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Texas could test one of Biden's core political bets – CNN

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(CNN)No state may benefit more than Texas from the social programs included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, an array of recent analyses show — despite the fierce opposition to the bill from the state’s Republican leadership. And over time that dynamic could make the state a crucial proving ground for one of the White House’s core political bets.

Because Texas has so many low-income families and because state policy has done so little to support them, studies show that the state will reap big benefits from the legislation’s key provisions strengthening the social safety net and investing in the education, health care and nutrition of low-income families, though most of them are temporary.
The numbers involved are enormous. One recent Urban Institute study showed that more than 1.5 million uninsured Texans could receive health care coverage under the bill, twice as many as in any other state. Another study, by the anti-poverty nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy, found that because Texas has so many low-income kids, it would receive more funding than any other state to expand child care programs — more than $11 billion over just the next three years.
Another provision in the bill expanding access to school nutrition programs for lower-income students through the summer could reach more than 3.6 million kids in Texas, nearly as many as California, even though the Golden State has about 20% more children. Still another analysis found that the bill’s changes in the child tax credit could lift a stunning 535,000 Texas children out of poverty, reducing the state’s elevated current rate of childhood poverty by more than 40%.
All these provisions, and others in the current bill, will “provide a system of support for families in Texas that is just unprecedented,” says Cynthia Osborne, director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in the University of Texas at Austin. “It is going to be a game changer in terms of reducing inequality and reducing disparities of opportunity.”
The gusher of federal assistance that the Build Back Better legislation would channel toward Texas — assuming the bill eventually clears the Senate and these provisions survive there — will test a central component of Biden’s political strategy: the belief that delivering material benefits to economically strained families will win back voters drawn to conservative Republican messages on cultural and racial issues.
Although Biden narrowed the GOP’s margin of victory in Texas in 2020 — and showed significant gains in the state’s largest metropolitan areas — he still faced cavernous deficits among working-class White voters across the state and suffered surprising erosion among working-class Hispanics, especially near the southern border, where immigration issues are most salient. The broad array of direct benefits the bill would provide, especially to Hispanic families facing elevated levels of poverty, may represent Democrats’ best chance to reverse those trends — if not in the 2022 elections, which may come too soon for these programs to be fully felt, then at least by 2024.
Republicans in Texas, as elsewhere, are mobilizing to disparage the bill as accelerating inflation, raising taxes, discouraging work and rewarding undocumented immigrants. But, notwithstanding those arguments, if a panoramic array of new government benefits that will directly touch millions of families cannot restore Democrats’ ability to compete electorally in Texas, it’s not clear what would.
“When the Senate passes this and the President signs it we will have delivered real benefits to people in their lives, and not for the wealthiest people in this country but for the people that go to work every day, some of whom struggle every day,” Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas told me. “But it’s incumbent on Democrats to go and talk to folks in their communities. People will see the effects over the course of a year or two years and so forth, but you’ve also got to get out there and talk to people about it.”

Bill would strengthen Texas’ social safety net

The Build Back Better legislation could affect Texas so powerfully largely because the state’s long-running economic boom, which has produced dynamic job growth, hasn’t erased the persistence of widespread poverty and economic inequality. In census figures, Texas’ poverty rate (at 14%) was one-third higher than the national average and the poverty rate for children was even higher, at almost 1 in 5. Almost 5 million Texans — about one-fifth of the state’s population below age 65 — lack health insurance, by far the largest number of uninsured in any state. Studies have shown that slightly more than 1 in 5 children in Texas do not regularly get enough to eat, “one of the worst rates of childhood food insecurity in the country,” says Marisa Bono, CEO of Every Texan, a group that advocates for low-income families. Overall, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in its annual Kids Count ranking, places Texas 46th among the states in overall child welfare.
Across each of these measures, the problems are more acute for African American and Latino families. More than one-quarter of Texas Latinos, for instance, lack health insurance and nearly one-fourth of Latino children (as well as one-fifth of Black children) live in poverty, according to studies by the non-partisan Urban Institute. (Though the large number of undocumented immigrants contributes to these trends, the Urban Institute has found that two-thirds of the state’s uninsured, for instance, are US citizens.)
In many of the preponderantly Latino counties through the Rio Grande Valley, where Trump scored his unexpectedly large gains in 2020 — a list that includes Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata and Cameron — one-third of the population is uninsured and one-fourth to one-third live below the poverty line. In Hidalgo, “we have some that are poor, some that are real poor and some that are real, real, real poor,” says Richard Cortez, the county judge there (the equivalent of a county supervisor). “I’ve seen homes with no electricity or running water. That’s the real, real, real poor.” Even in the booming metropolitan counties centered on Houston and Dallas, one-quarter of non-elderly people are uninsured.
With its low-tax, low-service model for promoting economic growth, Texas’ state policy has largely accepted these disparities. Osborne’s center at the University of Texas has identified five state policies that are most critical in improving outcomes for children and families, including setting a minimum wage higher than the federal floor, creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families and expanding eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act; Texas is one of seven states that has adopted none of those policies, she says. The federal legislation “is one of the few chances Texans are going to get to have this sort of system of support, because it’s not likely to come from the state,” Osborne says.
Against that backdrop, the federal legislation could transform the extent of the social safety net in Texas across many fronts. Among them:
Health care — Texas is the largest of the 12 states that have refused to expand eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA; today, eligibility is limited to families earning about one-sixth of the federal poverty rate, which Osborne says is the lowest threshold in the nation. The Democrats’ Build Back Better plan would provide generous ACA health care subsidies for no-cost coverage to those eligible for the Medicaid expansion in the states that refused to participate. That change alone could provide coverage to about 1 million uninsured Texans, according to estimates; additional subsidies in the bill to help somewhat higher-income families buy private coverage on the ACA exchanges would raise the total number of Texans gaining insurance under the legislation to 1.55 million, the Urban Institute has projected. That would be about double the number in the next closest state and would reduce Texas’ uninsured rate by nearly one-third.
Childhood poverty — One of the bill’s most significant changes is to increase the value of the child tax credit — and, as important, make it fully available to families with little, or even no, income. Fully 6.7 million children in Texas, just over half of them Latino, would receive at least some benefit from the expanded credit, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has calculated; both the center and the Urban Institute project that the credit would lift about 500,000 kids there above the poverty line.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this legislation in reducing child poverty,” says Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center. “It’s a very direct benefit, and unlike some of the other policies in the legislation that require the state to act for their population to benefit, this is a federal program, so it doesn’t matter who the governor of your state is, you are going to get the benefit.”
Child care and early childhood education — Because Texas has so many low-income families, the Center for Law and Social Policy recently projected that it will receive even more from the bill’s new child care funding over the next three years than more populous California. With subsidies for child care costs extending well into the middle class, the bill would underwrite care for about 2 million Texas children, Every Texan estimates. The state could be a big winner as well from the bill’s provisions creating universal access to prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds; though the state has made progress on that front, more than two-fifths of eligible children there remain unenrolled, slightly worse than the national average, according to the latest federal figures.
One key to the potential impact: Even if the state refuses to participate in the new universal pre-K program (which most expect), the bill allows cities and counties to join on their own. Democrat Rodney Ellis, a commissioner in Harris County, centered on Houston, says that even if the state rejects the money, the county will likely vote to participate. Amid persistent poverty and inequality, he says, the bill offers “a once-in-a-generation opportunity … to change the trajectory of communities that have disproportionately been left out of significant investments.”
Diabetes — The share of Texans with diabetes has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and now significantly exceeds the national average; the numbers are even higher for Blacks and especially Latinos (about 1 in 7 of whom there suffer from the disease). That will make the state one of the big winners from the bill’s provision placing a $35 monthly limit on out-of-pocket expenses for insulin.
“In my district one of the biggest problems we have is the ability of people to afford their medicines, and insulin in particular,” says Castro. “People are struggling with that every day in San Antonio, so this will be a godsend for them.”
Nutrition — Although it has received very little notice, the bill significantly expands nutritional assistance to low-income children who receive free or reduced-priced meals at schools by extending aid through the summer. Again because of the state’s concentration of low-income families, the expanded summer eligibility in the bill is expected to benefit more than 3.6 million Texas kids.
Other benefits — Although precise figures aren’t available, local experts believe Texas may have a disproportionate number of multigenerational households, particularly in low-income communities, which means the state could benefit disproportionately from the bill’s big increase in funding for home health care and elder care services. At the other end of the generational ladder, nearly half of the state’s low-income women of child-bearing age are uninsured, Osborne says, which has contributed to Texas’ elevated rates of infant and maternal mortality. They will benefit from another bill provision requiring states to provide one year of health insurance for new mothers and children. “This stands to have a huge impact on the well-being of infants and moms,” Osborne says.
This broad array of policies looking to bolster low-income and working-class Texans could have a synergistic effect by channeling substantially more money into depressed communities, says Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents a district in El Paso where nearly one-quarter lack health insurance and almost one-fifth are poor. “This is going to be transformative not just for families and individuals … but for communities,” she said in an interview. “In a community like El Paso that has been economically disadvantaged, when its families have more money in their pockets at the end of the day … what do they do with it? They buy their kids clothes. They take their family to restaurants or a movie. They are able to get into a home they have been dreaming about. These are the things that fuel economic growth and prosperity not just for families and individuals but for communities.”
One final provision in the legislation could multiply all of these impacts on Texas. The House bill provided a kind of legal status for almost 7 million undocumented immigrants in the US, which would allow them to obtain driver’s licenses and to access many of the benefits listed above, particularly the Medicaid expansion. If that legalization provision survives the Senate — which is highly uncertain — it would create protections for 1.2 million undocumented immigrants in Texas, one recent study concluded.

But can Democrats sell it in the state?

The political question is whether this towering wave of new federal assistance will change the equation in a state Republicans have dominated since George W. Bush’s first election as governor in 1994. The 2020 election presented a mixed picture for Democrats. Even as Biden, powered by gains in the largest cities, reduced the GOP’s margin of victory (to 6 points, from 9 in 2016), Democrats failed to make down-ballot gains in congressional or state legislative races, a bitter disappointment after their advances on both fronts in suburban districts during the 2018 midterm elections.
Since then, Biden’s approval rating in Texas has sagged to just 35% in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune survey. That’s partly, polls show, because of a broad sense in the state that he has mismanaged the volatile issue of undocumented immigration at the southern border. Given Biden’s decline, most local analysts consider Republican Gov. Greg Abbott a favorite for reelection next year, though his own approval ratings are weak and he faces a dynamic potential Democratic opponent in former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Texas Republicans are brimming with confidence: With Biden’s position in Texas so tenuous, “I think the circumstances are presenting themselves for a significant wave election in 2022” for the GOP, says Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican strategist.
Biden has frustrated some Texas Democrats by failing to develop any sustained strategy for improving his position in the state (though his administration has pursued legal challenges to the state over voting, redistricting and its new restrictions on abortion). But the financial assistance the Build Back Better plan would shower on Texas, while unlikely to transform the state’s politics on its own, could provide Democrats their best chance in years to reset their image in the state.
“If you increase people’s economic security in non-college communities of color, we can increase turnout,” says James Aldrete, a longtime Democratic consultant in the state.
Even assuming Democrats finally steer the bill past the resistance of Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, in the Senate, the party will face many obstacles transmuting it into political gains in Texas. Under the best scenarios, most of its provisions are unlikely to be felt in time to significantly change the dynamics for 2022, analysts in both parties agree. And as Cortez, the Hidalgo official, notes, spending this much new money effectively and efficiently won’t be easy — a problem, others observe, that will be magnified by likely resistance from the GOP-controlled state government to many of the new programs.
An even greater problem may be whether Texas Democrats have the campaign organization and infrastructure to publicize and claim credit for the new provisions — or to rebut Republican arguments against the new spending.
“Those kind of benefits, they exist objectively as numbers but you have to work to turn them into political capital,” says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “And I’m not sure, either nationally or at the state level, there is any evidence the Democrats are prepared to do that.”
While the bill’s benefits for Latino families could be “extraordinary,” adds Lydia Camarillo, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, “Democrats can’t assume … it is going to trickle down and turn out voters” without a more effective communications campaign than the party has usually proved capable of in Texas.
Moreover, Henson notes, the GOP’s financial dominance and control of state government provide it with enormous leverage to politically tarnish the new programs or shift the campaign dialogue toward other issues. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently offered Democrats a preview of those possibilities when he delivered a lengthy floor speech denouncing the legislation as “a reckless tax and spending spree that will benefit the wealthiest of Americans at the cost of working families,” in part by fueling inflation and threatening domestic energy production. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation has likewise charged that the bill would benefit undocumented immigrants, discourage work, kill jobs and raise taxes.
Mackowiak sees similar potential vulnerabilities in the bill and points to the preponderantly Hispanic South Texas counties as a critical proving ground for Biden’s belief that kitchen-table benefits can reverse the movement among working-class voters toward the GOP on other issues, particularly immigration and border security. “That’s a great test,” he says. “Where does Starr County and Cameron County go? If BBB passes and it has those things in the final bill … how does that balance out? I generally think economic issues always win out, but these border issues are public safety, public health. It appears down there that the Biden administration is out of touch or making the problem far, far worse than it need be.”
The legislation Texas Republicans have passed making it tougher to vote and the GOP’s aggressive partisan gerrymanders in the state’s recently approved congressional and state legislative maps only add to the hurdles Democrats face in the state.
Even with these obstacles, if the bill passes, by 2024 millions of Texans will be directly benefiting from its provisions. Many more families will have health insurance, fewer will be poor and more will have access to early childhood education and affordable child care, as well as help caring for elderly parents and other benefits. For years, Texas Democrats have beseeched the party to spend millions of dollars on campaign television ads to make the case for the party’s priorities; the Build Back Better bill would trumpet those priorities with billions of dollars in tangible assistance to families across the state.
“It’s a generational investment and benefit to these communities, and it’s in contrast to what was done with the 2017 tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations by the Trump administration,” says Castro. “If we can’t go out there and sell this, then we have bigger problems than I thought.”

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Politics Briefing: Fate of 24 Sussex subject to consultations between PM, National Capital Commission – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says conversations are continuing with the National Capital Commission about the fate of 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the prime minister.

The commission, a federal Crown corporation whose responsibilities include managing official residences, has raised concerns about the state of the property initially built in 1868, and refurbished as an official residence for the prime minister in 1950. There is a history of the residence here.

“We are in consultations. We are assessing our options. And when we will arrive at a decision, we will share it with you,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference on Friday.

Mr. Trudeau said the government is engaging with the capital commission and other experts to ensure there is a safe and stable environment for “prime ministers current and future” as well as the interests of Canadians.

Mr. Trudeau and his family have been living in Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall instead of 24 Sussex Drive since he led the Liberals to power in 2015.

“We know that 24 Sussex has been neglected by many generations of politicians and prime ministers over the years,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“Unfortunately, it is in a terrible condition.”

The Prime Minister said the property is an important, historic building but there are concerns about safety.

Asked if he would take a decision during this mandate, and whether he was concerned about criticism of renovating the prime minister’s residence and how much it might cost, Mr. Trudeau said he has no intention in living in 24 Sussex Drive regardless of how long he is Prime Minister.

This week, the CEO of the capital commission said, according to The Ottawa Citizen, that he has been stressing the need for repairs at Canada’s official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive, with federal officials.

The residence was listed as being in “critical” condition in a commission report last year, and requiring $36.6-million in work. The Citizen story is 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 sign-up page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

CANADIAN LOAN FOR UKRAINE – Canada will lend Ukraine up to $120-million as Kyiv readies for possible war with Russia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday. Story here.

TRUDEAU VOWS ACTION ON PEOPLE SMUGGLING – Canada is doing all it can stop people smuggling across the U.S. border after a family of four froze to death in a “mind-blowing’ tragedy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday. Story here.

CHAMPAGNE TO EXPLAIN MINE ACQUISITION – François-Philippe Champagne, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, will go before a federal committee as early as next week and answer questions about why Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is allowing the acquisition of Canadian lithium firm Neo Lithium Corp. by a state-owned Chinese mining company without conducting a formal security review.

EXPLANATION FOR CONFUSED STATEMENT – Turmoil and confusion over whether truckers would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate last week stemmed from bureaucrats misinterpreting policy in more than one federal agency – including the one that co-ordinates Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Story here.

