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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.

Congratulations if you had “Canada’s top civil servant rides to Justin Trudeau‘s rescue against Jody Wilson-Raybould” on your SNC-Lavalin Bingo cards.

Appearing before the justice committee, Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick said there was nothing to the idea that when Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s attorney general the PMO tried to pressure her into helping SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution for fraud and corruption.  “At every opportunity, verbally and in writing in December, the prime minister made it clear that this was the decision for the minister of justice to take. She was the decision-maker,” he declared. He blasted the Globe and Mail story that first raised the allegations of political interference, saying it “contains errors, unfounded speculation and, in some cases, is simply defamatory.” And he praised Trudeau and his staff for their integrity: “You may not like their politics or their policies or their tweets but they have always been guided by trying to do the right thing, in their own view, in the right way.” (Canadian Press)

Wernick also used his testimony to go well beyond the question of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case, warning darkly that “somebody’s going to be shot” during the next Federal election campaign, that “trolling from the vomitorium of social media” was making its way into the “open media arena”, and without naming him he singled out Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk who urged the yellow-vested convoyers who descended on the Hill this week to get in their trucks and “roll over every Liberal left in the country. Because when they’re gone, these bills are gone.” Wernick called the Senator’s words “totally unacceptable,” given the Toronto van attack, and said “I hope that you as parliamentarians are going to condemn that.”

Incidentally, Conservatives who fell into fits earlier this month when Liberal MP Adam Vaughan extended a whack-a-mole analogy to suggest someone should “whack” Ontario Premier Doug Ford—whack being what the mobsters say when they kill someone, in case you didn’t know—have been silent on the Conservative Senator’s call for truckers to drive around the country ploughing down Liberals. Candice Bergen, we’re looking at you.

Also, fun fact: no one has ever used the word “vomitorium” on the Hill before, according to Hansard and the Library of Parliament.

Wernick’s statement was overtly political, coming from a civil servant, which didn’t go unnoticed. “Fine. I’ll just say it. Parts of this performance are why politicians like Stephen Harper can plausibly argue the Canadian Public Service is the Liberal Public Service,” tweeted constitutional scholar Emmett Macfarlane. “Some of the Clerk’s comments today amount to cheerleading for the current government.” (Twitter)

John Geddes parses Wernick’s full testimony, which offered “a glimpse inside the way the powerful interact—and evidently sometimes don’t—around Ottawa”:

Then Wernick made the link to how Canadians might process news of Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin. “I think Canadians need to be assured,” he said, “that their police and investigators with the powers of the state operate independently, and that the prosecution services—the state charging people with offences—are completely independent.”

He stressed repeatedly that even though SNC-Lavalin had aggressively lobbied the federal government, the company never did manage to get the remediation agreement it so badly wanted. Wernick was eager to put on the record the fact that he personally refused to meet with the company more often than he agreed, and even walked out of a National Arts Centre gala last Oct. 3—an event headlined by pop singer Diana Ross—to avoid proximity to SNC-Lavalin executives. (Maclean’s)

On the question of whether Wilson-Raybould will be able to speak freely next week when she appears before the committee, current Attorney General David Lametti, who also testified Thursday, wouldn’t give an answer. (Global News)

Every time Justin Trudeau has tried to free himself from the SNC-Lavalin affair with a new explanation, Wilson-Raybould has been there to hem him back in, writes Andrew MacDougall:

To date, there have been several ifs, many ands, and one lost (Gerry) Butts —with no end in sight. And the next cut might just be the deepest: on Monday Jody Wilson-Raybould rolls into Justice Committee looking to “speak her truth”.

Trudeau is clearly not in control of events. But somebody is, and that somebody is…Jody Wilson-Raybould. Indeed, when you beam the SNC mess through the Wilson-Raybould lens, everything snaps into focus. As one wag in London said to me the other day: right now, Ottawa has gone all House of Cards because Jody Wilson-Raybould is going all Frank Underwood. (Maclean’s)

Tariffic news: We’re not sure exactly when Canada ceased posing a national security threat to the United States, but apparently we’re a more docile lot now, and the Trump administration is ready to remove the tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum that have mostly served to make things more expensive for Americans. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, said he’s confident the tariffs will be lifted “in the next few weeks” though he hasn’t said why he thinks that. If the tariffs aren’t lifted, Ottawa might just forget to proceed with legislation to implement the USMCA treaty, suggested Transport Minister Marc Garneau: “We will be doing some serious thinking about whether we want to proceed forward with it … you know the situation with respect to steel and aluminum is not yet resolved.” (Global News, CBC News)

Double Dipper departure: Two more NDP MPs have announced they won’t be running in the next election. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Anne Minh-Thu Quach, who both serve ridings in Quebec, bring the total number of New Democrat drop-outs to 11. (Canadian Press)

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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun

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Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces

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OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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