The (Right) News Rundown
- It's been a busy week for the new BC NDP government. They have announced plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021, echoing promises from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Small business owners have criticized the move, saying it will severely negatively impact their business and the economy. The NDP have also released a report on ICBC, the province's crown corporation originally supposed to provide universal and affordable auto insurance. However, Attorney General David Eby describes ICBC as being on the path to insolvency, or being unable to pay its debts, requiring at least a doubling of rates. As a car driver of over 10 years, I already paid over $1100 for the year of 2017 in January, and I'm certainly not looking forward to that going up.
- However, there is something even more harmful for the economy than unsustainable minimum wage increases and higher auto insurance rates in the short term, and that is a bloated civil service that requires taxpayers to pay way more in taxes every year than they should. According to an article in the Times Colonist, the new NDP provincial government has no immediate plans to consider amalgamating the Greater Victoria capital region's 13 municipalities, but will “imminently” release a report that could result in more integrated services.
- Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said she will share the report with mayors and then the public. What Greater Victoria municipalities choose to do with it is up to them, she said. “Local governments are responsible for making choices about how they want to deliver services — and the governance issues that come along with that. They’re obligated to represent the best interests of their constituents. It’s really up to local governments to decide how to do that. I’m hopeful this report will help them with that." What Robinson doesn't seem to realize is that under the Constitution Act Section 92, municipal governments and "local affairs" are of the exclusive jurisdiction of the provincial governments. So...It actually is the provincial government's responsibility to act on amalgamation. When Toronto was amalgamated in 1998, it was the Progressive Conservative provincial Government led by Mike Harris that created legislation for that to happen, despite municipal governmental opposition.
- Integrating services is one of a string of regional issues the new NDP government has said it will leave up to local authorities to act on. Last week, Robinson said she won’t wade into the dysfunctional Nanaimo council’s turmoil and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he didn’t have plans to amalgamate Greater Victoria’s police departments.
- The problem with leaving amalgamation up to municipal governments to deal with is that they will usually never carry through with it on their own, as it would lead to a reduction of not just mayors and councillors, but civil servants as well. THe NDP government leaving it up to them to decide if they'll keep their job is just as bad as letting politicians set their own wages.
- Furthermore, the idea of studying some form of amalgamation was already put to the electorate in eight of the 13 municipalities in the November 2014 municipal election. Seventy-five per cent of voters supported the idea. The amalgamation questions differed in each municipality, with 5 supporting a study or analysis of the benefits of amalgamation, and the other 3 outright asking for yes or no on the topic of amalgamation. The only municipality of the 8 to not have a majority voting in favour for some form of amalgamation was Oak Bay, the richest municipality with a strong independent identity.
- In the wake of the vote, the B.C. Liberal government said it would do a governance study and provide staff and resources to communities interested at looking at amalgamation. In 2015, then-premier Christy Clark’s mandate letter to community minister Peter Fassbender instructed him to "develop and present options to cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016."
- Former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott’s company Circle Square Consulting, and Urban Systems won a 2016 bid to work with the 13 capital region governments to “explore ways to integrate services and governance” — but not amalgamation. The $95,000 report is expected to identify the integrated services that already exist, suggest what else could be done and chart a potential path forward. It is almost one year behind in its expected release. However, despite the buzz around it, the topic of amalgamation was conspicuously absent from the mandate letter Premier John Horgan issued to Robinson on July 24.
- An earlier article by the Times Colonist asks a very important question: "What’s the price of democracy?"
- Greater Victoria property taxpayers paid a total of just over $2 million in salary and expenses for the 91 part-time mayors and councillors in the region’s 13 municipalities. The figure is more than double the $826,000 paid for the nine-member council in Surrey which, with a population of 403,131, is larger than Greater Victoria, population 367,770.
- “I think if you were to compare the [municipalities in] the Capital Regional District and Surrey you would see that they are far more efficient in their delivery of services in Surrey than the capital region is,” said former Victoria councillor Shellie Gudgeon, newly elected chair of Amalgamation Yes. She said that the concern her organization has is not necessarily with the 91 elected officials but with the 13 bureaucracies that support them. “That’s where tens of millions of dollars is being wasted,” she said.
- Salaries of elected officials are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to municipal spending. For example, the combined salaries of Greater Victoria’s 13 top municipal managers alone in 2016 was more than $2 million.
- With all this money being wasted on unnecessary civil service, having 91 mayors and councillors, and with most of the municipalities polled on the issue in favour, the question remains, why is the NDP government stalling on this issue?
- Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt stepped down from the UCP caucus on Tuesday night. He’s currently sitting as an independent MLA. Interim UCP leader Nathan Cooper has said that Fildebrandt will remain where he is for the time being but did not rule out a path to returning to the UCP caucus.
