François-Philippe Champagne is the new Minister of Foreign Affairs

According to a well-placed leak to CBC News, Canadians have learned that François-Philippe Champagne will be Canada’s 14th Minister of Foreign Affairs, succeeding Chrystia Freeland in the role at Global Affairs Canada.

Champagne was most recently the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities but held the role of Trade Minister just last year in 2018. The promotion to Foreign Affairs Minister is a logical career-track progression for the Minister.

François-Philippe Champagne meets Speaker Inara Murniece of the Latvian Parliament

Canada’s foreign affairs challenges

Champagne will be Canada’s principle international-facing Minister on a number of difficult files.

China’s Canadian hostages and Hong Kong

Perhaps most pressing of issues is the detention of two Canadians by the Chinese government. This came as retaliation for Canada’s intent to fulfill an American extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei.

The Chinese government has held Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for over 340 days and the two have endured regular interrogation and stress-induction methods at the hands of their PRC captors.

Hong Kong remains a hotspot and a growing concern for Canada. Over half a million Canadians trace their roots back to Hong Kong and about 200,000 were born in the former British colony. The rule of law is being eroded every day for its residents as China starts exerting its influence and control.

François-Philippe Champagne must speak confidently for Canadians without encumbrance on Hong Kong and for the rights of Hong Kongers and the freedoms that they enjoy.

Canada-US relations is an ongoing dance

Champagne is now in charge of managing the Canada-US bilateral relationship. Canada has been without an ambassador in Washington DC since the resignation of David MacNaughton.

Canadians expect an embassy appointment soon as the renegotiated NAFTA (USMCA) agreement still languishes and remains unratified by Congress. Unfortunately, Congress is now gripped by inquiries into impeachment of President Trump.

The Americans will also be looking to Canada and its new Foreign Minister to back up a principled stance in two hotspots in the Americas.

South America is bucking socialist strongmen

Venezuelans have faced hyper-inflation, starvation, and a political crisis sparked by Hugo Chavez and continued by the Maduro regime. Over 10% of Venezuelans have fled the country and more than 90% live in poverty.

Closeby in Bolivia, the resignation of Evo Morales — after being ousted by the military due to accusations of fraud and corruption — poses new challenges for Canada.

The Trudeau government has already declared that it will work with the new government of Jeanine Añez, while refusing to join the United States, Brazil, and Colombia in recognizing Añez as the new President. If Canada is to speak with principled leadership in the region, it cannot continue with this wishy-washy stance.

Canada should do as it did in Venezuela when it recognized the opposition leader as the rightful leader of the country. Again, this comes after reports of corruption, constitutional manipulation, and fraud in both countries by long-standing regimes which have impoverished its people.

Iran faces internal turmoil, Canada should back up the people against the regime

Iran is facing an uprising of its people and has been witness to widespread protests for the past few days. Terry Glavin reports major disturbances in more than 100 towns with 12 people dead and 1000 protesters arrested so far. Iran, as Iran does, has shut down internet access in an attempt to stem the protests.

All of this unrest is in reaction to a spike in fuel prices mandated by the government. Yet, democratic activists in Iran have been vocally calling for regime change for quite some time.

Since the end of the Harper government, Canada has been playing toward the European end of the engagement spectrum with Iran, eschewing the American position of sanctions and isolation in response to Iran’s aggressive plan to enrich uranium for the use in nuclear weapons.

The Canadian-European position is untenable versus a regime that breaks its word on its plans for uranium enrichment. The Iranian government claims peaceful use for energy production. However, the regime continues to threaten Isreal with annihilation and continues to make marked steps away from the 2015 Iran deal.

Champagne will have a chance to reassess Canada’s approach to Iran and will hopefully come to determine that sanctions and isolation are appropriate and reform-inducing responses to a rogue regime that flouts international law.

Trade

On the trade-front, Trudeau has been wise to continue Prime Minister Harper’s agenda of negotiating free trade agreements with friendly nations. Canada is currently negotiating significant free trade agreements with India, Japan, and the Mercosur nations of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Trudeau will need to repair relations with India to re-prioritize Canadian negotiations with the world’s largest democracy (and growing market), while its diplomatic positions on change in South America could direct progress among the significant markets of that continent.

Evan Solomon is the new host of PowerPlay on CTV

News veteran Don Martin recently announced his retirement one of the most significant television shows covering politics daily from Ottawa. Martin hosted CTV’s PowerPlay for the better part of a decade. We didn’t find out who would replace him until Monday.

Evan Solomon PowerPlay

And with that Evan Solomon steps up to take over in 2020. Previously the host of CBC’s Power & Politics, Evan was knocked off his perch at CBC News when it was revealed that he was doing some art-dealing on the side with some of the news figures that he was covering. Usually, CBC usually likes to avoid conflicts of interest for its hosts. Of course, this didn’t seem to apply when Rosemary Barton filed a lawsuit against the Conservative Party on the same day she hosted the national leader’s debate during the 43rd general election.

Evan has had a slow climb back ever since. He hosted a daily radio program at Ottawa’s CFRA and was eventually brought on as a host on CTV’s question period.

CTV’s Power Play is the show opposite the one that Evan used to host along with Barton on CBC. Now, though Evan has reclaimed the timeslot, his former co-host has moved on to co-host The National.

As one of Evan’s colleagues in the Press Gallery put it to me years ago, Power Play is Bell’s daily hour of impressing its importance upon Canada’s federal government — which, it may surprise you to learn, regulates the telecom company and its industry. My wise friend noted that it didn’t even matter if CTV got any significant ratings among the folks at home. She pointed out that this is evidenced by the low cost ads for sit-down showers and CHIP-reverse mortgages that litter CTV and CBC during these hours.

PowerPlay regularly features panels of lobbyists labeled “strategists” for the folks at home. Watching Don Martin’s PowerPlay, I once spotted Bell’s Conservative lobbyist and Bell’s Liberal lobbyist on the same panel.

The other featured panel is the one for backbench MPs. Both lobbyist and MP panels are emailed talking points from their respective party liaisons at most a few hours before the show.

Among other eyebrow-raising moves on the show, cabinet ministers would ‘guest-host’ the show when Don was golfing down south. All wins for certain VPs at Bell to be sure.

If there’s one thing we hope that Evan Solomon can bring to PowerPlay’s new format is a ban on useless talking point panels, let alone a moratorium on the flattering of government ministers with TV gigs.

Evan Solomon interviews Conservative leader Andrew Scheer

We hope for more one-on-one interviews; the types of grilling interviews that Solomon conducted on Sundays on Question Period. If television news is still to be an accountability function for our democracy, let Solomon bring more of it to his daily show.

In our now-regionally-divided country, Solomon should also regularly take his show on the road. Every month, he should host CTV PowerPlay from one of Canada’s provincial/territorial legislatures. The interface between federal and provincial politics will be crucial over the next 1.5-4 years. It is important for Canadians and policy makers to appreciate this dynamic.

Take the show outside of the studio too. Find the coffee shops, airport gates, and job sites where federal policies are making their effects on people.

Let CBC continue its daily coverage of the special interest groups that line up for pork in the federal budget. CTV should forge a new path and interview representatives from the small business community and those now out-of-work in Alberta. Of course, these folks will be lobbying for themselves and their families and they would never consider calling themselves partisan ‘strategists’.

Though you may have detected some cynicism above, I’m always hopeful for change and the appointment of Evan Solomon to host CTV’s PowerPlay is a welcome development. Yet, we should continue to ask how PowerPlay can serve the public interest instead of Bell’s regulatory strategy.

Could Alison Redford be the next Trudeau minister from Alberta?

Justin Trudeau has a problem on his hands. The Liberal caucus that formed a majority government in 2015 for Trudeau has been reduced to a minority. The new distribution of seats has exposed troublesome regional divisions in Canada. The separatist Bloc is back in Quebec, while Alberta and Saskatchewan formed its own block of Conservative seats, save one lone NDP MP.

The prime minister faces the prospect of forming cabinet without regional representation in either Western province. With such regional divides and alienation rising, this is an issue that Trudeau cannot ignore.

