Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Friday for one hour and walked away with a serious credibility problem. Rodriguez has already been repeatedly contradicted on Bill C-11, claiming that the bill doesn’t cover user content or algorithms. On both issues, the CRTC Chair (and virtually every expert) say otherwise. Friday’s hearing focused on two issues – the Laith Marouf/CMAC issue of government funding for an anti-semite and Bill C-18, the Online News Act. Given his responses to MP questions, Rodriguez now faces credibility questions on both. This post will focus on his responses to questions about Canadian Heritage funding for CMAC/Marouf and a second post tomorrow will examine his misleading statements on the bill.
The inclusion of questions on Canadian Heritage funding an anti-semite as part of its anti-hate program appeared to take Rodriguez by surprise. The questions began with Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, who noted Rodriguez’s silence this summer and pressed him on whether he would come to committee to answer questions. The exchange:
Mrs. Rachael Thomas: Minister, my next question is this. Would you commit to coming to committee and answer questions, very important questions, many have already been raised today by members on all sides here, with regards to Mr. Marouf being given $133,000 by your department? Minister, you were awfully silent when this came up this summer. We haven’t heard anything from you yet. We’d love the opportunity to ask you some questions. Would you be willing to come to committee and entertain that?
Hon. Pablo Rodriguez: I’m surprised you didn’t hear me on this because I condemned it.
The reality is not so clear cut. Rodriguez did not say anything for days after the issue emerged. In fact, he didn’t say anything even after the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Justice Minister, and other cabinet members had already spoken despite the fact that the issue arose out of his department. When he finally did speak, Rodriguez did not issue a release or post anything to his website, Twitter or anywhere else. Instead, nearly two weeks after the initial media coverage, he issued a private statement to Canadian Press. That full statement has never been released publicly. When I first called out his silence, his Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bittle suggested I was racist and called me a bully in the press. After the private statement, I asked Canadian Heritage for a copy of the statement. They told me to ask his press secretary. Repeated requests were ignored. The truth is that Rodriguez was noticeably silent for weeks (the Canadian Press story noted that he was “breaking his silence”) and never publicly released his statement. That remains true today.
After the exchange with Thomas, Rodriguez seemed taken aback that NDP Peter Julian continued with the same line of questions. The key exchange focused not on his disturbing reluctance to issue a public statement, but on when Rodriguez became aware of the issue. Bearing in mind that the committee previously heard that Liberal MP Anthony Housefather notified Canadian Heritage on July 18th or 19th and it has since been reported that the Prime Minister’s Office was notified at the same time, one would think that the government’s Quebec Lieutenant and Minister of Canadian Heritage would have heard as well. But according to Rodriguez, he was kept in the dark for an entire month:
Mr. Peter Julian: So at no point were you informed between July 19 and August 22, even though Minister Hussen was consulting with the department, looking at procedural next steps and confirming the organization’s project funding details. Is that correct?
Hon. Pablo Rodriguez: That’s correct.
To put in mildly, this seems completely implausible, severely undermining Rodriguez’s credibility. Consider the following timeline:
- On July 18th, Rodriguez is tagged in a tweet from Mark Goldberg about the funding issue.
- Also on July 18th, the PMO is informed about the situation. Rodriguez would have you believe that on a Quebec and Canadian Heritage issue that no one bothered to inform him.
- On August 13th, Rodriguez is tagged in a tweet from Aviva Klompas asking him what is being done. The tweet receives hundreds of tweets and re-tweets, including one from former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici. As the Twitter user Hansardish notes, Canadian Heritage has 58 people on staff to deal with social media and media issues. Rodriguez would have you believe that no one thought this was relevant.
- Also on August 13th, Judy Rudin tweets at Rodriguez over funding for Marouf.
- On August 16th, Rodriguez promotes an antisemitism consultation hosted by MP Ya’ara Saks in a tweet. The tweet generates multiple comments over the following days referencing Marouf. Rodriguez would have you believe that no one thought this was relevant.
- Also on August 16th, the Post-Millennial runs a story on the issue referencing Rodriguez. Rodriguez would have you believe that no media clipping service picked up the story.
- On August 18th, Jonathan Kay tweets at Rodriguez on the funding for Marouf.
- Also on August 18th, Lynne Nuttall tweets at Rodriguez on the decision to hire Marouf.
- On August 19th, the Canadian Press runs a story on the issue.
- On August 19th, Jonathan Kay tags Rodriguez as part of his extensive coverage of the issue.
- On August 21st, Minister Ahmed Hussen tweets a statement on the issue.
Even if you generously give Rodriguez a couple of days – perhaps he got the dates wrong in the exchange with Julian – there was still a full month for Rodriguez to learn about an issue consuming his department that had been escalated to the Prime Minister’s Office and which was a major concern for one of his Quebec-based MPs. The story had been posted on widely read Twitter accounts and in the press. It surely would have been captured in government media monitoring. Yet Rodriguez would have Canadians believe that he knew nothing, which smacks of incompetence, wilful blindness, or “misinformation” to the committee on a major antisemitism issue. Either way, it is not a credible answer. Further, if it is true – that somehow he did not know anything for a month even as his department was dealing with the issue and many Canadians were expressing their concern about hate online – is this the person that Canadians can trust to lead the legislative fight on the issue?