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Evening Brief: Taking the axe to accountability


Tonight’s Evening Brief is brought to you by Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada – partnering for good public policy to benefit all Canadians.

Good evening to you.

We begin in Ontario, where the Doug Ford government has announced it’s axing three government watchdogs. As part of the economic update released this afternoon, the Progressive Conservatives are removing offices that scrutinize government decisions. Under the headline “improving legislative accountability,” the update says the officers of the Ontario legislature are being cut to “reduce unnecessary costs.”

The government says the work normally done by the three officers — commissioner of French-language services, the environment commissioner and the child and youth advocate — will be given to the auditor general and provincial ombudsman. Finance department staff at a technical briefing would not answer repeated questions about the fate of the officers whose offices are being closed. Nor would they say what will happen to the employees in those offices. Marieke Walsh has more on those unanswered questions.

And while the provincial government has already made billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to programs in Ontario, the deficit is only down slightly, once tax cuts and the cancelled cap-and-trade system are taken into account. As part of the fall economic update, the Tories revealed they cut $3.2 billion to programs, but say they’ve done so without “reducing front-line services.”

Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

Ford stood in the legislature today to defend Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who delivered the update, insisting there was a “thorough” third-party investigation which did not turn up a “shred” of evidence to support allegations of inappropriate conduct by the MPP. “I have 100 per cent confidence in Minister Fedeli,” Ford said. “He’s a man of honour, he has integrity.” The allegations are included in a book by former Tory leader Patrick Brown, set for release tomorrow. As Walsh reported last night, the NDP is calling for Fedeli to be removed from cabinet due to the allegations levelled against him. To show solidarity with their caucus colleague today, PC MPPs wore yellow ties, since yellow is the finance minister’s tie colour of choice.

In the book, Brown also took aim at MPP Lisa MacLeod, writing that party organizers in eastern Ontario “believed that MacLeod made up the mental-health issues she claimed to have suffered during the nomination races in order to endear the public to her.” MacLeod, who is minister of child, community and social services, called Brown’s comments “disgusting and cruel” in a statement Wednesday. That story from the Ottawa Citizen.

“They just didn’t seem to be prepared.” That’s Bruce Heyman’s assessment of his countrymen during the recent NAFTA renegotiation talks. The former U.S. ambassador to Canada told CBC News that, had the White House had its ducks in a row, negotiations could have been completed in 2017 when none of the three trade partners had elections.

Well across the pond and then some, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s worried about a proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, the very country they fled for fear of rape and murder. Bangladesh has been preparing to repatriate a first wave of about 2,200 Rohingya to Myanmar as part of an agreed-upon plan. United Nations officials and international organizations have called the return unsafe due to ongoing violence in Myanmar. “Simple repatriations without the kinds of assurances and support for the Rohingya themselves is not necessarily the best solution,” Trudeau told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore. “They fled because of fears of violence and because of actual violence.” That story from CBC News.

Still with Trudeau in Singapore, he says his government wants to know Saudi Arabia’s “perspective and their participation, potentially,” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trudeau has twice been pushed during his trip to defend his government’s human-rights record, including during a question-and-answer session with university students, CP reports. That comes as Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor said today he’s seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing. As the Associated Press reports, the disclosures by the prosecution appear designed to distance the killers and their operation from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose decision-making powers are a major cause of the global outcry over the killing.

In The Sprout: Bye, bye, Bonnett

In The Drilldown: Trump team to push coal at UN climate talks

In Other Headlines:

Early data suggest no spike in pot-impaired driving after legalization: police (CP)
Brian Gallant resigns as N.B. Liberal leader after election loss (CP)


We begin in the U.K., where chaos is raining down on Prime Minister Theresa May in the throes of the country’s divorce proceedings. By the time she stood in Parliament today to defend the deal she agreed to with EU negotiators, there had been five resignations from among her ministers, two from her cabinet, including Dominic Raab, the minister responsible for Brexit. Raab says he quit over “fatal flaws” in the draft Brexit agreement, and said the U.K. should be ready to risk a no-deal Brexit in the face of EU “blackmail.” Another cabinet minister, Esther McVey, also quit, as did junior ministers Suella Braverman and Shailesh Vara. As the BBC reports, May faced nearly three hours of largely hostile questions in the Commons and could face a vote of no confidence from Tory MPs.

After a few days of quiet holed up in the White House — when apparently private meetings with his personal lawyers were underway — Trump took to Twitter in full force today. He aimed his fire at the Mueller investigation, calling it “a total mess” and “absolutely nuts.”

To be clear, the all caps were all his, not ours.

Meanwhile, with Love Fest, Take 2, set to happen, word is the U.S. will not require North Korea to provide a complete list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites before President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un meet, Vice President Mike Pence said today. That story from NBC News.

Just hours before he was scheduled to rule today, a federal district court judge put off deciding whether to grant CNN’s request for an order that forces the White House to reinstate Jim Acosta’s press credentials. Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., moved the proceeding to tomorrow morning, but no reason was given.

Turning to “Checks and Balances,” that’s the name of a new group created by conservative and libertarian lawyers seeking to provide a “voice” for principles they feel are under attack in the Trump era. Among the lawyers? George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway.

In Featured Opinion: 

Jonathan Manthorpe: Memories of Middle East misadventures

Graham Thomson: Calgary says ‘no’ to Olympics — and Rachel Notley

The Kicker: 


Finally today, even first ladies go to Costco.

Have a good one!

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