Silent On We Charity Secrets

The chief clerk of the federal public service last night refused to say how many We Charity records have been withheld from MPs. The Commons finance committee has sought to censure federal agencies for concealing documents: “What you’re indicating to us is disturbing.”

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Count 800 Criminal Fugitives

Eight hundred foreign criminals wanted for deportation remain fugitives nationwide, the Canada Border Services Agency said yesterday. About 2,000 were successfully deported since auditors uncovered sloppy record-keeping at the Agency: “I don’t quite understand why we would tolerate this.”

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Vowed To First Verify Claims

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough yesterday said auditors will have to “follow up” with Canadians who claimed to be jobless in applying for $2,000 pandemic relief cheques. The program went 240 percent over-budget. Qualtrough’s department earlier claimed checks were done upfront to confirm applications were legitimate: “It was not abandoning any checks and balances at the get-go.”

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EI Sick Claims Increased 49%

Claims for paid sick leave under the Employment Insurance Act increased forty-nine percent even before the pandemic, according to a Department of Employment audit. Staff could not explain the jump in claims, “more than five times the predicted increase.”

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Fed Bank Revenues Collapse

A federal bank has doubled its estimate of bad loans due to the pandemic. Accounting by the Business Development Bank follows a warning taxpayers cannot be sure of risks in loans approved by Crown corporations: ‘It is related to economic shock caused by Covid-19.’

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Call Ex-MP For Questioning

Former Québec Liberal MP Frank Baylis is being summoned back to Parliament Hill, this time as a witness at Commons ethics committee hearings on federal contracting. Baylis’ firm Baylis Medical Company in the past year received two federal contracts: “Is that how you guys want to play?”

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$203M In Loans Unexplained

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in a report says millions in interest-free pandemic loans intended for small business went to operations in “public administration” though rules excluded government organizations. Freeland’s department did not explain the payments worth more than $200 million: “The rules are fairly clear.”

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MP Flummoxed By Acronym

A Liberal MP says he’s sorry after tweeting a profane acronym. MP Adam Vaughan (Spadina-Fort York, Ont.), parliamentary secretary for housing, said he had to look up the meaning of “wgaf” and did not know how it was posted on his Twitter account. “It might have been spell-check,” said Vaughan.

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Fear 2nd Lockdown Is Worse

A new wave of pandemic shutdowns may “have a greater impact on the health of Canadians” than the coronavirus, the Commons health committee was told. The remarks followed the Prime Minister’s direction that Canadians again stay home and avoid non-essential travel: “Millions of Canadians suffered.”

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Gov’t Holiday To Cost $600M

The Commons heritage committee has passed a bill to proclaim a paid legal holiday, but only for federally-regulated employees. Private companies that operate under the Canada Labour Code estimated costs at $600 million: “Understand what a paid holiday means.”

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Poem: “Vive la Différence”

 

The federal government promotes

gender-neutral language.

 

“Flight attendant” not

“steward” or “stewardess”,

“server” not

“waiter” or “waitress”,

singular “their” rather than

“his” or “her”.

 

Some invent Peoplekind

to replace Mankind.

 

The Prime Minister’s website

has yet to join.

 

Activities are His visits, His speeches,

Governor General is Her Excellency,

the Monarch is still Her Majesty the Queen.

 

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)

Review – The Grey Man In A Grey Suit

In Ottawa in 1941 Oscar Skelton, Canada’s first deputy foreign minister, was driving on O’Connor Avenue on his lunch break when he suffered a fatal heart attack and ploughed his Packard into a streetcar. Back at the office, Skelton had secretly filed away a memo seething with frustration. His biography by acclaimed historian Norman Hillmer is worthy of a Chekhov novel: the unassuming functionary whose daily plodding concealed a boil of thwarted aspirations.

A Portrait Of Canadian Ambition is outstanding: “His grey exterior and natural reticence covered a vast range of ambitions – for an extraordinary life, for power and influence, for social standing and prosperity, and for an important place in the remaking of Canada as an independent and progressive country,” writes Hillmer, professor of history at Carleton University.

Skelton “blended in with prosaic Ottawa,” Hillmer notes. He wore tweed suits even in summer; his taste in literature ran to Agatha Christie novels. Canadians were “middle of the road, harmless people”, Skelton wrote. He liked English landscape paintings and lived in Rockcliffe Park, an Ottawa neighbourhood so dull that to this day many streets still have no sidewalks, presumably because there is no place to go.

Skelton from 1925 was head of the Department of External Affairs, a minor ministry with 140 employees that was the first to open Canadian consulates in foreign countries. Till the 1920s Ottawa relations were handled through British missions abroad.

Skelton was a 19th century man with all the narrowness that implied. “Skelton’s Canada was a white Canada,” Hillmer explains. The deputy minister did not like Jews, blacks or Asians and privately groused about Catholics. Dining once in an inexpensive restaurant in nearby Hull, Que. – “a God-forsaken hole,” he wrote – Skelton complained of “a good deal of quarrelling & staggering & foul language” by French-speaking millworkers.

Public service was good to Skelton. He was paid $10,000 a year in 1937, a handsome salary in Depression years, and lived in a six-bedroom house with servant quarters.  “He would never be prime minister, but there was no question in his mind that he would have been a better one than Mackenzie King,” Ambition notes.

Skelton wanted more, for Skelton and his little department struggling to find a diplomatic role in the age of dictators. He was an early and vigorous critic of the Nazis, and pleaded with Mackenzie King not to pay an embarrassing 1937 courtesy call on Hitler. The Fuehrer was a “paranoiac mystic” with a “disordered mind”, Skelton wrote; the Nazis were “dangerous and disgusting” in their persecution of Jews and “cursed with an inferiority complex which compels dangerous swaggering”.

“Skelton was inclined to the belief that the world was full of carnivorous animals,” Hillmer writes. Witnessing the unravelling of peace and 1930s appeasement, the deputy foreign minister privately despaired that Canada would tumble into another disastrous world conflict.

He committed his fears to a confidential memo written September 10, 1939 as Ottawa went to war. How “fantastic and insane” it was, he said, “for Canadians to allow themselves to be maneuvered and cajoled every quarter century into bleeding and bankrupting this young country because of age-long quarrels of European hotheads and the futility of British statesmen”.

The memo was filed away, unread, till a decade after Skelton’s death, an epilogue to a little grey man in a little grey suit.

By Holly Doan

O.D.Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition, by Norman Hillmer; University of Toronto Press; 465 pages; ISBN 9780-80200-5342; $34.97

MPs Cheat On Meal Tickets

MPs have abused free lunch privileges at taxpayers’ expense, the former chair of the Commons government operations committee said yesterday. Legislators debated the ethics of enjoying free food while constituents grapple with a recession and pandemic: “If we’re going to talk about cutting down on costs, let’s go all the way.”

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