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‘Good politics, not too great epidemiology’: Ottawa’s new COVID-19 travel rules are a mess, experts say – Toronto Star

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OTTAWA—As COVID-19 cases tick upward around the globe and evidence mounts of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, frustration is rising over the federal government’s attempts to keep the virus outside Canada’s borders.

Since Ottawa imposed its most recent travel ban — along with new testing and quarantine rules — confusion has plagued passengers in airports at home and abroad.

Travellers stuck overseas and those about to depart have descended on Facebook groups, begging for clarity over which rules they’re required to follow, amid questions about why tough new restrictions have been imposed on some countries but not others.

On Twitter, airlines have repeatedly deferred to the federal government when faced with flustered customers looking for help.

The federal government, in turn, keeps pointing to its website, which contains incomplete information.

Even cabinet ministers couldn’t seem to nail down their message: on Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Canada was trying to “buy” itself more time to learn about Omicron, while Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told CBC Radio the following morning that the country was working quickly on its approach.

The scramble has an echo of the early days of the pandemic — something experts say could have worrisome consequences nearly two years into the crisis.

“We’re at this point where people are already fed up and fatigued. Even some of the basic measures that we’ve asked for people to do — like masking in indoor settings, trying to reduce social contacts — it’s very hard to keep that up at this point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network.

“If you lose people’s attention because one issue becomes really confusing, and the communications aren’t clear … we lose those same people for other things that are important to communicate during the emergence of a new variant.”

Much of the confusion began last week, when Ottawa banned foreign nationals who had recently travelled through 10 African countries from entering Canada.

The decision to bar some travellers but not others makes little sense given the rapid nature of Omicron’s spread, said Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a former project manager with the World Health Organization.

“Border closures are also great politics, because it puts the emphasis that this threat is from outside of the country and puts the blame on others, as opposed to putting blame on a country’s public health response to the challenge,” Hoffman told the Star.

His assessment of the strategy? “Good politics, not too great epidemiology.”

Canadians trying to leave those 10 countries were suddenly required to have a negative result from a molecular test for COVID-19 — and to have the test done in a third country — before they arrived back at home.

“That doesn’t seem to be a reasonable policy. Why can’t they have a PCR test where they’re at?” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“If they’re coming here and if they’re coming from a country with a lot of Omicron, then they could be tested here.”

(Travellers departing from South Africa got a slight reprieve on Saturday, with a temporary exemption that allows them to get tested there instead of in a third country. Health Canada told the Star that the exemption will be extended or revoked based on domestic and international epidemiology.)

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Alghabra rationalized the move as creating a “cushion” between travellers’ departures and their arrivals in Canada, to ensure a more accurate test result.

But even for travellers entering Canada from countries that aren’t on the banned list (aside from the United States), the rules can still be nebulous.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s arrival plans for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers — which include an arrival test, differing periods of quarantine, and followup tests — are not yet fully operational.

“The government is steadily increasing the number of fully vaccinated travellers being tested to reach fully 100 per cent operational capacity in the coming weeks,” Health Canada noted in an emailed statement.

Travellers are still not fully clear on where they obtain tests, how many must be completed and how long they are meant to quarantine, which all depends on where they’re coming from and their vaccination status.

What’s more, the government of Canada’s travel webpage notes that anyone who can show proof of a positive result from a COVID-19 test conducted between 14 and 180 days prior to departure is exempt from any arrival testing. But Health Canada contradicted that in its statement to the Star, saying that travellers arriving from the banned countries must undergo the testing — even if they’ve previously tested positive.

“We’re seeing some early evidence that out of South Africa that reinfections can occur more frequently with Omicron — two to three times more frequently than we’ve seen with other variants,” Hota said.

“Just because you’ve had a prior infection doesn’t mean that you are completely immune to an Omicron infection,” she said, adding that at the very least, those passengers should be asked to isolate given that testing recovered people can sometimes yield unreliable results.

Banerji says governments have been dealt a tricky task in coming up with new rules — and having to implement them.

“I think it’s challenging for any government to make policies with so much uncertainty and a lot of unknowns. I would say that it’s really important … to stick to the evidence and the science rather than an emotional response.”

RP

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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Politics Briefing: Ottawa tells families of embassy staff in Ukraine to evacuate – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Canada has ordered family members of diplomatic staff stationed in Ukraine to leave the country, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The move was made a day after the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia announced similar steps, amid fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could soon order an invasion of Ukraine.

