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Finnish PM scandal shows that shaking up politics has its cost – Financial Times

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The writer is a postdoctoral researcher in political science and international political economy at the University of Zurich

It was a big news week for Finland. The country had joined a handful of other EU countries in dramatically restricting the number of Russian tourist visas — a move that would narrow the main route used by Russians to European destinations this summer. The Nato membership candidate also managed to reach 23 out of the necessary 30 votes from current members of the defence alliance after the French President Emmanuel Macron signed the membership protocols for both Finland and Sweden. To top it all, the Finnish border guard was investigating a suspected airspace violation by Russian fighter jets.

Unfortunately, these were not the developments that attracted the greatest global attention. Instead, pictures and videos of the dancing Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin flooded on to every possible front page and social media platform. Online speculation led opposition politicians to demand that Marin take a drugs test. Although the results were negative, more videos and pictures continued to surface from parties she attended over the summer.

It is hardly surprising that scandals concerning top politicians pique more interest than inflation rates, the likes of which Finland has not experienced since the 1980s, or the €687 million support package that the country managed to secure from the European Commission to compensate energy-intensive companies for indirect emission costs. Neither is it a shock that there is often space for just one story from a small country such as Finland per week — if that.

What was notable was the speed with which the world jumped on the story of Marin’s partying. Media companies in Finland justified their journalistic interest from various perspectives, both political and social: should a prime minister be allowed to spend her weekends as she chooses, assuming no laws are broken and no work commitments neglected? Would the prime minister have been in a fit condition to exercise leadership in case of a sudden crisis? Were there unnecessary security risks taken that could result in personal harm or leave her open to blackmail? And if her conduct raises such questions, is her judgment questionable?

Accusations of sexism abound, many pointing out that as a millennial female leader the 36-year old Marin receives harsher judgment for her free time activities than many of her male predecessors or peers over factors that affected their work. After all, Finland’s politicians have a history of heavy alcohol use: president Urho Kekkonen was notorious for conducting his Soviet-era diplomacy often heavily intoxicated.

However, gender and age are not the only things separating Marin from previous political leaders. The prime minister’s popularity largely stems from her embracing publicity, including social media, in a way that was previously unheard of in Finnish politics. Even if democratic politics has always been a popularity contest, Marin has broadened the arena. And some feel justified in turning the tools that built her power into a political weapon to fight her.

By spending her time off with pop stars and influencers, Marin has also offered unconventional individuals access to power. Defenders hope by appearing more relatable, she can attract more young voters. As she herself put it in a press conference this week, “I am human”. But as always when it comes to shaking up the institution of the prime minister, public discussion of the manner in which it is done naturally follows.

As important as such political questions might be, they seem an afterthought to general obsession with every last detail of Marin’s behaviour. The scandal shows how dangerously easy we all are to distract — both through traditional media organisations and on social media. Primarily, of course, journalists will always ride the news wave. And as the editor in chief of the national Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) said, the role of media in a democracy is to scrutinise those with power.

But, as with the string of scandals culminating in the resignation of the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson, the personality cult in politics does tend to suck the oxygen from more important political and social debates. Certainly, factions within Marin’s own Social Democratic Party (SDP) are frustrated by the space the scandal has taken up.

Marin has demonstrated her commitment to an unwavering foreign policy for Finland despite Russian intimidation in the wake of their invasion of Ukraine. The nation, on the frontline in defending democratic values against Moscow, has had to recalculate its national security strategy. Now, with Marin approaching her first general election in office next April, the Kremlin must be finding the timing of the polarising scandal around her partying convenient, to say the least.

Freedom of the press is crucial. But the heightened security situation makes all of our responsibilities as critical producers and consumers of media more burdensome. Marin herself says some lessons have been learnt. The final decision will be up to the voters next spring.

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Quebec election: Fiona briefly throws off Quebec election campaigns

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MONTREAL — Post-tropical storm Fiona caused some disarray on the campaign trail Saturday as some parties cancelled planned events and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault briefly suspended his campaign to manage response to the powerful gale that hit Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.

Legault, the incumbent premier, resumed his re-election bid on Saturday afternoon after meeting with public security officials in Quebec City and holding a briefing with reporters.

The CAQ campaign resumed with a planned meeting with Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand. However, a major partisan rally on Saturday night in Terrebonne, north of Montreal, was postponed, Legault said.

In Quebec, Fiona hit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé and the province’s Lower North Shore, with the brunt of the impact expected from Saturday to Sunday morning. All party leaders expressed well wishes for Quebecers caught in the storm, which also played havoc with some of their schedules.

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois cancelled a press conference in Montreal, but would meet with party supporters in Rimouski, Que. later in the day.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was closely monitoring the situation in the affected regions but continued with her campaign in western Quebec as planned in the Outaouais region.

Once a Liberal stronghold, the CAQ won three of the area’s five ridings during the 2018 election and the Liberals are at risk of losing the two they hold, according to poll-aggregating website qc125.com.

Anglade held a rally in the area on Friday and campaigned again on Saturday before heading back to Montreal at the end of the day.

“The Outaouais has been neglected in the last four years, the health and the economic results demonstrate it,” Anglade said.

With just over a week until voting day on Oct. 3, all five party leaders are scheduled to appear live on “Tout le monde en parle” on Sunday night, a popular prime time talk show on Radio-Canada.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also suspended his own campaign on Friday because of flu-like symptoms. He has tested negative three times for COVID-19 using rapid tests, but said Saturday he would only return to the hustings after a PCR test confirmation.

“As a precaution, we will wait for the return of the PCR before formally resuming the campaign,” he told reporters during a scrum in Longueuil, Que. “As you can see, I’m doing better.”

Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime campaigned in the Quebec City-area riding of Chauveau where he’s seeking to win a seat in the legislature.

He called on Conservative supporters to vote in large numbers to ensure the party elects members — particularly in the riding where he’s running — as two days of advanced voting begins on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

 

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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Quebec election: PQ leader fighting to revive sovereignty debate — and his own party

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MONTREAL — The question of Quebec independence has been put on the back burner during Quebec’s election campaign, but Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is fighting to secure a place for it — and his party — after the Oct. 3 vote.

St-Pierre Plamondon, whose once-strong party has been relegated to last place in the polls, invoked the independence question during the final leaders debate on Thursday, making a direct appeal to sovereigntists who jumped ship to the Coalition Avenir Quebec in the 2018 election.

“Your project is to snuff out Quebec’s independence; mine is to restart it,” he told CAQ Leader François Legault, who had once been a cabinet minister in a PQ government but who quit to form his own federalist party.

“There are voters who trusted you in 2018 because they wanted to replace the Liberals but who support independence — I’m appealing to those people and saying, you can now vote according to your convictions,” St-Pierre Plamondon said.

Formerly a polarizing ballot issue, sovereignty has been largely left out of the conversation this election campaign, but polls show support for independence remains above 30 per cent — and higher among francophones and older voters.

Legault, who has said sovereignty isn’t a priority for the majority of Quebecers, was criticized by his rivals during Thursday’s debate for refusing to spell out how he would vote on the issue. On Friday, he told reporters he doesn’t want a referendum because it would be divisive.

Polling suggests a sizable portion of CAQ voters — more than 40 per cent — support sovereignty, making them a prime target for the PQ as the party seeks to maintain some sort of presence in the provincial legislature, said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University.

With the CAQ solidly in the lead in the polls, the race is focusing more on who voters want to see holding the government to account. Those who support sovereignty could see the PQ as a good option for a “protest vote,” even if they don’t necessarily want a referendum, he said.

St-Pierre Plamondon, who took the reins of the Parti Québécois in the fall of 2020, has promised to hold a referendum on independence in his first mandate if the party forms government.

However, “because the PQ has no chance to form government, even the idea of sovereignty is quite abstract … there won’t be another referendum anyway,” Béland said.

“So, if you like (St-Pierre Plamondon) and you like some of his ideas and you think you need a stronger nationalist voice in Quebec City, why not give them a chance even if you know they would only be in opposition?”

The issue could also resonate with some who previously voted for the Québec solidaire, which also supports sovereignty. St-Pierre Plamondon appeared to be courting that base as well by agreeing on some environmental matters with QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois during the two debates, Béland said.

Far from the days when it was a viable contender to form government, the PQ started the campaign with pollsters predicting it would win one seat. But St-Pierre Plamondon’s performance on the hustings and in the two debates, combined with Legault’s “lacklustre” campaign, have allowed the party to gain a bit more traction, Béland said.

More so than sovereignty, the party’s ability to capitalize on anxiety surrounding the French language has helped rally support, he said, noting the PQ was quick to jump on a recent Statistics Canada report that said the percentage of Quebec residents who predominantly speak French at home declined to 77.5 per cent in 2021 from 79 per cent in 2016.

Still, the PQ will likely return to the legislature with fewer than the seven seats it had at dissolution, and it probably won’t achieve official party status — which requires at least 12 seats or at least 20 per cent of the popular vote — unless the tide turns dramatically in the home stretch of the campaign, he said.

“It’s not great from a long-term, historical standpoint, but it’s still better than what people expected at the beginning of the campaign,” Béland said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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Politics Briefing: Trudeau announces diplomat Jennifer May will be ambassador to China – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that diplomat Jennifer May will take over as ambassador to China with a mandate to speak out on human rights abuses while pursuing trade with the world’s second-biggest economy.

“A dedicated public servant, Ms. May’s many years of diverse experience on international missions, and her deep understanding of Asia, will serve to manage this important bilateral relationship and advance Canada’s interest in China,” Mr. Trudeau said Friday.

While the last two ambassadors – former cabinet minister John McCallum and business executive Dominic Barton – soft-pedalled China’s human rights abuses, the Prime Minister’s Office said Mr. Trudeau expects Ms. May to use her envoy posting to highlight the importance of the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reports 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 signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

POILIEVRE VS. TRUDEAU – In his first opportunity to question Justin Trudeau since winning the Conservative Party leadership, Pierre Poilievre this week repeated his calls for a federal payroll tax freeze and chided the Prime Minister for choosing international travel over House of Commons attendance. Story here.

BRIAN MULRONEY’S DINNER WITH PIERRE POILIEVRE – Pierre Poilievre must make an appeal to Canada’s political centre if he wants to win government, former prime minister Brian Mulroney says he told the new Conservative Leader this week over dinner. Story here.

OILS SANDS COMPANIES FALL SHORT ON CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION: ANALYSIS – Canadian oil sands companies have done little to follow through on their public pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, despite raking in historic profits in 2022, a new analysis shows. Story here.

QUEBEC ELECTION – Quebec’s four opposition party leaders attacked Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault on the environment, the cost of living and his management of the economy in the last debate of the election campaign Thursday, leaving Mr. Legault on the defensive. Story here. The debate, with English translation, is here on CPAC. Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade posted a tweet on her preparation for the proceedings here. Meanwhile, on Friday, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said he is pausing his campaign after developing flu-like symptoms. Story here.

ONTARIO REPORTS SURPLUS – Ontario says it took in 20 per cent more revenue than anticipated last year, wiping out what it had predicted would be a $13.5-billion deficit and replacing it with a “temporary” surplus of $2.1-billion. Story here.

JURISDICTIONAL HURDLES COMPLICATE FEDERAL GUN ACTION – Federal agencies are trying to boost efforts to trace the origins of guns used in crimes, but it appears jurisdictional hurdles could prevent the measures from going as far as some would like. Story here.

LAST COUNCIL MEETING FOR WINNIPEG MAYOR – Brian Bowman bid an emotional farewell to his council colleagues on Thursday, during his last meeting as Winnipeg’s mayor. Story here from CBC.

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, Sept. 23, accessible here.

JOLY TO VISIT SOUTH KOREA – As South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-Yeol visited Ottawa on Friday, a senior official revealed Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly will visit Seoul next month. The disclosure, according to a Canadian Press pool report, came as the president met with Governor-General Mary Simon at Rideau Hall.

SEAL SUMMIT SET FOR NOVEMBER – Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has announced a Seal Summit for Nov. 8 and 9 in St. John’s that will involve parties such as the Indigenous community, commercial fishing industry and provincial and territorial representatives to talk about issues including fisheries science and management, and developing new products and diversifying markets for seal and seal products.

THE DECIBEL

On Friday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, senior foreign correspondent Mark MacKinnon discusses what is happening in Russia where President Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists in a partial mobilization for the war in Ukraine. That sparked protests in several cities in Russia, and a flood of people trying to leave the country. Mr. MacKinnon talks about what the repercussions of Putin’s escalation might be, and what it means for the broader conflict. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Ottawa, visited a local school to mark Rosh Hashanah with students, and then, with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosted a luncheon for visiting South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, and Mrs. Kim Keon-hee. The Prime Minister then held a meeting with the South Korean President. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne participated. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Yoon were then scheduled to hold a joint media availability.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how the best way to help Canada’s overwhelmed health care system is to get your COVID-19 booster shot: ”Canada needs to rediscover the drive that made its earlier vaccine campaigns so successful, especially among the most vulnerable – namely, older Canadians. British Columbia took a stab at it when it announced it intends to deliver 280,000 booster shots per week this fall. Every other province needs to be at least as ambitious. There are enough boosters to go around. Ottawa said Moderna is shipping 10.5 million doses of its bivalent vaccine to Canada just this month, and Moderna and Pfizer are close to submitting even newer formulations for approval from Health Canada. Canada also has plenty of first-generation shots for the nearly one in 10 adults who never got the original two-shot series. Let’s get back to the time when Canada led the world. Every Canadian who gets vaccinated or boosted this fall reduces the number of people likely to end up in our crowded hospitals. It’s not complicated.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on how giving MPs more meaningful work might lead to more civility in Parliament: “I can think of a hundred things wrong with Parliament, and heckling wouldn’t even make the list. Nor, for that matter, would incivility, at least between MPs. We pay politicians for much the same reason we pay wrestlers, to act out a relatively harmless pantomime of combat for the rest of us. Parliament exists as a forum, with all of its quaint rules and customs, not to deny social conflict but to contain and channel it, to express our antagonisms in stylized form.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the first salvo between Pierre Poilievre, Justin Trudeau proves pair will be formidable opponents in Parliament: “In June, 2014, Ray Novak, Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, confronted the Conservative prime minister with a choice: either declare now that he was staying to fight a fourth election, or step aside for someone else. Mr. Harper, who could not abide the thought of another Trudeau leading the country, decided to stay and fight. He shouldn’t have. Mr. Trudeau must know the odds are against him. Yet he must also believe that Mr. Poilievre is a threat to the country. He may have convinced himself that he and no one else can stop the new Conservative Leader from becoming prime minister. He may be right. And if he’s wrong, he won’t be the first politician to make that mistake.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on why Pierre Poilievre doesn’t seem to care about climate change: “It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear on the campaign trail – to tell Albertans that you will boost oil production, even if it damns the climate. But Mr. Poilievre needs to be aware that a majority of Canadians will never support such an irresponsible position when the fate of the world is at stake. The Conservatives need to get serious about climate change, or accept losing elections as a general rule.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on why the federal Liberals should be worried if Justin Trudeau stays: “For the first time as Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau faces a Leader of the Official Opposition who possesses communication skills that rival his own. Mr. Trudeau benefited from comparisons with previous Conservative Party leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, neither of whom could hold an audience. In Mr. Poilievre, he faces an opponent who can draw a crowd. That has to be a major cause for concern in Liberal ranks. Mr. Trudeau won three consecutive federal elections against Tory leaders who were relatively weak or, in the case of former prime minister Stephen Harper, irretrievably weakened. After seven years in power, and a series of scandals on par with those of Mr. Harper’s government, Mr. Trudeau’s own popularity has plummeted.”

Tara McGuire (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how the drug overdose crisis is everyone’s problem: “In the years since Holden died, I have been extremely fortunate to receive an education. I read widely about the opioid crisis and absorbed as much as I could about how to become a writer. During that time, I wrote a book that I very much did not want to write. I considered trashing it many times, which would have been so much easier. But if I bailed, if I didn’t open up about Holden’s struggle and what his death has taught me, then I’d be just another person not talking about it. I’d be another person quietly perpetuating the stigma and shame that come along with substance use and misuse and their often-tragic ramifications.”

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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