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Politics briefing: Trudeau meets Italian PM

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni arrives for an EU summit, in Valletta, Malta, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)


Justin Trudeau welcomes Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to Ottawa today. The two meet in the morning on Parliament Hill, then hold a special luncheon to commemorate the visit.

No doubt that meeting will be a bit more collegial than the war of words sparked yesterday, when U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on the North American free trade agreement as being a "disaster."

"We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers," Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trudeau, for his part, was more sanguine. "It's not Canada that's the challenge here," Mr. Trudeau said.

On a more collaborative note, Canadian and U.S. politics leaders at the state and provincial levels continue to work on a cap-and-trade program to try and put a dent in climate change -- though some political obstacles loom on both sides of the border.

The nine-year, $800-million project to move National Defence employees into new offices in Ottawa's west end continues to drag on.

Six federal departments will pilot name-blind recruiting practices to attempt to boost diversity in the public service.

And speaking of names, hundreds of Syrian refugees in Canada are trying to get the spellings of their names fixed on their immigration papers.

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on persecution in Chechnya: "The question of priorities is vexed. But we know this: Only weeks ago, gay Chechen men were living quietly, if furtively, in their native land. Suddenly, they were rounded up, thrown into detention centres and beaten day after day, then taken to their families, who were told the victim was a pervert. Or they heard of all this happening and knew they could be next. Fearing for their lives, they fled Chechnya and now are more or less in hiding in Russia, while many wait to be transported to a country they had never thought of immigrating to before. At this point, it appears that country won't be Canada."

Stephen Maher (iPolitics) on marijuana legalization: "Drug use is social and cultural — much like having a taste for gouda or cheddar. Societies aren't changed by fiat, and our legislators were misguided to ever try to control our behaviour as it pertains to marijuana."

Vicky Mochama (Metro) on marijuana legalization: "If compassionate pardons are not part of the new legislation, thousands of Canadians – especially young racialized men and women – already languishing in the criminal justice system will be left behind."

Felix Vikhman (Walrus), a psychotherapist, on marijuana: "In my experience, the emotional-dampening effect that chronic pot smokers experience makes it impossible to treat underlying mental health disorders while they are actively using. The core of treatment for those suffering with concurrent disorders is to allow them to safely feel emotion and effectively regulate the intensity of their feelings. Pot's emotional-dampening effect reduces a person's ability to manage their emotions, while at the same time making the prospect of experiencing uninhibited emotion terrifying."

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With most of the major platform announcements out of the way, the first debate of the B.C. election campaign was a chance for voters to size up the leaders. For NDP Leader John Horgan, it was an opportunity to try out a new approach: an aggressive prosecution of BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark. The failure to level attacks against the premier was seen as a major failing when the NDP lost in 2013, and Mr. Horgan clearly left that soft style behind. He quickly began interrupting Ms. Clark in yesterday's debate, at times shouting over her and also complaining that moderator Bill Good was not giving him enough speaking time. In one of the defining moments of the morning, when Ms. Clark told him to "Calm down, John" and patted him on the arm, Mr. Horgan snapped back: "Don't touch me again, please."

As Gary Mason writes, the BC Liberals seized upon the exchange almost immediately: "It was almost like the Liberal war machine had prepared for the moment. Within seconds, the party's social-media apparatus had created a hashtag: #CalmDownJohn, seizing on Ms. Clark's remark. Such is the hypocrisy of politics."

The debate also touched on policy. The parties revealed differences in how they approach renters, with Ms. Clark making it clear she views renting as a stop along the way to owning a home — an assumption both Mr. Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver dismissed as unrealistic. And the future of the province's health premiums also loomed large, with Mr. Horgan and Ms. Clark offering similar promises to eliminate such fees — eventually, though without any hard timelines or explanations for how they would finance such a change. Mr. Weaver outlined a detailed policy for a progressive payroll tax.

Vaughn Palmer (Vancouver Sun) on the debate: "Some voters, seeing the leader of the Opposition in what amounted to a television debate for the first time, might wonder about his angry edge and apparent lack of respect for the premier. Others will surely be impressed that Horgan has the premier's number and calls it (and her) as he sees it."

Crawford Kilian (Tyee) on education: "The problem for parents and voters alike is to make it clear to partisans that education is a long-term concern — a concern not just for the current batch of kids, but for the province and the country through the rest of the century."


The Edmonton Oilers won a nailbiter against the San Jose Sharks in overtime and now lead their series three games to two. The Montreal Canadiens, however, lost in overtime and are trailing the New York Rangers in their series two games to three. More here.

Written by Chris Hannay in Ottawa and James Keller in Vancouver.

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