The News Rundown
- It was budget week in Ottawa this week with Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland issuing her budget.
- The budget forecasts a $40.1b deficit, $43b in new spending, and no path to balance through 2027-28 where the budget deficit will shrink to $14b. With this the debt will also climb by more than $50b in the coming years.
- One would hope that the budget deficit would be so tiny you could barely even see it.
- But that is not the case. At all.
- In fact the last fiscal update said for the end of this year we were looking at a $36.4b deficit but that is up to $43b.
- In the House of Commons the Finance Minister described the budget as one exercising “fiscal restraint” saying, “By exercising fiscal restraint, we are ensuring that we can continue to invest in Canadians and in the Canadian economy for years to come.”
- NDP leader Jagmeet Singh took a victory lap because he was able to get his dental plan in the budget with the pharmacare plan yet to be announced even though it was promised for 2023.
- The budget also includes a one-time top up to the GST rebate billed a grocery rebate, but people won’t have to spend the money on groceries.
- This is by far the biggest spending item in the budget and one of the only measures aimed at going after the rising costs of everything in our economy.
- The government tried to present as though they were going after affordability by cracking down on fees that are attached to things like concert tickets and airplane baggage costs.
- But on the other side of the coin there will be a 33% increase in the travellers security charge which works out to about $35 on international flights.
- The government is also moving towards offering tax credits for things that produce clean energy or are in the field of emerging clean technologies.
- In economics, the product that is most economical is the one that will be bought or produced. It’s simple. It means that for green technology to be adopted and to reduce emissions, those products that do that must be more economical than their fossil fuel counterparts.
- We’re not there yet but we are heading in that direction as Alberta has recently demonstrated.
- This raises the question, if the federal government is willing to give tax credits to corporations to go green, why are end users paying the bulk of the bill?
- The federal government acknowledged that the Alberta government’s TIER Plan (basically a corporate carbon tax) was acceptable signalling that this is an area where moves can be made and they understand.
- So with that we have to ask, why did the carbon tax go up on April 1? And yes, the carbon tax is still planned to increase as per this budget.
- The government plans to also increase taxes on banks and insurance companies by changing the tax rules regarding dividends they get from Canadian businesses. This is expected to bring in $3.2b over 5 years but as we know, there’s always the chance these will be passed on to the consumers in higher costs. There is no guarantee from the federal government that they will limit the banks and investment firms from doing just that.
- There will also be a 2% tax on stock buybacks and an increase in the “alternative minimum tax”, a tax system that has fewer deductions, often used when dealing with things like capital gains and investment income.
- The most incessant thing about this budget is that Global News doesn’t mention the actual deficit values anywhere in some of their reports and the CBC published their budget story with a headline containing the words “government spending cuts”.
- New spending does not equal cuts.
- The hardest pill to swallow for Canadians though is that the budget does nothing to improve the affordability crisis, let alone the housing crisis.
- And yes, economists feel this budget will further fuel inflation.
- The only housing program in the budget is the previously announced $925m Housing Accelerator Fund from last year’s budget.
- B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said, “I am disappointed there doesn’t seem to be funding for the housing that we have been asking for.”
- And this comes from a budget where 6 of 269 pages were devoted to housing under the heading “An Affordable Place to Call Home.”
- Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews took a more macro view saying, “While the budget does acknowledge the federal government’s burdensome environmental impact assessment process, there’s nothing in this budget that will fundamentally change the narrative on business investment that’s been stagnant since 2015… We are concerned by the level of spending and lack of fiscal responsibility exhibited in this budget and its contribution to the country’s already worrisome debt levels. This is a budget that will encumber Canadians and Albertans with a doubling of debt servicing costs over the course of the fiscal plan.”
- Conservative Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre said that, “Unless Justin Trudeaus cancels his planned tax hikes and inflation deficit spending that have driven up the cost of living to 40 year highs, we will vote against this budget. We want to bring home a country that works for the people who do the work in this country.”
- Poilievre also would not comment on whether or not the Conservatives would keep the dental plan which is in line with what we talked about last week, hold the government to account, don’t reveal your election platform so you become the talking point.
