The Ontario Election is over: Now the work begins

The past six months have provided Ontarians with an entertaining, terrifying and action-packed election campaign. Many who follow politics regard the time in advance of an election as the ‘silly season’ and with no exception, the political parties and candidates in this 2018 campaign have certainly lived up to the hype. 

The pre-writ period saw tremendous support and energy from the Ontario PC’s. The November 2017 launch of ‘the People’s Guarantee’ that, while light on detail provided a brilliant strategy that positioned the PC’s in the middle of the political spectrum. The package included a host of progressive nuggets of public policy, enough to court frustrated Liberal voters and ensure the PC base in Ontario. Consuming this middle ground also forced the governing Liberal’s to scrape away further at the left, which continued to reinforce the PC’s positioning them as ‘tax and spend’ and poor managers of the public purse. Perhaps more significantly, the strategy helped the very likable PC Leader Patrick Brown create distance between comparisons to conservative leaders like Trump, Harper and Harris.

As we watched 2017 come to a close, there was a strong sense that voters in Ontario wanted a new government. The Liberals went into full damage control focused their legislative agenda on delivering incentives to court voters. The spring budget included a host of financial and public policy leavers they felt necessary to win the election. The cornerstone of the agenda hinged on revised labour legislation that included a historic 32% increase in minimum wage and more than 60 changes to labour and employment law. The Liberals strategy sought to use public spending to drive a wedge into the political narrative, as a means of overcoming diminishing popularity. 

The Liberals had previously committed to balancing the books for the 2018 election however Finance Minister Sousa’s ‘Fiscal Recovery Plan’ proved to be a sharp U-turn with massive increases in spending and projected deficits well out to 2025. Ontario’s debt to GDP ratio was projected to balloon to 38.6%, and firmly cementing Ontario’s status as the most indebted sub-national jurisdiction in the world. While the Liberals were ready to hand out ‘free daycare’, ‘free prescriptions’ and more, all polling indicated that the voters clearly just wanted to be ‘free’ of the Liberals.

Not to be outdone, the Ontario PC’s have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Just weeks into the year, Brown faced a scandal that resulted in the leader resigning in January 25th, just five months from the election. Four candidates quickly emerged in the leadership contest, including the first to enter the race, eventual winner Doug Ford. The leadership contest was held March 10, and despite some concerns over the voting process, the party remained focused and united on defeating the Wynne Liberals. 

The uncertainty of a new PC leadership and redevelopment of a winning campaign for Team Ford, provided an opportunity for the Andrea Horwath led NDP to gain significant ground. Ford’s own lack of popularity both within the party and amongst the electorate at large created a significant window of opportunity for the NDP who remained predominately an afterthought until the 11thhour of the election. The NDP saw a considerable surge in support in mid-May as Horwath performed better than many anticipated in televised debates and found some momentum. In fact, 70+% of declared Liberal supporters indicated that that would consider throwing their support to the NDP as the next best alternative. 

The second debate provided a unique moment for the Premier and her team launched a ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’ campaign that sought to distance personality from electoral record, but this had little influence over voters. Support for the Wynne Liberals eroded so quickly during the campaign’s final days, that the Premier publicly announced on Saturday June 2nd, that a Liberal loss was inevitable.  In January, the Liberals were polling as high as 32% in a solid second position behind the PC’s and well ahead of the NDP. The incumbency of government is a natural advantage, however the Liberals declining fortunes met with a ‘change’ minded electorate as popularity dipped to less than 20%. The late-stage projections for the Liberals even had many within the campaign worried about retaining party status in the legislature. 

The results of the June 7 election to many, were unpredictable and provided for a wide array of predictions. Would the NPD win a majority? Would there be a minority government? Would there be a coalition? Could the PC’s and Team Ford possibly pull out a majority?  The PC’s early leads eroded into a statistical tie with the NDP within days of the election provided significant trepidation for volunteers and organizers in all camps.  The only thing that was absolutely clear, was that after 15 years of Liberal governments, Ontario votes were voting for change.

In the end, the Ontario PC party pulled out a clear majority delivering 76 seats with the NDP doubling their presence at Queens Park with 40. The decimated Liberals suffered their worst defeat in the history of Ontario politics, and will now officially lose party status managing only 7 seats.  Wynne immediately resigned as leader, setting the stage for a complete party rebuild. And, for the first time ever, the Green Party will have a seat in the Ontario legislature thanks to a convincing win in Guelph by leader Mike Schreiner. 

The circus atmosphere of the 2018 election campaign provided no shortage of mystery, wonder and its fair share of WTF moments.  The election results will be poured over by strategists and political sciences for years ahead. The challenge however for most organizations is to move beyond figuring out what happened and into the realm of how to deal with it. The new Ford government’s agenda will respond to the votes call for change. 

For many organizations this will mean retooling government relations and communication strategies. This will require re-engaging the array of new, untested and unproven MPP’s and political staff on all sides of the legislature. Ford is likely to move quickly to announce his cabinet, likely before the end of the month, and it is likely to be a smaller cabinet. Their agenda will be focused on creating quick wins by increasing economic opportunities and reigning in spending.

Premier-elect Ford and his transition team will be quick to will open the books and look for efficiencies. The question remains for you and your organization is how to influence the new dynamic at Queens Park. How does your organization maintain presence and focus with a narrow economic agenda? What will Ford and his government’s relationship with Ottawa look like and how can your organization benefit from that?  Give us a call, we can help.

Ontario Election 2018 #2 The PC's Path to Victory

The path to victory for Patrick Brown and the Ontario PC’s is relatively straight. They just have to avoid making mistakes and avoid shooting themselves in the foot.  There’s an old adage that elections aren’t won – they are lost and the Liberals are well on their way to losing.  Just get out of the way and let it happen … at least that’s the plan, but it’s also not the full story. 

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Municipal Government Communications

A communications plan is the backbone of any government. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Government of Canada or a small municipality, the need for an effective communications plan can’t be overstated, especially during a crisis.  It sounds simple and straight forward, but without a plan the process of communicating in the midst of a crisis can often be paralyzing.     

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Advocacy and Engagement

By Cailey Murphy
Managing Director, Western Canada

I recently spoke on a communications panel at the Association for Mineral Exploration’s Roundup Conference in Vancouver.  Topics ranged from online presence to community engagement, public communications and crisis communications. I was there to speak about government relations and while, at first glance, the topic might seem to some a little out of place on a marketing and communications panel, there were no more important topics to be bookended by.  

Government relations is increasingly requiring proactive public awareness and community engagement building exercises alongside traditional dealings with policy and decision makers.  This is particularly true for resource industries.  In resource development there is a lot of talk about ‘social license’, a term which is often misunderstood, misconstrued or overused but refers, generally, to the level of acceptance or approval at the community level for resource development projects.  

We have heard the decades-long debate between the environment and the economy and, in Canada, parties on all sides of the political spectrum seem to be coalescing around consensus for a balanced approach.  The current federal government is using the following language around the need to “protect our environment, fight against climate change, and grow our economy.”  

These are certainly not new ideas, however, as the concept of social license and its role have evolved over the years and, as communities become more engaged and governments more responsive, we are seeing a general trend towards a demand for robust multi-stakeholder engagement.  

How has this manifested itself? I think if we look at the events leading up to the federal government’s pipeline plan, we can see this trend, at a high level, in action.

On November 8th, Prime Minister Trudeau came to Vancouver to re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.  During that same visit the PM announced a $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan which included the following tenets:

  • Create a world-leading marine safety system
  • Restore and protect our marine ecosystems
  • Strengthening partnerships with indigenous communities
  • Invest in evidence-based oil spill response methods

    Less than a month later (November 29), the government announced its pipeline plan which included the approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, a rejection of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline Project application and a new Tanker Moratorium on the North Coast.

While these pieces were announced separately and in isolation of each other, they create a compelling case when viewed as part of a whole.  There is no doubt that there was a considerable amount of engagement, consultation and lobbying by parties on all sides in the lead up to both the Ocean Protection and Pipeline Plan and the outcome seems to indicate the government trending towards a holistic approach to policy development that takes into consideration a diversity of interests; they do not just want to engage with proponents or opponents, but seek to hear from broad multi-stakeholder groups, weigh the challenges and balance the interests.

So, what does this all signal?  You need to have a total plan.  You need to know all sides of an issue and your plan must be responsive.  No, you are not going to please everyone, but you have to demonstrate that you have taken the concerns raised into consideration and your plan must address them with a balanced approach.

We have seen this approach in action in BC for a number of years.  An example is the Code Review, the government led review of the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines.  In this case the BC government brought together representatives from industry, labour and First Nations to provide input in the review process - bringing all parties to the table on the best way forward.

What does this mean for you in the context of public relations and communications?  External communications can be an absolutely critical tool in government relations.  Ultimately governments are responsive to the public, to the voter, and the more you invest in public relations, the more you will help your cause.  If you can get public buy-in, you will have a much easier go of getting government buy-in.

As such, it means you should not and cannot just reach out to your allies, you must reach out to all interested stakeholder groups.  Not engaging is not an option and as governments turn to communities as a measure of the merits of a project, so too must industry increasingly engage with broad communities of interest.

International Relations

Steve Virtue
President & CEO

After a recent trip to the State of Zacatecas in Mexico, it is now abundantly clear just how the uncertainty and instability created in the United States has provided substantial motivation for national and state level governments to solidify and expand existing economic relationships and plenty of incentive to search out new global opportunities.

Mexico has benefited from billions of dollars in the auto sector investment due to its geographic proximity to the United States market. For several decades, this close relationship with the United States has provided beneficial trade relations. The depth of the relationship has provided Canada and the United States with access to strong production quality and the ability to leverage positive economics while Mexico has gained billions in social and physical infrastructure investments. In fact, prior to the 2016 US election, Mexican officials estimated the domestic automotive sector growth included the productive of more than five million light vehicles across 13 different auto-brands through more than 30 facilities by 2020.

Currently, more than 80% of the domestic production is intended for export given generous access not only to North and Latin American markets but growing demand in both Asia and Europe. My trip to Mexico demonstrated the eager interest of States such as Zacatecas for diverse growth, not only in the auto sector but in information technology, Aerospace, tier two manufacturing among many others. The resource economy remains a strong counter with mining and agribusiness remaining strong in the State as well.  

I witnessed first hand the massive facilities built by Nissan in neighbouring Aguascalientes. The complex was built in 2013 at a cost of roughly $2 Billion ($US) and created more than 9,000 direct and indirect jobs. This plant is nearly 6.5 million square feet of state of the art production facility. The Aguascalientes complex is just one of 3 that Nissan has in Mexico and typical of the kind of investments auto manufacturers have been making in Mexico since the mid-1990’s. Every major automaker has a substantial manufacturing and assembly presence, including the North American ‘Big 3’. However, this level of production has caused very public concern north of the Rio Grande.

President Trump’s protectionist policy framework has proposed that all import vehicles would be levied with stiff tariffs is meeting with substantial resistance, and not just from Mexico. Former US auto executives are helping to spell out what this would mean for the US economy, and the results would appear to contradict Mr. Trump’s intentions. A CBC report highlighted how Mr. Trump's threat to "wall off the import of Mexican-made cars with a 35 per cent tariff would be a disaster for the U.S. auto industry, according to Marina Whitman, a former vice-president of General Motors".   The report goes on to note that 40 per cent of the parts that go into cars built in the U.S. come from Mexico.  

Mr. Trump’s ongoing rhetoric of dismantling NAFTA remain a concern for both Canadian and Mexican officials. Trump recently noted that he has “very serious” concerns about NAFTA, stating that the agreement has been “a catastrophe for our workers and our jobs and our companies”. However, the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research(CAR), concluded that dismantling NAFTA could cost more than 31,000 jobs in the US. Mr. Trump’s rather undisciplined approach to floating trial balloons on public policy are creating far more chaos than value.

The ongoing discussions about destabilizing of existing agreements in North America, and the potential for further dilution of the EU with several key elections this year in Europe, has created intense concern about the existing economic world order. At the national and state levels, progressive leaders such as those in Zacatecas are developing new strategies and approaches to developing progressive economic development and searching out new partnerships. Zacatecas continues its progressive approach to economic development, looking for diversification across a variety of sectors. In the face of this uncertainty, progressive leaders continue to pursue economic security and long-term development by building new relationships. 

How did Donald Trump Become President?

The Election Map  

On November 9, the world woke up to the reality that the world’s oldest democracy, largest economy and a world superpower would be handing over the reins (and the nuclear weapons codes) to a reality TV star who regularly – and with some alacrity – said crazy things on Twitter just to get attention.

Since then, as our company name suggests, we have been looking into the “How?” and “Why?” of Trump’s victory and, perhaps most importantly, what it could mean to the Canadian economy and our own future and we have some surprising conclusions. 

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BC Election Series: Looking Ahead to May 2017

A BC Provincial General Election is scheduled for May 9, 2017 and, with less than a year to go, parties are beginning to organize, fundraise and position themselves for your vote.  As we gear up for a fall sitting of the legislature (scheduled for October 3 to November 24), the 2017 budget and inevitable campaign season, there are a number of opportunities for organizations to position themselves with government:

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HOWE&WYE Attend Round Table with Minister Dion

This summer HOWE&WYE's Cailey Murphy, Managing Director, Western Canada attended a roundtable in Vancouver with the Honourable Stephane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs who was on route to the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) taking place in Laos.  

At the meeting Minister Dion reiterated a number of his government’s foreign affairs priorities such as reinvesting in Canada’s global leadership role, welcoming Syrian refugees, helping developing nations and promoting peace and security.  

Dion emphasized an often quoted phrase of the Prime Minister, that “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them”, noting that this philosophy is something that Canada can offer the world.  Indeed the Prime Minister himself has touted this as a Canadian export, stating during a speech in London last November,

HOWE&WYE's Cailey Murphy, Managing Director, Western Canada and the Honourable Stephane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Minister Dion projected this sentiment as central to their foreign affairs approach and noted at the meeting that the message is being well received on the world stage, particularly during an era that has seen much division among and within many states abroad.




Our commitment to diversity and inclusion isn’t about Canadians being nice and polite… this commitment is a powerful and ambitious approach to making Canada, and the world, a better, and safer, place.
— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The team at HOWE&WYE has more than 45 cumulative years of experience in government relations, stakeholder engagement and communications.  We are committed to working closely with our clients to provide senior level support in advocacy and strategic government relations.  We have worked for government in stakeholder engagement and advisory capacities and have held senior communications roles with numerous industry associations.  Contact one of our team members to learn more about how we can help represent your interests with relevant stakeholders.


Public Relations is a competitive business and the media landscape is shrinking.  Early in 2016, HOWE&WYE secured the win in an RFP to communicate Chile’s economic interests, particularly in the mining industry in Canada during the PDAC Convention in March 2016. Winning the RFP was only the first in a series of victories for HOWE&WYE.

 “Our competitive analysis demonstrated that the results we achieved for Chile propelled their voice dramatically above their competition, in this case two other countries competing for mindshare and voice,” says Steve Virtue. HOWE&WYE research indicated the evidence was compelling and overwhelmingly in Chile’s favour with a stunning ratio of 38 to 1 in terms of impressions over the closest competitor.

Total impressions of earned media coverage for Chile exceeded 35.8 million. Part of HOWE&WYE’s analysis of the execution, we compared our coverage for Chile against the two other country sponsors at PDAC 2016: Peru and Ecuador. Both countries used PR firms. Peru earned 1.4 million impressions, Ecuador earned 700,000.  Read the case study...


“This has been a tremendously successful first year of operation for HOWE&WYE. We have generated significant media coverage and expanded public profile for clients,” says Nate Habermeyer, co-founding partner. HOWE&WYE’s senior team represent more than 50-years of experience, across a variety of sectors. “Our team’s combined personal and professional experience consistently drives value for our clients and continues to be in high demand,” he noted.

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HOWE&WYE is pleased to announce the expansion of strategic service offerings. New services include strategic counsel in the development of communications and public affairs strategy, deep program or overall communications audits, management consulting specific to team, budget and performance management.  "We expanded these services after an audit of what our clients were really asking for," says Steve Virtue, president and co-founder. “In today’s market there is a heavy emphasis on value for money, and we play a very objective role in evaluating operations and providing thorough analysis of an organization’s performance relative to their business objectives,” he added.   


HOWE&WYE’s deep leadership experience has been valuable to associations, non-profits and startups, who rely on the firm’s breadth of practice knowledge gained from a variety of industries and sectors to provide expert counsel on communications and public affairs best practices. “The most important thing for clients is to ensure they are generating a substantial return on their communications investments,” says Virtue. "Our clients have come to appreciate the deep expertise we have and rely on us to ensure alignment and that expectations are being met.


Market conditions and uncertainty having a lot of organizations, regardless of size, looking inward to evaluate their operations,” says Virtue. “Given our deep expertise, we play a valuable role for organization’s looking to improve and gain a competitive advantage by maximizing their efficiency.” HOWE&WYE’s senior team brings more than 50 years of leadership experience and practical expertise to the table.