Andrew Coyne: The question of what is Trudeau hiding is not going to go away

The issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated flippantly. This isn’t some question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ

Another campaign begun in the shadow of scandal. The first weeks of the 2015 election campaign were dominated by the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, at much subsequent cost to Stephen Harper’s re-election chances. Whether or not the latest revelations in the SNC-Lavalin affair prove to be as consequential to the current campaign, the implications are deeply troubling.

Not only is the RCMP reported to have been inquiring into the affair, in which the prime minister and other government officials attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution, as a possible case of obstruction of justice, but investigators have apparently been prevented from gathering evidence from key witnesses — obstructed, if you will — by the government’s continuing refusal to release them from the bonds of cabinet confidentiality.

No, it’s not yet a formal criminal investigation, and yes, whatever else you want to call it has been “paused” until after the election — a protocol installed after the 2006 campaign, which was knocked sideways by the revelation that the RCMP was investigating the then minister of finance. No doubt that will be of some relief to the Liberal campaign, but it does leave the public in a bind: it would be a hell of a thing to re-elect the government only to have its top officials charged afterward with serious crimes.

And the questions — the first from a reporter, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s opening statement: “what is your government trying to hide?” — are not going to go away. Seven months after the scandal first came to light, they boil down to one: why not lift the obligation to keep cabinet conversations secret if it will help police get to the bottom of the matter?

This is not, after all, the first time the subject has come up. While the prime minister made a great show of waiving cabinet confidentiality earlier this year with regard to his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the waiver applied only to discussions that took place while she was still in the job, and only to those in which she took part. The ethics commissioner reported last month that nine witnesses with evidence relevant to his inquiry had been kept silent by the same restriction.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle — ministers could not otherwise speak frankly on sensitive matters — that ought not to be taken lightly. But it is not as important as the rule of law. It might be invoked for reasons of state — or, more often, to spare governments political embarrassment — but it cannot be extended to cover discussions of potential crimes.

Or at any rate it should not. Maybe Trudeau, as he insists, did nothing wrong, legally or ethically. If so, the witnesses will presumably exonerate him. But if not, all the more reason why they should be allowed to tell police what they know.

Former Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-LAVALIN affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. LARS HAGBERG / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Certainly it is within his power to do so. The explanation, offered both to the ethics commissioner and the RCMP, that it was a decision of the clerk of the privy council, even if true, will not wash. The clerk works for the prime minister, not the other way around. Whatever power the prime minister chooses to delegate he can also choose to take back.

The prime minister, in any event, long ago undermined any principled defence of his position by his readiness to go public with his side of the same conversations. It is no part of the doctrine of cabinet confidentiality that it should be strictly applied to material that might incriminate government officials, but may be relaxed where it shows them in a better light.

I say all this in the vain hope that the question will be considered on its merits, and not merely as a matter of optics, or polling, or tactics. We have an unfortunate tendency in our trade to cover the campaign, rather than the election — who’s up, who’s down, how the parties are or should be positioning themselves on a given issue, as opposed to what’s right, what’s wrong, and which party’s position is closest to the truth.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle. But it is not as important as the rule of law

But the issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated so flippantly. This isn’t about whether to raise or lower taxes or some other question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ, but whether we are to have an impartial system of justice, or one in which powerful corporations can wriggle out of prosecution by lobbying the right politicians. MORE

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‘Epic Fail’: Government Bungled Response to Youth Reconciliation Call to Action, Advisors Say

Lack of communication and consultation in awarding $15.2-million contract, failure to act on report cited.

Carolyn-Bennett.jpg
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett: ‘Our government is ensuring that the voices of Indigenous youth from coast to coast to coast are heard and incorporated into decision-making process.’ Photo via Shutterstock.

The federal government’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action on Indigenous youth is “an epic fail,” says Gabrielle Fayant, a former government advisor.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced this month that Canadian Roots Exchange, a Toronto-based charity, would get $15.2 million over three years to implement Call to Action 66 on youth reconciliation.

The Call to Action urged “multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation and establish a national network to share information and best practices.”

But Fayant, one of three youth advisors appointed in 2017 to guide the government’s response to the Call for Action, said Bennett’s announcement falls short of what is needed and ignores key recommendations of their report, titled “A Roadmap to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #66.”

The report called for the creation of an independent, community-based and Indigenous-led organization called Indigenous Youth Voices to hold the government accountable on Indigenous youth welfare in Canada.

“The money that we asked for, the $15.2 million, was specifically to start an organization to hold the government accountable,” said Andre Bear, another one of the three advisors.

Fayant agreed. “TRC [Call to Action] 66 was always about getting funds to grassroots for multi-year funding,” she said. “CRE has done a lot of great work around building relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, but that’s not what TRC 66 is about.”

Bear said the government initially wanted them to develop plans for a national Indigenous youth advisory council.

But the youth advisors rejected that approach, because there was no assurance it would be independent, he said. Future governments could easily turn the council into “puppets,” said Bear, who is from the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan.

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Gabrielle Fayant and Andre Bear, both former Special Youth Advisors to the Minster of Indigenous-Crown Relations. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Fayant and Andre Bear.

“We advised that the ‘TRC 66’ calls for a national network to share best practices, so we said we’d build that national network instead of the youth council,” he said.

Over 2.5 years, the three advisors travelled to Indigenous communities, administered a national survey, and organized a national youth gathering to get feedback on the best ways to address the diverse needs of Indigenous youth.

The government failed to implement their proposal in the 2018 budget. MORE

 

 

Anti-immigration ads an exercise in how candidates evade accountability


File photo of People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer by Alex Tétreault

Now-removed billboards featuring a photo of People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier told voters to “Say NO to mass immigration.”

The recent controversy surrounding this series of ads promoting the PPC’s anti-immigrant agenda highlights the potentially problematic role of third parties in election campaigns, both as vehicles for outside influence and as shields that help candidates evade accountability in the face of public criticism.

The billboards, which appeared in several Canadian cities, were met with swift backlash. Social media lit up with condemnation of the anti-immigrant messaging. And soon afterward, an online petition warned that the billboards reflected “Trump’s brand of hateful politics” creeping into Canada’s election campaign.

John Pasalis@JohnPasalis

I never imagined it was possible to see this in a city as diverse as Toronto, in Canada – a country of immigrants. This is in my neighbourhood Leslieville where 43% of residents were born outside of Canada and I’m sure many more like me who are the child of penniless immigrants

View image on Twitter

Lisa Kinsella@lisakinsella

Disgusting & disturbing dog-whistle politics. This billboard is in the Toronto neighbourhood of Leslieville.

I’m a second-generation Canadian who’s family came to Canada – both sides – during a wave of immigration in the 1920s.

View image on Twitter

The ongoing blame game surrounding the billboards highlights one of the major problems associated with third-party political activity in the lead-up to Canada’s federal election: the involvement of these outside actors creates a scenario in which accountability is often sorely lacking and hard to pin down.

According to Elections Canada, a group behind a partisan ad — which could be about a range of issues, including immigration — may be required to register as a third party.

The increased involvement of third-party groups in Canada’s federal election campaign not only opens new doors for dark money and influence, but also for disseminating disinformation — often, with very few consequences. #cdnpoli

“If you’re posting ads — if you’re doing activities like that, it (could) be a partisan activity,” an Elections Canada official told National Observer.

Bernier and the PPC are denying any involvement in the billboard campaign. True North Strong & Free Advertising is claiming it didn’t design or approve of the messaging on the billboards. Meanwhile, Pattison Outdoor is denouncing the advertisements and calling on the other parties to own their role in the scandal.

“They need to be accountable” for the advertisement, Randy Otto, president of Pattison Outdoor, which owns the billboards where the ads were placed, said of True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp.

During a phone interview with National Observer, Otto also pushed back on Bernier’s characterization that he had “caved in to the leftist mob” by deciding to remove the billboards.

“Nobody was taking responsibility for the message,” he said, so Pattison Outdoor did what it felt was the right thing to do.

But with increased third-party activity, scenarios like this may become more common, as the outside groups provide an easy opportunity for candidates to test controversial messages while maintaining distance and plausible deniability. This may be particularly true for Bernier, who didn’t meet the requirements to participate in the federal leaders’ election debates. MORE

RCMP ‘sitting on’ watchdog report into alleged spying on anti-oil protesters


The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 13, 2018. File photo by The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

The RCMP has been sitting for two years on a watchdog report into alleged Mountie surveillance of anti-oil protesters, a civil liberties group charges.

In a letter this month to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, a lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association laments the “inordinate delay” that has effectively obstructed the report’s release.

The association lodged a complaint in February 2014 with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. It alleged the national police force improperly collected and shared information about people and groups who peacefully opposed the planned Northern Gateway pipeline project and attended National Energy Board meetings.

The association said monitoring, surveillance and information sharing with other government agencies and the private sector created a chilling effect for those who might wish to take part in hearings or other public discussions on petroleum issues.

The commission launched a public interest investigation and completed an interim report into the matter in June 2017, forwarding it to the RCMP for comment on the conclusions and recommendations.

The commission cannot prepare a final report until the RCMP commissioner responds, which also means the findings can’t be disclosed to the civil liberties association or the public.

In March, Paul Champ, a lawyer for the association, wrote commission chairwoman Michelaine Lahaie to express concern that more than five years had passed since the complaint was filed, saying the RCMP may have violated the fundamental freedoms of Canadians exercising their democratic rights.

“It is our view that this interminable delay undermines the credibility of the CRCC and, more importantly, calls into question its ability to fulfil its primary function: ensuring accountability of the RCMP and fostering public trust and confidence in Canada’s national police force,” Champ’s letter said.

“It is regrettable that the CRCC may not be treating this complaint with the seriousness it deserves.”

After receiving no reply, he followed up with another letter in May.

Nika Joncas-Bourget, the commission’s director and general counsel for reviews, told Champ in late May the watchdog shared his frustration with the Mounties.

“We can assure you that we have repeatedly expressed concern to the RCMP regarding the time it is taking to receive the Commissioner’s Response,” she wrote.

Joncas-Bourget said once the commission receives Lucki’s response, it will “promptly issue” its final report, something it usually does within 30 days of getting the top Mountie’s input.

The RCMP had no immediate comment on the reason for the delay or when the commissioner’s response might be coming.

In his Aug. 9 letter to Lucki, Champ noted the RCMP Act imposes a legal duty to provide a response to the commission’s interim report “as soon as feasible.”

“In short, the RCMP has been sitting on this report for over two years and effectively obstructing its release to my client and the public,” he wrote.

“It is our view that two years for your review and response to the CRCC’s interim report is clearly an unreasonable delay not contemplated by the statute, whether the delay is due to insufficient allocation of resources or any other cause.

“This delay is all the more serious when the allegations concern fundamental rights and freedoms protected by the Canadian Constitution.”

The civil liberties association also complained in early 2014 about improper monitoring of anti-pipeline activists by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The review committee that oversees CSIS dismissed the complaint in 2017, prompting the association to ask the Federal Court to revisit the outcome, a proceeding that is ongoing.

  SOURCE

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Weeks after own deadline, PC government won’t say whether it’s done plans for Ontario Line

Premier Doug Ford has unveiled a map showing the proposed Ontario Line, which would spanning Ontario Place to the Ontario Science Centre, but has yet to reveal a detailed plan on the massive infrastructure project.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative government is refusing to say whether it has finalized initial plans for its most important transit project, three weeks after a self-imposed deadline for completing the work has passed.

On June 3, then infrastructure minister Monte McNaughton pledged the government would submit initial business cases for the Ontario Line and other priority projects under Premier Doug Ford’s proposed $28.5-billion transit expansion “in the second half of June.”

With the end-of-month deadline now passed, the province would not give a yes or no answer about whether it has completed a business case for the Ontario Line, the $10.9-billion rail line that would run through the heart of Toronto and is the centrepiece of Ford’s plan.

“Ontario is actively providing project information to the federal government. That’s why, given that discussions are ongoing with our partners, we will not negotiate the details of critical infrastructure projects in the media,” Barbara Mottram, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, said in an email last week.

In a brief phone interview Thursday, Mottram reiterated the government’s position that “we’re continuing to work with our partners.”

Pressed to clarify her statement, in a followup email Mottram described the business case for the Ontario Line as “a living document” that “is continuously being informed by the experts at Metrolinx who are consulting with our partners and transit authorities.”

Pierre-Yves Bourque, a spokesperson for Infrastructure Canada, said Thursday the federal government hasn’t received a business case for the Ontario Line or any of the three other transit projects that are a part of Ford’s new plan.

“In fact, what we have received so far for these projects is a two-page document, which is not sufficient to make (a) clear analysis of these projects,” Bourque said in a statement. SOURCE

WORDS NOT ENOUGH: TRUDEAU LIBERALS MUST DECLARE CLIMATE EMERGENCY AND FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE WITH URGENCY

” While Liberals and Conservatives use the issue to beat each other up, a closer look shows that they actually have the same emission targets and the same love of pipelines, and that both parties will exempt the biggest polluters from paying a price.”
-Jagmeet Singh on climate change

Last Monday, New Democrats called on Justin Trudeau to declare an environment and climate emergency. Canadian communities are already paying the price of climate inaction and the NDP is calling on the Liberals to bring in strong measures to fight climate change.

“It’s increasingly clear that if we fail to act now to fight climate change, the costs will be immense. The Liberals’ policies – from continuing fossil fuel subsidies to buying and pushing for expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, to practically eliminating the carbon tax for some of Canada’s biggest emitters – are sending Canada in the wrong direction,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. “Canadians should be able to count on their government to have the courage to do the right thing on climate change, while creating good jobs and making life more affordable for Canadians.”

In addition to declaring a climate emergency, the NDP’s motion urges the Liberal government to bring forward a climate action strategy that prioritizes reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, sets ambitious targets with measures to hold the government accountable, takes concrete action to reduce emissions and invests in building the clean energy economy we need now.

“Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have adopted Stephen Harper’s weak targets, and those won’t even be reached for two centuries. And the Conservatives have no plan to tackle climate change. Tackling climate change means we all have to work together and we need to make sure no worker or community is left behind,” added Singh. “We have already started laying out our plan with our commitment to make all buildings – including homes – more energy efficient. This plan will save you money, create good local jobs and fight climate change. New Democrats have a proud tradition of fighting climate change and we will not stop. SOURCE

TAKE ACTION! TELL BIG POLLUTERS TO PAY UP

It’s time for oil companies to pay their fair share for the climate crisis

Image result for It’s time for oil companies to pay their fair share for the climate crisisMassive waves hit the seawall as storms surges on West Vancouver’s Ambleside beach area at high tide on December 17, 2012.Mark van Manen/PNG Staff

Storms flooding our streets. Wildfires destroying homes. Deadly heat-waves.Extreme weather events like these are costing Canada billions of dollars. If we don’t get climate change under control, it’s only going to get worse.

Oil companies have known for decades that their products cause climate change, but they kept their research secret and cast doubt on the science.

They misled us — and now, ordinary people are paying the price.

But cities like New York, San Francisco, Victoria, and dozens more are fighting this injustice, taking oil companies to court or sending them letters to ask them to pay their fair share for the climate change costs they are facing.

Add your name to support your local government holding big polluters accountable for their fair share of the costs of dealing with climate change.

I SUPPORT MY LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN HOLDING BIG POLLUTERS ACCOUNTABLE

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