The News Rundown
- The parliamentary ethics committee faced a roadblock from the governing Liberals MPs on the committee, when they tried to shut down a hearing from top RCMP officials on why it did not pursue a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s actions in relation to the SNC-Lavalin affair back in 2019.
- At the start of the meeting on Monday, Liberal MP Mona Fortier took the floor to complain that members of the parliamentary committee on ethics had only learned late Friday afternoon that it was switching gears from its study on TikTok and would instead hear from the RCMP.
- RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme and Sergeant Frédéric Pincince, who was in charge of the investigation into SNC-Lavalin, were scheduled to offer a “briefing session” on the matter after questions arose from documents released last week by the group Democracy Watch that shed light on the federal police force’s decision to shut down their investigation after four years.
- Fortier mentioned that any changes to the schedule of a committee usually require a 48-hour notice period and said the move to invite the RCMP officials was made at the “last minute" before moving a motion to adjourn the meeting, resulting in a shouting match from both sides.
- Conservative MP Michael Barrett said the government MPs were “looking to shut down a hearing on a very serious matter with respect to a criminal investigation into the prime minister” and said the situation was “not acceptable.” Instead, less than five minutes into the meeting, the majority of Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs voted to adjourn and the Conservatives voted against. Committee chair John Brassard offered his apologies to Duheme and Pincince who were waiting to offer their remarks.
- Since 2019, the RCMP has been attempting to determine whether Trudeau had breached any criminal laws in pressuring former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to let SNC-Lavalin benefit from a deferred prosecution agreement.
- The Montreal construction firm was heavily lobbying the federal government in 2018 to avoid a criminal prosecution in a fraud and corruption case, which they claimed would have had devastating economic consequences in Quebec.
- But Wilson-Raybould remained firm on her decision not to intervene in the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision, which led to senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office to making attempts to persuade Wilson-Raybould to re-examine the idea of seeking external advice on the matter.
- Wilson-Raybould was eventually replaced as justice minister and attorney general during a cabinet shuffle in early 2019, and ejected from the Liberal caucus. Trudeau, for his part, was found to have contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by the ethics commissioner.
- SNC Lavalin just last month announced that they were going to change their name to 'AtkinsRealis', in order to shed parts of its past, including decades of controversy including multiple bribery and corruptions scandals all around the world, including in Libya in 2011, India and Bangladesh in the 90s and 2000s, shoddy work on a SaskPower dam in 2018, and of course the SNC Lavalin affair with the Prime Minister in 2019.
- The reason why the ethics committee was set to hear from the RCMP on their investigation is because of documents released last week by watchdog organization Democracy Watch. These showed that the RCMP mostly relied on public claims made by the actors involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair to come to their conclusions, and only interviewed three people over the course of four years: Wilson-Raybould, her former chief of staff Jessica Prince and former deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin.
- Documents also reveal that the RCMP did not even try to apply to obtain a search warrant to access confidential cabinet documents, records or communications, saying there was “insufficient evidence” based on the publicly available information to believe that a criminal offence had been committed.
- For instance, when questioned by a parliamentary committee in 2019, Wilson-Raybould “characterized the situation as being inappropriate as opposed to illegal” — an opinion that the federal police force thought could “defeat a criminal prosecution” if presented in court.
- The RCMP also believed that the cabinet shuffle, in which Wilson-Raybould was ousted from her role, “would likely be the strongest theory towards an offence of obstructing justice” if it was meant to explicitly allow the attorney general to take a different approach on SNC-Lavalin.
- But officials from the Prime Minister’s Office linked the cabinet changes to Scott Brison’s departure from politics and denied any connection to the SNC-Lavalin affair. In which case, you'd have to be a moron to believe that the shuffle happened just because one MP retired, and not because Trudeau wanted Wilson-Raybould gone. But seemingly, the RCMP just accepted that at face value.
