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As women celebrate historic Congress, consensus is the hardest roads lie ahead

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WASHINGTON — Just up Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill, where a roof-raising posse of congresswomen wearing white upstaged Donald Trump during last week’s state of the union, a drizzle-soaked lineup Tuesday outside the Canadian embassy offered still more proof that women in Washington are having a moment.

Embassy staffers handed out orange umbrellas to queued-up latecomers outside while guests jammed into a standing-room-only auditorium to celebrate members of Congress — present and future — as the vanguard of a female-driven paradigm shift in American politics.

“We are really in this profound and historic moment — 100 years after women got the right to vote, now you have the largest number of women ever serving in the body,” said newly elected Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat from Michigan who helped oversee Barack Obama’s auto-industry bailout efforts in 2009.

“While nobody asked me to run for Congress, I put up my hand to go do that because I felt something in the air and I felt the charge of the time.”

In November, that charge became a thunderbolt.

Americans elected 36 new female faces in last year’s midterm elections — most of them Democrats in the House of Representatives — in what proved to be the most ethnically diverse and women-centric freshman class in the history of Congress, which now boasts the most women members in its history, including the first Muslim and Indigenous women ever elected to sit in the chamber.

They have made their presence felt ever since, no more so than during the state of the union speech. More than half the new jobs created last year were filled by women, Trump said, prompting a raucous that’s-us outburst of high-fives and raise-the-roof gestures from the women in the Democratic caucus, all of them dressed in white in tribute to the suffrage movement.

Prior to Tuesday night’s panel — organized by Running Start, an advocacy group that helps young women who aspire to elected office — a group of young finalists hoping to be named the group’s ambassador took to the stage to show off their skills.

“Even a few months ago, Congress didn’t look like this,” gushed Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, a Running Start alum and former intern for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who’s now contesting the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. president.  

“There were times during my internship when I questioned whether I belonged on Capitol Hill.”

It doesn’t take an ambitious, type-A ‘alpha’ woman to mount a successful election bid, said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat who now represents Pennsylvania’s 6th District.

“I would so much rather be in my pyjamas right now,” Houlahan, a self-professed introvert, admitted to gales of laughter.

“This is a hard experience, and I think that makes it better. I really, genuinely have to do this — it’s a calling, this is a call to serve, and I think people should answer their call, whatever it is. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s even better, because we all are here to serve a purpose and to challenge ourselves.”

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould was on hand for the event, as was Maryam Monsef, the federal minister for women and gender equality, both of whom spent the last two days taking part in meetings on Capitol Hill.

Winning an election, said Monsef, is the easy part.

“Celebrating this important milestone, all of us are also mindful of the fact that this progress is not carved in stone, that we still have a long way to go,” she said in an interview.

“No one comes into these roles expecting them to be easy. If they were easy, we already would have achieved the progress that we’re still working on, you know, 100 years ago, when women first began to get the right to vote. Expecting that it’s going to be difficult is something that we all have in common coming into this.”

That’s something to which Jody Wilson-Raybould, Monsef’s now-former cabinet colleague and long seen as one of the Liberal government’s strongest female stars, can no doubt attest.

Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled out of the justice portfolio last month and placed in Veterans Affairs, quit cabinet in an apparent show of defiance Tuesday as controversy mounted over allegations Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office improperly tried to pressure her to help Montreal-based construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.  

Trudeau, of course, famously came into office in 2015 touting his feminist bona fides and promising to champion issues of gender equality, including around his own cabinet table. But the treatment of the famously strong-willed Wilson-Raybould has Liberal critics — and even allies — raising the spectre of sexism.

“I can tell you she is fierce, smart and unapologetic,” Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes tweeted on the weekend. “When women speak up and out, they are always going to be labelled. Go ahead. Label away. We are not going anywhere.”

The Wilson-Raybould controversy will “absolutely not” derail the Liberal government’s gender equality agenda, Monsef insisted Wednesday.

“This work is going to continue and we’re going to stay focused on it,” she said, citing pay equity legislation, the decision to turn the Status of Women agency into a full-blown government department and the advancement of gender issues through last year’s G7 meetings as key victories.

“The results speak for themselves, and we’re going to remain focused relentlessly on advancing women and gender equality because it’s the right thing to do and it grows the economy.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mario Dion could testify to a parliamentary committee as early as Wednesday afternoon about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, the NDP’s Charlie Angus says.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion had said he would make himself available to testify when MPs meet, but Angus said he spoke to the chair of the committee to ensure that would be an option.

Angus said Dion would likely appear by video conference.

“I am hoping, and I expect that, Mr. Dion will be able to provide testimony … and then we can finally get some clear answers,” Angus said.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against the Montreal engineering giant.

For his part, Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, Dion’s findings and was acting to protect Canadian jobs.

In his report, Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t get all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” Angus said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble: “He needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency committee meeting to be held early Wednesday afternoon. Agreeing to invite Dion to appear would mean keeping the SNC-Lavalin controversy in the headlines as MPs gear up for the Oct. 21 election.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.  

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

The Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

It is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law, Angus said.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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