The (Right) News Rundown
- Something that is likely to rile up coastal British Columbians almost more than the existence of pipelines is the existence of fish farms. Fish farms are used as a way to provide the world with an ever increasing demand for fish, without causing disastrous overfishing or extinction. It is estimated that almost two thirds of the world's farmed fish are supplied by China. There are many American and Canadian hatcheries along the Pacific coast, and it is common for Atlantic Salmon to be farmed near the ocean where Pacific Salmon are known to live. It's a topic that causes concern for many First Nations and environmentalists, as mixing farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific Salmon could cause unintended consequences for the Pacific salmon stock, but stopping fish farms completely could cause a rapid depletion of fish populations.
- When the NDP came to power this past summer, Premier John Horgan promised to “align the actions of [his] government with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,”. Or as Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has put it, the UN declaration gives Indigenous people “the right to say ‘yes’ and the right to say ‘no.’” On Friday the lead cabinet member on the fish farming file, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, sent out a letter to fish farm operator Marine Harvest Canada regarding its continued presence on the B.C. coast.
- “I have recently become aware of Marine Harvest’s decision to restock the Port Elizabeth salmon farm,” wrote Popham, referring to ongoing activities at one of the company’s dozen or so operations off northern Vancouver Island. “It comes at a very sensitive time,” she continued. “We are entering into sensitive discussions with some of the First Nations in the (area) who remain opposed to open-net pen salmon farming in their territories.”
- The minister then proceeded to put the company on notice regarding its obligations toward First Nations, as the NDP sees it. “Our government has committed to implementing the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous people,” she wrote. “Practically, this means that companies should make every effort to develop and maintain healthy relationships with First Nations in whose territories companies are doing business.”
- “Whatever operational decisions you should choose to make, the province retains all of its rights under the current tenure agreements, including potentially the requirement that you return possession of tenured sites at the end of the current terms.”
- Marine Harvest, through the course of three decades of operations in these waters, established working relationships with 15 First Nations and seven First Nations-owned businesses. However, there are several holdout First Nations, one of which has lately staged anti-fish farming protests at the constituency offices of Popham and Premier John Horgan.
- Popham was saying, in effect, that it was not enough to build working relationships with most First Nations in the vicinity of a given land use or resource development project. Unanimity among all affected First Nations was now required. It's no small order in a province with 203 recognized First Nations, especially when the "traditional territories" of each of the First Nations overlap.
- There are a few ways to take the letter. The more magnanimous approach would be that the NDP government wants the fish farm operators to take into account First Nations wishes, and be as careful as possible to not cause any mixing of the stocks. The other, would be that the government is actively willing to shut down any fish farm's operating licence and tenure agreements in order to satisfy the "First Nations veto" implied by UNDRIP.
- We'll have to wait to see what comes of this. The media hasn't been unbiased in its coverage. Many Postmedia outlets have penned pro-fish farming articles, while more liberal media sites have slammed the fish farms. In reality, there's a more middle ground that journalists should be occupying: that fish farms are necessary for fish consumption, but more careful oversight should take place to avoid environmental disaster.
- This past Monday was municipal election day across Alberta. Edmonton saw Mayor Don Iveson re-elected with 72% of the vote while Calgary's outcome was a bit closer. To provide some background on the race in Calgary, it was expected that the race would be close and that perhaps Mayor Nenshi could have been in danger of being unseated by challenger Bill Smith. Bill Smith is the former president of the now merged Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Bill Smith campaigned on a platform of tax reform and reigning in city hall in Calgary. We know that Mayor Nenshi felt the heat of the campaign because Nenshi himself who has been an otherwise charismatic leader ultimately resorted to playing the racism card in the final days of the campaign. There's also a lot of external factors that suggested this race could have been in play, such as that Calgary has the highest unemployment rate in the country and a series of municipal issues relating to LRT and taxes hurt the last city council.
- On Monday night after a day of lineups and slow vote counting it was revealed that Nenshi won the Calgary Mayor's election by about 8 points. This is a huge swing from the previous election when Nenshi was elected with over 70% of the vote. Combined with the factors mentioned previously, Nenshi actually faced a credible challenger with a campaign apparatus unlike how the race unfolded in Edmonton. All of these factors contributed to Nenshi's diminished win in this past Monday's municipal election.
- During the race it was forecast that Bill Smith was leading Nenshi. The first poll put him ahead by 9 points. The second poll which had a 1500 sample size rather than 1000 sample size had Bill Smith leading by 17 points. That poll also showed Smith's support with the under 35 category at 61%, this was considered a red flag. To further verify these results, Mainstreet Research surveyed more residents in 5 randomly selected wards. In two of these Nenshi had a double digit lead over Smith but the others mirrored the results of the poll. The final poll showed Smith ahead of Nenshi by 13 points.
- Meanwhile... Forum Research which we talked about recently in regards to federal polling had a poll that was run between September 28 and October 12 that gave Nenshi a 17 point lead. This poll was carried out online and had a sample size of 843. There was another online poll conducted by the relatively unknown firm "Asking Canadians" that put Nenshi 15 points ahead of Smith using a sample size of 1004.
- As we can see here not only was Mainstreet wrong but Forum and Asking Canadians were also wrong in their magnitude of Nenshi's win as well. Should media companies cut their ties with these firms too?
- This past Thursday Mainstreet said that they would be taking additional steps to ensure validity including an internal review of every Mainstreet survey in the past two years, looking at its research methods, and seeking opinions from outside experts. Mainstreet will also conduct its Alberta polls with live agents rather than automated voice response.
- On Postmedia's part they said, "Postmedia is awaiting the results of Mainstreet’s internal review of their methodology and their communications before we make any decision about our partnership. In the meantime, any polling with Mainstreet is on hold until the review is done."
- The CBC also reported on the Mainstreet poll and also neglected to include any criticism of the data and neglected to highlight Postmedia's big red flag that the under 35 category was overwhelmingly voting for Smith according to the poll.
- Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University was also critical of Mainstreet's polling said that the Postmedia papers, the Calgary Herald and Sun should look internally on how they reported on the surveys and believes that criticism of the polls should have also been included. This makes total sense as any of the stories from the Herald, Sun, or even CBC have nothing about noting potential volatility in results or that there may have been an underlying problem with the data. For this criticism Bratt was attacked on Twitter by Mainstreet saying that critics would face "retribution". Chief Executive Quito Maggi of Mainstreet has since apologized.
- This leads us to a final question, if relationships between media organizations and polling firms are to be severed over roughly a 20 point differential in the wrong direction, what's to happen to those firms who got the result right but were wildly off, such as Forum?
- Also imagine the blowback that would have occurred if this had happened over any of the past provincial (Alberta/BC) or federal elections that the polls have got wrong before?
- Earlier this month, CBC journalist Terry Milewski, who spent much of his career following the Air India investigation, asked new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to denounce those in the Sikh community who celebrate Talwinder Singh Parmar as a martyr for Sikh independence. Parmar, a naturalized Canadian citizen from British Columbia, was identified by the RCMP and CSIS investigation as the leader of the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 329 people, most of them Indo-Canadians. Flight 182 exploded on June 23, after Sikh extremists fighting for an independent state from India planted two bombs on the plane. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on an airplane until the events of 9/11. Parmar was killed by Indian police in 1992.
- In the interview, Milewski asks Singh if those who celebrate Parmar's actions are wrong. Like any good politician, Singh deflects, and mentions how growing up he had a lot of Hindu friends and family that worked hard to heal the rift between Hindus and Sikhs. Milewski then asked it again, and Singh repeated his answer that "Sikhs and Hindus co-exist together" and when Mileski mentioned the question a third time, he mentioned that it was the Indian government who was perpetrating genocide against the Sikhs. In his answer he didn't mention the bombing or Parmar whatsoever.
- Singh mentioned that the violence must be denounced and that he didn't know who was responsible of the attack: ""I don't know who is responsible, but I think we need to find out who is truly responsible, we need to make sure that the investigation results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible. And we need to, as a society, collectively, unequivocally denounce any time innocent lives are lost. That is something unacceptable."
- Singh later said Sunday that he wasn't sure what Milewski was asking about when the CBC interview veered towards Parmar. "At the time, I didn't know who he was referring to," the NDP leader said in response to a HuffPost question about why he had not denounced the posters. "But I made it absolutely clear, unequivocally, that I condemn any violence against anyone in the world.... It was offensive to me that that was even a question. It is so obvious, that any Canadian would unequivocally denounce anyone who is held responsible...The question, to me, was very troubling. He put that question forward with such an obvious response [expected]. I responded very clearly. I denounce anyone, anyone held responsible for any act of violence perpetrated against any innocent lives. It is just unacceptable. It is, fundamentally, something that we all denounce."
- He was then asked if Milewski's question asking Singh to denounce Parmar was racist. He responded "Should I just say 'yes' directly? I think there was definitely some sort of clear problematic line of thought behind that question, so I'm definitely concerned with it," he told reporters Sunday when asked if he felt the questions were racist."I didn't know about the specifics of what [Milewski] was asking about," Singh said, further explaining his response. "Air India happened when I was about five years old, but I'm very clear on, and have been clear on — I've attended memorials with respect to the victims and their families, survivors of this horrible and heinous act.
- "I've talked about how everyone denounces it.... At the time, I didn't know what [Milewski's] goal was, what he was trying to achieve, I made it very clear, I denounce anyone held responsible. We've had inquiries, we've had courts, anyone held responsible needs to be denounced and, in fact, there are still a lot of questions that are unanswered, and people have questions about this. People need to have justice."
- In an emailed response, Milewski said the questioning that Singh finds offensive never happened. "Nobody asked him to condemn the Air India bombing. Instead, he was asked whether it was '"appropriate' to celebrate Canada's worst mass-murderer with 'martyr' posters. He declined to answer then and declines to say now whether the posters should come down because, 'I'm not here to tell what a community should or shouldn't do.'"
- It's clear from recent interviews that Singh is very much a newcomer when it comes to the media, and he will have missteps when it comes to answering questions. However, this was a clear cut opportunity to denounce terrorism and those who celebrate a terrorist as a martyr, and he failed to do so. It raises questions as to why he wouldn't condemn the actions of Parmar. Is he worried about losing support from people in this country that vote and don’t consider the now dead terrorist to be a terrorist?
The Firing Line
- Canada's Finance Minister, Bill Morneau is one of the wealthiest people in federal politics today. This wealth comes from a family owned business, Morneau Shepell. Morneau Shepell is a pension and human resources management firm that was founded by his father.
- When the new Liberal government formed in 2015, a week after that election Bill Morneau distanced himself from the company by resigning as both an officer and director. Normally this would be all well and good but his holding of shares in Morneau Shepell would have been worth $43.3m as of this past week. The waters became murkier because after his resignation any shares he sold would not show up in the public Morneau Shepell records.
- We'll come back to shares and dividends in a moment but first let's look at what should have been done.
- Canada's Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, has been tight lipped on whether or not Morneau sold shares to the company. The Ethics Commissioner is also typically consulted on what should be done in situations like Morneau's. The typical action is to either place the controlled assets into a blind trust or to sell the assets in "an arm's length transaction." The assets were not transferred to a blind trust and this was confirmed by the federal Ethics Commissioner. Morneau did confirm that the Ethics Commissioner did recommend a "screen" and we have the assurance of the Finance Minister that the "ethics rules and guidelines" are being fully complied with.
- The Ethics Commissioner is not confirming or denying whether or not shares were sold. If it turns out that shares were indeed sold that is a conflict of interest. It is a conflict of interest because the changes to small business taxes and pensions could force small business owners to purchase private pension plans and Morneau Shepell could ultimately benefit.
- This week the Conservatives dedicated their opposition day to grilling the government on this subject. The comparison was made by Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre that even when he was a parliamentary secretary he placed his assets in a blind trust. Meanwhile, the NDP hammered home the point that if Bill C-27 (dealing with pensions) became law that Morneau Shepell would outright benefit from the provisions it provides.
- By Thursday Morneau announced that he has "about a million shares" in Morneau Shepell and has announced that he will sell of the holdings of that company and place the rest of his assets in a blind trust. The story had to get rather murky before it got to this point though. Based on the share price of Morneau Shepell, Bill Morneau has been receiving a cheque for roughly $65,000 in dividends for each month that he has been an MP. These dividends totalled $1.625m.
- Another interesting note is that his wife, Nancy McCain is an heir to McCain foods company. Through this investigation it's also been revealed that Morneau owns a Toronto based holding company which owns most of an Alberta based investment holding company in Calgary. His wife is the president of the Toronto company and director of the Alberta company. The Alberta company apparently generates income for his wife according to disclosures made. Bill Morneau also jointly owns four numbered Ontario real estate holding companies with his siblings. Florida land records show that these companies each own a series of condominium properties in west Florida, each valued at more than half a million dollars.
- While the focus has been on Morneau Shepell and any potential conflicts of interest with that company, it's quite clear that the blind trust was needed. With all of these companies it's a wonder how there was no push earlier on for a blind trust when conducting business for Canada and determining Canada's fiscal policy. Once again we are seeing the diversion from Trudeau's Real Change campaign focusing on transparency and open and accountable government.
Word of the Week
Conflict of interest - a situation in which a corporation or person with a vested interest in a company becomes unreliable because of the clash between personal interests and professional interests. An example of a conflict of interest would be a board member voting on the induction of lower premiums for companies with fleet vehicles when he is the owner of a truck company outside of the corporation. In relation to law, representation by a lawyer or party with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial would be considered a conflict of interest, and the representation would not be allowed.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Polling Truths
Teaser: BC fish farms are under increased scrutiny from the BC government, Mainstreet is singled out as polls get another election wrong in Alberta, Singh refuses to denounce the Air India terrorists, and Bill Morneau gets caught in an a conflict of interest.
Recorded Date: October 21, 2017
Release Date: October 21, 2017
Edit Notes: None