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Criticism over failure to mention Muslims ‘completely baseless,’ says Scheer

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  • OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer says criticism over his initial failure to mention that Muslims were targeted in the recent mass murder in New Zealand is “completely baseless” and driven by “disgusting” Liberal efforts to score political points from the tragedy.

    But in answering a question Saturday about how he deals with that criticism, the federal Conservative leader once again initially made no reference to Muslims.

    “I deal with it by pointing out that the criticisms are completely baseless,” Scheer told the Manning Networking Conference, an annual gathering of this country’s conservative thinkers, strategists and politicians.

    “When you look at statements I’ve made condemning hateful ideologies, those who would promote any type of superiority of one race or religion over the others, I condemn that unequivocally.”

    Scheer noted that the second statement he issued on the day of the New Zealand shootings “absolutely did include the reference to the faith community that was attacked,” although he did not at first identify that faith community.

    On March 15, an avowed white supremacist shot and killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two New Zealand mosques. In a statement posted that day on Twitter, Scheer condemned the attacks as “a despicable act of evil” against “peaceful worshippers,” without specifically mentioning where they occurred or who was targeted.

    A few hours later — after the initial statement drew criticism — Scheer issued a second statement, which he referred to Saturday as his “official statement.” It specifically referred to the horrific “terror attack on two New Zealand mosques” and voiced his “profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community.”

    On Saturday, Scheer blamed the Liberals for stirring up the controversy, accusing them of attempting “to score cheap political points in a very disgusting manner.” Moreover, he argued that initial tweets by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Governor General Julie Payette also didn’t specifically mention mosques or Muslims.

    Later, as he took questions from members of the audience, Scheer was asked why he’s never said the word “Islamophobia.” 

    “I don’t believe that’s true,” he responded, noting that all parties supported a motion last week in the House of Commons. That motion, which he didn’t describe, condemned the mosque attacks and affirmed the need to “confront hatred, Islamophobia, and white supremacy, in all their forms.”

    “I reject anyone who would speak out based on Islamophobic principles, whether or not that’s somebody who is trying to lump all people of the Muslim faith in together or whether it’s people who are trying to antagonize elements of society to have a more negative reaction to those who practice that faith,” Scheer added.

    “To me the important thing is to speak out against those who in any way give oxygen or space to those who are trying to promote one group of people over the other.”

    Scheer also used his appearance at the Manning conference to promise that a Conservative government would balance the federal budget — but he didn’t say when.

    He said the Liberals have made such increases to government spending that a Conservative government could get most of the way to balance simply by holding annual spending increases to the rate of inflation and population growth. As well, he said billions could be saved by scrapping “some big-ticket items” introduced by the Liberals such as the federal infrastructure bank.

    The longer Prime Minister Justin Trudeau goes racking up large annual deficits, the harder it will be return to balance, Scheer suggested. But he said Canadians have “a window” in this fall’s federal election to “limit the damage and get back to balanced budgets over a shorter period of time.”

    Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s latest budget forecasts deficits of almost $20 billion in each of the next two years, declining to just under $10 billion in five years. It makes no attempt to forecast when the budget might be balanced.

     

    Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Flood waters take woman’s life in western Quebec after river sweeps away road

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  • MONTREAL — A woman in her 70s has died after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by flooding in western Quebec, police say.

    The accident left her sedan upside down in a swollen stream after rising river levels swept away part of the road in the Outaouais region overnight.

    Sgt. Martin Fournel of the MRC des Collines police said witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached.

    “That lady, who was driving by herself on that road, fell into a sinkhole basically because of the flooding. There was a culvert that was not there anymore, so the road was cut in half and she was not able to brake and avoid the accident,” Fournel told The Canadian Press.

    The woman was taken to hospital but pronounced dead soon after, he said.

    The accident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

    Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least three municipalities in the Outaouais region to declare states of emergency, along with Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts. Trois-Rivieres is also in a state of emergency.

    On Friday, both the Quebec and New Brunswick governments called for federal assistance — including Canadian Forces soldiers on the ground — as the provinces brace for heavy spring flooding this weekend.

    Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told a news conference in Quebec City that the risk level hasn’t changed in recent days, but authorities now expect the brunt of flooding will begin on Sunday and last longer than expected.

    While the situation could change depending on the weather, Guilbault said she elected to ask for assistance as citizens scrambled to protect their homes while heavy rain warnings were in effect for much of southern Quebec.

    About 40 millimetres of rain fell on the Montreal area since Thursday, with five to 10 millimetres more expected Saturday, according to Environment Canada. Rainfall warnings have been lifted, but water levels were already high and were expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures and snowmelt runoff.

    “My only priority is the safety of citizens,” Guilbault said, shortly after the request for help was accepted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

    “I will spare no effort over the next few days to ensure the safety of citizens.”

    Officials in several communities are worried the flooding could be even worse than the record flooding of 2017 that forced thousands from their homes.

    Guilbault said Canadian Forces brass were discussing with provincial officials where to deploy military resources. She added she’d spoken directly with Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan and added the duration of their stay will depend largely on the situation on the ground.

    Across Quebec, municipalities have been preparing sandbags and reinforcing homes as flood waters continue to rise.

    “Today is an important day, we’re predicting we’ll reach the water levels reached in 2017 in the next 24 hours and even exceed it,” said Ginette Bellemare, the acting mayor of Trois-Rivieres, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

    “For our citizens, it’s a race against time. They must mobilize and protect their property.”

    Guilbault said the province will also allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.

    Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province’s public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.

    Blanchet said while there are no official evacuation orders in the province, some municipalities have issued preventative orders, such as Rigaud and Pointe-Fortune in southwestern Quebec.

    Rigaud officials reported they expect a rapid rise in water flows on Saturday.

    “The latest data confirms that water levels as high as those observed at the height of the May 2017 flood could be reached, depending on the amount of rain received, by next Monday,” the town said in a release.

    In Laval, just north of Montreal, officials said some 1,500 homes and businesses were under flood watch. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante toured various parts of the city under flood watch.

    Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.

    “We’re putting all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides,” Plante said.

    In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River levels continue to rise.

    Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City. Officials there called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded. At least 28 people remained unable to return home on Friday.

    Meantime, Quebec City and the Gaspe Peninsula can expect up to 30 millimetres of rainfall this weekend, said Environment Canada meteorologist Andre Cantin.

    “That will help the snow to melt again and we do not expect the river will be able to go down until at least 48 hours,” he said Saturday morning.

    The Canadian Press



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    National

    PEI Green party candidate Josh Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — With only a few days before voters were to go to the polls in Prince Edward Island, the Green party suspended all campaigning Saturday after the sudden death of one of its candidates and his young son.

    The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

    Voting day is Tuesday.

    Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has been leading in the polls, issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of Underhay’s death.

    “Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

    Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

    The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

    The RCMP issued a statement saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

    Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair.

    Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

    Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

    Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

    Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

    According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

    “I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”

    Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King issued a statement saying the tragic loss of Underhay and his son marked “a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.”

    “It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” King said. “Josh was a dedicated teacher and community leader who had a love for life and a passion for people. He was an advocate, talented musician and friend to many.”

    The Green party has been leading in opinion polls since August, but the race remains too close to call when the margin of error in recent surveys is factored in.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on Tuesday, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    The close numbers have also raised the possibility of a minority government, which would mark a historic moment for the Island. The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    The Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including King, who was elected in February.

    However, the party enjoyed a boost in the polls the following month, leaving them in a virtual tie with the Liberals.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

    The Canadian Press


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