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Hill Life & People

Freeland named most valuable politician, NAFTA voted biggest story in The Hill Times’ 22nd Annual All Politics Poll

By Beatrice Paez      

Canada's top diplomat has had a meteoric rise. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was seen to have deftly handled the volatile NAFTA file and kept her cool amid the heated dispute with the Saudi regime over her call for the release of its dissidents.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was named the most valuable politician, according to The Hill Times' 22nd Annual All Politics Poll. Also on the short list are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier, and Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Pierre Poilievre. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade
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In a year stacked with headlines of men behaving badly amid the #MeToo movement, this was Chrystia Freeland’s year. She handled the volatile NAFTA file, defiantly spoke in defence of human rights and a rules-based global order much to the ire of a certain U.S. president, and refused to publicly bow to the Saudis after the regime assailed Ottawa for calling for the release of dissidents.

Ms. Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) was voted most valuable politician, along with being named among the best cabinet ministers, favourite up-and-comers, and ministers who most respect Parliament, according to The Hill Times’ 22nd annual All Politics Poll. 

“She was obviously high profile. That doesn’t mean she was perceived to be doing a good job. But that does say that she was perceived to be doing a good job by insiders. That’s a feather in her cap,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research in a phone interview.  

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The Hill Times partnered with Forum Research Inc. for its All Politics Poll survey, which was conducted from Nov. 22-Dec. 7 on the best and worst of federal politics in 2018. Overall, 71 people responded to this year’s survey, including 11 who identified as working for the Liberal Party, nine with the Conservatives, one from the NDP, seven with the Greens, and three Independents. Some 31 respondents did not identify by political party. The results were not weighted based on party standings in the House of Commons because a threshold of 100 was needed.

An Angus Reid poll from last week affirmed Ms. Freeland’s popularity, with 49 per cent of 1,800 Canadians saying she was the highest performing among cabinet ministers in 2018.

Last year’s title went to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.). Mr. Trudeau was still named among the most valuable in 2018, though he finds himself tied with a trio he’d least likely want to spend a second with: People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) and Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.) and Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.).

For Mr. Trudeau, 2018 was one in which he emerged relatively unscathed, despite dents to his image as a feminist. He also managed to score a muted victory on NAFTA and somewhat appeased the business community with tax incentives in response to the deep cuts made by the U.S. administration last year. At the same time, the Liberals are trying to weather a drubbing over their carbon tax and $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. This year appears to be the calm before the nasty political storm that Mr. Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) say will be brewing in 2019, an election year.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, right, was voted the least valuable politician, followed by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, centre. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade

Darts for opposition leaders

Mr. Bernier, meanwhile, was simultaneously voted among the most and least valuable politician. For Liberals, Mr. Bernier’s defection from the Conservatives is a gift from the political gods. His sharp swerve to flirtations with the far right over the perils of immigration, pundits argue, is forcing Mr. Scheer to sound the alarms over border threats or risk getting

Lucky for Mr. Scheer, Mad Max is still a lonely party of one in the House, stewing on his own about “extreme multiculturalism.” He has been making his way across the country, rallying supporters (ahem, mostly men, according to reports) behind his gripes over the supply-management system, poll-tested messaging, and how the Conservatives are faux conservatives.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was named the least valuable politician, according to respondents. Of course, Mr. Singh doesn’t need a little old survey to send the message; he gets weekly reminders of his party’s flagging popularity in the polls. Facing lacklustre fundraising numbers—that Jagmeet-and-eat gimmick probably won’t be enough to fill the coffers—and a steadily diminishing caucus, Mr. Singh faces a do-or-die moment in the Burnaby South, B.C., byelection. At last count, seven incumbents of the 41 NDP MPs have announced they plan to sit out the 2019 vote.

Following behind Mr. Singh among the least valuable politicians was Mr. Scheer. It’s a bit of a surprise, Mr. Bozinoff said, given how his firm’s polling has consistently suggested that the Conservatives are pulling ahead of the Liberals. Mr. Bozinoff said that perhaps people expect more from Mr. Scheer heading into an election year. The Conservatives do have a few standout reasons to celebrate this year: two byelection wins and the defection of Leona Alleslev (Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, Ont.), a former Liberal. There’s also the fact that the Liberal government increasingly faces a hostile field of premiers who are working to undermine its carbon tax plan, which has given Mr. Scheer more allies.

This year’s favourite up-and-comer was NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, right, who has been a bright spot for her party in a less-than-stellar year. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, left, and Liberal MP Sean Fraser were also singled out. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade

Up-and-comers, comebacks, and more  

NDP House Leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Berthier-Maskinongé, Que.) edged out Ms. Freeland and Liberal MP Sean Fraser (West Nova, N.S.) as the top up-and-comer. Ms. Brosseau was a bright spot for the NDP in what’s otherwise been a year dogged by headlines chronicling the party’s diminished political fortunes. The unlikely politician has impressed politicos on the Hill, who see her as a hardworking advocate for her rural constituents in Quebec.

Mr. Fraser, for his part, has seen his stock rise, thanks to his promotion to the job of parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.). The backbencher who represents Central Nova, N.S.—formerly a Conservative stronghold—has been entrusted with helping sell Canadians on the feds’ plan for addressing climate change.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was a favourite pick this year, topping the list of best cabinet minister. Ranking behind here were Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Finance Minister Bill Morneau. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade

In third spot was Ms. Freeland, who arguably has surpassed the title, given her role as top diplomat and her meteoric rise.

As for the biggest political comebacks, Ontario Premier Doug Ford claimed that honour. Mr. Ford seized on the downfall of Patrick Brown, once considered a shoo-in for the post, and the unpopularity of Kathleen Wynne, to stage his comeback. And he wasted no time in announcing his return during his first few months in office, gunning for political rivals and threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause to push his legislative agenda through.

Next in line was Mr. Bernier, who refused to be sidelined in the Conservative caucus after losing the leadership race. Following behind him was Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.), who appears to have rebounded from last year’s ethical blunders over his failure to declare his hideaway in France.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, who was initially set to run for Toronto mayor, ranked at the top of the list biggest political comebacks. Following behind him were Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who seems to have rebounded after last year’s ethical blunders, and ex-Conservative MP Maxime Bernier. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade

Among those respondents wish would make a comeback is former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Liberals, however, would have you believe that Mr. Harper is still the puppet master. He’s regularly used as a foil and fundraising magnet in the Conservative Party’s wildly successful fundraising campaigns.

Mr. Harper hasn’t necessarily been quiet. In his latest commentary, he appeared on Fox News last week to argue in favour of Washington’s campaign to ban the use of Huawei’s equipment in the development of infrastructure for 5G mobile networks.

Another former prime minister made the cut. Peak Chrétien nostalgia took hold this year. Ex-Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien threw a big bash on the Hill to mark the 25th anniversary of his party’s “landmark” 1993 election win, which launched his 10-year run as prime minister. It drew the party faithful, both his former ministers and current Liberal MPs and staffers. Then he released a political memoir, My Stories, My Times, to coincide with that anniversary.

There was also a lot of love for Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Harper on the literary front. Both of their books claimed the top spots for best political books of the year. (Mr. Harper’s book, Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption, on the rise of populism, was chosen.)

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who also tends to hold the title of most lobbied minister, was named the most approachable minister. Also on the short list were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay. The Hill Times file photographs

Meanwhile, Former NDP MP Megan Leslie, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Mr. Singh, and former Conservative MP Peter MacKay all tied in third place for those who people hope will make a comeback.

Topping the list of most approachable ministers is Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.). Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that he is the most lobbied minister, as the man in charge of writing cheques to innovators and burnishing the party’s image on innovation. Mr. Trudeau, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.), and Agriculture Minister MacAulay (Cardigan, P.E.I.)—who recently celebrated 30 straight years in Parliament—rounded out that list.

Ms. Freeland also claimed the top spot for best cabinet minister, followed by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) and Mr. Morneau. Mr. Goodale  is seen as a steady, experienced, and capable force in the cabinet, who has the unenviable task of being the public spokesperson when natural disasters, such as the tornadoes that swept through the Ottawa-Gatineau, Que., area, strike.

Wishful thinking? Bank of England Governor Mark Carney appears to have moved on from Ottawa, but respondents say he should have entertained a run in the last election. Former reality TV show host Kevin O’Leary and environmentalist David Suzuki were also favourites. The Hill Times file photographs

In the category for weakest cabinet ministers are Ms. McKenna, Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.), and Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.), who has since been humbled after her demotion from helming the heritage department. Ms. McKenna faces the challenge of trying to wrangle Canadians’ support of the carbon tax and coming up with more ambitious targets to curb emissions in response to the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report warning of grim consequences ahead if nations don’t act more swiftly to climate change.

Among those politicos who wish they had run in the last election was Mark Carney, former Bank of Canada governor. Mr. Carney has been in London for several years now and has indicated his intention of staying on as the Bank of England’s governor until 2020.

Environmentalist David Suzuki and Kevin O’Leary were also singled out. But there might not be so much for enthusiasm for the failed contender for the Conservative leadership, or perhaps many Canadians would have donated to the O’Leary cause. Or shown up in droves to his Three Sharks in a Castle bash at Casa Loma in Toronto, where the price of admission was $2,000. Frustrated that he can’t use his reality-TV-show earnings to wipe off the $2-million debt his leadership campaign racked up, Mr. O’Leary is suing Elections Canada and the federal elections commissioner in an attempt to rewrite the rules that limit how much an individual can spend to pay off the outstanding sum.

As for the past prime minister respondents say they most admire that title goes to Lester B. Pearson, followed by Pierre Trudeau and Mr. Chrétien. Those picks didn’t deviate from last year’s results. Notably, Sir John A. Macdonald is less popular than last year, said Mr. Bozinoff. That’s likely due to the renewed scrutiny on his record, as the one chiefly responsible for establishing Canada’s residential schools program.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were popular dinner-date picks. The Hill Times file photographs

Burning issues

NAFTA, now called USMCA, was voted the biggest story of the year. After an intense 13-month run of haggling, Ottawa was able to salvage the trilateral pact at the eleventh hour. There’s still backroom negotiations to work through, specifically in the U.S., with Congressional approval needed to ratify the deal. Ottawa also has yet to resolve the tariff dispute.

Pipelines were the next pick. That’s no surprise in a year that saw the Federal Court drop its bombshell decision to rescind approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, citing, in part, inadequate consultation with First Nations communities and forcing the feds to restart that process. Not long after that ruling was issued, the feds decided to buy the pipeline. This year will also be remembered for Alberta’s pipeline woes. Its premier, Rachel Notley, has, in part, pinned blame on the plunging price of its oil to the lack of pipeline capacity. As a stopgap measure, Ms. Notley recently moved to cut the production of oil.

Sexual-assault or sex-related scandals were also cited as a big story. There were a handful of domestic headlines that dominated several news cycles, including the sex-related controversies that torpedoed the political careers of Mr. Brown and ex-Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.). Mr. Brown has denied any wrondoing and the sexual-misconduct allegations have not been proven in court, while Mr. Clement admitted to sending sexually explicit photos and engaging in “acts of infidelity.” Mr. Clement’s omission of the extent of his sexting activities got him booted from caucus. Both are still in politics, but, for the foreseeable future, it seems they won’t be welcomed back into the Tory fold.

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne, left, Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert, and Rosemary Barton, one of the anchors on CBC’s The National, were people’s favourite talking heads. Ms. Hébert led the pack. The Hill Times file photographs

Of all the major issues respondents said are most pressing is the environment. That’s a surprise to Mr. Boznioff, who said that the economy usually tends to weigh more heavily on people’s minds. Rounding out that list were the economy and pipelines. Respondents also named the environment as an issue that the government is not going far enough to address. The economy and the state of Canadian politics, including the level of partisanship and provincial relations, were also key issues they say have been neglected.

Those who responded aren’t optimistic that the feds intend to balance the budget. Next year is, after all, an election year. Same goes for pushing for electoral reform and sticking to the carbon tax.

In terms of issues that have been “shamelessly exploited,” the debate around immigration and refugees topped the list. Tori Stafford’s murder—due to the political outcry that followed from the Conservatives over the murderer’s move to a healing lodge—was also on the short list, as were the environment and oil/pipelines.

Who’s coming to dinner?

Former U.S. president Barack Obama is still the preferred dinner date, as he was last year. He doesn’t seem to be a food snob—just serve him some noodles and a cold beer. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also known as Mutti (mother) Merkel, was also voted as a top dinner guest. Ms. Merkel may just have some down time to spare, as she prepares to wind down her term as chancellor.

The Hill Times

Most valuable politicians
1. Chrystia Freeland
2. Elizabeth May
3. Justin Trudeau
Maxime Bernier
Michelle Rempel
Pierre Poilievre
Least valuable politicians 
1. Jagmeet Singh
2. Andrew Scheer
3. Maxime Bernier
Public figures who should have run
1. Mark Carney
2. David Suzuki
3. Kevin O’Leary
Favourite up-and-comers in the House
1. Ruth Ellen Brosseau
2. Sean Fraser
3. Chrystia Freeland
Biggest political comebacks
1. Doug Ford
2. Maxime Bernier
3. Bill Morneau
Who should make a comeback
1. Stephen Harper
2. Jean Chretien
3. Megan Leslie
Brian Mulroney
Jagmeet Singh
Peter MacKay
Issues that have been shamelessly exploited
1. Immigration/Refugees (e.g. immigration, asylum seekers, illegal immigration, etc.)
2. Tori Stafford murder (e.g. trial, judgement, sentencing, etc.)
3. Environment (e.g. climate change, protection, etc.)
4. Oil/Pipelines (e.g. Trans Mountain, cost of oil, etc.)
Most important issues in 2019
1. Environment (e.g. climate change, protection, etc.)
2. Economy (e.g. growth, trade, competitiveness, etc.)
3. Oil/Pipelines (e.g. Trans Mountain, cost of oil, etc.)
Issues not being addressed
1. Environment (e.g. climate change, protection, etc.)
2. Economy (e.g. growth, trade, competitiveness, etc.)
3. Canadian politics (e.g. divisions, elections, national unity, provincial relations, etc.)
Political promises least likely to be kept
1. Balanced budget
2. Electoral reform
3. Climate/Carbon tax
Best political books
1. Right Here, Right Now, by Stephen Harper
2. My Stories, My Times, by Jean Chretien
Favourite talking heads
1. Chantal Hébert
2. Rosemary Barton
3. Andrew Coyne
Talking heads you’d most like to silence
1. Rosemary Barton
2. Ezra Levant
3. Rachel Curran
Former prime ministers most admired
1. Lester B. Pearson
2. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
3. Jean Chrétien
Best cabinet ministers
1. Chrystia Freeland
2. Ralph Goodale
3. Bill Morneau
Weakest cabinet ministers
1. Catherine McKenna
2. Maryam Monsef
3. Mélanie Joly
Cabinet ministers who most respect Parliament
1. Ralph Goodale
2. Chrystia Freeland
3. Marc Garneau
Most approachable ministers
1. Navdeep Bains
Justin Trudeau
2. Kirsty Duncan
Lawrence MacAulay
Biggest problems facing Parliament
1. Decorum/Behaviour of politicians (e.g. in general, question period, etc.)
2. Partisanship/Bias
3. The move to West Block
Biggest political news stories in 2018
2. Pipelines (e.g. Trans Mountain, etc.)
3. Sexual Assault Scandals (e.g. #MeToo, Patrick Brown, etc.)
Best House committees
1. Finances
2. Procedure and House Affairs
3. Transport
Aboriginal Affairs
Access to Information
Government Operations and Estimates
Best Senate committee
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Library of Parliament
Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Committee that’s a waste of time (Senate and House)
1. Library of Parliament
2. Status of Women
3. Most or all Senate committees
Most or all of them
Favourite dinner guest
1. Barack Obama
2. Angela Merkel
Favourite happy-hour place
1. D’Arcy McGee’s
2. Métropolitain
3. Riviera

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