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Singh faces a trial-by-fire while Liberals, Conservatives look to score wins in upcoming byelections

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And they’re off! (Finally.)

The anticipation and speculation came to a close on Wednesday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set Feb. 25 as the date for three federal byelections — some of the last electoral tests to come before October’s general election.

The votes could make history, particularly since NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is putting his own political future on the line as he tries to secure a seat in the House of Commons in the B.C. riding of Burnaby South. Singh, a former member of Ontario’s provincial legislature, has been without a seat since he won the leadership of the NDP in October 2017.

While that is expected to be a hotly contested byelection, the races in Outremont and York–Simcoe also feature a number of story lines worth watching over the next 46 days. Here’s how the parties stack up as the byelection campaigns officially begin.

The prime minister called three byelections in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia for Feb. 25 on Wednesday. (Elections Canada/Canadian Press)

Burnaby South: All eyes on Singh

The starting pistol might have gone off on Wednesday, but Singh’s campaign in Burnaby South began in early August when he announced he’d be standing as the NDP’s candidate in the riding.

It might turn out that Singh needed the extra time. The NDP won the riding by a margin of just 1.2 percentage points over the Liberals in 2015. A survey conducted in November by Mainstreet Research (with an admittedly small sample of 330 decided voters) found the New Democrats trailing in third in the riding.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh joined Power & Politics Thursday to discuss his chances in the upcoming Burnaby by-election. 8:16

That poll result is far from implausible. While the NDP has held sway in the area since the 2004 election, it was always by the narrowest of margins. Burnaby South was a three-way race in 2015 and the polls suggest the New Democrats have lost support in British Columbia since the last election.

The partisan ‘lean’ in Burnaby South — the measure of how the riding’s voting behaviour over the last three elections compares to the country as a whole — favours the NDP. It is 16.8 points more New Democratic than the rest of the country, which ranks it as the 31st most NDP-leaning riding in Canada. It ranks far lower for the Conservatives (189th) and the Liberals (221st), but a potential three-way contest still puts both of those parties within striking distance.

Byelections in the ridings of York–Simcoe in Ontario, Outremont in Quebec and Burnaby South in B.C. will be held Feb. 25. (CBC)

The New Democrats will be helped by the Green Party’s decision not to run a candidate against Singh. But the Greens took just 2.9 per cent of the vote in 2015, so the benefit is modest. Leaders generally give their party a significant boost in a riding when they put their names forward for the first time. If this happens for Singh, then the NDP should be the favourite.

But leaders tend to run in ridings where they have some personal connection. Singh, a former Ontario MPP who represented a riding in Brampton, has no such connection to Burnaby South (though he did recently buy a home there). That could reduce — or erase — any “leader’s bump” for the NDP in the riding.

The demographic profile of Burnaby South also could limit Singh’s appeal. According to the 2016 census, 42 per cent of the riding’s population is Chinese or Korean, while just eight per cent is South Asian. The Liberal and Conservative candidates, Karen Wang and Jay Shin, both hail from these communities.

The partisan lean and current projections would put Burnaby South in the NDP’s column — but uncomfortably so. If there is no leader’s bump for Singh, this riding could be a tough one for the New Democrats to hold.

Outremont: Will a Liberal red wave in Quebec start here?

The NDP’s orange wave in Quebec, which washed over the province in the 2011 federal election, got its start in Outremont four years earlier when Tom Mulcair stole the seat away from the Liberals in a 2007 byelection. But the NDP’s fortunes are on a downward trajectory in the province — and that could cost the party this iconic Montreal riding.

Despite losses elsewhere in Quebec in 2015, Mulcair still held on to Outremont by a margin of 10.7 points over Rachel Bendayan of the Liberals. Bendayan is running again, while the New Democrats have put up Julia Sanchez to carry the party banner.

With the help of Mulcair’s personal appeal, Outremont had one of the highest NDP partisan leans in the country over the last three elections: 22.9 points, putting it 16th on the list for the party. But the Liberals also have some strength here. The riding is only slightly more Liberal than the country as a whole, but that puts it 152nd on the party’s list. Without a towering figure like Mulcair on the ballot, Outremont looks like the kind of riding that would fit comfortably in a Liberal majority government.

Rachel Bendayan, second from left, is running for the Liberals again in the Outremont byelection. She’s shown here with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and fellow local candidates Marc Miller (l) and Marwah Rizgy in Montreal on Friday, October 2, 2015. (Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)

Without Mulcair, the NDP is likely to suffer a significant hit in support. In recent provincial and federal elections, parties have averaged a loss of about six points in ridings abandoned by former leaders. Combine that with the swing in support in Quebec — the Liberals have gained six points since 2015 and the NDP have lost nine points, according to the CBC Poll Tracker — and the Liberals’ prospects in Outremont look good.

Quebec is the only region of the country where the Liberals have more support today than they did in the 2015 federal election. Accordingly, Trudeau’s team is banking on seat gains in Quebec to offset losses elsewhere.

Taking into account the departure of Mulcair, the partisan lean of the riding and current polling trends, Outremont could be the first NDP domino in Quebec to fall to the Liberals.

York–Simcoe: The only safe bet

The tea leaves are easier to read in the Ontario riding of York–Simcoe, located just north of Toronto. The Conservatives have held it since 2004 and won it by a margin of 12.5 points over the Liberals in 2015. Its partisan lean ranks it 45th on the Conservative list — suggesting that only a catastrophic election result for the party would put the riding at risk.

The polls have been reasonably good for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives in Ontario, so their strongholds there should be even stronger. That was the case in the December byelection in the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, where the Conservatives increased their 6.8-point margin of victory over the Liberals in 2015 for a 22-point stomping of the governing party’s candidate.

That margin might be the thing to watch in York–Simcoe, where Scot Davidson will be running under the Tory banner (the Liberals will name their candidate on the weekend). The riding has been 20 points more Conservative than the country as a whole over the last three elections. If the Conservatives are in a position to form a government, York–Simcoe is the kind of riding they should expect to win with at least 55 per cent of the vote.

Out of the gate, the Conservatives look likely to hold one seat and the Liberals look well-placed to make a gain. The toss-up is Burnaby South — and whatever happens there will have repercussions for the rest of 2019.

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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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