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Ottawa warns: travel to China at your own ‘arbitrary’ risk

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Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign-up at the bottom of the page to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Don’t expect much in the way of grand achievements from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly-shuffled cabinet ministers, writes Paul Wells: “It’s hard to budge the trajectory of state from even a post as exalted as a seat at the federal cabinet table. And harder if the government is, as is becoming increasingly obvious to all observers, chronically stage-managed by a tiny cadre of out-of-their-league staffers.” (Maclean’s)

The most high-profile move Monday—the one that set the other dominos in motion—saw Jane Philpott move from Indigenous Services to the Treasury Board, replacing Scott Brison who resigned last week. As Wells writes, there is little symbolism in Phlipott’s rushed shuffle. The real power will almost certainly continue to reside “in a very small number of unelected staffers, whose advantage is that the PM cannot imagine shuffling them.”

The other dominos fell as follows: Seamus O’Regan left Veterans Affairs to replace Philpott at Indigenous Services, while Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould took over the Veterans file. First time cabinet member David Lametti, a Montreal MP, was appointed Justice Minister while another new face, Bernadette Jordan from Nova Scotia, took the helm of a new position,  Minister of Rural Economic Development.

Trudeau’s decision to move Wilson-Raybould from Justice to Veterans affairs looked like a demotion to a lot of people, especially in contrast to O’Regan who was seen as having failed upwards into his new role. As John Ivison writes in the National Post: “On a day of strange decisions, it was Wilson-Raybould’s unceremonious, and rather ruthless, downgrading that raises most questions.” (National Post)

Speaking to reporters after the announcement Wilson-Raybould dismissed any suggestion her portfolio change signalled a demotion—”I can think of no world in which I would consider working for our veterans in Canada as a demotion“—before embarking on a full-throated defence of her time as Justice Minister and tally of her accomplishments there. (Maclean’s)

For the record, here is what Trudeau had to say after the cabinet swaps.

And then there was one: Organizers of one of the two truck convoys that were scheduled to depart Western Canada for Ottawa next month have cancelled their journey. Canada Action, a federally registered non-profit, said its convoy is “no longer viable” and is returning the $25,000 it raised from donors. That leaves a convoy organized by Canada’s yellow vest movement. (CBC News)

A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian to death for drug trafficking Monday, after which Trudeau accused China of “arbitrarily” applying the death penalty in the case. That suggests Ottawa believes the court ruling was in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecom executive on a U.S. warrant last month. (Globe and Mail)

The federal government sharpened its travel advisory for China. Canadians who plan to go to the country should “exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” (CTV News)

Rand Paul has compared universal health care to “slavery“, so many critics saw it as rich that the Senator will travel to Thornhill, Ont. later this month for surgery at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital. Rand’s medical visit isn’t as hypocritical as some made it out to be—Shouldice is a private hospital that provides its specialized hernia surgery to both Ontario residents covered by provincial health insurance and paying-clients from around the world (as its FAQ says, foreigners have to pay up front: “All charges are payable on admission by credit card, bank draft or cash.“) But leave it to Eugene Gu, a Tennessee doctor and outspoken Trump critic on social media, to explain the real irony: “[This] has nothing to do with Canadian socialized medicine but everything to do with wealth and privilege,” he tweeted. “Rand Paul’s reason for going to a private hospital in Canada instead of one in America is that Canada does the best Shouldice hernia repair—the gold standard for mesh-free hernia surgery. America spends the most money yet can’t train the best surgeons because of broken politics.” (TwitterCourier Journal)

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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