Provinces’ lawsuit against Trudeau’s carbon tax argues it is unconstitutional

Last week lawyers representing the provincial government were in a Regina courtroom for two days of hearings as Saskatchewan opposes the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s threat to force a carbon tax on the province and plans to argue it is unconstitutional because it’s not applied evenly in all jurisdictions. The Saskatchewan government has asked the province’s Appeal Court to rule on whether a federally imposed tax is constitutional. Arguments were given to a panel of five judges, including from sixteen interveners on both sides of the dispute.

The governments of New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party were among the presenters supporting the Saskatchewan government. The government of Ontario, which has filed its own legal challenge. Applicants in support of the federal government’s position include the government of British Columbia, The David Suzuki Foundation, and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was in Saskatchewan announcing a major green energy investment. Shifting the language from “carbon tax” to “price on pollution”, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had previously said, “Our focus on bringing forward a price on pollution is very simple; there is too much pollution in our atmosphere, because for too long pollution has been free.” Ottawa says the constitution gives it the power to impose a carbon price because climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are national concerns.

Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan has said challenging the constitutionality of Ottawa’s carbon tax is the right thing to do for his province’s residents and its energy sector. University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams said he expects where Saskatchewan will want to keep the court focused on the federal-provincial division of powers, Ottawa is likely to steer its argument towards the issue of climate change itself. “There’s no question that it’s a monumental decision in the life of the Canadian Constitution. The court hasn’t yet grappled explicitly with climate change as the background context to a constitutional question,” Mr. Adams said.

Starting this April, the federal government’s carbon price starts at a minimum at $20 a tonne and rises $10 each year until 2022. Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba are without a carbon pricing plan and will therefore be subject to the carbon tax. The government’s Saskatchewan Party has always been opposed to the idea of a carbon tax, which the province says would hurt the economy and regardless believes its own plan for emissions reductions goes above and beyond what will be mandated federally. Prime Minister Trudeau said greenhouse gas emissions do not observe political borders and the environment is federal responsibility. Saskatchewan argues it is unconstitutional to impose a tax on some provinces, but not others.

In court filings, both Canada and Saskatchewan point to the Constitution to show that neither the province nor the federal government has explicit control over the environment, but that it overlaps both jurisdictions. Saskatchewan argues a federally imposed carbon tax is “constitutionally illegitimate” because it only applies to some provinces: “Under our Constitution the federal government has no authority to second-guess provincial decisions with respect to matters within provincial jurisdiction.

Ottawa argues climate change is a national concern and the federal government’s power to impose a carbon tax comes from Section 91 of the Constitution, which states laws can be made “for the peace, order and good government of Canada.” Mr. Adams said that branch of jurisdiction is not often cited in constitutional disputes because it’s difficult for courts to define the limits of a “national concern.

Last week, Saskatchewan released regulations under Prairie Resilience that will require industry to reduce methane emissions by 4.5 million tonnes annually by 2025, including penalties for non-compliance. Prairie Resilience focuses on performance standards for heavy emitters and growing renewable power generation. The federal government accepted the provisions of Prairie Resilience when announcing the carbon tax framework, but still said all pollution needs to be priced. “Our plan is actually broader based and more comprehensive than anything that the federal government has put forward,” said Innovation Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor, adding, “I think Saskatchewan people want to see we are standing up for very important resource industries in this province.

#LavScam: True to their history, Canada’s Liberals are caught in a new scandal

Reminiscent of what was called the Sponsorship Scandal, or AdScam – a program of the previous Liberal government to promote Quebec industry that revealed corruption and illegal activities within the administration – the current Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a rapidly developing scandal that threatens to blow up ahead of this year’s federal election. When the Liberals were elected to form a majority government in 2015, their signature promise was that they would be different from other politicians and governments. Unfortunately. in classic Liberal style, news of the SNC-Lavalin scandal proves they are exactly the same. Ironically, and in another broken promise, the Liberals themselves are to blame for creating the conditions that brought this scandal to the fore.

The Scandal Behind the Scandal

On Thursday, February 7, 2019, the Globe and Mail published an article that alleges senior officials with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had "attempted to press" then- Attorney General Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the corruption and fraud prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and urge prosecutors to cut a deal to save SNC-Lavalin from going to trial and facing possible criminal conviction. Known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement”, such a deal would have seen the company admit wrongdoing, pay a fine and pay back any financial gains made as a result of the business activities it is currently alleged to have committed in Libya. Quoting unnamed sources, the Globe and Mail reported that Ms. Wilson-Raybould apparently refused and was subsequently demoted from the position of Attorney General to Minister of Veterans Affairs in last month’s Cabinet shuffle.

SNC-Lavalin faces charges of fraud and corruption in connection with nearly CAD $48 million in payments made to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011. If convicted, the company could be blocked from competing for federal government contracts for a decade. It's not known how, or if, the PMO pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould. The Globe and Mail story uses different terms to describe the alleged actions of the PMO toward Ms. Wilson-Raybould, such as "attempted to press" and "urged" her and that she "came under heavy pressure", however the exact meaning behind these terms remains unclear.

From Winnipeg, PM Trudeau said, “In regards to the matter of SNC-Lavalin, let me be clear. The government of Canada did its job and to the clear public standards expected of it. If anyone felt differently, they had an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that.” Later that same day, Attorney General David Lametti, who took over Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s position with the Justice portfolio in last month’s Cabinet shuffle, said neither he nor Ms. Wilson-Raybould had been subject to any attempts to direct or pressure them.

The issue with SNC-Lavalin is the allegation that the Quebec engineering company paid bribes to get contracts in former dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya. This isn’t the firm’s first foray into bribery, with a long record of bribing officials, foreign and domestic, to win public contracts. Notably, previous informal payments of CAD $22.5 million were made by SNC-Lavalin to the director overseeing bids for a CAD $2-billion new superhospital in Montreal, Canada. In 2013, the World Bank debarred SNC-Lavalin and its more than 100 affiliates for a period of 10 years following the company’s misconduct in relation to the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project in Bangladesh, as well as misconduct under another Bank-financed project.

The company claimed it would be forced out of business if it were convicted on charges of bribing public officials in Libya, as this would also forbid it from bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years. SNC-Lavalin had hoped that its fraud and corruption charges could be resolved with a DPA and had lobbied federal officials for such an outcome, according to the Globe and Mail article. In October 2018, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada determined SNC had not met the criteria for a DPA.

According to the Globe and Mail, Attorney General Wilson-Raybould then "came under heavy pressure" to persuade the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to change its mind, but she was unwilling to instruct the director of the public prosecution service to negotiate the agreement. The director works "under and on behalf" of the attorney general, who can issue directives regarding specific prosecutions, as long as those directives are in writing and made public.

The Liberals had promised (and failed) to end what they called the "undemocratic" practice of using omnibus bills to bury controversial proposals. As Official Opposition, the Liberals resented Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s use of these assembled bills until, of course, they formed government and came to appreciate their expediency when they implemented a change to the Criminal Code using the Budget Implementation Act. SNC-Lavalin had lobbied the government to introduce the amendment, which established remediation agreements, also known as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs). These would allow companies accused of certain economic offences such as bribery, fraud, and corruption to be spared criminal charges. Instead, these companies could admit wrongdoing and pay a financial penalty. The Liberals bundled this change into an omnibus bill, preventing oversight and debate, and quickly passing it into law last year after several dozen meetings with SNC-Lavalin lobbyists.

It was a big win for SNC-Lavalin, which is facing the prospect of a 10-year ban on bidding on federal contracts stemming from their 2015 corruption and fraud charges. According to the Criminal Code, part of the reasoning behind the amendment was to "reduce the negative consequences of the wrongdoing for persons — employees, customers, pensioners and others — who did not engage in the wrongdoing." In the case of SNC-Lavalin, which employs nearly 9,000 Canadians across the country, the concern has been that a successful criminal prosecution against the company could cost many jobs and damage the economy, particularly in Quebec.

The Role of the Attorney General

Unique in Cabinet, the Attorney General is meant to be an independent and non-partisan role, particularly in the oversight of federal prosecutions. As University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese wrote, "The role of the AG and prosecutors is to act in the public interest, not in the interest of whoever is in the PMO, They must, therefore, not be under the thumb of the political executive, and indeed must be insulated from political pressures that would, for instance, leave some people favoured in the criminal justice system, and others targeted." Meaning, while Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister can consult with the Attorney General, they cannot instruct or pressure the Attorney General to make any specific decision regarding criminal cases.

A genuine attempt by the Prime Minister or anyone else in the PMO to speak with the Attorney General about ending an investigation or a criminal prosecution of any type would amount to obstruction of justice and/or interference with a public official, specifically, in obstructing the execution of her duty.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould had said she would not comment on the claims in the Globe story because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege. As Attorney General, the Government of Canada was her client, so she's not at liberty to discuss conversations pertaining to legal proceedings. The solicitor-client privilege remains in place even when she is no longer Attorney General. However, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said in her resignation letter that she is aware Canadians wish for her to speak on these matters and that she is in the process of obtaining advice on the topics she's "legally permitted to discuss."

The government has the ability to waive its privilege, which has been exercised twice in the past. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper did so during the investigation into Senator Mike Duffy's expense scandal and Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin waived Cabinet confidence during the Gomery Inquiry into the Sponsorship Scandal.

In an interview with iPolitics, Peter MacKay, who is a former Conservative Justice Minister under Prime Minister Harper, said PM Trudeau's disclosure of his conversation with Ms. Wilson-Raybould was an "implied waiver" and that the former Cabinet Minister should be able to answer the question of whether she was pressured to intervene on behalf of SNC-Lavalin. However, University of British Columbia (UBC) law professor Andrew Martin said while Mr. MacKay may have a point, given the importance of solicitor-client privilege, lawyers are wise to err on the side of maintaining and not breaching privilege.

Timeline of Events

Investigations

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has now sparked two government-related investigations. On Friday, February 8, the opposition parties announced they’d be pushing for a House committee to call Ms. Wilson-Raybould, current Attorney General David Lametti, and several PMO staff to testify. While PM Trudeau’s government initially refused to permit a parliamentary committee to proceed with its own investigation, they continue to disallow the waive of solicitor-client privilege, which would give Ms. Wilson-Raybould the ability to speak about the allegation.

The investigations focus on the key question: Did the Prime Minister, or someone in his office, try to pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould when she was Attorney General to step in and resolve the corruption and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. in an effort to spare the Montreal-based engineering giant from criminal prosecution?

Trudeau’s Denial

On Monday, February 11, Trudeau admitted to a conversation in the fall with Wilson-Raybould, which would have been around the same time that the public prosecution service declined to enter into a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin and when the pressure is alleged to have been applied to Wilson-Raybould to intervene.

At an event in Vancouver, which Ms. Wilson-Raybould did not attend, PM Trudeaus said, “She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone.” He also said he has asked Attorney General Lametti to study the question of whether to waive solicitor-client privilege to let Ms. Wilson-Raybould speak publicly about the extent of any discussions on the allegations, and that the Minister will get back to him with recommendations.

Ethics Commissioner

On Monday, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced he is investigating whether there was as breach of Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. It prohibits any official responsible for high-level decision-making in government from seeking to influence the decision of another person so as to "improperly further another person's private interests."

Resignation

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Ms. Wilson-Raybould announced she submitted her resignation as Minister of Veterans Affairs and said she has retained legal counsel to determine what she can and cannot talk about within the confines of solicitor-client privilege over the SNC-Lavalin affair. She will remain the MP for Vancouver-Granville. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he was “surprised and disappointed” by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, which he said was “not consistent” with their recent conversations. However, he had previously stated that though he had “full confidence” in her, he appeared to suggest that if she had serious concerns, she could quit Cabinet.

Justice Committee

On Wednesday, an emergency motion put forth by Conservative and NDP members on the House of Commons Justice Committee to force senior government officials, including Ms. Wilson-Raybould and PM Trudeau’s most senior advisers Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and Chief of Staff Katie Telford, to testify was defeated by the Liberal majority of the committee.

The Liberal-controlled Justice Committee agreed to hold limited, in-camera hearings (not open to the public or on record) into whether the PMO pressured former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin criminal investigation, however, only the current Justice Minister, his deputy, and the clerk of the privy council will be interviewed.

Rather than look into the alleged attempt to interfere in a criminal prosecution, the committee is confining itself to the broader merits of “remediation agreements,” SNC-Lavalin’s chosen alternative to prosecution that the government slipped into the omnibus budget bill last year.

NDP committee member Nathan Cullen said, “That is not an investigation, that is simply going through the motions … Liberals seem to think that this should be just a sort of study group, a book club to look at all sorts of interesting ideas about the law rather than the scandal that’s right in front of Canadians.

The Smear Campaign Begins

With such a damaging scandal accelerating so quickly within a week’s time, less than ten months to the federal election, the Prime Minister and his staff have already begun to set the stage for their smear campaign against Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Their hope will be that either this issue dies away from public interest and memory, which is unlikely ahead of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s anticipated revelations, or the Conservative opposition doesn’t venture too deeply into their criticisms for fear of losing Quebecois voters – a concern new People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, who hails from Quebec, does not seem to hold regardless of the topic.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould is the first Minister ever to resign from Cabinet without giving a reason. It appears she anticipates a fight with the Trudeau government. She has hired Thomas Albert Cromwell, who was a Supreme Court Justice from 2008 to 2016.

Giving the impression that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was somehow derelict in her duties, PM Trudeau said that “if she felt that she had received pressure” it was “her responsibility to come to talk to me. She did not do that.” Moreover, “she continued to serve in this government” as Veterans Affairs Minister after she was dropped from the Justice portfolio in last month’s Cabinet shuffle.

Anonymous Liberal insiders are saying Ms. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of Justice into Veterans Affairs because she had become a thorn in the side of many in Cabinet, someone who was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow Cabinet Ministers openly at the table, and who others felt they had trouble trusting.

Yet, those who have always been on her team say otherwise, including her father, Bill Wilson, helped get Indigenous title to land and treaty rights enshrined in the Constitution. Former grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the northern Manitoba chiefs’ organization, Sheila North says of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, “She’s very serious, she’s very credible.” Ms. North said any criticism of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, a woman who publicly accepted her Cabinet demotion outdoors in the dead of winter with bare legs, for sticking up for her convictions is rooted in sexism. The former B.C. Crown prosecutor is “Someone who is very strong and assertive, when it’s a male, it’s not even considered anything that’s negative,” she said

As political journalist Stephen Maher wrote in Maclean’s magazine:

“Trudeau and his aides misjudged [Wilson-Raybould] badly by handing her the cudgel and then giving her the opportunity to wield it by demoting her as they did.

As Trudeau is a prince, born to power, she is a princess, daughter of hereditary Kwakiutl chief Bill Wilson, a lawyer and national leader who negotiated with Trudeau’s father to ensure Aboriginal rights were enshrined in the 1982 constitution. By demoting her, Trudeau and his people humiliated her, seemingly to send a message about who holds the reins in Ottawa: Trudeau, chief of staff Katie Telford and principal secretary Gerald Butts, two advisors who have more clout than any ministers.

It was an enormous miscalculation, and now Trudeau is locked in a zero-sum game with a formidable opponent who has undercut his argument that he is a feminist leader committed to reconciliation with indigenous Canadians.

PM Trudeau calls three byelections for February 25 in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called three federal byelections to be held on February 25. The three ridings in which constituents will be voting in a new Member of Parliament (MP) are Burnaby South, British Columbia, Outremont, Quebec, and York–Simcoe, Ontario.

 

The Burnaby South seat was vacated by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who resigned to successfully run for election as mayor of Vancouver on October 20, 2018. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running for the seat against Liberal nominee Karen Wang (daycare owner), Conservative nominee Jay Shin (corporate lawyer), and People's Party of Canada nominee Laura-Lynn Thompson (author and media personality). The Green Party chose to extend Mr. Singh a “leader’s courtesy” and not run a candidate against him.

 

Mr. Singh has been leader of the federal New Democrats since October 2017. After spending months touring the country meeting with people and saying he was comfortable with not having a seat in the House of Commons, Mr. Singh decided it was time to try to get elected federally and be in Parliament for key political moments, such as Question Period.

 

A Prime Minister has up to 180 days to call a byelection after a seat is vacated. The recently-passed election reform bill C-76 changed the rules to state that a byelection cannot be called within nine months of the scheduled general election date, which is expected to be October 21, 2019.

 

PM Trudeau has faced pressure from Mr. Singh and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to call these byelection races, criticizing him for delaying the byelections, accusing him of playing politics, and being petty for not holding votes to fill these vacancies earlier. "Voters in these vacant seats deserve the chance to have their voices heard," Mr. Scheer said in a statement last Friday.

 

The Montreal riding of Outremont was left vacant in August, by the resignation of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair. There, formal president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation Julia Sanchez is running for the NDP, facing off against past candidate and Liberal staffer Rachel Bendayan, and Conservative Candidate Jasmine Louras.

 

The Ontario riding of York-Simcoe was left vacant by the September resignation of Conservative MP Peter Van Loan. It’s a long-held Conservative riding, where the defending party is running business owner Scot Davidson. The Liberal candidate is Shaun Tanaka, professor and past federal candidate, and community organizer Jessa McLean is running for the NDP.

 

There is one outstanding vacancy, in former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C. riding. She officially resigned her seat this week, following her announcement she would be running for the provincial NDP. That byelection will have to be announced sometime between January 18 and July 6. Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio has also said he will be resigning on January 22, days after the window closes on the possibility to hold a byelection to replace him.


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PM Trudeau makes it harder for future PMs to reverse Senate reforms

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will amend the Parliament of Canada Act, the law that outlines the powers and privileges of federal Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators, to cement his transformation of the Senate into a more independent, non-partisan chamber, making it harder for a future Prime Minister to turn back the clock. The PM said this change will better reflect the new reality in the upper house, where most Senators now sit as independents unaffiliated with any political party. However, the ‘independent’ Senators are not necessarily so.

 

Currently, the Parliament of Canada Act recognizes only two partisan caucuses in the Senate: the governing party caucus and the Opposition caucus, both of which are entitled to research funds, dedicated time to debate bills, memberships on committees, and a role in the day-to-day decisions about Senate business, such as when to adjourn debate. Senators have agreed spontaneously to some accommodation of the growing ranks of Independent Senators, giving them some research funds and committee roles, however, the leadership of the Independent Senators’ Group (ISG) has argued that their role must be explicitly spelled out and guaranteed in the Parliament of Canada Act. Since the change would involve allocating financial resources, they say amendments can’t be initiated by the Senate, only by the government in the House of Commons.

 

Senate Liberals were part of the parliamentary Liberal Party caucus until January 2014, when newly elected party Leader Justin Trudeau expelled all Senators from the caucus with the stated intention of their becoming ‘independent’ Senators. While many Liberal Senators chose to keep the designation "Liberal" and continue to sit together as a caucus, several other Liberal Senators re-designated themselves as part of the ISG.

 

Amending the Act before the Autumn 2019 federal election is a priority for the ISG, who fear PM Trudeau’s reforms could be easily reversed should the Liberals fail to win re-election. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said that if becomes Prime Minister, he would revert to the original practice of partisan appointments.

 

Of the 105 Senators, 54 are Independents who have banded together for greater clout as the Independent Senators’ Group. 31 Senators are Conservatives, 10 are Liberal-independents, and 10 are unaffiliated. Last week, PM Trudeau appointed two new Senators with strong Liberal connections: former Liberal Premier of Yukon, Pat Duncan, and Nova Scotia mental-health expert Stanley Kutcher, who ran for the Liberals in the 2011 federal election and lost.

 

The Conservative Opposition questioned how non-partisan the independent senators really are, noting that most seem to share Trudeau’s values, a criticism PM Trudeau did not deny, responding, “I’m not going to pick people who are completely offline with where I think my values or many Canadians’ values are. A future prime minister of a different political stripe will certainly be able to appoint people … who might have a slightly different ideological bent. I think that’s going to naturally happen in our system.


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Big Journalism in Canada Campaigns for the Liberals

Photo Credit: Twitter @unifortheunion

Photo Credit: Twitter @unifortheunion

Context

 

Unifor is the national union for news media employees in Canada and a self-described tight-knit community of workers within the larger labour movement, representing over 12,000 members across the country, working at industry giants Bell Media, Postmedia, Corus, and others.

 

Unifor cites employment in newspapers and digital news publishing at 34,350 workers across the country (down 41 percent from 2010) and says approximately one in twenty-five of its members work in the media sector. With above-average levels of union representation, Unifor’s 12,600 media members are distributed across two hundred bargaining units in nine Canadian provinces, with nearly 60 percent of the total working in Ontario, and roughly one in four workers covered by a collective agreement.

 

‘Unifor in the Canadian Media Industry: Select Unifor Employers Approximate Number of Members’

 

·         Bell Media: 2,100

·         NABET 700-M: 1,125

·         Corus: 830

·         Winnipeg Free Press: 700

·         Postmedia: 600

·         Rogers Communications: 550

 

Canadian PM Trudeau Gives CAD $595 Million Tax Relief to ‘Eligible’ News Media

 

Less than a year ahead of Canada’s next national election, and as part of the federal government’s economic update in late November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government will give CAD $595 million over the next five years in a fifteen percent non-refundable tax credit to “eligible” news outlets. Eligibility is to be determined by the government and government-established panels, which critics argue will erode journalistic independence, and political and news media figures described as corrupt.

 

The tax credit will take effect January 1, 2019 and apply to the labour costs associated with producing original content and will be open to both non-profit and for-profit news organizations. It includes tax breaks for consumers who purchase subscriptions from news media outlets, refundable tax credits for news media outlets’ operational costs, and the extension of charitable status to non-profit news media organizations. Registered charities with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can issue charitable receipts to donors and benefactors for donations.

 

Highlights:

 

  • A temporary, non-refundable 15 percent tax credit for qualifying subscribers of “eligible” digital news media to help support digital news organizations achieve a “more financially sustainable business model”;

  • A new tax category of “qualified donee” for non-profit journalism organizations allowing them to issue receipts for donations from both individuals and corporations and foundations to provide financial support;

  • A refundable tax credit for qualifying news organizations that “produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians.”

 

There was nearly unanimous positive response from mainstream media, who praised the announcement. Chair of Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star, John Honderich said, “I am very encouraged by these positive steps. They should significantly help the media sector as it transforms to a sustainable digital future.” John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which represents 800 daily, weekly, and community newspapers, called the measures “substantive” and said, “They listened to us in terms of the types of investments, they focused it on journalism. There’s lots of details to be worked out and we will continue to do that. The biggest issue was recognizing the challenge.” Hinds praised the government for not “picking out business models.”

 

The Conservative Official Opposition were critical saying government aid would taint journalistic independence. Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kent, a retired journalist, said, “It certainly gives the impression of potentially affecting, not necessarily individual journalists, but the organizations, the companies, the employers that they work for. When the media, or media organizations, or in fact, individual journalist jobs are dependent on government subsidies that is the antithesis of a free and independent press." MP Pierre Poilievre said taxpayers’ money should not be used to support media organizations, especially in an election year. “We think that media should be independent from the government, we should not have a situation where the government picks a panel that then decides who gets to report the news,” he said on Parliament Hill, and “The media should be free and independent from the government.”

 

Protectionism, political advocacy, and strategic voting

 

Unifor has explicitly supported left-wing political politics for decades and their Twitter feed is full of anti-right-wing political posts. In 1988, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW, which later became Unifor) President Bob White withdrew support from the New Democrats (NDP) when he condemned the Free Trade Agreement with the United States (U.S.) and has since supported the Liberal party by advocating strategic voting to remove and prevent Conservative governments. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, Unifor’s Canadian Council endorsed strategic voting to defeat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his majority government.

 

In 2014, Justin Trudeau was running for Leader of Canada’s federal Liberal Party and invited to address Unifor members at their annual convention, where Unifor President Jerry Dias introduced Mr. Trudeau by denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper with the claim PM Harper genuinely did not like Canadians. Newly-elected Prime Minister Trudeau was invited to speak in November 2015, promising a “new partnership with Labour” and again addressed Unifor members in 2016.

 

On September 30, 2018 a new free trade agreement was reached between the United States, Mexico and Canada to replace the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Prior to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland settling on the final terms with United States (U.S.) trade representative Robert Lighthizer, she called Mr. Diaz for his opinion, reportedly telling him that she would not proceed with the deal unless he and Unifor supported it.

 

In the union’s Media Policy, they state the fact that journalism is essential to democracy, claiming this is the first commandment of Canadian media and at its best, journalism holds the powerful to account, whether they are governments or private interests.

 

However, the public does not know which journalists are influenced by the positions of their union from those who are not union-members. Unifor states: “Ownership is decisive in the character of media that is offered to Canadians. Owners of media set editorial policy, often determining specific content and promoting personal views. Owners determine the level of commercialism in media, and the influence of advertisers. They set the ideological, professional and business tone for the media that they control.” What Unifor fails to distinguish, however, is their own role in determining editorial policy for Canadian news, as is determined by both owners and editorial staff, whether or not they are Unifor union members.

 

Unifor’s media policy

 

The following are excerpts from Unifor’s Media Policy, outlining Unifor’s partisan position and political activism (emphasis added). Unifor actively lobbied for elements of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent tax credit announcement for “eligible” news outlets.

 

Read the full policy here

 

Unifor states their “end goal is a more diverse and locally sustainable media industry that is reflective of Canada’s multiculturalism, its Indigenous heritage and is driven by quality content and professional journalism.”

 

Unifor believes “Canadian culture has survived over time thanks to a mix of government support measures including provincial and federal tax credits for producers and advertisers.”

 

Their use of language is specific, whereas diversity = diversity of culture = Canadian culture = anti-international = the antithesis of American culture = left-wing political policy.

 

“Through ongoing political action, lobbying, membership outreach and community engagement work, Unifor will strive to achieve its goals and the provisions of this policy, encapsulated in the following core guiding principles, including:

 

  • That news is a public good and essential to democracy;

  • That Unifor supports a healthy media ecosystem consisting of large, small, public, private commercial, non-profit and alternative press;

  • That Unifor supports a strong Canadian creative sector;

  • That Unifor supports a strong commercial printing industry;

  • That Unifor supports political action to resist the erosion of news and Canadian Content rules resulting from global trade agreements, foreign ownership, or market domination by foreign media companies;

  • That disruption of “legacy” Canadian media by American technology and media firms requires an urgent government public policy response;

  • That Unifor will advocate for government policy intervention from time to time within the guidelines of this Media Policy and under the direction of the Unifor Media Council Executive.”

 

“Unifor commits to:

 

•         Advocate changes to tax laws that allow governments to begin collecting sales tax on foreign OTT media and that extend the advertising expenditure tax write-off (under Section 19 of the Income Tax Act) to include online media;

•         Advocate changes to tax rules on philanthropic endowments of journalism;

•         Advocate for tax incentives and credits for readers, viewers and subscribers of news services, thus supporting strong journalism without direct government subsidies.”

 

Journalism Code of Principles

 

The following excerpts from Unifor’s Media Policy outlines the standards to which they hold their members accountable, yet in practice do not always follow (emphasis added):

 

“Journalists report, analyze, and comment on the facts that help their fellow citizens understand the world in which they live. Complete, accurate and diverse information and commentary are necessary for the proper functioning of democracy.

 

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes this by guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Journalists must defend the freedom of the press and the public’s right to information; they must fight any restrictions, pressures and threats that aim to limit the gathering and dissemination of information. Facts and ideas that are in the public interest must circulate freely.

 

“Our legal traditions give media privilege and protection. We must return this trust through the ethical practice of our craft. We must also hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity, particularly as we respond to the mounting and politically-motivated attacks against professional journalism, and claims that mainstream news sources deliver “fake news.”

 

“The rights and responsibilities of a free press apply to both individual journalists and to news organizations that employ them.

 

“Journalists must take their role seriously. They must demand of themselves the same ethical qualities they demand of newsmakers; in other words, they cannot denounce other people’s conflicts of interest, and at the same time, accept their own.

 

“Therefore, Unifor members engaged in journalism and newsroom management shall commit to: truth, honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others. To achieve these goals, the following

principles shall govern our activity in the collection and dissemination of news and opinion.

 

“Principles

 

1.       We shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism.

2.       We shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship.

3.       We shall strive to ensure that the information disseminated is fair and accurate, avoiding the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.

4.     We shall give an accurate account of what people say. Quotations, editing, sound effects, etc., and the sequence in which they are presented, must not distort the meaning of people’s words.

5.       We shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticized when the issue is of sufficient importance.

6.       We shall give people or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized prompt opportunity to respond. We shall make a genuine and exhaustive effort to contact them. If they decline to comment we will say so.

7.       We shall tell sources who are unfamiliar with the media that their remarks may be published or broadcast and thus communicated to a large group of people.

8.       We shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by over-riding considerations of the public interest. A journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means.

9.       We shall ensure that photographs, graphics, sounds and images that are published or broadcast represent reality as accurately as possible. Artistic concerns shall not result in public deception. Edited images and photographs shall be identified as such.

10.   We shall always credit the originating news organization or reporter so that readers/viewers know the sources of their information.

11.   We shall never plagiarize. If we use an exclusive piece of information that has been published or broadcast by another media organization, we shall identify the source.

12.   Subject to the justification by over-riding considerations of the public interest, we shall do nothing that entails intrusion into private grief and distress.

13.   We shall respect everyone’s right to a fair trial. We shall respect the presumed innocence of everyone before the courts. When we have covered an incident where individuals have been incriminated and prosecuted, we will continue to follow the story as closely as possible, and ensure the public is informed of the end result.

14.   We shall identify sources of information, except when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity. When this happens, we will explain the need for anonymity.

15.   We shall endeavor to protect confidential sources of information, but since there are no shield laws protecting journalists in Canada we may be ordered by a court or judicial inquiry to divulge confidential sources upon threat of jail. Therefore we must convey that clearly to our sources.

16.   We shall not accept bribes nor shall we allow other inducements to influence the performance of our journalistic duties.

17.   We shall not lend ourselves to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.

18.   Columnists shall be free to express their views, even when those views are contrary to the editorial views of their organization, as long as the content does not breach the law.

19.   We shall only mention a person’s age, ethnic background, colour, creed, illegitimacy, disability, marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. We shall neither originate nor process material that encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

20.   We shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of our duties, before the information is public knowledge.

21.   We shall not use our positions to obtain any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions not available to the public.

22.   We shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of our own work or of the organization that employs us.

23.   We shall clearly identify infomercials so they are not in any way confused – even by their layout – with information.

24.   We shall cover events sponsored by our own organizations with the same rigor we apply to every other event.

25.   We shall not act as police informers or as agents for any country’s security or intelligence services.

26.   We will not allow our by-lines or authorship to be published in connection with purported editorial content that has been reviewed prior to publication by an advertiser or sponsor.”

 


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Justin Trudeau As the Arbiter of Real News and the Death of Journalistic Integrity

Photo Credit: National Post

Photo Credit: National Post

One of the institutional pillars of a democratic society is a free and independent news media, which has been enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Less than a year from now, Canadians will head to the polls and vote for their next government, and current Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party Justin Trudeau intends to be re-elected. To aid him in this goal, PM Trudeau has now bought the votes of Canada’s mainstream news media to support favourable coverage of his partisan agenda.

 

Last week, during the federal government’s economic and fiscal update, the announcement was given that “eligible” news media would receive over half a billion dollars in tax credits over the next five years (conveniently, one year plus a four-year term until the next-next federal election), whereas eligibility is determined by a government-appointed committee. The intention is clear: a temporary life raft has been offered and a return on investment is expected come Autumn 2019.

 

It’s no secret global mainstream news media has been struggling with rapidly declining numbers of (paid and unpaid) subscribers due to a failing business model based on advertisements from advertisers who know the audience isn’t there. In a free market, consumers choose the goods they deem has value and are therefore willing to pay for. With the tax credit, Canadian taxpayers will now be forced to pay for news they have already chosen to opt out of buying. The death throes have merely been prolonged.

 

Today, journalism works according to the political agenda of a significant number of journalists who act more as political activists than as neutral reporters of the facts. Given that Millennials are now the largest generation in history and came of age alongside digital information technology, it’s obvious Millennials don’t trust the mainstream news media and are instead looking to independent sources and their peers for trusted information. People want to know what is happening, not be told what to think about it through biased narratives.

 

Canada’s government-sponsored media bailout will not slow or reverse the death of journalistic decline in the country and may well accelerate it by a citizenry fed up with being taken for fools by politicians, bureaucrats, and mainstream news media. This temporary bailout will not balance out bias or diffuse polarization. Journalistic integrity will not be recovered by those who threw it out the window for the ease of creating headlines based on tweets and job security through their national union.

 

Fake news is not a new phenomenon, coined by Donald Trump. I have been the victim of deliberate mischaracterization and misrepresentation through the collaboration of politicians and the mainstream news media. I know many others who have also been slandered. I have worked for politicians for whom their responses “on the record” with a journalist resulted in their words being either twisted or completely fabricated from what was actually said and meant. The mainstream news media creates a story, and no one calls them out because who are you going to call them out to? The mainstream news media hold themselves in the high esteem of The Official Representative of Public Voice. Many times, the real story is traded in for “’gotcha’ headlines and sound bites, when the actual news was far more interesting, though required a great deal more effort to hear, understand, and convey.

 

Digital is changing this power dynamic for the better. The truth always comes out, in time. I founded The Visionable in response to thousands of Millennials telling me they needed a trusted source of information about what is going on in our world, to find and tell the actual news to those who want to know it. Paid subscriptions and donations to independent news media and individual voices outnumber those to mainstream news media many times over. The demand for intelligible, fact-based information and commentary exists and people are paying for it. We want quality, in-depth information and are supporting it with our wallets, not by force through our taxes. Elite-minded journalists are being replaced with intellectually curious freelance journalists who are genuinely interested and fascinated by the stories and information they pursue, sharing it with the world for the betterment of us all. This shift is creating a better, stronger, more resilient business model that actually delivers to people and responds to market demand.

 

That is what news should be – empowering, motivating, and purposeful. If you agree, join our growing community with a subscription to The Visionable.

Welcome, 

 

Amanda Wilkie, Executive Editor

Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of The Visionable


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