The News Rundown
- When the Liberals came to power in 2015 one of the campaign promises was to create an independent Senate.
- This is because during the previous Harper majority a few senators had expense scandals including Mike Duffy.
- The controversy with him was that Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright personally paid Duffy’s expense costs.
- This lead to a lengthy trial with bleachers for the media outside the courthouse and in the end Duffy was acquitted.
- For those unaware, this was one of the case studies we looked at when building Western Context and justifying the need for a program to remove bias and sensationalism from the news.
- The day in / day out coverage fit the bill for our firing line segment.
- This trial and the public backlash it created, however fake it was, lead the way for Trudeau’s campaign pledge to make the senate independent.
- In reality though the Senate isn’t independent because all the senators which now comprise a relative majority have not yet defeated the government but have filled the traditional role of the Senate, providing sober second thought to Parliament.
- This week it came out that within the budget implementation Act the government plans to increase pay for Senate caucus leaders.
- The structure of the Senate requires some leadership to facilitate the government Bills and as such there are now 4 parties in the Senate.
- There is the Independent Senators Group which is the largest, the Progressive Senators Group, the Canadian Senators Group, and the Conservatives.
- Government House Leader Mark Holland says that these changes are needed to make the senate less partisan, he said, “There are a variety of different Senate groups, potentially new Senate groupings in the future. So this act allows the recognition of the new configuration of the Senate as more and more independent Senators are appointed.”
- Senators get a base salary of about $160,000 per year. The caucus leaders get a boost on top of that with the largest caucus leader getting an additional $42,000 per year with the rest getting just a bit more than an extra $21,000.
- Despite what he says, the new senators are independent in the way that they are not attached to the Liberals, NDP, or Conservatives but they are not independent enough to be effective in that they are still in the majority of cases just a rubber stamp.
- With Senators earning more than the vast majority of Canadians, they need to be truly independent and accountable and one of the easiest ways to make them accountable would be making Senators elected by the population.
- Alberta elected Senators last spring and Conservatives governments have pledged to take Senators from those provinces who run Senate elections.
- No party leader has had the will to open the Constitution to make the structural changes to the Senate that would be needed to enshrine accountability across the country.
- The new Bill also ensures that the different Senate groups would be consulted when the government makes appointments like the auditor general or ethics commissioner.
- Conservative Senator Don Plett said that he welcomes the changes but they won’t make the Senate less partisan.
- The Independent Senators Group represents those who are appointed who want to work on a case by case basis with Bills that are sent to the Senate and they claim to be focused around making a more Independent Senate but they are mostly Trudeau appointees sharing the Liberals general ideology.
- The Progressive Senate Group represents those who used to be part of the Liberal caucus in the Senate before it was dissolved.
- The Canadian Senators Group was formed when there was a perceived lack of independence in the Independent Senators Group following the west coast tanker ban and by this time in 2019, the Independent Senators Group was up to 58 of 105 members, this lead to the creation of the Canadian Senators Group with a focus on pursuing regional issues.
- The Conservatives represent the remainder of Conservative Party of Canada appointed Senators who never left their party.
- The Senate has a heavy focus on Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick as the initial 4 founders of Confederation with these provinces having 24 and 10 seats respectively. PEI has 4 and each of the 4 western provinces has 6 while the territories each get 1 Senate seat.
- To truly represent Canadians and provide an independent review of what the House of Commons does, all provinces should have an equal number of Senators which would require opening the Constitution but no Prime Minister has been willing to do this.
- A senate that is effective, elected, and equal would have gone a long way to preventing Western Canada being used as a wedge over the last 7 years.
- It would also have aided in providing extra oversight for the government's COVID policies if they had to be passed by a Senate that was designed to be inherently critical rather than a rubber stamp.
- The era of bold ideas has disappeared and anything that is slightly bold or controversial often is just limited to the House of Commons.
- Time will tell if we see any major structural reforms to the country to prevent another Prime Minister from using regions or residents as wedges against the other but in the meantime the Senate will continue as it has for the last 7 years and most Canadians won’t bat an eye.
