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Politics Briefing: Peter MacKay wades into Alberta politics, endorsing newly-elected MLA Brian Jean – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Former federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay is wading into Alberta politics, endorsing a newly elected member of the Alberta legislature intent on ousting Premier Jason Kenney.

“I count loyalty as a rare commodity in public life. Brian has demonstrated that to me over the years, and I will always return his loyalty,” Mr. MacKay said in an e-mailed response to Globe and Mail questions about Brian Jean.

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“Endorsing him in his return to politics is the least I can do. My support has everything to do with friendship and how I feel about Brian, his considerable qualities , his decency, and nothing else. Alberta is lucky to have him and I wish him well in every pursuit.”

On Wednesday, Mr. MacKay tweeted out his support for Mr. Jean, a former Conservative MP, who, this week, was elected MLA for the United Conservative Party in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. Mr. Jean’s win marks a return to provincial politics after he previously served as opposition leader in Alberta, and the last leader of the provincial Wildrose party. Mr. Kenney defeated Mr. Jean in 2018 to become UCP leader.

Mr. Jean has been challenging the leadership of Mr. Kenney, who faces a leadership review on April. 9.

Mr. MacKay retweeted a column about Mr. Jean’s win, adding the comment, “Congratulations to my friend Brian Jean on his impressive win in Fort Mac. Onward and upward in his return to politics in Alberta. Brian Jean’s byelection win sets the stage for showdown with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.”

Subsequently, in response to a twitter query he added, “Oh this equals an endorsement I assure you !”

In 2020, Mr. Kenney endorsed Erin O’Toole in the last Conservative leadership race. Mr. MacKay came second in that race. However, Mr. MacKay said the endorsement was linked entirely to his friendship with Mr. Jean and the personal qualities of the new MLA, who he has known for 20 years serving together as MPs in opposition and government. Mr. MacKay had cabinet stints in justice, foreign affairs and defence under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

“I have met loads of people inside and outside politics and Brian is one of the best, an extremely decent and honourable man who I am proud to call a friend.”

Alberta reporter Kelly Cryderman wrote here about how Mr. Jean’s by-election victory sets stage for a clash among Alberta’s United Conservatives.

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

3,368 UKRAINIANS HAVE ARRIVED IN CANADA – As millions of Ukrainian refugees flee the Russian invasion, flooding into neighbouring countries, Canada’s border agency says 3,368 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since the start of the war. Story here.

RT OFF THE AIR IN CANADA – Canada’s federal broadcast regulator has ruled that RT, a Kremlin-controlled network, can no longer legally be carried on Canadian television screens. Story here.

CANADA ENDS NECESSITY FOR COVID-19 TESTS FOR VACCINATED TRAVELLERS TO ENTER COUNTRY – Vaccinated travellers will no longer need to show a COVID-19 test to enter Canada beginning April 1, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos officially announced Thursday. Story here.

BUSINESS LEADERS RAP MICHIGAN ON LINE 5 – Business leaders from the United States and Canada are again wading into the fray over Line 5, accusing the state of Michigan of dragging its heels to ensure the controversial cross-border pipeline remains in a state of legal limbo even as both countries contend with a looming energy crisis. Story here.

ANAND TALKS DEFENCE BUDGET – Defence Minister Anita Anand says she will present a range of military spending options to cabinet ahead of the upcoming spring budget — some of which could result in a significant jump in Canada’s defence spending. Story here from CBC.

JOLY MILITARY COMMENTS CAUSE A STIR – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is selling Canada’s military short, according to former generals who expressed surprise at comments she made this week. Story here from The National Post.

GG WANTED INDIAN-ACT BRIEFING – Canada’s first Indigenous Governor-General, within months of being appointed to the role, requested government officials outline what departments were doing to allow First Nations to move away from the Indian Act. Story here.

HORGAN RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT OTTAWA FISH-FARM POLICY – Any federal government plans to move away from open-net pen salmon farms in British Columbia should come with transition help for the industry and workers, says Premier John Horgan. Story here.

SOCIAL MEDIA A CHALLENGE FOR PUBLIC SERVANTS – Social media is a part of life that is increasingly treacherous for Canada’s public servants, who may need better guidance to navigate their public and private lives online. Story here from Policy Options.

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE

MULRONEY ON LEADERSHIP RACE – Brian Mulroney says the choice for the federal Conservatives in their continuing leadership race is whether they want to elect a candidate who can win a convention or an election. “There’s a big, big difference in that regard,” the former prime minister said in a Zoom interview Wednesday with Dr. Adam Lajeunesse, assistant professor at the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. “If you want to be a Conservative leader, you’ve got to campaign with the broad middle class in mind. There are no victories on the extremes. You can’t win from the left wing and you can’t win from the far right wing. It’s just not doable.” Mr. Mulroney, prime minister from 1984 to 1993 as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, in particular praised three candidates om the race: Pierre Poilievre, Jean Charest and Patrick Brown. The video is here.

AITCHISON RUNNING FOR TORY LEADERSHIP – Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison, the former mayor of Huntsville, is running for the leadership of the federal Conservatives. His Twitter account bio has been amended to read, “Candidate for Conservative Party leader,” and there’s the tweet with a video here. An official launch is expected on Sunday.

CHAREST MILITARY POLICY – Jean Charest says a Conservative government he led would “move quickly” to ramp up Canadian defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP, and increase personnel to 100,000. Details here.

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS -The House of Commons is not sitting again until March 21.

CANADA AND U.S DEFENCE LEADERS MEET – Defence Minister Anita Anand is scheduled to meet with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Thursday while attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Extraordinary Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

THE DECIBEL

On Thursday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, David Shribman, a contributing columnist at The Globe and a Pulitzer Prize recipient for his coverage of U.S. politics, talks about the power of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech by video to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. Mr. Schribman talks about the power of Mr. Zelensky’s speech, how it compares to his address to Canadian Parliament on Tuesday and why, despite strong support for Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden most likely won’t ever deliver on President Zelensky’s requests. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

In the Greater Toronto area, the Prime Minister had private meetings and spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and then participated virtually in a panel discussion as part of the SHE Conference. The Prime Minister also visited a local Persian business to highlight Nowruz, and was scheduled, with Mental Health Minister Carolyn Bennett, to visit a supervised consumption site and meet with workers and volunteers. In the evening, the Prime Minister was scheduled to attend a Liberal fundraising event in Mississauga.

LEADERS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, in Scarborough, holds a press conference on the rising cost of living and mainstreets with Ontario NDP candidate Neethan Shan at the Majestic City shopping mall in Scarborough.

No schedule released for other leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on Canada needing to speed up the process for welcoming displaced Ukrainians: “When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that Canada would accept an unlimited number of displaced Ukrainians, Polish President Andrzej Duda thanked him, but added, “Please, Justin, try to introduce some very, very, very simple procedures … to move this process faster, to accelerate it.” But simple isn’t the Canadian way. Mr. Trudeau’s government is unwilling to waive Ukrainian visa requirements, citing security concerns. Instead, the new special measures will make it easier to apply for a modified visitor’s visa that will allow new arrivals to stay and work or study in Canada for up to two years, with further extensions possible. But biometric requirements remain; security checks remain.”

Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on how Jean Charest winning the federal Conservative leadership would mean the political end of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:At stake, too, could well be the future of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Many Liberals will tell you that if Mr. Charest wins, Mr. Trudeau won’t run again. Not against a fellow Quebecker who could dip deeply into his harvest of seats in la belle province. Not against a fellow moderate who would broaden Conservative appeal in the east and likely hold the lion’s share of his party’s seats in the west. Add in the country’s fatigue factor with a Trudeau who’s been in power for three terms, and Mr. Charest would be the odds-on favourite. But should convoy Conservative Mr. Poilievre win the prize, the chances of a Trudeau retirement shrink. The thought of the Tory finance critic taking over the country would be anathema to this Prime Minister, who would envisage his policy legacy being shredded.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on how Canada can’t save the world, but can fulfill its commitment to Afghan refugees: We are a fickle species by nature, which is why the time to act on resettling Afghan refugees was back before another occasion of mass human suffering would capture the world’s attention. Seven months ago, we were captivated and horrified by images of Afghan citizens desperately clinging to planes while trying to evacuate Kabul to escape Taliban rule. This week, we are captivated and horrified by images of pregnant Ukrainian women clinging to their bellies as they evacuate a maternity hospital bombed in Mariupol. But even if the world’s focus is now elsewhere, the suffering in Afghanistan endures.”

Petros Kusmu (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada’s political parties can get more Black candidates elected: “First, provincial parties should give Black and equity-seeking candidates a shot by enabling them to run in winnable ridings. So often is the case that talented and diverse candidates are slotted in unwinnable ridings – ridings that are a historical stronghold by a rival party or feature rival candidates with significantly higher public profiles. By electoral district associations (EDAs) actively identifying and inviting Black and equity-seeking candidates to run for a nomination, particularly in “safe” ridings, parties can remove some of the initial barriers these candidates face. The BC NDP’s equity policy, mandating EDAs to nominate female or male equity-seeking candidates once a male NDP MLA has retired, is an approach that has proved successful in producing a more diverse caucus relative to other parties in the BC legislature.”

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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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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