Besieged Green party faces crucial turning point

This opinion was written by Bob Hepburn and was published in the Toronto Star on April 8, 2021.

Under Annamie Paul, right, the Greens have been nudging up in the polls. But this week’s revelations will likely damage the party’s image with voters and worsen the dream of becoming a “true player” on the national stage, Bob Hepburn writes.

By any measure, the revelation this week of bitter, racist-tinged internal trouble at its highest internal levels is devastating for the federal Green party.

Indeed, the Green party today is facing one of the most critical moments in its history — one that could seal its fate for years to come — after allegations surfaced suggesting some senior party officials may be deliberately sabotaging the work of new party leader Annamie Paul.

In an exclusive story by Alex Ballingall of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau, Green Party organizer Sean Yo and other party insiders say Paul, the first Black woman to lead a federal political party, has faced “significant resistance” from high-ranking party officials since she became leader on Oct. 3.

They say that among other things, Paul was ordered to refund $50,000 to the party headquarters in the midst of her unsuccessful 2020 Toronto-area byelection campaign and also was forced to work as leader for nearly three months without pay before she finally was given an employment contract.

“It’s very hard not to see this process through the lens of race, gender and religion,” Yo told Ballingall, adding that while he wasn’t trying to portray the party as “overly racist,” he did “observe that the leadership level of this organization is primarily white. In 2021, that means something.”

Paul says she won’t discuss internal party issues. Meanwhile, former leader Elizabeth May dismisses as “ridiculous” suggestions that a top-level faction loyal to her is working against Paul.

This is a turning point for the Greens — in more ways than one.

Unless the party can quickly get on top of this publicity nightmare, it may be doomed to be a fringe party forever, with few friends, little money and no power.

Simply stated, no party can thrive in today’s Canada if it’s tainted by suggestions that its white-dominated internal leadership is racist.

Although it has been a formal party for nearly a quarter of a century, the Greens have failed to gain much traction with voters. Under May, who resigned as leader in late 2019 but remains an MP, the party won three seats in the last election, its most ever. But its candidates were trounced in virtually every other riding across Canada.

Under Paul, the party has been nudging up in the polls. But the revelations this week will likely damage the party’s image with voters, except for its small hard-core base, and worsen the shortterm dream of the Greens become a “true player” on the national political scene.

Despite her defeat in last October’s byelection in Toronto Centre, the riding in which she lives, Paul boasted the Greens would be a “very competitive option” in the next election for voters disillusioned with the Liberals and NDP.

That prediction now seems wildly outdated.

If Paul and the Greens really hope to recover from these damaging revelations, they need to take several major actions:

á First, Paul needs to take command of the party’s federal council, which is the key internal decision-making body. She can do that by convincing May loyalists, including May’s husband John Kidder, who is council vice-president, to voluntary step aside, clearing the way for party members to elect Paul loyalists to the vacated positions;

á Second, Paul should scrap her wellintentioned, but foolhardy, plan to run again in Toronto Centre, a traditional Liberal stronghold where she likely would be soundly defeated once again. Paul needs to find a riding in which she can win because she won’t be treated as a true party leader until she has a seat in Parliament;

á Third, Elizabeth May should scrap her plan to run again in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, clearing the way for Paul to run in what is likely the only safe Green seat in the country. May’s continued high-profile presence in Ottawa will always be a hindrance to Paul gaining full control of the party and the loyalty of its headquarters staff.

Unless it works to get its act together and moves swiftly to seal the cracks in its ranks, the Green party will remain where voters have put them for decades — on the political fringe.

Would basic income help the lowest earners?

Critics say Canada should look at bolstering existing programs instead

This article was written by Kieran Leavitt and was published in the Toronto Star on April 8, 2021.

The prospect of a universal basic income in Canada is moving onto the front burner for the governing Liberal party and many policy-makers, but some experts are concerned that such a program won’t help the most vulnerable.

The latest report on a universal basic income (UBI) from the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer on Wednesday says such a program would boost the average disposable income of Canada’s lowest earners by just over $4,500, reducing poverty across the country.

Higher earners, by comparison, would see a drop of between one and two per cent in disposable income, due to an increase in taxes and the elimination of many tax credits.

The report used parameters set for Ontario’s 2017 basic income pilot project, pegging a UBI at $16,989 for a single person and $24,027 for a couple, with the amount decreasing by $0.50 for every dollar earned through employment. It estimated the program would cost $87 billion in 2022, rising to $93 billion in 2025.

There’s a push from within the Liberal party, as well as from MPs of other parties, to see a UBI put in place for Canada. In November, an Environics Institute survey found 64 per cent of respondents supported replacing current emergency assistance programs for people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with a UBI.

But some experts say a UBI may not be the best way to reduce poverty, because it could mean less targeted supports for historically marginalized groups. They say the country should look at bolstering existing programs instead.

“I’m really wanting to support it,” said Rebekah Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at Scotiabank.

However, Young said, “a basic income that tries to level the playing field for everybody isn’t helping those that are likely struggling the most.”

People have various needs, she said, and putting a basic income in place that is one-size-fits-all likely won’t help people with very specific needs, such as racialized single mothers or those living with disabilities.

The PBO report also found that a UBI could provide a disincentive to work, which Young said may have an impact on economic growth.

The analysis also assumed that a swath of government programs sending out targeted support would be discontinued under a UBI system.

Mike Moffatt, senior director at the Smart Prosperity Institute, a policy think-tank, said one “really problematic” part of the model in the PBO report was that it removed targeted programs for people living with disabilities.

Instead, it added an additional $6,000 for them, to be tacked onto the UBI.

The problem with this, Moffat said, is that not all people living with disabilities have the same challenges. “The people who are of the highest needs are absolutely going to lose out.”

Moffatt pointed to a UBI study by the British Columbia Basic Income Panel, which concluded that a basic income wouldn’t be the best way to reduce poverty because people’s needs are too diverse.

Instead, it said, existing targeted programs should be tuned up and strengthened.

Moffatt also noted that housing is a major issue when it comes to poverty reduction, and “UBI is not going to get a single house built.”

“I would like to see from Liberals and everyone else, thinking through … ‘What are you trying to accomplish as a government?’ And then let’s look at our options,” he said.

“Instead, the debate seems to be somewhat backwards where we’ve decided the tool that we want to use first and then we’re deciding what problems to apply it to.”

More than 6.4 million people would see a boost to their disposable income with a UBI in place, the PBO report found.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan would see the biggest gains in average household disposable income at $6,094 and $5,554 respectively, while the greatest poverty rate reduction would happen in Manitoba and Quebec, with both seeing reductions of just over 60 per cent.

One of the most watched policy debates at this week’s Liberal party convention will be the caucus-sponsored motion for the party to explore implementing a basic income.

Opposition to new pipelines will increase value in existing infrastructure: Enbridge CEO

This article was written by the Canadian Press and was published in the Globe & Mail on April 8, 2021.

Between 15,000 and 17,000 CIBC employees have continued to do their jobs in person daily through the pandemic, in branches and in other critical roles.

The chief executive of Enbridge Inc. says the company’s continuing battles with opponents over two of its U.S. oil pipelines will eventually be recognized in higher valuations for those assets as North American energy demand inevitably increases.

Al Monaco, speaking on the second day of the virtual 2021 Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium, says regulatory and political obstacles to building pipelines are expected to continue to make new pipelines hard to build, which should make “pipe in the ground” more valuable for investors.

He says he’s optimistic that Enbridge’s $9.3-billion Line 3 pipeline replacement project will be placed in service as scheduled in the fourth quarter of this year, despite ongoing protests and legal challenges.

Meanwhile, the company continues to fight in court an order from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut down its Line 5 pipeline through the Great Lakes, arguing the state doesn’t havethatjurisdictionandthatthe conduit is vital to U.S. and Canadian customers.

Enbridge, Mr. Monaco says, is ahead of its competitors on the global energy transition thanks to businesses it has added to its core oil transport operations, along with its goals to cut its energy intensity by 35 per cent by 2030 and get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

He says his oil shipper customers remain cautious after prices crashed last year amid a global price war and low demand due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The Enbridge Mainline system accounts for about 70 per cent of Canadian oil exports into the United States.

“My sense is that industry is still cautious and, I gotta tell you, that’s a good thing. We haven’t really seen yet any change from the new mantra of discipline around returns and return of capital,” Mr. Monaco said.

“What’s different now, I think, is that everybody is paying attention to the global supply and demand balance and prices.”

The Line 3 project is expected to add about 370,000 barrels per day of export capacity from Western Canada into the U.S.

Al Monaco says he’s optimistic that Enbridge’s $9.3-billion Line 3 pipeline replacement project will be placed in service as scheduled in the fourth quarter of this year.

ENBRIDGE (ENB) CLOSE: $46.37, UP 12¢

A guaranteed basic income could be a stabilizing force for Canada

This opinion was written by David Parkinson and was published in the Globe & Mail on April 8, 2021.

Guaranteed basic income has become an idea that won’t go away. Maybe there’s a reason for that. It surfaced again Wednesday at the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which published a reportona“distributionalandfiscal analysis” of a guaranteed basic income (GBI). It’s the fourth time in the past three years that the PBO has written a report on GBI; three of those reports have come in the past 10 months alone.

Why is the PBO examining this further? Because members of Parliament – of various political stripes – keep asking it to.

“There has been a lot of interest,” PBO senior analyst Nasreddine Ammar, the lead author of the report, said Wednesday.

There’s no question that the arrival of COVID-19 last spring brought GBI from the experimental marginsoftheCanadianpolicy conversation to the mainstream. Now, a year after a de facto national basic income was created in the form of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of a widescale, government-provided basic income for anyone who needs it – and the costs.

With a federal budget coming in less than two weeks, there remain a lot of questions about the longer-term future of government benefits and the country’s employment insurance program, which was exposed by the pandemic as outdated and inadequate. Something has to change. Maybe even something big.

And so, we keep looking at GBI, and crunching the numbers.

The key numbers in the PBO report focus on the potential of GBI to lift low-income Canadians out of poverty. The study was patterned after Ontario’s 2017-18 basic-income pilot, which paid single participants up to $17,000 a year ($24,000 for couples), significantly less generous than the CERB.

The PBO estimated that such a benefit would reduce the number of Canadians below the poverty line by 49 per cent.

It’s a staggering figure, and one that the current Liberal government will find compelling. This government has long talked about the need to address income inequalities, and has stressed that it sees this as a key element to any post pandemic economic rebuilding plan.

But even if inequality and poverty were not high on your policy agenda, the pandemic has shown us the economic value of establishing a system of income supports that is broader, faster and more seamless than the existing EI program.

The CERB gave us a nearly instant stabilizing mechanism against a massive economic shock that, otherwise, would have overwhelmed the economy and caused severe and long-lasting damage to millions of Canadians.

A similarly fast and responsive permanent income-support program would provide Canada with a stronger and more effective “automatic stabilizer” – a term that economists use for government programs that automatically increase spending whenever the economy slumps. It’s a means of support that can instantly lean fiscal weight against an economic shock, without the government having to design, approve and implement fiscal stimulus programs.

If the pandemic taught economic policy makers nothing else, it’s the value of nimble fiscal supports in averting disaster and weathering hard times.

It’s no secret that such a guaranteed basic income isn’t cheap. The PB O puts the gross price tag at about $85-billion if the program started this year. That includes an estimated $3-billion in lost tax revenue from the “disincentive” aspect of a GBI – the recognition that a broader and more generous safety net will discourage people from working, or at least from working full-time hours.

Indeed, some economists worry that a GBI would discourage work force participation, at a time when an aging population has made growth in labour supply a serious challenge. Yet the PBO concluded that “the impacts on labour supply are small,” estimating that the GBI would reduce overall payrolls by only about half a percentage point.

But can we afford $85-billion a year? Well, yes, maybe we can. The PBO’s previous work on the matter showed that the federal and provincial governments could cover pretty much the entire cost if they eliminated other low-income benefits and tax credits, including the basic personal amount exempted from tax each year. (The PBO assumes there would continue to be an additional disability benefit.)

Whether Ottawa, in partnership with the provinces (which provide many of the existing social-assistance programs), would be willing to do that is a big question. It’s clear that the federal government recognizes that the EI system needs an overhaul, but it doesn’t sound prepared to announce sweeping changes in the coming budget. We’re more likely to see some non-specific promises and more study. We may be several steps removed from trying to forge a federal-provincial consensus on the issue.

But it’s evident that as a tool to reduce poverty and income inequality, and provide an effective defence for the economy as a whole, a guaranteed basic income has a lot of merit. There’s a reason we keep talking about this. It’s actually a pretty sensible idea.

This government has long talked about the need to address income inequalities, and has stressed that it sees this as a key element to any postpandemic economic rebuilding plan.

From floods to wildfires, the climate is already changing. Ottawa must invest more in adapting

Ottawa’s plans for green retrofits ignore the other side of the coin: accommodating for the effects of global warming that are already here

This article was written by Fred Thornhill and was published in the Globe & Mail on April 8, 2021.

Flood protection, increasingly needed in urban areas, typically costs less than the government’s promised grants of up to $5,000 a household for energy-efficiency upgrades.

Something was missing when the federal government announced funding to help Canadians retrofit their homes as part of its fall economic statement late last year.

Promised grants of up to $5,000 a household, at a total cost of $2.6-billion over seven years, were billed as an opportunity for homeowners to make energy-efficiency improvements, through investments such as better insulation, that would help fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There was no mention of the other side of the coin: helping Canadians safeguard their homes from effects of climate change that are already being felt, and will become more inescapable in the years ahead.

There has since been an outcry from advocates for spending on climate-change adaptation, and it’s likely that when the program is finally rolled out – probably later this spring – some funding along those lines will be part of it. The most obvious form for that to take is flood protection, which is increasingly needed in urban areas, and typically costs less than the $5,000 maximum.

But the initial omission was symptomatic of how little attention has been paid in Canada to adaptation – adjusting to greater risk of everything from floods, to wildfires, to windstorms – relative to mitigation.

It’s a dynamic that needs to change to both aspects of responding to the planetary crisis getting the focus each requires, possibly as soon as an April 19 federal budget expected to involve significant investment in building a sustainable economy.

“There is a shift in a positive direction,” says Blair Feltmate, who heads the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. “Two to three years ago, you couldn’t get any air time on adaptation. Now we’re getting a little air time.”

But along with others who have long flagged the need for more investment in resilience, Mr. Feltmate still finds it a challenge to get politicians to openly acknowledge that some climate impacts are already unavoidable. Adaptation is “the distant cousin that nobody wants to talk about,” he says, for fear of looking defeatist.

As implied by the Intact Centre’s name, the effort to draw more attention to adaptation has largely been led by an insurance industry that doesn’t always easily command public sympathy.

But that industry comes armed with compelling data. For example, annual catastrophic insurance payouts in Canada – which involve extreme weather or natural disaster – averaged about $400-million up until 2008, but are now regularly well over $1-billion and increasingly top $2-billion.

That contributes to households paying rising premiums. Not to mention “the availability of some commercial insurance contracting,” as Insurance Bureau of Canada vice-president Craig Stewart puts it, which means a danger some businesses may not be able to get insured at all.

Not that Ottawa lacks its own research highlighting the scale of the problem. A 2019 report by Environment and Climate Change Canada noted that this country’s annual warming is roughly twice the global average.

The government-funded Canadian Institute for Climate Choices reported last year that since 2010, “weather-related disasters and catastrophic events have amounted to about 5 to 6 per cent of Canada’s annual GDP growth, up from an average of 1 per cent in previous decades.”

It also lamented that adaptation accounted for just 13 per cent of federal climate spending in the previous five years.

All this seems to have spurred more talk in Ottawa of taking action. While the government’s most recent climate-policy plan (released last December and best known for its promised carbonprice increases) devoted minimal space to resilience, it promised the development of “Canada’s first-ever national adaptation strategy,” which is supposed to involve working with provincial governments, Indigenous leaders and others to develop shared priorities for collaboration.

But that won’t land until later this year at the earliest. And this month’s budget will likely allocate much of the post-COVID-19 recovery spending, which could be followed by a period of austerity.

Even in the absence of a full adaptation strategy yet, there are some obvious ways the government could now set aside funds.

The most obvious would be a new and improved version of the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund. That was the most significant such program introduced during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first term, offering $2-billion to help municipalities fund infrastructure projects. But it’s now run its course, and wasn’t large enough for the scale of the problem. There is also a common complaint that its criteria made it too difficult for small communities to tap into it. So there has been some push to have it extended, expanded and made more accessible.

There are also other, more targeted potential investments. Those include updating Canada’s flood-risk maps, which by Mr. Feltmate’s account are at least two decades out of date. It also includes various ways of addressing wildfires, including through forest-management investments and guidance for homeowners on protective measures. Naturebased solutions such as wetlands protection, which in addition to emissions-reduction benefits can help provide safeguards, could get more dollars than they have so far.

To the extent that Ottawa attempts to advance sustainable finance measures, which were expected to be part of last year’s abortive budget, it could promote companies factoring climate impacts into their risk assessments.

And when it comes to retrofitting, beyond layering adaptation into the small grants program, the government could add it into the mix of supports for larger projects. Ottawa may also need to help train auditors who are supposed to assess the homes of grant applicants, and currently focus only on energy efficiency.

As telling as how much money the government allocates for resilience to climate change, in this budget and beyond, will be how eager it is to talk about those investments.

Nobody who takes such matters seriously suggests that adaptation funding should come at the expense of emissions reduction. Recognizing that the climate is already changing doesn’t lessen the need to avert greater disaster, and to ensure Canada can compete in a cleaner global economy.

But the necessity of adaptation can’t be treated as a dirty secret. Not when Canadian families and businesses will increasingly have to grapple with it as well.

Conservatives’ plan to address climate change will surpass former commitments: O’Toole

This article was written by Ian Bailey and was published in the Globe & Mail on April 8, 2021.

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his pending climate-change plan will go further than the “laundry list” of environmental commitments the party advanced in the last election, where they fell short of winning government.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole said the Conservatives’ approach to climate change will be more substantive, when asked how his long-awaited plan will improve on the commitments of his predecessor Andrew Scheer.

“We had kind of a laundry list of a number of things we were going to do on the environment, but there was not something that people could specifically look to for emission reduction,” Mr. O’Toole said, referring to the Conservatives’ 2019 platform approach.

Mr. Scheer’s plan included a pledge to scrap the federal carbon-pricing plan, and proposed to set emissions standards for major emitters, to require Canadian companies to invest in emissions-reducing technology and to support Canadian innovation with $1-billion in venture capital for Canadian green technology companies.

Mr. O’Toole continues to face questions after delegates at last month’s Conservative policy convention voted against a resolution that would have included the statement “climate change is real” in the party’s official policy document – a sharp contrast to Mr. O’Toole’s keynote speech a day earlier, in which he said that the party needed to “boldly reclaim the environment as an area where Conservatives are leaders.”

Mr. O’Toole has said the party must do better on the climate-change file in order to rally the widespread support it needs to win power, and promised a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions would be released before the next federal election, expected this year.

However, he has ruled out a carbon tax as a tool to reduce climate change – a position that some observers say will be problematic.

During his interview with The Globe, Mr. O’Toole acknowledged that some voters are in favour of carbon pricing, but added, “There are other ways you can tackle emissions strategically – and actually smart policy that I will be able to point to and say, ‘This is how you’re going to be playing your role in our national approach to reducing emissions.’ ”

During a Zoom appearance before the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole was asked whether the delegates’ vote at the policy convention would complicate efforts to win swing voters who do believe climate change is real.

“Climate change is real, and we’re going to have a real and serious plan to deal with it,” Mr. O’ Toole responded.

Asked by The Globe about reports of dissension in his caucus, Mr. O’Toole sidestepped the issue, saying supporters are worked up over their concerns about the current Liberal government. “It’s a tough time politically,” he said.

Mr. O’Toole and his party will need to outline a strong climate-change plan if they hope to form the next government, said Ken Boessenkool, J.W. McConnell Professor of Practice at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.

“He cannot win the upcoming election without a credible climate-change policy – critical swing seats around Toronto and in the Lower Mainland in B.C. are simply not winnable without that,” Mr. Boessenkool said by e-mail, adding that Mr. O’Toole’s opposition to a carbon-pricing plan may cost him votes from Canadians who support such a measure as a “core element of a credible climate-change policy.”

Mitchell Davidson, former head of policy to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, said Mr. O’Toole faces the daunting challenge of creating a viable plan to tackle emissions.

“He is really in between a rock and a hard place – he has got this commitment to do more on the environment than the Trudeau Liberals have done, but doesn’t want to use the system that is the most efficient, transparent and least interventionist from government because it obviously has the word ‘tax,’ in it, [which] sort of has a negative visceral reaction,” Mr. Davidson said in an interview.

Mr. Boessenkool, who held strategic and policy roles in four national election campaigns under former prime minister Stephen Harper, said Mr. O’Toole should alter the Liberal carbon-pricing plan to give provinces more flexibility. The point, he said, would be to “make sure that rural and suburban voters are made better off under an O’Toole carbon price than they are under the Trudeau carbon tax.”

He cannot win the upcoming election without a credible climate-change policy – critical swing seats around Toronto and in the Lower Mainland in B.C. are simply not winnable without that. KEN BOESSENKOOL J.W. MCCONNELL PROFESSOR OF PRACTICE AT THE MAX BELL SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, McGILL UNIVERSITY

Election readiness tops Liberal agenda

This article was written by Marieke Walsh and Kristy Kirkup, and was published in the Globe & Mail on April 8, 2021.

Polls suggest party well positioned for a majority ahead of three-day convention

Liberal partisans are gathering virtually Thursday for the start of what will likely be the federal party’s last major convention before an election, expected as early as this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted that he does not want an election, but his party organizers have been nominating candidates and laying the groundwork for one. And campaign readiness is playing a big role in the Liberal Party’s threeday convention. Amid the policy discussions is a long list of election workshops, including human-resources training, advice on fundraising and digital campaigning and tips for navigating tight races.

“We’re certainly not focused on the election,” Liberal MP and convention co-chair Terry Beech said Wednesday, but he added, “I think this is probably the last convention before the next election.”

The convention is an opportunity to highlight policy contrasts with other parties, energize the party’s base and test out technology and online event logistics for a possible COVID-19 pandemic election, senior Liberals and former campaign organizers say.

The coronavirus has put a damper on what would normally be loud election chatter 18 months into a minority government, but with vaccinations ramping up, so is talk about a possible campaign.

With a lead of about 10 points in his firm’s poll tracker, Nik Nanos, the founder of Nanos Research, said Wednesday the Liberals are well positioned for a majority. He said the party needs to stay united and avoid the pitfalls Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole faced at his party’s convention in March, where members rejected a motion that recognized the reality of climate change.

The vote was seen as a direct rebuke of Mr. O’Toole, who had told his party the issue is real and Conservatives need to stop debating it. Mr. Nanos said his firm has seen support for the Conservatives fall since then.

All parties are preparing for an election and, as of Wednesday, the Greens had nominated four candidates, the NDP had 40, the Liberals had 132 and the Tories had 185. The NDP has said they would vote with the government on any confidence vote during the pandemic, meaning it’s likely the Liberals would have to pull the plug on their own government if they want an election soon.

That’s politically doable, in particular because of how much has changed since the 2019 election, said Michele Cadario, who was the Liberal campaign director for then-prime minister Paul Martin in 2004.

The Liberals should use the convention to preview the budget and start highlighting policy differences “that you can take to the polls and make into a ballot question,” she said.

Mounting COVID-19 case counts across the country and record intensive care admissions in Ontario make an election call immediately after the budget unlikely, but that could change in a few months if the pace of vaccinations keeps increasing, said David Herle, the former campaign co-chair for Mr. Martin and Kathleen Wynne, and host of the Herle Burly political podcast.

“They are using this convention primarily as a campaign workshop, so I think they would be ready to go but my sense is that this is a very live debate within the government,” he said.

While there are risks of going to the polls in a pandemic, Mr. Herle said people often forget there’s also a risk of not going and missing a window of opportunity.

The Liberals still face several challenges, including a sluggish start to the vaccine rollout, and pressure to chart an economic recovery amid a recession and significant deficits that the government most recently forecast at $381.6-billion for 2020-21.

The government will table its first budget in more than two years on April 19, and it’s expected to contain plans to spend as much as $100-billion on economic stimulus. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is already billing it as the most significant fiscal blueprint of “our lifetimes.” In January, she said it would focus on building an economy that is more innovative, competitive, greener and more sustainable.

Ms. Freeland will make a keynote appearance at the convention on Thursday night alongside Mr. Martin. On Friday, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will address the virtual crowd. Mr. Trudeau will close out the gathering with a speech on Saturday afternoon.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said the convention is all the more important given the challenges of connecting with party members during the pandemic, and to lay out priorities.

“A large gathering virtually to connect with and engage with the Liberal membership, I think is really important just to connect but also in advance of any potential election,” he said.

The federal government has been heavily criticized for failing to adequately prepare for the pandemic, but its financial supports were established quickly and Mr. Erskine-Smith said there’s consensus that the economic crisis would have been much worse if the government hadn’t stepped in.

Despite the significant challenges in responding to COVID-19, former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan said the Prime Minister “led well through this situation.”

“I think the polls are where they are because the government has been there for Canadians,” she said.