Dispatch from the Front Lines: Your disaster is important to us. The current wait time is: one decade.
Alberta! A catastrophe! Another catastrophe! And absolutely no C-18!
Hello, Line readers! It’s good to be back dispatchin’. Miss us?
Well, if you did, check out our, uh, unusual video this week.
An important reminder to readers: Changes at Substack might cause the length of this email to exceed your browser’s ability to display. If it cuts off mid-sentence, just click the headline and it’ll bring you to the full online post.
And now, on with the dispatch.
We know, dear readers, you’re entirely tired of hearing about our inner media dramas, and quite rightly. We’re sick of hearing ourselves talk about C-18, the future of media, and the CBC. Those of you in our comments section chiding us for our navel gazing are entirely justified in your complaints and we apologize profusely. Mostly. The issue of C-18 and the fate of the media is important. But we absolutely agree that it’s eating a lot of our time, and can assure you that we are looking forward to no longer being at the centre of the story. We find it acutely uncomfortable.
Luckily, if that’s the word, there are more pressing matters afoot, namely the Bank of Canada’s decision to raise interest rates again in a bid to fight inflation. Or, as a family friend recently put it to one of your Line editors: “They screwed it up, and new they’re screwing us to fix it.” We mean, yeah. That’s more or less right, isn’t it?
At the press conference, Deputy Bank of Canada Governor Rhys Mendes was asked about housing prices — specifically whether or not the bank was factoring in the impact of higher interest rates on housing costs, increasing the very inflation that the hikes are meant to combat. She gave an answer so candid and dispassionate that we were a little taken aback — accustomed as we are to politician-speak.
Yes, higher interest rates are a factor in housing costs, but Mendes rebutted that the short answer as to why house prices are going up is supply. There is just more demand for houses than we can keep up with. And “one of the things that is contributing to the demand for housing now is an increasing population. We’ve seen a return to immigration levels that we had pre-pandemic and quite a high surge in immigration more recently. Those things are contributing to keeping house prices high.”
Lo, look at that! Someone frankly acknowledging downsides and trade offs on policy.
We here at The Line are generally pretty pro-immigration. We live in a sparsely populated country that can only do better in the long run with more people in it: this is more true in a moment when we expect an imminent global demographic collapse as birthrates tank across this little blue marble of ours. Add in our declining productivity numbers and aging population, and we can understand why the government would try to p-hack our GDP numbers by bringing in more immigrants. But we also have to acknowledge that immigration brings challenges, as well … particularly if we have literally no place to house them.
We will likely be accused by some as being anti-immigrant for saying that, but that’s bonkers. We love immigration, we love immigrants, and we entirely recognize that our future prosperity hinges on our ability to continue to attract the world’s best and brightest. We’re just saying, and this ought not to be controversial, that every public policy has pros and cons, and in this moment, a surge in immigrants, which will be good and helpful in many ways, is inevitably going to further heat up our already molten housing market.
And this isn’t a reason to stop immigration. It’s a reason to accelerate housing construction, and more bluntly, to better align our various national policy objectives. It’s not impossible! We could implement some kind of grand national strategy on housing and replicate the successes of the post-Second World War housing boom, but it’s hard to imagine that working in a country that can’t do simple things like expropriate land for railway re-routing (we’ll get to that in a moment). And even if we did have the will to do big, hard things in this country, such a strategy would probably require we accept more urban sprawl and so on.
It’s trade offs all the way down, folks. And we’re not sure that the short term is looking great for Canada either way.
Or as @RandoRobby42 put it:
We mean, yeah. That’s more or less right, isn’t it?
Alright, we guess we should explain that weird railway reference above. So. Here it is. A few days ago, Line editor Gurney, who’s long had a perverse fascination with emergency preparedness and planning — hey, it’s come in handy these last few years — noted with interest that the federal government was committing tens of millions of bucks to build out some capacity in Canada’s volunteer NGOs. St. John’s Ambulance, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross … all those and others are in line for some federal funding that will allow them to staff up, train personnel, stockpile critical supplies, and the like.
To which we say, hey. Good. Great. Solid idea, we support it. And that’s sincerely all we have to say about that. We support efforts, in an era of unpredictable weather and rising geopolitical tension, to increase our emergency response capacity, especially among non-governmental organizations.
Because, good Lord, if we’re waiting on the government to save us, yikes.
The latest item we can drop into our bulging folder of federal deliverology fails came across our desks thanks to this press release from the government of Canada. It is an announcement that the feds have expropriated land around Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, so as to build a railway bypass that will reroute trains away from the community’s downtown.
This is important, as all Canadians will remember, because a train loaded with fuel derailed and blew up in the centre of the community, killing 47 people. You may also recall when this happened: 10 years ago. The anniversary was just last week.
We repeat: 10 years ago. A decade. July 6, 2013. Three out of the four children acknowledged by your Line editors weren’t even born yet.
We should further add that the expropriating the land is just one necessary step. Actually building the bypass is going to be subject to all the usual regulatory steps and approvals and then ultimately construction, and we are notoriously bad at all of those things.
We don’t really feel like we need to add much commentary here. Rerouting the trains away from Lac-Mégantic is clearly a good idea. There are no doubt other places where similar projects should be undertaken, but for extremely obvious reasons, Lac-Mégantic ought to be a priority for such work. And in a decade, we’ve gotten to … acquiring the necessary land. Well, okay, not even. But that’ll technically happen on August 1st.
We have no doubt that many earnest people will be happy to step forward and explain why it took this long. Don’t we understand that the process was complicated? That there were stakeholders? That we needed to have consultations? That the government was busy in recent years?
We get it. All those things are true. But it’s not an excuse. We need to do better. Real life moves fast. Crises can develop almost overnight. And our federal government works very clearly works on a decadal timescale. This is a problem. It’s going to get people killed. And, perhaps most damning of all, even when people have already been killed and everyone agrees we need to do something to make sure that literal same disaster doesn’t happen again in the exact same place, things still move at the same glacial pace.
Perhaps, by the 20th anniversary, we’ll have a functioning rail bypass. We hope so. But we don’t count on it.
That’s why we think it’s a good idea that we’re bulking up the Red Cross and the rest. When disaster strikes, they’ll be there in hours. The feds? You might have to spot them the first decade.
Speaking of governments moving slowly and people getting killed, we want to take a minute here to offer a word of sincere advice to the federal Liberals, who we can’t help but notice are bad at taking our free and helpful advice. Hey, though. Hope springs eternal. So here it is: figure out some meaningful reform for our bail system, and execute it, before we have another Jane Creba.
We suspect that name is familiar to you, but in case it isn’t, Creba was a 15-year-old girl who was killed by stray gunfire during a gang shootout in Toronto on Boxing Day of 2005. Creba was shopping with her sister near Eaton’s Centre and was exiting a pizza restaurant when she was hit in the torso; she died at the hospital during emergency surgery shortly after. Her death became one of those strange and impossible-to-predict symbols. Toronto had been rocked by gang battles and Creba’s death came to symbolize the horror of it. A child, a complete innocent, out with her family on a holiday, cut down by criminals.
Both your Line editors remember her name and her face; Line editor Gerson, as a cub reporter, was working in the Toronto Star’s radio room that night and heard the police scanner reports of gunfire near the end of her shift. We can’t tell you necessary why Creba specifically became the symbol of that violent time — we are cynical enough to acknowledge that the fact that she was the stereotypical “blonde white girl” may be part of it.
But the question we have now is: who’ll be the next one?
Toronto is once again experiencing a surge in violence. (Interestingly, shootings and murders are actually down this year, but we’ll see if that holds through the summer.) Some of this violence is gang related. Some of it is the kind of distributed post-COVID random violence that is afflicting cities and towns across the continent. In both cases, over and over, when police have been able to identify a suspect or make an arrest, we’ve discovered that the suspects have had either a history of unstable mental health crises or violent criminal records.
Police chiefs are demanding changes to what they call a catch-and-release system. The provincial and territorial leaders are demanding the same from the feds. And the feds, we suspect having sensed political danger, have signalled they’re open to making changes.
Our advice? Step smartly, Liberal friends. Your gun control proposals are symbolic jokes, and you’re one stray bullet away from having another Jane Creba laid at your feet.
Indeed, we may have one already. Just last week, Karolina Huebner-Makurat, a 44-year-old woman, a wife and mother of young children, went out to pick up lunch and was killed by … you guessed it! … stray gunfire. Police have arrested a man, who was charged with second-degree murder, and … you guessed it again! … he had a long criminal record of violent offences and had been banned for every possessing firearms. (Gee, wonder how he got a gun.)
We don’t know yet if Huebner-Makurat will come to be a symbolic figure in the way Creba did. But someone eventually will. We gently suggest to the Liberals that they’ll be better off putting a plan in place before that happens. We’ll see if they’re any better at this than they are at railway bypasses.
American media doesn’t often notice Canada, and as much as Canadians like to whinge about being ignored, the lack of interest in our affairs from south of the border is usually a good thing. If you’re looking for a rule of thumb here, it’s this: attention from the Americans is almost always negative.
A case in point this week was an editorial published by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, headlined “Canada is a military free-rider in NATO.” The subhed was “Ottawa still spends only a pathetic 1.38% of GDP on defense.” The editorial makes a number of points almost all of which will be familiar to readers of the Line, which are all variations of: Canada shirks its NATO commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, while engaging in relentless virtue signalling and moral preening, both domestically and to its allies. It treats national defence as social project, while doing little to nothing in the way of actually projecting the power that is needed to defend the values it purports to advance.
There are some absolutely killer lines in the editorial, beginning with the lede: “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Lithuania this week for the annual NATO summit, but it’s too bad there wasn’t a junior table where he could sit.” A few paragraphs later: “Last week Ottawa put in its two cents against cluster munitions. But asking its citizens to meet their actual obligations to the cause of freedom is apparently too much to ask.” And then: “Nowadays Ottawa can be counted on to ‘fight’ for human rights, which is to say that it talks a lot about them.”
Again, for anyone paying attention here in Canada, these are not new arguments. But the editorial does add one twist at the end, suggesting that if Canada can’t be bothered keeping its NATO commitments, then perhaps it should be kicked out of the G7 and replaced by a country willing to play a leadership role. They suggest Poland as a possibility.
Reaction in Canada has been surprisingly muted. On our own social media feeds, we noted a lot of rather sad attempts at dismissing the editorial — the paper is a Rupert Murdoch owned rag; this is Trumpist nonsense; Europeans juice their defence spending through useless mandatory service requirements. But curiously, we didn’t see anyone try to pull a Julie Dzerowicz and argue that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Canada is actually punching above its weight in NATO.
Look, some of us here at The Line have been reading harsh editorials on Canada’s defence spending for decades. (We’ve written a few, too!) And we’ve never seen anything remotely this harsh from an American outlet. This is absolutely devastating stuff, and it can’t be simply shrugged off because of the source.
A bit of history: In 1995, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial calling Canada “an honorary member of the Third World” in an editorial that also referred to the Canadian dollar as the “northern peso.” This was in response to Canada’s national debt and tax rates hitting unsustainable levels. We were an economic basket case, and the Americans were starting to notice.
Lots of Canadian commentators dismissed the editorial on the grounds that the WSJ was just pushing the supposedly-discredited Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney “neoliberal” agenda. But later that year the Chrétien government, with Paul Martin as finance minister, introduced one of the most significant budgets in Canadian history. They slashed federal spending in ways not seen since the end of the Second World War, slashed the public service, gutted the department of defence. But three years later they had balanced the budget, inaugurating an extended period of federal fiscal responsibility that lasted until the election of the Trudeau Liberals in 2015.
The point is not that there’s a cause and effect here — Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin didn’t sit down and go “oh shit, the Journal has weighed in, we have to do something.” It’s that when serious American media get around to noticing stuff about Canada, it is usually because the stuff they are noticing has become such a problem for other countries that our national Emperor’s New Clothes routine is no longer tenable. It is a sign that things have to change, and quickly.
Remember, the Liberal government doesn’t deny that Canada is a NATO laggard and a free rider on defence. Justin Trudeau has admitted as much, both publicly and privately. But up till now, his attitude has been to sort of smirk at the Americans, give his usually smarmy shrug, and say “what are you going to do about it?”
What the Wall Street Journal editorial does is suggest that there could be real consequences for our professed indigence. It is one thing to be left out of AUKUS, which the Liberals continue to falsely characterize as a submarine procurement deal. Getting kicked out of the G7 would something else entirely — it’s the sort of thing the sorts of people who vote Liberal tend to care about.
Canada’s current attitude to collective defence is not sustainable. Our allies have noticed. Either we change, or our allies will change things for us.
A quick note from the Alberta front about a story we’ve been covering for some months here at The Line. The tale of the missing emails between a member of premier Danielle Smith’s office and crown prosecutors pressuring the latter to drop some inconvenient COVID-related charges came to its inevitable close last week while your Line editors were taking a break.
We’ve covered this story at length in previous dispatches and columns and, needless to say, nobody in this saga comes out golden. During the May election, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler found that Smith had broken the law during a brief phone call between herself and her then-attorney general Tyler Shandro. In it, she put inappropriate pressure on Shandro to try to make outstanding charges levelled against known problematic pastor Art Pawlowski go away. However, Smith was able to spin the report to her advantage because she was not the only party that screwed the pooch.
Trussler also found that there was simply no evidence that the CBC’s initial story was true. Namely, nobody could find any proof that any email was sent between Smith’s office directly to Crown Prosecutors, and key members within the Ministry of Justice vehemently denied receiving any. To its credit, this forced the CBC to re-examine that story, and in doing so, wound up, essentially retracting it.
Their statement was telling.
“Our sources have insisted that Crown prosecutors felt political pressure regarding the Coutts, (Alta.), cases, but they are not able to confirm that the emails they originally described were sent directly from the premier’s office to the Crown,” according to an editor’s note.
Firstly, the only sources that could credibly have a bead on how Crown prosecutors feel about a situation are Crown prosecutors themselves. Secondly, these sources were “not able to confirm that the emails they originally described” refers to emails that, we now know, probably do not exist. This indicates that the sources in question are either lying, or were not directly privy to any such emails at all. The CBC, by its own admission, had not seen any such emails; but this editor’s note heavily suggests to us that the sources hadn’t actually seen any of these emails, either. In which case, this whole story is reduced to vibes, man. Bad vibes. To use professional parlance: there’s going over one’s skiis, and then there’s a yard sale.
None of this absolves Smith’s poor judgement, of course. But this is such a classic case study of good journalists publishing a story before they actually had it. Sure, there was some fire under all this smoke, but none of that matters if the subject of the scrutiny can justly point to a falsely pulled fire alarm. Getting the details wrong will be used to undermine the story as a whole. That’s not fair; it’s just what it is.
Our last comment on this affair before we put it all behind us forever is that this quasi-retraction didn’t even merit its own editor’s blog post; instead, an updated and un-bylined note was appended to the top of the story without fanfare. This after months of delays and double-downs. These facts alone actually make us think more poorly about the CBC than any other.
Look, we all make mistakes. When we do, we ought to swallow our pride, own our errors, and put our names to them. The reporters whose names were on the original story are going to eat a lot of ugliness for this retraction, but we would remind our readers that the people whose names appear at the top are actually at the bottom of the newsroom hierarchy. They don’t decide what to run, or how to run it; those decisions are made by more senior editors — better paid individuals whom have been entrusted by the institution at large to make good judgement calls. Sticking an unsigned and defensive note at the top of a story featuring now-thoroughly discredited anonymous sources while the named reporters are left to eat the public’s shitburger doesn’t fill us with a lot of confidence and awe with the organization as a whole.
Okay, folks. That’s it from us. Talk to you next week!
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