Global Affairs has issued a statement confirming the move: “Due to the ongoing Russian military buildup and destabilizing activities in and around Ukraine, we have decided to temporarily withdraw Canadian embassy staff’s children under 18 years of age and family members accompanying them.”

Senior International Correspondent Mark MacKinnon and Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife report 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

TRUCKERS ON THE ROAD – A group of truckers has garnered millions in fundraising dollars from droves of supporters as it drives across the country to protest vaccine mandates, despite the vast majority of big-riggers having been jabbed. Story here.

O’TOOLE OKAY WITH CAUCUS EMBRACE OF BATTERS – Erin O’Toole says he has no problem with Tory MPs from Saskatchewan confirming Senator Denise Batters as a member of their provincial Conservative caucus, even though Mr. O’Toole previously removed Ms. Batters from the national caucus after she publicly challenged his leadership of the party. Story here.

CHAHAL TO PAY FINE – MP George Chahal of Calgary says he has paid a $500 fine after taking an opponent’s pamphlet from a front door and replacing it with his own during last year’s election. Story here. Details of the Elections Canada notice of violation are here.

ONTARIO CLOSE TO CHILD-CARE DEAL: PREMIER – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province is “very, very close” to a child-care deal with the federal government. Story here.

QUEBEC LIBERALS PREPPING FOR ELECTION – The Quebec Liberals have “the knife between their teeth” to win the October election, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade says. Story here from CTV.

FORMER B.C. LEGISLATURE CLERK ON TRIAL – A special prosecutor says the former clerk of the British Columbia legislature claimed expenses ranging from malt whisky to cufflinks on the public purse. Story here from The Province.

THIS AND THAT

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

TORIES CALL FOR MORE UKRAINE SUPPORT – Conservative critics are calling on the federal Liberal government to take immediate action to support Ukraine against Russia, with proposals that include providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, and extending Operation Unifier, which has about 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to Ukraine to provide tactical-level training to the country’s security forces. They made the call in a statement from foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, opposition deputy whip James Bezan and public services critic Pierre Paul-Hus.

THE DECIBEL – In Tuesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Kelly Grant, The Globe’s national health care reporter, talks about her in-depth look at health care in Nunavut and the challenges its residents face accessing it. While there, she found that the lack of elder care in the territory was one of the most common complaints and one of the hardest issues to solve. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings and the Prime Minister attended a virtual cabinet retreat. Tuesday is the second day of the three-day retreat.

LEADERS

No schedules released for other party leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on the bill coming due for the federal Liberal government: “For almost two years, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by spending money at levels never seen in peacetime, to protect workers, businesses and the health care system. That spending was necessary. But this year the bill comes due. And it won’t be pretty. The federal deficit skyrocketed from less than 1 per cent of GDP in fiscal 2018-19, before the pandemic, to 15 per cent in fiscal 2020-21. The consolidated federal and provincial books showed a $326-billion deficit in 2020. Within the Group of Seven, we have gone from having one of the best debt-to-GDP ratios to middle of the pack: behind Germany, roughly on par with France and Britain, but ahead of the U.S., Italy and Japan. Outside the G7 our debt-to-GDP ratio lags Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam, to name just a few.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on why ‘I’m done with COVID’ is easier said than done: “Uttering “I’m done with COVID” as a mantra won’t stop the virus from spreading and mutating. It won’t end the threat of infection, especially to frail elders and other medically fragile citizens. It won’t free up surgical suites and hospital beds for hip replacements and treatment of cancer patients. It won’t get sick workers suddenly back on the job, diligently teaching children or stacking store shelves. “I’m done with COVID” is the equivalent of offering “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. It’s a bromide, not a remedy.”

Deanna Horton and Roy Norton (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada can do more to support the U.S. in their special relationship: ”Canada’s brand in the U.S. is strong. We are naturally suited to leading collaborative efforts on initiatives that could resonate with Americans. The question is whether we have what it takes to expend, on a priority (and continuing) basis, the efforts necessary to make a difference? Maybe it’s time for Canada, in a concerted fashion, to try to sell the U.S. administration, Congress, state governments, business and labour leaders, think tanks and other influencers on big-picture solutions to both bilateral irritants and common challenges. Forging an understanding among Americans of the value of collaboration is both a worthwhile and viable goal.”

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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How Russia's pipeline politics could split the alliance around Ukraine – CBC News

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Germany’s upcoming decision on whether to certify the controversial Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline is rapidly emerging as a key element in high-stakes diplomatic efforts to dissuade Moscow from invading Ukraine.

Delaying or cancelling the $11 billion project would have a significant impact on the Russian economy, depriving it of $3 billion US in annual revenue.

It also could serve to divide Ukraine’s allies as Russia continues to increase the pressure on the former Soviet bloc state.

Nord Stream 2 gives the new government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “some leverage” over Moscow, said Matthew Schmidt, an associate professor and national security expert at the University of New Haven, Connecticut. 

“They can exert leverage in a way that works in concert with the rest of NATO,” he said. “If they do it in a way that doesn’t work in concert with NATO, then that could be a problem. They could put NATO in a bind.”

Tugboats get into position on the Russian pipe-laying vessel “Fortuna” in the port of Wismar, Germany, on Jan 14, 2021. The special vessel was being used for construction work on the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. (Jens Buettner/AP)

During a recent meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Scholz hinted that his country could reconsider the project “if there is a military intervention against Ukraine.”

But the German government is under enormous pressure to relieve soaring natural gas prices — and Nord Stream 2 could end up heating up to 26 million homes in the country.

Playing the ‘pipeline card’

Holding out approval until there’s a peaceful resolution to the standoff over Ukraine would allow Russia to walk away with a win, said Schmidt. He said the U.S. did much the same thing to end the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when it withdrew its missiles from Turkey.

Schmidt said he believes Germany will hold on to the “pipeline card until the very end.”

In the meantime, Nord Stream 2 remains a source of division and irritation among Germany’s allies.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (centre), Governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia Hendrik Wuest (left) and Mayor of Berlin Franziska Giffey (right) address the media on Jan. 24, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/AP)

The pipeline is at the centre of a longstanding disagreement between the United States and Germany. Almost four years ago, then-U.S. president Donald Trump opened up a NATO leaders’ summit by attacking the project, warning it would make Germany a “captive” to Russian economic interests.

Nord Stream 2 was pulled back to the centre of allied politics earlier this month when Republicans in Washington pushed a bill that would have imposed sanctions on businesses involved in the project — despite President Joe Biden’s warning that such sanctions would have harmed relations with Germany at a critical juncture. Senate Democrats defeated the bill.

Ukraine stands to lose significant transit revenue when an existing Russian pipeline crossing its territory is shut down to make way for Nord Stream 2. Kyiv lobbied the U.S. Senate to impose the sanctions, while Germany argued against them.

Germany also has irritated Ukraine by blocking the sale of some defensive weapons to the government in Kyiv, which has been desperately canvassing the international arms market for high-tech systems to counter a possible invasion.

Schmidt said no one should be surprised at Berlin’s caution because the country’s export licensing policy places stringent conditions on the end uses of military equipment.

Great power politics is back on a scale not seen since the Cold War, said Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor of international affairs and former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Putin ‘turned up the heat’

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “stress-testing the NATO alliance” looking for any division, real or perceived, among allies.

“Putin is flexible and opportunistic. He’s turned up the heat to see what happens,” said Paris. “If he can succeed in weakening the political unity of the NATO alliance, that will be a major accomplishment for him.”

Germany, he said, is “working out” how to deal with the threat of Russia using its energy supply as a weapon.

“There have been voices in Germany that have said Nord Stream 2 should continue regardless” of the crisis, Paris said. 

NATO allies have been calling for unity as they confront a massive buildup of Russian troops on three sides of Ukraine, and as Moscow continues to demand that the alliance roll back the deployment of NATO troops in Eastern Europe.

A Russian armoured vehicle drives off a railway platform after arrival in Belarus on Jan. 19, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia’s demands — including its insistence on an outright rejection of Ukraine’s bid to join NATO — have been shot down by the United States and its allies. Recently, Washington put up to 8,500 U.S. soldiers on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe.

Paris said now is the time for Ukraine’s allies to send reinforcements. He scoffed at Moscow’s claim that sending additional forces represents an escalation of the crisis.

“It’s a bit rich, [Russia] having invaded a sovereign country, and now to have over 100,000 troops poised to invade [Ukraine] and then saying NATO reinforcements are somehow the source of a provocation,” said Paris, referring to the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea.

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Environmental progress means changing politics for youth – National Observer

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We didn’t ask to save the world. But the reality is our planet is at an “all hands on deck” stage if we want a climate-safe future, so young people like us are stepping up.

To tip the scales in humanity’s favour, the ideas and energy of youth are needed at the decision-making table — in other words, in politics. According to a recent IPSOS survey,Canadian youth consider themselves to be most capable of making progress on climate change in the next five years (79 per cent), markedly higher than their confidence in their parents’ generation (55 per cent). Yet youth dissatisfaction and distrust of politics in Canada is high, as evidenced every time we have an election.

Elections Canada reports that voters aged 18 to 24 were the least likely to turn out in the 2019 federal election. Average turnout for this age group hovered just over 50 per cent compared to older demographic brackets, which all surpassed 60 per cent. Though the numbers are still being crunched, we know youth turnout dropped even further for the 2021 election due to the cancellation of campus voting programs.

It’s not just voting: less than 30 per cent of young Canadians reported having been in touch with political parties or candidates in the 2019 campaign, and youth are running for office at lower rates. In fact, new research into candidate demographics for federal elections from 2008 to 2019 shows that, where age data was available, more than 80 per cent of candidates were over 35.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. While youth are not a monolithic group, many of us feel the system has excluded and failed us, prioritizing the growth of an economy dependent on fossil fuels while ignoring the science of climate change. We aren’t fooled when politicians throw around the latest buzzwords, take half-measures and don’t back up their commitments with clear pathways forward.

It’s no wonder why some youth don’t participate on election day. Beyond not seeing ourselves represented at the ballot box — in age or diversity — each election brings countless promises to fix an unsustainable system that are too often whittled down, tossed aside or forgotten in favour of short-term priorities that help win the next election.

To gain the know-how needed to push for change, we’re both working in politics through GreenPAC’s Parliamentary Internship for the Environment Program, though our routes to getting here are very different.

(Owen studied environmental policy in university, and after graduating, felt the best way to bring about better policy was to get involved directly. Camilla’s background and future career aspirations are in corporate environmental sustainability, but what she’s learning now will help her create the collaborations that are so critical to transitioning society towards a sustainable future.)

While new on the Hill, we’re quickly realizing that many of the factors that keep youth out of politics, like entry barriers and lack of representation, also helped create the climate crisis.

We’re learning first-hand that even MPs with the vision and ambition to drive environmental change face real obstacles in their path. These barriers aren’t going to break themselves down, which is one reason why our program holds an annual FLIP Summit (Future Leaders in Politics) — to shine a light on these barriers and help youth push back through a better understanding of these obstacles.

GreenPAC’s 2.0 FLIP Summit, held this past Saturday, dug into issues like the connections between our voting system and climate progress; how candidate nomination races can be untransparent and undemocratic; and how Indigenous solutions and the right to self-determination can get overlooked as climate policy gets made.

As guest speaker Nunavut MP Lori Idlout described, politics is a “place of privilege.” And looking at the cancellation of a pipeline as a loss of revenue is a simplified and privileged lens that only sees immediate profit, but ignores the real costs of fossil fuel infrastructure, leads to environmental degradation, and ignores the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has signed.

Opinion: By getting involved, youth can play a role in coming up with a better version of politics — one that stops excluding, disempowering and putting up walls against climate progress, write @CamillaStanley & @o_wilson99. #cdnpoli

We also heard from FLIP 2.0 speakers that the importance of youth involvement in politics cannot be overstated. Guest speaker Lisa Raitt, former deputy CPC leader, noted that it wasn’t the youngest party members who voted down the CPC’s resolution last year to acknowledge the reality of climate change — and that if more young people had been engaged, the outcome might have been different.

Alison Gu, Burnaby’s youngest ever city councillor (and alumna of our program), told attendees: Young people aren’t confined by the ways things have always been done.

By getting involved, youth can play a role in coming up with a better version of politics — one that stops excluding, disempowering and putting up walls against climate progress. As Amita Kuttner, interim leader of the Green Party of Canada told us after noting that change must come from the inside: “As a young person, as a queer person, as a trans person, as a racialized person, these systems were surely not built for me … so we change them. It is possible.”

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