The News Rundown
- This week Alberta sees its most fundamental shift to how democracy governs itself in almost a century. The UCP government has tabled their promised recall legislation and citizen initiative legislation.
- Bill 52, The Recall Act will effectively allow voters to fire their MLA if they collect the signatures of 40% of eligible voters in 60 days.
- Bill 51, The Citizen Initiative Act will give voters the ability to set priorities for the government of the day.
- The ability to recall politicians is something that currently only exists in British Columbia within Canada, it’s a common fixture in many US states and in Europe.
- When the 40% threshold is met, a recall vote would be held and all that’s needed to recall the MLA is a simple majority. A by-election would then follow.
- The threshold of 40% and 60 days is the same as that which is used in BC.
- In BC there have been 26 recall petitions granted, 6 were returned to the Chief Electoral Officer, 5 did not meet the signature criteria, and 1 resulted in the resignation of the MLA before they would’ve been recalled.
- The NDP, media, and right wing opposition to the United Conservative Party says that this recall legislation is either “virtually impossible to use in the real world” or is “token” at best.
- For what it’s worth, the select committee that studied the thresholds recommended 90 days rather than 60 days to collect signatures, this would be a simple change to make and could make the Alberta recall legislation stand apart from that which exists in BC.
- There are some other limitations such that there can only be one recall for an MLA per term and there can only be one active petition for a given MLA.
- There’s also the limitation that the recalls may only start within the window of 18 months after the last election and 6 months before the next election.
- Albertans will also be able to fire city council members and school board members with this legislation.
- When recalling a municipal official there would still be the 40% requirement over 60 days but in this case the person would lose their seat automatically.
- This January we saw outrage, real or manufactured, about the MLAs that took vacations despite travel restrictions. If this is such a huge issue as it’s been made out to be, the people represented by these MLAs will be able to have their say by the end of the year.
- We could also imagine a similar situation being undertaken against Shannon Phillips while she was Environment Minister in the NDP government for bringing in the carbon tax.
- While MLAs and city council officials facing the prospect of recall on its own is worthy of discussion, the Citizen Initiative Act has the potential to be even more powerful.
- This type of legislation is something that Jason Kenney lobbied the Klein government on in the 1990s and this week he said, “This initiative law is a guarantee that people can overcome when politicians are not listening.”
- Albertans will be able to raise legislative and policy issues by gathering signatures from 10% of voters province wide and will be able to suggest constitutional initiatives by gathering the signatures of 20% of voters province wide and in two thirds of Alberta’s constituencies.
- This is a powerful piece of legislation and citizens ought to take note about how it works: when signatures are verified, legislative and policy initiatives would go to a committee of the legislative assembly for them to investigate and report on. If the committee were to reject a proposal it would automatically go to a plebiscite. This means that it would be wise for politicians to act on what the people say rather than defying their will.
- In such situations it would be easier and more cost effective for the government to just enact what has been proposed by petition.
- The constitutional initiatives would either suggest changes to the Canadian Constitution or an Alberta Constitution if the province ever enacted one as suggested by the Fair Deal Panel.
- For Constitutional questions the question would skip the committee and go straight to the legislature where the government would decide whether or not to hold a referendum on the issue.
- When asked in a Q&A segment about what would happen if Alberta separation was posed as a constitutional initiative the Premier said that he thinks it’s a small minority who want to discuss this but in the end, “It’s up to Albertans to decide but I think it would be a dead end for us to get into an endless debate over separating.”
- We have heard time and time again that Jason Kenney should fire a MLA for something they’ve said or done. If it’s decided by the party to not act on that call, the people can have their say.
- If people really feel that a sales tax is needed in 2022, they can bring that issue to referendum.
- It’s time to stop talking and act on anything any Albertan feels is a priority to the direction of their province.
- More than 300,000 front-line workers in B.C. will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in April as the province moves ahead with its vaccination plan.
- The Ministry of Health said people in priority groups will receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in April. Those groups include:
- K-12 educational staff.
