Freeman: Quebec Premier François Legault is our most dangerous politician

Valid concerns:

I’ve long believed that Quebec Premier François Legault was the most dangerous politician in Canada, and that his right-wing Quebec nationalism is as serious a threat to the future of the country as René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois (PQ) was in the 1970s and 1980s.

Because Legault doesn’t explicitly urge independence for Quebec, Canadians, including federal politicians, have been lulled into thinking that his government isn’t a threat to the country’s future.

Yet there are no signs that Legault, a one-time PQ minister, has ever dropped his separatist views. Rather, he’s parked them away for short-term electoral purposes, and instead pursued a wildly successful policy of destroying Canadian federalism and the idea of Canada from within.

He’s convinced Quebecers that the National Assembly is the only legitimate representative voice of Quebec voters, and has worked to transform the federal government into a servant of the Quebec state. According to Legault, Ottawa has two purposes: to transfer powers to Quebec, or to hand it unlimited amounts of cash, with no strings attached. If you can get both at once, even better.

Legault has also done immense damage to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s own Human Rights Charter, by pushing through legislation that clearly discriminates against residents of Quebec simply because of their religious beliefs. And in his proposed draconian changes to the province’s language laws, he will further undermine the historic rights of Quebec’s English-speaking minority.

Rather than defend these minorities, federal politicians, led by Justin Trudeau, have quivered and surrendered to Legault’s attacks on fundamental Canadian values. Trudeau has promised to eviscerate the Official Languages Act by turning it into an act to promote French language, rather than to protect linguistic minorities equally, wherever they live. And he’s only weakly challenged Bill C-21, the despicable law against religious minorities.

With Legault’s remarkable outburst on Thursday — which included telling Quebecers whom to vote for on Sept. 20, so as to elect a Conservative minority government — he’s pursuing his policy of undermining the federal government and making it accede to his every demand.

In his statement, Legault instructed Quebec nationalists not to vote for the Liberals, NDP, or the Greens, who he claimed would give Quebec less autonomy. “I am a nationalist,” he said. “I want Quebec to be more autonomous.” When Legault says “autonomy,” we all know what that means. For him, it’s all about eroding federalism until it disappears.

He then added that Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives were a lesser evil, because O’Toole would give Legault more of what he wants. He likes O’Toole’s “approach,” and says it would be easier to negotiate with him. In other words, he considers O’Toole a potential useful idiot.

But Legault doesn’t like the fact that O’Toole would rip up the Liberal daycare policy, depriving Quebec of its $6-billion payout under the deal. Who knows? Maybe O’Toole is so desperate, he’ll now promise that cash to Legault, as well. The Conservative leader has already promised to hand over administration of federal income tax to Quebec, a crazy idea that will further erode federal sovereignty in a key area.

Legault also likes O’Toole because he’s promised to finance 40 per cent of the costs of a Quebec City tunnel, a Legault boondoggle Ottawa has no business being involved in.

As for Trudeau, he looks like a dupe. The daycare deal shows how Legault has taken the naive Trudeau to the cleaners and gets zero credit for the operation. Instead of devising a well-thought-out federal daycare plan and asking that all provinces adhere to certain principles to be part of it, Trudeau claimed that the flawed Quebec program was perfect and should be copied by all provinces. And instead of insisting that Quebec correct the flaws in that program, he opened his cheque book to Legault, effectively paying him for something he was doing in the first place.

Trudeau has shown the same kind of spineless approach to defending religious and language minorities in Quebec, figuring that accommodation was always better than confrontation. His father never operated under those illusions when dealing with Quebec separatists, and still managed to get elected. But Pierre Trudeau had principles.

Will Quebec voters follow Papa Legault and do what he says on Sept. 20? Hard to say. It’s unlikely they’ll vote in droves for O’Toole, but this could be the boost the Bloc Québécois has been looking for. Without picking up extra seats in Quebec, Trudeau might find that his quest for even a minority government has become more difficult.

But what about voters in the rest of the country? If I were Erin O’Toole, I’d be worried. If Legault thinks the Conservatives are an easy mark, English Canadians might figure they’re better off sticking with the Liberals. Trudeau might be squishy when it comes to Legault, but at least he doesn’t have the covert blessing of a man who would destroy Canada.

Source: Quebec Premier François Legault is our most dangerous politician

Alan Freeman: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

Extremely hard on the athletes but valid approach if done in concert with other countries:

The Pew Research Center this week came out with some shocking, yet unsurprising, numbers. China’s reputation is in free fall around the world.

According to Pew, a majority of respondents in every one of 14 nations surveyed had a negative view of China. In nine of the countries, including Canada, negative views are at the highest point since the respected research institute began polling on the question more than a decade ago.

In Canada, 73 per cent of respondents had a negative view of China in 2020, compared with only 27 per cent back in 2007.

China’s human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities, its attack on democracy in Hong Kong, and its assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea have had an impact.

For Canadians, these bully tactics have a particular edge after the kidnapping and imprisonment on trumped-up charges of our fellow citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

What to do? We all know there’s a crowd of well-connected China-appeasers here who want to start hostage talks with Beijing, and are willing to trade away not just Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, but our self-respect, in the naive hope that the two Michaels will be freed. Thankfully, the Trudeau government has kiboshed that idea.

Furthermore, we’re now seeing more signs that our government realizes Canadians are paying attention and don’t want to roll over in the face of China’s aggressiveness. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada has quietly begun accepting pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong as “Convention refugees,” individuals with a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion or political opinion.

Beijing won’t be happy.

That follows Canada’s earlier suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, a ban on exports of sensitive goods to Hong Kong, and a suggestion it could soon boost immigration from the beleaguered former British colony. It’s clearly not enough.

What else can we do? Well, look at the calendar. In just 16 months’ time, Beijing is due to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, another opportunity for China to strut itself as a superpower, the way it used the 2008 Summer Games to make a big splash.

How can we even contemplate sending the cream of our athletes, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking on, and watching them gleefully enter Beijing’s Olympic Stadium for glitzy opening ceremonies while Canadians remain behind bars in a Chinese prison?

There is an alternative. This week, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested that if evidence continues to mount that the rights of Uyghur Muslims are being trampled, the U.K. will consider boycotting the Games. “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when this is not possible,” Raab told a parliamentary committee.

In Australia, where anti-China sentiments are even more ingrained than in Canada, Parliament will soon be asked to support a boycott of the Games. “The time has come for the freedom-loving countries to say to Beijing: ‘Enough is enough,’ ” according to an Australian Liberal senator, Eric Abetz. He also wondered why individual Australian athletes would want to lend their credibility to such a regime.

Easy for the U.K. and Australia to say no to Beijing 2022, you might say. They’re hardly a presence at the Winter Games, winning only a few medals apiece in a good year. Canada, on the other hand, is a Winter Olympics powerhouse, earning the No. 3 spot in the medal take in 2018 in South Korea.

All the more reason for us to boycott. The Winter Olympics is one place where we can make a difference. If Canada could convince Norway, Germany, the U.S., Netherlands and South Korea to pull out of the Games (the top six performers in Korea), China would be stuck with a shell of an Olympic Games. It means we have a chance to make a real difference.

I reached out to Guy St-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, and asked him for his views. “It is now impossible to remain ambivalent on China, knowing what they are doing in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, etc., and the way they have punished Canada for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou,” he told me.

St-Jacques said Canada should adopt a concerted approach with our allies, and threaten an Olympic boycott “if they don’t allow a UN delegation to go to Xinjiang to investigate the situation of the Uyghurs, repeal the National Security Law (in Hong Kong), or suspend its application and free the two Michaels.”

China needs to be reminded that if it wants to play a larger role on the world stage, it has to abide by international laws and treaties and stop acting the bully, including by engaging in hostage diplomacy, he said.

For those who argue that the Games are above politics, that’s clearly hogwash. The Olympics have been subject to political machinations since the beginning, and authoritarian regimes going back to Hitler’s Germany in 1936 have used them to legitimize their unsavoury policies.

Boycotts have been done before. In 1980, Canada joined a stream of Western countries and boycotted the Games in Moscow. And the 1976 Montreal Games was hit by a walkout of African nations in protest of apartheid in South Africa.

Standing up to a bully exacts a price. Not watching Team Canada play for gold in hockey or curling at Beijing in February 2022 should be a price Canadians are willing to pay.

Source: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

Alan Freeman’s piece, written before foreign minister Champagne’s announcement that Canada abandons free-trade talks with China in shift for Trudeau government raises valid comparisons with Australia’s approach:

Sometimes it pays to stand up to a bully. It’s time Canada made a habit of it.

This week, hours before Canada was about to impose tariffs on a range of U.S. products in retaliation for the Trump administration’s imposition of a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian exports of aluminum, the U.S. caved.

The U.S. tariff was cancelled, and though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted Washington hadn’t backed down, and the tariffs could be reimposed if Canada didn’t behave itself and restrict exports of the metal in future, it was clear that Canada had won this battle.

The imposition of the aluminum tariff was an absurdity from the start, one that seemed to benefit only a few well-connected aluminum producers and to anger everyone else in the U.S. industry. Yet credit still has to go to the Trudeau government and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland for standing tough all the way through.

A similar no-nonsense approach was essential to the renegotiation of NAFTA, an unnecessary exercise prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump, which only had downsides for Canada at the outset. The fact that the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade pact doesn’t seem much different from the old one has to be seen as a victory. It could have been a lot worse.

Although Trump has shown his dislike of Trudeau on several occasions — there’s hardly a democratically elected world leader Trump hasn’t tussled with — it hasn’t meant Canada has been so worried about Trump’s volatility that it’s been willing to back down on trade and other issues, which is a good thing. The basic message is that we value our relationship with the U.S., but we won’t be pushed around.

If only Canada could show more of this backbone when dealing with China. Although the Trudeau government has been firm in its reaction to the suspension of freedoms in Hong Kong, and continues to insist on the liberation of the two kidnapped Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, it still seems reluctant to respond outspokenly to Chinese excesses.

When it comes to standing up to China, Canada should look at Australia. It’s much more dependent on China than Canada is, with China accounting for one-third of Australia’s exports, including huge quantities of coal, iron ore and agricultural products. And Australia depends on big influxes of Chinese university students and tourists to bolster its economy.

Yet relations are tense, because the Australian government is wary of Chinese efforts to influence — some say infiltrate — Australian universities and political life. In June, Australia’s intelligence services are reported to have raided the homes of four Chinese journalists resident in Australia, as well as of a state legislator whose office was suspected of being used to influence Australian politics.

The four journalists have since returned to China, and the visas of two Chinese academics have been cancelled, but not before China had struck back. Chinese police recently conducted midnight interrogations of two prominent Australian journalists in China, who were forced to seek refuge at Australian diplomatic facilities before fleeing the country.

And in what looks like a repeat of the abduction of the two Michaels, TV news anchor Cheng Lei, a star of CGTN, a Chinese government-owned English TV network in Beijing, was detained last month and is being held for suspected “criminal activity endangering China’s national security.” The Chinese-born journalist is an Australian citizen.

Relations between China and Australia have been deteriorating for years, but what appears to have really upset Beijing was the call in April by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only has China cracked down on journalists in retaliation, but it has launched a series of trade actions targeting Australian exports of barley and beef. China has also started an anti-dumping probe against Australian wine — shades of China’s moves against Canadian canola and pork.

When it comes to Huawei, the Australians have already acted, banning the Chinese technology giant from its 5G networks, while Canada continues to prevaricate. It seems at times that the Trudeau government is wishing it would all go away, including the U.S. extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver in December 2018.

While trade tensions haven’t eased, Australia has at least made clear that it won’t be intimidated. Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Duncan has said about the latest row over journalists that “Australia will defend its core values and principles, such as adherence to the rule of law, press freedom and democracy.”

And the Australian government has armed itself with a series of laws that defend against foreign interference in its political institutions. Just last month, the government proposed federal legislation that would require any foreign agreements signed by states, local governments and universities to be first approved by the central government. The bill seemed aimed specifically at agreements with China.

It follows adoption of federal legislation in 2018 that criminalizes foreign interference in Australian government, including covert, deceptive actions or threats aimed at democratic institutions or providing intelligence to overseas governments.

Because the Chinese economic and political presence is so much more important to Australia than it is to Canada, there is none of the naiveté that still seems to influence Canadian attitudes toward China. As the Globe and Mail has reported this week, Huawei is keen to cash in on those gullible China-sympathetic “influencers,” including one-time politicians and academics who’ve been pressing Ottawa for a prisoner swap to free the two Michaels, so far without success.

Let’s hope that Freeland, with her influence in the Trudeau cabinet at an all-time high, will succeed in convincing her colleagues that Canada needs to stand up to an even bigger bully than Donald Trump. It will take a lot of backbone.

Source: It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

Alan Freeman on the growth in the number of deputies, picking up on some themes of Donald Savoie:

Here’s a quiz. How many deputy ministers are there in the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat?

If you answer “one,” you’ll get a point for logic. After all, as you learned in your first-year university Canadian politics course, a deputy minister is the top public servant in a government department — the boss — whether it’s Transport or Global Affairs or Treasury Board.

But this being Ottawa in 2019, “one” is the wrong answer. How about six? That’s right. The Treasury Board actually has six top officials in the deputy minister (DM) category. Five are full deputies and a sixth is an associate deputy. They’re all appointed by the prime minister to their jobs, and get better salaries and more generous pension benefits than other executives, all for being part of the (once) exclusive club of Ottawa mandarins.

Treasury Board is just one example. Deputies are popping up throughout the federal government like potholes in March. Global Affairs has four, at last count, National Defence three. But it’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development (the old Industry department) that wins the Oscar for best performance in deputy overkill. It’s got four deputies, plus five other DMs, if you include the heads of the five regional development agencies the department supervises. That’s a total of nine.

Of course, the same department has four ministers, including full ministers for science, tourism and small business. A mini-government of its own.

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon that’s the result of political expediency and bureaucratic empire-building. As of today, there are 83 deputies in the federal government: 38 deputy ministers and 45 associate deputy ministers, an increase of 11 positions in the past decade. Since the Trudeau government was elected, nine have been added.

The number of executives in the government has been growing like topsy for years, at twice the growth rate of the public service as a whole. The deputy explosion is just another symptom of a system that’s out of control.

This growth has not just added people, it’s added new layers to the top bureaucracy. Where once there were a group of assistant deputy ministers with specific responsibilities reporting to a deputy at the top of the departmental bureaucratic hierarchy, there are now senior assistant deputy ministers, associate deputy ministers, and even senior associate deputy ministers, all adding to the general confusion.

“It’s huge. It’s cumbersome. They’ve created a whale that can’t swim,” says Donald Savoie, the New Brunswick academic who has studied the federal bureaucracy for decades.

“All of these people have to be relevant, so they create work for themselves. They slow everything down.”

How did we get here? As Savoie notes, the position of associate DM developed a few decades ago. Part of it was classification creep. Then was the desire to reward public servants who may have been very competent, but didn’t have the “gravitas” to make it to the deputy level.

Another reason, according to Savoie, was that promotion to associate DM was seen as a way of getting around wage freezes imposed on senior bureaucrats. If you can’t give a trusted official an annual increase, promote him to a higher-paying job. First it was only the big departments that got an associate DM. Then they spread everywhere. Even a small department like Veterans Affairs now has an associate deputy minister, both appointed by the PM, both with DM salaries.

Politics have also intervened, particularly since the Liberals returned to power. Remember that first Trudeau cabinet, the gender-equal one with 15 men and 15 women? When people found out that five of the women were actually “junior” ministers of state, all hell broke loose and Trudeau was forced to make them all full ministers, with higher salaries. But that also meant they needed a deputy or an associate to help them out with their “portfolio.”

So we have a weird kind of deputy minister, who reports to a minister but doesn’t really have a conventional department to take care of. There’s Guylaine Roy, who became a deputy last summer when Mélanie Joly was demoted from Canadian Heritage and was given the smorgasbord job of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. The actual public servants (it must be a tiny number) seem to have stayed in their home departments, so it’s hard to know what exactly a deputy is in charge of in those circumstances.

Likewise, a new deputy was appointed for Status of Women when that became a full cabinet position and department again.

And there’s now a deputy minister for public-service accessibility, who was appointed in July when Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough was given the additional responsibility of improving access for people with disabilities in the federal sector. At the same time, the chief information officer, Alex Benay, was promoted to a DM-level job. Both are part of the Treasury Board gang of six.

Improving accessibility may be a laudable goal, but why is there a need for a full deputy minister? Using the same logic, you could argue that there should be a deputy minister to encourage women in the public sector, or visible minorities or Indigenous people. There’d be no end to it.

And of course, there’s now an associate deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement whose sole responsibility is the Phoenix pay system. That seems a guarantee that the job will be around long after the system is fixed or replaced.

Is there any end in sight? Not really. This week, there was another cabinet shuffle and another newly minted minister, this time for Rural Development. Bernadette Jordan got the job, largely because Trudeau needed an MP from Nova Scotia in the cabinet and there seemed no other place to put her.

By Friday, a new breeze of austerity had clearly blown in from the Privy Council Office, which now says Jordan will be supported by the existing deputy minister at Infrastructure for some of her files, and by the Innovation deputy for the rest. A bit of a respite from the DM tsunami, but you can be sure it won’t be long until another new deputy minister is created.

Source: Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas

Nothing really new here in Alan Freeman’s commentary but well stated:

It’s time Canadian provinces stopped selling visas to the highest bidder.

They’re known as immigrant-investor visas, which promise wealthy migrants permanent residence and a path to Canadian citizenship in return for actively investing in a Canadian business or lending money to a provincial government. 

But in reality, these visa programs are simply fancy schemes to sell Canadian passports to wealthy businesspeople, mainly from mainland China, who want a bolt-hole for their family and often have little intention of ever settling in Canada, aside from buying a pricey condo in Vancouver or Toronto and leaving it empty. 

What’s worse, these schemes are an invitation to the unscrupulous to use Canada as a place to launder money, and encourage a slimy network of immigration counsellors, questionable lawyers and investment advisers to collect big fees from would-be migrants.

The fact that Canadian provinces — Quebec, in particular — have been actively courting this trade is an embarrassment and a massive failure of public policy, with shades of corruption thrown in.

The federal government wisely got out of the immigrant-investor visa business in 2014 but several provinces, through the so-called provincial nominee programs, kept them going. Prince Edward Island is a case in point.

Earlier this month, P.E.I. decided to shut down the entrepreneur stream of its provincial nominee program after a new scandal engulfed it, 10 years after a similar program in the province was shut down in the wake of irregularities.

Canada Border Services Agency recently charged two hoteliers in Charlottetown under the Immigration Act with providing fake addresses to 566 new immigrants to the province between 2008 and 2015 who declared the Sherwood Motel as their principal residence. Must have been pretty crowded. 

Under the P.E.I. scheme, would-be immigrants had to make a $200,000 provincial deposit to the province, refundable if they set up a business there, chump change for these would-be Canadians. Last November, the government said that two-thirds of participants had forfeited their deposits because they hadn’t followed through and set up businesses in the province.

It was clear to anybody who was looking that these so-called immigrant investors never intended to set up a souvenir shop or convenience store in Charlottetown or Summerside. They simply wanted a back-door route into Canada so they could set themselves or their children up in Markham or Richmond. P.E.I. officials and politicians, in their desperation to attract immigrants, have been shown to be rubes of the first order.

The Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is bigger and the abuse has been even more flagrant, as demonstrated in a fabulous investigative report this month by the Radio-Canada TV show, Enquête.

The program documents the underbelly of the Quebec program as a conduit for wealthy Chinese businesspeople to buy permanent residency in Canada by stating their intention to settle in Quebec, and seldom even setting foot there. An estimated 85 per cent of the thousands of investors who have passed through the program since 1986 have gone to Ontario and B.C.

In its report, Enquête created Mr. Chen, a would-be investor in Quebec from mainland China and secretly filmed him as he made the rounds of immigration lawyers and consultants in Hong Kong who specialize in the Quebec program. It’s an eye-opener.

When Mr. Chen tells these advisers that he doesn’t intend to live in Quebec, even though it’s a pre-condition of the program, he’s told it’s not a problem. One lawyer suggests he rent an apartment for three months in Montreal to prove he has a Quebec address and leave it vacant. And if that’s too expensive, the lawyer suggests giving the Montreal address of his law firm as the immigrant’s residence.

When Mr. Chen admits the source of his assets isn’t squeaky-clean and he actually runs a pawn shop and money-lending business on the side, one adviser suggests he hide his problem assets in the British Virgin Islands or even procure a second identity by buying a passport in one of the Caribbean islands that will sell one to anybody with cash. “You may be Mr. Chen, but you can change your name to Bruce Lee,” says the paralegal, who identifies herself as a lawyer.

If experience in other jurisdictions is any indicator, these programs are toxic, attract the wrong type of people and seldom reach their economic goals. 

South of the border, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently shut down the EB-5 immigrant-investor program in Vermont after the failure of state officials to stop promoters of the Jay Peak ski resort from misusing US$200 million in immigrant-investor money that flowed into a series of questionable projects. 

In Australia, the Productivity Commission, an independent federal advisory agency, recommended in 2016 that its “significant investor visa” program be scrapped after Austrac, the agency that tracks money laundering, said there were “difficulties in identifying the sources of funds and wealth for customers on significant investment visas, as this wealth is often acquired in foreign jurisdictions.” The Commission said there were minimal benefits from the program and “any benefits accrue mainly to those visa holders and fund managers.”

Australia has since significantly boosted the minimum investment required — to $5 million — and tightened oversight of the program. The result is that there are a lot fewer takers. Why bother with Australia if you can get to Canada through the Quebec scheme, which only requires participants to lend $1.2 million for five years to the Quebec government, interest-free?

While it’s true that the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have major problems attracting and retaining immigrants, it’s an illusion to think that the way to improve these numbers is by selling visas to wealthy migrants. In fact, these are the last people who want to settle in Corner Brook or Drummondville.

The major advantage of these places is the fact that they’re actually not as wealthy as Canada’s big cities, that housing is affordable, and they’re actually easier places to start a new life in Canada. Manitoba has shown that it’s possible to attract hard-working immigrants from places like the Philippines who will make real contributions to society rather than use Canada as a place to stash ill-gotten gains. 

Canada is one of the most attractive places in the world for immigrants to settle. Selling visas and passports is humiliating and counter-productive.

Source: Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas