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Trudeau urges world leaders to pull together for COVID-19 vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged all world leaders to pull together in the global fight for a vaccine for COVID-19 during an online pledging “marathon” today, as the United States steered clear of the conference. Canada’s health minister, Patty Hajdu, says even as several provinces and sectors engage in a “cautious reopening,” people need to understand that the coronavirus outbreak is “not over.” To read more: »»» Subscribe to CBC News to watch more videos:

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Canada ends surtax on 5 kinds of foreign steel

Canada ends surtax on 5 kinds of foreign steel

Five types of foreign steel will no longer face a 25 per cent surtax in Canada after the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) filed a report that found inadequate evidence to justify most of the Finance Department’s emergency safeguards to protect Canadian steelmakers.

Last October, Finance Minister Bill Morneau used a rare emergency safeguards measure to bring in a provisional surtax on seven types of steel: heavy plate, concrete reinforcing bar, energy tubular products, hot-rolled sheet, pre-painted steel, stainless steel wire and wire rod.

The department never released a rationale for the surtax. The emergency measure allowed him to apply surtaxes first and investigate their merits later — through what the tribunal called one of the most complex inquiries it’s ever done, with 119 participants submitting over 38,000 pages of evidence.

“The tribunal believes that there is an important public interest issue in achieving a balanced recommendation on remedy, one that removes the threat of serious injury to the domestic producers from increased imports, while, at the same time, minimizing the costs to the Canadian economy,” the panel wrote in its report Wednesday.

The surtax bolstered the federal government’s argument that cheap foreign steel could not find its way into the American market by using Canada as a back door. Many kinds of steel faced a 25 per cent levy in both countries.

The safeguards also protected Canadian steelmakers from any sudden dumps of cheap product displaced from the U.S. by the Trump administration’s recent tariffs.

But the tribunal determined these safeguards were only partially justified by the market evidence presented during its hearings last January — putting Morneau in a tight spot.

Surtax ends April 28

The three-person panel was ordered to investigate whether each product was coming into Canada in quantities or under conditions that would risk serious injury to domestic producers of similar goods.

Hot-rolled sheet, pre-painted steel and wire rod are not being imported in increased quantities, the tribunal determined.

Imports of concrete reinforcing bar and energy tubular products are up, the tribunal said — but those increases and the conditions under which these products are being imported are not causing, or threatening to cause, serious injury.

The Department of Finance wrote participants in the hearings to inform them that as a result of the CITT findings, the surtaxes on these five products will cease on April 28.

The provisional safeguards apply until then, but the government intends to refund what importers have paid, the statement said.

Morneau “moved too quickly to get the duties in place, and now he’s got a little bit of egg on his face,” said trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, who represented clients at the inquiry.

“It’s obvious that they were just doing what the domestic industry had asked them to do.”

The government could have consulted Statistics Canada import data to learn that there wasn’t a case for surtaxes on those three products, she said. “There’s no reason for them to have missed that part.”

Surtax on two products may continue

The tribunal determined that foreign imports of heavy plate and stainless steel wire are a legitimate threat to the domestic industry.

Morneau now has until May 12 — when the provisional safeguards expire — to decide whether to keep applying this surtax on imports above a tariff rate quota (TRQ) based on historic trade volumes.

“Our government is carefully reviewing the CITT’s findings and recommendations before deciding on next steps and will respond in the coming weeks,” said Morneau’s spokesperson, Pierre-Olivier Herbert.

“We will continue to work with affected businesses and workers in the steel, aluminum and manufacturing industries, to ensure they have the support they need.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau began considering emergency safeguards to protect the steel industry last summer. His safeguards lasted for only 200 days, while the Canadian International Trade Tribunal investigated their merits. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

The panel was ordered to exclude products from free trade agreement partners Korea, Panama, Peru, Colombia and Honduras if they did not cause or threaten serious injury.

Other free trade agreement partners like Chile and Israel, and some developing countries, did not face the safeguards.

This surtax also is not applied to imports from the U.S. Those have been subject to separate retaliatory tariffs since the Trump administration’s decision to slap a 25 per cent tariff on Canadian steel.

The tribunal recommended the government periodically review its measures as global market conditions change, taking into account trade measures in the U.S., the European Union and elsewhere.

Washington’s reaction to Ottawa’s scaling back of the surtax may be critical, as Canada tries to persuade the Trump administration to lift its “national security” tariffs.

‘Disappointed and concerned’

The Canadian Steel Producers Association (CSPA) warned in a statement Wednesday it was seeing “strong expectations from the U.S. government that [Canada] will take every action necessary to keep unfair steel out of North America.”

“We are disappointed and concerned with the tribunal’s recommendations,” president Catherine Cobden said in a statement.

“Furthermore, the continued surge of low-priced imports and deteriorating market conditions that have persisted following the conclusion of the CITT’s hearing were not considered and further supports the imposition of final safeguard measures.”

The CSPA said the tribunal’s report is not binding on the minister and urged Morneau to “exercise his statutory authority” to keep taxing all seven products.

In a statement, the head of the United Steelworkers called for the same thing, saying Morneau must “act decisively” to keep out “illegally subsidized steel from jurisdictions including China, Turkey and Vietnam.”

“If existing safeguards are not finalized, a surge of foreign imports will devastate Canada’s steel industry and communities across the country,” United Steelworkers National Director Ken Neumann said.

Other countries have taken measures to protect workers, he said, and Morneau has a “moral obligation to act.”

The World Trade Organization’s agreement on safeguards, however, obliges Canada to respect the findings of the tribunal as a quasi-judicial body.

CBC News asked Morneau’s office whether the minister has the authority to disregard the tribunal’s advice. Herbert said “we are still in the process of analyzing the CITT recommendations” and wouldn’t speculate on the next steps.

“If the Canadian government were to ignore the CITT decision or report, then what does that do, on a going forward basis, for all of the anti-dumping cases?” Todgham Cherniak said.

“They’d undermine every decision that they’ve had in the past, and our ability to use it in the future, if they ignore a tribunal report for political reasons.”

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Public Health Agency of Canada says salmonella outbreak hits 6 provinces, dozens sick

Public Health Agency of Canada says salmonella outbreak hits 6 provinces, dozens sick

Health officials are investigating an outbreak of salmonella in six provinces that has sickened 63 people, including 18 who have been hospitalized.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there are laboratory-confirmed cases in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

The agency says the source of the bacterial infection has not been identified.

“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting a food safety investigation,” a government release says. “If contaminated food products are identified, they will take the necessary steps to protect the public, including recalling food products as required.

“Currently there are no food recall warnings associated with this outbreak.”

It says the outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported.

Two deaths have been reported, but the agency says it has not been determined whether salmonella was a contributing cause.

The agency says the people who became ill range in age from one to 87. Individuals became sick between November and March.

The agency said anyone can become sick from salmonella but infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness.

Salmonella is a common bacteria that causes intestinal illness. Symptoms may include chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting. 

It is usually caused by eating contaminated foods that have not been cooked properly, but can also be spread from one person to another if people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.

The breakdown of known cases as of Friday includes 23 people in B.C., ten people each in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. There are eight cases in Saskatchewan and two in Quebec.

Deaths reported in Winnipeg

Earlier Friday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said two people had died after testing positive for salmonella at a personal care home in the city, but health officials said it has not been confirmed whether the bacterial infection contributed to the deaths.

Three residents of the Golden West Centennial Lodge tested positive last month and two of them later died in hospital. The third person recovered.

Joyce Kristjansson, the care home’s executive director, said staff brought in special measures while the outbreak was investigated. Residents were not allowed to move off their own floors, all group activities were cancelled and extra emphasis was put on hand-washing for people entering and leaving the building.

“What I would stress is that we do have a very frail population here and we did communicate with all of the families when we were first notified,” she said.

Public health inspectors worked with the care home to try to determine how the outbreak began. The investigation included a kitchen inspection, but no signs of contamination were found.

Health officials lifted the measures on Tuesday and the cases were reported to a national intestinal monitoring program and the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Three residents of the Golden West Centennial Lodge tested positive last month and two of them later died in hospital. The third person recovered. (CBC)

Food safety expert Rick Holley, professor emeritus in food science at the University of Manitoba, said the rate of hospitalizations due to salmonella in Canada is about 20 cases per 100,0000 people. The federal government estimates there are about 87,500 cases each year.

Most people recover from the infection after about three days of feeling ill.

“But in about 10 per cent of the population — these would be folks that are older or very young, or those that would suffer a health condition that affects the operation of their immune system — there can be very serious effects” including death, he said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled frozen chicken nuggets three times this year over fears of salmonella contamination.

If people cook their food properly and practice good hygiene, they can usually avoid serious issues with salmonella, Holley said.

“These organisms don’t fool around. They exist to multiply and grow, and they just love to grow at body temperature.”

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Canada lost 7,200 jobs in March, ending 6-month string of gains

Canada lost 7,200 jobs in March, ending 6-month string of gains

Canada’s job market shrank by 7,200 positions in March, but the jobless rate held steady at 5.8 per cent.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that most provinces lost jobs, especially Quebec (down by 12,900 jobs) and Ontario (down 8,800 jobs). British Columbia added 7,900 jobs, Saskatchewan added 3,900 jobs, New Brunswick added 3,100 jobs and Prince Edward Island added 2,000.

Everywhere else, the job market was flat.

The monthly decline comes on the heels of the best two-month start to the year for Canada’s job market in almost 40 years, with 66,800 new jobs in January and 55,900 in February.

Economists had been expecting a slowdown from those highs, but thought the economy would still eke out a gain of about 2,300 jobs for the month, on average, according to Bloomberg. So the March loss came as a surprise.

While the overall economy lost jobs, many sectors saw gains.

“It was a mixed bag,” TD Bank economist Brian DePratto said. Goods-producing industries added about 1,600 jobs overall, but that was more than offset by widespread declines in the service sector, including 20,000 lost in health care and 14,000 in business support.

De Pratto said while the headline number was certainly negative, overall, the report wasn’t all that bad.

“The end of a six-month streak of job gains is sure to catch headlines, but given the strength we’ve seen over the past half-year, a flat report isn’t really surprising and indeed makes some sense given the relatively modest performance of other economic indicators in recent months,” he said.

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Canada expects foreign meddling in October election, Chrystia Freeland says

Canada expects foreign meddling in October election, Chrystia Freeland says

Canadian Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday it was likely that foreign actors would meddle in the country’s October elections, and her British counterpart said a deterrent to stop countries like Russia from interfering was critical.

U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations strongly denied by Moscow.

When asked whether she was worried Russia would interfere in the election, Freeland said she was “very concerned.”

“Our judgment is that interference is very likely and we think there have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy,” she said, speaking at a media freedom event on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting in France.

Freeland said such attempts were not aimed at securing a particular outcome in a national elections, but to polarize Western societies.

The foreign ministers of the G7 nations — the U.S., France, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada — as well as the European Union are meeting in Dinard, Brittany, where they are expected later to agree on common norms that would seek to prevent foreign powers from destabilizing democratic nations.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was imperative for liberal democracies to tackle interference by Russia and others.

“We know that states like Russia have got a very active, planned, thought-through strategy to interfere in democratic processes in Western countries and [to sow] dissension and chaos wherever they can,” Hunt said.

“We are getting much better at fending off these attacks when they happen. What we don’t do at the moment is deter them from happening in the first place.”

He said the discussions at the G7 on Friday would be aimed at finding a deterrence strategy that imposed a high price for meddling with democratic processes.

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Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo

Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo

The fallout from Saudi Arabia’s move to punish Canadian companies was felt within a month of the countries’ sudden diplomatic feud last summer, leading to visa rejections, a government ban on food from Canada and a blockage of shipments at the kingdom’s ports.

A newly released federal document provides a close look at Saudi Arabia’s retaliation against Canada, following criticism by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Twitter of the regime’s arrest of women’s rights activists.

Angered by the public condemnation, Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Canada last August, expelled the Canadian ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Ottawa.

The kingdom also stopped future trade and investment deals, cancelled grain imports and said it would shut down lucrative scholarships for its citizens to study in Canada. The Saudi central bank and state pension funds started selling their Canadian holdings.

A briefing note to International Trade Minister Jim Carr offers more detail on how events were unfolding on the ground about a month after the start of the dispute.

“It is important to note that over the last few days Global Affairs Canada has been learning of concrete actions taken by Saudi Arabia against Canadian companies across various sectors,” reads the memo, released this week to The Canadian Press under access-to-information law.

The document went on to list numerous measures, including:

  • Requests for existing contracts to be replaced by new contracts with non-Canadian suppliers.
  • Denial of access to military bases.Payment delays.
  • Re-routing of flights for product supplies.
  • Prevention of a Canadian company from importing and selling medication.
  • Government ministries issuing orders to ban food and medication from Canada.
  • Various shipments from Canada being completely stopped at Saudi ports.

The note was created last September for Carr in preparation for his meeting with members of the Canada Arab Business Council, who have interests in the kingdom.

The additional details of the dispute with Saudi Arabia emerge as Canada tries to manage other, bigger trade-related challenges with its two largest partners, the United States and China.

No rapprochement yet for former key partners

Saudi Arabia has previously been a key partner for Canada in the Middle East and, according to a separate internal briefing note, the countries had more than $4 billion worth of trade in 2017. That year, Saudi Arabia had $1.28 billion worth of direct investment in Canada, said the memo prepared for Finance Minister Bill Morneau after the crisis broke out.

Scott Jolliffe, the president of the Canada Arab Business Council, said in an interview that Saudi investment in Canada ground to a halt last August. He also said Canadian firms have been restricted from bidding on new projects in the kingdom.

On the other hand, he said things have mostly carried on as usual for those of his members who already had business in the country. Jolliffe also said he hadn’t heard of any visa refusals.

He said he would like to see the impasse resolved because Saudi Arabia and the region offer billions of dollars’ worth of potential business for Canadian companies — and possible alternatives to the U.S. There’s a deep need there, he added, for the expertise Canada offers in areas like infrastructure, telecommunications and engineering.

“At the moment, it doesn’t appear as if there is much going on to strengthen and rebuild the relationship,” said Jolliffe, who’s had meetings with Carr about the issue.

The feud has had an impact on agriculture. Feed-barley producers, for instance, have been shut out of the Saudi market.

“Any country we lose, even if it’s temporary, hurts us,” said Dave Bishop, a farmer and chair of Alberta Barley.

He said Canada had been shipping about 122,000 tonnes of feed barley to Saudi Arabia every year — amounts that can sometimes reach 10 per cent of all Canadian exports of the product.

This year, the industry has been lucky that feed barley is in short supply worldwide and extra demand from markets like China has helped make up for being shut out of Saudi Arabia, Bishop added.

Human rights, Khashoggi still a concern

The memo to Carr last September said Freeland and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in an effort to resolve the conflict, “have been discussing ideas to de-escalate … including an incremental approach which could include a series of steps.”

Asked about the status of Saudi-Canadian relations now, Carr’s office provided a statement that said he’s still disappointed with the kingdom’s response to Canada’s human-rights concerns.

A few weeks after Carr received the memo, the kingdom’s relationship with Canada came under further strain — as did its relations with many countries — as details emerged about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Freeland, said Thursday that Saudi Arabia’s explanations for the killing have been inadequate and that Canada has called for a thorough, credible and independent international investigation.

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Panama Papers spur billion-dollar global tax windfall, with $15M found in Canada

Panama Papers spur billion-dollar global tax windfall, with $15M found in Canada

Countries around the world are going after more than a billion dollars in unpaid taxes brought to light as a result of the Panama Papers, the huge leak of tax-haven financial records that was made public three years ago Wednesday.

The sum includes the equivalent of $180 million Cdn collected in France, $210 million in Spain, an estimated $34 million in Iceland and $459,000 in Lithuania, as of last month. Britain’s revenue agency says it expects to recover the equivalent of $332 million in back taxes and penalties.

The latest figures — including amounts either assessed or recouped by various national tax agencies — were compiled by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organization that co-ordinated reporting on the leak by global media outlets, including CBC News. 

The Canada Revenue Agency says it has now identified 894 Canadian taxpayers — individuals, corporations and trusts — in the Panama Papers and has finished reviewing 525 of those cases. So far, the CRA said Tuesday, it has completed 116 audits, resulting in $14.9 million in federal taxes and penalties assessed. Hundreds more audits are either underway or expected. 

The agency could not say how much of that money it has actually collected to date, and noted that some other countries’ totals are significantly higher because they are allowing taxpayers caught in the Panama Papers to make voluntary disclosures — basically, to fess up about hidden assets and quickly pay any tax owing, while avoiding penalties and criminal prosecution.

Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier says criminal investigations into offshore tax shenanigans are complex and thus take time. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The CRA decided in 2016 to take a tougher approach and disqualify those in the Panama Papers from its voluntary disclosure program except under “exceptional circumstances.” That means auditors have to grind through potentially thousands of pages of paperwork, and spend countless hours obtaining financial records, to trace any hidden money, without the benefit of taxpayers volunteering the information. In a few cases, taxpayers have challenged auditors in court, dragging out the process by years. 

The government “tightened the rules relating to the voluntary disclosure program preventing individuals named in information leaks to make deals with the CRA instead of facing prosecution,” Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said in a statement Tuesday evening.

“I made this decision knowing that it could take years to bring tax evaders to justice.”

No criminal charges laid

The CRA also has five criminal investigations in the works into taxpayers named in the leak. One of those is the case of an Alberta oilpatch businessman whose homes were raided last year by investigators. The agency raided two more properties in Vancouver last week as part of another probe.

“These complex investigations can take months or years to complete,” Lebouthillier said Thursday. “The net is tightening.” 

But the fact that on the three-year anniversary of the Panama Papers, no criminal charges have yet been laid has a prominent CRA critic expressing concern.

“Why does the Canada Revenue Agency move so swiftly and diligently to punish domestic tax evaders, but take so long to pursue Canadians who hide their money overseas?” Liberal Senator Percy Downe said in a statement.

Senator Percy Downe has long denounced what he sees as a two-tiered tax enforcement system, where domestic evasion is firmly cracked down on while offshore schemes get ‘kid-glove treatment.’ (CBC)

Other countries have already laid charges and, in a number of cases, secured convictions from investigations related to the Panama Papers.

More than a dozen people are in prison or awaiting sentencing in Ecuador, the United States and Panama for their roles in a bribery scheme at the Ecuadorian state petroleum company that was exposed in the huge document leak.

In South Korea, the leak led to bribery indictments against a former army general and a former executive of a major defence company.

And in Pakistan, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been serving a seven-year sentence after the Panama Papers revealed assets his family had hidden overseas. He is appealing his conviction, calling the charges against him politically motivated.

The Panama Papers were one of the biggest-ever leaks of financial records. The 11.5 million documents, from 200,000 accounts based in an array of offshore locales, came from Panama City-based global law firm Mossack Fonseca, which closed for good last March amid the scandal.

The leaked files exposed the assets and murky fiscal dealings of everyone from prime ministers and presidents to celebrities, athletes and notorious criminals.

Read more CBC coverage of offshore tax schemes:

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Canada urges Brunei to drop new laws punishing adultery, gay sex with death by stoning

Canada urges Brunei to drop new laws punishing adultery, gay sex with death by stoning

Canada is urging Brunei to suspend “inhumane” new laws that punish gay sex and adultery with death by stoning.

A statement from Global Affairs said Canada has raised its human rights concerns directly with the country.

“Canada is appalled by Brunei’s imposition of severe punishments under its new Sharia penal code, which include corporal punishment and the death penalty,” reads a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

“We have raised our concerns directly with Brunei and we urge Brunei to suspend the implementation of its new penal code and to make changes to ensure that it is consistent with international human rights obligations.”

Travel risks

The government also has updated its travel advisory, warning that gay sex can lead to a death sentence in Brunei.

“LGBTQ2 travellers should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Brunei,” it reads, warning that the Shariah penal code applies regardless of a person’s religion or nationality.

NDP MP Randall Garrison issued a statement criticizing the new laws that took effect in the tiny southeast Asian country Wednesday.

“These actions further marginalize the LGBT community, making violence and death the reality for people living in Brunei,” he said. “Canada must stand with the United Nations and the many other countries around the world who have condemned this legislation and echo that this is a serious setback for human rights.”

Garrison said Canada also should create an “immediate path to safety” for LGBT people in Brunei whose lives are in danger.

Conservatives said Canada should take strong diplomatic steps to show its disdain for Brunei’s persecution of LGBT people.

“The new laws in Brunei — particularly those targeting the #LGBTQ community — must be condemned,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole tweeted. “We stand ready to support the government in this effort and suggest the High Commissioner be summoned to make Canada’s position clear.”

The harsh new penalties are part of Brunei’s Shariah Penal Code, which also includes fines and jail terms for pregnancy outside of marriage and failing to pray on Fridays. Brunei’s leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, brought in the code in 2014 to boost the influence of Islam in the small, oil-rich monarchy on the island of Borneo.

Before 2014, someone convicted of homosexuality faced a prison term of up to 10 years. Under the new laws, which also apply to minors and foreigners, those found guilty of gay sex or adultery could be stoned to death or whipped.

Those found guilty of theft face amputation of a right hand for a first offence and a left foot for a second offence.

The new Islamic laws have sparked outrage from the United Nations, human rights groups and celebrities such as George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen Degeneres.

Clooney is pushing for a boycott of nine hotels in the U.S. and Europe with ties to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Actor George Clooney is condemning new laws in Brunei that impose the death penalty for gay sex and adultery. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/Associated Press)

Some LGBT advocates say they fear the crackdown could spread into the neighbouring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.

‘Heinous’ and ‘unspeakably cruel’

Amnesty International Canada has called the penal code punishments “heinous” and “unspeakably cruel.”

“We hope that Canada is engaging with its partners in the Equal Rights Coalition, and other like-minded states, to explore all possible avenues to publicly and privately condemn Brunei’s new penal code punishments in the strongest possible terms,” said Amnesty’s gender rights campaigner Jackie Hansen in an email to CBC.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said there are no special programs planned at the moment to help people fleeing persecution in Brunei.

“We work closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the selection of refugees to be resettled in Canada, which ensures that cases are properly reviewed and that applicants are being resettled in the country that best suits their circumstances,” he said.

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Atlantic Canada goes from stronghold to point of vulnerability for Liberals

Atlantic Canada goes from stronghold to point of vulnerability for Liberals

Atlantic Canada was where the first domino of the SNC-Lavalin affair toppled in public — when Nova Scotia cabinet minister Scott Brison decided to resign his post. It’s also where the Liberals have taken the biggest hit from the scandal’s fallout.

What was once the party’s most formidable electoral stronghold has now become one of its key regions of vulnerability.

According to the testimony of Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s former principal secretary, the plan to replace Brison as president of the Treasury Board was supposed to be simple and tidy. Jane Philpott would go from Indigenous Services to Treasury Board and Jody Wilson-Raybould would take Philpott’s place. David Lametti would be promoted into the justice portfolio vacated by Wilson-Raybould.

It didn’t quite work out as planned.

The CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker has recorded a six-point drop in Liberal support nationwide in the wake of the controversy surrounding Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet — but the party has fallen even further in Atlantic Canada.

The Poll Tracker estimates the Liberals are down to 37 per cent support in the region, just 2.5 points ahead of the Conservatives.

That’s a 12-point drop from where the party stood on Feb. 5 — a few days before the Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources, first reported that Wilson-Raybould was pushed by senior people in the Trudeau government to allow the Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution on fraud and bribery charges by meeting a number of conditions laid out in a remediation agreement.

That slide is twice as big as any drop the Liberals have suffered in other regions of the country and has been registered by every polling firm in the field over the last few weeks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also has taken a bigger personal hit in Atlantic Canada than in the rest of the country. His approval rating in Atlantic Canada has averaged 32 per cent in three recent polls by three different polling firms. Those same three firms found Trudeau’s approval rating averaging 46 per cent in Atlantic Canada in November and December.

Trudeau and the Liberals certainly had more ground to give up in Atlantic Canada than they did elsewhere. The party swept all 32 of the region’s seats and beat the Conservatives by a margin of 40 points there in the 2015 federal election.

But the party has now gone from being 19 percentage points more popular in Atlantic Canada than in the country as a whole to just five points more popular there than nationwide. About one in four Atlantic Canadians who supported the Liberals at the beginning of February have since abandoned them. Nowhere else have the Liberals lost more than a fifth of their support.

It has a real impact on the Liberals’ chances of holding their seats in the region.

The Liberal sweep could be swept aside

When Butts testified at the justice committee last month, he talked about the electoral conundrum that Brison’s departure created for the Liberals.

“Not to give away a political strategy in this forum,” he said, “but my main political concern was our position in Nova Scotia.”

Butts was worried that with Brison gone — and with a few other Nova Scotia Liberals already at risk of not running for re-election in the fall, particularly if they weren’t given a promotion to replace Brison  — the party would be without incumbents in five of their 11 seats in the province, leaving those seats vulnerable.

The resignation of Scott Brison, standing here on the left during his farewell speech in the House of Commons in February, triggered the cabinet shuffle that ended up playing into the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Indeed, Brison’s departure has put those seats up for grabs — but not in the way Butts had expected.

The Poll Tracker estimates that, if an election were held today, the Liberals likely would hold on to between 13 and 22 of their 32 seats in Atlantic Canada. Lost to the Conservatives would be some seats in southern and central New Brunswick and some in rural parts of Nova Scotia. The New Democrats also would be in a better position to regain some of the seats they lost in 2015.

The list of nominally safe Liberal seats in the region is growing shorter, and includes a handful that will not have incumbents on the ballot — including Nova Scotia seats Sydney–Victoria, Cumberland–Colchester, West Nova and Brison’s own Kings–Hants.

The loss of an incumbent makes it harder for a party to retain a seat. In no place is that truer than in Atlantic Canada.

Provincial politics weighing the Liberals down?

While the Liberal slide coincides with the unfolding SNC-Lavalin affair, it’s possible that provincial politics is making the party more susceptible to losses.

Polls suggest fatigue with the provincial Liberal government in Nova Scotia, while the incumbent Liberals are trailing in the polls in P.E.I. ahead of the Apr. 23 election.

The P.E.I. Greens are leading there — a development which could complicate things further for the federal Liberals. A Green victory in P.E.I. could boost the fortunes of federal Greens across the region and put a few more seats into play, eating into the Liberals’ support among progressive Atlantic Canadians.

On the right, newly-installed Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick is enjoying a bit of a honeymoon following September’s provincial election. The Progressive Conservative leader has gone hard against the federal Liberals on their implementation of the carbon tax in his province.

At the start of this federal election year, the Liberals were in a good position. Some of their support in Ontario and Western Canada had eroded, but Quebec and Atlantic Canada gave the party enough of a base to look for re-election in October.

The Liberals still lead in both Quebec and Atlantic Canada, but that lead has grown smaller. It’s almost entirely gone in Atlantic Canada. With it goes the seat cushion the Liberals were hoping for east of the Ottawa River.

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London Life insurance company to be called Canada Life

London Life insurance company to be called Canada Life

London Life, the iconic insurance company that carried the Forest City’s name for almost 150 years, is getting a rebrand.

The company will join with two other insurance firms under a single banner, Canada Life.

“Our three companies, Great-West Life, Canada Life and London Life are celebrating the next stage of our journey. Welcome, as we unite under a single brand,” said Jeff Macoun, president and COO of Canada Life. 

“The new Canada Life brand combines the strengths of our three companies so we can even better deliver on our purpose — to improve the financial, physical and mental well-being of Canadians.” 

The demise of the London name was announced Wednesday at the historic London Life building on Queens Avenue in downtown London, Ont.

London Life was founded in London in 1874 and currently employs about 3,000 people in the city.

The historical roots of the London Life will always be iconic to the London area– Courtney Hance, The Branding Firm Inc.

It merged with Great-West Life in 1997 and then joined Canada Life in 2003.

“Uniting under one brand will make it easier for us to talk about what makes us different than other companies,” Macoun said. 

“It will help us simplify how we work, how we grow our business, and how we will put the customer at the centre of what we do.”

The company says the change, which requires board, regulatory and policyholder approvals, will further simplify the business.

‘Clear and concise’

Consolidating three brands under one makes a lot of sense, said Courtney Hance, the owner and president of The Branding Firm Inc., a London-based marketing agency. 

“Brand unification is definitely something that allows for clear and concise messaging. It wakes away confusion in the marketplace, to current customers, to future customers, and within the organization,” Hance said. 

London Life will be rebranded as Canada Life in the coming months. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

“The historical roots of the London Life will always be iconic to the London area. I don’t think this changes that. If anything, there’s an interesting story about putting our city on the map, about a brand that was born in our city and has scaled up.” 

The Canada Life rebrand will happen over the next year. Customers will continue to work with the same advisors and group benefits won’t change. 

Canada Life will have more than 10,500 employees across the country and serve 13 million customers. 

             –with files from The Canadian Press

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