The News Rundown
- The general rule of minority governments is that all parties should be in campaign mode, if they aren’t they’re either preparing silently or incredibly naive.
- A few weeks back we saw the first public indication that the dominos are lining up for an election this year with Navdeep Bains’ resignation from cabinet.
- Some Toronto Star opinion writers are predicting a June election and Global News is already reporting as if a spring campaign is a certainty.
- The age old question of course is, is the pandemic over? The calculus seems to suggest that by spring the thought is that it will be safe enough to go to the polls as John Horgan and other Premiers have done over the last year.
- One of the biggest indications though is the drip-drop of pre-election sending promises.
- This week the Prime Minister announced $14.9b over 8 years on public transport projects. This also includes $5.9 billion in short term funding to be used on a project by project basis.
- The $14.9b will be put into a fund that will allocate $3b per year starting in 2026. Money will be dispersed with consultation of the provinces.
- Outgoing Edmonton mayor Don Iveson was overjoyed with the announcement, he could be seen as visibly pleased with the money.
- Mayors in the Toronto area and Vancouver were also happy with the announcement.
- Since forming government in 2015, Trudeau and team have set aside about $13b in funding for transit projects representing 1,300 projects.
- The Canadian Urban Transit Association praised the investment but said that also more money is needed to invest in bringing operating costs down as our cities are currently experiencing a period of lower ridership.
- Focusing around operating costs is one way of looking at the problem but we need to realize that outside of the very core downtowns of Vancouver and Toronto, most of our cities are just not designed for mass transit.
- The true discussion, if the money materializes, should be about how the cities can build for transit without penalizing those who choose to drive their cars.
- Now that’s the huge ‘if’ with this story. The news coverage on this makes so many assumptions that the original premise carries no weight.
- You can’t have a multi-billion dollar investment if cities don’t want it, if transit won’t be used, and surely you can’t have it if the government of the day doesn’t want it.
- 2026 lines up with 5 years from 2021, the advertised shelf life of a majority government, give or take as specified by constitution.
- This signifies that Trudeau is likely to head to the polls this year either by forcing the NDPs hand to vote against the budget this spring or dissolving parliament on his own accord for whatever reason he sees fit.
- Money being spent in the lead up to an election is nothing new and politicians love to spread it around.
- This story puts the cart before the horse in so many ways and makes so many assumptions about where we’ll be in May or June, on the hospitalization front and vaccine front, what the dynamics of parliament will be, and most importantly, whether or not an investment set to begin 5 years down the line will materialize.
- Let’s remember as we move into what is likely a pre-election campaign period that the same media that’s been telling us to stay home, wear masks, and keep socially distant is actively championing an election in some cases and elsewhere treating it like it’s a foregone conclusion.
- Should we be going to the polls when our vaccine rollout is lacking? The likely answer to that question is no but the media loves an election story.
- In that haste, they missed that we are asking India for help on the vaccine front to even out our doses. Ask for help where you can but Canada asking countries for help week after week should not be overlooked.
- Unfortunately, it was, all in an attempt to prepare for an election.
- Premier John Horgan is in a pretty stable position. He's been recently re-elected to a majority government, popular opinion is still trending high for him, and he's been fulfilling election promises one after another. Say what you will about the BC NDP, but if they say they will do something, they will usually try to find a way to get it done well, with a few exceptions.
- With that in mind, Horgan has probably had one of the most cordial relationships with the federal government of any premier of the most populated provinces out there, with this exception of the Trans Mountain pipeline spat. While Ontario's Doug Ford has surprisingly worked with Trudeau on a number of issues, there have been stressors there that have strained their relationship. Quebec's Francois Legault has been pushing for greater autonomy as Quebec is known to do no matter the government, and as for the prairies, the conservative governments there are in a state of constant discontent with the federal government, and rightfully so.
- Given all of that, Horgan has generally stayed away from criticizing Trudeau, preferring to closet his "Hulk Horgan" personality that he was known for in opposition in favour of working with the federal government on different issues.
