The News Rundown
- As we begin a new year, lots of Canadians will hope that this year will be better than the last one was, and many will look to change things up from the routines we had in 2020. One such Canadian is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced a cabinet shuffle on Tuesday, making sure that his team is prepared, no matter what spring might hold.
- Mississauga-Malton MP Navdeep Bains has decided to step down from his post of Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, a role he has held ever since Trudeau was elected in 2015 and announced that he would not run in the next election, whenever that might be, in order to spend more time with his family. At age 43, he's been serving as an MP since 2004, except when he was defeated in the 2011 election that saw Stephen Harper take much of suburban Ontario on his way to a majority.
- Bains, who was first elected when he was 26 says his priorities in life have changed over the 17 years since he was first elected. He says: "I have lived the Canadian dream; I am the son of a cabinet maker who had the opportunity to serve as a cabinet minister. But it's time for me to focus on the most important job I have in life — being a Dad."
- The shakeup sees Francois-Philippe Champagne replace Bains at Innovation, Science and Industry. Marc Garneau moves from Transport to Champagne's old job as the country's top diplomat at Global affairs, while Mississauga Centre MP Omar Alghabra has been promoted to cabinet to take over Transport.
- Winnipeg MP Jim Carr is returning to the cabinet table as a special representative for the Prairies. He stepped down as the minister of international trade diversification following a diagnosis of multiple myeloma after experiencing flu-like symptoms during the 2019 federal election campaign.
- Bains’s announcement seems to have been prompted by the prospect of an election. Though no election is scheduled until October of 2023, there is much speculation that a federal vote will happen sometime this year and perhaps as early as the spring. The Liberal government is, after all, a minority government. There was a spirit of cooperation in Parliament in the early days of the pandemic, but that collegiality deteriorated over the course of the summer and into the fall as the WE controversy dominated headlines and committee investigations. Though the Liberals have survived all tests of confidence that have occurred up to this point, this could certainly change.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he wants to see every willing Canadian vaccinated before the next election — but pointed out that, as prime minister in a minority Parliament, it's not entirely up to him.
- "From the very beginning of any minority Parliament, every political party understands that elections can happen. But as I've consistently been saying, we don't want an election," he told reporters outside Rideau Hall this morning after Canada's first virtual cabinet swearing-in ceremony.
- "We want to continue to deliver vaccines to Canadians. We want to continue to deliver supports to Canadians, to small businesses, to families. The priority that all Canadians have right now is getting through this pandemic and that is what we are focused on."
- That said, in an interview a few days before Christmas in a year end retrospective, Trudeau uttered the words "next year's election" before amending it to "the potential election next year", letting the veil slip and showing Canadians that he's certainly been planning for it.
- Bains’s departure also shows how hard it is for Canadians to balance work and family. Politics has a way of being all-encompassing, so perhaps we should never be surprised when an elected official, especially a cabinet minister, decides that they’ve fought their last campaign. It is worth noting, however, that this government promised to do things differently when it comes to the work-life balance – both for politicians and for Canadians. Back in 2015, the Liberals’ election promises included commitments for flexible work hours and increased options for parental leave. In 2019, the government announced changes to the Canada Labour Code that are meant to improve the balance for federally regulated workers; measures included new personal leave, expanded bereavement access and improved access to existing leaves.
- The struggle to calibrate a healthy work-life balance is a common one and is no way confined to the political class. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has both compounded pre-existing challenges and created new ones. For front-line health care workers and others in essential services, any such balance is out the window. Parents working from home in jurisdictions with school closures are doing double-duty all day long. On the flip side, the economic crisis has meant drastic declines in both rates of employment and hours worked. Some Canadians are more slammed than ever while others desperately need work.
- Garneau's new role will see him forge a relationship with the incoming Biden administration in the U.S., and says that he "believe[s] very, very strongly that no bilateral relationship is more important than that of Canada with United States and it will continue to be that way."
- Garneau's role will also have him continue to push China for the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. While Meng Wanzhou's family have been granted special permission to enter Canada, no such permissions have been granted for the two Michaels.
- One of the hot files on new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra's desk will be the ongoing conversation with the airline industry, which has been pushing for a bailout package as the pandemic has dramatically slowed travel.
- As for Trudeau, he's probably looking at what happened to governments that called elections during the pandemic - New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, as well as BC all re-elected their governments with strong majorities. He also probably closely looked at what John Horgan did with his team, where almost a dozen cabinet ministers all announced months in advance that they would not be running again, in a bid to help Horgan focus his efforts and resources on finding new talent, and the plan paid off.
- If Trudeau wants to emulate what Horgan successfully pulled off in the fall, then we will likely see more cabinet ministers and MPs stepping down over the next few months. Until then, speculation from the media will continue.
- Over the Christmas break a number of MPs, MPPs, MLAs, and senior administrative staff took vacations to sunny hotspots.
- We’ve seen cases at all levels of government with people ranging from staffers to elected officials, and even ministers.
- The treatment of course has not been equal, Ontario Finance Minister Rob Nicholson received the greatest blowback with about 6 UCP MLAs right behind him.
- Members of the NDP and Liberals also took vacations as well as senior members of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s staff.
- The story continued for the first 10 days of January in Alberta whipped up by the media of course and popped its head up again late this week when Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn was kicked out of the UCP caucus.
- People have a right to be angry over their elected officials ignoring public health advice.
- But this doesn’t change the fact that many other Canadians have also been taking trips to sunny destinations during the pandemic.
- This is a classic example of politicians setting one rule for themselves and one for everyone else.
- The logical explanation is that the politicians, just like many Canadians, feel the lockdowns are unnecessary and we should go back to normal life.
- The situation until late last week was handled horribly by the UCP in Alberta with travellers going all the way up to the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Jason Huckabay.
- A simple way of shutting down this problem would have been to:
- Print out a list of every plane that has landed or departed from Calgary going to an international destination since the pandemic began, it would be a huge list requiring lots of paper. From there estimate 130 people on each flight (this is a conservative number since the West Jet Boeing 737-800s can seat 174). Print that list out, bring it to a press conference and show it to the media.
- Apologize to Albertans for the MLAs taking holidays during a lockdown period and then apologize to the province for initiating a lockdown.
- Announce that effective immediately gathering restrictions inside are increased to 10 people and the restrictions to outside gatherings are lifted (some restrictions will ease this coming Monday).
- Speed up the introduction of recall legislation and invite constituents to recall the MLAs if they so desire.
- Point out that among the vaccination campaign Alberta is leading the entire country with percentage of doses delivered compared to those received.
- Emphasize that even through the worst of it our numbers do not touch Quebec, Ontario, or any other US state and that we are quite frankly doing well.
- The CBC almost got there this week in an investigative story saying that as many as 1,500 flights left Canada to sunny destinations since October 1st.
- The top destinations were Mexico and Jamaica.
- Looking at the top 10 destinations, 629 flights have left Canada since October 1, that’s not even half of the total. Doing some simple math assuming 146 seats (the amount on an Airbus A320-200 or a lightly packed Boeing 737-800, both of which Air Canada and West Jet operate respectively), this is almost 92,000 people that left Canada for the top 10 destinations. Expanding this out to all 1500 flights the number goes up to almost 220,000!
- Making a big deal about politicians leaving Canada at Christmas ignores what nearly 220,000 Canadians have been doing since October.
- The discussion should be focused around why this is happening and how it can be prevented if we really are trying to limit the spread of the virus.
- As for Pat Rhen, it’s likely that he’ll be used as an example of why recall legislation was needed after it’s brought in and passes in the spring session of the legislature.
- If he doesn’t resign as an MLA, he will likely be recalled.
- There was also a great deal of concern about whether or not the UCP would continue with their campaign commitment to bring forward recall legislation and numerous times to the media and in Facebook Live Q&A’s the Premier has said that he fully intends to bring recall legislation in this spring.
- The B.C. government is getting legal advice to determine whether an inter-provincial travel ban would be doable — or even constitutional — as a way to protect the province while the number of COVID-19 cases soars in other parts of Canada.
- Premier John Horgan on Thursday said he and other leaders will be speaking about the issue later in the day and on Friday during a virtual, two-day cabinet retreat. He said he's aiming to nail down by the end of the summit which options the government can take, if any.
- The premier points to public opinion to make his point, as he's often done: "People have been talking about [a ban] for months and months, as you know, and I think it's time we put it to bed finally and say either, 'We can do it, and this is how we can do it,' or 'We can't.' We have been trying our best to find a way to meet that objective ... in a way that's consistent with the charter and other fundamental rights here in Canada. So, legal advice is what we've sought."
- B.C.'s case counts have been fairly consistently in a better place than the rest of the more populous provinces like Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and even Alberta which has seen similar spikes. In Ontario, a strict new stay-at-home order came into effect as case counts spiked and patients crowded hospitals. In Quebec, a nightly curfew was established, with armed police units patrolling the streets to catch anyone outside after 8:00pm, turning the province into a kind of dystopia. Meanwhile, B.C.'s numbers, both hospitalizations and deaths are now heading down after a peak in November, also without the need for draconian shutdowns or curfews.
- There have been questions about the constitutionality of an inter-provincial travel ban since the idea first arose in the spring. Given the extreme situation in which governments find themselves — trying to manage a lethal global pandemic changing by the day — the idea of an inter-provincial travel ban isn't out of the question.
- Michael Feder, a Vancouver lawyer with expertise in constitutional law was asked whether such an inter-provincial travel ban would be unconstitutional, as it would infringe on the Charter rights for freedom of movement within Canada, and he said 'not exactly'.
- Feder explained that charter rights are subject to reasonable limits if the government proves those limits are justified in order to achieve an objective. In this case, the province would presumably argue the ban is justified by the risk of increased COVID-19 transmission if tourists from hotspot provinces don't stop travelling to B.C.
- Feder said: "If you're asking me whether I think this is clearly unconstitutional as a concept, my answer is no. I do think the devil is in the detail ... But I don't think the government is going to have a lot of constitutional worries about a ban on [non-essential] travel."
- Gerald Baier, a University of B.C. political scientist says that Horgan should already know travel restrictions are possible, given that there have been bans in place in Atlantic Canada since last spring.
- In September, a decision by a Newfoundland judge upheld the ban limiting travel into that province. Despite that, Newfoundland and Labrador is facing a constitutional challenge based on its travel restrictions for out-of-province visitors last spring. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed the challenge on behalf of a Nova Scotia woman who was denied entry to N.L. to attend her mother's funeral in May. Her lawyers are arguing "no province in Canada can shut its borders to Canadian citizens."
- Constitutional law expert Joel Bakan said he also believes Horgan can legally restrict non-essential travel into B.C. from other provinces as mobility rights allow people to move to any province and pursue the gaining of livelihood in any province, but do not extend to tourism. In addition to that, a citizen’s mobility rights can be limited in times of crisis when there is a benefit to the greater society to do so.
- As it stands now, public health officials are recommending against travel within B.C., but people are free to come into the province from other provinces without quarantining. In addition, thousands of people have travelled from B.C. to places like Hawaii and Mexico over the past two months, and international and domestic flights arriving in Vancouver are frequently flagged for COVID-19 exposure.
- Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the B.C. government needs to show evidence that travel restrictions would be necessary: “If you’re going to impose a limit, you need to have a reason and you need to have evidence and we need to know what those things are.” Zwibel said it’s unclear if B.C. has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to interprovincial travel.
- If the government does restrict entry into the province, enforcement is likely to be a challenge. On Thursday, the mayor of border town Golden Ron Oszust said visitors to his city from Alberta have been respectful and careful: “It comes down to who is going to enforce it? And how do we police that?” he said.
- It's clear that Horgan is floating the idea of a travel ban out in the media, either to get public opinion on it, or to introduce the idea to British Columbians so that it isn't as big of a shock when he lays down further restrictions at a later date. Either way, it will be problematic to undertake, and an even bigger problem to enforce.
- The media and government in Canada and most countries aside from the US assumed that there would be no vaccine by the end of 2020, that was plain wrong.
- The provinces have started rolling out the vaccines delivered from both Pfizer and Moderna but we severely lag behind many countries such as Israel, the UK, the US, Italy, and Spain just to name a few.
- Premiers from Kenney in Alberta to Ford in Ontario turned to blame the federal government for failing to procure enough of the early approved vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
- The media's response to this has been one to say that it’s only natural for premiers to blame the federal government and vice versa.
- This week though we learnt that Ottawa had the option to purchase 16 million more doses of the Moderna vaccine but declined to.
- Initially the federal government ordered 20 million doses with the option to receive 46 million more, the Trudeau government ordered 20 million more for a total of 46 million but failed to order the remaining 16 million.
- This is important because unlike the Pfizer vaccine the Moderna vaccine is more easily transported and can be taken into seniors care homes and facilities without very cold deep freezers.
- Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand said, “We will be on track, without doubt, to ensure inoculations for all Canadians who want it by the end of September, if not sooner.”
- Here’s the thing, we could have been at the front of the line if we had doubled down on these vaccines earlier.
- That’s exactly what Israel, the UAE, Gibraltar, the UK, the US, Denmark, and so many other developed countries have done.
- There are other vaccine candidates out there such as the ones from AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pleaded for an approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine: “Please approve AstraZeneca. We're in desperate need of it”
- Meanwhile, Alberta is scheduled to run out of vaccines next week unless another shipment arrives.
- The federal government claims nothing is wrong saying that 24,375 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 17,100 of the Moderna vaccine are expected in Alberta by Jan. 17 and Alberta will be getting 42,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 24,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
- Presently the province plans to inject roughly 50,000 doses per week by the end of the month with the ability of pushing that higher into the hundreds of thousands but the best case says we’ll only receive 70,000 doses a week.
- This has led the province to take an unprecedented step of exploring if Alberta could enter the market on its own to purchase vaccines to make up the shortfall.
- As the Prime Minister is known for, he attempted to change the channel this week by announcing the completion of an agreement for Canada to buy 20m more doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
- What’s more, he aimed to reassure Canadians (and the media) that combined by the end of the year we’ll have 80 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine.
- But as is always the case, things are not what they seem. Just on Friday Pfizer announced that vaccine deliveries to Canada will slow as a result of pausing some production lines in Belgium.
- Despite media announcements and distraction tactics, we’re no better off than we were at the start of the week and Canadians who listen blindly without context to the media would believe that changes have been made to address the problems at hand, but they haven’t.
Quote of the Week
Navdeep Bains: "I have lived the Canadian dream; I am the son of a cabinet maker who had the opportunity to serve as a cabinet minister.”
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Travel-Ban Gambit
Teaser: Trudeau shuffles his cabinet while denying he wants an election, politicians are under fire for travel while Canadians do the same, and John Horgan wants to deny inter-provincial travel into BC. Also, Trudeau has put us at the back of the line for vaccines.
Recorded Date: January 15, 2021
Release Date: January 17, 2021
Edit Notes: Internet drop out end 1st story
Podcast Summary Notes