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A list of politicians who travelled abroad despite pandemic-era advice to stay home

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The Canadian Press

 

A number of politicians have admitted to leaving the country over the December holiday period, even as their constituents adhered to public health guidance meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 and hunkered down at home.

Here’s a look at some of the lawmakers who took trips abroad despite public health appeals to avoid non-essential travel.

ROD PHILLIPS

When Rod Phillips jetted off for a sunny Caribbean vacation on Dec. 13, he touched off a political storm that engulfed him when he returned home to Ontario.

Phillips resigned as the province’s finance minister on Dec. 31, hours after returning from a two-week trip in St. Barts.

Phillips, who will remain a member of the provincial legislature, called the decision a “significant error in judgement.”

His apology did little to assuage criticism against Premier Doug Ford for not taking action when he first learned of the cabinet minister’s travels shortly after Phillips left for warmer climates.

NIKI ASHTON

The federal New Democrats stripped the veteran member of Parliament of her cabinet critic positions after she travelled to Greece to visit her seriously ill grandmother.

The party released a statement on Jan. 1 saying Greek officials, who currently only permit visitors to enter the country if they can prove their trip is essential, approved Ashton’s visit.

The party said Ashton, who represents the riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, reached out to Canadian officials for “best practices,” but did not notify leader Jagmeet Singh or the party whip of her travel plans.

The statement said party members sympathize with Ashton’s situation, but noted millions of Canadians adhered to public health guidelines under similarly pressing circumstances.

KAMAL KHERA

The federal Liberal MP announced Sunday she was stepping down from her role as parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development after travelling to Seattle over the holidays.

The MP representing the Ontario riding of Brampton West says she flew to Seattle on Dec. 23 to attend a small memorial service for her uncle and father, who died within weeks of each other earlier in the year.

Khera has been back in Canada since the end of December.

SAMEER ZUBERI

The Liberal member of Parliament announced Sunday that he would step down from his committee roles after travelling to Delaware to be with his wife’s ill grandfather.

Zuberi, who represents the Montreal riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard, said in a statement posted to Twitter that the trip was an “error in judgment.”

He said he returned to Canada on New Year’s Eve, and is abiding by the mandatory two-week quarantine.

PIERRE ARCAND

The former imterim head of Quebec’s Liberal party expressed regret last month over his decision to vacation in Barbados with his wife.

Dominique Anglade, who currently heads the party, said she asked Arcand to return to Canada after word of his Caribbean travels got out.

Anglade told a Quebec radio station that she had known Arcand planned to leave and had tried to discourage him from doing so.

Arcand apologized for making the trip in his Dec. 29 statement.

YOURI CHASSIN

The member of the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec is currently in Peru visiting his husband, who he said he has not seen in about a year.

Chassin said in an interview that his trip is not a vacation and that he does not believe it contradicts the Quebec government’s message of the need to follow public health guidelines.

He said he got permission from the government whip and Premier Francois Legault’s office before leaving.

JOE HARGRAVE

Saskatchewan’s highways minister apologized on Jan. 1 for travelling to California over the holidays, but gets to keep his seat in cabinet.

Hargrave said he went to Palm Springs for “necessary” personal business: finalizing a home sale and moving his belongings back to Saskatchewan.

He said he plans to return to Canada when he’s out of a 14-day quarantine recommended for travellers to California on Jan. 5, and will self-isolate for two weeks upon his return to Canada.

While Opposition politicians have questioned whether Hargrave’s trip was essential, Premier Scott Moe said he will stay on as minister despite his self-admitted “error in judgement.”

Moe was informed of Hargrave’s trip before he left on Dec. 22, a spokesman for the Saskatchewan Party government said.

TRACY ALLARD

A Hawaiian vacation from Alberta’s municipal affairs minister touched off not only a new directive from the province’s premier, but a spate of other revelations about holiday excursions by several of her cohorts in the United Conservative government.

Shortly after Allard’s trip came to light, Premier Jason Kenney issued a directive summoning caucus members and senior staff back to the province.

Kenney said he ought to have issued such orders sooner, but said Allard and other party members who went abroad will not face sanctions as they did not violate any firm rules.

Allard held a New Year’s Day news conference in which she apologized for taking the trip, describing the Hawaiian vacation as a long-standing family tradition.

JEREMY NIXON

The MLA for the Alberta riding of Calgary-Klein also opted to jet off to Hawaii over the Christmas break.

A spokesman for Kenney said he had been asked to return home on the earliest possible flight

Nixon said in a Facebook post that he would “work hard” to regain constituents’ trust, adding he followed and followed public health guidelines while abroad.

PAT REHN

Nixon’s legislative colleague, representing Lesser Slave Lake, spent part of the weekend returning from a “previously planned family trip” to Mexico.

He, too, apologized for his travels via Facebook.

TANYA FIR

Another social media apology came from yet another Calgary-area MLA after it was revealed she travelled to the United States to visit her sister.

The representative for the riding of Calgary-Peigan commended Alberta residents for their adherence to public health protocols in the face of the pandemic.

She said in a Facebook post that she apologized “wholeheartedly” for not doing the same and pledged to abide by Kenney’s new directive.

JASON STEPHAN

The MLA for Red Deer-South in Alberta struck a different tone in his Facebook post in which he disclosed a recent trip to Phoenix, Ariz.

Stephan said he felt he was in compliance with public health guidelines and noted he had never asked other provincial residents to forego travel.

But Stephan said he would return home in accordance with Kenney’s directive.

“There is already too much contention in our society and I regret if my actions have contributed to that,” he wrote.

TANY YAO

A spokesman for the United Conservative Party caucus says the MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo in Alberta is currently in Mexico, and party officials haven’t been able to reach him.

Tim Gerwing says the party is still trying to contact Yao to tell him about the premier’s directive to return home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2021.

Source: – CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News

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'Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire': Highlights from the historic U.S. inauguration of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris – Yahoo News Canada

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CBC

Two snakes and four big cats are all that remain of the Cherry Brook Zoo

Almost nine months after it closed its doors permanently, Saint John’s Cherry Brook Zoo still has six inhabitants waiting to go to their new homes. All that remains of the once-bustling zoo are two lions, two tigers and two snakes. All six have found new homes, but the hold-up is with the four big cats, explains zookeeper Erin Brown, who has been overseeing the relocation of the zoo’s animals. Because they’re going to the United States, there’s a complicated permit process that often takes six to 12 months, explained Brown. Essentially, the zoo has to prove that the big cats were legally obtained, and that their transfer follows all of the guidelines laid out under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Brown said all of the permits required on the Canadian side of the border have been obtained. The hold-up is in the U.S. She said the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest south of the border may also have contributed to the delay. “It could be making policies move a little more slowly,” she said. When the zoo announced it would close for good last May, there were 80 animals — from 35 different species — living at the zoo, and all had to find new homes, said executive director Martha McDevitt. She said staff spent a lot of time checking out prospective new homes to make sure the animals would be safe and well cared for. “It was a big task,” said McDevitt. The zoo had a number of farm-type animals, like miniature donkeys, goats and pigs that went to hobby farms, mostly in New Brunswick. The more exotic animals required a bit more work and they’re now spread out at facilities from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. “The big cats were the hardest to find homes for,” Brown said. The first step was to notify Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, an accreditation and advocacy group better known as CAZA. But there weren’t any facilities in Canada willing or able to take the big cats. Brown said they eventually started reaching out to sanctuaries, although that wasn’t her first choice for the felines. That’s when they heard from Popcorn Park in New Jersey, which is part zoo, part sanctuary. The facility has agreed to take the lions and has lined up a new home for the tigers, since it already has a number of tigers. So, until the proper permits are ready to go, the four big cats will remain in Saint John. For McDevitt, they’re the hardest animals to say goodbye to. “You can’t help but create these special bonds with these animals, especially specific ones,” she said outside the tiger enclosure Tuesday morning. “For me personally, it’s the big cats, the tigers. When I was a little… child, I wanted to be a tiger when I grew up. “That’s impossible, I found out. So being able to work with them has been an absolute dream come true.” McDevitt has been with the zoo since 2016 and the lions arrived shortly after she did. The tigers have been at the Cherry Brook Zoo since the summer of 2017. All four were hand-raised at an Ontario zoo before it closed in 2016. “So seeing them leave — and especially them going across the border — is really hard because I may not ever see them again. So that’s been hard,” said McDevitt. And because they were hand-raised, Brown said the big cats actually like people. “They love interacting with visitors,” she said. It was a factor zoo staff considered when they looked at facilities willing to take them. “We had several facilities that offered space as a sanctuary situation, but we chose Popcorn Park because they’re going to be in a zoo situation. A lot of these sanctuaries are really more suited to cats that don’t like people.” She said cats that come from abusive or neglectful situations prefer to live a quiet life with as little human interaction as possible. “But our cats love human interaction. They love seeing visitors. So choosing Popcorn Park was on purpose so that they could have that interaction with visitors.” Once all the permits are in place, Popcorn Park will send its own relocation team to fetch the felines. They’ll have specialized equipment and people, including a veterinarian. They have specialized cages with wheels that will be rolled right up to the door of their enclosure, and with a little food inside the crate as an added incentive, they cats should go in and be ready to be loaded into a specialized trailer for the ride to New Jersey. In the meantime, thanks to monthly donors who continue to contribute to the zoo — and the occasional one-time donation — life goes on for the big cats. With fewer animals to tend to, staff members have a bit more time to hand-feed and train the cats. With her bucket of cut-up deer meat, zookeeper Megan Gorey puts the lions, Aslan and Frieda — littermates who were born in 2014 — through a series of behaviours that she doesn’t like to call tricks. The cats sit and lie down, and offer the correct paw on the fence as instructed. They also stand on their hind legs on command — all for a treat, of course. Gorey also demonstrates how she can draw blood and give injections with Luna, a five-year-old tiger who’s been at the zoo since 2017. From the safety of the other side of the fence, Gorey tells Luna to lie down along the fence and as someone else feeds her meat treats, she barely reacts when the needle is used. Long goodbye Brown said she initially worried that a long delay before some of the animals left would be a painful way to say goodbye, but she’s actually grateful for it now. She said each animal was able to get fussed over and given extra attention before they departed for their new homes. And with the four cats being among the last to go, it gave staff extra time with the zoo’s most popular inhabitants — who just happen to be the biggest eaters as well. McDevitt said it costs a couple hundred dollars per cat per month — and that’s even with the donations of roadkill from the Department of Natural Resources. One such donation just happened to arrive Tuesday morning and zookeepers were preparing to hoist entire deer legs up on poles in the cat enclosures to allow them to hunt and earn their meal. Once the big cats leave the Cherry Brook Zoo, the snakes will go as well, said Brown. The snakes will go home with one of the zookeepers, but as long as the zoo remains open for the lions and tigers, the snakes will stay as well.

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Omdahl: Politics: When enough Is enough – INFORUM

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North Dakota Republicans own the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch of state government, lock, stock and barrel. But having absolute power at the state level is not enough politics for some who now want to open up county, city, township, school board and other local offices to partisan elections by starting with an innocent marking on the ballot of party preference.

A strong two-party system is necessary for a democracy to function. There are policy issues streaming from voter ideologies that must be resolved. Local governments make secondary decisions, most of which are tightly controlled by state legislation. In reality, local governments are administrative units of the state government.

One advocate of partisan elections pointed to all the money local governments spend. He apparently wants to apply a more conservative financial system to local government. Apparently, he hasn’t been around enough to know that local finances involve mostly “sunk” costs or state regulations that permit local governments limited financial flexibility.

Other than creating political opportunities for the two parties, what are the benefits of a partisan system at the local level? A more conservative spending ideology?

Local governments in North Dakota are pretty clean. Our governments are small; almost everyone in the county knows what is going on in the courthouse, including the unofficial as well as the official. About the only transgressions committed in local government are long coffee breaks.

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For sure, partisan elections will not make local governments more effective, more efficient or any more honest.

In fact, they will do just the opposite.

Local offices will be flooded with junior politicians who will see public office not as an opportunity to serve the public so much as a stepping stone to some higher partisan office.

Partisan ballots will generate new levels of conflict in local governments as parties fight for offices or as party loyalists fight each other to gain a rung in the political ladder. Everyone will spend more time campaigning and less time serving the public.

With politically-minded partisans running local government, how often will political considerations be uppermost when choices have to be made and priorities established? Will politics decide on highways? On arrests? On human services?

Partisan ballots will eliminate at least half of the county officials. Even if they are Republicans, the partisan atmosphere day-in and day-out does not fit their idea of public service. In some local governments, ambitious partisans will run against incumbents regardless of party.

Many local officials do not have competition because the public is satisfied with their service. Partisan elections will create competition where competition isn’t necessary and it will force any officeholders to raise new money for races they never had in nonpartisan offices. There will be new personal costs to serving the people. That will discourage present officeholders.

With the rancor permeating both parties at present, this is hardly the time to bring that sort of partisan disease into local governments that have been performing so well. When it comes to partisan politics, at some point we must say that enough is enough. Enough.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum’s editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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Biden sworn in as president, calls on Americans to 'end this uncivil war' of political division – NBC News

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Amid a devastating pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States shortly before noon on Wednesday, pledging to unite the country and calling on Americans to end the “uncivil war” that has fractured the nation.

In a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that kept with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden took his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of Covid-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just two weeks after the deadly riot at the Capitol.

In an impassioned address, Biden repeatedly stressed the need for unity, calling it the only “path forward.”

“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide are deep and they are real,” he said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization.”

“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward,” he said.

Jan. 20, 202102:31

“The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do,” the president added a moment later.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts — if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes,” he continued.

Biden vowed to move quickly to address the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse, racial justice and climate change.

He also repudiated the mob that had attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and promised he would be president for all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him.

“With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools, we can overcome the deadly virus,” he said. “We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again a leading force for good in the world.”

Jan. 20, 202102:35

And he explicitly vowed to “confront” and “defeat” the “political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism” that were given oxygen to grow during the Trump years.

Temperatures were in the low 40s in the nation’s capital, with strong winds. Snow flurries dotted the air as Biden took to the lectern.

While Biden did not once mention Donald Trump by name, his 21-minute speech served as a powerful rebuttal of his predecessor.

Biden’s refutation of Trump was especially apparent when he, in the opening words of his speech, reflected on the fragility of democracy, and indirectly referred to how Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election nearly shattered the country.

“Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy,” he said.”We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile, and, at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

He also called on the nation to “reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured” — an implicit criticism of a predecessor who frequently lied and relied on misinformation to advance his own political and personal agendas.

As is tradition, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, administered the oath of office to Biden just before the clock struck 12. Biden, only the second Catholic to be elected president, besides John F. Kennedy,took the oath with his hand on top of his 127-year-old, 5-inch-thick family Bible, which will be held by his wife, Jill Biden.

Moments earlier, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court.

At 78, Biden is the oldest president to take office. And with his inauguration coming just two weeks to the day after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, the stakes for his inaugural address couldn’t have been much higher.

His swearing-in cemented Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. That, however, isn’t likely to make Biden’s job any easier. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House, and their control of the 50-50 Senate is only thanks to Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote as vice president.

In addition, he takes office with none of his designated Cabinet heads yet confirmed by the Senate, and with an impeachment trial of Trump — regarding his role in inciting the mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol — set to begin imminently, something unlikely to contribute to bringing down the temperature of the country’s divisions.

In attendance at the scaled-down ceremony were most members of Congress and the Supreme Court and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their spouses, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

Among those who were not present was Trump, making him the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in more than 150 years. As he left the White House on Wednesday morning, he told reporters that serving as president was “the honor of a lifetime” and claimed that “we’ve accomplished a lot.”

Trump and his wife, Melania, then participated in a send-off ceremony before a small group at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, where the outgoing president said about his exit, “hopefully, it’s not a long-term goodbye.”

“We will be back in some form,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One for the last time to fly to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. “We were not a regular administration.”

Jan. 20, 202102:28

Trump, who spent months falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from him, also wished his successors good luck — although he never referred to Biden or Harris as the president or vice president.

“I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular,” he said.

He left Biden a note before he left the White House, as is custom, the White House said. The contents have not been made public, although Biden, later Wednesday after he entered the White House, told reporters it was a “very generous letter” but declined to discuss it further.

Because of the pandemic, only about 1,000 people attended the inauguration, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said. In normal times, the committee makes 200,000 tickets available for members of Congress.

Extra security precautions stemming from the Capitol attack included over 25,000 National Guard members who were called up to keep the event secure and extra security fencing erected near the Capitol. In addition, the White House and numerous streets were completely shut down.

The Nation Mall, usually flooded with thousands of spectators to witness the quadrennial event, was also closed — instead dotted with flags to represent Americans watching from home as the public was not invited to attend this year’s ceremony due to Covid-19. Even the lawn at the base of the Capitol, typically reserved for elected officials and their guests, was restricted to a limited number of people this year.

Inside the West Wing earlier Wednesday, White House residence staffers and Secret Service agents appeared to be starting the well-choreographed, yet frantic, changeover from one administration to the next. The process was even more taxing this year, since workers won’t have the usual amount of time afforded, given the cancellation of the inaugural luncheon and traditional in-person parade.

Following the inaugural ceremony, Biden and Harris participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, before receiving an official escort to the White House. Once there, Biden immediately began signing executive orders designed to undo many of the hallmarks of Trump’s tenure.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden told reporters Wednesday night inside the Oval Office. “We’re going to start by keeping the promises I made the American people.”

Those were slated to include measures to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, repeal Trump’s restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, stop construction of the Southern border wall and mandate wearing masks on federal property.

He will also use his first day in office to propose a sweeping immigration reform bill, a lofty legislative task his administration has decided to take on from the start.

Adam Edelman reported from New York and Lauren Egan from Washington.

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