'Bad humour' and short fuses: How politicians' texts played out at the Emergencies Act inquiry
Criticism and colourful language came from all sides in private texts
The public inquiry investigating the federal government's unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act in February has seen a huge number of documents that otherwise would never see the light of day — including politicians' private texts exposing some embarrassing, and enlightening, conversations.
Politics is a profession prone to carefully crafted statements and rhetoric, so the text messages offered rare insights into the thought process of many key politicians — and a glimpse at tensions between governments.
Here are some of the stand-out text exchanges from the past few weeks.
'Screwed the pooch'
According to text messages that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Jason Kenney wrote, the then-premier of Alberta accused the federal government of not caring about the Canada-United States border closure in Coutts, Alta.
Around dawn on Feb. 14, the RCMP arrested more than a dozen Coutts protesters and seized a cache of weapons, body armour and ammunition — just hours before the Emergencies Act was invoked.
According to the messages LeBlanc shared with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino three days earlier, Kenney accused the federal government of leaving the provinces holding the bag on protest enforcement.
The texts were brought up during Mendicino's testimony and were in documents released by the inquiry this week.
In the texts attributed to Kenney, he also complained about the federal decision to decline Alberta's request for military equipment that could help remove protesters' vehicles.
One message said — in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — that "your guy has really screwed the pooch."
"Speaking of bonkers," Alghabra wrote in his text exchange with LeBlanc and Mendicino, apparently in reference to some of Kenney's texts.
"Totally," LeBlanc replied.
Ontario's Sylvia Jones gives a cold response
The commission also got a glimpse of a testy call between Mendicino and Ontario's solicitor general at the time, Sylvia Jones, about how to handle last winter's convoy protests. Their conversation apparently included some colourful language.
Mendicino's chief of staff Mike Jones and Samantha Khalil, director of issues management at the Prime Minister's Office, discussed wanting Jones at the table during trilateral meetings.
"Can have my boss reach out again [to Sylvia Jones] but last call got pretty frosty at the end when [Mendicino] was saying we need the province to get back to us with their plan," wrote Jones.
"'I don't take edicts from you, you're not my f--king boss," the staffer continued, describing Jones' response.
'Tanks' text was a joke - Lametti
Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. One exchange with Justice Minister David Lametti generated some controversy during the inquiry hearings.
In that text exchange, Lametti told Mendicino he needed to "get the police to move" and secure support from the Canadian Armed Forces, if necessary.
"How many tanks are you asking for," Mendicino wrote back.
"I just wanna ask Anita how many we've got on hand," he added, referring to Defence Minister Anita Anand.
"I reckon one will do!" Lametti texted back.
During his testimony at the inquiry, Lametti said he wasn't calling for the deployment of the army and described the exchange as banter with a colleague and a friend.
"There will be occasional attempts at bad humour," he said.
Lametti calls Ottawa police chief 'incompetent'
A separate exchange of texts between Lametti and Mendicino appeared during Lametti's testimony.
In those messages, Lametti shared some criticism of former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned during the occupation of the city's downtown streets last winter.
"They just need to exercise it and do their job," texted Mendicino, referring to the Ottawa Police Service's authority to enforce the law.
"I was stunned by the lack of a multilayered plan," Lametti responded. "Sloly is incompetent."
While Lametti said he'd now soften his language about Sloly, he told the inquiry he had to move out of his Ottawa residence during the protest to avoid harassment.
"I was frustrated, I have to admit," he said. "It is frank."
Trudeau, Blair take aim at Ford
During a private call with then-Ottawa mayor Jim Watson in early February, Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of hiding from his responsibilities as the streets of the nation's capital were gridlocked by the protest.
The inquiry had access to a readout of that call — which is not an exact transcript of the conversation.
"Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons, as you highlighted," Trudeau said.
"Important we don't let them get away from that."
The prime minister wasn't alone in criticizing Ford. Text messages from Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair to his chief of staff also shared a few choice words about the premier.
"I am embarrassed for my former profession. And worried for my government which is being made to look weak and ineffective," Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said in a text message.
"I can't believe that I'm hoping Doug Ford will save us."
Government 'is losing ... confidence in OPS'
Politicians weren't the only ones seeing their private text exchanges aired in public.
A text message from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki released to the inquiry said the federal government was already losing confidence in the Ottawa police just one week into the massive protest.
The Feb. 5 texts were between Lucki — who was in a meeting with federal ministers at the time — and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique.
"Trying to calm them down, but not easy when they see cranes, structures, horses bouncing castles in downtown Ottawa," she wrote.
She also provided insight into the government's thinking at the time, adding that she or Carrique might be called in if the government invoked the Emergencies Act.
"Between you and I only, (Government of Canada) is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS, we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement," Lucki texted Carrique.
In one text exchange with Mendicino's chief of staff, Serge Arpin, who was chief of staff to Mayor Watson, criticized Blair for saying the lack of enforcement was "somewhat inexplicable."
"But it is friendly fire from you guys - don't kid yourself," Arpin wrote.
In a separate text in the same exchange, Arpin told Mike Jones that the RCMP was "lying to you flat out" about the police resources available.
Arpin told the inquiry that comment was the product of exasperation.
"Extraordinary frustration of having to tell the mayor that our residents who are now onto day 14 or 13 of the demonstration and we're not seeing any meaningful progress in terms of additional bodies on the ground assisting [the Ottawa Police Service] with the operation," he testified.