The News Rundown
- Last Saturday soon after recording, a CN Rail train derailed just east of Lytton, BC. 15 railcars carrying coal derailed, spilling some of their contents and causing a minor fire in the area. Thankfully it has been a much wetter spring than last year and there were no major damages as a result.
- The train derailment brought renewed attention to Lytton, which at this time last year, burned almost completely to the ground due to a wildfire that swept through the town in the midst of BC's 2021 Heat Dome event, which saw temperatures soaring into the high 40s Celsius. The BC Coroner's Service have now officially tallied that almost 1000 people died in BC as a result of the heat wave.
- A year later, and the town of Lytton has not moved very quickly on rebuilding, and residents are getting frustrated at the lack of visible progress. While debris removal has started on some properties, it remains stalled on others as insurance companies continue to work out details. According to resident Denise O'Connor, at this time, Lytton still looks much like it did a few weeks after the fire “except the weeds have grown”.
- To get a jump start on rebuilding, she recently spoke to a modular home builder, but was advised to wait until the Village of Lytton passes its new building bylaw so it is clear how the house must be constructed. O'Connor said: “We keep hearing that Lytton is going to be rebuilt as a model community. We don’t want to hear that anymore. We just want to go home.”
- Mayor Jan Polderman said “It’s a very complicated rebuild. I think the one-year mark is significant. But I have issues when people talk about the fire and forget everything else that’s happened. The community was cut off by the landslides in November and we had heavy snow in December that stuck around for a long time.”
- After the fire, which came at the end of several days of record-breaking heat, the small community in the Fraser Canyon faced a monumental task with limited funds and expertise. The fire destroyed 151 structures in the Village of Lytton and adjacent Lytton First Nation. The village hall and records were gone. There was no power or water. Toxic debris meant it was unsafe to even access the village.
- The entire village is also considered a heritage site, so before any real cleanup work or soil remediation could be done, the province needed to create a heritage process to care for any artifacts uncovered by debris removal. At the same time, the village has been grappling with how to build back in a more fire-resilient way without adding too much cost for residents or reluctant insurance companies.
- The village continues to work on a building bylaw that new homes will need to meet for energy efficiency and fire resistance. The mayor admitted it has been “controversial.” Provisions will require residents to keep the area beside their homes free of all burnable materials, including propane tanks, wood piles and trees and shrubs. The town is also planning to rebuild as a net-zero emissions community. To help achieve this, council is planning to power the village using a new technology called solar sidewalks made by a Vancouver company.
- Solar Earth Technologies makes solar panels that not only generate electricity to power homes but can withstand the weight of a five-ton vehicle or, according to company director and CEO Douglas Matthews, a stomping elephant. The hardened solar panels can be fitted into sidewalks, trails, bike paths, driveways and parking lots.
- In the months after the fire, the village council unveiled a strategy to rebuild Lytton to the highest energy-efficiency standards possible, known as Step 5. It is a costly provision to make apartments and townhouses “net-zero,” meaning they don’t release any additional emissions through heating or cooling.
- Simply put, Lytton couldn’t afford it, and the changes didn’t fly with residents, who are used to living in single-family homes, some even heated with wood before the fire. “To rebuild to all these standards, it just didn’t fit with our community,” said Denise O’Connor, a longtime resident whose home was destroyed by the fire.
- Nonie McCann, who lives across the river from Lytton, remembers attending council meetings and hearing village officials make ‘grandiose’ plans: “We don’t need solar sidewalks — we need to get home,” echoing what some residents were saying at those meetings.
- Earlier this week, the B.C. government announced $21 million to help Lytton reestablish key infrastructure that will be crucial in the next phase of recovery. The money will help rebuild the village office, assess the repair of water and sewer systems, and restore essential services, such as fire protection — steps necessary to allow people to start to return safely, said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s public safety minister.
- Farnworth said: “Over the past year, Lytton residents have shown tremendous strength as the community has come together to recover from what was lost. With new funding to help get essential services and infrastructure back up and running, the Village of Lytton is taking another step forward on this challenging journey of rebuilding.”
- Earlier in the recovery, the province provided $9.3 million to support village operations, including staff to lead the recovery, and $18.4 million for debris removal and remediation. The federal government also announced $77 million in funding to rebuild Lytton in a way that makes it more resilient to future fires. While $64 million will be used to help rebuild public buildings, $6 million was set aside to help residents meet standards. Small- and medium-sized businesses will also get $7.2 million to help them restart.
- In the meantime, politicians have a grand vision of a futuristic rebuild for the town, all while debris still sits a year after the devastating wildfire, and residents are frustrated about the lack of progress. With BC's weather finally starting to heat up, we need to keep in mind just how precarious life can be, and keep Lytton in mind as we enjoy our summer.
- Inflation has hit the highest marks it hasn’t hit in the last 40 years.
- Alberta has extended its gas tax exemption through September and in the US, President Biden is also pushing for a pause on the gas tax.
- Alberta’s gas tax pause will be in place as long as the price of oil is above $90/Barrel USD.
- Alberta will also be adding in electricity rebates of $50 per month starting in July.
- The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that if the federal government were to follow the path of Alberta or even what Biden is contemplating, that the price of gas would drop by 18-30 cents per litre depending on the province!
- In the US, Biden is the one pushing for the change and would be going to Congress to get the tax relief.
- Here in Canada, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said that there are no plans to cut gas prices.
- Instead, the government plans to stabilize global oil prices by increasing supply.
- This comes on the week where Canadians learnt that the Trans Mountain Pipeline project that the government bought will no longer be profitable.
- The plan was for the government to sell the pipeline project for a $600m profit when complete, but now it’s looking like it will be a loss.
- It is incredibly rich of the government to seek to try and stabilize global oil supply by increasing supply in Canada when every push to develop the industry and get the product to market was thwarted by the government or enabled to be thwarted by activists.
- Instead the government wants to increase benefits to families by increasing the GST rebate, Canada Child Benefit, and cutting costs for child care with their new federal-provincial child care agreements.
- These measures on their own are forecast to cost almost $9b.
- Minister Wilkinson said that the government hasn’t “ruled anything off the table in the future, [but] it would be irresponsible to do that at this point.”
- If Biden and his administration go forward with a pausing of their gas taxes, Canada would be the only G7 country to not have suspended gas taxes or offered a gas subsidy.
- Most point to the war in Ukraine as the cause for oil prices going up but in reality it is the world coming back online after the dark times of the past few years being exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
- When the idea of the cut was first proposed in Alberta, the NDP and skeptics said that the full tax cut would not be passed on to consumers.
- With months of data now, in Alberta, the economic data suggests that the entire value of the tax reduction was passed on to consumers.
- Cutting the gas tax is one option but other options around income support targeting those who are hit hardest by inflation will work too.
- The question is will the government act fast enough because the programs they want to increase funding to are indexed to inflation already.
- The question comes in about whether or not that indexation will be updated to represent the most recent inflation numbers rather than the previous years.
- Last year’s inflation was 2.4% which is a huge difference from the values north of 7% that we are seeing now.
- A 2.4% increase would represent a $7 increase on the GST rebate per adult and another $114 on the Canada Child Benefit.
- Ask any Canadian, ask yourself, if you even get a GST rebate, would $7 or about $20 extra if indexed to current inflation be helpful from what you get now?
- Or are there bigger problems with affordability that need to be addressed that current programs are unable to solve?
- A federal research unit detected what might be a Chinese Communist Party information operation that aimed to discourage Canadians of Chinese heritage from voting for the Conservatives in the last federal election.
- The Sept. 13, 2021, analysis by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which tracks foreign interference, says researchers observed Communist party media accounts on Chinese social media platform Douyin widely sharing a narrative that the Conservatives would all but sever diplomatic relations with Beijing. The report, obtained through the Access to Information Act, was prepared just a week before the 2021 election.
- We all know the result now: Trudeau formed a minority government shortly after the election, and Erin O'Toole's Conservatives did not greatly improve on their previous total from 2 years earlier.
- O'Toole claims that the Conservatives lost eight or nine seats to foreign interference from China. Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party's foreign affairs critic, said in an interview the analysis is "another piece of evidence that the Communist leadership in Beijing interfered in the last general election by spreading disinformation."
- O'Toole said his campaign had been in touch with CSIS before and during the campaign over the issue of interference and he had asked the national intelligence agency to make public what they know. CSIS declined to comment on this story, referring instead to a statement sent earlier in the month. In that, an agency spokesperson pointed to a task force set up to monitor interference, which has made no public announcements related to the election, indicating that CSIS at that time believed there wasn't a substantial threat to "a free and fair election."
- Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, based at Global Affairs Canada, produces open data analysis to chart trends, strategies and tactics in foreign interference. Its work supports the G7 RRM, an initiative to strengthen coordination to identify and respond to threats to the major industrial democracies.
- RRM Canada says it manually reviewed Chinese social media platforms including WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xigua and Bilibili, and conducted open-source forensic digital analysis using website archives, social listening tools, and cross-platform social media ranking tools.
- The analysts first noticed the narrative about the Conservatives in two articles published Sept. 8 by the Global Times, a state-owned media tabloid. RRM Canada believes the Global Times coverage was prompted by a story in the Ottawa-based Hill Times newspaper that examined Canadian parties' positions on Canada-China relations. The analysis says it is likely that the Global Times was the first Chinese publication to pick up on the Ottawa publication's content, with its two articles getting over 100,000 pageviews apiece.
- RRM Canada notes the timing coincided with the first federal leaders' debate and increasingly close poll numbers. Similar pieces published by major Canadian media outlets earlier in September, as well as the Conservative party platform released in August, elicited no response from state-controlled media in China, the analysis says.
- Several popular Canada-focused WeChat news accounts began engaging with the Global Times narrative on Sept. 9, copying the content and form without crediting the publication, "obscuring the narrative's point of origin," the analysts found.
- Accounts also added commentary about the Tories to the articles, such as "Chinese are frightened by the platform," and questioned whether "Chinese compatriots should support the Conservatives if they use this rhetoric."
- The report concludes that "Unless otherwise credited, WeChat users would not know that the narrative about the Conservatives and O'Toole originated from the Global Times and would assume the articles were original reporting from the Canadian WeChat accounts."
- Chong says it's clear that proxies were spreading disinformation on behalf of Beijing in the federal election: "It's hard to measure whether that was the reason for the loss of some Conservative MPs. But I think we can safely say that it was a contributing factor."
- Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté told CBC News that foreign interference and disinformation pose “a particularly significant challenge” for Canada’s electoral system. Côté told CBC he has negotiated agreements with tech companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook that make it easier for his office to investigate complaints, but he does not have agreements with other “foreign agencies” like Tencent, the company that owns the popular Chinese-language online messaging platform WeChat.
- In the meantime, CSIS requested a meeting last month with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart to brief him on the risks of foreign interference ahead of this fall’s municipal election. Stewart confirmed that the meeting happened at CSIS’ request. He said he and his co-chief of staff Neil Monckton met with “a very senior CSIS official and a subject expert on China.”
- Stewart said: “They briefed me for almost two hours on foreign interference in domestic politics. When I queried further as to specific reasons, they said they couldn’t tell me, which raised concerns. They did say, however, that this type of briefing is highly unusual.”
- According to Stewart, the CSIS officials did not confirm or deny the existence of any specific evidence in relation to the municipal election this October. Instead, they provided a general briefing on risks, past examples elsewhere, and what to look for.
- According to spokesperson Andrew Watson, Elections B.C., which oversees campaign financing and advertising for municipal elections, has not yet “observed significant instances of disinformation or foreign interference in local or provincial elections in B.C. As has been well-documented, the risks posed to electoral democracy by disinformation and foreign interference are real, and it is possible that they will be present to a greater degree in future B.C. elections, at all levels.”
- While B.C. has restrictions on foreign funding of campaigns, including bans on contributions from corporations and non-residents of B.C., the province’s election legislation does not regulate the content of election advertising, Watson said. This means Elections B.C. does not regulate whether or not an election communication constitutes ‘disinformation’.
- B.C.’s election laws do have transparency measures, requiring election advertisers to register with Elections B.C. so the public knows who is paying for advertising or conducting other paid canvassing activities designed to influence voting, Watson said. But Elections B.C. has called for the province’s electoral legislation to be strengthened to better mitigate disinformation and foreign interference threats.
- Ahmed Al-Rawi, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, said: “We don’t have in Canada the necessary infrastructures to closely monitor and promptly report to the general public on such interference.”
- This is especially true when it happens in languages other than English, or on alternative social media sites such as Parler, Rumble or BitChute, said Al-Rawi, who is also director of The Disinformation Project, a federally funded research project examining fake news, misinformation and disinformation.
- “I think the public needs to be better and more promptly informed if there are cyber operations trying to influence them. We don’t have such mechanisms in place,” Al-Rawi said. “The government should get more data from social media companies and search engines like Google, and this data needs to be shared with researchers. Again, this is unfortunately not happening.”
- As the old saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire. It's clear that the Chinese state is attempting to poke holes into our political process, and it's unclear if anyone is really doing much to combat it. All we can do as average citizens is to be careful about what kind of news we consume, and to be critical in our thinking.
- This week we’re back with with a story shaping up to be another case of the Trudeau government on the verge of another scandal looking like SNC-Lavalin or WE.
- This time we’re looking at the aftermath of the April 2020 Halifax shooting that left 22 dead and 3 officers injured before the shooter was killed.
- In the inquiry taking place it was revealed that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki “made a promise” to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office to leverage the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 to get a gun control law passed.
- A week after the shooting Lucki was pressuring the RCMP to release the details of the weapons used by the killer.
- This timing is interesting because it was in May of 2020 that the Trudeau government announced their gun ban that included many weapons that farmers use to protect livestock and absurdities like rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons.
- The RCMP said that the killer paid someone to purchase weapons in the US and then smuggle them into Canada.
- There are a number of issues appearing with this case. Listeners will be aware that one of the first things they are seeing is the potential political interference that happened.
- But there’s also big questions about how the investigation was carried out.
- When investigating the case, Nova Scotia Superintendent Darren Campbell outright told journalists that revealing information about weapons used or motive could jeopardize the investigation.
- This lack of getting information out to the public made the RCMP Commissioner upset.
- Darren Campbell, Assistant. Commander Lee Bergerman, Chief Superintendent. Chris Leather, and Nova Scotia Communications director Lia Scanlan were summoned to a meeting with Brenda Lucki.
- In a transcription from the notes: “The Commissioner was obviously upset. She did not raise her voice but her choice of words was indicative of her overall dissatisfaction with our work. The Commissioner accused us (me) of disrespecting her by not following her instructions. I was and remain confused over this. The Commissioner said she told Comms to tell us at H Division to include specific info about the firearms used by [the killer]….However I said we couldn’t because to do so would jeopardize ongoing efforts to advance the U.S. side of the case as well as the Canadian components of the investigation. Those are facts and I stand by them.”
- Lucki also reportedly said that she was “sad and disappointed” that the details were not provided to the media.
- Then we learn that Lucki had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the information would be released.
- On the releasing of information it also appears that the number of casualties including the range, starting at greater than 10 then 13-17 and finally 22 were released due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.
- The Nova Scotia Communications’ Director Lia Scanlan felt that this came from the Prime Minister and that the commissioner did not push back.
- Political interference is one thing but deliberately holding back information is another.
- It was revealed that Darren Campbell’s notes, in particular 4 pages of them were held back for months from the initial disclosure on this case.
- And the reason being of course, they implicate a process full of political interference.
- For context sake, we’re talking about 4 pages of 132 pages of hand written notes but the record about the meeting with Lucki were missing.
- This inquiry will continue and both Campbell and Lucki are expected to be called as witnesses near the end of next month.
- They’re also going to appear before a parliamentary hearing in Ottawa to address the questions of political interference.
- The Prime Minister for his part did his usual thing of suggesting that the allegations are false and categorically denied pressuring the RCMP to act in a certain way.
- For what it’s worth the NDP and Conservatives are pushing this hard and are both onboard with the committee.
- If it does indeed prove there was political interference we will have to see if there’s any question of terminating the government sooner rather than later.
- For now, Canadians will have to live with the question: has there been political interference in a RCMP investigation by the government until next month.
- But as they say, the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour and the answer is more likely than not - yes.
Quote of the Week
“To rebuild to all these standards, it just didn’t fit with our community. We keep hearing that Lytton is going to be rebuilt as a model community. We don’t want to hear that anymore. We just want to go home.” - Lytton resident Denise O’Connor on the lack of progress 1 year after the Lytton wildfire
Word of the Week
Frustration - the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Government vs. Progress
Teaser: Government plans have stalled Lytton’s rebuild, the Trudeau Liberals refuse to lift the gas tax, and the Chinese state maybe interfered in the 2021 election. Also, the RCMP commissioner tried to compromise the 2020 Nova Scotia shooting investigation.
Recorded Date: June 25, 2022
Release Date: June 26, 2022
Edit Notes: Pause first story
Podcast Summary Notes