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The pandemic was already polarizing — now vaccines have become partisan as well – CBC.ca

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It was inevitable that the federal government’s handling of COVID-19 vaccines would become political. Politics has shaped public perceptions of the pandemic’s severity since it began.

But now the vaccines themselves are becoming politically polarized, with divisions emerging between those who want them and those who don’t.

Since the spring, polls have shown consistently that one of the major factors associated with how Canadians view the pandemic is how they vote. Supporters of the Liberals and New Democrats have been more likely to report concerns about the public health risks of COVID-19, while Conservative voters have been more likely to eschew precautions and oppose restrictions.

Polling conducted by a number of firms in November — as cases across the country continued to rise — still showed signs of this split between left and right in Canada.

The latest survey by Léger for the Association of Canadian Studies suggests that only 12 per cent of Liberal voters want to ease pandemic restrictions as soon as possible — even if another wave is possible early in the new year — while 31 per cent of Conservative voters say they want governments to ease up.

The poll also found that 52 per cent of Conservative voters are very or somewhat afraid of contracting COVID-19, compared to 66 per cent of New Democratic voters and 74 per cent of Liberal supporters.

A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) found that between 87 and 89 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Liberals, NDP or Bloc Québécois in last year’s election report regularly wearing masks indoors; 71 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Conservatives reported doing the same.

And Liberal, NDP and Bloc voters were about twice as likely as Conservative supporters to list COVID-19 as one of their top three issues of concern.

When asked how governments should prioritize their responses to the pandemic, Conservatives were about twice as likely as Liberals to tell a recent survey for Abacus Data that there has been “too little emphasis on limiting the impact on jobs, income and the economy” — and more than three times as likely to say there has been “too much emphasis on limiting the health risk.”

We’ve seen proof of these political attitudes in how Canadians voted in October’s provincial elections in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The New Democrats (the main left-of-centre party in both provinces) did significantly better among voters who cast ballots by mail — and avoided crowds by doing so — than among those who voted in person. Right-of-centre parties in both provinces did much better in the in-person voting.

The polarization of immunization

Since attention has turned to vaccines, the Conservatives in Ottawa have focused their attacks on the federal government’s plan to acquire and distribute the vaccines in this country. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has claimed that Canada will be “near the back of the line,” though vaccines are expected to start arriving in early 2021.

But this week’s Léger poll suggests a minority of Canadians share O’Toole’s concern. While the poll suggests 37 per cent of Canadians are worried Canada might not get the vaccine at the same time as the United States and the United Kingdom — where the vaccines are produced — 48 per cent said they are “not that concerned” and feel “a few months won’t make much of a difference.”

A recent Léger poll suggests Conservative voters are more likely than other Canadians to be concerned about a delay in obtaining vaccines — and less likely to want to get vaccinated as soon as possible. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

It’s hard not to see partisanship behind some of this, as the Léger poll suggests Conservative voters are the ones most likely to be concerned about delays — and the ones least likely to say they would take the first vaccine made available to the public.

This is in part because many Canadians harbour doubts about potential COVID-19 vaccines.

A recent Ipsos/Global News poll suggested that 71 per cent of Canadians feel nervous about a vaccine being created and approved so quickly. A similar share of those surveyed said they are concerned about long-term side-effects.

On average, polls conducted by Abacus, ARI and Léger suggest only 34 per cent of Canadians would get immunized as soon as possible, while 41 per cent said they would wait a little before getting the needle. Between 11 and 15 per cent of those polled said they would not get vaccinated at all.

Conservatives more likely to wait or avoid vaccination

There is certainly a level of distrust among Conservative voters specific to the Trudeau government. According to Léger, about half of Conservative voters believe that the current federal government is withholding information about vaccines. Only 15 per cent of Liberal voters feel the same way.

This trust (or lack of it) could have an impact on Canadians’ willingness to get vaccinated. In the ARI, Abacus and Léger surveys, an average of just 27 per cent of Conservative voters said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible, compared to 43 per cent of Liberals and 39 per cent of New Democrats.

Canada has already pre-purchased millions of doses of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, but the government cannot guarantee when Canadians will get them. And some caution it could be months before this country can begin the distribution process. 1:58

An average of 84 per cent of Liberal voters and 79 per cent of New Democrats said they would get vaccinated either right away or eventually, compared to 69 per cent of Conservatives. The number who said they won’t get vaccinated averaged just five per cent of the sample among Liberal supporters and nine per cent among New Democrats, but rises to 19 per cent among Conservative voters.

The potential public health risk of this polarization could be mitigated if the federal government revealed a detailed plan for the acquisition and distribution of vaccines. Statements of support for such a plan from conservative premiers — some of whom have echoed O’Toole’s attacks recently — also could help to reduce this partisan split before vaccine doses start arriving.

Will that happen? The answer might depend on how much partisanship is running through Canadians’ veins right now.

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Erin O'Toole moves to shake off the Trumpian taint – CBC.ca

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Erin O’Toole’s decision to issue a 595-word statement on Sunday about his political beliefs suggests he’s at least a little worried about his public image.

And he might have good reasons to worry. But the question of what kind of conservative Erin O’Toole wants to be is still difficult to answer.

“If the Liberals want to label me as ‘far right,’ they are welcome to try,” O’Toole said in a statement sent to reporters Sunday morning. “Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States.”

The “extreme right” allegation was contained in a fundraising email the Liberal Party sent to its supporters last week. The message was part of a week-long effort by Liberals to link O’Toole’s party with the Trumpian style of politics. The Conservative Party had, for example, previously accused the Liberals of “rigging” the last election. O’Toole, the Liberals noted, campaigned for the party leadership on a pledge to “take back Canada.”

However much O’Toole might want to seem undaunted in the face of Liberal charges, he’s not in a position to assume these attacks will fail. Donald Trump’s politics have been shown to be even more poisonous than previously understood. Anything that sounds even remotely similar to Trump is in danger of being considered unacceptably toxic in Canadian public life.

Pitching for the ‘centre’

But O’Toole’s own image is also vulnerable. At the end of 2020, according to Abacus Data, 28 per cent of Canadians viewed O’Toole negatively, compared to 20 per cent who viewed him favourably. At the end of November, the Angus Reid Institute found a similar deficit: 36 per cent had a favourable opinion of the Conservative leader, 42 per cent had an unfavourable opinion.

Given the threat of a Trumpist stain and the weakness of O’Toole’s brand, some kind of response to the Liberals’ criticism was probably necessary. But simply not being Trump is a poor measure of anything and O’Toole’s weekend statement also points to a more interesting matter for the Conservative leader — defining his approach to conservatism.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates (left to right) Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis wait for the start of the French Leadership Debate in Toronto on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

In his defence, O’Toole touted a number of his beliefs and political positions on Sunday. He has said he wants the Conservative Party to welcome “all Canadians, regardless of race, religion, economic standing, education, or sexual orientation” and to “govern on behalf of all Canadians.”

He says he is pro-choice and believes the party must take inequality “seriously.” He has “lamented the decline of private sector union membership” and “raised the unfairness of the blood ban for gay men.” His first question in the House of Commons as Conservative leader was about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“The Conservatives are a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party — as old as Confederation — that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics,” O’Toole said, adding that he would “work tirelessly to restore public confidence in their political leaders and federal institutions.”

The political positions O’Toole described sound quite unlike those commonly associated with Donald Trump. In fact, many of those things might be more commonly associated with liberal or ‘progressive’ politicians.

‘True blue’ vs. ‘mushy middle’

But Sunday’s statement didn’t include O’Toole’s previously stated desire to “fight” to “defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left.” That was an idea that O’Toole put front and centre when he announced his candidacy for the Conservative leadership in January 2020.

In that campaign — which raised questions about O’Toole’s edgier new tone — O’Toole touted himself as the “true blue” Conservative option and suggested that Peter MacKay, the early frontrunner, would turn the Conservative party into “Liberal party lite.” The choice, O’Toole said, would be between running on principles and running toward the “mushy middle.”

During that leadership race, O’Toole was also one of only two members of the party’s Ontario caucus to vote against calling on fellow leadership candidate Derek Sloan to apologize for Sloan’s attack on Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer (Sloan was the other member).

On Monday, after it emerged that Sloan had received a donation from a white nationalist, O’Toole announced that he was moving to eject Sloan from caucus and would prohibit him from running as a Conservative in the next election.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Derek Sloan speaks during the English debate in Toronto on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

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Biden DNI pick says no room for politics in intel agencies – North Shore News

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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted.

“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would enter the job as director of national intelligence, or DNI, following a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president’s liking.

The committee’s lead Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury. While most of those nominees are unlikely to be confirmed by the time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place within days.

A former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who served in the Trump administration, introduced Haines with an emphasis on her commitment to de-politicizing the job. He called her an “exceptional choice” for the position.

Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.

In opening remarks, Mayorkas addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing that the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot is “horrifying” and the authorities still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led to the insurrection.

The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defence, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump’s impeachment and an extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist violence.

Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.

The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need not only a favourable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.

The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defence confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush’s nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the Senate several weeks later.

Also facing confirmation hearings were Biden confidant Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, and Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, another first for a woman.

In prepared remarks, Blinken said he is ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under the Trump administration.

Ahead of the Blinken hearing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he expects the committee to vote on the nomination on Monday.

Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in cyberspace. He’ll say that American global leadership still matters and without it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos — and neither is a palatable choice.

Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill “senseless and searing” and pledged to work with Congress.

Austin was testifying later Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.

Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served as defence secretary — most recently Mattis.

Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, retired from the military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year waiting period.

Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is “uniquely suited” for the job.

Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.

“Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil servants or other civilians,” she said. “This is hugely problematic at a time when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal.”

Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a rule. Even so, a favourable vote seems likely.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.

___

Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.

Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor And Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

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Spy Chief Nominee Haines Vows 'No Place for Politics' in Her Job – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence is pledging she’ll never let politics affect decision-making in the collection and use of intelligence.

“To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” Avril Haines, who would be the nation’s first woman to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies, said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. “To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever.”

Haines also intends to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that she wants to use intelligence to better support efforts to counter China’s “unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations,” according to excerpts from her prepared remarks for the 10 a.m. EST hearing.

Biden said when he chose Haines for the position in November that he expected her to help restore independence to intelligence agencies that were subjected to frequent attacks by President Donald Trump, who often portrayed them as part of a “deep state” bent on undermining his presidency.

Trump chose enthusiastic Republican supporters in Congress for key intelligence posts, including Michael Pompeo, his first CIA director, and John Ratcliffe, his final director of national intelligence.

Biden’s Top Cabinet Choices — Who May Not Be on the Job Day One

“To lead our intelligence community, I didn’t pick a politician or a political figure, I picked a professional,” Biden said.

Haines, 51, was the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director from 2013 to 2015 under President Barack Obama and was his deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.

Haines says in her prepared testimony that intelligence agencies should apply their capabilities to help end the global coronavirus pandemic “while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises — enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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