The News Rundown
- This week marks a big week in Alberta. Not only has the spring sitting of the legislature wrapped but today, as of recording on Friday June 18th, Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that as of July 1st the province will enter stage 3 of opening and all restrictions will be rolled back.
- We still have questions for the cities of Edmonton and Calgary of whether they will keep their mask bylaws going forward but these interim two weeks are the time to put pressure on our city officials to rollback these bylaws.
- Most of the coverage over this spring session has been teemed with controversy often fueled by the desire to cover those going against the restrictions that were in place for most of the spring.
- This has led many stories to not be covered by the media and as such today we’re going to run through some of the pieces of legislation enacted in the spring session.
- First and foremost, the Recall Act otherwise known as Bill 52 was introduced into the legislature giving Albertans the opportunity to fire their MLA if enough constituents agree.
- The Recall Act is based largely on the legislation that exists in BC and was not supported by the opposition NDP despite the Bill being one of the most democratic pieces of legislation ever passed.
- If the petition were approved the applicant would have 60 days to gather the signature of 40% of the eligible voters in the constituency. If successful a recall vote would be held and if that vote were successful a by-election would be held.
- Municipal officials such as councillors and mayors can also be recalled along with school trustees. The process is similar, however, there would be no recall vote if the threshold is met and the official would be removed.
- The province also introduced and passed Bill 51, the Citizen Initiative Act. This Bill allows individual Albertans to submit petitions on proposed legislative and policy changes directly to the legislature and proposed constitutional referendum questions to the provincial government.
- The petitioner would have 90 days to gather the needed signatures. Successful petitions for legislative and policy initiatives require signatures from 10% of voters province-wide. Successful petitions for constitutional initiatives require signatures from 20% of voters province-wide and 20% of voters in each of two-thirds of Alberta’s electoral divisions (58 Eds).
- 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.
- Earlier in the session the UCP government brought back the Alberta Senate Election Act allowing Albertans to elect senators to send to Ottawa, this was a process suspended under the NDP.
- The UCP also entered Motion 85 formally requesting the Prime Minister to “respect the democratic voices of Albertans and refrain from filling Alberta’s two vacant senate seats until after our October municipal elections” when the senate election will take place.
- Whether or not the Prime Minister does this is up for question. It would be a smart move to tamp down feelings of Western Alienation and give Alberta more of a voice in Ottawa since we have no elected cabinet ministers from the province.
- It should also be noted that Notley and the NDP opposition voted against this motion as well!
- But the biggest and most consequential act of the session was tabling Motion 83 last week which set the stage for a referendum on equalization later this fall.
- The question: “Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 — Parliament and the Government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments — be removed from the Constitution?”
- This was a story that we wanted to dive deep into last week but were unable to because of the necessity of covering the racist NDP convention and the lies being set up to run the 2023 campaign.
- “Experts” have said that this referendum will have little bearing on whether or not equalization stays in the Constitution and they are right.
- The point of this referendum is to not outright remove equalization but force the federal government to the negotiating table to negotiate on a constitutional matter in good faith as has been established by Jean Chretien’s Clarity Act.
- The goal at the end of the day would be to ultimately remove equalization but that is unlikely. The likely outcome though being some thorough reforms that make the program less hostile to Alberta and have-provinces.
- Most of the discussion that appeared when this motion was tabled failed to see what exactly the Clarity Act says and follow that through to the end goal. Instead they just passed this up as a political statement against the Trudeau government, which it is not.
- We’ll have more coverage of the equalization referendum as we get closer to October.
- This session caps off another busy session for the UCP and despite the pandemic the Alberta government has sat for more time than any other government in Canada.
- Government House Leader Jason Nixon said, “I think all Albertans are eager to turn the page on what has been a tough year. And by far the UCP government’s biggest accomplishment was checking off 83% of its campaign commitments.”
- The UCP has been fulfilling election promises and unlike some governments when elected, have actually kept most of their promises which is surprising to many.
- This should be a story in itself, but it isn’t and this is why we always say, elections have consequences.
- As we've seen over the past few years, there has been a greater disconnect between media companies, journalists, and ordinary Canadians. Nowhere have we seen this more than with the publicly funded CBC, which as a federal crown corporation gets millions of dollars every year of taxpayers' money to operate. It's been a bone of contention for years, and a recent decision by the editor in chief of CBC and executive director of daily news, Brodie Fenlon, to turn off all Facebook comments on CBC News stories has people up in arms.
- Fenlon describes the pandemic having a toll on the mental health of Canadians, using words like "fragile", and saying that journalists have had it really tough covering a health crisis that they're living through too. Along with social media attacks causing havoc on their mental health, Fenlon says that audience members will "inevitably" be confronted by hate, racism and abuse.
- Fenlon says: "If public discourse is a litmus test of the health of a society, the conversation on social media suggests we have a problem. It's one thing for our journalists to deal with toxicity on these platforms. It's another for our audience members who try to engage with and discuss our journalism to encounter it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are almost guaranteed to be confronted by hate, racism and abuse. That's why beginning on Wednesday and for the next month, we will close comments on all news links and video posts to the Facebook pages belonging to the journalism division of the CBC."
- So what does this mean for us? Why should we care what the CBC does? Well, Jesse Brown, Editor in Chief of Canadaland took to Twitter to say that the CBC saying “‘the public should pay us to tell stories but should not be allowed to publicly comment on them’ is not a position consistent with the basic notion of public broadcasting.”
- In a sense, it's taxpayers paying for one way discourse that can't be commented on. Since the article came out, the media establishment has been quick to leap to the defence of the CBC.
- Soon after the article came out, #DefundCBC was trending in Canada on Twitter. As Jesse Brown says, "No surprise, the wound is self-inflicted. Did CBC News Editor in Chief [Brodie Fenlon] think he'd be celebrated when he proudly announced he's shutting down much of the public conversation about public news content?"
- As with any public influencer wants to do, you cultivate your community by moderating out the worst comments, while still allowing discussion to flourish. As we entered the social media age, it has become apparent that unmoderated comments were an invitation for the very worst to shoot off their mouths. Anyone who has grown up with the internet could tell you that. But it is the responsibility of companies to moderate their audiences. CBC doesn't want to do that, they'd rather silence their audience completely.
- As a special footnote to this story, Fenlon says at the end of his article that the CBC will "continue to welcome comments on our website, CBCNews.ca, where we have more moderating tools and can focus our attention better on offering a respectful dialogue about our stories." Except...there's now a big sign above the comments section that now says "Commenting is now closed for this story."
- Western liberal democracies are predicated on free speech. Despite Justin Trudeau's opposition to free speech, the tension of well-argued, oppositional ideas still drives us toward what is better. Trudeau also showed his contempt for the media this week, saying that "The impacts of this G7 will be felt long after the newspapers you write for will have been used to wrap fish." Like Trudeau, the CBC does not want opposition. They just want us to pay them to tell us things, whether true or not. The government now has a media that thinks along the exact same lines. And Canadians are worse off for it.
- Canada’s vaccine program has left a lot to be desired. We’re still far behind the Americans and other countries such as Israel when it comes to second dose administration.
- Our vaccine program has been shifting and moving to accommodate a political system that has sought to use it to buy good will with Canadians.
- This week the government announced those who received AstraZeneca as a first vaccine should preferably receive an mRNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna for dose number two.
- This comes after officials in government including the Prime Minister suggested that the best vaccine you can get is the first one offered to you.
- Now the shift to offer Pfizer and Moderna to those who received AstraZeneca for dose one looks like it is attempting to buy more good will.
- The framing of this story is as follows. We had a slow rollout but presently Canada is #2 in the world for first doses administered.
- This then can be copied for the second doses leading to an all around feeling of success.
- The Canadian political class and media use America and other countries to show how Canada is better than them but when it comes to showing where we lag behind, that reporting does not happen.
- As a result the massive administration of first doses followed by a quick second dose program will be used to paint a picture of success ahead of a potential fall election.
- The government has been angling for this since announcing the first dose strategy and the media has in large part played along helping build this narrative of success.
- But there has been very little to cheer about in our vaccine rollout.
- This week we got news that Canada paid a premium to get early access to 250,000 Pfizer doses in late 2020.
- We know we paid more than other countries but the details of what we paid were redacted before the documents were published.
- With this we also learnt about the timings of our vaccine program in terms of purchasing.
- Pfizer and the Government of Canada reached a deal in July 2020 for the first 20 million doses with the contract being signed in late October.
- Recall that Canada’s first vaccine deal that we made was in partnership with China for the SinoVac vaccine.
- This deal ultimately fell apart because of the reluctance of the Chinese government to send vaccine materials to Canada and that the vaccine was around only 50% effective.
- This deal was put together in May but we only found out in August that the deal collapsed days after the agreement was announced.
- And it was only after the collapse of this deal was announced that we learnt that our government had actually made a deal with Pfizer and Moderna.
- These sorts of deals are often made in confidence because when a government and corporation do business, it does the corporation no good if their benchmark price is on display for other countries and these confidentiality clauses are often part of the deal.
- Using what information we have from the budget, we can estimate that Canada paid about $9 billion for the 250m doses pre-ordered or about $36 per shot.
- In comparison, we paid $163m for the 20 million AstraZeneca doses ordered or $8.15 per shot.
- NDP health critic Don Davies said that he’s frustrated that the health committee’s request for unredacted documents was ignored.
- We’ve been saying for months that the government was behind the ball on vaccinations and has been using every tool at their disposal from ignoring dose guidelines for second doses to using the media to frame our vaccine program as a success.
- This early glimpse into the Pfizer contract shows that it was not a success and that the media have been covering up key facts or not reporting accurately since the pandemic began.
- It also confirms that the Government of Canada trusted China to implement a vaccine more than what many see as our number one ally, the United States.
- Of course many in the US also didn’t believe there’d be a vaccine in time for Christmas because they didn’t like President Trump, but here we are, we had it, and paid through the nose for it.
- Erin O’Toole pulled Conservative MPs from a special national security committee Thursday, accusing the government of using it to cover up an incident that caused two scientists at Canada’s highest security laboratory to be fired.
- The Conservative leader told the House of Commons his party’s members are withdrawing “effectively immediately” from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
- The committee “is now being used as a political tool by the prime minister to cover up the Winnipeg lab incident,” O’Toole charged. He said: “Conservatives will never be complicit in the Liberal corruption.”
- Health Minister Patty Hajdu accused the Conservatives of playing political games with national security.
- But shortly thereafter, all opposition parties joined forces to pass a Conservative motion declaring that the Public Health Agency of Canada is in contempt of Parliament, having refused to obey a House order to produce unredacted documents related to the firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, in January.
- The pair had been escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 over what PHAC has described as “relating to possible breaches in security protocols.”
- The motion also summons PHAC president Iain Stewart to appear before the bar of the House of Commons on Monday, to be admonished by the Speaker and to produce the documents.
- Calling someone to the bar of the House is a rarely used procedure to essentially publicly shame a person who has committed “an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament,” according to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition.
- Since 1913, it has not been used against a private citizen, although it has been used twice, in 1991 and 2002, to discipline MPs who had grabbed the ceremonial mace during heated Commons proceedings.
- Stewart and Hajdu have both said the scientists’ firing had nothing to do with the fact that Qiu oversaw a shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019. They’ve also said there’s no connection to COVID-19, a coronavirus that first appeared in China’s Hubei province and which some believe may have been released accidentally by the virology institute.
- Nevertheless, opposition parties continue to suspect a link and are demanding to see unredacted documents about both the transfer of viruses to the Wuhan institute and the subsequent firings. Stewart has twice refused to comply with a Canada-China relations committee order to produce those documents, saying federal Justice officials have advised him that would be a breach of privacy laws, could interfere in an ongoing police investigation and jeopardize national security.
- Opposition parties joined forces earlier this month to pass a motion in the Commons ordering PHAC to turn over all unredacted documents to the parliamentary law clerk, who would confidentially review them and redact anything he felt would compromise national security or the ongoing police investigation.
- It specified that the Canada-China relations committee, after consulting with the law clerk, could choose to make public any redacted material. Instead, the minority Liberal government provided the unredacted documents to the all-party national security committee, whose members must have top security clearance and are bound to secrecy. That committee, created in 2017 to review sensitive matters, submits classified reports to the prime minister, which are later tabled in Parliament in edited form.
- Speaker Anthony Rota ruled Wednesday that it is not a committee of Parliament and, therefore, not an acceptable alternative to having a Commons committee examine the documents.
- He further ruled that the Commons and its committees have unfettered power to order the production of documents, no matter how sensitive, and to determine how they’re to be handled. Consequently, he found there’s a prima facie case that the government has breached parliamentary privileges.
- But Hajdu continued to argue Thursday that the national security committee is the “appropriate” body to examine the documents. She said in the House of Commons: “Once again, we see Conservatives playing games with national security and on this side of the House we will never do that.” O’Toole countered that the national security committee “is not allowed, by law, to review active investigations.”
- Opposition parties voted Thursday to declare the Liberal government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to provide the unredacted documents to the House of Commons. The vote passed 176-150. There are more than 250 pages of records on the matter that have been withheld from MPs.
- Rob Walsh, who served as the House of Commons law clerk between 1999 and 2012, said Thursday’s vote was significant because it asserted the supreme role of Parliament. Walsh said the attempt by MPs to formally demand the confidential information is significant because it is the first time the House has ever passed a motion that censures a public servant – Mr. Stewart – for refusing to co-operate with MPs.
- Walsh said the Commons has stood firm on its long-standing rights to supremacy over the executive, as it did in 2010 when former commons speaker Peter Milliken ordered the Harper government to release secret documents pertaining to the Canadian Forces’ treatment of captured Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan.
- The last time someone was charged with being in contempt of Parliament, was for former Conservative MP and cabinet minister Bev Oda in 2011, over spending discretions. Parliament was dissolved because of a greater vote of nonconfidence in the Harper government at the time. Canadians clearly didn't agree with the early election forced by the opposition, as the re-elected Stephen Harper with a majority a few weeks later.
- This is a huge story that has gone largely uncovered by the Canadian media. The Trudeau government would get away with their secrecy if they were in a majority government. Only the united oppositions are holding them to account. In the last 6 years Trudeau has tried to sweep much more under the rug. Imagine what we don't know about.
Word of the Week
Contempt - the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn
Quote of the Week
"It's one thing for our journalists to deal with toxicity on these platforms. It's another for our audience members who try to engage with and discuss our journalism to encounter it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are almost guaranteed to be confronted by hate, racism and abuse." - CBC editor in Chief Brodie Fenlon on the fabricated dangers of free speech
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Contempt for the Truth
Teaser: Alberta wraps up a successful spring session, CBC is turning off Facebook comments, and Trudeau paid more for less in buying vaccines. Also, our Public Health Agency is held in contempt of Parliament as the Trudeau government covers up more and more.
Recorded Date: June 18, 2021
Release Date: June 20, 2021
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Podcast Summary Notes