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Trade Minister Mary Ng broke ethics rules

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Trade Minister Mary Ng broke ethics rules

International Trade Minister Mary Ng apologized Tuesday after the federal ethics commissioner concluded she broke the rules by awarding a contract to a friend — opening the door for the Opposition Conservatives to point out that it’s not the first time a Liberal cabinet minister has faced such rulings.

Mario Dion released his report in response to a complaint federal Conservative MP James Bezan, the party’s former ethics critic, lodged in May.

Ng’s office had awarded a contract to the public relations firm Pomp and Circumstance in the spring of 2020. While it was only worth just under $17,000, Bezan raised concerns over a potential breach of conflict-of-interest rules, given the existence of a friendship between Ng and the firm’s co-founder Amanda Alvaro.

In his report, Dion said he interviewed both Ng and Alvaro, who had known each other for nearly 20 years and described their connection as a friendship. Dion determined their relationship fit the definition of friendship under the Conflict of Interest Act.

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In the lead-up to Ng’s office giving a contract to Alvaro’s firm, Dion said that in March 2020 — when the country was first grappling with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic — Ng “initiated an informal telephone conversation” with her friend to discuss “her concern that she wanted to be best prepared to address Canadians and businesses.”

Dion said both confirmed to him that they did not discuss a contract with each other, with Ng saying “the entire process was delegated” to her chief of staff, who was aware of the friendship.

“Based on the documents provided by both Ms. Ng and Ms. Alvaro, Ms. Ng does not appear to have been involved in the subsequent discussions pertaining to the negotiation of the final terms of the contract,” Dion wrote.

But he concluded the minister broke a section of the act by failing to recuse herself from the process that led to the decision to award the contract — something the commissioner says Ng herself acknowledged during the investigation.

Dion reported that during his probe, Ng disclosed that the firm also received a contract in 2019 for $5,840.

“There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company,” Dion said in a statement Tuesday.

“This includes the need to quickly obtain media training services to help Minister Ng respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.”

“Ministers are expected to uphold the highest standards of accountability, including those set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Complying with the act is a condition of appointment and employment for all public office holders.”

During question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ng said she accepts “full responsibility” and should have recused herself the decision-making process around the contract.

“At no time was there any intention for anyone to benefit inappropriately,” said Ng.

“My efforts fell short of my own high personal standard for transparency and accountability, which Canadians have a right to expect from their elected officials. I am sorry, and it won’t happen again.”

Alvaro did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In the House, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on whether Ng would be required to return the money paid to Alvaro’s firm.

Trudeau sidestepped the question, instead making a statement about a byelection win in Ontario for the Liberals on Monday night.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett, who serves as the party’s ethics critic, said Ng is only the latest member of the Liberal cabinet to be found to have broken ethics rules.

Trudeau himself was found guilty of violating the act by accepting a trip to the Aga Khan’s private island in 2017, and the ethics commissioner chastised him again in 2019 over his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

In 2020, Dion cleared Trudeau of wrongdoing when the government awarded a since-cancelled contract to WE Charity, which the prime minister’s family has connections to. But former finance minister Bill Morneau was found to have breached the rules.

And in 2018, Dion ruled that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc had run afoul of conflict-of-interest rules by approving an Arctic surf clam licence to a company where a family member worked.

“The trend continues now with their trade minister,” Barrett said. He called for Ng to resign.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2022.

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Alberta minister denies crying, yelling during doctor confrontation

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Alberta’s justice minister says he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.

The Law Society of Alberta didn’t complete its hearing Thursday into allegations that Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. Three complaints date back to his time as the United Conservative Party government’s health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawyers for both sides are working to determine a date for the hearing to continue.

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.

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The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.

Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.

“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.

“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”

Zaidi testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset. He said Shandro told him to remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.

“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.

“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’

Zaidi told the hearing Tuesday that he deleted the post but contacted law society lawyers to let them know he discovered he had a second Twitter account where it was still up.

Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, filed an application to have all of the posts filed as evidence over the objections of law society counsel.

“Dr. Zaidi has testified that he in fact deleted the post in question after his discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Shandro. Not only did he not delete it from the website, another Twitter account, he continued to post detailed information thereafter,” Stapon argued.

“And it is a credibility issue before this proceeding as to whether or not Dr. Zaidi was telling the truth and I will submit he has not been telling the truth.”

Earlier in the day, Shandro testified he walked to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.

“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”

Shandro’s lawyer asked his client about Zaidi’s description of Shandro crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.

“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.

“I definitely did not yell at him.”

Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.

“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”

Shandro said at that point they returned home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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NDP says Alberta premier’s prosecutor review flawed, calls for outside investigation

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Alberta premier's prosecutor

Alberta’s Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith’s assurance of a thorough investigation into allegations of interference with Crown prosecutors is “an empty talking point” given new details on the search itself.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that while the Smith-directed email search covered the four-month period in question, any deleted message was erased from the system after just a month, meaning the relevant time period for those emails was likely missed.

“It is outrageous that Danielle Smith is really naive enough to think that Albertans would trust an internal investigation that has not been transparently conducted, that has been conducted by people who answer to her, and that only considered deleted emails that go back 30 days,” Notley said Thursday in Calgary.

“This is an empty talking point and nothing else,” she added, renewing a call for an independent, judge-led inquiry into whether Smith and her office interfered in the administration of justice.

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Smith ordered an email review last weekend after CBC News reported allegations that a staffer in the premier’s office sent a series of emails last fall to Crown prosecutors questioning their assessment and direction in cases related to the blockade at the Coutts, Alta., U.S. border crossing in early 2022.

The CBC did not specify precisely when the emails were sent and said it has not viewed the emails in question.

RCMP laid charges against several people involved in the three-week blockade at Coutts to protest COVID-19 restrictions. The charges range from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.

On Monday, the Justice Department reported that a review of almost a million emails — incoming, outgoing and deleted — sent over a four-month period last fall turned up no evidence of any communications between prosecutors and the premier’s office.

However, Alberta Justice, in a statement to media outlets Wednesday, stated that deleted emails are only kept for 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails would only capture those from around Dec. 22 onward and perhaps not capture deleted emails during the time frame in question.

Alberta Justice, along with Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, who speaks for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, declined to respond to requests Thursday for that statement or explain why the statement was now being withheld.

Notley’s comments came a day after Smith faced a second CBC story, quoting unnamed sources alleging she pressured Shandro and his office to intervene in COVID-related cases.

Smith reiterated in a statement: “All communications between the premier, her staff, the minister of justice, and ministry of justice public servants have been appropriate and made through the proper channels.”

In the statement, Smith also accused the CBC of publishing “a defamatory article containing baseless allegations” referring to the original email story.

Chuck Thompson, the CBC head of public affairs, said in a statement Wednesday: “We stand by the story which transparently attributes the allegations to trusted sources and provides context to the allegations.

“As is our practice, we gave the premier and her office an opportunity to react and we included that response prominently in the story, including the sub-headline.”

Smith has given multiple versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.

She has not taken questions in a general news conference with reporters since the affair took off two weeks ago when Smith announced that she was talking to prosecutors about the COVID-19 cases.

Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times said she reminded them to consider factors unique to the COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.

She has attributed the confusion to “imprecise” word choices.

In her statement Wednesday, Smith delivered a sixth version, now saying she met not only with Shandro and the deputy attorney general, but also with other unnamed “ministry officials” to discuss the possibility of legal amnesty to those charged with “non-violent, non-firearms pandemic-related violations.”

The statement added: “The premier and her staff had several discussions with the minister of justice and ministry officials, requesting an explanation of what policy options were available for this purpose.

“After receiving a detailed legal opinion from the minister to not proceed with pursuing options for granting amnesty, the premier followed that legal advice.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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B.C. to install earthquake warning sensors to give life-saving notice

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B.C. to install earthquake warning

Up to 50 earthquake early warning sensors are being installed around British Columbia as part of a larger plan to protect people and infrastructure in a big quake.

The sensors will be connected to the national Earthquake Early Warning system that’s expected to be in operation by 2024.

A joint federal and provincial government announcement today says the sensors will give seconds, or perhaps tens of seconds, of warning before the strongest shaking arrives, helping to reduce injuries, deaths and property loss.

Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s minister of emergency management, says in a statement that an early warning system is critical to helping those in the province mitigate the impacts of a seismic event.

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When the full system is operational next year, more than 10 million Canadians living in the most earthquake-prone areas of the country will get early warning alerts, giving them precious seconds to take cover.

There are over 5,000 earthquakes in Canada every year, most of them along B.C.’s coast, although about 20 per cent of the quakes are along the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa River valleys.

On Jan. 26, 1700, a magnitude-9 megathrust earthquake hit North America’s west coast, creating a tsunami that carried across the Pacific Ocean and slammed into Japan.

The statement says if a similar quake happens when the early warning system is operating, it could give up to four minutes’ warning before the strongest shaking starts in coastal B.C. communities.

It says the system could also be used to automatically trigger trains to slow down, stop traffic from driving over bridges or into tunnels, divert air traffic, automatically close gas valves, and open firehall and ambulance bay doors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

This is a corrected story. A previous version said the earthquake warning system is expected to be operational in 2023. In fact, it is expected to be operational in 2024.

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