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From kicks to politics: Meet Sandy Bowman, Wood Buffalo's new mayor –



Wood Buffalo’s new mayor hasn’t been in politics before but he’s ready to fight for change. 

Sandy Bowman, 50, was sworn in last week and is preparing for his first council meeting. The well-known martial arts instructor defeated council incumbents Mike Allen and Verna Murphy to win the vacant mayor’s seat last month.

Like many Fort McMurray residents, Bowman is not originally from the region. 

Bowman moved to Fort McMurray in 1993 from Nova Scotia. He and a friend had decided to move to B.C, but they stopped in Fort McMurray on the way to visit family. 

“I was here for six days, I met a girl, fell in love, ended up getting married,” Bowman said. 

“When I say home now, this is home.” 

Bowman’s passion is martial arts, which he started practising when he was nine. 

He brought that to Fort McMurray, teaching family and friends Taekwondo at MacDonald Island Park.

“It steamrolled to kids liked it, kids wanted to get involved with it,” said Bowman.

In 1995, he decided to open a studio called Bowmans Martial Arts. He plans to keep teaching during his term as mayor.

“If I’m finished for the day and want a couple hours to de-stress and workout I’ll just come in here and train and teach,” said Bowman. 

Although Bowman is new to politics, he has lots of notable experience with the Western Canada Summer Games, the Arctic Winter Games and Alberta Taekwondo.

Big fight

One stand-out moment in his martial arts career was an MMA fight against Eric “Butterbean” Esch, a well-known boxer and MMA fighter. 

Bowman said in 2010 the company needed a win and something to take it out of debt. The plan was for Bowman to fight someone who was “almost unbeatable.” 

“Win or lose, people would come to the event,” said Bowman. 

Sandy Bowman fighting Butterbean in 2011. (Submitted by Sandy Bowman)

At the time, Butterbean, an accomplished boxer, weighed 377 pounds. Bowman weighed 209 pounds. 

Bowman won the fight. He said it helped launch “the birth of mixed martial arts era in Fort McMurray.”

Two years later, the municipality passed its combative sports commission bylaw, which Bowman helped write.

Flood troubles

Bowman hopes to put that same fighting spirit to get the municipality’s flood mitigation finished. It’s an issue that has affected Bowman’s business.

In 1997, he didn’t have flood insurance. He lost his studio and had to rebuild the business on his own. 

“We were told after that the flood mitigation was done,” said Bowman. But in 2020, the downtown flooded again. And Bowman’s studio, which is in a basement, flooded. 

Bowman said he’s thankful to his landlord who helped put in a sewer backup system, which allowed him to get insurance, but knows not everyone is so lucky.

“I know a lot of the buildings downtown are empty and they’re empty because people can’t get insurance,” he said. 

Bowman lost his home to the 2016 wildfire. He said he wants to make it simpler for people rebuilding, because many people struggle to fill out the permit forms.

Bowman said he wants to start taking care of the people in Fort McMurray, rather than focusing on trying to attract new people to move to the community. 

“Once we do that, I think our population is going to grow,” said Bowman. 

He also wants to clean up Fort McMurray’s downtown and invest in beautification. 

“Making it look like a place we want to live. And make it look like a place people want to do business.” 

The first council meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday.

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A new reason to move: politics – Yahoo Canada Finance



Blue states will get bluer, and red redder, in coming years, as more Americans factor political issues into their relocation decisions and head for places with like-minded tribes.

That’s the forecast from real-estate brokerage Redfin, which included “more migration for political reasons” in its outlook for the housing market in 2022. The deepening political polarization of the country includes new city- and statewide laws likely to attract adherents and repel detractors, driving political issues deeper into community life. Texas this year passed the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law, for instance. A Mississippi anti-abortion law could lead the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal everywhere. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, states will once again be free to set their own abortion statutes, creating a drastic dividing line between permissive and restrictive states.

Another Supreme Court case, involving gun rights, could make it easier to carry concealed weapons in New York and 7 other states, eroding gun-control efforts propagated largely by Democratic governors and mayors. On the other hand, marijuana is now legal in 19 mostly blue and purple states. Cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are experimenting with police reform meant to cut down on lower-level arrests. Public-school curricula is a new flash point between parents who want racial and social justice taught in schools, and traditionalists who feel threatened by “wokeness.”

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Covid pandemic led to sharp disparities in masking rules, school opening policies and business restrictions among states and cities. That’s on top of longstanding differences in regulation and taxation between traditionally Democratic and Republican states. While there’s nothing new about regional differences in governing styles, policy polarization is making it easier for Americans to live in areas they find ideologically compatible. It’s also getting harder for liberals to find a comfortable enclave in conservative states, and vice versa.

[Click here to get Rick Newman’s stories by email.]

Moving patterns reflect politics

Americans seem increasingly likely to sort themselves into ideological groups by geography. “We know people are leaving blue counties and moving to red counties,” says Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “I think this will start to happen at the state level and at the neighborhood level. After next year’s midterm elections, we’ll be able to see if neighborhoods become more polarized.”

Up till now, the migration from blue states to red states has largely been driven by affordability. Blue states along the coasts typically have higher living costs and taxation levels than, say southern red states such as Texas and Florida. More and more, however, moving patterns reflect overt political choices.

An October Redfin survey of people who recently moved, for instance, found that 40% said they would prefer or insist on living in a place where abortion is fully legal. The portion taking the opposite view—saying they would prefer or refuse to live in an area where abortion is fully legal—was 32%. It’s not unusual for survey respondents to express strong opinions on abortion, but it may be new for people to factor such views into moving decisions. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe and more states ban or severely restrict abortion, it could become a bigger factor in relocation.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Redfin survey of movers also gauged attitudes toward other touchy political topics. Larger percentages favored living in areas with liberal policies such as strong voter protections, gender anti-discrimination laws and legal weed. But 23% said they don’t want to live in places with strong anti-discrimination laws, 22% don’t want to live in a state with legal weed, and 16% don’t want to live where there are strong voter protections.

Americans consider many factors when deciding where to live, and some of those factors have political overtones. Many parents base home-buying decisions on the quality of schools, which drives up home prices in the best school districts and creates de facto segregation. The white-flight phenomenon has a similar effect, with whites who can afford to leaving urban areas for places where they consider quality of life better.

But those types of location decisions are based more on family-first attitudes than the liberal-conservative divide that’s taking root now. Americans choose a political tribe when they vote, donate money to political causes and decide which cable-news station to watch. Perhaps it’s only natural that Americans want to live among their political comrades, as well. Like much of America, real-estate listings are trending toward liberal or conservative.  

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips.

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A new republic is born: Barbados ditches Britain’s Queen Elizabeth



Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first-ever president and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.

At the strike of midnight, the new republic was born to the cheers of hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown. A 21 gun salute fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played over a crowded Heroes Square.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign.

Barbados casts the removal of Elizabeth II, who is still queen of 15 other realms including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break with the demons of its colonial history.

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’s first president in the shadow of Barbados’s parliament.

“Full stop this colonial page,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet told the ceremony. “Some have grown up stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin.”

“It is about us, rising out of the cane fields, reclaiming our history,” he said. “End all that she mean, put a Bajan there instead.”

The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.

It may also be a harbinger of a broader attempt by other former colonies to cut ties to the British monarchy as it braces for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of Barbados’ republican movement, helped lead the ceremony. Mottley has won global attention by denouncing the effects of climate change on small Caribbean nations.

“Tonight’s the night!” read the front-page headline of Barbados’ Daily Nation newspaper.

“I’m overjoyed,” Ras Binghi, a Bridgetown cobbler, told Reuters ahead of the ceremony. Binghi said he would be saluting the new republic with a drink and a smoke.


Prince Charles will give a speech highlighting the continuing friendship of the two nations despite England’s central role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

While Britain casts slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are calling for compensation from Britain.

Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic but said he opposes the visit by Prince Charles, noting the royal family for centuries benefited from the slave trade.

“Our movement would also like the royal family to pay a reparation,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.

The English initially used white British indentured servants to toil on the plantations of tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar, but Barbados in just a few decades would become England’s first truly profitable slave society.

Barbados received 600,000 enslaved Africans between 1627 and 1833, who were put to work in the sugar plantations, earning fortunes for the English owners.

More than 10 million Africans were shackled into the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal voyage, ended up toiling on plantations.

Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Outside the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they were uncertain what the transition to a republic even meant or why it matter

“They should leave Queen Elizabeth be – leave her as the boss. I don’t understand why we need to be a republic,” said Sean Williams, 45, standing in the shadow of an independence monument.

The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in Bridgetown and Brian Ellsworth in Washington; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Lisa Shumaker and Lincoln Feast.)

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Why we should all pay attention to China's influence on Italian politics | TheHill – The Hill



Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda and political influence organs have deeply penetrated Italian politics, according to “Hijacking the Mainstream,” a report published this month by the Global Committee for the Rule of Law (GCRL), an Italian-based organization that works in defense of human rights worldwide, and Prague-based Sinopsis, a project implemented by the nonprofit association AcaMedia, in collaboration with the Department of Sinology at Charles University in Prague.

The report documents how, as the result of an orchestrated, “united front” effort involving coordinated CCP-linked strategies, an “idea of submission” to China “percolates into officialese” in the Italian political and public sphere. The normalization of the CCP agenda has become a widely held, even commonsense assumption, while critics of China’s totalitarian regime and egregious human rights violations have been ostracized as “extreme.” This now broadly-based assumption, it appears, could be strong enough to resist the influence of this shocking report, unless public figures have the political will to follow recommendations that are crucial to the integrity and security not only of Italy, but of other European and liberal democratic countries seen by Chinese authorities as obstacles to their global ambitions.  

While Italy’s responses to China’s influence operations have unique aspects, they show how a key U.S. ally and power in the European Union can be infected by CCP propaganda — and in revealing the basic architecture of those operations, the report thus should be a jeremiad and guide for other Western societies.   

Enabling China’s successful Italian influence operation is what the report’s authors call “knowledge asymmetry.” Three in-depth case studies show how numerous naïve but nationally influential Italian politicians apparently have come under the sway of propaganda through the application of techniques that lie within the Leninist tradition of “friendly contacts.” The process has been orchestrated by the CCP’s International Liaison Department (ILD), “the main party organ in charge of exchanges with foreign elites outside of state-to-state diplomacy,” posing as a “legitimate partner of democratic political life” and with the main goal of “brainwashing away” anticommunist views.   

Working within the framework of the ILD are other programs responsible for various dimensions of its task — for example, the China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE), which aims for “the installation of the CCP’s concept of human rights in the Human Rights Council.”  Judging by the adulation showered upon China following its last human rights review by the council, where a solid majority of state delegations praised China’s economic achievements as human rights victories, and tacitly accepted China’s description of Uyghur detention camps in Xinjiang as “vocational skills education and training institutions,” CNIE is on a roll.

Some Italian organizations partner with the ILD, giving it public legitimacy while promoting transparently ideological pro-CCP and anti-American positions, yet appearing as politically neutral institutions devoted to peace and international understanding. The head of the Centro Studi sulla Cina Contemporanea, former Italian Ambassador to China Alberto Bradanini, for example, praised China for “favoring peace and balance in the world” instead of “submission to the U.S.,” and referred to “Uyghur terrorism.” 

Another affiliate of the ILD is the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU), which organizes events with European institutions — for example, Germany’s Social Democratic Party Foundation the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which collaborated with CAFIU in a United Nations side event. The China Foundation for Human Rights Development, which answers to the State Council Information Office, was recently awarded consultative status in the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a coveted accreditation allowing nongovernmental organizations access to and the capacity to intervene in Human Rights Council meetings. But CAFIU is hardly a civil society organization.

In the Italian Parliament, the Friends of China association is a main partner of the ILD. The group has defended China’s policies in the “New Tibet.” But the report documents how another center, the Instituto per la Cultura Cinese (ICC), established in 2016, has been most influential in promoting CCP political narratives, such as China’s “great human rights achievements,” under the guise of a nominally cultural organization. Its members are from among Italy’s most influential political leaders. But the ICC also includes critics of China’s policies, giving it “an aura of neutrality that obscures its nature as a partner of key CCP influence agencies,” according to the report. Even critics of China in the group thus associate themselves with CCP propaganda organs.

The way out of this dangerous infiltration and subversion of Italian politics lies in seemingly simple steps that, no doubt, would not be simple to undertake. The authors of “Hijacking the Mainstream” recommend avoiding alliances, participation or contact with CCP-affiliated organizations and rejecting exchanges with China. Italian politicians and officials must cleanse themselves by disengaging from entanglements that have made them victims to China’s influence operations that, in turn, have turned Italy toward a posture of accommodation. 

But what would be the consequences of such moves? Italy’s Libero was the only newspaper to extensively cover the report. The media silence is eloquent.

Laura Harth, of GCRL and one of the report’s three authors, says that “the main objective of ‘Hijacking the Mainstream’ is to shed light on the who, what and why of the CCP influence agencies.” Some of Italy’s more overt actions catering to the CCP have drawn attention in recent years — for example, the continuing adhesion of Rome to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the CCP’s attempt to Sinicize globalization. But other actions have been superficial. 

It is important to provide the necessary background and knowledge to international institutions and the general public so that a real debate and investigation can take place — which is what the report’s authors apparently want. This could lead to much-needed reforms to counter operations taking place mainly in the shadows. 

While Italy is definitely not the only country facing such exposure, Harth says it is evident “that its status as a G7 country and one of the founding members of the [European Union] makes it a very ‘big catch’ for the CCP. And Italy’s ambiguity towards the PRC has consistently continued.”  

Is this the reason that — while the United States and United Kingdom are discussing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics — Rome remains formally engaged in co-promoting the event? A formal parliamentary inquiry on the findings of the report has been announced, and those named in it may fire back. For sure, this is only the first round.

Aaron Rhodes is senior fellow in the Common Sense Society and president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Rhodesaaron.

Marco Respinti is director-in-charge of Bitter Winter: A Magazine on Religious Freedom and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter @MarcoRespinti.

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