- Records released by Democracy Watch on Oct. 16th shows that, during the assessment, a bid by the RCMP to obtain confidential cabinet communications related to the matter was denied by the Liberal government, and that the RCMP concluded there was “insufficient evidence to obtain production orders or search warrants” for the additional material.
- While the Bloc also voted to adjourn that meeting, MP René Villemure gave notice of his own motion for the committee to undertake a similar study, to the motion that was proposed by the Conservative ethics critic MP Michael Barrett. Villemure’s motion proposes three committee meetings be dedicated to the study, and calls for witnesses including Duheme and Pincince, as well as interim federal ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein, and former ethics commissioner Mario Dion. Barrett's calls for the committee to dedicate at least four meetings to the study, and invite Trudeau to appear for no less than two hours.
- Will we ever truly get to the bottom of the SNC Lavalin affair, find out what really happened? Andrew Coyne's headline from the Globe and Mail puts it quite clear as mud: we may never know why we may not know what we may not know.
- This is Canada, after all, and if there is anything this affair should have taught us – as if it were not already abundantly clear before – it is that we lack either the means or the will to seriously investigate charges of wrongdoing in the country’s highest office.
- The only reason we even know there was an RCMP pseudo-inquiry is because Democracy Watch made a request for documents under the federal Access to Information Act. Again, this is Canada, so most of the documents requested were withheld pending further review; several of the documents that were released, including the ones containing the legal opinion that presumably guided the force’s decision, were wholly or partly redacted.
- But what was released paints a picture of an investigating force that was curiously ambivalent about the whole affair, inclined at every point to accept the government’s assurances or to put the most favourable interpretation on events, or at any rate not especially inclined to dig further.
- The ability for the RCMP to just accept the government's words and just let them off the hook is troubling, but oh so Canadian of them. While we may finally get the RCMP's testimony at the committee, it won't be for a little while yet. And still we will be waiting for answers, even after 4 years of nothing.
- A new report by CBC News says that it costs more than $30m per year to protect the Prime Minister.
- In 2003/4 it cost $10.4m to protect Prime Minister’s Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. Using an inflation calculator this would bring that price to $15.9m.
- RCMP Sgt. Kim Chamberlain said that costs can be affected by things such as domestic and global threat, the number of people travelling, the type of activity, the number of locations attended, technological advancements, and economic factors such as fuel and accommodation as well.
- Prices rose steadily with the majority of Stephen Harper’s administration hovering under $20m with only 2013-2015 just over $23m.
- It wasn’t until 2021 that prices shot up astronomically.
- The article’s frame says that most of the price did go up while Stephen Harper was Prime Minister but ignoring the huge spike under Justin Trudeau.
- Being critical of the cost of protection doesn’t mean that Justin Trudeau doesn’t need protection.
- But we also need to realize that this Prime Minister takes lots of vacations and governs in a time of polarization but more on that later.
- The article also mentions a trip that Canadians may not be aware of.
- Back in April, Justin Trudeau took a trip to Big Sky, Montana for Easter. That trip cost taxpayers more than $228,000.
- We at the time were not aware of this and when details did become available we did not have space on Western Context to detail the spending that had taken place.
- Of that $228,000, $205,000 of that was paid to the RCMP who were in charge of protecting the Prime Minister and his family.
- This trip also included a motorcade provided by the US Secret Service who were not able to provide a cost on what the value of this was to the Canadian government.
- The discussion of polarization also plays into the cost and the threat the Prime Minister faces.
- Being specifically brought up was the 2021 election where the PM was routinely heckled, followed, and in some cases where protestors got too close and were deemed a danger.
- This caused security to be ratcheted up.
- While we at Western Context believe violence is unacceptable in all forms we do need to make clear that the 2021 election campaign was incredibly divisive, in part due to the policies put forward by the now Liberal minority government.
- It’s important to look at all angles of a problem or issue to make sure there’s a full understanding of why things are happening the way they are.
- And with that, it’s fair to say that a portion of the increased costs are likely due to the increased polarization brought forward by Trudeau himself.
- This doesn’t excuse any violence but it’s important to have a full picture of the events transpiring.
- We also have to ask if the RCMP are being as efficient as they can be with tax dollars and procurement but as it is one of the largest federal institutions, getting any clarity on this will be difficult.
- The RCMP also point out that current world affairs such as the relationship with China and India could be at play and again, context is needed.
- China is quickly becoming everyone’s antagonist and we soured the situation with India before the alleged assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
- The article does a good job at outlining costs but it doesn’t begin to describe how things may be made more efficient.
- The original access to information requests were made by Matt Malone, a Thompson Rivers University professor who wanted to highlight the increasing threat of political violence in Canada and that it could have an effect on our democracy.
- It is always important to be aware of how much money the government spends on our elected officials outside their salaries.
- The discussion going forward should be focused around making sure the value proposition is there for using the RCMP and whether or not it would be beneficial to establish a dedicated police force similar to the US Secret Service.
- Just like the management of buildings like 24 Sussex and Rideau Cottage, the general assumption is that these costs are just part of the program.
- But in general we should ask if things can be changed.
- The BC government raised eyebrows this week when they introduced legislation called the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act, that aims to increase fines for rule-breaking short term rental operators and ban most short-term rentals that aren’t in the operator’s principal residence.
- The goal is to discourage landlords and investors from taking desperately needed suites off the long-term rental market by listing them on websites like Airbnb and VRBO. But housing officials acknowledge that almost 50 per cent of short-term rental operators are already flouting bylaws that exist in local communities.
- If passed, short-term rentals in B.C. would only be offered in the host’s principal residence in municipalities with a population of 10,000 people or more and in smaller communities within 15 kilometres of a larger municipality.
- Someone who lives in a single-family home could list either a basement suite or a laneway home as a short-term rental but not both. They could also list their primary residence as a short-term rental as long as they live in it the majority of the time.
- It also means investors with several condo units listed on Airbnb would have to convert those units to long-term rentals or face hefty fines. A provincial enforcement team would be created to crack down on rule-breakers, but B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon didn’t have details on how many officers would be assigned to that unit.
- Smaller municipalities with populations under 10,000 and 14 resort communities, including Tofino, Whistler and Osoyoos, wouldn’t be subject to the new rules but communities could choose to opt in. The new rules would take effect May 1 next year.
- During a news conference at the legislature Monday, B.C. Premier David Eby said short-term rentals are making it challenging for people looking for affordable places to live.
- Responding to questions about what exactly was included in the legislation, Kahlon echoed Premier David Eby in his answer, saying the goal is to only crack down on extra properties that investors could sell or rent out long-term to local tenants.
- “The general principle we follow in these regulations is that we're focused on returning units that can be long-term housing to the market. So something like a tent or treehouse is not intended to be captured.” As debate went on, he added RVs, fishing lodges, strata tourism complexes and time-share resort developments to his running list of exemptions.
- Short-term rental giant Airbnb isn’t taking B.C.’s proposed province-wide changes to rental rules lying down The company is asking hosts to stand up and voice their opposition to legislation tabled last week, which aims to, in part, return STRs to the long-term market. It started with an email from Airbnb to hosts encouraging them to reach out to their MLAs saying the rules go too far.
- The email says: “The British Columbia government has introduced short-term rental (STR) legislation that may impact your ability to host. Importantly, the government is classifying short-term rentals as any rental less than 90 days. This will impact hosts who share their homes on a more extended basis and will make it more difficult for those who travel for work, including healthcare, construction and contract workers, students, and those travelling to access healthcare to find a longer-term place to stay. Join other Hosts in emailing BC legislators to share your story and ask them to protect your right to host.”
