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Good evening, let’s start with today’s top stories:

As provincial, First Nations, federal and foreign governments continue to grapple with the immediate and looming challenges of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the topic of COVID-19 vaccines again took centre stage today.

In Ottawa, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos mused about something outside his government’s jurisdiction when he said he expects provincial governments to enact mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies at some point during the pandemic. No province has yet done so, but Quebec has seen a notable rise in the number of people seeking a first dose after that province made proof of vaccination necessary for shoppers at provincial liquor and cannabis stores. And in Australia, Novak Djokovic is not the only unvaccinated tennis player with a controversial medical exemption to land in Melbourne hoping to contend for the Australian Open crown.

More news on the virus:

Fresh opinions on the pandemic:

Canadian economy extends hiring streak in December, but Omicron threat looms

The year is off to a wobbly start from an employment perspective, but 2021 ended with December’s net gain of 54,700 jobs and an unemployment rate that fell to 5.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. But that seven-month streak of positivity is unlikely to last. “In both the second and third wave restrictions, the Canadian job market shed more than 200,000 positions over a two-month span,” said Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter in a client note. “There is little reason to expect this wave to be significantly different.”

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Arbery killers given life sentences: A judge handed life sentences to three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man they suspected of theft in their Georgia neighbourhood. Two of them, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, will not be eligible to apply for parole.

‘Shoot to kill’ in Kazakhstan: Anti-government protests that flared up in Kazakhstan yesterday appear to have been violently quelled with the help of Russian troops, and the calm is being enforced by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s order to his security forces to shoot protesters dead without warning.

Black pioneer of acting Poitier dead at 94: Sidney Poitier, who broke Hollywood’s colour barrier as an actor and was an inspiring figure during the U.S. civil rights movement, has died at age 94.

Alarm sounded over disinformation campaigns in politics: Interference in Canadian democracy was apparent in 2021, researchers say, when Conservative Party candidate Kenny Chiu was smeared by a campaign that used unfounded allegations to sink his re-election hopes.

Journalist with Montreal ties killed: A journalist killed while working in Haiti yesterday was working for a Montreal-based online radio station, the station says.

MARKET WATCH

Investors south of the border signalled jitters today based on the ongoing uncertainty around the Omicron variant, but especially around the possibility of an interest-rate hike. A disappointing end to a disappointing week saw the S&P 500 lose 19.00 points, or 0.42 per cent, to end at 4,676.51 points; the Nasdaq Composite lose 146.29 points, or 0.98 per cent to close at 14,934.57 points; and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall 8.27 points, or 0.02 per cent, to end at 36,228.20.

In Canada, strength from the energy and financial sectors led the S&P/TSX Composite Index to a slight gain: up 12.25 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 21,084.45. The dollar was 0.2 per cent higher at 1.2709 to the greenback, or 78.68 U.S. cents.

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TALKING POINTS

Is systemic discrimination against immigrants creating risks for the housing market?

Rita Trichur: “Since the ranks of immigrant home buyers are expected to swell over the coming years, it’s imperative that policy makers have a reliable way to predict how many of these purchasers risk finding themselves financially stretched. Determining the scope and the severity of this potential problem, however, requires a measure of lateral thinking.”

Might the left and right unite in their shared hatred of Big Tech?

Mark Kingwell: “If one person thinks the mega-billionaires of the Big Five are secret indoctrinators bent on creating a liberal wasteland of happy consumers, while another thinks they are desire-surfing maniacs preying on people’s lack of impulse control to the tune of 44-per-cent return on investment, the potential convergence is going to start and stop at ‘evil bastards.’ Nothing else will, or can, shift.”

Tony Blair’s name remains a curse, but his politics are reconquering Europe

Doug Saunders: “It’s not as if Mr. Blair himself is popular; his name remains unmentionable in most of Europe. ... But as the only Labour leader to have won an election in 43 years, he is serving as an inspiration to other politicians facing conservative, aging electorates.”

LIVING BETTER

The Weeknd gets existential on the dancefloor with new album Dawn FM

What would purgatory sound like? On Canadian pop star The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM, which was released today, the comparison is made to being stuck in traffic, but sub out your favourite radio DJ for one voiced by Jim Carrey. The album’s melancholy theme is paired, writes Brad Wheeler, with a minimalist sonic landscape that blends euphoric disco and mellow sentimentality for an ‘80s-style electro shimmer.

To get out of a meal-planning funk, Anna Pippus has a food theme for each day of the week

Five years ago, Vancouver lawyer Anna Pippus started sharing her daily meals on Instagram in the hopes of showing people that a plant-based diet can be nutritionally balanced, delicious and not too time-consuming. The account’s popularity, nudged by a need to take the dread out of weeknight meal planning for her busy family, led her to document her winning strategy of daily food themes in a new cookbook.

TODAY’S LONG READ

The Globe and Mail

How a Toronto-based YouTube alternative became a refuge for the MAGA crowd

At a time when social-media companies are under more pressure than ever to curb the spread of harmful content, Rumble is proudly at odds with its competitors. Many high-profile users say they’re fed up with YouTube, believing it harbours an anti-conservative bias. Enter Rumble, whose growth has exploded as right-leaning content creators and politicians have flocked to the site.

Toronto-based CEO Chris Pavlovski says Rumble is “just a video platform”, and contends that YouTube and its ilk made a grave mistake by being too restrictive. “The market was handed to us,” he says. He’s definitely seizing the moment, though. In December he struck a deal to go public on the Nasdaq, and Rumble’s valuation surged to US$2.1-billion.

Read more in the feature on Rumble by Joe Castaldo.


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