November 16, 2018

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Enough sunny ways to go around, for now

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laughs as Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman jokes during a press conference at a new 700 employee Canada Goose manufacturing facility in Winnipeg Tuesday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laughs as Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman jokes during a press conference at a new 700 employee Canada Goose manufacturing facility in Winnipeg Tuesday.

There they were — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Brian Pallister and Mayor Brian Bowman — standing in the middle of a newly opened Canada Goose parka factory in northwestern Winnipeg, smiling, nodding, applauding and lavishing each other with praise.

Trudeau started his brief address Tuesday by telling journalists and Canada Goose employees how much he likes sharing the stage with the leaders of the provincial and civic governments.

“It’s great to be back in Winnipeg with ‘the Brians,’” the prime minister said. “It’s really great to see you guys.”

Pallister nodded and smiled. Bowman flashed his famous high-beam smile.

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There they were — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Brian Pallister and Mayor Brian Bowman — standing in the middle of a newly opened Canada Goose parka factory in northwestern Winnipeg, smiling, nodding, applauding and lavishing each other with praise.

Trudeau started his brief address Tuesday by telling journalists and Canada Goose employees how much he likes sharing the stage with the leaders of the provincial and civic governments.

"It’s great to be back in Winnipeg with ‘the Brians,’" the prime minister said. "It’s really great to see you guys."

Pallister nodded and smiled. Bowman flashed his famous high-beam smile.

The bromance was officially on, at least for a few hours.

You wouldn’t know it from the cool, almost elegant protocol of the event, but at various times over the last couple of years, all three men had been at each other’s throats.

Trudeau and Pallister have crossed swords on several key public policy files, including health-care funding, climate change and even the legalization of marijuana — on which Manitoba has rejected a federal recommendation to let citizens grow small amounts of pot for personal consumption.

It was just five months ago that Pallister threatened to take the Trudeau government to court if it tried to force him to go above the $25-per-tonne ceiling in the Manitoba carbon tax plan. "I have a simple message for Ottawa — back off or we’ll see you in court," Pallister said at the time.

Although Bowman and Trudeau haven’t really had an awkward moment to speak of, Pallister has frequently and publicly tussled with Bowman over provincial funding to the province’s largest municipality (including an allegation earlier this year by Bowman that Pallister was going to "renege" on a deal to fund the second instalment of Winnipeg’s costly rapid-transit system).

None of that hostility was evident Tuesday, as the three leaders basked in the glory of the gleaming Canada Goose factory, a 128,000-square-foot marvel of painted concrete, surgical theatre-quality lighting and space-age sewing machines that will in the future employ as many as 700 people.

In many ways, having politicians smile and applaud each other in public — even while they’re plotting their revenge in private — is hardly an unprecedented event.

Good politicians are, first and foremost, pragmatic. If there’s good news to be shared, it’s better to bury your hatchet and grab your moment in the sun.

It was, however, difficult to figure out exactly who was taking credit for what Tuesday.

By now, many Canadians will have heard the entrepreneurial folk songs that have been written about the rags-to-riches story of Canada Goose.

From its start as a small coat company in Toronto, Canada Goose has become one of this country’s most recognizable brands. Its line of winter coats — which can cost as much as $1,400 each — have become a global status symbol for those who live in cold-weather regions and those who don’t, but still want to look stylishly rugged.

The increased investment by Canada Goose to keep its manufacturing operation in Canada is bona fide news. In a day and age when outsourcing the sewing to factories in China or the developing world is considered a best practice for entrepreneurs, Canada Goose is a proud, fierce symbol of nationalistic pride and business acumen.

But why play host to the prime minister, premier and mayor at the official opening? No level of government is making a direct investment in the new factory (although Manitoba continues to provide support to train new workers, many of them immigrants, to staff the three Canada Goose facilities in Winnipeg).

This was a pure piece of political public relations, sort of a "Make Canada/Manitoba/Winnipeg Great Again" type of event where politicians get to sing their own praises in a non-judgmental environment.

All three could use a bit of that right now.

Bowman is fighting an already-bitter campaign for a second term. Pallister is getting ready for a fall session of the legislature that everyone expects will be nasty. And Trudeau, well, he’s fighting for his political life on multiple fronts.

At home, the prime minister is fending off criticism for botching the regulatory approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Abroad, he continues to spar with U.S. President Donald Trump over trade. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada are at stake if a new continental trade agreement cannot be reached.

Trudeau needed to attach himself to a positive story that allowed him to highlight the contrast between himself and Trump on a wide variety of issues, in the hope it portrays him in a positive light, even when so much negative stuff is going on.

Cue Canada Goose.

In a one-hour public appearance, Trudeau got to wave the Canadian flag, celebrate a Canadian manufacturer that has resisted the siren call of low-wage economies, and celebrate Canada’s relatively strong economy. He even got an opportunity to use his new friend, Pallister, as a positive example for those premiers who are bucking the federal climate-change agenda.

In response to questions about the threats by Saskatchewan, Ontario and — most recently — Alberta to ignore Ottawa’s carbon-tax plan, Trudeau lauded Pallister and encouraged him to broker more support from ideologically similar provincial leaders.

"To see a leader, indeed a Conservative leader, who understands the need to have a complete plan that fights climate change... is something I very much welcome," Trudeau said. "And I wish he would encourage some of the other conservative voices around the country to recognize that having a plan to fight climate change is something that all Canadians have a right to expect."

Under normal circumstances, being enlisted by a Liberal prime minister to sell a climate-change plan to other Tory premiers is the kind of experience that would make Pallister throw up in his mouth.

In a statement issued by the premier’s office following a one-on-one meeting with Trudeau later in the day, Pallister clearly wanted the prime minister to know there were going to be boundaries in this budding bromance.

Pallister said following a "positive meeting" with the prime minister, he felt it was necessary to remind Trudeau not to force Manitoba to match the federal carbon-tax plan, which would require a levy of twice what is specified in the Manitoba plan. He said Manitoba’s own plan "should be respected by the federal government."

It wasn’t an end to the newly minted bromance. Just a reminder that one positive news conference does not a life-long love affair make.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 6:36 AM CDT: Final

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