- Listeners may recall last week that we touched on the story of Derek Fildebrandt renting out his taxpayer funded Edmonton apartment on Airbnb. Between January and March Fildebrandt claimed $7,720 in accommodation but also rented the apartment to 8 different Airbnb clients for a total of $2,555. Once this came out he paid this amount to the Alberta treasury to pay down the provincial debt.
- This past Monday, however, it was revealed that Derek Fildebrandt also claimed reimbursement for restaurant expenses and a daily meal allowance 5 times over the span of 2.5 years. The total price? $192.60
- The story continued on Tuesday with the revelation that Fildebrandt will be appearing in court next month on a traffic violation. He failed to report an accident that allegedly occurred in Edmonton. The matter is not criminal and falls under Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act.
- This story dominated the provincial news cycle in Alberta for most of the week until the media and the NDP government focused on our firing line segment which you’ll hear about a little bit later. The question that should be asked is, were the stories that were of higher precedence to cover than a debt of $192.60? As we mentioned last week the Airbnb rental of the Edmonton apartment raises some serious ethical issues for government as a whole and a traffic violation is a huge matter for an elected official. But one must ask what the actual reasoning was for this story to dominate most of the provincial weekly news cycle.
- The United Conservative Party is less than a month old, a leadership race is underway, and there was some speculation that Derek Fildebrandt would run. He set up a PAC to organize and raise money ahead of a potential leadership bid to focus on libertarian conservative policies. It’s been reported that he would have had the support of Maxime Bernier who came in second in this year’s federal Conservative leadership race. The timing is a little bit odd for all of this to come to the forefront in the middle of a leadership race. It’s widely expected that this info on Fildebrandt was sitting and waiting to be dumped at the right time. It’s all a little too convenient to appear within the midst of a leadership race. But the NDP and mainstream media had zero issues covering it.
- What’s more, relating to the housing allowances, it has been revealed that 31 of the 63 MLAs allowed to claim housing expenses actually claimed the max of $1930/mo! What was more shocking in that it didn’t make the TV news cycle and was near the end of the Edmonton Journal story on the matter was that the NDP is involved as well! At least 2 NDP MLAs from Edmonton and 2 from Calgary have been claiming expenses for housing, the two from Calgary are Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Such and Calgary-Curie MLA Brian Malkinson. The two from Edmonton who share a home each claim $17,000 per year in living expenses. It’s not just these 4 but also MLAs such as Shaye Anderson who live only about 30 minutes away from Edmonton. This is a widespread problem with the way housing expenses are allocated in the provincial government.
- Before we wrap up on this we’ll talk about the good that has come from this aside from the media hypocrisy. The UCP is undertaking an internal audit for expenses. It’s been revealed that many in the UCP caucus have made expense errors but the total for the entirety of the UCP caucus was $557.30. The most egregious were Don MacIntyre at $180 and Dave Rodney at $154. The other 7 each had irregularities of under $100. So while the Derek Fildebrandt case is unfortunate and highly hypocritical the rest of the United Conservative Caucus is undergoing an expense audit and taking steps to ensure that expenses will be reported and expensed properly.
- When it comes to the issue of immigration and the migrants literally walking over the Canada-USA border illegally, it's certainly something that we've talked about at length. It's hard to talk about it again without retreading, but there has been new numbers on that front, and a few articles have come out recently that highlight the very real problem that Canada is currently experiencing with its immigration.
- The number of illegal migrants that have crossed the border into Quebec in August was first broken by the BBC of all news outlets, with the staggering number of over 3800 in just the first 2 weeks of August alone. This is almost half again as much as the more than 7500 people that have arrived from January 1st to July 31st. As we mentioned in previous episodes, warmer weather would cause more to flee the United States and into Canada, and it appears that international media outlets, like CNN, BBC and others have picked up on this as well, mentioning that many migrants in Montreal are being held in temporary shelters and in Olympic Stadium.
- The military is also building a tent village near the major border crossing of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. "Setting up tents, this is something obviously we're quite familiar with, we're pretty good at doing this," said Maj. Yves Desbiens, the spokesperson on the ground for the Canadian Armed Forces. "But in terms of these capacities, this is not something we do often."
- The BBC article notes "Both provincial and federal officials are concerned that misinformation about Canada's refugee system is being propagated through social media, helping fuel the influx." For misinformation propagated through social media, one only has to look at Justin Trudeau's tweet back in January when this issue started becoming worse when he said "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada". The tweet now has almost 800,000 likes and 450,000 retweets.
- Immigration spokesperson Louis Dumas addressed the false information circulating among Haitians on social media in the United States, namely a WhatsApp message that says Canada is inviting people to make asylum claims. "It is not a message from the government of Canada; strict processes are in place for all people claiming asylum, regardless of how they enter into Canada," he said.
- The RCMP notes that staggering numbers have entered the country in the recent summer months, but that there are currently no larger security concerns. "Our officers have to check the identification of each individual to ensure they do not represent a danger or a threat to the Canadian population. We can assure you that the only law they've broken is entering the country illegally," RCMP spokesperson Claude Castonguay said.
- CBSA spokesperson Patrick Lefort said the RCMP is transferring around 200 to 300 asylum claimants per day to the official border crossing at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, though that number can fluctuate daily. He said in recent days there have been around 1,000 to 1,200 asylum seekers at the Lacolle crossing waiting for their claims to be processed. While underscoring that Canada remains an "open, welcoming country" to all those seeking asylum, Lefort said crossing the border between entry points is illegal and there are no "free passes" into the country.
- A majority of those arriving in the current wave are from Haiti and were living legally in the US. In May, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would end the programme that extended temporary protection from deportation to Haitian citizens after the devastating 2010 earthquake. However, later in May, the Trump administration reconsidered the decision and extended the deadline another 6 months, to allow for better preparation. That protection is due to expire in January 2018.
- Quebec's premier Philippe Couillard has called the issue a very delicate situation. "It is unfortunate that these very vulnerable people were convinced that admission as a refugee in Canada and here in Quebec would be simple, even automatic. That's not the case at all. There is no guarantee that asylum applications will be accepted, given the strict rules that govern them."
- According to Douglas Todd, a writer for the Vancouver Sun, there has also been a new report out of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that officials are pondering over. Todd mentions that with the backlash against the words "assimilation" and "integration", like with the Manitoba license plate story I talked about on Episode 28, officials are now using the words "absorptive capacity", which the report defines as “a two-way process that encourages adjustment on the part of both the newcomer and the receiving society.” I'm not sure about how everyone else feels, but that sounds a lot like assimilation to me. But that's besides the point.
- As Todd writes, the internal report, obtained under an access to information request, shows that immigration analysts are worried that the “absorptive capacity” of Canada is going down. "Declining outcomes of recent immigrants have shown that integration is not automatic,” says the report, which surveys emerging problems with immigration flows and the pressure it’s putting on Canadian sectors.
- While some Canadians behave as if it’s xenophobic to question immigration policy, immigration rates and their results, the sweeping in-house government report, titled Evidence-Based Levels and Mix: Absorptive Capacity, does exactly that. It shows that integration of immigrants into Canada, despite relative success here compared to most countries, is faltering – in regards to housing, jobs, health care, education, religious tensions, ethnic enclaves and transit.
- Some key points in the report are ones that are probably well known to government officials:
- Immigrants are struggling to find housing - not really surprising as housing prices in the largest cities where most immigrants live have been skyrocketing over the past decade.
- Immigrants have difficulties getting health care - Also not surprising, as the health care system as a whole is experiencing system shock with the baby boomers moving through the system.
- Immigrants are not dispersing across the country - 2/3 of immigrants live in either Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal, the 3 largest cities. So the report says the "absorptive capacity" is only being tested in our largest cities
- Language gaps are expanding - Despite language requirements, it's found that many recent immigrants aren't passing on English or French to their kids, and that 3 in 10 Canadian born children of immigrants require remedial ESL training, suggesting a lack of language integration in the home among the parents.
- Ethnic enclaves are expanding - Immigrants are settling near others of the same origin or language, creating enclaves in cities. This is something that has been happening for many years, but with the recent increase of immigrants it's more pronounced now.
- Tensions exist over religious differences - “Religious and cultural accommodation continues to be an issue regarding practices that are deemed in conflict with Canada’s institutions,” the report says, naming “forced marriages” and “family violence issues” as major hurdles.
- Transit hassles abound for immigrants - Transit is not as developed in the suburbs where immigrants are settling, and it's putting a major strain on the system as a whole
- Despite trying to be frank about Canada’s immigration difficulties, the report notes the country is recognized as “a world leader in creating an environment that enables newcomers to settle and become active, productive and connected citizens.” Canada is ranked third out of the 31 countries that welcome immigrants. The Migration Integration Policy Index rates only Sweden and Portugal as doing better at absorbing newcomers.
- Despite Canada’s strong ranking, the Immigration department’s report notes another disturbing finding, which could have long-term repercussions. Second-generation visible minority immigrants, compared to first-generation immigrants, are more likely to “perceive” they’ve been subject to discrimination. Poll results suggesting 43 per cent of Canada’s second-generation visible minority citizens are convinced they’re being treated unfairly may point to an expanding crack in the dream of cultural integration.
