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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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Abortions rights advocates urge Liberals to turn politics into policy

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned for re-election on a promise to support abortion rights, a stance that put his Conservative rival on the defensive, and now advocates are anxious to see the Liberals turn those words into action.

“It’s good that we are getting the federal support at least in words, but words don’t mean very much when it comes to people’s lives,” said Olivier Hebert, an LGBTQ advocate involved in efforts to save Clinic 554, a family practice in Fredericton at risk of closing without provincial funding. The clinic includes abortions among its services.

The clinic received national attention last month when Trudeau stressed he would remind New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs that his province has an obligation to fund out-of-hospital abortions, or risk having Ottawa enforce such requirements under the Canada Health Act.

The practice, which also serves the LGBTQ community, is up for sale due to financial difficulties stemming from the provincial government’s refusal to expand its health-care funding to include surgical abortion procedures at private clinics, a stance held by both Higgs’s Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals who governed before them.

“A Liberal government will always defend women’s rights, including when challenged by conservative premiers,” Trudeau said Oct. 15 in Fredericton.

The issue of abortion played a prominent role in the federal election campaign this fall.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed to clarify his stance abortion over several weeks, eventually confirming that he remains “personally pro-life” but would oppose any attempt to revive the issue in the House of Commons. The Liberals drew attention to the confusion throughout the campaign, especially as the Bloc Quebecois began to surge in Quebec, where anti-abortion views are unpopular.

Now, abortion-rights advocates are watching closely to see whether Liberal politics become policy.

Sarah Kennell, director of government relations for the advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said she would have liked to see Trudeau raise the issue in his one-on-one meetings with opposition leaders this past week, particularly with New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Singh, who criticized Trudeau for being slow to push the issue, campaigned on a promise to enforce the Canada Health Act right away. One of the ways to do that could include holding back the funding that Ottawa transfers to New Brunswick to pay for its health-care system.

Kennell said she also wants to see the mandate letter for the new federal health minister include a clear commitment to resolve the issue quickly.

“It’s imminent, the closure of the clinic, and that’s why swift action is needed now,” she said.

The issue did come up in Trudeau’s meeting Friday with the Greens’ Elizabeth May, though she was the one to raise it.

“It’s abortion access that’s about to be closed. We need desperate help from some level of, I think the federal government,” she said in front of Trudeau before their formal session began.

May emerged encouraged.

“I was very pleased that there was common ground on acting to stave off the loss of abortion services in New Brunswick,” she said afterward. “Clinic 554 is in danger of closing imminently and I am pleased that he also is concerned about that and wants to take steps within the Canada Health Act to ensure abortion access in New Brunswick. I’m not quite sure what he’ll do with it in terms of the emergency of this particular clinic closing that provides services for abortion services as well as health care services for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a New Brunswick MP who has been the health minister since 2017, sent a letter to her provincial counterparts in July warning them that making women pay out of pocket to terminate pregnancies, even at private clinics, went against the Canada Health Act.

The timeline for picking things up where she left them remains unclear.

Matthew Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Trudeau, said it is too early to comment on the content of the mandate letters or the speech from the throne.

He did leave the door open to the topic coming up when Trudeau sits down with Higgs.

“As the prime minister has said, we will ensure that the New Brunswick government allows paid-for access, to clinics that offer abortion services outside of hospitals,” Pascuzzo said in an email. “The prime minister is eager to work together to keep making progress, and looks forward to meeting with all premiers one-on-one in the near future, including with Premier Higgs.”

Higgs, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, accused Trudeau last month of playing politics with the issue of abortion services.

He also noted the provincial regulation limiting funding to abortions performed in hospitals had also been there under the previous Liberal government of Brian Gallant.

Abortion-rights advocates are not the only ones anxious to see how the Liberals will handle the issue.

Campaign Life Coalition has said that it welcomes the news that 46 Conservative candidates identified as being against abortion were elected in October.

At the same time, its November newsletter suggests the anti-abortion organization is worried the fact that the Liberals won a minority government means they will go even further to expand access to abortion services in Canada and elsewhere.

“We are concerned that Trudeau will co-operate with the NDP, Greens, and Bloc Quebecois to further liberalize euthanasia, the legal drug regime, and promote abortion throughout the land and abroad,” said the newsletter from the organization, which did not respond to an interview request.

Meanwhile, Alberta is another province where abortion rights advocates could end up urging Trudeau to intervene.

United Conservative Party backbencher Dan Williams introduced a private member’s bill in the Alberta legislature earlier this month that would reassert the Charter-protected freedom of conscience and religion for physicians and other health-care providers.

Williams has said his Bill 207 is a response to a decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario this spring, which affirmed a lower-court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to things like abortion or medically assisted death must offer to refer patients elsewhere.

He has also denied the charge from his Alberta NDP critics that his legislation, which would face an uphill battle without government support, is an indirect attempt to limit access to abortion services. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he would not reopen the debate on abortion.

The Prime Minister’s Office was asked whether the federal Liberal government has a position on the bill.

“Our government has been clear that women have a right to access reproductive services. We will use all options available to defend a woman’s right to choose, including those that exist under the Canada Health Act,” Pascuzzo said in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2019.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

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Jason Kenney hopes of returning to federal politics

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Well, if nothing else, we know he’s not interested in running federally.

When Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered his fiery “fair deal” speech last weekend, he was not only burning bridges with Ottawa but torching any lingering ambitions he may have had to become federal Conservative leader.

Oh, Kenney might have said he had no desire to return to the federal stage but the speculation has never faded since he entered provincial politics three years ago.

In a question-and-answer session on Facebook two weeks ago Kenney declared, “I have absolutely no interest or intention of pursuing federal office.”

But it was an answer that left wiggle room.

Might he have a sudden interest or intention tomorrow?

The conjecture only intensified after the federal election, which saw a bumbling Andrew Scheer unable to defeat a badly wounded Justin Trudeau.

The question around the provincial water cooler: was Kenney interested in replacing Scheer?

This was no idle speculation.

This was speculation that worked really hard.

On paper Kenney would make an ideal candidate for leader of the federal Conservatives.

Besides being a former cabinet minister and acolyte of Stephen Harper, Kenney is bilingual, a skilful organizer and tireless campaigner. Since becoming premier in April he has criss-crossed the country building alliances with other Conservative premiers. He was even called in to campaign for the Conservatives in Ontario and Manitoba during the federal election.

In many ways he already is the spiritual leader of the Conservative movement in Canada.

And Kenney is so obsessed with defeating the federal Liberals that during the Alberta election campaign he attacked Trudeau as much as he did his actual adversary, NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

This is a guy straddling two worlds: with one foot in Alberta and the other on the prime minister’s throat.

You could certainly argue Kenney’s socially conservative background would prove an impediment in a federal campaign, as Scheer discovered about his own history. But Kenney is more politically nimble than Scheer and Kenney managed to overcome that handicap in the Alberta election despite being aggressively targeted by the NDP.

Taken together it almost seemed Kenney was destined to return to federal politics.

Then came his “fair deal” speech in Red Deer last Saturday.

“Albertans have a right to be fed up,” declared Kenney. “I get it. I’m as fed up as anybody else is in this province.”

Kenney is fed up with delays in getting a new energy pipeline to the West Coast. He is fed up with “hostile and discriminatory policies that are being aimed at our province.” He is fed up with “the divisions that welled up in Canada during the Trudeau government’s first term.” He is fed up with anyone not supporting Alberta’s oilsands.

Most of all he is just fed up with Trudeau, who managed to irritate Kenney by surviving with a minority government in October’s election.

Kenney’s solution: he wants Alberta to have a “fair deal.”

That includes possibly withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, having Alberta collect its own income taxes and replacing the RCMP with an Alberta provincial police force.

He has appointed a panel of “eminent Albertans” — including former Reform Party leader Preston Manning — to see if the ideas are feasible. If they are, Kenney would put them to a vote by Albertans.

Alberta has been down this bumpy road before.

In 2001, a band of disgruntled Alberta Conservatives (including Stephen Harper, before he became a politician) was so upset after the federal Liberals won yet another election that the unhappy group wrote what came to be called the “firewall letter.”

They wanted Alberta to distance itself from Ottawa by collecting its own income taxes, forming its own provincial police force and creating an Alberta pension plan.

The idea was to make Alberta something of a western version of Quebec but this would be a province seemingly acting out of spite, not a province trying to protect a unique linguistic and cultural identity.

Ralph Klein, premier at the time, didn’t support the letter but, to quell grumblers within his own party, he did create a panel to look into the suggestions. The panel concluded that many, particularly collecting income tax and creating a provincial pension plan, would be cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary.

Here we are again, but this time the main grumbler is Alberta’s premier.

“We’ve had it with Ottawa’s indifference to this adversity,” said Kenney, referring to Alberta’s economic downturn. “Albertans have been working for Ottawa for too long, it’s time for Ottawa to start working for us.”

This is Kenney as Captain Alberta. He has wrapped himself in the provincial flag and it’s difficult to imagine how he can ever untangle himself to run one day as Captain Canada.

In Canadian history, no provincial premier has ever won a federal election to become prime minister. Premiers are seen as too parochial, too regional, too insular.

Viewed from anywhere but Alberta — and probably Saskatchewan — Kenney’s speech is arguably all three.

Stephen Harper, of course, did manage to become prime minister despite co-authoring the firewall letter. But he wasn’t premier when he wrote it.

Besides, Kenney didn’t pen a mere firewall letter; he delivered a fire-breathing speech.

In so doing, he ignited the passions of many Albertans. However, any ambitions he might have had to run federally have been reduced to ashes.

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Trump public impeachment hearings opens

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To the surprise of nearly everyone, there was a surprise.

The opening of the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was expected to be an effort to tell a narrative, to put into compelling context the private testimony that already has been released by the Intelligence Committee. The theory was that having the witnesses’ words said out loud – their accounts of whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals – might engage Americans in a way their words on paper never could.

That storytelling effort was in evidence during the daylong hearing Wednesday, but as it turned out, news also erupted, and during the first 90 minutes. Bill Taylor, a veteran ambassador with an unflappable demeanor and deep voice out of central casting, revealed that he had learned just last Friday that a staffer from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev had overheard a phone conversation between Trump and Gordon Sondland, a political donor the president had appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

In the account relayed by Taylor, Trump was talking so loudly that he could be overheard in the restaurant on the cellphone. He reportedly asked about “investigations;” Sondland told him that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

It was July 26, the day after the now-infamous call in which Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do “a favor.” After the call was over, the staffer asked Sondland what the president thought about Ukraine. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor quoted the staffer as saying.

That exchange represented an important piece of evidence bolstering the Democrats’ case that Trump pushed Ukraine to launch investigations into the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and into the 2016 campaign, holding as leverage the promise of a White House meeting and the release of millions in military aid. It showed the influence of a rogue foreign policy operation being led by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, now the president’s personal attorney. It raised questions about the distance Trump last week tried to put between Sondland and himself. “I hardly know the gentleman,” he said then.

And it started the drum roll for Sondland’s testimony before the committee, scheduled for next week.

Rule One of investigations: You can never be entirely sure where they are going to lead.

The committee quickly scheduled a closed deposition on Friday with David Holmes, an aide to Taylor.

Steve Bannon: Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment strategy ‘actually quite brilliant’

Trump pushes back, refers to ‘circus’

At the White House, where he was meeting with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump dismissed the proceedings taking place at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I’m too busy to watch it,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. That said, he did manage to post a series of tweets deriding the hearing as nothing more than a “circus” and a “fraudulent hoax conspiracy theory.”

On Capitol Hill, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff described high stakes in exploring the president’s behavior. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander-in-chief,” the California Democrat said in the vaulted hearing room on Capitol Hill.

He referred repeatedly to the Constitution and the Founders.

Democrats had described their goal as explaining to Americans who may not have been paying much attention up to now what they believe happened between the Trump administration and Ukraine, and why it matters. The deliberate pace, with extended opening statements and then 45 minutes of uninterrupted questioning by each side, was unusual for Congress.

Republicans, meanwhile, portrayed the whole inquiry as a sham pursued by Democrats bent on overturning the results of the 2016 election. They noted that neither Taylor nor deputy assistant secretary of State George Kent had firsthand knowledge of what Trump had done; they said that made their testimony hearsay.

California Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee’s ranking Republican, sarcastically congratulated the two witnesses “for passing the Democrats’ Star Chamber auditions held for the last six weeks in the basement of the Capitol.”

They didn’t respond to that, though both denied they had a partisan agenda. They said “no” when asked specifically if they were “never-Trumpers,” those opposed to Trump from the beginning of his political climb.

This impeachment is historic, different

Impeachments are by definition momentous and historic events. An early effort to remove the forgettable Andrew Johnson in 1868 failed. More than a century later, Richard Nixon chose to resign under fire when it became clear he was going to be leaving the Oval Office, one way or another. Bill Clinton survived an impeachment trial in 1999.

But the impeachment of Trump is different from those that have gone before in some fundamental ways. For the first time, a president in the midst of running for a second term is facing the Constitution’s most serious penalty. The allegation involves not personal misbehavior, as it did with Clinton, but an abuse of power that allegedly involved threatening an allied government and encouraging foreign interference in a U.S. election.

Movie nights, baseball, phone calls: How Trump is uniting the GOP to fight impeachment

And the hearings are taking place when the nation’s politics are so bitterly divided that even the polarized Clinton era seems less fierce, and the time of Nixon a virtual golden age of bipartisanship.

Americans now seem divided into warring tribes, resistant to persuasion. An average of the latest national polling by FiveThirtyEight.com calculates that 48% of Americans support impeachment; 44% oppose it. That’s not significantly different from the returns in 2016, the election that put Trump in the White House. Then, 48% voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, 46% for Trump.

Whether the testimony Wednesday and the hearings that follow will change anybody’s mind isn’t yet clear.

Next up: Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine who was unceremoniously dismissed after being targeted by Giuliani, is scheduled to testify Friday.

Will there be more surprises?

It’s possible.

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