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Fire out, organ intact but work ahead for charred Notre Dame

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PARIS — Firefighters declared success Tuesday morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers.

What remained was a blackened shell of the monument immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a building that had survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated amid renovation works at the start of Catholic Easter week.

Its iconic twin bell towers remained visibly intact. Paris officials said the world famous 18th century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived, along with other treasures inside the cathedral, after a plan to safeguard heritage was quickly put into action.

At dawn, the twin 69-meter towers swarmed with building specialists and architects, looking tiny from the ground as they conducted analysis.

“The entire fire is out,” declared Paris firefighters’ spokesman Gabriel Plus, adding that workers were currently “surveying the movement of structures and extinguishing smouldering residues.”

“The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist,” said Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez in front of the cathedral.

One of the city’s five senior vicars, Philippe Marsset, told AP: “If God intervened (in the blaze) it was in the courage of the firefighters.”

“Notre Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not,” Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, said on RMC radio.

Officials consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of the restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to ease the national mourning.

“Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,” said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us” and appealed for help to do so.

As the country woke up in collective sadness, its richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH answered that call with a pledge of 200 million euros ($226 million).

A communique said that the Arnault family was “in solidarity with this national tragedy, and join in the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, a symbol of France, of its heritage and togetherness.”

Businessman Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault also said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs.

A statement from Francois-Henri Pinault said “this tragedy impacts all French people” and “everyone wants to restore life as quickly as possible to this jewel of our heritage.”

The 12th-century church is home to relics, stained glass and other works of art of incalculable value, and is a leading tourist attraction. Its organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry.

“The organ is a very fragile instrument, especially its pipes. It has not burnt, but no one can tell whether it has been damaged by water. Nobody knows if it is a functioning state or will need to be restored,” Bertrand de Feydeau, a senior French heritage preservation official, told the AP.

Paris Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire described authorities’ “enormous relief” at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ, which were quickly transported to a “secret location” by officials after the fire.

Religious statues that were removed last week from the cathedral roof as part of a restoration of the monumental Paris church’s towering spire were also spared.

The 3-meter-tall copper figures, which looked over the city from Notre Dame’s 96-meter-high peak, were sent to southwestern France for work that is part of a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the cathedral spire and its 250 tons of lead.

On Thursday, the public got a first ground-level look at the statues, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, when a huge crane lowered them onto a truck.

___

John Leicester contributed to this story.

Thomas Adamson, The Associated Press





































































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Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA

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MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France begin their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal today.

Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.

Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.

But Wednesday’s legal development when the French National Assembly begins its consideration of France’s ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.

Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.

Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.

That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.

Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.

Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.

Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.

Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.

Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.

“Let us ask ourselves this question: If France cannot ratify a free-trade agreement with Canada, what country can you imagine doing it with?” Trudeau asked.

CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24 trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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Uncompetitive nomination races weaken parties and Canadian democracy, study warns

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OTTAWA — Nominations for federal elections are strikingly uncompetitive and opaque, according to a new study, which says that has profound consequences for Canadian democracy.

New research by the Toronto-based Samara Centre for Democracy shows only 17 per cent of more than 6,600 federal candidates from 2003 to 2015 faced competitive nomination races, while 2,700 candidates were directly appointed by parties.

“If you see the nomination as a moment in a chain of democratic moments” leading to the election of a member of Parliament, said Michael Morden, the director of research at Samara, “I think it’s notable that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, there’s no real decision being made by local people.”

Morden said through exit interviews with MPs Samara has found there is “broad, quiet understanding” in political circles of the deficiencies of the nomination process. 

But he said most Canadians have little access to or ability to scrutinize the “black box” of party nominations, despite the stake they have in how parties run their internal elections.

Political parties are private organizations, the Samara study says, but they’re also “public utilities” that have a profound effect on Canadian democracy.

And a lack of competition might signal a worrying disconnect with the Canadian public, the study suggests.

There are several reasons the study proposes for why races are so often uncompetitive. Snap elections account for some of it, while rules that benefit incumbents are also a factor. Then’s there’s the reality that many local party associations are just too disorganized or small to attract multiple candidates.

But the trend extends even to larger parties that are competitive across the country, Morden said.

“In our mind, that is still a stunning lack of competition,” he said.

Beyond the lack of competition, the study also found nominations rules also have significant effects on the diversity of nomination candidates and, consequently, the diversity of members elected to the House of Commons.

Morden noted parties occasionally justify appointing candidates on the basis of diversity, but this was not borne out in the data.

In particular, the study suggests appointed candidates were less likely to be from visible-minority or Indigenous backgrounds.

The issue of female representation in the nomination processes was even more stark.

In line with findings that women win elections at around the same rate as men, the study suggests female nomination candidates are just as likely to win internal races as men are.

But just 28 per cent of nomination contestants covered by the study were women.

“That shifts the focus right back to recruiting, to the general openness of the process, to the intangible factors that cause some people to find their way in and others to self-select out or to never have the option,” Morden said.

The study found that longer nomination races and races that didn’t require monetary investment were correlated with higher female participation.

Morden said parties essentially close themselves off from a majority of Canadians through rules that make it more difficult to participate in nomination processes: short races, monetary costs, lack of information and protections for incumbents.

The study recommends corresponding changes in party policies: standard opening and closing dates for races, the obligation to report the number of votes candidates receive, and holding contests even where there are incumbent MPs.

These changes are in the best interests of parties that want to stay internally strong and remain connected with the Canadian public, Morden argued.

The study also considers a potentially expanded role for Elections Canada in administering or regulating the races, something Morden acknowledges is not popular among the parties.

Parties can also be reticent to even provide information about their nomination processes, Morden said. For example, only the Green party provided information about how many candidates it screened out of its nominations in 2015.

“There’s just not a culture of openness,” Morden said. “The nomination process is still seen as a very internal one, rather than a vehicle for mass political engagement.”

The first step in a reform process is convincing Canadians to care, Morden said, because otherwise “you’re not going to convince parties to do much.

“It’s hard to regulate parties, because parties make the law.”

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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