The News Rundown
- Canada's relationship with India took another hard tumble this week, after the G20 visit in New Delhi, where Trudeau faced a frosty reception from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later, after Trudeau's plane broke down and was forced to wait a few days while a replacement plane was sourced, we started getting word that the visit was not as good as we would hope.
- We now found that the reason why was because Trudeau brought up to Modi the June 2023 murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an Indian-born Canadian Sikh separatist leader involved with the Khalistan movement.
- Sikh organizations viewed Nijjar as a human rights activist, while the Indian government accused him of being a criminal and terrorist affiliated with the militant Khalistan Tiger Force, and sought his arrest. Nijjar and his supporters rejected these allegations, saying he supported peaceful avenues to Sikh independence and self-determination and had never supported violence.
- The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing an ethno‐religious sovereign state called Khalistan in the Punjab region of India. Obviously, India takes a hard line against any separatist movements, and views Khalistani supporters as terrorists.
- In Canada, Nijjar gained prominence in 2019, when he took the leadership of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara in Surrey, British Columbia, and became an outspoken advocate of Sikh separatism. Nijjar also got associated with Sikhs for Justice, and spearheaded the Khalistan Referendum 2020 campaign for the creation of Khalistan. On 18 June 2023, Nijjar was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Gurudwara in Surrey. Canadian authorities have not made any arrests in connection with Nijjar's murder.
- Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canadian intelligence agencies were "pursuing credible allegations of a potential link" between Indian government agents and the assassination of Nijjar. After the killing, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat from the country. India's foreign ministry denied involvement in the killing, and expelled a top Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move. As of recording, Canada has not provided any evidence linking the Indian government to Nijjar's death.
- Trudeau said in Parliament, "Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India" and Nijjar's killing.
- Trudeau called upon the Indian government to cooperate with the investigation, and said: "Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty." Before a Cabinet meeting the next day, Trudeau said: "We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them."
- The Canadian government has not made public any evidence for Indian government involvement in the killing, citing the need to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods. Canadian government sources with knowledge of the matter told the CBC that human and signals intelligence provided evidence of the Indian government's responsibility, including messages between Indian officials and intelligence from an unnamed Five Eyes alliance member.
- Nijjar's death has caused a diplomatic crisis, with Canada–India relations falling to their lowest point. The investigation directly led to the suspension of talks on a Canada–India trade deal.
- Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly ordered the expulsion of Pavan Kumar Rai, a top Indian diplomat in Canada who headed the operations of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, in Canada.
- India denied the claims as absurd and expelled Olivier Sylvestre, the chief of the Canadian intelligence office in India, the next day. The Indian government also accused Canada of harbouring "extremists and terrorists" who "continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity".
- India issued a travel warning on 20 September 2023, urging Indian citizens to "exercise utmost caution" when travelling to Canada due to "growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes". Canadian minister of public safety Dominic LeBlanc dismissed India's travel advisory, saying: "People can read into that what they want. Canada is a safe country. What we're doing is ensuring there's an appropriate criminal investigation into these circumstances."
- India temporarily suspended the processing of visa applications for Canadian citizens on September 21st due to the "rift" between the countries; the Indian government blamed "security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada" as the reason for the suspension. There is no restriction on citizens holding valid visas.
- Canada's Five Eyes allies, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, expressed their concern and encouraged India to collaborate in the ongoing investigation. None condemned India for its alleged involvement. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: "I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the U.S. and Canada. We have deep concerns about the allegations and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account." He added that the U.S. would defend its basic principles "regardless of the country" and that the U.S. had been in touch with both India and Canada regarding the murder. Pakistan's foreign office said that India's "network of extra-territorial killings" has gone global, which is "a clear violation of international law and the UN principle of state sovereignty".
- This is a complicated issue that has been boiling over the last week, and we're surprised it went as far as it has. Now, Canada's relationships with 2 big countries, India and China, are damaged, perhaps irreparably. With so many Sikhs living in Canada, around 1 million in total, along with so many Indian international students on top of that, it's surprising to see relations between the two countries fall so low. We will have to keep an eye on this story and see if things escalate further.
