The News Rundown
- The Trudeau government either doesn't know about foreign interference in Canadian politics, or they do, and they're not doing anything about it or they're not telling us about what they know. Hanlon's razor is an adage or rule of thumb that states "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." But in this case, it's hard to know which is which, when referring to the government.
- A February 2020 Privy Council Office national security memo documented China’s alleged “subtle but effective foreign interference networks” that targeted the 2019 federal contest, said MP Michael Cooper.
- In the Procedure and House Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, the Conservative member from Edmonton quoted from a redacted document, saying: “Investigations into activities linked to the Canadian federal election in 2019, reveal an active foreign interference network,” and added that it referenced the Chinese Communist Party.
- The PCO regularly briefs the Prime Minister’s Office and appropriate cabinet ministers on national security intelligence. The redacted document was provided to the committee, which is mandated to investigate federal documents regarding allegations of Chinese foreign interference. Global News has reviewed the document.
- While Cooper did not cite the document’s source, intelligence sources say it comes from the Privy Council Office’s Intelligence Assessment Secretariat. Cooper said the redacted “Daily Foreign Intelligence Brief” was published on Feb. 21, 2020.
- The multi-partisan group of MPs began hearings in November in response to revelations in Global News reports that outlined Canadian intelligence probes into what sources called China’s vast campaign of interference targeting Canadian elections and politicians, as well as Beijing’s alleged covert “Fox Hunt” police operations in Canada that are targeting Chinese-Canadian communities, which we covered on last week's Western Context. Please go check out that story for more information on China's uncovered operations in Canada.
- Cooper asked Liberal Dominic LeBlanc, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, if he had been briefed on China’s alleged election interference in the 2019 election. LeBlanc said he has been briefed generally on foreign interference, but citing security reasons, he said he could not disclose whether he has been informed of “specific cases.” saying that he doesn't 'have this supposed list of 11 candidates' and that security officials apparently did not provide names.
- When asked by Cooper to give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether Beijing interfered with either the 2019 or 2021 elections, LeBlanc demurred — repeating previous statements that China “regularly attempts to interfere in various aspects of Canadian society,” and that elections are no exception.
- “The experts that are empowered to do this work have confirmed that none of these attempts to interfere have constituted, in any way, something that would have an adverse effect on the election results and the election outcome,” LeBlanc said.
- In response to a question from B.C. NDP MP Rachel Blaney, who asked why Canadians have not been informed of the names of 11 candidates allegedly targeted by China, Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly reiterated that both she and Trudeau were not provided specific information in 2022 on China’s alleged election interference, including the names of 11 candidates targeted by China, or whether China had directly funded candidates in the 2019 contest.
- Joly said: “Reports of Chinese election interference in 2019 are very troubling and we take (the reports) seriously. We must ensure there is no interference, and we are taking a whole of government approach, to combat disinformation and interference from nations including China and Russia.”
- Cooper accused LeBlanc of “hiding behind national security” in spite of advice from CSIS that transparent policy is key to rooting out foreign interference. Cooper said: “We haven’t seen anything of transparency in the way of answers to some very straightforward questions here today,” Cooper said, referring to Joly’s claims that she had no prior knowledge of the interference allegations. LeBlanc responded by accusing Cooper of engaging in political theatrics, and pressuring them for “answers that don’t exist.”
- Last month, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault told committee members he wasn’t aware of the allegations until reading reports first published by Global News. Global’s reporting alleged the PMO was warned nearly a year ago that Beijing allegedly provided money to as many as 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election — despite Trudeau telling reporters the first he’d heard of it was on the news.
- A senator appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Senate on Thursday that media reports referencing a foreign influence campaign by the communist Chinese government constituted a “witch hunt.” Senator Yuen Pau Woo called the reporting – which was based on a top secret 2020 Privy Council Office memo – “irresponsible speculation.”
- Woo said: “There is a witch hunt going on for the names of the 11 candidates as well as the identities of an unspecified number of campaign workers and political staffers who are also alleged to have been funded by the Chinese government. It is no surprise Chinese-Canadians are among those who are most likely to be put under a cloud.”
- Woo has faced criticism in the past for comments that appear to echo Chinese propaganda talking-points. Last year, former Conservative cabinet minister Chris Alexander accused the Senator of being a “mouthpiece for foreign propaganda” in reference to his claims that Canada took Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou “hostage.”
- Alexander said: “By claiming Meng was ‘taken hostage’ by Canada, Yuen Pau Woo has violated his oath as a Canadian Senator & should resign. Mouthpieces for foreign propaganda, including those backed by China’s United Front Work Department, should have no place in Canada’s parliament.”
- Woo's comments raise questions as to how many MPs and senators have Chinese government sympathies and if they are truly working for Canadians. Every week this story gets more and more interesting, and it seems like the news just flips over how important it is.
- Edmonton’s capital budget was approved 9-4 with a 5% property tax hike next year and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. That’s 4 years.
- Councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice voted against the increase.
- This will amount to about $140 every year extra for the owners of an average house valued at $400,000.
- The mayor said his focus was “affordability, not austerity.”
- He continued, "I understand that times are tough for many of you. This is why we are undertaking a comprehensive review to reduce costs, realign budget on priorities that matter to you."
- The mayor also put forward and passed a motion that cut $70m in spending but added $91m in new spending.
- The money includes affordable housing supports, money to respond to homeless camps, and improved snow clearing.
- The budget is also viewed by council to make things affordable for lower income residents by freezing user fees for recreation centres and increasing on-demand public transit and off-peak transit service. There will also be more bike lanes included.
- City Council also voted against funding a regional transit system which puts more load on surrounding communities and lowers the trust of the Edmonton council.
- Councillor Sarah Hamilton said that they “set a dangerous precedent that Edmonton will be proceeding alone” and called the move “the death of regionalism.”
- A striking budget for many reasons.
- A budget aimed at increasing affordability but raises the cost of living for anyone who owns a home.
- A budget that cuts spending but adds spending in excess has no right to talk about cuts.
- And the mayor, Amarjeet Sohi along with councillors Erin Rutherford, Aaron Paquette, Anne Stevenson, Michael Janz, Ashley Salvador, Karen Tang, and Jo-Anne Wright all voted for the increase and because of the distillation of the municipal campaigns to nothing, none of these councillors, any of them, were able to be questioned on how they view increased spending and taxes.
- This falls to the media but also for the city to attract councillors of a high calibre and a party infrastructure as we talked about a couple months ago may just provide that.
- It’s hard to say what the breaking point will be and if Edmontonians will remember these increases come election time. But if the straw does snap, there is always the option of recall.
- That is, starting a petition and having the official face a recall vote.
- This episode this week should serve as a reminder why it is important that the media does not forget why who we elect and the coverage of their exploits is so important.
- International Trade Minister Mary Ng apologized Tuesday after federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion concluded she broke the rules by awarding a contract to a friend. Dion released his report in response to a complaint federal Conservative MP James Bezan, the party's former ethics critic, lodged in May. Keen listeners will note that it's not the first time a Liberal cabinet minister has faced such rulings.
- Ng's office had awarded a contract to the public relations firm Pomp and Circumstance in the spring of 2020. While it was only worth just under $17,000, Bezan raised concerns over a potential breach of conflict-of-interest rules, given the existence of a friendship between Ng and the firm's co-founder Amanda Alvaro.
- In his report, Dion said he interviewed both Ng and Alvaro, who had known each other for nearly 20 years and described their connection as a friendship. Dion determined their relationship fit the definition of friendship under the Conflict of Interest Act.
- In the lead-up to Ng's office giving a contract to Alvaro's firm, Dion said that in March 2020 -- when the country was first grappling with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic -- Ng "initiated an informal telephone conversation" with her friend to discuss "her concern that she wanted to be best prepared to address Canadians and businesses."
- Dion said both confirmed to him that they did not discuss a contract with each other, with Ng saying "the entire process was delegated" to her chief of staff, who was aware of the friendship.
- Dion wrote: "Based on the documents provided by both Ms. Ng and Ms. Alvaro, Ms. Ng does not appear to have been involved in the subsequent discussions pertaining to the negotiation of the final terms of the contract."
- But he concluded the minister broke a section of the act by failing to recuse herself from the process that led to the decision to award the contract -- something the commissioner says Ng herself acknowledged during the investigation. Dion reported that during his probe, Ng disclosed that the firm also received a contract in 2019 for $5,840.
- Dion concluded what should be common sense for the rest of us: "There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend's company. This includes the need to quickly obtain media training services to help Minister Ng respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. Ministers are expected to uphold the highest standards of accountability, including those set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Complying with the act is a condition of appointment and employment for all public office holders."
- During question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ng said she accepts "full responsibility" and should have recused herself from the decision-making process around the contract. She said: "At no time was there any intention for anyone to benefit inappropriately. My efforts fell short of my own high personal standard for transparency and accountability, which Canadians have a right to expect from their elected officials. I am sorry, and it won't happen again." However she does not have any intention to resign from cabinet, despite the ethics commissioner saying that complying with the act is a 'condition of appointment and employment for all public office holders'. There is precedence for this, even in Trudeau's own Prime Ministership though.
- Trudeau himself was found guilty of violating the act by accepting a trip to the Aga Khan's private island in 2017, and the ethics commissioner chastised him again in 2019 over his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
- In 2020, Dion cleared Trudeau of wrongdoing when the government awarded a since-cancelled contract to WE Charity, which the prime minister's family has connections to. But former finance minister Bill Morneau was found to have breached the rules.
- In 2018, Dion ruled that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc had run afoul of conflict-of-interest rules by approving an Arctic surf clam licence to a company where a family member worked.
- None of these ministers resigned, and that trend now continues with the Trade Minister Mary Ng.
- The first phase of the nationwide plastics ban begins very soon on December 20th.
- This will ban grocery bags, cutlery, takeout containers, stir sticks, and many more things with a ban on the sale of these items coming one year later.
- In addition to plastic checkout bags, fabric bags that can’t carry 10Kg or 15 lbs over 53 metres 100 times will be banned.
- Put another way, your bag needs to be able to carry itself walking a modest distance of 1km 5 times after visiting the grocery store.
- The takeout container ban includes clamshell containers, lidded containers, boxes, cups, plates and bowls made entirely or in part from plastic and designed for serving or transporting ready-to-eat food or beverages.
- The most egregious part of the ban comes when we talk about straws.
- Plastic straws will be banned but single-use plastic flexible straws, not packaged with a beverage container, are excluded under certain conditions, such as to accommodate people with disabilities.
- The real depth of the government’s involvement comes on this when you learn how straws must be sold: a retail store may sell a package of single use plastic straws if a customer asks and the package is not displayed publicly.
- This is the same sort of hide the product protection regime that is used for cigarettes and other tobacco products.
- Plastics in Canada have the same sort of protections as tobacco.
- A further ban on the sale of the products will begin on December 20, 2023 with a full prohibition on the manufacture, import and sale for export of these products will come into effect on December 20, 2025.
- The crusade against straws started with a picture of a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose but that really begs us to ask the question, is plastic a problem or is the government wildly out of scope with the true impact of what’s going on.
- To start off we need to understand that in the western world we have largely taken control of how waste works and barring people who litter, most everything can be disposed of safely.
- Plastics are made by way of petri-chemicals and as a result that makes it a keen area of interest for Alberta and Canada.
- With that, we have to ask how much waste do we produce and is it better to produce and use plastics here rather than letting them be used in Asia, Africa, and developing areas of the world?
- As of 2021 Asia accounts for 81% of plastic waste, followed by 8% from Africa, 5.5% from South America, 4.5% from North America, 0.6% from Europe, and 0.37% from Australia, New Zealand, and other oceanic countries.
- In 2019, Canada produced 0.63Kg of mismanaged plastic waste per capita, America a tad higher at 0.81Kg. Here’s where it becomes striking: China produced 8.56Kg per capita, India 9.51Kg, Brazil 15.6, Libya 27.8Kg per capita.
- With that, we have to ask, is it really the right approach to ban plastics in Canada when our waste output is already so low?
- Could a better approach be to ban the sale of plastics to countries outside the US and EU and charge those instead who choose to export waste?
- Thankfully there’s data on all of this from various studies and publicly sourced data that has been aggregated by ourworldindata.org.
- When it comes to straws, the studies estimate that if all straws around the world’s coastlines were lost to the ocean, this would account for approximately 0.03 percent of ocean plastics.
- Author David McKay of Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air wrote “If we all do a little, we’ll only achieve a little”.
- Banning plastic straws is a small step. Other plastic pollution like discarded fishing nets and ineffective waste management account for a bigger issue.
- When it comes to bags, people think they’re making the smart ecological choice by going non-plastic but there have been studies into this too.
- Factoring in other impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water, and resource use, plastics have a net positive impact on the world.
- An organic cotton bag would need to be reused 149 times to have as low greenhouse gas emissions as a standard single-use plastic bag.
- That same cotton bag would have to be used 3,830 times to have as low water usage in creation as a single-use bag.
- People might not know this but plastic tends to be cheap and has significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water and fertilizer inputs than alternatives such as paper, aluminium, cotton or glass. The obvious environmental detriment is pollution of the natural environment when poorly managed.
- So what this means is if a country can manage its waste, it should not worry about using plastics.
- This data doesn’t come from a crock of an institute either, this data in particular came from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
- At the end of the day plastic straws, containers, and other modern conveniences are convenient both in their use but also as a way for governments to virtue signal that they are doing something about the environment but whether they are isn’t as clear as they make it out to be.
Quote of the Week
"There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend's company. Ministers are expected to uphold the highest standards of accountability, including those set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Complying with the act is a condition of appointment and employment for all public office holders." - Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion on International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s ethics violation
Word of the Week
Waste - an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Ethical Plastics
Teaser: We uncover more about foreign influence in Canada, Edmonton city council votes to increase property taxes, and yet another Trudeau cabinet minister breaks ethics rules. Also, Canada is banning single use plastics, but will it really help the environment?
Recorded Date: December 17, 2022
Release Date: December 18, 2022
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes