The News Rundown
- This week we return to the case of Chinese secret police stations operating in Canada. The story has expanded with new information that these covert police stations also operated in the United States.
- Our last word from the RCMP on this was that they were investigating the allegations but would not confirm anything about the size, scope, or individuals involved in their investigation. It remains unclear on what stage the RCMP’s investigation is at aside from them issuing a statement this week saying they are “actively investigating.”
- This week Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping were arrested Monday in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy to act as agents of China’s government without informing US authorities and for obstruction of justice.
- They will appear in court on Monday April 24.
- The men worked together to establish the first overseas police stations in the United States. They closed in fall 2022 after the individuals running them became aware the FBI was investigating.
- These police stations were among about 100 operating across 53 different countries after being exposed by human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders.
- Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen from the Justice Department’s National Security Division said, "The PRC's actions go far beyond the bounds of acceptable nation-state conduct. We will resolutely defend the freedoms of all those living in our country from the threat of authoritarian repression.”
- Breon Peace, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said this prosecution “reveals the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of our nation’s sovereignty by establishing a secret police station in the middle of New York City.” Such a police station, he said, “has no place here in New York City – or any American community.”
- The striking nature of these statements comes when compared to what Canadian officials have said. Canadian statements have not been nearly as pointed nor direct in showing what an incursion the Chinese police stations are.
- One reason the FBI was so easily able to arrest these two individuals was the US foreign agent registry. In the US anyone working for a foreign entity has to declare it, if they don’t, they are breaking the law.
- Canada’s foreign agent registry if it is to exist will likely come from Special Rapporteur David Johnston’s report.
- The issue with this becomes clear when we realize that if the RCMP shut down one police station, another could be established by a group of different people immediately after due to our lack of a foreign agent registry.
- Speaking this week Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said, “it is unacceptable that no one has been held accountable for Beijing’s illegal operation of multiple police stations in Canada.”
- Even if it is recommended to enable such a registry in Canada, there has been pushback from within the federal Liberal caucus with MP Chandra Arya sponsoring a petition against it and citing the World War II internment camps as reasons for caution.
- As of recording, Western Context has not heard any updates from Canadian political leaders on this matter. The RCMP has of course responded in saying they work closely with Five Eyes security partners but on this side of the border talk has been quiet from both the media and our institutions.
- At the end of the day this underscores how important it is that the rules in our country change on foreign interference and for our sake we must hope that the actions by the Americans and our intelligence partners are enough to dissuade China and others from interfering covertly in our countries.
- The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced on Tuesday evening that its 155,000 members would go on strike starting Wednesday, after their deadline to have a deal with the government passed. It is the biggest federal public strike since 1991. The union announced last week that its members had voted to support a strike, after two years of contract negotiations with the government have failed to find agreement.
- Wage increases are one of the biggest sticking points in this dispute, with PSAC pushing for 4.5 per cent raises annually over the next three years to keep pace with inflation. The Treasury Board has said it offered a nine per cent raise over three years on Sunday, per the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
- The Trudeau Liberals currently head a minority government that has to-date leaned heavily on Jagmeet Singh's NDP for support to stay in power and pass key legislation through Parliament. The Opposition Conservatives have voted against most Liberal bills, and, to a lesser extent, so has the Bloc Québécois.
- Singh says he will not support any potential back-to-work legislation tabled by the government. He told Trudeau that he would vote against any such bill, even if it was a confidence vote.
- Singh said: “We envision that there might be a scenario where the government would bring it back-to-work legislation. They’ve done it in the past and I said really clearly to them that … we will never support that. I looked directly at the prime minister and said, ‘We’re a workers’ party, we’re not going to support back-to-work legislation. Never consider that as an option for us, because we’re not going to do that.'” he added.
- In a minority government scenario, with the NDP steadfastly against back-to-work legislation, the Liberals will have to turn to either the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives to push the bill through. Historically, the Bloc Québécois positions itself as a working-class party with a strong blue collar base.
- The last time such a bill was tabled in Parliament was by the Trudeau Liberals in 2021, to end a strike at the Port of Montreal. At the time, both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois called on the government to keep negotiating with strikers and voted against the bill.
- Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives supported the Liberals, arguing that a prolonged strike could seriously hurt the country’s economy all the while blaming Liberal incompetence for allowing the situation to fester to the point of a strike.
- On Monday, Conservative treasury board critic Stephanie Kusie argued that Canadians’ access to government services should not be hampered by the Liberals’ inability to reach a deal on time with PSAC.
- Kusie said: “The only reason we find ourselves in the situation we are in is because of Justin Trudeau’s incompetence. One thing is clear: Canadians’ access to basic and essential services should not be compromised by Justin Trudeau’s inability to do his job,” she added.
- But as of Tuesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has remained conspicuously quiet on the battle between the Liberals and PSAC and his office declined to respond to questions about possible back-to-work legislation.
- Larry Savage, a professor in the labour studies department at Brock University said that “Strikes in the federal public service are extremely rare. So the fact that PSAC followed through with job action is really significant.” Savage said that If the current strike by thousands of public sector workers is successful, it could have a domino effect for unionized workers in other industries.
- Almost a third of all federal public servants are involved in the strike, and the union and government alike have warned of disruptions to tax season, border operations, Employment Insurance, immigration and passport applications.
- Union militancy, which includes labour disputes, strike votes and strikes, has been more common amid persistently high inflation, said Savage. And it can be contagious, especially if a strike manages to deliver higher wages and better working conditions. He said the striking workers have been without a contract for around two years, meaning as inflation climbed they saw zero increases in their wages.
- Jock Climie, a management-side labour and employment lawyer with Emond Harnden, agreed that inflation is lending itself to higher militancy in unionized sectors, and that PSAC’s strike could have far-reaching effects beyond its own members.
- “The reality is that when the largest … federal public service union goes on strike and gets what it’s asking for, say they do, it’s going to have a profound impact on every bargaining table that comes after it, not just in the public sector,” he said.
- Normally bargaining works on a relatively consistent cycle, said Climie. In times of fiscal restraint and slow growth, workers make fewer gains, and in times of growth and higher inflation, unions can bargain for more. Inflation in March was 4.2 per cent, down from last summer’s highs but still above the Bank of Canada’s target of two per cent. Meanwhile, in March average hourly wages rose 5.3 per cent.
- As inflation comes down, it will be easier for unions to match it with wage gains — but they have a lot of catching up to do if they want to actually make up for the purchasing power their workers have lost, said Savage. But a lower inflation rate could have a psychological effect that makes workers less militant, he said. However, unions will be fighting for higher wage gains over the next couple of years as contracts expire, even if that militancy wanes, said Savage.
- So not only has higher inflation, fueled by the Trudeau government's policies caused Canadians' purchasing power to fall rapidly, but wages have stagnated, allowing the public sector to fall behind, which has led to major delays in people trying to access government services. And now, a huge strike which comes after many people are trying to just keep up with inflation, is a result of the government's inability to make a fair deal for public service workers to be able to work in the major cities around the country that have seen living costs skyrocket under this government. It's all a domino effect, and the largest dominoes are about to fall.
- The political fire this week in Alberta has been around a potential law regarding involuntary addictions treatment in the province.
- It is widely expected that a UCP re-elected government would table legislation forcing drug users into treatment under certain circumstances.
- Clarification was given on Friday but there is a crucial area of context missing from this story: BC already does this.
- Last month a similar controversy in BC surfaced and we have the benefit now of seeing how that shook out for the upcoming Alberta election.
- In BC there are four requirements to be certified for involuntary mental health treatment under BC’s Mental Health Act.
- According to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the option is reserved for when a person “is suffering from a mental disorder that seriously impairs (their) ability to react appropriately to his or her environment or to associate with others,” or “requires psychiatric treatment in or through a designated facility”—especially as it relates to their own protection or the safety of others. It’s also reserved for individuals who are “not suitable as a voluntary patient.”
- In 2021-22 there were 28,734 involuntary hospitalizations and in the first quarter of 2022-23, there have been 6,805 hospitalizations.
- In Alberta it was thought that the Act would give police and family members or legal guardians of drug users the ability to refer adults and youth into involuntary treatment if they pose a risk to themselves and others.
- In Alberta, the hospitalization will be voluntary but the intervention can happen.
- This system is based on how Portugal handles drug hospitalizations which 20 years ago abolished criminal penalties for consumption and possession.
- Here, the Premier said a police officer may approach someone committing a minor offence and issue them a ticket — almost like a court summons — which would require them to show up to an ‘intervention commission.’
- She expanded, “they will go and get an assessment from a psychologist, and go before three commissioners, and if they’re Indigenous, they go before three Elder commissioners, and those commissions are really there to talk to them about what is going on with them.”
- The Premier also pointed out that she feels this is a better option than the officer arresting the person and putting them through the criminal system.
- This paints an interesting picture because for the better part of the week the plan for Alberta was entirely different than the one from BC and from what’s being looked at now for Alberta, there would be no involuntary treatment, only an involuntary intervention.
- Many people feel that Alberta is the “conservative” province on the ideological spectrum but recent movements in the province paint the province more as a classically liberal jurisdiction with a libertarian angle and progressive subgroup in the cities.
- This policy fits into that ideological spectrum because in the past, the federal Conservative party called something similar to the Portugal model as unrealistic.
- The Portugal model has reduced mortality rates, reduced overdoses, and also caused a reduction in HIV rates.
- It gets even more interesting because NDP leader Rachel Notley said the changes would be too punitive saying, “Imprisoning Albertans against their will for addiction treatment is doomed to failure, both from a treatment perspective and a legal one. Effective and lasting treatment meets people where they’re at and supports them in taking a different path. I strongly expect that the courts would strike down an approach that forcibly confines Albertans who have not been convicted of a crime.”
- At the end this illustrates the political wedging and angling taking place by the NDP against something that wasn’t even real at all.
- Alberta’s approach will be one to watch since the person leading the response to the opioid crisis in Alberta is Danielle Smith’s Chief of Staff Marshall Smith.
- Aside from being Chief of Staff, he was once homeless and a drug addict in Vancouver. He discovered that the BC government was not interested in his vision and was recruited by Jason Kenney to work in the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction.
- On the whole we got a small amount of clarification from the media this week on the story but there’s a bigger movement happening that was largely ignored. We have a rundown of what this program would look like in our supplementals.
- This story also showcases the UCP government’s tendency again to hire those with experience in the field their government needs rather than pushing ideology.
- It is our hope that once the official campaign starts the media won’t be inundated with stories lacking context as this paints a completely different picture than what was proposed this week.
- Earlier this month, the federal government approved the merger between the two telecom giants Rogers and Shaw, in a move that will further concentrate the market share in Canada into just a few companies. This merger has been widely criticized by the opposition and consumer advocates, who argued in vain that the deal would lead to higher prices.
- Rogers has again raised eyebrows, as they've hired Navdeep Bains, who was a Liberal MP between 2004 and 2011 and again from 2015 to 2021. During his 2nd stint as MP, Bains also served as Prime Minister Trudeau's Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. Since leaving public office, he had been vice chair of global investment banking at CIBC.
- The reason why Bains' hiring is so suspicious is that the industry minister is responsible for overseeing the country's national industrial strategy, including regulating national sectors such as telecommunications. Telecom industry watchers describe the move as a classic example of the “revolving door” between politics and corporate Canada.
- A spokesperson for Rogers told Financial Post that Bains’s role will include governmental affairs, which involves stakeholder relations or lobbying with various levels of government, but would not communicate with the federal government on behalf of Rogers while he is covered under the Lobbying Act, which prevents former members of government from lobbying Ottawa for five years. There are no prohibitions on elected officials taking roles in the private sector after leaving office, so long as they remain compliant with the Lobbying Act.
- Rick Perkins, the Conservative innovation critic, said in an emailed statement that “in the entire time Navdeep Bains was Minister responsible for cell phone prices, he never did anything to improve affordability for Canadians’ cell phone bills. Now he is joining the carrier with the highest cell phone rates in the world.”
- NDP innovation critic Brian Masse also criticized the move: “It certainly looks like the Liberals are in the pockets of telecom giants, getting gravy jobs as their executives, instead of defending Canadians who are already paying a fortune for cell and internet bills. It’s incredibly concerning when major telecom company Rogers hires not only a former Liberal cabinet minister but the architect of Canada’s current telecom policy which allows telecom providers to charge some of the highest cell phone costs in the world.”
- Bains is not the only former Liberal minister to hold a senior position in the industry. Earlier this year, John Manley was named chair of the board of directors for Telus. Manley was a member of Parliament for seven years and filled several different roles in former prime minister Jean Chretien's cabinet, starting out as industry minister and eventually landing in finance. He left federal politics in 2004.
- Rogers has found itself in the political spotlight several times over the past year. The July 8 outage last summer left millions of Canadians with no internet or cell service, and critics have raised concerns about competition and prices after the company's recently approved acquisition of Shaw.
- One of the first things noticed by newcomers to Canada is the eye watering cost of maintaining a mobile phone. In most of Europe, it can cost as little as $30 for a monthly cell phone plan with 100 gigabytes of mobile data. In Canada, that kind of plan would run $144, according to the Finnish telecom analyst Rewheel. “Prices in the Canadian wireless market … continue to be the highest or among the highest in the world,” they wrote in a 2021 report.
- As to why, market consolidation is partly to blame. Three companies (Telus, Rogers and Bell) control more than 90 per cent of the Canadian wireless market, and federal regulations make it extraordinarily difficult for cheaper foreign competitors to enter the market. As a result, domestic telecoms are able to quite comfortably buy up competitors and jack up rates without worrying that they’ll be undercut by a streamlined competitor. Five years ago, for instance, Bell purchased Manitoba Telecom Services, one of Canada’s only mobile providers not yet owned by the “Big Three.” Within months of the acquisition, Bell initiated an across-the-board hike to the cost of MTS services.
- The federal government under Trudeau has seen costs for everything skyrocket under their watch, and this includes cell phone bills, where we pay the highest in the world. The former architect of the national telecom strategy joining the industry is not just a concerning scenario, it's a depressing reality in Canada. It's clear that the Liberals do not care about the cost of living or affordability, even as they create policies that make life even more costly. It's time we had a government that served the people, not corporations.
Quote of the Week
“It certainly looks like the Liberals are in the pockets of telecom giants, getting gravy jobs as their executives, instead of defending Canadians who are already paying a fortune for cell and internet bills. It’s incredibly concerning when major telecom company Rogers hires not only a former Liberal cabinet minister but the architect of Canada’s current telecom policy which allows telecom providers to charge some of the highest cell phone costs in the world.” - NDP innovation critic Brian Masse on former industry minister Navdeep Bains joining Rogers.
Word of the Week
militancy - the use of confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Dominoes are Falling
Teaser: We compare the US and Canadian response to Chinese police stations, the public sector goes on strike, and Alberta’s addictions treatment plan gets misconstrued. Also, Trudeau’s former industry minister Navdeep Bains is hired by Rogers.
Recorded Date: April 22, 2023
Release Date: April 23, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes