Canadian Politics (Federal), Opinion, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

Beware of those who cry ‘fake news’

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Since last year’s U.S. Election, the term ‘fake news’ has entered our political discourse like a ton of bricks.

Although intended to signal an actual phenomenon — web articles that appear to be actual news but are entirely fabricated to serve a political agenda — the term has taken on a life of its own.

It seems that those who are most quick to label reporting they dislike “fake news” are its truest purveyors.

As George Orwell wrote in his masterful 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.” What he said then of the ‘fascist’ label could be said of the ‘fake news’ epithet today.

The most prominent practitioner of calling undesirable news fake is, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump, who refused to allow CNN reporter Jim Acosta to ask a question at one of his first presidential press briefings, because, “You’re fake news.”

The question of whether fake news — like an article that baselessly claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed The Donald — helped propel Trump to victory in the U.S. Electoral College is entirely debatable.

That Trump himself used blatant falsehoods to stir up emotion amongst his supporters, however, both on the campaign trail and in office, is beyond dispute.

Some of his most egregious claims, for those in need of a refresher, include the allegation that three million people voted illegally in the election where he lost the popular vote by three million, that he personally witnessed thousands of Muslims celebrating on the streets of New Jersey after the September 11 terrorist attacks and, my personal favourite, his insinuation that “Lyin’” Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination.

Clearly, when Trump cries “fake news,” he’s projecting his insecurities onto the American news media, which although not without its flaws and frailties, is largely in the business of reporting facts.

This psychological projection is by no means exclusive to the pro-Trump crowd, or even the U.S.

Here in Canada, there are those who criticize “the media” for its apparent coziness with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing the soft news surrounding our media savvy prime minister, such as his Star Wars socks that inexplicably got international media coverage.

It’s rather disingenuous to claim that the Canadian media hasn’t covered Trudeau’s ethical lapses, such as his cash-for-access fundraisers that are increasingly being outlawed provincially.

Sure, the media as a whole could do better reporting hard news rather than fluff, but this has little to do with ideological bent.

It’s more about how revenues are generated in the digital world. Traditional newspapers and news media outlets need content that generates clicks, which generate advertising revenue, which allows them to chase important stories.

There is no such singular entity as the media — different media organizations have distinct ideological bents, and that’s as it should be.

With that said, there’s certainly a credibility gap in news reporting.

The New York Times, which in many ways is the gold standard of news reporting, has yet to fully recover its credibility after it presented allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, based on the claims of anonymous sources within the Bush administration, as objective fact.

This significantly weakens the paper’s clout when it goes after fake news sources, whether it’s the president of the United States or Russian bots.

Skeptics can point to its role in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and ask how the Times is any different.

This is a misguided criticism, as most newspapers, though they all have an ideological slant, don’t generally fabricate news for ideological purposes.

When we lump the news media, for all its flaws, together with the malicious intentions of fake news, we do a disservice to the journalists who put all they’ve got into holding the powerful to account, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.

Canadian Politics (Federal)

Trudeau announces 9 new senators, more appointments to come this week

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the appointment of nine new senators – five women and four men – keeping with his promise to shake up the upper house that has almost become synonymous with old, white, male, entitled partisan hacks.

None of these appointees have official ties to the prime minister’s Liberal party, as they were selected under a new arms-length process that allowed Canadians of all backgrounds to apply, leading to 2,700 applications, of which 105 were recommended to Trudeau.  He is expected to name two more bundles of senators in the next few days, according to the Canadian Press.

The current nine nominees- who run the gamut of backgrounds from business to social work – come from B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. They are:

  • Harvey Chochinov, a Winnipeg psychiatrist and internationally renowned expert in palliative care, who is particularly notable for his opposition to assisted suicide, which was passed into legislation by the Trudeau government earlier this year.
  • Patricia Bovey, a Manitoba art historian who is the former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and former board member of both the National Gallery of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.
  • Yuen Pau Woo, a Malaysian-born professor of public policy at the University of British Columbia and former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
  • Marilou McPhedran, a lawyer, human rights activist and professor at the University of Winnipeg Global College. She was the co-leader of the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women and the Constitution, which in the early 1980s successfully campaigned for stronger equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, passed by Trudeau’s father.
  • Rene Cormier, president of the New Brunswick-based Societe Nationale de l’Acadie, which promotes Acadian artists abroad, and formerly of the Commission international du theatre francophone.
  • Nancy Hartling, a women’s issues expert from New Brunswick who founded the non-profit Support to Single Parents Inc. and St. James Court Inc., which provides affordable housing to single parents.
  • Wanda Thomas Bernard, the first African-Canadian to hold a tenure track position and become full member of Dalhousie University. She is also a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers and the present chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
  • Daniel Christmas, senior advisor for the M’ikmaw First Nation in Membertou, N.S., is credited with the economic transformation of his community that was once approaching bankruptcy into what the Canadian Press calls “one of the most successful in Canada.”
  • Diane Griffin, a Stratford, P.E.I., town councillor, who received the Governor General’s Conservation award and used to be the provincial deputy minister of environmental resources.

Earlier this year, Trudeau named seven senators selected under the same arms-length process. Of them, only one – House Leader Peter Harder, a long-time bureaucrat – had ties to the current government.

All of the prime minister’s appointees will sit as independents, a custom that began when Trudeau booted Liberal senators from his caucus when he was still a third-party leader in 2014.

The New Democrats, who were then Official Opposition and now a dwindling third-party, vowed to scrap the Senate altogether, while ex-prime minister Stephen Harper simply ceased appointing senators in 2015, creating the vacancies Trudeau is filling.

The impetus for this appetite for change in the upper chamber was the expense scandal of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who was charged with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, and acquitted of every single one, which is why he remains in the Senate.

Charles Vaillancort, the judge who presided over the Duffy trial, said in his ruling that the regulations for senators’ expenses were too vague and accused the former prime minister of essentially scapegoating Duffy to take the bigger issue of senators’ lavish lifestyles away from the public eye.

The systemic problem of entitlement in the Senate will not be fixed by Trudeau’s efforts to make the upper house less partisan, however laudable a goal that may be.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Environment

Trudeau’s climate plan: necessary but insufficient

Canada’s federal government introduced a national carbon pricing plan on Monday as a prelude to signing the international Paris climate accord.

The plan, which goes into effect in 2018, begins with a $10 per tonne tax on carbon emissions in provinces that won’t yet have a pricing system in place. The price increases $10 a tonne each year, ending at $50 in 2022.

The nation’s four largest provinces already have some form of carbon pricing in effect – Alberta and B.C. with direct carbon taxes, and Ontario and Quebec with a more complex cap-and-trade system in conjunction with California – so the financial impact of Prime Minister Trudeau’s plan on most Canadians will be negligible.

Sounds like great news for environmentalists, right? The reality, as you may have anticipated, is more complicated, given the stakes at hand.

Greens unimpressed

Though receptive to the idea of a national carbon pricing initiative, Green Party leader Elizabeth May says that is just a starting point.

“I commend the Trudeau administration for being first to implement a national carbon pricing plan, but $10/tonne is too low to be taken seriously,” May said in a statement. “I remain perplexed as to why this administration refuses to update our climate targets to meet our Paris Agreement commitments.”

The Saanich-Gulf Islands MP was especially critical of maintaining ex-prime minister Stephen Harper’s emissions targets, calling them “among the weakest in the industrialized world.” Harper pledged to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence Canada shares this sentiment.

“Trudeau’s planned pan-Canadian price on carbon emissions is welcome, but the planned price starts too low and takes too long to take a bite out of Canada’s emissions,” he said in a statement.

“To be effective, the federal carbon price needs to rise at the same rate beyond 2022. Polluters, not Canadians, must pay the costs of carbon emissions. Those costs will be paid one way or another, either through a price on carbon or through health impacts from air pollution and the impacts of more severe floods, droughts, and forest fires.”

Marshall also called on the government to stop promoting “high-energy carbon projects,” namely the recently-approved Pacific Northwest LNG pipeline.

Clare Demerse, Clean Energy Canada’s federal policy adviser, concurs. She told the Toronto Star that although the carbon pricing initiative is “significant,” it is ultimately “not enough … to close the gap” between the administration’s words and deeds on climate change.

The government will need to invest more in green jobs and infrastructure, said Demerse, if it is to have a hope of meeting even the previous government’s paltry targets.

Still, Trudeau’s carbon pricing system is a definite improvement, as it was the NDP, not the governing Liberals, who campaigned on a specific national system – cap-and-trade – for reducing carbon emissions in last year’s election. The Liberals had promised some form of carbon pricing that would be agreed upon with the provinces.

Premiers divided

Speaking of the NDP and provinces, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley supports Trudeau’s plan, albeit under the contradictory condition that he agree to build more pipelines.

“The federal government needs to understand that Alberta — and Albertans, collectively and individually — have contributed over many years to the economic health of this country,” said Notley at an Edmonton press conference.

“For us to continue doing that, we need the federal government to now have our back. We need them to move on the matter of a pipeline to tidewater.”

Alberta is currently in dire straits financially, so in exchange for imposing its own provincial carbon tax, Notley promised to push hard to get a pipeline built and increase Alberta’s oil exports. These goals are naturally at odds.

Notley is in a tough position as the leader of a social democratic, environmentally conscious party in a traditionally conservative, oil-friendly province.

However, the plan’s most outspoken critic is the nation’s most popular climate change denier, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who opposes any form of carbon taxation.

Wall called the plan “one of the largest national tax increases in Canadian history” and vowed to fight it with “all options” at his disposal.

He also characterized the federal government’s unilateral action as “disrespectful,” though some would say his inaction on climate change is disrespectful to future generations.

Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil joined Wall in his criticism of the plan, while B.C., Quebec and Ontario – the nation’s three largest provinces – endorsed it.

Overall, it appears that Canada’s federal energy policy will be the cause of larger tensions regarding national unity, as was the case under Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s premiership. But the prime minister is unable to take the threat of climate change seriously without alienating energy-dependent provinces to some extent.

Ultimately, Trudeau must pick a side.


Published Articles

Yes to Syrian refugees, but we must do it responsibly

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in Humber Et Cetera

The Paris attacks unleashed a torrent of anti-refugee sentiment that gives ISIS exactly what it wants – keeping Syrians and Iraqis ensnared in their cage.

“The Paris massacre gives us a horrifying taste of the unending and vicious violence that has killed 250,000 Syrians, displaced 10 million more and sent four million fleeing for their lives into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey,” said Michael Molloy, a political scientist from the University of Ottawa who helped coordinate the resettlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees between 1979 and 1980.

“These refugees are victims of the same evil visited on our French cousins. We must not lose sight of this fact,” he wrote in the Globe and Mail.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be applauded for remaining firm in his commitment to resettle 25,000 refugees, despite opposition. But his pledge to do so by year-end, logistics be damned, plays into the hands of those who don’t want any refugees settled here at all.

Trudeau promised to resettle 25,000 refugees over the span of 10 weeks. Voters will forgive him if he breaks this pledge by simply committing to a plan for their resettlement within his initial deadline.

It’s not a matter of security, as right-wingers like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall make it out to be. As Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post pointed out, each identified suspect of the Paris terror was an EU national. Similarly, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the Parliament Hill shooter of 2014, was a Canadian national.

Even if there are killers lurking in refugee camps across the Middle East, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the main agency responsible for resettling refugees, has an extensive background check protocol to determine suitability.

Short of turning Canada into a police state, there isn’t much anyone can do to prevent immigrants or “old stock Canadians” alike from engaging in senseless violence.

The real issue with Trudeau’s resettlement plan is one of being able to provide sufficiently for all these refugees.

“It can be done. That’s not the issue. But we’ve got wait-lists for language classes, for example, of six to 10 months in certain cities. We don’t have trauma support programs in place,” Chris Friesen of Canadian Immigration Settlement Services told the CBC.

“Reconsider the timeframe, keep the number, but do it over to 2016 … Providing more time for this large resettlement movement will lead to better settlement outcomes,” Friesen said.

Mario Calla of Lifeline Syria, the main organization facilitating the intake of Syrian refugees, is naturally sympathetic to Trudeau’s goal, but agrees with Friesen that the timeframe should be extended.

“It’s still a massive movement. Don’t forget: even the processing takes time. There are security checks, medical and criminal checks,” he said, indicating that a few extra months would make his job much less daunting.

Lifeline Syria’s project manager Alexandra Kotyk said the organization has been overwhelmed by calls of support. Even if many people are wary of Trudeau’s self-imposed deadline, they are still broadly supportive of bringing refugees to Canada.

Compare that with the U.S., where 26 governors have said they will refuse to permit the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in their state. They’re all Republican.

Meanwhile, the GOP presidential candidates are trying to outdo each other in exploiting the Paris tragedy to whip up the most anti-Muslim hysteria.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz said the U.S. should only allow Christian refugees, because “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Ditto Jeb Bush.

Frontrunner Donald Trump holds similar views on Syrian refugees as he does on illegal Mexican immigrants – send ‘em back to where they came from. He doesn’t appear to be suffering in the polls for either stance.

On the other hand, even the Conservatives in Canada haven’t taken such an extreme view on the subject. They want to slow the process down, or reduce the numbers, but no one denies the significance of the cause.

Canada can and should set an example for the rest of the world on refugee intake, as we did in the past for Vietnamese, Ugandan and Kosovar migrants. But we should do so in a responsible way. One that doesn’t play into the kneejerk xenophobia on prominent display south of the border.