The News Rundown
- This past weekend in BC featured a couple of by-elections for BC NDP stronghold seats vacated by very high profile NDP MLAs. Retired Premier John Horgan's former riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca and former Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark's vacated riding of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant needed new representation, and last Saturday's results should have surprised no one.
- For the past 20 years, the NDP candidate did not place lower than 52% in Langford-Juan de Fuca, and the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding, located in Vancouver's downtown eastside, has been some version of NDP since the 1960's. It was one of only 2 ridings to remain NDP during the election of 2001, when the BC Liberals won 77/79 seats. Really, it would be a miracle if the byelections produced any other MLAs than NDP.
- With that in mind, Penticton Indian Band member Joan Phillip has easily won election as a BC NDP MLA in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, with almost 68% of the vote. And Ravi Parmar, former chair of the Sooke School District and chief of staff in the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, won with about 53% of the vote. The two won with similar vote totals as the previous MLAs did.
- The media analysis of the byelections, rather than focus on the predictable nature of the results, tried to make some controversy instead, as the mainstream media always does. Instead of seeing the results and that there has been little change from the last few elections.
- Rather, all of the headlines focused instead on the opposition party, the newly christened BC United Party, in their first outing under their new name. And the headlines were not friendly to BC United.
- Global News: "What does BC United’s poor byelection showing mean for the party?"
- Times Colonist: "BC United has work to do after 'collapse' in byelection"
- Vancouver Sun: "BC United faces a huge branding challenge"
- BC United, fresh off a name change from the BC Liberals, came in fourth place in Langford, with candidate Elena Lawson earning less than 9% of the vote. The upstart B.C. Conservative Party, which is not connected to the federal party it shares a name with, and did not run a candidate in the riding in 2020, came in second with candidate Mike Harris securing nearly 20%. In East Vancouver, BC United’s Jackie Lee did come in second, but only pulled 13.7% of the vote.
- Elena Lawson has no doubt why her party struggled to win votes in Saturday’s byelection: brand confusion and low voter turnout. Lawson said when she was door-knocking, many asked: “What is the BC United party?” Lawson figures some of the BC United’s traditional vote moved to the B.C. Conservatives because voters were familiar with the signs and colours of the federal Conservative Party of Canada. The job in coming months is “definitely getting the brand out there and clarifying [it] to people,” Lawson said Sunday.
- After Parmar, the happiest candidate in the Langford-Juan de Fuca election was real estate agent Mike Harris, who placed second with 19.8% of the vote. The party did not run a candidate in the 2020 general election. Harris said he is “over the moon” and sees the results as a “good building block” for 2024.
- He does not agree that the vote was split among the right. “We took the percentage from the NDP. We did not take it from the United party. They weren’t strong here last election.” Prior to the next election, Harris said, “we’ve got some time here to really resonate more with constituents.” He said citizens are concerned about taxation levels, businesses are worried about survival and social programs are lacking.
- The B.C. Conservatives currently hold just one seat in the legislature — that of party leader John Rustad who was booted from the BC Liberals over a social media post questioning human-caused climate change. Rustad then joined the Conservatives and is now their leader, giving the party a presence in the legislature for the first time since the 1970s.
- The party has never elected an MLA, but is pledging to run candidates in all 93 B.C. ridings next election, potentially threatening BC United on its right flank, particularly in Conservative-leaning areas like the Fraser Valley.
- University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said the result could mean trouble for BC United with the clock ticking down on B.C.’s 2024 provincial election. Telford said: “BC United have always presented themselves as a coalition of Liberal and Conservative voters, but that coalition may now be broken. There’s no guarantee that coalition can be put back together now, Humpty Dumpty may not be able to be rebuilt at this time and the Conservatives may take the Conservative vote and the NDP takes the Liberal vote and BC United is left out high and dry.”
- David Black, a political communications professor at Royal Roads University, said byelection results are often seen as a preview of the next general election — a way of taking the temperature of public opinion. In this case, it was not surprising the NDP won the riding, which was considered a safe seat for the party.
- Black sees the main takeaway from the by-elections is that BC United “has work to do in terms of the rebrand and establishing who they are and what they are about,” he said. As the party looks to 2024, Black predicts “they will fall back on what has always been, during the Liberal era, their strongest message, which is: ‘We are the party of fiscal prudence.’ ”That will see the party talking about inflation, economic anxiety, housing issues and saying that they are here to help.
- Political commentator Keith Baldrey says that "it is easy to dismiss the outcomes of the two B.C. byelections this past weekend as entirely predictable and even inconsequential" but that "the contests reveals the NDP government continues to chug along without much public pushback against its performance, while its political opponents appear to be in a holding pattern just 16 months before the next scheduled election."
- B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday he has no plans to call an early election, meaning British Columbians will go to the polls, as planned, on Oct. 19, 2024.
- BC United Leader Kevin Falcon says that there is nothing to worry about, and he had several theories on hand right away to explain the results. Falcon argued the Conservatives benefitted from the current popularity of Pierre Poilievre’s federal party on Vancouver Island, but were rejected in Vancouver due to “the divisive social conservative nonsense that that candidate was peddling.” Harris also ran on down-to-earth issues like low taxes, light rail and access to health care — unlike Vancouver's Karin Litzcke, who got sidetracked into a debate about transgender rights and got obliterated in the election.
- Despite the weekend’s poor showing, Falcon said his party has enough time to connect with voters before the next election. He also remains confident in BC United’s focus on health care, public safety and affordability, he added. He said: “That anti-NDP vote didn’t know where to go because it didn’t recognize BC United and it went to B.C. Conservative, we will have that fixed by the time the next election rolls around,” he said.
- We will see. The vote in BC has always coalesced around the NDP, and a major anti-NDP party, first the Liberal-Conservative coalitions, then Social Credit, then the BC Liberals. TIme will tell if BC United will be able to take back control of the legislature, or if their rebranding will cause a vote split that will let the NDP cruise to victory yet again.
- Bill C-18 has passed the Senate and the ramifications have started to become known. Bill C-18 otherwise known as the Online News Act requires tech companies to compensate media outlets for the content they share.
- With that Google and Facebook have announced their decision to remove Canadian news from its platforms and terminate existing agreements with local publishers due to the Online News Act.
- The Online News Act aims to address the dominance of these tech giants in the online advertising market, which has negatively impacted the news industry. Google and Meta argue that the law is unworkable and places an uncapped financial liability on them.
- Following the termination, the government is concerned about the impact this could have on the industry and the opportunities to support emerging journalists.
- The government claims they did not want this to happen but Google, Facebook, and others all said this is the direction they would go, similar even happened in Australia.
- Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said that all options are on the table with the news blockage. He said, “we have to make sure that newsrooms are open, that (journalists) are able to do their job and (they) have the resources necessary.”
- This now puts the Canadian media establishment in a situation where they now have a reason to ask for more funding from the government.
- Over the years as online content became more prevalent there has been a push to level the playing field for traditional broadcasters.
- The government has also done similar with their online streaming act that requires providers like Netflix and others to ensure significant amounts of Canadian content are seen and that money can flow to Canadian creators.
- This is part of a pattern of behaviour with the current government where winners and losers are picked, heritage and culture is cultivated with a specific focus on Quebecois culture, and this undoubtedly puts a huge amount of weight and influence on the ideals from the Ottawa-Montreal corridor otherwise known as the Laurentian elite.
- This Bill didn’t have to be about winners and losers and the government's own choices. It could have represented an opportunity to reboot the news industry in Canada.
- Over the last decade and a half we have seen the closure of local newsrooms.
- We have seen once independent outlets either get bought or merge together as was announced this week between the Toronto Star and Post Media.
- We have seen the one new news channel startup in Sun News get off the ground and then fail. That was due in combination to it not getting the same mandatory carriage as CTV News Channel or CBC News and the subsidies the legacy TV news stations received.
- We have also seen a consistent push towards online news that has continued to change even up to this year with the Twitter revamp.
- Bill C-18 is going to be seen as the main reason that Google, Facebook and others block news for Canadians but to look at this on its own and think this is the only problem in the Canadian news landscape is a disservice.
- Google put out a fairly explanatory and non-partisan explanation of what is going on.
- They distill the issue down to being a link tax that is going to cause uncertainty for their business model and sets them up to be an “uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers.”
- Google highlighted that in their process of trying to improve C-18 they negotiated agreements with 150 publications.
- They also note that they served 3.6 billion news publications which through their calculations helped publishers make $250m annually.
- Google suggested an independent fund with money put in by both platforms and the Government but the government didn’t want to do that.
- Google didn’t like that under the Bill, they could not de-prioritize the news sources of bad actors.
- They also pointed out that there is some ambiguity between what eligible news businesses are.
- But the biggest concern was the payment for links breaks searching for everyone.
- Of course we don’t get this level of nuance from the federal government but the competition for advertising dollars as laid out is not the core issue and this Bill on its own will not fix the news industry.
- The idea of paying for links and traffic sent to websites is something that goes back to 2004 when websites like Digg and Reddit first appeared on the scene and websites wanted to be compensated monetarily.
- It is said that the government tried to avoid the removal of links in last minute discussions with Google and Meta but that was unsuccessful.
- The biggest word against C-18 though comes from Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.
- He said, “There were better options readily available that would have opened the door to increased contributions from Internet platforms toward journalism without the negative consequences associated with mandated payments for links, interference with press independence, and the direct harm to smaller and independent media outlets… The government regularly pointed to the Australian experience as evidence that it would emerge with a win for the sector. Instead, it is likely to become the global example of disastrous government policy that abandoned principles of an open Internet, failed to take the risks of its policy seriously, and paid a severe price.”
- It will be up to the government to react and change and for the opposition in any coming election campaigns to propose an alternative plan because it’s 2023 and not having news easily available in search is a non-starter.
- In our first BC story, we discussed a lot about the by-elections and what they mean for the ruling NDP as well as the opposition parties. Now we're going to pivot to a horrifying story that has reverberated around the province and doesn't show the NDP's Ministry of Children and Family Development in a good light.
- A court case heard by a the BC provincial court contained the unthinkable: abuse, assault, torture, and starvation enacted by Indigenous foster parents against a young Indigenous brother and sister. Provincial court Judge Peter La Prairie in Chilliwack sentenced the foster parents this month to 10 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and manslaughter of the First Nation boy, 11, and aggravated assault of his sister, 8.
- Tragically, the boy died in February 2021 after sustaining a traumatic brain injury during a beating by the woman. His sister was later examined and found to have multiple abrasions and bruises all over her body and injuries to her wrists and ankles from zip ties.
- Police used a search warrant and found evidence including a 2x4 piece of wood the couple used to beat the children and 16,000 videos with about 400 hours of playing time, depicting months of abuse from 2020 to 2021.
- Judge La Prairie said: “The level of violence depicted in the videos is incomprehensible. It is inconceivable to understand how the abuse as depicted on the videos continued over a lengthy period of time, with the children in emaciated conditions and no one did anything. These are issues that need to be addressed.”
- He noted the boy’s appearance in February 2021 was “particularly shocking,” likening it to a child from the Holocaust.
- The name of the First Nation, the location and the names of all parties were banned by the courts to protect the identity of the children involved in the case. Court documents show the last visit from a worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to the Indigenous couple’s home took place seven months before the boy was beaten to death in 2021 by the woman, who is related to the children’s biological mother.
- The case has triggered a call for the resignation of the children’s minister, Mitzi Dean, a vow from the children’s commissioner to conduct an inquiry and a promise from the premier that his government would do better.
- The First Nations Leadership Council said Monday there has been an “ongoing lack of accountability” by the ministry in response to the case and it is calling for minister Mitzi Dean’s resignation and for the province to work with First Nations to eradicate the mistreatment of Indigenous children in care.
- Cheryl Casimer, who’s on the political executive at First Nations Summit, said in an interview Monday that this is not an isolated incident and the group’s goal is for the government to take responsibility for its role in the case. She said: “Every time we ask for accountability, nothing happens and so maybe there needs to be a change in the leadership within that ministry.”
- Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, said her office is conducting a full investigation into the case, calling it “one of the most egregious situations” she had ever seen in the 46 years she has spent helping children.
- In a statement, Charlesworth said: “This is an unbelievably tragic story, and one that has frankly brought me to my knees as I try to imagine what this child, and their siblings, experienced. I will do everything in my power as representative to ensure that we learn what happened and, most significantly, what needs to be done to ensure that the system is transformed so that this does not happen to any child, anywhere in this province, again.”
- Dean declined an interview, but said in a statement Monday that the government “failed at every level” in this case. She vowed to make necessary systemic changes, including helping nations gain jurisdiction and provide services to First Nation children.
- “I am heartbroken at what these children endured and I extend our deepest apologies and condolences to the family, friends and communities that have been impacted by this tragedy, including Indigenous Peoples across the province who have experienced and continue to experience the trauma of a broken child-welfare system. We will address all recommendations to improve the safety of children and youth in care.”
- Dean, the MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, said the ministry is “fully supportive” of the representative’s investigation. She did not comment on the calls for her resignation.
- B.C. Premier David Eby told an unrelated news conference that the impact of the case is being “profoundly” felt.
- He said: “Our social workers were supposed to be ensuring their safety and something went horrifically wrong here. Minister Dean and I are as horrified as First Nations leadership about what happened to these kids.”
- Eby said the children’s ministry is doing a full review of the case. He said it served as a call for government to redouble its efforts to work with First Nations leadership to accelerate the process where Indigenous communities have the authority, jurisdiction and resources to support their own children.
- The Ministry has released a statement that said its staff who failed to perform those check-ins are “no longer employed by the ministry.” It did not provide any names or reveal whether they left of their own volition or were let go. It further said the staff did not follow its policy that children should be seen regularly by a social worker.
- Members of the First Nations Leadership Council, including Cheryl Casimir and B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee has called for an overhaul of the system that has repeatedly shown “negligence and a lack of systemic oversight.”
- The B.C. and federal governments must continue to empower First Nations to retake jurisdiction over child welfare for their youth, added Casimir, calling the abuse of Indigenous children in provincial care “a trend.”
- She said: “It is Minister Mitzi Dean who is to be accountable and responsible. There are too many injuries and too many deaths of our kids when they’re in the care under the ministry, so we need to change that by making sure the provincial and federal governments are fully supporting First Nations to be able to implement their own laws.”
- Both opposition parties are dumbfounded that Eby can still have confidence in Dean as Minister after this terrible case. The BC Greens are throwing their weight behind calls from First Nations leaders for Dean to resign.
- Saanich North and the Islands Green MLA Adam Olsen, who is also a citizen of the Tsartlip First Nation, said: “Minister Dean has proven entirely incapable of delivering the reforms that the BC NDP called for when they were in opposition. The latest reports of children in the British Columbia child welfare system suffering neglect and abuse leading to death, reports for the Representative for Children and Youth showing hundreds of children in the system go missing and are unaccounted for each month, the embarrassing reversal on much-defended changes to the care model for neuro-diverse children, are just a few examples of Minister Dean’s inability to lead this important work.”
- BC United also called for Dean’s resignation Thursday. Karin Kirkpatrick, shadow minister for housing and childcare, tweeted that the “magnitude of failure in this case is utterly disgraceful,” and Dean’s “appalling lack of leadership has shattered public trust,” in addition to jeopardizing the lives of children shows that “It’s high time [Dean] is removed from this file.”
- An interesting side note that connects this story to our by-election story is about Joan Phillip, the newly elected NDP MLA from Mount Pleasant. Phillip is the land manager for the Penticton Indian Band, a former candidate for the federal NDP and an environmental activist who has sometimes opposed policies of the provincial NDP government. She is also married to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
- On Monday, the grand chief called for Mitzi Dean's resignation, saying he was 'completely nauseous' when he heard about the terrible case. Philip said: “Everything about this case leads to a deep concern about MCFD’s ability to effectively provide ‘child protection’ services. I call on minister Dean to acknowledge the grinding severity of this failure by resigning immediately.”
