Nova Scotia, B.C. groups pair up on court challenge to overturn Canada’s electoral system

A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on federal election day, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. – Ryan Taplin

OTTAWA, Ont. — A Nova Scotia charitable organization wants the courts to force Canada to abandon its winner-take-all electoral system in favour of one that awards seats in Parliament according to the popular vote.

Halifax-based Springtide Collective and Fair Voting B.C. filed an action with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto earlier this month arguing that Canada’s first-past-the-post system violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of fair representation.

Springtide executive director Mark Coffin said the case has been in the works since 2017. By August of 2019 the groups had raised enough money to cover the costs of preparing a court application and securing expert testimony.

“This is a civil rights issue like any other civil rights issue. It’s always best when politicians take steps in lawmaking that would protect and enhance our civil rights, but when we don’t get that from our politicians, and in this case, when we see time and time again politicians really not enthusiastically supporting or championing reform to ensure that everybody’s votes count, it’s time for the courts to intervene,” Coffin said.

Coffin added there’s a pattern of behaviour where campaign on electoral reform, then back off when elected. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post, but abandoned the idea of electoral reform a year later.

The applicants hope the courts will now take the issue into their own hands.

The case alleges that Canada’s current electoral system does not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as subsequent rulings on electoral issues, on multiple grounds. Specifically, the application argues that it violates section 3, by denying Canadians effective representation, meaningful participation, and fair and legitimate elections, and section 15, by discriminating against voters and candidates on the basis of political belief.

“The court has in past rulings decided that every Canadian has the right to effective representation and meaningful participation,” Coffin said. “For many Canadians based on their political beliefs, they’re denied effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process. . . .Effective representation in the courts means having a voice in the deliberations of government. When more than half of the people vote for candidates that don’t end up in parliament, they’re certainly not represented.”

This election makes the case, the groups argue: 51 per cent of voters cast ballots for candidates that did not end up in Parliament, there were a quarter-million more Conservative voters than Liberal voters but Liberals took 36 more seats than the Conservatives, and NDP voters outnumbered Bloc voters by two to one nationally, yet the NDP will hold fewer seats than the Bloc. Furthermore, they argue, the disproportionate representation of certain political beliefs are concentrated in different regions of the country in ways that are now adding fuel to the fire around national unity.

The two groups involved in the court challenge have hired experienced Toronto-based constitutional lawyer Nicolas Rouleau to represent them. They’re hoping the case will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

If the courts agree with the claims made in the case, they can go as far as to declare Canada’s current electoral system unconstitutional, and order the government to develop a system that complies with the Charter, the applicants say. SOURCE

‘Deep state’ lobbying a growing tactic of fossil fuel industry, report finds

Since Justin Trudeau’s government took power in 2015, lobbyists in Ottawa have focused more attention on the nation’s bureaucrats, rather than elected office holders, representing what one researcher is calling a troubling ‘fusion of private interest and public bodies’


Public officials faced ‘organized and sustained’ oil and gas lobbying on pipelines in recent years: study. Lobbying contacts by industry groups far outnumbered contacts by environmental NGOs. 

A new report from the Corporate Mapping Project documents the reach of the fossil fuel industry when it comes to lobbying the federal government, raising red flags about what it calls a “troubling shift in lobbying patterns.”

The report’s findings suggest that industry lobbyists are increasingly focusing on developing closer, long-term relationships with federal bureaucrats rather than elected officials, especially since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015.

The report tracked fossil-fuel-industry lobbying over seven years, from 2011 to 2018 — finding that the fossil fuel industry vastly outnumbered other resource sectors, including the forestry and renewable energy industries — and analyzed how lobbying activities changed with prime ministers.

The result, the report found, is lobbying that’s increasingly focused on “deep state” connections, rather than elected officials, meaning the power of the fossil fuel industry lasts far beyond a federal election, regardless of voter appetite for climate action.

What that means, according to Nicolas Graham, a sociologist at the University of Victoria and lead author on the report, is there’s evidence of a sort of “elite policy network,” of long-lasting connections between high-powered and well-connected lobbyists and bureaucrats, “one that outlasts election cycles and develops over time.”

Proponents of the fossil fuel industry, like Alberta premier Jason Kenney, have long made a point of accusing environmental groups of being behind a “campaign of lies and defamation” against the province’s energy industry.

When it comes to lobbying, the report found that the fossil fuel industry reported far more lobbying of the federal government than did environmental non-governmental organizations —  five times more.

“This idea that there’s a really, really well funded — disproportionately funded — environmental campaign defies the facts of a [fossil fuel] industry that is extremely well funded and very active politically,” Graham told The Narwhal.

Top Fossil Fuel Lobbying Organizations Canada

Top fossil fuel lobbying organizations. Source: Corporate Mapping Project

‘Co-writing of policy’

Elected officials were the most-lobbied group when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in office, according to the report. That started to change in 2015, when Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister. Then, the focus of fossil-fuel lobbyists shifted — to bureaucrats.

The report, “Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau,”  dubs this a shift to “deep state” lobbying, “whereby key government institutions and actors become integrated with private firms and interest groups that together co-produce regulation and policy.”

“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies.” — Nicolas Graham

The result, Graham said, could suggest a kind of “co-governance and co-writing of policy,” in which industry groups take on an increasingly important role in influencing policy.

“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies,” he added

Elected officials, Graham said, could be “seen as potentially not as amenable to influence from the oil and gas sector.” A strategic approach for the industry could be to integrate more deeply in government, lobbying bureaucrats rather than elected officials.

The report finds a network of well-connected senior public servants and mid-level staff who are in frequent contact with industry lobbyists.

Among the top 10 senior federal bureaucrats identified by the Corporate Mapping Project — each of whom remained in their positions after the 2015 election — the number of annual contacts with fossil fuel industry lobbyists increased from an average of around 145 contacts per year under the Harper government, to approximately 229 per year under the Trudeau government — nearly one contact per work day.

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, doesn’t think that’s newsworthy. “Anyone who does government relations knows that you work at all levels,” Gratton told The Narwhal.

“If you’re leaving it to parliament, you’re going to be disappointed in your outcome. Because the public service is the body that generates the ideas that cabinet and ultimately parliament end up deliberating upon,” he added.

“They’re often looking to us for ideas of how certain policies can work effectively.”

Gratton is also not surprised that there would be an increase in lobbying under the Liberals. “There would be a very simple explanation for that, I think — the Liberals’ approach to public policy was far more open than it was under Harper,” he said.

“Under the Liberals, I think probably everybody increased their amount of lobbying, particularly with public service. But that’s because the Liberals fundamentally changed how public policy was developed.” The Liberals, Gratton said, took public officials “off the leash” and made them more accessible to all groups.

But Graham is concerned that increased lobbying of non-elected officials could mean that lobbying efforts can far outlast election cycles and that electing new politicians may not be enough for voters to cast aside deep relationships between industry and government — something the report calls “the close coupling of federal policy to the needs of extractive corporations.”

“For people who voted in the federal election for some kind of increased action on climate change, I think it would be potentially eye-opening to think about the way policy is formed,” Graham said.

Six lobbying contacts per day

The reports finds the fossil fuel industry reported 11,452 lobbying contacts with government officials over a seven-year period — more than six contacts per work day.

A full quarter of those stem from two major industry associations: the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) — which represents a variety of mining interests, including four companies with interests in Alberta’s oilsands — and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

CAPP declined The Narwhal’s request for an interview about its lobbying activity, but sent a statement by email.

“It is not surprising CAPP is among the most active lobbyists in our sector,” Jay Averill, a spokesperson for CAPP, wrote in an email. “In effect, we are the main representative for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry.”

Federal Institutions Lobbied

Federal institutions lobbied between 2011 and 2018. Source: Corporate Mapping Project

“It is our job to work with local, provincial and federal governments to find the best way to encourage investment in our industry while upholding the high social and environmental standards Canadians expect,” he added, noting that the industry contributes $8 billion in annual revenues to all levels of government.

“Our oil and natural gas industry benefits all Canadians and CAPP will continue to work with the federal government on making those benefits even greater.”

Gratton, of the Mining Association of Canada, rejects the notion that his organization represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry, saying his group advocates on a narrower subset of issues and was the first industry association that came out in favour of a carbon price.

Gratton told The Narwhal that one of the reasons his organization is top of the list in lobbying activities could be because it is diligent in reporting.

“We report everything. We’re very careful about living up to the intent and spirit of the act,” he said.

 “I have trouble believing we are much more active than other industry groups active in Ottawa,” he added, pointing to a “grey area” in when meetings with public officials are reported.

The Corporate Mapping Project report points to numerous flaws in Canada’s lobbying rules — vague information about what was actually discussed at lobbying meetings, lack of names of lobbyists present, imprecise dates, no disclosure of fees paid to lobbyists.

“There are fairly straightforward ways transparency could be improved,” Graham said.

Lobbying windows

Lobbying efforts increase in what are known as “lobbying windows,” according to the report.

One such lobbying window was during debate leading up to changes to Canada’s environmental assessment process under the Harper government. The report found that — of the years included in the report’s analysis — the year between November 2011 and November 2012 was the highest recorded year of lobbying from the sector.

The report’s findings on lobbying windows are in line with a previous investigation by The Narwhal, which found that 80 per cent of Senate lobbying over Bill C-69 — the act to reform Canada’s environmental assessment process, that passed in June —  stemmed from industry and related groups, primarily from the oil and gas industry.

The Corporate Mapping Project report found just 10 fossil fuel industry lobbying contacts with the Senate in 2016-2017. The Narwhal found the oil and gas industry met with individual Senate members 224 times over a 16-month period beginning when Bill-C-69 was first introduced in February 2018.

“In 2018–19 big carbon saw an opportunity to block mild reforms to environmental assessment and its Senate lobbying went into overdrive,” the report notes.

As The Narwhal reported in June, CAPP had described, in its lobbyist registration, one of the topics it planned to address a “grassroots lobbying campaign to ask Senators to make sure [Bill C-69] does not pass as it stands today.”

Leaders of major energy companies have acknowledged increasing their lobbying efforts during times like these in the past.

Speaking to CBC in June, Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix noted that the industry had ramped up activities to “an almost unprecedented effort with government,” in order to come up with what he had hoped would be “a workable bill.”

Not all industry groups opposed the bill. The Mining Association of Canada has supported Bill C-69 since it was introduced, telling CBC in June that it would provide more certainty and was an improvement over existing legislation.

Public interest?

Graham is quick to point out that not all lobbying is negative, and that it can play a legitimate role in advancing the public interest. What’s missing, he said, is an equalization of influence, or “equalizing access” to politicians and bureaucrats.

The report documents a “core of a small world of leading industry associations and targeted offices and individuals within government that are in regular contact with each other” — just 20 organizations accounted for 88 per cent of the total lobbying contacts by the fossil fuel industry, according to the report.

“Policies that would proactively support more equal access to political influence are needed to ensure industry is not over-represented when shaping policy,” the report notes.

Gratton of the Mining Association isn’t concerned about the state of lobbying activities in Canada, saying critics may be presenting “a sensationalized view that’s really not really a truly representative accounting of how things function.”

“Canada’s [lobbying] is very different from lobbying in the United States,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in darkened corridors.”

Gratton views Canada’s lobbying rules as robust, and says he supports multi-stakeholder engagement. “I’ll be honest, in this age of sort of populism and Trumpism, I worry that that unique Canadian way of doing things is under threat,” he told The Narwhal.

“I would hate to see a day when in the public policy is developed differently than it has been traditionally in Canada,” he said. “It’s a better way of doing things that’s better for the country.”

But Graham told The Narwhal that he’s concerned about the ways in which corporations can influence public policy in Canada.

“The economic power of industry ends up reaching into political society,” he said.

And without equal access to influence political decisions, the report warns that meaningful action to reduce fossil fuel consumption may be that much more difficult.