- Until this past week of course. Horgan took a rare shot at the Justin Trudeau government on Wednesday, blasting it for a unilateral move to close 19 fish farms in the Discovery Islands on the B.C. coast without warning the BC government beforehand: Horgan told reporters during his weekly media conference that “The federal government took action in Discovery without consulting us at all. They told us after the fact. We have asked the federal government what their plan is to mitigate the job loss, for example.”
- Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan served an 18-month closure notice to the fish farms located in the Discovery Islands, east of Campbell River. Aquaculture companies that have operated in the area for decades were given abrupt notice a few days before Christmas that all 19 sites have to be gone by June 30, 2022. The notice prompted a memorable comment from a shocked worker at one of the fish farms that “Canada stole Christmas.”
- The industry estimates the closures will mean the loss of up to 1,500 jobs, mostly in remote coastal communities with few employment alternatives. Horgan contrasted Ottawa’s move with provincial handling of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, also on the coast: “We put in place a process to bring industry, workers, communities, Indigenous peoples together, and a plan that would see a slow reduction in open-net pens in the Broughton Archipelago. It was widely lauded by environmentalists, by Indigenous peoples, by business.”
- B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon is pressing Ottawa to cough up a plan to mitigate the job loss. Rookie NDP MLA for North Island, Michele Babchuk and Rachel Blaney, the federal NDP MP for North Island-Powell River, who both serve the area affected, have joined in the calls.
- “We want to make sure, as we transition from one industry to another, that there are programs in place to help workers. That, in this case, is the responsibility of the federal government, and they need to step up. I have made that clear to them, and we’re working on that.”
- The executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, John Paul Fraser, characterized the handling as “the sloppiest, most careless, thoughtless, reckless, heartless approach to a decision that I have ever seen.”
- Horgan also scoffed at the suggestion that Ottawa was acting within the spirit of “reconciliation” under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, referring to the enabling legislation that passed unanimously in BC in November 2019: “The federal government has not yet passed a UN Declaration Act, as we have done here. We did that at the same time we were sitting down with industry, with First Nations, with communities, with workers, to find a way forward that met everybody’s needs. The federal government didn’t do that. If the federal minister is saying that this is a start toward reconciliation, I would have to respectfully disagree.”
- An article in the Canadian Press on the other hand, positively highlights the federal government's fisheries plan. Bernadette Jordan says Canada can get more out of its marine resources through a strategy that also protects ocean health. The federal government began consultations Monday on a so-called Blue Economy Strategy that some industry representatives hope will provide more clarity and focused support.
- Jordan said the goal of a blue economy is to create middle-class jobs while ensuring healthy oceans and sustainable marine industries from aquaculture to shipping. That can be achieved through strategic investment in areas like new technologies that enhance sustainable commercial fisheries, the development of offshore renewable energy and tourism, she said.
- Canada’s ocean industries contributed about $31.7 billion to the country’s GDP each year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It could model possible growth on countries like Norway, where one-third of GDP comes from marine industries, she said.
- Timothy Kennedy, president and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said a co-ordinated vision for Canada’s ocean economies is long overdue. In the past 25 years, he said Canada has gone from the world’s largest exporter of seafood to eighth and falling.
- Kennedy said it’s “confusing” to hear the federal government wants to support the aquaculture industry at the same time that it’s working toward phasing out fish farms on the West Coast. He pointed to Jordan’s announcement of the fish farms closure getting unanimous opposition from local Indigenous leaders was a blow to the industry, he said.
- The government is starting engagement with a series of virtual roundtables and will accept feedback from industry, Indigenous groups, academics, the public and other stakeholders until June 15. It plans to release the strategy in late fall. However, it's clear that no such feedback was made into the unilateral decision to close down the fish farms in BC.
- So, to recap, Horgan vented a three-fold criticism of the federal government: for unilateralism, for the lack of a jobs plan, and for the failure to address the need to reconcile all communities to the principles of the UN Declaration. The federal announcement of the pending closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands area was as unilateral and clumsy as Horgan suggests. Given that Horgan is usually on the same page with the Trudeau government, his comments amount to a quite scathing critique. Trudeau should take notice, he might lose his best provincial ally at a time where he has few of them.
- This week in Alberta two UCP MLAs joined the “End the Lockdowns National Caucus” which is a group of loosely integrated politicians from various levels of government fighting against lockdowns.
- Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat and Angela Pitt, MLA for Airdrie joined the group.
- On the move Drew Barnes said, “Down here in Medicine Hat our mental health crisis is as big as our COVID crisis. Let’s give people more freedoms.”
- Ms. Pitt said, “My constituents are having a hard time buying in, as are many Albertans across the province. And you see that in the ways of civil disobedience.”
- Drew Barnes wants the province to take a more regional approach rather than a one size fits all approach.
- The End the Lockdowns National Caucus is a part of a broader group, Liberty Coalition Canada, that is based out of Ontario.
- The group states that lockdowns have caused more harm than good, while the health question is answered that lockdowns can save lives from COVID-19, there’s still a huge debate about the economic ramifications of lockdowns as a way to control the spread of the virus.
- Sajjad Fazel, researcher at the University of Calgary said that the sentiment expressed by the group is “very dangerous” and “when you have science being politicized and polarized, then you enter into very dangerous territory because then you’re undermining the statements made by public health officials.”
- The opposition NDP has called for the two members to be removed from the UCP caucus.
- When asked about the MLAs this week the Premier said, “Those MLAs have a perspective. We, unlike some parties, allow people to speak their minds and represent the views of their constituents. We have a wider latitude for MLAs to speak their views in this province and in the party I lead than perhaps is the case in other parties and other parts of the country.”
- Jason Kenney has one of the most unique positions on COVID related restrictions that you can find.
- A person who looked to Sweden or South Dakota should be happy that there was a huge apology for the spring shutdown, shutting down small businesses, while allowing mega big box stores to stay open.
- That same person should also be happy to see that restrictions weren’t put in place until our hospitals were entering into risky territory capacity wise, safeguarding personal freedoms as best could be done.
- While controlling what someone can do in their own home is unprecedented, that’s a question that should still be asked, when those restrictions regarding personal gatherings will be lifted.
- On the other side though, the Premier and his government have pushed back against conspiracy theories found online while the media said that Kenney may have subtly encouraged the conspirators.
- The lesson that should come out of all of this, for the media, the NDP, and the health researchers in particular is that the executive branch, the cabinet and Premier are the ones who make the decisions at the end of the day.
- The MLAs, representing the legislative side are supposed to represent their constituents!
- By allowing these MLAs to speak on their own belief and associate with groups as their constituents would want, the UCP is doing exactly what the constitution lays out for good governance in Canada.
- Many people who read the news daily, watch the TV news, or even listen to this podcast may not realize this, having a wide range of views in a political party that can be expressed is a good thing.
- There are limits such as advocating violence or the subjugation of specific groups but political discourse, when it goes against the grain today is almost a surprise to most.
- The only way we can progress as a society is through discourse and when progressive elements in political life and academia try to shut that down, we should do a double take.
- This doesn’t mean everyone in the UCP has to support Barnes and Pitt but Albertans and Canadians in general should take note.
- One of the findings of Trudeau’s electoral reform town halls was that Canadians wanted their representatives to represent them. That’s happening in Alberta and it’s being shunned by the powers that be.
- Widespread anger across the country against media giant Bell continues, after the company has continued to lay off employees in all of its media holdings, starting just a few days after Bell's Let's Talk day on January 28th, an event meant to campaign for mental health awareness. This year's campaign raised almost $8 million, Bell announced in a media release last month.
- Bell is also completely cancelling its all-sports format on radio stations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton, barely a week after announcing hundreds of job cuts at media properties across Canada. TSN 1040 AM in Vancouver, TSN 1290 AM in Winnipeg and TSN 1150 AM in Hamilton will no longer be all-sports stations. In a media release, the conglomerate said Hamilton's 1150 AM will become a BNN Bloomberg rebroadcast station, covering business, innovation, technology and sports.
- Bell Media president Wade Oosterman told all staff in an email Tuesday that the Vancouver and Winnipeg channels will be converting to a "funny format, which has already proven highly successful in markets like Hamilton and Calgary with its stand-up comedy content." One wonders if longtime listeners of both stations will find the abrupt change and layoffs of popular local personalities to be "funny".
- Radio hosts weren't told about the layoffs beforehand and they came as a complete shock. For Vancouver's TSN 1040, the morning show cut away during a commercial break Tuesday before a robotic announcement stated that the station would be "reprogrammed" as of Friday without elaborating. The announcement was then followed by the song Good Riddance by Green Day.
- Tuesday started off like any other day at TSN 1040, with popular morning hosts Mike Halford and Jason Brough signing on at 6 a.m. However, listeners knew something major was about to happen after TSN 1040’s Twitter account was deactivated and the third hour of the Halford & Brough morning show was yanked and replaced with U.S. radio programming from ESPN.
- The announcement came so suddenly, some staff members only learned of the news via social media. The station’s management only learned of the closure minutes before the mics were turned off remotely. The employees were then given just 30 minutes to collect their personal items before corporate security implemented a “shutdown process.” James Stuart Hewson, Bell Canada’s western regional general manager was quoted as saying “I would do so as fast as possible.”
- Long-time TSN national television anchors Dan O’Toole and Natasha Staniszewski were among those handed pink slips. A handful of off-air technical staff at CTV Vancouver were let go last week as well, and at CTV Vancouver Island, the weekend news program was cancelled. This pattern repeated at other CTV, BNN, and TSN stations all across the country.
- Many people might say that the layoffs are understandable, given a pandemic that has not left many industries unravaged, and that it is also up to a private company to do whatever it wants to in order to make more money. However, in Bell's case, it comes down to optics.
- First, the obvious elephant in the room is the parent company of Bell Media, BCE’s willingness to tap into the Government of Canada’s wage subsidy program, CEWS, and a few months later drop a carpet bomb of pink slips across their media division.
- Last week, parent company BCE announced its quarterly profit rose to $889 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from $672 million the year before. As a result, the company hiked its dividend to shareholders by five per cent to 87.5 cents per share, up from 83.25 cents per share previously.
- Bell was recently criticized by Ontario-based regional rival Teksavvy for taking more than $122 million in government aid through the form of wage subsidies even as it was raising its payout to shareholders and cutting jobs. It’s hard for the public—let alone those terminated—to understand how the subsidy might have been used to save jobs rather than terminate them.
- The second issue to highlight is timing. It seems especially cruel for an organization to terminate hundreds of people mere days after its annual mental health awareness day. Known as “Bell Let’s Talk,” the company spends one day every year to spread awareness across the whole of Canada about mental health. The 2021 version saw 159,173,435 messages of support sent by Canadians, which allowed Bell to invest $7,958,671.75 in mental health funding. However you view it, that’s a lot of good going toward mental health initiatives.
- Less than a week after their Let’s Talk day ended, however, the Bell Media division then terminated hundreds of people. Does that make sense? Is that humane? Is that supporting mental health? Equipped with a severance package and no longer full-time employed by the company, Dan O’Toole took to Twitter and outlined his grievances, taking aim at the company’s irony. O’Toole has publicly previously divulged his struggles with mental health.
- For a company to take government funding for wage subsidies and then turn around and fire a ton of longtime employees shortly after a day meant to promote mental health wellness, well, it's no wonder that Bell has become the Comcast of Canada, in the eyes of people across the country.
Word of the Week
Subsidy - is a direct or indirect payment to individuals or firms, usually in the form of a cash payment from the government or a targeted tax cut. In economic theory, subsidies can be used to offset market failures and externalities in order to achieve greater economic efficiency
Quote of the Week
"Those MLAs have a perspective. We, unlike some parties, allow people to speak their minds and represent the views of their constituents." - Jason Kenney
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Go Fish
Teaser: Trudeau earmarks billions for transit, the feds unilaterally close fish farms in BC to Horgan’s ire, and two Alberta MLAs follow their constituents in questioning lockdowns. Also, Bell cuts hundreds of jobs while posting profits and taking subsidies.
Recorded Date: February 12, 2021
Release Date: February 14, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes