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OTTAWA — Parliament Hill was a swirl of fresh faces and a storm of news this week in the rush to get things done and square events away before the Thanksgiving break.
In a sea of pageantry, the next Governor General, astronaut Julie Payette, was sworn in to her new position, replacing David Johnston. Premiers and Indigenous leaders from across the country then gathered nearby for a meeting with the prime minister — a meeting that led to a more solid picture of what legalization of cannabis will eventually look like.
The next day, the NDP’s new leader, Jagmeet Singh, took a victory lap through his party’s caucus room, inspiring a jubilance not seen since the days of Jack Layton.
Personalities aside, there were impactful developments on pipelines, asylum seekers and tuberculosis. Here’s how politics affected Canadians’ everyday lives this week:
TransCanada has followed through on its hints this summer and cancelled its $16-billion plans for the Energy East pipeline — an announcement that prompted a vicious round of finger-pointing, blame-casting and, in some corners, celebration.
Whether the cancellation was because of market forces (as the Liberals contend) or unreasonable public policy (as the Conservatives argue), environmental activists and the mayor of Montreal claimed victory.
The animosity exposed unresolved quandaries for Canadian public policy. Will companies in the West find other, better, ways to export oil and gas, and will the public buy in? Will climate policy lead to depressed demand and low prices — and eventually mean Canada turns forcefully away from the natural resources that have buoyed its economy for an eternity? If not oil and gas, then what?
And as political leaders in Western Canada lash out at their eastern counterparts, is there any hope of forging a national consensus on how or whether the oil industry can or should coexist and prosper alongside a warming earth?
THE FATE OF ASYLUM SEEKERS
Canadians are beginning to learn about what is happening to the thousands of asylum seekers who walked across the Canada-U.S. border illegally over the past few months.
Their refugee claims are now working their way through a clogged system. Progress is slow. And about half of the claims are being rejected.
Government officials said this week they have finalized about 240 cases of about 8,000, and the rejection rate is about 50 per cent. That’s normal for Haitian claims, and most of the claimants over the summer were Haitians crossing into Quebec.
At the same time, the federal government is scrambling to live up to a commitment to bring 1,200 Yazidi women and girls into Canada as refugees from northern Iraq, where they had been too often forced into sex slavery.
Ottawa promised a year ago to bring them in, and this week Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said 800 had arrived. The Conservatives are questioning his numbers, however, second-guessing whether the 800 are actually Yazidis.
The minister insists that the delay in the Yazidi effort has nothing to do with the resources required to process the asylum seekers at the border. But it’s clear that setting up a new home in Canada is not a walk in the park.
It’s almost unheard of as a problem in most of Canada, but tuberculosis is a scourge in the Inuit population. This week, the federal government rolled out a plan to eliminate what can be a deadly infectious lung disease.
Inuit in Nunavut are 270 times more likely to have TB than the rest of the population, a long-standing problem propelled by poverty and overcrowded, substandard housing.
The eradication plan involves setting up a task force with Inuit organizations, combining their prevention and treatment approaches, and incorporating housing into their plans.
In the last federal budget, about $1 million was earmarked for TB prevention in the Inuit population — meant to amplify ongoing efforts to improve diagnosis, prevention and new medical treatments.
But the TB problem is so entrenched that the government is still grappling with its long legacy. For decades, Inuit infected with the disease were flown south to receive treatment. They often never returned, dying or lost without their family supports. Officials are now trying to track down their graves.
Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press
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