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Gerry Butts’ departure from PMO matters to Canadian businesses—but not how you think

There’s no question that the departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet has dominated political news recently, and the departure of Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts isn’t likely to change that in the short term.

Beyond political watchers and those who draw a paycheque from the Liberal Government or the Conservative Opposition, however, it’s immediately less clear what the impact of this change at the highest levels of the Prime Minister's Office means for stakeholders, be they business, labour or NGOs.

The simple answer to whether it matters to Canadians businesses? It does—but not how you might think.

That’s not to say it's inconsequential—far from it. Butts has been by Trudeau’s side since their days at McGill. He was a key driver, along with Chief of Staff Katie Telford, of the then-Liberal Leader’s historic ascendance from third to first place in the 2015 General Election, and he’s been on the job ever since shaping the Government’s agenda.

In fact, it’s consequential in three ways—one that will make news and two that won’t. It’s the latter two that should be of interest to Canadian businesses.

1. On the news of the day

Butts’ departure is a clear indication of more news ahead in the coming days, likely in the form of Jody Wilson-Raybould herself finally breaking her silence and commenting on her motives for leaving Cabinet. Where that takes us is anyone’s guess at this stage, but it’s possible we’ve already skipped to the end of the novel with this latest news and Butts demonstrating with his actions that the buck stops with him.

But for Canadian businesses, while the above change will be easy to follow in the news, the other two changes noted below have the potential to be of greater interest.

2. A changing of the guard

First, and one of the two areas savvy businesspeople will be watching, is where this change will be felt most acutely: inside the machinery of government. Who replaces Butts will define the impact of this news on the world of political staff and public servants—those making the decisions that are of interest to Canadian businesses. If the new Principal Secretary comes from inside PMO or someone who was there recently—the most likely scenario—it’s safe to imagine status quo going forward. However, if that person comes from a Minister’s Office, that could signal a move towards a greater willingness in PMO to let Ministers and their staff shape the approaches the Government will take on their particular issues in 2019. Most unexpected would be someone from directly outside of Government, who would then bring their own views and experience both in politics and with their particular areas of expertise. Regardless of where they come from, should the next person up take a different approach to Butts, or have significant experience or interest in a particular sector, it may present an opportunity for Ministers and their stakeholders to re-engage on issues that have stalled previously.

3. But the song remains the same

But for most stakeholders, businesses and Canadians, the story will remain the same: the Government’s priorities, crafted over years of opposition and planned and executed against for the first three years of this mandate will remain their priorities. Ministers have been assigned mandate letters, which were deliberately made public, laying out what the Prime Minister expected they would deliver on through the course of this mandate. The ability of those same Ministers to secure funding at Budget time and get those policies through Treasury Board’s challenge function has been dependent on demonstrating clear plans to meet those objectives. As far as businesses should be concerned, those mandate letters are written in stone at this late point and Ministers will be well along their plans to deliver against them.

Signature policies around the childcare benefit, a price on pollution and infrastructure spending—middle class issues as defined by Trudeau—will continue to drive the Government’s agenda into the 2019 election year. Based on recent reports, there’s a good chance they’ll soon be joined by policies around pharmacare and the price of drugs, the ever-present speculation around the capital gains inclusion rate and perhaps further steps to assist millennials with buying their first homes.

The real takeaways

But beyond the predictable, change is likely to come in style and not substance. That’s why Canadian businesses would be wise to remember these three key points when engaging Ottawa in 2019:

1. What’s important to you isn’t always what’s on the news: While political intrigues sell papers and drive clicks, they aren’t often the news you can use. Stay focused on what matters to your objectives and consider what’s changed for you and what hasn’t.

2. Don’t try and swim upstream: With mandate letters long established and campaign platforms beginning to gel, it’s much more effective to find where your goals align with the Government than it is to get them to reverse course.

3. Make sure you’re working smart: With only months left until Election 2019, there are only so many days left to ensure your objectives are achieved. Refine your message and make sure you have the right team to get the job done.

NATIONAL’s Public Affairs and Government Relations experts can help you understand the dynamics of Canada’s political landscape and position your message so make sure it’s heard by the right people at the right time. Contact us to learn more.

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Written by Kristan Hines | Bridget Burgess | AnnMarie Boudreau | Stephanie Bell

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