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House of Commons ethics committee to issue report today on WE Charity affair

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OTTAWA — The federal ethics watchdog may have let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau off the hook but that won’t deter opposition parties from issuing a scathing report on the WE Charity affair.

The House of Commons ethics committee, which spent months investigating the controversy, will issue its report today.

Committee members from all three main opposition parties have signed off on the majority report, which is expected to focus on the Trudeau family’s connections to WE Charity and the preferential access to government officials granted to WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.

It is expected to include almost 20 recommendations.

Liberal members of the committee are to issue their own dissenting report.

The WE affair has bedevilled Trudeau’s minority Liberal government since last summer when it decided to pay the charity up to $43.5 million to administer a volunteer student grant program.

Although the contract specified that WE was not to make any profit from the arrangement, the decision prompted immediate controversy due to the charity’s close ties to Trudeau and his wife, as well as to his mother and brother, both of whom had been paid to appear at some WE events over the years.

Then finance minister Bill Morneau, whose daughter worked for the charity and who had made generous donations to it, also came under fire.

Both Trudeau and Morneau apologized at the time for not recusing themselves from the decision. WE Charity quickly withdrew from the program, which was eventually cancelled.

Last month, ethics commissioner Mario Dion ruled that Trudeau did not breach the Conflict of Interest Act.

But in a separate report, he also ruled that Morneau did break the rules and gave preferential treatment to WE Charity because of his personal friendship with the Kielburgers.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said Dion’s findings leave plenty of room for the ethics committee to weigh in.

He said the committee’s majority report will reflect that none of the “normal checks and balances and normal due diligence processes” were in place for the choice of WE Charity to manage the grant program.

“I think you’ll see from the report that you can’t just say, ‘Well, it was the pandemic and people had to make decisions quickly,'” Angus said in an interview.

“This was about the power that the Kielburgers had, in terms of their relations with key people in the Trudeau government at the time, and Canadians were the losers for it.”

In his own report, Dion concluded that there was no friendship between Trudeau and the Kielburgers, that Trudeau did not give them preferential treatment and that neither he nor his relatives stood to benefit, even indirectly, from the decision to have WE administer the program.

Dion also confirmed Trudeau’s version of events: that the choice of WE to manage the program was recommended by bureaucrats, that the prime minister initially balked at the idea and asked that they look for alternatives, and that he eventually signed off on the matter after bureaucrats determined WE was the only organization capable of managing the cross-country program.

In “the frenzy” to distribute funding to students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dion said there were “some departure from the ordinary process of policy development.” Nevertheless, he said nothing was done improperly.

However, Dion arrived at a very different conclusion on Morneau, who abruptly resigned from politics last August as the WE affair dominated headlines.

He concluded that the Kielburgers were given “unfettered access” to Morneau’s office because the minister and his staff were close friends with the charity founders. He said Morneau broke the rules by not recusing himself from the cabinet decision on the grant program and by showing preferential treatment to the charity.

Angus said Dion’s report on Morneau was “a really staggering indictment of insider access” — a theme the committee majority report will expand upon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

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COVID-19

Effect of pandemic border restrictions could be long-lasting: Critics

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BANFF, Alta. — The last of Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions are set to disappear at the end of this month, but some critics say they fear the measures have already caused a lasting decrease in cross-border travel.

At the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta. on Friday, prominent voices who have been arguing for months in favour of the lifting of restrictions such as mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine requirements for international visitors said they’re now worried the economic impacts of such measures could be permanent.

In a panel discussion at what is an annual conference for business leaders in Canada’s most-visited national park, Meredith Lilly – an associate professor at Carleton University and a former international trade advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper – said cross-border day trips by Canadians to the U.S. never fully recovered after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She said her research has showed part of that is due to the heightened U.S. border controls put in place after that event.

“Fewer Canadians travelled to the United States to shop or fill up their tank of gas because of the unfriendly border,” Lilly said.

“Canada is now doing the same thing to Americans. So it’s going to take major effort to get Americans to come back.”

Earlier this week, federal government sources confirmed the cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.

The change means international travellers will no longer have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the current rule, Canadians returning to the country who aren’t vaccinated must show a negative COVID-19 test result before arriving, and undergo further testing after arrival. They also must quarantine for 14 days.

The expiry also spells the end of insisting travellers use the ArriveCan app to input their vaccine status and test results, though the app will live on as an optional tool for customs and immigration.

But Lilly said the two-and-a-half years that pandemic-related border rules were in place was likely long enough to change the habits of some Americans, who will now no longer consider visiting Canada in the future.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the number of international arrivals to this country increased in July even as they remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

The agency said the number of trips by U.S. residents in July was 2.2 million, 11 times the number of trips taken in July 2021, but still about 60 per cent of the trips reported in July 2019.

“So the picture still isn’t great,” Lilly said. “And three years is a long time for people to permanently change their behaviour.”

Canadian Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Perrin Beatty, who also spoke in Banff Friday, said this country’s tourism industry has now missed out on two summer seasons.

He said multiple medical experts have argued that testing asymptomatic travellers for COVID-19 at the border is far less effective than testing symptomatic Canadians within their communities.

“We’ve maintained these restrictions that simply make no sense. The cost to us, for small businesses in every part of this country, of the friction that we’ve put on at the border has been billions of dollars,” Beatty said.

“And we’re out of step with other countries around the world, we’re out of step with the science, and we’re out of step with the rest of Canadian society because of these self-inflicted wounds we’ve put on ourselves.”

A report released by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable on Friday aimed to assess the impact and effectiveness of border measures and other travel restrictions implemented by the federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The report, which was authored by four Canadian doctors specializing in infectious diseases, emergency medicine and pandemic management, concluded border measures have been largely ineffective at preventing new COVID-19 variants from entering the country.

It also said there is no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance have had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.

The expiry of the cabinet order on Sept. 30 doesn’t deal with whether passengers must wear masks on domestic and international trains and planes because that rule is contained in a separate order issued by the minister of transport.

The tourism industry has argued masking on planes is also “inconsistent” from a policy perspective, given that the high air exchange rates on passenger aircraft make them one of the safest ways to travel from a COVID-19 perspective.

“But the government of Canada is saying the single most dangerous thing you can be doing is travelling by air,” Beatty said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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Business

Dow sinks to 2022 low as recession fears roil world markets

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BEIJING — Stocks fell sharply worldwide Friday on worries an already slowing global economy could fall into recession as central banks raise the pressure with additional interest rate hikes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.6%, closing at its lowest level since late 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.7%, close to its 2022 low set in mid-June, while the Nasdaq slid 1.8%.

The selling capped another rough week on Wall Street, leaving the major indexes with their fifth weekly loss in six weeks.

Energy prices closed sharply lower as traders worried about a possible recession. Treasury yields, which affect rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans, held at multiyear highs.

European stocks fell just as sharply or more after preliminary data there suggested business activity had its worst monthly contraction since the start of 2021. Adding to the pressure was a new plan announced in London to cut taxes, which sent U.K. yields soaring because it could ultimately force its central bank to raise rates even more sharply.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world aggressively hiked interest rates this week in hopes of undercutting high inflation, with more big increases promised for the future. Such moves put the brakes on economies by design, in hopes that slower purchases by households and businesses will deflate inflationary pressures. But they also threaten a recession, if they rise too far or too quickly.

Besides Friday’s discouraging data on European business activity, a separate report suggested U.S. activity is also still shrinking, though not quite as badly as in earlier months.

“Financial markets are now fully absorbing the Fed’s harsh message that there will be no retreat from the inflation fight,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research report.

U.S. crude oil prices slid 5.7% to their lowest levels since early this year on worries that a weaker global economy will burn less fuel. Cryptocurrency prices also fell sharply because higher interest rates tend to hit hardest the investments that look the priciest or the most risky.

Even gold fell in the worldwide rout, as bonds paying higher yields make investments that pay no interest look less attractive. Meanwhile the U.S. dollar has been moving sharply higher against other currencies. That can hurt profits for U.S. companies with lots of overseas business, as well as put a financial squeeze on much of the developing world.

The S&P 500 fell 64.76 points to 3,693.23, its fourth straight drop. The Dow, which at one point was down more than 800 points, lost 486.27 points to close at 29,590.41. The Nasdaq fell 198.88 points to 10,867.93.

Smaller company stocks did even worse. The Russell 2000 fell 42.72 points, or 2.5%, to close at 1,679.59.

More than 85% of stocks in the S&P 500 closed in the red, with technology companies, retailers and banks among the biggest weights on the benchmark index.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its benchmark rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3% to 3.25%. It was at virtually zero at the start of the year. The Fed also released a forecast suggesting its benchmark rate could be 4.4% by the year’s end, a full point higher than envisioned in June.

Treasury yields have climbed to multiyear highs as interest rates rise. The yield on the 2-year Treasury, which tends to follow expectations for Federal Reserve action, rose to 4.20% from 4.12% late Thursday. It is trading at its highest level since 2007. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69% from 3.71%.

Goldman Sachs strategists say a majority of their clients now see a “hard landing” that pulls the economy sharply lower as inevitable. The question for them is just on the timing, magnitude and length of a potential recession.

Higher interest rates hurt all kinds of investments, but stocks could stay steady as long as corporate profits grow strongly. The problem is that many analysts are beginning to cut their forecasts for upcoming earnings because of higher rates and worries about a possible recession.

“Increasingly, market psychology has transitioned from concerns over inflation to worries that, at a minimum, corporate profits will decline as economic growth slows demand,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial.

In the U.S., the jobs market has remained remarkably solid, and many analysts think the economy grew in the summer quarter after shrinking in the first six months of the year. But the encouraging signs also suggest the Fed may have to jack rates even higher to get the cooling needed to bring down inflation.

Some key areas of the economy are already weakening. Mortgage rates have reached 14-year highs, causing sales of existing homes to drop 20% in the past year. But other areas that do best when rates are low are also hurting.

In Europe, meanwhile, the already fragile economy is dealing with the effects of war on its eastern front following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Central Bank is hiking its key interest rate to combat inflation even as the region’s economy is already expected to plunge into a recession. And in Asia, China’s economy is contending with still-strict measures meant to limit COVID infections that also hurt businesses.

While Friday’s economic reports were discouraging, few on Wall Street saw them as enough to convince the Fed and other central banks to soften their stance on raising rates. So they just reinforced the fear that rates will keep rising in the face of already slowing economies.

Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber and Business Writers Joe McDonald and Matt Ott contributed to this report.

Damian J. Troise And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press

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