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Most Canadians believe China did try to interfere in elections: poll

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A majority of Canadians believe China attempted to interfere in recent federal elections and want to see stronger measures to prevent foreign meddling, a new poll suggests, adding to the growing calls for Ottawa to take action.

The new poll from the Angus Reid Institute, released Wednesday, also found 53 per cent of those surveyed believe the Liberal government has not been strong enough in responding to China’s alleged interference attempts, and even more (64 per cent) want more focus on national security and defence.

“The response over the last couple of weeks from Ottawa … is not necessarily washing with Canadians, or at least with a really significant segment of them,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute.

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“More than half of them are saying, ‘No, this alleged interference represents a serious threat to Canadian democracy.’”

Over the last number of weeks, Global News and The Globe and Mail have revealed detailed reports showing the scope of China’s alleged efforts to influence Canadian society, including allegations of attempts to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

On Tuesday, a report commissioned by an independent panel tasked with reviewing the 2021 federal vote concluded there was no foreign interference that “threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.” But it also warned there were attempts to interfere in the election that didn’t meet the panel’s threshold for reporting those attempts to the public.

Despite the mounting allegations, Trudeau so far has not clearly answered questions about calls for a public inquiry into the matter, despite calls from prominent officials to do so.

The Angus Reid Institute poll, which was conducted in late February, did not ask Canadians about a public inquiry. But Kurl did note the data is consistent with a growing distrust among some Canadians in their democratic institutions.

She pointed to ARI polling from last February that suggested 34 per cent of voters believed free and fair elections were getting weaker in Canada, compared with just 23 per cent who said the opposite.

The poll released Wednesday found nearly a quarter of Canadians surveyed — including 42 per cent of Conservative voters — believe the 2021 election was “stolen” because of China’s interference, despite media reports making clear the ridings allegedly targeted by Beijing were not enough to sway the overall results. Just under half of respondents disagreed the election was stolen.

“In the absence of transparency, we run the risk of greater distrust, of conspiracies, of more disinformation and misinformation,” Kurl said.

“The last thing that this country can afford is to see a greater deterioration in trust in democracy and the tenets of democracy.”

Over half of Canadians are following developments of alleged Chinese election interference closely in the media, the poll suggests.

Alleged Chinese election interference is a serious threat to Canada’s democracy, a sentiment that 53 per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed with and that is shared by a majority or a plurality of respondents from all political parties and nearly all demographics. Only young women aged 18 to 34 were less willing to say so, with 44 per cent saying they were not sure.

The same is true of the overall belief that China attempted to interfere in recent elections. Respondents in British Columbia and Ontario — where much of the alleged interference efforts took place — and the Conservative strongholds of Alberta and Saskatchewan were more likely to agree than those in other provinces.

While fewer Liberal voters (30 per cent) agreed the response to China’s alleged actions by the Trudeau government is not strong enough than those who said it’s about right (66 per cent), just over half agreed there’s not enough of a focus being paid on national security and defence.

Nearly half of Liberal voters (46 per cent) also said they believe Ottawa is afraid to stand up to China, compared with 62 per cent of NDP voters and 91 per cent of Conservatives.

Overall, 69 per cent of Canadians said they felt this way.

Yet 46 per cent of Canadians also said they are worried about the economic consequences of standing up to Beijing — although Kurl noted that’s down 12 points from when the same question was asked a year ago.

Canada continues to have a lucrative trading relationship with China. Statistics Canada says last year, imports from China surpassed $100 billion for the first time to set a new record.

Yet Canada has signalled, through its new Indo-Pacific strategy released last year, that it is willing to sacrifice growth and even lessen Chinese trade and investment in favour of other partners in the region in order to counter Beijing’s rise.

Kurl suggested the Canadian public may also be willing to make that shift in the name of security.

“Each incident, each crisis, each drama … that affects Canada-China relations further serves to chip away at people who would be inclined to say that economic primacy comes first above all others,” she said, pointing to everything from the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to the recent flyover of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

Those and other issues are “leading Canadians to be increasingly in a place where they’re still saying, ‘Look, the economic relationship is important, but sovereignty, security, defence is important too,’” she added.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Feb. 23 to 25, 2023, among a representative randomized sample of 1,622 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

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Risk of a hard landing for Canadian economy is up, former Bank of Canada governor says – CTV News

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Former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says Canada’s economy is at a greater risk of a “hard landing” — a rapid economic slowdown following a period of growth and approaching a recession.

Amid the central bank’s interest rate hikes intended to tame inflation, inflation cooled to 5.2 per cent in February. That’s down from 5.9 per cent in January, after 40-year record highs over the summer, reaching as high as 8.1 per cent in June.

Poloz told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos — in a joint interview with former Liberal finance minister John Manley airing Sunday — the Bank of Canada and federal government’s efforts to rein in inflation are working, but the chances of a hard landing remain.

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“The risk of a hard landing has definitely gone up, given that so much has already happened, and we’re still waiting for the rest of the effects of interest rate rises to work their way through,” he said, adding he is “heartened by the response of the supply side of the economy.”

“That’s really where a soft landing comes from,” he said. “It’s not fancy engineering on the part of the central bank. But as the supply side continues to grow — such as new entrants into the workforce, from immigration and from parents who are taking advantage of the new childcare policy — those kinds of things are giving us, coming up from below, strengthening the economy.

While Poloz said the supply growth is a good sign, at this point it would require “some luck” to achieve a soft landing and avoid a recession.

Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland meanwhile is set to table the budget on Tuesday.

She’s long been signalling Canadians can expect fiscal restraint to avoid stoking inflation, but also some significant investments. Namely, the government has been teasing targeted measures to help relieve the impacts of inflation, plus the already-announced $196 billion in health care funding for the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, and clean economy spending to help compete with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which offers billions of dollars in energy incentives south of the border.

Poloz however called last year’s federal budget a “missed opportunity” to “have a different mix” of spending, and in doing so “lower the trajectory of the Bank of Canada’s interest rates.”

He said there’s now less risk government spending will counteract the impacts of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes.

“I think we’re mostly beyond that point as an issue,” he said, adding last year would have been a more opportune time to stimulate the economy.

“That might have been better for everybody,” Poloz continued. “But that missed opportunity is behind us and now the economy is clearly slowing down. We got all that news in the fourth quarter, sooner than most people expected.”

“All the interest sensitive parts, such as housing and business investment, had been down three quarters in a row already, so in that sense, it feels recessionary already,” he added. “So in that sort of space, I think that business about causing inflation is off the table.”

With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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Questions raised about safety of Old Montreal building destroyed by fatal fire

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MONTREAL — More than a week after a fatal fire tore through a building in Old Montreal, accounts from former tenants and victims of the blaze are raising questions about the safety of the heritage property.

Four bodies had been found as of Friday afternoon and three people were missing in the shell of the once-elegant greystone building.

Police and firefighters have said it’s too soon to say what caused the fire. But witnesses have raised questions about safety, including whether smoke detectors were working and whether there were proper emergency exits.

A rental tribunal decision shows that in 2012, the owner, Emile-Haim Benamor, blamed actions of a tenant for creating a risk of fire in the building. The comments are found in a Sept. 6, 2012, decision from Quebec’s Régie du logement, stemming from a dispute between Benamor and a tenant whose lease he was trying to end. According to the document, Benamor claimed the tenant was “manipulating electricity” and had “modified or added” electrical systems and overloaded the building’s circuits.

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“The landlord insists that in the current state of things, the building is not profitable, he is unable to have access to the apartment … that there is a risk of fire and he says he is being monitored by insurance companies, especially since it’s a historic building,” the tribunal’s decision says.

The landlord also called a witness from the insurance company Lloyd’s, who testified that the unit presented safety concerns. In an affidavit included in the tribunal decision, Michel Frigon said the unit was not originally intended to be an apartment but rather a storage area. Frigon noted that access to the unit was required to perform maintenance of the building’s heating and electrical systems.

“The shower adjoining the electrical entrance to the dwelling presents a real danger of electrocution,” he added, saying a new insurer would likely have to be found if the problems weren’t fixed.

But in her written decision, administrative judge Jocelyne Gascon concluded there was little convincing evidence to suggest the tenant, Piotr Torbicki, was to blame for any electrical issues.

“The various electrical systems, although they appear to the court to be non-compliant, obsolete, the evidence offered did not establish that it was a recent addition,” Gascon wrote. She did not offer an opinion on Benamor’s comments about the risk of fire.

The building, known as the William-Watson-Ogilvie building, was built in 1890 and originally housed the offices of a flour company. It was gradually converted to residential use between the late 1960s and the 1980s, with the office of an architecture firm remaining on the ground floor. Municipal property records show Benamor, a lawyer, bought the building in 2009.

Since the fire, both the father of a missing woman and a former tenant have said at least one of the units had no windows or fire escape, while survivors of the fire have suggested the fire alarms never went off.

Louis-Philippe Lacroix said his 18-year-old daughter Charlie, who is presumed missing in the fire, called 911 twice within several minutes to say she was unable to get out of the unit she and a friend were staying in, which had no window and no fire escape.

A survivor of the fire, Alina Kuzmina, said that while the semi-basement unit she’d rented with her husband had fire alarms, she doesn’t remember hearing them go off. Kuzmina was able to escape the building by breaking a window and crawling out.

The owner this week responded to the claims through his lawyer, saying the alarm system was replaced in 2019 and regularly tested. Regarding the emergency exits, lawyer Alexandre Bergevin said the building’s layout is complex.

“It has always been deemed compliant in the past,” he said in a text message.

A former tenant spoke on condition that he not be identified, saying he fears reprisals from Benamor, who owns multiple buildings in the city. The former tenant said that in recent years long-term tenants have gradually left and been replaced by units rented on the short-term rental platform Airbnb. He also said some units had been subdivided, and at least one did not have windows.

Benamor’s lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, said in an interview Friday that the short-term rentals in the building were the work of tenants and not his client. He said one person was renting seven units in the building and “illegally” listing them on Airbnb. He said that Benamor had told the person to stop the short-term rentals, and they had reached an agreement for him to leave the building by July 1.

“It’s a real scourge, it’s uncontrollable,” Bergevin said of the Airbnb rentals. “He had doubts on several tenants in several buildings, but it’s quite difficult to get the proof of all that.”

The lawyer acknowledged that one apartment in the building “didn’t have a window in the traditional sense of the term,” but it did have a skylight.

Asked whether the smoke detectors were working, he replied: “That’s an excellent question. We don’t know yet.” But he said there were detectors in all apartments, the central detector had been working the day before the fire and it would be surprising if all of them failed.

Bergevin said he was not aware of any specific electrical problems, including those raised in the 2012 rental tribunal decision, but noted that the building dates to the 19th century.

“It’s certain that it’s not the electricity we know today,” he said, adding that at certain points when issues arose, qualified electricians worked in the building.

Benamor, he said, has felt under attack since news broke that people had died in the fire.

“The public trial, while we have no idea of the causes of the fire, is causing him a lot of psychological distress,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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St. John’s, N.L., airport closed after late night fire on 2nd floor forces evacuation

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A fire on the second floor of the international airport in St. John’s, N.L., resulted in the facility being closed late Friday night.

The airport authority said today the main terminal building was evacuated due to a “significant event” on Friday at 11:30 p.m.

No other details were immediately available.

The authority said in a release today it is working with police and the fire department to ensure all protocols are being followed before reopening the building.

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The news release says the terminal building was expected to remain closed to the public until 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Passengers are being advised not to visit the airport until there is a public advisory the terminal has reopened.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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