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Building an American Political Consensus Behind Environmental Sustainability – State of the Planet

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When environmental protection was a barely noticed issue on the political agenda, it was able to achieve massive support from the American public. The air pollution, water pollution, solid and toxic waste programs of the 1970s and 1980s were not partisan issues. In 1972 the Water Act was enacted over then-President Nixon’s veto. Public support for these laws was well over 70%, and the laws were crafted by a bipartisan coalition of committed legislators. What happened?

Part of what happened was the anti-regulatory ideology of the Reagan era and the rhetoric of “job killing regulations.” But even President Reagan had to walk back anti-regulation moves in the EPA. EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch-Buford (yes, the mother of the Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch) and her Associate Administrator for Hazardous waste, Rita Lavelle, were sent packing, and the first EPA Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus was brought back to steer EPA back to its politically moderate moorings.

EPA regulation was serious, and enforcement was real, but industry was given plenty of time to comply with rules, and generally speaking only businesses that were marginal to begin with were harmed by environmental rules. But the growing role of money in politics and fierce lobbying by ideologues and industry began to paint environmental rules as anti-freedom and anti-capitalist. In response to the climate issue, the fossil fuel industry intensified its lobbying and propaganda onslaught with a ferocity not seen since the tobacco propaganda wars of the late 20th century. In both cases, those industries understood the dangers their products posed and that they were in an existential battle for survival. By the 21st century, environmental protection had become an ideological political issue, particularly once the climate issue began to dominate.

In the early days of climate politics, the issue had little political salience because it was very different from traditional environmental politics. Despite the machinations of politicos in Washington, broad, grassroots support for a clean environment persisted. This was because air and water pollution can be seen smelled, causes and effects were local and impossible to ignore. In addition, rural people who hunted and fished understood that the natural resources they loved were in danger. In contrast, in the early days of climate politics, we saw no local climate impacts. Scientists told us that climate change was created everywhere, and its impact was in the future. We had to place our trust in, of all things, academic climate modelers and earth system scientists.

But while climate policy proved problematic, other trends actually reinforced the importance of environmental policy. People began to focus on wellness, their diet, exercise, and overall health, particularly when it came to children. Parenting had become a verb (as opposed to the status of being a parent). The not in my backyard syndrome (NIMBY) developed, in part, as a way of trying to prevent further real estate development and maintain local environmental quality. And then, over the past decade, extreme weather events began to accelerate and intensify, and the early climate models proved to be true. All the impacts that early climate models predicted were happening on our warming planet. In recent years, young conservatives have begun to accept the science of climate change while still rejecting the solutions proposed by progressive climate activists.

We live on a planet far more crowded than the one we saw when EPA was created in 1970. Back then, the global population was about four billion; today it is about eight billion. The political pressure to maintain wealth in the developed world and to build wealth in the developing world is fierce. The best way to ensure that is done is to modernize our economies in the developed world and move toward a circular, renewable resource-based economy. To do that, we need to develop and implement new sources of renewable energy and make our electric grid capable of sending and receiving energy and operating at higher levels of efficiency. We also need to develop systems to automatically separate garbage and mine it for resources that can be reprocessed. Sewage treatment must also advance so that sewage sludge can be recycled. These high-tech solutions require additional research and development and also require massive investments in public infrastructure.

But they hold the promise of a more productive and lower-cost economy. Energy is a growing household expense that can be reduced by lower-priced and more efficient solar cells and batteries. Electric vehicles are already demonstrating their high-tech appeal. Cities like New York are spending billions of dollars to remove garbage and send it away. What if our garbage could actually generate revenue by providing raw materials for remanufacture? What if those resources were lower priced than raw materials mined from the planet? We are already seeing this in one industry. J.B. Straubel, a co-founder, of Tesla recently started Redwood, a company that makes electric car batteries, in part, from recycled materials. While his company will need to mine raw materials to meet his production targets, according to Tom Randall in Fortune Magazine:

“The company’s target of 100 GWh in 2025 means it can no longer rely on recycled materials alone. Unlike some consumer electronics, there’s a long lag between when electric cars are made and when their batteries are ready to be recycled. The reuse of packs in secondary applications can delay that further. Today, electric cars account for less than 10% of Redwood’s recycling stock. “We’re going to push the recycled percent as high as possible, but that is really going to be dependent on the availability of recycled materials,” Straubel said. “If we end up consuming 50% or more of virgin raw materials, that’s fine.” In the decades to come, Straubel is confident that recycled materials will be used for “close to 100%” of the world’s battery production. Recycling is already profitable, he said, and eventually companies that don’t integrate recycling with refining and production won’t be able to compete on cost.”

In other words, some raw materials are so valuable, recycling makes economic sense. What is needed to build a broad-based consensus behind environmental sustainability politics is the basic idea pioneered by Mike Bloomberg when as New York City’s Mayor, he led the development of the city’s first sustainability plan: PlaNYC2030. That plan tied environmental sustainability to economic development. In some measure we are seeing the same impulse in the environmental elements of Joe Biden’s infrastructure and build back better plans. It’s an effort to modernize the economy. A focus on building the economy, increasing employment, and developing cleaner, less expensive energy has broad, non-ideological appeal. The popularity of elements of Biden’s plan stands in contrast to the bitter partisanship in Washington, which is now reflected in many communities where all politics has become a zero-sum game. Political opponents are now seen as bad and evil people. If Biden gets something approved, even if it’s something everyone favors, it’s seen as a loss politically by his opponents.

Trumpian extreme right-wing political warfare delegitimizes the political center and any form of political consensus.  Any congressional Republicans negotiating compromises risk being primaried by Trumpian extreme ideologues. On the left, we see environmentalists branding industry as evil and arguing that the only solution to climate change is to tax carbon and to live without some forms of consumption that the public values. Politics seems to be moving toward increased polarization.

Politics seems unreal, but reality is still reality. The forest fires in the west, droughts, tornadoes and floods in the Midwest, and extreme weather everywhere remind us: the issues of environmental sustainability are real. We all breathe the same air. We drink the same water. The food we eat comes from the same system of industrial agriculture. The facts of our environmental condition are not based on beliefs or values but objective conditions we all experience.  We are also in a global economy in a competition with organizations from many nations. The argument that we need to ensure that our energy and transportation systems are up-to-date is a strong one when based on the need to remain competitive. Therefore, the seeds of consensus can be found in our objective environmental and economic conditions. We don’t need foreign raw materials if we can mine them from garbage. Renewable energy can prevent climate change, but it also can be delivered cheaper than fossil fuel-sources energy. Electric cars are fast becoming fashionable. Economic modernization centered in the private sector but subsidized by government-funded infrastructure and scientific research is as American as apple pie. Economic modernization is how we can and hopefully will build an American political consensus behind environmental sustainability.

 


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Politics Briefing: Fate of 24 Sussex subject to consultations between PM, National Capital Commission – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says conversations are continuing with the National Capital Commission about the fate of 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the prime minister.

The commission, a federal Crown corporation whose responsibilities include managing official residences, has raised concerns about the state of the property initially built in 1868, and refurbished as an official residence for the prime minister in 1950. There is a history of the residence here.

“We are in consultations. We are assessing our options. And when we will arrive at a decision, we will share it with you,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference on Friday.

Mr. Trudeau said the government is engaging with the capital commission and other experts to ensure there is a safe and stable environment for “prime ministers current and future” as well as the interests of Canadians.

Mr. Trudeau and his family have been living in Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall instead of 24 Sussex Drive since he led the Liberals to power in 2015.

“We know that 24 Sussex has been neglected by many generations of politicians and prime ministers over the years,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“Unfortunately, it is in a terrible condition.”

The Prime Minister said the property is an important, historic building but there are concerns about safety.

Asked if he would take a decision during this mandate, and whether he was concerned about criticism of renovating the prime minister’s residence and how much it might cost, Mr. Trudeau said he has no intention in living in 24 Sussex Drive regardless of how long he is Prime Minister.

This week, the CEO of the capital commission said, according to The Ottawa Citizen, that he has been stressing the need for repairs at Canada’s official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive, with federal officials.

The residence was listed as being in “critical” condition in a commission report last year, and requiring $36.6-million in work. The Citizen story is here.

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

CANADIAN LOAN FOR UKRAINE – Canada will lend Ukraine up to $120-million as Kyiv readies for possible war with Russia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday. Story here.

TRUDEAU VOWS ACTION ON PEOPLE SMUGGLING – Canada is doing all it can stop people smuggling across the U.S. border after a family of four froze to death in a “mind-blowing’ tragedy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday. Story here.

CHAMPAGNE TO EXPLAIN MINE ACQUISITION – François-Philippe Champagne, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, will go before a federal committee as early as next week and answer questions about why Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is allowing the acquisition of Canadian lithium firm Neo Lithium Corp. by a state-owned Chinese mining company without conducting a formal security review.

EXPLANATION FOR CONFUSED STATEMENT – Turmoil and confusion over whether truckers would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate last week stemmed from bureaucrats misinterpreting policy in more than one federal agency – including the one that co-ordinates Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Story here.

HAITI MEETING ON FRIDAY – The U.S. State Department says it is looking forward to a productive meeting today when Central American leaders gather online with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to talk about the future of Haiti. Story here. Meanwhile, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti is calling for a politically “inclusive accord” to address a deepening constitutional crisis following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Story here.

SASKATCHEWAN TO REDEPLOY GOVERNMENT WORKERS – The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is looking at redeploying government employees from other departments to help the health-care system. Story here.

FUNDING FOR FIRST NATIONS OMICRON RESPONSE – Indigenous Services Canada says it will provide $125-million in public-health funding for First Nations to bolster their responses to the Omicron variant. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

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

CANADA’S FINANCE MINISTERS TALK – Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also the Finance Minister, is hosting a virtual meeting on Friday with provincial and territorial finance ministers.

THE DECIBEL – . In Friday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Future of Work reporter Vanmala Subramaniam tells us why the trend of hot-desking is gaining traction now. This is the idea that there are no assigned seats in an office. Instead, an employee books their spot through an app before coming in. Ms. Subramaniam also talks about what workers told her about their experience with hot-desking and how hot-desking will transform post-pandemic office life. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister made a virtual announcement along with Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen, and then held a media availability. The Prime Minister delivered remarks at the opening of a foreign ministers’ meeting on Haiti, hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. And he participated in a virtual celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black MP.

LEADERS

No schedules provided for party leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the new-era Senate won’t face its real test until we get our next Conservative government: “The real test of the Senate will come when there’s a change in government, when it’s not necessarily a government with whom the appointees agree, ” said Kathy Brock, a political scientist at Queen’s University who has long taken an interest in the Senate. Until we learn how the Red Chamber performs under those conditions, we won’t really know whether it works at all. In 2014, in the midst of the Senate expenses scandal, Mr. Trudeau expelled all Liberal senators from caucus. After he became Prime Minister, he appointed only independent senators, albeit ones who mostly shared a progressive outlook.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics:So while some will say Mr. Madu’s intentions weren’t malicious or corrupt, it doesn’t matter. He violated a sacred tenet of government. He may have found other means, or avenues, to have this issue addressed that didn’t involve him picking up the phone and calling the city’s top cop. There is, however, another disturbing aspect to this whole affair: The question of what Mr. Kenney knew, and when he knew it. As mentioned, the incident and phone call happened 10 months ago. According to veteran Alberta columnist Don Braid, it was widely known among members of cabinet and discussed in “jocular” terms. It seems inconceivable that if members of cabinet knew about this, Mr. Kenney didn’t also.”

Elizabeth Renzetti (The Globe and Mail) on why real men take paternity leave: “You may have seen a recent picture of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a classic new-parent pose, holding his infant daughter while also trying to sneak a peek at his laptop. Unfortunately, this nice moment of paternal devotion has been upstaged by a rocking chair. The $1,895 rocking chair was a gift to Mr. Singh’s wife, and he landed in hot water when he tagged the chair-maker in an Instagram post. He’s now said the couple is repaying the cost of the chair, and the NDP is working with the ethics commissioner on a disclosure. The photo has caused quite a flap. If you travel down the devil’s highway that is Twitter, you’ll see a certain amount of fury directed at Mr. Singh and his fancy rocker. I understand the anger: It was a dumb and possibly unethical move. But really I’m just sad, because this was an opportunity for a progressive politician to take a stand on something that is hugely important, which is the need for new dads to loudly and proudly take advantage of paid parental leave.”

Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail) on how a fire has killed Indigenous children again – because poverty burns through the generations: “Let this sobering truth sink in: First Nations children under the age of 10 are 86 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous children, according to the Ontario Chief Coroner’s Table on Understanding Fire Deaths in First Nations, which released a damning report last year after studying 56 fire deaths in 29 fires across 20 First Nations over the course of 10 years. How many times must we read about government reports, parliamentary committee hearings or new programs that are needed to fund basic fire safety and infrastructure in First Nations communities? How many times must the Assembly of First Nations and territorial political organizations yell from the rooftops about the need to adequately fund fire safety?”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on how taming inflation will be much trickier than stimulating the economy: “If you’ve been in the market for a new refrigerator in recent weeks, you’re likely still suffering from sticker shock. Fridge prices were up almost 14 per cent in December, as Canada’s overall inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8 per cent. Everything is suddenly costing more, from that fridge and the groceries you put in it (up 5.7 per cent) to a new car (7.2 per cent more) and the gas (33 per cent) it likely runs on. From home insurance (9.3 per cent) to shelter costs (5.4 per cent), Canadians are forking out more and more of their income just to cover the basics. Some very smart folks insist this nasty spike in prices is a nice problem to have.”

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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Stewart Muir: How eco-advocates worked B.C. politics – Financial Post

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You can choose ancient trees or you can choose jobs, but only bad people opt for jobs — is the preferred mental construct of anti-forestry campaigners

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Last year noisy blockaders descended on Fairy Creek on the south coast of Vancouver Island to stop loggers they claimed were laying waste to irreplaceable old growth forests. What the public did not see behind all the fireworks was a carefully laid advocacy strategy to burrow into the heart of government decision-making and bring about policies, not based on sound science, that will hurt working British Columbians. Forestry accounts for a third of British Columbia’s exports – triple both the tourism sector and also tech and film combined — and benefits at least 130 First Nations.

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Thanks to freedom of information (FOI) requests, I have been able to piece together the story behind the story.

Responding to incidents such as Fairy Creek, B.C.’s NDP government commissioned a review. The first step was a report calling for a “paradigm shift” to protect old growth forests. Next came a deeper dive by an expert panel that resulted in some shocking news for the forest industry: timber access restrictions that could shutter as many as 20 sawmills and two pulp and paper mills, with up to 18,000 jobs being lost. Industry, First Nations and labour unions were furious. Last week, a financial markets analyst told an industry conference that British Columbia forestry is now seen as “uninvestable” due to the uncertainty.

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Hundreds of pages of documents released under FOI reveal that the supposedly impartial expert panel was, in fact, constituted to exclude nearly all viewpoints except those closely aligned to a single organization, the Sierra Club, which has a longstanding axe to grind with the forest industry. The “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel” was a joint project of environment minister George Heyman and forest minister Katrine Conroy. Correspondence reveals that it was mostly designed and managed by Heyman, who before becoming an MLA was executive director of Sierra Club BC.

Remarkably, four of the five appointees had strong, unmistakeable connections to the Sierra Club. A government official noted that the panel “does not include the full range of views that would be needed for decision making.” It was known that the panel would deliberately ignore “implications for industry; local community interest; First Nations interests and Indigenous knowledge.”

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When the panel’s makeup was announced, a senior forestry official warned: “At a minimum, to be most effective, this Panel should have been comprised of ministry and external experts, in an equal and balanced collaboration that would most effectively deploy the depth of knowledge possessed by the government’s own staff.” Such advice was not heeded, and the appointees insisted their professional opinions not be questioned. Where the panel did seek outside views, only pressure groups aligned with the Sierra Club were invited.

  1. A forest protector walks up to the trees near Port Renfrew, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

    Terence Corcoran: How greens are killing the B.C. forest sector

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    Opinion: Stakeholder capitalism and ESG’s road to socialism

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    William Watson: The new, new, new interventionism

It’s not difficult to imagine what the reaction would have been if members of this advisory group had previously volunteered their time to write a paper on the very same topic as the panel’s business, as three members of this panel had done, but for a forest industry association rather than the Sierra Club, and that association had then built an elaborate PR campaign around the work.

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The individual who emerged as the group’s chief liaison with government, Lisa Matthaus, was not a technical expert at all but rather a former Sierra Club campaigns director now in a senior political operative job with Organizing for Change, an offshoot of MakeWay, the new name of Tides Canada, a longtime advocacy group, which rebranded itself in 2020 after complaining its anti-everything goals had been misunderstood.

Given all this, it was hardly surprising when the panel came back with recommendations that threaten to gut an entire industry. But if the scientific case for radically reducing access to forestry lands was so strong, why rely on such a cooked process? Founding the heralded paradigm shift on fragile legitimacy only risks hardening existing social polarization.

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A zero-sum framing — you can choose ancient trees or you can choose jobs, but only bad people opt for jobs — is the preferred mental construct of anti-forestry campaigners. The enormous conservation strides B.C. has made since the 1990s “war in the woods” are ignored, confirming again that no amount of give and take is ever enough. It’s as if the culture wars raging in university humanities departments had shifted over to the science faculties, with ecologists who believe trees are altruistic beings who talk to each other clashing for supremacy over forestry scientists and professionals who must weigh many factors.

In the end, the insider moves of a narrow interest group snookered the provincial cabinet, MLAs, citizens, and the broader forestry community. Any hope for a balanced outcome now rests with Indigenous leaders, the only group with the political clout to go up against the environmental lobby.

Stewart Muir is a journalist and founder of Vancouver-based Resource Works Society. The full version of this article appears in the latest issue of The Forestry Chronicle, a publication of the Canadian Institute of Forestry.

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Opinion: Jason Kenney has become the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics – The Globe and Mail

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill on Dec. 10, 2019.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

In March of last year, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was pulled over in the province’s capital and issued a ticket for distracted driving in a school zone.

A couple of days later, he phoned Edmonton’s chief of police, Dale McFee, to discuss the $300 ticket, which he eventually paid.

The ticket, and the phone call, only recently came to light thanks to the CBC. Things moved quickly after that; Mr. Madu defended himself by saying he didn’t phone Mr. McFee to protest the ticket, but rather to discuss the issue of racial profiling. Mr. Madu is Black. He also wanted to be assured he wasn’t being “unlawfully surveilled,” which some police in the province have been accused of doing.

This week, Premier Jason Kenney expressed “profound disappointment” in Mr. Madu for making the phone call, and asked him to “step back from his ministerial duties” while an independent investigation into the matter is carried out.

Mr. Kenney should have fired Mr. Madu on the spot.

There is almost no circumstance in which Mr. Madu, who is also solicitor-general and responsible for law enforcement in Alberta, could be returned to his cabinet duties, such is the iron-clad rule in politics that elected officials (particularly cabinet ministers) don’t interfere in the administration of justice at any level. It’s an automatic termination offence.

Mr. McFee, for what it’s worth, has corroborated the justice minister’s version of events; that he wasn’t calling to get out of the ticket but to discuss carding, an issue he has championed. And while I may have some sympathy for Mr. Madu on this matter, you do not pick up the phone and call the chief of police to have a conversation about it after getting a ticket.

In a different scenario, maybe the police chief interprets the call as subtle pressure and gets the violation ripped up. The fact that didn’t happen in this case is irrelevant. Cabinet ministers can’t appear to be using their office to exert influence or put their finger on the scales of justice in any way. Especially if you are the justice minister.

So while some will say Mr. Madu’s intentions weren’t malicious or corrupt, it doesn’t matter. He violated a sacred tenet of government. He may have found other means, or avenues, to have this issue addressed that didn’t involve him picking up the phone and calling the city’s top cop.

There is, however, another disturbing aspect to this whole affair: The question of what Mr. Kenney knew, and when he knew it.

As mentioned, the incident and phone call happened 10 months ago. According to veteran Alberta columnist Don Braid, it was widely known among members of cabinet and discussed in “jocular” terms. It seems inconceivable that if members of cabinet knew about this, Mr. Kenney didn’t also.

The Premier should make clear when he found out about the matter; was it only when the CBC story made it public? If Mr. Madu discussed the issue with colleagues, would he not also have notified the Premier’s office of what happened? I would think that most justice ministers in this country would notify their bosses when they have a run-in with police, regardless of how insignificant it was.

At the very least, it’s inconceivable that Mr. Madu’s own chief of staff wouldn’t have been told about it and then passed it along to the Premier’s office. No head of government likes nasty surprises. That’s one of the core rules of being in government, and especially cabinet. If there is a potential for some damaging information to come to light, you alert the top person.

That is why I am highly skeptical that Mr. Kenney only found out about this recently. He’s renowned for his micromanaging tendencies and his insistence that he not be the victim of any unpleasant surprises. It’s virtually impossible to believe he wasn’t aware of this story long before now.

This is, of course, just another illustration of the shockingly poor judgment that members of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet – and the Premier himself – have demonstrated over the past couple of years. Mr. Kenney’s nearly three-year reign of error has been enveloped by melodrama and controversy. At various times his response to the pandemic was atrocious. His response to most internal problems has been to deny and delay until he’s boxed into a corner and is forced to do something. There have been calls for his resignation both inside and outside his party.

Mr. Kenney has become the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics. Like the British Prime Minister, he seems to have put a foot wrong at almost every turn, and come to be seen as a bumbling, incompetent leader. And his handling of this latest imbroglio will do nothing to diminish that image.

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