- As for coming up with better policies, the report makes it clear Immigration officials are often in a fog about the overall effects of large-scale immigration on Canada, not to mention the impact of international students and temporary foreign workers. There is “no comprehensive stock-taking on how Canadian institutions and cities are adapting” to immigrants and other foreign nationals, says the report. The knowledge vacuum exists across housing, health care, the regional job market, transit and more. The internal departmental report is, in effect, a muted cry for help, so those who make immigration policy can stop flying mostly in the dark.
The Firing Line
- While we’ve already talked about the expense issues of Derek Fildebrandt and what this has lead to in the party and the Alberta government as a whole, there’s another story this week that the media has had a field day in covering this week. UCP leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer earlier this week called on other leadership candidates to denounce The Rebel, the right of centre media outlet run by Ezra Levant.
- Last Saturday The Rebel had a reporter at the Charlotteville Virginia protests. Doug Schweitzer issued a tweet calling the coverage “absolutely wrong” tagging both Jason Kenney and Brian Jean saying that, “you can’t give them a pass.” Schweitzer accused The Rebel of defending Nazis in its coverage. The very essence of journalism is to cover events no matter how reprehensible they may be. There may have been some unprofessional comments issued live via Periscope on Saturday and The Rebel’s correspondent, Faith Goldy, went on an interview with a neo-nazi podcast whose name won’t be repeated here in order to not give them extra coverage but the event here in Alberta has been taken grossly out of context.
- In the week both Brian Jean and Jason Kenney did end up denouncing The Rebel and clarifying that they haven’t given interviews or supported what The Rebel has been doing in quite some time. Brian Jean echoed Schweitzer shortly after his initial tweet, just over an hour to be precise. Jason Kenney criticized the violence a few hours after it happened via Twitter and explained his relationship with The Rebel by mid-week. This should have been the end of the story but it just kept getting weirder as the week progressed. NDP house leader Brian Mason held a news conference to denounce The Rebel and took swipes at various UCP leadership candidates. Brian Mason associated that Brian Jean and Jason Kenney both had “associations” with The Rebel but he did not provide any actual evidence toward these associations.
- Let us recall that Jason Kenney was immigration minister in the Harper government and brought a record number of visible minorities to Canada over his tenure as immigration minister. It’s pretty hard to believe that someone who advocated for wide immigration to Canada and was a champion for newcomers could be branded as a racist or white supremacist by association as Brian Mason was inferring.
- While this should have been the end of the story without the Brian Mason news conference the story just kept progressing and became substantially weirder over the week. The Rebel was hit by a string of people leaving the organization: Ottawa correspondent Brian Lilley, contributor Barbara Kay, and historical contributor John Robson just to name a few. Faith Goldy was also fired by The Rebel this week for her appearance on the podcast following the protests and attack in Charlottesville. For what it’s worth, Ezra Levant issued a public memo condemning the racism in Charlottesville and the alt-right earlier this week. The media covered this with their usual vigour as they don’t like what The Rebel does or has done in the past and at least here in Alberta, linked it with the ongoing UCP leadership candidates except Doug Schweitzer.
- The story continued throughout the week with the revelation that Ezra was being blackmailed by some young men who were previously part of his UK team. They allege that the finances of The Rebel in Canada aren’t what they appear to be and The Rebel is pocketing money from its fundraising campaigns. Ezra says that this is not the case. It’s not clear right now who’s correct in their assessment, Ezra here in Canada or his former UK team. What’s truly bizarre though is what this has resulted in: pieces from Canada’s media chronicling the debacle with a continued focus on conservative politicians in Canada.
- To name a few headlines:
- From Global: A fight over a four-bedroom house: The Rebel Media meltdown and the full recording at the centre of the controversy
- From CBC: Ezra Levant's 'damage control' not enough for UCP leadership hopeful taking on The Rebel
- From The Globe and Mail: Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes’s path to the far-right frontier
- And from the National Post, an 11,000+ word piece entitled: Inside Rebel Media, How Ezra Levant built an extreme media juggernaut, became a major player in the far-right movement, and watched it all begin to unravel
- While the future of The Rebel remains uncertain, what is certain is that the media had a field day with The Rebel, the UCP leadership race, and the excessive coverage that this provided for the week.
Word of the Week
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Right Absorptive Capacity
Teaser: The NDP rules out amalgamation in Victoria despite local support, the media overcovers AB MLA Fildebrandt leaving the UCP, 3800 illegal migrants in August already and a lack of immigrant integration, and the meltdown at The Rebel. What’s true, what isn’t?
Recorded Date: August 19, 2017
Release Date: August 20, 2017
Edit Notes: None