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Why the Liberals can’t afford to ignore rural Canada

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The Trudeau government created a new ministerial portfolio in Monday’s federal cabinet shuffle. That suggests Prime Minister Justin Trudeau felt his government had a blindspot heading into October’s federal election: a lack of focus on rural Canadians.

Scott Brison’s decision to leave the Liberal cabinet and retire from politics prompted Monday’s shuffle and left a hole in Trudeau’s front bench. The former president of the Treasury Board was Nova Scotia’s lone representative in cabinet. He also represents a rural riding.

His replacement as the province’s only cabinet minister is Bernadette Jordan. She didn’t get Brison’s job — that was handed to Jane Philpott, who moved from Indigenous Services — but instead was handed a new title. Jordan will be the minister for ‘rural economic development’.

That the Liberals felt the need to task a new minister with the file suggests they were worried the government wasn’t addressing (or wasn’t seen to be addressing) the concerns of rural Canadians. As electoral demographics go, rural Canada isn’t the most important one for the Liberals. But it’s still one that the party needs in order to secure re-election in the fall.

The Liberals’ urban/rural divide

For a region to be considered ‘rural’, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, its population density must top out at 150 people per square kilometre. Using that measure and the results of the 2016 census, there are 150 rural ridings in Canada. The remaining 188 — 56 per cent of the total — are considered urban.

The Liberals do very well in urban ridings. They currently hold 127, compared to just 30 for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, 24 for the New Democrats, four for the Bloc Québécois and one for Elizabeth May and the Greens. Another three are occupied by independent MPs — two of them former Liberals and one a former New Democrat.

The most densely-populated parts of the country voted for either the Liberals or the New Democrats in 2015; the two parties hold the 53 most densely-populated ridings in Canada. They also hold the least densely-populated parts of the country: northern regions with significant Indigenous populations that tend to vote for either the Liberals or the NDP.

But the Liberals cannot hold power with urban ridings alone. Many of those urban ridings are located in areas that are electorally inaccessible to them. Calgary, Edmonton and Quebec City, despite some Liberal breakthroughs in 2015, are solidly Conservative. Parts of Vancouver, Hamilton and Windsor have long been painted NDP orange.

Rural Canada put Liberals over the top in 2015

The Conservatives hold the lion’s share of rural seats, with 67 of the 150 rural ridings in the country. The Liberals have 54, Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats hold 20, the Bloc has six and Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party has one. Two rural seats are occupied by independents, one a former Liberal and one a former Conservative.

While urban seats put the Liberals three-quarters of the way to a majority government in 2015, rural ridings put the party over the top. These were primarily in Atlantic Canada, where 24 of the 32 seats (the Liberals swept the region) are considered rural. The Liberals won another 13 rural seats in Ontario, 10 in Quebec, four in British Columbia and all three in the North. The Liberals hold no rural seats in Alberta, Manitoba or Saskatchewan.

On the one hand, appointing Jordan (who represents South Shore–St. Margaret’s, population density 10.8 per square kilometre) to head up the government’s outreach to rural Canadians can be seen as a defensive move. The Conservatives are targeting about two dozen rural Liberal seats this year — including half of the seats in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, a number of seats in northern and eastern Ontario and a few in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.

On the other hand, the Liberals might spy some opportunities for gains in rural ridings as well — primarily in Quebec. Together, the Bloc and New Democrats hold 14 rural seats in the province, and both parties are floundering in the polls as the Liberals move ahead in voting intentions. But Jordan does not speak French well, so her ability to appeal to francophone rural Quebecers might be limited.

The Liberals also could be targeting a few Conservative seats in the B.C. Interior — the prime minister held a town hall last week in Kamloops, B.C. — and NDP seats in the northern Prairies.

Not a decisive vote, but a needed one

The Liberals and Conservatives have mirror-image caucuses when it comes to the rural-urban split. About two-thirds of the Liberal caucus is urban while about two-thirds of the Conservative caucus is rural. The Conservatives need to move back into the urban centres of Canada in order to threaten Trudeau’s government. Rural seats should be the lowest-hanging fruit for Scheer — far easier for him to pluck than those in the suburbs that tilted the 2015 election in the Liberals’ favour.

Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan represents the rural riding of South Shore–St. Margaret’s, one of 24 rural ridings the Liberals hold in Atlantic Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As an electoral move, appointing Jordan to lead a new rural economic development program makes sense. The rural file is one that generally puts the Liberals on the back foot. Handled well, however, it could help secure the party’s re-election.

But the real test will be whether Jordan can achieve tangible results for rural Canadians. A new job title and a seat at the cabinet table won’t be enough. How the Liberals perform in Canada’s 150 rural ridings in October’s election will in part be a measure of Bernadette Jordan’s success or failure in her new portfolio.

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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