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politics briefing

Good morning,

The recent closing of local newspapers and the laying-off of broadcast reporters across the country has us thinking a lot about journalism's place in society. Political reporters – whether on Parliament Hill, at provincial legislatures, or at city councils – play an important role in informing the public about what those who control the public purse strings are doing, for good or ill.

But what happens when there are few reporters left? Or even none?

The Globe and Mail has one of the largest bureaus on Parliament Hill and we have a network of reporters across the country, including in many provincial legislatures.

We (the authors of the daily Politics Briefing) have reached out to press galleries across Canada to get a better picture of how many journalists are dedicated to covering legislatures full-time. In most capitals, the numbers are quite low and, according to press-gallery presidents, on the decline. This list includes those who work for newspapers, broadcast outlets, wire services and more. In some places the numbers include journalists who hold press-gallery passes, but only cover politics for the weeks when the legislature is sitting. The numbers do not include those who cover provincial politics from outside the capital cities. And one more caveat: On big days, such as a provincial budget, the number of journalists in town may temporarily swell.

But day to day...

British Columbia. Population: 4.8 million. Annual spending: $48.7-billion. Legislators: 87. Legislative reporters: 18.

Alberta. Population: 4.3 million. Annual spending: $54.9-billion. Legislators: 87. Legislative reporters: five. (Ten when it sits.)

Saskatchewan. Population: 1.2 million. Annual spending: $14.8-billion. Legislators: 61. Legislative reporters: one*. (Karen Briere, president of the Saskatchewan press gallery, said there are no reporters who cover only the legislature full-time. However, David Fraser of the Regina Leader-Post says he spends most of his time at the legislature and is often the only one at committee meetings.)

Manitoba. Population: 1.3 million. Annual spending: $17.1-billion. Legislators: 57. Legislative reporters: six.

Ontario. Population: 14 million. Annual spending: $141-billion. Legislators: 107. Legislative reporters: 25.

Quebec. Population: 8.4 million. Annual spending: $104-billion. Legislators: 125. Legislative reporters: 41.

New Brunswick. Population: 760,000. Annual spending: $9.4-billion. Legislators: 49. Legislative reporters: nine.

Nova Scotia. Population: 954,000. Annual spending: $10.5-billion. Legislators: 51. Legislative reporters: five.

Prince Edward Island. Population: 152,000. Annual spending: $1.8-billion. Legislators: 27. Legislative reporters: two.

Newfoundland and Labrador. Population: 529,000. Annual spending: $8.4-billion. Legislators: 40. Legislative reporters: four.

The takeaway? In most legislatures in Canada, journalists are outnumbered by politicians and their staff by an order of magnitude. And it may get worse.

Next week we'll look at the territories and how many journalists are keeping watch on the spending and antics of Canada's city councils.

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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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is heading to Beijing this weekend for meetings with Chinese leaders and is expected to formally initiate free-trade negotiations. International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne is tempering expectations about the prospective timeline of a bilateral deal, saying that Canada won't be rushed into a free-trade agreement. "We have been clear from the start with our Chinese friends, throughout the exploratory talks, that should we move forward, this will take time," he said in a speech yesterday. "Time that we will use to understand the needs and concerns of Canadian workers and families." China currently does not have bilateral trade deal with any member of the G7 but is eager to strike its first such agreement.

Mr. Trudeau will be travelling to China on the government's dime, but a Globe investigation reveals many MPs and Senators have been taking a lot of trips to the country paid for by the Chinese government and Beijing-friendly business groups, some of which have not been properly disclosed to the public.

After months of delays, the Liberal government has named appointees to two of the vacant or about-to-be-vacant Officers of Parliament: Long-time civil servant Nancy Bélanger has been named the Lobbying Commissioner and university president Raymond Théberge is the pick for Commissioner of Official Languages. The choices must be approved by Parliament, and the NDP aren't happy because they say they weren't consulted on the picks before they were made public. Meanwhile, some 585 positions are still in need of being filled, a CBC analysis says.

The debate about Finance Minister Bill Morneau got quite heated in the House yesterday, with Opposition MPs now questioning the share sales of his father. At one point, Conservative MP Blake Richards was kicked out of the chamber for heckling too much, the first time that's happened in 15 years.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Centre Block in the Senate, senators have taken up debate on the bills to legalize marijuana, but it's not clear whether they will meet the government's timeline to have the law in place by next summer. A Globe investigation reveals that personal marijuana growing operations are a prime target for organized crime.

The federal government will withdraw from a court challenge about health care for First Nations children.

