FRANK MCKENNA: I don't know whether the central banks can engineer a soft landing here. I think that they can end up suppressing inflation, but whether they can do that without triggering a recession, I think that's the big question.
PETER HAYNES: Welcome to episode 29 of our monthly TD Securities podcast on geopolitics with our guest, The Honorable Frank McKenna. My name is Peter Haynes, and I'll be your host for today's episode, which we're entitling "A Three Foot Putt."
Before we get started, I want to remind our listeners that this is a TD Securities podcast, and it's for informational purposes only. Views described in today's podcast are of the individuals, and may or may not represent the view of TD Bank or its subs, and these views should not be relied upon as investment, tax, or other advice.
Frank, I hope you're having a good summer so far. Why don't you just give me a quick summary, or a synopsis, of what you've been up to for the last month or so?
FRANK MCKENNA: Yeah. Well, as always, I head East for the summer, and it's been busy here. What I do is organize all of my meetings with people, companies, and so on the East Coast during this period of time, and then I hold my annual Fox Harbor event. We had about 300 people this year, two prime ministers, half a dozen premiers, and cabinet ministers. That takes a lot of time, so we just finished that, and getting back to a regular schedule now. It's been good.
We also had to go through COVID, and that took a week of our lives, so now we're back in action.
PETER HAYNES: Well, you're not the only one who went through COVID. I travelled. I was able to go see the Jays play in Seattle. My son's working there this summer. I brought my 85-year-old mother with me on the trip, and she got COVID while we were away. I mean, everybody's getting it and I'm happy to report she's doing well now in recovery, as just about everyone is. Hopefully this quad vaccination or triple vaccination that most of society-- or at least North America-- has will help create that herd immunity so the people that get COVID are not getting too sick here.
I'll tell you one thing that has been a problem this summer as everybody's trying to get out and about is summer travel. There really is not a single person that I know that has traveled lately that doesn't have a story about lost bags, missed connecting flights, cancellations, delays, whatever it is, and I count myself in this camp. I'm guessing you can share some of your recent air travel experiences.
In early July, a study by FlightAware showed that Canada ranked near the bottom in terms of on-time arrivals, with Air Canada wearing the last place button for delays, with 67% of its flights being late. Do you think Ottawa should hold Canadian airlines accountable for its poor track record?
FRANK MCKENNA: They should, but I think the airline should hold Ottawa accountable for its contribution to the problem, as well. It's multifaceted, as most complex problems are, Peter. Just to give you a few ideas about that, it's the government of Canada that controls ArriveCANADA as a site and vaccination requirements. They contribute to the problem.
Then we've got security at the airport, and that's been a total mess. International and domestic security are run by different agencies of government, different unions, and so on. They've been short-staffed. Highly inefficient.
Peter, you travel a lot. If you travel in the US, and you're pre-TSA, you just walk through a line. You leave your coat on, you leave your shoes on, you leave your gels and liquids in your bag, you leave your computer in the bag and everything. You just put your bag down, away it goes, and you're out the other end just like nothing.
In Canada, people who are the equivalent-- those would be people with NEXUS passes, or I guess other trusted travelers, you get a little bit of a shorter line. Otherwise, when you go through, they strip you right down to your underwear, literally. You get no concessions at all on liquids, computers, or anything. Half your bags are diverted for secondary checks, and it clogs up the system. You've got all these trusted travelers being treated very differently from how they would be in the US, and taking much, much longer than required.
That's an example of an inefficiency that we have that has nothing to do with the airlines, but has a lot to do with the government of Canada. Then you have baggage handling, which is a bit of a shared responsibility between airlines and the Airport Authority. Some of the problems there have been mechanical, and they've really been the Airport Authority.
Air Canada didn't anticipate that traveling would resume as quickly as it did and their staffing has fallen short, but that's true for businesses all across North America right now trying to get access to more workers. The bottom line is I would say Air Canada deserves its share of responsibilities, but it's a shared responsibility with a lot of other contributors, which may have made our Canadian airports some of the worst in the world.
PETER HAYNES: As they say, never let a good crisis go by. Is this fixable, Frank? Is this something that's gathering the attention of Ottawa to the point where maybe we'll have some sort of group put together to try to get Canada's name off of a list they don't want to be on?
FRANK MCKENNA: I think there's no doubt about that. I'd start with one little piece of the puzzle, the whole Visa passport. There's a special group that's been struck to look at that, but when this started, I was talking to one of the cabinet ministers. He said that the minister responsible for airports is absolutely apoplectic. He called his officials in and they spent a half an hour telling him why we had a problem, and he said, look, I don't want any more explanation why we have a problem, I want to know how you're going to fix the damn problem.
It's getting a lot of attention because it's very, very bad publicity for the government and for the country. It's getting a lot of attention, but if you have to hire more workers and you ramp them up, you've got to go through training, and before they become proficient, it takes time.
I still think they need more of a root and branch look at security as to what we do in Canada compared to other places in the world, and the efficiencies and areas where the private sector could have more of a role, because I think the system is inherently inefficient. Then with the pandemic, and now the glut in travel, it's become almost impossible to operate.
PETER HAYNES: How can Canada be more difficult to travel in than the United States when you think about post-9/11, how security changed? It seems mind boggling that anyone who travels a lot would have a tougher time in this country than the US. You make that point, and it's well taken, for sure.
Speaking of Ottawa, Frank, I was told a funny story recently about a golf game you once had with a former prime Minister, Jean Chretien, which came down to a three foot putt on the last hole. I know we had our listeners sort of on edge there, mentioning that the podcast was called "A Three Foot Putt." Why don't you tell our listeners what happened?
FRANK MCKENNA: Well, it came about after I finished my time in public life. As you know, I made a commitment I'd stay 10 years, and so I left exactly 10 years to the day. But before I left, as a matter of courtesy, I went to Ottawa to see the prime minister to let him know that I would be resigning on the date that I'd be resigning on. It's kind of typical. He asked me out for a game of golf.
We went out for a game of golf, and I golfed with him for a bit. He's a pretty good golfer, and he's quite competitive. Anyway, we're golfing along and he said, Frank, you know, you're leaving politics, but you're still a young man. What do you want? Do you want to go to the Senate?
I said, hell no. I'd like to go somewhere where I can work. I certainly don't want to go to the Senate.
He said, would you like some other appointment?
I said, no, I don't want anything.
He said, well, what do you want?
I said, well, as you know, I've got an obsession about finishing the four laning of highway all across New Brunswick, which is saving lives and making transportation cheaper for everybody involved, and I've got 3/4 of it done, but I need $350 million in order to finish the highway.
Oh, Frank, that's a lot of money, you know. We don't have much money.
I said, well that's what I want. If you're asking me what I want, that's what I want.
He said, well let us think about it.
We get down to the very last hole, and we were tied. I had a three foot birdie putt at the end of it if I wanted to win, and so I lined up my putt. He turns to me and he said, so, Frank, you want that $350 million? And I said yes.
He said, then you should miss that putt.
That kind of froze me up a little bit. Then I looked up at him and I said, to hell with it, and I took the putt. I can't putt worth crap anyway, but I sank the putt. Anyway he said, oh, damn it, I'll give you the $350 million anyway.
That was the story of the three foot putt that was worth $350 million bucks, which is more than any of the pros played for. And we did, over a period of time, get the money, and we built the highway.
The funny end of the story, though-- he called me three or four hours later. I was headed to the airport and he called me. He took a break in the cabinet meeting, and he called me.
He said, so, Frank?
I said, yes?
He said, I was sitting here and I went through the score again. He said, actually we ended up tied.
I said, OK, whatever, but I still get my money. He said, yes you still get your money. Just to let you know how competitive he is, he's sitting in cabinet adding up the score again in the game we just finished.
PETER HAYNES: His legacy actually seems to get stronger over time, and that's a great story. I think it humanizes the role. We don't, unfortunately, get enough human stories, I think. It's just really just hits on our leaders all the time in public life, and that is a great story and I appreciate you sharing that with our listeners.
I want to move to something that's probably a little less comforting, and that is a particular geopolitical issue that came to light a few weeks ago. That was in Sri Lanka, where there were images showing citizens who were protesting at the presidential palace which they had stormed, ultimately forcing the president to flee, and resulting in new leadership.
Sri Lanka's civil unrest is due to a confluence of events, including excessive government spending on wars, the Tamil war that they fought forever leading to a recent default, heavy lockdowns that occurred during the pandemic, and really what gave rise to the entire uprising was inflationary issues around gas prices and food prices. What lessons, Frank, can investors learn from the Sri Lankan experience, where certainly a lot of investors and governments are going to lose money, and what other emerging economies might you put on a similar watch list for potential political destabilization?
FRANK MCKENNA: I think it's an instructive example of the world that we're living in. To start with, Sri Lanka has been a bit of a family business. I think the resentment to the controlling family has grown over time, so that laid the seeds for it. It also managed COVID very badly. They probably didn't have access to vaccines, as most of the third world didn't have access to vaccines. It handled it badly and it was very disruptive to the economy.
Then you ended up coming out of that with inflation absolutely soaring, and fuel prices were very high. Cooking gas was very high, but even if you paid the price for fuel, you couldn't get it. People, I think, felt driven to desperation. The government compounded their problem by putting import bans on, so you couldn't get access to some other commodities which the country desperately needed.
What's interesting is how peaceful it all was. The public marched in, and they took over the palace, but they had no weapons. They were very polite. In fact, they forced people to line up in queues to walk in so that nothing would be broken. The only thing they did, which was, I guess you could say mischievous, after being so long in the sweltering heat inside the palace, some of them jumped in the swimming pool, and went for a swim in the presidential swimming pool.
Bottom line, it was a reasonably non-violent overthrow of the government, but I think you're really on to something, Peter. I think the conditions that led to that overthrow in Sri Lanka are increasingly present in other countries around the world.
What Russia has done in the Ukraine and the ripple effect around the globe of high food prices and high energy prices, it's an inconvenience to us in Canada and North America-- it's more than an inconvenience, it's painful-- but for some countries in the world, it's life and death. A lot of the African countries are vulnerable. A lot of Latin American countries are very vulnerable.
The public, when they become desperate when it comes to things like basic needs-- whether it's fuel for transportation, cooking gas, or food-- they strike out at whoever they can, and often it's their sovereign government. They're not going to find a way strike out at Russia, or Ukraine, or the United Nations, so they strike out close to home.
I think that we'll probably see a lot more volatility taking place around the world.
PETER HAYNES: Are there any particular countries like Sri Lanka-- which is not small, it's 22 million people in Sri Lanka, it's not small at all-- that just rise to the top of the list that you'll be watching closely, or is it more just in general be careful on the very emerging economies and where you're putting your money?
FRANK MCKENNA: Yeah, I'd be careful in general, but I think there are places. I've always though of Brazil. It's a massive economy, but the leadership there is really in turmoil now. They're fighting an election, and anything could happen there. There's some other places in Latin America. I'm thinking more about Honduras, Guatemala, or some of those countries, that I think are quite vulnerable at the present time.
PETER HAYNES: Well, as you mentioned about Ukraine, it's absolutely clear that the war has caused many downstream issues like the fuel and food problems in Sri Lanka. Do you make much of this weekend's agreement between the two warring countries to allow ships carrying grains to pass freely through the Black Sea?
FRANK MCKENNA: I think it was done out of absolute necessity, not out of any affection that these two countries have for each other. Remember that 30% of the world's wheat is coming out of Ukraine and Russia. It's created massive imbalances around the world. It's interesting that in Canada, a lot of our farmers, in the West particularly, are switching crops from canola, soy, and other favorites more recently, to wheat, because of the extraordinary demand for wheat at the present time.
Russia, no matter how tough they act and how much swagger they put into it, they still need friends around the planet, too. They have an amazing number of friends-- not the kind of friends you and I would like to have-- in Africa and Latin America, where basically by trading weapons and doing other things, they've been able to buy some friends, but these people are all hurting, as well. Their really big allies, or at least allies in a sense by not being enemies, India and China, they need food. They need access to wheat, as do these other countries. I think that a lot of countries around the world would have leaned very heavily on Russia to allow that trade to take place.
PETER HAYNES: Even if it may not be a lead-in to some form of peace down the road, it is obviously positive to get those ships moving again from the Odessa port.
Speaking of friends, Frank, I think Boris Johnson's looking for friends right now. He doesn't seem to have very many in the UK after he was forced to resign a few weeks back. As they say, there's a leadership race for the Conservative Party coming down to two individuals, and I guess they vote in September, "to lead the party to defeat in the next election," I believe is the way that it's being phrased in the UK.
As you look back on Boris Johnson's time as leader and see what's happened, what do you make of the entire situation?
FRANK MCKENNA: I don't agree with one of your statements. I don't think it's ordained that the conservatives will win the election. Labor has its own issues. Certainly, right now, they're in good shape. Certainly, in the polling, they're in good shape, but they have their own issues. I don't think it's pre-ordained.
I thought Johnson was a poor sort. He was just all hyperbole and exaggeration. He lied. In a way of fudging it, he just lied about Brexit. He was against Brexit at one stage when he was a journalist, and then when it became politically opportunistic, he was for Brexit. He told the UK that the result of it would be that the UK would be better off, everybody would be better off. There'd be more money for health care and everything else. All of that is just a pack of lies, and I think some of that has caught up with the UK at the present time.
The ports in Dover are all clogged up. They can't get traffic through there. They're short on energy. They've got inflation raging. They don't have access to world markets or European markets. Brexit has not been a good news story for them, and what's going on in Scotland and Northern Ireland compound it. They've got a lot of problems around Brexit, but the government's not prepared to admit that Brexit is the cause of those problems, so Johnson finally just got hoisted on his own petard. All of his bullying and all of his foolish talk has finally caught up with him.
I think people in the UK just wanted adult supervision in Whitehall, and they weren't getting that. Some called it a case of the ships leaving a sinking rat, and I think there was something to that. He had just made so many personal mistakes, like character judgments, drinking when everybody else was going through lockdown, partying, and all those sorts of things.
Leave all of that aside, and he was at heart a populist, and was basically like the Irish politician who sees a policeman. He's running down the road, and he sees a policeman. He said, where did the mob go? I've got to find them, I'm their leader. That's what Johnson, to me, seemed like. He wasn't leading the UK public, he was trying to follow it and just do what the popular wish of the day was.
I'm glad to see him go. I think we'll get adult supervision now. The two candidates are quite different, so we'll see what they finally decide, but it'll be a much more pragmatic and much more, I think, grown up government coming out of this.
PETER HAYNES: It's interesting you mentioned he was a populist leader. I'm wondering-- and I'm going to ask your opinion, here-- whether populism might be on the decline? I'm thinking about US politics right now with the January 6 hearings, which have made for great theater and lots of new information for the general public to absorb. These hearings arguably led two of President Trump's most ardent supporters, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, to just this weekend finally say enough is enough, and no to Trump 2024.
Would you suggest that, potentially, this is a further sign that the short burst of populism we've seen in certain countries and in certain areas or geographies within countries, might be now on the decline?
FRANK MCKENNA: Well, I wish that were the case, but almost as we speak, the very well respected government of Mario Draghi in Italy has been thrown into chaos as a result of the coalition splintering. I'd very much like to see that to be the case, but in the United States, Trump still has a considerable hold over the Republican Party.
The hearings, which I thought were extraordinarily powerful, you would end up getting Democrats who are even more galvanized to try to keep Trump out of political life, but Republicans largely ignored the hearings and tried to pretend that it didn't exist. I think he still carries a lot of weight down there.
The interesting question as to whether he'll be charged or not, certainly, in my view, the attorney General Merrick Garland has enough to make a case for the Department of Justice. He has enough to charge. I would think, on the facts, that would be enough evidence to charge. I have serious reservations as to whether they have enough to convict, so that's an interesting question for any prosecutor. If I believe a crime has been committed, and I have enough evidence to charge, should I do it, even if I know that the likelihood of getting a conviction is fairly remote?
That'll be the quandary. The reason why I think it's a little bit tough to get a conviction is, remember the standard in a criminal case very high. You have to have 12 jurors agree beyond a reasonable doubt. I lived in that world for a long time. In fact, I won five murders in a row, all on the reasonable doubt issue, where you have to get all 12 jurors to agree beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime has been committed. When you consider how polarized the United States is, to try to get 12 jurors who don't have very strong views on this issue would be a tough game.
I think there's a better chance of a conviction down in Georgia, actually. That seems to be better defined, and almost more egregious crime. The attorney general there is being very aggressive in pursuing Trump in Georgia, so there's a chance that he could end up getting charged there if he's not charged in Washington.
PETER HAYNES: The legal bills for that individual must be just off the charts. I know when he doesn't like what he hears, he doesn't pay them, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Just before we finish up here, Frank, I want to talk about inflation, because this is an issue we've talked about already in Sri Lanka and other downstream issues from the war. I'm curious whether you were surprised that the Bank of Canada triggered a 100 basis point rate hike last week, and are you confident that the bank can control inflation solely through its monetary policy?
FRANK MCKENNA: I was surprised. I was like the market, I think I was a bit shocked. It's good if the central bank can do that, because it's not just the 100 basis points, as you know, Peter, it's the signaling that can become very important in trying to deal with things like inflation. I thought that it had shock value, let me put it that way.
I don't know whether the central banks can engineer a soft landing here. I think that they can end up suppressing inflation, but whether they can do that without triggering a recession, I think that's the big question. It would probably need government to not put more fuel on the fire, and there are only so many tools that are available. I think it's fair to say they're using all the tools in the tool chest right now.
PETER HAYNES: Obviously, Frank we don't end without talking about the Jays. They're 8 and 1 since Schneider took over. We're both probably relieved and happy to see they made a managerial change, but really, at the end of the day, the entire baseball world is watching one thing going on right now very closely, and that's who will win the Juan Soto sweepstakes?
Some people would compare Juan Soto to a combination of Ted Williams and Hank Aaron and that's really, really strong words for a guy who's 23 years old, but he's that good. The Washington Nationals have announced that they will trade him. They do, however, want a king's ransom for Soto. My question for you-- you're going to put on your GM hat for a second. Would you trade Gabriel Moreno, Orelvis Martinez, and Ricky Tiedemann, who are the Jays' top three prospects along with Lourdes Gurriel, for three playoff runs with Juan Soto?
FRANK MCKENNA: I wouldn't do the trade. Remember, he's only got 2 and 1/2 years left on his contract, and he's represented by Scott Boras. All that means is that he's going to be shopping 2 and 1/2 years from now, and he's not going to be resigning with the Jays or whoever ended up getting him. Remember, he's being offered now a 15 year contract at about $440 million from Washington, so he's going to be a very, very difficult player to control. That's one. What you're looking at is a rental. Admittedly, it's a couple of year rental, but you're looking at a rental, so what are you giving up?
You're giving up, to start with, Moreno, who's the number one prospect in the Jays organization. A catcher, to me, is not like an ordinary baseball player. He's like the quarterback in a football game. He's got multiple skill set requirements, because he's really running the game in many ways. In the case of Moreno, he can hit. He's going to be a lifetime 300 hitter, we know that. He can run, he's one of the fastest guys in the Blue Jays organization, he's got a rifle for an arm, he can throw, and he can handle pitchers, so he's got all the tools for a catcher. I think he's a guy that will be a solid star in Major League Baseball for 20-something years.
He's 22 years old. In the case of Martinez, he's 20 years old. You could argue that you could let him go, because we have infielders, although he could play third base if we had to replace Chapman at some stage. Again, he's got 22 home runs, and remember, Soto, for all his skill sets, which are significant, he's only got 20 home runs at present, so Martinez has actually got more home runs.
Then you get into Ricky Tiedemann, who's now probably one of our starting pitchers of the future. He's got a fastball that's lighting it up at 96, even heading up to 98. He's a left handed six foot four pitcher. He could be another Alek Manoah from the left side. You're giving up a lot there.
Then, in the case of Gurriel, I don't know that we talk about him enough. He's got an average of well over 300, compared to Soto's average. He's hitting the ball all over the place. He's got a gun for an arm and led the league in outfield assists. Now, would I trade Gurriel for Soto? Easily, and throw some other stuff in. But the package that you're throwing out here is, in my view, way, way too rich.
You get a great offensive gem with Soto. He's a left handed hitter, and that's a great asset as well, but we've got a great offensive team. If everybody just lives to their potential, we'll have the best offensive team in baseball. What we really need to cement our place in the playoffs is a starting pitcher, and probably some middle relief-- just a stronger relief core. If you get Soto but don't shore up your pitching, then I don't think you're any further ahead.
For all of those reasons, I wouldn't do the deal. By the way, I've liked the changes so far. Just this weekend, during all the drama of the 20 runs and everything else, there was one little incident that really got me excited. That was when Chapman was on first base and Espanola did a hit-and-run with him. He got such a head start on it that he scored all the way from first base on a single. That's pretty spectacular when you see that. That's the way you'd kind of like baseball to be played, always being aggressive, always pushing the limits. I find the Blue Jays are playing that kind of ball right now.
PETER HAYNES: Action between the lines is what Commissioner Manfred needs to fix in the game. I like it too, I have to agree with you on that. One defense of Juan Soto is, he's not seeing any fastballs in Washington because he's got no protection in the lineup there. The general manager, Mike Rizzo, is asking for in most cases, I believe, the top four prospects in every organization. That's a starting point. I gave you our top three, and then Gurriel is one of our top players. You're rejecting that trade, and it'll be interesting to see whether or not the powers that be at the Blue Jays are also rejecting that trade.
FRANK MCKENNA: Would you do the trade, Peter?
PETER HAYNES: I think the Yankees are going to do it, personally, so I'm going to back out of answering that question, because I'm a bit more on the fence than you are. I think the Yankees are going to do it so it gives them leverage in their resigning of Aaron Judge.
If you're in win now mode, here's the interesting name, by the way, Frank, and it's also in the American League East. It's Tampa Bay. You only have to pay him his arb money, and you let him go in three years, or you trade him after two years, but you get him for your playoff run, because they're so good every year. I love the idea of him going to Tampa Bay, and they have the best farm system in baseball, and they don't care if they give up four prospects for a guy that's going to hit in the middle of their lineup for the next three years. Honestly. It's a really interesting one.
FRANK MCKENNA: I think St. Louis will make a big move at it, and I think there's a chance that could land him. They've got a very strong farm system as well. You need a very deep farm system in order to be able to do that, and have your pitching fairly well intact, so you don't have to worry about that.
If you remember one other thing, because you've kind of alluded to it, and that's if you sign Soto, and you start paying the kind of money that he wants to continue, you're not going to be able to handle Guerrera and Bichette and some of the others on your team as well. I think that those people-- you know, they're baby Jays. They've come up through the system. I think they've got a great future with the Jays, so I'd hate to compromise the future with the stars that we have by going for another big name.
PETER HAYNES: I have to agree with you. Teams remember where they signed. They always remember who signed them. You don't want to get in the way of the baby Jays, I agree. They are on a bit of a roll right now. I admit that we have some recency bias, I'm sure, but this will be interesting.
I just don't want the Yankees to sign him. I don't want that bat in the middle of that lineup. Let him go to the Cardinals, so after this-- and by the way, how about that, eh? Their top two players can't play this week because they're not vaccinated, Goldschmidt and Aaron Otto. That is unreal.
FRANK MCKENNA: Well, I think it's unreal. And I know there are some wags in the United States who criticize Canada for this, but they don't realize that Djokovic can't play tennis in the United States. He can't go to the US Open, because he's not vaccinated. They've got their own rules. In fact, they won't allow any unvaccinated non-national back into the country without vaccination. Canada is not the only one that plays by these rules.
PETER HAYNES: Correct, and the Blue Jays-- the only reason they can all play in the States is because every player on the team is vaccinated. It's the exact same rule, and it doesn't get explained properly. But Kansas City came in here with 10 players unvaccinated. They couldn't come. It's just mind boggling. The big issue there was Whit Merrifield coming out and saying, if I was playing for a contender, I'd get vaccinated. Oh, did he ever get in trouble.
FRANK MCKENNA: [LAUGHS]
PETER HAYNES: Anyways, look, could talk baseball until we're blue in the face, but we'll watch the next month with keen interest. At the end of August, we'll be through the deadline. We'll see what trades the Jays have made, and see where they look going into August, because the way things look right now, I actually think the Yankees are vulnerable. With the injuries that they're facing-- they had another reliever go down this weekend-- they're vulnerable. I like the Jays. We'll have to see whether or not a month from now we still like them.
Thanks, Frank, as always. I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer on the East Coast, and we'll talk to you again soon.
FRANK MCKENNA: Thank you, Peter.