There are a few options that have been bandied about in the establishment press about how Trudeau can begin to address the resentment felt by these two Western provinces. Some have been tone-deaf, and most have been poor ideas. From opposition MPs, Senators, or even former Premiers, what will Trudeau do?

Floor crossing or outsourcing?

In the end, Mr. Trudeau will need lone Alberta NDP MP Heather McPherson to cross the floor, or he will need to appoint an unelected Canadian into his cabinet. The federal NDP agenda is antogonistic to Western Canadians who voted for the development of energy projects and thus would be a non-starter. Prime ministers have appointed unelected Canadians to serve in ministries before. Stephane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew were initially unelected members of cabinet in Paul Martin’s government.

Ralph Goodale’s name has been offered up. The stalwart Liberal who was a sure-thing for Liberal cabinet makers finally went down in defeat on October 21st. His appointment to cabinet would ignore the outright rejection of a Trudeau mandate on the prairies. Goodale’s appointment wouldn’t be a surprise, however his presence would do little to stem the tide of resentment in this part of Canada.

Surely, not the non-partisan Senate!

Trudeau will also find it difficult to appoint a Senator to his cabinet. Though Stephen Harper appointed Senator Michael Fortier to the 28th ministry in order to reflect Montreal representation in his government, Trudeau has made a large show of the ‘non-partisan’ nature of the Senate. An appointment from the Upper Chamber to the government would shred the rest of his credibility on this file.

That brings us to an uncoventional appointment which would satisfy regional representation and complicate matters advantageously for Trudeau.

Red, Redder, Redford

Allison Redford is the former Premier of Alberta. She is seen by the central Canadian establishment as a ‘Tolerable Tory’ and the kind of ‘Conservative’ that Albertans should be sending to Ottawa. Of course, Albertans disagree. Redford’s popularity in that province plumetted to 18% after a series of entitlement and travel scandals, before she faced a caucus revolt and was forced to resign.

However, to those that matter to Trudeau, the prime minister would sell such an appointment as ‘reaching across the aisle’ and to bridge the divide between Ottawa and the West.

Redford would jump at the chance

For Redford’s part, she would say yes to such an appointment. Having felt unceremoniously spurned by a province that rejected her, Redford has been re-emerging in media and has been spotted testing the waters on re-establishing the esteemed reputation of an ’eminent Canadian’ among the Laurentian consensus.

Alison Redford during governing times

Redford has indicated that she is willing to help the Trudeau government in an advisory capacity. Redford told CTV News, “I am happy to help in any way. This is something Canadians have been thinking about for a long time and I think the key is that there has to be a lot of voices at the table.” She added, “If there’s something I can do, I’m happy to help.”

Kenney conundrum

Redford’s appointment would be a fly in the ointment to the current Premier, Jason Kenney. Though 95% of PC and Wildrose members voted for merger that Kenney orchestrated, many saw the outcome as a Wildrose takeover by the PC party.

Kenney is wildly popular in the province, especially as the province wars against another Trudeau. As a former PC Premier, Redford could be a complicating factor for Kenney. This would be especially true if Redford were appointed to the post of Minister of Natural Resources.

Despite her reputational damage, the gravitas of a former Premier in Trudeau’s cabinet would put up an Albertan dissenter and appellative equal versus Mr. Kenney.

The 44th General election

Let’s not forget that with this minority Parliament, we could be back into an election soon. The longer that western alienation is left to fester, the more the ballot question will become about who is best suited to address regional anger and unite the country.

Liberals have had poor showings in Alberta for so long that we can easily say that they are traditionally unpopular in that province. A party cannot credibly govern a country if it has a deep-rooted antagonistic relationship with a significant portion of it.

For the Liberal Party of Canada, either the future looks like more of the same with an aloof attitude toward the West, or that party’s unsustainable track is addressed and they finally produce a plan for allowing Alberta to play to its economic strengths.

Would Alison Redford be the awkward beginning of such outreach to the West? We remain highly skeptical of her benefit to Alberta and to Canadian unity, but it certainly would do more for Trudeau’s cabinet recalculation than adding with zeroes.