The News Rundown
- As we head into the final week of the election campaign we have to talk about the report into Danielle Smith’s ethics transgression and other allegations brought back to the forefront in a report by Marguerite Trussler, Alberta Ethics Commissioner.
- First, back in January CBC ran a piece saying they had received reports of emails saying that the Premier was in contact with crown prosecutors.
- They did not see the emails and the source remained anonymous.
- Later in March the CBC and NDP dropped a phone-call recording from controversial pastor Artur Pawlowski who was charged with respect to Alberta’s Critical Defence of Infrastructure Act in relation to the Coutts border blockade.
- In that conversation it has been made to look as though the Premier is very favourable to Pawlowski but the report says that portions of the call were definitely edited to a point where Pawlowski took a more aggressive and threatening stance with the Premier.
- The call was supposed to be about the upcoming election but both Premier Smith and Dr. Denis Modry say they were blindsided by the discussion of charges. Modry is the former CEO of the Alberta Prosperity Project.
- This is where what was discovered in the ethics report and what was reported diverge. One of the media frames was that the call was exclusively about the charges.
- The conclusion of the report is that Smith didn’t contact the crown prosecutors but did try to influence the justice system.
- So while she shouldn’t have done what she did, she did not do what the media reports initially said.
- The report also makes it abundantly clear with sworn statements from all 44 crown prosecutors who worked on Covid and Coutts cases and all staff from the Premier’s office that there was no direction from the Premier or Justice Minister.
- The Premier did call Justice Minister Tyler Shandro while he was on vacation to ask to what extent he could be involved in the cases or speak to prosecutors.
- This was found to be the major transgression of what we know did happen.
- The Premier should not have done this and needs to be aware that this is very very close to what Justin Trudeau did with Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin. The difference being though when Jody Wilson-Raybould told Trudeau no, he fired her. Thankfully Danielle Smith did not fire Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.
- This week Smith put out a statement saying she was “gratified to read the Ethics Commissioner’s findings confirming that neither [her], nor anyone in [her] office, tried to or did contact any Crown Prosecutors regarding any COVID-19 prosecutions.”
- She also intends to ask the Ethics Commissioner to provide guidance on how to advance sensitive policy issues similar to this with the Minister of Justice.
- The Ethics Commissioner said that there still may be sanctions to come for Danielle Smith after the election has concluded.
- Media reporting has of course focused on the discussion of whether or not Smith and others contacted Crown Prosecutors and whether or not there was an ethics breach.
- What is absent from the media reporting is the CBC’s role and that of the other outlets that re-published CBC’s allegations.
- First the ethics report confirms that the CBC never saw the emails in question.
- Second, the person who allegedly sent the emails was “incensed” by this allegation and denied providing the emails to CBC.
- This is astounding since it confirms that all that’s needed to change a media cycle within Canadian media is the word from an anonymous source.
- Whether or not that source is right or wrong of course speaks volumes to what comes from any piece of reporting.
- This is something we learnt quickly here at Western Context since 2017 and as such we prefer to have multiple sources and multiple confirmations of a story before elevating it to truth.
- It is also truly disappointing that so many in Canadian media ran with the CBC’s story and didn’t bother to check to see if they could obtain the emails and confirm what was being said.
- Danielle Smith shouldn’t have asked that question to Minister Shandro.
- We now know there was no contact.
- But the biggest thing about this story, that the media ran with information that didn’t exist (as confirmed by people’s sworn statements), wasn’t talked about this week.
- And of course the question, will it have any impact on the election? Probably not.
- Are opioids prescribed to drug users as a part of British Columbia’s safer supply program being diverted and sold on the streets? The allegation became a hot issue in the B.C. legislature this week, in the wake of a National Post story claiming significant quantities of the opioid hydromorphone being prescribed to people with substance use disorder are being sold or traded for stronger drugs.
- A reporter from Global News tested that claim in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and demonstrated that this phenomenon of “diversion” is not just anecdotal. In fact, the reporter was able to buy 26 tablets of hydromorphone in just under 30 minutes for $30.
- BC United mental health and addictions critic Elenore Sturko alleged in Question Period that “Diverted safe supply pills that used to sell for $10 a pill are now being sold for as low as 25 cents a pill, are now being sold around VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) and downtown because of the government’s flooding of the market.”
- In an interview, Sturko said she’d heard from several doctors working in the field, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of professional repercussions, who claimed physicians at St. Paul’s Hospital’s Rapid Access Addictions Clinic had stopped prescribing hydromorphone and were also starting to de-prescribe their patients.
- Sturko said: “They’re talking about not seeing any overall improvement in the condition of their patients, and also unfortunately seeing an increase in the number of individuals, including youth, coming in with new onset opioid use disorder, which of course is a huge concern. They’re saying they recognize a lot of diversion is happening … they’re turning around and selling those so they can get the street drugs they’re craving, and as a result, other people are then obtaining dilaudid (hydromorphone) and becoming users of that drug, which is actually five times more powerful than morphine.”
- Several B.C. doctors who specialize in addiction did share similar concerns and say they know some portion of the hydromorphone they prescribe is being diverted to the street trade, that they’ve not seen data that shows the program is reducing overdose deaths, and they feel there’s a political climate right now that’s discouraging doctors with dissenting opinions from speaking up.
- B.C. issued new guidelines on prescribing opioids to people with substance use disorders early in the COVID-19 pandemic in a bid to reduce street drug deaths and break people with addictions away from drug dealers, and better connect them with health care and services.
- Sarah Blyth, a long-time harm reduction worker and executive director of Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society, said the number of people who actually have access to prescribed safe supply is so small that any drugs being diverted would be a drop in the bucket compared to the volume of toxic drugs on the street. Blyth argued that any hydromorphone making its way onto the street would be a net benefit given the high toxicity of street drugs that are already circulating.
- The latest report on unregulated drug deaths from the BC Coroners Service found that fentanyl was present in 86% of suspected toxic drug fatalities. The same report concluded “there is no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths.”
- And yet, it also showed toxic drug deaths continuing to rise, with at least 596 deaths in the first three months of the year, setting the province on track for a potentially record year for drug fatalities. At least 2,314 deaths due to toxic drugs were recorded in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record since B.C. declared a public health emergency in 2016 over toxic drugs.
- BC has tried to introduce the safe supply to counteract the tainted supply, but by their own admission, the amount of prescribed safe supply is so low that it isn't making that much of a difference, all the while people die every day due to fentanyl overdoses.
- An hour down the road from Vancouver is the U.S. port city of Bellingham, Washington. Known for its craft beer and hippie vibe, it has long held a reputation for being one of the most progressive, laid-back cities in Washington State. Over the years, it has been a reliable ally of the Democratic Party at election time.
- Which is why a recent move by the city council there is somewhat shocking: a decision to authorize police to arrest people who are injecting, ingesting or inhaling drugs such as fentanyl or methamphetamine on downtown streets.
- Like many, if not most cities in the U.S., Bellingham is facing a drug crisis. It has been sympathetic to arguments from public-health experts that arresting people for drug use is stigmatizing and discourages them from getting treatment. It also drives users into darker corners of society to consume, where responding to overdoses is more difficult. Consequently, there is more death with this approach – or so the argument goes.
- But there is a corollary problem with that approach: open drug use in the downtown core of cities scares people away. It hurts small businesses trying to survive. It turns once-thriving blocks into boarded-up zones of misery, inhabited primarily by drug users and sellers. This is a scene that has seen many repeats across Canada and the US.
- This problem resonates especially strongly in BC, where there is an emotional debate going on around the province’s decision in January to decriminalize the possession of personal amounts of illicit drugs – on a trial basis.
- NDP Premier David Eby was recently confronted with tough questions from the BC United Party about the mess this new policy has created in many cities. Municipalities in the interior of the province, in particular, have seen a dramatic spike in open drug use in parks, and on beaches and playgrounds.
- Mayors in places like Kamloops and Kelowna are now confronting situations like Bellingham’s: people are afraid to go downtown or to public spaces because of the chance, or even likelihood, that there will be someone there taking hard drugs and often displaying erratic behaviour.
- Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre doubled down on his criticism of the federal government’s approach to dealing with the opioid crisis, and insinuated advocates of the safe supply program are “activists” or wilfully perpetuating the crisis to make money.
- His comments came as Conservatives used their opposition day motion in the House of Commons to ask the government to reverse its policy of offering a safe supply of drugs to people who are at high risk of an overdose, and instead redirect the money to treatment and recovery programs.
- In his opening speech on Thursday, Poilievre accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of having implemented “a theory backed up by a group of activists, most of them tax-funded, pharmaceutical companies and others who stand to gain from perpetuating the crisis.
- “These so-called experts are typically pie in the sky theorists with no experience getting people off drugs, or they’re members of the misery industry, those paid activists and public health bureaucrats whose jobs depend on the crisis continuing,” he said.
