People and Places

Real Change: 8 Ways Ottawa Will Be Different Under Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister at Rideau Hall, above, on Wednesday morning.

How much capital will the capital have in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government? With the Liberal cabinet being sworn in on Wednesday, Ottawans will encounter some new kids on Parliament’s Centre Block in the days and weeks ahead.

Here are the Top 8 ways the city could change overnight:

City Hall Canoodling: Birds of a red feather should conceivably flock together, so expect the new government to have a much more cordial relationship with Mayor Jim Watson. Watson’s time as a provincial Liberal cabinet minister gives him an immediate in with a Trudeau government that has warmly embraced its provincial cousins. John Baird (the Tory’s top regional minister throughout most of the Stephen Harper era) and Watson had an arms-length relationship at the best of times, and often squabbled — particularly on issues involving the National Capital Commission and LRT. But with local MPPs and MPs now coloured a dominant shade of red, there will be Liberal strength in numbers at all three levels of power. The danger is that short shrift could get paid to opponents and alternative visions for the city. Given Trudeau’s promise to run deficits to invest in infrastructure, the region’s political clout could come in handy.

Canada’s 150th Birthday Party in 2017: Traditionally more cozy with cultural events, the Liberals could step up the government’s commitments — both financial, physical, and personal — to the country’s 150th birthday celebrations in Ottawa. Don’t expect to see a shirtless Prime Minister Trudeau jumping out of a maple-glazed cake, but expect him and his cabinet to be highly visible. With 365 days of festivities ranging from the JUNO Awards to a potential Grey Cup, they’ll have plenty of opportunities. Maybe Trudeau will even try and one-up the old man’s classic outfit at the 1970 Grey Cup: dark fedora, black cape, plaid pants and rose lapel.

Ottawa’s New Top Gun: Pierre Poilievre recently stepped in for Baird as the region’s top minister — but now Poilievre is a one-man Ottawa Tory show on the outside of power looking in. Trudeau has an embarrassment of wealth to choose from locally for his cabinet, but limited space means only one or two MPs are likely to get the nod — and the opportunity to become the city’s top federal powerbroker. The consensus best bets are Ottawa South’s David McGuinty, most recently the Liberal environment critic; new Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, an international trade lawyer and past Trudeau advisor on foreign affairs; or Orléans’ Andrew Leslie, a retired lieutenant general. (Given the Liberal’s victory over the four NDP incumbents in West Quebec, a local cabinet minister from across the river is also an option.)

Bureaucratic Bliss: The Harper government’s relationship with the country’s bureaucracy has been mired in strife, with local outrage over cuts to jobs and benefits, and frequent high-profile battles with public sector unions. The Liberals have promised to heal those wounds, curb partisan influence and remove muzzles from the bureaucracy. While public servants may see the new Liberal government with rose-tinted glasses, the love-in could last only as long as the next major labour negotiation. But for now, many local bureaucrats are probably sleeping more secure in their jobs — with both eyes closed instead of one eye open. (Who knows? Maybe the “Harperman” guy can even come back to work).

PM Party Circuit: Sure, Harper enjoyed playing piano for the party faithful or attending hockey games, but the outgoing PM has never been a real socialite. Trudeau’s already chronic love-affair with cameras and efforts to prove he’s a “man of the people” will likely see the incoming PM far more visible at Ottawa cultural and charity events, festivals and performances. He will likely even yuck it up at the annual Press Gallery Dinner again, which Harper hasn’t attended for years. That said, Trudeau’s father could barely tolerate the political comedy roasts and stopped going to them in 1981. Like father, like son? To be determined.

Media Matchmaking: A less antagonistic relationship between the PMO and the national press gallery can be expected, along with more candid interviews from the PM and key ministers. “I think it’s important to underline the important role that the media fills in public discourse and public life,” Trudeau said in his first press conference in the National Press Theatre after his victory. “And I look forward to continuing to engage with you all in the coming days, months and years.” Local journalists certainly took notice, with quips on social media like this one from the CBC’s Terry Milewski: “This is odd. There’s a prime minister taking questions in the National Press Theatre with a journalist chairing.” While Trudeau’s team has promised a more open relationship with the media, that sunny-ways commitment will be tested by their first major rainy-day stumble or scandal.

Memorial to Victims of Communism: The controversial, eighty-storey monument was favoured by the Harper government, and slated to be built next to the Supreme Court — a site long earmarked for a potential new Federal Court building. There is a good change the Liberal government will move the location — if not put the project on permanent hold.

President Barack Obama Visit Part II: With disputes over major issues such as the oil sands, and major clashes in style, Harper and Obama have never exactly been the two amigos. With the U.S. president riding out a final lame-duck year in 2016, and a new “hope and change”-talking Canadian leader, Obama’s second visit to Ottawa could soon be in the cards.