Capital Dispatch: An early roundup of the week so far

November 24, 2022
Capital Dispatch

Trudeau is on the stand tomorrow, so here's what's happened this week so far 

The Public Order Emergency Commission's final week of ministerial testimony has been relentless, and a bit dramatic. Between the multiple examples of eyebrow-raising text messages between ministers, to learning more about the advice given to cabinet ahead of invoking the Emergencies Act, the hearings have almost entirely dominated the agenda in Ottawa.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the stand on Friday, I thought I'd hop into your inbox to provide your roundup of the week a little early. 

The week that was  

The final week of public testimony kicked off with a bang, and arguably the most consequential testimony so far: CSIS Director David Vigneault told the commission that he advised Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act. In his testimony, he offered an explanation for the discrepancy between evidence submitted showing he felt the "Freedom Convoy" didn't meet the threshold for "a threat to the security of Canada," as it's defined in the CSIS Act. Here's what else was notable from Monday's panel of the highest-level security and intelligence officials in the country. 

Then it was Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair's turn to take the stand. Blair spoke about his frustrations with former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson's mediator suggestion, and sought to clarify what he meant when he said police needed to "do their job" with the tools they had during the protests.

Referencing his first-hand experience dealing with major protests during his 31-year career as a police officer prior to becoming a politician, Blair told the commission about how it informed his perspective and advice he offered his cabinet colleagues—including keeping comments 'temperate'— in this case. 

Tuesday saw Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc testify. During his testimony—briefly interrupted by a testy exchange and ouster of a convoy lawyer who then went on to try to use the hearings to propagate a conspiracy theory— Mendicino shed light on the degree of security concerns ministers and MPs had in the lead up to, and during, the convoy's time in Ottawa.  

He also offered further perspective on the federal-provincial tensions that played out as the protests waged on, talked about protester-engagement considerations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was involved in, and described the concerns raised around "hardened" and armed protesters at the Coutts, Alta. blockade as "a threshold moment" for him. Then there were some rather interesting texts from LeBlanc that came up.  

Wednesday started with a presentation on the public feedback—nearly 9,500 written submissions— received by the commission. Then, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti took the stand, followed by Defence Minister Anita Anand and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

During his hours-long appearance, Lametti invoked solicitor-client privilege on many occasions and was put on the spot over some of his text message conversations, which ranged from how early he was thinking about the Emergencies Act to what he admitted was some "bad humour" around how the protests were, or should have been, handled.  

And of course, today Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland took the stand, testifying about her role in sculpting emergency economic measures that came into effect when the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

Freeland told the commission about the conversations she was having with top American officials about the serious strain the border blockades were having on the automotive sector, recalled with some emotion a pivotal call she had with banks, and sought to outline why she felt last winter's protests were "an attack on democracy."

As I'm sending this, a trio of PMO staffers are on the stand. Keep an eye on for the latest from Katie Telford, Brian Clow and John Brodhead. 

In non-commission news, the Chinese foreign interference conversation carried on in the House of Commons. On Tuesday, Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault told MPs that he has not received any reports about China interfering in the 2019 federal election.  

"In my opinion, there's no reason to believe that it was not a free and fair election," Perrault told the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee several times during his hour-long appearance on Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday during question period, Trudeau offered some elaboration on his comments on the matter to date.  

Not to be missed 

House of Commons condemns FIFA

On Tuesday, the House of Commons agreed to unanimously condemn FIFA over its decision "to threaten to penalize players and teams who wear OneLove armbands at the World Cup in Qatar." The unanimous consent motion raised by NDP MP Blake Desjarlais came with this preamble: "given that international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality and against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport." 

Poilievre's drug policy called 'nonsense'

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Caroyln Bennett came out hard this week about Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's comments about safe drug consumptions sites, calling his position "irresponsible" and "misguided." As CTV News' Spencer Van Dyk reports, Bennett's comments come after Poilievre released a video on Sunday titled "Everything feels broken," in which he says safe consumptions programs need to be defunded, because they lead to "massive" increases in overdoses and crimes. Bennett was far from the only person to have some pointed thoughts about the clip. 

Rempel Garner's crypto bill defeated  

And, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner's private member's bill calling for a national framework to encourage growth in the cryptocurrency sector was defeated in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Amid heightened attention over Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's contentious crypto comments during the party's leadership race, the legislation had become a bit of a lightning rod in the House of Commons. By a vote of 199 to 119, the legislation was voted down at second reading. Poilievre and his caucus voted in favour of seeing the bill advance, as did a few Liberal and Independent MPs. 

Quote of the week

"So as Director of CSIS, we are very familiar, you know, my colleague and I, you know, we know the Act fairly well, the CSIS Act. I was not familiar with the details of the Emergencies Act. So when that was first brought up, the fact that the Emergencies Act was using the same words as the CSIS Act to define the threat, so imported into the Emergencies Act, I needed to understand for myself and for, you know, the course  of this, what was the implication of that. And that's when I was assured that… it was a separate understanding… based on legal interpretation, jurisprudence, Federal Court rulings and so on. There was a very clear understanding of what those words meant in the confines of the CSIS Act, and what I was reassured by, is that there was, you know, in the context of the Emergencies Act there was to be a separate interpretation based on the confines of that Act."

- CSIS Director David Vigneault, at the commission explaining how he came to advise the prime minister that the Emergencies Act was "indeed required" even though it didn't satisfy the 'section 2' CSIS Act definition. 

On notice

According to Government House Leader Mark Holland's response to Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer's "Thursday Question" inquiring about the business of the House for next week—aka the "best part of Thursday" for procedural nerds, here's what to expect:

Monday: Debate on Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act. 
Tuesday and Wednesday: Debate on Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation, which was reported with amendments from committee earlier this week. 
Thursday: Debate on Bill C-26, the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act.

I'll have more for you on Sunday about what's happening next week. Until then, enjoy watching Trudeau. 

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