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Morning Update will be taking a break tomorrow, returning to your inbox on Jan. 2. We hope you have a Happy New Year.

These are the top stories:

How Ottawa turned up the heat in this year’s diplomatic war with Russia

In March, the federal government ordered four Russian diplomats to leave Canada, accusing them of using their diplomatic status “to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.” It was a move done in solidarity with Britain, which had expelled 23 Russian diplomats after it said the Kremlin was behind the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both found near-death on British soil.

Ottawa’s handling of the expulsions was a departure from past diplomatic cases, where things were done discreetly to avoid provoking an international squabble. Newly declassified documents obtained by The Globe provide a glimpse into how this hidden game is played, and how Canada began approaching it very differently in 2018. As one senior official in Global Affairs Canada suggested in an e-mail to his colleagues in the spring: Ottawa didn’t merely want to expel the diplomats as punishment. It wanted to send the Russian government a message. (for subscribers)

In other Russia news, The Globe published an investigation over the weekend on the mysterious Boris Birshtein. Born in Soviet-occupied Lithuania in 1947, he moved to Canada in 1982 and subsequently made powerful friends and millions of dollars as a middleman between the West and the fractured former USSR. He even appears to have had some kind of relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Diplomats have questioned whether he was an asset of the KGB and its successor agency, while police forces believed he was associated with the Russian mafia. Others portray him simply as a man with an uncanny knack for turning up in the middle of world-changing events. Globe correspondent Mark MacKinnon followed his trail – and ended up in a maze of geopolitics.

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There are growing concerns about Congo’s long-awaited, historic election

Congolese voters headed to the polls yesterday after two years of official delays and months of logistical confusion. But worries about election rigging are mounting after a last-minute decision to postpone voting in several opposition strongholds, effectively leaving 1.25 million people unable to cast ballots before the results are expected to be announced.

This is supposed to be the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, and a recent poll found the opposition candidate favoured by 47 per cent of respondents, compared with 19 per cent for the ruling party’s candidate. Opposition parties are convinced the ruling party is creating logistical disarray to hold onto power, which could provoke violence across the country.

A group of Rogers employees is seeking to buy the company’s magazines

The group wants to purchase Maclean’s, Today’s Parent, Hello! Canada, Chatelaine, Canadian Business and Flare as part of an effort to save jobs (for subscribers). The employee group is spearheaded by Maclean’s editor-in-chief Alison Uncles and entrepreneur Scott Gilmore, who is a Maclean’s contributor. A key part of the offer is a promise to keep the headcount of nearly 150 people until at least 2021.

Rogers put its magazine titles up for sale several months ago and nearly sold them in November before a deal fell apart at the last minute. The company laid off 75 of its digital content and publishing staff earlier this year amid continued declines in advertising revenue.

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The United States and China are making progress toward a trade deal

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping both expressed optimism following a telephone conversation over the weekend (for subscribers). Trump tweeted that “big progress” was being made, while Xi was more measured but expressed hope a deal could be reached “as early as possible.” The developments are bound to buoy investor confidence after a December that saw markets tank over fears of worsening economic ties between the world’s two largest economies.

The news comes amid increasing pressure from Western allies on Canada to bar Huawei equipment from 5G technology, at the same time that Beijing has lashed out at Ottawa over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Trump has said he could intervene in the Meng case, in which the U.S. is seeking her extradition, if it helps secure a trade deal with China.


Stocks rise

World share and commodity prices rose on Monday as hints of progress on the Sino-U.S. trade standoff provided a rare glimmer of optimism in what has been a punishing end of year for markets globally. Tokyo’s Nikkei lost 0.3 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 1.3 per cent, and the Shanghai Composite 0.4 per cent. In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.2 per cent, while Germany’s DAX was up 1.7 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 1.0 per cent by about 6:15 a.m. ET. New York futures were also up. The Canadian dollar was at 73.43 US cents. Oil prices were also higher.


Drink. Hungover. Repeat. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

“It is Boxing Day, or New Year’s Day, or another Yuletide morning following a boozy Festivus kind of night. And now, instead of a holly-jolly soul, what you feel like is a parched partridge, stapled to a burning pear tree. … There’s really no time that rational humans knowingly make themselves so quickly, severely sick, as when they get downright drunk. But, of course, realizing this just compounds the punishment: adding deeper levels of metaphysical disturbance to the already established physical pain. So really: Why did you do this to yourself?” – Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, author of Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for a Cure

Can we save social media from Facebook?

“The outrage over Facebook serves as an unhappy trap: It’s a problem we wish we could ignore because it conflicts with the human desire for convenience and comfort, but we are forced to confront it nonetheless. So I am less persuaded by atavistic calls to simply withdraw from social media and return to some prelapsarian state before the internet. That’s because of the dream that really underpins such reckonings over Facebook’s worst realities, a goal that feels fundamental, necessary and hugely ambitious, if not impossible: to save social media from Facebook. And that might require us to reconceptualize social media itself.” – Navneet Alang, Toronto-based freelance technology culture columnist

Eastern and Western Canadians are angry – and Ottawa needs to wake up

“Threats to Canada’s federation are as old as Canada itself. But these threats are taking new forms. It is now less about Quebec’s place in the federation and more about growing regional frustrations in Western and Atlantic Canada over the workings of national political institutions. And, left unattended, these cracks could well threaten Canada’s unity.” – Donald J. Savoie, Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton


Want to eat healthier in 2019? Avoid these nutrition myths

Advocates of a January detox claim that our bodies become overloaded with toxins in food and alcohol we consume over the holidays, in turn triggering health problems. Temporarily giving up certain foods while consuming more fibre and antioxidants helps boost the body’s natural detoxification processes, they say. But as Leslie Beck writes, there’s no evidence that doing so speeds the removal of toxins. You’re better off eating healthy year-round instead of detoxing a few times a year. Go here to read about other nutrition myths.


New Year’s Eve, 1939

For more than 100 years, photographers, photo editors and photo librarians working for The Globe and Mail have preserved an extraordinary collection of 20th-century news photography. Every Monday, The Globe features one of these images. In December, we’re focusing on the holidays.

Open this photo in gallery:

(John Boyd/The Globe and Mail)John Boyd/The Globe and Mail

By 1939, global economies had been languishing for a decade under the Great Depression, at the height of which one in five Canadians was on financial relief, and almost a third of the population was unemployed. On New Year’s Eve at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, however, Globe and Mail photographer John Boyd discovered a “happy optimism” had seized people. As he captured the revelry that night, Mr. Boyd wrote in his notes that the exuberant crowds in the elite hotel’s Crystal Ballroom “approached pre-Depression numbers and gaiety.” The war had begun in Europe and Canadian troops were already overseas but the country, and these partygoers in particular, were ready to put the Dirty Thirties behind them, no matter what lay ahead. They rang in 1940 with abandon. – Dianne Nice

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