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Don Martin: Why Justin Trudeau is my (reluctant) pick for politician of the year – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
If you rule out a microscopic organism, specifically that spiked ball of viral misery called COVID-19, picking the top Canadian newsmaker in 2020 is a helluva tough call.

The logical nominees include any ICU doctor or nurse, the underpaid workers helping long-term care residents deal with the agony of isolation or one of those superior chief medical health officers.

But a politician? By contrast to the saints of health care, they’re not even close.

Having said that, it is with one thumb up and the other slightly pinching my nose that the obvious Canadian politician of the year is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

There are reasons why this is an unworthy pick. More about that later.

But Trudeau compressed a decade’s worth of federal government action into a single year – and it’s not even close to being finished.

Remember the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs and their natural gas blockade in northern B.C.?

It was so important at the time, but the challenge of resolving that dispute now seems almost quaint by contrast to the deadly arrival of COVID-19 later that same month.

In just 300 days, Trudeau and his cabinet have overseen the largest rollout of new programs and spending in peacetime history.

Trudeau quickly read the mood of an anxious public who needed to know his massive rescue mission would spit out billions of deficit dollars from a wide-open government vault.

The multi-layered rollout of direct individual payments, wage subsidies, rent relief and interest-free loans for struggling businesses kept the pump primed in a severely-sputtering economy.

And becoming the world’s biggest buyer of vaccines per capita, going far beyond what could ever be injected into Canadian arms, was a smart move as the surplus will be shared with poorer countries at the back of the line.

Trudeau is now giving a mea culpa in year-end interviews for not acting faster to procure medical masks and protective clothing in March. That’s a valid self-criticism.

And any pandemic post-mortem may show the spread might’ve been slowed if his government had raised the Canadian drawbridges against international arrivals a few weeks sooner.

But it was the figurehead stuff where Trudeau shone.

His daily briefings during the first wave were textbook crisis communications, mixing victim empathy with public health advice and hope for a post-pandemic future

He even gave an inadvertent lesson on slowing the spread to the world when Anonymotif’s ‘Speaking Moistly’ spoof of Trudeau’s gaffe became YouTube’s third-highest trending video of the year.

But there’s a nose-holding asterisk over any praise of Trudeau’s performance this year.

There are many who believe the WE charities scandal was overblown because it’s mostly forgotten now, but it offered disconcerting insight into the ethical shortcomings of this prime minister.

He couldn’t even see a problem when own spouse and mother were pocketing benefits from a WE charity receiving a sole-sourced contract worth almost a billion dollars. That suggests almost wilful blindness.

Three times Trudeau’s now been before the ethics commissioner for a spanking. And while the commissioner’s final report on the WE scandal has yet to be released, it seems likely to at least wrist-slap Trudeau’s behaviour.

Couple that with Trudeau’s shameless proroguing of Parliament to dodge the WE probe, his MP lapdogs obstructing committee work when it returned, his government’s general lack of transparency and an increasingly centralized power structure and the new Trudeau boss is pretty much the same as the old Harper boss.

And yet, that’s arguably politics as normal in severely abnormal times.

Trudeau in 2020 was a comforting face in a time of disorienting disaster who lectured the behaving-badly when provoked and is giving us a tunnel-light glimpse of a future without facemasks.

For displaying high-profile leadership in delivering massive relief in record time while ordering up far more vaccines than Canada will ever need, Justin Trudeau gets my one-thumb-up nod as this country’s best politician in a very miserable year.

That’s the bottom line.

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Putin Thrusts Global Food Markets Into Russian Politics – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Dmitry Bravkov is the kind of farmer that makes Vladimir Putin proud. The Russian president regularly touts his country’s rise to the top of the world’s agricultural exporters as another sign of its global power.

But after 14 years of running a dairy and grain farm 300 miles southwest of Moscow, Bravkov has suddenly found himself on the wrong end of Kremlin policy. In three weeks, he’ll get less for his wheat because of new tariffs and quotas designed to curb exports and drive domestic prices lower.

With Putin’s popularity barely back from record lows, the policy is an attempt to mollify a public battered by falling incomes and rising food costs. Protests at the weekend demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny now give Putin another reason to try to shore up support.

Russia’s position as the world’s biggest wheat exporter means the move is already reverberating through global markets, and a short-term domestic advantage could lead to longer-term damage to faith in the country as a reliable supplier.

“The introduction of the duty is an attempt to cash in on the farmers,” said Bravkov, 47, who employs 60 people in a village in the Bryansk region. “There’s plenty of wheat in the world. If Russia doesn’t supply it, someone else will.”

World grain prices have soared to the highest level in six years after poor weather hampered harvests in some key producers and China embarked on an agricultural buying spree. The knock-on effect is particularly acute for developing nations because food is a bigger share of household spending. 

Uncertainty over Russia’s restrictions has already hurt some buyers, with top wheat importer Egypt canceling a tender on Jan. 12—a rare occurrence—after supply offers dried up. 

“Russia wants to have it both ways,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization in Rome. “It wants to have a big chunk of the export market, and at the same time, not be exposed to problems within the global food sector. Usually such plans aren’t successful in the long-run.”

While Putin was boasting of a record harvest last year, ordinary Russians had to shell out 20% more for bread and 65% more for sugar than in 2019. Memories of food shortages in the Soviet Union and soaring inflation after its collapse have made prices a politically sensitive issue in Russia.

Russia’s history wasn’t lost on Putin as he scolded ministers on national television last month for not doing enough to stop rising prices, even as he boasted about huge grain exports. Russia’s wheat output has nearly doubled in the past two decades.

“Back then, they said that everything is available in the Soviet Union, just not enough for everyone, but there wasn’t enough because there were shortages,” he said. “Now there might not be enough because people don’t have enough money to buy certain products at the prices we see on the market.”

One day after the comments were aired—and three days before Putin was due to address the nation in his annual televised press conference—the government proposed a levy on wheat from mid-February though the end of June. The duty will start at 25 euros ($30.40) a ton before doubling from March 1. Wheat-export prices in Russia have climbed 43% in the past six months to $297 as of Jan. 20, data from consultancy IKAR show.

The government is also pressing ahead with a previously announced grain-export quota for the same period. Price curbs may be implemented on other food products such as pasta, eggs and potatoes.

Russia has a history of disrupting the wheat market with restrictions and duties. The country imposed an export tax in 2007 to combat rising food costs, helping push global wheat prices to a record, and some researchers see an export ban in 2010 as an indirect contributor to the Arab Spring uprisings. 

Indeed, few other exporters have dared to go down the protectionist route because the results can be counterproductive. The strategy is particularly risky because the Kremlin has worked so hard to overtake the U.S. and European Union and become the dominant global supplier of wheat.

The measures will cost wheat farmers as much as 135 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) in potential revenue losses, and more if export duties are extended to other foodstuffs, according to Andrey Sizov Jr., managing director at consultant SovEcon in Moscow.

Importers are already turning toward other suppliers such as Australia and even India, according to Evgeniya Dudinova, a member of the International Association of Operative Millers Eurasia leadership council. In the United Arab Emirates, where she’s based, purchases from Russia have totaled about 330,000 tons so far this season, a third of last year’s volume. 

Key importers will try to avoid Russian wheat when the taxes kick in, said Muzzammil R. Chappal, chairman of the Cereal Association of Pakistan. The country is the fifth-largest importer of Russian wheat this season.

At his farm, Bravkov said he hasn’t received any help from the government in the past. He’s in the process of switching from dairy to grain farming after milk prices stagnated, which will force him to lay off workers to stay profitable. “With such measures our government just helps protect our European competitors,” Bravkov said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Parliament resumes amid heightened political pressure on pandemic, vaccines – The Globe and Mail

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government is expected to be pressed by opposition parties when Parliament resumes Monday on the availability of vaccines for COVID-19, the recession caused by the virus and when Ottawa intends to put forward a detailed account of federal spending in a budget.

The pandemic, which has dominated Justin Trudeau’s second mandate, has kept the government in crisis-response mode since last March. As of Sunday, the Public Health Agency said there have been 742,531 cases of COVID-19 to date in Canada and 18,974 deaths. There were 146 fatalities reported on Sunday.

With Parliament coming back after the holiday break, Mr. Trudeau’s government is expected to face questions about its handling of the crisis and the pace at which the country is receiving vaccines.

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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said the government is letting down Canadians on the vaccine file and that the country cannot secure its economic future without access to the shots.

NDP House leader and finance critic Peter Julian said Sunday the government must ensure that vaccines make their way into peoples’ arms. He said this issue is “particularly disturbing” during a very dangerous and deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said Thursday the delivery of vaccines from Pfizer for the week of Feb. 1 will be cut to 79,000 doses, amounting to a 79-per-cent drop. On Tuesday, he said Canada will get none of the 208,650 doses originally expected this week.

Maj.-Gen. Fortin also said the company has not disclosed what Canada’s shipment will be the week of Feb. 8.

Mr. Julian said there is a “profound concern with the government seeming to rely on statements rather than actually mobilizing the resources they have to make sure that vaccines are actually administered to Canadians.

“What is vitally important and the only thing that Canadians will be satisfied with is that there’s a major step up in administering of vaccines across the country, particularly the Canadians who are the most vulnerable,” he said.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand has said Canada remains on track to receive vaccines for all Canadians who wish to be vaccinated by the end of September.

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Mr. Trudeau’s government is also facing political pressure to re-establish a viceregal appointments committee following the resignation of Governor-General Julie Payette on Thursday.

Ms. Payette’s departure, along with that of her second-in-command Assunta Di Lorenzo, followed the completion of an external review that was requested after media reports detailed allegations of bullying and harassment at Rideau Hall.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told the CBC on Sunday that he doesn’t think the government can pretend the vetting process for Ms. Payette was adequate. The process must be more robust for every senior government appointment, he said.

The Prime Minister hasn’t made any decisions on the specific process to be followed in the coming weeks to replace Ms. Payette, Mr. LeBlanc said, but added that the Privy Council Office will be offering advice to Mr. Trudeau this week.

“It’s not a circumstance we want to drag on for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

Peter Donolo, the vice-chairman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada and a prime ministerial director of communications to Jean Chrétien, said it is not an optimal situation to have the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Richard Wagner, serving in the viceregal role in the interim.

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“That’s why they need to move sooner than later to replace the Governor-General,” he said. “Hopefully it will just be a matter of a couple of weeks at most.”

With a report from Marieke Walsh

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

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Parliament resumes amid heightened political pressure on pandemic, vaccines

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government is expected to be pressed by opposition parties when Parliament resumes Monday on the availability of vaccines for COVID-19, the recession caused by the virus and when Ottawa intends to put forward a detailed account of federal spending in a budget.

The pandemic, which has dominated Justin Trudeau’s second mandate, has kept the government in crisis-response mode since last March. As of Sunday, the Public Health Agency said there have been 742,531 cases of COVID-19 to date in Canada and 18,974 deaths. There were 146 fatalities reported on Sunday.

With Parliament coming back after the holiday break, Mr. Trudeau’s government is expected to face questions about its handling of the crisis and the pace at which the country is receiving vaccines.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said the government is letting down Canadians on the vaccine file and that the country cannot secure its economic future without access to the shots.

NDP House leader and finance critic Peter Julian said Sunday the government must ensure that vaccines make their way into peoples’ arms. He said this issue is “particularly disturbing” during a very dangerous and deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said Thursday the delivery of vaccines from Pfizer for the week of Feb. 1 will be cut to 79,000 doses, amounting to a 79-per-cent drop. On Tuesday, he said Canada will get none of the 208,650 doses originally expected this week.

Maj.-Gen. Fortin also said the company has not disclosed what Canada’s shipment will be the week of Feb. 8.

Mr. Julian said there is a “profound concern with the government seeming to rely on statements rather than actually mobilizing the resources they have to make sure that vaccines are actually administered to Canadians.

“What is vitally important and the only thing that Canadians will be satisfied with is that there’s a major step up in administering of vaccines across the country, particularly the Canadians who are the most vulnerable,” he said.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand has said Canada remains on track to receive vaccines for all Canadians who wish to be vaccinated by the end of September.

Mr. Trudeau’s government is also facing political pressure to re-establish a viceregal appointments committee following the resignation of Governor-General Julie Payette on Thursday.

Ms. Payette’s departure, along with that of her second-in-command Assunta Di Lorenzo, followed the completion of an external review that was requested after media reports detailed allegations of bullying and harassment at Rideau Hall.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told the CBC on Sunday that he doesn’t think the government can pretend the vetting process for Ms. Payette was adequate. The process must be more robust for every senior government appointment, he said.

The Prime Minister hasn’t made any decisions on the specific process to be followed in the coming weeks to replace Ms. Payette, Mr. LeBlanc said, but added that the Privy Council Office will be offering advice to Mr. Trudeau this week.

“It’s not a circumstance we want to drag on for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

Peter Donolo, the vice-chairman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada and a prime ministerial director of communications to Jean Chrétien, said it is not an optimal situation to have the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Richard Wagner, serving in the viceregal role in the interim.

“That’s why they need to move sooner than later to replace the Governor-General,” he said. “Hopefully it will just be a matter of a couple of weeks at most.”

With a report from Marieke Walsh

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Source: – The Globe and Mail

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