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Canada Morning Update: SNC developments; Barrick’s takeover plans; Ford’s fundraiser; Oscars predictions

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These are the top stories:

Canada’s top bureaucrat says Trudeau and his staff pressed Wilson-Raybould on SNC

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Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick confirmed Jody Wilson-Raybould was unwilling to negotiate a settlement with SNC-Lavalin despite efforts by Justin Trudeau and senior officials to revisit the federal prosecutor’s decision to move forward on criminal prosecution. In testimony before the House of Commons justice committee, Wernick said the then-attorney general was warned about the economic consequences of a criminal conviction of SNC but was not subjected to “inappropriate pressure.” (for subscribers)

Wernick said he expects Wilson-Raybould will testify next week, and predicted she would express concern about three meetings: one with Trudeau, a second with staff in Trudeau’s office, and a third with Wernick himself.

Here’s John Ibbitson’s view: “Michael Wernick, in a remarkably partisan display for someone who is supposed to be a neutral public servant, tried to make the case for the Trudeau government’s defence in the SNC-Lavalin affair, Thursday. Instead, he may have sealed the case for the prosecution.” (for subscribers)

In his testimony, Wernick said The Globe’s original Feb. 7 report on the SNC affair “contains errors, unfounded speculation and, in some cases, is simply defamatory."

The Globe’s editorial board takes this position: “We do not believe that to be the case. If it were, the government and the Prime Minister would not have spent the last two weeks struggling to explain what happened, and offering a story line that has evolved almost daily."

Wernick, meanwhile, also used his time in front of the committee to express concern that “somebody is going to be shot” during this fall’s federal election campaign. He pointed to the pro-pipeline convoy that demonstrated in Ottawa this week which included members of the controversial far-right group the Yellow Vests. Wernick said he worries about “the rising tides of incitements to violence when people use terms like ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ in open discourse.” (for subscribers)

In other SNC news, Quebec’s revenue department alleges a former company executive owes more than $11-million in back taxes. It’s now trying to seize the assets of Sami Bebawi, who is facing trial on fraud charges connected to SNC’s work in Libya. (for subscribers)

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And in Metro Vancouver, mayors are seeking assurances that the region’s transit agency won’t be forced to use SNC for a planned $4-billion SkyTrain extension to the University of British Columbia. (for subscribers)

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Barrick is eyeing a hostile bid for Newmont to solidify its position as the No. 1. gold producer

Should the plan go ahead, it would be one of the largest mining deals ever (for subscribers). The Toronto-based Barrick Gold is working on a two-step deal that would see it take over Colorado-based Newmont Mining for about US$19-billion in stock. Then, it would flip some of Newmont’s assets to an Australian firm, Newcrest Mining. But Barrick would face a number of hurdles, including winning support from Newmont’s shareholders. And Newcrest’s participation on the plan is still fluid – it has yet to commit.

Ontario news: A look at Ford government’s actions on fundraising and Hydro One

Lobbyists say they are under pressure to sell tickets for a coming PC fundraiser or risk losing high-level access to the government. The $1,250-a-person dinner on Feb. 27 is the first major PC fundraising event since Premier Doug Ford’s government rolled back some cash-for-access changes put in place by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals. And with ticket sales lagging, lobbyists and industry groups say they’re feeling unprecedented levels of pressure to attend over concerns about their ability to get meetings with key decision-makers.

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Separately, the province is imposing a $1.5-million cap on compensation for the next CEO of Hydro One. Hours after taking the action, the PCs sent out a fundraising appeal blaming the utility provider for higher electricity rates, adding that the measure will ensure there’s a “focus on driving down rates.” Hydro One – in which the province holds a 47-per-cent stake – had put forward a proposal to cap pay at $2.775-million, a figure the PCs swiftly rejected. (for subscribers, who can go here for an in-depth read on Ford’s spat with Hydro One.)

B.C. news: Reaction to new auto injury claim rules, plus a pitch for retail heroin sales

Trial lawyers are coaching B.C. doctors to avoid classifying auto injuries as “minor” in the wake of incoming rules that will cap some claims. “An example of a way in which a patient’s rights can be protected is if the family physician explains they ‘don’t yet know’ whether an injury will cause that patient ‘serious impairment,’ ” one law firm warned physicians in a letter. Doctors of BC, meanwhile, responded by saying the new insurance rules will in fact give patients more options for treatment.

In a bid to reverse the number of fentanyl-linked overdose deaths, a provincial authority is recommending regulated retail heroin sales. The BC Centre on Substance Use has laid out a proposal that would use a membership-based system where people could purchase personal amounts of the drug from a location connected to health care, peer support, free addiction treatment and referral to recovery services. (for subscribers)

Ottawa says U.S. pressure won’t influence its Huawei review

The federal government says a warning from the U.S. Secretary of State won’t cause it to speed up its review of Chinese telecom giant Huawei (for subscribers). Mike Pompeo said Washington “won’t be able to share” intelligence with countries that allow Huawei equipment to be used in their 5G networks because the systems could be compromised by Beijing.

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The renewed pressure from Washington followed suggestions this week by British officials that it might be possible to contain the risk without barring Huawei completely. Like Canada, Britain has yet to make a decision on Huawei. Australia is the only other country to fully bar Huawei from its networks, while New Zealand has implemented restrictions.

Huawei, meanwhile, said it is changing the way it works with Canadian research universities to allow intellectual property to stay in the country. (for subscribers)

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The Syrian father who tried to rescue his seven children from a Halifax house fire remains unconscious in hospital with severe burns, but his condition has been upgraded to “critical but stable.” Funeral plans for the children have been tentatively set for Saturday. Federal authorities are expediting immigration applications for several family members; the Barhos currently have no other family in Canada.

Say goodbye to Home Outfitters. All 37 Canadian locations will close as Hudson’s Bay looks to turn around its sagging fortunes. The Toronto-based retailer is also shuttering up to 20 of its Saks Off 5th outlets in the U.S. (for subscribers)

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Stocks rise

Global shares rose on Friday as signs of progress on trade offset a worsening economic outlook, while the Aussie dollar recouped some losses after China denied it had halted Australian coal imports. Tokyo’s Nikkei lost 0.2 per cent, but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.7 per cent, and the Shanghai Composite rose 1.9 per cent. In Europe, London’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and the Paris CAC were up by between 0.3 and 0.6 per cent by about 6:35 a.m. ET. New York futures were also up. The Canadian dollar was above 75.5 US cents.


On Brexit, Europe has a big choice to make

Timothy Garton Ash: “The now prevalent just-get-it-over-with view is mistaken for two reasons. First, it commits the fundamental error of contemporary democratic politics: short-termism. Yes, in the short run, getting Britain out before the summer will be easier for the EU, but in the long run it will be more damaging. This will be a blindfold Brexit. The economic damage of Brexit is already becoming apparent, and it will get worse.” Timothy Garton Ash is a professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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When bullying, play restrictions make kids dread recess, we have a problem

Naomi Buck: “As the polar vortex descended on Toronto last month, I asked my sons how they were managing the seven consecutive indoor hours at school imposed on them by the subarctic temperatures. ‘It’s better,’ they said. ‘Indoor recess is way more fun than outdoor recess.’ It’s not the answer you’d expect of kids who choose to spend most of their free time in the relative wilds of backyards, parks and quiet residential streets. So what was the appeal of indoor over outdoor recess? ‘There’s more to do,’ said one. ‘It’s safer,’ said the other.” Naomi Buck is a freelance writer in Toronto.

Finding the middle ground in the new Cold War

Dongwoo Kim: “The United States is following other countries that have launched broad, comprehensive strategies to boost their AI capacity. This initiative, however, is not merely another domestic science and technology policy, but rather a salvo in the intensifying battle between the United States and China that some experts are referring to as the new Cold War. AI has become the technology du jour, touching virtually all aspects of our economy, society and imagination.” Dongwoo Kim is a postgraduate research scholar working in the field of disruptive technologies and global governance at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.


Oscars 2019: Who will win – and who should win – on Sunday night

Best Picture: Barry Hertz says that Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma would be a safe pick to win – if it didn’t come out on Netflix. But he’s still putting his money on the Mexico City-set drama – which he describes as a transformative miracle of film – thanks to the Academy’s recent efforts to diversify its membership.

Best Director: Hertz expects Spike Lee to finally get his due for his film BlacKkKlansman. But Cuaron deserves the award for his singular achievement, he says.

Subscribers can go here to read his picks for Best Actor and Best Actress.


David Vetter, the boy in the bubble, dies


The Associated Press

Feb. 22, 1984: David and Carol Ann Vetter’s first child was born with severe combined immunodeficiency, a hereditary disease that only affects males, leaving them incredibly susceptible to infection. He died seven months later. When their second child, David, was born on Sept. 21, 1971, he spent 20 seconds exposed to the world before he was placed in a sterile chamber. The story of his survival attracted media interest, and he was dubbed "the bubble boy.” Food, water, diapers and toys had to be sterilized before being placed in the chamber. Thanks to a suit designed by NASA, David was able to take his first steps outside the bubble when he was 6 years old. It was the first time his mother was able to hold him. Immunologists told the Vetters that a bone-marrow transfusion from his sister might be able to treat David’s condition. But four months after the procedure, David died on Feb. 22, 1984. David’s life was tragically short and limited, but he had a sense of wonder. When he was 11, he asked to see the stars. His parents took him outside for 20 minutes on his birthday to look at the night sky. – Dave McGinn

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