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Trudeau will be first foreign leader to speak with Biden

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jan 22nd, 2021

The first phone call of the 46th American President Joe Biden comes Friday and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be on the other end of the line.

The White House press secretary says the two leaders will discuss the important relationship between Canada and the United States, as well as Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.

One of the orders Biden signed on his first day was one to rescind former president Donald Trump’s approval of the $8-billion U.S. cross-border pipeline expansion.

The project stalled throughout Barack Obama’s two terms before being outright cancelled in 2015, then twice resurrected by Trump.

Trudeau has been careful to point out that Biden’s campaign had already promised to block the expansion.

Trudeau says he is disappointed, but acknowledges the president’s decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.

Trudeau welcomed Biden’s other moves, including rejoining the Paris accord, a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and reversing the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Some provinces yet to say when jail inmates to be vaccinated against COVID-19

STEPHANIE TAYLOR, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 21st, 2021

A director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association believes provinces should set targets for vaccinating inmates in provincial jails — something half of jurisdictions have yet to do.

The Correctional Service of Canada has started vaccinations for federal prisoners who are older or considered “medically vulnerable.” But, as of last week, provinces had yet to start giving shots to inmates awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences in provincial jails.

“Prisoners are disproportionately impacted by health conditions that would make them very susceptible to serious illness and death as a result of COVID,” said Abby Deshman with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Because of a limited vaccine supply, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends people in correctional centres get vaccinated behind those in long-term care homes, seniors 70 and older, critical health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communities.

British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia said that, as of last week, prisoners and staff are scheduled for vaccination in the second round of vaccinations, with estimated start dates between next month and June.

Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec didn’t provide a timeline for when inmates will receive their shots. Newfoundland and Labrador said its inmates will be part of the second phase of its vaccine distribution, but didn’t specify dates.

Saskatchewan said the ranking of vulnerable groups is still to be determined.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon planned to start giving shots this week. Nunavut didn’t respond to inquiries.

Deshman was part of a research project that tracked COVID-19 cases in jails and prisons. It found that since Dec. 1, there have been at least 1,962 infections among staff and inmates — more than all of the cases reported from last March until November.

“We should have targets for immunizing key vulnerable populations, regardless of who they are,” she said.

“If those targets need to be adjusted, if they cannot be met, that needs to be publicly communicated and explained.”

She noted some politicians, including federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have pushed back against early vaccinations for federal inmates.

Justin Piche, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, said there are far fewer older prisoners in provincial jails than in federal prisons, where one out of five inmates is 50 and older.

He said rhetoric from leaders that pits one group against another isn’t helpful.

“Prisons are among the congregate settings that are seeing significant transmission,” he said.

“You have prisoners who are getting COVID-19 at higher rates. You have prison staff that are going in and out of there on a day-to-day basis, going back to their families, going back to their communities.”

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers believes it’s wrong that Ottawa didn’t vaccinate correctional staff along with prisoners, and instead left it up to provinces to decide where staff fall in the vaccine line.

“It’s completely foolish,” said national president Jeff Wilkins.

“We have (Saskatchewan Penitentiary), for example, which has seen quite an extensive outbreak. Our members are getting burnt out.”

As of last week, Manitoba listed provincial and federal correctional health-care workers as eligible to be vaccinated.

Wilkins wants to see correctional officers inoculated along with long-term care staff.

“In some areas, we’ve seen the rates of the institution be much higher than the community.”

Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, questions why doses were sent to institutions in Atlantic Canada, which have no active COVID-19 cases, while inmates in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are at higher risk.

Latimer is also concerned about what she says is solitary confinement-like measures being used to contain the novel coronavirus.

“It’s a very, very harsh correctional environment right now,” she said.

“We’re probably going through the worst period in terms of general corrections, at least on the federal side, in the last 50 years.”

WestJet to reintroduce Boeing 737 Max in flight from Calgary to Vancouver

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 21st, 2021

WestJet Airlines will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada on Thursday since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes.

Transport Canada lifted its grounding order for the Max on Wednesday after approving design changes to the plane and requiring pilots to undergo additional training.

WestJet executives will hold a press conference after the morning flight between Calgary and Vancouver.

The event is part of a campaign to reintroduce the Max to service while assuring the public that the plane’s safety issues have been addressed.

In wake of decision to kill Keystone XL, Biden’s first foreign-leader call? Trudeau

JAMES MCCARTEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jan 21st, 2021

WASHINGTON — If Joe Biden’s decision to kill off Keystone XL is supposed to sound the death knell for Canada-U.S. relations, you wouldn’t know it from the newly minted president’s call sheet.

The 46th president’s first phone call with a foreign leader comes today and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be on the other end of the line.