- The most poignant note came from Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell who said that with this budget, the only one talking to the working class is Pierre Poilievre.
- He also ran with the headline, Justin Trudeau’s Canada is located in Cloud Cuckooland. We’ll leave that to the listener to determine whether that’s true or a sensationalist headline.
- Canada is facing a spate of increased violent crime in 2023, and differing incidents across the country, mainly in the big cities have people concerned about taking transit. One of the issues with the increase in crime is that the revolving door of the court system simply lets the criminals back out onto the street until they commit a major crime, and even then, it's hard for victim's families to see real justice.
- Random, unprovoked murders in public spaces — once an exceedingly rare facet of the Canadian crime landscape — are becoming more frequent. Within hours on the weekend, Canada was witness to two separate unprovoked fatal stabbings that occurred in the cores of two of the country’s largest cities.
- One in Toronto saw a 16-year-old boy, Gabriel Magalhaes, stabbed to death while waiting on a bench in a TTC subway station. The other saw a 37-year-old man, Paul Schmidt, fatally attacked in front of his wife and young daughter outside a Vancouver Starbucks.
- In the latter, a gruesome cell phone video captured by a bystander showed the bloody aftermath of the attack. A dazed Schmidt can be seen clutching his stomach outside a Starbucks at Granville and Pender streets before collapsing motionless to the sidewalk amid puddles of his own blood.
- Kathy Schmidt said her son’s fiancée, Ashley Umali, told her she was inside getting drinks while Paul and daughter Erica in a stroller waited outside the café at Granville and West Pender streets. The confrontation started when the victim asked the suspect to not vape near his toddler, said the victim’s mother.
- The Toronto stabbing of 16 year old Gabriel Magalhaes occurred with even less warning. The teenager was reportedly sitting on a bench when he was approached and stabbed, later dying of his injuries in hospital. Ironically, his family moved to Canada from Sao Paulo Brazil in 2000 in order to avoid the city’s unchecked violence.
- A 22-year-old, suspect has been arrested in the killing of Magalhaes and charged with first-degree murder. As with many suspects charged with random slayings of late, he was out on bail at the time of the killing. Magalhaes was fatally injured not far from where a similar attack occurred in December. In that case, 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska was randomly murdered by a man wielding an ice pick.
- Professor Murtaza Haider, director of research at the Urban Analytics Institute of Toronto Metropolitan University, said Canada needs standardized data on violence on transit systems to help tackle issues ranging from a lack of mental health supports to eroding public trust, and says that the public should have easy access to such information.
- Haider collected data on all violent incidents from the Toronto Police Service between January 2014 and June 2022 and said his recent analysis showed 7,306 incidents were reported on the city's transit system during that time.
- He noted a sharp spike in violent crime, mostly at stations, which are operated by the Toronto Transit Commission. In February 2021, nearly 12 violent incidents were reported per one million riders, compared with two incidents for the same number of riders in 2019, Haider said.
- Data is one way that transit agencies and experts are trying to come up with solutions to violence that has reached "crisis levels," according to comments by the head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Canada in January.
- The problem in Canada right now is that it's not just unprovoked violence that's on the rise. Femicides, or homicides involving women and girl victims, also hit a new high in Canada in 2022.
- And as an update to the Nova Scotia shooting, an inquest has found that police “significant and extensive systemic inadequacies and failures,” particularly in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s response, and it assailed authorities for ignoring warnings about the gunman’s history of violence and illegal firearms.
- What we see from the past few year's history is that the federal government approach towards crime is not working. The restrictive gun policies are not helping the violent crime rate go down, and a lack of mental health initiatives, combined with huge economic pressures has led to so many cascading problems in Canada right now that it's hard to know where to start to fix these issues.
- It's clear something needs to change. What this federal government has been doing for the past few years has clearly failed. It's time to act to replace this government with one that will actually protect its citizens rather than one that just says it will.
- This week much of the news in Alberta has been about a conversation that took place in January between Danielle Smith and Pastor Artur Pawlowski who is facing charges for breaching COVID restrictions and being a part of the Coutts blockade last year.
- Pawlowski is a controversial figure not only to do with what he has been charged with but also the content on his social media profiles.
- The question of the Premier’s judgement here is valid, Pawlowski is not the type of person that the Premier should be associating with.
- The video in question shows Smith saying she asked weekly about where the prosecution process is and if there’s a chance of conviction.
- She also made note that she would not be able to influence the case since she had learnt that Premier’s don’t have the power of clemency like a US Governor or President does. She also noted that she could not influence the judicial process since that’s the same kind of mess that Justin Trudeau got involved in with SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson Raybould.
- The NDP held a press conference this week airing the 11 minute conversation which was posted to Pawlowski’s YouTube channel and later deleted - more on that later.
- Back in January the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service investigated and found no emails between the Premier’s Office and themselves. They continued to say “This unsubstantiated speculation harms the reputation of the ACPS and does a disservice to the dedicated professionals in ACPS who carry out their work with unwavering integrity.”
- This was about the same time that the CBC said they had seen emails from unnamed source regarding this very matter that spurred the investigation.
- In responding to the story from CBC, Danielle Smith herself said that she spoke to Artur Pawlowski.
- And that is the missing context from most of the coverage this week on this story. Danielle Smith said the conversation took place in January, the video has now just surfaced.
- The video was posted in January and after the story broke this week was deleted.
- The video as shown by the NDP has been archived and in that video there are times at which Pawlowski gets frustrated with the Premier for not moving quick enough and delivering what he wants.
- With the video deleted there are questions that need to be answered, why would a video recorded by Pawlowski himself make its way to the NDP?
- What is the point of unearthing something that was put to bed in January and had no further articles written by other outlets (as we saw with the China situation federally)?
- And why is the true motive of this story being ignored?
- The answer to all these questions is that the video was likely sent to the NDP by Pawlowski himself and the media either failed to connect these dots or doesn’t care since it’s a juicy story.
- The first conversation in January was setting the table for action by the Premier. With nothing done, the video was leaked to put pressure on or damage the Premier and help the NDP.
- The way people like Pawlowski operate on the far-right political scene today have no problem with burning down the house that is going to be most beneficial to them. Biting the hand that feeds them.
- 100% clear, conversation with Pawlowski is 100% objectionable.
- We should be concerned that Danielle Smith had a conversation with Pawlowski. We should be alarmed that the media didn’t connect these dots but is anyone surprised about that at this point?
- The most interesting part will be to see if this story resonates since sentiment polls have shown that people are done with COVID policy and re-treading the pandemic is unlikely to be a vote winner.
- It also shows that in the coming campaign to get to the core of what all parties are saying we’ll need to trust what the media says but also be sure to verify their reporting and verify where they are coming from and if they have missed any parts of the picture.
- The Liberals have appointed a dubious choice to replace the retiring ethics commissioner, the independent officer of Parliament that's intended to keep the government honest in its ethical dealings, including in areas of conflict of interest.
- It was announced earlier this week that Martine Richard had been appointed to the role for a period of six months after the previous commissioner, Mario Dion, retired last month. Richard is the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who himself has violated ethics rules in the past.
- Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett first raised the issue during question period on Wednesday. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took his own crack at the government over the appointment during Thursday's question period.
- Poilievre asked: "When is this Liberal government going to run out of family and friends to appoint as independent officers?", citing the recent appointment of David Johnston as the special rapporteur on election interference. The Conservatives have criticized Johnston's appointment, citing his relationship with the Trudeau family and his role with the Trudeau Foundation.
- Liberal House Leader Mark Holland responded to both questions by pointing out that Richard has held a senior position in the ethics commissioner's office for years and initially was hired when Stephen Harper was prime minister, while also insisting that Richard's appointment was subject to an ethical screening.
- Holland said: "[Richard] has absolutely made hard decisions on this government … and comported themselves with total professionalism."
- But Richard's appointment is also alarming the party currently in a governance deal with the Liberals. NDP House Leader Peter Julian said Thursday that Richard's appointment was "not appropriate." He said: "We believe the ethics commissioner needs to be above any reproach, particularly at a time when we're seeing more questioning of our fundamental institutions."
- The Bloc Québécois also released a statement questioning Richard's appointment: "If there is one function that must be free from any appearance of conflict of interest, it is this one. The Liberals are obviously not respecting these standards with this choice and are themselves casting a shadow on the independence of the post."
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who became the first prime minister to find himself on the wrong side of federal conflict of interest rules, is defending the appointment of senior Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc's sister-in-law as Canada's interim ethics commissioner.
- He said: "The interim ethics commissioner has been a senior official in the ethics commissioner's office for over 10 years now. [She] first started under Stephen Harper, and has done excellent work under the previous ethics commissioner, including replacing him for stretches when he was on medical leave for some serious health problems. And secondly, if there is any office in the country that understands how to manage conflicts of interests and ethical perception issues, it is that office there that has always done exceptional work at ensuring the confidence of Canadians," said Trudeau.
- Appearing alongside Trudeau on Friday, Dominic LeBlanc told reporters that he did not at all participate in the process that lead to Richard's appointment. Back in 2018 LeBlanc was found to have breached conflict of interest rules, in connection to granting an Arctic surf clam licence to a company that employed one of his wife's 60 first cousins.
- Arguing at the time that he did not have a close relationship with the family member in question, LeBlanc said he "obviously didn't think that this was caught by the definition of relative or family in the act."
- Richard is set to hold the role for six months, while "an open, transparent and merit-based selection process" gets underway to name the next permanent ethics watchdog following Dion's February retirement.
- The Liberal government is also cutting the pay of the next person hired to oversee its ethical issues by more than $110,000 per year, even though the outgoing ethics commissioner recently criticized the government for not taking ethics “more seriously.”
- Up to now, all three of Canada’s ethics commissioners, Mary Dawson, Mario Dion and current interim appointee Martine Richard, were paid the same salary as a Federal Court judge, which is $338,800. The promised salary for the job opening starts at $228,900 and can reach up to $269,200.
- The last permanent ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, resigned in late February with two years left in his seven-year mandate because of health concerns. During his tenure, he found five senior Liberals in violation of ethics laws, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cabinet ministers Dominic LeBlanc and Mary Ng, former minister Bill Morneau and parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus.
- In an interview during his last week in office, Dion lambasted the government for failing to take ethics seriously. Dion said: “The public has to believe that ethics are taken seriously, and they have yet to have any big evidence of that since 2018. The (Conflict of Interest) Act has been there for 17 years for God’s sake, so maybe the time has come to do something different so that we don’t keep repeating the same errors. After 17 years, maybe we should realize that something is not working,”
- Ethics Commissioner’s office spokesperson Melanie Rushworth confirmed that eight years before she joined the office, Richard also made a $200 donation in 2005 to the Liberal Party riding association where LeBlanc ran.
- “There is nothing inappropriate with Ms. Richard having made a donation in 2005 prior to her employment with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner in 2013,” Rushworth said in a statement.
- For government ethics expert Robert Shepherd, Richard’s nomination as interim commissioner will do damage to the office’s reputation. The government “could have given a little bit more careful thought to the appointment,” he said. “If this office was truly this important to the Government of Canada, they would have thought through this a little bit more.”
- It's clear that with this appointment we're just seeing more of the same from the Trudeau government: a corrupt, self-serving government that rewards the Laurentian elite and Liberal friends and allies, all while the rest of the country is in dire straits. It's time we had a government that took the job seriously.
Quote of the Week
“The public has to believe that ethics are taken seriously, and they have yet to have any big evidence of that since 2018. The (Conflict of Interest) Act has been there for 17 years for God’s sake, so maybe the time has come to do something different so that we don’t keep repeating the same errors. After 17 years, maybe we should realize that something is not working,” - Retiring Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion on the Trudeau government’s repeated ethical transgressions
Word of the Week
Unprovoked - an attack or a display of aggression not caused by anything done or said.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Cloud Cuckooland
Teaser: Chrystia Freeland’s budget includes $43b in new spending, 2023 sees an increase in unprovoked violence, and Danielle Smith speaks with a controversial pastor. Also, Dominic Leblanc’s sister-in-law is appointed as interim ethics commissioner.
Recorded Date: April 1, 2023
Release Date: April 2, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes