Premier Danielle Smith’s televised speech to the province on Tuesday probably achieved the No. 1 goal Smith and her UCP had for the dinner-time address: It stopped their bleeding in the polls caused by Smith’s serial stumbling in her first weeks as Alberta leader.
The public inquiry investigating the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act in February has seen a huge number of documents that otherwise would never see the light of day — including politicians’ private texts exposing some embarrassing, and enlightening, conversations.
Politics is a profession prone to carefully crafted statements and rhetoric, so the text messages offered rare insights into the thought process of many key politicians — and a glimpse at tensions between governments.
Here are some of the stand-out text exchanges from the past few weeks.
‘Screwed the pooch’
According to text messages that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Jason Kenney wrote, the then-premier of Alberta accused the federal government of not caring about the Canada-United States border closure in Coutts, Alta.
Around dawn on Feb. 14, the RCMP arrested more than a dozen Coutts protesters and seized a cache of weapons, body armour and ammunition — just hours before the Emergencies Act was invoked.
According to the messages LeBlanc shared with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino three days earlier, Kenney accused the federal government of leaving the provinces holding the bag on protest enforcement.
The texts were brought up during Mendicino’s testimony and were in documents released by the inquiry this week.
In the texts attributed to Kenney, he also complained about the federal decision to decline Alberta’s request for military equipment that could help remove protesters’ vehicles.
One message said — in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — that “your guy has really screwed the pooch.”
“Speaking of bonkers,” Alghabra wrote in his text exchange with LeBlanc and Mendicino, apparently in reference to some of Kenney’s texts.
“Totally,” LeBlanc replied.
Ontario’s Sylvia Jones gives a cold response
The commission also got a glimpse of a testy call between Mendicino and Ontario’s solicitor general at the time, Sylvia Jones, about how to handle last winter’s convoy protests. Their conversation apparently included some colourful language.
Mendicino’s chief of staff Mike Jones and Samantha Khalil, director of issues management at the Prime Minister’s Office, discussed wanting Jones at the table during trilateral meetings.
“Can have my boss reach out again [to Sylvia Jones] but last call got pretty frosty at the end when [Mendicino] was saying we need the province to get back to us with their plan,” wrote Jones.
“‘I don’t take edicts from you, you’re not my f–king boss,” the staffer continued, describing Jones’ response.
‘Tanks’ text was a joke – Lametti
Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. One exchange with Justice Minister David Lametti generated some controversy during the inquiry hearings.
In that text exchange, Lametti told Mendicino he needed to “get the police to move” and secure support from the Canadian Armed Forces, if necessary.
“How many tanks are you asking for,” Mendicino wrote back.
“I just wanna ask Anita how many we’ve got on hand,” he added, referring to Defence Minister Anita Anand.
“I reckon one will do!” Lametti texted back.
During his testimony at the inquiry, Lametti said he wasn’t calling for the deployment of the army and described the exchange as banter with a colleague and a friend.
“There will be occasional attempts at bad humour,” he said.
Lametti calls Ottawa police chief ‘incompetent’
A separate exchange of texts between Lametti and Mendicino appeared during Lametti’s testimony.
In those messages, Lametti shared some criticism of former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned during the occupation of the city’s downtown streets last winter.
“They just need to exercise it and do their job,” texted Mendicino, referring to the Ottawa Police Service’s authority to enforce the law.
“I was stunned by the lack of a multilayered plan,” Lametti responded. “Sloly is incompetent.”
While Lametti said he’d now soften his language about Sloly, he told the inquiry he had to move out of his Ottawa residence during the protest to avoid harassment.
“I was frustrated, I have to admit,” he said. “It is frank.”
Trudeau, Blair take aim at Ford
During a private call with then-Ottawa mayor Jim Watson in early February, Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of hiding from his responsibilities as the streets of the nation’s capital were gridlocked by the protest.
The inquiry had access to a readout of that call — which is not an exact transcript of the conversation.
“Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons, as you highlighted,” Trudeau said.
“Important we don’t let them get away from that.”
The prime minister wasn’t alone in criticizing Ford. Text messages from Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair to his chief of staff also shared a few choice words about the premier.
“I am embarrassed for my former profession. And worried for my government which is being made to look weak and ineffective,” Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said in a text message.
“I can’t believe that I’m hoping Doug Ford will save us.”
Government ‘is losing … confidence in OPS’
Politicians weren’t the only ones seeing their private text exchanges aired in public.
A text message from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki released to the inquiry said the federal government was already losing confidence in the Ottawa police just one week into the massive protest.
The Feb. 5 texts were between Lucki — who was in a meeting with federal ministers at the time — and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique.
“Trying to calm them down, but not easy when they see cranes, structures, horses bouncing castles in downtown Ottawa,” she wrote.
She also provided insight into the government’s thinking at the time, adding that she or Carrique might be called in if the government invoked the Emergencies Act.
“Between you and I only, (Government of Canada) is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS, we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement,” Lucki texted Carrique.
In one text exchange with Mendicino’s chief of staff, Serge Arpin, who was chief of staff to Mayor Watson, criticized Blair for saying the lack of enforcement was “somewhat inexplicable.”
“But it is friendly fire from you guys – don’t kid yourself,” Arpin wrote.
In a separate text in the same exchange, Arpin told Mike Jones that the RCMP was “lying to you flat out” about the police resources available.
Arpin told the inquiry that comment was the product of exasperation.
“Extraordinary frustration of having to tell the mayor that our residents who are now onto day 14 or 13 of the demonstration and we’re not seeing any meaningful progress in terms of additional bodies on the ground assisting [the Ottawa Police Service] with the operation,” he testified.
10 Must-Read Novels About Asian American Politics
In Ryan Wong’s daring and generous debut novel, Which Side Are You On, Columbia University student Reed informs his parents that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself to grassroots organizing—for the past few months, he’s been protesting the killing of an unarmed Black man by an Asian American police officer. He’s adamant to learn everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community.
You might not know that “Asian American” is a relatively new term, only about fifty years old. You likely don’t know the term was coined by student leftists to join a coalition of Chicano, Black, and American Indian movements on Bay Area campuses in 1968. You might not think of Asian American Pacific Islanders as political as all, and this is largely because that history has largely been ignored or erased in favor of the tame, assimilationist “model minority” narrative.
Today, as we face intense anti-Asian violence, ongoing U.S. militarism in Asia, rapidly shifting migration patterns, and a crisis of American racial identity, it might help us to examine the political nature of Asian America through some of its most compelling narratives. Here’s a selection of ten novels that expand upon, challenge, and imagine futures for this young identity. They’re stories of rebels and revolutionaries, organizers and outsiders taking histories into their own hands.
This sprawling, 700+ page epic pays tribute to the Asian American Movement that defined this new identity. It was written decades later, but has all of the humor, bite, hope, and surrealism you might expect from a novel of vignettes set in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s—scenes of Black Panthers and young Asian American radicals in a hotel room in Chinatown, of an Alcatraz Island takeover, of free folk concerts in Golden Gate Park, and, of course, of the demonstrations to save that hotbed of organizing and elder care and arts making, the I Hotel.
The narrator of this novel talks to you, but the “you” of it is an ambiguous American who is in Lahore, Pakistan, for unknown reasons—to befriend the narrator, to kill him, or both. Like the confessor in Camus’s The Fall, we get a frank and revealing series of tales, but instead of the existential angst of the judge we have the racial existentialism of the man trying to belong in a world that won’t have him. It’s a reminder that often fundamentalists scorn the very systems in which they once came close to belonging.
Can a novel about Japanese war atrocities in the Philippines be funny? An early scene has protagonist Vince watching a maudlin drama on the airplane back to the Philippines (which he left for the U.S. 13 years before) about a convent during the Japanese invasion. To speak about the unspeakable, you may need the absurdities that pop culture makes possible, the distance of humor. The Manila of Leche is a hazy hell, but also one full of pathos and heart, and it leads Vince exactly where he needs to go.
4. Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul
What would the Asian diaspora in the Americas be without Naipaul’s Trinidad, which he left to attend Oxford only to revisit again and again in his writing? Guerrillas takes place on an unnamed island on the eve of revolution. Naipaul is one of the original problematic faves—his sexual politics are horrifying, his view of revolution condescending. Yet he’s one of the greats at showing the extreme bifurcations that colonialism and diaspora perform on the human mind, whether the white liberal’s paternalism or the would-be revolutionary’s deluded egoism.
This isn’t an “Asian American” story in the usual sense, but America’s presence is like a long shadow, a bogeyman, an uninvited dinner guest in this kaleidoscopic story of 1950s Manila. In other words, American stories happen anywhere America’s military and political presence rule, and their tacit condoning of the rise of an unnamed dictator and his glamorous first lady form the story’s backdrop. Hagedorn’s sentences bite and her scenes steam with heat as you follow this network of characters asking what they’ll do with their new-found “independence.”
This novel is often remembered as a portrait of a son and his working immigrant father. But it’s also a novel of politics, where some of the most tender and dynamic moments are between the narrator, Henry Park, and the city councilman John Kwang, who he’s assigned to spy on. John is charismatic and idealistic, a foil to Henry’s mercenary pragmatism. One of the crucial plot points revolves around a Korean money circle, or ggeh, one of the main ways Korean businesses survive, but to the U.S. state looks like money laundering. The novel asks what it means to succeed in a country designed to destroy you, to be loyal to people sent to undo you.
7. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan
Somewhere between novel and autobiography, America Is in the Heart has all the sweep, heroism, and tragedy of the old epics. We follow the narrator, also named Carlos, from his youth in the Philippines to the fields of California to the canneries of Alaska, where, witnessing the brutality against Filipinos by police, bosses, and business owners, he becomes radicalized. He joins socialist and communist groups, organizes with unions, and publishes poetry and essays on his experiences, the culmination of which is this monumental book.
Lee’s father was jailed under the regime of President Sukarno in Indonesia. That traumatic event shows up in Lee’s poetry and is a central feature of this poem-novel-memoir-myth of his family’s migration story. The book is called a “remembrance” and it reads like a dream, or, often, a nightmare, as the ravages of persecution and exile, of otherness and violence, manifest within and between Lee’s family members. History and displacement haunt this prose, every sentence drops like a stone, and the smallest moment sends you reeling to the past.
Dense yet sprawling, this experimental book traces Korean independence martyr Yu Gwansun through the stories of other mythic women martyrs in history. Cha was a visual artist, writer, and performer—a brilliant polymath who was murdered just as this book was published. Dictee shows what a book can be, that it’s capacious enough to contain photographs, verse, myth, and anything else the writer needs to assemble in order to speak about a fractured history.
10. The Hanging on Union Square by H. T. Hsiang
It’s not hard to see why Hsiang had trouble finding a publisher for this oddball novel that reads something like a screenplay or a novel-in-verse but without the respective plot or lyricism that usually accompanies those forms. But he had the foresight to self-publish it in 1935, and it’s a good thing he did, because he offers a portrait of the vibrant and rough life in Greenwich Village through the eyes of Mr. Nut, who becomes politicized by the grind of the down-and-outs. He seems compelled by some manic force, conveyed through the novel’s prose—a heady mix of bohemianism and radicalism pushing the lines forward.
Justin Trudeau says he’s ‘absolutely serene and confident’ he made right decision to invoke Emergencies Act
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended his testimony at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act on Friday by saying politics had nothing to do with his government’s decision to invoke the legislation.
“My motivation was entirely about ensuring the safety of Canadians,” he said just before 4 p.m. ET in response to a question from government lawyer Brian Gover.
“My secondary motivation was making sure Canadians continue to have confidence in their institutions and society’s ability to function and enforce the rule of law when it’s not being respected. Politics was not the motivation at all in the invocation of the Emergencies Act.”
Commissioner Paul Rouleau then asked the lawyers for various stakeholders if they had any other questions. When they said they did not, Mr. Rouleau thanked Mr. Trudeau for his testimony, which began just after 9:30 a.m. ET.
“Well, Prime Minister, I am very pleased to be able to tell you we have completed our work for the day with you,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the threats to Canada’s national security from last winter’s convoy protests were both economic and violent, and before he invoked the Emergencies Act the premiers were unable to suggest any alternative to using the sweeping powers to end the protracted demonstrations.
The Prime Minister was the final witness to testify at the inquiry studying the act’s use. Mr. Trudeau made the ultimate decision to invoke the never-before-used act on his own on Feb. 14, with the goal of ending protests that gridlocked the capital and jammed several border crossings across Canada.
“I am absolutely, absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Smith speech good politics, potentially good policy
And at the very least in her Tuesday address, Smith looked as if she had the potential to grow into being premier. That means she will have surpassed the competence level many voters gave her credit for, following her obsession with a sovereignty act during the months of the UCP leadership race and her fixation on refighting the COVID-19 pandemic during her first seven weeks in office.
Two of the many emails I received from readers are indicative of what I mean.
In fairness, Smith has never raised the spectre of our province leaving Confederation. Calling her pledge to increase Alberta’s autonomy a veiled threat separate is an NDP campaign concoction.
Still, my St. Albert correspondent made a valid point: Smith’s Tuesday address revealed that she can wrap her mind around basic governance concepts (the things like inflation that matter to ordinary Albertans), rather than just the fringier nuggets like human rights for vaccine refusers.
In a nutshell: Smith looked more like a premier on Tuesday, less like a sensationalist radio host.
That was a big plus for her.
That’s huge. In this day and age of cancel culture, with its agree-or-be-silenced mob rule, most politicians don’t get a second chance.
Perhaps that reader was the only person in Alberta willing to think twice about Smith. However, if she was voicing a wider sentiment, the UCP at least have a chance to perform well in the upcoming legislative session and be rewarded by voters.
Fair or unfair, the UCP are still the default choice to lead Alberta, meaning voters (at least in Calgary, the smaller cities and rural Alberta) will vote right-of-centre so long as the right-of-centre party is halfway competent and united.
Politically, then, Smith’s speech seems to have served its purpose of stopping her party’s slide in the polls.
Will it achieve its more direct policy goal — to help blunt the effects of inflation? I’m less sure.
The suspension of the gasoline tax for at least six months is a good thing. It comes off everyone’s tax bill immediately, at the pump, without any huge bureaucratic intervention. (Unlike the federal carbon tax, which sucks billions out of consumers’ pockets, then costs billions in bureaucratic oversight to repay billions to everyone, no matter how much tax they paid.)
That’s how federal pandemic supports caused the current inflation.
But unlike federal pandemic relief, the Alberta amounts are much, much smaller and spread out over six months.
So perhaps Smith’s speech will end up being both a political and a policy triumph.
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