The (Right) News Rundown
- Canada has abstained from a vote at the UN against the United States and President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
- The vote passed 128-9. 35 countries including Canada abstained.
- The resolution, which is largely symbolic, would have declared the United States’ move "null and void"
- The countries to vote 'YES' with the US were: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.
- Why this matters and why there's no purpose to this resolution.
- Spokesman Adam Austin for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, "We are disappointed that this resolution is one-sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire, which is why we have abstained on today's vote"
- Why did Canada vote this way?
- We chose to appear neutral because Trudeau has had his eye on one of the temporary UN security council seats that will come up in 2020.
- These seats are allocated based on the following criteria: one for Africa, one for Asia Pacific, one for Latin America and the Caribbean and two for the Western European and Others group.
- The City of Victoria plans to ban businesses from offering plastic bags to consumers starting July 1, 2018. Councillors have approved a bylaw which prohibits grocery stores from offering or selling plastic bags to shoppers. Stores can still offer paper bags or reusable bags for a cost if customers ask.
- Since the election of Mayor Lisa Helps in 2014, Victoria has been mulling the idea of banning single-use plastic bags, as part of a wider spread initiative to make Victoria into a greener, more environmentally friendly city, that includes dedicated bus and bike lanes through the more congested parts of Downtown Victoria.
- From the City of Victoria's website, the draft bylaw proposes that businesses may provide a checkout bag to customers only if:
- the customer is first asked whether they need a bag
- the business provides a paper or reusable bag
- a fee no less than 12 cents per paper bag; and minimum two dollars per reusable bag is charged
- On their website, the City says part of the reason for the ban on plastic bags is that "17 million plastic bags are used every year by Victoria residents alone, many of which end up in our landfill, local waterways and on our beaches. Plastics make up over 15% of all landfill waste, comprised of single-use plastic bags, plastic film and packaging waste. Plastic bags have negative impacts on marine life, the environment and are made using non-renewable fossil fuels."
- Businesses could be fined for providing customers a bag without asking if they want one, or for providing a bag free of charge. Fines could range between $100 and $10,000 for corporate offenders and between $50 and $500 for individuals for every offence. Enforcement is not set to begin until 2019. Retailers will be allowed to use their existing bag stock up to January 2019 without penalty.
- There are exemptions to the bylaw, including using bags to
- package loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains or candy
- package loose small hardware items such as nails and bolts
- contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, poultry or fish, whether pre-packaged or not
- wrap flowers or potted plants
- protect prepared foods or bakery goods that are not pre-packaged
- contain prescription drugs from a pharmacy
- transport live fish
- protect linens, bedding, or other large items that cannot easily fit in a reusable bag
- protect newspapers or other printed material left at a customer’s residence or place of business
- protect clothes after professional laundering or dry cleaning
- But Craig Foster, sustainability consultant for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, said Victoria council is making a huge mistake and ignoring science with the bag ban. Producing paper bags and reusable plastic woven bags creates more greenhouse gas than the plastic bags being banned. Victoria’s decision might look good or feel good, but the science isn’t there to back it up, he said. “I really think they are going down the wrong path. It’s not good policy, and from an environmental perspective, it’s a negative. There’s no question,” Foster said.
- In my opinion, rather than an outright ban, the best way would be to have a 5 cent deposit fee, similar to aluminum cans, that can be refunded when you return the bags to a recycling center. Years ago there used to be tons of cans on the side of roads, especially logging, rural and other little used roads. Nowadays, you see hardly any. If it works for cans, why not use it for bags?
- This past Thursday the Alberta government issued an order-in-council that enables $37b in borrowing.
- The Alberta government says that "the order simply gives authority to the borrowing plans running through the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year"
- In comparison the 17-18 budget only projected $32b in borrowing.
- The government is "giving itself room" to borrow the extra $5b as a "fiscal cushion"
- Finance Minister Ceci didn't make himself available for an interview on Friday but in a statement made called the move "prudent"
- Joe Ceci said, “We are establishing a $5-billion reserve to ensure there’s cash on hand to protect public services against unexpected costs, major natural disasters, or a global credit crunch, such as the one set off by the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007”
- An example of another government decision being made just days before a long weekend, the Christmas break, in an attempt to not have it covered in the media.
- This received very little TV coverage and only a few articles in the papers such as the Calgary Herald.
- These orders also enable the government to use foreign currency in short term borrowing.
- This is in essence a way of capitalizing on weak foreign currencies to make money on them, kind of like the government playing a stock market.
- Government borrowing is set to hit $71.1b by the end of 2019-20.
- This move was of course chastised by the UCP opposition and Jason Kenney.
The Firing Line
- The ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has made a landmark ruling that Justin Trudeau broke multiple federal ethics rules and violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he accepted a ride on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter and stayed on his private island over the holidays in 2016. The Conflict of Interest Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by Stephen Harper's minority government in late 2006. Mary Dawson was appointed just after that, and her term as the ethics commissioner is concluded, finally, on January 8th.
- Essentially, the ruling boils down to two core issues: whether Trudeau’s acceptance of the trip put him in a conflict of interest because the Aga Khan has ongoing business ties with the government, and also whether he broke the rules around when cabinet officials and members of the House of Commons can accept rides on private transportation.
- On the first matter, Dawson ruled that Trudeau did not violate Section 14 of the Conflict of Interest Act because he did not discuss official government business with the Aga Khan on the trip. However, she also ruled that he violated Section 11 because the trip could be reasonably inferred as having given influence towards the Aga Khan’s interests.
- On the second matter, Dawson ruled that Trudeau also broke the rules around when government officials can use private transportation and noted he did not clear the use of the Aga Khan’s private helicopter with her office as he was required to under Section 12 of the Act. The only cases where that is allowed is if the individual travelling has either secured permission in advance from the ethics commissioner to use the private transportation or if there are emergency circumstances related to their official duties.
- Dawson also ruled that Trudeau failed to recuse himself on two occasions in May 2016 when there were official discussions of a $15-million endowment by the Canadian government to be made to the Global Centre for Pluralism, an institution directly related to the Aga Khan and his foundation. She found that Trudeau did not arrange his private affairs in a way that avoided a conflict of interest.
- Despite the use of the private island and helicopter, that trip cost taxpayers roughly $200,000, which is 70% more than was reported to the ethics commissioner's office.
- Trudeau apologized in a press conference shortly after the report’s release and said he should have cleared the vacation with Dawson in advance and that he takes “full responsibility” for the issue. “I’m sorry I didn’t and in future, I will be clearing all my family vacations,” Trudeau said, repeating past assertions that he considers the Aga Khan a “close family friend” and a “friend of Canada.”
- When pressed on how he did not see the vacation as a potential conflict of interest, Trudeau said he made a mistake. “On this issue of a family vacation with a personal friend, it wasn’t considered that there would be an issue there,” he said. “Obviously there was a mistake.” Trudeau stressed he plans to be “proactive” in the future and said he understands that the office of the prime minister needs to be beyond reproach.
- The Aga Khan's foundation has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants from the Canadian government to support its foreign aid work over the years. As Dawson notes in her report, the Canadian government has contributed nearly $330 million to projects run by the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tanzania and Bangladesh since 1981. “The Government of Canada also regularly consults representatives of the Foundation on current and emerging development trends and priorities, such as conflicts in the Middle East,” she wrote.
- In addition, Dawson revealed that the December 2016 trip was not the first time Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau had visited the island that year. “In February 2016, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau reached out to the Aga Khan’s daughter and discussed the possibility of Ms. Grégoire Trudeau vacationing on the island during the month of March. On March 11, 2016, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau, a friend of hers, and their children, arrived on the island for a week-long trip,” wrote Dawson.
- Gregoire-Trudeau then contacted the Aga Khan’s daughter again in July 2016 to ask whether the whole family could come down to spend Christmas on the private island and that during their trip from Dec. 26, 2016, to Jan. 4, 2017, the family exchanged holiday gifts with the Aga Khan and his family.
- “By deciding that he or his family should vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in March 2016 and December 2016, when it was foreseeable prior to both vacations that he and the Aga Khan would continue to have official dealings, Mr. Trudeau failed to arrange his private affairs in a manner that would prevent him from being placed in a conflict of interest. Neither Mr. Trudeau nor his family should have vacationed on the Aga Khan’s private island.” Dawson wrote in summary of her findings.
- While a finding of violating the ethics rules does not carry any substantial penalty – the maximum fine is just $500 – it could carry heavy reputational baggage for the government as it tries to shake off the criticisms of arrogance and unethical behaviour that Conservatives have been aiming at them for the last several months over the investigation. Andrew Scheer slammed Trudeau after the ruling, who has been hounded by the opposition in the House of Commons for almost a year over the vacation. Scheer wrote on his Twitter saying "Throughout this process, Trudeau has not acted like someone who accepts he has made a mistake. It seems he believes the rules do not apply to people like him."
- Near the end of the Global News article, it's noted that Dawson has also launched a preliminary inquiry into Kent Hehr, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, over allegations he used parliamentary resources to bolster the campaign of his father when he was running for a seat on the Calgary Board of Education.
Word of the Week
Borrow - take and use (something that belongs to someone else) with the intention of returning it: he had borrowed a car from one of his colleagues | (as adjective borrowed) : she was wearing a borrowed jacket.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Borrowers
Teaser: Canada abstains on a UN resolution against the US. Victoria bans plastic bags, despite better alternatives, and the Alberta NDP decide to let themselves borrow $5b more money. Also, we conclude the year long investigation into Trudeau’s lack of ethics.
Recorded Date: December 23, 2017
Release Date: December 24, 2017
Edit Notes: None