Send tips | Subscribe here | Email Maura | Follow Politico Canada
Thanks for reading the Ottawa Playbook. I’m your host, Maura Forrest, with Sue Allan and Andy Blatchford. Today, we bring you up to date on the RCMP’s use of spyware. Ontario’s lieutenant governor will deliver a throne speech. And the tributes pour in for BILL GRAHAM.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE — The House of Commons ethics committee met for four and a half hours on Monday to study the RCMP’s use of spyware to hack mobile devices, and will meet for another four hours today.
The study was prompted by POLITICO’s revelation in June that the police force had admitted to using spyware for covert surveillance. The RCMP has the ability to intercept text messages, emails, photos, videos, financial records and other data from cell phones and laptops, and to remotely turn on a device’s camera and microphone.
In case you (somehow) weren’t glued to the live feed, we bring you the top five things we learned, the top three questions that went unanswered, and a look at what to expect from today’s testimony.
What we learned:
— The numbers: The RCMP says it has used spyware in 32 investigations since 2017, and has targeted 49 devices. But MARK FLYNN, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner for national security and protective policing, told the committee the police force has used similar technology since 2002.
— Pegasus out: The RCMP says it has never used controversial Pegasus spyware from Israeli firm NSO Group, which has been used to hack smartphones belonging to journalists and human rights activists. Public Safety Minister MARCO MENDICINO said he’d be willing to consider banning Pegasus spyware in Canada.
— A warning: Flynn told parliamentarians he has “very little doubt” foreign states are targeting them using spyware.
— Ramping up: The RCMP has used spyware with increasing frequency over the last five years. In 2017, just two investigations used the invasive technology. So far this year, that number has increased to nine.
— Privacy watchdog in the dark: The RCMP has yet to provide any information to Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne about its use of spyware, though he will receive a briefing on Aug. 23. Dufresne wants the government to update the Privacy Act to require all government institutions to prepare impact assessments before launching programs that could affect people’s privacy.
What we didn’t learn:
— Who are the providers? The RCMP won’t give the names of the spyware tools it’s using, saying criminals could use that information “to render the tools ineffective.”
— Which investigations use spyware? The police force also refused to provide a list of the warrants it has obtained to use spyware, as the committee had requested. Committee chair and Conservative MP PAT KELLY called the “blanket refusal” troubling.
— Who else? Mendicino wouldn’t say whether other agencies, including CSIS and the CSE, also use spyware.
Read POLITICO’s full coverage of Monday’s committee meetings.
What to expect today:
— First up at the ethics committee is former privacy commissioner DANIEL THERRIEN, who has already sparred with the RCMP over its use of invasive technology.
Last year, Therrien ruled the RCMP had broken the law by using facial recognition software from Clearview AI. He also found there were “serious and systemic gaps in the RCMP’s policies and systems to track, identify, assess and control novel collections of personal information through new technologies.”
— In the afternoon, the committee will hear from RONALD DIEBERT, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, who will make the argument that “Pegasus-like spyware is to surveillance as nuclear technology is to weapons.”
Diebert will recommend that the federal government should hold public consultations and develop a legal framework for the use of spyware. He will also recommend that Canadian agencies not be allowed to purchase spyware from companies connected to human rights abuses abroad, and that procurement of spyware by government agencies be made public.
KEEP CALM AND (TAKE) CARRY ON — Transport Minister OMAR ALGHABRA can expect an invite to appear — on time with no delay — in front of a House committee that has launched a summer study into Canada’s travel chaos.
Toronto Conservative MP MELISSA LANTSMAN advised Alghabra to expect questions on the controversial ArriveCAN travel app and the government’s steps to reimpose Covid-19 restrictions.
“All of the warning signs were there,” Lantsman said during a brief virtual meeting of the House transport committee on Monday afternoon. “There should be at the very least a plan to fix the issues that we’re seeing now, which are still happening and have not been meaningfully improved for passengers.”
— In timely reading: Law professor MATT MALONE argues that the ArriveCan app sets a worrying precedent.
Foreign Affairs Minister MÉLANIE JOLY is on a cross-Canada tour, which began Monday in Winnipeg.
11 a.m. The House of Commons ethics committee will hear from former privacy commissioner DANIEL THERRIEN and SHARON POLSKY, president of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada, as it continues its study of the RCMP’s use of spyware. The committee will hear from RONALD DIEBERT, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, and BRENDA MCPHAIL of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association at 3 p.m.
11:30 a.m. Deputy Prime Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND will be in Etobicoke, Ont. to tour a Canadian automotive parts manufacturer, ABC Technologies, and discuss the importance of an integrated North American electric vehicle industry. A press conference will follow.
11:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. CDT) Natural Resources Minister JONATHAN WILKINSON will make an announcement in Winnipeg to support electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
1 p.m.: Ontario Lieutenant-Governor ELIZABETH DOWDESELL will deliver the throne speech.
5:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. MDT) Northern Affairs Minister DANIEL VANDAL will make funding announcements while visiting the Canadian High Arctic Research Station campus in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.
WHO’S CALLING WHOSE BLUFF? — NDP Leader JAGMEET SINGH isn’t bluffing, he told the Toronto Star’s ALTHIA RAJ in a story published Monday morning. If a program to cover dental care for low-income children under 12 years old doesn’t happen before the end of the year, he’s walking away from the NDP’s confidence and supply agreement with the governing Liberals.
“The deal stands on this,” Singh said. “We have no room for any error, we’ve no room for any exception.”
— Except there’s maybe a little wiggle room after all. On Monday afternoon, LAURA OSMAN reported for the Canadian Press that the Liberals are planning a stopgap solution “that involves giving money directly to patients,” because the government is unlikely to meet this year’s deadline.
— The NDP’s response? According to Osman, NDP health critic DON DAVIES says there are “several ways to ensure the target groups can access dental care on the identified timelines.”
— To be fair, as Osman reports, the agreement between the Liberals and the NDP “isn’t prescriptive about how the coverage should be achieved.” But Davies’ response sure doesn’t sound like it comes from a party that’s about to walk away from its deal with the Liberals.
A SENSE OF PRIORITIES — DOUG FORD says it’s “all hands on deck” with Ontario MPPs back in the legislature for today’s throne speech. Think of it as a blueprint for how the premier plans to “get it done.”
“That means a focus on building new transportation, health, and long-term care infrastructure as Ontario tries to recover from a COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020,” write ROBERT BENZIE and ROB FERGUSON. The Star’s Queen’s Park team suggests the legislature will sit for the next month or so.
The Progressive Conservative government is also expected to table a budget.
The Globe’s DUSTIN COOKcaptured the scene outside Queen’s Park Monday where health-care advocates and unions gathered to get the government to do more to support the pandemic-weary health-care system.
CP’s ALLISON JONES reports: “The premier is expected to acknowledge the health-care and economic pressures, but it’s unclear if any new measures will be added to the budget or throne speech to deal with them.”
— In related news: TED ARNOTT is back as Speaker at the Ontario legislature after a vote by secret ballot. (Ford had been pulling for challenger NINA TANGRI.)
A FRIENDLY EMAIL FROM THE CRA — You might be about to get some good news from the Canada Revenue Agency. No, really.
The agency says it has racked up 8.9 million uncashed checks over the years, worth C$1.4 billion, and it’s trying to get them into the hands of their rightful owners.
In a news release featuring two (2) exclamation points (!), the CRA says it’s going to email 25,000 people this month, another 25,000 in November, and ANOTHER 25,000 in May 2023 about the cash they’re owed. The agency says the average uncashed check is worth C$158.
— A long time coming: The CRA says Canadians have redeemed two million uncashed checks worth C$802 million since it began reconnecting people with their long-lost money in February 2020. Some of the checks date as far back as 1998. They remain uncashed for various reasons, including because the taxpayer changed address.
The agency says people can find out if they have an uncashed check by checking their online CRA account. (!)
TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW — What are you hearing that you need Playbook to know? Send it all our way.
— Top of POLITICO this morning: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home raided by FBI in unprecedented move.
— The Star’s STEVE MCKINLEY reports on wildfires in Newfoundland and Labrador.
— PETER BEHR of E&E News’ Energywire says the $369 billion “Inflation Reduction Act” raises critical questions about America’s climate future.
— WIRED explains why the world’s data centers are facing a climate crisis.
— History teacher and author J.D.M. Stewart shares 5 outside-the-box Canadian summer reads.
SERVICE AND DIGNITY — Parliamentarian BILL GRAHAM is being remembered as a mentor, statesman, philanthropist and friend. The former Liberal Cabinet minister died Sunday at the age of 83.
In 2016, Graham published a political memoir: The Call of the World. And in this excerpt, he recounts being called to Cabinet for the first time by then-prime minister JEAN CHRÉTIEN: “I still didn’t understand what was happening because I really didn’t expect it … To go straight from the backbench to foreign minister would be astonishing to everyone.”
Graham served as foreign affairs minister and defense minister in the years after 9/11.
And here are a few of the many tributes shared in the wake of his passing:
Editor PATRICIA TREBLE: “He was my MP — he regularly stood outside the Sherbourne subway station beside a placard IDing himself and asking if constituents had any questions. He’d talk with commuters well before dawn on cold winter days as I walked by, and [was] still there when I returned hours later.”
Liberal MP GREG FERGUS: “Bill always had time for rank and file members. He will be missed.”
Former Prime Minister STEPHEN HARPER: “Bill Graham was the first Leader of the Opposition I had when I was Prime Minister. Even while a determined opponent, Bill was always a gentleman, and he always kept the best interests of the country in mind.”
Labor Minister SEAMUS O’REGAN: “Graham brought a dignity to politics that he brought to life. He relished both. His wit was so cutting it impressed even this Newfoundlander, but it’s his kindness that I’ll remember even more fondly. Bill served his country and his Party when they needed him.”
Politician and broadcaster GEORGE SMITHERMAN: “I can’t help but reflect on his enormous gifts and the goodness and love with which he conducted his life.”
Human rights advocateALEX NEVE: “We didn’t always agree, but his commitment to human rights was strong, at a time when that was eroding worldwide. Of the many Foreign Ministers I badgered over the years, Bill was by far one of the most open & responsive.”
Prime MinisterJUSTIN TRUDEAU: “Whether in Cabinet, Parliament, or his home riding – few people demonstrated the meaning of public service like Bill Graham did. He cared deeply about Canada and the people who call it home.”
Birthdays: HBD + 1 to GEORGES ERASMUS,former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Media mentions: SARAH EL-SHAARAWI has been awarded this year’s Dalton Camp Award and C$10,000 for this look at press freedom in Canada.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI and ANDREA CROSSONhave joined UBC’s School of Journalism as visiting professors.
Spotted: U.S. Ambassador DAVID COHEN, on a trip to Montreal to discuss bilateral law enforcement. Pit stop: Schwartz’s Deli. … Liberal MP NATE ERSKINE-SMITHon the picket line. (By the way, off the top of his latest pod, Erskine-Smith said he’s still pondering a run to lead the Ontario Liberal Party.)
Sen. PAULA SIMONS,celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary. “Marriage is hard work,” she wrote in a column celebrating her silver anniversary. “Forget all the sentimental hogwash you read on wedding cards or inspirational posters.”
REBECCA SCHULZ, who is running to replace JASON KENNEY at the helm of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, with a new recruit. Conservative MP STEPHANIE KUSIE has joined RONA AMBROSE as campaign co-chair.
Farewells:Flags in Newfoundland will be at half staff today in recognition of the death of former Newfoundland cabinet minister TOM HEDDERSON.
If you’re a POLITICO Pro subscriber, don’t miss our latest policy newsletter: Paging Omar Alghabra.
In more news for POLITICO Pro subscribers:
— Pro Analysis: Biden’s decision on China tariffs.
— U.S. sanctions cryptocurrency service for hiding illegal activity.
— Republicans turn on each other amid post-Roe chaos.
— White House security probe could escalate China’s magnet monopoly, industry warns.
— Top takeaways from POLITICO Pro’s briefing on monkeypox.
— Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips to step down.
Monday’s answer: It was GEDDY LEE of Rush who took in QP in May 2012. The band was in Ottawa at the time to receive a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
Props to DOUG RICE, ROBERT MCDOUGALL and CHRIS MCCLUSKEY.
Tuesday’s question: What is the provincial flower of Saskatchewan? For bonus marks, tell us one more thing about it.
Send your answers to [email protected].
Have a petition you want signed? A cause you’re promoting? Seeking to increase brand awareness amongst this key audience? Share your message with our influential readers to foster engagement and drive action. Contact Alejandra Waase to find out how: [email protected].
Playbook wouldn’t happen without Luiza Ch. Savage and editor Sue Allan.