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



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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Grindstone Theatre's political satire videos gaining popularity online – CTV Edmonton



A theatre in Edmonton is getting a lot of attention online for its politics – or, rather, its lampooning of politicians.

The Grindstone Theatre is getting tens of thousands of views of its parody videos poking fun at the press conferences being held by Premier Jason Kenney.

The videos are written by Derek Johnson who says recent political events such as MLAs travelling over the holidays inspired him to make the videos

“It’s been interesting to kind of just see a couple things unravel, so we have to jump on what’s hot right now,” said Johnson.

The videos posted on the Grindstone Theatre’s YouTube page and TikTok account have over 100,000 views.

“It’s starting to take off a little bit,” says Johnson.

Donovan Workun, who plays Kenney in the videos, says the time is ripe for political satire.

“When people get outraged or people are really happy that’s when it’s the easiest to lampoon some things.”

Workun says it was tough to do an impression of Kenney at first.

“I think the key to the Jason Kenney impersonation is not knowing what you’re going to say until you’re actually saying it.”

Johnson says having politicians keep talking is all he needs to keep writing scripts for the comedy videos.

“Sometimes there’s a couple of people who say things and you’re like, I don’t think you know what you’re saying but we’re definitely going to be pulling on that.”

The videos keep pulling in so many viewers that they intend to keep making more and Workun says he hopes they catch the attention of the premier.

“I would love to hear from him. I would love to do Jason Kenney for Jason Kenney,” said Workun.

But Johnson says Kenney might not be the only politician getting satirized in their videos.

“Everyone is fair game, you might say.”

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Historic U.S. inauguration of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris




Almost nine months after it closed its doors permanently, Saint John’s Cherry Brook Zoo still has six inhabitants waiting to go to their new homes. All that remains of the once-bustling zoo are two lions, two tigers and two snakes. All six have found new homes, but the hold-up is with the four big cats, explains zookeeper Erin Brown, who has been overseeing the relocation of the zoo’s animals. Because they’re going to the United States, there’s a complicated permit process that often takes six to 12 months, explained Brown. Essentially, the zoo has to prove that the big cats were legally obtained, and that their transfer follows all of the guidelines laid out under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Brown said all of the permits required on the Canadian side of the border have been obtained. The hold-up is in the U.S. She said the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest south of the border may also have contributed to the delay. “It could be making policies move a little more slowly,” she said. When the zoo announced it would close for good last May, there were 80 animals — from 35 different species — living at the zoo, and all had to find new homes, said executive director Martha McDevitt. She said staff spent a lot of time checking out prospective new homes to make sure the animals would be safe and well cared for. “It was a big task,” said McDevitt. The zoo had a number of farm-type animals, like miniature donkeys, goats and pigs that went to hobby farms, mostly in New Brunswick. The more exotic animals required a bit more work and they’re now spread out at facilities from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. “The big cats were the hardest to find homes for,” Brown said. The first step was to notify Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, an accreditation and advocacy group better known as CAZA. But there weren’t any facilities in Canada willing or able to take the big cats. Brown said they eventually started reaching out to sanctuaries, although that wasn’t her first choice for the felines. That’s when they heard from Popcorn Park in New Jersey, which is part zoo, part sanctuary. The facility has agreed to take the lions and has lined up a new home for the tigers, since it already has a number of tigers. So, until the proper permits are ready to go, the four big cats will remain in Saint John. For McDevitt, they’re the hardest animals to say goodbye to. “You can’t help but create these special bonds with these animals, especially specific ones,” she said outside the tiger enclosure Tuesday morning. “For me personally, it’s the big cats, the tigers. When I was a little… child, I wanted to be a tiger when I grew up. “That’s impossible, I found out. So being able to work with them has been an absolute dream come true.” McDevitt has been with the zoo since 2016 and the lions arrived shortly after she did. The tigers have been at the Cherry Brook Zoo since the summer of 2017. All four were hand-raised at an Ontario zoo before it closed in 2016. “So seeing them leave — and especially them going across the border — is really hard because I may not ever see them again. So that’s been hard,” said McDevitt. And because they were hand-raised, Brown said the big cats actually like people. “They love interacting with visitors,” she said. It was a factor zoo staff considered when they looked at facilities willing to take them. “We had several facilities that offered space as a sanctuary situation, but we chose Popcorn Park because they’re going to be in a zoo situation. A lot of these sanctuaries are really more suited to cats that don’t like people.” She said cats that come from abusive or neglectful situations prefer to live a quiet life with as little human interaction as possible. “But our cats love human interaction. They love seeing visitors. So choosing Popcorn Park was on purpose so that they could have that interaction with visitors.” Once all the permits are in place, Popcorn Park will send its own relocation team to fetch the felines. They’ll have specialized equipment and people, including a veterinarian. They have specialized cages with wheels that will be rolled right up to the door of their enclosure, and with a little food inside the crate as an added incentive, they cats should go in and be ready to be loaded into a specialized trailer for the ride to New Jersey. In the meantime, thanks to monthly donors who continue to contribute to the zoo — and the occasional one-time donation — life goes on for the big cats. With fewer animals to tend to, staff members have a bit more time to hand-feed and train the cats. With her bucket of cut-up deer meat, zookeeper Megan Gorey puts the lions, Aslan and Frieda — littermates who were born in 2014 — through a series of behaviours that she doesn’t like to call tricks. The cats sit and lie down, and offer the correct paw on the fence as instructed. They also stand on their hind legs on command — all for a treat, of course. Gorey also demonstrates how she can draw blood and give injections with Luna, a five-year-old tiger who’s been at the zoo since 2017. From the safety of the other side of the fence, Gorey tells Luna to lie down along the fence and as someone else feeds her meat treats, she barely reacts when the needle is used. Long goodbye Brown said she initially worried that a long delay before some of the animals left would be a painful way to say goodbye, but she’s actually grateful for it now. She said each animal was able to get fussed over and given extra attention before they departed for their new homes. And with the four cats being among the last to go, it gave staff extra time with the zoo’s most popular inhabitants — who just happen to be the biggest eaters as well. McDevitt said it costs a couple hundred dollars per cat per month — and that’s even with the donations of roadkill from the Department of Natural Resources. One such donation just happened to arrive Tuesday morning and zookeepers were preparing to hoist entire deer legs up on poles in the cat enclosures to allow them to hunt and earn their meal. Once the big cats leave the Cherry Brook Zoo, the snakes will go as well, said Brown. The snakes will go home with one of the zookeepers, but as long as the zoo remains open for the lions and tigers, the snakes will stay as well.

Source: – Yahoo News Canada

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Omdahl: Politics: When enough Is enough – INFORUM



North Dakota Republicans own the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch of state government, lock, stock and barrel. But having absolute power at the state level is not enough politics for some who now want to open up county, city, township, school board and other local offices to partisan elections by starting with an innocent marking on the ballot of party preference.

A strong two-party system is necessary for a democracy to function. There are policy issues streaming from voter ideologies that must be resolved. Local governments make secondary decisions, most of which are tightly controlled by state legislation. In reality, local governments are administrative units of the state government.

One advocate of partisan elections pointed to all the money local governments spend. He apparently wants to apply a more conservative financial system to local government. Apparently, he hasn’t been around enough to know that local finances involve mostly “sunk” costs or state regulations that permit local governments limited financial flexibility.

Other than creating political opportunities for the two parties, what are the benefits of a partisan system at the local level? A more conservative spending ideology?

Local governments in North Dakota are pretty clean. Our governments are small; almost everyone in the county knows what is going on in the courthouse, including the unofficial as well as the official. About the only transgressions committed in local government are long coffee breaks.

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For sure, partisan elections will not make local governments more effective, more efficient or any more honest.

In fact, they will do just the opposite.

Local offices will be flooded with junior politicians who will see public office not as an opportunity to serve the public so much as a stepping stone to some higher partisan office.

Partisan ballots will generate new levels of conflict in local governments as parties fight for offices or as party loyalists fight each other to gain a rung in the political ladder. Everyone will spend more time campaigning and less time serving the public.

With politically-minded partisans running local government, how often will political considerations be uppermost when choices have to be made and priorities established? Will politics decide on highways? On arrests? On human services?

Partisan ballots will eliminate at least half of the county officials. Even if they are Republicans, the partisan atmosphere day-in and day-out does not fit their idea of public service. In some local governments, ambitious partisans will run against incumbents regardless of party.

Many local officials do not have competition because the public is satisfied with their service. Partisan elections will create competition where competition isn’t necessary and it will force any officeholders to raise new money for races they never had in nonpartisan offices. There will be new personal costs to serving the people. That will discourage present officeholders.

With the rancor permeating both parties at present, this is hardly the time to bring that sort of partisan disease into local governments that have been performing so well. When it comes to partisan politics, at some point we must say that enough is enough. Enough.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum’s editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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