- As the housing crunch continues in BC (and elsewhere), media attention is continually focused on who is to blame and what more could be done to fix the problem. This past week, an article from Victoria's Times Colonist zones in on BC's elected MLAs, and points out that 93% of MLA's own their own home (as opposed to renting) and almost half have a second home, either as a vacation home or for income. The article asks the question: "If B.C. lawmakers have so much skin in the game, may this impact their will to implement effective housing policies?"
- The rate of home ownership and investments in second and third properties among British Columbia’s lawmakers also far outpaces the general public, giving rise to questions as to whether they can adequately address the province's housing affordability crisis. Since 2015, B.C. home prices have doubled from about $550,000 to close to $1.1 million, pricing out a significant amount of the population, particularly young adults. The province’s housing costs have long spurred calls for policy changes at all three levels of government.
- Disclosures filed with the B.C. Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner have shown that 93% of MLAs are homeowners, outpacing the provincial home-ownership average of 68%. More so, of the 81/87 MLAs who own a home, 41 of them own a second property, far exceeding the provincial secondary homeowner rate of 15% cited by Statistics Canada this year. Meanwhile, 13 MLAs have an interest in three or more properties either directly or via holding companies, according to disclosures filed with the B.C. Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
- Stewart Prest, political science professor at Simon Fraser University, says that it's a valid question to ask of our politicians: “It is really hard to treat something and act as if something is a crisis, if it is perhaps the best thing that's ever happened to you financially. It's just a cognitive dissonance there. So, I think the fact that there are so few in the legislature who can speak firsthand to what it's like to rent in any kind of situation… it's just an inability to fully empathize with just how serious the situation is.”
- Politicians from all of the parties are guilty of this in the past. While Premier John Horgan promised a renter's rebate in both the 2017 and 2020 election campaigns, it is still not on the horizon. The most properties owned by one MLA is Surrey-Fleetwood's Jagrup Brar of the NDP, via a holdings company which owns seven properties in Prince George.
- Former BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson described renting in his 20's a 'wacky time of life', which many characterized as being completely out of touch with the problems that young people are faced with in regards to housing. No BC Liberal is a renter. Current Leader of the Official Opposition Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, is among those with interests in at least three properties.
- But the BC Greens do not get off the hook either, as Green Leader Sonia Furstenau is also one of the 13 MLAs that owns 3 or more properties. Furstenau is among a handful of MLAs who maintain rental properties in Victoria or who purchased homes in Victoria to live in while re-purposing their homes in their respective ridings to rental properties.
- NDP MLAs Adrian Dix, Megan Dykeman, Mable Elmore, Andrew Mercier, Brenda Bailey and BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross are the six members who do not disclose an ownership interest in a primary residence. Notably, Ross is a resident of the Haisla Nation, and thus lives on reserve land in his Skeena riding. Ross is also the only BC Liberal MLA without a land title, whereas 52 of 57 NDP MLAs own a property.
- BC Liberal House leader Todd Stone said it's a valid question whether there is bias among politicians; however, "it doesn't mean MLAs can't walk and chew gum." Stone said his party is focused on policies to increase housing supply of all types (market and non-market). He said taxes have not been the answer to suppressing the recent uptick in home prices but could not confirm the party's policy proposals are aimed to drive home prices downward.
- B.C. Housing Minister David Eby was among the few MLAs renting last year, after selling his one-bedroom apartment in Downtown Victoria in 2019; however, he said he has recently purchased a townhouse in his Point Grey riding where such properties generally sell for $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Eby said up until his recent decision to buy a permanent property for his family, he has experienced renting on and off and has close friends who rent.
- Eby said: “So, I've been concerned about the impacts of high home values on the makeup of Vancouver and as housing minister, the makeup of our province; the quality of life of the people who live here and the stress that places people under and the constraint that it places on our growth as a province for a long time. And I’m going to continue doing that work, regardless of whether or not our family owns or rents.”
- Asked whether the high rate of property investments among members of the B.C. legislature may cloud policy decisions, Eby responded: “I think that a party that doesn't have renters among their membership is going to struggle to understand some of the issues facing renters. That's not our party. We have renters in cabinet in the caucus.”
- Eby added his government is committed to housing affordability despite “a remarkable run-up in property values during the pandemic.” Key measures the NDP touts are policies designed to curb housing demand, including raising the foreign home buyers tax to 20% and implementing a speculation and vacancy tax on empty properties and families of foreign income earners.
- However, the NDP has yet to fulfill a promise to give all rental households $400 annually — a policy Eby claims his government is still going to implement. Eby also said a new law (Bill 16) will allow BC Housing to buy land around transit stations and corridors for rental housing construction before higher costs associated with municipal re-zoning are established.
- So it should come as no surprise to anyone that BC's politicians are vastly more secure in their own finances and housing than the general population. And while they may feel that each of their respective parties, whether Liberal, NDP or Green, have robust housing strategies, the fact remains that they are all out of touch with the uncertainties that the average British Columbian is facing. It's clear we should expect better from those who make the decisions that could decide whether young people will ever be able to purchase their own homes, like they used to once upon a time.
- On Monday this week in the US a draft ruling regarding the potential fate of the Roe vs. Wade court decision was leaked.
- The Roe vs. Wade court decision of 1973 effectively made abortion legal in the United states but some states put restrictions on its access.
- This has shifted the entire coverage of the news cycle in the United States this week and as such the Canadian media and Canadian politicians are at it again with their importation of American problems to Canada.
- In Canada abortion was decriminalized by the Supreme Court and has since become defacto legal, there is no law on the books making abortion explicitly legal.
- This has spurred everybody from the media to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to chime in to the point of encouraging “All Canadians—especially all Canadian women who care about a woman’s right to be active, vigilant, and speak out.”
- In the United States when Barack Obama came to power and passed the Affordable Care Act he could have also used the Senate super majority and control of the House of Representatives to legalize abortion, but he didn’t.
- Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have had since 2015 to make this move in Canada and it would be a simple one to make since no modern Conservative leader has vowed to restrict abortion.
- There is no present danger in Canada to abortion rights being rolled back and with the support of the NDP they could easily make it legal by this summer.
- But they won’t because it’s a useful wedge issue and convenient way to drive the media narrative as happened in Alberta this week.
- The NDP have been speaking on the UCP government’s record on this but in reality the government has been transparent in saying there are no planned changes to abortion access in the province.
- For a government that has largely done what they said they would do, people should believe them.
- Nonetheless it’s been a wedge that was used this week by the NDP in Alberta and the media and will surely come up again in next year’s provincial election.
- What we do need to talk about though is the distorted media lens that we saw this week in Alberta.
- Global News ran with the headline, “Alberta NDP pledges to protect abortion access while UCP remains silent”
- CTV Edmonton ran with, “Kenney, once an 'anti-abortion activist,' refuses to comment on American controversy” with a rather unflattering picture of the Premier before changing the story’s key image.
- Meanwhile CBC’s reporting was most accurate but the sub-headline said, “Leaked decision from the U.S. Supreme Court potentially upending a landmark ruling raises questions.” The questions of course are being raised by the media about an issue that hasn’t existed for decades in Canada.
- The goal by the media seems to have been to get Conservative politicians to speak up, potentially raising doubt about the party’s stance on the issue, either federally or provincially.
- Failing that, the media asked enough questions and reported on enough of the US story to cause people like the Trudeau government to speak up.
- At the end of the day this is purely an American issue which at this point has likely changed the course of the upcoming midterms which were largely going to be focused on the economy to one where social issues will play a larger role.
- For us here though nothing has changed, this should have been a non story this week and is another example of the media importing American problems into Canada when they don’t exist.
- This past week, an article from the Ottawa Citizen with bombshell revelations about the Freedom Convoy and the military should have received more attention than it got. However, it got completely overshadowed by the accusation that Justin Trudeau may have dropped a bombshell of his own, an f-bomb that is, in Parliament, during Question Period where he was asked about the situation. So how did the channel get changed so quickly? It's important that to fully understand this story that we start where all good stories do: at the beginning.
- During the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa in late January and early February, it was noticed that a strange unidentified aircraft was doing patrols over the city. A U.S.-registered King Air aircraft was airborne over Ottawa on Jan. 28, Jan. 29, Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and Feb. 11, according to data collected by Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa researcher who tracks the movements of vessels and planes. For instance, Watkins said that on Feb. 10 the aircraft was flying circular patterns over Ottawa before disappearing from publicly available aircraft tracking systems.
- Now this in itself isn't that strange. But what is strange about this story is the context surrounding the situation. The flights coincided with the large-scale protests held in downtown Ottawa as part of the “Freedom Convoy.” Protesters in Ottawa demanded the government remove rules designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But a few other demonstrators also called for the overthrow of the Canadian government, which would obviously be a national security concern, especially after seeing what happened a year earlier at the US Capitol.
- National Defence spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier acknowledged the aircraft was in use by Canadian special forces as part of a training mission on Feb. 10. But he stated the flight had nothing to do with the protests. Information wasn’t available from National Defence on who operated the plane on the other dates, but military sources said those flights also involved Canadian special forces. Le Bouthillier said the special forces training was already planned before the Ottawa protests and to have cancelled the flight would have been a waste of money.
- Interestingly, Canadian special forces are preparing to receive their own King Air aircraft outfitted with surveillance equipment and have been conducting training leading up to the delivery of those planes. Those aircraft, the first of which is to be delivered this summer, will give the Canadian military the ability to collect data for missions overseas and at home.
- The modified small passenger planes are outfitted with surveillance equipment allowing for the interception of cellphone calls, radio transmissions and other communications. Electro-optical sensors would also allow crews onboard the aircraft to track the movement of individuals and vehicles on the ground, the Canadian military has noted. Canadian special forces had access to similar aircraft in Afghanistan to track and target insurgents.
- The equipment being installed is transforming the planes into “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” or ISR, machines to track subjects from high up. Gear includes the same MX-15D targeting equipment with a powerful camera that Ukraine is using on its military drones to surveil Russian targets and direct air strikes against the invading forces. The Canadian plane also includes high-tech warning systems that detect incoming threats and a countermeasure system to protect the aircraft.
- Watkins claimed the aircraft could have flown anywhere in the Ottawa region if the situation called for regular training. But, instead, the plane was involved in specific flight patterns, he noted. Watkins added in a separate report on the flights that he “believe[s] their precise circular tracks over Ottawa suggest a form of electronic surveillance, not simply digital electro-optical imagery or video.”
- The Globe and Mail, citing Watkins’ data, first reported the Feb. 10 flight in an article a few weeks ago. Watkins said: “These patterns look very much like other tracks seen over foreign conflict zones while ISR missions were believed to be under way.” At the time, National Defence acknowledged the plane was conducting military training, but did not reveal it was being operated by Canadian special forces.
- The Department of National Defence did not immediately acknowledge the aircraft was working for the military. It was only after The Globe contacted other major security agencies – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police – that the Department of Defence said the King Air was part of a military training operation.
- The government says these planes, for Canada’s special forces, or Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, are primarily intended for offshore use and would only be used to surveil Canadians domestically – in support of civilian authorities – with the approval of the federal cabinet.
- So if we accept that it was simply a military training exercise for special forces, that just coincidentally happened during a period of unrest in our nation's capital, as Justin Trudeau claimed in Question Period, then that should be the end of the story. However, the Canadian military has oftentimes in the past denied or minimized situations where they were indeed spying on or testing the Canadian population. And if they were indeed surveilling Canadians domestically, then they would need approval from the cabinet via the National Defence Act. And if they did, then that would make the implementation of the Emergencies Act by the Trudeau government completely unnecessary.
- Trudeau says the surveillance plane was merely a military training operation and was not spying on those blockading Ottawa’s downtown core. He criticized Conservative MPs who in Parliament on Wednesday accused the Canadian Armed Forces of conducting surveillance during the protests, saying the Opposition politicians were straying “dangerously close to misinformation and disinformation.”
- During Question Period on Wednesday, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas said: “It appears that there was military surveillance that was conducted during the Ottawa protest.” Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant asked whether the flights are evidence the government deployed the military during the trucker protests. “Did the government invoke any statute to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces in this manner, or was the surveillance conducted without lawful authority?” she asked. Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay asked how the government can justify using military assets in this way. “Liberals did not put soldiers on our streets, but they did put them in the air.”
- Trudeau accused the Conservatives of spawning conspiracy theories. “I want Canadians to pay very careful attention to this exchange. What the member opposite just engaged in is dangerously close to misinformation and disinformation designed to gin up fears and conspiracy theories around what happened a number of months ago.”
- After this exchange, the Conservatives allege that Trudeau hurled an f-bomb at them in Parliament, which is considered against the rules of unparliamentary language. Conservative MP John Brassard told reporters after Question Period that Mr. Trudeau swore at his party. Brassard maintains that about a dozen of his colleagues heard Trudeau use a “six-letter reference followed by another word.” He said that he’s taken the matter up with the Speaker of the House of Commons, saying “He [Trudeau] dropped an F-bomb. Everybody in the first two rows across from the Prime Minister heard it.”
- The Prime Minister, visibly frustrated and upset as he left question period that day, invoked one of his father Pierre Trudeau’s most memorable quips when asked by reporters whether he had uttered unparliamentary language: “What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you move your lips in a particular way?”
- It hearkens back to 1971, when Pierre Trudeau was accused of “mouthing a four-letter obscenity” at the opposition benches. The elder Trudeau had denied saying anything. When pressed by reporters, he replied: “What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say fuddle-duddle or something like that?” The fuddle-duddle scandal remained a hallmark of the senior Trudeau's prime ministership.
- Chris d’Entremont, a Conservative MP who is the Deputy Speaker and presided over Wednesday's fiery Question Period, reported to the House on Thursday that he listened to the recordings of question period, but with all the noise in the chamber, he was unable to determine what may have been said.
- D’Entremont said none of the unparliamentary remarks he heard should have been made, and called on his colleagues to avoid disrespectful comments and observe the rules of debate and decorum. He added that if members feel their “blood pressure is a little high, it’s a beautiful day outside,” and he urged them to “go for a walk.”
- So instead of legitimate questions about the role of Canada's military domestically, all of the media clamoured over the supposed scandal of Trudeau allegedly swearing in the House of Commons. With all of the problems going on in our country, I doubt Canadians really care that much about the lack of decorum of our Prime Minister, rather than what he's actually doing (or not doing) to address the issues that actually affect us.
- And whether or not the Canadian Military was engaged in unlawful spying on Canadians, that is a topic that should have received more attention, not whether or not Trudeau's mouth needed to be washed out with soap. The media did a wonderful job in distracting Canadians from the real issues, which they have always done. We deserve better.
Quote of the Week
“[I] believe their precise circular tracks over Ottawa suggest a form of electronic surveillance, not simply digital electro-optical imagery or video. These patterns look very much like other tracks seen over foreign conflict zones while ISR missions were believed to be under way.” - Ottawa researcher Steffan Watkins on the purported military training exercises over Ottawa during the Freedom Convoy protests.
Word of the Week
Abort - bring to a premature end because of a problem or fault.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Surveying the Issues
Teaser: The Liberals keep the status quo in the Senate, 93% of BC MLAs are homeowners, and US abortion issues get imported into Canada. Also, Canadian military surveillance gets overshadowed by Trudeau’s alleged f-bomb.
Recorded Date: May 6, 2022
Release Date: May 8, 2022
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes