The (Right) News Rundown
- It's been a busy news week in BC, with Amazon announcing just yesterday that it will be expanding its Vancouver operations and adding 1000 tech jobs, and the NDP announcing that they're following through on a campaign promise to end medical services plan premiums before the next election. However, there is somehow even bigger news than that, and it relates not just to BC, but Canada as a whole.
- The U.S. Commerce department announced Thursday that most Canadian producers will pay higher duties on Canadian softwood, with a combined countervailing and anti-dumping rate averaging 20.83 per cent on softwood lumber shipments to the U.S. Certain forestry companies will pay higher than that rate, while others negotiated lower rates.
- U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the revised duties were issued after the United States and Canada were unable to reach a long-term settlement to the dispute. Ross said in a statement: "While I am disappointed that a negotiated agreement could not be made between domestic and Canadian softwood producers, the United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada. This decision is based on a full and unbiased review of the facts in an open and transparent process that defends American workers and businesses from unfair trade practices."
- In response to the decision, BC Premier John Horgan blamed the American lumber industry, saying a few "greedy" lumber barons lobbied for the duties to drive up prices at the expense of American consumers who need the wood to build or renovate homes.
- "It’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s a typical pattern by a small group of industry advocates in the United States that are cutting off their nose to spite their face,” he said. “The U.S. consumer is the one that will ultimately pay the price for these tariffs. They need our product. It’s a quality product. We will continue to defend our interests,” he said. “We will prevail. We have prevailed time after time and we will prevail again."
- The Trudeau government responded by saying it will continue to defend the Canadian lumber industry against protectionist trade measures, including possibly turning to litigation.
- The tariffs are lower than the preliminary tariffs issued in January, which were as high as 31 per cent in total, but they are still “unwarranted and completely without merit,” said Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, the province’s key trade lobbying group. Yurkovich characterized the dispute as the U.S. industry using trade tools to limit Canadian access to the U.S. market, which helps keep prices high to their benefit but to the detriment of U.S. consumers.
- In 2016, Yurkovich said, there was a significant deficit between what the U.S. lumber industry produced and what the construction market consumed, which she argued shows that there is a need for Canadian imports. And with U.S. housing construction projected to increase, Yurkovich said there is plenty of room for U.S. producers to increase their milling capacity, so the argument their producers are being injured by Canadian practices "is ridiculous. They have never made more money in the last 30 years. Never."
- Jason Kenney wins UCP leadership Race
- Last Saturday on October 28th the United Conservative Party held its leadership election. The election was the culmination of over a year of work to build the new party. In the end Jason Kenney won on the first ballot with 61.2% of the vote, Brian Jean came in second with 31.5% of the vote, and Doug Schweitzer came in third with 7.3% of the vote. In total over 58,000 members of the party voted in the leadership election. Before giving his acceptance speech Jason Kenney invited both Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer to the stage highlighting the United Conservative Party.
- Following this on Sunday Jason Kenney announced that he will run in a by-election for the riding of Calgary-Lougheed. MLA Dave Rodney announced his intention to retire vacating the seat of Calgary-Lougheed. Rodney was first elected in 2004 and was one of 10 PC MLA's to survive the NDP wave in Calgary during the last election.
- On Monday the caucus leadership team was unveiled and it included Jason Nixon as Leader of the Opposition in the Legislature and Opposition House Leader until Jason Kenney can secure a seat in a by-election and Leela Aheer as Deputy Leader. There were questions at the time as to why Brian Jean wasn't appointed to a significant position in the leadership team. Later in the week Brian Jean spoke to reporters and stated that he wanted to take a step back and focus on the constituents of Fort McMurray and take some personal time he also made a note that he hasn't even had the time to do anything with his lot in Fort McMurray after his house burned down in the 2016 fires. It should also be worth noting that Leela Aheer was one of Brian Jean's earliest supporters, it was a smart strategic move to choose Leela Aheer as deputy leader given her history with Brian Jean and the Wildrose party.
- Following this we had a week of attacks by the government and counter attacks by the UCP. There's no question that the 2019 election campaign has begun. On Monday Rachel Notley tweeted, "We'll stand against UCP's job-killing, gay-outing, school-cutting, health privatizing, backward-looking, hope-destroying, divisive agenda." This was picked up by MacLean's writer Jason Markusoff and he pointed out, "how often does a premier, 18 months before an election, sound like she or he is auditioning for role of official opposition leader?" The election of Jason Kenney is already working its way into the minds of the NDP government forcing them onto defence when in reality, it is the government who has the power to be pushing the current agenda and setting the tone!
- This continued into later in the week when the government tabled legislation preventing schools from "outing" students who join a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance). Their feeling is that this is a necessary proactive step since Jason Kenney during the campaign said that unless there is an obvious threat to the child's well being parents should have the right to be informed of what their child is up to at school. What's more is that the official stance from the UCP this week regarding this idea on the whole is that the power should lay with the teacher to best determine if a parent should be notified, this is very in tune with the government's current plan with the tabled legislation. We will have to see what happens next week and how the UCP votes on this legislation. This was an attempt by the NDP to turn the channel to social issues which they feel they can win on, but 72 hours in they are having a difficult time making this happen.
- On the same theme of getting into the minds of people and influencing the direction of public debate, the same thing has happened on Twitter. This week there was a story from a relatively unknown source that claimed that Jason Kenney had a net worth of over $19m CAD. Jason Kenney took to Twitter saying that this was absolutely untrue. We know Jason Kenney has a modest condo in Calgary and used his own pickup truck for the Unite Alberta campaign and did not take a pension from his years as MP as this is something the Reform party in the 1990s staunchly stood against. We don't know the exact figures of his net worth but it's not common for Canadian politicians to release tax returns as happens in the US. What's funny about this story is that by Friday evening it turned to the fact that Jason Kenney was too poor instead of too rich and he was irresponsible with financial management. What we have seen from Jason Kenney is a masterful use of social media in terms of engagement. It may be unlike anything the world of Canadian politics has seen before.
- The Liberal government is not always appointing judges from a pool of "highly recommended" candidates, raising questions about whether partisan political considerations or diversity concerns are trouncing merit.
- And now, after promising to bring more transparency to the way it appoints judges in this country, the Liberal government is being accused of doing the opposite.
- Under a ranking system brought back last October by the Liberals in order to "highlight truly outstanding candidates", advisory committees identify the best as "highly recommended." Second best are "recommended." A third group is "unable to recommend." But the Liberals have appointed a number of judges from the "recommended" list, according to a federal agency that supports the appointment process, despite there being candidates in the higher threshold, in order to satisfy gender equality.
- However, on Monday, neither the agency that compiled the data, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, nor the office of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, would provide a breakdown showing how many of the 74 appointees were drawn from the “highly recommended” pool of candidates versus the “recommended” group.
- Murray Rankin, the NDP justice critic, said he didn’t understand why the Liberals couldn’t provide more aggregate data. “I’m not entirely sure why we couldn’t know, why we’re not entitled to know, how often the minister is dipping into the merely ‘recommended’ as opposed to the ‘highly recommended’ pool,” he said.
- Despite a higher number of total male applicants in the highly recommended category (75-54) the appointments from the highly recommended field are being made at an even 37-37 split. Interestingly, despite strict adherence to gender equality, equality is not made for other categories. There were more "highly recommended" candidates in every category of diversity (ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous and disabled) than judges appointed from each group.
- Another issue is a lack of diversity in the firms that the Liberals appointed to. After appointing five women and no men to the bench in the Maritimes, it's found that three of the five appointees specialized in insurance law when they were lawyers, and all three worked for the same regional law firm, Stewart McKelvey, the Atlantic Provinces Trial Lawyers Association said in an open letter to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Wednesday.
- "Their background is representing insurance companies in personal injury claims against the average Joe," said Brian Hebert, president of the Atlantic lawyers association. "We're hoping this isn't a trend."
The Firing Line
- This past Wednesday, Governor General Julie Payette was giving a speech at the annual convention of the Canadian Science Policy Centre. As we all know Julie Payette is a former astronaut and has had a very successful academic and professional career in the sciences.
- In the speech she questioned how it could be possible that people believed "divine intervention" created life or that personality can be defined by astrology. She also put a firm hand down in stating that she feels there's no way that, "there is any debate left about whether climate change is real or that it is caused by people."
- On the surface it may seem that there is no problem with this, she is after all a representative of Canada. What must be known is that she is far more than a representative of Canada. Governor General Payette is the Queen's representative in Canada. Her full title is "Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette". The Governor General has been a politically neutral position since its creation when Canada became a country. The same goes for the Monarchy in England, we have to go back to the English Civil War in the mid 1600s to see a Monarchy that pushed a political goal. Suffice to say, what the Governor General did broke years and years of precedence.
- Queen Elizabeth II is our official head of state, and being the Queen's representative in Canada, the Governor General is technically exercising the power of the Monarchy in Canada. This has huge executive, legislative, and judicial impact. The Governor General appoints the Prime Minister's recommendations of Ministers, Senators, and Supreme Court judges. The Governor General also appoints the Lieutenant Governors of all the provinces. The Governor General also exacts control over parliament, she undertakes duties such as convening parliament, presenting the Speech From the Throne, granting Royal Assent to Bills, and perhaps most importantly proroguing and dissolving parliament.
- Prorogation refers to a parliamentary reset where bills on the table die and parliament can be reconvened at a later date, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper used this tool numerous times during his minority government. Along with dissolving Parliament comes the role of assigning and appointing the Prime Minister in the event that the current Prime Minister were to lose the confidence of the House.
- The reason why this rings so many alarm bells is that Justin Trudeau outright applauded the Governor General for the stances that she took. He said he applauded, “the firmness with which she stands in support of science and the truth.” The Prime Minister has become complacent in politicizing the office of the Governor General. While this may not have a huge impact for his majority government, if in 2019 we fail to elect a majority government the neutrality of the Governor General could come into question when it comes to deciding what happens with the hung parliament.
- What is more alarming is that this outright politicization of what has been a neutral body has been largely glossed over by the media. Rex Murphy in the National Post commented on the largely ceremonial nature of the governor general and how being elevated to the Governor General's office, "does not come with a certificate of intellectual authority, or the prerogative to delimit the scope of inquiry and debate on any issue the Commons or the citizenry may wish to engage." The Toronto Sun released an editorial rightfully claiming that the Governor General overstepped her role and gave a good summation of the situation including highlighting that there is a diversity of views in Canada when it comes to "divine intervention" or climate science.
Word of the Week
Constitution - the system of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state, corporation, or the like, is governed.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Importance of Neutrality
Teaser: The US tariffs Canadian softwood, Jason Kenney wins the UCP race and the social media narrative, the Liberals favour gender equality over diversity and merit with judicial appointments, and the Governor General takes an alarmingly partisan position.
Recorded Date: November 4, 2017
Release Date: November 4, 2017
Edit Notes: None