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Canada Morning Update: The latest on SNC; tackling anti-vaccine beliefs; Syrian children die in house fire

Good morning,

These are the top stories:

Trudeau spoke with Wilson-Raybould after prosecutors rejected an SNC settlement

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The Prime Minister spoke with then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould about the case nearly two weeks after the federal prosecutions office decided to proceed with charges against SNC-Lavalin, according to court to documents obtained by The Globe. (for subscribers)

Why is this significant? Until now, publicly available information had indicated the decision to proceed with charges against the Montreal engineering company was made on Oct. 10, weeks after Trudeau spoke with Wilson-Raybould on Sept. 17. In fact, they met when the only remaining question was whether Wilson-Raybould would publicly instruct prosecutors to instead cut a deal.

The new detail comes after Wilson-Raybould made a surprise appearance at a closed-door cabinet meeting yesterday. Speaking to reporters afterward, she said she’s still consulting with her lawyer to determine what she can say on the SNC matter, but has accepted the Commons justice committee’s invitation to testify.

On the lobbying front, a Globe review of federal records shows SNC has had 19 contacts with the Prime Minister’s Office since the start of 2017. In total, the company had 141 meetings with government officials and parliamentarians during that period, including senior ranks like cabinet ministers, their chiefs of staff, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., and then-principal secretary Gerald Butts. The volume of meetings between lobbyists and federal officials has nearly doubled since the Liberals took office in 2015. (for subscribers: read our primer on the PMO, who works there and what it does)

Meanwhile, a judge has thrown out fraud and bribery charges against a former SNC vice-president accused of bribing a Libyan official. Citing unreasonable delays, proceedings against Stéphane Roy were stayed by a Quebec justice. This is the third time this month that cases against former SNC executives have come to abrupt and unexpected conclusions.

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Canada’s chief public health officer is vowing to tackle misinformation on vaccines

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Amid measles outbreaks worldwide – including one in B.C. – the Public Health Agency of Canada is developing new social-media campaigns to inform people about vaccinations. The agency has also started to work with social scientists to understand what’s driving anti-vaccine beliefs. “Misinformation or distrust of vaccines can be like a contagion that can spread as fast as measles,” Dr. Theresa Tam said. “I think we need to step up our efforts into countering that.”

The father whose children are at the centre of the Vancouver outbreak cited the myth that vaccines cause autism as a reason for not immunizing them. André Picard wrote about the five major myths, and why the World Health Organization declared “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top global health threats in 2019. (for subscribers)

Seven Syrian children died in a Halifax house fire

(Patrick Healey/Enfield Weekly Press)

Patrick Healey/Enfield Weekly Press

When the Barhos arrived in 2017, they were met with excitement and coverage in the local paper. “We’re very thrilled to be in Canada,” Kawthar Barho told the Enfield Weekly Press. “We couldn’t imagine how good it is.” Now Kawthar and her husband Ebraheim are mourning the loss of their seven children: Abdullah, Rana, Hala, Ghala, Mohammed, Rola and Ahmed. (Abdullah, the youngest, was not yet born when the photo above was taken.) Ebraheim is now in intensive care with severe burns.

Investigators are trying to piece together the cause of the blaze that occurred just after midnight on Tuesday. It’s not clear whether the house was equipped with smoke alarms; The Globe couldn’t reach the man who appears to own the rental property.

The Barhos had moved into the Halifax house last October in the hopes of improving their English skills and getting jobs. But they were planning to move back to the community they had originally settled in next week. Their children missed their school and their friends, said Natalie Horne, a member of the volunteer group that helped sponsor the family.

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B.C.’s budget is forecasting that the real estate correction is over

The NDP government tabled a balanced budget that relies on expected revenue increases from the rising carbon tax as well as property taxes. No new tax measures are being taken. But at the same time, Finance Minister Carole James said home prices have not come down enough in cities like Vancouver to satisfy her government’s affordability goals.

Among the details in the budget are a new Child Opportunity Benefit, which will offer tax breaks for low- and middle-income families. And for postsecondary students, existing or new loans will no longer collect interest.

Gary Mason says Alberta can move over, B.C. is the economic powerhouse of the country now: “barring some economic catastrophe, it will be the province’s seventh straight budget to post a surplus. B.C.'s partners in Confederation can only look on in envy.” (for subscribers)

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

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Alberta is spending $3.7-billion to lease 4,400 rail cars as it looks to increase the price of the province’s crude oil. While it’s not clear yet where the oil will go, most is expected to head to U.S. refineries. “There’s absolutely no risk to finding markets for this product,” Premier Rachel Notley said.

