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Politics Briefing: Vaccines make progress, but COVID spread worsens – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Only in this pandemic era would the results of a clinic trial be a major news story, but here we are: Moderna, a U.S. pharmaceutical firm, says its latest data show its proposed COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective.

In more good news, the proposed vaccine shows no ill side effects so far and can remain stable at normal refrigeration temperatures for a month – which will greatly help distribution, if the medicine is eventually approved by health regulators.

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It follows news from Pfizer that their vaccine candidate is also progressing through trials successfully.

Both companies are among the drugmakers that Canada has signed deals with to secure millions of doses of supply when the time comes.

Today’s announcement offers hope that we are moving one step closer to eventually finding a way out of the months-long public-health emergency we are in.

That said, the journey to widespread vaccine use will not be easy. Canada is in the middle of a rapidly worsening COVID situation, and new cases and hospitalizations continue to climb. Infectious-disease experts are urging governments to enact new lockdowns to push case counts down to zero.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. 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

Bob Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, said on the weekend that what the Chinese government has done to Uyghur people would fit the definition of genocide. A Chinese spokesperson, in turn, said no, it’s Canada that is committing genocide.

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The Liberal government says it plans to require broadcasters to include Indigenous programming, as part of the reforms being made to the Broadcasting Act. “One could argue that it is one of the main elements of the reform to correct this historical mistake,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told The Globe.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is asking the federal government to dramatically increase spending on a program that buys out struggling hotels and turns them into affordable housing.

The House of Commons finance committee may soon be able to get back to work, after the Liberals have agreed to end a weeks-long filibuster by providing more unredacted documents related to WE Charity.

Two independent expert reports say that solitary confinement has continued at Canadian prisons, despite a new government policy put in place last year to end the practice.

New documents shed light on how Canada helped rescue the White Helmet volunteer medics from Syria – but raise questions about why 10 people and their families have been left behind.

And former U.S. president Barack Obama has a new book coming out this week: A Promised Land, the first part of his two-part presidential memoirs. In a Q-and-A with The Atlantic, Mr. Obama describes what he sees as a democracy under threat by conspiracy theories spread by a fragmented media landscape and accelerated, though not began, by Donald Trump, whom he at one point refers to as a “carnival barker.” “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false,” he says, “then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work.”

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Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on attempts to make U.S. president-elect Joe Biden change his mind about Keystone XL: “Both the feds and Alberta government privately think saving the pipeline is a long shot. There are glimmers of hope: The project has significant union backing, and Mr. Biden is closely allied with labour. But the president-elect’s campaign promise was unequivocal. And many Democrats support it.”

Craig Alexander (The Globe and Mail) on planning for an economic recovery: “However, the current crisis also creates an opportunity to fundamentally rethink public policy as a catalyst for long-term prosperity. It is not adequately understood that Canada was not on the path to prosperity before the pandemic. An aging work force, low investment and poor productivity meant the sustainable pace of economic growth over the next decade would be only 1.7 per cent a year. As a result, the improvement in Canadians’ standard of living would be slow. But bold policy changes now can create stronger sustained growth.”

Erna Paris (The Globe and Mail) on when freedom has limits: “Like the French, many Americans hold rigid commitments to absolute free speech – and to freedom in general. But it is precisely this foundational ideology of libertarian freedom that is propelling what was the world’s most admired nation into tragedy.”

Jean Teillet (The Globe and Mail) on enduring calls to pardon Louis Riel, her great granduncle: “The Métis Nation has never sought state clemency for Riel because, in their view, Riel doesn’t need exoneration. Canada does. Canada would not be exonerating Riel. It would, like Trump’s pardon, be exonerating itself. Perhaps the better move would be for the Métis Nation, in the spirit of reconciliation, to convene a process to consider exonerating Canada.”

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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OPINION | The politics behind Jason Kenney's 'tepid' response to COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion from political scientists Duane Bratt, of Mount Royal University, and Lisa Young, of the University of Calgary.

Jason Kenney is a shrewd and experienced politician.

He has years of experience as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and was instrumental in helping Harper win a majority in 2011. Returning to Alberta politics, he successfully merged the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and won a resounding victory in the 2019 provincial election.

And yet, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, he and his government are floundering.