- So while health experts, and parties like the NDP and federal Liberals claim that so called safe supplies of drugs will reduce deaths, in BC that has not been the case. Premier David Eby claims he will 'do something' to stop the crisis, but it's clear that what has been tried has not helped. Perhaps it is time to try a different approach.
- This week we go to Saskatchewan with an interesting interaction between Premier Scott Moe and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.
- According to the environment minister Saskatchewan will be breaking the law if it continues to run coal fired electricity plants after 2030 unless the emissions are captured.
- Violating those regulations would be an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code.
- Premier Scott Moe says that for the province to maintain reliable and affordable electricity supplies the province will be running the coal plants until the end of their lifespans.
- Saskatchewan will also run their natural gas power plants until life’s end which puts the province on par with Alberta in aiming for net-zero by 2050.
- This story saw very little coverage outside of Saskatchewan this week and for people unaware of the story, it might be shocking.
- While not specifically targeting the energy industry, it is pursuing an ideological goal without the consideration of what the consequences will be for power bills.
- In a reminder for our listeners, Steven Guilbuealt is the environmental activist who scaled the CN tower and was charged and is now minister in charge of what our environmental goals are.
- Those environmental goals appear to be ideological rather than practical since provinces like Saskatchewan have put forward a 2050 net zero plan and have committed to also develop nuclear.
- Nuclear is a way forward to produce more clean energy but is often overlooked by the federal government.
- In a bit of irony, the Alberta NDP’s energy plans closely mirror that of Guilbeault’s.
- In power the Alberta NDP started the process of shutting down Alberta’s coal power plants and now if elected, aim to be net zero by 2035 which have the same consequences as what Guilbeault is proposing.
- The Saskatchewan spring legislative session just ended and in that session, the opposition NDP in Saskatchewan voted with the Saskatchewan Party to not implement the net-zero 2035 plan.
- To be clear, we’re looking at a 2030 limit for coal and 2035 for natural gas.
- This is stark and Premier Scott Moe was not having any of it.
- Premier Scott Moe said, “If where we’ve come to, in this country, is when individuals in this province, or any other province, flick their lights on or the furnace fan kicks in that that’s deemed illegal and causes for someone to go to jail, come and get me.”
- This is our quote of the week because of Scott Moe’s stance and the ultimate end-goal he likely has of showcasing how absurd the stance of the federal environment ministry is.
- We’re looking at a situation in Saskatchewan where 25% of their electricity comes from coal.
- There is not enough time to hit the 2030 or 2035 target and if the arbitrary move is made by Guilbeault and the Liberals energy prices will go up due to the creation of artificial energy scarcity.
- This is a similar path that the Alberta NDP would take if elected and the lack of support for nuclear from folks like Guilbeault and Notley in addition to the 2030 era targets should worry everyone.
- It's a generally accepted maxim that for government, you want to give tax breaks on actions that you want to encourage, and tax those that you mean to discourage. That's why we have tax breaks for TFSAs and RRSPs, because it's accepted that people should save for their retirement. That's why there are taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, to encourage people to stop drinking and smoking.
- In a good governed society, that is how it should work, where taxes and tax breaks are governed based on actions. But in present day Canada, taxes are not based around actions, but wealth and power. Higher and higher taxes have been hitting the common working Canadian, and tax breaks instead exist for the wealthy and powerful individuals and mega-corporations who can afford to hire rich lawyers to find ways to pay less into a society that's benefiting them.
- Income taxes have shot up, punishing people for working extra. Payroll taxes have shot up, punishing small businesses disproportionately to big foreign multinational corporations. Even the carbon tax has gone up, punishing those workers who make the least in our society by making it unaffordable to even get to work.
- The Parliamentary Budget Officer, the non-partisan role defined to look at the federal government's spending and expenses, and to see how different policies will affect life in Canada, recently released a report looking at the federal government's Clean Fuel Regulations, and how the standards on producers or importers of gas or diesel is intended to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of the fuels they sell.
- By 2030, the carbon intensity of these fuels must fall to 15 per cent below 2016 levels. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, this will deliver 26 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. By increasing the price of carbon-intensive fuels, the government hopes to encourage the production and consumption of cleaner fuels like hydrogen and biofuels.
- B.C., California, Oregon and others have adopted similar regulations, areas of the North American continent that have among the highest gas prices. Once these regulations take full effect, according to figures the PBO obtained from Environment and Climate Change Canada, it will increase the price of gas and diesel by as much as 17 cents per litre. The Canadian economy will also take a hit, the PBO reported, with the regulations decreasing real GDP in 2030 by up to 0.3% or $9 billion. The PBO estimated that the cost would range from 0.62% of disposable income, or $231, for lower-income households to 0.35 of disposable income, or $1008, for higher income households.
- Yves Giroux, the PBO, said: “Since lower income households generally spend a larger share of their income on transportation and other energy-intensive goods and services compared to higher income households, on average the Clean Fuel Regulations will have a greater impact on these households.” This is true. Taxes and inflation generally hit those with less money more than those who have more money to spend.
- The report says: “Relative to household disposable income, PBO results show that the Clean Fuel Regulations are broadly regressive. That is, the cost to lower income households represents a larger share of their disposable income compared to higher income households.” Regressive taxes that hit lower income people, should be discouraged in today's society.
- Outside the House of Commons Thursday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the regulations will cause significant hardship to families, especially combined with the national carbon price, which will rise to 170 per tonne in 2030. Poilievre said "[It's] yet another tax on the backs of hardworking Canadians," and called the clean fuel regulations "carbon tax two."
- While the Clean Fuel Regulations are not actually a tax since all the money paid goes directly to oil and gas companies, it's still an extra cost on Canadians, and since the money is going to big corporations, it still will spike inflation extra.
- Poilievre said the Trudeau Liberals are bringing in this policy when Canadians are already struggling. He said: “This at a time when bankruptcies and insolvency are on the rise and one in five Canadians are skipping meals because they can’t afford the price of food.” It should be noted that food banks are seeing record numbers, and are buckling under the pressure of so many people needing even just basic food that should be easy to afford but aren't.
- The Liberals have said that the PBO's report ignores the costs that doing nothing to fight climate change will incur on the Canadian population. The PBO acknowledged his report doesn't consider both the costs and benefits of policies in addressing climate change. He added that such an analysis would need to factor in not only what Canada is doing, but what other countries are doing as well.
- Canada, which in 2019 was only responsible for 1.9% of CO2 emissions, can do little to effect change when the top 3 counties by population account for over half of all world CO2 emissions. China, at almost 30%, is by far the biggest offender of global climate change threat.
- Poilievre argued the report is yet another added cost that the Liberals have unnecessarily heaped onto Canadians as they strive to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. He pointed to the federal requirement that all provinces have a minimum carbon price, which is set to increase from the current $65 per tonne of emissions to $170 per tonne in 2030.
- Earlier this year, the PBO released a report that said the total impact of the carbon tax was higher than the Trudeau government was claiming: “Based on our analysis, most households will pay more in fuel charges and GST — as well as receiving slightly lower incomes — than they will receive in Climate Action Incentive payments.” The whole point of the tax was so that low income people weren't punished - but instead, they are punished far more.
- The sad thing is, all of these charges that Trudeau has brought in are supposed to be about lowering Canada’s carbon emissions, something that hasn’t happened and likely won’t in the near future.
- Dan McTeague, the president of the Canadians for Affordable Energy, said the cost of the standard, on top of the existing carbon tax, compounded by the current cost of living, isn’t affordable for many.
- McTeague said the standard is a second measure — after the carbon tax — applied by the government to reduce emissions from liquid fuels like diesel and gasoline, something he has not seen any other country attempt, and could become very expensive for taxpayers.
- McTeague said: “We are now going to burden Canadians for what is an intolerable price to pay. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that we can have our combines, mining vehicles and our transport infrastructure including rail all done on hydrogen and battery, certainly not by 2030.”
- That at the end of the day is going to be the end result: a farming industry too expensive to not pass on costs of food to Canadians, natural resources industries that become unprofitable and job cutting, and huge increases in taxes to pay for infrastructure that people can't afford to use.
- Canadians are reaching their breaking point with taxes and inflation. While Canada should be concerned about climate change, it's not something that taxes will fix.
Quote of the Week
“If where we’ve come to, in this country, is when individuals in this province, or any other province, flick their lights on or the furnace fan kicks in that that’s deemed illegal and causes for someone to go to jail, come and get me.” - Premier Scott Moe on the federal government’s 2030 green electricity requirements.
Word of the Week
Regulation - rules set by an authority in order to control an organization or system
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Come and Get Me
Teaser: Ethics issues in Alberta don’t get covered fairly, BC’s safe supply is getting sold on the streets, and coal plants will become illegal to run after 2030. Also, Trudeau’s new clean fuel standards will increase inflation and hit the poor the hardest.
Recorded Date: May 20, 2023
Release Date: May 21, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes