The News Rundown
- Alberta often draws criticism for being too heavily focused on oil but the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the 1960s and 70s.
- This leads to questions of how Alberta performs against other oil producing jurisdictions such as North Dakota and Texas just to name a few.
- The Fraser Institute came out with a report this week comparing Alberta’s recovery with that of Texas since the 2014 oil price downturn.
- Economists, political pundits, and the media have all said Alberta’s economic woes were due to the downturn.
- Comparatively Texas dealt with similar price drops but did a “much better job creating an environment where workers can prosper” according to the report.
- The study found that Alberta’s unemployment rate was lower than the Texas rate from 2004–2014, the Alberta oil boom years.
- Since 2014 Texas has had a lower unemployment rate.
- Alberta’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.2% in 2016 while Texas managed to stay below 5% from 2014 to 2018.
- The report notes that there are many differences (and I note that it’s harder to extract the raw bitumen from the oil sands than the mining operations in Texas) but Alberta has run deficits caused by government spending while Texas has run surpluses ever year since 2014 except one, and Alberta raised taxes and increased regulation.
- Looking at personal income taxes, the top rate in Alberta is 48% on every dollar earned over $150,000. The top rate in Texas is 37% and in Texas it doesn’t apply until you hit $300,000 USD ($396,780 CAD).
- When combined with new federal taxes in Canada, the competitiveness of Alberta on the income tax front does not exist.
- The report also cites increased regulations, the royalty review undertaken by the NDP, and the 100MT cap on oil sands emissions.
- This cap was something that the NDP government brought in with the carbon tax and their environmental policy.
- The cap was not addressed in the UCP’s election platform and as of May, the UCP has no plan to remove the cap.
- This is likely because the federal Liberal government has said that if the cap was removed, new in-situ (read: oil sands projects) would be subject to review under the new Bill C–69 federally rather than through the Alberta Energy Regulator.
- In conclusion the report says that while there are similarities, the problem comes down to internal policies such as taxes, regulations, and barriers to building pipelines.
- As we’ve said many times before, a strong Alberta and strong natural resources economy is good for all Canadians.
- This has been something that has been harmed by the former Notley NDP and the Trudeau Liberals.
- Canadians have a choice to make about whether Canada is going to be pro-energy development or lag behind this October.
- Back on Episode 95 I discussed the bombshell report that the BC Speaker of the Legislature, and his chief of staff Alan Mullen were investigating legislature expenditure irregularities, specifically surrounding the Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz. James retired after he was found to have committed “administrative misconduct.” Lenz is still currently on leave with pay and is the subject of two ongoing investigations.
- The Speaker’s report provided numerous examples of alleged misspending on international trips. Now, not even a year later, and Plecas and Mullen are under fire for their own alleged mismanagement of taxpayer money.
- Questions are lingering as to why the chief of staff to B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas, Alan Mullen, spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer money to travel to 10 different provincial capitals and state legislatures.
- Mullen went to government buildings in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington — all to discuss security at those buildings.
- The BC Liberals, in opposition mainly because of Plecas being kicked out of the party for becoming Speaker under the NDP minority government, securing them enough seats with the Green Party's support, were upset at the flagrant hypocrisy of the trip.
- BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal said: “We have spent $13,000 so Mr. Mullen could have his excellent summer adventure subsidized by taxpayers. These are routine issues that could have been dealt with within B.C., and I don’t know why Alan Mullen needed to travel across Canada and to seven U.S. states.”
- Johal questioned whether the trip — that he called Mullen’s “excellent summer adventure” — was even necessary, saying that Mullen could easily have gathered the same information by consulting in-house experts and experts in other jurisdictions without leaving Victoria.
- “I still don’t know why the speaker’s friend has to jump in a car (and travel) across Western Canada and the States to acquire information that is rather rudimentary,”
- Mullen says he will comment once his report on the trip is released in September. The trip was originally budgeted to cost $10,000, and ended up at $13,000. The costs associated with the trip included mileage, hotels and per diems, which are all standard costs associated with legislature travel.
- Because Mullen drove his own vehicle, the only expenses he incurred were for gas, hotels and daily per diems. Mullen explained his decision to drive as a cost saving technique: “Where we felt we could save money would be if I drove. “We’re not paying for plane tickets all over North America and rental cars.”
- Asked why he needed to physically visit all these places, Mullen said it was because “you don’t really get a full feeling for it if you get an email … or if it’s over the phone. You have a better opportunity to paint a picture when you’ve gone there yourself, you’ve taken pictures. I can communicate it better in my report.”
- Mullen added that the Americans were “thrilled to have us there and take part in the review.”
- Spending watchdog Dermod Travis from Integrity BC says he will hold judgment on the merit of the trip until after seeing the report. However, he says all trips of this nature should have budgets and travel plans publicly approved before they start.
- Travis says there was a better way to go about planning the trip: “There needs to be some consideration in the Speaker’s office that Mr. Mullen has rightly or wrongly become a bit of a lightning rod. The B.C. Government [and Service] Employees’ Union has a excellent travel policy. Why not adopt that for B.C. legislature staff, so everyone can see the budgeting and where money could be saved?”
- Even though Mullen visited Alberta and Saskatchewan during his trip, he did not meet with either legislature’s sergeant-at-arms, who would be the chief security official for the building.
- Officials in Ontario did not say who Mullen met with or what was discussed.
- In St. Paul, Minn., Mullen met with Chief Sergeant Bob Meyerson of the Minnesota State of Representatives. Meyerson would not go into any details of the trip but described it as a “nice meeting.”
- “He wanted to know how we administer the sergeant-at-arms office here,” Meyerson said. “We met for an hour and then he toured the capitol building.”
- In Oregon, Mullen had a series of meetings that also included a tour of the state capitol building. The general running of the Oregon legislature, security for members and staff, and how the Speaker’s office overlaps with the clerk’s office were discussed. The Oregon legislature’s deputy chief clerk Obie Rutledge said that “He didn’t indicate what the end goals were, and he said it was about fact finding and we wanted to share with him how we function.”
- All in all, it does sound like a fascinatingly interesting "excellent summer adventure". I know I would love to travel to different provinces and states to tour their capital's legislatures and the like. It sure sounds like a lot of fun. However, did our Speaker's chief of staff really need to go on this trip when phone or Skype calls would have sufficed? The costs themselves are not far off what a trip like that would take, it's whether the trip itself was necessary.
- Much of the BC media was quiet on this this week as well. It got mentions in the National Post as well as Global News, but no local outlets covered the story at all. For Plecas, who has invited controversy into his office, it seems very hypocritical to undergo the same type of unnecessary spending that he just so recently accused others of.
- We have gone from “the allegation is false” to “I take responsibility” on the SNC-Lavalin case.
- Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion released his report this week which found Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
- In particular from the report, “The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general."
- And later on Dion said, "The prime minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson‑Raybould. The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”
- Jody Wilson-Raybould’s side of the story was confirmed true.
- For those wondering the conclusion from Dion was that Trudeau violated Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act.
- This does not mean that Trudeau necessarily violated the Criminal Code of Canada, this would be up to a policing body such as the RCMP to lay charges against Trudeau that would have him violating the Criminal Code of Canada.
- This does mean that Trudeau at the very least acted unethically and broke the law in that he contravened the Conflict of Interest Act.
- The Conflict of Interest Act is intentionally vague and doesn’t set out mandatory fines or punishments for those who break it and the Ethics Commissioner is limited.
- The Ethics Commissioner also pointed out that Trudeau should not have put forward any arguments, for or against, a deferred prosecution agreement when he asked Jody Wilson-Raybould to have another look at the file.
- While meeting on September 17, 2018 in a meeting about SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau reminded Jody Wilson-Raybould that he was, “an MP in Quebec — the member for Papineau.” The Ethics Commissioner took this as an attempt by the Prime Minister to focus on the ”larger political repercussions in Quebec, both for the federal and provincial orders of government."
- Recall that when this story first broke these were the words that we focused on as well.
- SNC Lavalin is facing bribery and fraud charges related to alleged payments of close to $50 million to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts.
- Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and said, “We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made. Where I disagree with the commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper.”
- The Prime Minister also stated that he wouldn’t apologize for protecting jobs.
- “My job as prime minister is to stand up for Canadians and defend their interests. Yes, it is essential that we do that in a way that defends our institutions and upholds prosecutorial independence, but we need to talk about the impacts on Canadians right across the country of decisions being made… I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs."
- In particular in being interviewed by the Ethics Commissioner he was concerned about SNC-Lavalin employees, shareholders, customers, and infrastructure projects such as the Champlain Bridge and light rail system being built in part by SNC-Lavalin.
- Jody Wilson-Raybould herself issued a statement posted to her Facebook page.
- In a nutshell she views it as vindication but also highlights the sadness she feels that this can happen in a country such as Canada.
- She wrote that the report, “represents a vindication of the independent role of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in criminal prosecutions and reinforces for Canadians how essential it is to our democracy to uphold the rule of law and prosecutorial independence. The Report confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with all Canadians, and affirms the position I have taken from the outset.”
- Though it wasn’t all vindication as she also highlighted her sadness, saying, “In a country as great as Canada, essential values and principles that are the foundation for our freedoms and system of government should be actively upheld by all, especially those in positions of public trust. We should not struggle to do this; and we should not struggle to acknowledge when we have acted in ways that do not meet these standards. I am also concerned by the government’s decision to deny even its Ethics Commissioner requested access to Cabinet confidences, as there were apparently constraints on a number of witnesses from telling the whole story The Commissioner is correct in saying that decisions affected his work should be made ‘transparently and democratically, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime he administers.’”
- Jane Philpott also issued a statement saying that she took a “stand based on principle because I believe my constituents want me to hold the highest ethical standard.” and that she was “saddened by the impact these events have had on our country.”
- For the Prime Minister it comes down to, “I take responsibility. I was doing the right thing. But I’m not sorry.”
- The Prime Minister was elected on a platform of #RealChange saying he was different from former Liberal administrations that were brought down by scandal and corruption.
- And just like (most) politicians, they are elected saying one thing but do the complete opposite, in this case to the detriment of the country.
- It will be up to Canadians in October decide the fate of Justin Trudeau, his government, and all the MPs that have remained silent on this matter.
- The report from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion that concluded that Justin Trudeau broke the ethics rules laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act, the second time he has done so since being elected Prime Minister in 2015 set off a bombshell in the Canada media and political landscape. Virtually no other story was talked about as widely or as polarized as this one in the past week.
- Certainly, it's helpful to find out exactly where which writers fall on the political spectrum just by how their articles cover Trudeau's SNC scandal revelations, or which outlets feel that covering the story is more or less important.
- On the one hand, you have the National Post, whose front page last night was dedicated entirely to Trudeau's mishaps, from a "NP View" Editorial with the headline "Unacceptable behaviour from a stubborn and wilful man" along with opinion articles from Andrew Coyne, Rex Murphy, and Conrad Black, all of whom are of the opinion that Trudeau should not be re-elected.
- On the other hand, you have the CBC and the Toronto Star who have already flipped the page, and you can't find anything on Trudeau or SNC on either front page. Instead, coverage is dedicated to stories with headlines like "Women on country radio are an endangered species, new research says" "'She's a phenomenon': Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sailing into stiff winds in U.S." and "Royal Flush? ‘Canada’s Best Restroom’ contests pits an Alberta gas station against eateries in Toronto and Vancouver".
- Time and time again, you have to ask yourselves what biases each type of source is displaying. One side dedicated itself to slamming Trudeau at every opportunity, and the other completely ignores the issue, and sweeps it under the rug entirely. It's becoming more and more difficult to find a measured source for controversial Canadian political topics, and that's why we're doing this story as a double header.
- Shane talked about Trudeau's paradoxical response, along with statements from JWR and Jane Philpott. But the interesting reactions didn't stop there.
- The Conservatives, clearly in full campaign mode, as are the Liberals despite Trudeau not calling the election yet, were out in full force on the issue. Scheer and Trudeau are both touring Atlantic Canada right now, where a surprise result in 2015 saw all 32 seats from Newfoundland, PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick go to the Liberals. Likely that will not be the case in this fall's election. Scheer and Trudeau both happened to be in Dieppe, New Brunswick to celebrate National Acadian Day. Scheer walked up to Trudeau, and said to him "You have to stop lying to Canadians, you need to come clean", to which Trudeau responded, "Oh, this is a good day today!" and walked away.
- Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, was interviewed by CTV and said "the only true measure to make sure this [SNC scandal] doesn't happen again is to get a new prime minister".
- Tom Mulcair, former NDP leader and now political commentator with CTV and Macleans, said that the statement that Trudeau made following the report's release, specifically, that he simultaneously takes responsibility for the report, and accepts it, while also not apologizing for it, and disagreeing with it by saying that what he did was in the public interest, is doublespeak you see out of a banana republic.
- "How can the Prime Minister of Canada breaking the law be in the public interest? That's what doesn't work with the press conference we just heard...that sort of entitlement and arrogance, saying 'the law doesn't apply to me' [is unacceptable]."
- Mulcair also notes that the ethics commissioner was also refused critical information by the Prime Minister to even undergo his investigation, saying that what was asked for was "not important", and made note that it was similar obstructionist behaviour that was seen in his actual SNC scandal.
- Dion also said some of the witnesses cited cabinet confidentiality as limiting them from speaking fully about what actually happened, and while Dion asked Trudeau to waive this, Trudeau directed the decision to Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart, who denied the request for access. Dion slammed that refusal in his report, saying that although he was able to gather enough evidence to come to a decision, he should have had access to all of the records in order to “fully discharge” his investigative duties. Trudeau appointed Shugart after Michael Wernick, the former clerk, resigned following outcry over what critics called inflammatory and partisan testimony regarding his own view on the scandal this spring.
- Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun notes that now that we know for sure that Trudeau's conduct with SNC was unethical, it's up to the RCMP to determine if Trudeau is guilty of obstruction of justice. The RCMP’s national division said it is “examining this matter carefully with all available information” and will “take appropriate actions as required.” RCMP did not provide additional comment.
- Lilley also asks an important question: "If it is okay to break the law to ‘save jobs’, how many jobs does it take to justify breaking the law?"
- Poilievre thinks the 'job saving angle' is "a lie": as SNC is primarily a construction company, the jobs they would be working on are located in Canada anyway, and that the job, if left by SNC would just be filled by another company! Someone would be working on the job anyway. "So there's no risk that all of those jobs would somehow vanish to another country, when the work is actually happening here."
- Lilley also notes that "If the PM can try to force a decision on prosecution, then what is to stop a future PM from calling a judge to get the decision they want?"
- That's a dangerous level of erosion in the rule of law that clearly separates the legislative, executive and judicial branches of power. If Trudeau gets away with it, and is re-elected in October, we will likely see more of the same. For the Canadian media, just 2 months out of an election covering up a national news story is unconscionable.
Word of the Week
Public Interest - decisions made for the welfare or well-being of a society, by balancing competing interests with full transparency
How to Find Us
Episode Title: An Interested Public
Teaser: An economic report compares the energy industries of Alberta and Texas, the BC speaker’s chief of staff goes on an unnecessary summer adventure, and the ethics commissioner finds that an unapologetic Trudeau broke the ethics laws during the SNC scandal.
Recorded Date: August 17, 2019
Release Date: August 18, 2019
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes