The News Rundown
- The inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act has wrapped up with the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers testifying this week.
- What happens now is that we wait for Justice Rouleau’s report which has to be presented by February.
- The biggest and most shocking revelations this week were not what the Prime Minister said. He said he was, “absolutely, absolutely serene, confident that [he] made the right choice.”
- His concern was for what could have happened if he didn’t. What if someone was injured or worse.
- Instead the discussion shifts to Justice Minister David Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
- Evidence tabled this week included text messages between the Ministers.
- Between Mendicino and Lametti the exchange goes as follows.
- David Lametti says: You need to get the police to move. And the CAF if necessary. Too many people are being seriously adversely impacted by what is an occupation. I am getting out as soon as I can. People are looking to us/you for leadership. And not stupid people. People like Carney, Cath, my team…
- Marco Mendicino says: How many tanks are you asking for… I just wanna ask Anita [Anand, Defence Minister], how many we’ve got on hand
- David Lametti said: I reckon one will do!!
- There are also text messages between David Lametti and his chief of staff on January 30th suggesting that the blockades were being treated differently than if they were Black or Indigenous blockades.
- The text messages also show that discussion towards invoking the Emergencies Act began as early as January 30th.
- What has emerged out of this week is that the Justice Minister says he was joking around in the messages to Marco Mendicino.
- But all Canadians should expect a level of professionalism from their government, especially in times of crisis.
- It came out in the hearings that the military was never a real option during the protests.
- People in general have long believed that Canada was immune to the sort of populist uprising that brought Donald Trump and Brexit but it is showing itself in a very different form here.
- The form we are seeing in Canada as evidenced by Danielle Smith’s recent win in Alberta is that it will come through increasing polarization.
- We’ve detailed how Alberta is probably the most polarized province in our country. That seems to be happening now at the federal stage.
- What the Emergencies Act inquiry has shown is that the middle is gone federally as it is in Alberta.
- This is evident through Sun Columnist Warren Kinsella’s opinion piece on the matter. The testimony this week has brought him to a point where the protestors lost him once they defaced the National War Memorial and Terry Fox statue. He’s also of the opinion that Ministers Mendicino and Lametti need to resign, be fired, or be voted out at the earliest opportunity.
- Gone are the days of middle of the road leaders like Jean Chretien or Brian Mulroney who would have let cooler heads prevail and had Ministers that acted their age.
- The Conservative leader at the time, Erin O’Toole, missed an opportunity to lead the movement and set the tone of the protests.
- It’s entirely possible that this past winter or during the election last year when the issue of mandates first crept up he could have encouraged those against mandates to protest peacefully on the lawn of Parliament, filling it up as we do on Canada Day. And with that have them not leave until the message was heard without disrupting downtown Ottawa.
- This didn’t happen though and we are where we are now.
- In the 2006 election campaign the Liberals ran an ad suggesting that Stephen Harper would’ve wanted the military patrolling cities but in reality the discussion was around increasing the number of military forces around major cities to more easily respond to natural disasters and local emergencies.
- But in 2022 it was the government jokingly suggesting doing just that and more while law and order eroded.
- Law and order needed to be maintained and neither the government or protestors were up to the task of making that happen.
- This underscores the opportunity for one party, to speak calmly and rationally to those on both sides of the political divide not being heard.
- That means reaching out to centre right voters and traditional NDP supporters who may feel left behind.
- While the discussion was on the Emergencies Act, things are only going to get worse before they get better.
- It's been a busy first week as premier of BC for David Eby, as the BC NDP have bombarded the news cycle with announcement after announcement this week on a number of different files. Last week I briefly mentioned the BC Hydro rebates of $100 per customer and an income based affordability credit, both intended to help British Columbians with inflation, and Eby has now followed those up with an announcement to hire more RCMP officers, and another for public safety initiatives to battle an increase in urban crime. And after all that was said and done, Eby also moved along two pieces of legislation through to third reading in the legislature, The Housing Supply Act and Building and Strata Statutes Amendment Act, both intended to help with the housing crisis.
- For those keeping track of BC politics, it's been hard to get a handle on everything that's been going on. Clearly, the NDP were trying to save these announcements for Eby's ascension to premier, as many of these must have been worked on during John Horgan's tenure. But nevertheless, all of these have combined to mean big promises to fix some of the province's worst problems right now - inflation, an increase in crime, and a generational housing crisis.
- And of course, with big promises means big spending. The rebates from ICBC will cost $400M, the affordability credit $500M, the RCMP officers $230M, Public Safety will be $77M. And even though the housing bills are being shunted quickly through the Legislature by the NDP, with enforced limits on debate, we do not know yet how much those will cost. All in all, the announcements together will cost at least $1.2B in new spending.
- Does the province have the funds for these flashy new announcements? That answer was provided in Friday's quarterly fiscal update, where Finance Minister Selina Robinson revealed that the province is actually running a surplus right now.
- When tabled in February, the budget called for a $5.4-billion deficit, which was upgraded to a $706-million surplus at the first quarterly update. Robinson announced BC is now looking at a $5.7-billion surplus. Robinson credits higher income, corporate, and sales tax revenue along with a surge in natural gas royalties for the swift economic turnaround, and has said that much of the surplus will be helping to fund the new initiatives the NDP has put out.
- Robinson said “We’ve been very thoughtful about our decision-making as a government over the last five years and it keeps us in a good fiscal position.”
- It is the volatility between the February estimate and the new update that has the opposition BC Liberals questioning just how much stock British Columbians should put in the projections. Opposition finance critic Peter Milobar said: "Especially in this last quarter, when you have a five-billion swing in the space of three months, that's a very big problem in terms of the reliability of these estimates.”
- Eby said that he is largely drawing from the $1 billion contingency fund set aside in the 2022-23 budget for inflation relief measures. Eby said: “Because we’re growing our economy, because people are choosing to move here to start their lives, our government is in a strong fiscal position and we’re able to provide support on a whole array of fronts.”
- B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said while he’s “always happy when money goes back to taxpayers,” the credits are too little, too late. The “tiny gift back,” Falcon said, is “not much consolation” for British Columbians who have been struggling for months to pay rising costs due to inflation and the highest fuel prices in North America. Alberta, Falcon noted, temporarily waived its 13-cent-a-litre provincial gas tax from April to September and is giving Albertans $300 worth of electricity rebates. Falcon said “You cannot just equate more spending with better outcomes,” while noting that a lot of the problems that the NDP say they're now tackling have just gotten worse during the NDP's tenure.
- As for the changes to the Housing Act that the NDP have rammed through the Legislature, many critics, including several BC mayors, have pointed out that it's the government's BC Housing department that has been responsible for turning down a fair number of affordable housing projects for funding. Falcon says B.C. Housing is in a state of paralysis because of “gross waste, financial mismanagement and chaos.” Eby said Wednesday a full forensic audit of B.C. Housing is underway, a follow up to an external review quietly released in July which found insufficient financial oversight of billions of dollars worth of housing decisions.
- The legislation aims to increase housing supply with measures that will end several rental restrictions and have the potential to force local governments to meet housing growth targets. Criticism of the bills includes concern that housing growth targets aren’t clearly defined, potentially affecting everything from official community plans to efforts to limit urban sprawl or address climate adaptation.
- Regarding the changes to the Rental Strata Act that are removing rental restrictions, Murray Rankin, B.C.’s attorney general and minister responsible for housing, says there are currently thousands of vacant strata units that cannot be rented out because of rental restrictions. This legislation will open those units up to provide more homes for people in B.C., he says.
- Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of BC, says the legislation could actually result in the opposite of its intended effect. Gioventu says the province's new legislation will make getting into property ownership more costly. He said: "I fear this is going to have an impact again on availability and affordability of housing. If there’s a rental bylaw you’re only competing against other people who are probably going to be wanting to live there. If there’s no rental bylaw, you’ve suddenly opened the door for speculators and investors who are going to be competing for the same properties."
- Because all of the announcements have come so close together, it's hard to really analyze each one in detail, and with many taking place at the end of the week, they haven't received much debate in the legislature either. Regardless, they can all be summed up that the NDP are aware of the problems, they've taxed us heavily during a period of high inflation so they have the money to spend on the issues, but there's not much in the way of concrete plans other than big flashy money spending announcements.
- The news pace out of Alberta continues to be brisk
- $12.3b surplus, money moved from investing in the Heritage Savings Fund to inflation relief
- The affordability measures introduced this week come in with a price tag of about $2.8b.
- The money will help almost everyone except those who are single or married without kids or those who don’t drive or rent and therefore don’t pay utility bills.
- These measures are targeted and are in the same area as which we’d expect an NDP government to move on.
- We could talk about the fiscal update and affordability measures for an entire segment but we need to dispel the fake news of the week.
- Earlier in the week the narrative shifted to healthcare and in particular health spending accounts.
- The belief according to the NDP and what has been published in the media is that health spending accounts are for the enabling of a private healthcare system in the province.
- Danielle Smith in her TV address this week highlighted that she’s no longer a columnist or radio talk show host and admitted that she took controversial positions in the past that have evolved or changed.
- In social circles and the media it is quite common for someone to be framed as more extreme without considering the true context of where they are coming from. It’s cases like this that make dismissing arguments easy by others when they don’t have the full context.
- The Premier promised to work for all Albertans and detailed that the sovereignty act would be called the “Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.”
- For their part the NDP points to a paper where Smith suggested that Health Spending Accounts could be used to cover a person’s family doctor visits for up to about 10 visits a year.
- This is another of those opinions that have been morphed by the media as fed by the NDP and online activists.
- Diving into the replies/likes/retweets of Rachel Notley, it wasn’t until Notley was sent many tweets morphing one of the articles that Danielle Smith mentioned that this became an NDP talking point.
- After this it was picked up by the media.
- This is silly and fake news for two simple reasons that no one mentioned this week.
- First: the Canada Health Act governs what can be done with healthcare in provinces.
- Until that changes, there will be no private for profit paid out of pocket insurance. There might be ways around this by having the government provide health insurance to all those who don’t have it while allowing for the purchase of private plans or just having government funded procedures done in private settings.
- Second: Health spending accounts are already a thing in Alberta for those who buy Blue Cross plans or those who may have employers that provide enhanced coverage.
- It turns out that the Government of Alberta is one of those employers and both Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley have the option of having access to health spending accounts!
- So with that and the presence of the Canada Health Act, it makes very little sense for the NDP leader to be making hay over this story.
- Danielle Smith issued a statement to go set the record straight in her words and also posted it to Twitter.
- The Premier wants health spending accounts to enable Albertans to be able to purchase health services not already covered by provincial health. This could be anything from physiotherapy to dental to someone buying new glasses.
- And as a third bonus point, the story also makes no sense because anyone who pays for prescriptions, goes to the dentist, or sees an eye doctor already pays to have services rendered in a private setting…
- Where the story of course gets more interesting is when you start looking about why people are afraid of private health care.
- That boils down to an American issue being imported into Canada, which is very complicated business making for a convenient whipping boy.
- What we have seen take root in the mainstream media is a narrative this week based on half truths and social media sensationalism.
- The discussion should have been on the affordability measures or at least more reputable sources could have explained what a health spending account is.
- Last week, we discussed the media's incessant reporting on the meeting between Justin Trudeau and China's President Xi Jinping, and the in detail depth of analysis on that encounter. Unfortunately, all of this stellar reporting on body language during a short interaction masked what the true story was - that Canada has been successfully infiltrated by China, and federal election candidates have been influenced. Who they are and what positions they held or hold remain a mystery.
- Earlier this month, Global News reported that Trudeau and several cabinet ministers had been warned in January by intelligence services about a foreign interference campaign led by China in 2019. Global reported that the Chinese consulate in Toronto transferred $250,000 to an unidentified federal campaign staffer, who then sent the sum to an unnamed Ontario MPP, who dispersed the funds to a network including 11 federal candidates and 13 campaign staffers.
- However, Trudeau has said bluntly that “I do not have any information nor have I been briefed on any federal candidates receiving any money from China.”
- This statement directly contradicts with the news reports that he had indeed been briefed. When asked whether he was made aware of the allegations following the Global story, Trudeau said: “These media reports were things that we took seriously. We asked our security officials to follow up on them.”
- This also appears to contradict the Prime Minister's Office releasing that the talk he had with Xi Jinping discussed serious concerns about Chinese "interference" in Canada, but offered no specifics.
- During question period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asked, "What specific interference was the prime minister referring to when he raised his serious concerns about interference with the Chinese president?"
- Trudeau responded: "We've known for many years that there are consistent engagements by representatives of the Chinese government into Canadian communities, with local media, [and] reports of illicit Chinese police stations. These are all things that we continue to be concerned about, that our officials stay active on and that we will continue to be vigilant around to keep Canadians safe."
- Later, while the Prime Minister was in Tunisia attending the Francophone Summit, a meeting of leaders of French speaking countries, opposition MPs continued to demand clarification from government MPs on the vague denials of knowledge.
- Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien said “He is either hiding the truth and knows that China is trying to destabilize our democracy or he’s revealing that he’s diplomatically irresponsible to the point of being dangerous. Either it’s not honest or it’s not very bright. Which one is it?”
- Michael Chong, the Conservative foreign affairs critic said: “The government is refusing to answer a very simple question. The government is yet to tell the House who these 11 election candidates are. What are they hiding?”
- Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino defended the government’s actions. Mendicino said: “Of course, we’re going to co-operate with the parliamentary committee when it comes to disclosing all of the allegations. Anyone who interferes with our elections will face serious consequences.”
- Mendicino said the government remains “soberly aware of the threats that hostile actors pose, which is why we’re cracking down on foreign funding which could influence elections.” However, he did not confirm or deny if he or the prime minister was briefed by intelligence officials in January about the allegations of Chinese interference. Mendicino's words can't really be trusted on this matter, given his contradictory comments he's made during the inquiry into the government's usage of the Emergencies Act.
- Trudeau’s attitude and limited response to just one of the allegations while ignoring the rest, raises more questions than it answers: Has he indeed been briefed on the campaign in question? Did China, through intermediaries, attempt to funnel money to candidates’ campaigns? Did the Chinese seek to corrupt former Canadian officials? Did China mount campaigns to “punish” politicians whom the Chinese authorities believe are hostile to its interests? If the government was informed about such a campaign, what action did it take following those briefings?
- Tuesday Mr. Trudeau attempted a diversion by attacking opposition MPs who dare ask questions regarding the Global story. “We’re beginning to see a little bit what we saw south of the border, people saying: ‘the elections were not legitimate, we lost because of other countries’ influence.’ This is a very serious allegation.”
- To the contrary, the opposition parties have taken a lot of care not to question the integrity of the recent elections. For instance, while questioning officials from Elections Canada this week, Conservative MP Michael Cooper said: “Just because the overall election was free and fair, that doesn’t negate the possibility that there could be interference, there could be instances of illegal activity, there could be instances of violations of the Canada Elections Act.”
- Trudeau’s unconvincing and uninformative answers totally fail in reassuring Canadians that our democratic process is free from serious interference by China. Although this interference very probably had no effect on the overall results of the 2019 election, the fact that it happened at all is concerning enough. “We believe in free and open and frank dialogue,” is what Trudeau rightly told Xi Jinping. It is time that the prime minister had an open and frank discussion with Canadians about the alleged Chinese attacks on our democracy.
Quote of the Week
“He is either hiding the truth and knows that China is trying to destabilize our democracy or he’s revealing that he’s diplomatically irresponsible to the point of being dangerous. Either it’s not honest or it’s not very bright. Which one is it?” - Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien on Trudeau’s limited response to questions of Chinese influence in the 2019 election
Word of the Week
Announcement - a public and typically formal statement about a fact, occurrence, or intention.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Distracting Announcements
Teaser: Federal ministers joked about martial law during convoy protests, new BC Premier David Eby bombards us with announcements, and the Alberta NDP get their news on healthcare from social media. Also, Trudeau denies knowledge of Chinese campaign influence.
Recorded Date: November 26, 2022
Release Date: November 27, 2022
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes