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Politics Briefing: New mayors of Alberta's largest cities expected to continue on paths of predecessors – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Two of Canada’s largest cities are getting new mayors, with Jyoti Gondek set to become mayor of Calgary and Amarjeet Sohi mayor of Edmonton.

“Congratulations on your historic wins!,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today in a tweet, noting he was looking forward to working with them and other winners in Alberta’s municipal elections.

The two incoming mayors were elected Monday. Ms. Gondek will be Calgary’s first female mayor and Mr. Sohi the first person of colour to hold the position in Edmonton. They are also both first-generation Canadians with Punjabi heritage.

Ms. Gondek, who has been a city councillor, and Mr. Sohi a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, replace high-profile predecessors Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson respectively.

Both Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Iveson were key national voices on urban issues during their runs as mayors.

Here’s Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller with a Reporter’s Comment on the path ahead:

“[Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi] are taking power at a time of significant uncertainty in Alberta. The province’s economy is still suffering from a years-long downturn in the oil sector, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been more severe and more deadly in Alberta (and neighbouring Saskatchewan) than the rest of the country in the third and fourth waves. In Calgary, the hollowing out of the city’s downtown skyscrapers presents a particularly acute challenge for Ms. Gondek, as she looks to fill those offices while dealing with the impact to the city’s finances.

“In some ways, the election will continue both cities on the paths set by the previous mayors.

“The incoming mayors have far more in common with Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Iveson than their closest competitors, which in both cities were conservative candidates with reputations for stoking conflict and whose focus was largely on keeping taxes low and tackling public safety. Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi ran campaigns focusing on economy recovery but also tackling climate change and social issues such as mental health and addictions. They talked about fostering an economic recovery built on fairness and inclusiveness; Mr. Sohi used his victory speech to pledge to fight against racism and discrimination.”

Alberta Reporter Kelly Cryderman conducted exit interviews with both Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Iveson, accessible here.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

FREELAND ADVISED TO END WAGE SUBSIDY – A Canadian economist who has served as a social policy adviser to the federal government says Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland should ignore the business lobby’s advice to the contrary and shut down the federal wage subsidy.

TRUDEAU PUBLICLY REPRIMANDED – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was publicly reprimanded by the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation after a ceremony in which he paid his first respects to missing children believed to be buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Story here.

HARPER TOUTS DEAL Former prime minister Stephen Harper says he remains proud to have negotiated a controversial $15-billion armoured vehicles deal with Saudi Arabia, as he prepares to attend an international investment conference in Riyadh as a guest of the desert kingdom.

CPC ELECTION REVIEW WILL CONSIDER PPC IMPACT – The former MP leading the review into the Conservatives’ election performance says it will examine how Tories lost votes to Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada.

SENATOR QUITS INDEPENDENT BLOC – Senator Marilou McPhedran has resigned from the largest bloc of independent senators, stating that she refused to participate in a closed-door hearing focused on whether she should be removed from the Independent Senators Group (ISG).

FORD UNDER FIRE – Ontario’s opposition leaders are criticizing Premier Doug Ford for a comment he made about immigrants. Meanwhile Mr. Ford says he stopped taking French lessons as a safety precaution during the pandemic but has promised to do everything he can to learn the language.

NO LAND-TITLE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, SAYS N.B. AG – Provincial employees in New Brunswick are being told to refrain from making First Nations land title acknowledgements. The province’s attorney general says the move was prompted by legal actions against the government involving Indigenous rights and land titles. From CBC. Story here.

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR LEADER OUT – NTV News is reporting that Alison Coffin is stepping down as the NDP leader in Newfoundland and Labrador. The move comes after a party vote for a leadership review.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings in Ottawa. Also, the Prime Minister speaks with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

LEADERS

No public itineraries were issued by the offices of the other leaders.

PUBLIC OPINION

In Maclean’s, Philippe J. Fournier writes that an early look at the Ontario provincial election looming next year shows dramatically different numbers from 2018, but the PCs still benefiting from a divided opposition. Story here.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Justin Trudeau’s future as his government marks its sixth birthday: All of which raises questions about Mr. Trudeau’s future. The improbable victory of 2015 would not have happened with anyone else at the helm, and in any event, after the Liberal debacle of 2011, almost no one wanted to lead. And Mr. Trudeau, who launched his career in politics not in a safe seat, but by running and winning in a Bloc Québécois riding, is still capable of being a formidable campaigner, as he – sometimes – demonstrated this year. It’s also hard to imagine another Liberal leader, an anglophone, winning 35 seats in Quebec.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how democracy is at stake as incidents and threats of violence are levelled against elected officials: “What’s happening? I agree with former Conservative minister James Moore, who points to the decline of mediating forces in society such as religious faith, local community groups and other social adhesives. In the absence of such supports, for many people, “their sense of identity, their sense of purpose, their sense of justice, their religiosity, their livelihood is getting dumped into politics,” he told me. “And politics can’t handle the weight of that.” The arrival of social media amplified that polarization, creating a new but false sense of community: Other people online who echo your beliefs and amplify your voice, while drowning out any voices of reason and compromise.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on how the Prairies are showing Canada what a COVID-19 disaster looks like: “The country’s two Prairie provinces have gone on to become consumed by an ugly public-health emergency. The provinces are responsible for the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 in the country, and it’s not even close. And there’s one major reason why: In their zeal to pander to noisy anti-lockdown folks in their provinces (and in their respective parties and parliamentary caucuses), the Premiers decided to ignore the many loud warnings about opening things up too quickly, and went all in. Not long after, the Delta variant arrived and found two provinces with tens of thousands of vulnerable people to infect.”

Parag Khanna (Contributed to the Globe and Mail) on why Canada is the best destination for those searching for the American dream: “Every March and April I get antsy e-mails and phone calls from friends in London, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore whose children have just been admitted to numerous fill-in-the-blank universities in America, Canada, Britain and elsewhere. After debating the merits of the schools and countries, they thank me and go back to fretting about their kids’ future. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a more frequent leaning toward sending their children to Canada. While American college graduates remain unsure what to do with their degrees, Canadian universities such as Waterloo have blended apprenticeships into their curricula as a requirement for graduation. This European-style vocational approach has proven very successful in adapting the work forces of Germany, Korea, and other advanced industrial economies to both global competition and technological automation.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RP

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

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China condemns U.S. diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

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China on Tuesday accused the United States of betraying Olympic principles and said Washington would “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing even as a top International Olympic Committee official voiced respect for the U.S. decision.

The White House announced on Monday that U.S. government officials will boycott the Winter Olympics over China’s human rights “atrocities,” though the action allows American athletes to travel to Beijing to compete.

Many key U.S. allies have hesitated follow the U.S. move, but on Wednesday, Australia said it would join the diplomatic boycott.

President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China denies all rights abuses.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing that his country opposes the U.S. diplomatic boycott and promised “resolute countermeasures” in response.

“The United States will pay a price for its mistaken acts,” he said, without giving details. “Let’s all wait and see.”

The IOC, the governing body of the worldwide Olympic movement, held executive board meetings on Tuesday at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of the Winter Games scheduled for Feb. 4-20 in Beijing.

“We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC’s coordination commission chief for the Beijing Olympics. “We have to be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”

The Winter Games are due to begin about six months after the conclusion of the Summer Games in Tokyo, which were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely proud, happy and hopeful that all athletes of the world will live in peace in 59 days,” Samaranch said, referring to the scheduled start of the Winter Games.

Members of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group living in Turkey welcomed the U.S. boycott.

Rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have called on the IOC to postpone the Games and relocate them unless China ends what the United States deems genocide against ethnic Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups.

The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Asked whether China would consider a diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games in the United States, Zhao said the U.S. boycott has “damaged the foundation and atmosphere” of sports exchange and cooperation on the Olympics, which he likened to “lifting a stone to crush one’s own foot.”

He called on the United States to keep politics out of sports, saying the boycott went against Olympic principles.

The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the U.S. Congress and rights groups, comes despite an effort to stabilize ties between the world’s two largest economies, with a video meeting last month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.

‘THE ONLY OPTION’

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday that unless other countries join the boycott it would undermine the message that China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable.

“Now I think the only option really that is available to us is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser said.

Announcing Australia’s plans to join the boycott, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Beijing had not responded to several issues raised by Australia including alleged human rights abuses.

“So it is not surprising therefore that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those Games,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Relations between Australia and China, its top trade partner, are at a low ebb over after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities, including coal, beef, barley and wine.

Canada’s foreign ministry said on Monday it continues to discuss the matter with partners and allies. Britain, the Netherlands and Japan said they were still considering their positions. New Zealand’s deputy prime minister said the country would not send government officials but that decision was based largely on COVID-19 concerns.

Chinese media and scholars criticised the U.S. action.

“It is foolish and silly of the United States to do this,” Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters, adding other major powers could do the same to the United States in 2028.

The diplomatic boycott puts corporate Olympic sponsors in “an awkward spot” but causes less concern than a full measure barring athletes, said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals.

The U.S. bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China applauded Biden’s decision and called on Olympic corporate sponsors to announce similar attendance boycotts, saying a diplomatic boycott alone was not enough.

“Business as usual is not acceptable given the atrocities being committed by the Chinese government,” said commission chair Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, and co-chair Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Yew Lun Tian, Trevor Hunnicutt, Karolos Grohmann, Michael Martina, Steve Keating and Renju Jose; Editing by William Maclean, Will Dunham, Rosalba O’Brien, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle)

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Biden warns Putin of sanctions, aid for Ukraine military if Russia invades

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President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward.

The two leaders held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes in a video call about U.S.-Russian relations, which have sunk to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War more than three decades ago, as Russia masses tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border.

Putin responded to the warning with a demand for reliable, legally binding guarantees against NATO expansion eastward and complained about NATO attempts to “develop” Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said.

No breakthroughs in the standoff were reported but both sides agreed to continue communications, a development that could lower global tensions.

The Kremlin has denied harboring any intention to attack Ukraine and has said a troop buildup on its southern border is defensive, but neighboring nations are sounding alarms.

Biden warned Putin he could face stiff economic sanctions, the disruption of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe, and that the United States and European allies would provide additional defensive capabilities to Ukraine.

The president “made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,” the White House said in a statement.

“Things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters after the call, referring to the reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

In case of an attack, the United States would be looking to respond positively if Baltic allies ask for additional U.S. “capabilities” or “deployments,” he said.

The United States could also target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, one official said.

In 2014, Washington focused mainly on defensive, non-lethal aid following Russia’s annexation of Crimea out of fear it would escalate the crisis.

Biden was “direct and straightforward” with Putin, Sullivan said. “There was a lot of give-and-take, there was no finger-wagging, but the president was crystal clear where the United States stands on all of these issues,” Sullivan said.

The Kremlin said Putin told Biden it was wrong to put all the responsibility on Russia’s shoulders for current tensions.

Moscow has voiced rising irritation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted toward the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what Russia calls creeping NATO expansion.

RUSSIA WANTS GUARANTEES

Putin complained about NATO attempts to “develop” Ukrainian territory, the Kremlin said.

“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.

Putin also called for guarantees that offensive strike systems would not be deployed in countries close to Russia, according to the Kremlin.

Russian TV footage showed Biden and Putin greeting each other in a friendly manner at the start of the virtual summit.

Both sides say they hope the two leaders can hold an in-person summit to discuss ties between the two nations, which have long-standing differences over Syria, U.S. economic sanctions and alleged Russian cyberattacks on U.S. companies.

A Ukraine official said after the talks that Kyiv was grateful to Biden for his “unwavering support”.

A U.S. congressional defense bill released after the talks included $300 million for Ukraine’s military.

For the Kremlin, the growing NATO embrace of neighbouring Ukraine – and what it sees as the nightmare possibility of alliance missiles in Ukraine targeted against Russia – is a “red line” it will not allow to be crossed.

Moscow has questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

WESTERN ALLIES ENGAGED

Leaders from Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Italy spoke on Monday and “agreed to stay in close touch on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders”, the White House said.

The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

U.S. officials have told members of Congress they have an understanding with Germany about shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior congressional aide said. [L1N2SS29U]

“If President Putin moves on Ukraine, our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The United States has evaluated the possibility of curbing investors’ ability to buy Russian debt on the secondary market, a measure that even if taken only by Washington was seen as having a severe impact on Russia’s government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Washington could target the Russian Direct Investment Fund as well.

CNN reported that sanctions could include disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world, an extreme step that would likely require coordination with allies.

German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s top bank, Sberbank, on Tuesday called that idea “nonsense” and “impossible to execute”.

The United States has urged both Ukraine and Russia to return to a set of largely unimplemented agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 that were designed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

 

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Trevor Hunnicutt and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Heather Timmons, Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)

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