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Former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird decides to stay out of leadership race

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OTTAWA — Former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird says he’s not running to lead the federal Conservative party.

“I sincerely appreciate all the emails, phone calls and offers of time and energy,” he tweeted Thursday evening. “When I left politics after 20 years of elected office, I committed myself to an equally rewarding career in the private sector. I am incredibly happy with my post-political life and enjoy my work.”

So, he wrote, “I want to provide some clarity that I will not be standing for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.”

His announcement puts an end to days of speculation that he might enter the race, talk that began late last month after both current MP Pierre Poilievre and former interim party leader Rona Ambrose decided not to run.

Baird had been poised to run Poilievre’s campaign, but Poilievre dropped out last month, saying his heart wasn’t in it.

The absence of what some in the party feel is a “true blue” voice in the contest — a role some saw as belonging to either Poilievre or Ambrose — put pressure on Baird to join.

His decision not to leave his life in the private sector will likely be a relief for the only other two candidates officially registered to run so far: his former cabinet colleagues Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole.

Both men are pegged as being closer to the progressive wing of the party, though O’Toole in particular has taken a more right-wing tone since launching his campaign earlier this month.

Baird, 51, has been involved in politics since his teens. He parlayed a precocious career in Progressive Conservative activism to a spot as a member of Ontario’s provincial parliament, representing an Ottawa riding, and spent 10 years in the legislature before moving onto federal politics.

He became a federal MP in 2006 and went on to serve in four different cabinet portfolios under the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, including four years as foreign affairs minister.

He left politics in 2015. He is a business adviser at Bennett Jones, a major law firm, and sits on several corporate boards.

“I look forward to an exciting leadership race, and I will continue to remain a proud Conservative activist and enthusiastically support the policies and principles of our party,” Baird wrote.

Potential leadership candidates have until Feb. 27 to enter the race, and Conservatives are to choose their new leader June 27.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 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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Freeland agrees to NDP trade pitch in return for new NAFTA support: letter

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OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she wants to make Canada’s trade negotiations more “transparent,” by agreeing to proposals from the New Democrats to provide more details of future deals.

Freeland offers that view in a Wednesday letter to the New Democrats, a promise that secured the party’s support for a speedier ratification of the new North American trade deal, which is still before Parliament.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, Freeland makes clear she is agreeing to the NDP proposals to get support for ratifying the new continental trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Freeland maintains that the 13 months of acrimonious negotiation among the three countries was open and transparent because the government consulted widely with stakeholders.

NDP trade critic Daniel Blaikie disagrees, saying the actual negotiations were held in secret, and the government provided inadequate analysis of the economic consequences of the deal to Canadians.

Freeland says the government will provide the House of Commons with an economic-impact assessment at the same time the legislation to ratify a trade deal is tabled.

She said that report will include “estimates of overall economic impact of a free trade agreement on the Canadian economy, including changes in gross domestic product (GDP), trade flows, unemployment, and income as well as sector-specific estimates for the sectors directly addressed in the free trade agreement.”

The government also agrees to inform the House of “intent to enter into negotiations” on new deals 90 days before they begin and “to require objectives for negotiations” for new deals to be tabled 30 days in advance, the letter says.

Freelan’s letter says she is making the changes “in light of the NDP proposal and to add further transparency to the free-trade negotiations process.” It says she was responding to written proposals from NDP sent on Dec. 16. 

“In exchange for these changes,” Freeland concludes, “I understand we can count of the support of the NDP” to ‘expeditiously’ ratify the new trade deal — something the U.S. and Mexico have already done.

As the letter states, and Blaikie acknowledges, reopening the deal to further negotiations was a non-starter.

“We’ve always felt that the trade negotiation process has been far too secretive, and Canadians will benefit from a more open and transparent process,” Blaikie said in an interview.

“The way to do that is to make sure that the government has to be more clear about its intentions both in terms of letting Parliament know who it is negotiating with and also laying out its objectives so that at the end you can measure whether the government succeeded.”

Blaikie dismissed a suggestion that his party’s manoeuvring represented a break from its past policy of being skeptical and unsupportive of free trade.

“This agreement is still part of a model of globalized trade driven by corporations that we are critical of,” he said.

“We knew we couldn’t change the deal. You can’t open it up again. So, we wanted to focus on something we could change, which is what this looks like for future trade deals like Canada-U.K., Canada-China and Canada-India,” Blaikie added.

“I look forward to having a better process when the next government comes along that’s looking to sign Canada up for some kind of trade deal.”

Earlier this week, Freeland offered effusive public thanks to New Democrats for supporting the new deal and stinging criticism of the Conservatives for wanting to study it further at a Commons committee. In the House of Commons Thursday she said Blaikie was a pleasure to work with on the changes.

Freeland said the government wanted to limit study of the new deal, and was surprised that Conservatives wanted to extend committees’ study of the agreement into March.

But the Conservative trade critic Randy Hoback told The Canadian Press that there was no circumstance under which his party would vote against ratifying the trade deal. He said the Tories simply wanted to hear from witnesses to give voice to people who are concerned about the deal, to make it stronger in the long term.

“That’s what created the problem in the previous NAFTA is when people were left out. They were the ones that elected Trump this last election, because they were left out,” said Hoback.

President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to rip up the old North American Free Trade Agreement during the renegotiations. Freeland has had cabinet responsibility for Canada-U.S. relations during that time as foreign affairs minister and now as deputy prime minister.

Getting a new deal became the Liberal government’s top priority because of Canada’s massive economic dependence on access to the United States, its biggest trading partner.

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

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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february, 2020

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sun02feb(feb 2)7:00 pmsun15mar(mar 15)8:00 pm7:00 pm - (march 15) 8:00 pm Festival Hall, 4214 58 St, Red Deer, AB Event Organized By: Country Pride Dance Club

thu20feb(feb 20)10:00 amsun23(feb 23)4:00 pmRed Deer RV Show10:00 am - 4:00 pm (23)

tue25feb5:30 pm7:30 pmDiabetes Discussion Drop InLearn about Type 2 diabetes5:30 pm - 7:30 pm

wed26feb7:30 pm11:00 pmCeltic Illusiion7:30 pm - 11:00 pm

thu27feb5:30 pm7:00 pmMonthly Mindfulness Drop-In5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

fri28febsun01mar54th Annual Sport & Outdoor Show4:00 pm - (march 1) 9:00 pm

fri28feb6:00 pm11:00 pmFriday Family DanceFamily Dance6:00 pm - 11:00 pm

fri28feb7:00 pm11:00 pmBattle of the Bands for Crime Prevention7:00 pm - 11:00 pm Burgundy's Food & Stage, 5008 48 ST Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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