Society

Terry Fox's marathon of grace

Jann Arden reflects on the awe Terry Fox continues to inspire in Canadians, 40 years after his epic cross-country feat that saw him run a marathon-length distance every single day

It’s funny to me—well, maybe not funny, but curious perhaps—how often I think about Terry Fox. Every single time I drive across the country in a tour bus and happen upon Thunder Bay, Ont., Terry comes blazing into my mind with a huge smile on his face. I think about how long we’ve been driving and driving and driving; how big our country is, how vast and open and how far it is between gigs, between cities—and then it occurs to me that Terry Fox ran here from Newfoundland. I will never not be in awe of that.

We’ve stopped at his Thunder Bay monument many times. The beautiful statue showing his young face pointed upwards into the sun, into the future. The band and crew climb out of the buses to stretch their legs and shake off the hours, to grab some fresh air, but mostly to stand and look at Terry and marvel at what he did. Everybody has a story of where they were in 1980 when he started to run. The excitement that started to gather around him almost immediately was palpable—the media didn’t take long to document his every move—and kids ran along beside him as he jogged into every small town that was in his path. It was like nothing we had ever seen before in our lives, because it was something that we’d never seen before in our lives.

His humility was so distinct. The way he spoke, the way he moved through his days with such a mindful dedication to his cause—which became our collective cause to eradicate cancer—touched the most hardened hearts.

He united the country in a way that we hadn’t ever experienced and haven’t experienced since, in my humble opinion.

None of us can get our heads around it—even all these years later, his Marathon of Hope seems as heroic and as remarkable and as unbelievable as ever. He ran an average of 26 miles a day. Any seasoned athlete can tell you that this is unreasonable and unthinkable, and yet Terry made it seem like it was the most normal undertaking in the world. It wasn’t, and we all know that. We all shake our heads in heartfelt disbelief because he made us feel so alive and so grateful to call him ours.

Terry Fox was ours and we claimed him from coast to coast to coast and we have never been prouder. I cried for a week after he died. I felt like I knew him, like we went to school together and drank beer down at the river and rode bikes around the block and swam at the local pool until we could hardly keep our eyes open.

Terry let us all feel like he belonged to us. Unselfish.

Transparent. Altruistic.

I am so grateful that I was alive to serve witness to this young man’s life.

***

Jann Arden is an award-winning Canadian singer, songwriter, broadcaster, actor and author. This letter is excerpted from the forthcoming book Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, edited by Terry’s younger brother, Darrell Fox. Timed to the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope this September, the book features letters from 40 Canadian contributors, including Wayne Gretzky, Silken Laumann, Sidney Crosby and Christine Sinclair. Royalties will support the Terry Fox Foundation.

***

Excerpted from Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters. Copyright © 2020 by The Terry Fox Family. Published by Viking Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Society

How going maskless became socially unacceptable

For many Canadians, a non-religious face-covering used to signal danger or shame. Now going without one does.

In June, I walked briskly into my local bank then stopped just inside the front doors, with only one thought in my mind: “I’m wearing a mask in a bank!” Sure, my handmade fabric mask—a Provencal print in muted tones of blue and green—hardly screamed “hardened criminal,” yet my heart was thumping. As I stood with other customers on our physically distanced floor dots, wiping our hands with complementary hand sanitizer, I noticed that few others wore face coverings.

In mid-July, I was back at that same bank in downtown Toronto. The standard retail rules of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” had been expanded: no one was allowed into the bank without wearing a mask. 

More than a breach of law in big cities like Toronto, entering a commercial or indoor public space without a facial covering is actually becoming a faux pas in communities across the country. The change is coming not just from governments and businesses, but from society itself. While pumping gas in rural eastern Ontario in early August, I saw a farmer pull up behind me. He got out of his truck and glanced at me and the other customer. We were both wearing masks. Though everyone was outside and well physically-distanced, the farmer immediately reached into his pocket for his mask and put it on.

RELATED: Canadian leaders botched mandatory masking. Here’s how to fix it.

“What’s dramatic is how rapidly this behavioural shift has occurred,” says Frank Graves, president of Ottawa-based EKOS Research Associates Inc, which has tracked the societal transformation. In late March, just five per cent of Canadians polled said they wore face masks in public because of COVID-19. By the end of July, mask-wearing had jumped to 76 per cent. “In previous eras, attempts to [encourage people] to behave more safely have taken decades, not months,” notes Graves. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime collision of economic and health risks and it’s produced an astonishing response from the public.”

But it has happened before. In the winter of 1940-41, in wartime Britain, government scientists were becoming alarmed that the hundreds of thousands of people sleeping in crowded, poorly ventilated communal air raid shelters would be susceptible to respiratory diseases, especially during the seasonal flu season. Their solution: “germ masks.” The face coverings ranged from homemade ones (made of paper, cloth and even gauze), to cellophane face shields, which only covered the mouth and nose and even fashionable yashmak veil masks. To encourage acceptance, they created a propaganda film, titled “A-tish-Oo,” that was created to promote mask usage: “If the shelter doctor or nurse gives you a mask, well, wear it!” the narrator said.

The wartime mask mandate was rediscovered by Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, a historian of medicine who studies how health technologies become mainstream consumer products at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and his fellow researcher Caitjan Gainty, a historian of 20th-century health care at King’s College London. The historians didn’t find evidence of any significant push-back: even when British wartime scientists acknowledged that wearing masks may be uncomfortable, they were seen as sensible and patriotic, Olyszynko-Gryn explains. 

RELATED: Why Theresa Tam changed her stance on masks

Even without the existential threat posed by war, “people will put up with very tough restrictions, so long as they think they have merit,” states the historian, who also combed through newspaper archives to track mask-wearing during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. “Get out your flu mask and wear it regularly,” started an article from October 1918 in the Vancouver Daily Sun. Yet, despite the exhortations, many were still reluctant to wear them, says Olyszynko-Gryn. Alberta rescinded its masking order four weeks later; Edmonton’s medical officer of health reported it had become an object of ridicule after the disease kept spreading through the community.

By contrast, Canada started its COVID-19 lockdown early, when the cumulative number of cases had just topped 100 across the nation. Then, initial public health measures focused on staying home, hand-washing and distancing. Medical masks were seen as being reserved for frontline health personnel. Yet, as other jurisdictions, such as Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Czech Republic, showed how the widespread use of non-medical masks could cut infection rates dramatically, attitudes began changing in Canada. In early April, medical experts, including Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, expanded their COVID-19 advice to include wearing non-medical masks in crowded or public places.

Was that shift in official policy a tipping point toward mask acceptance in Canada? No one is sure, at least right now, and Graves’s polling reflects a steady growth in mask wearing over the last few months without any specific uptick. For the sociologist, who has studied risk behaviour for years, the result of this increasing acceptance is that, a vast majority of Canadians, masks are seen “as a precondition for safe passage to the period where we have a vaccine or cure.”

Certainly, the focus on citizens wearing non-medical masks intensified as the nation started down its reopening path in May, bringing people back into close contact with each other in restaurants, shops and hair salons. Along the way, the message from governments has been reinforced by influencers, including hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser, who, as a medical student in a hospital, wears masks daily.

RELATED: The history of our cultural resistance against masks

Along the way, some public health experts have voiced concerns that the intense focus on wearing masks means other crucial measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 will get short shrift by citizens. “First, distance two metres and wash your hands, and then wear the damned mask,” says Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta. The importance of all three measures was highlighted in a recent Dutch analysis in the journal PLoS, which found that “a large epidemic can be prevented if the efficacy of these measures exceeds 50 per cent.” 

Graves’s polling research into the current array of public health measures appears to allay concerns from experts like Saxinger. What he found by asking questions of those who are masking was a “strong virtuous circle” that starts with wearing facial coverings: “If you mask, you are significantly more likely to maintain social distance, stay at home, avoid risky situations, to not touch your face… If I were to take a single predictor of who is behaving safely right now, it would be the people who are masking.” 

While mask-wearing is increasing everywhere, the behaviour appears more common in areas hardest hit by the pandemic. Returning to Toronto after a recent visit to Ottawa, which wasn’t as badly affected, I was struck by how many more Torontonians wear masks while walking (including when well away from others), cycling and even driving—all activities not covered by the city’s mask by-law. While that’s anecdotal evidence, there is data to show that just asking people to wear masks can change behaviour. Even though the Toronto Transit Commission isn’t enforcing its mask policy, 95 per cent of passengers wear them, says communications specialist Stuart Green. (It’s a far cry from 2003, when the TTC told its drivers not to wear masks, even though the city was a hotspot for SARS, another new, deadly coronavirus.)

Yet, at the same time, there has been what Sadiya Ansari called a “cultural resistance,” when she wrote in April: “While there are established reasons that normalize mask-wearing in East Asia countries where they are commonly worn, in Canada, the lack of these norms has been our biggest barrier. It’s meant that instead of seeing masks as a form of communal protection, masks evoke panic.”

Graves sees that backlash in his polling: among those who won’t use masks is a growing minority who are falling not only out of compliance but into defiance. For them, masks are seen as “a symbol of those who reject expert authority, who reject health science, reject government notions of what you should do,” he says, similar to anti-vaccine activists. Anti-mask protests have occurred in many places, including at Olympic Plaza in Calgary in late July, ahead of the start of the city’s mask bylaw.

Yet, even in the United States, where President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians mocked their usage for months, mask-wearing is increasingly popular, in part because COVID-19 is spreading so widely that 50,000-plus people are being infected and more than 1,000 are dying each day. A recent Associated Press poll suggested that national support for mask mandates has grown to 75 per cent, while a new Huffington Post poll found that 92 per cent of Democrats and 68 per cent of Republicans believe people “should wear face masks when they are in public around others.”

Early in the pandemic, Olszynko-Gryn felt “a little embarrassed” when he wore a mask in public well before most of his Glaswegians. Now, he says, “it would be inappropriate” not to. 

Health

Coronavirus in Canada: These charts show how our fight to 'flatten the curve' is going

Health officials warn that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be silver bullet and current public health measures could stay in place for several years

Note: Data in the charts last updated on Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. EDT.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its fifth month in Canada, there is good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. In her first briefing after most of the nation enjoyed a mid-summer long weekend, Dr. Theresa Tam tempered growing expectations that one of the 160-plus COVID-19 vaccines currently being tested may soon end the worldwide pandemic. “We can’t at this stage just put all of our focus [on a vaccine] in the hopes that this is the silver bullet solution,” said Canada’s chief public health officer. Not only do experts have to determine that a vaccine that passes its trials is safe and effective, but, right now, there’s no way to know how effective such a vaccine would be or the amount of immunity it would provide. In addition, with the entire world wanting such a treatment, scaling up production and then distributing it is enormously challenging. “It’s likely that there won’t be enough vaccines for the population, so there’ll be prioritization,” she said.

Even if a vaccine arrives, Tam believes it should be considered just one more layer of protection. She’s advising Canadians that they will have to keep up the current public health measures—including wearing masks, physically distancing and frequently washing hands—for a lot longer than anyone ever thought possible when the nation initially locked down in March. “We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year,” said Tam, “but certainly [we are] planning for the longer term of the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role but we don’t know yet.”

Tam’s caution about putting too many of one’s hopes in a “silver bullet” vaccine was echoed by the World Health Organization, whose director-general also warned on Tuesday, Aug. 4 that, although he hopes there will be an effective vaccine, everyone should realize it may never materialize.

All the precautions and changes we’ve been dealing with for the past few months may be with us for years and years to come. And that could radically reshape our society and economy in ways few can even contemplate at this moment.

That messaging comes as some provinces continue to report an upswing in new cases. Quebec, which had reduced its tally to 500-odd cases a week in early July is now regularly posting around 1,000 per week. (A study of blood donations suggests that 120,000 Quebeckers may have been infected with the coronavirus, double the confirmed tally of 60,000.) Saskatchewan is also struggling: as of Aug. 4, its daily tally of new cases stands at 18.3 per million population, nearly double the national tally of 10.5 cases and well above next door Manitoba, which has just 3.9 per million, on a seven-day rolling average.

Now, the good news. And there truly is some positive news, though with another “silver bullet” reference from a public health official. Alberta, which had seen triple-digit numbers of new cases most days since the middle of July, has since been able to slow that increase. The past two weeks saw the province add 1,171 new cases, or around 10 per cent of its cumulative tally. Still, that’s down 20 per cent from the previous two weeks, in which Alberta added 1,456 new cases. It may still have the worst per-capita rate of new cases in the nation, but the number is falling, down from an average of around 28 daily cases per million population in late July to just above 20.

That positive news is tempered by a continuing outbreak at Edmonton’s Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre, which is now the province’s deadliest. Since it began in mid-June, some 24 residents have died. In total, the number of deaths has been rising in Alberta, up by 30 in the last two weeks of July.

“There is no silver bullet that will make any setting completely risk-free, and no region or community that is free from the virus,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. “There is no one perfect way to respond to COVID-19. Each path has advantages and challenges. The most important thing is to continue to learn. I will continue to watch the emerging evidence and, as always, adapt my recommendations as needed in the days and weeks to come.”

As Alberta’s Hinshaw and other officials across the nation focus on how to reopen shuttered educational systems, everyone is keeping a close watch on the daily count of new cases. And there, as well, is hope. After a few weeks of having the daily tally of new cases across Canada regularly nudging the 500-case-mark, the average is subsiding, down to the 350 range in recent days.

Ontario, one of the epicentres of the pandemic in the springtime, is now reporting fewer new cases per capita than British Columbia, which has been able to keep its own number of new cases to a relatively low level throughout the spring and summer. In the week ending on Aug. 4, Ontario reported only 100 new cases a day; in the first week of June, that daily average was 387 cases.

Within Canada’s largest province, the source of new cases is also shifting. Toronto, which had the most cases of any region, has slashed its numbers in recent weeks. In early June, the city was reporting more than 1,225 cases a week. Now, that’s down to around 125. In contrast, Ottawa, which reported 18 new cases a week in early June, is now adding more than 150 per week. As social media was flooded with reports of dense crowds lining up to get into bars, Dr. Vera Etches, the city’s medical officer of health, mulled introducing a reservation system for bars if the COVID-19 numbers didn’t improve.

 

Then there are the four provinces on the East Coast, which are enjoying self-isolating within their Atlantic Bubble. In the past two weeks, the region reported just seven cases: three in Newfoundland, and four in Nova Scotia. As well, only one death was reported (in Nova Scotia) since the end of June.

NEWSLETTER

Canada pre-purchases COVID-19 vaccines, but won't say exactly how many

Politics Insider for Aug. 6: The feds buy 'millions' of eventual vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, the Tories want another WE probe and Jimmy K just won't give up

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Governments typically top-load their press releases with good news. But when Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced agreements with potential vaccine providers, the details were buried deep within her release. Anand certainly doesn’t want to say much about the federal deals with Pfizer and Moderna, which she says will “secure millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.”

A day after Theresa Tam poured cold water on a vaccine as a pandemic panacea, reporters asked Anand just how many millions of doses she’d locked in. Anand wouldn’t say, blaming the vagueness on ongoing negotiations with other potential providers. Some government critics say Canada’s moving too slowly on securing future antidotes as international competition heats up, though one expert told Politico that it’s “really hard to pick winners at this stage.”

The feds’ other big announcement yesterday came from Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, who diverted up to 10 per cent of a $33-billion infrastructure program to pandemic priorities. That money will now fund health infrastructure, schools, parks, trails, foot bridges, bike lanes, and disaster mitigation and adaptation projects.

Poking around WE: Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel Garner and Michael Barrett have asked Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien to probe WE’s use of students’ personal information (at this point, we’re starting to lose count of the WE-related investigations on the go). The Tories flag the terms and conditions of the IWantToHelp.org site—created to ingest thousands of student service grant applications—which explain applicants’ data may end up on servers outside Canada and subject to foreign laws. That runs counter, say the Tories, to a “reasonable assumption” that personal info is “kept within Canada and will be protected under Canadian privacy laws.”

How polls keep underestimating the CPC vote: Philippe J. Fournier, writing in Maclean’s, noticed that pollsters collectively underestimated the federal Conservative vote in Alberta last year. The party’s average projected vote share on the eve of the election was 59 per cent. But the party actually racked up 69 per cent of votes. Fournier took stock of more recent polls, too, which produce an average Tory vote of only 48 per cent in the province. He allows the Liberals might have picked up some votes during the pandemic, but still wonders: Is there a systemic issue eluding the pollsters?

Jimmy K is back: Never, ever, ever count out Jim Karygiannis. The former MP’s political rollercoaster just whirled around another loop. Karygiannis, a Toronto city councillor since 2014, was first booted from office last November for claiming improper election expenses. He was reinstated by a judge later that month. In June, Ontario’s court of appeal ousted him once again. But yesterday, the persistent Karygiannis—who’s hoping the Supreme Court will ultimately hear his case—convinced a judge to stay the most recent order pending the top court’s next move. So he’s back. For now.

The federal penitentiary known as the Collins Bay Institution turns out to be a hotspot for smuggled contraband. The correctional service seized an impressive haul of banned goods in July, including marijuana, fentanyl, heroin, shatter, crystal meth and MDMA. They also found 23 cigars, 22 cell phones, a roll of black tape and a screwdriver. Officers caught two individuals in the act of throwing assorted things onto the premises. (The prison’s admin building is the last of its kind, built by prisoners in the late Canadian Chateau style and featuring a brilliant red roof.)

This morning at 8:30 a.m., the carillon atop the Peace Tower will ring out 75 times—once a year for every turn of the sun since an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima (a deadly event for which anti-nuclear activists say Canada should officially express regret). The bell that’ll do the work is the heaviest of them all. It’s known as the bourdon, a hunk of bronze that weighs in at 10,090 kg. Later, at 11 a.m., the dominion carillonneur will play a lighter show with the theme “comfort food“—a fitting meal choice in the middle of an exhausting year.

Will the bells toll for WE? Back at ground level, the Commons finance committee will virtually meet at 11 a.m. to keep studying the failed student service grant. As of your newsletter correspondent’s last check of the meeting’s agenda, the witness list was still to be determined. But this morning, an amended posting includes two officials from watchdog Charity Intelligence Canada: managing director Kate Bahen and director of research Greg Thomson.

Your morning smile comes from the Ottawa Citizen, where Bruce Deachman reports the last remaining resident of Parliament Hill’s cat sanctuary, survived a recent health scare. Long live Coal.

Real Estate

Out-of-office is the new office. Can the work-from-home boom last?

The pandemic has shown that many of us can work at home. So employers and real estate experts are asking: post-COVID, how much room does a company really need?

On March 16, about 80 employees of Polaris Transportation Group, a trucking company in Mississauga, Ont., packed up their laptops and keyboards to bring home. Some even took their office chairs with them. They continued their work on Polaris’s finances, customer support, customs, and IT and marketing, and about 36 hours later, the team was fully operational remotely, says the company’s owner, Dave Cox. “I think of ourselves as a digital trucking company.”

And, despite the fact that the company completed an addition last year that doubled its office footprint to 15,000 sq. feet in order to accommodate recent technological investments, Cox is now wondering how many of his employees will continue to work from home permanently once COVID-19 is in the rear-view mirror. “I don’t see a full building in the future,” he says.

Cox’s prediction raises a question plenty of other bosses and real estate experts are already pondering: how much room does a company really need anymore? And if it’s significantly less, how will that play out in the economy?

“One hundred per cent of our clients now have a different need for office space than they did before the pandemic,” says Darren Fleming, CEO of the Ottawa-based real estate firm Real Strategy. And based on conversations with dozens of companies, in the immediate future, “we think that will result in a total demand for office space dropping anywhere from 10 to 25 per cent, which is really significant.”

READ MORE: Office workers want a return to the cubicle

In downtowns, the decision of one company to offer a more flexible work-from-home policy might be felt across other workplaces. “If you were downtown because you wanted to be walking distance to the client site, and all of a sudden the clients aren’t there, it throws the network for a loop,” Fleming says. “All you need is one company to say, ‘We don’t need that space anymore,’ and it creates that vacuum effect.”

Some buildings are already getting cleaned out. The Conference Board of Canada recently announced on Twitter that its organization would transition entirely away from the office. The Ottawa headquarters that the non-profit think tank has called home for 35 years will be put up for sale. Less than eight kilometres away, Rogers won’t be renewing the lease on its Ottawa call centre; 375 customer service agents will work from home as part of a pilot project that could later impact 7,000 call centre employees across Canada.

Major players in the tech industry are also making their moves. Waterloo, Ont.-based software company OpenText Corp. announced a restructuring plan that will permanently reduce its number of offices by half. Twitter will let its workers work from home indefinitely. Meanwhile, Shopify founder Tobi Lütke announced on social media that most of his employees will now permanently work remotely as “office centricity is over” and his e-commerce giant is now “digital by default.”

What about projects that are currently under construction? “If I’m a builder with one that’s half-built, I’ll keep convincing myself that things will go back to normal,” says Ryerson University real estate management professor Murtaza Haider. “But the reality is that everything has shifted and the new normal, nobody knows. The future of these buildings is far from certain.”

While decades ago the rule of thumb was to have 250 sq. feet per employee in the office—“the Mad Men setup, where everyone had an office and a secretary,” says Avis Devine, an associate professor of real estate and infrastructure at York University—employers gradually found ways to fit more people into less space. Most recently open-concept layouts and hot desks have become commonplace in many corporate offices. It’s gotten to the point that some workplaces might have less than 100 sq. feet per worker. “That should bring about an image that looks like a call centre, basically,” says Devine. “You’re packed in if everyone is there concurrently.”

RELATED: Why learning from home is an unlikely training ground for a post-pandemic world

Office densification won’t work for employees post-pandemic, says Haider, as we will be mindful of people’s sneezes and coughs long after social distancing is a term of the past. “That fight for a six-foot bubble around us won’t end with COVID.” And so Devine predicts there will be two competing forces over office space post-COVID-19: employees will demand more space at the office when they do come in, while employers figure they won’t need as much office space if more folks are working from home.

“The biggest expenses for knowledge-economy firms are payroll and then rent,” says Haider. “All of these bigger employers have had the realization that their employees can be productive from home and they’re trying to rationalize the expense of an office.”

There’s no shortage of available workspace at the moment. Above downtown Toronto’s now decongested sidewalks, 169 office spaces were added to market in the second quarter of 2020, most of them new sublease offerings, according to a report from commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. Meanwhile, for larger scale leases of more than 20,000 sq. feet, there was only a single new transaction signed during that three-month span. The Greater Toronto Area had about 3.6 million sq. feet of available office sublet space as of the end of July 2020—an increase of more than one million square feet since the end of 2019—according to data from the real estate research group CoStar. Vancouver’s sublet space nearly doubled to roughly 1.4 million sq. feet in the first seven months of 2020. Meanwhile in Ottawa, the amount of physically vacant office space an employer could move into immediately almost tripled to roughly 300,000 sq. feet.

But the long-term impact on the real estate market might not be apparent for a few years. Office leases are often valid for five years, while the pandemic is only months old at this point. But the (so far) short-term, nationwide work-from-home pilot project has opened the eyes of many employees to the fact that they may not need to spend time waiting in traffic or in line for coffee. About 40 per cent of Canadians work in jobs that likely can be done at home, according to a recent Statistics Canada survey, while an Angus Reid Institute survey found one in five Canadians reporting that they’ll keep working primarily from home post-COVID. Another 44 per cent said they expect they’ll split their work hours between the office and home.

And if fewer people come to the office every day, restaurants and retailers will have less foot traffic—even if they can open to full capacity—leaving retail-building landlords wondering what they can charge when leases come up for renewal. As for condo dwellers, “the big part about living downtown is you cut out your commute,” says Roelof van Dijk, director of market analytics for Canada at CoStar. “If you’re only going into the office twice a week, a long commute isn’t unbearable if the trade-off is more space in the suburbs—especially if you’re in a one-bedroom condo and you don’t have space to work from home.”

READ MORE: Ontario’s back-to-school plan ignores a glaringly obvious problem

Not everyone is pessimistic about the future of the office. Toronto-based commercial real estate services firm Colliers International recently reported that nearly half of its tenant base (47 per cent) said their office space will decrease as a result of COVID-19. But the majority of those said the reason for office-space reduction was a decline in the number of employees. “A lot of that has to do with businesses reducing their costs,” says Daniel Holmes, a senior managing director with Colliers in Toronto. “If, post-COVID, their revenues return, so will their employees and their need for office space.”

Holmes adds that the office market in Toronto is still so tight, he doesn’t foresee the vacancy rate rising to the point that supply outpaces demand. In the interim, he explains, the commercial real estate market in the suburbs could become more attractive—the rent is cheaper and there are fewer elevators and more parking spaces for those who are no longer keen on taking public transit. “Most developers have the foresight to see beyond COVID and know the market will return,” says Holmes. His team even pitched a brand-new development in downtown Toronto, and another in the suburbs to the west.

“You can’t grow a good corporate culture with everyone working from home,” says Greg Kwong, Alberta’s managing director for the real estate firm CBRE. “To climb the corporate ladder, you have to be in the room. Rarely are contractors who are working out of their basement promoted to senior vice-president. Eventually, you have to show your face.” Not to mention, many people don’t have a space at home that’s conducive for working, or they have young children needing round-the-clock attention, or they enjoy the social aspects of going to the office, or their collaboration with co-workers requires face-to-face time.

If a vaccine is, optimistically, less than a year away, worries about being in a crowded elevator could soon disappear. “After 9/11, no one wanted to be in a high office tower in Manhattan,” says van Dijk. “But eventually everyone said they had to get back in there and Manhattan was booming again. Everyone is relying on a certain amount of global amnesia once we get beyond COVID. But will it be soon enough not to affect the office market too much?”

Back in Mississauga, Dave Cox is working out of his office, even if most of his colleagues aren’t. He knows some of them love working from home. He knows with some jobs he needs people on site, and with others, he doesn’t. And he knows the company won’t need all the space it currently occupies.

“Could I lease a portion of my office out? I guess,” Cox says. “But if I don’t need it, who would?”


This article appears in print in the September 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Out of office.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

Environment

The loneliest deer in Niagara Falls

For a whole year, tourists have caught fleeting glimpses of a white-tailed deer marooned on a tiny island on the edge of the Horseshoe Falls. But don't despair for the four-legged squatter.

In the city that is home to gaudy Clifton Hill, towering casinos and a magnificent centrepiece waterfall, the prevailing modus operandi bends toward show-offs and daredevils. Niagara Falls, Ont., is, after all, where barrels used to tumble over the precipice and tightropes extended across the gorge. People watched in awe. But hiding on an island just metres from the falls, rushing water on all sides, lives the exception to the rule: a lonely white-tailed deer, a daredevil only by accident, already marooned for as long as a whole year.

Natalie Erck and John Dickinson, along with their 12-year-old son, Jack, were camping in the area in mid-July when they decided to check out the falls at sunset. They sighted the deer, which had emerged from the island’s impressive thicket of foliage, and were immediately concerned for its safety. “Our hearts started racing,” says Erck. “John called 911.”

The Niagara Parks police, whose chief has personally sighted the deer, told Erck and Dickinson there would be no rescue mission because the currents, and the proximity to the falls, posed too much of a threat to would-be rescuers. And Niagara Parks, the agency in charge of lands on the Canadian side of the river, confirms it is taking a hands-off approach: “If you try to rescue the animal, you could very easily startle it. And then it could go over the falls.”

READ MORE: The Haida Nation is teaming up with New Zealand’s snipers to kill deer and save Haida Gwaii

The provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry also abides by the spirit of live-and-let-live. “The ministry does not have staff trained for a water rescue situation and does not rescue wildlife animals from environmental hazards,” said ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski. “Given the location of the deer, a rescue operation would put staff and the animal at significant risk.”

Thirty years ago, local authorities sang a different tune. Back then, a small herd of deer had been grazing on a chunk of land called Navy Island, which lies a few kilometres upstream from the falls. (In 1837, the island served as the headquarters of rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie’s failed Republic of Canada.) When American hunters scared six of the animals into the water, an alarm went up and most of the deer were saved by first responders and humane society members, who even managed to lasso a stranded doe.

By 2007, Navy Island’s deer population was so plentiful that the feds partnered with nearby Six Nations hunters on a cull. There’s even a theory that the one spotted last summer on the island nearest the falls—which may have swum downstream from Navy Island—didn’t last the winter. The current ungulate, some speculate, could be a wholly different specimen. The ministry, for the record, officially supports the one-deer theory.

The deer stranded on a small, nameless island next to Horseshoe Falls (pictured to the left of the falls) (Google)

The deer stranded on a small, nameless island next to Horseshoe Falls (pictured to the left of the falls) (Google)

Original tenant or not, despair for the four-legged squatter is probably misplaced. The island’s foliage offers shade during oppressively hot summer afternoons. The deer faces no competition for food; no obvious natural predators. Rhiannon Kirton, a master’s student at Western University who specializes in white-tailed deer movements, floats a theory: “Maybe it doesn’t want to leave.”

If midday gawkers don’t spy the deer, they shouldn’t be surprised. Kirton says the white-tailed variety are crepuscular—most active at dawn and dusk, when Erck and Dickinson caught a glimpse—and typically spend the middle of the day resting. Deer are “specialized browsers” that feed on leaves and woody shoots, she adds, and thrive on a low-protein, high-fibre diet. This one doesn’t appear emaciated, which suggests the island’s smorgasbord of greenery offers enough sustenance. “It’s probably just munching on the bushes and having a good old time,” says Kirton.

RELATED: The game-meat crisis most Canadians have never heard of

The safety of the mainland appears only a short swim away, and it’s a little-known fact that deer are good in the water. A marshy area, hidden under the embankment safeguarding tourists from the rushing water, could offer discreet refuge. That the currents surrounding the island reach 40 km/h might seem a deterrent, but Kirton says the deer might make the crossing safely if it wanted to leave.

For now, it could hardly find better real estate than the island perched near the edge of the falls, which is no less a survivor than its elusive resident. Satellite imagery dating back 50 years shows very little change to its size and shape, even as the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side slowly recedes at a rate of about one foot a year.

The island is currently nameless on official maps. The largest of the Three Sisters Islands, just across the rapids on the American side, was until 1834 known as Deer Island. Surely if any chunk of rock now deserves that name, it’s the one that sustains a creature who bravely clings to its shores, living a life of plenty against the backdrop of the magnificent cataract that could spell its untimely end.


This article appears in print in the September 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Room with a view.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

NEWSLETTER

Theresa Tam: The buzzkill Canada needs

Politics Insider for Aug. 5: The chief public health officer says a vaccine won't erase COVID-19, Doug Ford changes his public image dramatically and buyer beware of certain Canadian-made hand sanitizer

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, recently told Congress he was “cautiously optimistic” that Americans could see a vaccine before the end of the year. Not so fast, says Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “I would say that vaccine is a very important aspect of the response going forward but we can’t at this stage put all of our focus in the hopes this is the silver bullet solution,” she told reporters yesterday. “We’re planning … to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but maybe planning for the longer term, the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don’t know yet.” Slow and steady, Canada.

Try to see WE from 35,000 feet: Andrew MacDougall doesn’t believe Trudeau’s story on WE. MacDougall, the former director of communications to Stephen Harper, says the PM’s tale demands from its audience that he wasn’t hiding a thing the whole time, and simply waited for his parliamentary testimony to spell it all out for the country. But MacDougall, whose résumé demonstrates a certain acuity for political speak, has another word for Trudeau’s story: spin.

Why did it take five long weeks into a scandal that’s eroding trust and support in his government for Trudeau to let slip that he was actually the hero in this sordid tale? One would think it’s the kind of information you’d put out early, to help douse the fire before it started raging. I mean, how could Trudeau’s office have misplaced this (seemingly) exculpatory nugget? The answer is because it was most likely crafted after the fact. Welcome to the world of political damage control, friends, where the job is sifting through the embers of your failed spin to find an explanation, any explanation, that can stand up for a news cycle.

The Liberals have lost an MP to another line of workiPolitics broke the news that Michael Levitt, who represents a riding in North York, Ont., is stepping away to become president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. A draft message to constituents included a familiar refrain: “I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally.”

What happened to the old Doug Ford? Before the pandemic arrived in Canada, the Ontario premier’s ratings were in the tank. Only a couple months later, Ford had flipped his reputation on its head. Your newsletter correspondent talked to people near him, Tory insiders, public-health experts and political opponents to get a sense of how the coronavirus forced the premier to evolve.

A cascading series of mid-March events jolted the premier into taking the virus seriously. Ford’s pre-pandemic reputation bent toward overconfidence. He’d gotten in trouble for various patronage snafus, including when he appointed his friend as provincial police commissioner. But a senior government source at Queen’s Park said the public response to that March Break misstep “caught the premier’s attention.” That’s when it hit home that the province was paying close attention, and demonstrated, the source said, “how much people hung on to every single word.”

Canada’s behind-the-scenes work at the World Trade Organization has produced a semi-workable appeals process that involves 23 signatory countries to what’s called a Multi-party Interim Arrangement (MPIA). The WTO’s formal appeals process has ground to a halt amid a lack of arbitrators. Now, a Canadian lawyer is among the roster of arbitrators cobbled together by the MPIA nations who will settle disputes: Valerie Hughes, senior counsel at Bennett Jones and veteran of 70+ WTO disputes. Before she joined the firm, Hughes was a senior bureaucrat in several departments.

As Canadian companies push out record amounts of hand sanitizer, Health Canada is busy catching up to any of the disinfecting gold that violates federal regulations. Yesterday, the department flagged HgH Integrative Aromatics for selling its Clean & Green Hand Sanitizer Gel, which reportedly contains “technical-grade ethanol” that “may pose a risk to health”—and has been recalled.

Murray Sinclair, a former judge and sitting senator who headed up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is dipping his toe back in the legal world. Sen. Sinclair is joining Cochrane Saxberg, which is the largest Indigenous law firm in Manitoba. CBC News reports Sinclair will mentor young Indigenous lawyers—many of whom were educated in mainstream law schools but are looking for guidance on practicing from an Indigenous perspective.

The feds are everywhere: Last week, your newsletter correspondent noticed a small jet flying above his apartment in Ottawa. FlightAware records showed the aircraft had flown from Winnipeg and was returning the same day. The day before it had popped over from Winnipeg to Dryden, Ont. Who exactly was on that plane? The department had an explanation. The Dryden flight carried a civil aviation inspector on a training run. The longer flight carried pilots who were maintaining flight hours. No cabinet ministers sneaking around on the public dime (this time).

General Dynamics is back at it: The company that built Saudi Arabia billions of dollars worth of light armoured vehicles is now building “combat support vehicles” for the Canadian military. The first of the batch should roll off the line in December. As you can see, they resemble mechanized warthogs.

Sports

Is the NHL's ice age of racial non-progress finally ending?

Image of the Week: Matt Dumba's anthem-kneel kicked off the playoffs—and an uncharacteristic flurry of self-examination

A historic hockey game took place this past Saturday. Not only was it the first NHL game held in our new eerie pandemic world—no audiences, social distancing, skipping straight to the Stanley Cup qualifiers—but it also marked the first time any NHL player kneeled for the American national anthem. That player, ironically, was not American, but Canadian: Matt Dumba, the half-Filipino defenceman for the Minnesota Wild, wasn’t on the ice to shoot pucks. Before the Chicago-Edmonton game began, Dumba walked out onto a red carpet, clad in a black hoodie bearing the logo of an organization he helped create back in June called the Hockey Diversity Alliance. He called for an end to racism, especially within the snow-white world of hockey. Perhaps owing to this racial climate, while anti-racism protests have become de rigeur in other pro sport leagues, the NHL has been uncomfortably reticent. No other players kneeled for the anthem, though Black players Malcolm Subban of the Blackhawks and Darnell Nurse of the Oilers stood at his sides in a gesture of solidarity. (Dumba did not kneel for Canada’s; the following night, during his own game, he raised a fist in solidarity instead.) One is reminded of words spoken in 2016 by John Tortorella—then coach of Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets—shortly after the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick made headlines for that first kneel in protest: “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game,” he warned. Notably, even Tortorella has softened, saying he changed his mind after “listening and watching” to players protesting racial injustice. It’s incremental change, sure, but change nonetheless.

Politics

What happened to the old Doug Ford?

Say farewell, for now, to the overconfident, hyper-partisan version of Ontario's premier. Here's how the pandemic changed Doug Ford.

Doug Ford stood in a field in Mississauga, Ont., the site of a long-term care facility he promised would be built in record time, and lavished praise on everybody in sight. He called Michelle DiEmanuele, the CEO of Trillium Health Partners, “one of my favourites.” Bonnie Crombie, the city’s mayor, was “terrific.” And “nothing could get built,” said Ontario’s premier, without “phenomenal labour leadership.”

Ford thanked every MPP in the city, all of them rookies in his Queen’s Park caucus, for their local pandemic stewardship. Almost no one escaped gratitude that afternoon on July 21.

It didn’t matter that Crombie was once a Liberal MP in the area. The pandemic-times Doug Ford has no problem with Liberals. Senior party officials who know Ford best say he threw partisanship out the door when the scale of the public health emergency became clear. People who got things done, from CEOs to old Ottawa foes, became instant allies as he started making calls in March, making his cellphone a mobile command centre, typically late into the night.

Early reviews of the premier’s public performance through the pandemic were positive. After telling families to enjoy March Break—days before he shut down non-essential business—Ford got serious quickly. In his initial daily press conferences in March, Ford appeared uncharacteristically subdued, thanking the Prime Minister, urging people to social-distance and praising health workers.

READ MORE: The rising popularity of Doug Ford

There is of course plenty to criticize about Ontario’s response. More than 2,700 people, mostly in long-term care, have died. The premier’s messaging repeatedly conflicted with public advice his medical officer of health, David Williams, gave later in the day.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath tells Maclean’s that in a meeting with Ford in March, just before Ontario’s case count started spiking, Ford’s team talked mostly about hospital capacity. “It didn’t seem like the government was focused on anything else at that time.” The minister of finance, Rod Phillips, offered a short lecture on macroeconomics, she said. “But they weren’t talking about local issues.”

Horwath said her party co-operated in the legislature on passing emergency orders meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the premier never again picked up the phone to consult the NDP leader. “He talks a big game about there being no Orange Team or Red Team or Blue Team,” she says, “but the government is not at all open to ideas.” (Ford declined an interview request from Maclean’s.)

The same day he was in Mississauga on an early leg of an eight-week summertime tour of his province, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives paused the legislative session until the fall. At a press conference the next day, Ford was asked how legislators could hold the government to account during an extended break when the pandemic’s trajectory was still so unpredictable. The premier’s response was classic Ford: “Every MPP has my number. They can call me.”

Ford’s government has made costly mistakes. The province’s per-capita coronavirus death rate was second in Canada only to neighbouring Quebec. Ontarians also learned the extent of a horrifying crisis in long-term care, including stomach-turning living conditions reported by deployed soldiers, only after hundreds of residents and staff had died.

But the pandemic also exposed Ontarians to a different, surprising version of Ford than the premier they’d watched bombastically stumble through most of his first two years in office.

***

Doug Ford’s first blunder when the pandemic hit his province in earnest was to instruct Ontarians to travel for March Break. “Go away, have a good time, enjoy yourself,” he said on March 12. Later that same day, Ford’s government shuttered schools for two weeks.

The next day, the premier was in Ottawa for a first ministers’ meeting with a packed agenda. The coronavirus, which had earlier that week killed its first victim in B.C. and had just been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, was just one of many issues on the table.

A couple of hours before Ford was meant to meet with Justin Trudeau, the meeting was abruptly cancelled and the premier’s team was on a flight back to Toronto. The next day, Canadians learned that Trudeau was in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19.

That cascading series of mid-March events jolted the premier into taking the virus seriously. Ford’s pre-pandemic reputation bent toward overconfidence. He’d gotten in trouble for various patronage snafus, including when he appointed his friend as provincial police commissioner. But a senior government source at Queen’s Park said the public response to that March Break misstep “caught the premier’s attention.” That’s when it hit home that the province was paying close attention, and demonstrated, the source said, “how much people hung on to every single word.”

RELATED: Doug Ford’s surprising turn

Once the premier was back from Ottawa, taking on the coronavirus became a personal mission. “This is where Doug’s leadership kicked in, mostly from his instincts,” says Chris Froggatt, a long-time Tory insider who led Ford’s transition team in 2018 and heads up the Progressive Conservatives’ election readiness team. “When he was presented with the extent of what might happen, that’s when you saw a change.”

One of Ford’s first decisions was to turn off partisan blinkers—especially any lingering resentment with Liberals in Ottawa. “From really early on, the premier made a conscious decision that we were going to take political considerations out of the equation as much as possible,” says the senior source, who added the premier “took some flak internally” for teaming up with the feds.

“They just spent the last summer bashing us and running a campaign against us, and smearing our government any chance they got,” went the thinking. Why leave that water under the bridge?

The truth is the federal-provincial relationship was on the mend months before the pandemic, when after the federal election, which saw the Liberals ride a wave of anti-Ford sentiment in the GTA, Ford congratulated Trudeau and said they would work together. It fell to Chrystia Freeland, the newly minted deputy prime minister, to strike up a bond with her party’s foil in Toronto.

Shakir Chambers, who helped craft PC policy in the 2018 campaign—and once played football for Doug’s late brother and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford—says Ford’s co-operation with Freeland surprised a lot of people. “I don’t think there were very many people who thought he had it in him,” he says. “He didn’t take any of that stuff personally. That’s how politics is played.”

Instead, say sources close to the premier, Ford talked to anybody who could help fight the pandemic and took a hands-on approach to crisis management.

***

In the early days of the pandemic, it became clear that Ontario’s stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) were running dangerously low. “We were in a precarious place, days away from running out of PPE,” says the senior government source. “Things could have turned in a very different direction. The premier felt the weight of that on his shoulders.”

Ford talked to CEOs of suppliers whose product was in high demand. “He was indiscriminate. He didn’t care who it was,” says the source. “If that phone call could help move the ball forward, he was making that call all day and all night.” He played interlocutor, too, connecting suppliers directly to Freeland or Quebec Premier François Legault, who was also in dire need of the same protective gear.

READ MORE: In Doug Ford’s Ontario, knowledge is sorrow

He also answered the call, literally, when Dental Brands, a medical supplier, texted him in March with an offer to donate tens of thousands of masks. Ford got in his pickup truck and drove to the company’s facility in Markham, Ont., intent on picking up the masks himself. To many it smacked of a photo op. Those close to him insist it was all about the masks.

Another time, Ford was asked at a press conference in March about how he could help return high school students from King City, Ont., who were marooned in South America, struggling to find flights home from Peru. His staff thought they’d failed to prepare him for the query. But he’d actually been on the phone with one of the student’s mothers, “who somehow got his phone number”—and had already made calls to the feds and Air Canada on their behalf.

Horwath gives the premier some credit for decisiveness. But one man and his cellphone can only do so much. “It’s naive to think a province as big and complex as Ontario can simply have its problems solved by the premier picking up his phone,” says Horwath.

Indeed, by April the coronavirus was running rampant in a province that needed to take drastic measures to avoid a disaster on the scale of Italy or New York.

***

Ford made some big news in his early daily press conferences. He announced emergency spending packages and economic shutdowns. He took drastic measures: a state of emergency on March 17, the closure of thousands of non-essential businesses on March 23, the province’s COVID-19 death projections on April 3, and a reaction to a horrifying long-term care report on May 26.

Ford rarely hid his emotion when he had bad news for the province. His voice appeared, at times, to waver. “What you saw from him reflected the burden of responsibility he had on him, but also the empathy for what people were going through,” says Froggatt. “In the early days, I don’t think he read from notes.”

Melissa Lantsman, the PC war room director and chief spokesperson in the 2018 campaign, said Ford thrives when he’s not at Queen’s Park. “I think it was probably pretty frustrating to not be out there in Ontario, and instead behind a podium communicating what is very serious public health advice,” she says. “That is not a sweet spot, but he made it so.”

During his daily press conferences, Ford’s voice wavered when he had bad news for the province (Photograph by Brett Gundlock)

During his daily press conferences, Ford’s voice sometimes wavered when he had bad news for the province (Photograph by Brett Gundlock)

Behind the scenes, the premier wrestled with Ontario’s machinery of government. When testing levels weren’t adequate, he got on the phone with senior public health officials to pressure them to increase testing until numbers rose. A senior Tory source familiar with the day-to-day crisis management said Ford led a 10 a.m. meeting every day for two months that focused “the entire Ontario government on the PPE supply chain.”

And the premier forced a massive change to testing in long-term care homes. A senior source at Ontario Health,who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, says the decision to test every single resident and worker was thanks to the premier’s “relentless” effort, which encountered sustained resistance by public health officials. The thinking was that testing everybody, including asymptomatic individuals, was not sound outbreak management, but it proved an important shift. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, lamented the lateness of that widespread testing. “It took weeks for Ontario to do a testing blitz,” he says.

Nobody in Ford’s government denies the appalling conditions were largely a blind spot until the Canadian Armed Forces published its eye-popping May report on five hard-hit homes. The premier has since repeatedly taken “ownership” of the issue, but Horwath scoffs at the claim. “The government was bragging in early April that there was an iron ring around long-term care,” she says. Hundreds died in the weeks that followed. And the government has only announced an independent review of the system—not a full public inquiry, with more power to dig more deeply, that Horwath demanded immediately.

Fisman says Ontario got “the biggest thing of all exactly right” in the pandemic’s early days by abruptly shutting down non-essential businesses. But the province could have avoided the disaster in long-term care, he says.

B.C.’s experience in similar homes, where that province’s outbreaks started, offered a “road map.” But Ontario let its own simmering crisis persist. “That created a tremendous amount of pain,” says Fisman. “Those residents died alone, cut off from their families.” The province’s senior public health officials, says Fisman, “have a lot to answer for” about the crucial mistakes they made protecting those vulnerable residents. They could have distributed PPE more aggressively, he says, and earlier widespread testing would have allowed healthy residents to be separated from the infected.

If Fisman had his way, the premier would have different advisers. He noted several regional officers of health—Vera Etches in Ottawa, Eileen de Villa in Toronto and Nicola Mercer in Guelph, Ont.—who have been “fabulous” and “brave” as they dispense advice. “I’m puzzled as to why [Ford] wouldn’t want to have the very best public health guidance you can find in the province.”

***

It’s no secret that Ford’s first year in government was at times disastrous. After making major spending cuts, including serious rollbacks of autism funding, his approval rating was in the tank. Dart and Maru/Blue pegged his approval at 30 per cent this past March, as the PC government neared the two-year anniversary of its majority win.

Ford also scored his share of own goals in the midst of the crisis. He briefly visited his cottage to check on the plumbing, and later spent Mother’s Day with family members from different households—a violation of the province’s advice at the time. The premier apologized for his transgressions.

But by June, the pollsters had the premier’s approval at 62 per cent. A Mainstreet poll that same month had the PCs up nine points to 42 per cent support, enough to secure a second term if those numbers held. Even in a period when many politicians experienced bumps in popularity, the rebound was a small miracle.

“You don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression,” says Lantsman. “The premier has given Ontarians a master class in emotive communication.”

Finding a way to win back a wide swath of voters who’d turned against the premier was always going to be difficult, says the senior source at Queen’s Park. Everyone had a strong opinion about Ford. “For most of those people, that opinion was very rigid. Carved in stone. You either loved him or hated him,” says the source. “This pandemic has created an opportunity for people to challenge that preconception they had. For many people, completely smash it.”

Approval ratings will, Lantsman says, inevitably fall for most political leaders who’ve scored well during the pandemic. “When the enemy is no longer the virus, the enemy is the politician. It’s a natural evolution of any crisis,” she says. “I’m absolutely sure he’s broadened his base.”

Last year, Trudeau’s Liberals banked on the premier’s unpopularity to win key suburban Toronto ridings. They swept every Mississauga seat currently held by Tories at Queen’s Park. But that was then. “I’m not sure if, moving forward, bashing Doug Ford is a good strategy,” says Chambers.

The federal Tory leadership race offers an instructive lesson in Ford’s renaissance. Just look at the party’s debates. “Six months ago, not a single person on that stage would have mentioned Ford’s name. Instead, they were all tripping over each other” to praise the premier, says Lantsman. “Politics is a funny thing. When you’re up, you’re up.”

Whatever happens next, Ontario’s tentative taming of COVID-19 remains tenuous. Ryan Imgrund, a biostatistician with the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., who has closely monitored COVID-19’s reproductive rate across the province, warns that even as communities reopen, Ontarians “need to learn to live with” the virus—and only reopen with extreme caution. Imgrund’s data say, for example, that any stadium event held this summer would be virtually guaranteed to expose attendees to infection.

As the virus lingers, the province is still staring down a fiscal disaster. If economic growth doesn’t eventually bail out the province, Ford could face his toughest challenge yet. A senior Tory source at Queen’s Park admits to burbling anxiety. “People are concerned about how it all gets paid for. People understand that this is a bill that’s going to come home,” says the source. “When the economy comes back, that’s the point at which people are going to be looking more seriously at it.”

That’s if it comes back. If a resurgence of the virus kills growth, Ford’s accessibility and transparency will offer cold comfort to a province of the regular folk who can’t pay their bills.


This article appears in print in the September 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Who is this man?” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

Ottawa

The WE scandal and Justin Trudeau's testimony: A primer

The Prime Minister took questions from MPs on the Commons finance committee. Here's what you need to know about Parliament's midsummer fireworks display.

In the latest development in the WE Charity drama that’s taken over Ottawa this summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared at the House of Commons finance committee on Thursday.

Twice before, the federal ethics commissioner has dinged Trudeau for breaking ethics rules. First, he took a secret family vacation to the Aga Khan’s island in 2016—and used a private helicopter to get there. Thus was born the commissioner’s first investigation report into the sitting PM. Last year, an exhaustive report into the PMO’s insistence that SNC-Lavalin be offered a deferred prosecution agreement—a mechanism that allows companies to escape conviction—found the Trudeau team had fiddled with prosecutorial independence. Both times the commissioner said Trudeau broke the law.

Mario Dion, the current commissioner, is investigating Trudeau once again. After the Trudeau Report and the Trudeau II Report, so there will eventually be a Trudeau III Report. Mary Dawson, Dion’s predecessor, said earlier this summer that Trudeau may have a “blind spot” on ethics.

So MPs have questions for a Prime Minister who keeps breaking the law and may be found guilty thrice before this is all said and done.

RELATED: The obvious lessons Justin Trudeau keeps failing to learn

His appearance was not unprecedented though. As parliamentary geek David Akin explained, four sitting prime ministers have testified at House committees—William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1924; R.B. Bennett in 1932; Joe Clark in 1979; and Pierre Trudeau every year from 1980 to 1983. Stephen Harper also sat down at a Senate committee in 2006 to talk about Senate reform. So it’s not unheard of for PMs to find themselves in this particular hot seat. But it is rare, so this is not exactly a typical meeting.

If you need a basic primer on the WE scandal, see the bottom of this post.

What did the opposition want to learn?

Before the meeting, Conservatives published a list of 16 questions they hoped to ask the Prime Minister. They probed the PM’s relationship with WE, his family’s financial ties to the organization, his understanding of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s connections to the charity, his staff’s ability to caution him against conflicts of interest, and how cabinet dealt with the matter. Some, including whether or not Trudeau would cooperate with a prospective RCMP investigation, embraced hyperbole (there’s no hint of criminal conduct at this point, though the Tories want an investigation). Others were rhetorical and unlikely to elicit anything but denials. Some weren’t asked.

What did Trudeau say in his opening statement?

In his opening statement, Trudeau revealed his version of a behind-the-scenes retelling of events. The PM said in early May, he hoped the Canada Service Corps, an existing federal program, could be “super-charged” to deliver the student service grant. He said the COVID-19 cabinet committee debated WE’s involvement in the grant program on May 5, and asked some tough questions. Three days later, on May 8, Trudeau first heard about the WE proposal during a pre-cabinet briefing. (See below for a full explanation of what the WE scandal is all about.)

At that point, Trudeau said he had his own questions about WE’s involvement. He removed the item from the cabinet agenda for that day. On May 21, the PM was again briefed on the WE proposal and was assured, he said, that the public service had done its due diligence—and WE was the only option on the table. “It wasn’t between providers,” Trudeau told the committee. “It was either happening or it was not.” On May 22, cabinet approved WE’s involvement.

What did MPs learn?

Here, we annotate the long list of Tory questions.

1/ Did Justin Trudeau or his office have any contact with WE before handing them a billion-dollar contract?

The Liberals would quibble with the premise of the question—the contribution agreement was worth $543 million. But on the substance, Trudeau said he had no direct contact with WE before they signed that agreement. His chief of staff, Katie Telford, said a member of the PM’s policy shop spoke to stakeholders about the grant program in broad strokes on May 5. WE was on that call.

2/ Was anyone in the Prime Minister’s office aware of WE’s proposals or helping to advance them?

The PM and Telford both claimed only to have learned of WE’s potential involvement on May 8.

3/ Was WE given a massive contract because of their close ties to the Trudeau and Morneau families and the Liberal Party?

This is one of those loaded questions.

4/ Did Justin Trudeau not think that Canadians would find out that WE had paid members of his family more than half a million dollars?

This is another of those loaded questions.

5/ Was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau paid for her WE trip to London in March?

The PM said WE covered Grégoire-Trudeau’s expenses, though under questioning Trudeau was unable to account for an itemized list and seemed unaware of specific trip details. He also couldn’t, for example, name the hotel where she stayed.

6/ Has Justin Trudeau’s family received other financial benefits from WE?

The PM confirmed recent reporting on remuneration received by his mother and brother.

7/ Are there other companies with financial relationships with the Trudeau family that receive government contracts?

The committee didn’t get to this question.

8/ Did the Prime Minister know that a member of the Finance Minister’s family worked for WE Charity?

The PM told parliamentarians he was aware that one of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughters had worked on WE projects, but added he was unaware that another of Morneau’s daughters was directly employed by the organization.

9/ Has the Prime Minister been involved in any contracts, grants or contributions that WE Charity received since 2015?

The committee didn’t get to this question.

10/ Did anyone warn the Prime Minister about the many conflicts of interest in this case?

We expand on this one below.

11/ Is there a conflict of interest filter at cabinet? Can the Prime Minister describe it?

Trudeau explained that it’s not up to him to talk to ministers about conflicts of interest. That job falls to ministers and their staff.

12/ Given he’s already been found guilty of breaking ethics laws twice before, has Justin Trudeau actually read the Conflict of Interest Act?

The PM—and later, Telford—said they had, indeed, read the conflict-of-interest rules. Trudeau appeared ready to consult a paper copy on his desk before Poilievre read him Section 21, which governs recusals.

13/ Does the Prime Minister believe that the meetings and discussions the Kielburgers had with various Liberal ministers and their staff are a contravention of the Lobbying Act?

When Poilievre asked this one, the Prime Minister said the Kielburger brothers weren’t lobbying government. (Technically, lobbyists only have to register when they spend at least 20 per cent of their time doing lobbying.)

14/ Has the Prime Minister ever read the Lobbying Act?

The committee didn’t get to this question.

15/ Will Justin Trudeau fully cooperate with any RCMP investigation into his latest scandal?

The committee didn’t get to this question.

16/ Will Justin Trudeau fully waive cabinet confidences so that the Ethics Commissioner can investigate his third ethics violation?

The committee didn’t get to this question.

What did Trudeau have to say about not recusing himself from the WE decision?

Trudeau said he was well aware of the existing connections between WE and his family—including his own appearances on stage at WE events for many years. He knew any WE involvement in the CSSG would be “closely scrutinized.” He was aware that his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, had spoken at WE Day events (including as recently as March 4 in London, U.K.) and hosted a WE podcast. He told the committee that the ethics commissioner had cleared Grégoire Trudeau’s volunteer work with WE, including reimbursement of expenses. Trudeau also said he knew his mom, Margaret, and brother, Sacha, had spoken at WE events. He was not aware of the details of that work, including payment. Under questioning from Poilievre, Trudeau did not offer the combined remuneration for all the Trudeaus.

What’s next?

Two House committees, finance and ethics, are currently studying the WE foofaraw. The ethics committee has so far met only in-camera on a study to “review the safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest in federal government expenditure policies.” But no one’s work here is done.

What is the WE scandal?

On April 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a student service grant program pegged at $912 million. Almost two months later on June 23, the feds announced WE Charity—an international development charity that describes itself as a youth empowerment movement—would administer the program. It didn’t take long for Trudeau’s critics to point out the PM’s long history with the charity, which raised suspicion that the fix was in from the start and WE Charity simply benefited from connections in high places.

On July 3, the $543-million contribution agreement that governed the program was kaput. And controversies piled up. Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, whose daughter works at WE, didn’t recuse themselves from cabinet discussions on the Canada Student Service Grant. Trudeau’s mother and brother had taken hundreds of thousands in combined speaking fees. Morneau failed to reimburse WE for a “complimentary” trip to Ecuador in 2017, a serious flub he revealed during testimony at a parliamentary committee on July 22. Earlier that day, he cut a cheque for $41,366 made payable to WE to repay the cost.

READ MORE: Every important number in the WE drama that’s consuming Ottawa

All the while, everyone was claiming the public service—not the PM or his staff—recommended WE Charity as CSSG administrators. Rachel Wernick, a senior civil servant, testified to that effect. So did Bardish Chagger, the minister who signed the contribution agreement. But the opposition wasn’t satisfied by what they’d heard, especially as the reputation of WE Charity came into question. Craig and Marc Kielburger, the brothers who co-founded Free the Children in 1995 (later WE Charity), testified for four hours at the Commons finance committee on July 28. Their responses raised yet more questions about the status of their charity as the pandemic hit—and they put up their hands to run the student service grant.

Is this hurting the Liberals in the polls?

The scandal appears to be dragging down the governing party, which had, like many parties in power across Canada, seen a bump for most of the pandemic. Abacus Data had the Liberals as high as 40 per cent in a June 20 poll, but they’ve since dropped five points. They’re just a single point ahead of the Conservatives. The Angus Reid Institute recently found the PM’s personal approval rating, which also saw a boost this past spring, has also dipped.

 

Opinion

Prime Minister, how much broccoli did your family eat? In detail!

Marie-Danielle Smith: The PM appeared before committee for the first time. Here is an approximation of what happened, in language we can all understand.

It was the moment they’d all been waiting for, some of them with cackling anticipation, some of them with dismay, some of them stuck on “mute”: The first-ever testimony of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a parliamentary committee. 

Trudeau and his opponents were, as always, worlds apart. To him, his family’s dealings with a charitable behemoth and his government’s dealings with them were as apples to oranges. To them, of course they weren’t.

And so, each in their offices (or home offices), often struggling with the virtual infrastructure, sans the heckling exclamations that would have rung through a committee room in person, this group of federal politicians—trusted by their electors to bring scrutiny and good policy upon Ottawa—settled into their predetermined positions for an hour-long repartee.

Because the ins and outs of Ottawa (and, it seems, charities) can be complicated, and politicians sometime struggle to speak plainly, here is a loose approximation of what down on this historic day.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Colleagues, I’m here to tell you how much this government appreciates a healthy diet. We believe young people need—in fact cannot live without—vegetables. We know that the fields have been barren this year. Under extraordinary circumstances, our independent public service identified a farm from which a multitude of carrots could be distributed to our nation’s vulnerable students. Indeed it was the only capable—

Concerned MP: Point of order! Point of order. Chair, if I could just take a few moments to clarify the logistics—

Chair Wayne Easter: It is going to be okay. My iPad is at the ready.

Trudeau: (Clears throat.) My family has visited the farm and eaten its broccoli. Even though I am a vegetable expert myself and took extra time to scrutinize this decision, I should have stepped out of the room when my highly independent colleagues were discussing its merits. For this, for not moving away from the table, I take full responsibility. In fact, I volunteer it. In conclusion, I never talked to those farmers. I continue to believe in the fiddlehead class and those working hard to join it. 

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre: How much of the broccoli did your family eat, Mr. Trudeau? In detail!

Trudeau: I don’t have that.

Liberal MP: Point of order. Point of order. What’s the relevance of the broccoli?

Poilievre: I want an itemized list of every floret consumed by your mother, your wife, your brother, and yourself. Every floret. 

Trudeau: I don’t have that.

Poilievre: How could you possibly not know, when your spouse so recently consumed a sumptuous portion of broccoli?

Trudeau: The ethics commissioner approved that. I always co-operate with the ethics commissioner.

Poilievre: I don’t know how much clearer my question can be. They give you vegetables. And then you fertilize their vegetables. If broccoli isn’t an incentive I don’t know what is. Answer the question.

Trudeau: My mother—

Poilievre: Just the number.

Trudeau: I—ah—

Poilievre: HOW MUCH BROCCOLI?

Liberal MP: Um, guys? The chair’s power has gone out.

Poilievre: How convenient.

NDP MP: Actually, the the procedure is the vice chair takes over.

Poilievre: Oh. Well. That’s me. I’m going to give the floor to me.

Trudeau: Uh—

Poilievre: HOW MUCH BROCCOLI?

Trudeau: Well—

Poilievre: HAVE YOU READ THE ETHICS ACT?

Trudeau: Have you?

Chair: It wouldn’t be the first time you tried to put my lights out, Mr. Poilievre! One more question.

Poilievre: You’re saying you don’t know how much broccoli your family has consumed. Nobody believes you. HOW MUCH BROCCOLI?

Trudeau: I’m co-operating with the ethics commissioner, and that’s what Canadians expect. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus: Do you realize what you’ve done here? You’re hurting the children, Mr. Prime Minister. Sure, there were red flags about this farm from the start. Underpaid labour, bad irrigation, uneven harvest. But now those children are left without carrots or vegetables of any kind.

Trudeau: We have been providing for Canadians. We have been providing breads. We have been providing fruits. We have been providing yogurts. We have been providing lobsters. We have been providing napkins, even.

Angus: Come on

Trudeau: In a drought such as this, it is just as bad to act slowly and without mistakes as to act quickly and—

Angus: Have some remorse!

Trudeau: I’d like to take a moment to recognize my deep personal admiration for the professional, independent public service.

Angus: Frankly, what about parsnips? What about sweet potatoes? Why were no alternatives considered? 

Trudeau: Canadians expect—indeed they know—that their government cares deeply about their access to root vegetable crops. 

Chair: Last question. 

Angus: WHAT ABOUT THE PARSNIPS MR. TRUDEAU? THE PARSNIPS DESERVED A FIGHTING CHANCE!

Trudeau: Something something the public service, Mr. Angus.  

Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin: Your finance minister has a sprout growing at this farm! His family accepted massive amounts of broccoli free of charge and he… forgot about it?! How can you forget about that much broccoli? It wasn’t just a head of broccoli, Mr. Chair! It was a hydra of broccoli! 

Trudeau: I didn’t know about that. There’s, in fact, a lot I don’t seem to have known.

Fortin: By the way, did you ever try to find out if the farmers were registered to sell you their vegetables?

Trudeau: Well, they weren’t exactly trying to sell me vegetables. I was trying to help them provide carr—

Fortin: Did you ever ask any of your staff to check if they were registered?

Trudeau: Well, see, I don’t think they needed to—

Fortin: Did you ever ask the finance minister’s office to check if they were registered?!

Trudeau: Well, no.

Liberal MPs on the committee: Let’s all just take a deep breath, shall we? Inhale. Exhale. Let’s close our eyes and think about the wonderful job our government is doing. And let us also think about the children.

Trudeau: 

Chair: You’re muted, Prime Minister.

Trudeau: Sorry. Yes. The children, absolutely.

Liberal: The children whose carrots have been taken away from them by a mob of politicians and reporters. What about them? What about their carrots? Are those carrots not at the core of our very democracy? 

Trudeau: Certainly, and I’m glad you asked the question. Our government remains absolutely committed to the youth. To the carrots. To the procurement of carrots. Mistakes were made. But ultimately, the carrots, and no other vegetables pertaining to this discussion, are what mattered.

Liberal: Also, your mother is just wonderful.

Trudeau: It’s true. Let me take a moment to discuss her book.

Liberal: Isn’t it right, Prime Minister, that the broccoli is just a distraction? More to the point, isn’t it right that our friends in the opposition offer no credible alternative for leadership such that our ability to stay in power will not be threatened whatsoever by this debate? That, at the end of the day, our choices in vegetables, while predictable and narrow-minded, will have no bearing on our ultimate electoral results? That, whether or not broccoli was involved, and whether or not the farm itself falls apart, our ability to fertilize this nation’s lands in the best interests of the youth will be utterly unmitigated? 

Trudeau: Like I said, Mr. Chair. I am co-operating with the ethics commissioner. And that’s what Canadians deserve. 

News

Justin Trudeau testifies over WE Charity controversy: Live video

The Prime Minister and his chief of staff Katie Telford will sit before the House of Commons finance committee to answer questions around the WE Charity agreement

Watch the CPAC livestream of the testimonies above, which start at 3 p.m. ET.

NEWSLETTER

A literally explosive day on Parliament Hill (due to construction)

Politics Insider for July 30: The Prime Minister faces his opposition at the finance committee, the Tories process their ballots and Scott Brison—remember him?

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

If you’re in and around Parliament Hill today, you’re in for an explosive experience. Seriously. Excavations are underway in preparation for the second phase of the Hill’s subterranean visitors’ welcome centre. Listen for a brief symphony of horns honking before the final act—specifically, three short horn signals will give way to a minute of silence; then another short horn signal will be the final opener for a controlled explosion. Rinse and repeat until sunset.

Within the safe confines of a parliamentary committee meeting, Justin Trudeau will answer questions on the WE scandal. The PM will testify at the Commons finance committee starting at 3 p.m. His chief of staff, Katie Telford, will follow for her own session. Yesterday, the committee met to talk logistics before today’s rendezvous. Opposition MPs passed a motion that demanded Trudeau stick around for three hours. As of early this morning, the exact length of Trudeau’s appearance doesn’t seem to have changed.

The obvious lessons Justin Trudeau keeps failing to learn: Paul Wells and Marie-Danielle Smith, writing in Maclean’s, sketch the organizational structure of a Trudeau government that hatched the ill-fated Canada Student Service Grant. At the heart of the bungled file, they found a Prime Minister and a process and a program caught up in Trudeau’s recurring flaws.

If it were all just a sloppy bit of program design in the midst of unprecedented crisis, the WE mess would be bad enough. What makes it worse is the weary sense of déjà vu it provokes. This doesn’t feel like a random Trudeau screw-up. It feels like a highly characteristic Trudeau screw-up. It’s the sort of thing the Prime Minister does now and then.

Addison Cameron-Huff, a cryptocurrency lawyer in Toronto who knows his way around various corporate registries, dug into the “labyrinth” of organizations—that’s Craig Kielburger’s word—tied to the WE empire. Cameron-Huff found his way to an Internal Revenue Service tax form for the U.S.-based WE Charity, submitted last year, that [scroll to page 8] revealed a $297,570 consulting expense paid last year to 202 Strategies LLC. One of that firm’s tag lines: “Turn crisis into opportunity.”

The Globe and Mail dug into a separate $130,000 expense paid to Firehouse Strategies, a Republican-connected consultancy that has ties to individuals who last year tried to discredit Canadaland, a media outlet that has published critical stories about WE.

How they see us: Jason Leopold, a BuzzFeed News reporter, got his hands on a document meant to prepare then-homeland security secretary John Kelly for meetings with Canadians. The three-page primer on Canucks reminds us what it means to be Canadian: our head of state is the Queen of England (wrong—she’s the Queen of Canada); we all speak English (wrong—13.8 per cent of us don’t); and we keep small talk to a minimum (wrong—our Prime Minister loves to dish about Trump with fellow world leaders).

Economist Armine Yalnizyan told her followers that John Loxley, whom she called the “father of the alternative budget”—the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ annual exercise in left-leaning fiscal advocacy—has died. Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said Loxley “helped shape my understanding of economics” at the University of Manitoba—where, Kinew says, he met fellow Manitoba pol Matt Wiebe at the back of the class.

Anyone can watch every single step involved in the Conservative party processing leadership ballots. When Maclean’s tuned in, a party operative wearing a Roy Halladay T-shirt was opening “outer” envelopes that contain both “ballot secrecy envelopes” and other required documentation. From there, submitted ballots and documentation are verified in another room. Don’t miss the “escalation area.” Party spokesman Cory Hann explained that some voters might have inadvertently placed all documents—not just their ballots—inside their secrecy envelopes. “Escalated secrecy envelopes” are opened to verify that all documentation was, in fact, provided, even if slightly incorrectly. This, folks, is radical transparency at a devastatingly slow pace.

A Tory leadership debate hosted by the Independent Press Gallery of Canada fell apart yesterday after Leslyn Lewis’s doctor ordered her to stay away and frontrunner Peter MacKay backed out because he would only join a debate that included Lewis. MacKay called for a virtual rescheduling asap.

One man’s accountability law is another man’s lost job opportunity. Jamie Carroll, a former national director of the federal Liberals, wrote an op-ed for National Newswatch that insisted Stephen Harper’s first piece of signature legislation, the Federal Accountability Act, has reduced the labour pool of experienced politicos to the point that the best prospective staffers are barred from working in government. Tory MP Dan Albas politely subtweeted that view with a tidbit of trivia about good people in Ottawa: Scott Brison once gave up his private member’s bill slot so Albas could advance a bill to liberalize wine trade within Canada. Brison took no issue with the compliment.

Politics

WE all fall down: the Kielburgers and Liberal 'whataboutism'

Tying other parties to WE won't work unless opposition politicians or their relatives took money for their appearances. But that's not discouraging the Grits.

Grasping for any available defence or deflection from Justin Trudeau’s WE scandal, government MPs relied on a familiar approach, a Liberal security blanket of sorts: Stephen Harper whataboutism.

The retort of “your side sucks too” is more typically the refuge of hyperpartisan trolls on social media. But the tweeted and hashtagged tit-for-tat games now tend to bleed into our legislative debates and hearings, so politicians who should know better engage in logical fallacies, too. They respond to charges of Alleged Misdeed du Jour by dredging up Alleged Misdeed de 2008, or raise 2015’s Seemingly Innocuous Occurrence.

At the Commons finance committee, Liberal MPs routinely tried to “Whatabout” the Conservatives over their governing days and other opposition parties’ involvement with WE Charity and WE Day. The Kielburger brothers gamely played along.

RELATED: Every important number in the WE drama that’s consuming Ottawa

“To your knowledge, have federal Conservative MPs or ministers or prime ministers or individuals who are affiliated with the Conservative Party or any other opposition party appeared at WE events and/or hosted WE events?” Québec MP Annie Koutrakis asked, as though the mere presence of individuals with the Trudeau surname at the motivational student days at hockey arenas was the pit and prune juice of the Liberals’ current ethical mess. In her followup question, the Liberal went further: “Specifically do you recall being hosted at 24 Sussex back in April of 2013 after WE day in Ottawa?” The Harper days!

Craig and Marc Kielburger went on a name-dropping spree: Laureen Harper did host a WE reception at the Prime Minister’s residence; Alberta Conservative MP Mike Lake had been on WE-sponsored stage to discuss autism and his son; Peter MacKay’s spouse Nazanin Afshin-Jam spoke, conservative Prairie premiers Scott Moe and Brian Pallister were great supporters—and on the other side of the spectrum, provincial NDP leaders Rachel Notley and Wab Kinew in various capacities, too. “Truly we appreciate that the issue of service isn’t a political issue, we hope shouldn’t be a political issue—that every party believes in getting youth to volunteer and serve,” Craig replied to Koutrakis’ gently lobbed questions.

When Sean Fraser, a Nova Scotia Liberal, asked about WE programs with the past government, Craig got to mention former Conservative ministers Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty, and offer this conveniently selected factoid: “There’ve been previous years in the previous government under Harper where we actually had a higher percentage of our total budget given by the federal government than last year under the Trudeau government.” That’s an assertion which attempts to tiptoe past the fact that it wasn’t last year that Trudeau’s cabinet directed the operation of a hastily designed $543.5-million program (including up to $43.5 million in administration payments) to the Kielburger-led charity.

RELATED: Five takeaways from the Kielburgers’ testimony

The other politicians or spouses weren’t paid for their involvement with the organization that had long stated it didn’t pay for appearances—except to a select few speakers who do “auxiliary” events alongside WE Days, including Justin Trudeau’s mother and brother Sacha. So the potential conflicts of interest don’t apply, despite the strained parallels the governing MPs attempt to make. “I’m wondering if Mr. Lake, Madame Harper, Mr. Pallister—were they paid by your organization or did they engage you with a half-billion dollar contract?” Conservative MP Michael Barrett asked during the committee. (Craig, in a non-answer, replied that he really appreciates their work, all the same.)

Linking politicians of all stripes to WE does serve to remind the public of the charity’s longstanding reputation for good works, to which leaders across Canada and across decades have sought to attach themselves. Stephen Harper was also happy to associate himself and government grants with the Aga Khan, years before Trudeau accepted a helicopter lift to the philanthropic religious leader’s private island. With the Aga Khan, as with WE, sharing a stage is not the same as landing oneself into an ethics investigation for sharing much else.

Trudeau himself had played this bit of WE whataboutism earlier this month in House of Commons debate, so what about the likelihood he does so again when he faces the Commons committee?

News

WE Charity founders Marc and Craig Kielburger appear before House committee: Live video

The Kielburgers along with former board chair Michelle Douglas will answer questions about WE Charity's agreement with the Liberal government

Watch CBC News coverage of the committee meeting above.


MORE ABOUT WE CHARITY:

NEWSLETTER

It's a different kind of WE Day on Parliament Hill

Politics Insider for July 28: Craig and Marc appear at the finance committee, Doug Ford gets folksy and Rideau Hall invites circus puns with the GG's newest hire

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Never has a federal “contribution agreement” endured such scrutiny. The document codifying WE Charity‘s delivery of the Canada Student Service Grant was supplied to the Commons finance committee, after which it was supplied to Ottawa journalists. They reported a strange finding. The CSSG was pegged by Department of Finance spending estimates as a $912-million program, but the official agreement added up to only $543.5 million—with an even $500 million headed for students’ bank accounts, and the rest to WE and its charitable partners. Add questions about that minor discrepancy of $368.5 million to the pile as everyone on the outside looking in keeps finding new reasons to furrow their brows.

In the same tranche of documents, the Globe and Mail observed that WE would have received $33 million by early July, only weeks into the life of the program. CBC News published the details of correspondence between public servants and WE co-founder Craig Kielburger. The Toronto Star noted that WE Charity had started working on the program before cabinet signed off on it.

Tomorrow, the finance committee will hear testimony from the Kielburger brothers, Craig and Marc, as well as WE Charity CFO Victor Li. Parliamentarians will also talk to Michelle Douglas, the former chair of WE’s board of directors who told the Globe she resigned earlier this year over “concerning developments.”

The finance committee will also hear this week from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his chief of staff, Katie Telford. The PM will sit in the proverbial hot seat for an hour—which, a Tory partisan points out, means Trudeau will face tough questions for just a fraction of 60 minutes after an opening statement and friendly questioning from fellow Liberals. Of course, Liberal MPs were happy to say what they really thought when they went off the record with the Hill Times.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford settled into his populist, folksy happy place at a press conference yesterday. Ford expressed disbelief at reports of a 200-strong party hosted by an as-yet-unnamed Brampton man. Evoking tasty images of sharp eastern Ontario cheddar improperly placed on a fibrous, Ontario-made Breton cracker, the premier chirped that “you’d think that the cheese slipped off the cracker with these people.” Ford even half-requested news agencies “name and shame” the man, adding the city should fine him $100,000 and his “yahoo” party-goers $800 a head. (Only a few days ago, Ford said he “never believed in hitting someone with an $800 fine,” because “people are hurting right now.” Patience apparently disappears quickly. The local mayor, Ford frenemy Patrick Brown, did confirm charges were laid.)

Will Canada stand against modern slavery? Terry Glavin, writing in Maclean’s, shines a light on one Liberal MP’s quest to get his government to take seriously a human-rights disaster in China. John McKay, a parliamentarian for 23 years, appears to have hit a brick wall.

While the Trudeau government is coming under increasing pressure to extricate Canada from commercial supply chains compromised by slave labour in China, a frustrated senior Liberal MP says the Prime Minister’s Office appears to be ignoring mounting evidence that China’s persecuted Uyghur minority, after being rounded up into re-education camps in the northwestern province if Xinjiang, is now being corralled into industrial gulags to satisfy the needs of global corporations.

God forbid the federal government call a loss a loss. Trade Minister Mary Ng announced a “partial agreement” with Australia on a complaint from down under about Canadian tariffs slapped on wine imports. The Aussies whined to the World Trade Organization that the duties violated global rules. Canada backed down, but dressed up the slap-down as a continued effort to “ensure a competitive Canadian wine industry.” Meanwhile, as the Aussies are popping a bottle, B.C. MP Dan Albas—a noted champion of freer trade in liquor across provincial borders—revived a call for more B.C. wine across Canada.

Prepare the circus puns: Governor General Julie Payette‘s office has brought in Brigitte Carbonneau, a 25-year veteran of Cirque du Soleil—where she reportedly worked on “high profile and sensitive files”—to ensure that “deadlines and quality standards are met for all documentation related to the Governor General.” CBC News obtained a leaked memo from the GG’s secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, announcing the hire.

Finally home: After a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean during which HMCS Fredericton lost six crewmates in a helicopter crash, the ship returns to port in Halifax today. Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee and new citizen who co-founded a sweets company called Peace by Chocolate—and once told Maclean’s he would cherish his right to vote in Canada—has crafted bespoke chocolate bars for everyone aboard.

World

Will Canada stand with Uyghurs—and against 'modern slavery?'

Some of the world's biggest brands are benefitting from the forced labour of Uyghurs in China, reports say. A bill before Parliament would target those companies and their products.

While the Trudeau government is coming under increasing pressure to extricate Canada from commercial supply chains compromised by slave labour in China, a frustrated senior Liberal MP says the Prime Minister’s Office appears to be ignoring mounting evidence that China’s persecuted Uyghur minority, after being rounded up into re-education camps in the northwestern province if Xinjiang, is now being corralled into industrial gulags to satisfy the needs of global corporations.

We simply cannot be a nation that professes what we purport to profess and continue to turn a wilful or negligent blind eye to the evidence of what is clear is going on,” says John McKay, chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. “But sometimes, governments don’t see what’s blindingly obvious.”

For two years, McKay has been attempting to push Parliament to adopt a new law, the Modern Slavery Act, which would require corporations doing business in Canada to ensure their supply chains are uncontaminated by forced labour and child labour. The law would provide for fines of up to $250,000 for violators and amend the Customs Tariff to allow the Canadian Border Services Agency to ban slave-labour goods from entering Canada.

RELATED:  60 MPs urge sanctions against Chinese officials

McKay first introduced a private members’ bill proposing the law in 2018. Last year, before Parliament was dissolved for the October election, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development proposed such a law, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, who was International Development minister at the time, agreed to stakeholder consultations. That effort has now been passed on to Anthony Housefather, parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Filomena Tassi. In an effort to move things along, earlier this year, Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne introduced McKay’s bill in the Senate.

And there it sits.

If I were looking at royal assent by this time next year, I’d be dancing in the streets, presuming the government survives,” McKay told me. “It’s tough.”

The absence of an effective anti-slavery law in Canada was brought into dramatic relief last week when Bill Matthews, the deputy minister of public works, told the Commons government operations committee that Ottawa has no way of knowing whether suppliers relying on Uyghur slave labour are benefitting from the $2 billion in new spending on personal protective equipment required to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Most of new money is being spent in China. Liberal and Conservative MPs said they were shocked to learn that Ottawa expects Chinese suppliers to “self-certify” that no forced labour is involved in PPE production.

It is distressing that the Government of Canada can’t assure a committee that there’s no element of slavery in the products that it purchases from its various suppliers,” McKay told me. “That, it seems to me, is something the Government of Canada should lead in, rather than relying on the blandishments of Chinese suppliers.”

RELATED: Where is the outrage over the plight of China’s Uyghurs?

But the slavery issue doesn’t arise only in government purchases of PPEs, McKay said. It arises across the board in trade with China. “We are in effect cutting our own throats,” McKay said. “There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that we can manufacture products at a price point that is competitive with the price point that China has to offer. We’re actually working against our own economy. It is ultimately not in Canada’s best interests, our moral best interests, or our interests writ large, or from a national security standpoint, an economic standpoint, or from a health standpoint, or an overall societal standpoint.”

Last week, nearly 200 human rights and labour organizations from 36 countries launched a campaign to secure formal commitments from the world’s major clothing brands to sever contracts with suppliers implicated in Uyghur slave labour. Beijing’s archipelago of “labour transfer” operations arise from the detention centres and re-education camps where the Chinese Communist Party has interned more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in their homelands in Xinjiang, purportedly to suppress religious and separatist militancy.

Campaigners estimate that 90 per cent of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, and one fifth of all cotton garments sold worldwide contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang. But the corporations implicated in Uyghur forced labour are not just major garment brands and retailers like Adidas, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Earlier this year, in a major investigative report titled “Uyghurs for Sale,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that at least 80,000 Uyghurs have been forced from Xinjiang and conscripted into factories across China where they are made to work in production for 83 international corporations, including Samsung, Apple, BMW, Sony, and Volkswagen.

Mehmet Tohti, the Canadian representative for the World Uyghur Congress, said he appreciates McKay’s efforts to bring Canada in line with modern anti-slavery laws already in force in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Brazil. McKay is not like most Liberals, Tohti said: “Their response is standard. They all stick to talking points. They repeat like parrots whatever the government says. It’s really difficult to understand those people.”

RELATED: The people of Colorado just voted to abolish slavery—here’s why

Here’s where Tohti differs with McKay.

The Uyghur crisis has to be addressed specifically, and fast, Tohti said. The World Uyghur Congress is hoping Canada will replicate a bipartisan initiative in the U.S. Congress, the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, spearheaded by Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern and the Republicans’ Marco Rubio. Their proposed law would declare all goods relying on materials originating in Xinjiang to be the product of slave labour unless otherwise proven, shifting the burden of proof in the existing rules under the 1930 Tariff Act.

It is shocking that we have not seen any steps taken in Canada to ban products that have entered Canadian markets through supply chains that use Uyghur forced labour,” Tohti said. “Canadian consumers continue to buy these products, unknowingly.”

And here’s where McKay sides with Tohti.

If COVID has exposed anything it has exposed our unhealthy dependency upon products made in China, and I think it’s exposed vulnerabilities not only in PPEs but in vaccines and various other health supply chains that leave us hugely vulnerable as a nation to the political whims of the Communist Party of China. And I just don’t think that’s a viable position for Canada to be in, and that’s aside from the slavery issue.”