The News Rundown
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named Amira Elghawaby as Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia, who is tasked with aiding Ottawa in tackling hate as communities have urged the government to take action following violent attacks toward Muslims.
- Elghawaby, a self-described human rights advocate and journalist who has contributed columns for the Toronto Star, was appointed following "an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process," according to the statement. She is also a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
- According to a statement from Trudeau’s office, Elghawaby will provide advice to the federal government in developing inclusive policies and programs and to support the government’s efforts in increasing public education and awareness around Islamophobia.
- Trudeau said in the press release: “Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar. We need to change that. No one in our country should experience hatred because of their faith.”
- Appointing a special representative was one of the recommendations made to the federal government coming out of a 2021 virtual National Summit on Islamophobia. The summit, which had been long-called for by Muslim communities across the country, was hosted in the wake of the truck attack that killed four members of the Afzaal family in London, Ont. in June 2021. Filling this position comes just days before the anniversary of the Jan. 29, 2017, attack on a mosque in Quebec City, which has been designated a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia.
- Elghawaby will be specifically tasked with advising Ottawa around policy-making and with “legislative proposals, programs, and regulations” that reflect the realities of Muslims in Canada, according to the press release.
- As well, she will provide advice and guidance to ministers to “improve efforts to track and monitor incidents of anti-Muslim hatred and violence across Canada,” and promote “public awareness and understanding” of Muslim communities in Canada through events and commemoration.
- The problem with appointing media personalities to political positions is that their opinions tend to be a matter of public record. In this case, a 2019 article written by Elghawaby in the Ottawa Citizen was highlighted by Quebec newspaper La Presse as being anti-Quebec as she denounced what she referred to as the inherent Islamophobia of Quebecers . Elghawaby had written: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers seem influenced not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.”
- The article was co-authored by Bernie Farber, president of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former director of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Both authors opposed the State Secularism Act, Bill 21, which prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by state employees in positions of authority, including teachers. They relied on a Leger poll conducted in May 2019 for the Association for Canadian Studies, according to which 88% of Quebecers who had a negative perception of Islam supported this law from the Legault government.
- Elghawaby defended herself in an interview while maintaining that her column had been misunderstood: “I want to be very clear. I do not believe that the vast majority of Quebecers are Islamophobic.”
- Jean-François Roberge, the Quebec Minister of the French Language and Canadian Relations, said that Elghawaby should clarify, and that the statements of the new representative of Canada in the fight against Islamophobia are “unacceptable” and demonstrate a “prejudice against Quebecers”.
- Roberge said: “The Government of Quebec and Quebecers are not racists. There may be racists in Quebec, as there are in the rest of Canada and as there are in the rest of the world. There may be people who are anti-Muslim and I regret that. […] But to call Quebecers anti-Muslims, to say that the law on secularism reflects anti-Muslim sentiment, is to show a great misunderstanding of who Quebeckers are and what the law is.”
- It's interesting that the unearthed comments about Elghawaby's previous sentiments on Quebec only showed up in a French Language paper, and a short 'political briefing' by the Globe and Mail. It's interesting that when a media member gets appointed to a political position, there are different levels of scrutiny based on their political leanings. We at Western Context believe that all political figures should be scrutinized, regardless of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
- This week in Alberta we take a break from the fake news of the CBC and NDP that is still ongoing in relation to our stories of the past two weeks.
- This week the international credit firm Moody’s raised the province’s long term debt rating from AA2 to AA3 with a rating of “stable”.
- The upgrade note said that the province still faces volatility due to the fluctuations of oil prices but the oil prices above pre-pandemic levels have helped change the fiscal trajectory of the province toward ongoing surpluses.
- The Moody’s assessment also notes that, “the fiscal improvements from continued projected surpluses and significantly lower debt levels over the next two years will allow the province to balance the key pressures from inflation and fluctuating resource prices.”
- This work started when Travis Toews became finance minister and one of the UCP’s core election mandates under Premier Jason Kenney was to bring the budget back to balance.
- This is an abstract concept for many people largely because they either don’t have a full understanding of economics or see economics as political in nature.
- But it boils down to a simple fact, if a province carries more debt their credit rating will go down unless they have an active plan to repay that debt.
- This is what happened under the NDP’s tenure when they increased spending, increased the debt all while world oil prices hit some of the lowest marks we had seen until early 2020.
- Under the NDP we saw numerous credit downgrades and this further eroded investor confidence. We talked many times about how the economy can be a psychological engine.
- This news from today was barely reported and is a sign of the province’s fiscal turnaround.
- Yes, it is helped by energy prices but it’s also a matter of policy that was put in place by the UCP including Jason Kenney and finance minister Travis Toews.
- The credit upgrade assessment also notes that “revenue levels will remain sufficient to offset inflationary expense pressures resulting in sustained surpluses.”
- What this means at its core is that budget surpluses matter in the sense that they are able to offset inflationary pressures for the treasury resulting in jurisdictions not requiring measures to increase revenue like raising taxes.
- Moody’s also sees a “moderately negative” rating on environmental, social, and governance considerations that reflect “highly negative exposure to environmental risks”, in their own words.
- Future credit upgrades have not been ruled out if the current trajectory continues.
- The Canadian Taxpayers Federation also applauded the move saying that, “credit ratings matter because Albertans already pay billions of dollars on interest payments every year and the less money we waste to pay debt interest charges the better.”
- And what this means, translated, is that if the province has more debt and interest rates rise as they have been doing in inflationary periods, with a lower credit rating we’d pay more to service that debt.
- The Alberta government is projected to pay down $13.4 billion of debt, which would be the largest debt repayment in the province’s history. The government has committed to allocating another $10.8 billion over the next three years towards savings and debt reduction. The interest on the Alberta government’s debt is costing taxpayers $2.6 billion this year.
- And this is the crux of the matter, this number doesn’t get discussed. But every time a government, provincial or federal, spends and goes into deficit this number goes up which means more taxpayer money has to be spent on debt interest rather than services.
- Every government service costs you money even if it appears to be free as proponents of our public education, health care, and other systems would often have you believe.
- Finance Minister Travis Toews called the upgrade “wonderful news” and Premier Danielle Smith thanked Travis Toews.
- And a word on the upcoming election, those who want someone “nicer” or someone less inflammatory have to take note that the only two real choices this time are the UCP and NDP.
- The UCP platform in 2019 promised what was announced today and the subsequent debt repayments.
- The NDP would have continued to spend.
- This is where we’re at again as we head into this year's race and why this announcement is so important.
- A Saanich councillor is wanting to change how traffic fines work, and have them tied to income like is seen in countries in Europe. Teale Phelps Bondaroff is proposing that fines should be based on how much money a person makes rather than just a flat rate for everyone.
- He says: "There’s two problems with these fines. The first is that they disproportionately punish people with lower incomes. And the second aspect is they fail to adequately serve as a deterrent to the extra wealthy.”
- Bondaroff, who is one of Saanich's newest councillors elected in 2022, explained that in Finland, they have what’s called a defined system where they take the income of the individual and they figure out what their spending money would be for the day on average. That number is then divided in half.
- Finland made headlines in 2015 when a millionaire businessman received a €54,000 fine for travelling about 20 km/h over the speed limit. Bondaroff said even a $483 ticket, the highest in B.C. for excessive speeding, does not necessarily deter a person who can easily afford that cost.
- Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer, said this is not the first time an idea like this one has been floated. She said: " It would require additional information. The government would have to have tax-related records in order to base the income decisions, and there would have to be regulations put in place to determine what the fine amount would be based on your income, based on your tax returns.”
- However, there could also still be loopholes: if people keep some of their income in offshore accounts; if someone gets pulled over who does not pay taxes in B.C.; or professionals who run their income through a corporation. After all, income does not mean the same thing as wealth. Lee said: “[T]he amount of money that they actually have access to isn’t reflected in personal tax returns. So it does still advantage the wealthy over people who are not wealthy. But there is some leveling of the playing field in that it would give more discretion to the court to impose lower fines for people who aren’t able to afford the existing fines that we already have.”
- Lee said that information is already used by the courts in order to determine child support or family support, for example. A problem with this proposal would be relying on the already overworked courts to do even more work, which is a backlog that premier David Eby has promised to deal with.
- While Bondaroff's proposal got plenty of media attention, it has not received too much in the way of political support. When he raised a motion this past week to the rest of Saanich council, requesting "the provincial government explore the implementation of a means-tested traffic fine system, whereby fines would be calculated on the basis of the recipients' income", the motion stalled because no other councillor seconded it.
- Perhaps the other, more experienced councillors realize that traffic fines are not the purview of municipal councils. Saanich has no authority to change the rules in its municipality, as traffic violation fines are determined by the Motor Vehicle Act, which is a provincial jurisdiction. Correspondence received by the District of Saanich on the issue was split, with some people praising the measure, while others argued it was a tax grab that raised privacy concerns.
- Still, Prior to the Saanich council meeting, B.C. Premier David Eby said the proposal was "interesting." He said: "I think every British Columbian values road safety. [I'm h]appy to look at any suggestion people bring forward. This one is an interesting one, I'll say that."
- Regardless of what Eby decides to do, it's clear that road safety has been a galvanizing issue for municipal councils in the Victoria area. With so many other pressing problems, it's hard to tell exactly how many people view it as a priority for councils to focus on, but at the end of the day, part of being a politician is testing ideas and changes and determining the feasibility.
- While the traffic fine equity changes Bondaroff is pushing for will likely not happen anytime soon, it's clear that this story shows an example of how the political class will use the media for free coverage on an issue and test the waters without putting in too much legwork to figure out the popularity of a change. We at Western Context will be here to determine exactly how these issues are covered, and if they are done so fairly. In this case, yes, but in many others, no. That's why we're here.
- The Canada Revenue Agency, specifically Commissioner Bob Hamilton say it’s not worth the effort to conduct a full review of the more than $15b in pandemic benefits that may have been sent to ineligible recipients.
- The revelation came from the House of Commons public accounts committee when a report was tabled saying that the Auditor General found $4.6b in overpayments to ineligible recipients and an additional $27.4b might have been paid out to ineligible people and businesses.
- The CRA said back in December that they didn’t agree with parts of the Auditor General reports findings.
- Going forward the CRA will be pursuing its existing risk based approach of enforcement. What this means is that it will only review a sample of cases that are likely to be out of concern.
- Bob Hamilton said, “In my view, based on what we’ve seen so far, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.”
- The $15b figure is also a bit of a question too since that figure is based on sales tax data.
- Parsing all of this together, we know the government sent money out but there’s a question of millions, maybe even billions, that could have been paid out in error.
- The $15.5b was paid to employers that did not meet the requirement of showing a clear decline in revenue.
- The Auditor General, Karen Hogan said that the Canada Revenue Agency should go beyond its usual approach and review whether or not rules were followed.
- She said it comes down to fairness, saying, “It’s really the amount of work, the extent of work, that we don’t believe is sufficient in order to meet that fairness threshold of treating every taxpayer – whether they be an individual or business – fairly.”
- She encouraged the government to be more transparent and highlight that there were some problems in the rollout.
- Conservative MP Kelly McCauley could not believe that the CRA was willing to not account for upwards of $15-$25b of taxpayer money.
- Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau also wrote about the pandemic relief payments in his book saying that numerous times the Prime Minister and advisors around the PM routinely overruled the Finance Department for political reasons making the payments more generous than recommended.
- Morneau also commented on the CERB payments saying that the $500/week exceeded the regular take home pay of many part time workers in low income jobs.
- Which mirrors what we saw the economy do in that it was very hard in the re-opening phase for businesses to hire when benefits were more lucrative.
- This is an indictment on pandemic relief policy which at the time anyone going against the flow of money or suggesting it should be lower was chastised greatly.
- This can be attributed to the “fog of war” phase we were in where we didn’t really know what was going on but at the same time, it’s clear now that people with relevant economic experience were shut out of the process.
- Bill Morneau said that the payments were made in the effort to win a popularity contest.
- The urge to do something amongst many Canadians gave support to the plan that came out of the government, it’s clear now that either the plan should have been different or it should have been more closely monitored.
- In closing we’ll also remind our listeners that the Trudeau administration also wanted a blank cheque to be able to spend without consulting Parliament. That was shot down and we still wound up with the missing money highlighted in this story.
- No other media outlet is talking about this yet it’s a huge sum of money that is large even for the federal government. Taxpayers deserve better.
Quote of the Week
“The Government of Quebec and Quebecers are not racists. There may be racists in Quebec, as there are in the rest of Canada and as there are in the rest of the world. There may be people who are anti-Muslim and I regret that. […] But to call Quebecers anti-Muslims, to say that the law on secularism reflects anti-Muslim sentiment, is to show a great misunderstanding of who Quebeckers are and what the law is.” - Jean-François Roberge, the Quebec Minister of the French Language and Canadian Relations on the comments by Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia, Amira Elghawaby
Word of the Week
Benefit - something that produces good or helpful results or effects or that promotes well-being
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Debts and Benefits
Teaser: Trudeau’s first envoy to combat Islamophobia is criticized in Quebec, Alberta’s credit rating gets upgraded, and a BC councillor wants to tie traffic fines to income. Also, the CRA refuses to investigate billions in unaccounted COVID spending.
Recorded Date: January 28, 2023
Release Date: January 29, 2023
Edit Notes: First story start
Podcast Summary Notes