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politics briefing

Chief Bill Blair speaks at a press conference at police headquarters in Toronto, July 17 2012.Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

CBC is reporting this morning that Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief and now member of Parliament for Scarborough Southwest, will be given a lead role in the Liberal push to legalize marijuana.

But Mr. Blair is one of many prominent candidates in the last election who were not given a position in Justin Trudeau's 30-person cabinet. Instead, Mr. Blair was given the role of one of two parliamentary secretaries to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

So you may wonder: what does a parliamentary secretary even do?

As it happens, this week the Liberals released the guide they are giving all parliamentary secretaries.

The guide lays out the role: you get an extra staff member (probably), more travel for work and a pay bump of an extra $16,600 a year.

But the job of parliamentary secretary is a kind of in-between role. To badly paraphrase a certain pop song: you're not (just) an MP, not yet a minister.

Not an MP: you stand in for a minister during Question Period, debates and appearing before committees. However, you can't sit as a voting member of a committee (because you represent the government), nor can you put forth a private member's bill. You may be asked to represent the minister to the public nationally and internationally.

Not yet a minister: you are not a decision-making member of cabinet, and do not run a department. You may inadvertently learn cabinet secrets, though, and if you do, you should keep them to yourself.

Given all that, if it is true that Mr. Blair has been tasked with the marijuana file, it may be less about crafting the legislation than it is about a former police chief selling his parliamentary colleagues and the public on the policy's merits.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

> Continuing our coverage of the $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia for weaponized vehicles, The Globe's Steven Chase and Daniel Leblanc reveal the federal government recently completed a human rights assessment of the Middle East country but are refusing to release it.

> Federal officials have advised Justin Trudeau to deepen economic ties with Saudi Arabia because of its influence in the region, according to a briefing book for the Prime Minister obtained by The Canadian Press.

> The Liberals, who won the election partly on a pledge to spend billions more on infrastructure in the next few years, are facing more urgent calls to start their programs sooner than later to help give Canada's sluggish economy a kick start.

> The federal government has extended the deadline it will match donations for aid to Syrian refugees, after Canadians gave far less than Ottawa was anticipating. A director with Oxfam pointed out that it is generally much easier to get people to donate after a big event, like a natural disaster, than a protracted crisis, like the slow migration of Syrians out of their country.

> And Guy Parent, whose term as Veterans Ombudsman was extended by the previous Conservative government shortly before the election, says he is declining to step down as the Liberals asked.

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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

"There are many more stories of Western travellers inexplicably hindered from travel with little to no recourse. Does any of this represent racial profiling, now commonly referred to as Flying While Muslim, the equivalent of Driving While Black? Maybe, but even those who aren't Muslim have been caught up in this flawed system, including several children. All of this has deep ramifications, both on people's lives and on law enforcement's ability to effectively do its job. Screening the same innocent people over and over again, or those with no specific reason to be stopped other than for their race or religion, takes away limited resources that would be better deployed looking for criminals."

Amira Elghawaby on racial profiling.

Globe and Mail editorial board: "Let's be frank: Canada has been selling arms for decades, including to Saudi Arabia in the past, as well as to Pakistan, Indonesia, Colombia and Algeria – not exactly the sweetest countries in the world. This is not a new or shocking development. But the Liberals' desire to absolve the government of responsibility for the sale is ridiculous."

Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): "Whether these recommendations, if implemented, could close the gap between on-reserve and off-reserve aboriginal people, given the location and population size of many reserves, must perforce be an open question." (for subscribers)

Laura Payton (Maclean's): "Ambrose's (still early) success could become a problem for the next Conservative leader, who will undoubtedly be measured against her."

Don Martin (CTV): "But to suggest that the white male voice in Canadian society, particularly in political conversation, is missing because we're fearful of being tongue-lashed by women or visible minorities is simply preposterous, even to this pale male."

Kady O'Malley (Ottawa Citizen): "And that is, perhaps, the most worrisome potential unintended consequence of the looming debate: that we'll be so preoccupied by the process of divvying up the votes that we won't have the time or political energy to push for electoral reforms that don't involve redoing the math – particularly if the discussion is subsumed by a firefight between the pro– and anti-referendum factions, which currently seems to be a distinct possibility."

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