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Trudeau plays politics with abortion issue

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence leave a joint news conference in Ottawa on May 30, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

When American Vice-President Mike Pence came to Ottawa on Thursday, our esteemed prime minister made sure to ask him about the most important issue between our two countries: Abortion.

That’s right, on a visit to discuss moving forward with ratifying the new NAFTA deal, Justin Trudeau took time to lecture the American vice-president about a few American states enacting local laws dealing with abortion.

If you are wondering what that issue has to do with the new trade deal or even Canada-U.S. relations, the answer is simple, it doesn’t.

And even if it did, there is little the VP could do about those state laws in places like Louisiana or Alabama.

So why was Trudeau raising the issue?

Falling poll numbers in Canada.

Trudeau is hoping that by jumping on an issue that is a hot button in the United States, he can excite his base here in Canada, maybe even win back the votes of women that felt betrayed over his treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould.

In the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the revelations of Trudeau trying to strong arm Wilson-Raybould, several polls from firms such as Ipsos showed Trudeau dropping in support among women.

As someone that has been covering federal politics for a long time, I can tell you one thing: When Liberal support among women is put in jeopardy, they start talking abortion.

Trudeau’s message is simple: Those nasty Americans are threatening access to abortion, and if you elect Tory leader Andrew Scheer, he will be just like them!

It’s a ridiculous statement.

Scheer was part of a government that had 10 years to move on this issue and didn’t. Much to the chagrin of some of his supporters, he has said that he won’t reopen the debate.

He doesn’t want to talk about the issue.

Trudeau does. He wants it in the news daily, which is why he raised it with Pence during his visit.

“I highlighted to the vice-president that there was a significant amount of concern amongst Canadians on the new anti-choice laws being passed in a number of American states,” Trudeau said.

I wonder how Trudeau would feel about Pence taking him to task in public on his carbon tax law or the threat of a gun ban that Trudeau and his team keep talking about.

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like it. I’m sure most of our media would erupt with outrage over the Americans attempting to interfere in our domestic politics.

Pence took it all in stride saying that friends can disagree and that the conversation was respectful but he didn’t back down from stating his view.

“I’m very proud to be part of a pro-life administration,” Pence said.

To be honest though, it’s unlikely Pence took offence at the intrusion by Trudeau into U.S. politics. He knows it was all aimed at a Canadian audience.

Trudeau wanted to raise the issue to get it talked about in Canadian news media. He wants to scare women that may have left his Liberals for the NDP, or worse the Conservatives, with ideas that he is all that stands between them and Georgia’s heartbeat bill.

It’s laughable.

Even if Scheer wanted to push for any kind of abortion law, he wouldn’t get it past his own caucus. There is simply not enough support among MPs for passing any kind abortion bill in Canada.

Once again, Trudeau is playing politics with a serious issue and hoping no one notices.

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Marijuana legalization gets lost in the weeds

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Five Democratic states are poised to create a pot lovers’ paradise, legalizing marijuana from Pennsylvania to Connecticut.

But political infighting — especially among Democrats — could conspire to kill it.

Democratic lawmakers in New York and New Jersey are arguing over criminal justice reforms. In Connecticut, powerful religious leaders torpedoed legalization once before. And all five states must find common ground on taxes to keep up with Massachusetts, where marijuana is already legal.

The political turmoil over marijuana comes as five northeastern Democratic governors announced last month that they had reached an agreement to fully legalize marijuana. Three of the states — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where Democrats are in complete control of the government — already have spent months squabbling over the specifics of complex legislation that would legalize cannabis sales.

The sharp divisions among rank-and-file lawmakers are unlikely to recede simply because the states’ governors reached a handshake agreement on broad guardrails for legalizing marijuana.

“There are a lot of details that need to get resolved and different viewpoints on the details,” said New York Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, who represents Manhattan.

“Last year there were a lot of big complex issues eating up a lot of time that, I think, made resolving marijuana legislation more difficult.”

Just one state — Illinois — has passed legislation establishing recreational sales. The other nine states that allow adults to buy weed for any reason have done so through ballot referendums. The legislative process has proven much messier. Instead of a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down from voters, every single lawmaker has an opportunity to weigh in on what legislation should look like.

The prospects for passing legalization anytime soon in Pennsylvania look particularly bleak. While Gov. Tom Wolf is a recent convert to the cause, both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by Republicans, and they’ve shown little interest in pursuing recreational marijuana sales.

“The reality is they don’t have the votes,” said Kevin Sabet, CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has been fighting legalization efforts around the country. “This is definitely not a slam dunk in any of these states. Pennsylvania — it’s a complete pipe dream that they would get this done in the legislature.”

What’s in the agreement?

The five governors only agreed on broad principles to guide their efforts. Chief among the policy recommendations is setting a similar tax rate on cannabis sales as a means of leveling the market across the region. The five governors also pledged to limit the number of licenses for cannabis businesses, craft policies to prioritize the inclusion of small business owners, develop criminal justice reform programs to improve the lives of ex-offenders and develop uniform law enforcement and public health standards for policing the industry.

Most lawmakers who support legalization praised the governors for leading on the issue. The summit was prompted in part by concerns about the vaping crisis, which has sickened more than 2,000 people and led to at least 39 deaths, according to the CDC. Most of the lung illnesses have been tied to THC vapes, primarily from the black market.

“People realize the time has come,” said New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a top legalization advocate. “The fact that it hasn’t been legalized and regulated allows the black market to put products out there that we know are hurting people.”

But the broad framework agreed to is unlikely to make it much easier to reach accord on specific policy details.

“We are going to be losing serious economic activity,” added Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), the lead sponsor of legalization legislation, pointing out that New York state residents are already buying weed from legal dispensaries. “If you go to a cannabis store in the Berkshires — a half hour from Albany — you can’t help but notice all of the license plates are from New York in the parking lot.”

Current legislative proposals diverge on policy details

The cannabis legalization proposals that have emerged from each state are unique. New Jersey’s legislation, agreed to by each of the state’s top Democrats after months of negotiation, would tax cannabis at $42 per ounce at the cultivation level. Local municipalities could impose their own taxes as well. Legislation advanced in Connecticut, which was never voted on, would have imposed a $35 per ounce tax on cultivators, plus local fees and a sales tax. Recent legislation introduced by Pennsylvania lawmakers would levy a 17.5 percent tax at the point-of-sale.

“In terms of setting a goal of being as unified as possible, that is a worthwhile exercise,” said Connecticut state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, who co-chairs the House Joint Committee on Judiciary. “Do I suspect, at the end of the day, that there will be certain pieces of this that one state wants to do one way, and other states want to do another way?

“Of course.”

A half-dozen Democratic lawmakers and staff members in Connecticut who spoke with POLITICO indicated it would be an uphill battle just to get a cannabis legalization measure over the finish line, regardless of whatever agreement Gov. Ned Lamont hatched with his counterparts in the Northeast.

A package of three bills that would have legalized cannabis, designated new programs for marijuana-related tax revenues and blazed new criminal justice reforms collapsed after facing resistance from the state’s black and Latino faith leaders. And while lawmakers briefly floated the idea of moving a bill that would have created a ballot question on adult-use, that also stalled.

“I confess, and this is probably a good example probably of white privilege, I didn’t appreciate the ingrained resistance to legalization from communities that have been battling [with] it for so long,” said state Rep. Mike D’Agostino, a Democrat committee chairman who represents the New Haven suburbs. “We need to do a good job of going out and listening. And also saying, ‘Here’s what’s in our bills. Here’s how we’re trying to address the social justice concerns and the economic concerns.’”

Perhaps just as importantly, efforts to legalize adult use in other states require some level of common understanding between lawmakers and the chief executive.

Pennsylvania‘s Wolf publicly announced his support for cannabis legalization in September, a little less than a month before the multi-state framework was released. His appearance on the dais alongside Cuomo, Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Oct. 17 was a surprise to state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat who introduced an adult use bill earlier this year.

“Was the Legislature consulted? No,” Leach told POLITICO, adding that he supported any effort on the part of Wolf to “move the ball forward.”

“There may be places where things fit together, and places where they don’t,” Leach said. “Each state needs to concentrate primarily on getting a law passed that works for our state.”

If the five northeastern states are able to overcome the formidable hurdles they face and create a sprawling five-state marijuana marketplace, it could create a tipping point in the legalization debate nationwide, said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. That would mean nearly half the country would be living in states where anyone over the age of 21 can buy weed for whatever purpose they choose.

“It becomes increasingly untenable,” O’Keefe said, “to have all of this conduct be federally illegal when you have nearly 150 million people living in states where it’s legal and regulated.”

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Politics

The billionaires funding politics, ranked by size of donation in 2018

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Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson gave more money to political candidates than any other Americans in 2018.

A small group of ultra-wealthy Americans pumps a lot of money into politics.

We took a look at the top 25 donors who funded American politics in 2018 and found that the list consists of, among others, an assortment of financiers, heirs, and entrepreneurs.

The contributions of some of the largest donors — such as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, George Soros and Tom Steyer — are well known, while other donors, like Jeff Bezos, are better known for their careers.

Interestingly, one well-known political donors — Charles Koch — did not make the list. Koch and his now-deceased brother David donated $1,816,650 to Republicans through their company Koch industries in 2018, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. To make this list, their donations would have needed to top $6.5 million.

Business Insider previously reported that public affairs rank as the eighth-most popular cause that billionaires donate to. Only 12.4% of billionaires reported making donations to politics in 2018, according to Wealth-X‘s 2019 Billionaire Census.

Collectively, the 25 billionaires and billionaire couples on the list totaled a whopping $ in political donations in 2018, data from The Center for Responsive Politics shows.

Keep reading to learn more about the country’s biggest political donors, ranked in order of their donations during the 2018 election cycle by The Center for Responsive Politics. Each donor’s net worth, where available, was sourced from Forbes unless otherwise specified. Their party affiliations are listed according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

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Pallister says Canada can unite on climate action if partisan politics set aside

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Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press


Published Friday, November 8, 2019 12:17PM EST


Last Updated Friday, November 8, 2019 1:58PM EST

OTTAWA — Giving clear indications that he’s prepared to broker a truce between the federal Liberals and his more disgruntled Prairie counterparts, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he offered strategies to the prime minister Friday for uniting the country.

“I came in peace,” Pallister said after a 45-minute meeting with Justin Trudeau in his Parliament Hill office.

“I’m a friendly Manitoban looking to help in any way I can to restore a sense of faith in the future of our country.”

One such strategy Pallister eluded to was to turn the climate change debate on its head, making the issue a unifying force rather than what it has been so far — a point of heated and often partisan division.

“Fighting climate change is a unifying project,” Pallister insisted while criticizing Trudeau for making it a wedge issue in the recent federal election.

“A political leader can divide. A prime minister should unite,” he said.

“So, as we move forward, we should unite around fighting climate change and we should not be caught up in a debate about a subset of a subset,” referring to Ottawa’s insistence on a national carbon tax as a central plank of any plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Trudeau’s relationship with many provincial premiers is tense, particularly over his decision to impose a price on pollution in any province without an equivalent system of its own, including Manitoba.

Pallister opposes Trudeau’s plan, but not carbon taxes in general and is still hoping the prime minister will allow provinces to create their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The prime minister acknowledged the divide between his government’s policies and those of Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe in a news conference the day after the federal Liberals were reduced to a minority in the House of Commons without a single seat in the two provinces.

And he promised to support the West as it faces economic struggles, particularly in the oil patch.

In the days that have followed the Oct. 21 vote, a simmering separatist movement in Alberta has gained momentum under the Wexit umbrella, a name seemingly created to mimic the Brexit movement aimed at separating Britain from the European Union.

The group’s founder, Peter Downing, earlier this week filed paperwork with Elections Canada to form a federal Wexit Alberta party that could, in his words, do for Western Canada what the Bloc Quebecois does for Quebec.

Pallister said he sees frustrations building in the West, not just around a failure to build pipelines to get western energy products to international markets outside of the United States, but also over the perceived snail’s pace of getting just about any other project underway. He blamed it on federal regulations designed to protect the environment.

To alleviate some of those frustrations, Pallister said Ottawa needs to “get things done,” such as building infrastructure that will mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The mayor of Calgary, for example, has raised concerns as I have repeatedly about flood protections that we need to get built,” Pallister said.

“We’re trying to build flood protection to give people their lives back in our province but we’ve been, after hundreds of meetings and millions of dollars, we’re not sure we’re getting as much progress as I would like.”

Just before he and Pallister went into their private meeting, Trudeau told the premier he hoped the two leaders could work together on a number of fronts.

“Obviously there’s a need to continue to invest, to grow opportunities for Manitobans . . . through infrastructure including climate change mitigation and adaptation infrastructure,” Trudeau said during a photo op.

Pallister said he and the prime minister also spoke about ways to improve the lives of Indigenous Canadians in his province as well as the recent spike in the number of homicides and violent gang and drug-related crimes in Manitoba.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2019.

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