Trudeau risks more by suing Scheer: defamation expert
Toronto lawyer and defamation expert Gil Zvulony says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s threat to sue Conservative leader Andrew Scheer for libel over a statement on the PM’s conduct involving ex-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould is, “a bad move.”
“If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Scheer,” said Zvulony “It’s still very, very, very preliminary … but (Trudeau’s) sort of painted himself into a corner.”
On Sunday, Scheer held a press conference to publicize Trudeau’s threat to sue, stood by his March 29 statement and remarks—subject of the PM’s warning—before daring Trudeau to follow through.
“If he believes he has a case against me, I urge him to do so immediately,” Scheer told reporters of the March 31 letter Trudeau’s lawyer Julian Porter sent threatening legal action for “highly defamatory comments” in Scheer’s statement issued two days previous.
These include characterizing the SNC-Lavalin scandal as government “corruption on top of corruption on top of corruption”, spurring four high-profile resignations in the aftermath of a February Globe and Mail story alleging Wilson-Raybould was dumped as attorney general for not bowing to political pressure to intervene in the Québec firm’s prosecution.
Scheer issued the statement March 29 after the Justice committee’s release of Wilson-Raybould’s secret recording and supplementary notes to her February appearance, when she testified facing such pressure by key figures in the Trudeau government, including the PM, over a period of four months in 2018.
But for Trudeau and his lawyer the statement was a bridge too far for their countenance.
“(It) is beyond the pale of fair debate and is libellous of my client personally and in the way of his occupation as Prime Minister,” his lawyer Porter writes. “This letter will be referred to in any subsequent action and is to be treated as a notice pursuant to s.5 of the Libel and Slander Act of Ontario.”
However, for Zvulony, who has successfully litigated defamation cases from either side of the fence, there are several reasons why Trudeau has little to gain by proceeding.
“There’s room to argue that what Scheer was doing was giving his opinion based on true facts. That’s number one, I think you would have a relatively strong case for defence of fair comment,” Zvulony told The Post Millennial. “And considering (Trudeau’s) an active prime minister, he’s got the bully pulpit and can get out there and comment on good speech and bad speech.”
“This battle because of what happened or not (regarding Wilson-Raybould), that’s for the House of Commons, that’s for the electorate (to decide). If there was a crime that’s for the RCMP. I don’t think that’s the realm of libel lawsuits,” he added.
Outside the House of Commons on Monday, few Liberals entering for question period would comment on their leader’s litigious intentions. Those who did, like Infrastructure minister François-Philippe Champagne and Border Security minister Bill Blair, portrayed Porter’s notice as an admonishment for Scheer and Conservative opposition members.
“I think it’s a good practice to remind everyone, although their comments are covered by privilege here, people should be perhaps more careful about what they say outside the House,” said Blair, echoing a similar statement Champagne made in French.
During question period, government House Leader Bardash Chagger – answering for the absent Trudeau – accused Scheer of “deleting defamatory statements” on social media, after being served notice, and spoke of the matter as destined for a courtroom.
“Anyone who knows the court system would know, the first step is putting them on notice… the process has already began,” Chagger said in several variations to QP bombardment by Conservatives over the matter.
If Trudeau does proceed, Zluvony said the PM could sue Scheer in any jurisdiction in the country, but that Ontario’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law would present initial challenges for the prime minister.
“It’s a law designed to prevent lawsuits where their real purpose is to stifle expression on matters of public interest and I think that’s where Trudeau is going to have a lot of difficulty,” he said. “If I were Trudeau, I’d find that jurisdiction that doesn’t have that anti-SLAPP law and sue there.”
According to Zvulony, SLAPP is but one of many hurdles for Trudeau’s legal team to prove their client was libelled and would expose the PM even more, including the discovery phase in which litigants must disclose evidence before facing a judge.
“The onus would be on Scheer to prove that (his statement) was true. So he would have to provide the evidence,” Zvulony said. “Now if the evidence is sitting in Trudeau’s office then (Scheer) can get that in the discovery process, so there is no trial by ambush.”
Other key figures who have been implicated, including Clerk of the Privy Council Micheal Wernick and Trudeau’s former top advisor Gerald Butts, could also be subpoenaed to provide statements under oath during the discovery phase.
If the case even gets to trial, there Trudeau would confront the most daunting test of all, given his position as the most powerful politician in Canada.
“The prime minister is going to have to show that the harm to him outweighs the harm to the public in allowing these words to be expressed,” he said. “In other words, the harm to the prime minister’s reputation outweighs the public’s right to hear these things and I think that’s a very difficult arguement to make.”
Zvolony said he tells his clients who want to sue for defamation to engage in it only as a last resort, when all other options to expunge a libellous publication or seek retraction for a slanderous public statement are exhausted.
“Trudeau’s lawyer is a top-notch lawyer but I’m really suprised,” said Zvulony. “Look, it’s a client’s decision but I think it’s a bad move. I tell my clients who want to sue for defamation, think of it like chemotherapy. You don’t take it for fun. You take it only if you have to.”
An instance of a sitting Canadian prime minister suing an opposition party or one of its sitting members for defamation is unique, but if Trudeau ultimately sues his case would not be the first.
In March 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper of the Conservatives sued the Liberal Party for $3.5 million over allegations party officials offered independent MP Chuck Cadman $1 million in exchange for the terminally ill member’s support to prop up Harper’s government in a 2005 confidence vote. The matter was later settled out of court.
The Liberal government has won a minority under Justin Trudeau, returning to the House of Commons as the party in power.
While the government has celebrated victory in what can only be described as a disastrous campaign after it became public the Prime Minister had worn blackface more times than he could remember, the nation should be wary about the rather large number of broken promises coming back with the Trudeau Liberals.
According to the Trudeau Metre, the Liberals broke 67 promises throughout their first term, accounting for 29 percent of all promises made.
These broken promises include massive campaign planks such as electoral reform, failing to properly restore the veteran’s pension system, and the continuation of massive deficit which put a balanced budget potentially decades into the future rather than 2019.
With the minority governments in Canada rarely lasting more than two years, it will be interesting to see what the government attempts to do in order to keep both previous promises made and new ones brought forth during the campaign. The Liberals must make compromises with other parties.
With both the NDP and Greens cash-strapped but needing wins, and the Conservatives facing an inner-party revolt against the current leader, we will likely see a relative calm as parties adjust followed by a truly harsh period as weakened parties attempt to regain ground lost in 2015.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Senate point men have tendered their resignations. Senator Peter Harder, the Government’s Representative in the upper chamber, and Government Liaison Senator Grant Mitchell made the announcement Friday.
“The start of a new Parliament is the best time to welcome a new face in the role of Government Representative,” Harder said in a statement.
“With the Senate now well advanced on the path to becoming more independent and less partisan… it simply made sense for me to pick this moment: a new cabinet has been sworn in, new Senate groups are emerging along non-partisan lines.”
According to Harder, his term as the Senate’s government rep will expire on Dec. 31, 2019 while Senator Mitchell said he would remain in his liaison role, previously called Government Whip, until Trudeau finds a replacement for Harder.
“Serving in this role has truly been a highlight of my career. It has been a privilege to have been so directly involved with Prime Minister Trudeau’s initiative to create a more independent Senate,” said Mitchell.
For nearly 150 years, senators were appointed by the sitting prime minister, and for the most part showed unbroken partisan loyalty to their caucuses. But that all changed in April 2014 when Trudeau cut existing Liberal appointees in the Upper Chamber from the national caucus.
The decision has factionalized the Senate with both Senate Conservatives and Liberal castaways coalescing in various groups, including the Independent Senators Group and a pair of nascent upstarts; the Canadian Senators Group and Progressive Senators Group.
Harder, who is a “non-affiliated” senator entered the upper chamber in April 2016, as the first “independent” appointed senator under a purportedly, non-partisan selection process. Mitchell was appointed to the Senate in 2005 by Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Known as the “chamber of sober second thought”, the Senate is intended to provide regional oversight for government bills as well as the power to introduce laws unrelated to spending.
Pierre Poilievre is a six-term Member of Parliament, former Minister of Employment and the current Conservative Shadow Minister of Finance.
Lots of advice is pouring in for Conservatives these days.
Much of it from people who have never or will never vote for the party. They have concluded that the Conservative Party, which won the most votes in the election, is so unpopular that it must abandon its entire platform and the 6.1 million people who voted for it. The Globe and Mail, for example, has called for the party to drop its weird obsession with fiscal responsibility and low taxes.
Likewise, this headline recently blazed the pages of the Toronto Star: “Conservatives will pay for Andrew Scheer’s anti-tax stance.” Low taxes are not compatible with “a big-tent party in 2019 Canada, and we know from the past few weeks of federal election campaigning that voters are not won over by the concept,” wrote the paper’s federal finance columnist Heather Scoffield. “It’s an anti-tax, small-government dogma that hearkens back to Stephen Harper and channels Jason Kenney and Doug Ford,” she wrote, referring to three leaders who won majorities on tax-fighting platforms.
Premiers Kenney and Ford won victories in the last 18 months, with many seats in urban centres. But never mind, we’re told that their low-tax messages are unelectable or out-of-date. As for Mr. Harper, the Parliamentary Budget Officer calculated that he “reduced federal tax revenue by $30 billion, or 12 per cent. These changes have been progressive, overall. Low and middle income earners have benefited more, in relative terms, than higher income earners.” The policy helped win Harper three elections (including a majority) and become the longest-serving Conservative Prime Minister since John A. MacDonald. (We wouldn’t want to repeat that track record, would we?)
Canada already has four parties—the New Democrats, Liberals, Greens and Bloc—clamoring for bigger and more powerful government. The media believes Conservatives should become the fifth. It would not be without precedent. Past “conservative” leaders have embraced higher taxes. How did that work out for them?
When Prime Minister Joe Clark’s budget hiked gas taxes, he lost a confidence vote and an election after only nine months in office. When President, George Herbert Walker Bush, broke his “read my lips: no new taxes” pledge, he lost to Bill Clinton. Alberta Premier, Ed Stelmach, raised taxes on the energy sector by jacking up royalty rates and was gone as Premier within ten months. Ernie Eves raised taxes soon after becoming Ontario Premier and promptly lost an election, reversing the back-to-back majorities of taxfighter, Mike Harris. In the early 1990s, the federal Progressive Conservative government introduced the GST and went from a majority government to merely two seats. New Brunswick Premier David Alward’s 2013/14 budget raised taxes by $200 million and in the following year’s election he lost his government and half his caucus. Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government announced hikes to income, gas and alcohol taxes in the 2015 budget and two months later lost to the NDP, finished third place and ended their 44-year dynasty, the longest of any party in Canada’s history.
It is true that there are many factors that lead to parties or leaders losing office. But is it just an extraordinary coincidence that voters have promptly driven out of office every federal or provincial conservative leader who raised taxes in the last three decades?
No. It is no coincidence. When conservative parties support tax increases, they get crushed.
The reasons are clear.
First, how can a conservative candidate who supports tax hikes criticize the socialist parties for doing the same? If all parties are going to cost taxpayers more, the election becomes a bidding war where parties compete to offer the most generous government-funded goodies—a bidding war left-wing parties with no fiscal responsibility will win every time.
What we can believably offer is a chance for hardworking and ambitious people to build better lives for themselves, by keeping more of their earnings.
That is who we are. Without our best product (low taxes), we lose our customers. We become a baker without bread or a logger without lumber.
“How boring,” groans the left. Ms. Scoffield, for example, laments that low taxes leave no “room for big thinking on how to confront the next economic downturn, or how to take care of an aging society, or how to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing unless the private sector takes front and centre.” Confront the next downturn through tax hikes? Care for an aging society by raising taxes on retirement savings? Make housing more affordable by taxing the business that builds homes, or the worker saving to buy one? These ideas fulfil the socialist fantasy of making people helplessly dependent on government, but betray people’s desire to fulfil their own potential and chart their own destinies.
Low taxes are not a “gimmick”, like 30 cents off paper towels. Rather, they allow free workers and entrepreneurs to choose what to do with the fruits of their labour and enterprise. Costing people less is just the means. Empowering them to do more is the end.
A dollar can only be in one place at a time. Who decides where it goes?
The person who earned it or the politician who taxed it; the entrepreneur whose investments produced it or the politician who faces no real consequence for squandering it?
Whose dreams are fulfilled in the end, the family saving to start a business, buy a home or afford to make lasting memories taking the kids somewhere special; or the politician who dreams of buying himself a legacy with that family’s money?
Conservatives must be the party of human aspiration and free choice. That means ignoring the big-government cabal and always standing with the hardworking taxpayer.
In a move reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party’s tea dumping, Quebec farmers have dumped their corn outside Prime Minister Trudeau’s Montreal office in protest on Monday. Farmers were upset that Trudeau didn’t step in and use parliamentary powers to send CN employees back to work.
The farmers were protesting the Liberal governemnt’s management of the CN rail strikes which had crippled the Canadian economy. The strike, protesting long working hours and the dangerous nature of the job went on for more than a week.
On Tuesday CN resolved the dispute with the workers’ union, Teamsters Canada, with a tentative deal. Employees were back at work by 2 p.m. on Tuesday and are starting regular operations by Wednesday morning.
The strikes cut off up to 85 percent of Quebec’s propane which is delivered by rail. The strike was particularly damaging to the protesting farmers because propane is needed to power grain dryers, which are vital to ensure that their corn crop can be dried and stored to be sold later. The Grain Farmers of Ontario released a statement urging the Candian government to end the strike as it was vital to ensure the farmers’ crops do not rot.
“This strike could not have come at a worse time for Ontario grain farmers. We are still seeing the majority of corn in the fields and harvest is progressing incredibly slowly. The corn being harvested is very wet and will require extensive drying to be viable, which requires the use of propane and our access is now cut off,” said Markus Haerle, Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario. “This is devastating.”
The Quebec protestor’s, facing the same disastrous consequences of the strike as the Ontario farmers, held signs demanding the Trudeau and government to react to their need for propane.
In response to farmers’ demands to end the rail strike, Agricultural Minister Marie Claude Bibeau met with grain farmers in Regina to discuss how the strike was negatively affecting their farms.
She told farmers, “We still believe in the negotiation process. They are still around the table, and we are pushing both parties to come to an agreement,” and “This would be the best for every party and the fastest solution as well.”
With the recent tentative deal reached with the union representing CN rail workers, the propane should flow back into Quebec and the farmers crops will be saved.