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Politics Briefing: Trudeau's office releases mandate letters sent to cabinet members – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

A month and a half after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named his cabinet, his office has, on Thursday afternoon, released to-do lists for his ministers in the form of mandate letters.

There’s a letter for each of the 38 ministers named to cabinet near the end of October, more than a month after the federal election that saw the Liberals win a minority government.

Each letter covers general priorities of the Liberal government such as the pandemic, climate change and reconciliation, dealing with societal inequities and maintaining “professional and respectful relationships with journalists.”

Then there are specific policy areas for each minister to work on.

For example, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is, among 21 priorities, mandated to develop and launch a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy to deepen diplomatic, economic and defence partnerships and international assistance in the region.

Defence Minister Anita Anand has a list of commitments to deal with issues of harassment, discrimination and violence in the armed forces through reforms that include modernizing the military justice system, and expanding services and resources available to survivors of sexual misconduct. .

And Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair is tasked with acting to help Canadians prepare for and recover from the impact of floods in high-risk areas – an order that comes after devastating floods and landslides in British Columbia.

Items linked to that order include creating a “low-cost” national flood insurance program to protect homeowners who are at high risk of flooding and do not have adequate insurance protection, and co-chairing the joint Committee of British Columbia and Government of Canada ministers on disaster response and climate resilience.

A statement released with the letters notes that “Mandate letters are not an exhaustive list of all files a minister will work on.”

Copies of the letters are available 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

OMICRON IN ONTARIO – New modelling from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table warns the province could see 10,000 cases a day or more in just days as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus takes over. But the experts say a “circuit breaker” of stricter public health restrictions announced immediately could help avoid the worst.

TRUDEAU ON QUEBEC BILL-21 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he strongly opposes Quebec’s law that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols at work, as the issue was heatedly debated across Ottawa on one of the final sitting days in the House of Commons before MPs break for the holidays. Story here.

MAYORS ON BILL- 21 – Meanwhile, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says she’d like Calgary to join a new city-led effort to help fund the legal challenge of Quebec’s Bill 21. Story here from The Calgary Herald. And Toronto Mayor John Tory is taking a stand against the legislation as well, declaring in a tweet that Toronto City Council has unanimously approved his motion to express its opposition to Quebec Bill 21 and to authorize a contribution of $100,000 to assist with legal expenses to challenge the law. “We cannot simply stand by as Torontonians and Canadians and see a law like this diminish the protection and respect accorded religious and other basic freedoms by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Mr. Tory tweeted.

OTTAWA REASSESSING TRAVEL BAN – The federal government is reassessing its travel ban on 10 African countries, as one of Canada’s top doctors said he couldn’t explain the rationale for the measure and another said it should be re-examined.

LIBERALS REOPEN BOOKS TO ADD SPENDING – The Liberal government reopened last year’s audited books in November to add nearly $10-billion in spending, a move that required a second sign-off by the Auditor-General for the first time under current public-sector accounting rules. Story here.

BLOOD SERVICES MOVE TO END DONATION BAN – Canadian Blood Services on Wednesday recommended an end to the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood in a submission to Health Canada. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, Dec. 16, accessible here.

ANAND IN ISOLATION – Defence Minister Anita Anand is self-isolating after one of her staff, on Wednesday, tested positive for COVID-19 after using a rapid antigen test. In a tweet, Ms. Anand said she had received two negative tests at the time of posting. She also said “out of an abundance of caution,” she postponed a trip to Washington and met virtually with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

MENDICINO TESTIMONY – Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was scheduled to testify Thursday before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. You can watch the hearing here.

NDP DRUG BILL – First reading has been completed on a private members bill by the NDP’s Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni) to decriminalize drug possession for personal use, provide criminal record expungement, ensure a low-barrier access to safe supply and expand access to harm reduction, treatment and recovery services. You can read C-216 here.

NO END TO PEI POTATO BAN THIS YEAR – Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says a resolution to the export ban that has stopped the flow of P.E.I potatoes to the U.S. is unlikely before the end of 2021. Four weeks ago, Canada banned all exports of fresh potatoes after fungal potato wart was found in two fields in the province, causing economic hardship in the island province. Asked on Thursday where things stand, Ms. Bibeau said, at a news conference, that “I think it would be ambitious to think it could be solved by the end of the year considering the date we are, but I can tell you it’s my top priority.” She added, “We will do everything to resume trade of fresh PEI potatoes to the U.S.”

THE DECIBEL – The Globe’s Asia correspondent James Griffiths talks on the Globe and Mail podcast about how Hong Kong’s normally boisterous election has been quieted by the new national security law, and why it’s still going ahead despite critics calling it a sham. The Decibel is available here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister speaks with Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Private meetings. The Deputy Prime Minister virtually attended Question Period, and was scheduled to appear virtually at the Senate Committee of the Whole to discuss Bill C-2, An Act to provide further support in response to COVID-19. You can watch the hearing here.

LEADERS

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet holds a news conference.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh participates virtually in Question Period.

No other schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on why a national booster-shot campaign needed to beat Omicron won’t, by itself, be enough: The evolving evidence is that this waning versus Omicron begins to kick in after three months. And the vast majority of Canadians got their second shot back in June or July – well over three months ago. These people need a top up. By our count, about 25 million doubled-dosed adults have not had a booster shot. They are less vulnerable to Omicron than the unvaccinated, but more vulnerable to infection and serious illness than if they’d recently had a third shot. That’s why Ontario, as of Monday, is opening up booster shot eligibility to everyone over the age of 18 (in most provinces, boosters are still largely reserved for seniors). Ontario is also halving the gap between second and third doses to just 12 weeks, and aiming to ramp up the daily number of boosters going into arms to at least 200,000. Other provinces should immediately follow suit. Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says that Canada has 16 million booster doses on hand and is buying millions more. There is no reason to delay.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the federal Liberals’ lack of concern about the economy is bound to catch up with them: “Polls have shown over the years that when the economy is the top concern among voters, Conservatives move ahead of the Liberals. But when other concerns push the economy down the list, the Liberals do better. “Concern about the economy could be the sleeper issue of 2022,” says pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research. “Canadians have seen a Trudeau Liberal government that has spent funds to help Canadians and Canadian enterprises get through the pandemic,” he told me by e-mail, “but there is less of a sense of how it would invest to create jobs and prosperity. Canadians today are more pessimistic about the future than at any time since we have started tracking this.” The day the economy matters more to voters than the pandemic is a day the Liberals should worry about.”

Jillian Horton (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how, in Manitoba, a lack of political will has allowed things to get as nutty as the Can-D-Man’s club: Manitoba is a province I can’t readily explain to people who have never been here. Our boasted attractions include a giant chair, a huge pipe and one massive psychedelic mushroom. But my favourite endearingly bizarre landmark is an image tattooed on the psychological heart of anyone who has ever called our capital city home. In Winnipeg’s old Exchange District, on an avenue named for the Pioneers, there is a building that was once home to a nut-and-candy factory. The wall is painted with a disconcerting portrait of a grinning man made of candy cane known as Can-D-Man, who appears to be the commander-in-chief of the Nutty Club. That Nutty Club mural is just a short walk from the wards of Winnipeg’s two largest hospitals, which have descended into a state of dysfunction never before seen in most of our lifetimes.”

Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney taking quick action against Omicron, but blurring his message again: The Premier’s office was working on a statement to MLAs firmly advising against foreign trips over Christmas and New Year’s. The details weren’t quite finalized Wednesday but said to be coming soon. “We are reviewing the federal travel restrictions and will be providing updated guidelines to government staff and caucus members shortly,” Kenney’s press secretary, Harrison Fleming, said in a statement. NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she’s already told her MLAs not to travel. Some were unwinding personal plans. The NDP politicians won’t go travelling, count on it. But Kenney’s caucus is an unruly beast. Some people in there would go to Vegas just to spite the premier. And yet, the COVID-19 decision-makers have learned hard lessons in the past year.”

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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Stewart Muir: How eco-advocates worked B.C. politics – Financial Post

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You can choose ancient trees or you can choose jobs, but only bad people opt for jobs — is the preferred mental construct of anti-forestry campaigners

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Last year noisy blockaders descended on Fairy Creek on the south coast of Vancouver Island to stop loggers they claimed were laying waste to irreplaceable old growth forests. What the public did not see behind all the fireworks was a carefully laid advocacy strategy to burrow into the heart of government decision-making and bring about policies, not based on sound science, that will hurt working British Columbians. Forestry accounts for a third of British Columbia’s exports – triple both the tourism sector and also tech and film combined — and benefits at least 130 First Nations.

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Thanks to freedom of information (FOI) requests, I have been able to piece together the story behind the story.

Responding to incidents such as Fairy Creek, B.C.’s NDP government commissioned a review. The first step was a report calling for a “paradigm shift” to protect old growth forests. Next came a deeper dive by an expert panel that resulted in some shocking news for the forest industry: timber access restrictions that could shutter as many as 20 sawmills and two pulp and paper mills, with up to 18,000 jobs being lost. Industry, First Nations and labour unions were furious. Last week, a financial markets analyst told an industry conference that British Columbia forestry is now seen as “uninvestable” due to the uncertainty.

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Hundreds of pages of documents released under FOI reveal that the supposedly impartial expert panel was, in fact, constituted to exclude nearly all viewpoints except those closely aligned to a single organization, the Sierra Club, which has a longstanding axe to grind with the forest industry. The “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel” was a joint project of environment minister George Heyman and forest minister Katrine Conroy. Correspondence reveals that it was mostly designed and managed by Heyman, who before becoming an MLA was executive director of Sierra Club BC.

Remarkably, four of the five appointees had strong, unmistakeable connections to the Sierra Club. A government official noted that the panel “does not include the full range of views that would be needed for decision making.” It was known that the panel would deliberately ignore “implications for industry; local community interest; First Nations interests and Indigenous knowledge.”

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When the panel’s makeup was announced, a senior forestry official warned: “At a minimum, to be most effective, this Panel should have been comprised of ministry and external experts, in an equal and balanced collaboration that would most effectively deploy the depth of knowledge possessed by the government’s own staff.” Such advice was not heeded, and the appointees insisted their professional opinions not be questioned. Where the panel did seek outside views, only pressure groups aligned with the Sierra Club were invited.

  1. A forest protector walks up to the trees near Port Renfrew, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

    Terence Corcoran: How greens are killing the B.C. forest sector

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It’s not difficult to imagine what the reaction would have been if members of this advisory group had previously volunteered their time to write a paper on the very same topic as the panel’s business, as three members of this panel had done, but for a forest industry association rather than the Sierra Club, and that association had then built an elaborate PR campaign around the work.

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The individual who emerged as the group’s chief liaison with government, Lisa Matthaus, was not a technical expert at all but rather a former Sierra Club campaigns director now in a senior political operative job with Organizing for Change, an offshoot of MakeWay, the new name of Tides Canada, a longtime advocacy group, which rebranded itself in 2020 after complaining its anti-everything goals had been misunderstood.

Given all this, it was hardly surprising when the panel came back with recommendations that threaten to gut an entire industry. But if the scientific case for radically reducing access to forestry lands was so strong, why rely on such a cooked process? Founding the heralded paradigm shift on fragile legitimacy only risks hardening existing social polarization.

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A zero-sum framing — you can choose ancient trees or you can choose jobs, but only bad people opt for jobs — is the preferred mental construct of anti-forestry campaigners. The enormous conservation strides B.C. has made since the 1990s “war in the woods” are ignored, confirming again that no amount of give and take is ever enough. It’s as if the culture wars raging in university humanities departments had shifted over to the science faculties, with ecologists who believe trees are altruistic beings who talk to each other clashing for supremacy over forestry scientists and professionals who must weigh many factors.

In the end, the insider moves of a narrow interest group snookered the provincial cabinet, MLAs, citizens, and the broader forestry community. Any hope for a balanced outcome now rests with Indigenous leaders, the only group with the political clout to go up against the environmental lobby.

Stewart Muir is a journalist and founder of Vancouver-based Resource Works Society. The full version of this article appears in the latest issue of The Forestry Chronicle, a publication of the Canadian Institute of Forestry.

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Opinion: Jason Kenney has become the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics – The Globe and Mail

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill on Dec. 10, 2019.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

In March of last year, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was pulled over in the province’s capital and issued a ticket for distracted driving in a school zone.

A couple of days later, he phoned Edmonton’s chief of police, Dale McFee, to discuss the $300 ticket, which he eventually paid.

The ticket, and the phone call, only recently came to light thanks to the CBC. Things moved quickly after that; Mr. Madu defended himself by saying he didn’t phone Mr. McFee to protest the ticket, but rather to discuss the issue of racial profiling. Mr. Madu is Black. He also wanted to be assured he wasn’t being “unlawfully surveilled,” which some police in the province have been accused of doing.

This week, Premier Jason Kenney expressed “profound disappointment” in Mr. Madu for making the phone call, and asked him to “step back from his ministerial duties” while an independent investigation into the matter is carried out.

Mr. Kenney should have fired Mr. Madu on the spot.

There is almost no circumstance in which Mr. Madu, who is also solicitor-general and responsible for law enforcement in Alberta, could be returned to his cabinet duties, such is the iron-clad rule in politics that elected officials (particularly cabinet ministers) don’t interfere in the administration of justice at any level. It’s an automatic termination offence.

Mr. McFee, for what it’s worth, has corroborated the justice minister’s version of events; that he wasn’t calling to get out of the ticket but to discuss carding, an issue he has championed. And while I may have some sympathy for Mr. Madu on this matter, you do not pick up the phone and call the chief of police to have a conversation about it after getting a ticket.

In a different scenario, maybe the police chief interprets the call as subtle pressure and gets the violation ripped up. The fact that didn’t happen in this case is irrelevant. Cabinet ministers can’t appear to be using their office to exert influence or put their finger on the scales of justice in any way. Especially if you are the justice minister.

So while some will say Mr. Madu’s intentions weren’t malicious or corrupt, it doesn’t matter. He violated a sacred tenet of government. He may have found other means, or avenues, to have this issue addressed that didn’t involve him picking up the phone and calling the city’s top cop.

There is, however, another disturbing aspect to this whole affair: The question of what Mr. Kenney knew, and when he knew it.

As mentioned, the incident and phone call happened 10 months ago. According to veteran Alberta columnist Don Braid, it was widely known among members of cabinet and discussed in “jocular” terms. It seems inconceivable that if members of cabinet knew about this, Mr. Kenney didn’t also.

The Premier should make clear when he found out about the matter; was it only when the CBC story made it public? If Mr. Madu discussed the issue with colleagues, would he not also have notified the Premier’s office of what happened? I would think that most justice ministers in this country would notify their bosses when they have a run-in with police, regardless of how insignificant it was.

At the very least, it’s inconceivable that Mr. Madu’s own chief of staff wouldn’t have been told about it and then passed it along to the Premier’s office. No head of government likes nasty surprises. That’s one of the core rules of being in government, and especially cabinet. If there is a potential for some damaging information to come to light, you alert the top person.

That is why I am highly skeptical that Mr. Kenney only found out about this recently. He’s renowned for his micromanaging tendencies and his insistence that he not be the victim of any unpleasant surprises. It’s virtually impossible to believe he wasn’t aware of this story long before now.

This is, of course, just another illustration of the shockingly poor judgment that members of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet – and the Premier himself – have demonstrated over the past couple of years. Mr. Kenney’s nearly three-year reign of error has been enveloped by melodrama and controversy. At various times his response to the pandemic was atrocious. His response to most internal problems has been to deny and delay until he’s boxed into a corner and is forced to do something. There have been calls for his resignation both inside and outside his party.

Mr. Kenney has become the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics. Like the British Prime Minister, he seems to have put a foot wrong at almost every turn, and come to be seen as a bumbling, incompetent leader. And his handling of this latest imbroglio will do nothing to diminish that image.

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Opinion | The Mental Health Toll of Trump-Era Politics – The New York Times

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In the last few years the hideous state of our politics has often kept me up at night, but until recently I thought I was an outlier. Even when I’ve written about political despair as a problem for Democrats, I assumed it was something that applied to activists and base voters, the sort of people who go through their days silently cursing Joe Manchin. But a striking new study from Kevin B. Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, suggests the universe of people who find our politics a torment might be much larger than I’d realized.

“Politics is a pervasive and largely unavoidable source of chronic stress that exacted significant health costs for large numbers of American adults between 2017 and 2020,” writes Smith in “Politics Is Making Us Sick: The Negative Impact of Political Engagement on Public Health During the Trump Administration.” “The 2020 election did little to alleviate those effects and quite likely exacerbated them.”

Around 40 percent of Americans, he found, “consistently identify politics as a significant source of stress in their lives.” Shockingly, about 5 percent have considered suicide in response to political developments. Smith told me he was skeptical of that figure when he first calculated it, and still isn’t wholly sure it isn’t a statistical fluke, but it’s remained fairly consistent in three surveys. (After publishing results from the first survey a few years ago, he said, he got a call from someone who worked at a suicide hotline who reported experiencing an uptick in calls after the 2016 election.)

I’m fascinated by Smith’s work for a couple of reasons. The first is partisan. People from both parties reported that political stress during the Trump years has damaged their health, but Democrats have, unsurprisingly, had it worse. While Donald Trump was in office, they were able to turn their rage and fear into fuel, but I’m not sure how sustainable this is. The more politics becomes a pageant of infuriating Democratic impotence in the face of relentless right-wing spite, the more I fear people will disengage as a means of self-protection.

But I’m also interested the role politics plays in the disastrous state of American mental health, which is one of the overarching stories in the country right now. For all our division, there’s a pretty broad consensus that the country is, psychologically, in an awful place. According to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll, almost nine in 10 registered voters believe there’s a mental health crisis in the United States. The crisis expresses itself in all sorts of ways: in rising rates of youth suicide, record overdoses, random acts of street violence, monthslong waiting lists for children’s therapists, mask meltdowns, QAnon.

I’ve long thought that widespread psychological distress — wildly intensified by the pandemic — contributes to the derangement of American politics. But maybe the causality works the other way, too, and the ugliness of American politics is taking a toll on the psyche of the citizenry.

Smith first surveyed a sample of around 800 people about politics and mental health in March 2017. As he wrote in a 2019 paper, he found fairly high levels of affliction: Besides the 40 percent who said they were stressed out about politics, a fifth or more reported “losing sleep, being fatigued, or suffering depression because of politics.” As many as a quarter of respondents reported self-destructive or compulsive behaviors, including “saying and writing things they later regret,” “making bad decisions” and “ignoring other priorities.”

At the time, he thought he might just be capturing the shock of Trump’s election. But his next two surveys, in October and November of 2020, showed similar or greater levels of misery. Now, those were also moments of febrile political activity; perhaps if Smith had surveyed people in 2018 or 2019, he’d have found less political angst. Nevertheless, his findings suggest that there are tens of millions of Americans who’ve felt themselves ground down by our political environment.

In some ways, this is surprising. Most people aren’t political junkies. The majority of American adults aren’t on Twitter, which tends to drive political news microcycles. Even in an election year, more people watched the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars” than the most successful prime-time shows on Fox News, the country’s most-watched cable news network. As the political scientists Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan wrote in The New York Times, most Americans — “upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all.”

Smith doesn’t dispute this. But he speculates that even those who aren’t intensely interested in politics are still affected by the ambient climate of hatred, chaos and dysfunction. “What I think is going on is that politics is unavoidable,” he said. “It is essentially a permanent part of the background noise of our lives.”

Of course, the last thing a political scientist — or, for that matter, a liberal columnist — would tell you is that you should totally tune that noise out. It is depressing to live in a dying empire whose sclerotic political institutions have largely ceased to function; this is a collective problem without individual solutions. There’s an awful dilemma here. Any way out of the gloom of our current political situation will almost certainly involve even more politics.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). A list of additional resources is available at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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