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Ontario and Quebec keep the Liberals in power and the Conservatives out

Ontario and Quebec keep the Liberals in power and the Conservatives out

The Liberals lost support in every province across Canada in yesterday’s federal election, and it cost them their majority government.

But it wasn’t enough to cost them power.

Justin Trudeau will remain prime minister because voters in Quebec and Ontario didn’t want to give the job to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

The Liberals took a beating from coast to coast. With 33 per cent of the vote, the party lost 6.5 percentage points from the last federal election in 2015. It put the Liberals behind the Conservatives, who jumped 2.5 points to a little more than 34 per cent.

For the first time since 1979, the party that won the most votes didn’t win the most seats — and by a healthy margin.

With 157 seats, the Liberals have a big minority government. But nearly three-quarters of the Liberal caucus will hail from just two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, while two other provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan — won’t have a single member sitting on the governing benches.

That alone explains much of what happened last night.

Ontario electoral map doesn’t look that different

The Liberal vote in Ontario and Quebec held up pretty well. In Quebec, the Liberals dropped to 34 per cent support, a little more than a percentage point from 2015. In the process, the Liberals lost six seats to the Bloc Québécois, which surged by about 13 percentage points in the province — though not enough to topple the Liberals as the most popular party in Quebec.

In Ontario, the Liberals were down only about three percentage points, still managing to take over 41 per cent of the vote in the province and outpacing the Conservatives by a significant margin. That only cost the Liberals a net loss of one seat.

The key for the Liberals was holding their vote in the decisive Greater Toronto Area. They swept all 25 of Toronto’s seats and even increased their share of the vote slightly. They also came out of the surrounding suburbs with 24 of 29 seats — identical to where they were on election night in 2015.

Losses to the Conservatives in a handful of rural ridings were made up for with a few gains in southwestern Ontario. Electorally, the province doesn’t look much different than it did four years ago.

And that is why the Conservatives came up short.

Conservative gains not where they needed them

With disappointing results in Atlantic Canada — the Conservatives captured just four seats — and underwhelming performances in Quebec, the significant gains the Conservatives made in Western Canada were not nearly enough. The GTA was always the most important place for Scheer to make gains if he was to win this election. It didn’t happen. Instead, the Conservative share of the vote dropped by about five points in the region.

There was something about the Conservative message that didn’t resonate with Ontarians. Everywhere else in the country outside of Quebec the Conservative vote went up. The gains were most significant in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the party’s share of the vote jumped by double-digits.

But there were only so many new seats to grab in that part of the country. The Conservatives took back the four seats in Alberta they lost to the Liberals in 2015 and swept all of Saskatchewan. Two Liberal seats in the suburbs around Winnipeg also fell to the Conservatives.

Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland handily won her Toronto riding of University-Rosedale Monday night, part of a Liberal sweep of the Greater Toronto Area. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Those are important gains for the Conservatives, including the defeat of Liberal cabinet ministers Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton Mill Woods and Ralph Goodale in Regina–Wascana. It was this surge in support in Western Canada — which did not pay off much in terms of seat gains — that is behind the Conservatives’ popular vote win.

Just look at Alberta. Only one of the 33 Conservatives elected in the province failed to get a majority of ballots cast in their riding. Most of them get more than 70 per cent of the vote.

But that just ran up the numbers where the Conservatives already held seats. It was the Liberals’ ability to hold on to their seats in Central and Eastern Canada by narrower margins that made the difference. In all, the Liberals lost 15 seats west of Ontario, more than their combined losses east of the Lakehead.

NDP, Greens struggle to get their vote out

Another factor that contributed to the somewhat unexpected scale of the Liberal win was the performance of the New Democrats and the Greens.

The Greens, who have historically underperformed compared to polling expectations in virtually every election at both the federal and provincial levels, stayed true to that tradition. Their support was slipping in the final days of the campaign and dropped to just 6.5 per cent on election night — a disappointing result considering that the Greens managed to get 6.8 per cent of the vote in the 2008 federal election when they failed to win a single seat.

The party held its two seats on Vancouver Island but wasn’t able to make the hoped-for gains in the region. A win in Fredericton looks more like an exception — the result of the increased popularity of the Green brand in Atlantic Canada following provincial breakthroughs in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, along with a collapse of the NDP vote in these two provinces.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer increased his party’s support but was unable to win new seats in the Greater Toronto Area. (Michael Bell / Canadian Press)

But it was the performance of the New Democrats that was more of a surprise. While the Greens were trending down, the NDP was riding some momentum going into election day. In the end, the NDP performance didn’t match its polling, taking about 16 per cent of the vote nationwide when most polls showed the party in the 18 to 19 per cent range.

This underachievement was most obvious in seats in which the NDP has historically had some strength and should have been more competitive. In Atlantic Canada, the NDP finished a distant third in Acadie-Bathurst and was about 12 points behind the Liberals in Halifax.

Some of the seats targeted by the NDP in central Toronto were won by the Liberals by big margins: 14 percentage points in Toronto–Danforth and 16 points in Parkdale–High Park. Conservative gains in the Toronto suburbs was one thing the Liberals had to be worried about. NDP progress in the downtown core was the other. Neither happened.

Climate of change in Quebec

Quebec maintained its reputation as the most volatile province in recent Canadian elections. Fully 25 of its 78 seats changed hands — nearly as much as the rest of the country combined. 

While a few individual Liberal candidates knocked off some NDP incumbents, on the whole, there were a lot of losses in Quebec. The Liberals dropped six seats, the NDP lost all but one of its seats and the Conservatives fell from 12 Quebec MPs in 2015 to 10. People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier was defeated.

The Bloc returned with a vengeance, just finishing behind the Liberals in the popular vote and taking 32 seats, the party’s best performance since the 2008 election and a result that suggests the Bloc was the top choice of francophones in the province.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his wife, Gurkiran Kaur, greet supporters during an election night party in Burnaby, B.C. The NDP fell short of the support some polls had predicted, ending the night with 16 per cent of the vote. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press)

With the exception of the traditional Liberal strongholds of Montreal, Laval and the Outaouais, the Bloc won every region of the province — even knocking off a few Conservative incumbents in the Quebec City region. It was largely at the expense of the New Democrats that the Bloc made its return, with only NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie surviving the cull.

What’s the path to a majority now?

It raises a few questions about the future of every party in the House of Commons.

Where do the New Democrats go from here in Quebec, the province that took them to official opposition party status in 2011 and put them in the running to form a government in 2015?

What do the Greens have to do to make sure their support doesn’t disappear on election day?

And is the Bloc back for good?

The questions for the Conservatives and Liberals are more existential. The future of both parties looks murky when the Liberals have been pushed out of much of Western Canada and francophone Quebec. The Conservatives activated their base once again, but they lack representation in some of Canada’s biggest cities and took a significant step backwards in their outreach to Quebec.

Unless either party can figure out how to reconnect with these electorates, neither will be in the running to form a majority government in the near future. In the short term, it’s all about making the next Parliament function. In the longer term, it is about bridging the divides that are polarizing the country — and potentially making minority governments all the more likely.

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The House: Recruiting the two ex-Liberals

The House: Recruiting the two ex-Liberals

Byelection Singh 20190224

This week on The House, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks about his time in the House of Commons, his plan for the environment and the SNC-Lavalin matter. We also talk about the carbon tax with Minister Catherine McKenna. Finally, MP John McKay fills us in on Russia’s activity in the Arctic.

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Blackouts, gas bombs and gunplay: How the Canadian embassy is holding on in Venezuela

Blackouts, gas bombs and gunplay: How the Canadian embassy is holding on in Venezuela

The United States signed an accord yesterday that will allow for a U.S. ‘interests section’ in the Swiss embassy in Caracas, the same arrangement it has had at the Swiss embassy in Tehran for the past 40 years.

But the Canadians remain entrenched in their five-story embassy on the corner of Altamira Square, with no plans to go anywhere.

“I’m glad that Canada didn’t do the same thing as the U.S. because you need people on the ground in places like Venezuela to get a sense of what the citizens are saying on the ground,” said Ben Rowswell, the last person to serve as a full ambassador for Canada in Caracas.

“There’s a reason that the U.S. sometimes acts in foreign policy like it’s blind and deaf, and that’s because it actually ends up removing its eyes and ears from the places that matter the most, like Caracas.

“The core function of diplomacy is listening and that’s one thing our embassy excelled at. The embassy has probably had face-to-face conversations with tens of thousands of Venezuelans of every stripe over these past few years and that’s one of the reasons we’re so confident in our judgments of what Venezuelans really want.”

