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LETTER: Lack of interest in local politics must change

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OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at dave@orilliamatters.com. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in regard to local politics.
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Municipal elections are over and the new councils will be sworn in soon. It is again the time when many writers lament the low voter participation rates and debate the cause of this disinterest. Here is one more comment on the subject.

Changing the mechanics of voting will not dramatically change the participation rate. In most municipalities it makes little difference if in-person, phone, mail-in, electronic, or a combination of these is used for voting.

Some local controversy will help for one election but that is something that cannot be relied on for a higher participation rate. This writer’s suggestion is that it take a cultural shift to significantly increase electoral participation anything else will be unsuccessful.

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“Social small talk” is the culture that has to change. In Ontario it is acceptable to talk weather, sports and similar events at the water cooler or morning coffee break but one gets a funny look and no response if one mentions local politics the day after a local council meeting.

People have to start talking about what happens at council through the whole term and not just at election time. Just complaining about lack of service is common but it is not what I am talking about here.

People have to discuss who voted for or against something and what alternative exists to the action taken by council. Such interest and discussion over the entire four-year term will convert to more participation at election time.

So if you want to encourage more democracy in your municipality, get away from talking weather and be not afraid to bring up your council’s action.

Konrad Brenner
Ramara

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Justin Trudeau says he’s ‘absolutely serene and confident’ he made right decision to invoke Emergencies Act

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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.”

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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.

Senior Political Reporter Marieke Walsh, Marsha McLeod and Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief Bill Curry

 

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‘Bad humour’ and short fuses: How politicians’ texts played out at the Emergencies Act inquiry

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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.

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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.

Anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. on Feb. 1, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

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.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. In this one from Feb. 2, he and Justice Minister David Lametti joked about calling in the Canadian Armed Forces. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)

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.

 

Text messages between Emergency Prepadreness Minister Bill Blair and his chief of staff were entered into evidence at the Emergencies Act inquiry on Monday. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)

 

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.

Text messages between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique were also brought up during the inquiry. Lucki’s texts are in blue. (POEC)

“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.

‘Friendly fire’

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.

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Smith speech good politics, potentially good policy

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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.

She looked human and competent (not monstrous or wacky). If she has horns, they didn’t show.

The best thing that can be said about Smith’s early performances in office, is that she established low expectations. Albertans aren’t expecting much from her now, so if she looks even barely competent, she’ll impress.

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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.

“Hey, Smith does know about issues other than separation and COVID,” wrote one reader from St. Albert.

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.

Another reader said, “I didn’t really like her before, but her speech has at least made me reconsider.”

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.

If voters are prepared to forgive Smith for her errors to date, and judge her and her government on what they do going forward, that is bad news for NDP plans to retake Alberta.

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.)

On the other hand, Smith’s monthly cheques to seniors and families earning under $180,000 a year, could end up fueling inflation by increasing the amount of spending money consumers have. Those cheques could end up increasing the amount of money in circulation that then ends up chasing goods and services and bidding up prices.

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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