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Politics Briefing: BC Liberals ponder name change to BC United – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Canada could be about to lose one of its Liberal parties. BC Liberal members will be asked to vote on a new name for the venerable party.

Subject to the pending vote, the British Columbia party could take on the name BC United.

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The possibility, announced on Tuesday, would be a major rebranding for a party that governed, most recently, under premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark between 2001 and 2017. Prior to that run, the party last ruled in 1952.

The proposed new name was one of 2,000 suggestions from party members vetted through a process of review by the centre-right, “free enterprise” party that has no affiliation with the federal Liberal Party of Canada.

Other names in the mix included the BC Party, Together BC, One BC and the Pacific Party, BC Liberal vice-president Caroline Elliott said in an interview on Tuesday.

The voting process is to be laid out in the coming weeks and party members are to cast their votes “by the end of the year,” the BC Liberals said in a statement. They have already registered BC United with Elections BC as an alternative name.

Ms. Elliott said the idea of a name change, supported by two-thirds of members at a convention this year, has been bandied about for about two decades, but is now being discussed as a part of a renewal process. The BC Liberals failed to win power in the province’s 2020 election, in which the BC NDP won a majority for the first time since 1996, and John Horgan become the province’s first BC NDP leader to win a consecutive second term as premier.

Ms. Elliott said the move is not being done as a reaction to challenges facing the federal Liberals. “That’s not what it is being driven by at all. This has been an ongoing conversation for so long in our party,” she said.

However, political scientist Hamish Telford said the name issue has bedevilled the BC Liberals.

“[The party] has always styled itself as a coalition of Liberal and Conservative voters and it is, for all intents and purposes, a conservative party. It is the right-of-centre party in the B.C. political spectrum,” said the academic from the University of the Fraser Valley.

“So the name has not always resonated well with a large portion of the party’s base. Now, with Justin Trudeau having been prime minister for seven years, some more conservative members of the BC Liberal party base don’t like that identification, however erroneous it is, between their party and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.”

Ironically, he said, the party has lost its liberal urban base while retaining its conservative base so the party’s new leader, Kevin Falcon, faces the task of rebuilding the urban liberal base.

Of the new proposed name, Mr. Telford said it sounded like a soccer team, but also that it speaks to the party’s depiction of itself as a coalition of Liberal and Conservative voters.

In a statement, the BC NDP said the name change won’t hide aspects of the record of Mr. Falcon, a former finance minister, such as cuts to health care budgets and increased costs imposed on British Columbians.

Asked if she had advice for other parties elsewhere in Canada considering such name changes, Ms. Elliott offered one key point. “By far the most important thing is to make sure you are engaging members.”

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 signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

HURRICANE COSTS COULD REACH $700-million – With insurance for coastal flooding damage largely unavailable, much of the recovery costs from post-tropical storm Fiona will likely be borne by homeowners and government disaster financial assistance programs. The total cost of damages has yet to be determined but estimated losses could range between $300-million and $700-million in insurance claims. Story here. Also, Justin Trudeau travelled Tuesday to PEI, where he inspected damage caused by Fiona and pledged to find ways to build more resilient infrastructure. Story here.

FORMER EMBASSY GUARD IN KABUL SEEKING HELP – Mohammad Salim Saberi, who used to guard Canada’s embassy in Kabul, was attacked by the Taliban recently when he ventured out of his safe house to get his cellphone fixed. Now he says they are tracking him. Mr. Saberi is in hiding while he continues to wait for word from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on whether he will be approved for resettlement. Story here.

RCMP REVIEWING THREAT AGAINST CONSERVATIVE LEADER’S WIFE – The RCMP says it is reviewing a complaint from federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre concerning a social-media livestream in which two men discuss sexually assaulting his wife. Story here.

MOST PROVINCES HAVEN’T MADE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION DAY A STATUTORY HOLIDAY – While Canada prepares to honour the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday, the majority of provinces have not followed the federal government’s move to make it a statutory holiday for its workers. Story here.

RCMP IN ALBERTA URGED NOT TO ENFORCE OTTAWA GUN ACTION – Alberta’s Justice Minister has directed the RCMP not to enforce Ottawa’s firearms buyback program and has plans to join a series of lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of banning certain guns. Story here.

QUEBEC ELECTION – The proposed Third Link commuter tunnel between Quebec City and the suburb of Lévis, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, has elicited passions beyond its effect on commute times in the provincial capital. During the current election campaign, the Third Link has become a controversial wedge issue and a battleground for Quebec’s environmental aspirations. Story here. Also, a Québec Solidaire candidate in a Montreal riding has withdrawn from the campaign after security camera video circulating on social media showed her removing a Parti Québécois campaign leaflet from a mailbox and replacing it with her own. Story here from CBC.

RETURN TO WORK PUSHBACK PROMPTING PUBLIC SERVICE DEBATE – The return-to-work pushback of Canada’s public servants could lay the groundwork for the most radical change in the federal government’s relationship with its employees in a century. “The resistance reveals a grassroots shift taking place in the public service that’s all about power and control,” says a story here from Policy Options.

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, Sept. 27, accessible here.

NEW SENATORS – Flordeliz (Gigi) Osler, a surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, and former privy council clerk Ian Shugart have been appointed as independent senators to fill vacancies for Manitoba and Ontario. Both were recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. Dr. Osler spoke to CBC about the appointment here.

OPPOSITION DAY MOTION – Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre tabled an opposition motion in Parliament on Tuesday, calling on the government to eliminate its plan to triple the carbon tax.

BRADLEY DEPARTING – After five speakers and 10 Parliaments, the communications director for the House of Commons and the Speakers Office is headed for the door. “Personally, it’s time for a break and new adventures – I am looking for a little more ‘me’ time and time with my amazing family and friends,” Heather Bradley said in an e-mail.” I am a lucky person to be leaving a job that I have loved.” Asked about parting thoughts, Ms. Bradley said the parliamentary system works. “MPs are elected with a wide variety of interests and opinions but they all care about their country. Respect for the rules, practices, precedents and traditions of this place is critical to the day-to-day proceedings and the speaker plays a key role in making it work but the ultimate responsibility belongs to MPs,” she said. Ms. Bradley is being replaced by Amélie Crosson.

THE DECIBEL

On Tuesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Jasmin Ramsey – the deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran – talks about the protests that have arisen since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody three days after the was picked up by Iran’s morality police on Sept. 13 for allegedly not wearing the proper hijab. Ms. Ramsey talks about why this incident has caused so much outrage, what Canada and other international communities are doing in response and whether change to the Iranian regime will come from these mass demonstrations. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Stanley Bridge, PEI, held private meetings and met with community members affected by post-tropical storm Fiona. During his travels, he also took media questions. Later, Mr. Trudeau, in Sydney, N.S., met with community members affected by Fiona and visited the Canadian Coast Guard College.

LEADERS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, in Ottawa, held a media availability and spoke with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage about recovery efforts from post-tropical storm Fiona. He then was scheduled to attend Question Period and meet with representatives of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

No schedules released for other party leaders.

TRIBUTE

John Reid, a self-described “maverick” Liberal MP who stuck to principle even at the expense of his political ambitions and became a passionate crusader for increased access to government information, has died at the age of 85. Story here.

PUBLIC OPINION

The Conservatives have opened up a seven-point lead in vote intention over the Liberals, with three quarters of those who supported the People’s Party of Canada in the last election saying they would back the Tories, according to new research by the Angus Reid Institute. Details here.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how to fight inflation. Answer: Look at Britain and do the opposite: ”Imagine you wake up one morning to find that your house is on fire. You grab the phone and dial 911. Send help, you say. A few minutes later, to your great relief, two emergency vehicles pull up. One of them is a big red fire truck, loaded with firefighters and powerful water hoses. The second vehicle’s crew also claim to be firefighters, but they’re carrying jugs of lighter fluid and cords of kindling. Both groups rush to your burning home. One starts pouring water onto the flames. The other starts pouring gasoline. The fire is inflation.”

Rob Carrick (The Globe and Mail) on how Canada Pension Plan premiums are not a tax: “It’s a little insensitive, but necessary, to raise the issue of retirement saving at a time when many households are struggling to pay for groceries and gas. New numbers on financial stress show some households are spending more than they earn and others are either saving nothing or just a little. That’s the inflationary world we live in now. People are under pressure and politicians are paying attention. In Ottawa, newly installed Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre has called upon the government to ease the burden by not raising Employment Insurance premiums, Canada Pension Plan contributions and the federal carbon price in 2023. “Will the government cancel these tax hikes so that Canadians can afford to eat, heat and house themselves?” he asked in Question Period last week. Uh, Mr. Poilievre? Canada Pension Plan premiums are not a tax.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on how the affordability crisis is hitting seniors hard: ”In prosperous Canada, almost half of our elders have an income less than that of minimum-wage workers. In B.C., one in four seniors lives on less than $21,000 a year – barely enough to pay rent, let alone eat or get a tooth fixed. Meanwhile, food prices are soaring, rents are on the rise, and government supports are stagnating. Falling Behind, the latest report from B.C.’s indefatigable Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, paints a sobering picture of the financial struggles of the province’s one million elders, and warns things will only get worse if governments don’t help. While the report is B.C.-focused, every point in this data-heavy publication applies to the 6.4 million people in Canada’s over-65 demographic.”

Michelle Coates Mather (The National Post) on how Jean Charest ran a hard-fought race ad there’s nothing ‘gloomy’ about that: Writing in the Post recently, André Pratte, who was a volunteer on the campaign, regrettably suggests this race represented the “gloomy end of Jean Charest’s political life.” I can tell you this is not the feeling shared by any of us who worked on his core campaign team these last six months. Did the results sting? Yes. Was it all for not? No.”

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 Trump’s legacy became ‘pure poison’ for independents

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CNN

The highly touted red wave in last month’s midterm election failed to develop largely because it hit a wall of resistance among independent voters, especially across the key battleground states. And that presents difficult questions for Republicans looking forward to 2024.

The GOP’s disappointing showing among independents this year marked the third consecutive election in which the party has underperformed with those critical swing voters. Although Donald Trump ran competitively among independents in his first presidential race in 2016, since he took office, the GOP has consistently faced broad opposition among them, especially those who are women or hold four-year college degrees.

The GOP’s 2022 struggles with independents were especially striking because they came even as most of those voters expressed negative views of both President Joe Biden’s job performance and the state of the economy – sentiments that typically cause most swing voters to break for the party out of the White House. To many analysts in both parties, the reluctance of so many independents to support Republican candidates despite such discontent underscores how powerfully the Trump-era GOP has alienated these voters.

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“There’s a huge lesson here, which is if you talk like Trump or remind voters of Trump, particularly at a personality level, it’s pure poison to independent voters,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant, said flatly. “It might have been effective in 2016 because voters were looking for something new and a change, but it hasn’t been useful since then.”

For Republicans, the results underscore the electoral risks of the party’s continuing refusal to repudiate Trump, even as he has openly associated with two antisemites who praised Adolf Hitler, praised the January 6, 2021, US Capitol rioters and publicly called for the “termination” of the US Constitution to restore himself to power.

In the election, fully 66% of independent voters said they had an unfavorable view of the former president while just 30% viewed him favorably, according to the results of the exit poll conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations including CNN. Among female independents, Trump’s ratings were even worse: just 23% favorable and 72% unfavorable, according to previously unpublished exit poll results provided by the CNN polling unit. Trump’s unfavorable rating hit a comparable 69% among independents with at least a four-year college degree. “I have a hard time seeing the Republican Party escaping the grasp of Trump with or without him on the ballot anytime soon,” says Tom Bonier, chief executive officer of TargetSmart, a Democratic data and voter targeting firm.

The results among independents also contained plenty of warnings for Democrats. The exit poll found that Biden’s image among them was only slightly more favorable than Trump’s (with 37% viewing the president favorably and 60% unfavorably) and that nearly three-fourths of independent voters (including virtually identical numbers of men and women) said they did not want him to run again in 2024. In a post-election survey conducted by Way to Win, a liberal group that works primarily with candidates and organizations focused on voters of color, roughly four-fifths of independents across the battleground states said they couldn’t identify anything the Biden administration has done that has directly improved their lives.

Most importantly, the exit poll showed Democrats winning independents in the national vote for the House of Representatives only by a narrow 49% to 47% margin. That was a significantly smaller advantage than the double-digit lead among independents Democrats enjoyed in both the 2020 presidential race and the 2018 contest for the House.

“These results weren’t necessarily an endorsement of Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Matt Hogan. “But they disliked Republicans and viewed them as even more extreme.”

Still, the magnitude of the Democratic advantage among independents was probably less revealing than the fact that the party carried them at all, especially in a period of such economic unease. The party controlling the White House has not won independents in the national vote for the House in any midterm election since at least 1982, according to exit polls.

While Republicans held the presidency, Democrats won independent voters by double-digits in House elections in the midterms of 2018, 2006 and 1986, according to exit polls. While Democrats held the presidency, Republicans won independents by double-digits in House elections in the midterms of 2014, 2010 and 1994. In each of the past two midterms, the party out of the White House (Democrats in 2018 and Republicans in 2014) won independents by a resounding 12 percentage points, the exit polls found. The GOP’s severe underperformance of that standard allowed Democrats to finish unexpectedly well last month even though Republican voters, extending the usual midterm pattern for the party out of the White House, participated in larger numbers than Democrats.

In the key statewide races this year, the Democratic advantage among independents was often much more pronounced than their slim lead in the national House vote.

Democratic candidates, the exit polls found, won independents by double-digit margins in the Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, narrowly ran ahead with them in North Carolina and essentially split them evenly in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. (The latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS for Tuesday’s Georgia Senate run-off again shows Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock holding a commanding lead among independents over Republican Herschel Walker.)

Winning Democratic candidates also posted gaping double-digit advantages among independents in the Michigan and Pennsylvania governor races and solid leads of 6-7 percentage points in Arizona and Wisconsin. Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Mike DeWine in Ohio, two increasingly solid red states, were the only statewide GOP candidates to win independents by a comfortable margin, according to the exit polls.

Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, vice president and chief strategy officer for Way to Win, says concerns about the Trump era GOP’s commitment to basic rights, including abortion rights, and to democracy itself offset the usual tendency among independents to check the party holding the White House. “I think that the combination of the threats to democracy, the threats to freedom was a powerful antidote to that usual pattern,” she said.

Hogan was part of a bipartisan team (along with Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s lead pollster in 2020) that polled during the election for the AARP, the giant senior’s lobby. In a post-election survey of the 63 most competitive House districts, that pollster team also found that Democrats narrowly carried independent voters.

Like Ancona, Hogan says the key to that result was that as many independents in these districts said abortion rights and threats to democracy were the most important issues in their vote as cited inflation and the economy – a result that surprised him. Though many independents were negative on Biden’s job performance and pessimistic about the economy, he notes, they remained unwilling to entrust power to a Republican Party reshaped in Trump’s image.

Another measure of that hesitation came in the national exit poll. Overall the survey found that a virtually identical share of voters nationwide, just over half, said they viewed the GOP and the Democratic Party each as “too extreme.” But independents were much more likely to stamp that label on the GOP. While the share of independents who considered Democrats extreme exceeded the share who did not by a narrow four percentage points, the gap for Republicans was 18 points. Nearly two-thirds of independents with college degrees, and exactly three-fifths of female independents, said they viewed the GOP as too extreme, considerably more than in either group that identified Democrats in that way, according to detailed results from the CNN polling unit.

Paul Bentz, an Arizona-based Republican pollster and the 2010 campaign manager for former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, believes that label severely hurt the GOP in that critical swing state. Bentz says the GOP’s 2022 slate of Trump-aligned candidates – led by gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Senate choice Blake Masters – systematically alienated not only independents but also a critical slice of moderate Republicans through their rigid opposition to legal abortion and embrace of Trump’s discredited claims of fraud in the 2020 election. “They did not appear to have any interest in targeting, identifying and communicating with independent voters,” Bentz says.

In Arizona and elsewhere, the GOP especially struggled among college-educated and female independents. The exit poll found that Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, while beating Masters, drew 55% of female independents and 61% of independents (of both genders) with college degrees; Democratic governor-elect Katie Hobbs, in her win over Kari Lake, won almost exactly as many of each group.

They were hardly alone in dominating among both college-educated and female independents. In the national exit poll, Democrats carried exactly 54% of each group. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won 59% of the independents with degrees and 56% of women independents. Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers virtually matched those numbers. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman carried over three-fifths of both groups in his comfortable victory; Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan roughly equaled his performance while winning reelection by an even wider margin in New Hampshire. Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Warnock in Georgia both carried 53-55% of each group. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic-governor elect in Pennsylvania, set the pace by carrying over two-thirds of both female and college-educated independents in his landslide against far-right GOP nominee Doug Mastriano.

Results provided by Edison Research showed that Democrats also dominated among women and college-educated independents in the 2018 House races and 2020 presidential contest, races also heavily shaped by attitudes toward Trump.

In both parties, many analysts see little chance for the GOP to reverse these trends if they nominate Trump for the presidency again in 2024. The bigger question may be whether another nominee would allow the GOP to climb out of the hole that Trump has opened beneath the party with independents.

Bentz, the Arizona-based GOP pollster, thinks the answer is yes. Bentz says the key to the state’s recent tilt away from decades of Republican dominance is the recoiling from the Trump definition of the party among well-educated, higher-income swing voters in the Phoenix suburbs. But he notes that outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, with more of a business-oriented and problem-solving image, twice ran well with those voters; that precedent, Bentz says, suggests that if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can fit that mold, he could recapture many of them in 2024.

“Trump would very much struggle in this state again,” Bentz says. “DeSantis, especially depending on who he chooses as his running mate, I think he could be competitive here.”

Less clear is whether DeSantis can present himself in that way. While he’s less personally bombastic and does not carry the association with election denial and violence that has stained the former president, the Florida governor has embraced a wide array of right-wing culture war causes, from limiting how teachers talk about race, gender and sexual orientation to targeting undocumented immigrants and restricting access to abortion.

With that resume, Fernandez Ancona says DeSantis is vulnerable to the same stamp of extremism and intolerance that has hurt Trump with independents-if Democrats do the work to define him. “I don’t think you can separate Trump from Trumpism,” she says. “And DeSantis is absolutely an acolyte of Trumpism … that’s a story we would have to tell.”

Thomas, the GOP consultant, is the founder and chief strategist of Ron to the Rescue PAC, a Super PAC promoting a 2024 presidential bid for DeSantis (who has not yet announced whether he’ll run). Like Bentz, Thomas believes DeSantis could improve on the GOP’s Trump-era performance among independents. For all DeSantis’ fervor as a culture warrior, Thomas argues, the Florida governor has also shown he can execute the nuts-and-bolts aspects of governing “that matter to independents.”

But Thomas doesn’t discount the risk Democrats could define DeSantis exactly in the manner Fernandez Ancona suggests – especially if the Florida Governor leans too far into what Thomas calls culture war “stunts” like his recent move to fly undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Thomas says he’s confident that if DeSantis runs, he can manage “the tightrope” of appealing to both independent general election voters repelled by Trump and base primary voters attracted to his belligerence toward liberals. But Thomas agrees if DeSantis’ “argument for voters is the stunts, I think that becomes too Trump-like at the end of the day.”

Republicans performed better among independents last month in states that already lean in their direction. Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas ran virtually even among those voters, and DeSantis carried them – as did Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine and, even more decisively. J.D. Vance, the GOP’s Ohio senator-elect, also ran about even with them, the exit polls found.

But despite all the unhappiness with Biden and the economy, Republicans continued to struggle with independents in almost all gubernatorial and Senate races across the five states that decided the last presidential race by switching from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020 – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. (The only exceptions were the governor’s race in Georgia and Senate contest in Wisconsin where Republican incumbents Brian Kemp and Ron Johnson each ran about even among independents.)

That pattern suggests Republicans are unlikely to regain an Electoral College majority and recapture the White House in 2024 unless they can pry away more independents from the coalition that has now staunchly rejected Trump’s vision for America over three consecutive elections. And Democrats, watching the GOP again almost completely avoid direct criticism of Trump amid his latest provocations, see few signs Republicans are willing to do what that would likely require.

“I don’t think these fundamentals are going to drastically change,” says Fernandez Ancona. “The pieces are in place right now for us to be able to continue to grow this anti-MAGA majority.”

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The Year Ahead: Politics in 2023

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Trudeau, Poilievre, and the fight for democracy take centre stage

The Smith-Notley fracas escalates in Alberta as Trudeau wages multiple battles federally. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to reverberate around the world, while cost-of-living woes dominate on the home front.

1. The highest-stakes election will be in Alberta

Maybe by the time Albertans head to the polls in May, Premier Danielle Smith will be done dousing her political tire fires. She spent her first days in office walking back controversies, including an assertion that unvaccinated people are “the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.” She can probably count on the votes of those unvaccinated Albertans, but her broad appeal remains uncertain. The NDP is competitive in Alberta—in one recent poll, respondents favoured NDP Leader Rachel Notley by a 14-point margin. Elected to government in 2015, Notley lost to Jason Kenney in 2019, toughed it out in opposition, and might yet complete a phoenix-like comeback. 

2. Trudeau will have a year from hell

Justin Trudeau’s fight card for 2023 is already full. Premiers are banging the table for more health money. Quebec Premier François Legault is chafing over his province’s share of federal immigration targets (which he says are so high as to cause social unrest), while Bill 21, his legislation banning public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, may end up at the Supreme Court. Alberta, meanwhile, wants to pass a Sovereignty Act that would allow it to ignore federal laws. In February, we can expect a potentially damaging verdict on Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to quell the Freedom Convoy’s occupation in Ottawa. And we may see more premiers thumb their noses at his father’s legacy, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by invoking its notwithstanding clause—the back-door provision, recently used by both Legault and Ford, that overrides the rights the Charter is intended to guarantee.

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3. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be felt on Canadian soil

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Canada has imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs, given Ukraine $3.85 billion in cash, trained Ukrainian soldiers for battle and gifted all the matériel we had to spare. As fall turned to winter, Russia’s flailing boots-on-the-ground invasion gave way to sustained bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure—a cruel strategy in a frigid country. What Ukrainians need now are heated homes. That means more people seeking refugee status and, with energy in short supply across Europe, more looking to leapfrog across the Atlantic. Canada needs to get ready; we’re still struggling to process the roughly 200,000 Ukrainians who’ve already applied. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised to fast-track energy projects to help Europe. Allies will expect progress by 2024. 

4. The fight for democracy will eclipse trade disputes with the U.S.

In a speech in Washington last February, trade minister Mary Ng described the Canada-U.S. relationship as having “a million moving parts.” Those include the perpetual popped springs of cross-border trade, American dairy and Canadian softwood lumber. Meanwhile, supply chains continue to sputter and American protectionism is hampering Canadian business. But in another Washington speech in October, Chrystia Freeland warned of bigger problems ahead: autocracies are on the rise and will challenge democracies for global dominance. As dark as her vision is, it spells good news for Canada-
U.S. relations–the need to co-operate will outweigh petty squabbles. 

5. We’ll welcome a record number of newcomers

Canada is admitting more immigrants than at any time in its history: the previous record of 400,000 was set in 1913, equalled in 2021 and crushed this year. And the plan is to keep setting new records, ultimately hitting 500,000 in 2025. The economy depends on it: more Canadians are now leaving the workforce than entering it, creating a persistent labour shortage, with nearly as many job openings as there are unemployed workers. The challenge is to match immigrants’ skills to jobs, especially in sectors such as education, health care and construction.

6. Everyone wants an electric car—but good luck charging it 

Electric and hybrid cars now account for more than seven per cent of new vehicle registrations in Canada, a rate that doubled in two years. That means we need more charging capacity, and fast. There are now 22,000 EV charging stations in Canada, about 420,000 short of what we’ll require by 2035. Ottawa is funding 50,000 more chargers over the next three years through the Canada Investment Bank, which the Liberals launched in 2017. A lingering question is whether Canadians are ready to change their travel routines. Even the fastest charge takes 30 minutes, compared to a quick two-minute fill at the pump. If Canadians keep buying EVs at a record pace, of course, that question will answer itself. 

7. Big tech will throw a fit about CanCon rules

Ottawa’s ambitious effort to regulate big tech (companies like Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and so forth) will get its first real test in 2023. The combination of the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) and the Online News Act (Bill C-18, still under consideration in the House of Commons) will make internet firms subject to Canadian content regulations, force them to contribute to the country’s content subsidy programs and have them share revenues with media organizations whose news they post on their sites (and whose ad revenues they’ve poached). Big Tech is chafing at the prospect, but for the federal government, it’s about forcing these companies–which happen to be among the world’s most valuable–to invest some of their Canadian profits back in Canada. Ottawa is also threatening to implement a three per cent Digital Services Tax on these companies’ Canadian revenues starting January 1, 2024. Washington has warned Canada not to collect the tax, even as the U.S. stymies a collaborative, global approach to the issue. All in all, 2023 has the makings of a ticking Big Tech time bomb. 

8. The country will go deeper into debt for dental care

As part of their deal to avoid another federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised Jagmeet Singh’s NDP a national dental care program in 2023. A recent poll showed that 72 per cent of Canadians support it. Dentists have expressed only minor quibbles. The provinces, though often touchy about new federal programs, have kept mum. Money, of course, could yet scuttle it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer reckons the five-year price tag could be nearly double the $5.3-billion estimate. The PBO is also forecasting deficits for the next five years, which means the government would have to borrow that money at ever-rising interest rates. Other priorities beckon—a brewing recession, aid to Ukraine—and Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives oppose the plan, saying it will goose inflation.

9. We’ll finally get cheaper daycare

Last year, the Liberal government made good on its promise to sign agreements with the provinces to reduce daycare fees. But the details will vary from province to province. In most cases, provinces will phase in reductions, reaching $10 a day by 2026. And though the plan will create new subsidized spaces, there still won’t be enough for all of the country’s 2.1 million kids under age six. Nevertheless, parents are already dreaming about what to do with the thousands of dollars they’ll save. Of course, maybe it’ll just go to their mortgage renewals: the Bank of Canada predicts that in a few years, a typical mortgage payment will be 30 per cent higher thanks to rising interest rates. 

10. Poilievre will hammer Trudeau with more populist rhetoric

Last October, it was revealed that CPC Leader Pierre Poilievre’s YouTube channel was using a hidden hashtag favoured by misogynist groups. To his critics, it was just another step in his continuing descent among the deplorables of populism—part of his plan, surely, to pull his party’s right flank away from Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party. But he’s also trying to broaden the spectrum of acceptable opinion. He was an early opponent of mask mandates, has embraced populist calls to defund the CBC and has pledged to make federal funding to universities contingent on their commitment to free speech. He’ll pick his next populist move the same way he did with his convoy support: he’ll be opportunistic, then lean in hard. In the meantime, he’ll buttress his traditional fiscal-conservative bona fides by endlessly harping on the cost of living and pushing his promise to simplify Canada’s income tax system.

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Pandemic Politics Hold Up Gazillion-Dollar Defense Bill

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A soldier obeys orders to get a jab.
Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

One of the very few bipartisan traditions still standing in Congress is the annual passage of a defense authorization bill setting policy for the Pentagon and national security strategy generally. Despite all sorts of partisan tensions and efforts to take the bill hostage, this has happened for 61 straight years. Making that 62 straight years has been a priority for the lame-duck session of Congress currently under way. The House passed its version of the measure — authorizing $839 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 — in July, with robust majorities from both party caucuses. It was mostly noteworthy for adding to President Biden’s spending requests and knocking down a few of the administration’s specific defense-policy proposals, notably stopping the Defense Department from scrapping certain aircraft, ships, and missile programs.

For mostly scheduling reasons, the Senate has taken longer to negotiate its version of the bill and has decided to work out a final deal with the House and the administration that can be whipped quickly through the lame-duck session in both chambers and presented to the president for his signature. But at the last minute, a dispute that has little to do with defense policy threatens to throw sand into the gears of the process: a battle over revocation of the COVID-vaccine mandate for members of the armed forces that was imposed in August 2021.

It’s entirely unsurprising that Republicans, whose base is heavily larded with anti-vaxxers and who have sought to make any sort of COVID-related requirements a big civil-liberties issue, would want to scrap the military mandate. (Twenty-one Republican governors also recently sent Biden a letter calling for this policy change.) And it seems that Democrats (including within the White House) are grudgingly willing to give them this trophy. Indeed, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is already crowing about it, according to the Washington Post:

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed Sunday that he had worked out the arrangement directly with President Biden. Although White House officials later disputed that characterization, McCarthy described the compromise as his party’s “first victory” since the GOP won control of the House in the midterm elections.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith isn’t conceding it’s a done deal, but it sounds like the handwriting is on the wall, Politico reports:

“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Smith told POLITICO on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum. He noted that the mandate may not be logical anymore.

“I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it, a very strong supporter of the Covid restrictions put in place by DoD and others,” he added. “But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”

The bigger problem is that Republicans are mulling a demand that military members who refused to obey the vaccine mandate and were accordingly discharged be reinstated and even compensated. Smith says that’s a nonstarter:

While negotiators are willing to entertain the possibility of undoing the policy, Smith said GOP calls to reinstate or grant back pay to troops who refused the shot amounted to a red line. He called the push “a horrible idea.”

“The one thing that I was adamant about — so were others — is there’s going to be no reinstatement or back pay for the people who refused to obey the order to get the vaccine,” Smith said. “Orders are not optional in the military.”

It’s increasingly clear that the big question is whether Republicans will choose to deep-six the defense bill for the first time in 62 years in order to score a culture-war point about the alleged unreasonableness of a soon-to-be-past vaccine mandate. If they do, it will underscore how important resistance to COVID-prevention efforts is to the GOP’s messaging.

The dispute will also be an indicator as to whether McCarthy has even the most minimal interest in bipartisan governing once he obtains the Speaker’s gavel in January (assuming he isn’t pushed aside by his caucus’s extremists first). Back in November, he was already making noises about forcing a renegotiation of the defense bill so that it would not pass until the next Congress convenes, as Defense News reported:

“I’ve watched what the Democrats have done on many of these things, especially the NDAA — the woke-ism that they want to bring in there,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday after House Republican leadership elections, where the majority of his caucus nominated him to serve as speaker in the next Congress. “I actually believe the NDAA should hold up until the 1st of this year — and let’s get it right.”

That McCarthy is apparently willing to put national security policy on hold so that he can pursue the idiotic MAGA crusade against a “woke military” tells us a lot about the kind of conduct we can expect from him going forward. If he does hold the defense bill hostage, we’ll know that he may formally hold the Speaker’s gavel, but Marjorie Taylor Greene owns it.

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