- Eby sidestepped the embarrassment of the husband of one of his MLAs calling for the head of one of his ministers. When asked about the grand chief’s call, he simply declared that “she (Dean) has my confidence.” New Democrats can only hope that if new MLA Phillips agrees with her husband, it won't cause problems with her new colleagues.
- Regardless, this absolutely tragic case should not be allowed to happen again. The fact that the BC Ministry for Children completely abdicated their responsibility to these poor children is despicable. For the Minister to keep her job after overseeing such a debacle, is just taking a page from Prime Minister Trudeau's scandal playbook. British Columbians should hope that the NDP do not try to emulate the federal Liberals too often.
- One of the hallmarks of the Harper government was yearly visits to the arctic coinciding with national defence exercises.
- Just recently though a Senate defence report in Canada has raised concerns about the country's ability to monitor Russian aggression in the Arctic region.
- The report, based on a fact-finding mission conducted in 2022, highlighted the rising importance of Arctic defence due to increased access to the region, changing geopolitical dynamics, and competing interests.
- The report also noted that the armed forces are stretched thin and under-resourced.
- The committee emphasized the urgency of procuring modern space-based surveillance systems and activating new defensive systems to monitor and counter the threats posed by Russia, including hypersonic missiles and military bases in the far north.
- The report also mentioned the need to include local Indigenous voices in northern defence and highlighted challenges such as the lack of basic infrastructure, reliance on outdated equipment, and the vulnerability of thinly populated communities in the face of climate change.
- Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson, who grew up in Tuktoyaktuk in the shadow of her community’s now-dismantled Distant Early Warning (DEW) Cold War radar station, said, “The importance of the Arctic in military defence and security cannot be overstated. However, it is equally important to note that while the Arctic is viewed as a strategic location, it is also my home and the home of the Inuit people.”
- The report also raised concerns about China's increasing interest in the Arctic and its growing cooperation with Russia.
- Senator Tony Dean, chair of the national security, defence and veterans affairs committee put the situation in the starkest of terms: “Canada’s armed forces are highly skilled and fiercely dedicated, but they remain below complement, under-resourced and stretched to the limit.”
- It was widely assumed that our forces were under geared and even those in the field have reported having to source their own gear from local outlets at times.
- That’s exhibit A.
- Exhibit B is the arctic report. We had assumed that this would be the case with interest in the arctic waning since 2015 but this report paints a picture of how bad things have become.
- Now of course we have to worry about arctic sovereignty since we share a border with Russia but this has become an abstract issue.
- The Arctic is something that is “there” and it’s not something many think of since the vast majority of people in Canada live in the south, many even below the 49th parallel.
- The biggest issues over the past few years for most people have been healthcare and then affordability. Given how the past few years have gone, it’s not going to be easy to make Canadians care about the arctic.
- As most of the political discussion as of recent has been focused on Chinese interference, we also have to ask what if anything does China have to do with the arctic?
- Senator Dean said, “China’s ‘belt-and-road’ infrastructure funding initiatives might eventually emerge as a competitor in the absence of an accelerated homegrown Arctic investment strategy.”
- This strategy wants to see China invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. It aims to boost trade flow and bring China to the world.
- It’s also worth noting that earlier this year Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada had recovered Chinese surveillance buoys from Arctic waters, and had been monitoring such activities since at least 2022.
- It’s on this Canada Day we say that for Canada to remain the great country it is for all Canadians that we protect the true north to keep us strong and free.
Quote of the Week
“Canada’s armed forces are highly skilled and fiercely dedicated, but they remain below complement, under-resourced and stretched to the limit.” - Senator Tony Dean on the state of Canada’s military.
Word of the Week
Incomprehensible - not able to be understood; not intelligible.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Humpty Dumpty’s Great Fall
Teaser: A couple by-elections show the challenges for BC United’s rebranding, Google is set to remove Canadian news links in search, and BC’s children’s minister faces calls to resign. Also, a senate report shows the underfunded Arctic region’s importance.
Recorded Date: July 1, 2023
Release Date: July 2, 2023
Edit Notes: Coughs and pause
Podcast Summary Notes