The News Rundown
- If you’re watching Alberta media this week you would be under the impression that the election campaign was in full swing.
- It is, but not officially.
- Last weekend Ottawa based lawyer and 2012 Alberta Liberal candidate Kyle Morrow posted online allegations of wrongdoing by Jason Kenney during his time as federal MP in relation to his housing arrangements.
- The allegation was that Jason Kenney should not have received his $900/mo housing allowance since the majority of the time he was on the road.
- The way it works is that if you’re an MP and you live outside the Ottawa area you’re given a $900/mo allowance to rent in Ottawa.
- The charge being made is that since Jason Kenney spent very few days in Calgary and was on the road, he shouldn’t have taken that $900/mo since they view him as living in the Ottawa area.
- The rules state:
- The primary residence is occupied by the member more often than any other residence.
- The primary residence is where the member most frequently resides on weekends and holidays.
- The primary residence is the one declared on the member’s income tax return and is located in the province where the member votes and pays income tax.
- The primary residence is in the province or territory where the member has public health coverage, and where the member’s driver’s licence is issued and vehicle registered.
- In a Facebook post last weekend, Kenney said, “I paid my taxes in Alberta. My driver’s license and health card were from Alberta. My doctor and dentist were in Alberta. My Parish and volunteer activities were and are in Calgary.”
- Jason Kenney also said that after the passing of his father in the 2000s he made his primary residence the basement suite of his mom’s bungalow in Calgary.
- He made a very frank Facebook post last weekend prior to our show time, we thought that would be the end of this, but it wasn’t.
- The post boiled down to that he wanted to be able to easily keep his elderly mother company while home in Calgary.
- The talk has since morphed into whether or not the $900/mo living allowance was being sent to his mother for rent.
- Kenney says, “This is 100% false.”
- Now, Jennifer O’Connell who is parliamentary secretary (an elected MP who helps a Minister push his agenda through in the house) to the Finance Minister is writing to Speaker of the House Geoff Regan encouraging him to launch an investigation into misuses of housing allowances by Jason Kenney while he was an MP.
- It also happens that Speaker Geoff Regan is chair of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy. This committee manages expenses for MPs and aims to make expenditures and financial reports clearer and easier to access.
- The committee has 4 Liberal members (including the chair), 2 Conservative, and 1 NDP.
- With the House of Commons set to resume shortly this is something that the Speaker and Chair of the Commons Board of Internal economy could definitely be looking at.
- Let’s unpack the optics:
- Someone who is very close to the Federal Finance Minister, who is in turn very close to the Prime Minister is seeking to investigate the leader of a provincial political party weeks before an election campaign is set to officially begin.
- This would be the same thing as if the government of Stephen Harper launched an investigation a sitting member of the Ontario Liberals or Ontario NDP months before their election in 2014.
- While this story should have died last weekend, the media and the Liberal government in Ottawa are keeping it going.
- In what world would that have been allowed to happen?
- Also, folks in the media are already parroting the phrase Duffy 2.0.
- Of course Mike Duffy was found innocent after the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election.
- Two months ago on episode 95 I covered the shocking story of two key officers of the BC Legislature, Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz being placed on indefinite paid leave following details coming to light about a criminal investigation that may involve the pair. It was a shocking and unprecedented story at the time, and as few details were released, it led to rampant speculation about what had happened. Now we know exactly why Speaker Darryl Plecas had his special advisor Alan Mullen investigate the pair, and why they were escorted out of parliament by police.
- The B.C. legislature’s suspended clerk and sergeant-at-arms are being accused of hundreds of thousands of dollars in “flagrant overspending” in a new report produced Monday by Speaker Darryl Plecas.
- James and Lenz claimed inappropriate expenses, went on lavish foreign trips during which little work was done, and handed out questionable retirement and pay benefits, according to the report, which also highlighted odd examples of a wood-splitter kept at the clerk’s house and a truck-load of missing alcohol.
- The 76-page report stunned MLAs, who voted to release it to the public after a two-hour closed meeting. It also appeared to bolster Plecas’ case that he was justified in conducting a secret investigation into the legislature’s two highest-ranking non-partisan officials without telling MLAs, despite heavy criticism in recent months by the Opposition Liberals that he had overstepped his authority.
- The RCMP is investigating under the supervision of two special prosecutors. Neither man has been charged with any crime, and they remain on paid administrative leave from their jobs at the legislature.
- Although Plecas said he turned over his information to police in August, in his report he noted the special prosecutors did not want to receive a copy of the document he produced Monday for MLAs.
- Plecas’ report outlined alleged inappropriate expenses by James and Lenz, including $1,157.26 for a suit and cufflinks in London, $10,000 worth of liquor loaded into James’ pickup truck that James allegedly said was being delivered to former Liberal speaker of the legislature Bill Barisoff, $5,000 in digital magazine subscriptions (to publications such as Palm Springs Life and Electric Bike Action), a more than $13,000 wood-splitter and work trailer ordered for the legislature but that “never arrived at the Legislative Assembly, and instead was taken directly to Mr. James’ personal residence where Mr. James and Mr. Lenz were using it to split firewood.”
- The report also outlined questionable retirement allowances to executives such as James, an expensive life insurance policy, and cash payments in lieu of vacation days worth “at a minimum, several hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
- Former employees of the legislature also spoke up to Plecas about rampant corruption and abuse of authority in the legislature. Over the last several months, “an alarming number” of former legislature employees have contacted Speaker Darryl Plecas to say they were improperly fired after voicing concerns about “corruption” involving taxpayers’ money, says the Speaker’s chief of staff.
- “They have described corruption, they have also described being terminated for what is alleged to be asking questions,” Alan Mullen said in an exclusive interview with Postmedia this week.
- “They allege and quote being instructed: ‘Don’t ask questions. If you do, you’re gone.’ Questions about financial records, expenses, trips. … (They were) told to delete documents.”
- Employees from nearly every legislature department have told similar stories, and without collaborating with each other, Mullen added. There was one political staffer mentioned in Plecas’ report who believed he had been fired for raising concerns about alleged improper expense claims by an MLA. The 20 or so people who have come forward worked for the legislature — not for politicians — in various departments that could include finance, human resources, the library, and Hansard transcriptions.
- After reviewing Plecas’ report, MLAs from all parties voted unanimously for a “workplace review,” which Mullen said could include looking at installing anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.
- What with the probe into money laundering in casinos, all the troubles with criminals in real estate, and now rampant corruption in the legislature itself, it's clear that BC isn't all sunshine and daisies, despite the unseasonably warm winter weather. There are major problems that need fixing. The only question is, who will do it?
- Covington Catholic High School
- A small place in northern Kentucky was thrust into the news world wide last weekend.
- Last weekend a video went viral of a standoff between Covington Catholic High School junior Nick Sandmann and a Native American elder.
- The immediate rush of the story was that he was a racist and bigot because he was wearing one of the iconic Make America Great Again hats.
- Reuters ran with a headline “Students in Trump hats mock Native American”
- CNN ran with “Teens in Make America Great Again hats taunted a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial”
- The students in question were attending the March for Life rally in Washington DC which protests abortion.
- As CNN puts it, “Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting. Other kids could be seen laughing, jumping around and making fun of the chants.”
- Another student from the University of the District Columbia who shot the video said she did not feel safe.
- The Native American in question, Nathan Phillips was seen on video banging his drum and was originally thought to have been surrounded by the boys from Covington.
- The media pursued this angle for a good 2–3 days until it was so broken that if it were a boat it couldn’t hold water.
- What actually happened…
- Footage later revealed showed that Mr. Phillips actually approached the students in an attempt to diffuse a situation that he saw where the teens from Covington Catholic and other Native American demonstrators were being harassed by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
- In response to this, the boys from Covington asked their chaperone if they could do a school cheer, this is when Nathan Phillips came in trying to defuse the situation with his drum and traditional song.
- Black Hebrew Israelites are a group of African Americans who believe that they are descendants of ancient Israelites. They are known to practice varying degrees of Christianity and Judaism.
- By the time the media had issued their corrections and retractions, the damage was done.
- Nick Sandmann was stalked online and his personal information was found in an attempt to name and shame him. He and his family were harassed and ultimately received death threats.
- The school was even considering expulsion. And now there is a campaign to have the diocese at the school replaced and the parents of the students are looking at suing the media.
- Robyn Urback writing for CBC put it best, “this also ought to be a wake-up call for progressives, who, until about 15 minutes ago, lectured supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump about the ruthlessness of mobs, about scapegoating and about abject cruelty. Comedian Kathy Griffin called on her two million Twitter followers to “name these kids,” having seemingly forgotten about her previously expressed disdain for efforts to ruin someone’s life via online pile-on. Others suggested a school shooting would be appropriate at Covington Catholic High School.”
- There is no one perfect in this story but…
- The fact that Nick was smiling and wearing a MAGA hat made him worthy of this targeted attack in the eyes of many.
- Reza Aslan, a religious scholar tweeted, “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
- We also see that we are very much in a world where the news media runs with a viral story on social media just because it’s that, viral.
- As we have talked about before at Western Context, the media today is about likes, page views, and ultimately ad revenue. If you can’t compete in that area you won’t stay afloat.
- Today even if you read it or watch it on CNN, Fox News, or here in Canada on CBC or Global, you need to be wary of what you’re hearing and be mindful of the full context.
- That is our mission.
- John McCallum, as of today, is no longer Canada's ambassador to China. After a week of being under fire for Pro-China comments, he was fired today by Justin Trudeau, or in political speak, from Trudeau himself: "Last night I asked for and accepted John McCallum's resignation as Canada's Ambassador to China."
- As we are amid a huge diplomatic tangle with China over the pending extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou to US, as well as the detention of multiple Canadian nationals in China, one would think that we could look to the leadership of Canada's ambassador to China to lead us through this crisis.
- Instead, it appears that John McCallum was more interested in stroking China's ego and being on their side rather than advancing Canadian interests. In a Tuesday news conference with Chinese-language journalists in Markham Ontario, John McCallum pontificated his view that Meng Wanzhou could make “strong arguments” against her extradition to the United States.
- Indeed, the ambassador proceeded to make them for her: that Donald Trump’s public statements on the case, to the effect that he might intervene in some way if it were necessary to resolve the trade dispute with China, indicated “political involvement”; that the case had an “extraterritorial aspect,” in as much as Skycom, the Huawei subsidiary whose ties to the parent corporation she is accused of concealing, is based in Hong Kong; and that the charges against her were related to a U.S. policy of sanctions against Iran that “Canada does not sign onto,” making her ineligible for extradition.
- Each of these points is debatable, at best. The investigation into her was launched, not by Trump, but by the U.S. Justice Department, whose officials publicly contradicted his attempt to link it to trade issues. The location of Skycom’s headquarters isn't necessarily relevant to if she committed a crime under U.S. law. And the charge against her is not circumventing sanctions, but bank fraud — which is as much a crime in Canada as the U.S.
- Even though McCallum mentioned that it was up to the courts to decide rather than the government, as a senior government official he has thrown the case into doubt as to political involvement. There’s a reason why ministers are supposed to decline to comment on matters that are before the courts: so that there can be no possible hint of political involvement in matters that are properly the subject of an independent judiciary.
- This was, after all, the point that the government has insisted upon throughout this affair: that judicial decisions in Canada are based on the rule of law, not the desires of its rulers. At one stroke, the ambassador has now put that in doubt. He has, in so doing, echoed the very arguments China has been making, that Meng’s arrest was an abuse of the extradition process, thus impugning the actions not only of the Canadian police who carried out the arrest but also our closest ally, the United States, who requested it.
- McCallum isn't just doing this out of ignorance. He was a Liberal cabinet minister for many years, and still has lots of ties with the Liberal party. An MP from 2000-2017 and a cabinet minister from 2002-2006 and again in Trudeau's cabinet from 2015-2017 until he resigned to take up the post of Ambassador to China. He knows how politics works, and the impact that words can have on policy. According to calculations made by the Globe and Mail, during the time he was in office he accepted $73,300 in gifts (aka “sponsored travel”) from the Chinese government, so it would make sense to at least appear impartial in cases involving China.
- As a former minister and representative of the government of Canada, having just debriefed cabinet on the case, he will be seen not merely to be commenting on the interesting legal issues it raises. He will be seen to be indicating a preference, reinforced by his comment at the same news conference that Meng’s extradition, should that be the result, “would not be a happy outcome.”
- And if he was going off track, deliberately defying the government's position, it begs the question as to why he wasn't fired immediately. A day after his comments, Trudeau deflected questions on the matter and wouldn't give a straight answer. Trudeau said Wednesday he is standing by the ambassador, in spite of Conservative calls for McCallum to be fired immediately.
- McCallum apologized on Thursday for several of his remarks, saying he “misspoke” when he said Meng had strong arguments to fight extradition, but he did not reference or walk back all his comments. However, he was back at it on Friday, arguing that it would be “great for Canada” if the United States relinquishes its attempt to extradite Huawei’s chief financial officer.
- It appears that McCallum's insincere apologies, and continuing to blabber on about the case has caused Trudeau to finally fire McCallum, but only days after the incident, and only after publicly defending him just a few days sooner.
- Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer was very critical of Trudeau's delayed decision: “It should never have come to this. Justin Trudeau should have fired his ambassador the moment he interfered in this case. Instead, he did nothing and allowed more damage to be done. More weakness and more indecision from Trudeau on China.”
- It's amazing that Trudeau let this issue go on for almost the entire week when he could have nipped it in the bud. It's quite clear that McCallum was compromised on this issue and should never have been allowed to stay on as ambassador for one moment longer after his comments. And since Trudeau waffled over the issue until it was clear that public opinion was strongly against McCallum, it was made Canada's position even weaker against China. It's frankly embarrassing. And it's also surprising that the media isn't giving Trudeau more flak on this.
Word of the Week
Investigation - the act or process of examining a crime, problem, statement, etc. carefully, especially to discover the truth
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A Flurry of Investigations
Teaser: Jason Kenney’s MP living expenses are under fire from disgruntled opponents, BC speaker Plecas reports on rampant legislature corruption, the media rushes to judgement on the Covington standoff, and ambassador to China John McCallum embarasses Canada.
Recorded Date: January 26, 2019
Release Date: January 27, 2019
Edit Notes: Cough and sound glitch at Covington
Podcast Summary Notes