The (Right) News Rundown
- On Tuesday the government released their fiscal update.
- $10.3b budget deficit compared to $10.4b at budget time.
- The NDP government has signalled that they want to reign in spending and reduce the public service through attrition???
- The government will also implement a hiring freeze and zero salary increases in the next round of negotiations with public sector unions.
- The government still plans to balance the budget somehow by 2023
- The government will continue to borrow to the tune of $9.3b for capital projects on operations. Debt is set to rise above $42b this year.
- the government strangely kept its oil forecast price at $49/barrel while the price has been around $58/barrel.
- Following the fiscal update Alberta's credit rating was downgraded again, by DBRS to AA from AA (high) with, "all trends negative"
- This means that we must pay more to borrow and what money we have gets spent on debt payments rather than services for Albertans. Debt is bad.
- The report also talks about how Alberta's unemployment rate falling to 7.3%, the lowest level in 2 years. This in large part was a triumph for the government and media.
- In reality though our population has increased and the unemployment rate falling is largely due to people stopping looking for work. <explain unemployment rate calculation>
- Prior to recession Alberta's employment rate was 69.5% in January 2015. That fell to 66.1% in July 2015 and last month was at 66.6%.
- Fraser institute report: Alberta and BC are the least attractive provinces for oil and gas investment. BC dropped to 76 of 97 jurisdictions, was 39th last year. Alberta was ranked 33 and was ranked 14 back in 2014.
- On Episode 40, I talked about the BC NDP/Green plan to hold a referendum on electoral reform. It's back in the news as a press conference was held outside the legislature about it. NDP MLA Bob D’Eith and Green MLA Sonia Furstenau announced a “working group” to “engage British Columbians about democracy” in advance of the referendum next fall.
- The referendum will ask whether B.C. should switch to a proportional-representation voting system for electing MLAs, which the Greens and New Democrats both badly want. That’s because that system could dramatically boost the number of Green MLAs, allowing them to continue their governing partnership with the NDP and freeze the BC Liberals out of power.
- It's clear that both the NDP and Greens want the referendum to succeed, because they're setting the bar as low as possible for the referendum to succeed. In both earlier electoral referendums, the government required a 60-per-cent Yes for the referendum to pass. A “super majority” of constituencies was also needed, requiring a majority Yes vote in 60 per cent of the ridings to prevent regional dominance, and to ensure that there's a clear public mandate.
- However, as Furstenau says, “We consider 50 per cent plus one to be a majority of British Columbians," forgetting that not 100% of British Columbians will be voting in the referendum. If voter turnout is just 50%, that means only a quarter of voting age British Columbians will be deciding factor. A vote turnout threshold is not required for this referendum.
- “A system where 40 per cent of the vote can give 100 per cent of the power to one party is not an effective representation of democracy,” Furstenau said. Yes, that's true, but a referendum where 25 per cent of the people can change that entire democratic system for 100 per cent of the population is apparently just fine.
- What's worse is that the NDP are feigning neutrality on the referendum, when it's clear they're anything but. They've created an online survey through the official BC government website that asks pointed questions such as "Which, if any, of the following have been barriers that have kept you from voting?" and a question to see if the number of MLAs should increase, or stay the same. Nowhere is there an option to decrease the number of MLAs, as clearly the NDP don't believe in smaller government.
- Attorney General David Eby said he hopes supporters and opponents of the change don’t try and hijack the online survey. “This isn’t a poll, this isn’t a vote. This is a consultation with British Columbians. So I’d really discourage those groups from viewing this as a way to have all their members provide the same answer.”
- The online survey itself can be read as steering public opinion toward a favourable view of the NDP preference for proportional representation. But in justifying the contents last week, Attorney-General David Eby cited the “assistance” of a quartet of academic advisers, who “reviewed the questionnaire," but won't release details in how those advisers shaped the questionnaire.
- The plan is to conduct two surveys, one the online questionnaire that any member of the public can answer, the second involving an online panel assembled by the Ipsos polling firm.
- “The Ipsos online panel will be made up of about 1,000 citizens from around the province of varying age, gender and ethnicity who will respond to the questionnaire to ensure government hears the views and perspectives of people beyond just those who have chosen to take the questionnaire. The panel helps ensure that survey samples accurately reflect the makeup of the broader population based on census and other reliable data," according to the ministry.
- You're probably wondering if the ministry will release complete breakdowns of the data collected from the two surveys. That would allow academics and others to analyze the responses and decide to what degree they support the conclusions drawn by the government. Not a chance. Instead, the NDP will prepare the analysis from the surveys, compile a summary report with recommendations, and present that to the Attorney-General. He will then review and approve the report, and then that report will made available to the public.
- Eby approved the questions and Eby will sign off on the conclusions and recommendations to the cabinet. Then having presided over the input, he will “recuse himself from cabinet debate and decision regarding the referendum.” The recusal is part of the NDP insistence that Eby can serve as the “neutral arbiter” of the process, a claim that looks more dubious every day.
- “I have a unique role in this referendum process — to be neutral between the sides as best as possible in preparing this referendum,” he claimed at the outset of Wednesday’s question period before dropping the pose of neutrality in favour of a full-fledged partisan attack against the BC Liberals' previous referendums. It's the kind of stuff that gets tossed back and forth between government and Opposition on a daily basis, but not the standard of conduct for a self-proclaimed “neutral arbiter.”
- Eby also had the temerity to claim that his consultation process was being done “in a fully transparent way.” This from a minister who won’t release the input of the academics who signed off on the survey, nor commit to release all the data that will be assembled for independent scrutiny. The claim of transparency is as suspect as the notion of Eby as a neutral.
- As Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun writes, "that’s the problem with the New Democrats on proportional representation. They are so sure that their preferred system is morally superior to the status quo, they’ve scarce inclination to ensure a fair, open and independent process for bringing it about."
The Firing Line
- The ethical issues for our federal finance Minister Bill Morneau continue to escalate further this week. We've talked before about the various conflict of interest cases being investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in Ottawa. One of those relates to Bill Morneau and his family company, Morneau Shepell.
- Previously Morneau was under fire for not placing his assets in a blind trust once assuming the role of finance minister. A blind trust is an accounting agreement that ensures that assets of someone powerful can't be directly controlled by that powerful person. The person in question here is the finance minister. The questions about ethics, honesty, and transparency have lead to further examination of Bill Morneau.
- This week in question period Bill Morneau was asked by Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre if he sold 680,000 of his shares in Morneau Shepell a week before the finance minister tabled legislation that raised the tax rate on corporations. During the back and forth questioning Morneau did not answer the question but simply deflected. This should have been a simple yes or no answer.
- The answer by Bill Morneau instead was to accuse Poilievre of libel and slander and threatened to take the Conservatives to court. MPs have the right within the House of Commons chambers to say whatever they want without consequence under parliamentary privilege. Bill Morneau dared Poilievre to ask the same question outside at the podium to reporters. This lead to a relatively well circulated video on social media of Poilievre getting up from his seat and making his way outside.
- Morneau was in Toronto at the time of this questioning and did not answer. Instead a spokesperson called the class as "absurd" and "utterly false."
- This lead to some more digging by Global News. The digging found that Morneau Sr. sold 100,000 shares on November 23, 2015 at $15.20 per share and another 100,000 shares on December 3, 2015 at $15 a share. 4 days after that last transaction is when Finance Minister Morneau tabled documents which would change tax rules for wealthy Canadians on January 1, 2016. John Ivison from the National Post also commented in one of his columns that his notes confirm that there was a trade of this magnitude completed on December 3, 2015 as well.
- Why is this all important? According to past financial data the shares fell from $14.90 on December 7 to $14.09 one week later. This is a drop of about 5.4% meanwhile for comparison the TSX index dropped by 2.4% over that same time period. Asked Thursday in the House of Commons if anyone knew, Bill Morneau claims that no one else outside of the finance department knew what was on the horizon. This is all very important because if these allegations are proven in court, both Morneau and his father would be guilty of insider trading.
- Global News has actually done some decent investigative reporting on this issue highlighting the appropriate stock transaction documents and they must be commended for it. However, over the past week we have also seen headlines asking, "Is the worst finally over for Bill Morneau?" Investigations of this magnitude take time and it has only just begun.
- Recall that throughout 2015 the media was all too content to cover the Mike Duffy trial so much that stands were brought in for the media outside the courthouse. That purported scandal began with a $90,000 personal payment from Nigel Wright to cover Mike Duffy's senate expense irregularities. As a result of that we saw a constant hammering regarding ethics for months. Here instead we have a new government with a senior minister engaged in insider trading and the media is all ready for the story to move on.
- Recall that the last time the Liberals were in power they were taken down by the sponsorship scandal, Liberal party money going to fund activities in Quebec to buy votes. The hypocrisy and elitism on stage here are the same ingredients that lead to the downfall of the last Liberal government are are nothing like the #RealChange platform that Justin Trudeau campaigned on in 2015. And by not forcing Morneau to step aside this means that the Prime Minister either believes Morneau's public stance on this issue or has been told that it's true by Morneau and sees nothing wrong with it. If the latter proves to be true, we have a serious ethical problem with this government. That should be the focus of the media.
Word of the Week
Ethics - moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity, the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Ethics of Deception
Teaser: Alberta’s NDP government released a fiscal update that looked rosy but is not, the BC NDP government created an electoral reform survey to sway opinion despite appearing “neutral”, and we cover Finance Minister Morneau’s continuing clash with ethics.
Recorded Date: December 2, 2017
Release Date: December 2, 2017
Duration: Shane and Patrick
Edit Notes: Audio/internet drop outs.