“I expect they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada, as well as his decision on the Keystone pipeline we announced earlier today,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

“His early calls will be with partners and allies; he feels it’s important to rebuild those relationships and to address the challenges and threats we’re facing in the world.”

Deep in the stack of leather-bound executive orders Biden signed on his first day in the White House was one to rescind former president Donald Trump’s approval of the US$8-billion cross-border pipeline expansion.

The project, first proposed in 2008, has been bouncing around the White House in various forms of limbo — stalled throughout Barack Obama’s two terms before being outright cancelled in 2015, then twice resurrected by Trump.

Trudeau, who has been careful to point out that Biden’s campaign had already promised to block the expansion, did so again Wednesday in a statement that was more celebratory than scolding.

“While we welcome the president’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL,” the statement said.

Trudeau welcomed Biden’s other moves, including rejoining the Paris accord, a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and reversing the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

In truth, no one in the Liberal government has suggested the decision is likely to do much to impede talks on other major Canada-U.S. priorities, like winning exemptions to Biden’s promised Buy American provisions.

“From autos to our stockpiles, we’re going to buy American,” Biden said during the campaign, “No government contracts will be given to companies that don’t make their products here in America.”

It took Canada nearly a year to negotiate waivers to similar rules in 2010 when Barack Obama’s administration was preparing to spend more than $800 billion to bounce back from the Great Recession.

Biden’s plan, aimed at ensuring Americans are the primary beneficiaries of the government’s efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, will also involve a “Buy American” office operating directly out of the White House.

It will also include executive orders to more strictly enforce, expand and tighten the provisions, a strategy to make U.S. products more competitive and expanded the list of “critical materials” that must be American-made.

The new administration will also inherit a Trump-fuelled feud between U.S. and Canadian dairy producers with all the hallmarks of the intractable and ongoing softwood lumber dispute.

And Biden has nominated cabinet members whose track records suggest they won’t back down from fights.

John Kerry, Biden’s hand-picked envoy on climate change, was secretary of state in 2015 when he successfully urged Obama to reject Keystone XL.

Tom Vilsack, Biden’s proposed new agriculture secretary, cheered U.S. trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer’s decision earlier this month to formally accuse Canada of denying U.S. dairy producers rightful access to markets north of the border.

And Katherine Tai, a trade-talks veteran nominated as Lighthizer’s successor, is widely seen as a hard-nosed negotiator whose main role will be to enforce existing trade agreements and Buy American rules.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Is Canada’s democracy safer than America’s?

NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Jan 20th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, Joe Biden will be sworn into office today, hopefully without incident. But in the United States, proponents of democracy are analyzing how close their own came to collapsing. When one party, or even just one powerful politician, decides to disregard norms that have always held fair elections together, it creates stress on a system not designed with bad actors in mind.

So how safe, by comparison, is our democracy in Canada? What checks and balances exist here that don’t exist in the US? How could determined parties or politicians attempt to undermine democracy? And how much depends not on laws but on a collective belief in the democratic process?

GUEST: Stewart Prest, political scientist

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

All eyes on the United States as Canadians tune in to Joe Biden’s inauguration

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 20th, 2021

Canadians will be watching with bated breath as a new U.S. president takes office today.

President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris are to be sworn in at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The pandemic has placed limits on the size of the crowd that would typically gather in the U.S. capital for the ceremony.

So has the lingering threat of violence after President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building this month to stop the transition of power, egged on by the president himself.

Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed ahead of the event, further stoking anxiety among Americans and concerned observers.

Wanda Beatty plans to watch the ceremony from her Peterborough, Ont., home, switching between news outlets while chatting online with family.

Three of Beatty’s sisters live in the U.S. and she says the instability has taken a toll on them.

“I’m not worried for their safety, I’m just worried, really, for their mental health,” Beatty said in an interview this week.

“It’s such a bizarre, unprecedented time.”

Despite concerning recent events, Beatty says she’s hopeful that the transition will go smoothly.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that, hopefully, things won’t be as bad as it seems like there’s a potential for.”

Others across Canada are planning to watch the ceremony with roommates and in workplaces as they observe pandemic guidelines.

Katie Thompson of Thompson Chiropractic in Barrie, Ont., says the clinic plans to stream the proceedings live after several patients asked to schedule appointments around the event.

“It feels like we have been building up to this day for, well, quite frankly, four years.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Expelling Derek Sloan from Conservative caucus not entirely up to Erin O’Toole

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 20th, 2021

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wants Derek Sloan booted out of his party’s caucus but it’s not entirely up to him. Here’s what needs to happen:

Conservative MPs will have to vote on the matter, thanks to their decision to adopt a provision of the Reform Act, legislation introduced by one of their own, Michael Chong, and passed in 2015.

Under the act, each party’s caucus must vote at its first meeting after an election on whether to adopt the various provisions enshrined in the legislation, which is aimed at rebalancing power between MPs and their party leaders.

Following the 2019 election, only Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs voted to give themselves the power to decide when to expel a caucus member.

Consequently, in order to remove Sloan, 20 per cent of Conservative MPs — 24 of the party’s current 121 MPs — had to sign a notice seeking a review of Sloan’s membership in the caucus.

The matter must then be put to a vote by secret ballot, which is set to take place Wednesday morning. A majority of MPs must support expulsion for Sloan to be ejected.

O’Toole said Monday he wanted Sloan’s fate decided as quickly as possible after learning that his former rival accepted a donation during the leadership race from a well-known white nationalist.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

JOAN BRYDEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 19th, 2021

Almost two-thirds of Canadians would support a nightly curfew if necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19 — even though they’re not convinced it would be effective, a new poll suggests.

Sixty-five per cent of respondents to a poll by Léger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they would support temporary curfews in their provinces if recommended by public health officials.

In Quebec, where the government imposed a month-long curfew 10 days ago, 74 per cent said they support the move.

Nevertheless, only 57 per cent of Quebecers and just 39 per cent of respondents in the rest of the country said they think curfews are an effective way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The poll of 1,516 Canadians was conducted Jan. 15 to 18.

Léger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the results suggest Canadians “want to do their part and will stand by their governments” in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. But it also suggests provinces “need to sell this thing (curfews) if they want to make it work.”

The poll also suggests that Canadians’ mental health has suffered as the pandemic drags on.

Twenty-one per cent rated their mental health as bad or very bad, up eight points since last April, when the first wave of COVID-19 rolled over Canada.

Thirty-two per cent rated their mental health as excellent or very good, a 10-point drop since April. Another 45 per cent described their mental health as good, down three points since April.

Bourque said mental health experts do not consider “good” to be a particularly positive rating, akin to someone saying they feel OK.

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19, virtually unchanged since April.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents said they intend to get vaccinated against the coronavirus when a vaccine becomes available to them.

Two vaccines have been approved for use in Canada so far and provinces have begun immunizing front line health care workers, long-term care home workers and residents and some others considered among the most vulnerable.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents said they’ll take the first vaccine available to them, while 27 per cent said they’ll wait for other vaccines to become available. Another 11 per cent said they won’t take any vaccine and 15 per cent didn’t know what they’ll do.

The online poll cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Tory MP Derek Sloan says he’ll fight efforts to expel him from party ranks

STEPHANIE LEVITZ, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 19th, 2021

OTTAWA — Ontario Conservative MP Derek Sloan says he’ll fight efforts by his party’s leader to boot him from caucus.

Sloan says a decision by leader Erin O’Toole that he should be tossed out over a donation to his leadership campaign by a known white supremacist is ridiculous.

O’Toole announced he’s launching the effort to remove Sloan late Monday, after news broke that Sloan’s campaign had received a donation from Paul Fromm last year.

O’Toole framed the decision as being a question of having no tolerance for racism within his party.

But Sloan is raising questions about that approach, saying Fromm is a party member and that fact would have previously been known both to O’Toole and to the party itself.

Sloan generated controversy during the leadership campaign for his aggressively social conservative views, and his presence in caucus has been polarizing ever since.

He had survived a bid to oust him during the leadership race itself, when comments he made about the country’s chief public health officer saw him accused of racism, a charge he denied.

At that time, O’Toole refused to support an effort to expel him.

Sloan said in an interview with The Canadian Press that O’Toole ran a leadership campaign on fighting cancel culture and “promoting a big tent version of the Conservative Party.”

“And I hope that he has not jettisoned that in favour of perceived short-term political gain,” Sloan said.

To kick out one of their own, 20 per cent of Conservative MPs — 24 of the party’s current 121 MPs — must sign in writing a notice seeking a review of Sloan’s membership in the caucus.

The matter must then be put to a vote by secret ballot and a majority of MPs must support expulsion.

O’Toole said in a statement late Monday he wants the vote to take place as swiftly as possible.

The party’s caucus is set to meet Thursday and Friday to plot strategy for the upcoming parliamentary sitting but the vote is likely to take place before then.

Several MPs mused privately late Monday there are concerns O’Toole’s move sets a high bar for what’s considered an offence so severe as to be kicked out of caucus.

Others appeared to welcome the move, sharing O’Toole’s statement on social media.

Late Monday, Sloan said he’d yet to speak to any of his fellow caucus members to assess how they’ll vote.

But he told his supporters he intended to put his all behind a fight to remain.

“I’m not going down into the night quietly, he said.

“So they’ve picked a fight with the wrong person.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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