Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made inaccurate claims in boasting of cabinet’s pandemic response, according to internal emails. “Oh dear,” wrote one political aide. Staff in the Department of Public Works suggested they “try and talk around it” in case anyone noticed: “Maybe we can say — “
Canadians should be able to vote by phone in a pandemic election, says a Liberal majority on the House affairs committee. The recommendation was met by opposition warnings of a ballot box swindle: “It opens the door to fraud.”
SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. was awarded a $150 million federal contract for pandemic field hospitals nobody asked for, according to records. The Department of Public Works five months after signing the sole-sourced contract had not bothered to fix any delivery dates for the mobile health units: “A public call for tenders was not issued due to the urgency.”
We Charity’s former chief lobbyist says she had no idea of Bill Morneau’s personal dealings with the group that prompted his abrupt resignation as finance minister. “That just makes absolutely no sense,” one Conservative MP told the Commons ethics committee: “This could be perceived as an attempted bribe.”
Chinese diplomats threatened they would not tolerate finger-pointing from Canada over the import of shoddy medical goods, internal emails show. The “warning” came from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa: “They appreciated the Prime Minister’s response would be fact-based and expressed the hope that ‘China-related issues would not be cooked up.'”
Federal agencies continue to make late payments to small contractors despite policies promising prompt settlement of accounts, says Procurement Ombudsman Alexander Jeglic. A review found cases where contractors waited months to be paid what they were owed: “We had men in tears here talking about this problem.”
along Rockliffe Parkway,
everyone drives the speed limit.
The red pickup truck,
the blue Hyundai,
the silver minivan,
the black Mercedes.
A law-abiding community.
Even the police cruiser
– at the head of the pack –
(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)
Most everyone has a place that inspires reflection and contentment: a Paris café, a salmon run on the Miramichi River, your grandmother’s kitchen table. Roberta Laurie is an Alberta Rotarian who finds her place at a Malawian school for girls. The result is intriguing and joyful. Weaving A Malawi Sunrise never patronizes. Laurie is a delightful writer whose reportage is so skillful it draws readers who have no interest whatsoever in Malawi or the minutiae of public education.
Formerly Nyasaland, the country is small, corrupt and poor. The median age is 16. The national dish is catfish. Malawi has a million child labourers. May 14, a federal holiday, is the birthday of a local despot who ruled till age 96.
Laurie recalls her first encounter with Malawi while listening to a visiting lecturer: “She came to speak at our weekly Rotary Club breakfast meeting in Stony Plain, Alberta. So while digesting a full stomach of scrambled eggs, pancakes and sausage, I listened to her stories of poverty, hunger and – yes – hope from a faraway country whose name I hardly recognized and whose location I couldn’t begin to find on a map.”
The author is hooked – and so is the reader as Laurie recounts the country and its people without platitudes or condescension. She is wary of First World superiority. Malawi did not embrace public tax-funded education with the abolition of school fees till 1994, fully 130 years after Nova Scotia pioneered the practice in Canada, yet Laurie cautions foreign-funded schools are no remedy: “Children begin to perceive their sponsors as more deserving of their respect than their own guardians,” she writes; “It isn’t uncommon for African aid projects to collapse or go awry. In fact, it happens far too frequently.”
Madonna famously adopted a Malawian boy in 2006 and pledged millions for a new school designed by a New York architect. The school was never built, though Madonna did plant a tree. Laurie cannot contain her scorn.
Teachers earn $120 a month, a pittance the author blames on creditor restrictions to public service pay imposed by the International Monetary Fund. At Laurie’s adopted school tuition is paid in maize and beans. The neighbouring poor eat termites for protein.
Of course there is more to it than this. Weaving A Malawi Sunrise cites vignettes of the Third World like the striking absence of municipal lighting – “Darkness descends like a velvet curtain”, she writes – and the plague of township dogs: “They are vicious and unpredictable. I have not met a Malawian who is not fearful of dogs, and their fears are valid.”
What is it like to walk to school in Malawi? Laurie recounts the daily four-kilometre trek of students: “The girls were between thirteen and sixteen years old and none of them owned shoes,” she explains; “Along the way they crossed five streams, two lacking bridges. They also passed two graveyards, where the girls were afraid of encountering witches and hyenas, and they cut through numerous farmers’ fields where, during cultivation season, they were frightened of being chased off or harassed.”
Weaving A Malawi Sunrise is kind and eloquent, by turn angry and evocative in the manner of a writer who tells of finding her place. Laurie remembers Solstina, a schoolgirl who endured an unhappy marriage and many hardships for the privilege of taking a classroom exam: “Before I finish Solstina’s story, there is something else I’d like you to know. When the women of Malawi speak English, their voice sing. It’s as though something magical transforms their voices. There is a lilt and a rhythm that makes their voices sound like song. Solstina has one of these voices, and when she says, ‘Ahh, no’, it is like a sigh. As I type her words, I can her voice. It makes me want to weep.”
By Holly Doan
Weaving A Malawi Sunrise: A Woman, A School, A People by Roberta Laurie; University of Alberta Press; 432 pages; ISBN 9781-7721-20868; $39.95
A Liberal lobbyist Elly Alboim who asked political aides to consider a federal contract for his son also lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office for a corporate client but never reported the fact. Lobbying for contracts must be disclosed under federal law: “I was not lobbying.”
Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna yesterday pledged a Crown-owned Infrastructure Bank will finance more and better projects, though nothing has been completed to date. Parliament launched the Bank in 2017 with $35 billion: “Zero cannot be more.”
Auditor General Karen Hogan yesterday defended her ties to a Liberal lobbyist. Hogan awarded sole-sourced contracts to a lobbying firm and fed them confidential copies of her audits months before they were available to MPs and senators: “We try to have varied points of view.”
Small business owners who survived pandemic lockdowns borrowed an estimated $135 billion, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said yesterday. Covid debts for storekeepers, restaurateurs, contractors and others averaged $169,992: “Economic damage we’ve seen so far is a tiny, tiny portion of what we’ll be seeing in the days ahead.”
A bill to legalize bookmaking would create 2,000 jobs, Unifor yesterday told the Commons justice committee. Betting on single sporting events in Canada has been illegal since 1892: “If we’re not going to spend it in Canada, we are going to spend it abroad.”
The Commons public accounts committee yesterday said the public is owed regular updates on the number of foreign fugitives in Canada. The recommendation followed evidence federal agents lost track of as many as 2,800 criminals due to be deported: “Criminal cases are very important.”
Public Works Minister Anita Anand’s chief of staff personally vouched for a Liberal lobbyist seeking a federal contract for his son, internal emails show. The exchange was never reported to the Commissioner of Lobbying though federal law restricts undisclosed favour-seeking under threat of six months’ jail: “I vouch for Elly here.”