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MPs Return To House With Bluster, Few Signs Of Wanting To Work Together

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen as he speaks via videoconference during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2021.

OTTAWA — The House of Commons resumed Monday amid weeks of mounting COVID-19 death tolls, provincial lockdowns, disappointing vaccine delays, a new U.S. president who dealt a crushing blow to a controversial pipeline project, and an ex-governor general whose vetting left the prime minister with egg on his face. 

After a six-week winter break, MPs returned to work in a sitting mostly marked by political posturing and few signs of a willingness to work together. 

The tone was set early in the morning, with a West Block press conference by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Dressed in a dark blue suit and purple tie — the colour, a sign of bipartisanship, O’Toole noted the day marked a year since the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Canada. Since then, he said, nearly 20,000 Canadians had died of the disease, 10 per cent of the population had lost their jobs, thousands of businesses had closed, and people were being asked to cope with mental health stresses from staying at home.

“Conservatives want the government to succeed,” the Tory leader said. “Our nation depends on it.” 

Watch: O’Toole calls for immediate accounting of COVID-19 vaccines

 

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had failed to provide a smooth vaccine rollout, he said, and it was failing to stand up to President Joe Biden on the Keystone XL pipeline. 

“He does not take this issue seriously,” O’Toole said of Trudeau.

In a nod to parts of his party’s base who believe increased social spending from Western liberal governments will lead to “empowering elites at the expense of working people,” the Conservative leader also accused the Liberals of using the pandemic to experiment on “risky, ideologically-driven and unproven schemes involving the Canadian economy.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who later announced the start of public consultations for the 2021 federal budget, invited Canadians to submit proposals for how the Liberals could “build back better.”

“We are not simply aiming to get back to where we were before COVID-19,” she told reporters. “The pandemic has exposed critical gaps in our social safety net and the virus has hit certain sectors, certain groups of people harder than others – seniors, women, low-wage workers, young people, people of colour, Indigenous people.” 

Small businesses have also been particularly affected, she said, and the government wants to build an economy that is greener, more sustainable and more competitive.

Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier holds a press conference as she is joined virtually by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2021.

“For all of these reasons the 2021 budget will be among the most significant of our lifetime,” she declared.

If O’Toole was winking to more militant parts of his base in his description of the Liberals’ economic agenda, he was also engaged in trying to enlarge his Conservative tent. 

Asked whether he thought it was appropriate for the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) to direct prosecutors to stop laying criminal charges for simple drug possession — no matter the substance, or whether MPs should weigh-in on the bureaucrat’s decision, O’Toole’s answer suggested a change in Tory policy.

“It’s not appropriate to have very serious punishment for Canadians who have drug problems. We must give them assistance,” O’Toole told reporter Hélène Buzzetti. “I am not in favour of a punishment that is very severe for crimes like that.”

“We are not simply aiming to get back to where we were before COVID-19… The pandemic has exposed critical gaps in our social safety net.”Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland

Questioned by journalists about the fallout from former governor general Julie Payette’s resignation last week after an allegedly damning report about a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall, O’Toole demanded the prime minister consult opposition parties on the appointment of the next representative of the Queen in Canada.

“He is in a conflict of interest as he is planning an election in the middle of a pandemic, in a minority parliament,” O’Toole said, adding that Trudeau’s previous process had “failed” and that he’d “sullied” the office. 

He blamed the prime minister for creating, what he called, a “small constitutional crisis.” 

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, who held a press conference by Zoom immediately after O’Toole, said she didn’t think MPs needed to be consulted. 

“We have a system in place to deal with this kind of eventuality. While it is unprecedented, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is now the administrator. There is no vacuum and so that kind of language... is not helpful, it is certainly not correct,” she said. 

Should Trudeau be defeated in the House or choose to visit Chief Justice Richard Wagner to request a dissolution of Parliament, Paul suggested someone trustworthy was there to ensure the proper functioning of Canadian democracy.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020.

Still, she told reporters she hoped Trudeau would ensure that the recommendation — and the vetting — for the next governor general is done through a non-political, arm’s-length process. 

The Greens’ main message Monday, Paul said, was to remind all members of Parliament that Canadians were counting on them to stay focused. “The urgent needs of people in Canada and not any kind of pre-election posturing or positioning has to be the priority,” she said.

Much of the spirit of cross-party collaboration that had allowed MPs to quickly pass emergency programs during the first wave of the pandemic had all but disappeared, she said, foreshadowing incidents to come.

She complained the prime minister had not briefed opposition party leaders on the latest federal COVID-19 measures since November 19.

“This is the kind of thing that prevents parties from having and presenting a united front to the public,” she said. “[It’s] something that I hope the prime minister will begin to do again.” 

She also called on Trudeau to stop dithering on long-term care homes and implement changes that could help save lives. “We have the worst record among rich countries in terms of our protection of long term care residents and deaths in long-term care,” she said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed those comments. 

It isn’t just seniors who are suffering due to negligence in long-term care homes, but front-line workers are also affected, he said. 

He highlighted the case of Yassin Dabeh, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee, who arrived in Canada in 2016, and died recently of COVID-19. Dabeh had taken a contract job as a cleaner in long-term care homes. He was buried Friday, according to CBC. His family have also all contracted COVID-19. 

“We need to redouble our efforts,” Singh said. “We need to focus on getting vaccines into the arms of vulnerable — and that means seniors in long term care but also front line workers, workers like Yassin.” 

Singh also called for changes to make it easier for all workers to stay home on paid sick leave, and for for-profit to be removed from long-term care. The NDP leader argued Trudeau could take some steps immediately, while acknowledging most measures will need provincial approval. 

“I think that the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, for profit has taken the lives of seniors. It means worse conditions, worse staffing levels, for profit has no place in our healthcare system.”  

When the House resumed Monday morning, the first item — a motion to proceed towards electronic voting and to help facilitate virtual sittings of the House — passed unanimously. But the goodwill did not last.

There were worthy points of differentiation. 

“I think that the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, for profit has taken the lives of seniors. It means worse conditions, worse staffing levels, for profit has no place in our healthcare system.”NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Bloc Québécois MP Kristina Michaud, the first to speak during a debate on Liberal MP Bob Saroya’s private member’s bill seeking to impose tougher restrictions on those found to have knowing possession of a smuggled firearms, noted the Liberal government’s promise to ban semi-automatic assault rifles and to give municipalities the power to ban handguns had yet to materialize. 

In question period, the political theatre resumed, with a personal tinge.

On Keystone, O’Toole accused Trudeau of betting thousands of oil patch jobs on one phone call with Biden, and later of having “no success with the U.S. relationship for seven years.” (The Liberals, this fall, avoided another round of aluminum tariffs with president Donald Trump and the renegotiated United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) came into force last July.) 

When the Conservative leader accused the government of having zero doses in the middle of the pandemic, Trudeau lashed back saying he understands the “desire to score political points but [O’Toole] shouldn’t purposefully mislead people.” 

Still, O’Toole’s comments came on the heels of Ontario Premier Doug Ford noting there would be no deliveries of the Pfizer vaccines this week and only a small delivery next week.

“We need to go quick. Vite! Vite! Vite, as they say,” Ford said, at Queen’s Park.

Tory health critic on vaccines: ‘How the hell did this happen?’

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner demanded to know “how the hell did this happen.” The Speaker of the House, Anthony Rota, reminded her that was “unparliamentary language.” 

She then accused the Liberals of a “deadly screw-up” for failing to negotiate more stringent contracts. Canada is behind Romania, Poland, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic and France, who will all be receiving doses from Pfizer this week, she said. 

Italy plans to take legal action, Reuters reported, to try to ensure it received its agreed-upon vaccines. Last week, Pfizer announced it had to delay shipments of its MRNA vaccine due to work at its Belgian processing plant to increase capacity. Vaccinations in Europe are being postponed because of the move, with Germany and Italy suspending first doses, according to the BBC. 

Anita Anand, the minister of public services and procurement, noted Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea haven’t begun vaccination. “We will be receiving over 300,000 doses from both Pfizer and Moderna next week alone. We will have six million doses in this country before the end of March,” she said, noting her 90-year-old father was also waiting to get immunized.

As question period continued, the Liberals announced through a press release that Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha had been booted from the caucus. Sangha gave media interviews accusing former innovation minister Navdeep Bains of being an extremist. “Is he fit to be a minister?” Sangha asks in a Channel Y interview. 

Chief Government Whip Mark Holland said the Liberals would “not tolerate conspiracy theories, or dangerous and unfounded rhetoric about Parliamentarians or other Canadians.” 

Musical chairs continued when turfed-Conservative senator Lynn Beyak announced she was retiring from the Senate immediately. Beyak, who is better known for wanting to discuss the positive side of the residential school experience, faced permanent removal from the upper house as early as next week. In a statement, Beyak said she was keeping the promise she had made when appointed by prime minister Stephen Harper to only serve an eight-year term. Several of her colleagues appointed at the same time have since changed their minds. 

Former Conservative MP Derek Sloan also made an appearance in the House Monday. Sloan was booted from the Tory caucus last week after his colleagues were finally given an opportunity to show him the door. He used his member’s statement to criticize O’Toole, his former leader, for supporting Bill C-12, proposed Liberal legislation that seeks to impose targets to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050. 

“I am voting against Bill C-12, and I hope some of my former Conservative colleagues will have the courage to stand against this assault on our energy industry,” he said. “God bless Canada and all of our natural resources.”

After question period ended, the Liberals tried to get unanimous consent to amend legislation that has provided sick leave benefits, worth up to $1,000, to Canadians returning from travel abroad. When the story first hit the newspapers after the Christmas break, Trudeau said the intention of the program was never to compensate people who took non-essential trips and had to quarantine. The Conservatives and the Bloc, however, denied unanimous consent. 

The Bloc told HuffPost Canada they want the changes to be retroactive to last September not to Jan. 3, 2021, as the Liberals proposed. The Conservatives did not respond.

The NDP did manage to get unanimous agreement on a non-binding motion calling on the government to list Proud Boys as a terrorist organization — something Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the Liberals were already considering

Politics didn’t end there, of course.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen as he speaks via videoconference during question period in the House of Commons on Jan. 25, 2021.

Monday evening, during an emergency debate on the Keystone XL pipeline requested by O’Toole, the Liberals objected to Conservative MPs’ wearing masks in the chamber with pro-oilsands slogans. The chair agreed that they were props and should be banned.  

The debate centred around the Conservatives accusing the Liberals of not doing enough to fight for the project. The prime minister should have “done more” for Canada’s “world-class energy sector,” the Tory leader said.He should have done more for the West.” 

The Liberals shot back, saying they were “disappointed” by the president’s decision. Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan told the chamber the government had advocated for the pipeline project “at every level, and at every chance we could.”

Still, perhaps surprisingly, the biggest and newest threat hanging over Canada from the new U.S. administration went without mention. 

The president’s executive order on “Buy America” was signed Monday afternoon.

The directive strengthens requirements to purchase products and services from American workers and companies. Freeland told reporters the government is “concerned” about Buy America and it will remain an item very high on the agenda.

Yet it did not receive any attention in the House.

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Is Pandemic Unity Between Ottawa And The Provinces Starting To Slip? (Analysis)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, second left, speaks as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister look on during a press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2020.

OTTAWA — Has the blame game started?

Canada’s pandemic response has, until now, mostly been defined by a collegiality between different levels of government. The sparring that existed a year ago, when Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s unpopularity found him guest-starring in the federal Liberals’ election attack ads, has been replaced with beaming smiles and kind words from one leader to another.

Just last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Ontario premier were full of praise for one another. During a joint press conference, where each announced a $295-million commitment for Ford Motor Company’s Oakville plant to help keep 5,000 jobs in Canada, the prime minister noted his close working relationship with the premiers, contrasting it with the situation in the United States.

“In Canada, we are extremely lucky to have different orders of government, whether it is Premier Ford, [Quebec] Premier [François] Legault, or other premiers across the country who have all worked well together, and with the federal government, to be there to support Canadians and not bring overly political elements into our response,” Trudeau said. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference at the Ford  Connectivity and Innovation Centre in Ottawa on Oct. 8 2020. He was joined virtually from Oakville by Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Ford, whose pandemic press conferences focus on his empathy, has seen his personal popularly — and that of his party — skyrocket. Last week, he bluntly noted that a “big chunk” of people who had voted for him had also voted for the prime minister, and he went on to say how much he appreciated his relationship with Trudeau, as well as with deputy prime minister Chyrstia Freeland, whom he applauded “for doing such a great job.”

Fast forward a week, though, and the federal foundation appears to have cracks.

Perhaps, it’s owing to public opinion polls that show support for the premiers slipping as Canadians become increasingly concerned about the coronavirus.

With the second wave of COVID-19 hitting most provinces, many premiers have grappled with frustrated residents waiting in long lines for testing, longer waits for results, and changing instructions on safety measures in schools, how many people it is safe to associate with, which businesses can remain open, even whether or not Halloween is a go.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford holds a press conference with his medical team regarding new restrictions at Queen's Park during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Oct. 2, 2020.

A poll by Abacus Data released this week suggests that, while most Ontarians still approve of the job the Ford government is doing, disapproval is up by nine points compared with last May. The top issue respondents felt the government had bungled was the reopening of schools this fall.

In Alberta, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government is now tied with the provincial NDP, according to pollster Angus Reid (although the reasons cited there may have less to do with the government’s pandemic response and more to do with local circumstances). 

In Quebec, Legault’s popularity — while he remains one of the most well-liked premiers in Canada — is also down, from an approval rating of 77 per cent this May to 65 per cent in late August, according to Leger Marketing

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions after announcing $43 million in repairs and improvements to provincial parks at a news conference in Calgary, Alta. on Sept. 15, 2020.

On Wednesday, Trudeau told a Winnipeg radio station that Ottawa is doing its part to help get the second wave under control — by purchasing rapid tests, vaccines and personal protective equipment, all while helping workers, families, seniors, students and small business owners survive financially. 

If things are not running smoothly, the prime minister suggested, his government is not responsible.

“It is the provinces that determine what level of orange or red you are in, what businesses should shut, how people should behave,” Trudeau told 680 CJOB about the colour-coded zones with permissible activities that some provinces use. “Our job is to support the provinces in the things that they need.”

Trudeau was asked to respond to concerns about a lack of testing and contact tracing in Manitoba and in Toronto, where officials announced earlier this month the suspension of contact tracing for some COVID-19 cases owing to a lack of resources. Trudeau said he had spoken to the premiers about this “many times” back in the spring during their first conversations focused on getting testing levels up.

“We gave them $19 billion dollars over the summer so they could ramp up their testing,” he said. “Unfortunately, not every province has hit their agreed-to targets, that they committed to in terms of tests per day.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Friday.

Trudeau also said Ottawa had made available federal employees who “are only waiting for an ask from the provincial governments to come in and actually do more contact tracing.

“It is up to the provincial government to roll out the resources that we have made available to them in the right way, and ask for more if they need it.” 

In Toronto, Ford suggested Trudeau couldn’t be talking about his province. 

“We are kicking everyone’s butt on testing,” the premier said, before adding that he planned to get on a conference call to find out more. “I hope it wasn’t us.” 

In July, the federal government signed bilateral agreements with each province, handing over $4.28 billion for conduct testing, contact tracing, and collection of public health data. The money was expected to ensure 200,000 Canadians could be tested each day.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told reporters Friday that labs across the country have tested an average of 77,000 people daily. 

As of last week, only two provinces, Manitoba and Alberta, had reached the capacity they pledged to achieve, respectively, 3,000 and 22,000 daily tests. Ontario was far below its 70,000 target with actual capacity, with 50,692 tests; and Quebec’s capacity, targetted at 35,000, has not increased at all since early September, with the province able to perform only 20,000 daily tests, according to federal government data.

The federal government would not say Friday how many employees have been lent to the provinces to make contact tracing calls. 

Quebec Premier Francois Legault walks to question period on Oct. 6, 2020.

Ontario has taken up Ottawa’s help, using more than 600 employees from Statistics Canada to help its 2,750 tracers interview, track and isolate COVID-19 cases. The province announced this week that is has hired 100 new tracers and has plans for another 500 by mid-november. 

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ spokesman, John Power, said Statistics Canada has the capacity to conduct more than 15,000 calls a day and could increase that number to 20,000 if the provinces and territories required it. The agency has signed agreements with the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, and is about to sign deals with Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba. It is still in discussions with Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, Power said.

Although most of the $19 billion Ottawa agreed to spend this summer has been disbursed  — $12.2 billion, according to Intergovernmental Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s office — $700 million is being held back until the provinces reach their promised testing capacity.

The rest of the money  — $6.9 billion — is in in-kind contributions, such as the PPE the federal government purchases and distributes and the paid-sick-leave program just being established, said Corinne Havard, LeBlanc’s spokeswoman.

“We are doing our part,” LeBlanc told reporters Friday afternoon, listing 321 ventilators, 12 million N95 masks, 43 million surgical masks, 97 million pairs of gloves, 7 million gowns, 20 million face shields and more than 8 million swabs that the federal government has sent to the provinces and territories.

In addition to the $19 billion, LeBlanc noted, Ottawa established a $2-billion “safe return to class” fund to help the provinces and territories improve air ventilation in schools, increase hand sanitation and hygiene, and purchase even more PPE and cleaning supplies. 

LeBlanc’s spokeswoman, Corinne Havard, told HuffPost Canada that part of the government’s message is to educate Canadians on which level of government is responsible for what.

If the premiers are feeling the heat, they too seem to be trying to diffuse blame for unpopular actions.

On Wednesday, Ford was accompanied by Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, who was asked by the premier to take a question directed at him about closing high-risk activities in areas that are not hot spots.

“I’m sorry. I have to hand it to the expert. Dr. Yaffe will answer that,” Ford said of an outbreak at Spinco, a spin cycling gym in Hamilton, that led to more than 74 infections. “I do think we need to review the guidelines, and that is in process,” she told reporters of coming rule changes.

On Thursday, Legault said in Montreal he was hoping the medical advice he would receive from Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health, would grant kids the right to engage in group sports. 

“Dr. Arruda knows that there is a measure that I really don’t like,” he said, looking sideways at his medical expert, “and it’s [forbidding] sports for young people.” Still looking at Arruda, he added: “I don’t want to put too much pressure on Dr. Arruda, but if we could allow young people after Oct. 28 to engage in sports, I’d be very pleased.” 

Quebec Premier Francois Legault responds to a question during a new conference in Montreal on Thursday.

This week also saw an increasingly tense relationship between Ottawa and Quebec, as Legault and Trudeau traded barbs on the existence of systemic racism and the possibility the federal government might establish national norms on long-term-care homes.

On Tuesday, when asked to comment on systemic racism, the prime minister took a not-so-subtle jab at the premier of Quebec, who has not publicly acknowledged that any systemic racism exists in his province.

While saying he didn’t want to comment about other premiers or other levels of government, Trudeau then said “the federal government has known for a long time that recognizing systemic racism is the first necessary step to walk the road towards reconciliation, to eliminate the real barriers and violence that is too often aimed at Indigenous people across this country, as well as other visible minorities.” 

He finished his comments by saying he encourages “all people in positions of authority, not just politicians ... to recognize the reality of systemic racism.”

A displeased Legault suggested Trudeau was out of touch with Quebecers and was “making an error” by turning his back on a whole group of people who do not believe systemic racism exists. 

“Almost every Quebecer says racism exists in Quebec,” the premier said, but some do not believe there is a system of racism. His role, he said, is to bring Quebecers together and fight racism, including with police officers, and in hospitals, such as in Joliette where Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous mother who before dying, posted on Facebook a video of racist and abusive comments she had endured from medical staff.

“For me, that’s the best approach,” Legault said. “I know Mr. Trudeau has another one. It’s  his choice.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Friday.

Trudeau hammered the message on systemic racism all week, ending Friday, following a large virtual conference on racism in health care with a tweet, referring to Echaquan’s case. “We will keep working to make sure it never happens again.”

Trudeau also focused his message this week on saying national norms in long-term-care homes are needed to avoid a repeat of what too many families experienced in the spring. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported 81 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths during the first wave in such homes.

In Quebec and in Ontario, where the army was called in to help, the Canadian Forces reported cases of gross neglect: residents left for days in soiled diapers, hungry and thirsty, while other homes had cockroaches and rotten food, and residents were subjected to “borderline abusive, if not abusive” treatment.

“No Canadian wants to see their parents, their grandparents, their loved ones not well cared for in facilities across the country,” Trudeau said Tuesday. “I don’t think there should be some regions of the country that offer better or worse protections to elders than others.

Watch: Trudeau says provinces need to fight racism in health care. Story continues below.

Legault wanted none of it.

“Mr. Trudeau is playing with fire,” he told reporters. “The federal government should not involve itself with the running of the CHSLD [Quebec’s long-term-care centres]. I think Mr. Trudeau is making an error by proposing these centralization measures,” he said.

Some attribute the calamaty in the homes to a lack of inspections, doctors’ unwillingness to enter residences to treat COVID-19 patients, and staff who, underpaid and with few or no sick days, worked in multiple residences to make ends meet.

Others suggested that a lack of PPE and testing and infection control measures were to blame.

Still others noted how some residences crammed multiple residents into one room, sharing one bathroom, making it difficult to isolate COVID cases.

In Mississauga, for example, the 236-bed Camilla Care Community had 83 people sick with COVID-19. Sixty-eight died. 

In British Columbia, which experienced the first COVID-19 case in a long-term-care facility, authorities were much better equipped to handle the virus. Experts pointed to the province’s greater funding for long-term care, fewer shared rooms, more comprehensive inspections, and better infection prevention and control measures. 

Federal officials declined this week to state publicly what national norms might look like. The Prime Minister’s Office told HuffPost “standards could mean rules, it can mean training, it can mean enforcement of the rules and it probably, most definitely, means money.”

Agreements with provinces

Carleton University Assistant Professor Vandna Bhatia suggested Ottawa might try to sign bilateral agreements with each province,  as it did in 2017 with home care and mental health. Those agreements differ substantially province to province, with Quebec’s agreement vague on how the money will be spent and reported.

The topic was discussed Thursday during the prime minister’s 20th call with the premiers. 

The outcome? 

Friday, Trudeau and LeBlanc were talking about sharing “best practices” as a first step between the provinces, rather than imposing national norms.

But still, it seemed, the prime minister couldn’t help himself.

“I absolutely respect provincial jurisdiction, but when we are talking about the dignity and health and the life of people, there are no jurisdictions,” he told reporters.

Annamie Paul Wins Race To Replace Elizabeth May As Green Party Leader

New Green Party Leader Annamie Paul celebrates after speaking at the leadership announcement in Ottawa, Saturday Oct 3, 2020.

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is the new Green Party Leader.

The announcement was made Saturday evening in Ottawa after 23,877 party members out of an eligible 34,680 cast their ballots in a preferential voting system.

Paul, 47, is a lawyer, activist and international affairs expert. She becomes the first elected Black leader and first female Jewish leader of a major federal party.

She won on the eight round of balloting, in a tight race with candidate Dimitri Lascaris.

Yellowknife physician Courtney Howard came in third, followed by former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Glen Murray and former public servant and Vancouver Island Liberal-turned-Green candidate David Merner. The other candidates, Anita Kuttner, Meryam Haddad and Andrew West, were eliminated on the first few rounds of balloting.

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, left, speaks with Toronto area leadership candidate Annamie Paul during a fireside chat about the climate, in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.

In her speech to party faithful and Canadians watching Paul said was thinking about her 84-year-old mother who arrived in North America during a time of racial segregation and could never have believed her daughter could be elected leader of a federal party.

Paul’s father, she said, died at the end of May from the same neglect that had caused thousands of others to die in long term care facilities. “He died of an avoidable infection,” she said.

“As we face down this pandemic, as we face down the climate emergency, we must constantly ask ourselves what is a life worth?,” Paul said.

“We are facing the two defining challenges of our time,” she said. “How will we build a complete social safety net that allows every person in Canada to live in dignity and security, and how will tackle the existential crisis of our time which is the climate emergency.”

The Green Party’s members had chosen a leader who matched the challenge of this time, she said, referring to herself.

“The other parties are simply out of ideas, they are intellectually exhausted,” she said.

“This is a moment that demands, daring, courageous leadership, and this is something we simply did not see from the last speech from the throne.”

As we face down this pandemic, as we face down the climate emergency, we must constantly ask ourselves what is a life worth?Annamie Paul

The Greens had blazed a path with proposals such as a guaranteed liveable income, universal pharmacare, long term care reform that other parties were now following, she said.

“This kind of innovative, evidence-base, daring, political policy thinking is absolutely necessary.”

On climate change, the new leader said her party was the only one with a target, a plan that corresponds to the science, and a way “to get us to where we need to be to save our planet.

Paul reminded the crowd she is running in the current Toronto Centre byelection.

“If we want different outcomes, we need to make different choices,” she said.

The riding has elected a Liberal MP since 1993, and is often used a safe seat for parachuted Grit candidates.

Paul said she was picking up the torch from women such as former federal NDP leaders Alexa McDonough and Audrey McLaughlin, former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell who had opened doors for women like her. She said she was picking up where other Black women leaders had left off, Jane Augustine, Rosemary Brown, Viola Desmond.

May noted in her speech earlier Saturday evening that during her years as Green leader, from 2006 to 2019, no other federal party in the House of Commons had had a woman leader.

“That is not a good thing for our little girls,” she said. “That when they
look at a stage, where people are debating in a leaders debate, they don’t see a woman leader.”

The campaign to replace outgoing leader Elizabeth May struggled to generate attention amid the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial lock-downs, and the Conservative party’s leadership contest, which was happening in parallel.

The Green race was also marred by a fundraising discrepancies and controversies about candidates’ eligibility and expulsion.

Annamie Paul was voted the new Green Party Leader on Oct 3, 2020.

But the contest, with eight candidates vying for the leadership, was a unique chance for the party to reflect internally after 13 years with May at the helm. While immensely popular with many Green supporters, May struggled to capture Canadians’ attention and translate interest in climate change into electoral wins for the party.

Although, 1,189,607 Canadians voted for the Greens in 2019 — 6.5 per cent of valid votes cast — the party increased its seat count by only 1, winning a New Brunswick seat in addition to two seats it already held on Vancouver Island.

For some, the leadership race was a chance to refocus the party.

Would the Greens become a more activist eco-socialist party or would they focus their attention on electoral seats in order to get the party’s agenda items — notably the fight against climate change — treated more aggressively by the governing party.

In the end, the more centrist camp won.

 

Before the announcement, the party celebrated May, its leader since 2006, as the person who had given voice to the Greens’ vision for more than a decade.

In a video tribute, former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin, as well as Liberal-turned-independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, praised May for her contributions to political life. Mulroney noted May’s work for helping his Progressive Conservative government establish more national parks, the development of the Acid Rain Treaty, the Montreal protocol, and the protection of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

May told the limited crowd gathered at the Ottawa Art Gallery that she was taught from an earliest age to know that one person can change the world.

Although she was leaving the leadership to keep a promise to her daughter, May, 66, said the climate emergency is a “far greater threat” to the life of our children than COVID-19.

Citing writer Margaret Atwood, she suggested the government should keep both issues on the front burner, just as most kitchen stoves have two front burners.

“We are the single biggest threat to our own survival,” May said. “We can do more. We must do more.”

Erin O’Toole Spent His 1st Week In Parliament Extending Olive Branches (Analysis)

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday.

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is out to modernize his party, and his first week in Parliament demonstrated just how he plans to do that — and the instincts he may need to keep in check as he prepares for the next election.

Dressed in a blue suit and wearing a striped orange tie to mark Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day, a day of remembrance for the survivors and victims of Indian Residential Schools, O’Toole’s first question as leader of the Official Opposition was about the Liberals’ record on reconciliation. 

That question — about why the federal government has  yet to deliver on a promise to close the gap on health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and to publish an annual progress report based on indicators, such as infant mortality, suicide, addiction, life expectancy and chronic diseases — was a noticeably different from lead questions of previous Tory leaders. 

Watch: Erin O’Toole says Liberals are “all talk and no action” on Indigenous matters. Story continues below.

 

After it received mostly a non-answer from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, O’Toole quickly moved on to questions about rapid COVID-19 testing. But the signal was noticed by the Grits and political watchers.

O’Toole, who recently came out of isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus, spent most of his time and his party’s focus in question period Wednesday on rapid testing. Knowing Canadians are concerned about their families’  health and safety, especially in Ontario and Quebec, where daily case counts are surpassing spring records for infections, and people are having to spend hours in line waiting to be tested, and then waiting days before getting their results, O’Toole said he has not only heard those concerns but has partly shared in that experience.

But like his question on reconciliation, O’Toole’s attacks against Trudeau rang of a rabid partisan unable to shed the instincts of hyperbole and to stick to the facts.

Trudeau’s record on Indigenous matters is disappointing and lacking, but the Liberals have moved some issues forward. It isn’t, as O’Toole contended, “all talk and no action” with “zero follow through.” Similarly, most people do not believe the prime minister is personally to blame because Health Canada had not — until Wednesday — approved a rapid COVID-19 test that worked.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday.

O’Toole’s electoral coalition may depend on voters who once cast a ballot for Trudeau. The prime minister’s personal approval numbers are nearly 20 per cent higher than O’Toole’s, according to Abacus Data, and the Liberals are still leading in the polls and flirting with majority territory. 

The Tory leader might be better served by sticking to the facts. He did on Thursday, when he led off question period wondering why the Liberals were investigating their own decision to shut down the Global Public Health Intelligence Network. It’s an internationally known pandemic surveillance alert system based on open data that was shut down in May 2019, reportedly so the federal government could focus on other domestic priorities, but was revived earlier this year after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

Listening to O’Toole this week, it was hard not to notice to whom he is directly and indirectly extending olive branches — the electoral coalition he hopes to build. 

First, of course, women voters. Speaking in a shot framed by the only two women sitting on the Conservative side of the House, O’Toole made six nods to his wife, Rebecca, and even mentioned her best friend, Dawn, who dropped Tim Horton’s by their house, ringing the doorbell and driving away. 

Unions foster community and workplace cultures where workers know that someone has their back.Erin O'Toole

Second, the NDP-Conservative switchers. In a far cry from the anti-union bills prime minister Stephen Harper worked to pass, O’Toole praised organized labour as a group that helps build strong communities.

Unions foster community and workplace cultures where workers know that someone has their back,” he said. Unions fight for workers when they are sick and fight for them against unfair tariffs, he said.

There was, of course, a nod to workers in the oil patch — though framed in a sympathetic tone as a community left behind in Trudeau’s vision of a better Canada.

Trudeau’s Canada, he said, “is the vision presented in the throne speech, where a person is judged by the job they have or where they live, if they are lucky enough to even have a job after COVID: a Canada where the government decides what jobs people have and what cars they drive, a Canada where millions of Canadians are knowingly left behind and are told the country will be building back better without them.” 

Trudeau is harming national unity: O’Toole

The Conservative leader accused the prime minister of harming national unity. O’Toole noted that when he became a cabinet minister in 2015, the Bloc Québécois was not an official party and that there was no such thing as the Wexit movement. 

“Now there are more members signed up for an email, looking into [Western] separation, than there are members of the Liberal Party of Canada.”

(The Liberal party says it counts about 200,000 supporters across Canada. Wexit Canada, now known as the Maverick Party, is a party that actually plans to challenge the Conservatives in the next federal election to become the dominant voice for the region, accusing it of selling out to central Canada’s interests. 

The Bloc’s rise is also a story about the influence of a new leader, the NDP’s collapse in the province because of their new leader, and one about how the Tories, as much as, if not more than, the Liberals, failed to capitalized on an opportunity to gain seats in Quebec’s more rural areas and smaller towns).

I will increase health transfers to the provinces by providing stable, predictable funding, no strings attached.Erin O'Toole

O’Toole has set his sights on winning in Quebec, and his speech to the Commons made clear note of it. He promised billions in health care funding with no federal conditions — just as Quebec Premier François Legault and his counterparts had requested. 

“My plan is clear. I will increase health transfers to the provinces by providing stable, predictable funding, no strings attached. This is about respecting the jurisdiction of the provinces,” O’Toole said.

The Harper government had previously been concerned that the premiers ask for money for health care but end up spending it on other matters — a concern also shared, in private, by the Trudeau Liberals. 

Indigenous  Canadians — especially Indigenous entrepreneurs, were specifically told O’Toole is concerned about their welfare and their opportunities. The new Conservative leader also noted that both the Liberals and the Conservative have a “bad record when it comes to the Indigenous experience.” 

“We have a lot to do on this side, but the Liberals certainly have a lot to do as well,” he said.

On Thursday, O’Toole faced a legislation he knew would be coming but probably wished it didn’t, the Liberals’ ban on conversion therapy.

Bill C-6 might prove difficult for O’Toole, who makes note of his pro-LGBTQ voting record but must also balance the fact that he won his party’s leadership by appealing to social conservatives, many of whom are concerned by the bill or outright oppose it.

Speaking in French and in English, O’Toole twice told the Commons: “Conversion therapy is wrong. In my view, it should be banned.” 

But he also suggested he may vote against the bill, saying the Tories would be “seeking reasonable amendments to try to get to yes on this.” He urged the government to be “reasonable,” fully aware of the political games at play.

As O’Toole said in his speech: “Canada needs a leader for all Canadians, with a plan for all of Canada, not just the parts where the Liberal government finds its votes.”

But as the new Tory leader’s actions demonstrate, O’Toole’s electoral success may depend on areas where the Liberal government found its votes as well.