“In this time of climate crisis, transitioning away from fossil fuels in a rapid, democratic and socially just manner is essential,” William Carroll, a co-author of the study said in a press release.

“If we do not acknowledge and address the influence that the fossil fuel industry holds over government policy, we will not be able to take the steps necessary to adequately address the crisis with the urgency it requires.” SOURCE

Trans Mountain project: A timeline | Vancouver Sun

 

One person, one vote? In Canada, it’s not even close

Casting a ballot holds very different weights in different ridings.

The chances are excellent that when you go about marking your ballot in the upcoming federal election, something quirky and quintessentially Canadian will happen without you even knowing it.

Some votes are going to be substantially more powerful than others, especially those cast in the most remote rural ridings. And if you live in a city — especially one growing as rapidly as Greater Toronto — your vote is more likely to register as less than equal.

Take the electoral district of Labrador, for example. Only 27,197 live there, according to Elections Canada. Yes it is vast — you could fit all of the United Kingdom inside Labrador and still have room for Costa Rica. But compared to a typical riding in Brampton or Scarborough, where riding populations exceed the national average, and the numerical disparity is glaring: it will take about four times as many Toronto-area voters to get the same result, electing a single representative to Parliament.

How is that even possible? It’s a long and complicated story, one that began in the earliest years of Confederation itself. But at the heart of the matter is this fundamental fact: Canada lives with a basic and intensifying representational tension, with too few rural and too many urban dwellers.

Or, as John Courtney, Canada’s foremost scholar on these tensions, likes to say, “To paraphrase Mackenzie King, ‘Canada has too much geography and not enough people living in the more remote northern and rural parts of the country.’ ”

Throughout Canada’s first century and beyond, the historic compromise was to err on the side of rural representation — and in so doing, we veered away from the doctrine of “one person, one vote” that our southern neighbours hold so dear.

And Canadians, at the time, were OK with that. Throughout the 20th century Canada had a concurrent problem with “gerrymandering” — federally and provincially, parties in power routinely proposed redrawing ridings for partisan advantage. But Canada — ingeniously, some would say — finally solved gerrymandering in the 1960s by creating 10 Electoral Boundary Commissions, one for each province, effectively taking the power away from politicians and letting experts draw the boundaries.

“I remember once speaking to the league of Women Voters in Washington, D.C., and they were absolutely stunned to hear that Canada had independent electoral commissions,” said Courtney, professor emeritus of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “They thought it was a great idea.”

“They applauded roundly. But then when I put up a map, they wanted to know the relative populations of the districts and when I told them, they were shocked. They just could not grasp how far we are willing to deviate from representation by population.”

The question of whether or not Canadians were guaranteed voting equality was all but settled in a landmark 1991 Supreme Court ruling that said “deviations from absolute voter parity” may be justified under Canada’s charter.

Writing for the majority in the 6-3 decision, Justice Beverley McLachlin dismissed the “one person, one vote” argument, instead famously coining the phrase “effective representation” as the constitutionally enshrined right of all Canadian voters.

“Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation,” McLachlin wrote. But other factors “like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.”

But if things were settled in 1991, many scholars see them as unsettled today — or in need of legislative tweaking, at the least — given the changing face of Canada’s largest cities and urbanization as a whole.

Courtney notes that the unspoken consent in the 1991 ruling was to allow deviations of plus or minus 25 per cent in population equity, riding by riding. And the provincial commissions, which redistribute voting power every 10 years based on fresh census data, have shaped their maps with what many see as glaring inequity.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Pal seized upon the issue in 2015, questioning some of the inequities in Ontario in a paper for the McGill Law Journal titled “The Fractured Right to Vote: Democracy, Discretion and Designing Electoral Districts.”

Pal, speaking to the Star, agreed that even to this day, “there is a very strong principled argument in Canada for permitting deviations from representation by population for truly Northern areas — especially considering Canada’s long and storied history of specifically excluding Indigenous people from participation in the House of Commons.”

But Pal argues the Boundary Commissions that set riding boundaries have altogether too much discretion to remap areas that have nothing to do with the North — and he cites the example of the Niagara Falls district, which during the 2015 federal election was the most populous of all 338 Canadian ridings, with 128,357 people. The adjacent riding of Niagara West, by stark contrast, had only 86,533 inhabitants — a “mystifying inequality” of nearly 40 per cent, he notes.

“It is jarring,” said Pal. “I think people in Niagara Falls would be surprised at the degree that their vote is different from their neighbours in Niagara West. There’s no mountain, no body of water, I can’t see anything in those historic ideals that really makes any sense.”

Though the statute that guides the Provincial Electoral Commissions makes no mention of municipal borders, that appears to be something Ontario’s commission cleaved to in its reshaping of many of the province’s federal electoral boundaries. Some politicos see logic in such an approach, even if it is outside the bounds of statute. MORE

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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The global assault on environmental rights behind Jason Kenney’s war


File photo of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney by Tijana Martin

MichelleBellefontaine@MBellefontaine ·

I have been updating my story all day. The quote from Kenney has been included, along with the reaction from Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. http://cbc.ca/1.5277846 

Amnesty International says Jason Kenney’s ‘fight back’ strategy violates human rights | CBC News

Amnesty International Canada says the Alberta government’s plan to fight people who criticize the oil and gas industry exposes them to threats, intimidation and violates their human rights.

cbc.ca

MichelleBellefontaine@MBellefontaine

Here is the video of @jkenney making remarks in Fort McMurray today about the jailing of Greenpeace activists is Russia

Embedded video

Authoritarian governments moving in lockstep to discredit environmentalists

“Foreign funding” has emerged as a powerful propaganda cudgel for governments to turn on environmental and human rights activists around the world.

The leader of Russia’s Ecodefense sought political asylum in Germany this June to avoid imprisonment in Putin’s ruthless crackdown on environmental groups designated as “foreign agents,” a term that in Russian denotes “spy” or “traitor.”

In Narendra Modi’s India, where flooding and drought threaten more than 100 million lives, a 2014 intelligence report called dissident environmental and human rights organizations a threat to national security, accusing them of “serving as tools for foreign policy interests.”

“The world is facing the most pressing moral imperative in the history of human civilization, and Jason Kenney’s inquiry has all but criminalized opposition to fossil fuel expansion, before a single witness is called. ” @Garossino #cdnpoli #oped

Despite being praised by Stephen Harper for his visionary global leadership, Modi ​​was nothing short of brutal. Cancelling the licences of 20,000 NGOs, his government froze bank accounts and raided offices, including those of Amnesty International India and prominent human rights lawyers who had challenged his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

To prevent a Greenpeace India activist from testifying in the British parliament about the local impact of a British mining company’s Indian operations, Modi’s government blocked her from boarding her flight to the UK, then put her on a no-fly list. MORE

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Premier Jason Kenney takes aim at Amnesty International Canada in letter

Federal probe finds ‘co-ordinated’ social media bots in Alberta election

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discusses the accomplishments of his government in its first 100 days in office, in Edmonton on Wednesday August 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discusses the accomplishments of his government in its first 100 days in office, in Edmonton on Wednesday August 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — A federal agency investigating the recent Alberta election has found evidence the campaign featured tactics including co-ordinated, false social media postings.

In a report released late Friday, the Rapid Response Mechanism — created by the G-7 to monitor foreign influence on democratic elections — identified social media accounts that demonstrated “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

The agency was created by the G7 at the 2018 conference in Charleboix, Que. It is intended to strengthen co-ordination between members in identifying, preventing and responding to threats to G7 democracies from foreign actors using social media to meddle in elections.

The agency is based in Canada.

On its website, it says it investigated the Alberta vote to see if foreign players were involved.

“The Alberta election was identified as being at risk of interference because of the extent to which environmental issues were debated,” it says.

No organized influence was exerted from outside the province’s borders, it found. However, Albertans seemed keen to use those tactics themselves.

“(We) identified communities that demonstrated a suspicious account creation pattern that is indicative of troll or bot activity,” the report says. “It was mainly comprised of supporters of the United Conservative Party.

“The pattern was not identified within communities of supporters of the Alberta Liberal Party or Alberta New Democratic Party.” MORE

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Suspicious accounts spread disinformation in Alberta election, federal report says

He used to work for a site that promoted racists — now he edits a Canadian news outlet


Before Cosmin Dzsurdza worked for The Post Millennial, he worked for a pro-Kremlin site called Russia Insider and a blog that promoted racists. Illustration by Emma McIntosh, photos from Free Bird Media and screenshots

Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is an editor at what has quickly become one of the most widely shared right-wing news websites in Canada.

According to the About Us page on The Post Millennial’s website, the University of Waterloo graduate used to be a “researcher on The Oxford English Dictionary.” The dictionary’s publisher, Oxford University Press, said in an email that it has “no record” of Dzsurdzsa working for the company, but that he appears to have worked on an unaffiliated research project examining the text.

But that short biography leaves out a few steps. Before Dzsurdzsa was hired at the Post Millennial, he also worked for websites that promoted racism and peddled pro-Kremlin content.

While he was a creative director and correspondent at Free Bird Media, the blog promoted Richard Spencer, who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the U.S. as a “professional racist” and white supremacist. It did the same for Faith Goldy, who praised white nationalists at the deadly Charlottesville neo-Nazi protest, said a neo-Nazi slogan on a podcast for the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and added that she “doesn’t see that as controversial,” advocated to “return” Canada to a population that is “96 per cent Euro Canadian” and said she wants “launch the next Crusade” to “reclaim Bethlehem.” (Neo-Nazi ideology is driven by a hatred of Jewish people, along with other minority groups and the LGBTQ community, says the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Free Bird Media also gave a friendly platform to Kevin J. Johnston, who has advocated for physical violence against Muslims and lost a major defamation case for online hate speech directed at a Mississauga restaurateur. The judge in that case said Johnston’s words were a “loathsome example of hate speech at its worst.”

And for Russia Insider, a pro-Kremlin site that BBC and Newsweek have called “propaganda” — “Russia’s Arctic Military Drills Are Truly Massive,” reads one 2015 headline from the site — Dzsurdzsa once advocated for Canada to drop trade sanctions against Russia.

This editor used to work for a site that promoted racists and a Russian propaganda site. Now he works for The Post Millennial, a rising star in Canada’s conservative media scene.

The Post Millennial is seeking a larger presence in Canada’s media ecosystem ahead of the October federal election, planning to build a six-figure video studio and conduct its own polls. Its online following has grown quickly since it was founded in 2017.

But the outlet’s willingness to hire someone with a background working for sites that promoted hate is “disturbing,” said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.

“Editors shape the climate and culture of the newsroom,” Perry said. “What does that say in terms of the kinds of stories (Dzsurdzsa is) assigning to whom, or not assigning?”  MORE

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Image result for canadalandshow: You Must Be This Conservative To Ride: The Inside Story of Postmedia Right Turn

You Must Be This Conservative To Ride: The Inside Story of Postmedia’s Right Turn

Why isn’t Facebook taking Yellow Vests Canada seriously?


A screenshot of the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook page.

In January, Facebook started removing some content from the main Yellow Vests Canada page after the company was made aware of comments calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be killed. At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told Global News it was taking action to mitigate any “real-world harm” that may stem from activity on the platform.

“We do not tolerate harassment on Facebook, and it’s our aim to prevent any potential real-world harm that may be related to content on our platform,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why we remove content, disable accounts and use a combination of technology, reports from our community and human review to enforce our policies.”

But recent activity on the Yellow Vests Canada page indicates that these efforts are falling short. And as Canada’s federal election fast approaches ⁠— with all the fierce rhetoric that the campaign is sure to elicit ⁠— real-world consequences, which are already in evidence, could quickly pile up.

In recent weeks and months, yellow vest demonstrations across Canada have frequently attracted far-right extremists and hate groups. In numerous cases, yellow vest members have faced criminal charges for threats they posted on Facebook, while others have been arrested and found to be in possession of weapons and explosives after leaving threatening posts on the social media platform.

Violence continues to be a problem at rallies organized and attended by the yellow vest, thrusting communities like Hamilton onto the “front line” of extremist activity in the region. On any given weekend, white nationalist figures and far-right groups like the Canadian Nationalist Party, Soldiers of Odin and Wolves of Odin, Proud Boys and Northern Guard can be seen marching alongside demonstrators in yellow vests — and in many instances, engaging in acts of hate and violence.

According to activists who monitor the yellow vest movement, none of this would be possible without Facebook.

In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism in Canada.

“It’s their primary tool for networking and advertising events,” one of the operators of the Twitter account Yellow Vests Exposed, which monitors incidents of hate and violence posted to social media by yellow vest protesters, told National Observer. “Without Facebook there would be no yellow vest movement in Canada.”

Extremism is a feature, not a bug

Members of the yellow vest movement are, in many ways, using Facebook exactly as it was meant to be used. They’ve created anextensive network of local and national chapters under Facebook’s “groups” feature, and created affiliated Facebook pages for many of those groups. They also use Facebook’s “events” feature to organize and advertise events across Canada.

This is what Facebook was designed for — and that’s why it’s so alarming to see what the platform has enabled in the case of Canada’s yellow vest movement. In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism.

The connection between the yellow vests’ online activity and the mounting real-world consequences couldn’t be clearer. MORE

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What 35,000 political ads on Facebook reveal about Canada’s election-year message battle

Public security and public interest: which public? Who decides?

This blog is part two of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the first one here.

We’re seeing a number of questionable actions coming from different arms of government under the guise of ‘public security’ and ‘public interest’, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “war room” and the RCMP handing information with Enbridge about land and water protectors blocking pipelines in BC.


Premier Jason Kenney (left, photo: The Star) and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (right, photo: CBC). These two are at the helm of different public institutions that inappropriately use public resources to support the unjust and unsustainable fossil fuel industry.

‘Public security’ is a tricky phrase. Canada has treaty responsibilities that it is not living up to, and CSIS is actively supporting the suppression of Indigenous land defenders to the benefit of private interests like Enbridge and a broad network of fossil fuel companies. Canada has consistently for 152 years tried to quash the full realization of a treaty-based relationship with Indigenous nations, and consistently removed Indigenous nations from their land through legislation, culture of dispossession, and force (and before confederation Canada’s predecessors were doing the same). Black communities have been criminalized and surveilled since slavery – even in Canada. Two great reads on these topics include Policing Indigenous Movements by Andrew Crosby and Geoffry Monaghan, which captures modern surveillance and criminalization of Indigenous land and water protectors, and Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, which is a “comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.”

I am generally skeptical of the phrase ‘general public’ because there are so many diverse communities with particular histories, needs, and visions. When the government uses this term to justify its actions we should be equally cautious. Whose interests are they really protecting? Whose are being set aside in favour of a particular public? Are the interests being served even public at all?

There are loads of communities and groups that are not being served by the surveilling of climate justice movements – primarily the people who are trying to have their needs met through that movement, like Indigenous peoples, fishers, farmers, women, coastal communities, and beyond. Just last week the joint review panel for the massive Teck tar sands mine said the project would be ‘in the public interest’ even though the report says the mine would likely “significantly” and “irreparably” harm Indigenous communities and local ecology.

When governments and government institutions use their power to decide which public gets to be secure, we need to look deeply at whose interests are being served and use our power as a movement to name those interests. In these cases, CSIS, the RCMP, and the Premier of Alberta are using their power to serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of everyone and their ability to participate in democracy.

What can we do? Be on guard for corporate rhetoric

We’re seeing that politicians, police forces, and just about any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests. The way these institutions describe Canada’s current reality and the actions we must take to address our challenges matter a lot – these are the stories of who we are as a society and who we can become.

Please help us see the RCMP investigation report released – send an email to Minister Ralph Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki!

If these stories are always tainted with industry interests, the only stories available to the masses will be those that include fossil fuels, mass exploitation of Indigenous lands and resources, and continued social division, racism, and xenophobia. MORE

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