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Liberal MP Joël Lightbound says his party's COVID policy 'stigmatizes and divides people' – CBC News

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Liberal Quebec MP Joël Lightbound says he’s uncomfortable with the federal government’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, saying its pandemic response has become “politicized” and “divisive.”

Pointing to more than a dozen developed countries that have started to do away with restrictions already, Lightbound said Tuesday it’s reasonable to rethink Canada’s COVID-19 approach as it becomes increasingly clear that the world will be dealing with this virus for years to come.

Lightbound said people who question existing policies should not be “demonized” by their prime minister.

“I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government have changed drastically since the last election campaign. It went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people,” Lightbound said.

Lightbound said the Liberal government’s decision to put vaccines at the centre of the political debate risks undermining public trust in the country’s public health institutions.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to know when public health stops and where politics begins,” he said. “It’s time to stop dividing Canadians and pitting one part of the population against another.”

WATCH: Liberal MP says he’s ‘uncomfortable’ with politicization of vaccines, pandemic

Liberal MP says he’s ‘uncomfortable’ with politicization of vaccines, pandemic

9 hours ago

Duration 1:50

Liberal MP Joel Lightbound is speaking out against provincial and federal vaccine mandates and COVID-19 policies, many of which were implemented by his party. 1:50

Although he’s criticizing the government’s approach, Lightbound said he has no desire to leave the Liberal caucus.

Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon, the government whip, said Lightbound resigned his position as the Quebec caucus chair over these “disagreements with government policy.” MacKinnon said Lightbound would remain a Liberal MP.

Lightbound — a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance — said he hopes his comments will push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to “adapt to the changing reality of the pandemic and of the world.”

Speaking briefly to reporters before Tuesday’s question period, Trudeau said he understands there’s a lot of frustration with the current suite of policies.

“We’re all frustrated. We’re all sick and tired of restrictions, of mandates. It’s been two years and it’s really, really tiring for all of us,” he said, adding that his government will stay the course.

“Mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions. This government has been focused on following the best science, the best public health advice, to keep people safe and, quite frankly, it’s worked,” Trudeau added, citing Canada’s lower COVID-19-related death rates compared to many other countries.

WATCH: Trudeau says his government is following ‘the best science’

Trudeau says ‘government has been focused every step of the way on following the best science’

7 hours ago

Duration 1:02

The prime minister says he understands the frustration over vaccine mandates but insists that the only way out of the pandemic is through mandates and vaccinations. 1:02

With Omicron case counts on the decline, some provinces, notably Alberta and Saskatchewan, have signalled they will begin to drop restrictions in the weeks ahead. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said last week Canadians will have to “learn to live with this virus and to be less fearful of it.”

Ottawa must offer a ‘roadmap,’ MP says

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Lightbound said COVID-19-related restrictions have wreaked havoc for too long and the federal government needs to provide some sort of “roadmap” for lifting pandemic measures, such as the strict limits on travel. He said measures that were reasonable in a previous phase of the pandemic should not be “normalized with no end in sight.”

While he didn’t call for an immediate end to all public health measures, Lightbound said the federal government should establish “clear and measurable targets” for lifting pandemic measures to offer hope to Canadians tired of living with some of the most restrictive rules in the developed world.

Lightbound said the federal government should heed the advice of experts like Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and “reassess” pandemic programs like vaccine mandates once the Omicron wave is under control.

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam is seen via videoconference as Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos looks on during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic and the omicron variant in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Last week, Tam said the country needs to find a more “sustainable” way to deal with the pandemic and future variants of the virus.

Lightbound said he supported the Liberal push for vaccine mandates in the last election but has since soured on this policy choice because the data suggest two doses of an mRNA vaccine do little to prevent an Omicron infection. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has said that two doses of any of the mRNA vaccines — which were made to target the original strain of the virus — are not very effective against infection and symptomatic disease due to Omicron. It has described vaccine efficacy against an Omicron infection as “low to very low.”

Tam was more blunt in a press conference last week. “The protection against infection is certainly reduced with two doses. It doesn’t protect you against infection,” she said.

People with two doses of a vaccine are less likely to be admitted to hospital, however. PHAC data suggest unvaccinated people are 19 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people vaccinated with two doses.

A third booster shot provides superior protection, dramatically reducing the likelihood of severe outcomes, according to PHAC data. A third dose might also help to prevent an actual infection.

WATCH: Booster doses offer ‘superior’ protection, Tam says

Receiving mRNA booster ‘superior’ protection against COVID-19, Tam says

4 days ago

Duration 3:20

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, highlights the importance of vaccines, specifically booster doses, in the fight against COVID-19. 3:20

Lightbound said the country’s leaders can’t lose sight of just how damaging restrictions like lockdowns have been for many aspects of daily life.

“A population’s health, it’s kind of like a pie and Omicron is but a slice of that pie. Economic health, social health and mental health must also be accounted for,” he said.

The Quebec MP said the government’s hard line on the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers is not based on science. Lightbound said the government has produced no research to suggest this sort of mandate — which could sideline 12,000 to 16,000 commercial drivers — will have a meaningful impact on the pandemic’s trajectory.

Lightbound said the vaccine mandate has become a “wedge” issue designed to score political points off the government’s opponents.

Echoing concerns raised by industry groups like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Council of Canada, Lightbound said the policy is too disruptive to the country’s supply chains and pushes up the price of goods.

Trudeau has strongly defended the policy, saying a wave of COVID-19 cases is doing more to disrupt Canada’s supply chains than any vaccine mandate could.

People stand in the Ottawa anti-pandemic rule protest ‘red zone’ in front of Parliament Hill on Feb. 8, 2022. (Simon Lasalle/Radio-Canada)

The opposition Conservatives have made arguments similar to what Lightbound advanced Tuesday. Candice Bergen, the party’s interim leader, has called on Trudeau to present Canadians with a “pathway out of the pandemic” now that vaccination rates are high and Omicron case counts have dropped.

Bergen has called for an end to all vaccine mandates, including those that apply to travellers by air or rail, cross-border essential workers like truckers, and federal public servants and workers in other federally regulated industries.

“It is time to depoliticize the response to the pandemic,” she said.

While he questioned the usefulness of vaccine mandates, Lightbound condemned the ongoing demonstration in Ottawa — a protest that a number of Conservative MPs and senators have embraced.

“I have absolutely no sympathy for them,” he said of racist elements in the convoy. “It’s time to stop the occupation. It’s time for truckers to leave.”

Lightbound also said the federal government should immediately enter discussions with the provinces and territories about increasing the Canada Health Transfer. He said Ottawa should focus its financial firepower on the root cause of lockdowns and restrictions: the country’s limited hospital capacity.

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Abortion ruling pushes businesses to confront divisive politics – PBS NewsHour

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The Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has catapulted businesses of all types into the most divisive corner of politics.

Some companies that stayed silent last month — when a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico — spoke up for the first time Friday, including The Walt Disney Company, which said it will reimburse employees who must travel out of state to get an abortion.

Facebook parent Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs also said they would cover employee travel costs while others like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated previous announcements taking similar action. Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

But of the dozens of big businesses that The Associated Press reached out to Friday, many like McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Tyson and Marriott did not respond. Arkansas-based Walmart — the nation’s largest employer with a good portion of its stores in states that will immediately trigger abortion bans following the Friday’s Supreme Court ruling — also kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable, an organization that represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, said it “does not have a position on the merits of the case.”

READ MORE: The ‘air is thick with disbelief and grief’ at a Louisiana clinic as abortion ends

A lot is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly pledged to promote women’s equality and advancement in the workplace. For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.

Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app Duolingo, sent a tweet Friday aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If PA makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

The ruling and the coming patchwork of abortion bans also threatens the technology boom in places like Austin, Texas as companies like Dell — which was already becoming more flexible to remote work because of the tight labor market — struggle to recruit newly minted tech graduates to their corporate hubs, said Steven Pedigo, a professor who studies economic development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Rather than stay in Austin, do you go to New York or Seattle or the Bay Area? I think that’s a real possibility,” Pedigo said. “It becomes much more challenging, particularly when you’re looking at a young, progressive workforce, which is what technology workers tend to be.”

Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, said in a statement that nearly a quarter of organizations in a recent poll agreed that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent.

“But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved,” she said.

Dickens noted that companies that use third-party administrator to process claims on their behalf — typically big employers — are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act rather than state law. But companies that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees — typically small businesses — are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits.

READ MORE: Missouri’s last abortion clinic finds itself in center of Roe fallout

Offering to cover travel expenses could also make companies a target for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, a Republican, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

In his concurring opinion released Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to get an abortion.

“In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh wrote.

[embedded content]

But a corporation’s right to fund what would be an illegal act in another state is still questionable, argues Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

“That’s not an interstate commerce question, per se,” she said. “So you’d need the right plaintiff.”

Meanwhile, tech companies are facing tough questions about what they’ll do if some of their millions of customers in the U.S. are prosecuted for having an abortion. Services like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft routinely hand over digital data sought by law enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations. That’s raised concerns from privacy advocates about enforcers of abortion laws tapping into period apps, phone location data and other sensitive online health information.

A letter Friday from four Democrats in Congress called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the phone-tracking practices of Google and Apple, warning that location identifiers used for advertising could fall into the hands of prosecutors or bounty hunters looking “to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion.”

The Supreme Court ruling comes at a time when companies have become increasingly reliant on women to fill jobs, and especially as they face a nationwide labor shortage. Women now account for nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, up dramatically from 37.5% in 1970 — three years before the Supreme Court ruled abortions to be legal in Roe vs. Wade — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Denied access to abortion could hit low-income workers the hardest because they’re typically in jobs with fewer protections and that are also demanding, from loading groceries onto store shelves to working as a health aide.

“As a direct result of this ruling, more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million janitors, health care workers and teachers in the U.S. “Working women are already struggling in poverty-wage jobs without paid leave and many are also shouldering the caregiving responsibilities for their families, typically unpaid.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants told The Associated Press that the ruling was “devastating.”

“It cuts to the core of all the work that our union has done for 75 years,” she said. “This decision is not about whether or not someone supports abortion. That’s the distraction … This is about whether or not we respect the rights of women to determine their own future.”

Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the handful of companies are taking a stand on the court’s ruling because their customers and employees are expecting them to speak out.

“We’re in this moment in time where we’re expecting corporate leaders to also be leaders in the political sphere,” he said. “A lot of employees expect to work in companies that not only pay them well, but whose values are aligned with theirs.”

But the vast majority of executives will likely avoid the thorny topic and focus on things like inflation or supply chain disruptions, he said.
That, too, comes with risks.

“They can either support travel for out-of-state care and risk lawsuits and the ire of local politicians, or they can not include this coverage and risk the ire of employees,” Schweitzer said.
___
AP business writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco; David Koenig in Dallas and Ken Sweet in New York contributed to the story.

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Opinion: The vacuum at the centre of Canadian politics: an incompetent, unethical government faces an intemperate, unhinged opposition – The Globe and Mail

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Over the last few weeks and months it has become impossible to escape the feeling that Canadian politics has come loose from its moorings. There is a manic edge to it, as if the inmates had suddenly and collectively declared themselves absolved of any remaining obligations to common sense, or the ordinary routines of democratic politics, or the rule of law.

On the one hand, you have a Liberal government that is now embroiled in half a dozen crises of its own making, the fruit of a peculiar mix of cynicism, moral vanity, incompetence, doctrinaire ideology and apparently habitual abuse of power – a culture that originates with the leader, to be sure, but which appears to have spread throughout the party.

Thus you have, simultaneously, the airport mess, the passport mess, and the Russian embassy party mess; the abject retreat on vaccine mandates, in the face of a panicky Liberal backbench; the revelations that its centrepiece climate plan is in disarray, its 2030 carbon emissions reductions targets acknowledged, within government, to be a distant fantasy; all while it is engaged in the utter madness of attempting to regulate the internet, through no fewer than three separate bills.

That’s four or five ministers in trouble, and we haven’t even got to the matter of the Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendicino – and, let us not forget, the Prime Minister – apparently lying to Parliament about why they invoked the Emergencies Act, and on whose advice.

Or, worst yet, the jaw-dropping allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office, and the then Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, prevailed upon the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, to interfere in the investigation of the murder of 22 people by a gunman in Nova Scotia two years ago, for the purpose of selling gun control legislation the government had planned.

The allegation, that Ms. Lucki demanded local RCMP officers reveal to the public, contrary to procedure and at the risk of compromising the investigation, the precise make and model of the guns the killer used, has been officially denied. Nevertheless it is hard to shake: the allegation is precise, detailed, and contained in a contemporaneous note by the officer involved.

More to the point, whether or not the allegation is true, it is easy to believe this government, and this Prime Minister, would be capable of it. Seize on a horrible crime to unveil showboating legislation, cooked up on the fly, to no apparent public benefit? Checks out. Lean on a law enforcement official to meddle in what is supposed to be an independent legal process, wholly off limits to politicians? What was SNC-Lavalin about?

So much for the government: tired, directionless, massively overcentralized, coasting on self-satisfaction and increasingly overwhelmed by the actual business of governing, including the tiresome necessity of respecting the rights of Parliament and the principle of the rule of law.

But what lurks across the aisle? What of the government-in-waiting, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada? How are they shaping up as an alternative?

Funny you should ask. The party is just now in the throes of a leadership race – the traditional opportunity for a party in opposition to define itself, and its core beliefs. What, by the lights of the current campaign, are the core beliefs of the Conservative Party? On matters of ordinary policy, things like deficits and taxes and foreign policy, we are not much further ahead than when we started.

But if it’s lunatic conspiracy theories you would like to know about, on these the Conservatives have plenty to say, ranging from unfounded fears about the health effects of vaccines, to paranoia about the baleful influence of the World Economic Forum, to the dystopian possibilities of central bank digital currencies, as a means of surveilling and controlling the population – or if you really want to know the “truth,” how all of these are bound up together.

On the day after the allegation surfaced, earlier this week, that the government had interfered in a murder investigation for political ends – a day that ought to have been reserved for asking the most searching questions of those involved – several Conservative MPs were feting the organizers of a new anti-vaccine, anti-government, anti-everything rally planned for Ottawa this summer, some of whom were involved in the one that paralyzed the capital for three weeks earlier this year. Just in case anyone had forgotten the party’s disgraceful cheerleading for that particular outbreak of lawlessness.

It isn’t only at the federal level that Conservatives seem to have abandoned their traditional belief in law and order. The Alberta Conservative leadership race has barely begun, yet has already featured proposals either to ignore the Constitution altogether – that is, to refuse to enforce federal laws the provincial government dislikes – or to dictate constitutional changes to the rest of the country that have no actual hope of passing.

There is precedent for this, of course, notably in the revolutionary fantasies of certain Quebec separatist leaders. But given how signally these have failed, and how much worse it would have been for the province if they had succeeded, it’s hard to imagine anyone citing them as an example to follow, rather than avoid. Yet that is where we have arrived, in both Quebec and Alberta – with political leaders pretending they can rewrite the Constitution unilaterally.

At the federal level we would seem to be left with something of a vacuum, with neither main party displaying much interest in governing responsibly. This is sometimes described as “polarization,” as if the problem could be solved by everyone agreeing to meet in the centre. Not so: this country has big, challenging issues confronting it, some of which may require radical changes in policy. Radicalism is not the same as extremism.

What’s needed is not centrism, if that is interpreted to mean blindly hugging the middle on every issue. Neither is pragmatism the answer, if that means governing without an ideological compass, but merely blowing this way and that according to the latest poll or interest group lobby.

What’s needed – what is sorely lacking – is judgment: political, moral, intellectual. Judgment is the foundation of leadership, and leadership is the only way we’re going to get back to something resembling functional politics.

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Are Politics A Problem For The Markets? – Forbes

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As an economist and market analyst, I try to shy away from politics and focus on the facts. Nonetheless, I often receive politically charged questions that are usually some variation of the following: “With X party in office, the country is doomed. How can you say otherwise?” I have heard this in every presidential election from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. But the truth of the matter is this: both the economy and the markets grew during all of those administrations. Of course, each one had its own challenges and problems, but as a country we continued to move forward. Companies found ways to grow and make money. Given this, are politics really a problem for the markets?

A Limited Effect

No matter which side, the administration actually has a very limited effect on the national economy and on the financial markets. In fact, if you look at a chart of the economy or of the markets, and cover up the dates, you really can’t pick out when your party was in charge. Similarly, when you look at economic and market performance under various permutations of which party is in charge, there are differences, but they are not consistent over time. For all of the headlines and the fearmongering, politics and governance don’t make a significant difference.

Who’s In Control?

How can that be? Simple. Every president and Congress would like to have control—but they don’t. States push back. The Supreme Court pushes back. Municipalities push back. It is rare that something significant actually gets through. And even when it does? The genius of the American system is that companies then set their collective minds on how to avoid it, if they don’t like it, and/or how to make money off it. For example, look at literally any tax bill ever passed.

Fundamentally, that is the strength of the American system. When you say that Washington will derail the economy or the markets, you are saying that it really controls all of the shoppers and the companies, which simply isn’t true. It is certainly in the interest of politicians to exaggerate their power (to motivate their supporters) and to exaggerate their opponents’ powers (again, to motivate their supporters). But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. economy is driven by millions of profit-motivated companies that will find ways to work around or profit from pretty much anything the politicians can do. Thank goodness for that.

Which doesn’t answer those who maintain that this time is different. That somehow today’s problems are worse than they have ever been before. There is always a constituency for panic. But if you really believe that, if you really believe that Washington—of one party or the other—can derail the country, then what you are saying is that Washington already has full control. That is not what I see when I look around.

This Too Will Pass

What I see is the same vivid debate on policy we have always had and the same back-and-forth that ultimately results in a reasonable solution. Perhaps it is louder now, but it is still the same process.

One of my favorite quotes, from Winston Churchill, notes that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing once they have tried all the alternatives. I would argue that is what is happening now and that despite the short-term damage, which can be real, ultimately we will move ahead again.

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