- Nathan Rotman with Airbnb says the province needs to understand the implications the new short-term rental laws will have: “Obviously hosts are very concerned and they’re interested in being heard by the province. The province hasn’t done public consultation on this at all with hosts. We’re encouraging hosts to reach out to the provincial government, let them know who they are, what they use this money for, why this is important to them, in an effort to ensure that the province understands the implications of this law much more broadly.”
- BC United tried to amend the legislation, to take into account some of those concerns from those who stand to lose the ability to list their investment properties on short-term rental sites. It's an odd stance to take, give that so many people support the BC NDP legislation in tackling this problem, and that the housing crunch is affecting far more than just young people who would be likely to vote NDP anyway.
- The Opposition had four proposed changes, including allowing one property in addition to a person’s principal residence to be listed for short-term rental, lowering the definition of a short-term rental from 90 to 30 days, exempting people travelling for cancer treatments, and exempting entire cities during major events, such as FIFA 2026 in Vancouver, where there won’t be enough hotel rooms to meet demand.
- Falcon cited feedback from nurses and doctors, who rely on Airbnb-style accommodations when travelling to a community for a short-term stay to backfill health care services. He also cited the film sector, which needs short-term accommodation for cast and crew who may only be in town for a few weeks to film.
- Falcon said: “We genuinely were trying to say let's fix this and make sure we don't have unintended consequences,” said Falcon.
- “And the amendments we put forward honestly, were heartfelt based on genuine feedback we were hearing from the film industry, from doctors, from nurses, from folks that really wanted to try and get this right.”
- However, the NDP did not accept any of the proposed amendments and carried on forward with the legislation regardless of any whining or complaints from Airbnb hosts.
- Eby replied: “Here they spend every day they have, every opportunity they have to drive a hole through to create loopholes for investors running private hotels in our province. We say 90 days, they say 30. They say, ‘Well, what about big events? We should do something about big events.’ …I would love to hear them say something at some point to support real people looking for a place to live, which our short-term rental legislation is going to do.”
- Kahlon took particular umbrage at the proposal to allow one investment property per British Columbian to be listed for short-term rental.
- “This suggestion that people can buy an investment property and use it for short-term rental is essentially the opposite of what we're trying to do here. I did refer to it as a loophole. I'll still refer to it as a loophole, which will allow investors to buy a property and put it on short-term rental when we're trying desperately to get more housing back into the housing market for long-term rental.”
- In the end the bill passed into law Thursday, by a vote of 51 to 23 — the NDP, two BC Green MLAs and the former NDP now-independent MLA for Parksville-Qualicum in support, while the BC United and the BC Conservatives lined up against.
- For the most part, public opinion on the legislation has been largely positive. Most people see the legislation as at least doing something with the problem, which has allowed to fester under both the BC United's watch, and the BC NDP's.
- Eby posted on social media: “Homes are for people, not for investors who keep them out of reach for their own profit. Thousands of short-term rentals will be turned into long-term housing for people in B.C.”
- We’ll see if that happens. If the sweeping legislation has unintended consequences, the NDP won’t be able to say they weren’t warned.
- Flanked by Atlantic Liberal MPs on Thursday, Justin Trudeau announced that home heating oil will be exempt from the carbon tax for 3 years and people who live in rural regions will get double the carbon tax rebate.
- The double carbon tax rebate is designed to give people who live in rural Canada to switch to electric alternatives like heat pumps.
- Heat pumps are an interesting piece of technology since most modern heat pumps can’t run below -15 to -25C. Older models have a higher minimum temperature meaning they don’t really make sense for most Canadian winters.
- Anyone who has experienced a prairie winter will know that it does get colder than -25 here.
- The heat pumps are one side of the story but it is Atlantic Canada that has almost a majority of its population heating their homes with heating oil, about 40%.
- The suspension of the carbon tax is the big deal here compared to the announcement of the doubling of the rebate for rural Canadians.
- For two reasons.
- First, it is a regional policy announcement since nowhere else in Canada sees such widespread use of heating oil which creates another case of regional disparity.
- For those unaware, heating oil is about 30% more emission intensive than natural gas. Users of heating oil will pay no carbon tax.
- Secondly, this policy has widespread announcement for carbon pricing in Canada.
- Pierre Poilievre said, “a flailing, desperate Trudeau is now flipping and flopping on the carbon tax as I am holding a gigantic axe the tax rally in a Liberal-held Atlantic riding. He is admitting he’s not worth the cost.”
- Danielle Smith said, “I congratulate Atlantic Canadians for a well deserved break from the carbon tax on home heating oil, I am frankly disturbed that same break will not be extended to Albertans and those from Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada who heat their homes with natural gas.”
- What really makes this announcement stand out is that even Alberta NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley said, "To apply a carbon price to some regions and some fuels but not all is totally unacceptable. We must act together as Canadians or this just won't work. [We] call for any federal actions to be applied equitably across all Canadians regardless of their location or the form of home heating method that they use."
- When the federal carbon tax came to Alberta, the province asked for an exemption on home heating.
- Almost a year ago to the day the Conservatives proposed a motion in Parliament calling on the carbon tax to be exempted from home heating, all opposition members except one Liberal MP voted no, it did not pass.
- Premier Scott Moe was more blunt in saying, “just axe the tax on everyone and everything.”
- Premier Doug Ford also joined in saying, "The carbon tax is making life more expensive for everyone in every part of the country. I’m urging the prime minister to do what's right and eliminate the tax altogether."
- Politically this is a move that coincides with what we’ve seen in national polling that shows the Liberals at risk of losing almost everything in Atlantic Canada if an election were held now.
- The Liberals according to Rural Economic Development Minister Guide Hutchings said that there could be other carve outs in the future but what the Atlantic Liberal caucus heard was clear on the issue of heat pricing.
- She then said, “perhaps they need to elect more Liberals in the Prairies so that we can have that conversation as well.”
- An election isn’t being held now but their urgency tells us those polls are true but the reaction of this one cabinet minister shows how some are treating the news.
- Aside from the electoral question we have to look at policy.
- Economists Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach had a discussion on X where Leach asked: does the federal carbon pricing regime now fail to meet the federal carbon pricing benchmark?
- Tombe: answered yes, it all unravels from here.
- Leach also pointed out that in addition to the regional distribution being a problem as the politicians have pointed out, in 3 years the carbon pricing for fuel oil would be up by nearly 100% from where it is today!
- Fast forwarding 3 years, the price comes back on and it’s double what it is today!
- The answer is that it’s untenable. It’s not going to be possible to ask someone who hasn’t been paying to pay a huge tax 3 years from now.
- The conclusion from the economists was that this is the beginning of the end for carbon pricing in Canada.
- What happens to the carbon tax ultimately depends on who forms the next government.
- In the past there has been widespread derision to anyone who doesn’t support the idea of a carbon tax. But this week, Justin Trudeau’s policy move has opened the door to a world where the carbon tax doesn’t apply. It starts with one thing and eventually, moves to everything.
Quote of the Week
“A flailing, desperate Trudeau is now flipping and flopping on the carbon tax as I am holding a gigantic axe the tax rally in a Liberal-held Atlantic riding. He is admitting he’s not worth the cost.” - Pierre Poilievre on the abrupt Liberal turn on carbon pricing.
Word of the Week
flip-flop - to make an abrupt reversal of policy
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Axing the Tax
Teaser: Liberal MPs bar the RCMP from speaking in committee on SNC Lavalin, security costs for protecting Trudeau continue to rise, and the BC NDP puts limits on short term rentals. Also, Trudeau partially flip flops on the carbon tax on home heating oil.
Recorded Date: October 28, 2023
Release Date: October 29, 2023
Edit Notes: Pause before conclusion
Podcast Summary Notes