The News Rundown
- The depth of China’s interference in Canada gained new light this week with the revelation that Conservative MP Michael Chong has been targeted and his family in Hong Kong may be in danger.
- It is important to note that we do not know whether or not the Chinese communist party was successful in targeting Chong’s family but we do know he was a target due to the revelations from recently leaked CSIS reporting.
- The way the story goes is that the intelligence report was shared to the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor and the Prime Minister himself but Michael Chong was not notified.
- Initially the PMO said they were not aware of the report earlier in the week which is fine, we might expect that.
- But, later in the week the person or people involved with the leaked CSIS documents released more information effectively showing that the national security advisor and Prime Minister were aware of what was going on.
- This creates an interesting circle where the PM blamed CSIS for not notifying Chong but Chong said that his call with the national security advisor is at odds with what CSIS detailed as their version of events.
- We learnt more about this when Michael Chong announced in the House of Commons that he was informed of this by a phone call from Jody Thomas, the Prime Minister’s national security advisor.
- Rising in the House of Commons to make a statement he said: “I am profoundly disappointed to find out through a Globe and Mail report that the Trudeau government knew two years ago a PRC diplomat, working out of the consulate in Toronto, was targeting my family in Hong Kong.”
- “The government did not inform me that a diplomat was targeting my family, nor did the government take any action to expel the diplomat responsible for orchestrating this intimidation campaign.”
- “In fact, the latest diplomatic and consular list of accredited diplomats provided by Global Affairs Canada shows that this diplomat, Mr. Wei Zhao, is still approved by the government to work in Canada. It is obvious and dumbfounding that the government continues to turn a blind eye to the threat of foreign interference.”
- What we see here is a repeated series of intelligence failures and put simply, the house needs to be cleaned.
- The director of CSIS needs to go if it was not reported to the PMO and Chong.
- Jody Thomas has to go if she did not elevate the case to the Prime Minister.
- And yes, Justin Trudeau has to go if he knew about this and did nothing.
- We have entered a realm of the absurd where months ago the idea of Chinese interference in Canada would’ve seemed a far cry from being able to happen.
- We’ve gone from there to now a point where we know that Chinese authorities have targeted one of our own elected officials and his family living in Hong Kong.
- What’s more, the diplomat involved in targeting Chong is still allowed to operate freely in Canada and there has been concern about whether or not expelling him would open Canada up to retribution.
- Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said that “there would be consequences” but no action has been taken so far - and we need to be clear that sooner and decisive is important in this case.
- The Conservatives plan to issue an opposition day motion requesting the government bring in a foreign agents registry, call a public inquiry, close down Chinese police stations, and expel Chinese diplomats involved in foreign interference.
- Given the laundry list of asks it’s unlikely that it will pass the House of Commons and this issue will continue to fester.
- The NDP’s response was to write a letter to the Prime Minister asking him and his officials to “outline how such threats are receive day you and the Minister of Public Safety” and to meet with all opposition leaders on this matter.
- Given the relationship between Trudeau and Singh it’s unlikely anything will change.
- Finally, to show how bizarre this story has become, the government’s response has drawn criticism from former Trudeau Minister Catherine McKenna who called on government officials to “be serious” and the call was also echoed by former China ambassador, Trudeau, Martin, and Chretien Cabinet Minister John McCallum.
- This illustrates how far we have come and really raises questions about why this isn’t a bigger national issue.
- But at the end of the day, not only has an MP been targeted but a Canadian and his family has. This could happen to any Canadian with ties to China.
- That’s how serious it is.
- BC Premier David Eby has been making the rounds the past week, either announcing new policies, or reassuring British Columbians that the problems his government has already been tackling are diminishing. He did this with stops at universities, the CUPE BC convention, and other areas around the province. The problem is, is that there's a huge disconnect in between what he's saying, what's actually happening and how each is getting reported.
- In an announcement at Simon Fraser University, Eby made headlines by saying that "In the next 10 years, B.C. will need to fill 1M job openings". Sadly the only outlet to pick up on this was Global, and they only reposted the video of his announcement of spending on skills training and post-secondary education so that people can better their skills or switch careers.
- No analysis has yet been done on his jobs announcement by the mainstream media, but it got a lot of reaction online by people comparing the number of supposed job openings to the high cost of living in BC as well as the number of housing starts, both of which stand in opposition to the amount of people BC is looking to bring into the province to fill those 1 million jobs.
- It seems that David Eby is still in the honeymoon period since his policies and spending have received very little critical analysis or even just basic reporting, with the media seemingly content to give him a pass. Unfortunately for British Columbians, things are still happening, whether we hear about it or not.
