid to get her “elbows up in the corner”—a joke referencing her dad, NHL legend Bob Gainey. She is said to be a confidant to both Trudeau and his wife Sophie.
Trudeau, his inner circle, and cabinet ministers make regular appearances at events hosted by Canada 2020, and a Canadian Press story reported New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice saying that the “organization is really an extension of the Liberal party.”
François-Philippe Champagne is one of three rookie ministers to be shuffled into cabinet in January. Formerly the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Champagne was given a huge promotion to the position of minister of International Trade. Liberal insiders said Champagne was noticeably a “rising star” in the first year of the Liberal government’s reign, and is well-equipped to step into the high-profile and complex role. Those who have worked with him say he is an excellent communicator, and is personable.
While former International Trade minister Chrystia Freeland will retain the Canada-U.S. relations file, including trade relations, Champagne will have to work on implementing the signed Canada-EU trade deal, and examine possible next-steps with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is on the chopping block under the hands of the new U.S. President Donald Trump.
Champagne will also be tasked with helping to sell Canada as a hot spot for international investment; creating a Canadian trade and export strategy; promoting trade with emerging markets like India and China; and helping brand Canada as a leader in developing clean, sustainable technology.
These tasks fit well with Champagne’s experience outside of politics. For more than 20 years, he worked as a businessman, lawyer, and international trade specialist with a focus on emerging industries like green technology and environment.
When Jody Wilson-Raybould took over the role of federal minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, she had no experience in the benches of Parliament, but plenty in the benches of courtrooms, as a former Crown prosecutor.
Since stepping into the file, Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation has appointed more than 20 new judges, has made changes to the judicial appointment process, and is beginning a wide-spanning review of the criminal justice system, including the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples incarcerated.
Observers agree she’s been a strong performer, and Warren Kinsella, a political commentator who served as a special assistant to former prime minister Jean Chrétien wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill Times that she should receive an ‘A’ grade for her first year in the role, and even went as far as to say that she’s future party leadership material.
On top of overhauls to the justice system, Wilson-Raybould will play a large role in the complex and controversial process of legalizing and regulating marijuana, which is slated to happen this spring.
There may never have been a time when having a strong Canadian ambassador to the U.S. was so vital. With the shocking election of President Donald Trump, Canada’s relationship with its closest ally is at a peak of unpredictability. Luckily, insiders seem to unanimously agree that Canada’s current tactician in Washington, David MacNaughton, is the perfect person for the job.
MacNaughton, who has a striking resume in public relations, finance, and the public sector, is “extremely knowledgeable and experienced in how politics works,” said one insider.
Maybe more importantly, MacNaughton has built unflappable trust with Trudeau and his inner circle. He served as the Ontario co-chair for Team Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, was Katie Telford’s boss at government relations firm StrategyCorp, and worked with both Telford and Gerald Butts in the Dalton McGuinty government.
One Liberal insider said MacNaughton has earned a reputation as a “relationship builder,” and in many years as a businessman, has learned how to get along with people of all temperaments, backgrounds, and beliefs. These skills will be key as the progressive, Liberal government plans to navigate new waters with its neighbour to the south, including the impending renegotiation of NAFTA; differing views on climate change and immigration; and threats around big border taxes.
A Maclean’s article describes the telegenic, charismatic Heritage minister as unfailingly optimistic and “perhaps the next best encapsulation of the Trudeau government after Trudeau himself.”
Joly is often referred to as genuine and approachable, but the former lawyer will also need an edge in order to tackle her tough to-do list. Aside from organizing Canada’s massive birthday celebrations this year, Joly is also gearing up to convince internet giants like Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and Google to support Canadian culture and content, both financially, and with increased visibility—no easy task.
Joly—whose father and stepmother were both prominent Liberals—also held more than 20 cross-country roundtables last year to consult on the creation of a new, multi-year official languages plan at a time when a survey commissioned by Heritage Canada found that three-quarters of Francophones believe the future of their language is threatened.
In her mandate letter, Joly was directed to help “promote, preserve and enhance Indigenous languages and cultures.” She is also examining significant changes to structures, processes, and mandates of Crown Corporations CBC and the CRTC.
General Jonathan Vance’s shoulders are laden with responsibility. There are a number of sensitive topics he must manage: ongoing sexual misconduct court cases against the military; the impending deployment of Canadian soldiers to peace operations, likely in Africa; the future of the ongoing training mission in Iraq to fight Daesh forces in the Middle East; and providing resources to veterans and soldiers who are experiencing operational stress injuries.
Richard Maksymetz is the only staffer outside of the PMO to wind up in the ranks of the Top 25—for the second year in the row. Maksymetz is a veteran staffer with both federal and provincial experience, including a stint as chief of staff to British Columbia Finance Minister Mike de Jong.
Now, as the point of contact between Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the PMO, he’s got a reserved seat in some pretty heavy backroom discussions.
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