The (Right) News Rundown
- For most of the past decade Edmonton has had a focus on LRT expansion. For those unaware, LRT refers to light rail, trains that run through the city and can interact with traffic. The most recent completion was the downtown to NAIT line that suffered delays and once launched had many issues relating to traffic and signaling. The line currently under construction, known as the Valley Line, or southeast LRT expansion is already raising similar questions.
- A report was released last week that states that when the line opens in 2019 18 of the 38 intersections will be congested during rush hour. Of these congestions lineups greater than 500m are expected for 6 intersections. During afternoon rush hour 16 of 38 intersections are expected to be congested with 5 intersections expecting backups of over 500m.
- By 2044 it’s forecasted that 7 intersections could experience morning rush hour waits of greater than 500m. It’s worth noting that this would be a car queue of about 600 vehicles.
- City council had a $220m option to elevate the LRT at 5 intersections but it was rejected because it was found it would not reduce congestion.
- In response Mayor Don Iveson told reporters, "You can make modifications and you can widen roads up to a point but you need something transformational, a strategic shift... that's why we're building the LRT. We're introducing tradeoffs for sure, but it makes sure that hundreds of thousands of people ... travel by train." While in ideal planning world the city hopes that the availability and the convenience will encourage more people to travel by train, that’s just not feasible for some people. For people who live in the outer edges of the city or those who need to move around during the day it’s just not feasible. Plus, it’s rather presumptuous to assume that residents should want to use mass transit.
- There’s one more huge angle to this story that has received almost zero coverage in the media this week. This year is an election year, come October those in Edmonton will go to the polls to elect a mayor, city council, and school board trustees. For such an issue that changes traffic patterns, costs millions of dollars, and takes year of development, you’d think the media would want to ask some prospective candidates about their thoughts! From what we can tell here at The Right Side there has been very little if any discussion with any of the candidates about this issue.
- A few candidates did take to social media to voice support for releasing this data ahead of construction: Payman Parseyan (Ward 9), Tish Prouse (Ward 6), Sarah Hamilton (Ward 5),and Rocco Caterina (Ward 4). With about 69 candidates running in the municipal election it’s a little shocking that only 4 of them have voiced some opinion on the matter. This is definitely something that we will be watching in the lead up to the election.
- Trudeau and the Liberals are under fire again in many media outlets for the appointment of Rana Sarkar, a close friend of Trudeau's closest advisor Gerald Butts, to a diplomatic post in San Francisco. Questions are raised as Sarkar is an unsuccessful former candidate for the Liberal Party in the 2011 election and nominee in the 2015 election, and not only that, is being paid almost double the normal pay range for that position. Sarkar will be making between $221,300 to $260,300 for a post classified at a level that carries an official pay range of $119,600 to $140,700.
- Gerald Butts attempted to defend the salary on Twitter, saying that it was in line with other hirings from the private sector. On Monday, Butts argued in a 15-part twitter thread that Sarkar’s pay is in line with three others the Liberals have recruited for diplomatic posts from outside government – but the only one on the list in a comparable position as a consul-general, Phyllis Yaffe, earns significantly less.
- Former Minister of Immigration John McCallum, appointed ambassador to China in March, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion, now ambassador to Germany and special envoy to the European Union, are both paid a salary ranging between $214,200 and $252,000. The San Francisco appointment makes Mr. Sarkar one of the highest-paid Canadian diplomats in the foreign service.
- The union representing more than 1,500 Canadian diplomats says that since Trudeau is willing to pay nearly double to appoint a diplomat with ties to the Liberal party, the government better keep in mind the current pay scale of foreign service officers next time they’re at the bargaining table. The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) said while it recognizes the government’s right to appoint who they see fit for these positions, it should keep in mind that there are hundreds of professional foreign service officers already doing their jobs on behalf of Canada for often much less pay. “We do however hope that the employer will bear in mind this salary scale in its negotiations with the professional foreign service, both FS and EX [foreign service and executive level], who are already performing these functions on behalf of Canada in missions around the world,” PAFSO President Pamela Isfeld said in an emailed statement to CTV News.
- Sarkar's appointment is going to be a sticking point in future union negotiations, and will ultimately cost taxpayers more money.
- Mr. Butts argued on Twitter that the government recruited Mr. Sarkar because he has experience and skills that are an “excellent fit” for a job that notably includes efforts to attract investment from Silicon Valley. He even tried to suggest that he took a pay cut to take the job, which is something that opposition MPs say won't make sense with Canadians, given the salary is at least 220k/yr, and that it's someone with close ties to the PMO. Butts was blasted on Twitter for his reasonings.
- What's more is that in the 2015 election, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to take the partisanship out of appointments. Sarkar’s credentials in business are clearly beyond reproach, but his Liberal affiliation raises questions.
- New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen said “I think there’s lots of qualified people who are also not best friends with the Prime Minister’s [aide],” Mr. Cullen said. “This seems to be the blind spot with the Liberals. When appointing friends to positions, they just have no ability to see how the general public will perceive friends helping friends.”
- Cullen is referring to Trudeau's almost appointment of Madeleine Meilleur to official languages commissioner, where Meilleur was touted by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly for her qualifications, but also was an Ontario MPP for the Liberals from 2003-2016, and had met with members of the PMO before the appointment, including Gerald Butts and Trudeau's Chief of Staff Katie Telford. After intense scrutiny from both the Conservatives and MPs in the House of Commons, that appointment was cancelled. However, with Parliament on recess until September, it appears that the Liberals are trying to push appointments like Sarkar's through with little oversight from Opposition parties and the media.
- Speaking of little oversight from the media, the CBC ran an article on the topic, but omitted a lot of key information. The article written by Chris Hall devotes half the article to Sarkar's business qualifications, and most of the other half to diplomatic appointees of the Harper government, like Gary Doer, who made roughly the same amount. However, not mentioned is that most of these diplomats were appointed to positions higher than Sarkar's. Also, Sarkar's Liberal affiliations are glossed over in a few words.
- Hall finishes his article with the very slanted sentence: "The challenge now for the Liberals is to convince the public that Sarkar is the best person for the job he's been given, instead of whether he's worth the price." With this, it's hard to take the article seriously, and just adds more evidence that it's important to diversify your sources when reading the news.
- At a recent Donald Trump rally in Arizona the US President said, “We’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point.” This set off alarm bells across Canada through the media and of course with the government. Anyone who has been watching the US President with an objective eye will note that this is how he starts a negotiation. Take his ban on Muslims entering the US, that was limited to “extreme vetting” and later only limited to certain countries and classes of citizen. Make no mistake that the negotiations between Canada and the US are now happening.
- Following this, our environment minister, Catherine McKenna has stated that “climate change is still a priority in talks with U.S. officials on NAFTA.” The US views climate change as a major hurdle in these negations but our environment minister sees this as “heated rhetoric” and climate change as one of our key negotiating points. Whether or not this strengthens or weakens our negotiating hand is something that the Canadian government must ultimately decide on.
- With a US administration that is not pursuing climate change agenda it doesn’t make sense to predicate our negotiations on climate change. NAFTA has a major role on the Canadian economy purely from an import/export perspective. 50% of the GDP for New Brunswick and 49% of the GDP of Ontario rely on American trade. The prairie provinces hover in the 30% range while Quebec and Newfoundland are in the 20s and BC and the Atlantic provinces in the teens. Canada relies on NAFTA more than the Americans do from a pure import/export perspective.
- On the other hand Canada is the single most important foreign market for 35 US states but their economies do not depend on Canada and NAFTA the same way the Canadian provinces do.
- An alternative approach that Canada could follow for NAFTA negotiations relates to our vast natural resources. Unchained, North America has the potential to become energy independent and further become an energy superpower. Along with energy we also have the capacity for an immense manufacturing industry. A new NAFTA agreement could focus on energy, manufacturing, and trade in an effort to rival the industrial and manufacturing monstrosities of China, India, and other developing countries.
- While the Canadian government is free to pursue its approach to NAFTA with a focus on climate change, the media should be asking what else Canada get out of NAFTA. What can Canada do to ensure fair trade between the US? What can NAFTA do to enable freer trade and fairer prices of oil, timber, and other natural resources? It’s a little known fact that oil sold to the US sells at a lower rate than the advertised price per barrel which is known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI). Canadian oil is sold at Western Canada Select (WCS) which on average is roughly $10/barrel lower than the WTI price.
The Firing Line
- Following the violent clashes that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., after the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, calls to remove other Confederate monuments have grown. But after several were removed, worry set upon U.S. President Donald Trump. He turned to Twitter, warning of what could come if cities continued taking down statues of historical figures that offended some people: “… Who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”
- Up until recently, Canadians were looking on the Americans with a bit of a holier than thou attitude about the matter. Well, Canada is now having a George Washington moment.
- An ongoing debate over first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy has been recharged this week with a resolution passed by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario that recommends the province’s schools rename facilities bearing the first prime minister’s moniker, given Macdonald’s role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”
- Felipe Pareja, a French teacher in Peel region just west of Toronto, is behind the motion, which won support at a meeting of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario this week. Pareja says he acknowledges Macdonald’s foundational role in the country’s Confederation, but that having public schools bearing his name leaves out his role in the starvation of Indigenous people along the railway to facilitate its construction — along with Macdonald’s “central role as the architect of, really, what was genocide of Indigenous peoples.”
- In a statement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the union’s motion “missed the mark.” She described Macdonald as “far from perfect” but praised him for his contributions “to the creation of a stable federal government for Canada.”
- She said it was more important for Ontarians to focus on how to enact meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous people than scrub his name from schools.
- As heritage minister in the Harper government, James Moore oversaw preparations to mark the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth in 2015. Speaking by phone from Vancouver, he said he understands why some might be disturbed by legacy of Canada’s first prime minister. “He was a deeply imperfect man,” Mr. Moore said. But “the fact is, Canada would not exist without John A. Macdonald. He is the great, indispensable man of Canadian history.” Rather than erasing Macdonald from historical memory, Mr. Moore said, educators need to “understand the reality of John A. Macdonald – to teach his flaws and his virtues, and embrace our history, not run away from it."
- This sort of debate spread across Canada, as many local media posed the question to their constituents. Here in Victoria, CHEK News asked "Should Victoria consider removing the statue of Sir John A Macdonald outside city hall?" At the end of the article there was a poll, 80% of over 2000 viewers said that the statue should not be removed.
- Victoria city Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe sits on a Witness Reconciliation Committee with Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto, who is also its First Nations liaison. The committee met for the first time in July and plans to meet again in September, when the issue will be discussed further, she said.
- “We’ll look at what should be considered and what the First Nations would like to see, whether it’s removal, to a new location or adding a plaque to add more historical context,” she said. “How do we learn from our wrongs if we don’t know what the wrongs were?” She said the plaque would be a way to note both Macdonald’s positive achievements and controversial policies.
- JDM Stewart, a high school teacher in Toronto, wrote a special article to the Globe and Mail entitled "Don’t hold Sir John A. Macdonald to 2017’s values". In it describes MacDonald's record, and that by removing statues we lose a chance to learn about the history of the founding of our country.
- "Attempts to erase Sir John A. Macdonald from public history do not make sense. In fact, they reveal a narrow understanding of history and its people. Does John A. Macdonald have warts in terms of his historical record and beliefs? Of course. He was no fan of Chinese immigration. Interestingly, the subsequent government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier raised the tax to $500 from $50. No one has called for renaming Wilfrid Laurier schools. Yet."
- Stewart also notes that there is a growing trend of people applying 2017's morality and justice to historical figures who lived in a different era with different thinking. This is called "presentism", and it's difficult to judge the actions of historical figures based on present day ideals.
- A humorous satirical article in the National Post argues that if MacDonald's name is stripped off schools, than many other institutions should have name changes from historical figures for a variety of reasons, from racism to sexism, to support for Nazi Germany, to opposition to same sex relationships, to cultural appropriation, to slave ownership, to statements that said today would be grossly politically incorrect.
- Places named in the article include the aforementioned Victoria, British Columbia, McGill University, Brantford ON, Chateau Laurier, CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal, Bell Canada, Tommy Douglas Collegiate, Mount Douglas, Dalhousie University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Louis Riel Day, Mount Mackenzie King, Kitchener, ON, Lake Champlain, Pearson International Airport, and anything named after Winston Churchill.
- Of course, the point is that historical figures from many different backgrounds, eras and political spectrums are not going to be perfect according to 2017 standards, and that things are not black and white. By removing statues we lose a chance to educate about Canada's flawed past, but how instrumental that past was to creating the great country we all love today. Let's not forget about the past, good or bad, because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. For a teacher's union, who really should know better, to change history and influence what kids can learn about is reprehensible.
Word of the Week
Revisionism - the advocacy of revision of some political theory, religious doctrine, historical or critical interpretation, etc
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Revisionist History
Teaser: Planners seem deaf to the hurdles of Edmonton LRT expansion, Trudeau’s advisor defends his friend’s cushy diplomat appointment, the government focuses on climate change not natural resources with NAFTA, and a teacher’s union is trying to revise history.
Recorded Date: August 26, 2017
Release Date: August 27, 2017
Edit Notes: None