Back in late 2015 and early 2016, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford were riding high.
The pair had played a pivotal role in helping Justin Trudeau and the Liberals secure a majority government. They were a new Prime Minister’s most trusted advisers and most prominent political operatives. And everyone knew it.
Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford accompanied Mr. Trudeau on several international trips, rubbing elbows with the likes of then-U.S. president Barack Obama and his top officials, French President Emmanuel Macron and various high-profile billionaires and celebrities.
And back home, they kept an unusually high profile in Ottawa. They called themselves the co-CEOs of Mr. Trudeau’s government. They ran the Prime Minister’s Office so the Prime Minister didn’t have to.
To better understand the dynamics of the PMO under Mr. Trudeau, The Globe’s Adam Radwanski and Daniel Leblanc spoke to more than two dozen Liberal Party sources: current and former chiefs of staff, ministerial aides, senior members of the PMO, ministers and MPs, as well as outsiders with long ties to the party and the current government.
The result is a picture of a PMO in which early successes obscured accumulating structural problems – the result of Mr. Trudeau’s extremely heavy reliance on two people -- Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford -- to run his government. Those problems set the stage for the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair that would force Mr. Trudeau to confront a relatively hands-off approach to running his office.
To an extent, the Butts-Telford partnership worked well. Many insiders note that Mr. Butts, Ms. Telford and others in the PMO deserve ample credit both for the impeccable 2015 campaign that brought their party to power and for considerable successes during their mandate – the NAFTA renegotiations among them, as well as the implementation of a progressive policy agenda that included major tax and pension reforms and social changes such as the legalization of cannabis and greater income redistribution.
But there’s another side to the organization of the PMO under Mr. Trudeau and the centralized power of Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford. Cracks would emerge in the PMO and many believe the Liberal Party’s current woes can be traced to this structure.
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