The News Rundown
- Discussion has centred around Bill 22 and its supposed undemocratic nature.
- What is Bill 22?
- Bill 22 from the Ministry of Finance reforms agencies, boards, and commissions to streamline their function.
- What’s the supposed issue? One commission is the office of the Election Commissioner which was set up by the previous NDP government.
- Prior to changes made in 2018 the Election Commissioner’s position resided under that of the Chief Electoral Officer which is not being touched.
- Bill 22 touches many boards, agencies, and commissions but the Election Commissioner has by far been the most contentious.
- The Election Commissioner has levied fines in excess of $200,000 to various individuals involved with the 2017 UCP leadership campaign and as the media calls it, “kamikaze campaign” run by Jeff Callaway.
- The issue at hand is that the Election Commissioner is investigating inappropriate donations to the Callaway campaign.
- The investigation is on-going and there is still the possibility that the matter could be referred to the RCMP.
- This week saw headlines such as “Bill to oust election commissioner passes in Alberta legislature” and “Alberta government passes bill allowing for firing of election commissioner”
- So will the election commissioner be fired? Yes. But that’s not the point of the Bill.
- Delving into the actual legislation, section 153.093 reads that:
“(a)the property, assets, rights, obligations, liabilities,
powers, duties and functions of the Office of the
Election Commissioner become the property, assets,
rights, obligations, liabilities, powers, duties and
functions of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer;
(b) the records in the custody or under the control of the
Office of the Election Commissioner are transferred to
the custody and control of the Office of the Chief
(c ) an existing cause of action, claim or liability to
prosecution of, by or against the Office of the Election
Commissioner is unaffected by the coming into force of
(e) the number of injunctions sought by the Election
Commissioner under this Act, the Election Finances and
Contributions Disclosure Act and the Local Authorities
Election Act and, with respect to each injunction, the nature
of the act or omission giving rise to the injunction;
(f) the number of administrative penalties imposed or letters of reprimand issued under the Act or the Election Finances and
Contributions Disclosure Act and, with respect to each
administrative penalty or letter of reprimand, the nature of
the act or omission giving rise to the administrative penalty
or letter of reprimand;
- What this means is that everything the election commissioner is doing from investigations, files, documents, powers, duties, and more all fall back to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
- What’s more, if the Chief Electoral Officer decides so, they could hire an Election Commissioner and even hire back Lorne Gibson.
- Recall from Western Context 110, we provided background on Lorne Gibson.
- He was Ed Stelmach’s Chief Electoral Officer
- Many of his recommendations went against the PC government of the day.
- In 2013 his lawsuit claiming $450,000 in compensation was dismissed when the judge found his employment ended when his contract expired.
- He alleged that he had been described as “too independent” and that, “[he] questioned too much and didn’t leave things as they were.”
- He was appointed by the NDP government as election commissioner last April. His primary task was “rooting out dark money” or money related to PACs which we have talked about plenty of times before on the podcast.
- And when appointed by the NDP, he was voted in on party lines. Normally appointments to boards and commissions are looked at with a more non-partisan lens, that didn’t happen last time.
- Lorne Gibson has a coloured history and back then the media didn’t shine the light on who he was and today there’s a good deal of theatrics masking just what exactly Bill 22 will do.
- Rachel Notley accused the government of obstruction of justice and suggested that the government house leader was misleading the house. Speaker Nathan Cooper asked Notley to apologize but she didn’t and was ejected from the House.
- Notley then sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor asking her not to grant royal assent to Bill 22 but the Lieutenant Governor did not follow this request.
- Two law professors from Queen’s University and the University of Alberta had said there have only been historical cases of Lieutenant Governors intervening but today their role is to sign legislation put forward by the house and that the answer to this problem should be hashed out in the legislature.
- In particular, Eric Adams from the U of A said, “The lieutenant-governor is bound by constitutional convention to sign duly enacted legislation, whether there are policy disagreements or not… Our constitutional rules are clear about the lieutenant-governor’s role.”
- This issue became a lot bigger than it should have, due to social media and the mainstream media's love for a burning story.
- This past week there has been a weird policy suggestion from the BC NDP government that has led to many scratching their heads. The BC government was looking into hiring U.S.-based space technology company MDA Systems Ltd. to see if satellites can assist with monitoring and regulatory oversight of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). MDA owns and operates the Radarsat-2 satellite, which is capable of scanning the earth at all times of the day or night. Its parent company Maxar owns and operates the Worldview constellation of optical satellites.
- In essence, the NDP wanted to spend taxpayer dollars to use American satellites to spy on farmers to make sure that necessary infrastructure like farmer's housing, roads and fences are not taking up too much space on the ALR.
- Farmers like Bill Zylmans, who operates W & A Farms in Richmond, think the move is stepping over the line. His family business is already subject to provincial regulations and city bylaws, and he says many municipalities keep aerial shots of all farms in their jurisdiction and says: “We don’t need more surveillance of any kind, shape or form on our farms.”
- The government is not revealing exactly where the Radarsat-2 and optical satellites would roam, because it could potentially compromise the value of the pilot. The notice of intent reads that: “Due to the limited nature of the area being imaged, it is possible that the land owners may behave differently if they are aware they are being monitored and this may invalidate the intent of this pilot project in evaluating change detection technologies and protocols.”
- That secrecy is exactly why farmers are concerned. Dave Sidhu of the BC Farmland Owners Association calls it an 'invasion of privacy' and that "it is definitely going too far. Farmers are people, they’re hard workers, they have families and they contribute to their communities.”
- Delta South Liberal MLA Ian Paton, who also serves as the official opposition co-critic for agriculture, has 30 years of experience owning and operating a dairy farm and farm auction business. He believes the ALC has become “activist oriented,” and accuses the independent administrative tribunal of spying on farmers, who are "horrified" by the plan. He says: “who knows what [the NDP government is] trying to prove, but this is a complete violation of people’s fundamental rights as private property owners in B.C.”
- It is ironic that this was the plan provided by Agricultural Minister Lana Popham, who happens to be my current MLA, given that just earlier this month, Popham announced that there would be in-person engagement sessions around the province in November to get input from citizens on expanding local agriculture.
- Popham's news release stated that the government was seeking to increase access to locally grown food and to assist rural communities in B.C. with economic diversification and sustainable employment. In particular, the B.C. government was seeking thoughts on issues about farming, food production, and protecting farmland in B.C., including how to support farmers and ranchers in diversifying their businesses, helping new farmers establish themselves, and ensuring residential options while prioritizing agriculture.
- Feedback was also given online and was collected until November 15th. It's strange that the spy satellites was what came out of this process just a few days later.
- However, just a day after the project was announced, Popham mothballed the project, announcing that the $70,000 contract was abruptly withdrawn Monday after media attention and farmer's complaints. Popham said she “asked the ministry to pull back a recent notice of intent about using satellite imaging to complement the work of the Agricultural Land Commission."
- But she also signalled that the project is not dead. “There is more work to be done before moving forward on such a project, including hearing from people with concerns,” she said.
- “It appears that our letter-writing campaign had an impact,” said Raquel Kolof, president of the Sunshine Coast Farmers’ Institute, who co-wrote the formal objection with the Alberni Farmers’ Institute.
- “We were assured at engagement sessions with the ministry and the ALC that enforcement was complaint-driven and that no one was using surveillance, then we find out about this surveillance contract. It’s quite frightening and there is no indication that safeguards were in place to protect people’s privacy.”
- Earlier in 2018, Popham passed legislation that targets the so-called proliferation of “mega-mansions” on ALR farmland.
- The BC Liberals have highlighted examples of farmers who say they are being stifled by new rules that restrict non-farm uses, such as housing for extended family.
- Even a non-profit agency that feeds the hungry has struggled with the regulations. Since 2001, volunteers with the Fraser Valley Gleaners have processed vegetables that would normally be discarded to the landfill by grocery stores, creating dried soup mix for humanitarian efforts overseas. But the independent commission tasked with protecting the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve turned down an expansion request this summer that would expand the lunchroom for their volunteers, but the commission refused to grant the expansion because it would take away from the agricultural land base.
- Ed Klassen, president of the Gleaners, said the ruling won’t shut his operation down – but it will make it difficult to maintain. Last year, the faith-based group produced 15 million portions of dehydrated soup mix that were sent to developing countries. The facility – a kitchen, washroom and office – was designed to accommodate 25 volunteers and some days as many as 90 people are helping out. “It’s cozy,” he said. “We’re in the process of appeal. We’re hoping [they] see the error of their ways.”
- The Agricultural Land Reserve was first established under the first NDP government in BC in 1973. Roughly 5% of the provincial land base – the best remaining farmland – was placed under special protection to ensure B.C. would not lose its ability to produce food. It looks like the current NDP government will stop at nothing, even Big Brother-esque American spy satellites to make sure that it remains so.
- On Tuesday 3,200 CN conductors, train people, and yard workers went on strike.
- The federal government is being encouraged by numerous groups such as the agriculture industry, the opposition, and several provinces including Alberta and Saskatchewan to reconvene sooner than December 5 to pass back to work legislation.
- Chemical facilities have already began to shut down as early as last Friday. And some larger companies are losing more than $1m per day because of the strike.
- The oil industry is also concerned since rail shipments are Alberta’s primary method of easing the backlog of product stored due to lack of pipeline capacity.
- 60% of crude by rail exports are carried by CN.
- It is forecast that if the disruption were to last more than a couple weeks oil prices could begin to fall.
- Cenovus ships 100,000 barrels per day to the US gulf coast.
- Petroleum products account for 20% of CN’s total revenue, grain and fertilizer are next at 16%, and forest products in third with 13%
- CN in total carries about $250b worth of goods each year.
- Quebec is also raising the alarm with this story has Premier Francois Legault has said that Quebec has less than 5 days of propane left.
- Legault says the shortage could wreak havoc on hospitals, nursing homes, and farms. All of which use propane for heat.
- Parts of Atlantic Canada could also face a propane shortage due to the strike.
- The ironic part is that if there was existing pipeline capacity, there would be no propane shortage in the east.
- This doesn’t solve the problem for retail or agricultural shipments but it would at least ease the problem for those in the east who use propane as a form of energy.
- This is in many ways shaping up to be the first test of the new Trudeau cabinet to see how far and how quickly they’ll move to address an issue of vital economic concern.
- On November 20th, almost a full month after the election, Justin Trudeau unveiled his cabinet to take us into the next session of Parliament. While there were a few surprises, there actually weren't too many bombshell shakeups, leading many to believe that if Trudeau wins the confidence of the house, he will continue to govern his minority just like he did his majority.
- Of the major portfolios there was a bit of shuffling, but a lot of the notably senior male ministers stayed in the same portfolios. Bill Morneau retains Minister of Finance, David Lametti is still the Justice Minister and Attorney General, and Marc Garneau remains Minister of Transport. On the public safety front, Bill Blair takes over defeated Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale's file of Public Safety, adding to his border security file from last session, and Harjiit Sajjan is still Minister of Defence.
- There was some shuffling, but it largely makes sense. Much maligned environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been shuffled to Infrastructure and Communities, with former Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson from BC taking over the Environment and Climate Change ministry. Bernadette Jordan from Nova Scotia takes over Fisheries from Wilkinson.
- Former Somalian Ahmed Hussen is no longer in charge of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, he's now in charge or Families, Children and Social Development. Marco Mendicino is now on the Immigration file.
- Former House leader Bardish Chaggar is now Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, whatever that means. Quebec MP Pablo Rodriguez is now the new House leader.
- But by far the biggest change was for Chrystia Freeland, who saw her personal stock rise with the negotiation of NAFTA, has been given the largest and toughest workload, having been 'promoted' to deputy prime minister, as well as switching from Foreign Affairs to Intergovernmental Affairs. François-Philippe Champagne from Quebec is now the new Foreign Affairs Minister.
- However, the reason why promotion could be used with air quotes, is because Freeland now has six different jobs: she is the vaguely defined “deputy prime minister”; she is intergovernmental affairs minister; she retains responsibility for the new NAFTA; she somehow keeps an “oversight” role of the Foreign Affairs Department despite there being a new minister; and she is the chair of the economy and energy cabinet committee that will make key decisions on the West, climate policy, and growth, as well as being tasked with battling a growing faction of alienated Westerners. It's a big step and one could say that Trudeau tasked Freeland with it because she could tackle the tough issues. A pessimist could say that he is setting her up to fail on such a contentious issue, however.
- The one certainty is that that every reference to Freeland henceforth will include “Peace River, Alberta-born on a farm” before her name to convey her supposed credentials for the Western alienation assignment. That’s in direct contrast to the billing Freeland was given when she arrived on the political scene: then many talked about her Oxford and Harvard University education, her ties to the Davos elite and friendships with Larry Summers and David Thomson.
- There were also some real head scratchers. Mona Fortier from Ottawa was named Associate Minister of Finance and "Middle Class Prosperity". Concern for “the middle class and those wanting to join it” is a Trudeau mantra—one that deflects from his own privilege and wealth. Creating such a portfolio imparts the message that “middle class prosperity” is as real as “natural resources” or “finance.” Already, it has put the spotlight on the vagaries of the term “middle class.” Fortier herself was unable to define it on CBC’s The Current on Friday, offering only “where [people] can afford their way of life…and send their kids to play hockey…” The title also obfuscates the deepening income gap, and the fact that, while poverty rates are falling, one in seven Canadians live in poverty. “Raising Canadians from Abject Poverty” just doesn’t have the same ring.
- Other oddities exist. One of the oldest Liberal MPs, Joyce Murray from BC was named "Minister of Digital Government". Dan Vandal of Winnipeg is the new Minister of Northern Affairs, despite two longtime Liberal MPs existing in the Yukon and NWT. Carolyn Bennett is still Minister of Crown-Indigenous affairs, despite a growing number of First Nations MPs to choose from for the file.
- Quebec rookie MP and anti-pipeline activist Steven Guilbeault was promoted to Canadian Heritage. Thankfully he didn't get environment minister, in a majority parliament he certainly might have. But in a minority, Trudeau has to be more conciliatory than making such a brazen anti-West move.
- Trudeau's personal friends got cabinet appointments too. Mark Miller, a long-time Trudeau friend who was named Minister of Indigenous Services, a portfolio Wilson-Raybould rejected before being ejected from the Liberal caucus. Miller’s friendship with Trudeau has come under scrutiny in the past with allegations of favouritism. The new minister also has ties to Trudeau’s ignominious blackface history, having been present at one of Trudeau’s performances when they both attended Montreal’s Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.
- Another Trudeau friend, Dominic LeBlanc, who is recovering from cancer treatment, arrived at Rideau Hall in a blue surgical mask, a conspicuous reminder of his continuing vulnerability to infection. The New Brunswick MP removed the mask briefly to be appointed President of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada.
- And another Trudeau friend, Seamus O'Regan from Newfoundland takes over Minister of Natural Resources from the ailing Jim Carr who is still battling cancer but who is now in a non-cabinet position as special representative for the Prairies.
- There were also notably Ministries that were deleted from the newest update. The tethering of ministry creation (and deletion) to the Trudeau government’s political agenda was on display. Gone is Science and Sport, a portfolio formerly held by Kirsty Duncan, a scientist and former academic. The Liberals stated commitment to science and scientific research was a pillar of their 2015 electoral message, but does not appear to be a priority in 2019. Duncan, who merited the longest hug (12 seconds) in 2015 when appointed, is no longer in the cabinet. Also wiped from the cabinet slate is the Democratic Institutions ministry, which oversaw the failed electoral reform process.
- For representation, it largely relies on ministers from Toronto and Montreal, where Trudeau won most heavily. In total, 4 ministers are from Atlantic Canada, and 4 ministers are from BC, which is line with population percentages. However, with just one Prairie cabinet minister, Dan Vandal from Manitoba, and none in the North, as well as none in Alberta and Saskatchewan where Trudeau was shut out on October 21st, means the prairies are woefully underrepresented.
- Justin Trudeau's new cabinet might not be an accurate representation of the country, but it does reflect the Liberal caucus that Canadians sent to Ottawa last month — including the remarkably large number of Liberal MPs from the two provinces that kept the party in power.
- 17 are from Ontario and 10 are from Quebec, making up 75% of the cabinet which is far more than these two provinces' share of the national population.
- Gender-wise, Trudeau stuck to his 2015 guns and named 18 male and 18 female cabinet ministers. 12 of those 18 female ministers are from Ontario.
- One thing is for sure though. This cabinet of Trudeau's is now 4 years older from 2015, and they will not have near as much public goodwill and leeway that they did in 2015 when Sunny Ways was the refrain. There are many issues that many of these shuffled ministers will have to tackle and do so in a minority Parliament. Those looking for change, might not get what they want.
- Parliament will resume on December 5th, with the Throne Speech, which must pass if Trudeau's cabinet will govern.
Word of the Week
Loyalty - a strong feeling of support or allegiance
How to Find Us
Episode Title: I Spy
Teaser: Alberta’s Bill 22 draws nationwide criticism for an invalid reason, BC wants to spy on farmers with American satellites, and the CN Rail strike will have a massive impact on the Canadian economy. Also, Trudeau’s new cabinet: same as the old cabinet.
Recorded Date: November 22, 2019
Release Date: November 24, 2019
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes