The House: Democracy in danger and battleground B.C.
The federal government announced new measures this week meant to protect the this fall's election from outside interference, but the minister in charge of the file warned that there are no guarantees Canada's elections will remain free of meddling or disinformation.
"We may not be able to detect everything," Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.
"By the very nature of foreign interference, the idea of it is to be covert. There's a good chance we'll be able to detect something, but there's also the possibility that we won't because foreign actors are trying to be smarter."
Gould said her government's strategy — which includes a task force made up of five senior bureaucrats to monitor and inform Canadians of any evidence of interference — is modelled on France's system.
"We looked across our different allies and around the world to see what other countries have put in place," Gould said.
Marcus Kolga drafted a report for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute that looked at Canada's level of preparedness in combating disinformation, most of which is coming from Russia. He called the government's plan "a good start" but questioned how Ottawa will get social media companies on-side.
"Just hoping social media will reform itself, I don't think it's good enough," Kolga said in a separate interview on The House, also airing Saturday.
He said he's also hoping to see more involvement from civil society — activists and analysts studying disinformation — and from the privacy commissioner and chief electoral officer in the government's monitoring process.
Gould said the government hasn't been afraid to legislate social media companies. She said that Bill C-76 requires that social media platforms maintain a registry of political advertising during the pre-writ and writ period and prohibits them from knowingly accepting foreign funding for political ads.
"We have taken some initial steps here in Canada," she said. "It's not the government's role to police speech or say what's good or bad news."
Gould added she has initiated conversations with social media companies.
"We're going to continue having a dialogue with them. I think it's in their best interest to prove to Canadians they can have their trust."
The fight for Venezuela's future
One of Canada's top former diplomats says that Canadians shouldn't expect to see much more than a statement of principles coming out of an emergency Lima Group meeting on Venezuela that Ottawa is hosting Monday.
"I would expect there would be a declaration asking for movement forward, asking for continued respect for human rights and really putting it on the line that this interim president [Juan Guaido], as per the Venezuelan constitution, should be the one to step up and call for elections," said Peter Boehm, a long-time senior diplomat with postings to Cuba, Costa Rica and the Organization of American States, in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.
"This meeting that's taking place will be significant in terms of putting extra pressure on for a [regime] change."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has said the goal of the summit will be to find a way to push for "peace, democracy and stability" in the crisis-ravaged country.
Protests have erupted across Venezuela since its authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro began his second term on Jan. 10. He was elected last year in a controversial election during an economic and humanitarian crisis that has seen three million Venezuelans flee the country.
"I think this ceased being a domestic issue a long time ago," Boehm told host Chris Hall about Canada's involvement in mediating the crisis.
"If we respect the rules-based international order, it's up to us to rally support for change that will hopefully be peaceful."
At a town hall in Milton, Ont. on Thursday, Trudeau admitted Canada's goals as a mediator in the crisis are ambitious.
"I make it sound a little easy that on Monday we're going to figure this out," Trudeau said, acknowledging that because Maduro has the support and control of the military and judiciary, any solution will "require a difficult process."
Guaido, Venezuela's opposition leader, has declared himself interim president. Canada has joined the United States, the European Parliament and several Latin American nations in recognizing Guaido's claim. Russia and China — both countries which have invested heavily in oil-rich Venezuela — support Maduro, as does Turkey.
Under the country's 1999 constitution, enacted under Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, the head of the legislature — in this case, Guaido — can lead a caretaker government in the event of the absence of a lawful one until a new election can be held.
"Venezuela is a country where the government [under Maduro] is not respecting human rights, it's not respecting its own constitution," said Boehm, who served as Canada's point person for the 2018 G7 summit before being appointed to the Senate in October.
Trudeau also brought up the Venezuelan constitution in his town hall comments.
"This all seems very complex and complicated, and it is, but it is all grounded in human rights, the rule of law and Venezuela's own constitution," Trudeau said.
"This is not about Canada deciding, 'Oh, we don't like the way Maduro is governing, therefore we're going to support an opposition leader to become president.'
"The international community recognized that there were not free and fair elections in Venezuela, and therefore Maduro is not the president of Venezuela in the eyes of the world and also in the eyes of Venezuelans. Article 233 actually provides for what happens when there is no president in Venezuela."
Canada takes leadership role on Venezuela
As the world watches protesters calling for Maduro's dismissal, and as Guaido reports that his family has been threatened by the country's security forces, Trudeau said Canada will not be taking a back seat role.
Indeed, Trudeau said Canada's has been leading on the issue for two years.
"It's a complicated situation, but it's one in which Canada has been leading the way, along with other top South American nations, over the past 18 months to two years."
The prime minister added he's spent the past few weeks "making calls to a significant number of global leaders to talk about the situation, because Canada has actually been involved as one of the lead members of the Lima Group."
Boehm said it makes sense that Canada is taking a leading role within the international community on Venezuela by hosting the Lima Group meeting.
"This is our backyard, the Western hemisphere. We have a role here too," he told Hall.
Battleground British Columbia
British Columbia's NDP government passed a critical test this week when former federal MP Sheila Malcomson held on to a provincial seat in a byelection in Nanaimo.
"This was a race in Nanaimo that had all the importance of drama, the plot twists, the potential turns," said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, in an interview on CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday.
"Had the NDP lost that race, it would certainly have made things very interesting. But this was always regarded as a safe NDP seat."
The win ensures John Horgan's government continues to hold a one-seat majority with the support of the Green Party.
Nanaimo is an NDP stronghold provincially, but are there any takeaways for the federal parties from the result as federal NDP's Leader Jagmeet Singh gears up for his own byelection run in Burnaby South?
"You can't necessarily assume a correlation or causation impact between what happened in Nanaimo and as a harbinger for things to come in Burnaby South," she said.
But Kurl pointed to the federal Liberals' new pick to run in the Burnaby South byelection against Singh — Richard Lee.
"Richard Lee is a longtime B.C. Liberal former MLA. He held Burnaby North in 2005, 2009 and 2013. He still has access to his base, his lists, his machines," she said.
"Byelections are not general elections. It's not about organic interest or who the more dynamic leader is. It's really about who can pull your base, so that may be an interesting sleeper factor."
How do Canadians feel about Trudeau's handling of China?
Kurl also discussed Angus Reid's newest poll on how Canadians perceive Justin Trudeau's handling of the ongoing dispute with China over the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou.
"The data now shows that far more people are inclined to think that the Trudeau Liberals are not performing well on this file than are performing well," she said.
However, that doesn't mean Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is scoring points as a result.
"This is not a political winner for either Scheer or Trudeau, because both of them have bases that are divided over what's important here. Half of Scheer's base says the priority should be focusing on trade and investment opportunities, and the other half says we should be focusing on human rights and rule of law," Kurl said.
"So he's not going to be able to espouse anything more definitive than the muddled policy the Trudeau Liberals have put forward.
"In an election year, I would suggest none of them try to get too righteous or too worked up over this."
Cities step up calls for action on housing shortage
With most of the country battling a deep freeze this week, the issue of affordable, safe housing has been front and centre in the minds of Canada's big city mayors, who met in Ottawa Jan. 28 and 29 ahead of the federal budget.
"There is a serious problem about housing, and projects aren't moving as fast as we would like," said Vicki-May Hamm, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The cities will be making their requests and wish lists known to the federal government, and Hamm said the housing shortage is a priority.
"There is a sense of emergency," she said.
In 2017, the Liberals announced a $40 billion, ten-year national housing strategy, promising to tackle everything from homelessness and the shortage of new housing units to repairs to existing units.
But Hamm said that, according to mayors in the FCM, the money isn't getting results fast enough. She said giving the funds directly to the municipalities rather than through the provinces would speed up the process.
"That is a debate in almost every province. Municipalities are saying more and more, 'We are a level of government,' and some provinces don't like to hear that," said Hamm.
"Some programs go straight through to the municipalities, like the excise tax on gas, so that is a model in the future we would want to see. It's much more efficient."
In the interview airing on The House, Hamm also discussed the key requests from smaller municipalities like her own community of Magog, Que., of which she is the mayor, and the role mental health plays in the housing crisis.
"It's one thing to find a roof, but there are a lot of problems with mental health. We have to address the problem of housing with a more global approach," she said.