The News Rundown
- For years here on Western Context we have been talking about the question of Chinese interference in Canada.
- This week the Liberal government is launching a public inquiry into foreign election interference, led by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue.
- We note that this focuses solely on election interference.
- It also looks at interference not only by China but also Russia and other states in the 2019 and 2021 elections.
- Justice Hogue will have full access to relevant cabinet documents and will provide an interim report by February 29, 2024, and a final report by the end of the following year.
- The inquiry will also examine the flow of information to senior decision-makers, including elected officials.
- The decision to expand the scope beyond China is based on the recognition that other foreign actors also seek to undermine democratic institutions in Canada.
- The inquiry will start with public hearings to ensure transparency.
- The appointment of Hogue is important because her appointment is something that all opposition parties agreed upon.
- Marie-Josée Hogue, was appointed a puisne judge of the Court of Appeal of Quebec on June 19, 2015.
- Of course what this means is that she was appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper which likely ticks a box for Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois are undoubtedly happy since she is from Quebec.
- Mandate wise this is about as full as we can get and people in general are shocked that the Trudeau government went this way since public hearings can be damning and cabinet secrecy has been amongst the tightest in the Trudeau administration.
- The steps announced this week could’ve been announced months ago skipping over the Special Rapporteur fiasco limiting damage to the national fabric.
- China of course did respond to the government’s decision to initiate the inquiry warning of more consequences if we do not drop our “ideological bias”.
- The comments came directly from the Chinese embassy in Canada as emailed in a statement on Friday.
- With the starting gun set to fire on September 18th we are now pretty much guaranteed a continued discussion at various points between now and February.
- Past inquiries such as the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal proved deadly for the Paul Martin government but at times also provided comic relief such as the time with Jean Chretien’s golf balls.
- The story there being that the government ordered golf balls with Jean Chretien’s signature on them with sponsorship money and in the inquiry, Chretien pulled out golf balls from his bag that he had received from other leaders.
- In 2023 we may laugh in jest at the golf balls but the point is that inquiries can be unpredictable and unearth new information that wasn’t known previously.
- Alternatively they can be boring and reinforcing what we already know.
- It has been a consistent case of block and deflect over the last 8 months and now we can begin to move on from this chapter in Western Context history.
- Going forward we will be covering the inquiry with the hope that the media covers it fairly and without bias.
- Even as we move our way through September, summer continues on Canada's West coast, and while we've already discussed the rampant wildfires across the province, we haven't mentioned the other side effect of the lack of rain: drought.
- Multiple parts of BC are currently experiencing severe drought conditions, and relief is not coming swiftly. As a result, water use restrictions have come in place all around the province, including Tofino, the Sunshine Coast, and in the Okanagan. It's also occurring in places outside of BC too, with most of southeast Alberta under drought conditions, as well as in southern Manitoba and much of the Northwest Territories.
- Prolonged and intense drought conditions are forcing the Sunshine Coast's largest water system to impose its highest-level restrictions on water use starting this past Friday as of recording. Stage 4 water restrictions will prohibit outdoor use of drinking water for more than 20,000 residents in communities including Sechelt, Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and on Keats Island until further notice. That means no watering gardens or plants, using sprinklers or washing vehicles or homes.
- Leonard Lee, board chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District said: "You can't wash the saltwater off your boat if you're using it, you can't fill up your hot tubs, your pools, no outside use at all. And most unfortunate is the farmers that are using this treated water … we do give them a two-week window after Stage 4 is implemented, but after that they can't water their food-bearing crops either."
- One farmer says those impacts are already clear on the Sunshine Coast. The drought and subsequent water restrictions are threatening food security in the region, according to Mel Sylvestre, owner of Grounded Acres Organic Farm outside Gibsons and president of the Sunshine Coast Farmers' Institute. Last year's drought eroded years' worth of fertility from the soil and meant essentially losing a growing season, she said.
- "We've lived through [a severe drought] once [before] and we saw the damage it did. We're hoping the authorities can get on the bandwagon that food and water should be prioritized. As we're going deeper and deeper in climate change and experiencing those deeper weather changes … it might be a disincentive for future generations coming into [the farming] business, because it will be harder and harder to make a living."
- With food security remaining an issue due to high levels of inflation, drought conditions are going to affect a lot of local grown produce and livestock.
- The entire Sunshine Coast is at a drought Level 5, the province's highest classification, which means damage to ecosystems and economic activities is "almost certain." Chapman Lake, which service's the region's largest water system, was at just 15 percent of its total water storage capacity as of Tuesday, according to the Sunshine Coast Regional District.
- With Chapman Lake having dried up below the level of the dam itself, the restrictions are needed to reserve water for emergency situations like fires, said Lee. While water levels aren't so dire in other parts of the region, Lee says residents need to prepare for possibly months without significant rain.
- More than 80 per cent of water basins in B.C. are under Level 4 or 5 drought conditions, according to the province, which means economic and ecosystem damage is either likely or almost certain.
- Tofino is calling the prolonged drought “historic” due to low flows in Meares Island creeks that supply the town with water by submarine pipeline. Typically, the resort community receives 424 millimetres of rain from May to September, but this year, less than 100 mm has fallen. Tofino is usually one of the rainiest locations in Canada, so for so little to fall is not only strange, it's unsettling.
- Emergency Preparedness Minister Bowinn Ma said on Wednesday "It is unlike any kind of drought conditions the province has ever faced and, in my opinion, truly is a sleeping giant of a natural disaster that we are challenged with right now. The impacts will be very, very real."
- Ma said the best-case scenario is a period of prolonged rain to replenish depleted water reserves, while the worst case would be atmospheric rivers that cause massive flooding, as seen in 2021.
- And for one of BC's iconic industries, steps are being taken to mitigate total disaster. Prolonged drought risks are damaging the salmon population and has led to a series of emergency, rapidly deployed projects in an effort to intervene.
- In the Tsolum River near the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island people have been worried about fish for months. Two years ago, more than a thousand adult pink salmon died as they returned to the river to spawn. They got trapped in a bottleneck where water levels were low, and fish towards the back of the school died as oxygen levels in the water depleted. This year, the river has been below critical water levels since July 20.
- With a grant from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Tsolum River Restoration Society is bringing in aerators to increase the oxygen content as fish rush back up the river to spawn this fall. They're also looking for potential bottleneck locations and clearing the way so that fish will be able to travel more freely.
- The Pacific Salmon Foundation has funded four emergency projects, with more on the way, and convened a federal and provincial advisory group allowing for regulatory approval in a matter of days rather than the standard months-long process.
- The foundation's vice-president of salmon programs, Jason Hwang, said while past droughts have been isolated to specific areas and watersheds, this year's far-reaching crisis has salmon facing “the equivalent of trying to run a marathon in a sauna.”
- One hopes that BC will not continue to be a sauna as we head towards the fall, otherwise life in BC will get even more precarious.
- The Athabasca Tribal Council has launched a task force to tackle mental health and addictions problems within the community.
- The reason for the task force is striking. The mental health and addictions problems have killed more than 60 people across Five Nations.
- Compared to the entire pandemic from March 2020 to March 2022, only two residents were killed by COVID in the region’s rural and indigenous communities.
- Province wide in April of this year, toxic drugs killed 182 people in the province.
- The Nations are also seeing a significant noticeable rise in violence and illegal activities by people coming from outside the region.
- ATC includes ACFN and the Mikisew Cree, Fort McKay, Chipewyan Prairie and Fort McMurray #468 First Nations representing about 2,500 Cree and Dene people on and off reserve.
- The Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations declared its own state of emergency in July backed by figures showing Indigenous people are seven times more likely to die of opioid toxicity than non-Indigenous Albertans.
- Police in the Blood Reserve, located 200 kilometres south of Calgary, have cracked down on drug traffickers in the community. Its leadership has also renovated housing and has broken ground on a recovery centre. Overdoses have dropped on the Blood Reserve, although local political and policing leaders say it has been a lengthy fight.
- The ATC is also requesting help from the federal government with long term funding.
- They also are requesting local oil sands companies to contribute.
- Overall it is expected that at least $20m is needed to make any progress on the issue but there’s little sign of movement.
- Now, given the amount of international aid that flows to foreign countries and money that is lost in inefficiency, $20m seems like a small number for a federal program.
- The picture is that overall the ATC has been experiencing unstable housing, food insecurity, paltry opportunities for jobs and education, inadequate policing, and a shortage of healthcare specialists.
- These problems of course sound like what many are experiencing in the cities and speak to a wider array of societal issues.
- Of course though these problems are exacerbated by generational damage caused by the residential school system.
- And at the end of the day, these problems all feed off each other and then the crisis of suicides and additions is one of the natural outcomes.
- The federal government says that Indigenous Services Canada has been deployed to the area since April and has provided $5.8m to support mental health services in the Wood Buffalo region.
- "We have been committed since day one to working with Indigenous partners to address the issue of addiction in their communities, and we reaffirmed that to the Athabasca Tribal Council yesterday when meeting with them to discuss the challenges they face," wrote Dan Williams, the minister of mental health and addiction.
- This story is generating a small amount of traffic in Alberta and that should shock Canadians across the country.
- First because it is a story that’s needed to be told for years, insofar as when daily COVID numbers were being reported they were reported and threw fear into the population but the drug crises across our reserves and cities was so much worse.
- Second it shows how meek the response has been from federal officials to the drug and opioid crisis nationwide.
- This in its own right is tragic but it leads to so many other issues of crime, homelessness, and despair in the population.
- This has also contributed to our cities heading steadily down the path of looking like the American metropolises of San Francisco and Chicago.
- At the end of the day this is a problem that needs to be fixed at the community level but requires commitment from provincial and federal governments and that is where the disconnect is.
- Canada's job numbers are up higher than expected, but so is our population growth. Canada's economy added 39,900 jobs last month, about twice as many as expected, but also only about half as many as would be needed to keep up with population growth.
- Statistics Canada reported Friday that while the economy added jobs, the country also added about 103,000 new people. So despite the mini-surge, the employment rate — the percentage of adults that have a job, compared to the working-aged population — actually declined by 0.1 percentage points, to 61.9 per cent.
- Economists had been expecting the economy to add about 20,000 jobs, and a few were even calling for a decline, which would have been the second contraction in a row in the job market.
- So far this year, Canada's job market has added about 174,000 new positions, or on average about 25,000 new jobs per month. But the number of working-age adults has gone up by about three times that, with Canada's population gaining on average 83,000 people aged 15 or older every month.
- Speaking to a business audience in Calgary on Thursday, Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem said the central bank has noted that even in months when the economy adds jobs, they're not coming at a faster pace than population growth, which means they aren't making the inflation fight harder.
- Economist Brendon Bernard says Canada's surging population is redefining what constitutes a good or bad month for the job market. "There are some key areas where population growth is relatively inflationary, especially in the housing market — it pushes up demand for housing and rent. On the flip side, though, it does mean greater labour supply, so that could mean a little softer pressure on wages and the prices of other services."
- So basically, more jobs means that wages go down due to decreased competition, some prices may fall as more businesses get more competitive, but the areas the country has the hardest time with, such as housing, continue to get worse, and a lot worse.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was warned in June 2022 by Secretary of the Cabinet Janice Charette that his immigration policy since taking office in 2015 triggered Canada’s housing affordability crisis. Charette, appointed by Trudeau less than a month earlier, directly blamed him for Canada’s escalating housing prices and severe housing shortage.
- Charette wrote in a classified memorandum called 'Report by Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation: Canada’s Housing Supply Shortage' that “There is broad agreement among experts that homebuilding has been insufficient in comparison with housing demand in recent years, particularly with the increase in immigration since 2015.”
- The memo states that Canada’s housing supply shortage is the “key factor” causing the affordability crisis and the pace of building homes cannot meet needs by 2030 to restore affordability.
- The memo said that the 223,000 units built in 2021 fell short of the estimated yearly 665,000 required “which would be significantly more ambitious” than the 3.5 million units the federal government budgeted for in 2022. The total build requirements stand at 5.8 million units.
- “CHMC projects that the housing stock will grow by approximately 2.3 million between 2021 and 2030, and, when it incorporates economic factors alongside demographic factors, it projects that an additional 3.5 million additional housing units are needed beyond current projections to restore affordability.”
- Two-thirds of the housing supply gap are in BC and Ontario, the two provinces where immigrants flock to the most.
- Trudeau’s response was to ignore the warning and announce that he would bring in more immigrants. He also blamed the provinces for not “stepping up” to fix the housing problem. In November 2022, Trudeau announced his 2023-2025 steadily increasing immigration targets — 465,000 in 2023, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025. That’s on top of a historic 431,645 level of permanent residents in 2022 and higher than the previous 401,000 record set in 2021.
- Canada’s Housing and Infrastructure minister is on board with Trudeau. Sean Fraser, who served as Immigration minister, recently said that bringing in fewer immigrants is not the solution.
- Last month, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took issue with Trudeau’s denial that housing is a primary federal responsibility. He argued that local governments do not have the revenue capacity to adequately address the affordable or social housing problem.
- Poilievre reminded Trudeau of his promise eight years ago that he would lower housing prices, but instead has more than doubled them.
- “No wonder he wants to wash his hands of his horrendous and unprecedented record. I have been saying that housing costs had doubled under Justin Trudeau. It's now far worse than that. The average mortgage payment has gone from $1,400, the day that Trudeau promised he would make housing affordable, to $3,500. That's two and a half times higher. This is the fastest increase in mortgage payment costs in the history of Canada and by far.”
- So now we know for sure that economic experts know full well that Trudeau's increased immigration targets had a huge hand in causing the housing crisis, along with his stubborn refusal to increase housing starts and tailoring his policies to reality. And not only that, but he also knew it would cause the problem, and did it anyway.
- No wonder his government is at an all time low approval. He created this mess, and now we have to find our way out of it.
Quote of the Week
"We've lived through [a severe drought] once [before] and we saw the damage it did. We're hoping the authorities can get on the bandwagon that food and water should be prioritized. As we're going deeper and deeper in climate change and experiencing those deeper weather changes … it might be a disincentive for future generations coming into [the farming] business, because it will be harder and harder to make a living." - Sunshine Coast farmer Mel Sylvestre on new water restrictions for everyone, including farmers.
Word of the Week
Drought - a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A Drought of Good News
Teaser: Canada finally launches the public inquiry on foreign interference, BC experiences severe drought conditions, and Alberta’s First Nations are grappling with drug-related deaths. Also, we added 40,000 jobs and 100,000 people in August.
Recorded Date: September 9, 2023
Release Date: September 10, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes