The News Rundown
- This story touches on the horrible Nova Scotia shooting back in April that took 22 lives. As we do here at Western Context we believe that you can only make proper decisions when you have all the context on a given news story.
- The Canadian media when it comes to gun control waits a very short amount of time before framing the issue as one of gun control as it exists in the United States.
- We share a border with the United States but we do not share their politics or problems wholesale.
- As the original story developed it became known that the guns used in the rampage were smuggled in from Maine.
- What we didn’t know however, revealed this week, was that the RCMP was aware of the shooter and was aware that he was smuggling guns.
- This led public safety minister Bill Blair (and former Toronto police chief) this week to set up a public inquiry on the shooting.
- Blair said that "Canadians deserve answers to how such a tragedy could occur.” That is obvious and is the first grade question to ask, but of course what we need to get to the bottom of is why just exactly this got past the RCMP.
- The inquiry was also announced just a day before the Prime Minister was due to testify at the ethics committee. So yet again, a perfect opportunity to channel change to a topic the Prime Minister loves which is of course gun control. We’ll see though that the deck had already been set.
- The inquiry was called after documents released to The Canadian press were revealed that showed a picture of the gunman’s activities before the rampage began.
- The neighbours were aware of concealed spaces on Wortman’s property for years and that there was a “secret room” in his denturist clinic, and a false wall on his property.
- It’s been said that pushback from the families and MPs led to the reversal on whether or not the government would call the public inquiry.
- Bill Blair said this week that he also had been made unaware of the additions to the case as we mentioned here previously in the story.
- This new information is disgusting and we’ve made the decision to spare the graphic details from the audio record of Western Context.
- Ultimately the newly revealed information revealed Wortman as a sick and twisted criminal was a heinous backstory rivalling that of the plot TV shows such as Breaking Bad or Dexter.
- The RCMP was aware of the gun smuggling and drug problem behind the shooter but nothing happened.
- Now Bill Blair and the government of Canada see an opportunity to get to the bottom of what actually happened with this public inquiry.
- But this story of course wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the hypocrisy of the government and media in their initial coverage.
- This was an event in Canada that led the government to issue the largest blanket gun ban in Canadian history, not with Parliamentary oversight but by an order in council.
- The gun ban included common firearms that are used by farmers to protect livestock but it also included absurdities such as the MARK 153 SMAW Rocket Launcher, Missile Launcher FGM-148 Javelin, and the Russian Artillery M1942 Anti-Tank Gun.
- For the media’s part they made this story one of gun control in Canada and that we would be so much better off with the government taking action on gun control because our big cities have gun violence issues.
- In doing so they often cited what happens in the United States citing issues of violence in America’s largest cities but here today we see both the media and government missed the boat.
- What should’ve been a story about RCMP policing, strengthening border control, and handling the opioid epidemic became an opportunity for the Trudeau government and media to virtue signal on the issue of gun control.
- Now we see the truth coming out only because documents were leaked to the media and it was a convenient time to announce as it was announced the day before Trudeau was due to testify at the ethics committee.
- We don’t like to sound too arrogant here but it looks like yet again we were right in the initial summation of the story and the media mislead yet again.
- In the 3 and a bit years since John Horgan became BC premier, he's run a fairly tight ship, and has convinced many that his minority government propped up by the Greens deserves a fair shake. Polls taken since the beginning of the pandemic have shown Horgan's government to score very highly among governments in Canada for their work through the health crisis. The government’s handling of the pandemic received sky-high approval levels from those polled, with 85% thinking the government has done a good job of combating the virus.
- The safety net of careful surplus spending throughout the previous 3 years by Horgan and his Finance Minister Carole James also means that BC is in a much better position financially than most if not all other provinces, and BC still maintains a triple AAA credit rating from all major institutions. All this has led to a highmark personal approval rating of Horgan at 68%, while his NDP are polling around 45% to the BC Liberals' 33%.
- Horgan's leadership has not been without his faults however. While in opposition, he had a reputation of being brash, loud and hot-headed. Since becoming premier he has toned his passionate character down somewhat, but sometimes it still peeks through.
- Enter last week. The issue of vehicles with out of province plates - not just American plates, but Alberta and other provinces too - getting vandalized has become a serious issue in BC. We covered this story back at the end of May on Western Context 171, where numerous BC residents with vehicles that had out of province plates on them found their cars, keyed, windows smashed, or even just nasty notes being put on them.
- Premier Horgan made a statement on the issue, which actually contradicted Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's calm and measured approach on the matter. Horgan says drivers who have out-of-province licence plates on their vehicles should consider taking public transit or riding a bicycle if they're feeling harassed by people. He also suggested on Monday that drivers change to B.C. plates to avoid trouble from residents who are concerned about the spread of COVID-19, saying that he "can’t tell people how to respond when they see an offshore plate."
- A followup question asked Horgan: Was the premier really suggesting they should take transit or change their vehicle registration, or just prepare to be harassed?
- Horgan replied defensively: “What else would you have me say? People are being judgy and I’m urging them not to be judgy. It’s best that we not blame people for the licence plates on their car. But having said that: If you’re living in B.C. and plan on staying in B.C., the appropriate thing to do would be to get a B.C. driver’s licence and a B.C. plate on your vehicle. If you feel that travelling with your plates identifying yourself as someone from away at a time of heightened anxiety — it’s incumbent upon those individuals to take steps to reduce that anxiety. I don’t know what’s wrong with that response, it doesn’t seem jaw-dropping to me.”
- That innocuous statement has actually proven to be fairly controversial. Instead of condemning those committing property vandalism crimes, he instead told the victims how they should respond: “In B.C. we want to keep our borders closed until neighbouring jurisdictions get a better handle on COVID-19. Those who are overtly declaring by their licence plates that they’ve come from somewhere else should be mindful of that and act accordingly.”
- Keep in mind that ICBC, the provincial crown corporation that deals with vehicular insurance, just recently opened up parts of their services after being in a semi-lockdown for the past 5 months, and have gotten swamped with requests and work. Just going in and changing your license plates, as Horgan suggests, is not actually that easy to do with ICBC's current state. And even if you do, it doesn't change the fact that British Columbians through ICBC pay the highest insurance rates in Canada. No wonder those who can prefer to license their cars elsewhere.
- The principle is: If elected leaders refuse even to condemn illegal acts, aren’t they signalling in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of way that’s they’re OK with the behaviour? Horgan is as much as saying, “If you see a non-B.C. vehicle, do what you want.”
- Dr. Bonnie Henry carefully measured her statement when she was asked about the Premier's remarks. “There are many reasons why people have different licence plates here in B.C. Many Canadians and British Columbians returned from living in the U.S., whether they had been there for a short time or a long period of time. Who would blame them considering what’s happening now? Many people came home to look after elderly family members, and we need to respect that. We also need to respect that many people have been here for a long time. They may have done their isolation. We do not know everybody’s story. We need to pay attention to the fact that we are all in this together, whether our licence plate is from Alberta, California or from here. We are here now, and we all need to do the things that keep each other safe here now.”
- Even the RCMP has cautioned people to think before they act. Campbell River RCMP Cst. Maury Tyre says there are many snowbirds who live on Vancouver Island and split their time between places down south like Palm Springs, Scottsdale and Tampa Bay.
- “When COVID-19 struck hard back in March, many of these people found themselves stranded in the United States with the only way to return being in their car that were registered in those states. Add to that the extra difficulty of insuring your B.C. vehicle with insurance offices closed, and these folks have continued to drive their American insured vehicles.”
- Tyre is now sending out a message to all Islanders: be calm and be kind: “We are seeing actions being taken by some that can border on criminal harassment just because somebody has an out of country or out of province licence plate or a little bit of an accent. I recognize that people are on edge, scared or frustrated, but harassing actions and stirring up a frenzy are just not acceptable and are entirely contrary to the well being of a civil society.”
- Oak Bay police in Victoria had fielded many reports from locals that people are driving around with American plates, and had to go on a social media campaign to get people to stop, and to say that having a U.S. license plate is not a crime. Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties said “We will investigate any allegations of someone breaching quarantine; however, we have no intention of stopping every vehicle that has a U.S. plate. Some people have completed their quarantine and are driving legally with their U.S. plates and they should not be repeatedly stopped and interrogated by police simply due to their plates.”
- At a time where pandemic fears are heightened, and the media has scared the populous into a panic, it's up to our leaders to provide a calm and measured approach. For BC, our premier might need a few more lessons on how to do that. For the criminals breaking the law by vandalising non-BC cars and the busybodys harassing people just because they might be from elsewhere, it's disgustingly xenophobic and as the police have said, can become criminal very quickly. As always, we should be calm, be kind, and take personal precautions, but don't jump to conclusions about everything you see. The media never gives the full story after all.
- Since the start of March we’ve been accustomed to public health officials and health ministers telling people to stay home.
- We’ve even seen travel bans put in place on what would normally be the busiest of travel weekends in some places, Easter and Victoria Day.
- Governments earn the respect of their voters. It’s not granted by fiat.
- That is part of the reason why jurisdictions that have seen some of the best results in stamping down the virus, such as Alberta and BC, were able to do so without highly restrictive lockdown orders.
- It was revealed recently that federal health minister Patty Hajdu travelled on both these weekends between Ottawa and Thunder Bay.
- She was the only person aboard a 7 seater Cessna Citation that costs about $1,400 per hour to operate.
- This puts the bill for the flights that the Minister was on at $73,220 according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
- The weekends in which she travelled were Easter Weekend and the Victoria Day long weekend when travel bans were in place.
- This is the same weekend where the Prime Minister made the plea for people to not travel saying himself he wasn’t seeing his family while they stayed at Harrington Lake.
- But as recently as Friday this week the minister was still heavily cautioning Canadians to not travel as to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
- This is the same pattern that the media and opposition Liberals at the time criticized when former finance minister Jim Flaherty flew to his home riding back in 2010.
- We’ve also seen similar flights with similar costs here in Alberta by then Premier Allison Redford. This caused new Premier Jim Prentice to sell the government fleet.
- Granted the federal government can’t do that entirely since it’s viable to have the Prime Minister or Head of State fly commercial but it’s long since time that the rules over private government flights be tightened up.
- The government needs to lead by example and practice what they preach or they will lose the will of Canadians to follow their advice at a crucial time during this pandemic.
- Can we say we told you so? We covered a story all the back on Western Context 86 in September of 2018 (!!!) that foreshadowed this upcoming story. That story detailed the "failure to launch" of former astronaut Julie Payette's turbulent first year as Governor General".
- That story talked about Gov General Payette and her struggles with the job that requires public appearances, strict adherence to convention, and lots of public scrutiny. In it, the article describes the duties of the Governor General, and how one of the most important duties is to sign bills into law, and how on several occasions Payette didn't appreciate having to work her schedule around Parliament, and asked if it was really necessary that she be at the ceremonies signing budgets and big bills into law.
- Sources said in 2018 that during Payette's first year as governor general, she had been "locked in a year-long battle with the expectations and restraints that come with being governor general: demands on her personal time, expectations of how she should dress, what she can say in public and how she should work with politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats."
- Many members of the tight-knit community that operates in and around Rideau Hall said they have grown frustrated with a governor general who constantly challenges tradition and has substantially reduced the workload of her office. However, most believe the blame lies with the Prime Minister’s Office, for abandoning the advice of vice-regal experts and choosing a star candidate without ensuring she would be a good fit for the job.
- People who had observed first-hand previous transitions at Rideau Hall said this goes beyond the typical growing pains. One senior government source said “It’s not unusual for a governor general to test the limits, but there’s clearly more than testing going on. It’s a delicate situation.”
- Rideau Hall’s participation in public events has dwindled. Its relationships with non-profit organizations —even those going back decades — remain under review. Event organizers accustomed to the governor general’s participation have been cautioned not to take it for granted. “There’s no question the pace and the activity is the slowest it’s been since the ’70s or ’80s,” said one source with extensive knowledge of the institution.
- Payette’s name did not come up until late in the ad hoc process the Trudeau administration set up to find Gov. Gen. David Johnston’s replacement. In 2012, Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, created the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments, a panel of experts to help the government select future governors general, provincial lieutenants governor and territorial commissioners. Since Trudeau came to power in October 2015, however, his government has not consulted the committee for any such appointment.
- Fast forward today, and Trudeau's failures to vet one of the most important roles in Canadian democracy has come back to rear its head.
- The Privy Council Office (PCO) has launched what it says will be a "thorough, independent and impartial" workplace probe into claims of harassment and verbal abuse in the office of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette. The investigation follows a report that quoted unnamed sources saying Payette has created a toxic environment at Rideau Hall by verbally harassing employees to the point where some have been reduced to tears or have left the office altogether.
- At least 16 sources with direct knowledge of the office during Payette's mandate said the Governor General has yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated employees. They accuse her of throwing tantrums in the office and, on one occasion, tossing an employee's work aside and calling it "shit.", even quizzing them on their knowledge of the solar system. They also accuse Payette's secretary and longtime friend, Assunta Di Lorenzo, of harassing employees — calling some "lazy" and "incompetent."
- PCO spokesperson Stéphane Shank said in the statement that "Harassment has no place in any professional workplace. It is a public service priority to advance efforts to more effectively prevent and resolve issues of harassment."
- The PCO statement said the Governor General's office is part of the core public service and is subject to Treasury Board policies, which include a policy against harassment. PCO said the office is establishing the "terms of reference" of the review and will take steps immediately to hire an independent third party to conduct it.
- One former employee is speaking out against what they described as a “toxic” work environment at the office of Payette: “Right from the beginning, I was appalled at what was going on. At first, I was just like, ‘OK, I have to give myself time to figure this out,’ or ‘Maybe things are really busy right now and they’re tense, I don’t know. The atmosphere, the vibe, the stress, the constant barrage, it was just … it was unbearable.”
- A 2019 government survey backs up the claims at Rideau Hall, which said the office has the third highest harassment levels in the federal public service. Twenty-two per cent of respondents working for Rideau Hall claimed to have experienced harassment and 74 per cent of them attributed it to individuals with authority over them.
- The Privy Council Office said it's aware of the survey but hasn't received any formal complaints in writing. Sources say they have complained informally to the ombudsman and to human resources, but claim sufficient action wasn't taken.
- But based on accounts given to the National Post, the people who may have been least shocked about Rideau Hall workplace turmoil were people who worked under Payette between 2013 and 2016, when she ran the Montreal Science Centre as chief operating officer.
- For those who chose to speak for this story, they said their motivation is not to grind an axe years after the fact, but to point out that the Prime Minister’s Office shouldn’t be taken by surprise that many Rideau Hall employees are having a very difficult time working for Payette, because it’s all happened before.
- The accounts give a nuanced picture of how Payette manages a workplace. She forms close bonds with people who she trusts, and pushes them constructively. Others say Payette would sometimes pick fights and level harsh criticism at them, but they could brush it off and still have a good working relationship with her.
- But for some people, working for Payette was excruciating. Just as in the CBC story about Rideau Hall, some science centre employees said they left conversations with Payette in tears and frequently felt humiliated in meetings where Payette targeted them.
- One person who had worked at the science centre for many years, but quit directly because of Payette said “I’m going to say that when I read the news, nothing at all surprised me.”Another said: “Everything sounded extremely familiar. There was a line in the story saying that there was always a victim in every meeting. It was the same thing at the science centre.”
- When Payette entered the job of running the Montreal Science Centre in the summer of 2013, there was widespread concern at the science centre about this move at the time. When Payette was hired, she had no experience in running a museum. But as an astronaut with a sparkling resume in science, music and languages, she had celebrity status in Quebec and it was hoped her appointment would help bring in donations and sponsorships. However, it led to staff leaving, and a high amount of stress among the remaining staff.
- The failures of Payette's leadership and management style were there to be seen, but the attraction to Trudeau of having a female astronaut in the position was worth more than doing his due diligence and actually vetting candidates properly for the position. And now, one of the most important positions in democracy in Canada is being degraded, all due to the prime minister who couldn't do his job properly.
Word of the Week
Public Inquiry - an official review of an event that has deeply affected the public, as ordered by the government. It accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a more public forum, where advocacy groups can present their findings.
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Episode Title: Misplaced Anger
Teaser: A public inquiry finally digs into the Nova Scotia shooting, Horgan condemns those with non-BC license plates, and Trudeau’s Health Minister doesn’t take her own advice. Also, the Governor General is investigated for workplace harassment.
Recorded Date: August 1, 2020
Release Date: August 2, 2020
Edit Notes: Internet pause and hiccup
Podcast Summary Notes