Kenney calls on Trudeau to honour Alberta senate elections if he “respects democracy”

First published at True North on July 15, 2021.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would do well to appoint the winners of this fall’s Alberta senate elections if he supports democracy.

When Albertans go to the polls in October for their municipal elections, they will also be voting for senate candidates and on a referendum to renegotiate interprovincial equalization payments.

While senators are appointed on the prime minister’s recommendation, Kenney said there’s an established “convention” to appoint senators chosen by Albertans in a democratic process.

With no legal mechanism to force the appointment of the successful candidates, Kenney said it comes down to whether Trudeau supports the democratic process.

“Does this federal government respect democracy or does it not respect democracy?” he said. “These are powerful democratic statements that Albertans will be making on October 18th. Previous prime ministers have used their discretion to appoint individuals elected by Albertans to Canada’s senate. In fact I would argue it has become a convention, a tradition of sorts. I urge the prime minister to respect that democratic tradition.”

Four senators were appointed on former prime minister Stephen Harper’s recommendation after winning senate nominee elections, including sitting senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas. Brian Mulroney also appointed the winner of Alberta’s first senate election in 1990.

Trudeau has made no commitment to respect the results of the October senate vote, but Kenney says he was “encouraged” when Trudeau told him in a meeting last week the winners of Alberta’s senate elections should apply as senators through the government’s supposedly independent selection process.

“If they go through that process and they also happen to prevail in your provincial election, maybe that’s something that we could consider,” Kenney recounted Trudeau as saying.

“I was encouraged to hear the prime minister open the door, at least a little bit,” Kenney added.

While Kenney recognizes the government is not compelled to respect the senate election, he says that is not the case with the equalization referendum, pointing to a 1998 Supreme Court reference on Quebec’s separation referendum finding the federal government must negotiate in good faith if a provincial referendum delivers a mandate on a clear question.

“This is a federation, and if that’s the law as determined by the Supreme Court applies to Quebec, then it has to apply to Alberta,” Kenney said.

Trudeau might face another ethics probe over MP contracts to childhood friend

First published at True North on July 14, 2021.

Canada’s ethics commissioner has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain his role in contracts between a majority of Liberal MPs and a company owned by Trudeau’s childhood friend.

Commissioner Mario Dion said the criteria for questioning Trudeau have been met after receiving a complaint from Conservative member of parliament Michael Barrett, who requested a formal ethics probe into payments made to Data Sciences, a firm run by Trudeau’s longtime friend and the Liberal party’s former digital operations director.

The controversy stems from the revelation from a Globe and Mail report that 97% of Liberal members of parliament use money from their government-funded office budgets to pay a company called Data Sciences, owned by Tom Pitfield.

Pitfield was in Trudeau’s wedding party in 2015 and also vacationed with the Trudeau family on the Aga Khan’s Bahamas island, a trip which itself was the subject of a report and finding of wrongdoing by the ethics commissioner.

Trudeau has said that services from Data Sciences aid members of parliament in their constituency work and are not used for political purposes. However, at least two members of parliament, Wayne Easter and John McKay, have said they were not aware what services Data Sciences was providing their offices.

“I vaguely recall once a year we write a cheque and it’s always been explained that it is within the ethical guidelines so we all kind of sign up for it and it goes into some oblivion,” McKay told the Globe and Mail of his office’s use of Data Sciences.

Trudeau also uses the company’s services in his own office as the member of parliament for Papineau.

The ethics code governing members of parliament prohibits MPs from acting “to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests.”

On Monday, the House of Commons ethics committee attempted to call Pitfield as a witness, but were blocked from doing so by the committee’s Liberal members.

Trudeau will have 30 days to respond to Dion’s letter, at which point Dion will decide whether there are grounds to launch a formal inquiry.

GoodLife Fitness says it will not require staff or members to be vaccinated

First published at True North on July 14, 2021.

As debates wage in Canadian provinces about vaccine passports, Canada’s largest gym chain says it will not require its staff or members to be vaccinated.

The London, Ont.-based fitness centre was trending on Twitter Wednesday as people shared a response the company provided to a query.

“At this time, we are not planning to require Associates or Members to be vaccinated to enter our locations,” the company said. “For privacy reasons, GoodLife will not disclose information regarding any individual Associate’s vaccination status.”

GoodLife’s Ontario locations will be reopening Friday as the province enters stage 3 of its reopening plan. Locations in other provinces have reopened when local regulations have permitted.

GoodLife said in a follow-up statement it will “continue to follow all requirements and guidelines set out for fitness facilities by government, public health, and other legal authorities.”

Replies to GoodLife’s tweet were overwhelmingly negative, with numerous users claiming they intend to cancel their GoodLife memberships.

The company was lauded by some Twitter users for intending to protect member and staff medical privacy.

While COVID-19 vaccines are strongly encouraged by federal and provincial health officials, no government has made them mandatory. It is not yet clear whether mandatory vaccine policies by private businesses and institutions would even be legal, one civil liberties lawyer says.

Businesses can make decisions about what customers they want to serve, and in general this is a good thing. But turning away customers is still subject to Human Rights legislation,” Canadian Constitution Foundation litigation director Christine Van Geyn told True North. “That legislation prohibits discrimination on protected grounds, like disability, and I think there is a pretty compelling case that it would be discriminatory to turn away a person who cannot be vaccinated for something like a medical reason.”

Van Geyn said this sort of exemption can be difficult to enforce in practice, however.

“You can see the issue with masks, where medical exemptions are granted in the government mandate, but in practice many stores simply turn away unmasked customers,” she said. This happens even if the customer has a valid claim for a medical exemption from masking.

Discover Fitness, a gym in Timmins, Ont., said it would require anyone entering its facility, including staff and customers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless exempt based on medical or human rights grounds.

Ontario’s Seneca College also instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for any students wishing to take in-person classes in the fall term.

Canada added just 345 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths nationwide on Tuesday.

“The Canadian people are with you”: John Baird speaks to Iranian dissidents at global summit

First published at True North on July 14, 2021.

Former Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird pledged his support to dissidents standing up against the Iranian regime.

Baird spoke Monday at the Free Iran Global Summit, an annual event hosted by the National Council of Resistance (NCRI), an Iranian opposition group seeking a free and secular Iran.

Baird served in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet when Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, a step Baird called one of his “proudest moments” of public service.

“One of the proudest moments that I had in public life over 20 years in government was the day when Canada made a big decision ten years ago,” he said. “We said that we wanted nothing to do with the terrorist-supporting, human rights-violating regime in Tehran. We formally broke off diplomatic relations with the regime and we kicked the mullahs’ henchmen out of Canada. That was real Canadian leadership”

Baird said he looked forward to NCRI president Maryam Rajavi’s elected government replacing the Iranian regime to “kick the mullahs from power in Tehran.”

Harper spoke at the conference Friday, taking aim at the recent “selection” of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president.

“Ebrahim Raisi is a criminal, guilty of crimes against humanity. He is a living symbol of the folly of trying to appease (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s) regime,” Harper said.

Baird echoed these concerns in his remarks, calling Raisi’s installation “clear evidence that (the regime) is deeply afraid of the uprisings going on across Iran.”

Raisi is a hard-liner responsible for overseeing mass detentions and executions of political prisoners in Iran.

Baird shared a stern message with Raisi in his remarks.

“You’re not a legitimate leader,” Baird said.”You are not a legitimately elected president. The Iranian people will hold you to account for your actions and the world will hold you accountable for the blood on your hands.”

Other Canadian speakers included former treasury board president Tony Clement, Liberal member of parliament Judy Sgro, and Conservative defense critic James Bezan.

Jason Kenney vows to not cooperate with feds on vaccine passports

First published at True North on July 12, 2021.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is ruling out introducing COVID-19 vaccine passports and vowing to fight Ottawa if it pursues them. 

“We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we will not facilitate or accept vaccine passports,” Kenney told reporters at a Calgary Stampede breakfast Monday.

“These folks who are concerned about mandatory vaccines have nothing to be concerned about, and there will be no vaccine passports in Alberta.”

Vaccine passports are official documents that confirm a person’s immunization status. The certification could be used by governments or private businesses to restrict the activities of unvaccinated individuals.

Kenney said he believes vaccine passports could contravene Alberta’s Health Information Act and the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. 

Civil liberties experts have tended to agree with this assessment, noting the discriminatory nature of vaccine passports, and their effect of forcing the disclosure of private medical information.

Kenney went beyond simply refusing to adopt vaccine passports at the provincial level. He also vowed to resist any attempts by the federal government to mandate them.

Alberta’s hard line on vaccine passports comes as other Canadian provinces take early steps to implement them. 

Quebec is developing a COVID-19 vaccine passport system that may be used in non-essential settings such as gyms, bars, restaurants, festivals and major sporting events. The province is expecting to have the program running in September.

Manitoba has begun issuing immunization cards to fully vaccinated individuals but says there are no plans to prevent unvaccinated people from accessing public services. 

Ontario’s Seneca College announced Monday it would be requiring students returning to campus in the fall to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the first Canadian post-secondary institution to do so.

About 74% of Albertans 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, provincial tracking data shows. Approximately 55% are fully vaccinated with two shots.