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Should Alberta reconsider COVID-19 vaccine prioritization? It’s complicated, expert says

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How does a government sort through a sea of valid demands when there isn’t enough COVID-19 vaccine to go around?

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Trudeau cleared in WE Charity controversy, but ethics commissioner finds Morneau broke the rules

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Then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks in Ottawa, on Aug. 17, 2020. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cleared in the Ethics Commissioner’s investigation into the WE Charity controversy, but his former finance minister, Bill Morneau, was found in breach of the Conflict of Interest Act. Commissioner Mario Dion released two reports…

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Then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks in Ottawa, on Aug. 17, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cleared in the Ethics Commissioner’s investigation into the WE Charity controversy, but his former finance minister, Bill Morneau, was found in breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

Commissioner Mario Dion released two reports Thursday, almost a year after the scandal erupted and led to multiple probes by House of Commons committees and officers of Parliament, Mr. Morneau’s resignation and the downfall of one of Canada’s most prominent charities.

Mr. Dion found the Prime Minister was not in breach of the rules.

The Trudeau report says the Prime Minister was part of the May 22 cabinet decision to allow WE Charity to administer a pandemic-relief student grant program. On June 22, he approved the contract.

Mr. Dion found that Mr. Trudeau’s involvement in awarding the contract to WE Charity and the multiple connections between the charity and his family gave “rise to a strong appearance of conflict between the Trudeau family’s relationship with WE and Mr. Trudeau’s duty to make decisions that best serve the public interest.”

But he ruled that is not covered by the law. He said that while the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons says MPs must avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest in their duties, the Conflict of Interest Act does not include appearance of conflict in its definition of conflict of interest. Mr. Dion’s report notes that MPs voted against broadening the definition in 2006 and, in a 2014 review of the act, did not recommend any changes to the definition.

“I determined that without an actual conflict of interest or a clear legislative prohibition against apparent conflicts of interest, I could not conclude that a contravention occurred,” Mr. Dion wrote in the report.

The Ethics Commissioner studied whether the Prime Minister broke three sections of the act, covering conflict of interest in decision-making, a ban against giving preferential treatment and the duty to recuse in order to avoid a conflict of interest. In all three cases he found he had not.

“Mr. Trudeau did not further his relatives’ private interests nor did he provide preferential treatment to WE,” Mr. Dion wrote.

Prior to WE being tapped to run the student grant program, government funding to WE Charity quintupled under the Liberal government, Mr. Dion noted. From 2006 to 2015, under the Conservatives, WE received $1.1-million. From 2015 to 2019, the charity received $5.5-million in government funding.

Documents provided to Mr. Dion showed the Finance Minister’s office described WE in an internal briefing as a “like-minded external partner.”

In the Morneau report, Mr. Dion concludes that the former finance minister and WE co-founder Craig Kielburger were friends. The Ethics Commissioner acknowledged that the finding represents a broadening of his office’s definition of the term.

“I believe it is necessary to broaden the scope of the term to capture relationships where personal and professional interactions become intertwined to such an extent that it becomes difficult to draw the line between the two,” he wrote.

He said he found no evidence that Mr. Morneau was directly involved in the government’s decision to propose WE as the administrator of the program, but his ministerial office “had an unusually high degree of involvement in past files relating to WE” and there were “frequent communications” between WE and his political staff.

“I am of the view that Mr. Morneau gave WE preferential treatment by permitting his ministerial staff to disproportionately assist it when it sought federal funding. I believe this unfettered access to the Office of the Minister of Finance was based on the identity of WE’s representative, Mr. Craig Kielburger,” Mr. Dion wrote.

The investigation concludes that Mr. Morneau contravened three sections of the federal Conflict of Interest Act.

The findings do not carry any financial consequences. While the Ethics Commissioner does have the power to issue monetary penalties for administrative issues such as failing to submit required reports, the act’s financial penalties do not apply to the breaches identified in the Morneau report.

Mr. Trudeau has twice been found in breach of conflict of interest laws – in 2017 and 2019.

Mr. Morneau has been cleared in two previous ethics investigations. A 2018 ruling found he was not in a conflict when he introduced a pension reform bill while holding one million shares in his former pension management firm. Another ruling last fall accepted his explanation that he simply did not realize he had not paid the full cost of two trips organized by the WE organization in 2017.

Mr. Trudeau announced in June that WE Charity would administer a new, $912-million program called the Canada Student Service Grant, devised to pay young adults for their volunteer work. Officials said the money was to be released in increments and that the contract awarded to WE was valued at $543.5-million.

The contract was scrapped in July amid conflict-of-interest allegations against Mr. Trudeau, whose family members were involved with WE events. The full extent of the connections between WE Charity and the government only became clear after the program was scrapped.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Trudeau said the report “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning.

“At the heart of this initiative was getting support for youth during this pandemic as fast as possible,” he said.

Mr. Morneau also released a statement Thursday.

“When the government designed the Canada Student Service Grant, our goal was to help students gain meaningful work experience during one of the greatest economic challenges of our lifetimes,” he said.

“As the report confirms, the decision to have WE Charity administer the program was entirely based on the advice of the public service. As I have already stated, in retrospect, I should have recused myself from the discussion.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole responded to the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling on Mr. Trudeau by saying Canada’s accountability laws are broken and need reform.

“We can’t have more of the same corruption and cronyism from Justin Trudeau,” he said in a statement. “It’s time to clean up the mess in Ottawa with a new anti-corruption law which will ensure Liberals like Justin Trudeau can’t reward their insider friends.”

Last year the opposition argued that the government had helped ensure WE Charity survived the pandemic by awarding it the contract to run a program when much of its work had dried up. The opposition said this indirectly served to benefit Mr. Trudeau’s relatives, who did paid work for the group. Mr. Dion called arguments that the funds to administer the student program could ultimately benefit the Prime Minister’s relatives “too remote and speculative to merit further consideration.”

“There was no real connection between WE’s role under the CSSG and the remunerated work of Mr. Trudeau’s relatives,” the report concludes. “Nor was there evidence to suggest that any of them stood to benefit, even indirectly, from WE’s Social Entrepreneurship proposal or the CSSG.”

NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus said the findings regarding Mr. Morneau and his political staff show the Liberals offer preferential treatment to their friends when it comes to access to decision-makers.

“I think the Ethics Commissioner has given a damning indictment of how the Liberals do business,” he said in an interview. “This is the picture as clear as can be of how friends of the government get absolute, unfettered, insider access in ways that are completely inappropriate. It’s a damning indictment of how this program went way off the rails so quickly.”

Mr. Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, and brother Alexandre both made regular paid appearances for WE, and the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was paid once for her work prior to the Liberals winning government. She was also a volunteer ambassador for the charity at the time it was awarded the contract.

In March, brothers and WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger told the House of Commons ethics committee that the charity paid Trudeau family members a total of $217,500 in fees and $209,620 to cover their expenses, including flights and hotels.

The Morneau report notes that he and his family have several personal connections to the WE organization through his daughters, Clare Morneau and Grace Acan. Mr. Morneau and Ms. Acan, whom he and his wife sponsored to come from Uganda in 2010, took a WE-related trip to Ecuador in 2017, and Ms. Acan took a contract job with WE Charity in 2019.

The report notes that Marc Kielburger wrote an endorsement on the front cover of a 2016 book by Clare Morneau about refugee girls in Kenya. She also spoke at three WE Day events as part of the book tour. The report said she was not compensated for the speeches, according to Mr. Morneau.

The report says Mr. Morneau told the Ethics Commissioner that he was not involved in decisions by his spouse, Nancy McCain, to make two $50,000 donations to WE. One was made in 2018, the other in June, 2020.

Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau apologized for not recusing themselves from the cabinet decision. But Mr. Trudeau has maintained that he was not actually in a conflict of interest.

“I was not in a position of conflict of interest. I am not in a position of conflict of interest,” he told the House of Commons finance committee in July.

But “sometimes recusing oneself can be the right thing to do even if it’s not required,” he said.

In September, the charity announced it was shuttering its Canadian operations and that the Kielburgers would be leaving the organization.

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Growing number of Republicans plan to run against Liz Cheney in 2022 after ouster from leadership post

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Rep. Liz Cheney speaks to reporters at the Capitol, in Washington, on May 12, 2021. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Associated Press For pro-Trump Republicans, removing Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership was relatively easy. Booting her from office will be another matter. The rush to punish Cheney for her criticism of former President Donald Trump and…

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Rep. Liz Cheney speaks to reporters at the Capitol, in Washington, on May 12, 2021.

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Associated Press

For pro-Trump Republicans, removing Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership was relatively easy. Booting her from office will be another matter.

The rush to punish Cheney for her criticism of former President Donald Trump and his loyalists is drawing a cast of Wyoming primary challengers so big it could ultimately help her win again next year. Another boost for Cheney is a pile of campaign money and a family legacy that has helped her before.

Still, there’s no doubt that her campaign to call out Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election is firing up opposition – in the process revitalizing old complaints about a politician some see as more in touch with Washington insiders than Wyomingites.

Over a year remains before Wyoming’s deadline to file for the August 2022 Republican primary, but already at least six Republicans plan to run against her.

The growing scrum, ranging from a retired Army colonel to a rural kombucha brewer, is on the minds of Cheney allies and opponents alike.

“There’s going to be an awful lot of them. It’s probably going to split the vote,” observed Mark Falk, a Cheyenne resident planning to vote against Cheney.

Cheney told reporters Thursday she welcomed – “obviously” – anybody who wanted to join the race against her.

“There are millions and millions of Republicans out there who want us to be a party that stands for principles and who are very worried about the direction that the party is going and don’t want the party to be dragged backward by the former president,” Cheney said.

Trump has promised to endorse a Cheney challenger, but the window of opportunity for Cheney’s opponents to do much else to narrow the field may have closed. A bill, backed by Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. to institute primary runoffs, failed in the Wyoming Legislature in March amid concerns about costs and making big changes to the election system on short notice.

Cheney, meanwhile, has proved she can rebound from ignominy to prevail in a crowded field of Republicans – it’s how she first got elected. After ditching an ill-received run for Senate in 2014, she came back to run for the House in 2016, winning almost twice as many votes as the runner-up in a nine-way primary.

She’s since knocked off little-known Republican and Democratic opponents alike with ease, all while building up a formidable fundraising operation. From January through March, she brought in $1.5-million – her best quarter yet.

Her national profile as a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney doesn’t hurt. And she could even get a boost from her status as Democrats’ new favourite Republican. Wyoming allows voters to register at the polls, and its Democrats often switch affiliation to vote in a hotly contested Republican primary.

To be sure, discontent with Cheney in Wyoming has grown wider and deeper since she voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Even after she survived her House Republican colleagues’ first attempt to oust her from leadership on Feb. 3, she was censured in an overwhelming vote by the state GOP central committee.

“I’ve never been a Cheney fan,” said one primary opponent, Marissa Joy Selvig, a former mayor of Pavillion, population 200. “She has been working more for herself and for the Republican Party than she has the citizens of Wyoming. That’s what I see.”

A farmer’s market kombucha brewer who accompanies student and church musicians on harp, piano, flute and other instruments, Selvig said she planned to run for Congress even before Cheney’s recent troubles.

Selvig pledged to serve in Congress with a “sense of peacefulness” and willingness to “work together for the good of the nation.”

Others running include state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a gun rights activist and co-owner of a Cheyenne-area septic system business; state Rep. Chuck Gray, a conservative radio commentator whose father owns Casper-area radio stations; and retired Army Col. Denton Knapp of Trabuco Canyon, California, who graduated from high school in Wyoming in 1983 and plans to move back.

Trump and his allies have yet to hint at whom, if anybody, among Cheney’s opponents they prefer, even though doing so could discourage yet more candidates from entering the fray.

Cheney’s predicament with Trump has meanwhile breathed new life into old gripes, including that she spent little time in Wyoming before moving to wealthy Jackson Hole in 2012.

Labelled a “carpetbagger,” Cheney struggled through a six-month run against popular Sen. Mike Enzi, a fellow Republican, before dropping out in early 2014.

She regrouped, travelling the state and building an organization that helped her dominate a nine-way Republican primary for an open U.S. House seat in 2016. She beat a little-known Democrat with 62 per cent of the vote and has won re-election by even wider margins since.

Yet to this day, Cheney has never quite proved herself for some Wyomingites who wonder why she voted to impeach when she and Trump both won the state in 2020 with almost 70 per cent of the vote.

“I think she’s gotten way too far away from Wyoming, is just more of a Washington insider than anything,” Falk said. “I always kind of never thought she was a real Wyoming representative.”

Trump wasn’t popular in Wyoming at first, either. But that has changed.

In 2016, caucusing Republicans gave Texas Sen. Ted Cruz 23 delegates and just one each to Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. That October, with Cheney closing in on winning the House seat Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis was vacating, Lummis said she would vote for Trump while “holding my nose.”

Lately though, Lummis, elected last year to the Senate to replace the retiring Enzi, has been conspicuously quiet about Cheney. Just as Cheney was being voted out of House leadership, Lummis tweeted about transportation infrastructure and has kept silent about her close colleague’s fate.

“Nobody is standing with Liz,” lamented Republican state Rep. Landon Brown of Cheyenne, one of the very few Wyoming elected officials to take to social media in Cheney’s defence. “They’re all afraid to take on the Republican Party and stand up for what’s right.”

Another Cheyenne resident, though, said that while he understood Cheney’s interest in upholding the Constitution, impeaching Trump over the riot wasn’t a straightforward proposition.

“Let’s be honest, the attack on Congress was terrible. Whether or not you hold him responsible for that, I don’t know that that’s completely fair to say that he was personally responsible, although he didn’t do much to relieve it,” said George Geyer, a retired teacher and coach.

Cheney hasn’t done a terrible job, Geyer added, but he will probably consider voting for somebody else.

Shortly after being voted out of her leadership position in the House, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney said she would not only continue to call out former president Donald Trump for his ‘lies,’ but will also do everything she can to make sure ‘the former president never gets anywhere near the Oval Office.’ Reuters

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Israeli troops mass at Gaza’s border as international concern grows over escalating violence

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Israeli soldiers prepare a 155mm self-propelled shell to fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position near the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 13, 2021. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and…

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Israeli soldiers prepare a 155mm self-propelled shell to fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position near the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 13, 2021.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border.

The four days of cross-border fighting showed no sign of abating and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign “will take more time.”

Violence has also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict. Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some towns, prompting Israel’s president to warn of civil war.

Explainer: How clashes in Jerusalem have sparked the heaviest Israel-Gaza fighting in years

At least 87 people have been killed in Gaza, including 18 children, over the past four days, Palestinian medical officials said. Hospitals already under heavy pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic have faced further strain.

Seven people have been killed in Israel: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, five Israeli civilians, including two children, and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

Worried that the region’s worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr. Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far offered no sign of progress.

U.S. President Joe Biden called on Thursday for a de-escalation of the violence, saying he wants to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.

Militants fired rocket salvoes at Tel Aviv and surrounding towns, Israel’s commercial heartland, with the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting many of them. Communities near the Gaza border and the southern desert city of Beersheba were also targeted.

Five Israelis were wounded by a rocket that hit a building near Tel Aviv.

Israel was preparing ground troops along the Gaza border on Thursday and Hamas launched rocket barrages at southern Israel as the fiercest hostilities in years dragged on with no end in sight. Flora Bradley-Watson reports. Reuters

Israeli warplanes struck a six-storey residential building in Gaza that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave. Netanyahu said Israel has struck a total of close to 1,000 militant targets in the territory.

Israeli aircraft also attacked a Hamas intelligence headquarters and four apartments belonging to senior commanders from the group, the military said, adding that the homes were used for planning and directing strikes on Israel.

Standing beside a Gaza road damaged in Israeli air strikes, Assad Karam, 20, a construction worker, said: “We are facing Israel and COVID-19. We are in between two enemies.”

In Tel Aviv, Yishai Levy, an Israeli singer, pointed at shrapnel that came down on a sidewalk outside his home.

“I want to tell Israeli soldiers and the government, don’t stop until you finish the job,” he said on YNet television.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A number of foreign carriers have cancelled flights to Israel because of the unrest.

‘DISRUPTING’ HAMAS Brigadier-General Hidai Zilberman, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said attacks on militants’ rocket production and launching sites were “disrupting Hamas’ activities”, but still not to the point of stopping the barrages.

“It is more difficult for them, but we have to say in fairness that Hamas is an organized group, one that has the capability to continue to fire for several more days at the places it has been targeting in Israel,” he said on Israeli Channel 12 TV.

He said between 80 and 90 militants had been killed in Israeli attacks.

Zilberman said Israel was “building up forces on the Gaza border”, a deployment that has raised speculation about a possible ground invasion, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and in 2009.

Israeli military affairs correspondents, who are briefed regularly by the armed forces, have said however that a major ground operation is unlikely, citing high casualties among the risks.

Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida responded to the troop buildup with defiance, urging Palestinians to rise up.

“Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky. We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves,” he said.

FOREIGN APPEALS So far some 1,750 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 300 fell short in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said two of its schools were hit on Tuesday and Wednesday “within the context of air strikes by Israel”, and that at least 29 classrooms were damaged.

School is in recess in Gaza, and classes have also been suspended in many parts of Israel, including in one town where an empty school was hit by a rocket on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an “urgent de-escalation” of violence and French President Emmanuel Macron urged a “definite reset” of long-frozen Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appealed for an end to the fighting.

The hostilities have fuelled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21 per cent Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities.

Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars overnight. In Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jews beat and kicked a man thought to be an Arab as he lay on the ground.

One person was shot and badly wounded by Arabs in the town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, and over 150 arrests were made in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”

Although the latest unrest in Jerusalem was the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years, including Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after an inconclusive election in March.

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