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'We can't get jaded about politics,' says McKenna – iPolitics.ca

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On an unseasonably cold morning, Catherine McKenna enters her Gatineau office after an early morning practice with her competitive swim club. With flushed cheeks, and carrying an assortment of briefcases and sustainable bags, she explains that for her, “the best days always start with a swim.”  

During our hour-long conversation, McKenna points to the years she spent becoming a swimmer as something that defines her. Crediting twice daily swims in high school as what kept her organized, driven, and distracted from typical high school drama, she said her role as captain of the University of Toronto swim team further instilled the importance of both teamwork and resilience. 

“People always ask what prepared me the most for politics and I think maybe it was law… or maybe it was working for a United Nations peacekeeping mission. But I actually believe it was swimming. It teaches you that you need to work really hard, set long term goals and that you will have setbacks.”

Over the past four years, things haven’t always gone, well, swimmingly for McKenna.

She became one of the most recognizable names in the Trudeau cabinet — but also one of its most criticized members, having been repeatedly subjected to extensive vitriol online, in person, and most recently, through the defacement of her constituency office.

While serving as the environment minister, she in many ways became the public face of the Liberals’ most ambitious climate policies, from the national carbon price to controversial new assessment rules. In this role, she drew praise from some corners, but also derision from angry online trolls who labelled her with the unflattering and sexist name, “climate Barbie.”

In fact, the criticism and threats directed towards McKenna became so great that she was eventually assigned an RCMP security detail — a rarity for a Canadian cabinet minister.

Asked if she fears for her safety or considers her position dangerous, McKenna is reflective, citing her experiences in East Timor working on peacekeeping missions and her time in Indonesia. “Once I got caught in the wrong place and students were shot. I have been in situations which by definition are more dangerous, but it is jarring in Canada to have people write words like c%&* on your office, or to be with your kids, going to see a movie, and have them scream at you,” she explains, referencing the defacing of her constituency office shortly after she won re-election in the Oct. 21 vote.

“Do people sometimes say things that are violent, or do they harass me? Yes. I hope it isn’t something that is dangerous because we do need people to go into politics and this is going to be a huge disincentive,” she continues, adding that she worries about her family, especially her young children who “didn’t sign up for this.” While McKenna says she believes most Canadians are completely reasonable, it’s the unknown that is worrisome. 

With an especially divisive election in the rear view, and a new appointment as minister of infrastructure and communities, McKenna is determined to continue to speak up and use her experiences and platform to “change the tone” and improve politics for women, and in general. 

Believing that it is incumbent on social media companies to step up and be more responsible, McKenna thinks the ability of people to hide behind fake names on social media and say whatever they wish without any repercussions has the potential to cause even further harm. “If you start normalizing the fact that people can say all of these terrible things online, then it suddenly starts coming offline. Where people think, ‘Well if I can say that, why can’t I just go tell her how I feel?’” 

Beyond the Twitter-sphere, she also won’t accept that this type of behaviour is protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Free speech is incredibly important. I am a human rights lawyer and I believe in free speech, but this isn’t free speech. This is people without real names saying mean aggressive hateful things.” 

A place ‘you couldn’t be fancy’

The eldest of four children, McKenna says growing in up in Hamilton, Ontario, is also something that defines her character, calling it a place “where you couldn’t be fancy.” Her parents embraced Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s policies of multiculturalism and bilingualism and insisted that their children attend a French school. “We are an Irish Catholic family…there were a lot of politics at the table. My dad would take either side of an argument and you would argue the other side.”

McKenna also shares a childhood story about a boy on her soccer team who told her that she ran like a girl. Only ten, and one the best players, she remembers feeling deeply insulted – and later motivated – by it. “I never really distinguished myself between being a boy or a girl. I just did stuff.” Laughing she adds, “…and I didn’t even really play with Barbies,” which to her makes the nickname “climate Barbie” even more annoying.

When McKenna decided to enter politics in 2013, she was running an international charity called Canadian Lawyers Abroad. Through the charity’s work with Indigenous youth and communities in Canada, she says she “…realized there was no possibility of being able to do what I wanted to do without changing the government.”

Before running as the candidate for Ottawa Centre in the 2015 federal election, McKenna canvassed her children. Her eldest told her that she had to run for the Indigenous youth that she cared so much about. Her middle daughter told her that she “must run” because there weren’t enough women in politics. And her youngest, who was five at the time, said he would go along with it if there was food. During her re-election campaign, McKenna’s kids and their friends did some door knocking and volunteered at events; they also attended her swearing-in. 

Never expecting to be appointed to a cabinet position so early in her political career, McKenna admits that earning her chops as the environment minister was a huge learning curve. “It was totally new in the sense that I wasn’t an environmentalist. I cared about the environment, but I didn’t know a lot about it.”

Within days after her appointment to cabinet, McKenna found herself on a plane heading to Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) and drowning in lingo. She says that being comfortable saying, “no acronyms, we are going to talk like regular people” and “I have no idea what you are talking about” were two phrases that helped with her file.

Once she got over the initial learning curve, McKenna began to understand that success would require equal parts science and empathy — both head and heart. “Empathy means understanding where people are at and why they react to [a] situation in different ways.” Explaining the dichotomy of her role, she asks rhetorically, “Why are young people out in the streets [demanding climate action] and why do you have [oil and gas industry] workers who are angry?” She concludes, “…the science is the science and you can’t change science.” 

Given all the challenges she has faced, McKenna says what motivates her to push forward is a passionate belief in the importance of politics.

“The decisions politicians make impact people’s lives,” McKenna insists. “I see this in my constituency office where people are struggling to bring in their spouse because of some problem with the immigration [process]. You can reunite families. We can’t get jaded about politics.”  

Asked about what legacy she hopes to leave, McKenna says she would like to be remembered as a strong woman, and as  “someone who really cared about making a difference for Canada.”

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Jonathan Kay: B.C. NDP succumbs to the leftist battle over identity politics – National Post

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Article content continued

The next day, the star candidate was joined by Annita McPhee, former president of the Tahltan First Nations government, whose lands comprise part of the Stikine riding. But McPhee didn’t just jump in: she also called on Cullen to jump out. According to a motion adopted in 2011, older male NDP MLAs who retire must be replaced with either a woman or a member of an “equity-seeking” group. Cullen, a white guy born and raised in Toronto, doesn’t qualify.

In the days since, the plot thickened, with the party president releasing a vague statement indicating that “in certain instances, despite extensive candidate searches, our regulations permit allowances for other candidates to be considered.” It also turned out that the definition of “equity-seeking” is quite broad. In the last election, one married male NDP candidate, who’d always presented as straight, abruptly claimed he was bisexual. Another white male candidate got nominated after saying he had a hearing impairment.

I hadn’t heard of the B.C. NDP’s equity-seeking policy until this week. But its existence shouldn’t surprise me. The whole thrust of modern identity politics is to rank the acuteness of human oppression — and, by corollary, the urgency of the associated political demands — on the basis of race, sex and other personal traits. It makes sense that this principle should now be institutionalized, and weaponized, by politicians competing for status and power in a left-wing party that explicitly claims to represent the oppressed. Not so long ago, oppression was defined in NDP circles according to a Marxist understanding of labour and capital — which is why unions had such a prominent role in the party. But those days are long gone. Just last month, in fact, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh used his Twitter account to promote officially debunked conspiracy theories suggesting that a Black Toronto woman was murdered in May by a half dozen (unionized) Toronto police officers.

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Coronavirus: Ministers balance science and politics in latest rules – BBC News

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It’s not a day for optimists, even though the prime minister himself is one of that tribe.

Tomorrow, it will be six months exactly since he told the nation to stay at home.

This time, Boris Johnson stopped well short of slamming the country’s doors shut.

But what really stood out in his long statement in a miserable-looking Commons was his message that the limits put in place today will last another six months.

Even if you are very fond of your own company, lucky enough to have a secure job you enjoy and a comfy spare room where you can do it, it is quite something to contemplate.

The government now expects that all our lives will be subject to restrictions of one kind or another for a whole year – March 2020 to March 2021.

As each month ticks by, it becomes harder to imagine a return to anything like normal political life, or, more importantly, the way we all live.

We may not be waiting for a return to life as we knew it, but grinding through a moment of change.

‘Shelter the economy’

But if you were listening carefully, something else was different too.

The country became familiar with the slogan “Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – it was emblazoned on government lecterns, repeated again and again by government ministers in interview after interview, on bus shelters, pop-up ads on the internet, wherever you looked.

That phrase was retired after the most intense period of the lockdown, but echoed today with one important additional condition.

Boris Johnson’s driver today was to “save lives, protect the NHS” and “shelter the economy”.

As we discussed here yesterday, concerns about the economy played more strongly in Downing Street after fierce resistance from backbenchers, and arguments from the next-door neighbour in No 11 of the economic risks of a short, sharp closure programme.

Fears about how the country makes a living have always been part of the decision-making process for the government, grappling with these acute dilemmas.

But the political appetite inside the Tory party for sweeping restrictions has certainly dimmed.

The changes announced today do make economic recovery harder, the “bounce back” the government dreamt of looks harder to achieve, but they are not as draconian as they may otherwise have been.

The choices made by Nicola Sturgeon to restrict social lives much further than in England, as in Northern Ireland, point to that difference.

Ministers used to make great play of following the science, now they are certainly following the politics too.

Only the unknowable progress of the disease will, in time, suggest which call was right.

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Covid: How the coronavirus pandemic is redefining Scottish politics – BBC News

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The pandemic has probably done more than anything to define Scottish devolution in 21 years of Holyrood decision making.

Before coronavirus, the Scottish Parliament’s policy choices – from free personal care for the elderly to minimum pricing of alcohol – made it distinctive.

Now, Scottish ministers are making life and death decisions affecting everybody almost every day.

The exercise of emergency powers to combat Covid-19 commands public attention like nothing before.

We’ve had six months of lockdown restrictions and after a recent period of relaxation, they are tightening again as coronavirus cases rise.

Paying attention is essential to knowing whether or not you can go to work, visit your granny or have friends round for dinner.

It is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rather than the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is deciding for Scotland because public health is devolved.

Many of her decisions so far have matched those by the UK government for England and the devolved administrations for Wales and Northern Ireland.

That was especially true in the early stages of the crisis when there was much talk of a four nations approach – but differences have emerged over time.

The Scottish government has generally been more cautious about lifting restrictions than the UK government.

Bars and restaurants stayed closed in Scotland for longer and it was slower to lift quarantine for people arriving from Spain, before this was reimposed across the UK.

By contrast, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to restore full-time classroom education in schools after the summer.

Scottish ministers did coordinate with the other administrations to introduce the “rule of six” for people attending social gatherings.

However, on closer inspection, the Scottish rule differs from that for England in two key respects.

It is more restrictive in limiting the six people to two different households and more flexible in exempting children under the age of 12.

This is devolved decision making in action as never before.

Some argue divergence across the UK is confusing and undesirable, but opinion polls consistently suggest the Scottish public trust Holyrood to set the pace.

After a period in which Conservatives argued that Scotland should leave lockdown in lockstep with the rest of the UK, a multi-speed approach became accepted.

The pandemic, however unwanted, has given Ms Sturgeon an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the public seems to appreciate that too.

An Ipsos Mori survey for BBC Scotland in May suggested 82% of people thought Ms Sturgeon was handling the pandemic either very or fairly well.

By contrast, only 30% from the same sample of around 1,000 Scottish adults gave Boris Johnson similar credit.

More recent polling has produced similar indications even although coronavirus outcomes are not profoundly different between the UK nations.

The Office for National Statistics reported that England had the highest increase in excess deaths in Europe to the end of May. At that point, Scotland had the third highest behind Spain.

While politicians of all stripes have been working to suppress coronavirus, coronavirus has suppressed much of our everyday politics.

Previous Holyrood priorities like completing an expansion of free childcare, introducing new devolved benefits and reviewing the school curriculum have been deferred.

Major controversies such as the Scottish government’s mishandling of complaints about the behaviour of the former first minister, Alex Salmond, seem less potent.

Independence referendum

The Scottish government parked preparations for an independence referendum in 2020 to prioritise its response to the pandemic.

That has not meant opinion on the major constitutional question in Scottish politics has remained static.

As coronavirus has swept the country, a trend has emerged in opinion polls suggesting there is now majority support in Scotland for independence.

Some analysts suggest this could be directly linked to the focus on devolved leadership in the crisis.

The trend has worried Conservatives enough to change their Scottish party leader and some in Scottish Labour have unsuccessfully tried to change theirs.

Those who favour the union point out that Scotland has been supported by what they call the “broad shoulders” of the UK economy throughout the pandemic.

Lockdown is largely underwritten by the Treasury with huge funding for furlough and other schemes to support business.

Nationalists say this help would be replicated by Holyrood if it had the economic powers of independence.

Unionists question the scope for doing so in a country which, as a devolved part of the UK, had a notional deficit of £15bn before the pandemic took full effect.

Economics will always be important in the debate over independence as will the public’s sense of identity.

In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55%-45% for continued union. If indyref2 was held tomorrow, the polls suggest the result would go the other way.

There is much that could sway opinion further – both for and against independence – in the coming months.

The economic crisis the pandemic brings, the impact of Brexit and the efforts of politicians to overcome the continuing health emergency could all have a bearing.

The public could weary of politicians telling them what they can and can’t do especially if their livelihoods are on the line.

Arguments over all this and more will find expression in the campaign for next May’s Holyrood elections.

Together with elections to the Welsh Assembly and local government in England, these will be the first major votes of the pandemic.

A pandemic that has already given new definition to devolved power and could be playing a role in shaping opinion on the future of the Union

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