- For one thing, at the CUPE convention this past week, Eby said he stood with union members and BC's workers, paying tribute to them at the top of his speech: “You helped keep our schools, our libraries, our universities open when they were needed most. British Columbia owes you a debt of gratitude. British Columbians owe you a debt of gratitude that we will repay every single day.”
- He later said: “Workers are facing big challenges…. There are people out there that believe we should be addressing these challenges with cuts and more privatization of public services. The labour movement and this government doesn’t believe in this race to the bottom. Workers don’t deserve this.”
- Interestingly, Eby is only in favour of unions when it benefits him. For the upcoming last week of the legislative session before the end of the spring session, the NDP government brought up a one-page bill that bestows the right to join a union on the 350 lawyers who work for the government. They’ve been working toward that for years, so the NDP is portraying it as a union-friendly government welcoming their brothers and sisters of government law into the house of labour.
- Eby, himself a lawyer by trade, knows the ins and outs of the profession very well. In an Orwellian move, he's allowing them to unionize, but only on his terms. As usual, there’s a catch. It herds them into a union the government prefers, the Professional Employees Association, rather than allowing them to form their own.
- The NDP’s defence is that public sector labour law prohibits new bargaining units springing up spontaneously so as not to further complicate labour relations. But the February move was made when the lawyers were well into the Labour Relations Board process of organizing their own bargaining entity. In one of several ironies about this caper, they went to the Labour Relations Board using a recent NDP law aimed at smoothing that process for workers trying to unionize.
- The bill was sidelined while the two sides negotiated from February on. But there was no deal, so it was reactivated this week, and the dispute is now a full-fledged fight. Another irony: When the lawyers started talking about job action this week, the government warned them they can’t do that, because they’re not in union.
- He’s a career lawyer, but he broke ranks with a significant branch of the B.C. bar when he made ICBC changes that reduce motor vehicle lawsuits and choked off a significant chunk of their revenue. He ran the B.C. Civil Liberties Association earlier, but it objected to his musings while attorney general about detention for youths in acute overdose crises.
- Now he has the government lawyers, the national association of Crown counsels and the Canadian Bar Association coming down on him from the legal side. On the union side, the government employees union and the B.C. Federation of Labour are objecting. Even the Professional Employees Association, the government’s designated adoptee, doesn’t want any part of this.
- One of the basics of organized labour is that the workers pick their union, not the employer. There was a lot of eerie role reversal going on this week. The NDP has union rights in its DNA, but now they’re being of accused of being a scheming employer, trampling workers’ rights.
- BC United has a dark and sorry record in dealing with unions when they were the BC Liberal government. But now they are championing the cause. After watching the argument for a while, Green MLA Adam Olsen remarked: “It’s like the Twilight Zone in here.”
- But the lawyers and unions are not the only ones to notice the shine is coming off of David Eby's announcements. Business leaders from B.C.’s downtown centres had high hopes when they met with Premier David Eby in Victoria this week.
- They’d spent eight months lobbying his government for financial aid to help their businesses stay afloat amidst rising vandalism costs caused by ongoing public safety concerns. Where better for the government to follow through on a promised aid package than during the premier’s keynote address to a ballroom full of business leaders eagerly awaiting his help But, oddly, they got nothing.
- While small business owners sink under costs — which also include inflationary pressures, plus rescue loans from the federal government during COVID-19 that are now coming due — the government fiddles with policy work.
- The premier offered a glimpse into what might be going on, a bit later in his answer.
- “One aspect, certainly that we're focused on, is the response to issues of vandalism. So that's the work that's happening, the policy work that's happening. We're moving as quickly as possible at the speed of government. And we will be delivering for you and our partnership.”
- More polite laughter from the audience at the “speed of government” line. But it has a ring of truth around it, which you occasionally pick up from the premier in his answers on issues.
- Eby is moving at a blistering pace, bouncing around the province promising to fix issues in areas of forestry, mining, climate change, bail reform, policing, addictions, health care, affordability, post-secondary training, Indigenous reconciliation and more. He has no shortage of ideas on how to improve things. But getting them actually turned into policy, legislation and announceables? That's another thing altogether.
- Meanwhile, the policies and legislation that he has announced have definitely flipped the province's finances on its head. The credit rating agency S&P Global has now dropped B.C.’s credit rating from AA+ to AA. A drop in our credit rating means that taxpayers will be on the hook for more money every time the government wants to borrow it. This is the second big round of downgrades we’ve seen in the past few years. In 2021, S&P Global and Fitch both knocked B.C. down from AAA to AA+.
- S&P Global attributed the drop in interest rates to “record levels” of spending and a “steep increase in debt.” Creditors are worried that big spending, big debt, and big deficits are going to damage the province’s cash flow moving forward. The updated credit rating gives a “negative outlook.” Those are strong words from a credit rating agency. They warn us that as the government borrows more money today, we lose financial flexibility in the future.
- And S&P is right. Eby’s budget was a disaster. When you’re mismanaging taxpayer money like Eby is, there are consequences with our creditors. The drop in our credit rating should be a clear warning to the premier.
- David Eby took a $5.7 billion surplus and turned it into a $4.2 billion deficit. Eby presented a credit-card budget – take out big debts and worry about the consequences later. That’s like winning the jackpot in the lottery and still finishing the year without being able to pay your bills.
- At the end of 2022, the provincial debt was hovering at around $94 billion. By 2026, that’s going up to around $133 billion. That 42% increase means that every British Columbian's average share of the debt will be $26,600.
- Interest on the debt will cost taxpayers more than $3 billion this year. That’s $600 in taxes from every person living in B.C. That $600 per person is going right out the door to bankers’ bonuses instead of staying in taxpayers’ pockets.
- Eby’s solution to every problem seems to be throwing money at it. Eby’s government needs to recognize the credit downgrade as the wake-up call that it is. Instead, we in BC will instead be hearing about all these announcements and policies designed to help British Columbians, all while the government doesn't actually fix the problems while spending to record levels.
- In the meantime, the union friendly government is blocking unionizing attempts, and the so-called 'blistering pace' of the Premier is not actually moving fast at all. We're getting bamboozled in BC, and nobody is reporting on it.
- With the Alberta election now officially underway we’re going to have a look at some of the races in north Edmonton this week as they have the potential to surprise.
- This week the Alberta NDP re-affirmed prior commitments to make finding a family doctor easier and met and matched the UCP’s commitment for a new children’s hospital to replace the Stollery in Edmonton.
- The UCP’s big policy announcement was a cut to personal income taxes, bringing the lowest rate down to 8% for those making under $60,000/year. Everyone benefits from this, either taking a 20% cut in their provincial income taxes or saving $760/year if they make more than $60,000/year.
- Other policy announcements have been slow due to the flurry of evacuations due to wildfires burning across the province.
- Now to Edmonton.
- It is widely believed that the NDP could win all the seats in the city including picking up Kaycee Manu’s Edmonton-South West seat.
- But beyond that, there is room for the UCP to grow, specifically in Edmonton-South, Edmonton-Castle Downs, and Edmonton-Decore.
- Edmonton-South because it is similar in make-up to Edmonton-South West.
- Edmonton-Castle Downs because former city councillor Jon Dziadyk is running there, an area he represented as city councillor.
- Edmonton-Decore is where the story becomes interesting. First, this riding elected a conservative to city council in the last municipal election, Karen Principe who herself ran for the UCP in 2019.
- In her municipal race she received 39.9% of the vote and kept the NDP MLA to under 50% of the vote.
- But this time we have an interesting dynamic at play. The UCP is running Sayid Ahmed while the NDP is running Sharif Haji.
- Haji defeated NDP MLA Chris Nielson who held the seat since 2015.
- Chris Nielson was seen as the more moderate choice but NDP members went with the more polarizing figure.
- The reason Nielson was viewed more as a moderate is that Sharif Haji has campaigned on defunding the police and has advocated going further on divesting from police organizations.
- Sayid Ahmed has a story himself too, he is an immigrant from Somalia and worked from poverty to Canada, he’s presently employed as a trained economist.
- Initially he lived in a mud hut in Somalia with 10 siblings where there was tons of conflict, he tutored students in math at the age of 13 for $2 a week and used this to pay bills, his high school principal then got him a spot at the Islamic University of Uganda and his father sold a plot of land to pay the first semester’s $3,000 tuition fee.
- Later he moved to Kenya where he suffered discrimination then he brought his wife to Canada where he earned Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.
- He cites his history as the reason for his entering politics, he told The Western Standard, “that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, to be part of the solution. I don’t want the socialistic NDP’s hand to ruin this province and choke the engine of our economy because we live in the best province of one of the best countries in the world.”
- And also going back to his early life in Somalia, he said, “the mother of all evils is poverty… if you create a strong economy that’s compassionate enough, that enables everybody to participate, then you are tackling the root causes of poverty. That addresses some of the biggest systemic issues the NDP likes to fearmonger about.”
- Does Said Ahmed have a chance? Maybe. The media has decided that most of the electoral calculus will focus on Calgary and rightly so since those are the seats that are going to be easiest to flip.
- In 2019 the UCP lost this seat by less than 10%, now granted that was with the Alberta party receiving about 11% of the vote. Given the state of crime and inflation it’s entirely possible that a targeted riding campaign could repeat this result and expand on it.
- It’s at this moment we remind listeners that at the end of May there will be 87 individual elections in Alberta and the popular vote province wide while an indicator, doesn’t matter all that much and Edmonton may not be as locked up orange as some think.
- Mostly everybody likes to think they're a good person and that they're doing their part for their province, country, or even the planet. It seems almost ingrained into our Canadian DNA that everybody does their part for the common good. A large part of that is the idea that companies have put into our heads that recycling and waste reduction is a personal responsibility. But it should be noted that not only do companies have a large say in our environmental policy, but governments do as well.
- The prohibition of single-use plastic products is crucial to Canada's plan of achieving zero plastic waste by 2030, but with the ban, environmentalists are growing increasingly concerned about the amount of paper packaging being used in its place.
- Canopy founder and executive director Nicole Rycroft, whose not-for-profit organization works to protect the world's forests by helping companies like Walmart and H&M ensure their packaging doesn't rely on paper and is environmentally friendly, says that this issue is a real problem and not one that is talked about enough.
- Rycroft said: "We absolutely need to shift away from using plastics as much as we do, but trading in plastic pollution for deforestation and forest degradation is not the answer. We really need to make sure we do not create another environmental disaster. We're seeing a surge in global bans on single-use plastics, including here in Canada, and with paper quickly replacing those products, there's increased pressure on the world's forests."
- She estimates more than three billion trees—many of which are old-growth and endangered—are logged every year to make paper-based products like bags, straws and food containers. Canada's ban on single-use plastics, which began in December 2022, prohibits the manufacturing and import-for-sale of products ranging from checkout bags and cutlery to takeout containers and stir sticks.
- With the ban, single-use plastic consumption is starting to wane, but in many cases those products have been replaced by paper alternatives. Rycroft points to grocery stores, now providing paper bags at checkout, as an example of that.
- She said: "I think everyone is aware of the saying that forests are the lungs of our planet and so this is a really critical moment and we need to take steps to keep forests standing, rather than increase the pressures on them to provide the fibre for bags, pizza boxes, cutlery and straws."
- Adding to the worries of increased deforestation are concerns about the large amounts of energy and water required to make paper products. The Netherlands-based and UN-backed Institute for Water Education says it can take anywhere from two to 13 litres of water to make a standard piece of paper. Another potential problem with single-use paper products is the detrimental impact they have when they end up in landfills.
- York University environmental and urban change researcher, Calvin Lakhan said: "There's an assumption that paper by virtue of being a natural product is going to be better, but if it ends up in a landfill it can be a real issue. Things like newsprint can be readily recycled, but certain products like the bags you might get from McDonald's, are not going to be able to be reprocessed and sorted the same way since they are a lower grade of paper."
- While paper is more biodegradable and is easier to recycle than plastic, he notes the grade of the paper often dictates whether or not it can enter the recycling system. Lakhan adds despite the fact paper can be composted in a landfill, the decomposition process releases greenhouse gases, which he argues counteracts the benefits of its use.
- While paper isn't perfect, the industry is working on innovative solutions, including using agricultural waste, or other plant material like straw to make pulp. In Canada, there are more than 20 million acres of cropland used to produce wheat, but after the grain is harvested, farmers are left with straw stalks stuck in their fields.
- While the material has traditionally been considered waste, Rycoft says some companies are trying to give it new life by turning it into single-use packaging. Straw, along with hemp, flax, tomato stems and banana peels are being used to make sustainable single-use products.
- There are also biodegradable resins that are being used to make bags and food service ware. The challenge with these new innovations, however, is that many are expensive to produce and often only have niche applications. With that, Lakhan says it is essential waste policies and procedures continue to transition away from "a single-use model irrespective of whether it be paper or plastic."
- Adding to that, he encourages consumers to explore what they can do to make a difference, particularly opting for reusable packaging when possible. He says: "If consumers rethink and reorient themselves towards a reusable mind frame that will ultimately lead to the most sustainable outcomes."
- It's interesting how this topic only appeared on one source, through CTV, and that nobody has mentioned just how little Trudeau's single use plastics ban has actually impacted the environment, with corporate shifts to using more paper instead. It's clear we need an environmental policy that actually helps the environment, and doesn't just say it does.
Quote of the Week
"I think everyone is aware of the saying that forests are the lungs of our planet and so this is a really critical moment and we need to take steps to keep forests standing, rather than increase the pressures on them to provide the fibre for bags, pizza boxes, cutlery and straws." - Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canopy, an environmental non-profit.
Word of the Week
Straw - a thin hollow tube of paper or plastic for sucking drink from a glass or bottle.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Speed of Government
Teaser: Conservative MP Michael Chong gets targeted by China, David Eby’s actions don’t match his words, and many Alberta ridings could produce surprising results. Also, the single use plastics ban may have papered over our environmental problems.
Recorded Date: May 6, 2023
Release Date: May 7, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes