Year in review

Rating the Ottawa A-team

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

Jim Flaherty’s task for 2013: Retain confidence in his fiscal know-how. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It’s time to assess how Ottawa’s political leaders handled themselves in 2012. And because politics is as much about how you sell the message as it is about the message itself, we recruited communications specialist Barry McLoughlin to help in the judging.

Leaders

Stephen Harper

How he did: Good days, bad days

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The task ahead: Protect the economy

The Prime Minister had some important successes and frustrating disappointments in 2012: He signed the Beyond the Border accord with U.S. President Barack Obama. He skillfully navigated the takeover of Canadian-owned Nexen by Chinese state-owned CNOOC. And there were high-profile trips to China and India.

But allegations of electoral shenanigans continue to dog his government. Mr. Harper badly mishandled the fiasco over costs for the F-35 fighter jet. The caucus is becoming increasingly restive.

Mr. McLoughlin observes Mr. Harper “is not someone Canadians are madly in love with, but he has garnered respect.” The challenge is to reinforce his argument that only the Conservatives can manage the economy.

Elizabeth May

How she did: The Greens turned a corner

The task ahead: Build a team

Though she is the lone Green voice in Parliament, Ms. May drew attention with her spirited opposition to the omnibus budget bill and her fight to save the Experimental Lakes Area. As a result, the Greens posted two strong showings in November by-elections. Now, says Mr. McLoughlin, “she has to build a team” that will convince Canadians the Greens are “a party and not a one-person movement.”

Thomas Mulcair

How he did: Made the NDP respectable

The task ahead: Build trust

In his nine months as NDP Leader, Mr. Mulcair has entrenched the NDP as the true opposition to the Conservative government. But his “Dutch disease” attack on the oil sands stoked concerns that an NDP government would harm the economy. Mr. Mulcair’s job, says Mr. McLoughlin, is to “show us he’s got bench strength,” while convincing voters that they “can trust him to take over government.”

Cabinet

 

Rona Ambrose

How she did: Saved the government’s butt

The task ahead: Lay the F-35 debacle to rest.

The Public Works Minister impressed many with her calm resolve to get the F-35 procurement process back on the rails. “She’s come a long way,” Mr. McLoughlin says. The challenge in 2013 will be to find the right jet fighter at the right price and then sell the choice.

John Baird

How he did: A strong performance

The task ahead: Smooth the remaining rough edges.

The first foreign minister who appears to have Mr. Harper’s full confidence, Mr. Baird has been powerful in his defence of Israel and in championing the rights of women and gays in developing countries. In 2013, Mr. McLoughlin would advise him to work on “moderating some of his comments.” After all, if Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are “a despicable act of terror,” as Mr. Baird described them, then how would he describe something even worse?

“Toning it down doesn’t mean you turn it to mush,” Mr. McLoughlin says.

Jim Flaherty

How he did: Strong on agenda; weak on execution.

The task ahead: Economy, economy, economy

The Finance Minister got an important budget through Parliament, but the uproar over the omnibus bill that implemented the budget hurt the Conservatives in the polls. Still, Mr. McLoughlin believes “Jim Flaherty is connected at the hip to the economy,” and as long as Canadians continue to believe that, he’ll have their confidence.

Jason Kenney

How he did: A stellar performance

The task ahead: Continue the transformation

The Immigration Minister continues his ground-breaking reforms aimed at encouraging economic migrants while deterring false refugee claims. Immigration policy marks the single biggest achievement of this government’s mandate thus far. “Jason Kenney is absolutely an A-player,” Mr. McLoughlin says. He should stay the course in transforming the immigration system into one that meets labour needs while deterring queue-jumpers.

Peter MacKay

How he did: Badly bungled the jet file

The task ahead: Rebuild trust

Rarely has a government mismanaged the messaging of a procurement contract as horribly as the Harper government, and for that the Defence Minister must bear the blame. But Mr. MacKay remains popular with the troops. He needs to handle the post-Afghanistan downsizing of the military skilfully in 2013, while hoping Ms. Ambrose rescues the fighter contract.

Joe Oliver

How he did: Not welcome in British Columbia

The task ahead: Sell resources; stay away from pipelines

The Natural Resources minister appeared to blame opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline on foreign environmental radicals. Protests within British Columbia itself turned out to be the real problem. On other files – streamlining (some would say gutting) environmental reviews, and selling Canadian resources overseas–he did better. Mr. McLoughlin advises Mr. Oliver to “lie low” on the pipeline issue until after the B.C. provincial election in May.

Vic Toews

How he did: He killed his own bill

The task ahead: Figure a way out.

The Public Safety minister managed to doom his badly constructed Internet surveillance legislation by saying critics “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” The government interred the bill, limiting the damage, but Mr. Toews has been very quiet since. Still, Mr. McLoughlin admires his stoicism during the furore. The challenge in 2013 will be to craft an alternative to the old legislation, while not lumping the opposition in with pedophiles.