Leader of nascent Canadian Senators Group doesn’t think Wexit’s a good idea
The senator behind a new faction in Parliament’s upper chamber says #WEXIT was “tangentially” behind this, the latest attempt at non-partisan independence in the Canadian Senate.
In an interview with The Post Millennial, former Conservative senator Scott Tannas and leader of the nascent Canadian Senators Group said the move is geared toward having a say in committee picks, non-partisan research, and also suggested it could be a bulwark against “group-think”.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this group at all, who thinks Wexit is a great idea, or it’s time has come. We’re all there to fight for Canada,” said the Albertan senator. “But in the context of making sure our regions are protected and advanced.”
The Canadian Senators Group also includes Doug Black (Alberta), Robert Black (Ontario), Larry W. Campbell (B.C.), Stephen Greene (Nova Scotia), Diane F. Griffin (P.E.I.), Elaine McCoy (AB), David Richards (New Brunswick), Josée Verner (Quebec), Pamela Wallin (Saskachewan) and Vernon White (ON).
Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, referred to the appointed legislature that provides regional oversight for government bills with power to introduce laws unrelated to spending, as chamber for “sober second thought”.
However, in contemporary politics and on the Main Street circa 2019, opinions on the Senate range from a desire for greater accountability (some provinces like Alberta actually hold non-binding votes for senate-appointees), to its abolishment altogether.
And 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 rookie leader had been at the Liberal helm for barely a year before making this nation-changing decision – one that Dale Smith, a parliamentary reporter and author of a book on how Canada’s Westminster government operates, describes as “a slow moving train wreck ever since.”
“It goes back to when Trudeau kicked out his senators and said it was about wanting more independence in the Senate, it was really more about a bunch of (spending) audits coming out,” Smith told TPM. “It was like killing two birds with one stone, independent senators and not dealing with any blowback the Auditor General finds.”
That report by Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson, delivered in June 2015 after examining 116 senators’ expenses, found 30 to contain inappropriate claims (more than a dozen senators opted for arbitration to square accounts) and referred nine to RCMP for further investigation. No charges from Ferguson’s determinations ever materialized.
However, his audit was launched over questionable living expenses claimed by Stephen Harper appointees Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy, as well Liberal Senator Mac Harb, that resulted in charges against all three.
The Crown ultimately withdrew prosecution of fraud-related charges against Brazeau (July 2016) and Harb (May 2016), shortly after Duffy beat four of 31 counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust that actually stuck and that the public prosecutor pursued at Ontario Superior Court.
Trudeau’s decision to abandon his Senate caucus occurred barely three months before Duffy was charged by RCMP, one of which included accepting a “bribe” from Harper’s then chief-of-staff Nigel Wright for $90,000 to cover disputed housing expenses. Strangely, Wright was never charged for tendering the cash.
After winning a majority government 18 months later Trudeau continued his senate-reform in January 2016, by way of Order-in-Council, establishing an advisory board to weed through applicants for “independents” to fill Senate vacancies.
By March of that year, the Independent Senator Group was formed; an amalgam of Trudeau’s original castaways and destination for new blood. It had also become haven for embattled Harper appointees tapped for the Senate, including Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin, who has now thrown her lot in with Tannas’ new venture.
But the senator from High River Alberta at the Canadian Senators Group vanguard, a former insurance agent whom Harper tapped for the Senate in 2012, distributes blame for the Senate’s current state of affairs evenly between the current prime minister and his antecedent.
“I saw the decision that Harper made not to fill 20-some senate seats he had (before leaving office). And both of those decisions, the one by Harper and one by Trudeau, had an enormous impact on where the Senate is today,” said Tannas when asked about the Trudeau effect.
“In my view, both things have accelerated what we’re seeing in the Senate now, to where we’re at a tipping point, where changes will become permanent changes.”
In rare public criticism of what’s come of the institution in the wake of Trudeau’s decision, Senate Director of communications Karine Leroux made the following comments about this recent turn of events in an email to TPM:
“We are currently living through the repercussions of Prime Minister Trudeau’s ill-thought-out idea of Senate reform. While he was leader of the third party opposition, Justin Trudeau miscalculated the need of having senators move forward the government legislation in the Senate. He failed to see the long term impact and implication of not recognizing the needs of having a Government Caucus and an Opposition Caucus. (Formation of the Canadian Senators Group) is the second example in the last two weeks that shows Trudeau’s ‘non-partisan and independent Senate’ isn’t working.”
The first example is the resignation of Trudeau appointee Senator André Pratte, who made his official intentions known on federal election night Oct. 21. His reasons: he could not fulfill his role “to the level of excellence expected”.
In the days following, Pratte penned an op-ed published by establishment media where the ex-senator blamed the Trudeau government for failing to codify rules of Senate independence in a regime that still included whipped Conservatives, and criticized Liberals for “exercising pressure on independent Senators so they vote a certain way.”
“One difficulty is that the new practices have not been enshrined in the rules of the Senate and in the Parliament of Canada Act. Consequently, it would be easy for a future government to return to the old system, where the Senate was a pale copy of the extremely partisan House of Commons,” writes Pratte.
“Another issue is that partisanship and the ‘party line’ are still very much present in the Senate. Conservative Senators are members of the national conservative caucus. They are whipped. Their agenda is to obstruct all government legislation, as much as the rules allow. And the rules allow quite a lot.”
A glaring example of “party line” Senators would be Liberal-friendly pollster Donna Dasko, appointed to the Senate by Trudeau in June 2018. Earlier this year, Dasko was slammed by Conservative senators for misusing her budget to commission a poll touting public support for Trudeau’s Senate reforms.
While the Independent Senators Group held an outright majority in the previous Senate, the emergence of the Canadian Senators Group resets the ISG’s balance of power to a plurality.
The so-called Independent Senators Group still holds 49 of the Senate’s 105 seats, but there remain 27 aligned with Conservatives, nine still representing as Liberals, six independents and 11 from the Canadian Senators Group. There are also three vacancies; one in Saskatchewan and two in Quebec.
From Tannas vantage, after nearly seven years in the Senate, his purportedly non-partisan CGS is a chance to get senate independence right. While the group welcomes additional members, it has pledged to cap membership at 25.
“We don’t all agree on our politics by any means. We are centrists most of us, centre-left or centre-right. But what does unite us is the approach to the job. We want good solid research that we can count on as being independent and fact-based that we can sandwich between the sales job from the government about why the bill is so wonderful…(and) from the Opposition about why it’s a terrible bill,” said Tannas.
“It will be up to us to work together to gather the facts, but come to our own views independently and to transmit those views, to be transparent about our decisions individually and be accountable individually, as opposed to in any kind of a group-think environment.”
A Trudeau appointed Senator, who holds broad legislative power in the Senate, has raised some eyebrows through this more-than-friendly attitude to China, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
This comes after he accepted an invitation to speak at a Chinese government-endorsed club, which has been praised for endorsing friendship with the communist state. It is unclear whether the senator, whose name is Yuen Pau Woo, was paid for his appearance.
The club, known as the Canada-China Friendship Society, said that the Senator would speak at the Ottawa event on the topic “Rethinking China Relations.” Senator Woo was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. Additionally, Woo is the spokesperson for the largest voting bloc in the Senate, giving him significant legislative power.
As well as this, the Friendship society has close links to the Chinese state and is run out of a state-sanctioned agency in Beijing. They are also known for publishing Chinese propaganda on Twitter.
Senator Woo also retweets pro-Chinese propaganda and has expressed enthusiastic support over the Chinese telecom giant, Huawei.
A dangerous Ottawa sex offender has been set free by accident and is still on the loose.
The sex offender, who’s name is Brendan Wayne Spurrell, was a convicted child predator and was awaiting his trial for sex assault and death threats. It is unclear how the Ottawa police could have accidentally let Spurrell go free.
Spurrell, who is 22-years-old, is wanted on a plethora of charges. The Ottawa police consider him to be dangerous.
Speaking to The Post Millennial, a spokesperson for Ottawa Police stated that Spurrell “is still wanted and we are actively asking the public for any information if they have seen him to contact us. If they do see him, he is considered dangerous … there is an ongoing investigation [about how he was released by accident] by the provincial police.
In an announcement, the Ottawa police commented that “Spurrell was in court on January 13 and was not to be released. Circumstances of his release are being examined by provincial authorities.” They went on to ask the general public for “information on his current whereabouts … Please do not approach him.”
In 2019, Spurrell was sentenced to two years behind bars for sexually assaulting a child. He later was released on parole, however, he was later charged again with sexual assault.
The Liberal government is discussing introducing a new set of online rights in the wake of many Canadians’ privacy being breached. This would include compensation for victims of online fraud.
When such legislation will be introduced remains unclear, and there is little information on what the compensation would look like, but the government says fines for those found guilty of breaching someone’s personal data are certain.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has assigned mandate letters for Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault in order to curb the problem, asking them to work on a “digital charter” that would usher in new legislation to compensate Canadian victims of data breach, according to the CBC.
“It will be significant and meaningful to make it very clear that privacy is important. Compensation, of course, is one aspect of it,” said Bains, explaining that the government would like “to demonstrate to businesses very clearly that there are going to be significant penalties for non-compliance with the law. That’s really my primary goal.”
Compensation for victims would encourage private companies to take these issues more seriously according to privacy lawyer Ryan Berger, of Lawson Lundell in Vancouver. “It will incentivize organizations … to take steps to protect that information and ensure that, for instance, health information is encrypted,” he said. “So right now, there aren’t the sorts of financial implications for them if they fail to do that.”
It is a pressing issue, about 57 per cent of Canadian online reported experiencing a cyber security breach in 2018 according to Statistics Canada.
Lifelabs, a medical services company reported that approximately 15 million customers in Ontario and B.C. could have had their private information accessed during a data breach last month.
The Quebec financial institution Desjardins Group faced a similar scenario a few months earlier when an employee with “ill intention” gathered 4.2 million client’s information and shared it, resulting in a class action lawsuit for both companies.
Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy said, “This is becoming a real challenge for courts and businesses to manage.”
“So one of the questions when I see ‘with appropriate compensation’ — I wonder, are they thinking of something other than class-action lawsuits? Are big companies going to be asked to have reserve funds to pay out compensation? Is there going to be a fixed chart of compensation?”
One avenue to preventing privacy breaches would be the government’s talk of a “right to be forgotten” or “right to erasure” law by calling for the “ability to withdraw, remove and erase basic personal data from a platform.”
In 2014 the European Union passed a law that allowed citizens to ask Google to remove web hits that popped up upon their name being searched if they felt they were problematic. The case was brought about by a Spanish lawyer who fought to have material about his past debt troubles scrubbed from the search engine.
Web hits aren’t usually deleted if they are considered, “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” under the new law but they rather they are hidden by the tech giants in process call de-indexing or de-listing.
Minister Bains said his department will study the EU version of the law as well as a California’s when drawing up the possible model for a Canadian law.
“I find it a little bit odd that they’ve framed the right of erasure in what I think are pretty narrow terms compared to what the emerging standard seems to be internationally,” she said. “There’s a certain lack of clarity here that I think is, well, maybe deliberate, but in some ways I think maybe it’s a bit of a muddled message too.”
A survey conducted last year by an Angus Reid Institute found that 51 per cent of Canadians were in favour of a right to be forgotten online and the right to have search results changed. Not everybody agreed, with 23 percent claiming that erasing negative information would mean “erasing history and facts.”
“I want to hit the ground running. This is a priority for me and our government. We want to move forward to start to see aspects of the digital charter reflected in legislation and new policies and programs as well,” said Minister Bains. “The goal is to work with opposition members sooner rather than later in presenting this legislation in a timely manner.”
There is currently no timeline as to when the proposed legislation would be brought into place.
Former Saskatchewan MP and Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale said the nascent Wexit separation movement threatens Conservative parties in the province and “would be devastating” economically.
“Because where will those votes come from in the first place, those votes that would support the Wexit movement if it became a party? Those votes would come primarily from the Conservatives and the Sask Party,” Goodale told CBC Saskatchewan.
“So it is in the interests of the Conservatives and the Sask Party to ensure that the Wexit movement does not become a political party that would take votes from them.”
Goodale had served as Regina-Wascana’s MP since 1993 but lost his seat to Conservative Michael Kram in last year’s 43rd general election, leaving the province without a single seat in the House of Commons.
The former Finance minister (PM Paul Martin) and Public Safety Minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s previous majority government also said separation would have immediate economic consequences for Saskatchewan.
“When you actually go to the dollars and cents and the nuts and bolts of it all, it would be devastating,” he said.
“We would lose right off the top, for example, $1.7 billion in transfer payments that come into Saskatchewan because of the government of Canada. We would lose things like the RCMP Training Depot at Regina. That would be gone. That’s $40 million every year into the economy.”
Goodale went on to suggest that the Wexit debate itself was “counterproductive.”
“It leads people to have great and furious arguments. It leads to divisions being created and it takes people down a counterproductive rabbit hole,” he said.