Alberta has the largest absolute number of COVID cases in Canada, despite having the fourth largest population. For 10 days in mid-November, Kenney did not appear in public despite rapidly increasing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Eight months into the pandemic, his cabinet had to meet for eight hours to devise responses that many dismissed as inadequate. And most recently, a public servant has taken the unusual move of leaking information to journalists to highlight the growing divide between the Kenney government and its chief medical officer of health. 

Opinion polling shows that the Kenney government is paying a price for its handling of the pandemic.

Even in the early days of COVID-19, it was noticeable that the Kenney government missed out on the “COVID bump” that most other political leaders enjoyed. This was despite the fact that, in many ways, the Alberta government had responded effectively to the first wave.

But unlike other provincial governments, Kenney and his cabinet were engaged in a very public fight with doctors at a time when the public was banging pots and pans in appreciation of front-line workers.

Not taking a lesson from this, the government engaged in a broader dispute with health-care workers through the fall, and its poll numbers continued to drop.

A slide in public support

Last week, Leger reported that only 37 per cent of Albertans believed that their provincial government was handling COVID-19 well; the lowest, by far, of any province. Then, ThinkHQ reported that 81 per cent of Albertans would support a province-wide mask mandate.

It is unlikely that the measures announced on Nov. 24 will reverse, or even halt, this slide in public support.

How did a skilled politician like Kenney end up in this situation? We offer a few hypotheses. 

First, Kenney is almost certainly concerned about an electoral split on the right. Public opinion on appropriate responses to COVID is split along partisan lines, with those further to the right more resistant to mandatory measures.

Common Ground Politics survey research conducted in Alberta in August found that UCP voters were more likely than others to think that the reopening was too slow. A national survey conducted by Vox Pop found that Conservative voters were less likely to wear masks.

WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta

Premier Jason Kenney outlined the new mandatory restrictions coming into effect, including a ban on all indoor social gatherings. 2:35

In his comments on Tuesday, the premier focused a great deal of attention on acknowledging the concerns of those on the right, who argue that restrictions are unconstitutional, for example. 

The Alberta separatist (or “Wexit”) movement has gained momentum since the 2019 federal election and Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

With his experience merging conservative parties at both the federal and provincial level, the premier is presumably concerned about vote splitting on the right. By appeasing conservatives, especially in rural Alberta, Kenney is consolidating his base.

With 41 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature outside of Edmonton and Calgary, consolidating that base makes electoral sense.

The restrictions that were announced on Tuesday, and the exemptions that were offered, lend support to this hypothesis.

Certainly, the decision to extend mask mandates only in Calgary and Edmonton (where they were already required through municipal bylaws) speaks to a desire to please conservative rural voters.

Similarly, the decision to permit in-person religious services to continue while junior high and high schools had to close speaks to a desire to keep voters in conservative-leaning faith communities onside. 

Response informed by ideology

Second, Kenney and many of his close advisors are strong partisans prone to demonizing their political opponents.

Although Alberta has elected conservative governments for decades, we have to go back to the Social Credit governments of the 1950s and 1960s to find a more ideologically conservative government than the current UCP. Although Ralph Klein’s government was driven by fiscal conservatism in its early years, its policies moderated in later years. 

The Kenney government’s strong ideological conservatism has informed its pandemic response, particularly since the end of the spring lockdown.

The government’s approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility rather than implementing restrictions.

Citing the economic cost of the lockdown, Kenney has repeatedly minimized the toll of the pandemic while emphasizing the negative consequences of restrictions on the economy broadly, and small business in particular.

This helps to explain why restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and gyms are permitted to remain open, although with some further restrictions.

While other conservative provincial governments — notably Ontario and Manitoba — are placing greater restrictions on retail, Alberta is not. 

WATCH | University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield says the province needs a transparent approach to pandemic policy

Tim Caulfield, an expert in health law at the University of Alberta, says the province needs  a co-ordinated and transparent approach when making policy around the coronavirus. 5:40

Third, having been elected on a mandate of “jobs, economy, pipelines,” the Kenney government remains focused on economic performance.

Its promise of balanced budgets are, of course, no longer feasible, but the government remains deeply concerned about the province’s balance sheet. This helps to explain the decision to push forward on cost savings in the public sector — including health-care — during the pandemic, as well as decisions that prioritize the economy. 

These three explanations — electoral considerations, ideology, and a focus on the economy — have resulted in a pandemic response that looks weak when compared to other provinces.

This is a moment that tests political leaders, requiring them to set aside political considerations in favour of the public good. Lives are at stake.

As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s tepid response will come under greater public scrutiny, and the political calculations that have informed it will appear increasingly out of touch.

If the Kenney government is unable to adjust to these new realities, it may pay a steep political price in 2023, as the electorate holds it accountable for both the economic and human cost of the pandemic.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

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'The Great Reset', politics and conspiracy – CBC.ca

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  • 8 hours ago
  • Radio
  • 23:59

Last week, after a video of one of his speeches went viral, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to address a growing controversy over “The Great Reset”.

The term means different things to different people. To the World Economic Forum it’s a vague goal to make the world more equal and address climate change in the wake of the pandemic. To Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre it’s evidence of a “power grab” by “global financial elites”.

And to others, it’s part of a baseless and wide-ranging conspiracy theory. CBC senior writer Aaron Wherry has been covering this story in Ottawa. Today he helps us sort the real economics and politics at play… from the conspiracy gaining traction.

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Leo Glavine, close political ally and friend of Premier McNeil, leaving politics – CBC.ca

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Leo Glavine and Stephen McNeil share a political border that spans almost 45 kilometres, but it’s not proximity that has cemented their political and personal friendship during the past 17 years — it’s mutual loyalty and respect.

So it was no surprise that both men talked in glowing terms about the other when addressing reporters Thursday after Glavine formally announced his decision to retire before the next election.

“I’ve had the good fortune to come into political life with Premier McNeil,” said Glavine, noting both men first took their seats at Province House in 2003. Each has been re-elected four times since.

McNeil, who announced his plans in August to retire, called Glavine a friend and described their political careers as “a great journey.”

“I admire you a great deal and I wish you nothing but great health and happiness and you head into the next part, the next chapter of your life,” McNeil said following a cabinet meeting.

Opposition to government

They sat near each other, first on the opposition side of the House, then on the government front benches starting in 2013 when McNeil became premier. Glavine was one of the first in the Liberal caucus to support McNeil’s leadership bid against three opponents. 

McNeil picked Glavine to be his first minister of health, a post Glavine held during the Liberal government’s entire first mandate. During that time, Glavine spearheaded the government’s tumultuous but ultimately successful drive to merge the province’s nine district health authorities into a single entity.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil waves after addressing supporters at his election night celebration in May 2017 in Bridgetown, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

At the same time, the McNeil government squared off against the province’s public sector unions, taking away the right to strike from health workers, then forcing a reduction in the number of bargaining units in the sector. Those actions led to many large and noisy demonstrations outside Province House. The governing Liberals also imposed around-the-clock sittings at the legislature to fast-track necessary bills to enact those changes.

Glavine remained steadfast in his support for McNeil and his reorganization plans. In return, McNeil kept Glavine in the job despite the minister’s inability, at times, to properly or succinctly articulate those plans.

‘Everything old is new again’

McNeil’s seemingly unending confidence in Glavine was demonstrated again last month when the premier reappointed him to replace Randy Delorey as health minister after Delorey resigned to run in the Liberal leadership race.

“Everything old is new again,” quipped Glavine as he approached reporters after a brief ceremony Oct. 13 at Government House.

Leo Glavine was named Nova Scotia’s minister of health, again, in October. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Asking Glavine to take over the portfolio in the midst of a pandemic may have been the ultimate display of confidence in his friend.

Glavine repaid the compliment in his farewell message Thursday.

“We’ve had an exceptional team in Public Health, the premier to guide our province through what may be one of the most challenging and difficult periods in the 21st century,” said Glavine, who characterized himself as “a very ordinary Nova Scotian” who came to Province House to “do the best work possible.”

What the future holds

The one-time public school teacher called his time in politics “a joy,” offering himself a rare bit of self-congratulation.

“While there were lots of challenges and stressful moments, I have not missed a day of work in my 17½ years in political office,” he said.

Glavine will stay on as the MLA for Kings West until the next election is called. He said he plans to go back to private life to “enjoy what the Valley has to offer” and spend more time with his grandchildren.

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