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Canada Evening Update: Theresa May’s Brexit deal voted down in parliament; Ottawa requests clemency for Canadian facing death sentence in China

Good evening,

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

British parliament votes down Theresa May’s Brexit deal; opposition to table non-confidence vote

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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan has been dealt a crushing defeat in the House of Commons, which voted 432 to 202 to reject the deal to leave the European Union. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn promptly called a vote of no confidence in Ms. May’s government, to be held within 24 hours.

The defeat was a humiliating blow to Ms. May who saw dozens of her Conservative Party colleagues vote against the agreement. It also means that with time ticking down before Britain leaves the EU on March 29, the government is no closer to reaching Brexit arrangements on a host of issues including trade, border controls, transportation and financial services.

Opinion: “Brexit or no Brexit, Britain’s relationship with the EU, never easy at the best of times, will never be the same,” Eric Reguly writes.

Ottawa requests clemency for Canadian facing death sentence in China

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said today Canada has asked China to spare the life of Robert Schellenberg, facing a death sentence, calling capital punishment “inhumane.” She also trumpeted a long list of allies that the country has courted in its efforts to free former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, who were detained in China last month (for subscribers).

Her comments come after China’s foreign ministry warned its citizens about travel to Canada and issued a stern rebuke to Justin Trudeau, telling Ottawa to “stop making such irresponsible remarks” after the Prime Minister accused Beijing of arbitrarily enforcing its laws (for subscribers).

Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, and Canada’s own travel warning to citizens about China, follow the sentencing of Mr. Schellenberg on retrial for drug charges.

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The Chinese response deepened the tensions that have emerged following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the United States. Ms. Meng’s father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, today rejected claims his company is used by the Chinese government to spy.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed says she wants to live ‘a normal, private life’ in Canada

Rahaf Mohammed, the 18-year-old from Saudi Arabia granted asylum by Canada, will be retreating from the public eye as she resettles, Ms. Mohammed confirmed in a public statement today.

“I would like to start living a normal, private life,” said the teenager, who has dropped the al-Qunun name as her family has reportedly severed ties. She has alleged abuse at the hands of family members, but did not elaborate in a statement delivered in Arabic, then repeated by an English translator.

Ms. Mohammed gained global attention last week when she fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign to appeal for help. She landed in Toronto after the Canadian government agreed to resettle her at the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

But a Saudi Arabian lobby group in the United States is warning Canada that its relations with Arab-Muslim countries could suffer in the wake of the decision.

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Rahaf Mohammed, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, speaks to reporters in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

MARK BLINCH/Reuters

U.S. economy takes hit from shutdown as Democrats reject Trump’s invitation to talk

The U.S. economy is taking a larger-than-expected hit from the partial government shutdown, White House estimates showed, as congressional Democrats rejected President Donald Trump’s invitation to discuss the issue.

The Trump administration had estimated the shutdown would cost the economy 0.1 percentage points in growth every two weeks that employees were without pay. But it updated those figures today to 0.13 percentage points every week.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, on an earnings conference call with reporters, warned that the shutdown will hurt the U.S. economy if it persists (for subscribers). Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian says the partial shutdown will cost the airline US$25-million in lost revenue in January because fewer government contractors are travelling.

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MARKET WATCH

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Canada’s main stock index rose today, as a jump in crude prices lifted shares of energy companies (for subscribers). The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index closed up 70.75 points at 15,046.28.

On Wall Street, stocks rose further after initially paring gains on the Brexit vote. Helping stock sentiment, U.S. President Trump talked up chances of a China trade deal and Chinese officials hinted at more stimulus for their slowing economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 155.75 points to 24,065.59, the S&P 500 gained 27.68 points to end at 2,610.29 and the Nasdaq Composite added 117.91 points to close at 7,023.83.

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

An Indigenous newborn taken from her mother just hours after birth in an apprehension broadcast live on Facebook is expected to be back home with her family later this week, an advocate for the family says.

General Motors says it has reaffirmed plans to close the Oshawa Assembly Plant in meetings with federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains yesterday and Ontario Premier Doug Ford today (for subscribers).

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Canadian tennis players Bianca Andreescu, Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov and Eugenie Bouchard all won their singles matches at the Australian Open and advance to the next round (for subscribers).

Carol Channing, who won over audiences with a giddy, guileless charm in trademark roles in Broadway’s Hello Dolly and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, died in her California home today at age 97 (for subscribers).

Personal care products brand Gillette posted on social media yesterday an ad with a #MeToo edge, asking “Is this the best a man can get?” that was quickly met with both support and outrage (for subscribers).

TALKING POINTS

The uncomfortable truth about Jagmeet Singh’s political future

“Mr. Singh seems no more ready to lead a federal political party in Canada than I am. The question that many people inside the party are asking now is: What can be done about it?" - Gary Mason

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It bears repeating – Doug Ford’s pal Ron Taverner cannot be the head of the OPP

“That this is still a possibility is scandalous. Without even getting into the fact that Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner is Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s close friend, the process that led to Supt. Taverner being named the next OPP commissioner was itself riddled with enough troubling aspects to rule him out for the job.” - Globe editorial

Sex-ed critics fear that it may ‘give kids ideas.’ But that would be a good thing.

“What schools can and should do is contextualize information to which young people are continually exposed. Effective sex education is not principally about sex but about making informed choices, promoting equitable relationships, managing emotions, and emphasizing responsibility and respect.” - André Picard

The problem with home equity lines of credit? Perma-debt

“A lot of holders deserve kudos for using their credit lines correctly – as a low-cost way to borrow money you can afford to pay back in the near to medium term. But the [Financial Consumer Agency of Canada] survey clearly shows that a strong minority of people are doing harm to themselves. Their credit lines have turned into perma-debt and a source of funds to meet household expenses.” - Rob Carrick

LIVING BETTER

The rising trend for rates on guaranteed investment certificates has abruptly fizzled, Rob Carrick writes (for subscribers). Some fairly good deals are still available, but rates on average have actually fallen lately. The lesson here is not to sit on the sidelines waiting for higher rates. The economic growth and inflation concerns that drove interest rates higher have, at least for now, abated. A wait-and-see approach may result in you losing out.

LONG READS FOR A LONG COMMUTE

Stem-cell transplants show promise for some multiple sclerosis patients: study

Jennifer Molson recalls reading through a thick stack of consent forms before participating in a risky, new stem-cell transplant study. Every other paragraph seemed to warn that the experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis could lead to her death, Wency Leung writes.

The procedure, which wipes out one’s immune system with chemotherapy before replacing it using transplanted stem cells, left Ms. Molson sick and vomiting for nearly a year. But it worked. Today, nearly 17 years after participating in the study at the Ottawa Hospital, she can work, drive, ski and kayak – all without drugs.

Now a new international study published today provides more evidence that stem-cell transplants can halt the progression of MS in certain patients, using an approach that is less aggressive than the one used on Ms. Molson. Read the full story here.

Former MS patient Jennifer Molson out for a walk near her home in Ottawa. (Dave Chang/The Globe and Mail)

Dave Chan

Clean start: Syrian refugee rebuilds his fourth-generation soap business in Canada

It’s a cold December day in Calgary – “very nice weather for making soap,” says Abdulfatah Sabouni, the owner of Aleppo Savon. The fourth-generation soap maker spent a quarter-century in business in Syria, making renowned Aleppo soap in the product’s namesake city. The hard soap, traditionally produced in wintertime, is distinctive for its use of laurel oil, Cailynn Klingbeil writes.

The Syrian civil war forced Mr. Sabouni and his family to leave Aleppo in 2015. They went to Jordan first, where Mr. Sabouni tried to keep his business going, before coming to Canada as government-assisted refugees in January, 2016. “I lost everything,” he says. “I had manufacturing, staff, stores, customers.”

He’s now working hard to recover that. Mr. Sabouni opened an Aleppo Savon factory and store in southeastern Calgary in January, 2018, followed by two retail locations in Calgary malls. The handmade soap is also available in a handful of area Safeway and Sobeys stores and is sold to a growing customer base online.

Many Canadian consumers, used to long ingredient lists on their soaps, like Aleppo Savon’s simplicity. There are few ingredients and no chemicals. Read the full story here.

Abdulfatah Sabouni at his newly opened retail location in Sunridge Mall in Calgary. (Guillaume Nolet/The Globe and Mail)

Guillaume Nolet/Globe and Mail

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