Archive | Politics

Is Trudeau trying to reap the benefits of resisting a NAFTA deal? Harper under scrutiny after new report

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

New polling seems to back up a reported suggestion by Stephen Harper that standing up to Donald Trump is politically popular for Justin Trudeau.

But one expert is less confident about his reported claim that the government is resisting reaching a NAFTA deal in order to continue reaping the benefits of being seen to stand up to the unpopular president, saying there’s little sign a deal is actually ready to be cut at this point.

 “I don’t think there’s a deal to be had there right now. Trump has made the fight around the world,” said Mike Moffatt, director of policy and research at Canada 2020, a think tank that is heavily linked to the Liberal Party (its president was chief digital strategist on Justin Trudeau’s federal election campaign) and an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey School of Business.

“He [Trump] hasn’t been able to get a deal on any of those, so is every other country in the world being obstinate? No. I think the problem is Trump.”

Tim Powers, vice-president of Summa Strategies who has long worked with the federal Conservatives, says while Trudeau might be getting a bump in public opinion because of his recent dealings with Trump, there are no signs his government is deliberately delaying sealing a deal.

“While it is true to say [Trudeau] gets a public opinion pop from conflict with Donald Trump, and perhaps he should have pursued an early bilateral trade deal with the U.S., it is not obvious that he is ragging the puck on getting a NAFTA deal done,” said Powers.

Greg MacEachern, vice president of Proof Strategies and a Liberal strategist, said the reported suggestion from Harper doesn’t fit with how the government has handled Trump so far.

“It would’ve been very easy for the prime minister to start a fight in the early days. Canadians would’ve loved that,” he said.

“When the president changed the tone of negotiations is when Canadians responded and retaliated in terms of our own tariffs. In terms of a political win, I think the bigger win for Trudeau, and ultimately Canada, will be getting a NAFTA deal.”

Jamie Ellerton, who worked as a political strategist for then-immigration minister Jason Kenney and former Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak, says while he doesn’t think Trudeau is intentionally delaying a NAFTA deal, the prime minister does stand to gain from his public disputes with Trump.

“I think the prime minister, in a kind of crass, political sense, gets the benefit of both sides of the issue right now. If he is able to get a NAFTA deal, he’ll of course get the deserved credit for it,” Ellerton told Global News. “At the same time, it’s no secret that Canadians don’t like President Trump, I think the reasons for that are quite obvious.”

“I do not believe that Trudeau is delaying [NAFTA], and I think with the hindsight of 20-20 down the road, when a deal ultimately gets done… we can then at that point look back and say what his strategy might’ve been. But for the time being, the status quo of the current NAFTA agreement really does remain in place.

“Short of anything substantial happening, I think the government of Canada led by Prime Minister Trudeau… is ultimately looking to get the best deal for Canada.”

Andrew MacDougall, former communications director for Harper, also tweeted on the matter.

He pointed out while there may be questions over whether the former prime minister erred in airing those concerns, even among a private audience, it’s also worth asking whether it would be better for Canada just cut a deal on NAFTA and hopefully deflect some of Trump’s attention.

that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is resisting making a NAFTA deal to score political points from standing up to Donald Trump.

In his remarks, Harper said it would be “foolish” for either the Canadian or American governments to resist making a deal for political points.

In a press conference Friday, Trudeau was asked about the comments and whether he has reached out to Harper to potentially help in NAFTA talks.

“I have had many conversations with a broad range of people including almost all of our former prime ministers including Mr. Harper to ensure everyone understands this is an all-hands-on-deck approach, not a partisan approach,” he said.

“I’m not going to play politics on that. I’m going to remain focused on getting the right deal for Canada.”

Fifty-five per cent of Canadian respondents approve of Trudeau, up from 50 per cent in June and 44 per cent in March.

While a number of factors are likely at play, including the fact the House of Commons is on summer break, the increase in support comes as Trudeau and the government double down on retaliatory tariffs imposed in response to the Trump administration’s own levies on steel and aluminum.

“The summer months are working very well for Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals,” Mike Colledge, president of Ipsos Canada, told Global News, “in part because of the response to the war of words for trade tariffs spat with Mr. Trump that rallied both the Liberal base as well as those who opposed the Liberals.”

It also comes as senior Canadian ministers prepare to head to Mexico next week for talks with the outgoing and incoming administrations there.

 “Work has been ongoing on NAFTA and we remain ready to meet anytime, anywhere,” the individual said.

NAFTA negotiations stalled in May and June over several contentious sticking points, including the issue of a sunset clause.

Trump claimed during his closing press conference at the G7 Summit in Quebec City that there would be a sunset clause.

Trudeau rebutted that in his own press conference hours later, prompting Trump to launch a Twitter tirade that, along with the implementation of retaliatory tariffs, seems to have fuelled a wave of patriotism among Canadian leaders and citizens from all stripes.

The pair had their first face-to-face meeting since then while at the NATO Leaders Summit in Brussels last week.

That talk, held on the margins of the summit, focused on trade and NAFTA.

There’s no set date for when official negotiations on the trade deal will resume.

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Horwath to Ford: will teachers be punished for teaching updated sex ed curriculum?

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

QUEEN’S PARK – With just a few weeks to go until the start of the school year, Leader of the Official Opposition Andrea Horwath demanded to know why the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association has received no official notice from the Ministry of Education about what, exactly, is happening this fall — and if teachers will be punished for continuing to teach the modern sex ed curriculum.

“Radical extremists like Charles McVety and Tanya Granic Allen want to prevent kids from learning about consent, cyberbullying, gender identity, and LGBTQ families. They want to drag Ontario back to 1998, and Doug Ford is fulfilling their every wish,” said Horwath, who pointed to concerns from school boards and the association that they haven’t been told what is supposed to be in classrooms the fall, with teachers all over the province having never taught the old, 1990s sex ed curriculum.

 “Mr. Ford is throwing school board planning into chaos – why is he not communicating with boards, educators and parents about the school year starting in just a few weeks?”

Now, the Thames Valley School Board is seeking a legal opinion about what might happen if teachers continue to use the modern sex ed curriculum.

“If teachers stand up and teach about consent, gender identity, and LGBTQ families in their classrooms this fall – what will happen?” asked Horwath. “Why is Doug Ford throwing school boards into chaos and putting students’ health at risk for no other reason than to please the radical social conservatives in his own party?”

Horwath and the NDP have been vocal in their opposition to Ford’s decision to scrap the modern sex ed curriculum, and force an old version back into classrooms — one that was written before same-sex marriage was legal or social media was in use. On Saturday, Horwath and NDP MPPs joined hundreds of parents and educators at a rally at Queen’s Park to protest the move and demand that the Ford government allow the updated curriculum to continue to be taught.

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Members of Trudeau’s youth council urge cancellation of Kinder Morgan buyout

Posted on 18 July 2018 by admin

Letter says pipeline project violates Indigenous rights, risks ‘irreversible damage’ to B.C. coast

Members of Justin Trudeau’s youth council are urging the prime minister to withdraw his decision to buy Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

Sixteen past and present members of the youth council are releasing a letter to Trudeau expressing their “disappointment” in the Liberal government’s move to buy the pipeline project for $4.5 billion.

The letter, signed primarily by Indigenous members, says young people supported Trudeau during the 2015 federal election because of promises he made on reconciliation and climate leadership.

It says when Trudeau appointed himself the minister for youth, he indicated he would listen and honour the concerns of young people.

The signatories say they’re questioning Trudeau’s commitments because they weren’t consulted about the pipeline decision and they are the ones who will be affected by the consequences of climate change.

The letter also says the pipeline project violates Indigenous rights and poses the threat of “irreversible damage” to British Columbia’s coast.

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Doug Ford pulls Ontario representative from Washington

Posted on 18 July 2018 by admin

Ontario’s new trade minister will head to the U.S. capital this week to testify at a hearing

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has removed the province’s representative in Washington, D.C., from her position and it’s unclear whether he intends to replace Monique Smith or cut the job.

Smith confirmed to CBC News that she is returning to Canada and a spokeswoman for Ford indicated in an email that her time in D.C. is done. Her departure from the comes at a time when uncertainty and anxiety is circulating within Ontario’s key economic sectors because of ongoing trade issues.

“We thank Ms. Smith for her service,” wrote Laryssa Waler.

Waler said Ford is working closely with Jim Wilson, Ontario’s new minister of economic development, job creation and trade, and the rest of the cabinet to “protect Ontario jobs and promote the importance of trade with our partners south of the border.”

Waler did not answer repeated questions about whether the PCs will keep the Washington position or cut it.

Meanwhile Wilson, a veteran MPP and former interim leader of Ontario’s PC party, will be travelling to Washington this week to testify at a commerce department hearing on the auto industry.

Wilson preparing to defend province’s auto industry

The U.S. department is investigating the imports of autos and auto parts, and there are concerns the probe could lead to tariffs similar to those imposed on Canada’s steel and aluminum industries.

“I look forward to speaking in defence of Ontario’s auto industry and the economic benefits it delivers in both the U.S. and Canada,” Wilson said in a statement.

The tumultuous renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the harsh tariffs on the steel and aluminum industries that U.S. President Donald Trump imposed on Canada are among the key issues driving economic worry in Ontario.

Trump has also floated the idea of slapping tariffs on Canada’s auto industry, which would likely have a severe impact on Ontario, the heart of the industry.

Since Trump’s election in 2016 several states have also stepped up their protectionist trade measures and already imposed or moved toward “Buy America” laws that restrict Canadian businesses from working in their jurisdictions.

Smith led Ontario’s efforts in fighting against those provisions, which were ultimately imposed by New York State.

Washington post was held by longtime Liberal

The role in Washington involves both representing Ontario’s interests to American lawmakers at federal and state levels, and advising the premier on what is happening in Washington and how it could affect the province. Several other provinces have representatives in the city, including Alberta and Quebec.

Smith was appointed to the post, which is based out of the Canadian embassy, by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne in August of 2013. Before that, Smith was an adviser to Wynne, and had also served as a Liberal MPP and cabinet minister in Dalton McGuinty’s government. She left politics in 2011.

Smith’s relocation is already underway, but there are a handful of other staff who are still working at the Ontario office at the Canadian embassy in Washington.

Ford has been urged to keep the position in Washington by opposition MPPs who view it as a valuable one. Some key industry representatives agree it should be kept as well.

Before Ford was sworn in on June 26, a transition team member told CBC News that decisions about the Washington post were in the “early stages.”

Ford has said Ontario will execute a “full court press” when it comes to lobbying for the province’s interests in the U.S. and that he plans to spend a lot of his own time south of the border.

“I’m going to be travelling to every single state. Nothing is better than meeting someone eye-to-eye,” Ford said last month during a news conference with federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Ford has also said he intends to work closely with the federal government on NAFTA talks to ensure Ontario jobs are protected.

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Ontario sex-ed will still include consent, gender identity, education minister says

Posted on 18 July 2018 by admin

PC government announced plans to scrap modernized sex-ed curriculum last week

Ontario’s education minister says despite the government’s plans to scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum, students will continue to be taught about things like consent and gender identity this fall.

Lisa Thompson made the announcement during Monday’s question period at Queen’s Park, less than a week after revealing the government planned to use the 1998 sex-ed curriculum while it consulted with parents about a revised version.

Now, Thompson said kids will still learn about several key issues that weren’t in that older curriculum, including gender identity and the risks of sharing sexual content online.

“That includes consent. That includes texting — sexting,” Thompson said.

The PCs decision to revert to older sex-ed curriculum has drawn sharp criticism from the Official Opposition as well as a number of educators, including some who plan to keep teaching the modern curriculum.

Peggy Sattler, the NDP MPP for London West, posed the question that prompted Thompson’s response.

Sattler calls the decision to get rid of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum a “dangerous decision” and said it amounts to “dragging Ontario backwards” and putting youth at risk. She also accused the PCs of making backroom deals to appease social conservatives.

Thompson fired back, accusing the opposition at attempting to foster “misconceptions” about the government’s sex-ed plans, and said the curriculum needs a rewrite because the last consultation process “was completely flawed.”

So far, Thompson has not explained how teachers will know to discuss some aspects of the modernized sex-ed curriculum and not others.

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Trudeau to extend Canada’s commitment to Latvia battle group during NATO summit

Posted on 11 July 2018 by admin

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to commit Canada to spend several more years leading a NATO battle group in Latvia — news that will come on the eve of the alliance’s annual leaders’ summit in Brussels and a likely showdown with U.S. President Donald Trump over military spending.

Trudeau was scheduled to arrive in Latvia late Monday, one day before he plans to pay a visit to the approximately 450 Canadian troops who are there leading a multinational force that was first announced in 2016 as a check against Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

The Canadian-led battle group is one of four in the region, and includes troops from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Germany leads a similar force in Lithuania, Britain leads one in Estonia and the U.S. leads in Poland.

Canada’s current three-year mandate is set to expire on March 31, 2019, but sources tell The Canadian Press that Trudeau is expected to renew the mission during his overseas visit, just prior to attending the two-day NATO summit, which gets underway Wednesday.

Such an extension has been widely expected. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has asserted numerous times that Canada remains committed to leading the mission for the foreseeable future.

“We’re not here trying to take an aggressive posture. This is about deterrence. We would like Russia to get back to normality,” Sajjan told The Canadian Press in January during a joint interview with Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis.

“This will take some time. And Canada is committed for the long term.”

The prime minister is expected to use the extension as ammunition to fend off attacks from Trump during the NATO summit that Canada is not spending enough on defence.

Canada and other countries have faced U.S. pressure to meet the alliance’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence and 20 per cent of defence budgets on equipment — a target member states agreed to during a NATO summit in Wales in 2014.

Trump sent letters to the leaders of several NATO allies in recent weeks, including Canada, expressing “growing frustration” over the fact the targets are still not being met by the majority of alliance nations.

The Liberal government has repeatedly argued that has Canada consistently contributed to NATO operations and efforts — as evidenced by its role in Latvia — and committed to grow funding for defence by 70 per cent over the coming decade.

But critics have noted that even with the increase, Canadian defence spending will top out at 1.4 per cent of GDP, and it’s unclear to what degree extending an existing mission will satisfy Trump’s demands for Canada and others to put up more cash.

And while Canada’s role in the Latvian mission is positive, it is a relatively small one compared to ongoing NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo — two operations that are highlighted in annual reports from NATO secretary general Jans Stoltenberg, said David Perry, a senior defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“We’re doing good things in Latvia, we’re one of four countries that are leading the battle groups … but the two that the secretary general tracks in his report, we have five out of about 18,000 troops.”

The Liberal government last year rebuffed requests from the Trump administration and NATO for allies to redouble their efforts in Afghanistan, including a specific appeal for Canadian police to help train Afghan security forces.

Any extension in Latvia will nonetheless be welcomed by the country’s government, which has turned to Canada and NATO for support and reassurance in the face of Russia’s recent attempts to flex its muscle and exert its influence across eastern Europe.

“This Latvian enhanced forward presence mission altogether in the Baltics and Poland is one of the most successful missions of NATO,” said Karlis Eihenbaums, the Latvian ambassador to Canada.

“We feel much more stable as a people and also the NATO eastern flank is much more stable. You can ask our neighbouring countries which are not NATO members, like Sweden or Finland, what they think, they are very much for this presence … they are very happy that Canadians are there.”

Eihenbaums said security is also a concern when it comes to trade — Latvia has been trying to grow its exports to Canada under the Canada-EU trade agreement.

“In order to trade we have to have safety,” he said. “We should not stop (the Latvian mission), probably we should go further because we have to think about the air, we have to think about the water, we have to think about the seas.”

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Ford government is ending co-operation with Ottawa on resettlement of asylum-seekers

Posted on 11 July 2018 by admin

Blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for creating “a mess,” Premier Doug Ford’s new Progressive Conservative government has withdrawn Ontario’s co-operation with Ottawa over asylum-seekers.

But Trudeau emerged from a 40-minute meeting with Ford at Queen’s Park suggesting the rookie premier does not understand the complexities behind the migrant crisis currently straining Toronto shelter resources.

 “It didn’t seem to me that the premier was quite as aware of our international obligations to the UN Convention on Refugees as he might have been,” the prime minister told reporters Thursday, after the leaders’ first official meeting.

“So I spent a little time explaining how the asylum-seeking system works and how our system is supposed to operate,” said Trudeau.

“I reassured the premier — or I attempted to reassure the premier — that the asylum-seeker stream is separate from the immigration stream,” he said.

“Canada has always had a separate procedure to assess refugees and to determine whether they are, indeed, fleeing violence, persecution and terror, or else they are simply economic migrants, at which point they would get sent home.”

As first disclosed by the Star, Ontario Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod advised federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Wednesday that the province was stepping back from its involvement in alleviating a crisis sparked by President Donald Trump’s policies on migrants.

Over the past year, thousands of asylum seekers have entered Canada from the United States. The influx has strained the federal, provincial and municipal facilities earmarked to help such unexpected new arrivals.

MacLeod said Thursday that Trudeau made a “choice” in welcoming the illegal border-crossers and the province should not have to foot the tab for that.

“He was the one that tweeted out that everyone was welcome here, and, as a result of that, we’ve had thousands of people cross the border illegally and it’s putting a strain on many of our public resources,” the minister said.

“If he wants to welcome them in, that’s fine, but he should make sure that he’s paying for them and compensating the municipalities as well as … the provincial government,” said MacLeod, who added that she was not yet sure how much money this would save Queen’s Park.

The impasse sounds the death knell for the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement signed by then-Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne last November.

Under the accord, Ontario agreed to accommodate a share of the newcomers “recognizing the need for flexibility in responding to emerging humanitarian needs” and the federal government said it would backstop the provinces and municipalities with additional funding.

Ford ducked reporters Thursday, but his office was pointed in its criticism of Ottawa.

“The federal government encouraged illegal border-crossers to come into our country, and the federal government continues to usher people across the U.S.-Quebec border into Ontario,” said Simon Jefferies, the premier’s press secretary.

“This has resulted in a housing crisis, and threats to the services that Ontario families depend on. This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills,” said Jefferies.

“The Ontario government offers a wide range of supports for newcomers to our province and country, including employment supports, language training, bridge training programs, and settlement services, and will continue moving forward.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory said “thousands of refugee claimants and asylum seekers are in Toronto’s shelter system” and “this cannot continue and must be resolved.”

“This includes 800 people, many who are children, who will need shelter after Aug. 9, when we can no longer use two college dormitories,” said Tory.

“The City of Toronto has been clear that we need assistance to deal with unprecedented numbers of refugee claimants and asylum-seekers,” he said.

Maxim Labrecque, spokesperson for Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel, said in an email that talks continue with the special working group on resettling asylum seekers who arrive in Quebec but don’t want to settle there.

Labrecque did not comment on how the Ontario government’s withdrawal will affect those talks, but noted Quebec’s temporary shelter systems have already reached their capacity, and that the provincial government considers delays in processing asylum seekers to be a major issue.

“Quebec maintains services that it is offering to asylum seekers, but it must also do so while respecting its real capacity, which has already been achieved,” he said.

The migrant issue was not the only bone of contention in the Trudeau-Ford summit.

While the premier, who was sworn in Friday, tweeted he had “a productive first official meeting” with Trudeau, the two also sparred over Ontario’s decision to scrap its cap-and-trade climate change alliance with Quebec and California.

That sets the stage for Trudeau imposing a national carbon price on Ontario, which was exempt from the federal program because it had its own greenhouse gas-reduction plan.

Ford has set aside $30 million for a court challenge to the the prime minister’s proposal, which would take effect next year.

“Obviously, it’s better if we can work collaboratively with the provinces,” said Trudeau, who said he reminded the newly elected premier that he, also, had a big “mandate” from voters.


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Doug Ford aims to lower gas prices by ending Ontario’s cap-and-trade of carbon dioxide emissions

Posted on 11 July 2018 by admin

Premier Doug Ford is abandoning Ontario’s greenhouse-gas-reduction measures in favour of cheaper gasoline.

Ford announced Tuesday that his newly elected Progressive Conservative government has revoked the regulation that adds 4.3 cents a litre to gas prices as part of Ontario’s cap-and-trade alliance with Quebec and California.

 “Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses,” the premier said in a statement.

“We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people. Cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax will result in lower prices at the gas pump, on your home heating bills and on virtually every other product that you buy,” he said.

The move is the first step toward reducing gas prices by 10 cents per litre, which was a key Tory campaign pledge in the June 7 election. It’s not clear when the price drop will take effect.

“I promised that the party with taxpayers’ dollars was over and that this would include scrapping the cap-and-trade carbon tax slush fund. Today, we are keeping that promise,” said the rookie premier, whose government will unveil its throne speech a week from Thursday.

“Cap-and-trade and carbon tax schemes are no more than government cash grabs that do nothing for the environment, while hitting people in the wallet in order to fund big government programs.”

Ford said the government “will immediately begin an orderly wind-down of all programs funded out of cap-and-trade carbon tax revenues.”

That means an end to $1.9 billion in annual programs bankrolled by cap-and-trade revenues, including subsidies for retrofitting windows and energy-efficient insulation to help consumers reduce hydro and natural gas bills.

It also apparently slams the brakes on hefty subsidies for electric cars, though those went unmentioned in Ford’s pronouncement, which was scant on details.

Under the Liberal government, some 20 electric and hydrogen-fuelled models made by Tesla, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Honda, among others, were eligible for rebates of up to $14,000.

Those payouts were covered by proceeds from the cap-and-trade program, which also funded the construction of charging station infrastructure as well as free overnight recharging for vehicle owners at their homes.

But the new Tory administration has left open the possibility of future environmental initiatives for consumers, which will be “made on a case-by-case basis” and “paid for out of the tax base.”

“We are getting Ontario out of the carbon-tax business,” said Ford.

“Our focus will be to give people lower gas prices, lower energy bills and a real break in their wallets in order to get our economy going and create jobs. Help is here.”

But the new premier may find extricating Ontario from former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2016 cap-and-trade accord with Quebec and California may be more complicated than issuing a simple cabinet edict.

Under cap-and-trade, businesses have greenhouse-gas-emission limits — or caps — and those who pollute less can sell — or trade — credits for these. Over time, an industry’s cap will be lowered to cut pollution. This is designed to create an economic incentive to curb emissions that change the world’s climate.

So far, Ontario businesses have purchased $2.9 billion in credits and it is unclear whether the Ford government will have to compensate them for those.

Leaving cap-and-trade will expose Queen’s Park to being forced into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon-pricing scheme. That’s because under the cap-and-trade system, the province was exempted from the new national measure.

Ford has earmarked $30 million to fight Ottawa’s climate plan in court.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has warned the new Tory government is embarking upon a boondoggle that could cost Ontarians billions.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Tory government’s decision to scrap “Ontario’s plan to price greenhouse gas pollution without announcing an alternative is reckless and irresponsible.”

“Premier Ford is telling clean economy companies that Ontario is not open for business,” said Schreiner, the MPP from Guelph.

Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart used some of Ford’s trademark rhetoric in blasting the retreat from tackling greenhouse gas pollution.

“Abandoning the fight against climate change is nothing more than a massive cash grab from our kids, who will pay twice,” said Stewart.

“First in the losses from the more extreme storms, flooding, heat waves leading to lost crops and damaged homes, and secondly as they get left behind in the race for the low-carbon jobs of the future,” he said.

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‘There is no plan’: As Toronto faces refugee shelter crisis, federal government drags its feet on helping

Posted on 11 July 2018 by admin

Mayor Tory wants Ottawa to step up with more cash. He wants the federal government to run its own shelter sites. But they don’t seem to share the city’s urgency

There’s a breaking point coming in Toronto and no one seems to have any idea what will happen when it does.

The city’s shelter system, overwhelmed by a two-year migrant surge, has gone past full and blown through bulging. It exists now somewhere east of burst beyond repair.

The city simply cannot take any more, Mayor John Tory said Tuesday, without significant help from the province and the federal government.

“We have exhausted our available sites, our resources and our personnel,” Tory said. “We need the other levels of government to step up and assist Toronto.”

All of that makes sense. More than 3,300 asylum seekers were spread across the Toronto shelter system as of June 24, according to city staff. The city’s existing shelter infrastructure, threadbare to begin with, was overwhelmed months ago. Today, asylum seekers are sleeping in press-ganged hotels and college dorms. And the latter is where the coming crisis lies.

Centennial and Humber colleges need their dorms back by Aug. 9. By then, the city expects 800 asylum seekers, including 200 children, will be living in those rooms. When that happens, Tory said, those 800 people will have nowhere to go.

 “Relocating just this population of 800 would require the emergency closures of multiple community centres across the city and the cancellation of public programming in those centres,” he said. “And this is a step the city is not prepared to take.”

So what’s going to happen? Well, Tory wants Ottawa to step up with more cash and co-operation. He wants the federal government to identify and run its own shelter sites, and to spread asylum seekers out to other Ontario cities.

But the federal government doesn’t seem to share the city’s urgency. And if the city has a contingency plan in case the feds don’t come through, city staff aren’t letting anyone — in the public, or the agencies that deliver services — know about it.

Debbie Corrigan-Hill, the executive director of Sojourn House, one of Toronto’s largest refugee settlement agencies, said she was in a meeting with city staff on this topic a week ago Friday. When the issue of the closing college dorms came up, “everyone just (sat) at the table staring at each other,” Corrigan-Hill said. “There is no plan … that’s the problem, there is no plan.”

At a press conference in his office Tuesday, Tory refused to say what would happen if the city doesn’t get significant help from Ottawa between now and August. “Hypothetical questions are always bad ones to answer because they’re hypothetical,” he said when asked the same question a second time.

“We’re just going to continue to urge upon the government of Canada in particular, but both governments, the need to help us in a tangible way.”

It’s not that Ottawa is ignoring the issue. A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government wants to set up a “triage system” for Ontario, similar to one in Quebec.

The federal government also announced earlier this month that it would provide $11 million to Ontario to help with temporary housing. But the money and the triage system are on hold until after Ontario’s new government takes office on June 29, spokesman Mathieu Genest said. “Minister Hussen looks forward to engaging with his provincial counterpart in the Ontario government as soon as one is named.”

Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, a former Toronto councillor, said the Ontario election “couldn’t have come at a worse time” in terms of the government’s ability to respond to the surge of asylum seekers, though he added that Toronto’s shelter system has been near capacity for a decade. “It’s bursting at the seams at the best of times.”

But Genest also said the federal government needs better data from Toronto about its asylum seekers to know how to respond. In Quebec, the province tracks asylum seekers and knows how long they stay in the shelter system; the numbers spurred Ottawa to speed up the work permit application process last year. But Toronto isn’t collecting that data in the same way, he said.

City staff in Toronto don’t seem to know quite what to make of that criticism. Gord Tanner, the bureaucrat in charge of the city’s shelter system, said the city records the reasons why people are seeking shelter when they are admitted to the system. City staff follow up with an assessment of needs that can dig into that data in more detail.

The city knows how many asylum seekers are in the system, Tanner said — 3,305 as of June 25. They know most — 85 per cent to be precise — are from Nigeria. They know the majority crossed into Canada at Roxham Road, on the Quebec border with New York. They know how many are women and how many are children. They know how long they’re staying in the shelters. Tanner doesn’t know what more the federal government could want that the city can’t provide.

Regardless, the situation is not going to get better on its own. “Them saying ‘we can’t take anymore’ won’t stop people from coming,” Corrigan-Hill said.

At Centennial College Tuesday, in Toronto’s east end, many asylum seekers were inside, watching Nigeria lose to Argentina in the soccer World Cup. The refugee families occupy the top two floors of a large dormitory building. They live in four-bedroom suites with shared kitchens, sitting areas and bathrooms.

After the game, Moses, who fled to Canada from Nigeria via the United States with his wife and daughter, said a worker at the college recently told him he should be looking for somewhere new to stay.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds, he said. “To find a place is stressful. People are increasing rent,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do is pull myself together.”


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New Premier Doug Ford Under Fire For Cabinet’s Lack Of Diversity

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

Ford’s defenders say his cabinet will include a balance of regional interests.

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government had barely been in power for an hour Friday before it was under attack about the perceived lack of diversity in its cabinet.

Shortly before officially taking the reigns of the province, Doug Ford announced the 20 ministers tasked with helping him shepherd the new government’s agenda of fiscal restraint.

But while the cabinet drew praise for enlisting members with considerable public and private sector experience, critics also noted the fact that only seven women and one visible minority currently have a seat on the front benches.

Two out of three opposition parties said the makeup of the cabinet does not reflect the diversity of either the Tory caucus or the province as a whole.

Political observers also noted the lack of diversity, but said the current cabinet composition makes an effort to balance different sets of interests including regional representation and willingness to commit to the promised agenda.

The Progressive Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment.

Critiques of the new Tory cabinet, which features plum portfolios for Ford’s past political rivals as well as veterans of provincial and federal politics, began pouring in almost immediately after Ford delivered a speech to cheering supporters gathered outside of the legislature.

Newly elected New Democrat Sarah Singh, whose party now forms the official Opposition in the legislature, said the image of the predominantly male, white cabinet sends a disheartening message for those hoping to feel supported by the Ford administration.

“For me as a young woman of colour, and I’m sure for many others across this province, they’re not seeing themselves reflected in the decisions that were made today,” Singh said after extending her congratulations to the newly minted ministers.

Singh also criticized Ford’s decision to assign the Indigenous affairs portfolio to a minister who’s already overseeing the major files of energy and northern affairs.

That move, Singh said, suggests reconciliation with Indigenous residents will be a lower priority than it has been under past regimes.

Similar concerns emerged from the camp of the Green party, whose leader Mike Schreiner made history in the June 7 election by being the first person elected to the house under his party’s banner.

Schreiner issued a statement lauding the depth of talent in the cabinet ranks, but lamenting that diversity seemed only confined to the skill sets on display.

He noted that having only one member of a visible minority, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, does not adequately represent four million Ontarians who identify as belonging to a minority group.

Schreiner also took aim at the comparative lack of women in the upper echelon of the new government, though Ford’s two primary leadership rivals — Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney — were assigned the prestigious titles of health minister and attorney general respectively.

“All governments should strive for gender parity, so it is unfortunate that just seven of the 21 ministers named today are women,” he said. “This is made more troubling by the fact that you have reduced the Ministry of the Status of Women to a non-portfolio responsibility and unnecessarily changed the name to ‘women’s issues.’”

Social media teemed with criticisms of the new cabinet, with hashtags such as #OnGovSoWhite decrying the lack of racial diversity gaining the most prominence.

Political observers said Ford’s choices for high office send a message about where his governing priorities lie.

Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at Western University’s King’s University College, said the relatively homogeneous cabinet was formed from the ranks of a caucus rife with candidates from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The group does feature members from all across the province, however, and Lawlor said Ford’s focus on veteran legislators may be an attempt to suggest that a new government is not necessarily the same as an inexperienced one.

“I don’t think it’s an oversight, I think it’s a notable absence,” she said. “I think it suggests that, in an attempt to keep his cabinet as small or efficient as possible, he was … going for the people who he knows will present his agenda and who he knows will have the experience to perhaps balance the fact that he is not only a new premier but a new (member of the provincial legislature) MPP.”

Rob Leone, a former Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, agreed that Ford’s choices reflect a desire to showcase a combination of political savvy and people with skills to manage large files and organizations.

Leone said he would expect to see a more diverse cabinet further into Ford’s mandate when rookie caucus members have had time to get some experience under their belts.

For now, though, Leone said he sees no problem with the current cabinet configuration.

“People will assess cabinets on a variety of criteria, but the one that matters most is whether a minister does his or her job well,” he said. “Our parliamentary system is about to put them to the test.”

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