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May to MPs: We need to hold our nerve on Brexit talks | UK News

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London, United Kingdom – British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to buy more time to achieve a Brexit deal with the European Union in a statement to MPs on Tuesday. 

Just 45 days to the March 29 Brexit deadline, the prime minister asked for support in her bid to seek changes to the Irish backstop in a vote on Thursday.

The prime minister also said that if there is no deal by February 26, the government will make a statement on that day and table another amendable motion for MPs to vote on the following day.

“The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time,” May said in her statement at the House of Commons.

Britain and the EU agreed last week to hold further talks by the end of the month in an attempt to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

May is seeking changes to the backstop, the backup mechanism contained in the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in the island of Ireland, after MPs asked her to go back to Brussels to renegotiate it in a vote late last month. 

The EU has remained adamant that no changes would be made to the withdrawal agreement, which together with the political declaration is part of the deal the two sides negotiated over 18 painstaking months.

On January 15, MPs voted it down by 432 votes to 202 in an historic defeat for the prime minister, brought about by opposition to the backstop from within May’s own party. 

Eurosceptic Conservative MPs see the backstop as a way of tying the UK to the EU’s trade rules indefinitely.

A working group comprised of both pro and anti-Brexit Conservative MPs has been discussing possible alternatives.

Of course, Labour want power, they don’t want to be associated with helping May get her Brexit deal through.

Benjamin Martill, Dahrendorf Forum post-doctoral fellow at LSE

May also ruled out the idea of a customs union, which is one of the Labour Party‘s five demands for Brexit, set out by its leader Jeremy Corbyn in a letter to the prime minister last week.

Labour’s demands include a permanent, UK-wide customs union with the EU, close alignment with the single market, guarantees on the protection of workers’ rights, participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, and more guarantees on security arrangements.

Her statement on Tuesday reiterated she was not willing to budge on her red lines, arguing that a customs union would prevent the UK from having its own independent trade policy, and that it would be “a less desirable outcome than that which is provided for in the political declaration.”

According to Benjamin Martill, a Dahrendorf Forum post-doctoral fellow at the London School of Economics researching UK-EU relations, Corbyn has positioned Labour as the “party of the customs union” partly because “it’s a good halfway position” that would gather support from some of those opposed to Brexit who would see it as a better option than May’s plan, and partly “because it crosses the Conservative party’s red lines.”

“Of course, Labour want power, they don’t want to be associated with helping May get her Brexit deal through,” Martill argued, adding that Corbyn’s customs union requirements are “a way of making sure the Tories can’t come around to that position. It’s possibly not surprising that May is not willing to go that far.”

Corbyn faces pressure from some of his own MPs, who want him to push for a second referendum.

But Labour MP Lisa Nandy told the BBC on Monday that 40 to 60 of her colleagues were “actively looking for ways to support” a revised Brexit deal if the prime minister got “serious” about a customs unions and legislation to protect workers’ rights.

In the past, Corbyn repeatedly called for a general election should the prime minister fail to get a deal approved by Parliament.

Meanwhile, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Monday the bloc was “waiting for clarity and movement from the United Kingdom” as negotiations continued in Brussels.

The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement but signalled that changes might be possible to the political declaration that sketches out the UK’s future relationship.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Monday that the economy has seen its weakest growth rate in six years amid Brexit uncertainty and a global economic slowdown.

Business leaders have argued that a no-deal Brexit would spell disaster for the UK’s economy.

“[May] really is hoping to run down the clock,” Martill said, “and I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that when the withdrawal agreement comes back to Parliament, it will get much more support than it did last time.”

There is however still a political impasse, said Martill, adding that while both parties were playing strategically, “it’s quite unlikely to see where all the support for the withdrawal agreement is going to come from.”

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A tale of 2 subways: Comparing Ottawa’s LRT to Montreal’s Metro

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Ottawa’s 13-stop, 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line has been under construction for more than six years and missed four deadlines.

More than 50 years ago, the City of Montreal managed to build a complex, 26-stop subway system — including a connection below the St. Lawrence River — in less than five years, on time and on budget.

So how was Montreal able to pull off a project twice the size, and do it in less time?

1. Keeping deadlines

The City of Montreal designed and built its $213-million Metro with an eye on Expo 67, and in a 1963 interview then mayor Jean Drapeau promised the rubber-tired subway would be ready in time and on budget.

Drapeau delivered, and the Metro opened in 1966.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson made no such promises. However, he had originally hoped to have the above-ground portion of the Confederation Line completed by Canada Day 2017, and for the trains to be up and running by the following spring.

The Rideau Street sinkhole put a wrench in those plans.

This archived February 2016 screenshot from the City of Ottawa’s Confederation Line website shows that the plan was initially to have full LRT service launched by the spring of 2018. (www.ligneconfederationline.ca)

2. Different safety standards

According to Benoît Clairoux, the Montreal Transit Corporation’s unofficial historian, 70 per cent of the Metro’s tunnels were blasted through the rock using explosives. The rest involved ripping up streets or vacant lots.

Ottawa’s $2.1-billion system is less disruptive, at least on the surface: its 2.5-kilometre tunnel was dug entirely with three subterranean boring machines.

The Montreal project was also marred by a series of serious construction accidents, claiming the lives of 12 workers before the first trains ran.

With more stringent safety standards, the Confederation Line project has seen a few injuries, but no fatalities.

“We want to ensure that during construction and after, we always have something safe and reliable,” said OC Transpo spokesperson André Brisebois.

This machine is one of three used to bore the 2.5-kilometre tunnel under downtown Ottawa. (City of Ottawa)

3. Different technology

You might assume that as technology advances, the length of time it takes to complete such major infrastructure projects shrinks. But you’d be wrong.

According to Brisebois, the Confederation Line is a much more sophisticated system than the Montreal Metro when it was first introduced.

In 1966, human operators controlled the Metro trains. When Ottawa’s LRT system finally opens its doors to passengers,  human operators will still be in the driver’s seat, but machines will be running the system.

Everything is computerized, but that takes more time to develop, install and to test. OC Transpo said it doesn’t want to compromise the safety and efficiency of its LRT network.

Ottawa’s LRT system, including these turnstiles at Parliament station, will be far more technologically advanced than Montreal’s Metro when it was introduced in 1966. (City of Ottawa)

4. Public vs. private

From beginning to end, the City of Montreal was the prime contractor on its Metro project. Ottawa hired a private consortium, Rideau Transit Group (RTG).

University of Ottawa law professor Gilles LeVasseur said there’s an assumption the private sector is more effective at managing projects and reducing costs, but that’s not always the case.

Just ask the City of Ottawa.

“We trust the private sector because the private sector makes promises, with delivery and deadlines that seem very attractive. The problem is that they’re often not able to meet the requirements, and are always asking for delays,” LeVasseur said in French.

The latest deadline for Ottawa’s light rail project is now August.

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Recycling plant’s closure leaves Ottawa Valley towns scrambling

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A swath of the Ottawa Valley has nowhere to send its recycling following the abrupt closure of a sorting plant in Renfrew, Ont.

Beaumen Waste Management Systems shut down Sunday after more than two decades in business, leaving 32 workers jobless. 

“People are upset,” said mechanic John Greer, who was at the plant Wednesday to pick up his personal belongings.

Greer, who worked at the plant for four years, said employees received no warning about the closure. He fears the plant is likely closed for good.

Workers were expecting their final paycheques Wednesday, but have been told they’ll have to wait until Friday. 

The company’s president and CEO, Andrew Shouldice, did not return calls from CBC.

Beaumen Waste Management Systems Ltd. closed its plant in Renfrew, Ont., on Sunday. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Challenge for municipalities

The closure poses a major challenge for municipalities from Renfrew to Arnprior that relied on the company to pick up and sort their recycling.

Beaumen had contracts with Renfrew, Arnprior, Horton, Admaston/Bromley, McNab/Braeside and Whitewater Region.

The City of Brockville also sent some of its blue box material to the plant for sorting.

Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon said he was shocked by the sudden closure. Emon said he was part of a delegation of municipal officials who toured the plant just three weeks ago, and there was no hint it was about to close.

Reeve of Renfrew shocked to find out recycling plant has closed 00:00 00:43 Reeve of Renfrew shocked to find out recycling plant has closed 0:43

However, there had been signs in the past that the company was struggling, Emon said. Last year the company urged the Town of Renfrew to up its per household pickup fee in order to generate an extra $60,000, he said.

“[Beaumen’s president] said, ‘Look, I’m having difficulties,'” Emon said. According to Emon, Shouldice cited China’s strict new rules restricting the import of foreign waste.

“We agreed at that point to increase our payment to him, so we were a bit surprised that this happened,” Emon said.

Scramble for new facility

For the time being, Renfrew residents are being asked to hang onto their recyclable waste, but town officials are worried their patience will wear thin and all that plastic, glass and paper will end up in the local landfill.

Renfrew resident Ray Yolkowskie said he’s uncomfortable with the idea of throwing recylcables in the trash, but he’s not going to let it pile up forever.

“It’s going to be a lot more garbage in the dump, but what can you do?” he said. 

Longtime Renfrew resident Ray Yolkowskie isn’t happy with the idea of letting his recycling pile up, but doesn’t want it to end up in the dump, either. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Beaumen is not the only recycling company in financial peril, and Emon fears it could be a canary in the coalmine, with recyclers across Canada struggling to remain sustainable as the rules of the game change.

Earlier this month, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario applauded the Ontario government’s initiative to examine how manufacturers can be made more responsible for the cost of municipal blue box programs. 

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New Ukraine president, and former actor, to meet Trudeau in Toronto

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Ukraine’s new president will visit Toronto next week for a major international conference on his country’s future that Canada is hosting, and where he will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau’s office said he and Volodymyr Zelenskiy will discuss Ukraine’s reform efforts and its path toward integration with Europe.

Zelenskiy, a popular actor and comedian, but a political neophyte, ran away with this spring’s presidential election, unseating Petro Poroshenko.

He is now tasked with guiding his country through its ongoing conflict with Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and fomented a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the country’s east that has left more than 13,000 dead.

The Ukraine Reform Conference is a three-day gathering that begins Tuesday, which the government said will include key international friends and partners to support Ukraine.

Trudeau said in a statement that he wants to use the meeting with Zelenskiy to reaffirm Canada’s deep commitment to the Ukrainian people.

“Canada and Ukraine share a deep and historic friendship built on shared values and strong people-to-people bonds,” said Trudeau.

Ben Rowswell, the president of the Canadian International Council, said the conference will underscore the West’s and Canada’s commitment to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

“Canada has been a real stalwart defender of democracy in Ukraine, part of a broader approach we have to the international order to ensure that countries, even if they’re very close to Russia are able maintain their sovereignty and to operate as democracies free from the interference of hostile foreign powers like Russia,” said Rowswell, who most recently served as Canada’s last ambassador to Venezuela.

Canada became the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Canada has supplied it with $785 million worth of military, legal, financial, development and political assistance since 2014 when President Vladimir Putin tried to bring the country back into Russia’s sphere of influence as Ukraine was poised to deepen its integration with the European Union.

With the federal election set for October, Ukraine’s turmoil has implications for Canada’s domestic politics: the 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent comprise one of the country’s most influential diaspora communities.

That reality was not lost of on the Conservatives under former prime minister Stephen Harper, who visited Kyiv repeatedly and sent special teams of Canadian election monitors to support Ukraine’s various ballots over the years.

The Trudeau government has followed suit. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s own Ukrainian heritage has helped keep the country near the top of her agenda.

Freeland was one of the first Western politicians to visit Zelenskiy in Kyiv after he was declared the victor last month.

A senior Canadian official who was in the room for their meeting, but was not authorized to speak for attribution, said that while the new president and his entourage have little political experience, Canada isn’t worried he will shift Ukraine back towards the Kremlin and away from Canada and its western allies.

Zelenskiy is frequently compared with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, who went from being a Hollywood actor to the California governorship before winning the Oval Office.

Though Zelenskiy lacks political experience, the long-running political satire in which he portrayed a fictional Ukraine president demonstrated a well-researched and sophisticated understanding of politics and corruption, the Canadian official said, comparing him to Canada’s Rick Mercer.

Canada has offered Zelenskiy’s officials training on how to actually run a government because they lack experience and are running a country whose institutions are not as strong as those in the West.

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