As MPs return to Ottawa for the winter and spring sitting, the political landscape remains much as they left it in December.
The Conservatives maintain a double-digit polling lead over the governing Liberals. The electorate feels restless and angry about many affordability concerns, including the higher cost of housing. Divisions over Israel’s war against Hamas and growing conflict in the Middle East, feel wider than ever. And economists warn about a possible recession. It remains unclear when interest rates will begin to decline – a true unease exists amongst politicians and Canadians alike.
Today also marks the start of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, which means the issue of foreign actors meddling in Canadian elections will again suck up air time from the government agenda.
In this context, it may surprise more than a few that there is a renewed bounce in the prime minister’s steps. Justin Trudeau is showing more fire in scrums and interviews and sounds more like a three-time campaign winner. Liberals hope their hard work may yet reverse their downward spiral in polling results since last summer. The spring budget offers an opportunity to tackle the issues that have Canadians griping. And there are new faces in senior roles bringing fresh perspectives and renewed message control to the battle-worn government.
What’s next for the government, and what it needs to do to reset, has been as well covered as the snow on the sidewalks in the parliamentary precinct. So, to mark the return of the House, McMillan Vantage offers you 10 names you need to know ahead of the upcoming sitting.
Andrew Bevan, Supriya Dwivedi and Max Valiquette
Who they are: The new chief of staff to finance minister Chrystia Freeland and a cross-appointed advisor to the PM, a new senior advisor to the PM and the new executive director of communications in the PMO, respectively. Three high-profile and very public appointments from a government looking for a refresh and for fresh advice.
What you need to know about them: Bevan was brought in when long-time Freeland chief Leslie Church departed to run for the party nomination in St. Paul’s, as well as for his ability to leverage budgets for political benefit. He helped former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne turn fortunes around to return the party to majority status in 2014, and there’s much hope his rigour and thoughtful approach will help do the same for the federal party.
Dwivedi is a savvy politico who can cut through to the crux. She honed this skill in her years as a journalist, radio host and pundit. Her outsider perspective will offer a fresh perspective for an office that has been accused of being too cordoned off from the public mood.
Valiquette is a communications guru touted as the answer to the Liberals’ challenge in winning back the Millennial votes that swept them to power. He was listed as one of “Canada’s Most Influential Marketers” by Marketing Magazine and PMO is hoping that he brings a fresh new voice and vision.
Who he is: Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
What you need to know about him: Last week, he announced sweeping changes to Canada’s international student visa program, ushering in one of the government’s best news cycles in ages. It risks lumping good actors with bad, though. Expect more focus next on the temporary foreign workers program and on attempts to address the challenge of surging numbers of asylum seekers at Toronto and Montreal airports. These kinds of issues speak to average Canadians’ concerns and are one way the government is seeking to reverse its polling slump. At a moment when the Canadian consensus on immigration is vulnerable, expect Miller to play a more prominent role for some time to come.
Who he is: Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities
What you need to know about him: Fraser dominated national headlines through the fall with funding announcements to municipal governments to increase housing supply and pay for infrastructure required to address the housing crisis. Housing is at the top of the government agenda. He has a long way to go to accelerate the infrastructure needed to support 2.5 million more homes.
Who she is: The one-time Chief of Staff to late NDP leader Jack Layton and principal secretary to former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, McGrath just left her post as National Director of the NDP to serve as principal secretary to party leader Jagmeet Singh. She remains the New Democrats’ negotiator-in-chief with the other parties in this minority parliament.
What you need to know about her: She’s one of the primary architects of the supply and confidence agreement and, should the minority government survive until 2025, it will be thanks to the gains she extracts from the Liberals. There’s also word McGrath is among those championing a revival of the conversation about democratic reform as a condition for the NDP’s continued support of the government.
Sabrina Maddeaux and David Murray
Who they are: A star candidate for the Conservative nomination in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s director of policy, respectively.
What you need to know about them: Maddeaux until recently was covering everything from the culture wars to the housing crisis in the National Post. Her positions mirrored many of the Conservative’s issues du jour, and her social media savvy and broadcast capacity echo those of the party’s leader. Her profile is sure to prove beneficial in the hotly contested 905 region.
Murray’s experience as the lead pollster for previous Tory campaigns gives him the ability to connect public opinion with vote-moving policy. Given current polling, expect stakeholders to be pounding on his door to include their issues in the next Conservative platform.
Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley
Who he is: The judge who last week handed down a ruling that the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act during the 2022 blockade of Ottawa and other border tangles in Ontario and Alberta infringed on Canadians’ Charter rights.
Why you need to know about him: His decision has revived an issue the Liberals would like to put behind them. Canadians have little appetite to revisit the COVID-19 pandemic or the mass protests it sparked. It’s not a political winner for Trudeau, and though it might revive some uncomfortable images for Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, the court’s ruling helps him consolidate the angrier parts of his base. Convoy politics might be back, and nobody wins.
Justice Marie-Josée Hogue
Who she is: A judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal appointed as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions,
Why you need to know about her: The issue of alleged foreign interference by China and other actors in the 2021 election distracted from the Liberals’ agenda for much of the first half of 2023. It also proved a distraction for Poilievre, who strayed from his winning economic message to focus on foreign interference. The Liberals, as the government, must deal with the inquiry and its fallout. The Conservatives, if they’re smart, will largely ignore it.