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speaks volumes about New Zealand politics

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After nearly six years leading New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s tenure as prime minister will come to an end February 7, as her Labour Party dips in the polls and the country appears poised for a recession.

It’s also the end of at least one phase of her international prominence. Ardern didn’t become famous because of New Zealand’s primacy in the international order, but rather because of who she was, and her specific responses to the national and international catastrophes that defined her tenure. She was celebrated for her leadership through a white supremacist mass shooting at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, and through the Covid-19 crisis — two moments that put her in stark contrast to bombastic, autocratic leaders like former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, in addition to making her a symbol for young women in leadership.

Citing burnout after five and a half years in office, Ardern announced Thursday that she would step down prior to the end of her term and wouldn’t seek reelection. “I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called ‘real’ reason was,” she told a news conference Thursday. “The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human.”

Ardern was not the first woman prime minister in New Zealand’s history, but was the youngest ever PM and gave birth while in office, pushing her further into the international spotlight as a young, feminist leader at a time — at least in many Western countries and the US in particular — when older men seemed to retain their grip on power despite social progress.

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But domestic politics, not international acclaim, determine a country’s leadership within a democracy, and Ardern’s Labour Party has plummeted in the polls as the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis sets in. New Zealand’s post-Covid economy is pointed toward a recession, and child poverty — one of Ardern’s causes — continues to rise, bringing about dissatisfaction from both the left and the right.

By every conceivable metric, Ardern met the moment during the two major crises that defined her administration, and her gifts for communication, empathy, and collaboration were well-suited to those crises. She remains popular within the Labour Party and was, until recently, more popular than the overall party in public opinion polling. However, as economic circumstances change and New Zealanders are eager to move on from Covid-19, Ardern’s counterpart in the conservative National Party, Christopher Luxon, has been gaining ground in the polls, indicating that the majority Labour won in 2020 could come to an end in October, when Ardern has called for elections.

Though Ardern’s announcement caught international observers by surprise, it was perhaps less of a shock to New Zealanders, Kathy Smits, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, told Vox. “The historical example that really comes to my mind, and to a lot of people’s minds, is in Britain after the war — [Winston] Churchill was voted out in 1945. He led Britain through the war and was an incredibly popular prime minister, and yet people were ready for a change,” she said. “I think in this environment, there’s something kind of similar going on there.”

Like many countries around the world, New Zealand is ready for a change

Ardern rightly won international plaudits for her response to the 2019 shootings at the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, which killed 51 people. The shooter was an avowed neo-Nazi and white nationalist who used semiautomatic weapons to carry out the slaughter. Ardern immediately connected to the Muslim community and committed the government to paying funeral costs for victims. Her decisive but emotional and empathetic response projected her onto the international stage early in her leadership; her proposal shortly after the shooting to ban semiautomatic weapons, too, demonstrated her ability to act boldly in the public interest.

That was in particularly stark contrast to the US which, despite consistent mass shootings, has largely failed to enact meaningful policy change, barring a bill of tailored reforms passed last year.

“The thing that Jacinda is really, really great about is communication — kind of the symbolic dimensions of leadership, bringing people together. She’s really good at that,” Smits said.

But as important as Ardern’s global profile is, there’s no getting around the hard facts of domestic democratic politics. Inflation continues to batter economies across the globe; in New Zealand, that’s playing out in particular in the housing market. Many New Zealanders make their income through real estate — owning and renting properties. But skyrocketing housing prices, Smits explained, combined with high interest rates, have crippled that sector of New Zealand’s economy and helped push the country toward a recession. It’s also squeezed the housing market, making affordable housing difficult for many New Zealanders to find.

Ardern also failed to make significant headway on child poverty in New Zealand, which is among the highest in the Western world. “It’s really at quite shocking levels,” Smits said, particularly among Māori and Pacific populations. Though Ardern’s administration managed to decrease the percentage of children in poverty marginally during her tenure, critics argue that the government didn’t go nearly far enough, especially given that it was one of her major policy issues.

Furthermore, New Zealand has a fairly low tax rate, despite that taxes or some form of income are needed to fund social programs like the kinds that would help alleviate childhood poverty. But Ardern’s party refused to implement capital gains taxes on income — with Ardern saying that such a tax hike would never occur under her leadership.

Those domestic issues have made Labour vulnerable from both the right and the left; more progressive politicians and voters are disappointed with the party’s inability to make real and significant headway on social issues — in part because the government refused to take necessary measures to raise money that would support social programs, Smits said.

But perhaps more than a defeat for Labour, the next elections could be more of a return to form for New Zealand’s Parliament, which operates on a mixed member proportional system. That means any one party is unlikely to get a clear, overwhelming majority of seats, requiring coalition government.

And after several years of crisis within the National Party, opposition leader Christopher Luxon seems to have strengthened his party’s position sufficiently to pull in some Labour defectors, Smits said, although it’s too early to tell what the outcome of the next election will be.

It’s not just New Zealand that’s ready for a change; Brazil’s Bolsonaro was ousted by former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva last year. In Italy, the far-right Giorgia Meloni replaced technocratic Prime Minister Mario Draghi last year, and in 2021 longtime German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped down after 16 years in power.

Ardern’s impact is significant and will likely outweigh her government’s inadequacies

Western feminists have embraced Ardern, and rightly so, as a politician who balances power with compassion; a woman who had a baby while also guiding her country through some of the most challenging years in recent memory.

Leaders like Hillary Clinton, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tweeted in support of Ardern and the impact of her time in office, with Gillard saying, “Her example has been a shining light to many, especially women.”

Ardern’s symbolic impact, in addition to her leadership, will likely be a major part of her legacy. Ardern took her child, Neve, to a United Nations General Assembly meeting in 2018, when she was just three months old — making history in the process. She was the first elected leader to give birth in office since Benazir Bhutto did the same in 1990, and only the second ever to do so.

Ardern’s style, too, is a marked shift not only from the machismo of autocratic leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro, but the often-combative nature of politics generally, as Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in New Zealand, told NBC Thursday.

“I think what she offered to the world actually was a model for doing democratic politics that does not rely upon abusing other people,” Shaw said. “She never uses the term ‘enemy’ to describe anybody.”

Though it’s probably not the driving force behind her resignation, Shaw said, that particular leadership style had also fixated “the political right, and the misogynists in particular, and the anti-vaxxers and the fringe dwellers in our political community” on Ardern.

It’s impossible to know just what Ardern’s legacy will be, but her power as a symbol not just of a successful leader — who is also a woman and a mother — had arguably the same effect as former President Barack Obama’s election as America’s first Black president. Both set a new standard for progress, even if their domestic policies didn’t live up to progressive ideals. But more than just the fact of her being a woman, a mother, and a world leader, she presented a compelling model of how leaders could behave and make decisions, even difficult ones, with clarity and compassion.

 

Politics

NDP calls Russian sanctions ‘political theatre’ as data shows little action on assets – Global News

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The NDP is accusing the Liberals of basing their sanctions regime on “political theatre” as data suggest few funds have been frozen and none have been seized.

“This government constantly pats themselves on the back for adding individuals to the sanctions list,” NDP MP Heather McPherson said Tuesday in the House of Commons.

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“The Liberals claim sanctions are a key piece of our foreign response, but there is no enforcement, there’s no investigation and there is almost no seizing of assets.”

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The federal government has been announcing sanctions almost weekly that bar people associated with authoritarian regimes from having financial dealings in Canada and from entering the country.

Yet publicly released RCMP data show barely any change in the amount of money frozen in Canadian bank accounts between June and December of last year, despite hundreds of people being added to sanctions lists.

As of June 7, Canada had ordered frozen $123 million in assets within Canada, and $289 million in transactions had been blocked, both under sanctions prohibitions related to Russia.

By late December, the RCMP said $122 million in assets were listed as seized, and $292 million in transactions had been blocked _ despite hundreds more people associated with Russia being put on the sanctions list.


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The RCMP also noted in late December that no banks had informed them of any sanctioned Haitians or Iranians holding assets in Canada.

Meanwhile, parliamentary disclosures requested by McPherson show that Ottawa has still not used a law it passed last June that allows the government to take possession of funds from sanctioned people and divert them to victims of wrongdoing.

The government issued an order for the restraint of property in December to start the process of forfeiting US$26 million held by a firm owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but it has yet to file an application in court.

McPherson argues that Canada is using sanctions as a symbolic tool, without taking the steps to actually disincentivize support for autocracies.


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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly responded to the criticism by offering to work with the NDP on using sanctions to forfeit assets and divert them.

“We’re the first country in the world doing this, and we will lead,” she told the Commons.

“We’ve imposed extremely strong sanctions against Russian oligarchs, Belarusian oligarchs, Haiti elite members as well as Iranians.”

Sanctions experts have long argued that Canada lacks the means to properly monitor its regime, such as by tracking financial transactions and following how assets are traded.

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For years, the U.S. State Department has deemed Canada to be a “major money laundering country” due to its weak enforcement of laws.

In March 2022, the department included Canada in a published list of 80 countries it considers to have inadequate tracking of financial dealings.

Canada’s new law on forfeiting assets is the first among G7 countries that attempts to seize financial holdings using sanctions law.

Analysts and lawyers have said it marks a major change in how countries use sanctions, which are normally created as temporary measures to try changing behaviour, with the idea of later unfreezing accounts.

The new law instead seeks to punish the people accused of human-rights abuses. The funds can only be used to compensate victims, rebuild affected states or support peace initiatives.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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Philip Steenkamp: Food security should be next on B.C.’s political menu

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Certainly not all of us — anyone who has relied on a food bank knows what it’s like to worry about where the next meal is coming from. But many British Columbians, especially those in positions of power and influence, are used to the luxury of leaving food security questions to other people.

Those days are over.

We got a taste of food insecurity early in the pandemic as grocery-store shelves emptied. The race for the last package of toilet paper or bottle of hand sanitizer got the headlines, but even the availability of household staples like flour and eggs was suddenly in doubt.

Then, just as that was settling down, the November 2021 atmospheric river swept in. Floodwaters overtook huge swaths of Fraser Valley farmland, and drowned cows, chickens, pigs and even bees by the thousands. Landslides and bridge collapses cut off trucking routes and rail lines — and once again, supermarket shelves emptied out.

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On the heels of that disaster came a massive surge in inflation. COVID-19’s on-again, off-again supply-chain disruptions were supercharged by Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. And while prices rose across the board, food prices have been the ones to keep stubbornly increasing. (Not that frustrated consumers will be willing to place the blame entirely on supply chains while grocery chains are reaping record profits and memories of the 2017 bread price-fixing scandal are still fresh in customers’ minds.) In one of the most expensive places to live on Earth, that’s having a serious impact on the ability of people with a limited income to feed themselves and their families.

Today, in the aftermath of an even more devastating atmospheric river and widespread flooding in California — the source of a lot of B.C. produce, especially in the winter and spring — questions are arising of where the next shortages will show up. Even at that, our situation pales in comparison to developing countries that until now relied on wheat from Ukraine. Russia has not only blockaded exports from that country, but is also launching relentless attacks on the energy infrastructure that helps keep food production running.

If there was any doubt before, it’s gone now: Food security is a critical issue. The assured, ready supply of a wide variety of food that we’ve been accustomed to is in jeopardy.

That may be disheartening to hear, given the many other dangers and challenges we’re facing, but then those crises have more than a little connection to a safe, reliable, affordable supply of food. Climate disruption means more extreme weather events; rising authoritarianism and nationalism threaten to unleash more wars; our global economy, built on assumptions about stability that today seem hopelessly naïve, can be expected to falter again and again.

All of these conditions erode the security of our food supply.

In turn, an insecure supply of food can undermine the stability of governments and local economies, prompt large-scale migrations and humanitarian crises, and heighten conflicts between countries.

This is life under the polycrisis — interconnected, mutually reinforcing crises that affect everything from severe rainfall warnings to the ever-rising prices at the grocery checkout.

Giving Garden Harvest Fall 2022 event at Royal Roads University near Victoria. Left to right: University president Philip Steenkamp, Jesse Willis of Upbeet Garden and Anna Maria Stone of Iyé Creative. Steenkamp and Stone hold a variety of winter squash to be donated to local community groups.
Giving Garden Harvest Fall 2022 event at Royal Roads University near Victoria. Left to right: University president Philip Steenkamp, Jesse Willis of Upbeet Garden and Anna Maria Stone of Iyé Creative. Steenkamp and Stone hold a variety of winter squash to be donated to local community groups. Photo by Trevor Henry

Addressing food security requires a broad range of co-ordinated responses at every level, from individual neighbourhoods to international co-operation. We urgently need to have long-overdue conversations about just what that response must look like.

But not all the answers will have to be planetary in scale — or even provincewide.

As you read this, the Giving Garden in the Farm at Royal Roads University is nearly ready for the first harvest of 2023. Driven by Dr. Hilary Leighton, program head in our School of Environment and Sustainability, it is both a living laboratory for Royal Roads students and a growing source of fresh produce for the Greater Victoria community, directly addressing food insecurity in the region.

The impact of the Farm at RRU is real and significant, with over 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables distributed last year to food-insecure seniors, single parents and newcomers to Canada. That contribution will keep increasing in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Newell, the new Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainability, is studying the use of systems mapping to show relationships among local farms, transportation networks, grocery stores, communities and key social and environmental issues. His program also looks at sustainability and novel food production methods, such as vertical agriculture (growing crops indoors using stacked shelves) and cellular agriculture (growing meat directly from cell cultures instead of relying on animals).

Solutions like these are being developed throughout B.C. and Canada. But we need to co-ordinate them. One obvious vehicle for that co-ordination is government: Indigenous, municipal, provincial and federal. There are many ways they can support that work — from developing up-to-date standards for measuring food insecurity to bringing a food security lens to bear on every aspect of public policy.

That can only happen if leaders at all levels start convening the public conversations needed to shape that vision.

If any good is to come from the food supply shocks of the past three years — and the more severe incidents that are sure to come — it’s that they’ve given us all an appetite for those conversations. It’s time for our leaders to get cooking.

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Trump 2024 is locked and loaded, analyst says

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More than two months after his presidential announcement, Donald Trump now has the key tools he will need to make his entry into the race complete: access to social media.

Recently, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced reinstatement of Trump’s social media accounts following a two-year suspension.

The suspension was levied in the aftermath of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

This was certainly good news for the Trump campaign and his legion of loyal and dedicated supporters.

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However, as the wreckage inflicted on that cold January day still lingers, political opponents, real and perceived, are bracing for the potential dangers that could lie ahead.

In 2016, Trump used social media to great effect in his bid to win the U.S. presidency. During his tenure in the White House, he often made news and kept the entire media landscape on edge with a robust social media presence. His posts ran the gambit from inflammatory to bewildering.

CLAIMS SHATTERED NORMS OF PRESIDENTIAL ETIQUETTE

The unceasing and outlandish claims made by the former reality television star shattered the norms of presidential etiquette. Even accusing former president Barack Obama of spying on him! Like a maestro leading an orchestra, his cadre of henchmen and followers soon began to play along as if on cue.

Donald Trump, over the years, enlisted a powerful chorus of voices from Congress, the media, state capitals and beyond all belting out conspiracy theories, laced with violent undertones, on one note; one accord; in unison.

The twice-impeached ex-president has access to all the social media tools that not only fuelled his political rise but also served as a catalyst to the growing political violence playing out across the nation.

With 34 million followers on Facebook; 23 million on Instagram; and 87 million on Twitter; Trump has built a formidable and engaged audience that hangs on his every word.

AN ALREADY FRAGILE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

Showing no remorse and characterizing the suspension as an injustice, the ex-president said on Truth Social, his own social media platform: Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting president, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!

Trump has continued his penchant for perceived grievances and victimization exacerbating an already fragile and unstable political landscape. Now, with the ability to enact a mob in 280 characters or less, Donald Trump wields these accounts like a loaded weapon.

Political onlookers are bracing for the onslaught as the ex-president ramps up his presidential campaign. Laura Murphy, an attorney who led a two-year audit of Facebook stated: I worry about Facebook’s capacity to understand the real world harm that Trump poses…

This “real world harm” Murphy describes is already a stark reality. Recently released video footage of the violent attack on the husband of former U.S. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is sending a collective shiver through the political class.

The assailant, David DePape, 42, claimed: “I’m sick of the insane f——— level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C.” He is charged with attempted murder, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening a public official. Some on the right, including Donald Trump Jr., made fun of the attack, sharing an image of a Paul Pelosi Halloween costume that included a hammer, as it was a hammer that was in the assault.

In the aftermath of the recent 2022 midterm elections, the nation breathed a sigh of relief as the results came and went with no acts of violence and the results reported largely without incident. Unfortunately, that moment of euphoria was only fleeting.

Failed GOP candidate, Solomon Peña, was arrested by Albuquerque police accused of paying and conspiring to shoot candidates that won. Prior to the attacks, Peña (like Trump) alleged the election results were fraudulent. An arrest warrant affidavit obtained from police says the suspect “intended to (cause) serious injury or cause death to the occupants inside their homes.”

Trump’s proclivity for subjecting maximum cruelty on others has been a mainstay since he entered politics. His affinity for tyrannical government; fascist and dictatorial leaders; combined with an ambivalence for democratic institutions makes his return to the political arena fraught with peril.

TRUMP FIRMLY BACK IN CONTROL OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

In a recent article, columnist Charlie Sykes described Trump’s penchant for violence as: Brutality is an ideology, not just an impulse. Many of the MAGA crowd eagerly subscribe to this ideology. Close confidante and fellow MAGA conservative, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene, said recently at a Republican event in New York, if she had organized the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “we would have won” and “it would’ve been armed.”

Donald Trump’s inner circle continues to push the big lie and foment violence. Now that Trump is firmly back in control of his social media accounts, nothing stands in his way of once again eschewing political safeguards and standards in favor of amplifying sharp, abrasive, and yes, violent rhetoric aimed at perceived enemies and institutions.

Trump’s hold on rank-and-file Republicans remains just as strong today as it did the day he descended that gold-plated escalator in 2015. His loyal lieutenants continue to engage in violent and inflammatory language and some have even escalated to full-scale physical attacks on their opponents as evidenced by recent events in New Mexico and San Francisco.

Trump 2024 is locked and loaded and many would-be targets are in the crosshairs. By allowing Trump back on social media, companies such as Meta and Twitter might think they are lowering the political temperature. However, Trump’s truculence knows no bounds and could certainly end up backfiring. That fire nearly consumed the nation on January 6. Now, with a second chance, Trump gets to finish what he started.

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