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NDP turned low expectations into high spirits on the campaigns

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PORT ALBERNI, B.C.— It’s about the energy.

Ed Ross felt it when he pressed a long, slate grey eagle feather into Jagmeet Singh’s hands. Ross was among a group of drummers from the Tseshaht First Nation who sang and played for the NDP leader as he disembarked from his campaign bus Friday morning in this valley town in the mountainous interior of Vancouver Island.

“When I gave him the feather at first, he grabbed it, embraced it, and then went in and held it through the whole (event),” said Ross, dressed in an orange T-shirt and black vest with a band of sweetgrass tied around his head.

“I’m an energy guy. It’s how I feel when I meet you,” he said. “I can see that he’s listening. I can see that he’s engaged. I can see the eye contact that he makes …

“You can see that he’s a good man.”

For weeks before the start of the federal election campaign, top NDP officials were saying Singh — the 40-year-old rookie leader of Canada’s social democratic party — had personal magnetism and charisma that could ignite on the campaign trail. Now that the campaign is in its final days, polls suggest they may have been right. Singh has seen a bump in recent weeks, both in national voting intentions for New Democrats, and in his own personal favourability ratings, that one pollster characterized as “through the roof.”

Marie Della Mattia, the NDP’s campaign co-chair, said the party has stayed true to its plan. At every turn, Singh has cast the Liberals and Conservatives as beholden to the interests of the rich, and tried to convince Canadians that New Democrats will tax corporations and the wealthy to pay for broad and expensive social programs that would benefit everyone.

A big part of why people might be listening, Della Mattia said, is Singh himself.

“He’s a really good campaigner. He’s energetic. He’s enthusiastic. He loves doing this,” she told the Star on Friday outside the NDP’s campaign office in Port Alberni. “We couldn’t wait for the campaign to start.”

When it finally did start, in early September, the NDP appeared to have a rough road to voting day. Annual fundraising returns had tanked from more than $18 million in 2015 — when the party was the official opposition in the House of Commons — to just $5 million last year. Several high profile incumbents, like B.C.’s Nathan Cullen and Quebec’s Hélène Laverdière, had decided not to run again, and the party lagged in filling a roster of candidates for the coming campaign.

There were also questions about Singh himself, who had stumbled repeatedly in the early months of his leadership, sometimes appearing ignorant of his own party’s policies as he tried to lead the NDP caucus for more than a year without his own seat in the Commons.

Farouk Karim, who was press secretary to Singh’s predecessor as NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, said the struggles that Singh appeared to endure may have given him an advantage in disguise: he entered the federal campaign this fall with low expectations.

This “allowed Singh to introduce himself for the first half of the campaign without being a threat and therefore without attacks from his opponents,” Karim said. “It also allowed Singh to make a very good impression to Canadians who might have written him off because of the negative chatter on the party.”

Della Mattia believes the seeds of the NDP’s momentum were sown in the early days of the campaign as Singh hammered a message of contrast, with the NDP on one side and the Liberals and Conservatives on the other. At the first debate in early September, which Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau skipped, she said Singh tried to show that he’s preoccupied with everyday Canadians by citing examples of their struggles to afford prescription drugs or find housing.

Lorne Bozinoff, president of the polling firm Forum Research, said he believes a turning point for the NDP was Singh’s emotional reaction to images of Trudeau in brownface and blackface. After Singh listened to Trudeau’s first apology that night, he decided to make a late-night statement urging people of colour not to “give up on Canada, and please don’t give up on yourselves.”

“That got people looking at him and listening to him,” Bozinoff said. “He was very, very compelling.”

Della Mattia said the reaction was pure Singh. “He reacted with such humanness and it was super raw … It was just what he was feeling and thinking at the time.”

But rather than being the turning point, Singh’s campaign co-chair sees the moment as one of several through the campaign that set the stage for the recent lift in the polls. In Grassy Narrows, Singh shot down a question about spending unspecified amounts of money on Indigenous infrastructure and social services by asking whether resources would be a concern if Vancouver or Toronto didn’t have access to clean water. He was generally seen to have performed well in the official campaign debates, and flared on social media with a viral “Tik Tok” meme video.

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“What I said all along … it doesn’t happen right away,” said Della Mattia. “It takes five to 10 days to percolate into the consciousness of dental hygienists with two teenage boys.”

On Friday, as Singh toured Vancouver Island, he was questioned — as he has been all week — about how the New Democrats will handle a minority parliament, given that they’ve ruled out supporting the Conservatives in any way. He refused to say whether he would try to defeat a Conservative minority before it tries to scrap the federal carbon price, or whether he would make the cancellation of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — a key priority for federal New Democrats — a condition for supporting the Liberals.

But regardless of what happens when votes are counted Monday, Della Mattia argued that the NDP campaign has already succeeded. Singh could be the kingmaker in a hung parliament, just weeks after many questioned whether the NDP would even retain official party status in the House.

“Despite the smaller budget than the other parties, our campaign has actually looked better and been stronger,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything I could say we would do differently.”

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Alberta in for frigid winter, says Weather Network

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Nicole Estabrooks pedals down a snowy Calgary street on Nov. 5, 2019. Calgary has already seen several snowstorms since September.

Expect temperatures in Calgary to swing back-and-forth throughout a winter that’s slightly colder than average, the Weather Network warns.

According to the network’s seasonal forecast released Monday, it’ll be chillier than normal throughout southern Alberta over the coming months, but with periods of reprieve mixed in.

“We expect a colder-than-normal winter, but the pattern will break down at times,” said meteorologist Doug Gillham. “We have above normal temperatures forecast for the B.C. coast and at times that milder Pacific air will spread into Alberta.”

The same goes for precipitation this winter, when much of the province’s southern portion can expect above-average snowfall, especially in the Rocky Mountains, he said.

“It’s overall good news for skiers,” Gillham noted.

Average levels of snowfall are in the longterm forecast for Calgary, but that could mean more flakes than usual after it’s all said and done when factoring in storms that already hit throughout the fall.

Gillham said Calgarians are used to drastic weather shifts, with November proving to be no exception.

“Those back-and-forth swings are typical so you’ll see that this winter to some extent, but you’ll be frozen more often than you’re thawed and I think the temperatures will tip more to the cold side of normal,” he said.

“It’s a little bit more of a harsh winter than the average without being, likely, one of your more memorable and more severe winters.”

The Weather Network’s winter forecast predicts it will be a long, cold winter across much of Canada, especially in the southern parts of the Prairies. The trend of a deep freeze will be felt through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where meteorologists expect cold air to anchor down for the season.

But things are looking a little better in B.C., where temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal.

However, there may still be a two-week period where winter shows up out of the blue on the Pacific coast. Conditions will also likely be favourable in B.C.’s ski areas, despite the slightly higher temperatures.

From southern Ontario to southern Quebec, people can prepare for a winter that’s colder than usual and has much more precipitation than normal.

In Atlantic Canada, the Weather Network predicted it won’t be bitterly cold, but it will be a very stormy season.

Nunavut and the Northwest Territories will likely experience average winter conditions, which bucks a recent trend of warmer-than-usual winters in the Far North. In Yukon, a warmer winter is still expected.

Yukon and B.C. are the only parts of the country where spring could show up early in 2020, as the rest of the country should get ready for a harsh and prolonged season, according to the forecast.

Gillham said the seasonal prediction tries to answer questions of “how will the season be remembered?”

He compared the Weather Network’s forecast to pre-season hockey predictions, noting day-to-day weather is anyone’s guess beyond the seven-day forecast.

“It would be foolish to sit down and predict which games the Calgary Flames will win or lose through the course of a season, but often you have a good handle based on who’s coming back, maybe who you traded for,” Gillham said.

“Is this the year that you contend for the Stanley Cup, is this the year where you’re just fighting for the playoffs, or is this the year where you think you’re going to get a really good draft pick because you’re contending for the basement?”

—With files from the Canadian Press

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Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais leaves Conservative caucus

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Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais has left the Conservative caucus citing frustrations with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage and the “low importance” attached to Quebec voters by party leadership.

In a release issued Monday morning, Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, who represents Quebec, said he would be joining the newly formed Canadian Senators Group.

Andrew Scheer‘s beliefs about abortion and same-sex marriages led to a mass exodus of the Quebec vote that the party hoped to win with the excellent candidates who had been recruited for the election of 21 October,” read the release.

Dagenais said the Conservatives “wasted a unique opportunity” in the federal election – a result he said would only be repeated “if the current leader and those who advise him remain in office as is the case at this time.”

Because of this opinion, Dagenais said it would be “inappropriate” for him to remain in the Senate’s Conservative caucus. He said the recent announcement of the breakaway Senate group presented him with a “logical choice” to express his views “unreservedly.”

Dagenais said he would, however, maintain his membership of the Conservative Party of Canada as it’s “the only political party in the country that conveys his economic and national security values.”

Dagenais’ criticism isn’t the first that’s been issued about Scheer’s social conservatism. Scheer came under fire throughout the campaign for failing to clarify his personal beliefs on issues including same-sex marriage and abortion.

One week after the election, former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay said the social conservatism question hung around Scheer’s neck “like stinking albatross” during the campaign. MacKay also compared Scheer’s election result to having a breakaway on an open net and missing the shot. He has since spoken in support of Scheer’s leadership.

Newly-elected Conservative MP Eric Duncan, who is openly gay, told CTV’s Your Morning earlier this month that the Conservative Party needs to rethink its approach to LGBTQ issues.

“I think we need to work on how we make ourselves a modern Conservative party, and that includes being more inclusive on that issue,” Duncan said.

Scheer has declined to take part in Pride parades and has yet to apologize for comments he made in 2005 comparing same-sex couples to dogs. However, in 2016, Scheer voted in favour of removing the Conservative Party’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. He has also said he would not reopen the issue of same-sex marriage.

Dagenais said in his release that he “disagrees with certain social values” of the current Conservative Party leadership, which prompted his plan to jump ship.

The Canadian Senators Group (CSG) was created in early November with more than 10 senators flocking to the group from various caucuses. At the time, freshly-anointed CSG Leader Scott Tannas said the group is united by their approach to work and regional representation.

“Our group is about funding an independent research bureau that will serve our group, provide us with facts,” Tannas said at the time.

“We’re not going to try to sell each other behind closed doors and come to a group position. We will be debating each other in many instances.”

The newly formed Canadian Senators Group said it was “happy to welcome” the “like-minded senator.”

The release also welcomed Senator Percy Downe, who has previously served under a Liberal banner, to the burgeoning Senate group.

This caused other Senate dominoes to fall, as Downe had joined the newly formed Progressive Senate Group Nov. 14. His departure cause the Progressive group to fold just days after members of the now-defunct Senate Liberal Caucus had created it.

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Ontario high school teachers vote in favour of a strike

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TORONTO – The union representing Ontario’s high school teachers says its members have voted 95 per cent in favour of a strike.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says the result gives it an “overwhelming” mandate to take job action if necessary.

The union also represents education workers who voted 92 per cent in favour of taking strike action.

The OSSTF is already in a legal strike position as of today, though it’s also required to give five days’ notice before a strike and has not yet done so.

Three of Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions are taking steps toward potential strikes as they negotiate with the government for new contracts.

Elementary teachers are set to start a work-to-rule campaign on Nov. 26 that they say will target ministry and school board administrative tasks but won’t affect student learning.

Catholic teachers voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike if necessary, although they are not yet in a legal strike position, while negotiations between the province and French teachers continue.

The Canadian Press

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