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Analysis | The politics of Obama's official portrait unveiling – The Washington Post



Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1977, the United States and Panama signed agreements under which Washington would eventual turn over control of the Panama Canal to Panama.

The big idea

Ties with Biden, Trump, looming midterms, hang over a typically fun event

A former president’s official portrait unveiling is almost always a lighthearted event, largely devoid of partisan politics, a White House tradition with none (ok, less) of the cringe factor that attaches to the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon.

The last time it happened, in May 2012, President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, joked around in the East Room and celebrated the unique burdens of office as a kind of bond, one uniting “the only people on Earth who know the feeling,” the Democrat said.

On a lighter note, Obama observed: “George, I will always remember the gathering you hosted for all the living former Presidents before I took office, your kind words of encouragement. Plus, you also left me a really good TV sports package.

Bush joked about the crowd size “at my hanging” and quipped to Obama he was pleased “that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, ‘what would George do?’

A different time

As president, Donald Trump did not hold the event.

But today, it’s back. President Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama for their official portrait unveilings.

And beyond the corny jokes and the camaraderie of the exclusive club of presidents, it’s a line from Obama’s 2012 remarks that may have seemed saccharine then but is surely salient now.

  • “One of the greatest strengths of our democracy is our ability to peacefully, and routinely, go through transitions of power,” he said. “It speaks to the fact that we’ve always had leaders who believe in America, and everything it stands for, above all else — leaders and their families who are willing to devote their lives to the country that they love.”

The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory, the current president’s warnings that “pro-insurrectionist” and other election-denying Republicans threaten American democracy, and Trump demanding he be reinstated or have the 2020 election done over invest those remarks with new meaning.

That’s just one of the dynamics shaping the ceremony.

Another is the midterm election contest. Biden has recently thrown himself into campaign mode, attacking Republicans and touting his accomplishments as he tries to make the vote a choice, not a referendum, at a time when his job approval ratings have recovered from record lows but are still a liability. He reportedly plans to travel 2 to 3 times per week.

Obama has also taken the plunge. He did an Aug. 30 fundraiser with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee on Martha’s Vineyard with Eric Holder. He’ll raise money for Democratic Senate candidates Sept. 8 in New York, for their House counterparts in San Diego on Sept. 28 (featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and another in San Francisco Sept. 29 for the DNC.

“He’ll also stump with campaign/GOTV [get-out-the-vote] events as we get closer, with a special focus on roles and states that are important to the administration of the 2024 elections,” according to a person familiar with his plans.

Lingering tensions

The two campaigners could not be more different. Obama the frequently professorial, who built a high-tech online operation that helped him to capture the presidency. Biden more the old-fashioned grip-and-grin retail politician. Democrats need them both.

Which gets us to the final dynamic: the Biden-Obama relationship.

  • My colleague Tyler Pager shared some details Tuesday night about some lingering tensions, including some connected to Obama’s previous visit to the White House, this past April, when he began his remarks with “Thank you, Vice President Biden.”

“Biden laughed and saluted, and Obama walked away from the podium and gave Biden a hug, vowing he was just making a joke. ‘That was all set up,’ he said.”

But for some longtime Biden staffers, the zinger punctured the celebratory mood. They saw the quip, intentional or not, as part of a pattern of arrogance from Obama and a reminder of the disrespect many felt from Obama’s cadre of aides toward Biden.”

In his book “Promise Me, Dad,” Biden chronicled Obama trying to talk him out of running for president in 2016. The most quoted line comes after a face-to-face discussion: “The president was not encouraging.”

And Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes wrote in his own book that “[i]n the Situation Room, Biden could be something of an unguided missile.”

The remarks at the portrait unveiling are more likely to resemble Obama’s words when he awarded his vice president the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017, calling him “the best vice president America’s ever had” and a “lion of American history.”

But at a perilous time for American democracy, the pomp and palling around may highlight rather than mask how much the country has changed since 2012 and how a once-routine celebration now seems like a vestige from a different time. Not that we have to paint you a picture.

What’s happening now

IRS will look into setting up a free e-filing system

The Internal Revenue Service will spend $15 million studying a free, government-backed tax filing system under a provision in the sweeping climate and health-care law Congress passed this summer. It’s a landmark step toward overhauling the way most Americans file their taxes and ending years of domination of tax prep by private corporations,” Jacob Bogage reports.

Maura Healey to face Trump-backed Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts

Maura Healey (D), who made history as the country’s first openly gay attorney general, will face Trump-backed former state legislator Geoff Diehl (R) in the Massachusetts governor’s race this November — a contest seen by analysts as one of the best chances for Democrats to flip control of a Republican-held seat,” Annie Linskey and David Weigel report.

The war in Ukraine

Putin, in defiant speech, threatens Western gas and grain supplies

“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Western sanctions ‘stupid’ and threatened to halt all energy sales to Russia’s critics if they move forward with a cap on oil prices proposed by the Group of Seven industrialized economic powers,” Mary Ilyushina reports.

Russians back war in Ukraine, but report finds notable opposition

“Russian public support for the war against Ukraine, while sky-high, is less solid than statistics generally suggest, according to an analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and has fallen in recent months with some supporters saying they are ambivalent, anxious, shocked or fearful about the ongoing military campaign,” Robyn Dixon reports.

About 20 percent of respondents said they did not support the war, up from 14 percent in March, the analysis found. About 75 percent said they supported the war, compared with 81 percent in March.”

Stoltenberg: NATO countries will ‘pay a price’ this winter for supporting Ukraine

“But chief of the military alliance Jens Stoltenberg still insisted that Europe had a ‘moral responsibility’ to stand up to Russian aggression, Whitney Juckno and Jennifer Hassan report. “There are tough times ahead,” he wrote in the Financial Times. “For Ukraine’s future and for ours, we must prepare for the winter war and stay the course … We do pay a price for our support to Ukraine. But the price we pay is counted in dollars, euros and pounds, while Ukrainians are paying with their lives.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

From border town to ‘border town,’ bused migrants seek new lives in D.C. area

So far, more than 230 buses carrying nearly 9,400 migrants, including families with young children, have arrived in D.C. since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began offering free passage to the nation’s capital in April, with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) following suit in May. Last month, buses from Texas started heading to New York and Chicago, too,” Antonio Olivo reports.

ICYMI: Material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property,” Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig reported last night.

… and beyond

Elected officials, police chiefs on leaked Oath Keepers list

“The names of hundreds of U.S. law enforcement officers, elected officials and military members appear on the leaked membership rolls of a far-right extremist group that’s accused of playing a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday,” the Associated Press‘s Alanna Durkin Richer and Michael Kunzelman report.

“The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism pored over more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it believes currently work in law enforcement agencies — including as police chiefs and sheriffs — and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.”

The latest on covid

U.S. plans to shift to annual coronavirus shots, similar to flu vaccine

“White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha said Tuesday the newly reformulated omicron-targeting boosters mark an “important milestone” in the U.S. pandemic response, moving the country to a point where a single annual coronavirus shot should provide a ‘high degree of protection against serious illness all year,’” Lena H. Sun reports.

The Biden agenda

Clean energy projects surge after climate bill passage

“In the weeks since President Biden signed a comprehensive climate bill devised to spur investment in electric cars and clean energy, corporations have announced a series of big-ticket projects to produce the kind of technology the legislation aims to promote,” the New York Times‘s Jack Ewing and Ivan Penn report.

Analysis: Biden on pace to buck history

Presidents don’t improve their political standing in midterm election years. That is, they didn’t until President Joe Biden came along. And the uptick in Biden’s job approval rating is one factor in Democrats’ renewed optimism about the upcoming elections,” Roll Call‘s Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Biden’s Cabinet hasn’t changed, a sharp break from Trump

“When President Joe Biden met with senior members of his administration on Tuesday, the 24 officials sitting around the table were identical to the ones Biden gathered 17 months ago for his first Cabinet meeting,” CNN‘s Kevin Liptak reports.

“There has been zero turnover among the secretaries, administrators and directors that form the official Cabinet, a level of consistency representing a sharp departure from Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who had already lost three Cabinet officials at this point in his presidency.”

White House confirms Biden will visit Detroit auto show

“The White House on Tuesday afternoon confirmed that President Joe Biden will attend the North American International Auto Show, which begins next week,” the Detroit Free Press‘s Todd Spangler reports.

“In a statement, the White House said Biden will travel to Detroit next Wednesday, Sept. 14, to visit the show. No further details about when he would be there, whether he would make remarks or whether he would go anywhere else in metro Detroit were immediately available.”

This summer’s extreme divide in rain and drought, visualized

Like an unhinged seesaw, this summer’s rainfall has teetered between too much and too little across the United States. Record-high rainfall in pockets of the country brought unprecedented flooding; meanwhile, other communities yearned for just a few drops as droughts worsened,” Kasha Patel and Tim Meko explain.

Hot on the left

President Biden is right about MAGA Republicans

“Let’s not be children about what’s going on here. The conservative legal establishment has for decades viewed the legal system as an instrument of partisan power. It produces committed ideologues to be nominated to the bench—from the Supreme Court on down—where they implement conservative policy goals, trampling over precedent, norms, and laws as necessary. [Judge Aileen Cannon] is following that script. She is attempting to prevent Trump from facing any accountability for his numerous crimes; it’s as simple as that. She’s not being subtle about it, either—she said she was going to do it before she even heard the Justice Department’s arguments,” Ryan Cooper writes for the American Prospect.

Hot on the right

Republicans anxious about cash-strapped NRSC amid Scott’s feud with McConnell

“GOP senators are privately alarmed at the cash problems facing Sen. Rick Scott‘s National Republican Senatorial Committee, uneasy over his feud with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and worried that their internal issues could undercut their already difficult road back to the majority this fall,” CNN‘s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers report.

“Behind the scenes, GOP senators are maneuvering to make up for the committee’s cash shortfall, with discussions underway to take matters into their own hands to circumvent the NRSC entirely and directly help candidates who need critical resources down the homestretch of the high-stakes campaign, according to multiple GOP sources.”

Today in Washington

At 1:30 p.m., Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the unveiling of former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s White House portraits.

In closing

Special masters: An educational experience!

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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Canadian politics: Poilievre and Trudeau spar at QP – CTV News



There’s been a 20-year series of middleweight clashes in the parliamentary fight club – Chretien vs. Day, Martin vs. Harper, Harper vs. Mulcair, Trudeau vs. O’Toole – but nothing comes close to the slugfest now raging between Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

After three grudge-settling matches this fall, which is all the prime minister has managed to show up for in the dozen days since the House returned to normal Question Period operations, my scorecard is Pierre Poilievre 2, Justin Trudeau 1.

For their first two encounters, the fledging Official Opposition leader clearly had the upper hand.

But give Thursday to the prime minister for his neck-wrenching topic switch. Answering a question about the rising cost of Thanksgiving dinners, Trudeau segued to the story about a boneheaded Poilievre staffer who had linked their boss’s YouTube messaging to a misogynistic online movement.

Poilievre knew it looked bad, particularly given his reputation of playing footsie with extremist elements. He stood silently to endure 20 seconds of high-volume Liberal shaming after Trudeau demanded an apology.

But he didn’t apologize, merely condemning the movement before swinging wildly into the past to attack Trudeau’s sins, be it wearing blackface or firing Jody Wilson-Raybould as attorney general.

It didn’t quite connect as an emergency defensive strategy, but sometimes it’s best to flail away and move on as quickly as possible.

The reality of Question Period in Canada is that it hasn’t produced a political bombshell since March 2003 when then-prime minister Jean Chretien revealed Canada would not go to war in Iraq without a United Nations Security Council resolution.

That suggests a thousand-question gap filled with huffing and puffing since the House was last blown away by any major revelation from a prime minister.

But breaking news is not its primary purpose. In this age of social media, Question Period has become a mine for YouTube quips, a sentence or two for the nightly newscasts or a couple quotes for print media.

Yet there’s something about these two leaders, at least going by their first trio of matches, which makes the stakes seem higher.

Poilievre does not recite questions from a piece of paper. He hurls them into the prime minister’s face, rubs in the political salt and levels a sneering sidebar or two, usually involving Trudeau’s use of government jets which, to be fair, is the only way he’s allowed to fly.

Trudeau for his part has upped his usual going-through-the-motions performance, which was noticeable on Wednesday when he stickhandled every question fairly well without reading his cheat sheets or sliding into a stammer.

Now for my media friends rolling their eyes at this attempt to build drama out of dogma, let us concede that the duelling themes between these two leaders are fairly repetitious.

Poilievre sounds the alarm about a future where the tripling of carbon taxation prices pumpkin pie out of the Thanksgiving food budget.

Trudeau retorts how the hurricane, flooding and wildfire climate catastrophes he has seen are grounds for a hefty pricing of pollution.

Poilievre snarks that boosting the carbon price is a tax plan, not a climate change plan, which has yet to meet lower emission targets.

Trudeau insists average Canadians get all the carbon tax they pay back and more.

And so it goes, blah, blah and more blah, but there’s a noticeable uptake in intensity between these two leaders.

(Unfortunately, there’s no corresponding improvement from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who continues to excel at irritating, arm-waving, talk-down double-speak – pleading with the Conservatives to support her government’s social programs in one sentence and ridiculing them for doing so in the next. The more you watch her, the harder it is to see her as future prime ministerial material.)

Trudeau seems to be rising to take on Poilievre as if he’s in a boxing match with a pugilistic senator or something.

This combat arena is not just political, it’s personal. It’s Pierre’s whine versus Justin’s woke; spontaneity versus scripting; the rising cost of potatoes versus the catastrophe of Fiona; bad hair versus good.

It will never win a ratings battle against any afternoon soap opera, but this fall’s editions of Question Period, after a long run as a theatrical bomb begging for the curtain to come down, is now a semi-entertaining clash of leadership styles, beliefs, personalities and policy.

That’s the bottom line.

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Redemption: Danielle Smith aims to be ‘force of unity’ as new Alberta premier



CALGARY — The political story of Danielle Smith is one of triumph then defeat, followed by betrayal, banishment and, now, redemption.

Smith, a 51-year-old Alberta-born journalist and restaurant owner won the leadership of the United Conservative Party on Thursday to become its new leader and the next premier of Alberta.

It’s a stunning comeback for Smith, who eight years ago was a reviled outcast in the conservative movement after she engineered a floor crossing for the ages.

“(It’s) unfinished business for me,” Smith said in an interview earlier this week when asked why she decided to re-enter politics.

“After everything I’ve done in the past to divide the movement, then try to bring it together the wrong way, I feel like I owe it to the conservative movement to do what I can to be a force of unity.”

Smith was born in Calgary and got into politics in junior high school, after she told her dad that her teacher was lauding the virtues of communism. Her father had roots in Ukraine, where millions died under Josef Stalin, and gave the teacher an earful. He then ensured politics was discussed around the dinner table.

Smith attended the University of Calgary and found herself entranced by soapbox lectures of conservatives like Ezra Levant and Rob Anders.

She joined the campus Progressive Conservative club and soaked in teachings of the “Calgary School” of economists and political scientists advocating for free markets and small government.

She devoured the works of John Locke and Ayn Rand and got tongue-tied when she met her idol, former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She took leadership courses and attended Toastmasters meetings to hone her debating skills and smooth out a public speaking style now considered to be her strongest political attribute.

In 1998, at 27, she won was elected a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education.

It was a short, rocky ride. Smith clashed with the liberal majority on the board and the panel was so fraught with acrimony and dysfunction that the province fired them within a year.

She then moved to media and business advocacy. She wrote newspaper editorials, hosted the current affairs TV show “Global Sunday” and was the Alberta boss for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

By 2009, politics was calling again. A rift was widening in Alberta’s conservative movement.

The Wildrose Alliance, later the Wildrose Party, was hiving off members and money from the governing Progressive Conservatives, under then premier Ed Stelmach.

The PCs, they said, had forgotten their roots, delivered top-down decisions and indulged in profligate spending that delivered multibillion-dollar deficits as oil and gas prices hit the skids.

Smith agreed change was needed and won the Wildrose leadership, telling cheering supporters in her maiden speech: “Ed Stelmach, you haven’t begun to imagine what’s going to hit you!”

The Wildrose grew under Smith and poached floor crossers from the PCs, who in turn kicked Stelmach to the curb and installed Alison Redford as premier.

In the 2012 election, Smith and the Wildrose appeared primed to end the PC dynasty.

But there were late-stage mistakes. Smith questioned the science of climate change and refused to sanction two candidates for past remarks deemed homophobic and racist.

When the votes were counted, Smith and the Wildrose lost to the PCs but captured 17 seats to become the Opposition.

Smith began trying to rebuild the party brand and reached out to marginalized groups.

The Tories, meanwhile, continued their descent into infighting and disarray. Redford quit in 2014 amid scandal and was replaced by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice.

As Prentice took over, the Wildrose began to fray. The party lost four byelections to the PCs, then Wildrose rank-and-file voted to roll back a policy to respect all Albertans regardless of differences, such as sexual orientation.

Some of Smith’s caucus began bolting to Prentice and eventually Smith agreed: if the goal was to keep the conservative movement strong and Prentice would give them what they wanted, let’s roll.

A week before Christmas, Smith led eight more members across the floor, leaving five shell-shocked Wildrosers and staffers getting pink slips for the holidays.

“Tighty Righties” was one cheeky tabloid headline at the time that appeared beneath a photo of a beaming Prentice and Smith.

The fallout was swift and merciless. Smith and the other crossers either didn’t win their PC nominations or their seats in the 2015 election.

The Wildrose rebounded under new leader Brian Jean to retain Opposition status. Jean called Smith a “betrayer of family.”

Rachel Notley and her NDP won government for the first time ever, taking advantage of vote splitting between the Wildrose and PCs in key Calgary constituencies.

Smith began a six-year stint as a daily current affairs radio talk show host in Calgary.

“It was not easy deciding to stay in the public eye after what I’d done and the visceral reaction people had,” said Smith.

“It was unpleasant the first three months I was on the air — the texts and the emails that came in and the people who were so furious at me.”

It was three years before she began attending conservative meetings again, after a friend told her: “you can’t keep hiding.”

“I had dear friends from my Wildrose days that I’d go in for the hug and they’d give me the hand, or they’d walk away,” Smith recalled of the first few events.

“It was a seven-year process of trying to get people to forgive me. Not everyone has, but a lot of people have.”

Smith said she never discounted running again for premier, but figured Jason Kenney had a long-term lock on the job after he united the PCs and Wildrose in 2017 to form the new United Conservative Party.

Kenney won the UCP leadership, then made Notley’s NDP a one-and-done government in 2019.

When Kenney quit over caucus and party discontent in May, Smith said she decided to run by courting the UCP base — rural members frustrated with Ottawa, mainly over health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was an agent of chaos and confrontation, promising to pass a law allowing Alberta to ignore federal laws deemed offside with its constitutional prerogatives. She pledged no more health restrictions or COVID-19 lockdowns and promised to fire health board members en masse.

As premier, she must now pivot to make the UCP palatable to the broader population, quell a divided, angry caucus and answer the question of whether politician Danielle Smith 3.0 can break her pattern of splashy political entrances and even crazier exits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.


Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Quebec elects record number of women, but will they be named to key cabinet roles?



MONTREAL — Quebecers made history Monday when they elected a record number of women to the province’s legislature, but political observers say more is needed to ensure equality between men and women in politics.

Of the legislature’s 125 seats, 58 are represented by women, including 41 of the 90 seats won by the Coalition Avenir Québec led by Premier François Legault. That number broke the previous record of 52 women elected during the 2018 general election.

Esther Lapointe, executive director of Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie, a Quebec organization that advocates for more women in politics, said the increase is good news. But for real equality to be achieved, she said, women need to be represented in the places where decisions are made, including the premier’s cabinet and among his political advisers.

“I believe that things will really change when not only in the forefront, but in the background, behind the scenes we also have more female political advisers, with their ideas, their experience, their expertise,” she said. “We don’t want to replace the guys, we want to share the decisions, discussions; we want to be at the table where the decisions are made.”

Lapointe is also calling for Legault to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet — and to maintain parity throughout the next mandate. The women named to cabinet, she said, should have important portfolios.

In 2018, Legault appointed 13 men and 13 women to his cabinet, but after three months, then-environment minister MarieChantal Chassé resigned and was replaced by a man: Benoit Charette. When the 2022 election was called, Legault’s cabinet consisted of 16 men and 11 women.

“We saw that there were women who were penalized while men who were not always exemplary in their files remained in cabinet,” she said. “I have a question about that: is there a double standard?”

Legault has said his new cabinet will consist of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent women.

Pascale Navarro, author of “Women and Power: The Case for Parity,” a 2015 book that explored how gender parity could be achieved in politics, said the results of the Quebec election are “excellent” — but she said women need more support in politics.

“It’s an excellent result in terms of the number — you can’t argue with that. You have to recognize that the parties have made efforts to recruit female candidates, so it’s an excellent thing.”

However, she said it’s not yet clear that with more women in politics comes more female-related issues on the top of the agenda. Prioritizing issues that affect women is important, Navarro said, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major effect on female-dominated fields such as health care and education.

Navarro said that while the parties are doing a better job at recruiting female candidates, they need to ensure they retain them after they are elected — around a quarter of the women who were elected in 2018 didn’t run four years later.

“It’s not just about finding women, you also have to support them. And in this regard, I have not found that Coalition Avenir Québec has done a lot to ensure its capacity to retain women,” she said, using the example of former environment minister Chassé.

Shortly after the 2018 election, Chassé didn’t perform well during a few news events. Legault initially supported her, but then said it was “mutually agreed” she should leave that position.

“I think (Chassé) started to understand her file well — she’s an engineer, a businesswoman — but communicating with journalists was difficult,” Legault told reporters at the time.

Navarro suggested Chassé would have been treated differently if she was a man.

“Why wasn’t she supported when there are plenty of other ministers who made gaffes? Men who made a lot of gaffes remained in office, and they had a team around them, to help them, to support them, to equip them. I would expect the same for women.”

Danielle Pilette, a political science professor at Université du Québec à Montréal, said there are still barriers to women entering politics. Labour shortages in daycares, for instance, have contributed to a reduction in spaces, making it more challenging for women — especially for those who don’t live in the provincial capital and need to travel to the legislature.

As well, female politicians are often targeted on social media more hatefully than men are, Pilette said in an interview Wednesday.

But despite the increase in women holding elected office in Quebec, power remains centralized in the premier’s office, a growing phenomenon across the country. Whether members are men or women, Pilette said, they all have to toe the party line.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.


Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press


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