Avoiding another Ashley Smith incident: Politics on TV, Nov. 1 edition

Talking about the Ashley Smith video, the Canada-China FIPA, and Peter Penashue's questionable donations

Message of the day

“What happened to Ashley Smith was a tragedy.”

Questions not answered

  • Is Elections Canada looking into the donations Peter Penashue received?

Ashley Smith revelations:

On Power Play, Don Martin spoke to an MP panel of Elizabeth May, Michelle Rempel, and Robert Chisholm about what needs to happen after the release of that video of Ashley Smith being strapped down on a flight. May said that we need an inquiry to know if this was a one-off or a systematic problem in our correction system. She noted that Smith could have been revived after she strangled herself if the guards hadn’t stood idly by, and that the government has tried to suppress this video. Chisholm said that Correctional Services Canada owes an explanation of what happened, and the underlying problem is the number of mental health patients in the system while they are cutting services. Rempel said that the government remains dedicated to making sure this sort of incident doesn’t happen again, and that CSC has put in a training program to address mental health issues.

Power & Politics later had their own MP panel of Candice Bergen, Jack Harris, and Carolyn Bennett, where Bergen said that people with mental illnesses should be treated at the provincial level before they enter the correctional system, and vociferously insisted that there weren’t going to be any cuts to mental health workers when the Kingston facility is shut down. Harris said that it may well be true that people with mental health issues shouldn’t be in prison, but the government isn’t spending money on this kind of prevention. Bennett said that the high rate of mental health issues, addiction and people suffering abuse in prisons demonstrates the need for a therapeutic approach that isn’t being provided.

Canada-China FIPA:

Power Play’s MP panel also weighed in on the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, where May said her objection is both in terms of content and the lack of debate, and said that if we look at how many times we’ve been sued under NAFTA, we should be worried about how China will behave. Chisholm said that it was a question of reciprocity and wondered at the chance of Canadian investors having the same access to justice in China. Rempel pointed to the volume of trade with China, and that this agreement supports a level playing field for our investors, which industry supports.

Don Martin then spoke to John Manley of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, who said that Canadians should be happy with this FIPA because it gives Canadian businesses in China the right to fair play. China is not fully transparent, their legal system is in development, and this gives our businesses a chance to go to independent arbitration that Chinese businesses will have to accept. Manley said the key to arbitration is that Canadian businesses will be part of the process, which is not necessarily the case currently.

P&P’s Power Panel looked at the issue, where John Ivison said that this deal is only in the spotlight because of the CNOOC-Nexen deal, and that many of the criticisms and benefits are overblown. He also noted that in the FIPA, areas around social policy, health and safety, and the environment are all exempt. Tom Flanagan considered the rhetoric to be the worst kind of opposition politics, particularly with the Liberals piling on, and said that if we wanted arbitration with NAFTA, why wouldn’t we want it with China? Liza Frulla noted that the government didn’t foster any discussion around the agreement except for a single hour at committee, and that they had a responsibility to promote it. Gerald Caplan said the government has a penchant for secrecy, and all manner of its trade agreements are opaque to the public.

Later on Power Play’s journalists panel, Paul Wells noted that Harper once promised big things in his mandate, which he determined to be shifting our trade from the US to China, but has since learned that this is likely impossible and that nobody likes it. Jeffrey Simpson said that Harper can’t ignore China like he tried for his first two or three years in office – especially as China as a trillion US dollars to invest – but they need to deal with their lack of clarity on Chinese investment while facing a caucus divided on how to engage with China.

Unspent infrastructure funds:

With the Public Accounts showing that billions of dollars earmarked for infrastructure hasn’t yet been spent, Power & Politics assembled an MP panel of Pierre Poilievre, Peggy Nash, and Geoff Regan to discuss the issue. Nash said that it was inexplicable why the government would “chop” $2 billion in planned spending, and noted that they can’t get information on what is going on with this money. Poilievre said that the government will pay out this money when they get invoices from the provinces and municipalities – something that hasn’t all happened because of project delays. Regan said that some of the money has lapsed and some hasn’t, and contrasted the slow rollout of a $1 billion green infrastructure fund with the way they sped through the G8 legacy funds.

Peter Penashue donations:

Evan Solomon spoke with reporter Laura Payton about the latest revelations into Peter Penashue’s election campaign, and those suspect donations from six Pennecon executives that were made two days after the election. Payton said that they have obtained a copy of a deposit slip that shows a $5500 donation from Pennecon, which matches the donation by the executives. Payton said that Pennecon says they’re in contact with Elections Canada, while Penashue hasn’t responded, but his staffer said the campaign wouldn’t accept corporate donations.

P&P’s Power Panel also weighed in on the situation, where both Ivison and Flanagan considered this a third strike, making it untenable for Penashue to stay in cabinet after Harper rode in on his Accountability Act. Frulla was also in agreement, but wondered where Elections Canada has been in all of this. Caplan noted that Penashue’s portfolio – intergovernmental affairs – has been pretty useless under Harper anyway, and that Elections Canada has a problem in that they don’t release any information about their investigations.

Windsor-Detroit Bridge:

With Michigan voters going to the polls on Tuesday to not only vote in the presidential election, but to also determine whether or not to accept a free bridge from Canada to cross the border, Martin spoke to Consul General of Canada Roy Norton, who has been promoting the merits of this proposal. Norton noted that momentum is on their side, but that they are facing the owner of the existing bridge  “telling a lot of lies,” spending money on ads telling people it will cost them money and that they don’t need a new bridge. Norton said that the governor was actively supporting the bridge, and has been hosting town hall meetings with him.

Oil sands investment:

Solomon spoke with Greg Weston about a briefing note that he obtained regarding investments in the oil sands. Weston recounted how the soaring costs of development in the oil sands are driving away investments, and could halt development if crude oil prices fall. Weston said that this can be an argument in favour of approving the CNOOC deal, as they want to offer a premium to invest in the oil sands, and that a lack of development leads to lower share prices, meaning a group of oil sands companies would be ripe for the picking.

Nathan Jacobson:

After the Liberals accused the Conservatives of giving special treatment to arrested businessman and Conservative donor Nathan Jacobson, Solomon aired clips from an interview he did with Jacobson before his arrest last week. Jacobson said that until his situation is resolved, he made a decision to keep a distance to protect his friends, and would still consider them friends for the most part, even though he’s “radioactive” at the moment. Jacobson is also involved in a lawsuit with Conservative MP Mark Adler, who has characterised a $100,000 loan to be a “gift.”

By-election updates:

Don Martin spoke to three candidates in the upcoming by-elections from non-incumbent parties – Liberal Paul Summerville in Victoria, Liberal Harvey Locke in Calgary Centre, and NDP candidate Larry O’Connor in Durham. Locke said that Calgary is a bigger city than it used to be and is ready for an injection of political diversity. He also noted that the leadership candidates stopping by in the city helps to put them at the centre of party rebuilding. O’Connor said his experience as a former MPP and mayor in the region gives him a solid chance, and that people didn’t feel that they were respected by Bev Oda. Summerville – who once ran for the NDP in Toronto before switching parties moving to Victoria – noted that there is no national narrative in the by-election, no leaders debates, and that there is a powerful local issue to run on.

Conrad Black’s Order of Canada:

Power Play’s journalists panel also weighed in on Conrad Black threatening to pre-emptively withdraw from the Order of Canada rather than face being stripped of his award. Simpson noted that Black can withdraw, but didn’t agree with Blacks’ characterisation of the advisory council considering how many distinguished names sit on it. Wells noted that Black cast off his Canadian citizenship in a fit of pique, and that it shouldn’t be returned without an apology.