4 reasons for concern buried in Friday’s booming jobs report

With Canada putting in its best six-month jobs performance in 15 years and on track for its best 12-month period on record, there’s a lot to be optimistic about in Canada’s job market. 

The country’s unemployment rate dipped to 6.8 per cent last month as the economy added 48,000 jobs, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern.

Here are four of the main worries of some of Canada’s top economists.

The types of job

While job gains were pretty broad-based overall last month, some of the sectors that were shut out of the festivities are concerning.

Take manufacturing, always a key because it tends to spill over into other areas. Employment in manufacturing declined by 7,500 jobs in January, and is down 2.2 per cent in the past year.

The Bank of Canada has singled out exports as being key to Canada’s long-term recovery, so for such a key export sector to be still lagging is troubling.

Another sector, IT, also lost 12,500 jobs during the month, which is further reason for concern. As Bank of Montreal economist Doug Porter put it, the industry breakdowns are “sounding a bit of a sour note on the proceedings.” 

They’re mainly part-time

As has been the case for several months in a row, growth in part-time jobs outpaced full-time ones in January by more than two to one.

CANADA'S ANNUAL NET JOB GAINS AND LOSSES

Obviously any job is good news — “a part-time job is better than no job at all,” as Manulife’s senior economist Frances Donald says — but when the work force as a whole is moving toward part-time, that’s bad news for everyone.

Consider that the share of part-time work has been ticking higher since the end of 2015, and rose a full percentage point to almost one out of every five jobs last month, IIHS economist Arlene Kish notes. “The shift to part-time employment,” she says, “can stretch consumers and further contribute to household imbalances.”

They’re paying less

That’s because, all things being equal, part-time work pays less than full time. Statistics Canada’s latest numbers show that across all salaried workers, average hourly wages were only one per cent higher in January than in the same month a year ago. That’s the smallest annual gain since 2003, Dominion Lending Centres chief economist Sherry Cooper notes.

Factor in inflation, and that means workers are actually worse off today than they were a year ago in terms of purchasing power.

“All of these bodies getting jobs are being hired at slowing wage growth,” Scotiabank’s Derek Holt says, “which dents the income and spending implications.”

There’s less actual work being done

With the influx of part-time workers, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that the number of total hours worked is also inching downward. But the reality of the numbers is actually quite shocking.

Hours worked dipped by 0.5 per cent in absolute terms in January compared to December. That may not sound like an alarming figure, but zoom out a little and consider that there was 0.8 less paid work being done last month than there was a year ago. “It wasn’t even that bad in the depth of the oil crisis,” Donald says.

Considering the economy added 276,000 new workers over that time period, that’s astounding. “More bodies working fewer hours seems to be the trend of late and for quite some time,” Holt says. “At some point employers might slow their pace of adding more bodies and demand more from the existing ones they’ve added.”

Bonus: Good news can lead to bad

While few expect the Bank of Canada to move any time soon, a few more months of sizzling job numbers might convince the central bank that the economy is ready for higher interest rates. That would be bad news for the millions of Canadians weighed down by record high debt loads.

One of the immediate impacts of Friday’s job report was a surge in the loonie, which gained more than a third of a cent to 76.40 cents US. A strong loonie sounds like great news for Canadians who travel abroad, but it’s terrible news for exporters, who prefer a weak dollar to make their products more attractive internationally.

As Holt put it: “Backward-looking job growth is great, but not if Canada winds up suffering a negative shock to trade,” because of it.

Many prescription opioid addicts engage in ‘doctor shopping’ before overdose deaths

When Jordan Miller died from an opioid overdose, it wasn’t from fentanyl or another substance he had bought on the street — it was from legally prescribed drugs he had obtained after visiting several different doctors.

The source of the drugs he took is far more common than most would imagine. New Alberta figures show nearly 40 per cent of those dying from an overdose had been prescribed opioids by at least three different doctors in the year before they died.

While the opioid crisis is often perceived as one involving street drugs manufactured in clandestine labs, many in the medical community are awakening to the role of physicians who inadvertently create addicts through the liberal prescribing of painkillers such as oxycodone.

The problem is that when prescriptions run out, the dependence on drugs can remain, driving once-productive citizens to scour the streets for illicit substitutes or to go “doctor shopping,” where they approach multiple doctors in search of a new prescription.

That’s the path that led Miller, a happy-go-lucky young man who owned his own business at age 22, to become another name on a sad list of lost sons and daughters three years later.

Jordan Miller

Miller became addicted to prescription opioids after hurting his back in a construction accident. (Leslie McBain)

Miller was prescribed oxycodone after hurting his back in a construction accident. After months of taking the drug, his mother became concerned about addiction and spoke to their doctor. 

Jordan’s prescriptions were cut off. He did a stint in rehab, but after a couple of months the need for opioids grew too strong for him to resist. His mother, Leslie McBain, believes he was receiving prescriptions for various forms of opioid-based drugs from as many as five physicians.

“He was able to cobble together enough opioids by doctor shopping to not withdraw, not go into withdrawal,” says McBain. “Unfortunately the combination of the drugs that he had was lethal.”

New guidelines on opioid prescription

When OxyContin hit the market in 1996, it was heavily promoted by its manufacturer Purdue Pharma and became widely used. 

While the original brand of the drug is no longer being sold, several other opioid-based treatments are now available. In Canada last year those drugs accounted for more than 30 million prescriptions valued at $881 million, according to QuintilesIMS, which tracks pharmaceutical sales.

Oxycontin

OxyContin was aggressively marketed as a revolutionary painkiller. But many patients became addicted. (CBC)

“I think that the marketing efforts, perhaps an inappropriate understanding of the associated harms and the real need to try to provide options for patients with chronic pain all came together to result in quite a bit of opioid prescribing that increased over time,” says Dr. Jason Busse of McMaster University, who is chairing a panel of experts developing new national guidelines on prescribing the drugs.

Among the new guidelines being proposed:

  • Limiting intake to 50 mg morphine equivalents daily, with an upper limit of 90 mg. Currently there is no upper limit and some patients are prescribed over 200 mg.
  • Not recommending opioids for patients with active substance abuse disorders. 
  • Tapering opioids to the lowest possible dose, including discontinuation.

Busse, who works with the Michael G. DeGroot National Pain Centre in Hamilton, also sees potential peril in efforts to wean Canadians off powerful pain medication.

“If they are taken off their opioids too quickly, if they are tapered aggressively, it is likely that a number of individuals will go into opioid withdrawal. And these symptoms can be extremely troubling.”

Western provinces developing strategies

Alberta and B.C. have been hardest hit with opioid overdoses so far, with a combined 1,257 deaths in 2016. The actual number is likely higher, as Alberta only includes fentanyl deaths in its total, excluding those who died taking prescribed painkillers.

B.C. has already introduced new measures to control how opioids are prescribed. Among the changes the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons recommends are the same dosing levels suggested for national guidelines. The college also wants doctors to review a patient’s medication history before writing a prescription, in order to avoid the doctor shopping that led to Miller’s death.

Alberta’s College of Physicians and Surgeons expects new guidelines to be in place next month. They are currently being reviewed.

Kelly Eby, the college’s spokeswoman, says doctors will be asked to consider options other than opioid drugs for new patients, and tapering down the dosage for those who are able.

But the guidelines also leave some discretion to physicians.

“The way the draft standard is currently written is that these are the things that we are asking physicians to be aware of and follow in regards to rules,” Eby says, “but if you’re not following, for example the maximum dosage or maximum required dosage, we need to be able to, the physician needs to be able to justify why they’re not.”

Doctors sanctioned

Following the death of her son, McBain filed a complaint with the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons. She says it resulted in two of the doctors who wrote prescriptions for her son being sanctioned.

She believes that if doctors had reviewed his history before writing out scripts, he could still be alive today. And while she’s pleased that the tracking of prescriptions is now mandated in B.C., she believes the policy still isn’t being followed by doctors in all cases.

In the meantime, she is grieving the loss of her only son by making it a mission to save the children of other families. As co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, she is now advocating for tougher rules around prescribing and improved options for treatment.

Justin Trudeau unlikely to raise differences with Trump on Monday

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, chair of the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is willing to talk about the differences between his government and President Donald Trump’s, but the topic is unlikely to come up during next week’s trip to Washington.

Monday’s meeting “is going to be a high-level meeting where we talk about the things we share in common. As time goes on, we’ll get down into more specific areas in the different files that are important to the two countries,” he told Chris Hall of CBC Radio’s The House.

“The prime minister has said he will convey our values to the president of the United States and that’s fair. And President Trump will do likewise.… We will talk about what we have in common, but on occasion we will also make the point that we have a different way of looking at certain things.”

During Trudeau’s trip to Washington, Garneau said, the prime minister will likely talk about the strong bonds between the two countries, emphasizing defence, security, the environment and trade.

When asked if Trudeau would raise the issue of immigration and refugees with the new president — contrasting Trump’s insistence on a temporary refugee and travel ban with Canada’s immigration approach —  Garneau repeated that the meeting would focus on the commonalities between the two countries.

The minister said Trudeau is prepared to negotiate with a deliberately provocative leader.

“We are negotiators just like the other side. They expect that from us and we expect that from them.… I think the prime minister is going to make the point that, yes, for 35 states we are the No. 1 customer,” he said.

A discussion about jobs could be a “win-win,” he said.

Trudeau and Trump

Trudeau and Trump have spoken on the phone, but on Monday they will have their first face-to-face meeting. (Canadian Press/Associated Press)

“Of course, President Trump will also have some messages to convey to us. Obviously he’s made it very clear for him a priority is also to create jobs,” Garneau said.

“We’ve got a good arrangement going, and let’s keep it going.”

Opposition urging different approaches 

Earlier this week, NDP MP Nathan Cullen suggested that the prime minister stand up for Canadian values and economic interests, such as the continuing softwood lumber dispute.

“I think he has to speak truth to power,” he said. “Simply lying down and hoping that he doesn’t notice us is not the strategy to use with Mr. Trump. We’ve seen people try to placate him in the past — other Republicans, Democrats — it doesn’t work.”

But Conservative MP Gerry Ritz said Trudeau should avoid the temptation to go “overboard” in confronting the new president.

“It’s always been good politics to have a fight with our southern neighbour, but at the end of the day, that’s our major trading partner. We have to work with them on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour business,” he said.

Liberals looking to eliminate many mandatory minimum sentences, justice minister says

The federal justice minister says the work has already begun to eliminate many of the Criminal Code’s mandatory minimum sentences.

In an interview with CBC News, Jody Wilson-Raybould said her department is dissecting every mandatory penalty on the books. 

“Certainly we recognize for the most serious crimes, mandatory minimum penalties are entirely appropriate, ” she said.

“I’m going to be moving forward on revisiting the mandatory minimum penalties in the Criminal Code in a comprehensive way. And that’s going to be coming in the very near future.”

As a former prosecutor, Wilson-Raybould says judges should determine the appropriate sentence for the individual before them. 

She says there’s enough evidence to show mandatory minimums have contributed to the backlogs in Canada’s courts.

Exhaustive study

Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt has seen it first-hand. He recalled how one client who was charged with impaired driving, which carries a minimum penalty of a one-year licence suspension, felt he had no option but to go to trial because his wife was seriously ill.

“If there was a mechanism for him to plead guilty and retain his licence for the specific purpose of driving his wife to cancer treatment, that case likely wouldn’t have gone to trial,” Spratt said.

Michael Spratt lawyer

Defence lawyer Michael Spratt says he’s seen first-hand how mandatory minimum sentences have created backlogs in the court system. (Hillary johnstone/CBC)

Mandatory minimum sentences are also in the sights of a Senate committee conducting an exhaustive study on court delays.

“We are going to touch on that. We’re not going to ignore it. It’s a concern and it is a concern in some situations,” said committee chair  Bob Runciman, a Conservative senator from Ontario.

There’s a sense of urgency among lawmakers, lawyers and judges to speed up the court system following last summer’s Supreme Court decision in the case of Barrett Richard Jordan, whose drug charges were stayed after a 49-month wait for trial. The top court’s ruling set limits for criminal trials: 18 months for proceedings at provincial court and 30 months for cases at Superior Court.

Southbound lanes on B.C. Lower Mainland highway now open after drivers stranded

A stretch of B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway was closed in both directions between Hope and Merritt due to spun out trucks and severe traffic congestion overnight, according to Drive BC. 

As of 4:17 a.m. Saturday, DriveBC estimates the northbound lanes will open at 5 a.m., after crews clear congestion in those lanes. Southbound lanes opened up around 4 a.m. 

Drivers on the highway reported long delays for much of Friday.

Angela Robert told CBC News that she had been driving south towards the Lower Mainland, but as of 9:30 p.m. had been stopped for more than three hours near the Coquihalla Lakes junction.

Traffic is still moving between Merritt and Kamloops.

Earlier in the day, DriveBC had warned of “significant delays in both directions due to traffic volume and congestion,” as vehicles dealt with compact snow, icy roads, pooling water, and dense fog.

“Stay below 80 km/hr keeping speed appropriate for conditions,” they wrote.

“Watch for disabled vehicles and make way for emergency, maintenance and CVSE vehicles. No vehicle should pass a working snowplow. Motorists are reminded to obey direction from Traffic Control Personnel, RCMP and CVSE who will be on site.”

Ex-SNC Lavalin execs acquitted of bribery charges after wiretap evidence nixed

Three former top executives of SNC-Lavalin have been acquitted in an international bribery case.

 An Ontario Superior Court justice dismissed the case today at the prosecution’s request.

Kevin Wallace, Ramesh Shah, and Zulfiquar Ali Bhuiyan had pleaded not guilty.

The case related to alleged bribery of foreign officials about a construction contract in Bangladesh.

Last month, Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer ruled that wiretap evidence had to be excluded.

As a result, the prosecution on Friday elected to call no evidence and the accused were acquitted, a prosecution spokeswoman said.

Wallace, a former vice-president, was initially arrested and charged in 2013.

Investigator’s report suggests Lake St. Martin ballots sold for up to $300

A federal investigation into a complaint about election fraud in a flooded-out Manitoba First Nation alleges that some candidates bought mail-in ballots from community members. 

The 90-page report, obtained by CBC News on Friday, says an investigation into the June 2016 Lake St. Martin election has concluded some candidates were “corrupt in that they purchased mail-in ballots … and may have committed perjury in addressing the appeal.”

The report stems from an election appeal filed by Lake St. Martin band member Roseanne Beardy, who ran unsuccessfully for chief last June.

‘Serial witnesses’

​Soon after, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada hired private investigator Bob Norton, a retired RCMP officer, to look into the allegations.

His investigation, relying on interviews and sworn affidavits from band members, concluded ballots were sold for as much as $300 each to Chief Adrian Sinclair and councillors Christopher and Gregory Traverse.

“I have no doubt that mail-in ballots were purchased by successful candidates and submitted to the polling station,” Norton wrote. 

The investigation also found there were nine “serial witnesses” who together signed a total of 115 voting documents.

A large number of mail-in ballots were requested and ended up being witnessed at the band office by band office staff on election day, the report states, noting that many members are living on tight Canadian Red Cross allowances.

“There is no other explanation for band members bringing their ballots to the band office other than to sell them and have them completed,” Norton wrote. 

Social-media screen grabs included in the report showed band members offering to sell ballots. 

Norton also investigated an allegation that Sinclair had 90 ballots in his possession during the election — an allegation he found couldn’t be proven.

‘Unfounded allegations’

Sinclair disputed Norton’s findings when reached by phone Friday.

“I’m very disappointed. We won by a landslide and that’s it,” he said before hanging up.

Christopher Traverse said the report’s findings are false and the band’s lawyer is working on creating a response to the government. “Those are all unfounded allegations,” he said.

li-sinclair

Chief Adrian Sinclair says allegations of vote-buying are unfounded. (CBC)

CBC was unable to reach Gregory Traverse Friday for comment, but Robyn Gervais, a Vancouver lawyer hired by the Lake St. Martin band, said she’s working on creating a response to the government. She wouldn’t discuss the allegations.

Norton’s report names 38 different people he talked to, including witnesses and the band’s seven councillors and chief. 

Vote-buying ‘routine’ 

Valerie Beardy, one of the witnesses quoted in the report, said she saw a ballot sold for $300 during a barbecue at the makeshift Lake St. Martin School on Ness Avenue in Winnipeg. Beardy told Norton vote-buying is a “routine thing” in her community.

“I have also sold my ballot a few years back,” she’s quoted as saying in the report. 

Lucy Irene Bruce, a band member who unsuccessfully ran as a candidate in the election, told Norton over the phone that ballots in Lake St. Martin can be sold for as much as $3,000.

Lake St. Martin band meeting

The people of Lake St. Martin have been away from their homes since their reserve flooded in May 2011. Above, community members at a February 2017 band meeting in Winnipeg. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

‘Need money to run’

Beardy said she wants the federal government to order a re-election so she can run for chief again. “This corruption has to stop, this vote-buying has to stop,” Beardy said.

“I was told by other candidates that you’re going to need money to run and I knew what they meant — that I would have to buy ballots, but I refused.”

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada spokesperson Shawn Jackson said the report was provided to all candidates and the electoral officer, and they have until March 7 to prepare a response. The submissions will be reviewed “to determine whether the election should stand or be set aside,” Jackson wrote in an email.

“As in all cases where an election appeal under the Indian Act remains under review, until a decision is made to set aside an election, those declared elected at that election hold office.”

The Lake St. Martin First Nation was flooded in 2011. More than five years later, the community remains displaced. Band members are living in Winnipeg in apartments and hotels as they wait for a new reserve to be built.

Allegations of vote-buying in the community have emerged in previous years, including in 2012, which also prompted a report from INAC.

Windsor public schools cancel upcoming field trips to U.S.

The Greater Essex County District School Board has cancelled all student trips to the U.S. for the rest of February, citing uncertainty over whether all students would be allowed to cross the border.

School board officials in Windsor, Ont. say President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from Muslim nations means the board cannot guarantee all students would be allowed into the U.S.

“Our priority is the safety and well being of students,” said board spokesman Scott Scantlebury. “Having to, for whatever reason, have a student travelling on a field trip be barred from entry or be left behind … we’re not going to proceed if that is the possibility.”

The directive from the board is not a permanent policy. Scantlebury told CBC News it will be revisited based on how court proceedings connected with Trump’s executive order are resolved in court.

PayPal freezes Canadian media company’s account over story about Syrian family

A community newspaper’s payment to enter a feel-good story about a family of Syrian refugees in an awards competition prompted PayPal to freeze the account of a national media organization after flagging the suspicious transaction, The Canadian Press has learned.

The action by the U.S.-based Internet giant sparked dismay, anxiety and raised questions about Canadian autonomy.

“It’s quite scary about how insidious the security agenda has become,” said John Hinds, CEO of News Media Canada. “The demonization and racial profiling, that’s really scary, too.”

The weekly Flin Flon Reminder entered the article — titled “Syrian family adapts to new life” — last month as part of its submissions to the annual Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. The feature story from July 2016 outlines the challenges and triumphs as the family settled in the Manitoban town of 5,100 and the community’s willingness to make them feel welcome.

Reminder publisher Valerie Durnin said when she tried to pay the $242.95 for the paper’s entries, PayPal flagged the payment as possibly not in compliance with its “acceptable use policy,” which she said she hadn’t been able to track down. PayPal did promise to follow up within 72 hours of its investigation, which it never did. Instead it reversed the payment.

This week, Durnin called News Media Canada — formerly Newspaper Canada — to find out what had happened. They realized PayPal had frozen the News Media Canada account, said Nicole Bunt, who processes the awards entries.

“You may be buying or selling goods or services that are regulated or prohibited by the U.S. government,” PayPal said in an email to News Media Canada.

The note also requested a “complete and detailed explanation of the transaction” and the purpose of the payment, which identified with the story’s headline.

“We would like to learn more about your business and/or some of your recent transactions.”

The PayPal message also said the company wanted to be sure that people using the global payment service complied with regulations, including those from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which, among other things, enforces sanctions targeting foreign countries and regimes, terrorists and international narcotics traffickers.

Within hours of The Canadian Press asking about the situation on Friday, the account was unfrozen.

“As there were some transactions related to the word ‘Syria,’ our teams are required to check some details as per our obligations to comply with financial regulations,” a PayPal Canada spokeswoman said in an email.

“We never want to get in the way of people’s desire to do good (but) the U.S. Department of Treasury has clear regulations about payments to Syria.”

Still, Hinds said he was nonplussed by the “extraterritoriality” of what had happened.

“Since when did the U.S. government start regulating Canadian media?” Hinds said. “It’s pretty clear that our account is a newspaper account. It’s not like we’re Hamas Inc.”

Bunt said the organization couldn’t send or receive any money during the lockdown but the bulk of payments for the more than 1,000 entries had already been processed before the halt.

“We encourage people to pay by PayPal because it’s quicker for us and easier to keep track of,” Bunt said. “It was a really nice article, and unfortunately it was flagged for the word ‘Syrian.'”

Durnin said everyone is aware of computer surveillance but what happened had hit close to home.

“It’s pretty odd and unsettling,” said Durnin, who initially thought the issue might have been a new credit card. “It’s such a disconnect between what the story is actually about and the reaction to it based on the words in the story.”

Hinds speculated that an automatic filter had flagged the payment — “it would be worse if a human was involved” — but wondered how many other reporters or media might run into problems given the nature of the stories they do.

PayPal did not immediately explain its process.

Trudeau’s ‘canoes and paddles’ remark called borderline racist by First Nations MP

A First Nations NDP MP has written a biting, satirical letter to Justin Trudeau to “thank” him for controversial remarks he made about Indigenous youth, while taking aim at the prime minister’s suggestion that some chiefs are out of touch with the needs of young people living on reserve.

Trudeau had suggested that most of the Indigenous youth he talked to wanted “a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land.”

Romeo Saganash, who represents the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou, and serves as his party’s Indigenous affairs critic, told Trudeau he had no idea there was such a problem until he watched the prime minister’s town hall appearance in Saskatoon. (Trudeau repeated the canoes and paddle comments, nearly verbatim, the next day in Winnipeg.)

“In fact, I am ashamed for my people that we haven’t been listening to our youth in the way that you have,” Saganash wrote in his sarcastic response.

Saganash said he was writing to the prime minister to voice his support for what he imagines is a national canoe and paddle program, something he said must have been erroneously left off the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. It must have been a “secret” recommendation that only Trudeau knew about, Saganash wrote.

“It is time for the federal government to help First Nations maintain our very important spiritual connection with the water,” he wrote.

Sarcastically, the Cree MP wrote that Trudeau is best placed to take the lead on this file because of his track record of protecting water sources, pointing to his approval of the Site C hydroelectric dam, Trans Mountain’s Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Muskrat Falls dam.

Sask Trudeau 20170125

Tribal Chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council Felix Thomas directs a question to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Saskatoon on Jan. 25. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Saganash wrote that once the canoe and paddle storage program is in place, he will personally paddle across the country to tell First Nations concerned about these projects not to worry, as the “urgently needed” investment in canoe depots will help Indigenous people protect their land and water.

The Trudeau remarks in question were made after Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas criticized the disconnect between the prime minister’s rhetoric — namely his assertion that there is no relationship more important to him than the one with Indigenous people — and the government’s perceived inaction on key files, including post-secondary and K-12 education, child welfare, water and health care.

“I’ve spoken with a number of chiefs who said, ‘You know, we need a youth centre … You know, we need TVs and lounges and sofas so they can hang around.’ And when a chief says that to me, I pretty much know they haven’t actually talked to their young people,” Trudeau said.

“Because most of the young people I’ve talked to want a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land.”

‘Insensitive and insulting’

The comments have been labelled as patronizing by many First Nations observers. Saganash said Friday the comments are “bordering on racist.”

“I couldn’t let the prime minister off the hook with those comments that he made,” he said later in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics.

He said his letter’s sarcastic approach is a typical Cree response to irritants. “The remarks were ignorant, insensitive and insulting,” he said, saying he was particularly bothered by the fact the prime minister repeated them at two separate town hall appearances.

“He should be aware that the challenges that we have in this country as Indigenous Peoples are way more serious, and way more grave, than having sheds for our canoes and paddles,” he said. “Stop this rhetoric.”

Saganash said he founded the Cree National Youth Council in 1985, and has been travelling to communities countrywide as part of his duties as a member of the Indigenous affairs parliamentary committee, and not once has he heard a request for a canoe depot.

What youth really need, Saganash said, is mental health supports, adequate housing, decent education and reforms to the child welfare system.

The Prime Minister’s Office said late Friday Trudeau’s comments were simply reflective of the many conversations he has had over the years with Indigenous leaders, young people, parents and elders.

“During these conversations, First Nations youth often raise the need for greater investments in youth programming and services, and we will continue listening to youth in Indigenous communities across the country while working in partnership with them to develop new solutions and opportunities,” said Cameron Ahmad, the prime minister’s press secretary, in a statement.

Romeo Saganash’s letter to the prime minister

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