Live and let live

Canadian officials and their Venezuelan counterparts — both the ones who support current President Nicolás Maduro and those backing opposition leader Juan Guaido — have described a strange diplomatic equilibrium that allows Canada’s embassy to remain in Caracas despite government orders to leave, and also lets Maduro’s government retain five diplomatic properties in Canada, despite the fact that Ottawa doesn’t recognize it.

“I have an accreditation issued by the Government of Canada as a diplomat in this country,” Prof. Luis Acuna Cedeno told CBC News. The former graduate of the University of Western Ontario served as both a cabinet minister under President Hugo Chavez and as governor of Sucre state under Nicolas Maduro. Today, he retains control of Venezuela’s embassy in Sandy Hill, Ottawa, with the title of ‘charge d’affaires’.

“The diplomatic mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has its staff working at the embassy in the city of Ottawa, the general consulate of Montreal, the general consulate of Vancouver and the general consulate of Toronto. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not have any other diplomatic staff working in Canada. As it is already known, in December 2017, Canada decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with Venezuela to the level of Chargé d’Affaires.”

Meanwhile, the man Canada does recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate representative is unable to set foot in his country’s embassy or official residence. He’s also barred from becoming a diplomat in Canada because of his immigration status as a Canadian permanent resident.

Orlando Viera Blanco told CBC News he plans to renounce his permanent resident status. “We are in the process, just to respect the protocols, and to improve our final status as an ambassador. The Vienna Convention requires us not to be a citizen or a permanent resident as part of the process that we have to comply (with).”

Viera Blanco said he’s also unable to visit the nation he represents because he faces a criminal charge of treason for accepting the post of representative for the man Canada has recognized as Venezuela’s acting president, Juan Guaidó.

The unusual modus vivendi the parties described to CBC News appears to have endured because — for the moment — it works for all three parties.

Canada’s toleration of the presence of two rival representatives from Venezuela is a pragmatic quid pro quo for Venezuela’s tolerance of the Canadian diplomatic presence in Caracas.

“It’s a unique situation. It’s an unprecedented situation. When you have people from Canada working in Venezuela, you have to be prudent,” says Viera Blanco. Partly for that reason, he told CBC News, taking possession of Venezuela’s diplomatic properties in Canada is a “low priority.”

“We respect the uniqueness of that situation and that’s why we have to move forward with diplomacy, prudence and moderation that are required in this unique situation.”

The situation stands in sharp contrast to that of some of the other key players in the fight over Venezuela’s future who have been unable to maintain a diplomatic presence in Venezuela.

‘Get back, Satan!’

“I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with the fascist government of Colombia and all its ambassadors and consuls must leave Venezuela within 24 hours. Get out of here, oligarchy!”

With those words on February 23, Maduro announced the end of all ties with the country many Venezuelans refer to as their “sister nation.”

“You are the devil Ivan Duque, you’re the devil,” Maduro said, referring to the Colombian president. “And you’re going to dry up for interfering in Venezuela. Get back Satan, get out of here devil!”

For six weeks now, the border has been closed between two countries that were, for the first twelve years of their independence, a single nation.

Colombia and Venezuela have since engaged in a war of words that occasionally has spilled over into border clashes, pitting the Colombian military against shadowy paramilitary groups that Bogota considers to be protegés of the Maduro government.

Colombia also has lost the ability to help its citizens in Venezuela, where they are by far the largest group of foreign residents.

Bolivarian National Guard ride their motorcycles over Fransisco de Miranda Avenue, painted with the word “resistance” and the names of protesters killed by statwe forces in 2014. The Canadian embassy is at top right. (Tomas Bravo/REUTERS)

U.S. throws in the towel

Just hours after a State Department briefing on Venezuela that made no mention of closing the U.S. embassy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surprised many with a late-night tweet from Texas in which he announced that Washington was pulling out the last of its diplomats.

Non-essential staff and family members had departed two months previously. On January 24, Maduro gave the U.S. embassy 72 hours to either withdraw its recognition of Guaido or withdraw its diplomats.

When it became clear that the U.S. did not intend to comply, Maduro issued a face-saving 30-day extension, which he renewed for another 30 days in February, ostensibly to allow for negotiations on setting up a U.S. interests section in another country’s embassy.

But those talks (if they happened) went nowhere, and the U.S. pulled the plug on the embassy just before midnight on March 11.

The U.S., like Canada, has urged its citizens to leave Venezuela and has given the country its highest-level travel warning.

Gas, blackouts and threats

Canada’s embassy has stayed open despite logistical difficulties — including prolonged city-wide blackouts caused by the collapse of Venezuela’s electricity network — by running diesel generators and stockpiling water.

Its location on Plaza Altamira has put it at the heart of numerous protests, some of which have ended in gunfire, injuries and deaths.

“The protesters themselves were never a problem,” said Rowswell. “But when the police forces would enter the square to try to clear it, that would create a situation of tension in the plaza.

“There were some times when there were particularly intense protests or repression and we would have to suspend some of our public-facing operation such as providing consular service for a day or two, but we would get right back into action very quickly.”

When Rowswell finished his term as ambassador, the Venezuelan government refused to allow him to be replaced, as it had been angered by Magnitsky Act sanctions brought against certain members of the Maduro regime. A more junior diplomat, Craig Kowalik, took over as charge d’affairs. He lasted for about six months before he learned from social media that he had just been declared persona non grata — along with the fully-accredited ambassador from Brazil.

As 2017 turned into 2018, Kowalik found himself briefly camping out at his parents’ house in Canada before taking on a new assignment in Colombia, where much of his work these days involves Venezuelan exiles and migrants.

Diplomats in Caracas have grown used to a steady stream of denunciations, including trips to the Venezuelan foreign ministry to receive protest notes.

In a typical statement on May 30, Venezuela’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza suggested that Canada’s criticisms of the Maduro regime were prompted by its desire to maintain the NAFTA accord with Washington:

“It is blindingly obvious that the obsessive conduct of the government of Canada against Venezuela results from its humiliating subordination to the foreign policy of the racist and supremacist administration of Donald Trump. The facts suggest that this servile policy of the Canadian authorities is the product of the desperation of that government to avoid losing benefits and preferences in its commercial treaties with the United States.”

Ultimatum ignored

As well as surviving downgrades and expulsions, the Canadian embassy managed to ride out one ultimatum to close up shop by simply ignoring it.

On January 9, the Venezuelan government gave Canada 72 hours to retract a statement saying that Maduro, whose presidential term had ended that day, was no longer a legitimate president. If Canada did not retract, Venezuela would break off relations.

Canada did nothing.

On the Saturday the deadline was to expire, Venezuela’s foreign ministry announced that President Maduro had decided to extend the deadline for Canada (and fellow miscreant Paraguay) to the following Monday.

Again, Canada did nothing. It’s position on Monday was the same as on Friday, and remains the same today.

The Parauguayan embassy is closed and its diplomats are gone. Canada’s are still there.

‘Performing for the cameras’

“(Members of the Maduro regime) are aware of how isolated they are,” said Rowswell, “and they sometimes lash out in anger in ways that aren’t entirely thought through. And they’re sometimes performing for the cameras, and not engaged in real conversations. Often you’ll see them making a threat on television without ever having communicated with the embassy.

“My experience was you never knew who they were going to pick on. You’d wake up one day and it would be the Italians, the next day it would be the Spanish, almost every day (it) would be the United States, and then regularly every single Latin American country would be singled out for abuse.

“It got to the point there was no observable pattern, just whoever Maduro was mad at from one day to the next.”

On March 4, Guaido returned to Caracas after a tour of South American capitals, during which he was fêted by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Fearing that he would be arrested, diplomats from several countries, including Canada, went to the airport to greet him. Venezuela responded by giving German Ambassador Daniel Kriener 48 hours to leave the country, which he did.

Again, the Canadians escaped a sanction.

Rowswell said he hopes this unusual situation can be maintained, even though it rests on shaky diplomatic ground.

“Once you remove Canadian diplomats, over time the kind of granular feel we have for what is really happening on the ground would diminish. And that’s where I feel the Americans are really making a big mistake by losing their eyes and ears on the ground.”

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With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons' crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory

With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons’ crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory

If a group of crows is called a ‘murder’, an assembly of ferrets is a ‘business’ and a collection of owls is a ‘parliament’, what do you call a row of independent MPs?

A ‘schism’ of independents? A ‘motley’, perhaps? How about an ‘insurrection’?

With the ejection of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus this week, the number of independent MPs in the House of Commons has exploded. Coupled with the other MPs representing an array of ‘unrecognized’ parties ranging from the secessionist to the populist and the extinct, the number of MPs in the House who do not belong to officially recognized parties is at an all-time high.

There are now seven Independents in the House. Along with Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the list includes former Liberals Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Raj Grewal, Darshan Kang and Hunter Tootoo, as well as Tony Clement, a former Conservative.

That’s not an abnormally high number for the tail end of a majority government’s term. There were eight independents when the House was dissolved ahead of the 2015 federal election. There were nine just before the 2004 election.

The number of Independents hit a modern high in 1990 as well, when there were 11 of them in the House — the bulk of them former Liberal or PC MPs who eventually would form the Bloc Québécois.

But any party with less than 12 seats in the House of Commons goes “unrecognized” — which means it isn’t guaranteed slots in question period, seats on committees or the extra resources that are awarded to larger parties. Instead, these parties need to share their speaking time in the House with other Independents; in the current Parliament, that means 14 questions a week are divvied up between the 20 MPs from unrecognized parties or sitting as Independents.

Those unrecognized parties are the Bloc Québécois (10 MPs), Greens (Elizabeth May) and the People’s Party (Maxime Bernier).

Then there’s Erin Weir, who was booted from the New Democratic caucus last year. He is sitting as a self-appointed member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner party to the NDP that has not existed for more than half a century.

Weir wants more speaking time for independents

Weir has been pushing Speaker Geoff Regan for more questions for the growing crew of Independents.

“The independent group is by far the fastest-growing parliamentary caucus,” Weir said in a statement following Caesar-Chavannes’s departure from the Liberal caucus in March. “We need more spots in question period to reflect our numbers.”

He repeated that call this week when the cohort of Independents grew by two.

In an October 2018 ruling, Regan said that the 14 questions awarded to Independents was already high, adding that “never have independent members been recognized as much during question period.” He also reminded the House that question period is only supposed to last 45 minutes and the additional questions given to Independents are already routinely pushing question period well beyond that duration.

Small parties only began receiving recognition in the House in 1963, during a period of minority governments when the New Democrats and Social Credit held a lot of sway in the legislature. At the time, the bar of 12 seats was set to give leaders of these smaller parties a bump in salary, like the one given to the leader of the Official Opposition. The threshold of 12 seats then evolved to become the benchmark for a number of other parliamentary privileges.

Watch Vassy Kapelos explain what it means to be an independent MP.

Vassy Kapelos walks through some of the drawbacks to being an MP outside of an official party. 1:19

Less than the sum of its parts

Theoretically, Weir could acquire these privileges by getting his unrecognized colleagues to form a caucus of their own — like the Independent Senators Group in the Senate.

Of course, that would mean somehow uniting Caesar-Chavannes, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould with Kang, Tootoo, Clement and Grewal — Independents who are alleged to have committed, or have admitted to committing, various improprieties. It also would require finding common ground between May and Bernier and getting the Bloc on board.

Parliament has seen plenty of caucuses divided against themselves, but such an Independent caucus would set a new bar for internal turmoil. Obviously, it isn’t happening.

But the numbers make it possible — which is pretty remarkable on its own.

Former NDP MP Erin Weir is sitting in the House of Commons as a member of the defunct CCF. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

At the end of the last Parliament, the total number of Independents and MPs from unrecognized parties just ticked over the 12-seat threshold. But that also was a group of MPs with unreconcilable differences — representatives of the Greens, the Bloc and Strength in Democracy (remember them?), along with a clutch of cast-off Independents.

Before that, you have to go back to the 35th Parliament that sat between 1994 and 1997 and included nine New Democrats and two Progressive Conservatives. Add the handful of independents at that time to the mix, and you could have had an unrecognizable — but nevertheless ‘recognized’ — party.

Former cabinet ministers in the ‘nose-bleed’ section

But while it’s a bit odd to see so many MPs in the House who don’t belong to a recognized party, it’s far from unprecedented. What is unique about this group is the large number of them who have held high office in the past.

According to the database maintained by the Library of Parliament, only 18 former cabinet ministers have ever appeared in the Commons as Independents. Of those, four (five if we include Bernier, who briefly sat as an Independent before changing his affiliation to the People’s Party) are now sitting in the House of Commons. That’s twice the largest number of “honourable members” that ever sat previously as independents at the same time.

That’s a coincidence, of course: very little connects former cabinet ministers Tootoo and Clement to Philpott and Wilson-Raybould, apart from the bad view they now have in the House. But it’s another reminder, if any was needed, that the last two months have nudged federal politics into uncharted territory.

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Canada's window to defend the Arctic is closing, MP warns

Canada’s window to defend the Arctic is closing, MP warns

An MP who has been looking into the militarization of the North warns that if Canada doesn’t act now, it could slowly lose its grip on the Arctic.

Liberal John McKaythe Canadian co-chair of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence with the U.S., says he fears Canada isn’t ready to defend its territory as the threat from Russia slowly expands.

“We are not very well prepared,” he said.

Russia already has missile launchers and air defence systems dotted along ice roads at various military outposts in remote areas along its northern coast.

In the last five years, the Kremlin has poured vast resources into revamping Soviet-era bases in the Arctic.

“There is a very dramatic buildup of Russian military capability right across the top end of Russia, starting with Norway, working right across, right through to Alaska,” McKay said Friday in an interview with Chris Hall airing today on CBC Radio’s The House.

Russia isn’t the only country expanding its command of the north as climate change opens access to resources and shipping lanes. The U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway are all nudging their way into the polar region as well. 

This map shows the locations of Russian military outposts in the far North. (John McKay/Supplied)

However, Russia seems to be moving in quickly. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his goal to lay claim to a large portion of the Arctic, citing the estimated value of minerals in the north at $30 trillion.

The speed of Russia’s expansion is making other nations nervous.

Last month, the American commander of NORAD called on U.S. and Canadian policy makers to think about whether they’re doing enough to counter Russian threats in the far North.

“We haven’t seen this sort of systematic and methodical increase in threats since the height of the Cold War,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy told the group.

Missiles, ships, troops

McKay shares those concerns. “It’s not just simply the presence of significant numbers of troops but it’s also missiles, and ships, and ballistic missiles, and low altitude cruise missiles,” he said.

McKay recently attended a meeting of the joint board where participants discussed the rapid expansion of Russia’s military presence in the region.

McKay said he’s still not convinced the White House understands what’s at stake.

A Russian military Pansyr-S1 air defence system leaves a garage during a military drill. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)

“Clearly there is a certain indifference on the part of President (Donald) Trump.”

But McKay said he also wants to see Canada ramp up Arctic defence.

“I would like to see more resources applied to what has become a security issue for us, primarily driven by the fact that climate change has opened up the sea lanes.”

He also cautioned that the government needs to act quickly and decisively, before things get worse.

“I think the window of opportunity is closing quickly. And I’m not sure that many Canadians are actually aware how quickly it is closing.”

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'I'll continue to speak my voice': Jody Wilson-Raybould 'incredibly open' to future in federal politics

‘I’ll continue to speak my voice’: Jody Wilson-Raybould ‘incredibly open’ to future in federal politics

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould says she hasn’t ruled out a future in federal politics, saying she is “entirely committed” to public policy issues like reconciliation and climate change just as she was when she first ran for a seat in Ottawa nearly four years ago.

Despite being at the centre of the months-long SNC-Lavalin controversy, Wilson-Raybould told CBC’sThe Early Edition that she’s still “incredibly open” to being involved with decisions made in Ottawa. 

“I still have a commitment to ensuring that our governments, the government politics in Ottawa, is and becomes a different way of making decisions, a different way of doing politics,” the Vancouver Granville MP said during a phone interview before boarding a flight home from Ottawa.

“And [as for] what the people of Vancouver Granville feel — and I hope that they feel at liberty to tell me how they feel — I’ll make a decision on what I do [in the fall].”

‘I still believe in the values and the principles of equality and inclusion and justice that I feel underpin the Liberal Party,’ Wilson-Raybould said. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Wilson-Raybould first got involved in federal politics because Justin Trudeau, as leader of the Liberal Party, asked her to run in the 2015 federal election. She went on to become the country’s first Indigenous justice minister and attorney general.

But a scandal erupted two months ago when the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had faced inappropriate political pressure on a criminal prosecution decision against SNC-Lavalin. Wilson-Raybould and her former cabinet colleague Jane Philpott both later resigned from cabinet to protest the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.

Trudeau ejected both MPs from caucus on Tuesday, leaving them as back-corner independents.

Jane Philpott (left) and Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet to protest the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file. The prime minister ejected both MPs from caucus on Tuesday, leaving them as back-corner independents. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Reconciliation issues

On Friday, Wilson-Raybould said she still sees many of the same issues unresolved today as she did in 2015.

“I believe fundamentally that in order to transform indigenous communities, we need to, as a government and as a country, create a space for Indigenous peoples to be self-determinant. And that’s why I ran [in 2015],” she said.

“I do still see … the fundamental need to create the space for a transformative relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights.

“That is something that I am entirely committed to.”

The ousting of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from the Liberal caucus has fuelled accusations that the party has abandoned its 2015 campaign commitments to Indigenous reconciliation and gender equality — but the former attorney general, despite having fallen out of favour with the party, said she still supports many Liberal ideals. 

“I was a member of the Liberal Party, I still believe in the values and the principles of equality and inclusion and justice that I feel underpin the Liberal Party, and so many Canadians signed up for the Liberal Party back in 2015 believing in the same thing — or even in doing politics differently,” she said, adding that she sees Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as a “worry” for the future of reconciliation.

“I absolutely still believe in that.”

Wilson-Raybould’s constituency office in Vancouver. ‘I hope that they feel at liberty to tell me how they feel,’ she said of her Vancouver Granville constituents, concerning her future in politics. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

‘I was doing my job’

The MP’s riding of Vancouver Granville, formed in 2013, has been in a mix of shock and support for its ousted representative. Wilson-Raybould said she’s been out door-knocking in her riding to talk to constituents in light of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

“I have to say, and this is what I said to people that I found on the doorsteps in Vancouver Granville and chat, is that I was doing my job,” she said.

“I’ll continue to speak my voice as long as I have the great fortune of being the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, in that capacity and then all other capacities I’ll be fortunate enough to fulfil,” she continued.

“I need to, of course, continue to talk to my husband and my family. I’m coming home and I’m so looking forward to getting back to Vancouver talking to my volunteers in the riding, to, particularly, constituents, and hearing what they have to say.”

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'We aren't going to turn the page': Conservatives try again to tie Norman trial to SNC-Lavalin fallout

‘We aren’t going to turn the page’: Conservatives try again to tie Norman trial to SNC-Lavalin fallout

Federal Conservatives made a pitch today — in the wake of the SNC Lavalin affair — to turn the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman into the spinoff political scandal of the spring.

While the pace of the SNC-Lavalin scandal could start slowing down now, following the ejection of both former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus this week, Conservatives effectively served notice Friday that they’re not letting the Liberal government off the hook over allegations of political interference in criminal cases.

“We aren’t going to turn the page on the rule-of-law corruption from this government,” former Conservative veterans minister Erin O’Toole said Friday as debate began on an opposition motion which, among other things, repeated a demand that the federal government cover Norman’s legal bills.

The motion also insisted that senior political staff and bureaucrats around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sign “an affidavit affirming that no evidence or records” related to the criminal case against the former vice chief of the defence staff have been destroyed.

The Conservatives have made similar demands before as they’ve pressed the Liberal government to account for inconsistencies and allegations of political interference in the prosecution of Norman, who faces a single count of breach of trust.

The Crown accused of him of leaking cabinet secrets to a shipyard executive and a CBC journalist related to a $668 million deal to lease a supply ship for the navy.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould referenced the Norman case in her secretly-recorded conversation with  Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, suggesting alleged attempts to interfere in SNC Lavalin’s prosecution could taint the public’s perceptions of both the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and the Norman case.

‘This is worse than the SNC-Lavalin scandal’

“Canadians should be outraged,” said O’Toole.

“This is worse than the SNC scandal … you may have issues with a company and bad practice by a company, but here is a Canadian who gave three decades of his life to his country, and before that grew up in a family serving the country, who is being hung out to dry.”

The parliamentary secretary for the justice minister, Arif Virani, responded — as the government has before when faced with questions about the Norman case — by chastising the opposition for talking about a matter still before the courts.

Norman’s lawyers will be back in court in two weeks to resume their fight for access to federal government documents to prove their theory that his prosecution is politically motivated.

The federal government has released a few thousand pages of internal documents, but many pertinent ones — including Wernick’s 60 page memo on the case to Trudeau — have been redacted due to solicitor-client privilege.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman follows his lawyer Marie Henein as they leave the courthouse in Ottawa following his first appearance for his trial for breach of trust, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Conservatives repeatedly have sought assurances that government documents related to the case have not been destroyed. They’ve attempted to connect the handling of Norman’s case against Norman with a scandal that erupted in Ontario over the cancellation of gas plant construction under the former Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. Government records were destroyed in the course of that scandal.

O’Toole pointed out that many of Trudeau’s government’s current and ex-senior advisers served in the McGuinty government, or its successor under former premier Kathleen Wynne.

“That was the same crew that brought us the billion-dollar scandal in Ontario,” he said.

The RCMP have separately charged a mid-level federal government procurement official with leaking cabinet secrets related to the same shipbuilding deal.

Matthew Matchett is also charged with breach of trust. He is accused of leaking a cabinet memo and slide deck presentation to an Ottawa lobbyist working for one of the shipyards before a meeting on Nov. 19, 2015, while Norman is alleged to have disclosed the results of the secret discussions

O’Toole insisted that Norman was the “only one [that] has been set up as the fall guy.”

The opposition motion will be voted on next week.

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Feds commit $1.3B to repair crumbling Toronto community housing units

Feds commit $1.3B to repair crumbling Toronto community housing units

Financial relief to help fix Toronto’s decade-long problem of crumbling community housing stock could finally be on the way.

The federal government announced a $1.3-billion funding infusion on Friday aimed at helping the city agency that oversees public housing with a $1.6-billion repair backlog. About $810-million will come in the form of loans, while the  remaining $530-million will be contributions. All of the funding will be distributed over a 10-year period. 

The money for overdue repairs to Toronto Community Housing (TCH) will come from the $13.2-billion National Housing Co-Investment Fund, launched in May 2018. The federal initiative hopes to create up to 60,000 new homes and repair some 240,000 existing units nationwide over the next 10 years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Mayor John Tory at a TCH building in Scarborough to announce the funding boost. The news conference was delayed nearly an hour by protesters who continued to shout while the prime minister spoke.

The $1.3 billion will go to renovating some 58,000 TCH units, according to the federal government. The work is scheduled to begin this spring.

TCH had already budgeted $313 million for repairs this year.

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SNC-Lavalin revives court bid for special agreement to avoid criminal trial

SNC-Lavalin revives court bid for special agreement to avoid criminal trial

SNC-Lavalin, the company at the centre of a national political storm, underscores what it calls new and troubling facts in a fresh court bid for a special agreement to avoid prosecution on corruption charges.

The Montreal-based engineering and construction firm cites revelations from recent parliamentary-committee testimony in trying to revive its Federal Court case against the director of public prosecutions.

SNC-Lavalin is asking the Federal Court of Appeal to give it another chance to challenge the director’s decision to not negotiate an agreement that would see the company avoid a criminal trial and a possible prohibition from receiving federal contracts for 10 years.

In a March ruling, the Federal Court tossed out the company’s plea for a judicial review of the 2018 decision.

SNC-Lavalin faces prosecution over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to obtain government business in Libya.

The company unsuccessfully pressed the director of prosecutions to negotiate a “remediation agreement,” a means of holding an organization to account without formal criminal proceedings.

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The Pollcast: What went down at the Alberta leaders debate

The Pollcast: What went down at the Alberta leaders debate

In 2015, a comment about the challenges of arithmetic during that year’s leaders debate helped propel Rachel Notley into the Alberta premier’s office. The trends were already starting to head in the NDP’s direction when the late Jim Prentice made the remark, but it was still a turning point in what turned out to be a historic election.

Trailing the United Conservatives’ Jason Kenney in the polls, Notley needed Thursday’s debate to be another turning point.

This debate lacked the kind of memorable moment we saw in 2015, but sometimes the impact of a debate can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight. There isn’t much time left for the polling trend line to move — Albertans go to the polls on Apr. 16.

To break down the debate and discuss how this campaign has played out so far, Pollcast host Éric Grenier is joined by Kim Trynacity, the CBC’s provincial affairs reporter in Alberta.

As voting day nears in Alberta, the CBC’s Kim Trynacity joins Éric Grenier to break down Thursday’s leaders debate, talk about how the players performed and who stood out. 18:58

Listen to the full discussion above — or subscribe to the CBC Pollcast and listen to past episodes of the show.

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