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Politics Briefing newsletter: What's so special about the number five?

Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Monday, October 16, 2017.


Good morning,

The number five's been popping up a lot lately.

"We can say fewer than five ministers, including Mr. Morneau," use a certain financial arrangement, the Ethics Commissioner's office told The Globe last week, without (at first) disclosing the exact number or who they were talking about.

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"The fact is we cannot comment...because the targets are lower than five and the Privacy Act prevents us from divulging any information," a University of Ottawa spokesperson told The Globe last month, when asked about whether they had met certain equity hiring targets.

"It would be less than five," an Immigration department official told Conservative MP Michelle Rempel yesterday, when asked about how many Yazidi refugees have accessed mental health help.

So what's so special about the number five?

"The practice of not including data counts of less than five due to the risk of a breach of privacy is based on internationally accepted practices of data collection," said a spokesperson for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in a statement. The spokesperson cited an OECD guideline that says: "as a rule of thumb, no results or tables can contain counts of less than five persons. Low counts must be referenced as being 'less than five.'"

"While the Privacy Act does not specifically address a minimum number, it is a widely used best practice not to report information in cases where the data set is five or less to avoid the possible identification of individuals," the SSHRC spokesperson said.

When asked about this, the Treasury Board – which sets guidelines for government spending and operations – had a little more information about the advice it gives to departments.

"Five may be the appropriate number in some contexts, a greater number may be more appropriate in others," a spokesperson said in a statement.

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If in doubt, the Treasury Board says, consult a statistician.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay in Ottawa, Mayaz Alam in Toronto and James Keller in Vancouver. If you're reading this on the web or someone forwarded this email newsletter to you, you can sign up for Politics Briefing and all Globe newsletters here. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

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After nearly 150 years, a sexist portion of the Indian Act will be erased, the Liberals say. The legislation has allowed men to confer their status to their descendants more easily than women. The pledge comes after insistence from senators, who refused to pass the federal government's reform of the Act unless this tenet was addressed.

The Liberals have introduced a bill to address bullying, sexual harassment and violence against federal employees. Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said that it was important to include staffers on Parliament Hill under the purview of the proposed legislation because "when we have workplaces where there is a distinct power imbalance … it creates a propensity for sexual harassment and violence."

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A formal apology for LGBTQ persons and the persecution they faced by the federal government and Canada's Armed Forces is in the works and will be given in a few weeks time. The Globe's John Ibbitson has learned that a compensation package could be part of the apology.

Health Canada has expanded the availability of the abortion pill Mifegymiso, allowing pregnant women to take the drug as far as nine weeks into pregnancy, instead of seven. Health Canada has  also allowing the drug, initially known as RU-486, to be dispensed by pharmacists and nurse practitioners in some jurisdictions.

"I don't know what will happen when I go out. I don't know how people will react because of this law." Warda Naili, a Montreal woman who wears the face veil says Quebec's face-covering law has her living in fear. Ms. Naili is named as a plaintiff in a legal challenge of Quebec's Bill 62, which forces people giving or receiving public services to show their faces. The lawsuit, filed by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association, contends the law is unconstitutional and discriminates against Muslim women. The Quebec government says it is reviewing the lawsuit.

A growing economy is allowing public and private health-care providers to increase spending this year by considerably more than last year. The Canadian Institute for Health Information forecasts that individuals, private insurance companies and governments will collectively spend $242-billion on health care in 2017 – a nearly 4-per-cent increase over 2016. Earlier this year, the Liberal government signed deals with each of the provinces and territories to increase base federal transfers by 3 per cent annually, or the equivalent of nominal GDP growth, whichever is higher.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz admits inflation is "an imprecise business." But he says there's no mystery about why it's been slow to materialize as the global economy grapples with the aftershocks of the Great Recession. Mr. Poloz told a meeting of financial analysts in Montreal that people have come to expect too much from the central bank's projections. He says the bank's policy of targeting 2-per-cent inflation is working just fine.

The country's biggest marijuana producers want the federal government to go against its expert task force and allow legalized cannabis to be marketed in a similar manner as alcohol currently is.

"We aim to attract private investment and expertise to priority, revenue-generating projects that might not otherwise be commercially viable," Janice Fukakusa, the inaugural chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank said in a speech that outlined the organization's key mandates.

The leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party, Jason Kenney, says his party won't support a bill that would leave it up to students to decide whether to tell their parents they've joined a gay-straight alliance. Mr. Kenney rejects arguments that permitting teachers to inform parents amounts to "outing" LGBTQ children.

The National Energy Board has denied Kinder Morgan's bid for a quick hearing to determine whether a B.C. city is unfairly holding up the Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline is facing legal and political opposition on several fronts. The latest is a fight with the City of Burnaby, which the company insists is unfairly denying permits. The National Energy Board says it will take at least until Dec. 14 to deal with the company's complaint.

B.C.'s legislature is devolving into open hostility between the Opposition Liberals and the Speaker. The Liberals are still seething over the decision of their former caucus colleague, Darryl Plecas, to put his name up for Speaker – which gave the NDP a functioning majority with their power-sharing allies in the Green Party. Mr. Plecas has castigated the Liberals for using what he has labelled disrespectful language in the legislature. But his threats have backfired, with the Liberals dismissing the warning as a "dictatorial" attack on free speech.

Manitoba plans to allow private retailers to sell marijuana when it becomes legal next year, as provinces across the country come to very different conclusions about the best way to sell the drug. Premier Brian Pallister says marijuana will be sold through private retail outlets and online stores, in contrast to several provinces that have opted for systems that will be owned and operated by the government. Mr. Pallister says Manitoba will control wholesale distribution, but private retailers will be able to set the price.

Christopher Ragan (The Globe and Mail) on good public policy: "Good public policy is a foundation of peace and prosperity. But it doesn't just happen; it takes real effort by dedicated people who recognize the public interest. Canada needs more of them."

Andrew Jackson (The Globe and Mail) on wages: "Many economists and central bankers in both the United States and Canada say they are puzzled by the current co-existence of very low inflation and low unemployment. But this phenomenon is, in fact, not very surprising when one takes into account the major structural changes in the job market that have weakened the bargaining power of labour."

Nobina Robinson (The Globe and Mail) on innovation: "Innovation is not solely driven by science or basic research. Yet, the federal government regularly conflates and confuses these concepts in its efforts to push Canada toward an 'innovation economy.' This is shown by the skewed imbalance in how the federal government funds science, innovation and commercialization activities."

Rhiannon Traill, president and CEO of The Economic Club of Canada, in The Globe on Michelle Obama: "When a global public figure hits Canadian soil, all that glitters can be a massive distraction. Usually, the focus becomes more about the mere fact that someone was here rather than why. I don't want this to be the case with this event, not this time – not on my watch. So here's to making things simple and clear: I invited the former first lady to address the Economic Club, and in this rare instance, I do have an agenda. I want to change the way we conduct our public discourse in this country. I want to change the framework we use to find innovative solutions to major policy issues and, ultimately, I want to change the way that the senior leadership in this country interacts with the future: our youth."


November 8 is a date that no one is forgetting anytime soon. It's the day that Donald Trump was improbably elected President of the United States despite winning around 3 million fewer votes than his competitor. Here's how The Globe's Washington Correspondent describes year one of Trumpland: "While Mr. Trump has undoubtedly turned Washington into a multiplatform reality show – including televised feuds with football players, surprise policies announced on Twitter and palace intrigue splashed across the fronts of newspapers – his success at imprinting a nationalistic 'America first' agenda on the nation has been mixed at best."

Russia has blacklisted dozens of "Canadian political actors pursuing a toxic Russophobic agenda" in retaliation to the passing of the Magnitsky law that sanctioned Russian officials. Russia hasn't disclosed which Canadians are affected. "While retaining the sovereign right of disclosure, Russia will respond imminently and reciprocally in case the Canadian authorities continue playing silly and pointless 'sanctions' games," a Russian embassy spokesperson told The Globe's Michelle Zilio.

Mr. Trump was in South Korea and addressed the nation's parliamentarians. He also delivered a message to the country's northern neighbours: "Do not underestimate us. And do not try us." For a recap on where he's been and where he's going, check out our rolling coverage of his trip.

Democrats won big in Virginia and New Jersey, their first major electoral successes in the Trump era. In the Virginia House of Delegates they were able to flip more than a dozen seats from Republicans (including the GOP Leader and Whip) and notched victories across the U.S. as local races took on a decidedly national flavour.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has seen her approval ratings plummet and Brexit negotiations stall. Now, she has a new problem on her hands. Three of her cabinet ministers have been engulfed in scandals and several members of her caucus (and key allies in cabinet) have been accused of sexual misconduct.

The regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues with the Saudis calling the missile strike launched towards Riyadh by Yemen a "direct military aggression by the Iranian regime."

Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war over the past several years, plans to join the Paris Climate Accord.  The only country that remains opposed to the pact is the U.S.

Iain Overton (The Globe and Mail) on guns and America: "There is no easy answer to America's love affair with weapons. Democracy and freedom have become synonymous with capitalism and production – and the gun lies at the very heart of that. To break that bond would require massive economic and cultural shifts in the U.S. body politic – and this will not happen under Mr. Trump. But the international community does not have to buy into this – we can say no to violence and the means of producing it. To some that may seem naive. To others it's the only way toward peace."

The Trudeau government is introducing new legislation to prevent and fight workplace harassment in federally regulated workplaces The Canadian Press
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