2018 Public Affairs Retrospective

2018 Public Affairs Retrospective

The past year was a record setting one in terms of political news dominating the media landscape, both here and abroad. Looking back, it’s easy to forget many of the highlights of 2018, like the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Amazon hitting $1 trillion in market cap and the world polarized by Yanny v. Laurel. To help you prepare for small talk at your holiday parties this season, the Edelman Public Affairs team has decided to provide you with a little hindsight and offer our perspective on what the number one theme of 2018 really was.

A Year in Review

Going back to January, it looked inevitable that Patrick Brown would become the next Premier of Ontario but with his departure the race was on for a Leader to take the Party into the general election.  Although the front-runner was political newcomer Caroline Mulroney, the title went to Doug Ford and the re-emergence of Ford Nation as a political force was complete when he won a landslide majority government over Kathleen Wynne on June 7. Although Toronto has been abuzz this year, we can’t forget about the #hopeandhardwork happening in the nation’s capital. With Trump in the White House, this year started out chaotic and has stayed that way. We saw the negotiation of “the new NAFTA” – USMCA, as well as the start of a National Pharmacare strategy under Eric Hoskins, the government purchasing their very own pipeline and the crack down on carbon tax.

But there was one big thing that dominated 2018 across the board– the passing of Bill C-45 and the roll out of the adult use cannabis market.

It was impossible to attend a meeting or party, walk down the street or turn on the news without cannabis being the number one topic on minds, lips and billboards. This was truly a Heritage Moment in Canadian history as we lead the world in this nascent industry and has dubbed 2018 “The Year of Cannabis”.

For the Trudeau government this was a massive campaign item that can now be moved from promises made to promises kept.  The federal Liberals spent a significant amount of political capital, time and effort to ensure that this was the policy decision that defined their first term in office. As the bill passed through the House of Commons there were last minute edits, committee meetings, consultations with senators and a strong final push to get this off the floor before the summer break. It was clear that this was not a fight Trudeau planned to lose.  Although using this as a propeller for their progressive and open-minded image, the government has taken a harsh approach to marketing and advertising regulations that has left licensed producers scrambling to promote their new brands without a hand-slap from Health Canada. Luckily the hype isn’t over yet - 2019 will bring along with it new legislation on edibles and likely another boom in the share prices for Canadian LPs.

Although cannabis is now available in every province, it may not always feel that way. In keeping with their “Open for Business” mentality, the Ford Government changed the retail model in the 11th hour opening it up to private sellers for 2019. In the meantime, the Ontario market has been plagued with supply shortages, recalls and customer complaints turning the OCS into one of the worst drug dealers on the block.

This is especially noticeable when you look to our (much more) experienced friends out West. The British Columbia and Alberta Governments hit the ground running on October 17 with online sales and brick and mortar opening their doors at midnight to excited “first time” users. Modeled after their liquor retail models, it is clear to see these governments are ready to reap the rewards of this new tax stream and are willing to let the free market regulate itself.

On the flip side, the Quebec government has taken a starkly different approach to cannabis legalization putting forward some of the most restrictive rules in the country. With the legal age set at 21, home-growing outlawed and government owned and operated retailers, Quebec truly became the wildcard of legalization season. The SAQ will continue to hold a monopoly on cannabis sales for now while the new government strives to control use as much as possible – a position we do not normally associate with other vices in la belle province.

It has been 100 years since the prohibition on alcohol was lifted in Canada and it may be another 100 before we see the emergence of an industry quite like that of cannabis again. This was truly a moment in time that not only defined 2018 on Bay Street but shed light on the political ideologies from coast to coast.