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Problems can arise when patients end up on opioids for longer than is necessary. (dolgachov/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Problems can arise when patients end up on opioids for longer than is necessary. (dolgachov/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

morning update

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Welcome to Morning Update, The Globe and Mail’s newsletter for the day’s big stories. Let us know what you think.

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TODAY’S TOP STORIES

Opioid prescriptions climb despite crisis

Prescriptions for painkillers – as well as therapies for treating dependency – have increased despite a national epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses, new figures show. Retail pharmacies dispensed 19 million opioid prescriptions in 2016, up from 18.9 million in 2015, according to estimates by health-data company QuintilesIMS. Prescriptions climbed 6 per cent over the past five years. Overprescribing is behind the epidemic, which has worsened in recent years with the arrival of illicit fentanyl, leading to a sharp spike in overdose deaths. Canada ranks as the world’s second-biggest consumer of pharmaceutical opioids. A Globe and Mail investigation found that Ottawa and the provinces have failed to take adequate steps to stop the indiscriminate prescribing of opioids. As doctors continue to liberally prescribe opioids, both the pharmaceutical-grade and illicit markets are thriving.

Ottawa rushing to craft marijuana bill ahead of 4/20

The federal government is scrambling to draft legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use, attempting to have a bill in place ahead of the symbolic April 20th date, sources said. Readying the legislation has exposed divisions on key issues between the Health, Justice and Public Safety departments, a senior federal official said, and federal lawyers are working to find appropriate legal language to express the government’s final intentions. Ottawa hopes to legalize pot by July 1, 2018, CBC News said Sunday night.

McGill principal defends necessity of administrator’s resignation

McGill University principal Suzanne Fortier is defending how the university handled the resignation of a high-profile director of one of its institutes, saying an article he wrote was not protected by academic freedom. “We have an institute that is there to promote discussions between people who come to the table with very different perspectives,” Ms. Fortier said in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail. “It is not a role to provoke, but to promote good discussion.” Andrew Potter, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, stepped down last Wednesday after writing a piece for Maclean’s magazine arguing Quebec was beset by low trust and alienation. Resulting criticism in the province was swift.

Wallonia threatens to block final CETA ratification

The Canada-European Union trade deal faces a new challenge from the Belgium region of Wallonia, which is threatening to block final ratification of the agreement. Wallonia First Minister Paul Magnette said his government will not support the CETA trade deal unless changes are made to how disputes are resolved. Mr. Magnette also said his government is challenging the legality of the dispute resolution mechanism in the European Court of Justice, which could take at least two years to rule. “It’s certainly far from being over,” Mr. Magnette told The Globe and Mail this week (for subscribers).

Human-rights issue to stall progress with China, Ottawa says

China should not expect rapid progress on an extradition treaty or on a free-trade agreement with Canada, the Liberal government indicated Sunday. Instead, Ottawa will employ a policy of strategic patience, while watching how Beijing deals with Washington’s new administration, a senior government official said on background. “Promoting and protecting human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy and remains an unwavering priority for the government,” Alex Lawrence, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Sunday by e-mail. The statement came in reaction to a Globe and Mail story that revealed the Chinese government employs torture to extract confessions from people arrested on corruption charges, or to punish those who campaign for human rights (for subscribers).

MORNING MARKETS

Investors are anxious and stocks are tumbling across the globe Monday morning in the wake of President Trump’s failure on his health care proposal, raising uncertainty about what he will be able to achieve on his economic agenda. The U.S. dollar, whose index had surged more than 6 per cent in the aftermath of Trump’s election to hit 14-year highs at the start of 2017, slipped to its lowest since Nov. 11, two days after the results of the presidential vote. Tokyo’s Nikkei tumbled 1.4 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.7 per cent, and the Shanghai composite 0.1 per cent. In Europe, London’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and the Paris CAC 40 were down by between 0.5 and 0.9 per cent. New York futures were also down. Oil prices fell, pressured by uncertainty over whether an OPEC-led production cut will be extended beyond June in an effort to counter a glut of crude.

THE LOOKAHEAD

After two years of underperforming the United States, is the Canadian economy about to outshine its southern neighbour? It’s starting to look like it. Friday’s release of gross domestic product for January will provide the first read on Canada’s economic performance in 2017. Following last week’s solid retail sales and wholesale trade and manufacturing data, economists have been raising their forecasts for January growth. “We are now looking for January GDP to rise almost 0.4 per cent,” Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said in a note. “In turn, this builds in a [first-quarter annualized] gain of at least 2.7 per cent, with some serious upside risk.” Estimates for first-quarter U.S. GDP growth, meanwhile, are “falling like a rock” and some projections are now below 1 per cent, Mr. Porter said.

WHAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT

“When opposition MPs used procedural tactics to delay last Wednesday’s budget for half an hour, it was the parliamentary way of jumping up and down and screaming to get attention. They did it because they want people to notice that the Liberal government might be trying to take away the tools they use to scream for attention. The nitty-gritty details of the workings of Parliament are eye-glazingly dull, so most people quite rightly ignore them most of the time. But this is one occasion when Canadians should keep watch. The Liberal government has signalled it wants to change the rules, extensively, quickly, and possibly without the consent of the other political parties in the House of Commons.” – Campbell Clark

“My new neighbour is one. So is the new personal trainer at my neighbourhood gym. My waiter at lunch the other day turned out to be one. Then again, these days it seems most of them are. The French Invasion of Montreal is hardly news to anyone who has spent any time in the world’s second-largest francophone metropolis in the past few years. But as someone who voluntarily exiled himself from Montreal for a few years, the influx of newcomers from la mère patrie was easily the most striking difference I noticed on my return in 2015. Les Maudits Français have taken over the place. Their pointy accent is now as common as joual in some neighbourhoods.” – Konrad Yakabuski

“Former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s second budget in 1995 was by all accounts a historic budget that changed the trajectory of federal finances and laid the foundation for broad prosperity for better than a decade. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s second budget is a status quo, indecisive plan that continues the policies first presented in 2015, despite tectonic shifts south of the border and weak economic performance over the past year. What the country needed was a budget focused on prosperity and competitive; what it needed was a Chrétien Budget 2.0.” – Jason Clemens, Charles Lammam and Niels Veldhuis

“Canada’s former minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, recently observed that in the 21st century, there are many good reasons why Canadians choose to live overseas, and that there is no reason to create barriers to their participation in democratic processes. We agree, but would go further. Canadians living and working overseas face government barriers not only in participating in democratic processes, but also in passing along citizenship. These must be addressed.” – Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock

“Perhaps B.C.’s Liberal government should follow the medical dictum ‘First, do no harm’ because there are clear-cut harms associated with the illogical, destructive pursuit of the Site C Dam. Christy Clark continues to move ahead with this $9-billion project despite mounting evidence against it, as well as opposition from such diverse groups as First Nations, farmers, Amnesty International, academic scientists and now even the Association of Major Power Customers of B.C. According to a large group of concerned Canadian scientists, ‘The Joint Review Panel stated explicitly … that it did not have sufficient time or resources to properly assess certain key issues, including the costs of the Site C project and greenhouse gas emissions, and thus recommended that [the project] be referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission, which has not occurred.’ So why then the rush to build Site C?” – Warren Bell and Amy Lubik

HEALTH PRIMER

How the right diet can improve your productivity at work

If you struggle to keep up with work deadlines, meetings and endless e-mails, your diet may be to blame, at least in part. And it may play a larger role than you realize. The foods you eat – and don’t eat – have a direct impact on how productive you are. According to a 2012 study conducted with nearly 20,000 employees who worked at three large U.S. companies, those who ate an unhealthy diet were 66 per cent more likely to report productivity loss compared with their co-workers who ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Here’s something to consider when deciding what to grab for lunch at the food court: The wrong choice can do more than deliver too many calories – it can derail the rest of your workday.

MOMENT IN TIME

Confederation bill ready for Victoria’s assent

March 27, 1867:
By the last week of March, 1867, the British North America Act had made it through the House of Lords and the House of Commons in the British Parliament and was ready for Queen Victoria, who gave royal assent on March 29. The document contained 147 paragraphs, setting out in detail the structure of government, Ottawa’s responsibilities (trade, defence, banking, shipping, the post office) and those of the provinces (education, hospitals, liquor licensing). The act left the door open for British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and other regions to later join Canada. And it specifically called for the speedy building of an intercolonial railway connecting the St. Lawrence River with Halifax. One huge gap: It made almost no mention of the Indigenous residents of the new country, except to say that they were under federal purview. – Richard Blackwell

Morning Update was written by Steven Proceviat.

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