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Michael Wernick should’ve thought twice before serving up his ‘Cicero moment’

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Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick waits on Thursday to appear before the Justice Committee (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

While much of the country is going about its day-to-day business, the SNC-Lavalin/Jody Wilson-Raybould affair has overtaken Ottawa and the front pages of newspapers throughout Canada. A complicated matter of ethics and law, of dates and times and personalities, of partisan games and media speculation, the knotty issue has become a matter in the public interest that must be unraveled as soon as possible. To that end, the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights is investigating the government’s consideration of a deferred prosecution agreement for the engineering firm.

On Thursday, the committee called Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick—the nation’s top bureaucrat, deputy minister to the prime minister, and secretary to the cabinet—to testify about who said what to whom about SNC-Lavalin, when they said it, and why. That makes sense. Wernick is a longtime, respected public servant whose time in government stretches back decades and includes service under Liberal and Conservative prime ministers. And as the chief of the Privy Council Office, which acts as the civil service support organization for the prime minister and cabinet, he would have been a part of discussions about what the attorney general can and cannot do in such matters as a deferred prosecution agreement and, equally, what Trudeau and his office can and cannot ask her to do. So far, nothing to see here.

In the 4th century AD, Aristotle talked about phronesis. It means wisdom, more or less. But the ancient Greek philosopher built out the concept in a particular way, casting it as what we call practical wisdom, or doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons. You might say that practical wisdom is concerned with how to act in good ways. It’s a useful concept and one we’d do well to apply in our personal and professional lives as much as possible. In fact, the health of our democratic institutions and the public sphere might depend on it.

RELATED: As debate darkens, Canada’s top bureaucrat warns of violence

Wernick’s testimony included references to extreme partisanship, the dangers of shouting treason and incitation to violence, and the decline of democratic institutions at home and abroad. He even worried aloud that someone might be shot as aggravating political rhetoric pierces our civic discourse. He’s not wrong. Nor is he a partisan, as some are suggesting, despite unnecessary and over-the-top praise for the current government. Moreover, it seems that his point is that these concerns may be related to the SNC-Lavalin affair through the cynical and hyperbolic politicization of the matter. But here’s where things turn.

To the extent that Canadians are even aware of Wernick and the position of clerk of the Privy Council, they tend to think that the duties of that office should be carried out quietly and without great drama. Ditto for other officials and public servants. Thankfully, in Canada, the public service is professional and it is typically non-partisan. It’s also world-class. But if public servants or officials are in the news, then there’s probably something wrong. The consensus seems to be that we ought to let politicians grandstand, to let members of Parliament be the story, to let the folks we vote for act as our pace cars or guides, and—finally—to let elected representatives be held accountable. Wernick’s testimony seemed to violate that expectation at very much the wrong time, thus adding fuel to what’s already a raging national dumpster fire.

As correct and important as Wernick’s opening statement to the committee and subsequent testimony was, his Cicero act—heavy rhetorical flourishes in the stately spirit of the ancient politician and orator—while both understandable and laudable in its presumed ends, didn’t live up to the standard of practical wisdom that our officials and public servants should keep. What Canadians need right now is facts. Boring. Dry. Plain. Direct. Facts. As much as those in the public spotlight might want to cry, with justification, O tempora o mores! (Oh the times! Oh the customs!) in observation of the SNC-Lavalin mess, a committee investigation into a sensitive and complicated matter is neither the time nor the place. Once more, it isn’t that such observations are wrong; it’s that they’re not helpful and they probably won’t achieve their desired ends—and they risk making matters worse by sowing confusion and misplaced suspicions of partisan motivation that undermine the goals of their speaker.

Even as Wernick spoke, his words were already becoming a Rorschach test for partisans and others following his testimony who saw the worst—or the most tactically advantageous—in what he said. Sadly, that fact is evidence that what he laments is indeed a problem. But wise officials and public servants ought to take a moment to consider the best way for them to support healthier public discourse and a safe and productive public sphere—and that’s by locking it down and choosing their words with extraordinary but essential care.

MORE ABOUT JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD:

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Ottawa Book Expo 2020 – Authors, Publishers look forward to a top-notch Canadian book fair

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Diversity has always been a complex issue, no matter where you look.Case in point, world-famous writer, Stephen King, has recently come under criticism for his views on diversity. The best-selling author had stated, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art, only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” Many criticized the novelist as being out of touch and “ignorant,” but one cannot deny that King’s opinions on diversity, mirror the thoughts of a whole lot of people in the creative industry.

The Toronto Book Expo is coming back in 2020, with a multi-cultural concept that aims to include marginalized authors.  The Expo intends to celebrate literary works of diverse cultural backgrounds, and the entire literary community in Canada is expectant. Book-lovers and writers alike, are invited to three days of uninhibited literary celebration where diverse cultural works will be prioritized. At the event, authors will be allowed to share their culture with a broad audience. The audience will be there specifically to purchase multi-cultural works.

Multicultural literary expos do not come every day. In Canada, there is a noticeable lack of literary events celebrating other cultures. This leads to a significantly lower amount of cultural diversity in the industry. The Toronto Book Expo would aim at giving more recognition to these marginalized voices. Understandably, more recognizable work will be prioritized.

The Toronto Book Expo is making a statement that diversity is needed in the literary community. The statement is truly motivating, especially if you consider the fact that this could mean more culturally diverse works of literature.

There is a lot of noticeable cultural ignorance in literature. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and books are one of the best means of improving multi-cultural diversity in literature. The Toronto Book Expo is going to fully utilize books to fight ignorance in the literary industry.

Real progress cannot be made if there is a substantial amount of ignorant people in the industry. In spite of advancements made in education in recent years, there is still a considerable percentage of adults who remain unable to read and write.The Toronto Book Expo aims to bring awareness to social literacy issues such as illiteracy.

It is important to uphold high literacy levels in the community and to support those who are uneducated. A thriving society cannot be achieved if the community is not able to read their civil liberties and write down their grievances.

The major foundation of a working and dynamic society is entrenched in literature. Literature offers us an understandingof the changes being made to our community.

The event would go on for three days at three different venues. Day 1 would hold at the York University Student & Convention Centre at 15 Library Lane on March 19. Day 2 would be held at the Bram and BlumaAppel Salon Facility on the second floor of the main Toronto Reference Library near Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto on March 21 and day 3 of the expo would take place at the internationally famous Roy Thomson Hall.

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A Week In Ottawa, ON, On A $75,300 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.Attention, Canadians! We’re featuring Money Diaries from across Canada on a regular basis, and we want to hear from you. Submit your Money Diary here.Today: a biologist working in government who makes $75,300 per year and spends some of her money this week on a bathing suit. Occupation: Biologist
Industry: Government
Age: 27
Location: Ottawa, ON
Salary: $75,300
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,930
Gender Identity: Woman

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Ottawa doctor pens nursery rhyme to teach proper handwashing

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An Ottawa doctor has turned to song to teach kids — and adults, for that matter — how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs.

Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease physician at CHEO, the area’s children’s hospital, created a video set to the tune of Frère Jacques and featuring the six-step handwashing method recommended by the World Health Organization.

Thampi’s 25-second rendition, which was co-authored by her daughter and Dr. Yves Longtin, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, is featured in the December issue of The BMJ, or British Medical Journal. 

Thampi said as an infectious disease physician and a mother of two, she thinks a lot about germs at home and school.

“I was trying to find a fun way to remember the stuff,” she said. “There are six steps that have been codified by the World Health Organization, but they’re complex and hard to remember.” 

Thampi said she came up with the idea to rewrite the lyrics to the nursery rhyme on World Hand Hygiene Day in May, when she was thinking about how to help people remember the technique. 

She said studies have shown that handwashing is effective in reducing the risk of diarrhea-related illnesses and respiratory diseases. 

“So I’d say it’s one of the most important and easiest things we can do.”

The video includes such often-overlooked steps as “wash the back,” “twirl the tips around” and “thumb attack,” which pays special attention to the first digit.

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