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Andrew Scheer’s choose-your-own-adventure for 2019

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Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you’d read a chunk of narration starring you, then decide on a course of action and turn to the corresponding page to find out what happened next?

Here is one for the Andrew Scheer of 2019:

You are a Canadian politician who is plenty experienced but still amiably baby-faced. Despite being in federal politics for more than a third of your life and taking over the leadership of your party a year and a half ago, you are a somewhat unknown commodity outside of your party. Your main opponent is, well, extremely not an unknown commodity. His socks have been the subject of international interest.

There is a federal election coming up fast. Recently, a political cousin of yours enjoyed enormous ballot-box success by basically being the human equivalent of the digit with which one might thumb one’s proverbial nose. The people who voted for him really, really liked that, and there were a lot of them.

A defector from your own party is now shimmying gleefully across what used to be the right-most frontier of the political landscape. Elsewhere, there have been signs that a slash-and-burn approach is popular, that people are hungry for politicians whose anger matches their own.

READ MORE: Why Andrew Scheer is spouting nonsense about GM

So far, that has not been your way. There were clear signs that people had tired of a certain glowering tendency from your party. You are not much for glowering. The guy with the socks has quite possibly never glowered once in his entire life.

So now you face a choice.

If you decide to stick to your friendly, incremental approach and search for an upbeat way to tell people you have ideas to make their everyday lives better, hoping they listen, turn to page 101. If you instead decide to forcibly ditch the amiable thing and grab some of that angry sizzle, turn to page 123.

Of course, pages 101 and 123 have yet to be written, and it’s tricky to predict whether either would be a path to electoral triumph or a drubbing. That’s the thing about choosing your own adventure: sometimes you find a sack of gold in a cave, and sometimes there’s a hungry mountain lion wearing cool socks.

At the Conservative policy convention in Halifax in August, Scheer told the party faithful that when he first became leader, people used to shake his hand when they met him and nonchalantly wish him well. Now, he said, they grip his arm with both hands and implore, “Andrew, you’ve got to beat these guys.” It was a good line, and he delivered it well: droll and knowing.

“The Liberal party is finally showing its true colours,” he continued. “And I’m talking about the real Liberal party. The tax-hiking, rule-breaking, perk-loving, deficit-spending, debt-mounting, virtue-signalling Liberals Canadians have come to know and despise.” The harder-edged tone in that bit sounded a bit odd filtered through Scheer’s natural “Aw, shucks” setting, but the audience liked it.

Among those at the convention was Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl, who became friends with Scheer after Strahl was elected in 2011, taking over the riding from his father, Chuck Strahl. “I’ve been in his minivan with the Goldfish crackers ground into the seat,” Strahl says of Scheer. “That’s who he is, and I think what you see with Andrew is what you get, which is a humble, hard-working guy who understands the struggles of everyday Canadians.” This was a contrast Scheer emphasized in Halifax, too, and it’s certain to be a constant message as election day draws closer: we, the Conservatives, understand the everyday pressures of regular Canadians and can offer help, while Justin Trudeau and his party subsist on a steady diet of canapés and self-righteousness.

RELATED: Doug Ford the uniter gets Trudeau and Scheer seeing eye-to-eye. Really.

The message the Tories took from the 2015 election was that Canadians liked their economic and foreign policy just fine, Strahl says, but had grown weary of what they saw as “the vindictive nature of some of our communication.” At the same time, he argues there is a real frustration among Canadians that his party needs to respond to next year. “We need to make the case—and we need to make a strong case—of why we need to replace this current government,” he says.

In recent months, Scheer’s Conservatives have dabbled in vindictive communication of their own, including direct shots at the media. “Never have taxpayers and everyday Canadians more needed someone who will stand up to this government, the media and the privileged elite on their behalf,” Scheer wrote in an open letter published by the Toronto Sun in October. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre called a Bloomberg journalist a “Liberal reporter” in response to a story about a business organization supporting the carbon tax. Scheer, too, looks to be sampling from page 123 and trying out a nastier edge, particularly in question period.

Strahl says frustration and a “siege mentality” takes hold when politicians feel there is a double standard in coverage, and he argues that even ordinary pushback against the media or a whiff of the word “populism” is now loaded with toxicity. “I think that’s the danger, when people start to equate all criticism of the media with a Donald Trump-level scorched-earth strategy, where the goal is to undermine confidence in the media,” he says. “That is certainly not the case with Andrew Scheer.”

Melissa Lantsman, Doug Ford’s war room director and spokesperson during the Ontario election and now vice-president of public affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, detects a general anti-establishment shift to the right in Canadian public opinion lately, driven by people who feel the state isn’t helping them out. If, as seems likely, Albertans line up behind Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party in May, more than half the Canadian population will be represented by conservative parties, she points out.

READ MORE: Trudeau and Scheer agree: Election 2019 is going to get nasty

But while she argues that Scheer has been “quietly” racking up wins such as the Chicoutimi by-election in June and leading the fundraising race, what he and his party lack is the surge of voter rage that propelled Lantsman’s former boss into the premier’s office in Ontario. “I’m not sure that we’re there yet federally, and that’s an obstacle for Scheer,” she says.

To better understand the electorate, pollster Greg Lyle, president of Innovative Research Group, likes to group voters into “values clusters.” The voters Lyle calls “thrifty moderates,” for instance, hold moderate views on the environment and health care, and are fiscally conservative but not especially enamoured of free enterprise. That group would like what the Liberals have to say in several policy areas, Lyle says, but their support could be peeled away by elitist-tinged issues like the Prime Minister’s family vacation chez Aga Khan or the French villa that his finance minister, Bill Morneau, failed to disclose. The Tories need to hit the right note to draw them in. “The basic message is ‘They don’t get you, they’re not like you,’ ” Lyle says, adding that the carbon tax could be held out as proof.

But the slow-motion implosion of the NDP under Jagmeet Singh has given the Liberals a distinct and unusual advantage for 2019, he says, in that a core of left-leaning voters who would normally be at home with the New Democrats see a non-entity there at the moment and remain firmly with the Liberals. Once Lyle lays out the various groups of voters, it becomes clear what a tricky balancing act Scheer and his party face in trying to overcome that Liberal advantage. “It gives you a sense of how conflicted the public is, how hard it is to actually pull together a winning coalition,” he says.

RELATED: Andrew Scheer thinks he can actually build a pipeline

The next federal election will, once again, likely be decided by the vote-rich 905 belt that cinches Toronto. Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, believes the notion that Canadians vote one way provincially and another federally is outdated and has been replaced by calcified “blocks” of conservative and progressive voters; the GTA suburbs full of new Canadians are the only true swing vote left. Those voters like law-and-order issues and lower taxes, so unless the Conservatives offend them in some way, they should present an opportunity for Scheer, Bricker says. “What the Conservatives really want is to replay the Ontario election,” he says. “If that’s what happens, they win—almost regardless of what happens in the rest of the country.”

However, Lyle’s research suggests that the carbon tax the federal government will impose on recalcitrant provinces on Jan. 1 is not the kiss of death the Tories are hoping it will be in Ontario. His most recent survey, from September, shows that 40 per cent of Canadians support a carbon tax and 27 per cent oppose one, with the strongest resistance in Atlantic Canada and Alberta. In Ontario, there’s a 20-point advantage in support of a carbon tax. “It’s not working the way it’s supposed to be working for the Tories,” Lyle says.

Strahl, for his part, believes the biggest risk is if world events overtake the domestic political narrative in 2019, turning the election into a proxy war. “The Liberals, I believe, would like to run against Donald Trump, Stephen Harper, Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer, in that order. Andrew is a very hard politician—a very hard leader—to demonize­­, because he is a genuinely pleasant person . . . he isn’t seen as a scary right-wing fringe guy,” Strahl says. “In a head-to-head battle between Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau, I like where that will end up.”

For Scheer, the best adventure to choose may be the smiley nice guy who isn’t afraid to get angry once in a while.

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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