- This week the government in Alberta released the first report on what an Alberta Pension Plan may look like.
- An Alberta Pension Plan would bring control of a pension style program to Alberta and fund it with money directly from Alberta’s population.
- The hope is that Albertans could pay less into it and receive more due to the dynamics of our population and workforce.
- The idea of an Alberta Pension Plan was first floated in the Fair Deal Panel report which sought ways for Alberta to assert more autonomy in the Canadian federation.
- Now before anyone says that this is a horrible idea and should be dismissed right away (these people exist), it’s important to know that Quebec has and quite successfully run their own pension plan.
- The initial reporting from the Alberta government suggests that workers could be saved up to $1,425 per year and receive a significant increase to pension payments or a one time lump sum payment upon retirement of somewhere between $5000 and $10000.
- That same estimated $1,425 per year savings for individuals also means that businesses would save that since businesses have to match premiums paid by employees.
- The funds would of course be raised in Alberta and held in Alberta and would be guarded in a similar way to the CPP.
- The report commissioned by the province done by Lifeworks, previously known as Morneau-Shapell, estimates that Alberta could be entitled to $334b from the federal government or roughly half of the CPP’s assets by 2027.
- This is because it is initially interpreted that the CPP rules state that a province who withdraws would be entitled to a net transfer calculated on the assumption it had never joined the CPP. That transfer would equal past CPP contributions, net benefits paid to Albertans, and administration costs plus associated investment returns.
- The report also estimates that the Alberta pension plan would cost between $100m and $1b to set up with as much as $5b in savings in the first year.
- The cost of implementing the investment arm of an Alberta plan would be another $75 million to $1.2 billion, again depending on how much the province taps into existing structures and expertise.
- Numerous economists have weighed in on these figures with varying degrees of agreement.
- Economist Jack Mintz called the APP a “no-brainer” following the numbers presented by the Lifeworks report. He did caution that negotiating with the feds could be difficult and felt that the Lifeworks report was accurate.
- University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe says that the Alberta Pension Plan appears financially viable, the gains would be quite modest and the selling point of increasing benefits and reducing contributions may be difficult to achieve.
- He also feels that the language of the Canada Pension Plan Act is vague and could be interpreted differently than has been interpreted by Lifeworks leading to litigation at the Supreme Court of Canada at the worst and disagreement at best.
- His economic analyses say that the minimum contribution rate for an Alberta Pension Plan would have to be 8.6%, higher than those mentioned in the Fair Deal Panel but 0.5% lower than the CPP.
- For someone contributing the maximum this would result in a savings of $26/month in his view and $12,000 over a total working lifetime.
- He also highlights that the Alberta Pension Plan would be more prone to risk, for example if positive net migration into Alberta stopped, then two-thirds of the pension advantage would be eliminated.
- The biggest question is what the federal government would do, would they go along with Alberta’s interpretation of the CPP Act? Would they force their own? Would they litigate to the Supreme Court? Or would they change the Act unilaterally?
- These are unknowns that we won’t know until meaningful negotiation is engaged with the federal government in good faith.
- If Alberta does go down the road of an APP it could severely damage the CPP causing other provinces to have to raise contributions which could spur other provinces to leave the program. For some Albertans, this may be reason enough to vote yes.
- The Alberta NDP said that the report was “riddled with fake numbers” and felt that in Albertans pensions would not be safe if this plan were to go forward.
- And also, in typical NDP fashion they are opposed to the keystone of this plan: the referendum.
- Media reporting varied from a largely fact based report by CTV Calgary based on what we knew to the CBC highlighting concerns from detractors primarily.
- Federal Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called the CPP “one of the crown jewels of Canada.”
- Premier Danielle Smith said it best, “We want to hear from you because it’s your pension, your choice. I’m so excited to hear what Albertans think about a provincial pension plan that could benefit Albertans now as well as our future generations.”
