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Conservatives not fond of UN, but do engage on a few issues

Kim Mackrael

Canada’s Conservative government may not be known for its fondness of working with the United Nations, but that hasn’t stopped it from engaging with the multilateral body in a few areas Ottawa considers priorities.

Last week, the UN approved a landmark resolution on ending child marriage that was backed by the Canadian and Zambian governments. The resolution, which calls on governments to bring in laws banning the practice, was co-sponsored by more than 100 nations, raising hopes that it could help shift public opinion in countries where child marriage is commonplace.

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Bill Casey’s comeback is bad news for Harper

CAMPBELL CLARK

Stephen Harper must feel like a ghost is returning to haunt him. It’s been years since Bill Casey was a thorn in his side.

He’s one of the few Conservative MPs who clashed publicly with Mr. Harper. Now he’s coming back as a Liberal.

Mr. Harper booted the former Nova Scotia MP out of the Conservative caucus in 2007 for voting against his own party’s budget because it unilaterally altered the Atlantic Accords – and that made Mr. Casey an icon in his home province.

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The real scandal about Canada’s top doctor: The government won't listen

André Picard

Everyone knows the philosophical riddle: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The equivalent thought experiment in Canadian policy-making circles is this: “If a report by a top adviser is published in such a manner that no one knows, does anyone in power actually want to hear sound advice?”

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Conservative elections-law breaches starting to pile up

CAMPBELL CLARK

Nine months in jail. Michael Sona, a former Conservative campaign worker, will get that for trying to deceive and dissuade Guelph voters from casting ballots by placing misleading robocalls. The sentence is supposed to be a deterrent.

It is a relatively stiff sentence for an elections offence, which typically net fines, or probation. The judge decided Mr. Sona’s “moral blameworthiness” is high. This is a serious crime.

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In Canada’s U.S.-style election year, the ads often cross the line

CAMPBELL CLARK

The cheques will take months, but the TV commercials are already on the air.

Those new monthly payouts for parents and income-splitting tax breaks won’t get to anyone’s pocket for months, but even before Stephen Harper announced it three weeks ago, his government planned the ad campaign. Why make an election-campaign promise without a campaign ad?

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Harper pre-spends surplus before Trudeau or Mulcair can

Campbell Clark

It’s the incredible disappearing surplus. It didn’t exist mere months ago. Then for a blink of an eye, it did. Now it’s gone again.This magic trick is being performed because an election is coming. Stephen Harper wants credit for getting the public finances back into the black, sure, but the last thing he wants is for opposition parties to use multibillion-dollar surpluses to make election promises. So he’s using them up with his own goodies before they get the chance.

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On China, Harper’s come a long way

Campbell Clark

By the time he got back from his latest trip to China, Stephen Harper had travelled a long way.

He’s many, many miles from the prime minister who criticized the soft-soaping of human rights his Liberal predecessors employed with China, and who said in 2006 he wouldn’t sell out to the “almighty dollar.”

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Ottawa’s treatment of refugees is shocking

André Picard

For a self-styled law-and-order regime, the government of Stephen Harper is shockingly contemptuous of the rule of law.

The sordid saga surrounding the provision of healthcare services to refugee claimants is a striking example of how the executive branch of government is disdainful of the judiciary and, by extension, of the electorate.

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Harassment allegations will show whether House of Commons can police its own

CAMPBELL CLARK

If there is one institution that has proven unable to reliably police its own, it’s the House of Commons. Now it is being plunged into the 21st century.

The two separate allegations brought against Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti – denied by both – suddenly made sexual harassment on Parliament Hill a high-profile and pressing issue.

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Income splitting is bad politics for Harper, and it looks like he knows it

CAMPBELL CLARK

Income splitting is bad politics for Stephen Harper, and it looks like he knows it.

It’s not like other targeted tax breaks the Conservatives have introduced. This one can win a few votes – but in the process, turn off most of their target demographic.

That explains why the announcement of this particular tax cut has been drowned in other measures, notably the expansion of those baby-bonus cheques the government pays to parents. The Conservatives can now say every parent will get money. That’s important, because they will have to forestall resentment about who gets more.

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Europe is tiptoeing around Canada’s climate change record

CAMPBELL CLARK

Francois Hollande was here to do business, so he was careful to be positive when it came to the tricky matter of Canada’s record on climate change. Wait till next year.

France’s president is on his first state visit to Canada, one he started in Alberta. He went there because the French see the West as this country’s growth engine, economically and demographically, and because that’s where Stephen Harper wanted him to go. He wasn’t going to raise a ruckus about climate.

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Harper’s former pit bull gets his comeuppance

CAMPBELL CLARK

Dean Del Mastro was part of Fight Club. He did what was deemed necessary, and never gave an inch.

That’s the way the Peterborough MP played his former role as the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary. Later, facing elections-law charges, he criticized a witness in the Commons and refused to talk to investigators. On Friday, a judge rejected his testimony and convicted him of exceeding election-spending limits and submitting a falsified document.

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Why medical tourism is good for Canadian health care

André Picard

In recent days, two high-profile groups have stepped up to demand the Ontario government ban “medical tourism” – the practice by some hospitals of offering health care services (mostly surgery) to non-Canadians as a way of generating revenue.

The Canadian Health Coalition statement began like this: “One of the greatest Canadian values is that everyone receives health care based on their need and not their ability to pay. Why then are several Toronto-area hospitals actively seeking and treating international patients on a pay-for-treatment basis?”

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France’s Hollande to begin state visit in Alberta for the first time

CAMPBELL CLARK

France’s presidents are expected to visit Montreal. Until now, they did not go to Alberta. When François Hollande arrives in Banff on Sunday, he will be going out of his way to change how his country looks at Canada, and vice-versa.

It is not just about Alberta’s oil – in fact, that raises a tricky domestic political issue for Mr. Hollande, the host of next year’s UN climate-change negotiations. It’s also about fast-paced growth, largely driven by the resource economy: the inexorable westward shift of people, money and influence. France, long connected mainly to Quebec, sees the West as the new Canada.

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Conservatives on verge of loosening oil spill clean-up rules

Michelle Leslie

Ottawa is on the verge of loosening the rules for oil spill clean-ups.

Bill C-22 is awaiting third and final reading in the House of Commons. It covers a number of issues regarding the oil, gas and nuclear sectors, including the use of dispersants.

Dispersants are a tool used in oil spill clean-ups. The chemicals dissolve oil particles into smaller pieces, break up surface slicks and allow oil to fall through the water column. One of the top three dispersants, Corexit, was heavily used in both the 1989 Alaska Exxon Valdez and 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico spills. It has subsequently been linked to health problems with clean-up workers. Although never used on a large scale in Canada, it is the industry’s dispersant of choice for major oil spills and is approved for use in Canadian waters.

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The fight against Islamic State is foremost a battle of soft power

CAMPBELL CLARK

The U.S. Secretary of State came to show his support for Canada after what it went through last week. The next question was what it was, and what can be done about things like it.

Was this terrorism? Yes, John Kerry said, “by common-sense standards”, an attack on a soldier and Parliament by a man who armed himself with a rifle is an act of terrorism – whatever else investigators decide it is.

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Conservatives grapple with problem of lone wolves

Campbell Clark

After last Wednesday’s shooting in Ottawa, a little tug-of-war over the nature of the event emerged. Some said it was terrorism. Others said it was crime, swayed by mental illness or drugs. It was probably in some measure both.

The RCMP’s weekend statement that it has a video of shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau that showed his ideological motivation won’t completely shake the view that he was troubled, or evidence of his crack addiction. But it is clear that there are lone wolves, plural, citing ideological inspiration to attack. They’re acting alone, but there’s more than one.

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