Just weeks ago, Europe was the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now some of its hardest hit countries are cautiously reopening their economies after nearly two months of lockdown. Beginning this week, Italy is allowing some factories and construction sites to start up again, while Spain is allowing hairdressers and other small businesses to reopen, and Germany is starting to send kids back to school. France is also planning to ease its own lockdown this week.
Political leaders in these countries have faced the acute first phase of the outbreak. But now they’ll grapple with the economic and social shocks it has left behind, while trying to avoid a large-scale second wave of infection. Here’s a look at the political context each government faces.
Italy: Salvini waits in the wings
Authorities in Europe’s hardest-hit country won praise for their handling of the first phase of the crisis. But since then, bottlenecks in economic assistance for companies and workers, and sloppy messaging about the reopening plan, have dented their support. That’s great news for populist opposition leader Matteo Salvini, whose popular Lega party has been out of government since his botched bid to force early elections last year. An economic crisis, a fresh rise in migrant arrivals from Libya, and uneven support from Brussels will all provide fertile ground for his anti-immigrant and euroskeptic messages. Fresh elections aren’t likely until next year, but count on Salvini to make the most of that time.
Spain: Squabbles over spending
Tensions between Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s center-left Socialist Party and his far-left coalition partners in Podemos may well deepen as debates rage over how to maximize support for a devastated economy without racking up debts that make it harder for Madrid to raise money abroad. Another headache: Catalan separatist leaders have seized on the pandemic to reignite the argument that their wealthy, industrialized region would be better off independent. Their cause won’t advance in the middle of a pandemic, but it will add to Sánchez’s political troubles as he carefully manages a phased reopening.
France: Can Macron Reinvent Himself?
President Macron’s early, decisive lockdowns gave his dwindling approval ratings a 14-point boost to 44 percent. But they’re back in the 30s again amid shortages of PPE and testing, as well as poor messaging about public health guidelines. Macron doesn’t face re-election until 2022, but to position himself well for that vote he’ll have to persuade voters that the ambitious young reformer of 2017 has become a mature leader and effective crisis manager. In addition, he has staked his political reputation on strong support for a reinvigorated EU. If Brussels drops the ball on the pandemic aftermath, Macron will pay for it at home.
Germany: Will Merkel go out on top?
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has handled the COVID crisis better than any other large country in Europe, with swift action and widespread testing. Her approval rating is in the 80s, an astounding number for a democratically elected leader who has led her country through three crises in 12 years. But Merkel, who favors an ultra-cautious reopening, faces tremendous pressure from business groups and local governments who want her to move faster. Merkel still plans to step down next year. How well she manages the recovery and reopening will determine Germany’s near-term path as well as her own long-term legacy.
OPINION | Alberta premier targets Ottawa in pivot to pre-pandemic politics – CBC.ca
Pandemic? What pandemic?
Watching Alberta politics these days is like riding a time machine into the past when COVID-19 didn’t exist or into a future where it’s been conquered. Or perhaps we woke up in a parallel universe.
Because Alberta politics is beginning to act as if the pandemic suddenly disappeared.
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney called the COVID-19 virus the flu, as in, “an influenza of this nature,” even though it’s a coronavirus that’s more contagious and more deadly than the flu and has no vaccine. He also announced — without first informing Alberta’s chief medical officer — that he would let the province’s public health emergency lapse June 15.
This week, he announced he’d like to fast-track phase 2 of the business reopening (that includes movie theatres and libraries).
But, most tellingly of all, he resumed his heated attacks against the federal Liberal government.
If nothing else, this signals a return to normality for Kenney who is no longer pleading for more pandemic financial relief from Ottawa.
Kenney once again on offensive
After 10 weeks of biting his tongue and smiling through gritted teeth whenever he talked kindly about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals, Kenney is once more on the offensive.
And there was no better target for him than the recent federal ban on 1,500 “assault-style” firearms.
On Wednesday, Kenney held a news conference with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer where they wrapped themselves in the Alberta flag while taking shots not only at the federal government but at Central Canadians.
“While some people in faraway places like Toronto may not understand the reality, hundreds of thousands of Albertans simply use firearms as a part of everyday life,” said Kenney, who explained he was “defending law-abiding Albertans against a federal attack against their rights as law-abiding firearms owners.”
Not to be outdone in the outrage department, Schweitzer promised to stand up for “an Alberta-made justice system.”
“(Albertans) don’t want policy developed in downtown Toronto, they want policy developed right here in Alberta,” said Schweitzer, who added: “We’re going to have more Alberta and less Ottawa in our justice system.”
Picking fights with Ottawa
We haven’t heard the “more Alberta, less Ottawa” trope much the past 10 weeks as the Kenney government took what might be called a “less Alberta, more Ottawa” approach to emergency financial help.
But now the Alberta government is pivoting with all the subtlety of a dog running on linoleum suddenly trying to change direction.
It’s clumsy but for Kenney it means he’s getting back on track. He’s picking fights with Ottawa, taking potshots at “faraway places like Toronto,” focusing on his rural base of support, and once again pushing an Alberta-first agenda that could include setting up an Alberta provincial police force and Alberta pension plan.
“Stay tuned for the Fair Deal panel (report),” Kenney said this week when asked if he’s in favour of cutting ties with the RCMP. Kenney has said the Fair Deal report will be coming out when the pandemic is over. You have to wonder if in Kenney’s mind this means “tomorrow.”
Kenney also said he is “seriously considering” launching a legal challenge against the federal government’s gun ban.
Never mind that firearms fall under federal jurisdiction.
Time machine to Klein days
Here’s where the time machine seems to have taken us back to the days of former premier Ralph Klein. Klein made something of a career launching lawsuits, or threatening legal action, against the federal government on a host of issues including the GST, social transfer payments and, coincidentally, the gun registry.
Klein’s legal fights were the political equivalent of tilting at windmills but he knew that for a populist politician winning was not crucial; it’s the donning of the armour and the spurring of the steed.
This is political theatre and Kenney is such a master at it he should have his own show at the Edmonton Fringe Festival (if only the festival hadn’t been cancelled because of the pandemic).
Kenney would also like to put the pandemic behind him because it hasn’t given him a popularity boost, unlike just about every other political leader in the country.
An Angus Reid poll about premiers released last week ranked Kenney as second last, with a 48-per-cent approval rating, whereas Ontario’s controversial Doug Ford, for example, enjoyed 69 per cent approval.
This week, a poll by Research Co. indicated that 56 per cent of Albertans said their province would be better off with a different premier in charge, the highest level of disapproval in the country.
Consequently, Kenney has dusted off his Captain Alberta cape that had sat forgotten the past 10 weeks, perhaps under a mound of applications for federal aid. He is proudly wearing it into battle once more against the Trudeau Liberals.
The pandemic might not be over medically, but in Kenney’s mind it seems to be over politically.
Trudeau takes a knee at anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill today, showing up unannounced to hear speeches from activists demanding fairer treatment from police for minorities.
Trudeau joined the large crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down George Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died. The African-American man died while in police custody on May 25; all four officers at the scene now face charges.
Protesters in other cities have asked police officers to kneel to show respect for black people who have been killed in police custody. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also took a knee during a protest in that city today.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the kneeling gesture some years ago by dropping to one knee during the national anthem to protest violent police treatment of African-Americans. His critics accused him of showing disrespect for the anthem and the American flag.
Trudeau tried to blend into the crowd Friday — but TV cameras and the RCMP security detail made his presence known to the roughly 4,000 activists gathered around the Centennial Flame on the lawn at Parliament Hill. Trudeau told his security detail to stop pushing people as he made his way closer to the stage where the speakers were addressing the crowd.
Trudeau initially was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” and “Go away!” from some in the crowd. The yelling died down as local black leaders started speaking about their calls for an end to racial injustice at home and abroad.
WATCH | Justin Trudeau takes a knee during anti-black racism protest
The Trump chant was a reference to the prime minister’s reluctance to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump by name over his handling of the protests.
Trudeau was asked this week to respond to the president’s threat to deploy active duty military personnel on protesters in U.S. cities — a question that Trudeau answered after a 21-second pause.
The prime minister clapped Friday as the assembled speakers chanted “black lives matter” and called on those in power to do more to address systemic racism.
Someone in the crowd handed the prime minister a T-shirt with that slogan emblazoned on the front.
Trudeau was accompanied by Families Minister Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-Canadian who has spoken out about the racism he has faced in Canada.
“I think it’s powerful when you have the head of government taking a knee and clapping when people say ‘black lives matter,'” Hussen said. “It’s incredibly powerful for him to come and be part of this.”
The crowd on hand for the Parliament Hill protest was a multi-racial cross-section of the city, something Hussen said gives him “a lot of hope in the future.”
WATCH | Ahmed Hussen says the PM’s action were ‘pretty powerful’
After the speeches, the protesters moved down Wellington St., which runs right in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in downtown Ottawa.
NDP Jagmeet Singh also took part in similar anti-black racism protests in Toronto. He marched with the activists to that city’s Nathan Phillips Square.
“We need to be heard. People need to be heard,” Singh said in a video post on his Instagram page. “People want justice, they want systemic change and an end to racial profiling.”
Watch: The Power Panel discusses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at a protest against anti-black racism and his government’s record on that issue:
The politics behind how governments control coronavirus data – SaltWire Network
COVID-19 has affected almost every country around the globe. The World Health Organization has confirmed cases in 216 countries and territories, a total that represents more than 85 per cent of 251 entities recognized by the United Nations. Yet each government has responded differently to the coronavirus pandemic — including how data on the disease have been shared with each country’s citizens.
The selectiveness with which governments release information about the number of confirmed cases and the deaths caused by the coronavirus suggest techniques of “bio-power” may be at play.
French philosopher Michel Foucault invented the concept of bio-power in his lectures at the Collège de France in 1977-78. He defined bio-power as a “set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.”
Foucault found an early example of bio-power in the smallpox vaccine developed by the end of the 18th century — one of the first attempts to manage populations in terms of the calculus of probabilities under the banner of public health. While a COVID-19 vaccine is still in the making, the concept of bio-power may help make better sense of how we see governments deal with the ongoing pandemic.
Our perception of the probability of contracting the virus and the chances to recover is shaped by the relevant statistical figures released by our respective governments. Those figures feed the entire spectrum of our own reactions to COVID-19 — including fear and negligence.
A balanced take on COVID-19 and a proper course of action to deal with the pandemic means the information provided by governments must be complete, valid and reliable. Unfortunately, that is not happening in many cases.
When examining how some countries have responded to the pandemic, bio-political factors should be taken into account. This includes how governments are collecting and sharing data about the coronavirus. Let’s look at three countries in particular.
The United States
In the U.S., COVID-19 information is disseminated by government agencies, universities, the media and even search engines. Various levels of governments remain the ultimate source of the reported figures, but how accurate are those figures?
The U.S. now has the most confirmed cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. While this can be explained by a late response to the pandemic and the lack of universal health care coverage, the political stakes in the COVID-19 crisis are also very high for the U.S.
The social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic will be a major factor in this year’s elections. In an effort to shift attention from his administration’s response, U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated China should be blamed for the crisis. The high number of infections and deaths contribute to a feeling of fear and insecurity — which from a bio-power perspective may actually help Trump sell his message.
In addition to being the only source of information about COVID-19, the Russian government also makes every effort to protect its monopoly on the production and dissemination of the relevant data. Anyone who attempts to collect and disseminate COVID-19 figures without having a “licence to inform” may face criminal charges for being an agent provocateur.
A group of medical doctors in Chechnya, the previously rebel region in the Caucasus now under the tight control of the central government, attempted to complain about the lack of preparedness to COVID-19. They were promptly accused of “provocations” and forced to deliver public apologies.
According to government data, Russia has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world, less than one per cent. (The U.S. reports a six per cent mortality rare; Italy, France and the U.K. are in the range of 14-15 per cent). Either the Russians have an exceptionally strong immune system or something is wrong with the way the government counts the deaths.
As well, the regular monthly statistics of deaths released by some regions shows an anomalous hike in April — numbers that are out of line with the officially approved figures of COVID-19-related deaths.
The gap between the number of officially acknowledged COVID-19 cases and deaths may have political explanations.
Similar to the U.S., the pandemic interferes with the political agenda in Russia. The constitutional referendum engineered to extend Vladimir Putin’s term as Russia’s president was originally scheduled on April 22, but was eventually postponed until July 1.
Putin is trying to make the gambit of accepting high (but not necessarily accurate) figures of COVID-19 infections and simultaneously doing everything possible to under-report the true number of COVID-19-related deaths. If successful, he would be able to claim credit for handling the crisis better than other world leaders.
Canada’s figures do not look controversial at first sight. The country has neither an exceptionally high number of COVID-19 cases nor an exceptionally high mortality rate (7.5 per cent). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potentially some elements of bio-power at play.
Canada’s government chose to complicate the task of comparing the COVID-19 figures across its provinces and territories. The federal government’s website dedicated to COVID-19 reports the aggregate data only. No death statistics are included. Comparing the responses of each province requires an examination of 13 different provincial websites, which have various formats of reporting the relevant figures.
Access-to-information requests are not of great help here either, despite the fact that there are access-to-information acts both at the federal and provincial levels. It takes an average of one month to get a response to an access-to-information request under normal times. But now governments have full discretion in deciding what information on COVID-19 to release, as well as when and how to do it.
This means that in Canada, bio-politics manifests itself through the fuzziness of information and, in the absence of clear information, the public is expected to uncritically accept the actions of their governments.
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