HAITI MEETING ON FRIDAY – The U.S. State Department says it is looking forward to a productive meeting today when Central American leaders gather online with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to talk about the future of Haiti. Story here. Meanwhile, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti is calling for a politically “inclusive accord” to address a deepening constitutional crisis following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Story here.

SASKATCHEWAN TO REDEPLOY GOVERNMENT WORKERS – The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is looking at redeploying government employees from other departments to help the health-care system. Story here.

FUNDING FOR FIRST NATIONS OMICRON RESPONSE – Indigenous Services Canada says it will provide $125-million in public-health funding for First Nations to bolster their responses to the Omicron variant. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

CANADA’S FINANCE MINISTERS TALK – Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also the Finance Minister, is hosting a virtual meeting on Friday with provincial and territorial finance ministers.

THE DECIBEL – . In Friday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Future of Work reporter Vanmala Subramaniam tells us why the trend of hot-desking is gaining traction now. This is the idea that there are no assigned seats in an office. Instead, an employee books their spot through an app before coming in. Ms. Subramaniam also talks about what workers told her about their experience with hot-desking and how hot-desking will transform post-pandemic office life. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister made a virtual announcement along with Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen, and then held a media availability. The Prime Minister delivered remarks at the opening of a foreign ministers’ meeting on Haiti, hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. And he participated in a virtual celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black MP.

LEADERS

No schedules provided for party leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the new-era Senate won’t face its real test until we get our next Conservative government: “The real test of the Senate will come when there’s a change in government, when it’s not necessarily a government with whom the appointees agree, ” said Kathy Brock, a political scientist at Queen’s University who has long taken an interest in the Senate. Until we learn how the Red Chamber performs under those conditions, we won’t really know whether it works at all. In 2014, in the midst of the Senate expenses scandal, Mr. Trudeau expelled all Liberal senators from caucus. After he became Prime Minister, he appointed only independent senators, albeit ones who mostly shared a progressive outlook.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as the Boris Johnson of Canadian politics: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.”

Elizabeth Renzetti (The Globe and Mail) on why real men take paternity leave: “You may have seen a recent picture of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a classic new-parent pose, holding his infant daughter while also trying to sneak a peek at his laptop. Unfortunately, this nice moment of paternal devotion has been upstaged by a rocking chair. The $1,895 rocking chair was a gift to Mr. Singh’s wife, and he landed in hot water when he tagged the chair-maker in an Instagram post. He’s now said the couple is repaying the cost of the chair, and the NDP is working with the ethics commissioner on a disclosure. The photo has caused quite a flap. If you travel down the devil’s highway that is Twitter, you’ll see a certain amount of fury directed at Mr. Singh and his fancy rocker. I understand the anger: It was a dumb and possibly unethical move. But really I’m just sad, because this was an opportunity for a progressive politician to take a stand on something that is hugely important, which is the need for new dads to loudly and proudly take advantage of paid parental leave.”

Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail) on how a fire has killed Indigenous children again – because poverty burns through the generations: “Let this sobering truth sink in: First Nations children under the age of 10 are 86 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous children, according to the Ontario Chief Coroner’s Table on Understanding Fire Deaths in First Nations, which released a damning report last year after studying 56 fire deaths in 29 fires across 20 First Nations over the course of 10 years. How many times must we read about government reports, parliamentary committee hearings or new programs that are needed to fund basic fire safety and infrastructure in First Nations communities? How many times must the Assembly of First Nations and territorial political organizations yell from the rooftops about the need to adequately fund fire safety?”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on how taming inflation will be much trickier than stimulating the economy: “If you’ve been in the market for a new refrigerator in recent weeks, you’re likely still suffering from sticker shock. Fridge prices were up almost 14 per cent in December, as Canada’s overall inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8 per cent. Everything is suddenly costing more, from that fridge and the groceries you put in it (up 5.7 per cent) to a new car (7.2 per cent more) and the gas (33 per cent) it likely runs on. From home insurance (9.3 per cent) to shelter costs (5.4 per cent), Canadians are forking out more and more of their income just to cover the basics. Some very smart folks insist this nasty spike in prices is a nice problem to have.”

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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    Opinion: Stakeholder capitalism and ESG’s road to socialism

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    William Watson: The new, new, new interventionism

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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