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Politics Today: Who will be Canada's first ambassador for religious freedom?

Men light candles during a candlelight vigil in commemoration of assassinated Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, in Lahore March 5, 2011.

© Mohsin Raza / Reuters/REUTERS

Politics Today is your daily guide to some of the stories we're watching in Ottawa and across Canada, by The Globe and Mail's team of political reporters.

Yes, Virginia, there is an office of religious freedoms

The long-awaited (not sure if much anticipated is the right term) office of religious freedoms is expected to be announced today in a news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino. The trio are expected to finally introduce the new ambassador, a job that apparently wasn't much sought after – reportedly, at least three prospective candidates declined the offer.

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A tale of two provinces

Two provinces, both led by Liberal governments, will make major economic announcements today. There are some surface similarities between the situations in Ontario and British Columbia: both feature female premiers who inherited a bit of a mess from predecessors who had been around for nearly a decade. Both would rather not fight an election right now (though one doesn't have a choice). And both have a deficit to slay, though B.C.'s Christy Clark is more likely to come at it from the right and Ontario's Kathleen Wynne from the left – more on that in a minute.

The situation in Ontario

First up is Ontario, where the legislature returns for the first time since it was prorogued in the fall. The Throne Speech at 3 p.m. ET will be Ms. Wynne's first time to lay down some concrete goals and throw the opposition parties a bone in the hopes they won't defeat her minority government. On balance, most expected proposals, such as closing corporate-tax loopholes and more spending on social priorities, will play better with the NDP, who might be more likely to prop up the Liberals for now. Ms. Wynne won the leadership a few weeks ago largely on the promise that she would make the current legislature work and not force an unnecessary election. Today will give the first true indication of whether that strategy will work.

The situation in B.C.

Ms. Clark will drop a pre-election budget at 2:30 p.m. PT, in a last attempt to balance the province's books before voters have their say in May. With the B.C. Liberals running behind in most polls, they must have felt a small boost when one of the province's top forecasters endorsed their numbers. As Gary Mason writes, though, in the 2009 pre-election budget the party's optimistic vision for smaller deficits didn't quite work out.

Are mandatory minimums racist?

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A central plank of the Harper government's crime-and-justice agenda has been to increase mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes. Proponents of the changes say it discourages criminals, while critics say it ties the hands of judges and lessens their ability to take sentencing on a case-by-case basis. But the Ontario Court of Appeal, in a week-long examination starting today, will look at another criticism: is the policy racist? Lawyers in some of the six test cases will argue that the increased penalties should be reversed because mandatory minimums affect black males more.

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