Politics Briefing

January 23, 2019

Politics Briefing: B.C. Speaker’s probe highlights lack of oversight
  Politics Briefing: B.C. Speaker’s probe highlights lack of oversight - Also: Australian novelist and political commentator disappears in China

Shannon Busta

Good morning, I’m Shannon Busta, filling in for Chris Hannay today.

A probe into alleged spending abuses by British Columbia’s Speaker of the House is pointing to a lack of spending oversight at the B.C. legislature.

Speaker Darryl Plecas tabled a report Monday, alleging lavish spending and personal enrichment by Craig James, Clerk of the House, and Gary Lenz, the Sergeant-at-Arms, and takes aim at a lack of oversight by the province’s elected officials. The two men were suspended with pay last November.

The report includes detail of international travel, suits and trinkets purchased and expensed to the public, questionable claims for electronics, and abuse of expense accounts. In one instance, a wood splitter and tools trailer – together worth about $13,000 – were bought by the Legislative Assembly, but never arrived on site. The report says the items “were delivered directly to Mr. James’s personal residence.”

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Mr. Plecas said this lack of oversight needs to be addressed. “There appears to be too much power and too little accountability in the Office of the Clerk," he wrote in the report. “There is no suggestion that these expenses were not signed off or otherwise approved. However, that in itself may illustrate an overarching concern; namely, that expenses which appear to have no conceivable business rationale could still be formally approved under prevailing systems.”

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An Australian novelist and political commentator has disappeared in China, raising alarm that Beijing is using harsh methods against other Canadian intelligence allies as it seeks the release of a Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver.

The CEO of LNG Canada says it may not be possible to gain unanimous support for Canadian energy projects, and vows to press ahead with constructing an $18-billion liquefied-natural-gas terminal on the West Coast, even as a group of hereditary chiefs opposes the pipeline that would feed the plant.

Bill Blair is aiming to fix the federal government’s approach to money laundering. The Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction says it is a serious problem throughout Canada and has pledged to improve how information is shared among law enforcement agencies across the country. This comes as demand for $100 bills soars across Canada, with some outside experts pointing to tax evasion and organized crime as the cause.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the Conservatives want to “militarize” the border with the United States in an attempt to stop the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who enter Canada between official points of entry – a charge the Tories deny.

Saskatchewan has quietly joined Quebec in applying provincial sales tax to Netflix, fuelling the debate over whether Ottawa should adopt the same approach nationally.

And the government has released a new Canada’s Food Guide that features some of the biggest changes in the document’s decades-long history, including the elimination of food groups in favour of a well-balanced plate.

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the new Food Guide: “The original Food Guide (actually called the Official Food Rules) was designed to get people to eat more and to respect wartime rationing. We got food groups because those categories of food were rationed, not because they were essential for good nutrition. Today, our fancy new Food Guide skirts around some important political and social realities. We have as much malnutrition today as 70 years ago, but today it is as much about eating too much as too little.”

Eric Reguly (The Globe and Mail) on wealth inequality and the Davos economic forum: “At Davos, there will, inevitably, be dozens of panels on how to make capitalism more inclusive or how to make globalization work for everyone. But you won’t find panels advocating taxing the rich or addressing the dangers of endless share buybacks, which have become a wealth-creation machine for the wealthy at the expense of research and development, employee training and meaningful wage increases.”

Sarah Villeneuve (Policy Options) on artificial intelligence and public policy: “AI relies on data to function. In order to perform well the data needs to be accurate, but it also needs to be representative of the population it serves and the context in which it operates. One of the greatest challenges that companies face in deploying AI is acquiring the right quantity of high quality data. This challenge is inextricably linked to citizens’ perceptions; whether they have trepidation about giving companies access to their data.”

Dilip Soman, Avni Shah, Nicole Robitaille, Doug Steiner, Preet Banerjee (The Globe and Mail) on the downsides of innovation in financial services: “Easier access to credit via innovative online lending businesses is trapping many into a cycle of high-interest loan use to fund day-to-day expenses. These businesses have often used the cognitive challenges associated with making savvy financial decisions to shroud, obfuscate and confuse people into accepting loans that are not in their best interest. Many Canadians already find the financial landscape to be cognitively challenging and the need to navigate new technology only increases the feeling of entrapment.”

David Moscrop (Maclean’s) on the B.C. legislature’s expenses scandal: “Whatever the ultimate case may be, the accusations and the details of the report will undermine trust in the assembly and its staff. Voters will sink deeper into cynicism. Political operatives will mobilize to use the affair for electoral gain. Citizens and residents will lump everyone in public life together as crooked cheats who are merely in it to win it—the cash and the perks, that is. Never mind that most of those who enter politics or the public service do so for reasons that have nothing to do with personal enrichment. The standards of personal conduct in public life are higher than most, so violations of the rules or perceived violations of the rules do immediate, significant, and lasting damage. And there’s plenty of that here.”

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reader comments
From the comments: Open letter asking for release of Canadians in China attracts both praise and scorn from readers -
Today, readers are discussing an open letter from international diplomats and academics urging China to release detained Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. China has called the letter an attack on their country’s sovereignty.

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.
A good letter drawn up by intelligent world citizens who treasure peace and harmonious relations amongst all countries. That is until the last until the last sentence: "We therefore respectfully ask you to free these two Canadian citizens." They should not have asked. Those that love peace should never defer to tyranny and those that are in the wrong. - moon howler

An open question to the academics who signed this letter: How did you not see this one year ago, when China was casting itself at Davos as the saviour of free trade? Or a few months ago, when Canada was still allowing Huawei to be used? Like the economists who failed to see the Great Recession coming, how did all of these scholars and statesmen miss the aggression and disregard of international law by China? Why was there no outrage when internet traffic was found to be intentionally routed through China by Chinese equipment installed in Canada? And where was the mainstream media in denouncing more strongly the Chinese takeover of the oceans by building islands first, then military posts in the South China Sea? Where were our governments when China threatened Taiwan?

Want to know why China feels so emboldened? - ohrihoiohioi

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