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Austria's Kurz Adds Anti-Racism Group to Post-Politics Portfolio – Bloomberg

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Politics Briefing: Health Canada approves Pfizer's COVID-19 antiviral treatment – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment, known as Paxlovid, for COVID-19.

“This is welcome news we hope will save lives, reduce illness and lessen the burden on our health care systems and health care workers,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a news conference, describing the treatment as an additional clinical tool for treating COVID-19.

Health Canada has authorized the treatment for adults who test positive for COVID-19 on a molecular or a rapid test, who have mild or moderate symptoms, and are at high risk of becoming severely ill.

However, Mr. Duclos said no drug is a substitute for vaccination and public-health measures.

The minister confirmed the first delivery of the drug arrived over the weekend, ahead of regulatory approval today. The prescription drug can be used at home, he said.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, at the same news conference, said 30,000 treatment courses are now in Canada, with another 120,000 coming by the end of March. She said Canada has procured a million doses, with an option for 500,000 more.

Limited supplies of Paxlovid have prompted the Public Health Agency of Canada to ask provinces and territories to prioritize the treatment for people at most risk of serious illness, including severely immune-compromised patients and some unvaccinated people over the age of 60.

There’s a story here on Health Canada’s briefing, earlier today, on Paxlovid.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter sign-up page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

O’TOOLE PRESSED TO REVIVE COMMITTEE – Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is facing pressure from a growing number of MPs who want him to reverse course and revive a special parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations. Story here.

INCREASED FEDERAL SPENDING ON OUTSOURCING CONTRACTS – Federal government spending on outsourcing contracts has increased by more than 40 per cent since the Liberals took power, a trend at odds with the party’s 2015 campaign promise to cut back on the use of consultants. Story here.

RESEARCHERS OFFER ADVICE FOR FIXING SPORTS ABUSE – As Ottawa reviews how national sport organizations deal with abuse within their own ranks, University of Toronto researchers are laying out a possible path for the government to fix a system rife with potential conflicts of interest. Story here.

DOUBTS ON AIRPORT COVID-19 TESTING UPON ARRIVAL – Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer cast some doubt on the continued value of the government’s mandatory on-arrival COVID-19 testing policy for international air travellers. At the same time, business groups called for the policy to end. Story here.

TRUCKING COMPANIES FEEL IMPACT OF VACCINATION REQUIREMENT – Trucking companies are already feeling the impact of the federal government’s border vaccination requirement, with a sizable number of drivers leaving the business ahead of the new rule that came into force over the weekend. Story here.

LIBERAL MP SUPPORTS TAX FOR UNVACCINATED – A Liberal MP who works as a medical doctor says he’s in favour of making unvaccinated Canadians pay some kind of a special tax – and he believes others in his party agree. Marcus Powlowski outlined the view in a panel discussion with fellow MPs that aired on Saturday on CBC’s The House. Story here from CBC.

ANTI-VAXX TAX BILL IN FEBRUARY Quebec Premier François Legault says his government will table its anti-vax tax bill early next month. “The goal is to do everything to insist that people get vaccinated,” said of the legislation during a Sunday evening appearance on the Radio-Canada show Tout le monde en parle. Story here from The Montreal Gazette. Meanwhile, The Hill Times newspaper report that some pollsters say taxing anti-vaxxers is controversial, but could help Mr. Legault’s bid for re-election in October.

PREMIER ON THE ROAD – Ontario Premier Doug Ford was out on the roads of Toronto today, driving around in his 4×4 pickup helping other drivers caught in the snowstorm that hit the region. Story here from CTV.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

JOLY VISITING UKRAINE – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is taking a trip to a country her department is urging Canadians to avoid. Ms. Joly departed Sunday for a trip to Europe that includes a stop in Ukraine, now facing the possibility of invasion by Russia. On Saturday, Global Affairs Canada updated a travel advisory, available here, warning against non-essential travel to Ukraine “due to ongoing Russian aggression.” In Kyiv, Ms. Joly will meet with the Ukrainian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as well as Canadian troops working on training efforts in support of the Security Forces of Ukraine. The minister is also travelling to Paris and Brussels for meetings with officials including NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. She returns to Canada on Jan. 22.

PHILLIPS REPLACED – Ontario Premier Doug Ford has appointed Paul Calandra to replace Rod Phillips as Long-Term Care Minister. Mr. Phillips announced his departure from the post and politics last week to return to the private sector. There’s a story here on that development. Mr. Calandra will add the new cabinet post to his existing responsibilities as Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader, said a statement from the Premier’s office. Of, Mr. Phillips, the Premier said, “I have no doubt there are great things for Rod ahead.”

LEGISLATIVE AGENDA IN ALBERTA – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the spring session of the Alberta legislature will begin with a Speech from the Throne on Feb. 22, and Finance Minister Travis Toews will deliver the 2022 budget on Feb. 24.

NEW HILL TIMES REPORTER – Kevin Philipupillai is joining The Hill Times newspaper after completing a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. Mr. Philipupillai previously earned a bachelor’s journalism degree from King’s College in Halifax and spent five years working as a producer at Accessible Media.

TRIBUTE

Alexa McDonough: The leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1995 to 2002 died on Saturday at 77 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. There is an obituary here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remembered Ms. McDonough as “a trailblazer for women in politics and an inclusive voice for progressive change in Canadian politics.” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh noted that Ms. McDonough “dedicated her life to social justice, championed women in politics, and never backed down from a challenge.” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole praised the former NDP leader for her “trailblazing work” as a member of the Nova Scotia legislature and an MP.

In a Q&A here, Ms. McDonough’s biographer, Stephen Kimber, talks about her inspiring tenacity.

THE DECIBEL – On today’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, telecom reporter Alexandra Posadzki and Report on Business reporter Joe Castaldo talk about the story of Gerald Cotten , who founded Quadriga, one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges. His death in 2018, at the age of 30, coincided with growing concerns about the legitimacy of Quadriga. Jennifer Kathleen Margaret Roberston was Mr. Cotten’s wife, and was there when he died. And despite being at the centre of a huge scandal, she’s never spoken publicly about her husband’s fraud or death – or the suspicion it cast on her – until being interviewed by Ms. Posadzki and Mr. Castaldo. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister is scheduled tonight to participate in a virtual celebration of Thai Pongal, featuring front-line workers to highlight the contributions of Tamil Canadians during the pandemic. Toronto Mayor John Tory will be in attendance.

LEADERS

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was scheduled to hold a media availability.

No schedules provided for other party leaders.

PUBLIC OPINION

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is down six more points in polling approval amid frustration in Ontario over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by the Angus Reid Institute that also finds four premiers are receiving majority approval this quarter. The four are Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston, Quebec’s François Legault, John Horgan in British Columbia and Andrew Furey in Newfoundland and Labrador. Story here.

OPINION

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on a vaccine promise by Justin Trudeau that wasn’t intended to be kept: ”Justin Trudeau’s Liberals made an election promise to pass a law to protect employers from being sued when they fire unvaccinated workers, and they didn’t do it. Now those lawsuits are piling up. There’s no sign the Liberal government plans to fulfill the promise. Mr. Trudeau didn’t even put it in a mandate letter to any of his ministers. What’s worse is that it’s a promise that Mr. Trudeau was probably never really serious about keeping. Certainly, the Liberals never seemed to know how to do it. There was, after all, a not-insignificant question about whether Ottawa has the authority. Now employers are facing the lawsuits without the promised protections, with workers claiming they are owed cash payouts because non-vaccination is not a valid cause for dismissal.”

Philippe Lagassé (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why parliamentarians can be trusted with sensitive security information: ”Parliament needs its own standing committee that can safely handle classified information and review national-security matters. Canada’s existing committee, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, has MPs and senators as members but is part of the executive, meaning it first reports to the Prime Minister, who then tables a redacted version in Parliament. NSICOP must be rethought. While this hybrid model worked when the government controlled the House of Commons, NSICOP was never going to cut it when we had a minority Parliament. To reconcile the government’s legitimate concerns about protecting classified information and Parliament’s constitutional power to compel the production of documents, we need a security-cleared national-security committee of Parliament.”

Tasha Kheiriddin (The National Post) on how she dared write about vaccinations, and paid dearly for it: “This episode has laid bare several things. First, that civil discourse is dead. The internet, which I alternately love and loathe, has emboldened millions of us to hurl insults into cyberspace under the cover of distance and anonymity. Comments once yelled at the TV in the privacy of our homes are now spewed out for all to read. My editor referred to it as “a firehose of bile.” I already knew this from Twitter, which is hip-deep in the stuff, but this served as an intensely personal confirmation.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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Something strange happening in Canadian politics – The Hill Times

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CHELSEA, QUE.—Something strange has been happening in Canadian politics since the Trump contagion to the south. Voters elect a mostly reasonable, often affable, Member of Parliament only to discover, as they watch their MP climb the leadership ladder, that they are not so reasonable, not so affable after all. That, in fact, some are drifting rapidly from the centre to the fringe, even to tinfoil-hat territory.

It is evident, most recently, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose public appearances—tweets, videos, press conferences—have taken on an almost manic tone. One 40-second video has him bouncing around in front of the Parliament Buildings in -23 weather—“-37 in Yellowknife!”—accusing Liberal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of threatening to shut down Canada’s energy sector in 18 months, leaving us all freezing in the dark.

First, Guilbeault could never achieve such a coup even if he tried. Governments move too slowly. Second, even the most ardent environmentalists acknowledge that renewables are not ready to replace fossil fuels that quickly. But, more important, OToole’s claim is not true—and he knew when he said it that it wasn’t true, as The Toronto Star’s Althia Raj underscores in a recent column.

What Guilbeault has vowed to do—elaborating on an international commitment first endorsed by Stephen Harper in 2009—is end federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies by 2023. It’s a tall order, but it is no sneak attack: it was promised in the Liberals’ election campaign and now, at last, they are preparing to deliver. In an interview with The Narwhal, Guilbeault mentioned “eliminating fossil fuels” in a list of his government’s ambitions, an obvious error (he had spoken previously of eliminating fossil fuel *subsidies*.)

As Raj reports, O’Toole publicly acknowledged the minister “made a mistake” in a Zoom presentation, before an unusually animated O’Toole made his video, distorting Guilbeault’s intention. The Conservative leader apparently doesn’t care, because that is the way politics works these days. Hysterical exaggerations, often flatly untrue, advanced without a shred of shame or remorse.

Consider the Conservative leader’s recent condemnation of Justin Trudeau for “normalizing lockdowns” and single-handedly bungling the management of the pandemic, by failing to provide rapid tests and PPE. By now, everyone knows that lockdowns are determined by provinces and not by Ottawa— indeed, premiers are more inclined to ignore federal suggestions than embrace them.

As to rapid tests, some will recall stories a year ago of millions of rapid tests gathering dust in provincial storerooms, of premiers, like British Columbia’s John Horgan, reluctant to use them because they were seen to be not as reliable as lab-based PCR tests. In fact, as Trudeau underscored last week, his government has sourced 425 million rapid tests overall. Some 85 million were delivered to provinces before December, and the Omicron onslaught, and another 35 million last month. And, as O’Toole must surely know, another 140 million are arriving now and being distributed.

There have been, and still are, shortages in some provinces, but the problem can hardly be laid at the feet of the federal government—certainly, not entirely—as anyone following the news knows. But this distortion is of a piece with O’Toole’s incoherence on the pandemic.

He and his wife are both vaccinated, after an early bout of COVID, and he regularly urges everyone to get their shots. He supports mandatory vaccines for the Canadian Armed Forces—as a veteran and proud defender of the military—yet is ambiguous about his own caucus, playing with words to hide the fact that there are some vaccine resisters in the Conservative ranks.

He also took up the cause of long-haul truckers who were resisting mandatory vaccines to be imposed by the federal government this week. O’Toole claimed the requirement would disrupt crucial supply chains and called for rapid testing instead. Then, in a confusing climb-down, the government backed away from its vaccine deadline insisting that any unvaccinated Canadian drivers quarantine for several days before coming home. Unvaccinated American truckers will be turned back.

Vaccines, quarantines, rapid tests: any way this unfolds there will be (hopefully short-lived) supply chain disruptions and, ultimately, little daylight between O’Toole’s and Trudeau’s positions.

O’Toole also accuses the prime minister of characterizing all vaccine resisters as “racists” and worse, which is not what Trudeau said. In fact, he and O’Toole are in agreement that some who haven’t been vaccinated may be fearful, uninformed, or unable to manoeuvre the system. Trudeau’s target is the small minority of wilful resisters and protesters, with links to far-right movements who are also anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and anti-government.

Yet O’Toole wants “reasonable accommodation” for all resisters and suggests frequent testing rather than vaccines—except, he must know the rapid tests are not as reliable when it comes to detecting Omicron. Meanwhile, the pandemic runs rampant, hospitals are overwhelmed and parents are worried sick for their school-age children.

To keep his ragged band of followers from splitting asunder, O’Toole—a formerly likeable, middle-of-the-road backbencher and junior minister in Harper’s government—is behaving like an unhinged bile-machine. It is particularly laughable when he accuses the prime minister of avoiding taking a stand on Quebec’s discriminatory Bill 21, of “attempting to play both sides” by leaving it to Quebecers to decide the issue, rather than forcefully defending the bill’s victims, notably Muslim women schoolteachers. Laughable, because that is exactly what O’Toole has been doing.

The brilliant political cartoonist, Michael de Adder, summed up public reaction to this new, hyperactive O’Toole with a depiction of a giant hand, labelled Public Opinion, flicking a tiny O’Toole away like an annoying fly.

For all that, O’Toole is a model of reserve compared to Maxime Bernier. Old-timers (guilty) remember Bernier as a dapper, friendly urban sophisticate with libertarian economic views—hence the sobriquet, Mad Max. However, he was thought to be socially liberal and displayed no overtly anti-immigrant, or social conservative views as a member of Harper’s cabinet.

That was then. Bernier, of course, has become a vehement anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, a critic of the immigration Quebec needs to fill jobs, and, since losing the leadership to O’Toole in 2019, a harsh critic of his former rival. He calls O’Toole #RedErin and “wet noodle” and vows NEVER to go back “to that morally and intellectually corrupt party.”

Bernier sees “fascists coming out from under rocks everywhere,” as he noted in a recent tweet, this one aimed at Alberta’s NDP health critic David Shepherd, who expressed cautious support for mandatory vaccines. He routinely calls Trudeau a fascist. The Toronto Star “is run by hateful fascists.” RCMP Chief Brenda Lucki is “gestapo” for asking Canadians to report suspicious internet activity.

Bernier also opposes the recently proposed Quebec tax on the unvaccinated— probably a trial balloon, rather than enforceable policy—and says Premier Francois Legault’s government “is responsible for the death of thousands of elderly Quebecers in nursing homes. Now it wants to force the unvaccinated to pay for its abysmal management of the pandemic.”

Bernier has his high-profile fans, including Dr. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic who made an international reputation opposing trans rights, or “radical trans ideology,” and taking on wokeism in all its manifestations. Peterson also likes Conservative finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, noting on Twitter last week: “It’s nice to see a politician with some courage. You should have run for the Conservative leadership, and maybe you could bring Max Bernier back on board. He has some spine, too.”

Poilievre was flattered by the vote of confidence from “an outstanding, world-renowned Canadian thinker.” When chided by Liberals for his praise of the discredited psychology professor, Poilievre replied, with typical subtlety: “There’s more brainpower in Dr. Peterson’s pinky finger than in all the bobbleheads in the Liberal caucus combined.”

So goes the debate within the new politics. (Rebel News Ezra Levant tweeted, after O’Toole posted a coded defence of “LIBERTY” last week, in a nod to anti-vaxxers: “You weird liar.”) It is steeped in vitriol, fuelled by resentment and untethered from facts. As Alberta Premier Jason Kenney once famously said of Trudeau, it has “the intellectual depth of a finger bowl.”

But it is dangerous and corrosive, nonetheless. Bernier is able to muster large crowds in downtown Montreal on a frigid January day. His People’s Party of Canada (PPC) is gaining strength in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As for Poilievre—shrewd, ambitious, coldly calculating, a master of the personal smear—he could well replace O’Toole when the time is right.

Many voters would not want these harsh, angry men—no matter their politics—sitting on the local school board, never mind running the country.

But there is no telling what will happen if Trudeau stumbles—as he inevitably will; as all long-serving prime ministers do.

O’Toole may look benign in retrospect.

Susan Riley is a veteran political columnist who writes regularly for The Hill Times.

The Hill Times 

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Poroshenko, Former President, Returns to Ukraine, Roiling Politics – The New York Times

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Petro O. Poroshenko, a former president, returned to Kyiv on Monday facing possible arrest, adding internal political turmoil to a threat of Russian invasion.

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, returned Monday to Kyiv, where he faced possible arrest, adding internal political turmoil to the mounting threat of a Russian invasion.

Mr. Poroshenko’s return brought into focus Ukraine’s wobbly politics, which were mostly in the background in recent weeks as the United States and its allies in Europe scrambled to forestall Russian military intervention.

He arrived Monday morning at Kyiv’s Zhuliani airport, where a scene erupted at passport control. Mr. Poroshenko said border guards for some time refused to allow him to enter the country, though he was due to appear at a court hearing later in the day in Kyiv. He later passed the border control but said authorities had confiscated his passport.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been embroiled in a long-running feud with Mr. Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019. Mr. Poroshenko faces a court hearing late Monday morning on charges of high treason and supporting terrorism.

His appearance in the capital where he once governed comes after a week of mostly futile negotiations between Russia and the West seeking a solution to tense disagreements over the security of Eastern Europe.

In Kyiv, opinions differed on whether the threat of an arrest was just another maneuver in Ukraine’s typically byzantine politics at home, or something more ominous related to the Russian threat.

Analysts suggested that Mr. Zelensky might be seizing on the distraction of the Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border to sideline an opponent, or that he hoped to tamp down possible opposition protests if he is forced to make unpopular concessions to Moscow to avoid an invasion.

“Maybe he thinks that with forces on the border, Ukrainians won’t protest” an arrest of the opposition leader, said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor in chief of Ukraine World, a journal covering politics. If so, he said, it is a risky move.

“With the situation on the border, when everybody is yelling, ‘There will be a war,’ it’s very strange,” Mr. Yermolenko said of the spectacle of Ukraine’s two leading politicians squabbling despite the existential threat to their country. “It just seems ridiculous.”

Polls have consistently shown Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Poroshenko to be Ukraine’s most popular politicians. Mr. Poroshenko has a base of support in Ukrainian nationalist politics, particularly in the country’s western regions, which want closer ties with Europe, and he has criticized Mr. Zelensky for giving ground in peace negotiations with Russia to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine.

Sergei Supinsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Poroshenko left Ukraine last month, saying he had meetings in Europe. Prosecutors say he left to avoid a court hearing.

Mr. Zelensky’s aides have said that the charges against Mr. Poroshenko are justified and that courts decided the timing of the arrest and other actions, including the freezing of Mr. Poroshenko’s assets earlier this month.

The former president was accused of missing a court hearing last month while traveling abroad. He returned to Ukraine on Monday despite reports in the Ukrainian news media that a court had issued a sealed order for his arrest.

Mr. Poroshenko left the presidency in 2019, when he lost an election to Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian who ran as an outsider to politics who would fight corruption and uproot the entrenched interests of Ukraine’s political class. Mr. Zelensky’s popularity has since slumped. Opinion polls today show only a slight advantage in a potential future election against Mr. Poroshenko, who is now a member of Parliament in the European Solidarity party.

In an interview before his return to Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko said that his arrest might help Mr. Zelensky sideline a rival but that the political instability would play into the hands of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“He wants to undermine the stability in Ukraine,” Mr. Poroshenko said of Mr. Putin. “He analyzes two versions: One version is a military aggression through the Ukrainian-Russian or Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The second is just to undermine the stability inside Ukraine, and in this way just stop Ukraine from our future membership in NATO and in the E.U.”

Mr. Poroshenko offered no evidence of a Russian hand in the political turmoil and described internal Ukrainian feuds as the most likely cause of the legal pressure he faced. But he said Mr. Zelensky might hope to win concessions from Russia by arresting a politician aligned with the nationalist wing of Ukrainian politics.

“I am absolutely confident this is a very important gift to Putin,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “Maybe with this gift he wanted to launch a negotiation with Putin, as a precondition.”

Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press

After massing tens of thousands of soldiers on Ukraine’s border through the fall, Russia demanded last month that the United States and NATO pull back forces from countries in Eastern Europe and guarantee that Ukraine not join the Western alliance.

Diplomatic talks last week with Russia ended inconclusively, and Russian officials now say they are awaiting a written response to their demands from the United States.

As a contingency, in case diplomacy fails, Ukraine has also been quietly pursuing talks with Russia and proposed a bilateral meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin. On Friday, the Ukrainian presidential chief of staff, Andri Yermak, suggested a three-way video conference with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders and President Biden.

Mr. Poroshenko’s controversial return was not the first sign of political turmoil. In November, just as Russia was ramping up its deployments along the border, Mr. Zelensky told journalists that Russia was also planning a coup.

He said Russian operatives were seeking to draw one of Ukraine’s wealthy businessmen, Rinat Akhmetov, into a plot against his government. The businessman was “being dragged into a war against the Ukrainian state,” Mr. Zelensky said, but he provided no evidence and made no move to arrest Mr. Akhmetov.

Mr. Akhmetov vehemently denied any involvement in a plot to undermine Mr. Zelensky’s government.

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