- Former Klein era President of the Treasury Board Jim Dinning will chair an engagement panel going forward to consult with Albertans about their concerns and what they think of the idea with a final say going to Albertans in a referendum.
- That referendum will have to clearly outline what is being asked, what will happen, and how the withdrawal and execution of the APP will take place.
- With the best info in place letting Albertans decide is the best road forward and stays very close to the Alberta Agenda letter of the early 2000s that first outlined the idea of an Alberta Pension Plan.
- Canada and Romania have entered into an energy deal that will see two new CANDU nuclear reactors built in the Eastern European country of around 19m people.
- What makes this an interesting story to cover is that missing from the articles is a lot of geopolitical ramifications for the deal, how the deal actually works, and what this means for the future of energy in Europe.
- While early media reports called the deal a gift of $3B Canadian dollars, Canadian Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the financing offer is up to $3-billion for Romania’s national nuclear operator to buy supplies or services from Canadian companies.
- Federal officials provided conflicting information Tuesday afternoon about where the $3-billion would come from. Mr. Wilkinson’s press secretary, Carolyn Svonkin, said the loan will be jointly provided by Export Development Canada (EDC) and through the Canada Account, but that the split between those two sources has not yet been determined. The Canada Account is a facility controlled by the Minister of International Trade reserved for export deals EDC deems too risky to support itself, but is administered by EDC.
- EDC spokesperson Anil Handa, however, said EDC would not support the transaction using its own account. Other details, such as the loan’s term and interest rate, were not disclosed.
- Romanian Energy Minister Sebastian Burduja at a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday said: “This is first and foremost about energy security, indeed not just for Romania but the whole region.”
- Burduja said Romania already has an agreement with neighbouring Moldova to share some of the power from the two new Candu reactors, which are expected to go online by 2032. The country is in talks with Ukraine, Hungary and Austria as well.
- The energy partnership is a move that both Wilkinson and Burduja say will make it harder for Russia to use its energy exports as a weapon. Romania is not reliant on Russia for any of its energy, said Burduja. But if it can help its neighbours become less reliant, too, he said that will help “diminish” the ability of Russian President Vladimir Putin to use its energy exports for geopolitical gain.
- For neighbouring countries on the doorstep to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, energy security has been a real topic of worry. We already saw problems in Germany after they foolishly decommissioned their nuclear reactors and then rushed to buy up other sources of natural gas, which due to weak west to east pipeline infrastructure in Canada, we could not take advantage of.
- Romania's history of nuclear power is fascinating. While many other countries in Europe were turning to Russian nuclear technology in the 1970's, Romania instead made an unexpected choice to go with Canada’s version. Burduja says that decision is proving very fortuitous today.
- Burduja said: “We’re grateful that in the ‘70s Romania took this decision, because otherwise we would probably now have Russian-based nuclear power plants which would be tremendously complicated in the current context.”
- Currently, the nuclear plant, operating in Cernavodă in the south-east part of the country has two of the five CANDU reactors operating. The first one was completed in 1996, with the 2nd in 2007. In 2003, the government of prime minister Jean Chrétien guaranteed a $328-million loan to Romania through the Canada Account to finish building Unit 2, which entered service in 2007.
- Cernavoda’s two operational Candu 6s have an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts, and lately have supplied one-fifth of the country’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. They remain Romania’s only operating nuclear power reactors, and the only Candus in Europe.
- Romania had originally partnered with Canada, and then with Canada and Italy for the 2nd reactor, but then had trouble financing the rest. German, French and Spanish companies pulled out in 2011, and with no other choices, Romania turned to the China General Nuclear Power Group in 2015 and signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the construction, operation and decommissioning of Cernavoda 3 and 4.
- In February 2020 the prime minister announced that the country would no longer partner with CGN for the project. In October 2020 it was announced that the USA would finance the construction of Cernavoda 3 & 4, as well as the refurbishment programme of unit 1. Some 1000 tonnes of heavy water has been produced and is in storage.
- The partner for the partially Romanian state owned energy company Nuclearelectrica in the construction will instead be from the USA, NuScale Power, rather than China, with a consortium of USA, Canada and France undertaking the construction.
- Introduced in the 1970s, the Candu 6 design was built at stations in Quebec and New Brunswick, and exported not only to Romania but also to Argentina, China and South Korea. But it’s considered to belong to an older generation of reactors. (Earlier this century, Candu developers worked on an updated version known as the Enhanced Candu 6, but none were ever built.) Asked why Romania would build more Candu 6s today, Mr. Burduja cited his country’s experience with its two earlier units, and called Unit 2 the 'best performing nuclear reactor in the world'.
- So not only is the deal a loan, not a gift, it is also displacing Russian energy exports in Eastern Europe, as well as halting any potential Chinese state influence in the country. Many looking at this story at first glance may not be able to see all the outcomes of the deal at first glance, because of the media's reporting inaccuracies.
- However, while many might wish for Canada to invest that money in nuclear power domestically, and rightfully so, it is still important to combat Russia and China on the world stage, and this is one way that Canada can do so.
- The federal cabinet spent north of $250,000 last September on a three day retreat focused on addressing inflation.
- They gathered at the Vancouver Hyatt and a significant amount of money went towards food.
- Food prices have been going up and there is the question of the impending grocery price legislation that could have mixed effects.
- This comes at a time when the Prime Minister and Finance Minister are attempting to turn the channel from the affordability crisis.
- The cabinet dined at Vancouver’s Cactus Club Cafe which has on its menu an $88 “millionaire’s cut” steak and lobster dinner.
- In total $46,266 was spent on food with $8,850 spent at the Cactus Club Cafe. The menu also features $32 ravioli, $24 hamburgers, and $28 spaghetti.
- The total expense of the retreat was $275,469 with hotels costing $129,469 and private security costing $11,533.
- BC Conservative MP Rob Morrison initiated the access to information request seeking a breakdown of all expenditures over $1000 for the cabinet retreat.
- At the time, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the gathering saying, “It was really important for me to get that kind of direct fingertip feel of what is happening with the Canadian economy and what Canadians are feeling.”
- The story really only made waves on the Epoch Times, Western Standard and Toronto Sun after initially being broken by Blacklock’s Reporter.
- The Toronto Sun emphasized the discrepancy between the government's spending and its messaging. The article pointed out that while the government discussed the challenges of inflation and the cost of living, its actions, as evidenced by the summit's expenses, seemed out of touch with the realities faced by Canadians.
- The lack of widespread coverage on such a significant issue highlights why Western Context exists.
- It underscores the importance of diverse media outlets in ensuring transparency and accountability.
- Transparency and accountability aside, the story also raises questions of if the government actually gets it.
- Does dinner at a restaurant that serves an $88 steak really make sense in the current climate?
- Now they may not have ordered that specific item but today perception is more important than reality.
- We don’t know why this story didn’t appear in the media this week but the fact it didn’t speaks volumes.
- The media should be able to act as a counterweight to ensure transparency and accountability, but if the story doesn’t get talked about, that doesn’t happen.
- We have to ask was there too much in the news this week with the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar and the Zelensky visit or if there is an amount of fatigue regarding the scandals of the Trudeau government over the past 8 years that it’s deemed that it’s part of the package now and readers and watchers would just be bored.
- Nonetheless this was a major news story and the fact it got almost no coverage should speak volumes.
Quote of the Week
“It was really important for me to get that kind of direct fingertip feel of what is happening with the Canadian economy and what Canadians are feeling.” - Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on the importance of the cabinet’s inflation summit in September 2022.
Word of the Week
Assassination - murder by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons : the act or an instance of assassinating someone (such as a prominent political leader)
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Relations, Reactors and Retreats
Teaser: Canada and India’s relationship tumbles even further, Alberta explores the idea of a provincial pension plan, and Canada helps Romania build more CANDU reactors. Also, the Trudeau cabinet spends $275k on an inflation summit.
Recorded Date: September 23, 2023
Release Date: September 24, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes