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Politics Briefing: Privacy commissioner not consulted over RCMP's use of spyware – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

The RCMP did not inform or consult with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada over its controversial use of techniques and tools to secretly capture data from cellphones.

Federal privacy commissioner Philippe Dufresne told a parliamentary committee Monday that he was made aware of the RCMP’s use of these tools through the media, as was first reported by Politico. He said that his office has not yet received information on the tools’ use, but is awaiting a briefing from the RCMP later this month.

Mr. Dufresne, did not, however, criticize the RCMP over its use of the tools, noting numerous times that he has yet to review the relevant information related to their use.

The RCMP’s use of these tools was first revealed in June. In response to an order paper question, the RCMP described being able to gain access to text messages and emails; stored photos and video; audio recordings within range of the device; and images captured on a built-in camera.

RCMP officials will appear before the House Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics later in the day on Monday.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written today by Marsha McLeod, who is filling in for Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

TREE-PLANTING PROGRAM HITS BUMPS – Ottawa’s 2 Billion Trees program, a pledge to plant two billion trees across Canada, has run into logistical difficulties. Story here.

EMERGENCY ROOMS SEEING SHUT-DOWNS – Burnout, vacations and pandemic-related absences have led to staffing shortages and emergency department closures in provinces across the country, including in Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta. Story here.

WORKERS NOT KEEN TO RETURN TO OFFICES – Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said that in a survey of their membership, 60 per cent indicated they would prefer to work from home, 25 per cent would like hybrid work and 10 per cent want to go back to offices full-time. Story here from CBC News.

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE

HARPER ENDORSEMENT OFFERS NO BOOST – Stephen Harper’s endorsement of Pierre Poilievre for the Conservative Party leadership may have actually soured some voters on the candidate. Story here.

SOME MPs QUESTION POILIEVRE’S LEADERSHIP STYLE – Several Conservative MPs spoke to the Hill Times about the leadership style of Pierre Poilievre that they will see, if he wins the Conservative leadership on Sept. 10. They say they’re unsure if he will moderate his views in an attempt to bring the party together or will “double down” on his campaign rhetoric. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons is not sitting again until Sept. 19. The Senate is to resume sitting on Sept. 20.

CRA CHEQUES GO UNCASHED – The CRA said in a press release Monday that as of May, 2022, there are an estimated $8.9-million in uncashed cheques from the CRA that taxpayers still need to cash.

MEETING ON AIRPORT DELAYS – The House of Commons Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is meeting on Monday to discuss a request to complete a study of airport delays and cancellations.

THE DECIBEL

Erin Anderssen, a feature writer for The Globe, kicks off the Decibel’s food week with an episode about eating octopus and why learning about the creature has challenged the way she thinks about eating meat. Episode here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

The Prime Minister is on a two-week vacation in Costa Rica.

LEADERS

No schedules provided for party leaders.

OPINION

Jashvina Shah (Contributed to the Globe and Mail) on the need for change from Hockey Canada: “There are too many areas of concern to list in one piece. And in order to change a culture, you have to clean the whole house. You need to remove all the furniture and reach into even the furthest corners, where the most dirt collects. That starts with removing the entire board of Hockey Canada, the same board that allowed the organization to discreetly take a portion of player dues to create a fund used to pay off settlements involving alleged sexual abuse. There isn’t room for anyone who was a part of that decision, or knew about it and allowed it to happen, to stay.”

Elaine Chin (Contributed to the Globe and Mail) on employees who are happier and healthier working from home: “Bosses want their employees back in the office, but we have truly arrived at a new normal, and to reverse course there needs to be a more compelling reason to come back other than being told it’s simply what the boss wants. If we come back physically into a workplace, we must come back with a clear purpose, a better time-management schedule and modern workplace designs.”

Ethan Lou (Contributed to the Globe and Mail) on the explosion of subscription services and how we no longer own our own music, books and other objects: “Even if software subscriptions cost less upfront than buying outright, they end up more expensive over the long run. And streaming media entails not downloading the file once but repeatedly with every watch or listen. The resultant data flow is staggering, and so is the energy use. … A purchased CD belongs to us. An album on a streaming service – we’ve come to accept that it does not. And our acceptance pushes technology further down this road.”

Matt Malone (Contributed to the Globe and Mail) on why the ArriveCAN app needs to go: “Consider what the app actually accomplishes. It collects travellers’ personal information and then issues a receipt that they must show to a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer. ArriveCAN does not validate eligibility to enter Canada; CBSA officers do so. Why does the government need an app to do this?”

Althia Raj (Toronto Star) on Jagmeet Singh’s push for dental plan for Canadians, and his warning to Justin Trudeau: “The NDP leader’s warning comes as the federal Liberals struggle with their summer of ineptitude. There are months-long delays for passports, and years worth of wait at the immigration department where some 2.7 million applicants wait to have their files processed. … If the Liberals and government bureaucrats can’t get basic — and long-standing — services working, how will they manage to establish and deliver a new dental program without it turning into another Phoenix, a public service pay system boondoggle that cost taxpayers billions in unplanned costs and failed to deliver results?”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop.

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On the front lines of the fight against strongman politics – CBC.ca

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In the summer of 2013, groups of Turkish citizens gathered in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the government’s development plan for the park which included a new mall and luxury apartments.

The plan came at a time when Turkey’s economy was struggling, unemployment was high, the war across the border in Syria was raging, and Turkey’s longtime ruling party, the AKP, was governing with an increasingly heavier hand.

Turkish citizens were seeing a growing authoritarianism in their country: greater restrictions on public behaviour, a clamping down on free expression especially anti-state or anti-religious views, and a growing sense that only a supporter of the ruling party was a good citizen.

It seemed like the kind of restrictions and surveillance historically felt by Turkey’s minorities — especially Kurds — was now pervasive and normalized.

Those protests grew to an estimated 3.5 million people across the country. The state’s response to the Gezi Park protests was swift and brutal. Turkish citizens say Gezi Park felt like a moment of shift.

Hundreds of people in New York City, including many Turkish Americans, protested in solidarity with demonstrators in Istanbul, June 1, 2013. Protests grew in other countries, along with the number of issues at the core that included freedom of speech and the erosion of secular norms. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images )

Strongman meets the rich west

Turkey is hardly the only country facing what experts call “democratic backsliding.”

Looking at a map of the world, it’s clear in the last 30 years the presence, demise, and return of authoritarian governments has contracted and expanded like an accordion.

Despite this decades-long turn, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States came as a shock and signalled that even the longest-standing democracy of modern times was not safe.

The strongman, long associated with the dictators and tyrants of the postcolonial world, had now found his way to the rich west.

Strongman politics are nothing new but its embrace among democracies — new and old — feels confusing and overwhelming. There are similarities among these leaders in the use of a muscular, exclusionary rhetoric, strident nationalism, the invocation of a more glorious but mythical past, and the abandonment of the long-held liberal ideal of equal rights for all.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance — International IDEA — authoritarianism is expanding not just in terms of the presence of autocratic government but also in terms of democratic governments engaging in similar repressive tactics including restricting free speech and weakening both the rule of law and democratic institutions.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak (L) and her Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro at a meeting, in Brasilia, July 11, 2022. According to an International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance report, Brazil and Hungary are two of several countries listed that govern under autocratic leadership. (Sergio Lima/AFP via Getty Images)

The institute points out that “over a quarter of the world’s population now live under democratically backsliding governments, including some of the world’s largest democracies, such as Brazil, India and three EU members — Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. Together with those living in non-democratic regimes, they make up more than two-thirds of the world’s population.”

Rising authoritarianism 

The world’s largest democracy, India, has seen its relatively stable democratic freedoms decline with the rise of Narendra Modi.

The suspension of historical autonomy and further restrictions on political freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir; the marginalizing of religious minorities — especially Muslims — as Modi’s political rhetoric enfolds a Hindu-first narrative; and the implementation of a national register of citizens which has critics fearing generation-long residents of India will be stripped of their citizenship, are all examples cited by critics as examples of Modi’s shift toward authoritarian governance. 

The only way forward for any society to remain free is to treat its citizens equally.– Arfa Khanum Sherwani, broadcaster journalist 

Arfa Khanum Sherwani is an Indian broadcast journalist whose work has a human rights focus. She says the current moment in India is both one of joy and fear. Joy because India has just celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence — something that felt improbable at the outset. But at the same time, Indians are grappling with the question of whether the current state of India is what its “nation builders” envisioned.

“We are going through perhaps an existential crisis for Indian democracy where the biggest threat to Indian democracy is coming from the people who are ruling us.”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves during a ceremony in New Delhi, Aug. 15, 2019, to celebrate the country’s 73rd Independence Day, which marks the end of British colonial rule. (Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a sentiment echoed by Cihan Tekay Liu, the Turkey page editor at Jadiliyya.com, a publication focused on the Middle East. She grew up in Turkey during some of its most volatile times in the 80s and 90s but, she says, political and social life improved as Turkey transitioned into a multiparty democracy.

Tekay Liu adds the latest twist in the story began shortly after 2010 when the government “began acting more like a regime.” The ruling AKP under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan began purging members and silencing dissent. These were followed by the jailing of opposition leaders and growing restrictions on the press.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey currently ranks 149th out of 180 countries on its press freedom index, just above India and just below Hong Kong. 

Lessons for all nations

Sara Khorshid worked as a journalist in Egypt for more than 15 years and is currently a PhD candidate in history at Western University. She says the hope that came with the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 has long passed and that Egyptians are now repressed in an unprecedented way.

“Under [el-] Sisi, we’ve reached the point where the army is actually the state. It’s not just a state within the state anymore. It exercises control over everything in the country, over the economy, over politics.”

Khorshid says the constraints Egyptians feel are made that much worse given the harsh economic situation. 
In Egypt, citizens are now less concerned about democratic backsliding than they are about surviving an authoritarian regime. 

According to Sara Khorshid, under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, ‘ the magnitude of the army’s control over everything in people’s lives… is reaching an unprecedented level.’ (Khaled Elfiqi/EPA-EFE)

According to Freedom House, a mostly-U.S. government funded think tank, 2021 was the 16th consecutive year the world saw a decline in political rights and civil liberties. But people in repressive regimes still find a way to resist whether it’s using jokes or social media posts in the absence of a free press as Egyptians do or it’s by spilling into the streets to protest specific laws targeting particular communities as Indians have been doing. 

Khanum Sherwani says democratic countries need to pay attention to the human rights conversation in other democratic countries — that the backsliding of one will lead to the backsliding of all.

She adds that despite India being such a diverse nation geographically, linguistically, and religiously, the key reason for its survival has been the reliance on the idea that every citizen was guaranteed certain basic democratic rights. But those rights are no longer guaranteed.

“I think right now that place is threatened. That minimum guarantee is threatened. And that is why I get a sense of insecurity. I feel the only way forward for any society to remain free is to treat its citizens equally.”

She points to the current situation in India is a lesson for all nations.

“Every global citizen is a stakeholder in what happens in the largest democracy of the world. So the world cannot really afford to turn its back towards us and say, ‘look, whatever is happening to you is your internal matter.’

“I do feel when India goes downhill with this whole terrible backsliding of Indian democracy, every global citizen has something to lose.” 

Guests in this episode:

Arfa Khanum Sherwani is a broadcaster and editor with The Wire.in 

Cihan Tekay Liu is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the Graduate Center at City University of New York. She is also co-editor of the Turkey Page at Jadaliyya.com.

Sara Khorshid is a PhD candidate in history at Western University.


*This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa. It is part of our series, The New World Disorder.

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Quebec election: Minister could remain in cabinet despite comments about immigrants

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MONTREAL — Despite his widely denounced comments about immigrants, Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet could keep a seat in cabinet if the Coalition Avenir Québec is re-elected Monday, leader François Legault said Thursday.

Boulet, who is also the province’s labour minister, said last week at a candidates debate that most immigrants to Quebec “don’t work, don’t speak French or don’t adhere to the values of Quebec society.”

While Legault has said that Boulet’s comments disqualify him from remaining immigration minister after the provincial election, he wouldn’t rule out moving Boulet to a different portfolio.

“I spoke to Mr. Boulet yesterday and he’s so sad about what he said,” Legault told reporters in Rouyn-Noranda, Que. “Like I said, he won’t be able to be minister of immigration, but still, the guy is a bright guy and he did a good job for the last four years.”

While Legault described Boulet’s comments as unacceptable, he said Boulet knows what he said isn’t true.

“All the people who know Jean Boulet know that it’s not him, what he said,” Legault said.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said Thursday that Boulet should be immediately removed as a cabinet minister, but she didn’t go as far as Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime, who called for Boulet to withdraw his candidacy altogether.

Anglade said Boulet’s comments are a reflection of the tone set by Legault — who has made controversial comments of his own about immigrants.

“He’s the one creating this environment, he’s the one saying that immigration should be compared to violence, he used the word ‘suicidal’ when he talked about an increase in immigration,” Anglade told reporters in the Montreal suburb of Brossard.

On Wednesday, the CAQ leader said it would be “suicidal” for the Quebec nation to accept more than 50,000 immigrants per year, and previously he has apologized for comments that were seen as linking immigration with violence.

During a campaign stop in St-Marc-des-Carrières, near Quebec City, Duhaime said he doesn’t understand how Legault can describe Boulet as being disqualified while allowing him to continue running in the riding of Trois-Rivières.

“When someone is disqualified, they don’t get to keep running in the race …. Is he trying to say that (Boulet’s) comments are unacceptable for a minister but are acceptable for a CAQ candidate or the member for Trois-Rivières?” he said.

Asked about the comments, federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who represents a Montreal riding, said he is the son of immigrants who came to Canada in search of a better life, worked hard and made sacrifices. “That’s the case of my parents and it’s the case for a large portion of immigrants,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet told reporters in Ottawa he was shocked by Boulet’s comments.

While he has concerns about integrating immigrants into Quebec society — and the large proportion of immigrants who settle in the Montreal region — he said “stigmatization by a clumsy and inaccurate number is a serious error by the minister.”

Meanwhile, the Parti Québécois has raised more money since the beginning of Quebec’s election campaign than any other party.

Élections Québec said the sovereigntist party raised $354,175 from 3,852 donors between the start of the campaign on Aug. 28 and Sept. 21.

Polls in late August put the PQ in fifth place, with support below 10 per cent.

But the PQ is now polling in the mid-teens and is in a statistical tie with the three other main opposition parties — all far behind the incumbent Coalition Avenir Québec.

Québec solidaire was in second place in fundraising since the beginning of the campaign, having raised $180,305, while the CAQ is in third with $170,548 in donations.

The CAQ has collected the most money since the beginning of 2022, however, having raised almost $1.15 million, almost $200,000 more than the PQ.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

— With files from Michel Saba in Ottawa

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Electoral reform can save Canada from Pierre Poilievre's politics – Canada's National Observer

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. When it comes to electoral reform, that ought to be the attitude of both Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP. After failing to reach an agreement on the best way to replace Canada’s first-past-the-post system, both sides have since moved on to other priorities. But with Pierre Poilievre’s rise and the ongoing spread of Trumpist politics in Canada, they ought to revisit the issue — and soon.

Replacing Canada’s first-past-the-post system and the artificial majorities it often creates with a more proportional one would pour political cement on the Liberal government’s signature policies, from its carbon tax and climate plan to the child-care agreements it has struck with the provinces. It would protect the new dental care and pharmacare deals that are currently being fleshed out, both popular with most Canadians. And it would prevent Poilievre or other populist leaders from further undermining key Canadian institutions like the Bank of Canada and the CBC.

Why? Because only a government that served the will and interests of a majority of Canadians could reliably command the confidence of Parliament under a more proportional system. That would probably mean the end of majority governments in Canada, but that’s only a bad thing for the partisan staffers and elected officials who work in them. When it comes to better serving voters’ needs, a proportional system and the sometimes messy coalitions they tend to produce seem like a far better option.

A proportional system would also address the divisiveness and polarization that’s out there right now. Conservatives like to blame the prime minister and his approach to anti-vaccine holdouts for the current political strife, while progressives fault conservatives and the alt-right information ecosystem they’ve built. Either way, it’s clearly a problem standing in the way of level-headed policy and public leadership. While parties once worked across the partisan aisle, the battle lines are now clearly drawn and heavily fortified.

Embracing a more proportional electoral system would fix that. It would foster collaboration and force parties to talk more, fight less and find common ground. It would also encourage more diversity in local representation, whether that’s Liberals and New Democrats getting elected on the Prairies or Conservatives winning seats in Toronto and Montreal.

Electoral reform didn’t happen back in 2016 because the governing Liberals and Opposition New Democrats had different preferred electoral systems in mind and couldn’t bridge that gap. But the imperatives for electoral reform are far stronger today than they were then, and there’s a system out there that can help both sides meet in the middle: single transferable vote, or STV.

This system was proposed by British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in October 2004 and earned the support of 57.7 per cent of voters in a 2005 referendum (the threshold for victory was set at 60 per cent). Its greatest weakness (other than its name sounding perilously close to STD) is its complexity, which delighted political science professors and pundits but frustrated and confused the general public. Under an STV system, multiple representatives are elected in expanded constituencies, with voters asked to rank them as they see fit.

As the final report from the Citizens’ Assembly noted, “because each district is likely to elect members from different parties in proportion to the votes cast, voters may well be able to go to an MLA who shares their political views. This will help provide more effective local representation.”

Better still, the very nature of the system forces candidates to be more collegial and less combative. “Recognizing that they may not be ‘first preference’ on enough ballots to win a seat, candidates will need to encourage supporters of other candidates to mark them as their second or third preference,” the Citizens’ Assembly’s report said. “This need to appeal to a greater number of voters should lower the adversarial tone of election contests: voters are unlikely to respond positively to someone who aggressively insults their first choice.”

By combining the best aspects of a proportional system (the NDP’s stated preference) with a ranked ballot (the preferred option for Liberals), STV should serve as an acceptable compromise for both sides. Yes, Conservatives would surely howl about the unfairness of it all, but given they already use a ranked ballot for their own leadership race, that would be a tough political sale for them to make. They might also benefit from the change, given they won the popular vote in the last two elections but finished well behind in seats due to the efficiency of the Liberal vote. And when they’ve been loudly complaining about polarization and divisiveness, how could they reasonably object to an electoral system that reduces both?

With the rise of Pierre Poilievre and ongoing spread of Trumpist politics in Canada, Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh ought to revisit proportional representation, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #cdnpoli #ElectoralReform

It’s not like they’re above tilting the political table in their own direction, either. Doug Ford’s government invoked the notwithstanding clause to override a court decision that struck down parts of his government’s bill limiting third-party election advertising, while Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party in Alberta passed legislation last December that seemed designed to help him survive his leadership challenge and smooth the road to re-election in 2023.

The supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP has already produced some modest victories, including the recently announced dental care plan. But if Trudeau and Singh want to deliver a truly lasting win for Canadians, they should revisit their positions on electoral reform and find a way to deliver on the promises made in the 2015 election campaign. There is still time to heal our politics and create a system that rewards our better angels rather than empowering our worst.

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