The News Rundown
- Last Monday, every political junkie was looking to the election in New Brunswick, the first in Canada since the pandemic hit, and the storylines of the election are as fascinating as they are clairvoyant.
- Premier Blaine Higgs of the Progressive Conservatives has led New Brunswick for 2 years since the election in late 2018. The election of 2018 produced a minority government, an anomaly in New Brunswick. The rise of 2 smaller parties, the Greens and the People's Alliance, a populist Conservative movement, caused a minority government for the first time since 1920. The Greens and People's Alliance both won 3 seats, and Higgs’ PCs won 22 seats just narrowly bypassing incumbent Premier Brian Gallant's Liberals who garnered 21 seats.
- Premier Higgs' minority government was propped up by the People's Alliance, allowing for a 1 seat advantage over the other 2 parties. The next election was scheduled to take place on October 17, 2022. However, Higgs called a snap election after negotiations failed with the other parties that would have avoided an election until the fixed date in 2022 or the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Higgs wanted to test his mandate, and as most incumbent governments have experienced much higher polling numbers during the pandemic, he felt his gamble would pay off. And pay off it did. On Monday night, Higgs emerged victorious, with a 5 seat majority government over the other 3 parties for the next 4 years. On top of that, the election only had a 1% lower voter turnout vs. the one in 2018 despite there being a pandemic, which leads there to be no question as to the legitimacy of the results. Soon after Higgs delivered his victory speech, Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers, the former Parliament Sergeant-at-arms and hero of the 2014 Parliament attacks, announced he would be stepping down.
- What lessons can be learned by this? In BC, if Premier John Horgan had a long villain mustache, he would have been twirling it frantically at the results that Higgs got in New Brunswick. In a similar situation to Higgs in 2018, Horgan must be delighted by the results of the New Brunswick election. The BC Premier's popularity has reached sky high numbers after his government's handling of the pandemic so far, and there has been wide speculation that he will be calling a fall election soon.
- Time might be running out on that decision though. Covid cases have been spiking in the province, especially in Metro Vancouver which is the NDP's stronghold. It is theorized that numbers will get worse as we get to the annual flu season later in the fall, leaving a very small window for Horgan to call an election before the benefits of capitalizing on his high approval ratings give way to the bad press of holding an election during a pandemic. It's widely believed that any election for 2020 would need to be called in the next two weeks in order to avoid the influenza season and a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.
- And yet, the signs have been there. 6 BC NDP cabinet ministers have now stated their intentions to not run in the next BC election, including Finance Minister Carole James, Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson, Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson, Minister of Indigenous Relations Scott Fraser, Minister of Jobs (formerly Energy) Michelle Mungall, and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy.
- The departure of these ministers could be a blow to Horgan's cabinet capabilities. However, a potential strong candidate for the NDP has emerged in Nathan Cullen, former NDP MP for 15 years, will be running in Doug Donaldson's riding. Cullen was previously hired by the B.C. government to work as a liaison between the province and the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs during the protests over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
- He is the third former federal New Democrat to announce they're running for the B.C. NDP in the next provincial election. Murray Rankin, who represented Victoria for seven years, said Wednesday that he would look to run in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding, held by former Green leader Andrew Weaver, who is stepping aside. Former Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.
- These experienced NDPers, who may have left the federal party due to Jagmeet Singh's weak leadership, will be boon to Horgan's re-election chances. All the news happening all at once in the last week shows that something is clearly up.
- Premier John Horgan said recently that the circumstances have changed since the NDP struck an agreement with the Green caucus three years ago to form a minority government, fuelling speculation that he might call an election ahead of the fixed date next fall.
- Horgan said "We've been preparing for the eventuality of an election since day one, and I expect all other political parties have been as well. I'm going to focus on the here and the now … my number one priority is the well-being of British Columbians." Horgan refused to directly answer several questions as to whether he would ask the lieutenant-governor to dissolve the legislature.
- Earlier this week, new Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the government should focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and overdose deaths instead of mulling an early election call.
- Under the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) signed with the B.C. Green Party, Horgan "will not request a dissolution of the legislature during the term of the agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence."
- Minutes after she was announced as the Green Party's new leader Monday, Sonia Furstenau called an election "completely unnecessary" and "irresponsible," arguing it was the type of partisan politics voters were opposed to. She said: "To John Horgan I say: you have a responsibility to govern. Not play politics,"
- BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson made similar arguments on Monday: "There's lots of work to do. And when John Horgan says he wants an election to help out his own future, you have to ask: who does that?"
- But Horgan refuted the argument it was inappropriate to be considering sending British Columbians to the polls during a pandemic: "When CASA … was created, we did not think that a global pandemic was something we would have to consider. The situation today is not the situation last year or, certainly, 2017."
- In that he is correct. 2020 is not the same as 2017. We will see if an election in 2020 produces a different result than it did in 2017.
- This week the UCP in Alberta released a major part of their economic restart initiative, a plan to bring investment back to Alberta.
- The Alberta Investment and Growth Strategy (IGS) is a $75m initiative.
- The IGS will undertake a major modernization of Alberta’s intellectual property law ensuring that policy moves at the speed of business and Albertan post-secondary institutions will be able to strengthen the commercialization potential of their research.
- The government also sees technology as the future of every industry, not just an industry itself.
- The hope is that with the right intellectual property laws, investors will bring their capital to Alberta to develop new technologies.
- The IGS continues to build on Alberta’s recovery plan that aims to diversify industries such as energy, agriculture and agri-foods, and tourism. The plan also support new growth in areas such as advanced technology, aerospace and aviation, and financial services.
- Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation said that, “We have to be able to keep up with a very fast economy that is ever-changing… We have to make sure that we’re there to complement and keep up with the speed of the private sector.”
- Some things that the government will be doing are aligning the investment strategies of Alberta’s international offices, more proactively going after potential investors, and offering “concierge” service for those who decide to spend in Alberta.
- The talk in the past has always been branded as one of oil, oil, oil. But an open economy leads to economic diversity.
- The government has also promised that “this is the beginning of a whole bunch of other announcements.”
- This story comes in a week where the media was fixated on a poll, 2 and a half years plus out from the next election that showed the NDP fictitiously tied with the UCP.
- The reason of course being an increase in voters for the Alberta Independence Party.
- This is a Trudeau problem. This is a Notley problem. People are upset with the hand that Alberta was dealt by years of policy decisions, foreign actions, and a federal government doing more harm than good.
- The media also chose to talk about a British Petroleum report saying that the demand for oil will likely never recover. This has caused people in the central Canada media sphere to write off the energy industry.
- Anyone with a brain or from the west will know that the energy industry is tremendously important to Canada.
- But alongside this, is this story here that we just talked about.
- Yes we have an energy industry but economic barriers are coming down and Alberta’s economic strong points are being targeted for further diversification.
- The story at the end of the day is that if Saudi Arabia and Justin Trudeau didn’t exist, Alberta would’ve likely seen an economic boom at the middle of the decade.
- And many people covering Alberta today don’t like the multi-faceted image of Alberta’s economy as it exists. This story should’ve been headline news but the media instead decided to focus on their hopeful second coming of Notley.
- Here at Western Context, we like to look through the little-reported stories, connecting the dots where the mainstream media doesn't, and draw our conclusions after looking at all sides of the argument. The conclusion that we have drawn over the last few months is that in our federal politics, there is one party that is corrupt, well beyond others.
- Let's take a step back. Before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued parliament in order to get the media and the opposition off his case about the many swirling scandals surrounding his government, notably the WE Charity affair, there was a sense that Trudeau would need to resign due to his baggage. In doing so, he could hand the reins over to a new leader, perhaps Deputy Prime Minister of all Trades Chrystia Freeland. To some in the media, this seemed like a perfect solution, one that would solve all the problems.
- Unfortunately, the media tends to be short-sighted about this sort of thing. At Western Context, we may give the Prime Minister the grilling that he deserves, but it can't be said that all of the Liberal Party's corruption and scandal is because of him. That's because his cabinet ministers can act just as bad as he is. The Liberal Party is a Hydra; sure, Trudeau and his PMO might be the main snake head, but cut it off and it just gets replaced with another corrupt snake head.
- Let me explain. There have been many different stories this week from many different media sources about many different cabinet ministers, none of them being painted in a good light.
- Canada's ethics commissioner Mario Dion has ordered nine senior government officials — including two Liberal cabinet ministers, the aforementioned Freeland as well as Minister of Science, Innovation and Industry Navdeep Bains, and the chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance — to have no official dealings with Palantir executive David MacNaughton for one year after his office found the former ambassador and Liberal adviser broke the Conflict of Interest Act.
- MacNaughton is an interesting figure, one that many will not have likely heard of before this week. He was Canada's ambassador to the United States from 2016 to 2019, and last year was named president of Palantir Technologies Canada, a private American software company that specializes in big data analytics. Palantir is chaired by Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist known for co-founding Paypal, and for being the first major investor in Facebook. The controversial company builds data mining technology for its clients and is used by intelligence agencies, banks and some of the biggest companies in the world.
- A longtime Liberal Party of Canada activist, MacNaughton has been involved federally in numerous election and political campaigns. In Ontario, he co-chaired David Peterson's successful 1987 election campaign, and was a senior advisor to Dalton McGuinty in the 2003 election. Following that election, from October 2003 until May 2005 MacNaughton served as principal secretary to McGuinty. In 2015, MacNaughton served as Ontario co-chair for the federal Liberal campaign that was successful in electing Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.
- Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said MacNaughton spoke with or arranged multiple meetings with the named public office holders for the purpose of offering pro bono assistance on Palantir's behalf. While the offers did not result in any contracts being awarded to Palantir, the former ambassador to the U.S. "has acknowledged, with the benefit of hindsight, that these communications and meetings, to the extent they could have furthered the interests of Palantir, were contrary to [the act]," Dion wrote in his findings.
- The officials include: the aforementioned Freeland, minister of intergovernmental affairs when MacNaughton's communications with government officials took place, as well as Vance and Bains. The list doesn't stop there however, it goes further into the Liberal government. It also includes: Rick Theis, director of policy and cabinet affairs, Prime Minister's Office, Ryan Dunn, chief of staff and Simon Kennedy to Minister Bains, Leslie Church, chief of staff and Bill Matthews, deputy minister, both to the minister of public services and procurement Anita Anand, and Jody Thomas, deputy minister of the Department of National Defence.
- Freeland and MacNaughton, who worked closely on negotiating the updated trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico back in 2017–2018, had three general discussions about the novel coronavirus in March during which McNaughton talked about what Palantir was doing to help other governments on a pro bono basis, said Dion. That same month, MacNaughton also talked to Vance twice and offered Palantir's help if needed.
- MacNaughton's March contacts with Bains involved arranging a meeting between Palantir staff and Public Service and Procurement Canada, according to the ethics report.
- Dion announced he was investigating MacNaughton back in June after NDP MP and Ethics critic Charlie Angus asked the commissioner's office to take a closer look at the former ambassador's conversations with government officials.
- In a statement, Angus blames the corruption directly on Trudeau's cabinet: "Here we see a senior Trudeau Liberal nailed for breaking conflict of interest laws, while working for a dark and controversial surveillance giant. Trudeau's former U.S. ambassador should have known better, but it seems that Mr. MacNaughton didn't think the rules applied to him as he used his former status to pitch his new employers. Hasn't anyone in Trudeau's team read the law?"
- Freeland and Bains weren't the only ministers that Angus was metaphorically nailing to the wall. Angus also cited recently released documents as proof that Youth Minister Bardish Chagger was the key driver in the Liberal government’s decision to have WE Charity administer a multimillion-dollar student-volunteer program. Angus levelled the charge against Chagger Tuesday, alleging the documents released last month directly contradict the Liberals’ assertion that public servants recommended that WE Charity should run the now-defunct Canada Student Service Grant.
- Angus was on the attack again: “Throughout this scandal, the prime minister and the Liberal government have affirmed again and again and again that it was the civil service that drove this agenda. But thanks to the government documents that have been revealed, we now know that that is simply not true.”
- New court documents also paint a target on former Liberal MP Raj Grewal, who even after swirling ethics violations of his own, as well as a large amount of gambling issues and debts incurred, was not kicked out of the Liberal Party by Trudeau.
- Now these new documents show that the public official was in much bigger trouble than we were originally led to believe. Grewal allegedly received $6 million in funds that he did not disclose to the ethics commissioner while he served as a member of Parliament, he is also alleged to have defrauded "an individual employed at his parliamentary constituency office of a sum of money exceeding $5,000 in value", and that Grewal "did solicit funds by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, in connection with his duties of office as a member of Parliament," and that he "did solicit funds for his own personal benefit in connection with the use of his public offices."
- Finally, the documents also allege that Grewal administered his constituency office budget "for his own personal benefit" and did "solicit payment to him from an employee of his constituency office in a manner that constitutes a fraud or breach of trust." The RCMP announced last week that it had charged Grewal with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud over $5,000.
- When the RCMP first announced the charges last week, they said the charges are the conclusion of an "extensive criminal investigation" that began in September 2017 after the RCMP was alerted to "suspicious transactions" involving Grewal during the time he served as a member of Parliament. The RCMP say "It is alleged that Mr. Grewal failed to report his receipt of millions in personal loans to the Ethics Commissioner, in circumstances that constitute a criminal breach of trust."
