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Politics Briefing: O'Toole says Tories' vote on climate change won't stop him from taking action – The Globe and Mail

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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.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is dismissing the notion that a party vote on climate change will prevent him from advancing his own policy on the subject.

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Over the weekend, delegates at the Conservatives’ policy convention voted against a resolution that would have added the line “climate change is real” to the party’s official policy document.

But, in his first news conference since last week’s convention, Mr. O’Toole said the vote won’t stop him for taking action on the file.

“I am the leader and this is an important issue for me. We will develop a clear and serious policy on climate change in the next election,” he said.

“The debate is closed. We need to develop a [climate change] policy.”

The issue is key given the prospect of a federal election this year, and Mr. O’Toole’s assertion that the party needs to change, in such areas as environmental policy, to attract votes.

Since the weekend vote, other parties have used the climate-change contradiction between the leader and his party to rhetorically attack the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, Mr. O’Toole says the Conservatives are working on a climate change plan without a federal carbon tax, focused on dealing with large emitters.

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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

Canada’s ambassador to China has returned home for strategic consultations on how the federal government should deal with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy including trials of two imprisoned Canadians. Two senior Canadian officials said Dominic Barton, who is currently under post-travel quarantine in Toronto, was brought home from Beijing for important strategic meetings concerning “sensitive issues” with China; they declined to discuss further details.

China’s embassy in Ottawa says Canada has no authority to lecture it over abuses, as Beijing staged an irate response to sanctions imposed on leaders accused of co-ordinating policies that grossly violated human rights in the northwestern Xinjiang region. “Canada is in no position to act as a ‘teacher’ on human rights issues, or to tell China what to do!” the Chinese embassy said in response to the Canadian sanctions of senior officials in Xinjiang.

Globe and Mail Justice Reporter Sean Fine breaks down the features of Canadian justice not available to Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. Story is here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s fed up with “Quebec bashing” following controversial remarks from a University of Ottawa professor.

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Newfoundland’s prolonged election campaign is raising challenges for some candidates that could dissuade people from typically marginalized groups from running in the future.

OTTAWA ROUNDUP

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan is appearing before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, and the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, on the international response to COVID-19, and financing for development initiatives to address debt and liquidity issues many countries are facing. Accompanied by local MPs, he also virtually visits Ayoub’s Dried Fruits & Nuts in North Vancouver, B.C. and meets with representatives from New Dawn, a social enterprise in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Also attends Question Period.

LEADERS

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Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet holds a news conference concerning the port of Cap-aux-Meules.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a news conference to discuss the Conservative Opposition Day motion.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul participates in a virtual discussion on national standards in long-term care. Participants include Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner.

POLLING

Nik Nanos on what polls say about the Canada-China relationship : If Canada and China can fix ties, does the public want them to?

OPINION

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Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the Prime Minister and Defence Minister approving a raise amidst sexual misconduct allegations against military chiefs: There was no investigation. Mr. Sajjan should have noticed. He should have questioned whether the system for reporting allegations against a top officer was adequate. It wasn’t. It isn’t. For a moment, let’s set aside the specious argument that a minister can’t look at evidence of misconduct against an official under his purview without interfering in an investigation. There was no investigation. Mr. Sajjan should have noticed. He should have questioned whether the system for reporting allegations against a top officer was adequate. It wasn’t. It isn’t.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the challenges of the pandemic’s third wave: The third wave is upon us, and it may prove to be the most challenging one yet. Our actions – or inaction – in the coming days will determine whether this much-unwanted third wave is a ripple that we shrug off, or another brutal pounding of our crumbling psyches.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Kim Pate and Wanda Thomas Bernard (The Globe and Mail) on why Bill C-22 is inadequate for the task of addressing injustice in Canada’s justice system:We need legislation that is transformative, not performative. This government could, as has been widely recommended, reinvigorate the law reform commission to review and recommend meaningful change to our criminal legal system. Alternatively, the government could introduce legislation to repeal all mandatory minimums or to allow judges discretion to not impose MMPs and instead allow them to use the most appropriate penological response, whether diversion from the legal system, personal or community service work, house arrest (also known as conditional sentences), treatment or incarceration.”

Keith Baldrey (Global BC) on the federal Conservative Party’s “giant leap into the past”: “More than half of the party’s convention delegates voted against including these sentences in its platform: “We recognize that climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act.” While these are only two sentences, the rejection of what they say (that climate change is indeed “real”) further pushes the Conservatives out of the mainstream and further away from a growing number of voters in key urban and suburban centres. This is delightful music to the ears of Trudeau and his Liberals.”

READERS’ POLITICAL NEWSLETTER QUESTIONS

There are none to answer right now, but that can change. 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.

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Biden offers tax credits for COVID-19 vaccination and paid time off

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By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced tax credits for certain businesses that pay employees who take time off to get COVID-19 shots, a new effort to involve corporate America in his vaccination campaign.

“I’m calling on every employer, large and small, in every state to give employees the time off they need with pay to get vaccinated,” the Democratic president said.

The tax credits will apply to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, he said.

In a speech, Biden also said he expects the United States to reach his 100-day goal of getting 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in arms by the end of the day, even as the nation faces an increase in infections.

“Today we hit 200 million shots,” Biden said. “It’s an incredible achievement for the nation.”

Biden said the vaccine effort is entering a new phase with everyone over age 16 becoming eligible to be vaccinated. Biden said 80% of all seniors have received at least one shot, leading to a dramatic decline in the deaths of elderly Americans.

“If you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer,” Biden said.

Biden administration officials said the government plans to reimburse businesses for the cost of giving workers as many as 80 hours in paid time off to get their shots or recover from any side effects.

The tax credit is for up to $511 per day for each worker, through September. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees employ roughly half of U.S. private-sector workers. The tax credits were authorized under Democratic-backed COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden over Republican opposition.

The administration’s chief problem in its response to the pandemic is now shifting from securing enough vaccine supply to persuading enough Americans to seek out the available shots.

More than half of American adults have had at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A third of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 26% of the population overall.

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll of more than 568,000 leads the world. The coronavirus is still killing hundreds of Americans daily and many Americans have shown a reluctance to get vaccinated.

Countries around the world with less successful vaccination campaigns than the United States are dealing with a spike in infections.

Biden, who has loaned some unused vaccines to Canada and Mexico and donated funds to a multilateral vaccination effort for poor countries, said the White House is still looking at its options for eventually sending vaccines to Canada, Central America and elsewhere. Biden told reporters after his speech that he spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Wednesday.

“We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now, but I expect we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said.

“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

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The Liberal Government rolls out post-pandemic spending plan ahead of likely election

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By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on Monday lined up billions in new spending to provide emergency support during a virulent third wave of COVID-19 and to help launch an economic recovery ahead of an election expected later this year.

The budget, the Liberal government’s first in two years because of the pandemic, is aimed squarely at boosting near-term growth and includes a long-promised national daycare plan.

It also follows through on stimulus promised late last year, outlining a C$101.4 billion ($81 billion) “growth plan” over three years, with nearly half of that spending coming in the first year.

“We have to finish the fight against COVID – and that costs a lot of money,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding that hundreds of thousands of Canadians remain out of work because of the pandemic.

Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year to try to secure a majority in parliament. The Liberals currently need the support of at least one other party to pass legislation, including the budget.

Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the budget. But the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party said he was not prepared to bring down the government over it.

“It is clearly irresponsible to have an election or in any way to trigger an election while we are in the midst of this third wave,” Jagmeet Singh told reporters. “The impact on people would be devastating and we are not going to do that.”

Erin O’Toole, who heads the official opposition Conservatives, said: “This is an election budget and a poor one at that.” His party trailed the Liberals by 37% to 29% in an Abacus Data poll published last week.

Business groups were pleased with the added certainty of finally having a full budget, but remained unsold on the need for a massive stimulus plan with the economy already set to surge later this year as pent-up demand is unleashed.

“There’s a lot of spending in a lot of programs. But the effects of all of those combined together for me is just a bit unsure,” said Robert Asselin, senior vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada.

The deficit for the fiscal year that started on April 1 will be the second largest in recent decades, with the closely watched debt-to-GDP ratio hitting 51.2%, although Freeland promised a return to restraint as the economy gets back to normal.

“I think the key here is the debt-to-GDP (ratio) is expected to peak this year … and it’s expected to come down in the years ahead,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “I think that’s a credible plan if they can stick to it.”

THIRD COVID WAVE

Trudeau’s Liberal government has been buoyed in opinion polls by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a third wave of infections is pounding the country’s largest city, Toronto, and its suburbs – a key Ontario region for securing an electoral majority – and the coronavirus vaccine rollout has trailed other wealthy countries like the United States and Britain.

Of the nearly C$50 billion in new spending this year, C$27 billion is set aside to extend pandemic recovery measures like wage and rent subsidies for businesses and for a new program to help transition companies back to hiring.

The budget also aims to create a national childcare program and to make a more aggressive effort to reduce carbon emissions, both measures that polls show are important to Liberal voters.

While Freeland said historically low interest rates allowed significant investment, she also pledged to unwind deficits and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio over the medium term. A senior government official said, however, that a fiscal anchor should not be seen as a “straitjacket.”

The official also said that the government had run stress tests on the accumulating debt and was confident of its abilities to service that debt even as interest rates rise in the future.

“It’s hard for us to draw a conclusion that we’re out over our skis. We don’t believe we are. We think we’re in very solid terrain,” the official told reporters.

Surging growth should also increase revenues, with 5.8% growth forecast for this year, after a 5.4% contraction in 2020.

The deficit in the current year is projected to hit C$154.7 billion, less than half that of the previous fiscal year, with total national debt soaring to C$1.23 trillion this year, up from C$1.08 trillion in the previous year.

The Canadian dollar steadied at about 1.2530 to the greenback, or 79.81 U.S. cents, after the budget was released. Canada‘s 30-year yield extended its rise, up 7.5 basis points at 2.060%.

($1 = 1.2526 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Steve Scherer, Fergal Smith and Moira Warburton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Beijing huddles with friends, seeks to fracture U.S.-led ‘clique’

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By Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.

Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.

“China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”

After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.

COLD COMFORT

“China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.

Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.

A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.

China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours. Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.

Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.

After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.

BUILDING BLOCS

Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.

At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.

Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’

China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.

China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.

Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.

Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.

Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence”.

But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”

Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.

“China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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