politics

Would you rather quit, or be forced to “pursue other opportunities?”

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When companies need to quietly get rid of executives, they often get creative in how they go about it in order to save face. Whether it’s early retirement, or announcing someone has “left to pursue other opportunities,” framing an exit is incredibly important as it impacts the firm, its employees and its brand -- not to mention the executive leaving his or her post.

So when Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations unexpectedly resigned earlier this week in a move that shocked many beyond the diplomatic circles of Washington and New York, many were wondering: was she pushed out, or did she make this decision all on her own?

While there is plenty of speculation about why she abruptly jumped ship, the way the former South Carolina governor handled the situation is something we can learn from when faced with either a self-imposed exit, or one that is ultimately imposed on us.

For starters, Haley announced she would remain in her post until the end of the year. Any time an executive resigns “effective immediately” it’s sure to arouse suspicion and spark rumours. By providing lots of runway until she officially vacates her position, the situation looks like it was coordinated by both the employer and executive. A smooth transition of this sort, viewed through a communications lens, can be a win-win. The long list of senior officials that have left the West Wing in less than ideal circumstances is proof that President Trump has no problem letting the door hit them on the way out. Not so with Ambassador Haley.

What makes her departure different than others (and yes, there have been many resignations), is she leaves with her reputation intact, despite working for one of the most polarizing presidents in American history. This is partly due to Haley not always toeing the party line. For example, she once shot back at Trump who accused her of being ‘confused’ over new Russian sanctions. She’s also defended women accusing the president of sexual assault, saying they deserved to be heard.

While this is purely speculation, the timing of her exit could be strategic. With the newscycle gripped by the now-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings, there’s been significant backlash to how both political parties handled the confirmation process, especially pertaining to the #MeToo movement that was very much front and centre. Even though Haley stresses she’s leaving because she needs a break, as one of the few senior women in the administration, some could interpret her departure as being influenced by these recent, turbulent events.

As we discussed a few weeks back, employees sometimes work for a boss or organization with such a toxic reputation that it can begin to impact their own. Although Haley is adamant she has no plans to run in 2020, some have speculated that if she stayed on longer, she’d be forced to follow policy directives she’s not comfortable with, which could negatively impact her image if she were to run again.

Our best guess would be that Haley’s departure was a decision she brought forward. In doing so, she has had much more control in shaping the narrative surrounding her exit. While this is much more important for executives in high-profile positions, it also serves as a lesson for junior and mid-level employees who want to ensure they are seen favourably by future employers. Just as is the case with making a great first impression, you only get one chance to depart well - don’t waste it!

Will this election leave Ontario’s cannabis laws up in smoke?

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As Ontarians prepare to vote in what has been one of the most raucous provincial elections in recent memory, one issue that has not received a lot of attention is how this province plans to manage cannabis once it becomes legal. With recreational use of cannabis expected to come into effect on Canada Day, there still remains a cloud of uncertainty about whether the federal government will in fact meet that deadline. It’s also far from clear how Ontario plans to regulate and distribute the product. Under the proposed legislation, which is currently facing delays in the Senate, each province has the ability to set its own distribution methods. While many provincial governments have indicated how they plan to move forward, Ontario’s too-close-to-call election is causing a lot of anxiety for those looking to operate in this booming industry. Let’s break down where each party’s stands on this contentious issue and what it means for consumers.

The incumbent Liberals have announced that they intend to legally distribute cannabis through the Ontario Cannabis Store, a subsidiary of the government-run Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Should the Liberals win re-election, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan would see 40 of these stores rolled out across the province in 2018, and that number would double by July 2019. The Liberals believe that government-controlled distribution is the best course of action, and in a bid to crack down on the black market, the government will set up a special task force to shut down illegal storefronts that have popped up across the province since Prime Minister Trudeau announced that legalization was coming.

The Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford have signaled they are open to a free-market approach that would allow private retailers to legally sell cannabis. While Wynne called Ford’s plan reckless, Ford has since walked back his comments saying that he’s open to seeing how the Ontario Cannabis Store performs before allowing private retailers to enter the marketplace. Ford’s free-market approach could be a big hit with non-traditional conservative voters. According to a Nanos poll, over half of Ontarians would rather see regulated private retailers of cannabis than just the government-run stores.

The New Democratic Party has been visibly quiet on this issue. It’s worth noting that cannabis is not mentioned at all in their election platform. The party, under Andrea Horwath, has long supported the legalization of cannabis, but has so far offered little in terms of policy specifics on regulation and distribution. On the campaign trail, Horwath has been critical of Wynne’s plan to only roll out 40 stores over the first year, saying this small number of vendors will only turn people to the black market, given the province’s geographic size and population.

With recent polls showing the PCs and NDP running practically neck-and-neck, the cannabis industry is no doubt feeling rather restless waiting to see who comes to power, and for good reason. Billions of dollars are at stake, and as Canada prepares to become the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis, it’s safe to say that the whole world is watching.  

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, Vice-President, Public Affairs, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next week and beyond. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

Ottawa’s Pipeline Gamble Poses Major Political Risk

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The federal government is investing more than just political capital - and taking on significant risk - as Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that Ottawa will be putting billions of dollars of public money towards building the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The news comes just days before Kinder Morgan’s self-imposed deadline to pull out if it didn’t receive assurances the project wouldn’t be obstructed.

Tuesday’s announcement also comes after months of political wrangling that saw the governments of British Columbia and Alberta squared off in bitter public battle over the pipeline’s construction. Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley has long been a champion of the pipeline that would move Alberta crude and refined oil to the BC coast for international export. BC Premier John Horgan, a fellow New Democrat, stalled the pipeline’s approval citing environmental concerns. Given Horgan’s minority government is propped up by the Green Party, the first-term Premier had virtually no political room to maneuver. Despite intervention from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tried to broker a deal between the two western provinces, no agreement could be reached, putting the project in jeopardy.

Ottawa’s decision to take over the pipeline project is unprecedented in Canadian history, and is likely the result of failure to reach political consensus between Victoria and Edmonton. For the federal Liberals, who face re-election next year, getting construction underway was absolutely critical. If the project had died under their watch, it would have been a major embarrassment for the Prime Minister who has long championed its development, despite coming at odds with many in his supporters who were against it. While polls indicate that the majority of Canadians support the project, many didn’t want to see their tax dollars paying for it, which could become a ballot box question in the next election. The Liberals are taking a big gamble on this project and are assuming significant political risk.

The total bill of the project is expected to be $4.5 billion, which the government says it will recoup once it sells its stake at a later date, stressing Ottawa has no intention to be the long-term owner of the pipeline. Many in oil sector were pleased with the announcement, including Kinder Morgan, who saw its stock jump slightly this morning. However, there are still questions as to whether or not the federal government will be able to find a suitable buyer given the high level of risk associated with the controversial project.

Provident will be following this project closely and will be offering our insights. Our team has extensive experience in the energy sector, along capital markets, particularly M&A transactions, which will be a key component of this pipeline’s success.

Could an Orange Wave Crash Doug Ford's Party?

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In what many predicted to be a two-way race between the incumbent Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP now finds itself polling in second place. Following two strong debate performances, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s message appears to be resonating with voters. According to a recent report, the Ontario NDP could be on the verge of riding an orange wave into official opposition status, just like Jack Layton did in the 2011 federal election.

The latest seat projections from Barry Kay at the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy show the Tories winning 72 seats, the NDP securing 30, and the Liberals falling to 22. While this still puts the Doug Ford PCs well within majority territory (they need 63 seats to achieve that), the likelihood of the NDP as the official opposition is becoming more of a reality. With these rising fortunes, the NDP finds itself having to fend off more attacks, and even questions about the possibility of a coalition government.

The notion of a coalition government was quickly put to bed by Horwath, who said there was no way she’d partner with the Wynne Liberals, have struggled to make any real progress in the campaign thus far. There’s also the fact that the Liberals remain deeply unpopular in the province, so a coalition wouldn’t be helpful to the NDP’s brand.

On the other side of the spectrum, it's not only the PC Party that is taking notice of the NDP’s recent boost in popularity. Ontario Proud, a right-leaning Facebook page which boasts over 350,000 followers, is now training their sights on the NDP. From a communications perspective, this is a boon: the PCs are in a unique position this election to have such a large and vocal third-party activist -- something the Liberals and NDP can’t currently muster.

While it is far too early to predict the final outcome of the vote, it will be interesting to watch how much the NDP can eat into the Tories’ lead. Will it be enough to reduce their victory to a minority government? That will depend on Ford being able to stay on message and avoid any major gaffes, and for Horwath to continue to grow her popularity (she has benefited from significant increase in net favourability over the last three months) while at the same time making inroads in new ridings across the province - as she works to position the NDP as the "anyone but Ford" option. This could be difficult for the NDP as they have a small base and will need to work hard to win over and retain converts. The NDP surge could be short-lived if the Liberals manage to turn things around, but if they don’t, they could find themselves reduced to third party status -- a remarkable change of scenery for the party which has been in power for the past decade and a half.

The third and final leaders debate will be held on May 27. Watch this space for our insights and analysis as the three parties make their final push ahead of the June 7th vote.

MAKE SURE YOUR BUSINESS IS PREPARED

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, Vice-President, Public Affairs, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next month and beyond. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.