- Ethics violations, government misdirection on scandals, and now criminal breach of trust. Make no mistake listeners. The rot in the Liberal doesn't just end with Trudeau. It includes the entire cabinet, and may extend further. If Trudeau does push for a fall election as is rumoured, the media and the public need to remember that.
- Throughout the duration of the pandemic going back to January we’ve been told that we were right.
- Borders didn’t need to be closed.
- Our approach would bring us out ahead.
- And we would be doing so much better than countries like the US and hotspots in Europe including Sweden.
- Much of the media recently has been fixated on the Trump/Bob Woodward interview and the claims that Trump knew how big the threat of COVID-19 was but underplayed it.
- This is crisis management. If a building is on fire, you don’t need everyone running for the same exit. Striking a panic wasn’t the best way forward.
- But while the media is always focused on how well Canada is doing, we have to ask the question, was our response better than that of the US?
- Newly released documents show that health minister Patty Hajdu was expecting a stabilization of cases on February 14.
- We already know that in late December the intelligence branch of the Canadian military was aware of the virus but it wasn’t until January 17th that Defence Minister Sajjan was briefed.
- Analyzing the data, Wesley Work, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies Canada’s intelligence service said he believes it’s “very likely” that our officials were downplaying the risk as well because they didn’t want to raise a panic and sow confusion with the Canadian public.
- So let’s be clear here, Canada and the US were largely on the same page intelligence wise but Trump is being raked over the coals and Trudeau, Tam, and Hajdu are not?
- It was also in February through early March that Tam and Hajdu were saying that the risk of transmission in Canada was low until on March 15th it jumped to high and the shutdowns began.
- Hajdu was even expecting a stabilization of cases in her media appearances mid-February.
- While Canada does not have the intelligence agencies of the United States, Wark believes that some of the information about the threat was shared between Canada and the US, especially at the liaison level.
- The now seen hero by the media in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of asymptomatic transmission on January 31st as a result of a German study but Canada lead by Hajdu and Tam downplayed the report instead continuing to stick with the advice from the WHO which would later have been shown to have been suppressed for six days by China.
- It wouldn’t be until April 7th that Tam admitted asymptomatic transmission.
- So while we’ve already discussed before on previous episodes the lack of early intelligence nationally, this week we see that many of the same efforts to downplay the virus made in the US were also made by our officials in Canada.
- That’s what we learnt this week but we also learnt that the Canadian government was prepared to go on the information offensive!
- In July a headline appeared in The Chronicle Herald saying that the Canadian Forces ‘information operations’ pandemic campaign was squashed. This story generated very little traffic and now we see why.
- It wasn’t until Rebel News did an access to information request that showed that the government was going to use the military to respond to “harmful information” posted online.
- We’re not talking about disinformation, just information that the government deemed as harmful.
- The mission of the military was to monitor tweets for “anything that can damage perception, confidence or credibility.”
- The goal was of course to head off civil disobedience of the public.
- The operation was called Operation LASER which would’ve involved monitoring lockdown skeptics and analyzing reach, location, content, and effectiveness of the tweets.
- What’s more, the government planned to discredit dissident voices and make sure that the “national political conversation was in alignment with the narrative.”
- The plan was ultimately quashed by Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance rather than the government itself.
- Rebel News, unlike the mainstream media, actually publishes their full access to information requests, so you can go to their website and read the documents for yourself regarding Operation LASER.
- These are the kind of military operations we see in China today or in former soviet bloc countries.
- In many ways this is a double firing line because first the media doesn’t talk about the fact our officials downplayed the risk as Trump did, even more so. But secondly, the government and media claims they were upfront with all the information they had in a timely manner.
- They weren’t though, they were seeking to manipulate Canadians and control the narrative through methods seen in dictatorships.
- So next time someone says Canada has had our response all right, think again.
Word of the Week
Political Censorship - exists when a government attempts to conceal, fake, distort, or falsify information that its citizens receive by suppressing or crowding out political news that the public might receive through news outlets.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Ethically Bankrupt
Teaser: New Brunswick’s election holds lessons for BC, Alberta outlines new investment strategies, and multiple cabinet ministers are found to be ethically bankrupt. Also, a secret military operation to censor pandemic information comes to light.
Recorded Date: September 18, 2020
Release Date: September 20, 2020
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes