OTTAWA — The word “unprecedented” applies to some aspects of the massive public inquiry underway in Ottawa.
After all, the commission is investigating the first-time use of the federal Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy,” protests last winter that decried extraordinary restrictions during a global pandemic.
But this week’s dramatic conclusion of the Public Order Emergency Commission hearings won’t mark the first time a Canadian prime minister has taken the stand in a commission of inquiry.
The country’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, testified at a royal commission on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1873. The first question was phrased as such: “Will you have the goodness to state to the commission all the facts within your knowledge related to this matter?” And the answer began: “I suppose it had better be done as a narrative?”
It was more than 100 years before another prime minister would make himself so available. Here are the few occasions when modern leaders put themselves under oath, and the consequences that followed.
1980: Pierre Trudeau
Unlike his son, Pierre Trudeau refused to testify publicly in the McDonald Commission, which the then-Liberal government struck in 1977 to investigate “certain activities of the RCMP.”
The elder Trudeau did talk behind closed doors, though, and his 1980 testimony was wrapped into the final reports delivered in 1981 by Alberta judge David Cargill McDonald. So was the reasoning and legal opinion behind the commission’s decision not to compel him as a public witness.
The reports detailed allegations of wrongdoing by the then-RCMP Security Service, which was responsible for national security intelligence and policing at the time and had been blamed for failing to prevent the 1970 October Crisis.
Its recommendations included the creation of a new civilian spy agency, which led to the genesis of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 1984. McDonald also recommended updates to the War Measures Act and the role of Parliament during emergencies — some of which were ultimately incorporated into the 1988 Emergencies Act.
Trudeau retired from politics in 1984 and was succeeded by John Turner, who suffered a landslide defeat in a federal election the same year.
2005: Jean Chrétien
In early 2004, on the heels of his takeover of the Liberal party from Jean Chrétien, then-prime minister Paul Martin called a commission of inquiry into the sponsorship program and advertising activities, led by Quebec justice John Gomery.
The Gomery Inquiry, as it became known, dug into the sponsorship scandal that had for years plagued the Liberal government. Audits and media reports had raised serious questions of impropriety in a sponsorship program intended to promote federalism in Quebec following the 1995 referendum.
Chrétien appeared before the inquiry in February 2005, armed with a full-throated defence of his efforts to protect federalism — and a briefcase full of golf balls.
The former prime minister’s lawyers argued that Gomery should be removed from the inquiry because he had criticized Chrétien publicly for allowing his name to be printed on a series of golf balls. In a memorable stunt, Chrétien’s lawyer gave him a chance at the end of his testimony to pull out various golf-ball gifts he’d received from the likes of American presidents.
Chrétien maintained his innocence and said he knew nothing of the specifics of sponsorship contracts, but Gomery found him “accountable for the defective manner” in which the program was implemented in a final report that November. Some of those involved were criminally charged.
But Chrétien and a top aide later sued the federal government over the findings and won, with a Federal Court judge finding in 2008 that Gomery exhibited bias against the former prime minister. The government lost an appeal of that decision in 2010.
2005: Paul Martin
Martin was the sitting prime minister when he testified at the Gomery Inquiry days after Chrétien took the stand.
He distanced himself from the sponsorship program and argued that as the minister of finance under Chrétien, he had overseen federal government spending writ large without knowing of granular details at the departmental level.
Ultimately, Gomery cleared Martin of personal responsibility. But there was a heavy political toll on the Liberals.
Within a month of the report, Martin lost a confidence vote in the House of Commons, triggering an election in January 2006 that vaulted Stephen Harper’s new Conservative Party into power.
2009: Brian Mulroney
In 2008, Harper appointed Manitoba justice Jeffrey Oliphant to investigate the allegation that a German-Canadian arms lobbyist gave large sums of cash to Mulroney in 1993 and 1994 in relation to proposed armoured vehicle manufacturing.
In May 2009, Mulroney, who had urged Harper that a public inquiry was the only way to clear his name, was called in to testify.
During six days of testimony, he said it was “preposterous” to suggest he had been hired to lobby the government while he was running it. He said the business relationship was legal and involved “no wrongdoing of any kind,” but that he regretted the decision to accept cash.
Oliphant found that the cash payments could only be a scheme to avoid the relationship falling under public scrutiny. But he didn’t find evidence that any money changed hands while Mulroney was prime minister — though they’d met as many as a dozen times.
Oliphant found that Mulroney had failed to live up to his own ethics guidelines, applying the standard of conflict-of-interest rules introduced while he was in office in 1985.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.
Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press
Fauci says ‘we need to keep the politics out of’ investigating COVID origins – The Hill
Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s outgoing chief medical adviser, on Sunday urged officials to “keep the politics out of” investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.
Speaking with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fauci said he is keeping an open mind, but he reiterated that the evidence is “quite strong” that the virus occurred naturally.
“They’re very suspicious of anybody trying to accuse them,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “We need to have an open dialogue with their scientists and our scientists, keep the politics out of it.”
Republicans have indicated they plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic upon taking the House majority in January as well as Fauci himself, suggesting COVID-19 instead originated from a laboratory.
“All of my colleagues, keep an absolutely open mind,” Fauci said on CBS. “We’ve got to investigate every possibility because this is too important not to do that. That’s not incompatible with saying the scientific evidence still weighs much more strongly that this is a natural occurrence. You must keep your mind open that it’s something other than that.”
But Fauci pushed back on the notion that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the pandemic’s origins.
“Not necessarily the scientists that we know and we have dealt with and collaborated with productively for decades, but the whole establishment — a political and other establishment in China, even when there’s nothing at all to hide — they act secretive, which absolutely triggers an appropriate suspicion,” Fauci said.
He went on to criticize former President Trump’s accusatory comments against China during the early months of the pandemic, although Fauci acknowledged a need for more data.
“What happens is that if you look at the anti-China approach, that clearly the Trump administration had right from the very beginning, and the accusatory nature, the Chinese are going to flinch back and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not going to talk to you about it,’ which is not correct. They should be,” Fauci told Brennan.
Twitter's time in Canadian politics began with an apology — and then it got worse – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter on federal politics. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
The first reference to “tweeting” in the House of Commons came during an apology.
Shortly after question period on the afternoon of October 20, 2009, then-Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood on a point of order.
“I wish to inform you and the House that I inadvertently tweeted about matters that I ought not to have tweeted about, that is, the in-camera proceedings of the defence committee,” Dosanjh told the Speaker. “That was an error on my part and that entry will be deleted at the earliest possible opportunity, which is right after I get out of here.”
This, apparently, was before MPs realized they could have their staff manage their Twitter accounts.
“I thank the honourable member,” responded Peter Milliken, Speaker at the time. “I assume that ‘tweeting’ means it went on Twitter.”
Dosanjh’s point of order marked the arrival in Canada of a social media platform that promoted both dialogue and excess — a tool that both enriched debate and created new ways to do things we would later regret.
Thirteen years later, Twitter seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Even if it carries on in some shape or form, its time as one of the predominant forums in public life may be nearing an end. Many users have already withdrawn from the platform or reduced their presence.
Whenever and however the Twitter era comes to an end, its impact on Canadians politics will have been great — but not entirely good.
Small audience, big impact
There is a decent chance that you’re not a regular user of Twitter. Most Canadians aren’t. But the platform has an outsized impact on the political life of this country because most Canadian politicians, journalists, pundits, political strategists, pollsters, lobbyists and partisans do use Twitter — along with a significant number of academics, policy wonks and subject matter experts.
Canada is hardly the only country with this dynamic, of course. Consider, for instance, the United States — Twitter played an integral role in Donald Trump’s rise.
Nothing so seismic has happened here (at least not yet) but the impact has not been small.
It also hasn’t been all bad. It gave politicians a new way to communicate with voters and it created a new way for voters to hold politicians to account. It facilitated the spread of news and information with incredible speed and breadth.
It elevated new and underrepresented voices and those voices enriched the wider dialogue. In certain ways, Twitter helped bring more nuance to the political debate. Think of every academic or historian who has used a Twitter thread to illuminate a complicated topic.
That, sadly, isn’t all that might be said about Twitter’s performance as a modern public square.
Amping up the extremes
As much as it has helped expose users to important information and valuable voices, it also has spread misinformation, disinformation, harassment and general nastiness. It prizes and rewards snap judgments, hot takes, outrage, condemnation, mockery, doomsaying and disagreement.
It sped up the news cycle to a dizzying degree. It elevates the most extreme opinions, offers ample opportunity for bad-faith actors and it is a terrible proxy for actual public opinion.
If previous media eras reduced politics to sound bites, Twitter reduced it even further — to hashtags. At times, the House of Commons seemed to be little more than a fancy studio for recording video clips to be pushed out on MPs’ Twitter feeds.
For all these reasons, it might be tempting to think Canadian politics would be better off without Twitter. But even if Twitter were to disappear tomorrow, there is no going back to a time before social media — just as there is no going back to a time before television or radio or newspapers.
If Twitter ceases to be a significant forum, some new platform (or platforms) will take its place. The era of social media is far from over.
There is something to be said for the argument that the problem with Twitter is not the platform itself but the way it is used, and the ways in which it is allowed to be used. In that sense, Twitter offers valuable lessons in how social media can work and how it can go wildly wrong.
Whether those lessons will be heeded is another matter entirely. The question of government regulation still looms on the horizon.
The indisputable truth is that, 13 years after Ujjal Dosanjh found a novel way to betray the confidence of in-camera committee discussions, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the social media era work out for the best — or to at least minimize the harm it does.
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.
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