Politics Briefing: What Gord Downie meant to us in 2017

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Good morning,

It’s been a long year. Before the Politics Briefing goes on hiatus for the holidays, we thought we’d highlight some of the inspiring stories from 2017 that make us hopeful for the new year. Got any suggestions? .

In the days and weeks that followed Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie‘s death, the tributes that poured in from across the country focused as much on his activism for First Nations as his and his band’s storied musical career.

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It was a moment the entire country had been bracing for: Mr. Downie announced his cancer diagnosis in the spring of 2016, setting off a farewell tour and more than a year of public events in which Mr. Downie called on his fans and Canada’s government to pay more attention to the wrongs suffered by Indigenous people, particularly in residential schools.

That included a final tour that ended with a televised concert in Kingston, Ont., where Mr. Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he called on action for Indigenous people of the North: “It isn’t cool. And everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad. But we’re going to figure it out. You’re going to figure it out.”

He also produced his “Secret Path” project, a graphic novel, animated film and brief tour inspired by the 1966 death of Chanie Wenjack., a 12-year-old Indigenous boy who died after he ran away from a residential school in Kenora, Ont.

When he died on Oct. 17 of this year, Mr. Trudeau teared up as he said Canada was “less of a country” without Mr. Downie, and the House of Commons held a moment of silence the following day.

Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower rang out the melody of Bobcaygeon as the flag was flown at half mast.

MPs from all major parties spoke of Mr. Downie’s impact on the country, now silenced.

Liberal Mark Gerretsen said: “Even with his personal struggle, he recognized that there were others facing challenges much greater than his, so he used his fame to advocate on behalf of Indigenous communities.”

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Conservative Tony Clement said: “His sense of social justice was legitimate, and his passion burned bright.”

And New Democrat Charlie Angus noted that when faced with his own mortality, Mr. Downie “brought our nation on a journey of reconciliation and justice.”

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Canada and the United States will co-host a major international summit on North Korea in Vancouver on Jan. 16, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced in Ottawa last night. Mr. Tillerson said the White House is committed to diplomacy in dealing with the rogue regime. “All of it has always been intended to lead to talks. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to do this; we’d just go straight to the military option,” he told reporters.

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The Conference Board of Canada says the softwood lumber dispute could cost Canadian producers $1.3-billion (U.S.) next year if it continues to drag on. The United States imposed duties earlier this year in an escalating trade dispute between the two countries. However, the conference board says strong lumber prices could reduce some of the impact of those costs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s embarking on a cross-Canada tour in the new year to get out of the Ottawa bubble. “It’s easy to surround yourself with really, really smart people…the top advisers, the top ministers. You can surround yourself with concentric circles of really qualified people and completely disconnect from the folks you’re actually supposed to serve,” he told a Montreal radio station.

Although the Prime Minister appointed many new officers of Parliament this month, he needs more time to find an information commissioner.

Mr. Trudeau met with Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their children on Monday, the Canadian-American family that were held in captivity in Afghanistan for years.

Foreign ownership of residential properties in Canada’s two largest real estate markets, Toronto and Vancouver, is below five per cent, according to a new Statistics Canada report. The figures suggest that foreign buyers, whose transactions were the subject of taxes by Ontario and B.C., have a smaller factor on driving up home prices than we think.

The Ontario government has reached an agreement with B.C.-based Great Canadian Gaming Corp. to take over four gambling facilities near Toronto. The deal will see the company take over day-to-day management of a casino and three racetracks. There have been questions about the company’s operations in Ontario, amid a wide-ranging review of money laundering in B.C.’s casinos. The B.C. government is looking into allegations that large volumes of suspicious cash are flowing through casinos in the Vancouver region.

The federal government is preparing to issue 208 new licences for cannabis companies, which will more than triple the number of producers in the leadup to the legalization of marijuana.

B.C. is experimenting with a radical new approach to curb fatal overdoses: Hand out clean opioids to drug users, no questions asked. The BC Centre for Disease Control has received federal approval for a pilot that will allow users to pick up hydromorphone pills two or three times a day. Health officials believe most will likely choose to crush, cook and inject the drug.

And court records reveal publicly for the first time the role that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball had in helping police crack a murder case – in the middle of a provincial election.

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “That’s too bad for [Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia] Freeland. Mr. Tillerson is her counterpart, and the two seem to enjoy a good relationship. Their decision to co-host an international meeting symbolizes that. But it’s hard to be confident he speaks for Mr. Trump on North Korea or NAFTA. Mr. Tillerson’s visit included a session with the Liberal cabinet’s committee on Canada-U.S. relations, but amazingly, the Secretary of State might not be a key player.”

Margaret Wente (The Globe and Mail) on housing: “It’s popular to blame foreign buyers for soaring house prices. But in the GTA, sales to foreigners account for just a small fraction of the market. The real reasons for the squeeze are land constraints and demographics. And the demographics are working against millennials.”

Lisa Kerr (The Globe and Mail) on solitary confinement: “On Monday, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the federal laws governing “administrative segregation” or solitary confinement are unconstitutional. But in reasoning that will shape the government response, the court found surprisingly little wrong with the laws.”

Craig Alexander (The Globe and Mail) on early childhood education: “The federal government has made it clear that it wants to foster inclusive economic growth, which includes reducing inequality and removing barriers to disadvantaged groups, such as women. Provincial governments would also like to achieve these noble goals. Greater investment in early childhood education (ECE) can be a springboard to meeting such objectives.” (for subscribers)

Lawson Hunter, Kenneth Engelhart and Peter Miller (The Globe and Mail) on Cancon in the digital world: “We face two related problems. First, if internet-delivered TV continues to increase in popularity, this could lead to a significant decline in the amount of available Canadian television content, at least in the regulated system. Second, if Canadian broadcasters and cable companies are regulated, and internet-delivered competitors such as Netflix are not, it will be difficult for domestic providers to compete or even to survive, especially if foreign competitors face no taxation in this country.”


The Republicans’ tax overhaul bill is facing more procedural hurdles, with more votes expected in the Senate and the House. It will most likely be signed into law by Christmas, however.

Democrats may use another budget fight this week as leverage to get protection for young undocumented immigrants.

11,608 to 11,607. In the 94th district of the Virginia House of Delegates every vote mattered. Democrat Shelly Simonds won the seat after a recount in the riding, flipping the seat from a Republican. With the victory, Democrats got a 50-50 split in the State House, which has been controlled by Republicans in a heavily-gerrymandered state.

You’ve probably seen the photo of former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian President Vladimir Putin seated next to each other at a dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary of RT, a state-funded Russian TV network, in December, 2015. There’s another American at the table who has received far less scrutiny: Green Party Leader Jill Stein. She says she’s co-operating with lawmakers investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. What does the Senate Intelligence Committee want to know from the Stein Campaign? “Collusion with the Russians,” the committee’s chair Richard Burr, a Republican, responded.

Sixty-five journalists and media workers were killed this year, which would be the lowest death toll in 14 years. Sixty per cent  of those people were murdered and a further 326 people working in media are detained across the world.

Saudi Arabia has intercepted a missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen that targeted the kingdom’s royal palace in Riyadh, the second time in the past two months that the Saudi capital has been targeted in such a manner.

And the U.K.’s new $5-billion warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, has a leak and needs repairs. It was only officially commissioned by the Queen two weeks ago.

Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on our southern neighbour: “In dealing with the Trump administration, it’s been a year of frustration for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cast. Try as they might – and they’ve put up a rational fight – they haven’t been heard. The foremost example has been the Republican administration’s threat to abandon the continental free-trade pact. It’s still in play, in a Sword of Damocles sort of way. U.S. presidents, it need be said, don’t owe Canada anything. They have their own interests to tend to, as Donald Trump has amply demonstrated.”

Robert Rotberg (The Globe and Mail) on South Africa: “By choosing Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, as the new head of the African National Congress, South Africa’s dominant political party has its last best chance to return the nation to the glory last experienced under the late president Nelson Mandela. The party congress Monday rejected the current, beleaguered and court-challenged reign of President Jacob Zuma and his preferred successor candidate, and simultaneously rejected Mr. Zuma’s blatantly corrupt, crony-infested style of rule. With Mr. Ramaphosa at the helm, the ANC and South Africa have a new, possibly final, opportunity to deliver good governance, prosperity, and positive development to its supporters and citizens.”

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