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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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2 years after Westboro bus tragedy, city has settled $5M in claims

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Two years after a double-decker OC Transpo bus slammed into Westboro station, killing three passengers and injuring scores more, the City of Ottawa says it has paid out more than $5 million to the victims and families who filed lawsuits in the wake of the tragedy.

Judy Booth, Bruce Thomlinson and Anja van Beek died in the crash on Jan. 11, 2019. Other passengers suffered life-altering injuries.

The City of Ottawa has been served with 18 statements of claim including one class-action lawsuit. The courts have not yet issued a decision on whether that class action should be certified, according to city solicitor David White. Another dozen notices filed could eventually bring the total number of lawsuits against the city to 30.

White said claims involving two of the three deceased passengers have now been settled, and he expects more claims to be settled this year. The city and its insurers have advanced partial payments to some victims who needed the financial assistance, he said.

A year ago, the city formally stated it was civilly responsible for the crash. The focus then shifted to figuring out how much claimants should receive, rather than deliberating over legal responsibility.

“The City and its insurers continue to work diligently to resolve the claims that have been advanced, though there is work yet to be done in this regard,” White wrote in an email ahead of the second anniversary of the tragedy.

“The objective is to ensure that the victims and their families are adequately and appropriately compensated.”

As for criminal proceedings, the trial of bus driver Aissatou Diallo remains scheduled for eight weeks beginning March 22. Diallo faces more than three dozen charges including three counts of dangerous driving causing death.

When they announced those charges back in August 2019, police said the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the crash.

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Ottawa adds 127 new COVID-19 cases on Monday for more than 1,000 in past week

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Ottawa Public Health says 127 more people in Ottawa have tested positive for COVID-19, another triple-digit case count for the city.

One new death related to COVID-19 was also reported in Ottawa today.

In the past week, the city has added more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases to its pandemic total. There have been only two days in January to date where OPH has reported fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19. Daily reports from Jan. 5 to Jan 11 inclusive add up to 1,033 new cases of COVID-19 in total. 

This comes as Ontario reports more than 3,300 new cases provincewide and 29 new deaths, pushing the provincewide death toll from the pandemic to more than 5,000. The province reported 159 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa. 

Figures from OPH have differed from the province’s, sometimes significantly, in recent days, which OPH says is due to differences in when data is pulled for each respective daily update. On Saturday, OPH said its team adjusted its data pulling time locally to help cut down on the discrepancies with the provincial reports.

According to Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 11,505 total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city since the pandemic began last March. OPH says 398 residents of Ottawa have died of COVID-19.

The number of active cases in the city continues its record-breaking rise, but the increase slowed significantly on Monday, driven by a large number of resolved cases. The testing positivity rate has also decreased slightly.

However, the city’s rate of new cases per capita is still going up.

OTTAWA’S COVID-19 KEY STATISTICS

A province-wide lockdown went into effect on Dec. 26, 2020. Ottawa Public Health moved Ottawa into its red zone last week.

Ottawa Public Health data:

  1. COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 95.8 cases
  2. Positivity rate in Ottawa: 4.6 per cent (Jan. 4 – Jan. 10)
  3. Reproduction number: 1.12 (seven day average) 

ACTIVE CASES OF COVID-19 IN OTTAWA

The number of people with active infections of COVID-19 has increased by five to 1,207, as it continues its trend of reaching record-breaking heights.

However, this is much lower rate of increase compared to the weekend, when more than 200 new active infections were recorded.

OPH says 121 more people have had their cases of COVID-19 resolve, bringing the city’s number of resolved cases to 9,900.

The number of active cases is the number of total laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 minus the numbers of resolved cases and deaths. A case is considered resolved 14 days after known symptom onset or positive test result.

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COVID-19: About half of 184 new Ottawa cases in those 29 and under; Ontario reports record high 3,945 cases

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Ottawa Public Health reported another 184 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as the province reported another single-day record with 3,945 new infections over the past 24 hours.

Ontario reported 61 more deaths linked to the virus in the previous 24-hour period. Two of those deaths were in Ottawa.

Ninety new cases, or about half of Sunday’s new cases in Ottawa, were reported among those aged 29 and under, with 18 new cases in children nine and under, 28 new cases in those aged 10 to 19 and 44 cases in those aged 20 to 29.

Of those in hospital in Ottawa, one patient is under 19, two are in their 20s, three in their 50s and four in their 60s. There are nine patients in their 70s, five in their 80s and two in their 90s.

Four new institutional outbreaks were declared Sunday in long-term care settings, with new outbreaks at the Duke of Devonshire retirement home, Colonel By retirement home, Grace Manor and at a group home.

“Ottawa we were doing so well,” Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, the minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture, said via Twitter on Sunday afternoon. “We had just 19 cases Dec. 23. Had we kept it up we were heading to Yellow (“protect” zone). Today, however, even with new restrictions, Dr. ⁦Vera Etches is telling us we are moving to Grey (“lockdown”) … Our rate of infection after the province wide shutdown is going the wrong way and fast.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 1,160 new cases of coronavirus in Toronto, 641 in Peel Region and 357 in York Region. There are 223 more cases in Windsor-Essex County and 220 in Waterloo.

A total of 4,983 people have died from COVID-19 in Ontario and 215,782 have tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations are increasing at a rate that is alarming public health experts.

There were 26 new admissions in Ontario hospitals since the last reporting period. There are now 1,483 COVID-19 patients requiring hospital treatment, with 388 people in intensive care units across the province and 266 on ventilators.

More than 62,300 tests have been completed since the last provincial update on Saturday.

A total of 397 people have now died from the virus in Ottawa as the city’s active case count continues to spike.

There are now 1,202 active cases in the city. According to OPH data, 9,779 of those are resolved.

There are 26 patients in Ottawa hospitals, with nine in intensive care.

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