Netflix is creating a dedicated production hub in Toronto it says will provide jobs for up to 1,850 Canadians a year. The streaming giant is leasing eight sound stages; a Guillermo del Toro horror anthology is among the projects already set to be made at the hub. (for subscribers)

Canadian cannabis websites are tracking their users with up to 13 different tools, raising questions about whether customers are being properly informed about how their data are used in transactions that, while legal, may be considered sensitive. (for subscribers)

Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Now 77, the independent senator from Vermont will be facing off against a much larger and more diverse group of candidates than when he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

MORNING MARKETS

Stocks higher

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Global stocks hit a four-month high on Wednesday on hopes of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, with a dovish backdrop at major central banks also helping push markets back into the black. Tokyo’s Nikkei gained 0.6 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 1 per cent, and the Shanghai Composite 0.2 per cent. In Europe, London’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and the Paris CAC 40 were each up by about 0.2 per cent by about 6:35 a.m. ET. The Canadian dollar was below 76 US cents. Crude oil futures eased in light of the prospect of a continued boom in U.S. shale oil output.

WHAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT

The Ford government uploads Toronto’s subway, and downloads the politics

Globe editorial: “As the Doug Ford government negotiates plans for rejigging transit in the Greater Toronto Area, including a proposal to “upload” the Toronto subway to the province, don’t get distracted by fights over the shape of the TTC’s org chart. Keep your eyes on the prize. Follow what matters: the money. If uploading the subway leaves the TTC with more money for transit and more autonomy to build the right transit, then it should be cheered. The likelihood of cheering? Low.”

How long can Japan’s delicate dance between China and Taiwan last?

Frank Ching: “The question now is how Japan’s improved relationship with China will affect its developing bonds with Taiwan. Only time will tell. Japan cannot ignore the reality of China’s rapidly rising military and its huge economy, but Tokyo will also need to keep this neighbour in check. How Japan responds to Taiwan’s formal request to join the revised TPP will be one straw in the wind: Despite the political sensitivity, Japan announced last week that it would welcome the bid.”

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Canada’s youngest generations bear the largest tax burden

Parisa Mahboubi: “We already know that Canada’s population aging will drag down government revenue and blow up social and health spending, but its long-term impact on fiscal sustainability and intergenerational fairness greatly depend on future government policies. While this demographic change substantially shifts the tax burden away from baby boomers and their children − the baby busters or Generation X – to the boomers’ grandchildren, achieving long-term fiscal sustainability can be possible." Parisa Mahboubi is a senior policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute.

LIVING BETTER

Caribbean vacation ideas

Havana is way more than mojitos, but if you are craving the cocktail head over to La Bodeguita del Medio, where glasses cover the bar like an assembly line. You can also spend time strolling along El Malecon, a seven-kilometre-long seaside promenade filled with Cubans young and old every night. (for subscribers)

And over in Barbados, consider ditching the all-inclusive resort in favour of a private cottage. Then rent a car and drive along the island, exploring countless attractions along the way. (for subscribers)

MOMENT IN TIME

Avro Arrow program is cancelled

(Canadian Armed Forces)

Canadian Armed Forces via The Canadian Press

Feb. 20, 1959: It was supposed to be one of the most advanced jets of its time, but prime minister John Diefenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow on Feb. 20, 1959. More than 14,000 Avro employees were out of jobs, as were more than 15,000 people who worked in the project’s supply chain. The cancellation came to be known as “Black Friday” within Canada’s aviation industry. The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was going to be the Royal Canadian Air Force’s primary interceptor, capable of flying higher and faster than any jet, defending Canada’s Arctic from the threat of Soviet bombers. Cost was the biggest reason for killing the project, said Mr. Diefenbaker, who had campaigned on reining in “rampant liberal spending.” Following his announcement, the models, designs and machines used to build the Arrow were destroyed. The planes were taken apart with blowtorches and the scrap was sold to a junk dealer for 6.5 cents a pound. In 2017, a scale model of the Arrow was recovered from the bottom of Lake Ontario and a few pieces of the plane, including its nose section, are on display at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. – Dave McGinn

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