Over dinner one night, Liberal MP Scott Brison ticked off the big players who, he claimed, the Conservatives have ticked off: the United States, China, Mexico, the premiers, the aboriginal community.
"Relationships. They're the key," said the Nova Scotian. "You don't get things done without them. You don't get pipelines built. You don't get the aboriginal community on board. There will be 400,000 from that community entering our work force in the next decade. You've got to get the relationships right."
Mr. Brison will be getting a big economic portfolio when Justin Trudeau names his first cabinet Wednesday. He will join an economic team, perhaps even as finance minister, that is expected to include Chrystia Freeland, the former finance journalist and author, and Bill Morneau, the former chair of the C.D. Howe Institute.
Mr. Brison, he with the beaming eyes and sunny smile, was talking at that dinner before Justin Trudeau introduced sunny ways as a major theme piece for his stewardship – this to contrast the fractiousness of the previous power-holders.
When he and Mr. Trudeau speak of the need for a new era of co-operation, they have chosen a most favourable time to make it happen. For synergy, the deck is set. "Progressive Politicians Now Rule Across Canada," a headline blared the other day. The Liberals come to power surrounded by the like-minded. Liberal premiers in Ontario, Quebec, an NDP premier in Alberta. Progressive-minded mayors in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver. Add to it, a liberal President in the United States and likely another – put your money on Hillary Clinton – to follow.
Though he is clearly at one with the bridge-building motif, that doesn't mean Mr. Brison will be taking a tame approach. In whatever economic portfolio, we can count on him to stir the pot. An assertive, restless politician, he's been a political floor-crosser, jumping from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 2003. Never lacking in ambition, he ran for the leadership in each party, losing handily both times.
A leader on gay rights, he made history of sorts when in 2007 he became the first federal politician to marry his same-sex partner.
On the economy, he favours an activist course. He is adamant about the pluses of infrastructure investment, wants a far more diversified approach than resource extraction and a fiscal policy that is consistent with monetary policy.
Business and finance have been the focus of the 48-year-old ever since his college days at Dalhousie University, where he started a little business renting small fridges. The operation earned him the nickname Fridge Magnate. His favourite book, he told an interviewer, is the Economist, the magazine.
Critics will be hoping he has dug deeper than that for his expertise. But Mr. Brison has a good deal of experience on economic questions. He worked as vice-president at Yorkton Securities. He was minister of Public Works in the Paul Martin government. He's the longest-serving member of the Commons finance committee. He was co-chair of Justin Trudeau's economic advisory panel.
Mr. Brison is a close friend of former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney. He once hosted him at his cottage, touching off rumours that he was trying to convince Mr. Carney to run for the Liberal leadership.
As the Liberals' charm offensive begins and as they get set to kick in their deficit-spending scheme, they should beware of setting expectations high. Progress on the GDP and a range of other economic issues could be long in coming. To get an idea of the headwinds they face, Mr. Brison and the others need only have read a Bloomberg News report on Monday. "Money is flooding out of Canada at the fastest pace in the developed world," it said, "as the nation's decade-long oil boom comes to an end and little else looks ready to take the industry's place as an economic driver."