- Child-care staff.
- Grocery store workers.
- First responders like police, firefighters and emergency transport workers.
- Postal workers.
- Manufacturing staff.
- Wholesale and warehousing employees.
- Bylaw and quarantine officers.
- Correctional facility staff.
- Cross-border transport staff.
- Workers living in shared housing in places like ski hills.
- The highest-risk categories of worksites were identified through a task force established by B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry last November. They include places where poultry, fruit and fish are processed, as well as agricultural operations and large industrial camps where close living quarters make isolation and quarantine difficult.
- Health Minister Adrian Dix said the age-based rollout is ahead of schedule and that progress, combined with the incoming supply of AstraZeneca vaccines, means the province can move to vaccinate those working in specific front-line industries.
- The province said it expects to receive about 340,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of May and it plans to use a combination of community pharmacists, existing clinics and mobile clinics at some worksites to administer the vaccine to the workers.
- The province is also moving up their rollout because of shifting their 2nd dose timelines up to 4 months, a still controversial timespread.
- The province released a tentative schedule, based on decreasing 5 year gaps. People over the age of 60 or who are "clinically vulnerable" could receive their vaccine in April. people aged 40-60 could receive it in May, with 18-40 year olds receiving theirs in June.
- In terms of booking vaccines, the province is going to begin implementing online booking as of April 6. The health ministry said digital registration will replace the five regional call centres, which are being phased out by April 18.
- Concerns about blood clots affecting the lungs or heart have led some countries to suspend the use of certain lots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but Henry said this week the conditions can sometimes be associated with the disease itself. From an estimated 17 million doses of the vaccine, blood clots have occurred in 37 cases as of March 15, she said.
- Health restrictions in BC are still unlikely to change anytime soon. Henry issued a stern reminder Thursday that any of the approved vaccines, while preventing serious illness and death, still do not prevent transmission of COVID-19. Those who are currently vaccinated and those who get their first shot in coming weeks need to continue to follow the public health guidelines, she said.
- Premier John Horgan says he expects people in British Columbia who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to participate in more activities as provincial health restrictions are relaxed. But he says he's not prepared to speculate on what limits could be placed on people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Last week, Horgan said he supported the concept of vaccine passports to prove international travellers have had COVID-19 vaccines, but he was lukewarm on similar certificates for people in B.C. to attend local sports and entertainment events.
- As we move closer towards getting a vaccinated population, it's important to note the differences in our civil liberties as the pandemic starts to move towards the rear view mirror. As more and more people are vaccinated we should start to see restrictions ease, and it will be interesting to note what has changed between Feb 2020 and earlier, to now. Whether the media reports on that or not will be another thing altogether.
- Shaw, Rogers, Telus, Bell, Cogeco, and a number of smaller providers represent the entirety of the Canadian telecom landscape.
- Shaw and Telus dominate the TV and Internet space in the west while Rogers dominates with Bell in the east.
- This week it was announced that Rogers would be buying Shaw for $16b as well as absorbing $10b worth of Shaw’s debt valuing the deal at $26b total.
- This in turn would represent one of the largest acquisitions in the Canadian telecom sector and would have Rogers be the country’s number one wireless provider.
- Presently Shaw runs their own Shaw mobile out west as well as Freedom mobile, a smaller carrier which they acquired, we’ll get back to why this is important later.
- Both Shaw Mobile and Freedom mobile have been known to undercut the competition of the big 3 of Rogers, Telus, and Bell.
- The deal would need regulatory approval and it goes completely counter to what all parties promised in the last two elections to drive down prices of Canada’s telecom industry.
- Rogers says they aim to use the deal to scale up 5G investments across the country and into remote regions.
- Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government’s review would focus on “affordability, competition, and innovation in the Canadian telecommunications sector.”
- Shaw CEO Brad Shaw said that the company looked to expand with a coming 5G spectrum option but he said that in surveying the landscape, he said, “I’m not saying this was 911 and everything was exploding.”
- What can be taken from this is that Shaw’s options were limited to expand but it wasn’t bad yet, but it could get worse.
- Rogers says that the transaction will create 3000 new jobs with 1800 being located in Alberta and a proposed regional headquarters in Calgary.
- Premier Jason Kenney highlighted the commitments made by Rogers and said that the Government of Alberta will hold Rogers to the commitments to bring the regional headquarters to Calgary, the 1800 jobs, and a renewed investment in network infrastructure across Alberta.
- Shaw has been one of Calgary’s, one of Alberta’s, and one of Western Canada’s success stories. Shaw still maintains its customer service operations in Canada and when compared to offerings from Telus stands ahead.
- There are questions of course about if these commitments by Rogers can be acted upon and whether or not the actual jobs will materialize and whether or not jobs will stay in Western Canada.
- We are right to be skeptical about this deal as it removes a major player and integrates them with the biggest telecom operator in Canada.
- For the longest time we’ve heard that a lack of competition is what drives up wireless prices in Canada. When comparing Canada to a country in Europe or somewhere like Australia or New Zealand you will see that we pay through the nose for internet access.
- The CRTC and parties of all affiliations have said that the telecom industry in Canada needs more competition, this deal doesn’t make that happen.
- Rogers has been known to purchase their competition as has been the trend for the last 3 decades or so in the telecommunications industry.
- Last year Rogers teamed up with Altice USA Inc. to try to launch a hostile takeover bid for Quebec based Cogeco - the Audet family who controls Cogeco refused the deal.
- The Cogeco deal was an attempt for Rogers to expand into Quebec.
- Rogers owns 41% of Cogeco and 33% of Cogeco’s parent company, Cogeco Communications.
- Rogers had been trying for decades to gain control of Cogeco but that was resisted by the Audet family.
- The difference here is that Shaw has been trying to expand but has been blocked numerous times by the big 3 gaining priority access to spectrum bidding when the big 3 aimed to expand their wireless networks.
- Shaw has been blocked, taken on debt to start Shaw mobile and run Freedom Mobile, and as a result created a target where Rogers swooping in would look like a good deal.
- Shaw’s mobile offerings always aimed to undercut the big 3 and Rogers, Telus, and Bell always framed Shaw’s mobile as good enough but not as good as theirs which is corporate speak to yes, it’s cheaper and it’ll work, but use our network instead.
- The industry is incredibly static and doesn’t like new entrants, if anything under the public press releases, Rogers is probably doing this to shut down and incorporate Shaw Mobile and Freedom Mobile into Rogers.
- The argument has been made that if the deal goes through that Rogers should not get Shaw Mobile and Freedom Mobile included with the deal.
- The options here are to deny the deal, allow the deal but strengthen requirements that the companies offer substantive differences and make it further easier for new companies to enter the market, or allow the deal but allow foreign competition into our telecommunications industry.
- This would truly shake up the industry and keep the big 3 on their toes since it appears as though no one has had the will to enable a true competitor to emerge.
- This deal does nothing to advance the push made by the Harper government a decade ago to bring new providers into the market and choice for Canadians will decrease at the end of the day. And that is truly unfortunate.
- Sino-Canadian relations continue to be frosty and unilateral. After last week's reports that the Two Michaels, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor might have their trial dates soon, Spavor was hauled in front of a Chinese court on Friday. The trial ended after 2 hours with no verdict given. Kovrig will have his trial on this upcoming Monday, March 22nd.
- Officials from the Canadian embassy and other nations including the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Australia, Sweden and Germany were present outside the court as they sought access to the hearing. They were not allowed to enter. Jim Nickel, a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in China, criticized the proceedings, telling reporters outside the courthouse: "It's not been a transparent process."
- Canadian officials last saw Spavor on Feb. 3 and had made multiple requests to see him ahead of the trial, Nickel said, but those requests were denied. Sidewalks were roped off with police tape and journalists were kept at a distance as police cars and vans with lights flashing entered the court complex, located beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea.
- Nickel knocked on a door to the court seeking entry but was refused. He was told the trial would begin at 10 a.m. but was given no word on how long it would last or when a verdict would be announced.
- The trial dates were announced by Canada just as the United States and China were preparing to hold high-level talks in Alaska, the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office, which have proven to be contentious.
- Prior to the trial, the U.S. expressed its support for the two Canadians. Katherine Brucker, U.S. diplomat in Ottawa said: "The United States is deeply alarmed by reports that People's Republic of China (PRC) authorities are commencing trials for Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on March 19 and 22, respectively. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release and continue to condemn the lack of minimum procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention."
- The trials could also be coinciding with Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou's extradition hearing, which is still ongoing in Vancouver.
- In the meantime, while China continues to hold Canadian citizens in arbitrary detention, a Toronto-based community group that has received more than $160,000 in federal funding has again issued a statement condemning Parliament’s recent Uyghur-genocide motion.
- The statement last week is at least the second time in less than two years the supposedly “non-political” Council of Newcomer Organizations has gone public with a political declaration that mirrors the Chinese Communist government's official messaging, who called the House of Commons motion labeling treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, a result of MPs' “ignorance and prejudice” toward China and could cause “far-reaching” damage to bilateral relations.
- The Council of Newcomer Organizations is a group founded by Chinese-born former Liberal MP Geng Tan, who served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's caucus from 2015-2019.
- By comparison, Mehmet Tohti said he’s not aware of any Canadian group fighting for human rights in China that has received financial support from Ottawa. Tohti is the executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, and said he’s had to rely on donations, his own money and grants from the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy. He noted that his own group has sought for years to obtain Ottawa’s financial help, with no success.
- Tohti called the disparity “kind of shocking. They have freedom to express their opinion, whether they support the talking points of the Communist Party or not. The problem is they cannot do that with my tax money. Why should I support with my tax dollars their propaganda?”
- Geng Tan’s group's mission statement says it is dedicated to integrating new immigrants, helping young people and giving the elderly more “care and warmth.” But in August 2019 it published an ad that dismissed the massive Hong Kong protests as a foreign-incited assault by extremists on the city’s stability, much as the demonstrations were characterized by China itself.
- That same year, its then-president, Zhu Jiang, attended celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, invited by China’s Toronto consulate and the Xinjiang branch of the United Front Work Department.The United Front is a major branch of the Communist party tasked with extending Chinese influence worldwide, and Xinjiang is the province in China where most Uyghurs live.
- Zhu was quoted by the site as saying he wept while watching a military parade cross Tiananmen Square, realizing how much he “loved the motherland.”
- Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Uyghur-genocide motion was passed by the Commons 266-0, with many Liberals voting in favour but cabinet members either staying away or abstaining.
- Federally funded groups should be free to criticize anyone they want, said Chong, the son of a Hong Kong immigrant himself. But giving grants to CONCO shows how the government is “willfully naïve” about China’s influence campaign, he charged in an interview Monday.
- Chong said: “It’s clear from the evidence that the leadership of this group is acting as proxies for Beijing’s consulates and missions here in Canada. We should not be funding groups acting as a mouthpiece for Beijing.”
Word of the Week
Essential - something considered, absolutely necessary, meeting a basic requirement, indispensable, or unavoidable
Quote of the Week
“It’s kind of shocking. They have freedom to express their opinion, whether they support the talking points of the Communist Party or not. The problem is they cannot do that with my tax money. Why should I support with my tax dollars their propaganda?” - Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Essential Questions
Teaser: Alberta brings recall legislation and citizen initiatives, BC’s vaccine schedule moves up with focus on essential workers, and Rogers attempts to buy Shaw for $26b. Also, the Two Michaels receive court dates while Canada gives money to pro-China groups.
Recorded Date: March 19, 2021
Release Date: March 21, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes