WELL, HELLOOOOOO, KITS!
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten news of at least three politicians, who should know better, dipping their toes — OK, their whole foot really — in the deep end of the dumb pool.
First, we have the federal Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, and Liberal member for Markham—Thornhill, Mary Ng.
On December 13, 2022, Mario Dion, the federal ethics commissioner, released a report finding that Ng had broken ethics rules in 2019 and 2020 by failing to recuse herself during the process of awarding two government contracts for media and communications training.
The first of the two contracts, worth $5,840, was awarded on March 26, 2019, while the second, worth $16,950, was awarded a little over a year later, on April 8, 2020.
The 2019 contract was “for an employee in Ms. Ng’s ministerial office seeking to obtain media training service”.
The 2020 contract was awarded soon after Canada went into its first shutdown of the COVID pandemic, when Minister Ng’s “office was faced with a large volume of requests for information from stakeholders; between February and April 2020, the demand for media interviews with her also increased roughly sixfold. As the minister responsible for small business, her role in this context was to communicate complex and important information quickly and effectively to a wide audience, by all available means.”
The issue at the heart of the matter is that the contracts were awarded to public relations agency Pomp & Circumstance, co-founded and run by Amanda Alvaro (a regular panelist on CBC’s Power & Politics), who happens to be not only a “dear friend” of Minister Ng (as Alvaro indicated in a 2018 social media post), but also someone who volunteered as a spokesperson during Ms. Ng’s 2017 election campaign. Ms. Ng and Ms. Alvaro have known each other for almost 20 years.
The investigation arose out of a May 24, 2022, letter from Conservative Member of Parliament for Selkirk–Interlake–Eastman, James Bezan, requesting an examination under the Conflict of Interest Act of the awarding of the 2020 contract and according to the commissioner’s report: “In the course of my examination, I became aware of a previous contract for media training awarded a year earlier to the same public relations agency.”
AN EAGER BEAVER CIVICS MOMENT
Section 4 of the Conflict of Interest Act states that “a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends.” As set out in section 19 of the Conflict of Interest Act, compliance with the Act is a condition of a person’s appointment and employment as a public office holder. The Conflict of Interest Act does not provide any sanctions for infringements.”
Following an examination, a report is provided to the Prime Minister of the day, upon whom the onus of imposing an appropriate sanction falls.
In addition, as National Post columnist John Ivison correctly states in an otherwise ridiculously strident and hyper-partisan column in which he claims the Prime Minister’s ethics violation “rap sheet” makes it such that “it would be extremely bad mannered of Trudeau to fire or demote” Minister Ng — the bullshit is neck high tonight, Kits! — “it is not surprising that ministers have become comfortable breaking the rules so blatantly — there are no consequences. The ethics commissioner is limited to imposing fines of up to $500; in this case, he does not appear to have done even that.”
It is important to note here that that $500 maximum fine was set by still-thankfully-former-Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he brought in Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act (Royal Assent given on December 12, 2006).
The Act itself, ironically, is an inherent conflict of interest, not only because it was the product of the governing party (and elected officials) of the day determining the maximum penalty that could be applied to itself for violating it, but also because it was brought in with the government of the day knowing full well it had violated the Canada Elections Act three ways from Sunday in the closely contested 2006 federal election which brought it to power. That particular lack of ethics, otherwise known as the In and Out Scandal, resulted in four senior Conservative Party members being criminally charged with overspending over $1 million, “including allegations that Conservative election expense documents submitted to Elections Canada were ‘false or misleading’ and attempted to fraudulently gain almost $1 million in refunds from taxpayers,” according to Wikipedia.
On March 6, 2012, nearly six years after reaping significant rewards from the crime it committed — including obtaining a second mandate — charges were dropped as part of a plea deal that saw the Corruption Party of Canada agreeing to repay $230,198 it had stolen from Canadians. Unfortunately, nothing in the law forced the party to step down as the Government of Canada for stealing the 2006 election from us.
This, Kits, is the reason for which I always say that it should not be permissible under Canadian law for elected officials to determine the sanctions which govern their behaviour as, invariably, their laws are written in such a way as to grant themselves free passes, or at worst wrist slaps, thus ensuring that political-collar crime does indeed pay… Handsomely well, in fact.
FROM THE REPORT
In fairness to Ng, she has taken responsibility and apologized unreservedly. That’s always a good start.
Statement by Minister Ng: pic.twitter.com/UVxExapYfL
— Mary Ng (@mary_ng) December 13, 2022
The report details that “financial authority was provided by Jason Easton, her Chief of Staff”, despite the fact that “Mr. Easton was aware of her friendship with Ms. Alvaro from the time he became her Chief of Staff in 2018”. More importantly, the report said Ng was not copied on any email exchanges relating to the 2019 contract (but members of her office were aware of the friendship between Ng and Alvaro). Moreover, according to the report, “there is no reason to believe Ms. Ng gave preferential treatment to any company, which would be defined as treatment not given to another person or entity in similar circumstances” as “another company with no known personal connection to Ms. Ng was awarded similar media training contracts around the same time as the contract was awarded to Pomp & Circumstance.” Furthermore, the report states that “since Ms. Ng has become a Minister, she and staff in her ministerial office have obtained media training services from outside contractors on six occasions. The value of these contracts ranged from $5,840 to $24,995.60,” so there is no pattern, over time, of favouritism. Finally, it was Minister Ng herself who proactively provided to the commissioner the information about the 2019 contract, which “had been acknowledged twice before on the public record, namely in written responses to Order Paper questions,” as “she wanted to be transparent about what she had found in the public record.”
About the 2020 contract, the report states that while Minister “Ng does not appear to have been involved in the subsequent discussions about the negotiation of the final terms of the contract,” the contract did arise as a result of a late March 2020 phone call to Ms. Alvaro, initiated by Minister Ng, “to talk about the situation and to ask her advice on how to handle it given her expertise in communications.”
The report concludes: “Notwithstanding Ms. Ng’s characterization of the initial contact she made with Ms. Alvaro on March 30 or 31, 2020, as an informal telephone call, she did, during this call, discuss a need to be filled in the context of her official duties. The instructions given by email on March 31, 2020, by Ms. Ng to her Director of Communications, as well as those in Ms. Alvaro’s corresponding email to her Senior Account Consultant, establish the broad terms of the services that would be provided.”
“Under section 21 of the Act, all public office holders are required to recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in which they would be in a conflict of interest. Ms. Ng failed to identify a potential conflict involving her friend upon entering public office. At the very least, she should have become aware of it before receiving her first training session with Ms. Alvaro in March 2019. The simple fact of receiving, as a public office holder, a service from a friend under a contract paid with public funds from her ministerial office should have prompted Ms. Ng to consult this Office on the appropriateness of such a situation, short of withdrawing herself entirely from it and obtaining similar services from another provider, as was done in August 2019 and in January 2020.”
“While the exceptional, pandemic-driven circumstances that led to the urgent need for the April 2020 contract may help explain how a conflict of interest could have escaped the awareness of Ms. Ng at that time, the precedent created by the March 2019 contract, whose concerning nature appears to have also gone unnoticed even in the absence of a public health emergency, prevents any consideration of extenuating circumstances in this matter. I believe Ms. Ng had ample time to contemplate compliance measures such as recusal or preventative measures such as implementing a screen to mitigate against a conflict.”
THERE SHOULD BE CONSEQUENCES
A spokesperson for the commissioner’s office said Minister Ng is not facing any fines for breaching the Act. It appears the Prime Minister will not be seeking her resignation from Cabinet, but in my opinion, he should.
“Minister Ng twice failed to recognize a potential conflict of interest involving a friend, an oversight of her obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act,” stated the ethics commissioner in his report, adding that: “The decision to trigger the steps that resulted in obtaining services from a company owned by one of her friends placed Minister Ng in a conflict of interest. She should have known to instead withdraw from the process that led to the awarding of the contracts and obtain similar services from another provider.”
Should Trudeau Minister Mary Ng do the right thing and resign after being caught breaking Ethics rules? pic.twitter.com/GP3peY4TZW
— Stephen Taylor (@stephen_taylor) December 13, 2022
Mary Ng has been a Minister in PM Trudeau’s Cabinet since July 18, 2018, so the “she should have known” part above is painfully obvious.
In my eyes, the most damaging sentence of the report is: “There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company. This includes quickly obtaining media training services to help Minister Ng respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.”
Given that even the pressure of a public health emergency arising from the sudden emergence of a killer novel virus was deemed insufficient for the ethics commissioner to give her pass on this, it is clear that in this case, the error in judgment is so fundamentally egregious that nobody, ever, under any circumstance, should be making it.
On our podcast, we stated at the end of 2021 that Minister Ng was an underperformer and that the Prime Minister should shuffle her out. Let’s say media training is something she then desperately needed as she was, in my opinion, not a particularly effective communicator, especially when a question required her to depart from scripted media lines. This lack of skill, when combined with this twice-repeated WTF(?!?) sloppiness, warrants some time in the political sin bin.
As the ethics commissioner stated, there is no excuse.
Now, given the “in fairness to Ng” circumstances stated above, this breach of ethics may not warrant the drama of a very public, immediate sacking, but should the Prime Minister be planning a shuffle early in the new year, it is indeed a good enough reason to give a promotion to Cabinet to a deserving current female backbencher.
SINGH-ING A FAMILIAR SONG
Dumb moment numéro deux goes to the leader of the federal NDP, Jagmeet Singh, for wading into the federal-provincial / territorial health funding debate claiming: “One of the major concerns is human health-care resource shortage — the worker shortage, health-care worker shortage — that can’t be solved by provinces who are trying to recruit from one province, creating a shortage in the province they recruit from. That’s not a solution,” followed by: “If we don’t see action on health care, we reserve the right to withdraw our support,” and “This is at the level of seriousness that we could make that serious consideration. We need to see action.”
Yes, Kits, once again, the leader of the NDP broke out into his familiar empty threat refrain of pulling out of the Supply and Confidence agreement it has with the Liberals if he is not satisfied.
The thing is, given that federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is trying to get our woefully incompetent and hapless Premiers to commit to a national health data system as an accountability measure, which explicitly includes a pan-Canadian health-human-resources action plan — something that directly addresses Mr. Singh’s alleged concern — as well as a pan-Canadian health data strategy, Singh’s threat not only is dumb, but unnecessary.
Once again, when faced with the decision to present himself either as a statesman working collaboratively with the governing party — which should have led to him backing the federal government’s hardline position that the Premiers must come to the table with transparent, results-oriented solutions to obtain the funding they seek — or a partisan politician playing to his base, he opted for the latter.
Every few months, it seems like Mr. Singh needs to remind his base that he’s not the always compliant kid brother by attempting to create the illusion that it is necessary for him to push the government to action, without which nothing would get done.
But this was a very ill-chosen matter on which to do so.
After Canadians got to see, first hand, their First Ministers not spending on health all the additional federal public health money they received during the worst of the COVID pandemic, and after witnessing Premiers in Québec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta divert cash they could have spent on health care to gas tax cutting schemes, waivers of license renewal fees, and outright cash payments to citizens, Canadians are starting to catch on to the reality that, when it comes to health: The Premiers are the problem.
Mr. Singh’s preening and posturing are a waste of everyone’s time.
Especially when you consider that there are still nearly three years to go in the current government’s mandate, and given where national polling indicates the NDP sits, very slim is the likelihood that Mr. Singh would emerge from an election with much more than either the 25 seats he currently has or with any more power than he presently enjoys.
Also, given the current composition of the House of Commons, if the NDP no longer wanted to dance with the Prime Minister, there’s a whole other party he can turn to, the Bloc Québecois, which has more seats. While politically, there’s no way either party would enter into an equivalent semi-formal agreement, the Bloc’s support could be sought on a case-by-case basis where matters of supply and confidence are concerned.
Singh’s mistimed attempt to puff up his chest on this file was the undercurrent that likely led to much laughter when he stood up in the House recently to start an intervention with: “When I’m Prime Minister…”
He had to option to be seen as a statesman. He chose to be seen as a jester.
OLD DAN-YELLER CLARIFIES… YET AGAIN…
The final installment in our trio of dumb, dumber, and dumbest goes to Ms. Hot Mess Express 2022, Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith.
On December 13th, 2022, she stood up in the Alberta Legislature to say: “This is all about ensuring that Ottawa stays out of our jurisdiction. I’ve told the Chiefs I’ve spoken with that they have fought a battle over the last years to get sovereignty respected and extract themselves from the paternalistic Indian Act. We get treated the same way in Ottawa. They always interfere in our jurisdiction, and we look forward to pushing back and being treated exactly like Québec.”
After claiming she knew of no group that had suffered more discrimination than the unvaccinated-by-choice, she went back to that very well to draw herself another drink, this time comparing the alleged plight of Albertans to that of Indigenous Canadians… Because the first time worked out so well for her.
This comment from her is just so [email protected]%!ng ignorant that it is painful, and opposition NDP Indigenous Relations critic Richard Feehan (member for Edmonton-Rutherford) let her know as much: “Indigenous people within Alberta and across the province have faced genocide through abuse and residential schools, the pass system, the 60s scoop, and countless community members who are murdered and missing. Indigenous people are still tirelessly fighting to preserve their culture, language, and existence. To compare her fights with Ottawa over issues like fertilizer policy is a complete failure to understand the atrocities Indigenous people have suffered.”
“Does the premier understand the harm her comments create when she minimizes abuse of First Nations [that] they have faced throughout Canada’s history, and they’re still fighting now?’, asked an exasperated Feehan.
Once again, she was forced to come out to “clarify” her remarks… And just as was the case for her previous offensively bone-headed comparison, she once again resorted to “I did not intend.”
“I intended to demonstrate that the process that our First Nations have gone through to develop sovereignty over their affairs are extracted themselves from The Indian Act is the process that we are following in going through and asserting our rights under the Constitution,” said she disingenuously, while claiming: “I take inspiration from what the First Nations have done.”
Let’s be clear. If she were taking inspiration from the actions of First Nations, Autumn Eaglespeaker, one of the co-founders of Idle No More in Calgary, would not have had to reject the comparison and point out that: “They have nothing to do with another. The Sovereignty Act is a complete infringement and disregard for Indigenous rights.”
But worse yet, she offered the incredibly insulting apology politicians often make when they don’t want to admit they did anything wrong.
“Mr. Speaker, that was certainly not the intention of my comments. If it was taken that way, I apologize for that,” and “If my comments were misconstrued; I apologize because I intended to demonstrate that we have a common problem with Ottawa.”
First: You do not have a “common problem,”
Second: Once again, I say: “Yeah, Gurl. You did intend.”
Third: There are no ifs about it, the comments were indeed taken as insulting — because they were. And nobody misconstrued her comments — there was only one way to interpret those comments.
FACT: One can only apologize for one’s own actions. Here, she is “apologizing” instead for how others heard or interpreted her words (something for which she can’t possibly apologize).
RULE 1 OF APOLOGIZING: Never apologize if others are offended. Apologize for being so unenlightened, impertinent, and insensitive that you allowed unbelievably offensive words to emanate out of your pie-hole.
The Confederacy of Treaty 6 Nations issued a statement on Tuesday indicating that it does not yet consider itself to have been consulted: “The Treaty Six Chiefs would like to clarify that, while Premier Danielle Smith did meet with Treaty Six Chiefs today — this does not, in any way or sense, constitute her duty to consult about any matters of mutual concern,” after which it said: “It was clear from our discussions that Premier Smith does not understand treaty or our inherent rights, nor does she respect them,” adding that: “The Premier will not dictate how we will be consulted. We point her, once again, to the duty to consult to learn more about how to engage and work with us appropriately.”
“It was clear from our discussions that Premier Smith does not understand Treaty or our inherent rights nor does she respect them.”
— Courtney Theriault (@cspotweet) December 14, 2022
“It shows me that not only herself but people in her inner circle haven’t spent 30 minutes learning about the Indian Act,” said Matthew Wildcat, an assistant professor of political science and native studies at the University of Alberta. “Because if you ever spent even 30 minutes learning about what the Indian Act is and what it’s done in the past, you would never say we’ve been treated in the same way that the paternalism of the Indian Act has treated Indigenous peoples.”
“The Indian Act caused fundamental human rights violations — that isn’t close to the type of conflicts between Alberta and Canada.”
Wildcat clarified that when Indigenous people refer to a treaty, it’s not just the legal text of the document but also about how they live their lives and the standards to which the signatories hold each other to ensure co-existence.
“It’s offensive, for anybody… it’s not just offensive for Indigenous people,” he said. “It’s offensive to anybody who understands the Indian Act and its history and what it’s done.”
In her determination to weave a narrative in which Albertans are the perpetual victims of the federal government, Dan-Yell Smith keeps digging holes so deep, it’s a wonder she herself hasn’t yet struck oil.
Until we next see each other, be kind to and gentle with yourself,
Your Eager Beaver
The True North Eager Beaver is also a podcast. We have a live morning show every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m. (Eastern) that you can find on our YouTube channel or live-streamed on our Twitter feed.
Episode 28 of The Not Quite Daily Beaver: A Pair of By-Elections
On this (just a nibble) episode, we talk about the federal by-election in Mississauga-Lakeshore and the provincial by-election in Kirkland Park, Manitoba, the Conservative strategy of demonization of their opponents, the global abandonment of children to the worst of the tri-demic, the traditional federal-provincial / territorial health dollars dance, the one-time rent top up, Bill C-21, the passing of gentleman MP Jim Carr, and making a special effort to be kind to kids.