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Trudeau tells U.S. lawmakers he’s confident USMCA bill will pass Commons

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MUNICH — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is telling U.S. lawmakers that he’s confident his Liberal government will “have the votes” for the House of Commons to ratify the new North American trade deal in the coming weeks.

Trudeau made the comments during a meeting today with a congressional delegation on the margins of a global security conference in Munich.

He thanked members of the Senate and the House of Representatives — a bipartisan group led by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — for their support for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Congress passed late last year after House Democrats negotiated significant changes.

The agreement is expected to become the law of the land about three months after Canada passes its implementation bill.

President Donald Trump signed the U.S. bill last month and Mexico ratified last summer.  

The Liberals were reduced to a minority government in the October federal election and while the Bloc Quebecois is expected to oppose the deal and the NDP has called for a thorough review, Conservative MPs are expected to support it.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was part of a five-premier outreach mission in Washington last week that urged MPs to set politics aside and ratify the deal for the good of the Canadian economy.

“Our parliamentary system is a little … I won’t say a little more complex than you guys,” Trudeau joked with Graham at the start of the meeting.  “It works fine, we just normally start after you guys finish your processes.”

He said he expects the vote to take place “in the coming weeks.”

“Good outcome, you think?” asked Graham.

“Excellent outcome,” Trudeau replied. “We’re very confident we have the votes.”

Conservatives in Ottawa have expressed misgivings about how the deal was reached and whether negotiators, led throughout 2018 by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, could have done better in extracting concessions from the protectionist Trump administration.

When the legislation was introduced late last month, Freeland said the debate would be an important one and that she wouldn’t be taking ratification for granted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Woman returning from Iran is B.C.’s sixth case of new coronavirus

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VANCOUVER — A sixth case of the novel coronavirus has been diagnosed in British Columbia after a woman in her 30s returned to the province from Iran.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday the woman’s case is relatively mild and a number of her close contacts have already been put in isolation.

She said health officials are working on a detailed investigation of the woman’s travel and when her symptoms started to help determine if they need to notify those who travelled with her on the same aircraft.

Henry said the diagnosis shows B.C. has a robust system for identifying people who have the virus.

“This one, clearly, is a bit unusual in that the travel to Iran is something new,” she told a news conference.

“Iran has recently started reporting cases and we’ll be working with our national and international colleagues to better understand where she may have been exposed to this virus prior to her return to Canada.”

Henry said earlier this week that four of the five people already diagnosed with the virus were symptom free. The fifth person, a woman in her 30s who returned from Shanghai, China, is in isolation at her home in B.C.’s Interior.

Henry said over 500 people have been tested for the virus in B.C. and many of those tested positive for the flu.

Three cases of the virus have also been confirmed in Ontario.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Government needs to produce plan for dealing with veterans’ backlog: Ombudsman

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OTTAWA — Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton says the federal government should clearly explain how it plans to eliminate a backlog that is keeping thousands of former service members waiting to find out if they qualify for benefits and aid.

The number of unaddressed applications for disability benefits and other assistance continues to grow despite repeated government promises to fix the problem.

Most recently, Veterans Affairs Canada revealed that there were 44,000 applications waiting to be processed at the end of September, which was a 10 per cent increase from six months earlier.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay says eliminating the backlog is his top priority and the department is trying to move files along faster.

Yet Dalton says the government has not laid out a clear plan that includes specific actions and targets.

Dalton also says the government needs to invest more money and resources into tackling the backlog, which he worries is leaving some veterans at greater risk of financial and health problems.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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