Even if Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion can overcome legal challenges and opposition from First Nations and local governments, there are still 1,200 other hurdles standing in the way. That's how many permits the project needs from the B.C. government; so far, only 66 have been approved. And now that the province is controlled by the B.C. New Democrats, who officially oppose the pipeline, the permitting process is unlikely to get any easier. Kinder Morgan is warning delays could endanger the pipeline's future, while Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told a business audience in Vancouver she's confident Ottawa will do what it takes to make the project happen.

B.C.'s NDP government has wrapped up its first legislative session since taking power, and its most significant achievement may be holding together a pact with the third-place Greens. The New Democrats and Greens joined together to defeat the BC Liberal government earlier this summer, but even then many pundits were predicting the alliance would be short-lived. The NDP are now looking ahead at what could be a full four-year term.

And Quebec's National Assembly has voted unanimously that shopkeepers should first greet customers only in French ("Bonjour!"), instead of saying both with a "Bonjour/Hi."

Geoff Plant (The Globe and Mail) on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: "Giving effect to UNDRIP therefore requires altering the way the government makes land and resource decisions. Today, First Nations are consulted about proposals, but government is the final decision-maker. There's a need for new models that include First Nations as shared decision-makers, so that they are not simply affected by the decision, they are partners in it."

Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Bill Morneau: "While his judgment has not always been sound, and the scandals around him have been self-inflicted, nothing he has done demands his resignation. This is not a person who entered political life for personal gain. As long as Mr. Morneau has the confidence of the Prime Minister, he should continue as Finance Minister."

Don Martin (CTV) on Bill Morneau: "It's highly unlikely [Ethics Commissioner Mary] Dawson will find that Bill Morneau acted deliberately to feather his mansion-sized nest. But it's almost unavoidable she'll say it looked bad that he put into legislation a change which, if passed, would benefit a company where he was a major shareholder while still in control of his investment."

Robyn Urback (CBC) on Bill Morneau: "The Conservatives are making some pretty serious allegations here with very little actual evidence. Fortunately for them, the finance minister isn't in the best of standings. Morneau could venture down a path he's been avoiding for the last several weeks and offer a real, unscripted, thorough explanation. Then again, it might already be too late."

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Trudeau's tears: "At a time when the subject of toxic masculinity is part of our everyday discussion, our feminist Prime Minister is in touch with his feelings and not ashamed to display them. His is a different type of masculinity that seems a perfect antidote to our times."

Derek Burney and Fen Osler Hampson (The Globe and Mail) on free trade with China: "Canada's paramount goal should be to act in its own interest by improving and safeguarding access to the burgeoning Chinese market where much of what we produce is in increasing demand. Any proposal should be examined on its actual merits, not on sentiment or wishful posturing."


The European Union, China, Japan and six other governments have joined Canada in reaching a deal on sustainable Arctic fishing. The agreement comes after years of negotiations between countries that have territory in the Arctic Ocean as well as commercial interests in the region. As part of the deal, commercial fishing in the region will be prevented for at least 16 years before automatically being renewed in 2033. Once scientists reach a consensus that sustainable fishing can occur, the moratorium will be lifted.

The White House has a plan to replace the oft-maligned and frequently-undermined Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. CIA Director Mike Pompeo would become the U.S.'s top diplomat and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas would move to the spy agency. Both men are seen as loyal to the administration while Mr. Tillerson reportedly called his boss a "moron" earlier this year.  Mr. Tillerson is expected to be replaced in the next month or at the start of next year.

U.S. governors are urging Canada to use NAFTA renegotiations to relax duties on online purchases. Currently, Canadians can only buy $20 worth of goods online without having to pay duties on foreign goods.

The U.S. government might shut down this month, even with the Republican party holding the House, Senate and the White House. One person thinks it might be a good thing though: U.S. President Donald Trump.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president of Zimbabwe, has appointed a new cabinet that favours loyalists to the ruling party and individuals with ties to the military, which helped oust long-time leader Robert Mugabe.

And a report from a Geneva-based think tank is predicting more war, hunger and extremism in 2018.

Jessie Thomson (The Globe and Mail) on refugees returning to Myanmar: "First, any return should be voluntary and made on the informed decision of the refugee alone and not against their will. Second, people need to be treated with dignity, such that they have homes and not camps to return to, access to basic services and livelihoods, and the full realization of rights. Finally, the international community must also ensure that their return is sustainable. If you encourage people to go home too fast, they'll just flee again and end up back where they started."

Sheema Khan (The Globe and Mail) on reforming Saudi Arabia: "If [the Crown Prince] really wants to return to a 'moderate, balanced' Islam, he must include the perspectives of women on equal footing. Anything less will be a whitewash."

Julia Rampen (The Globe and Mail) on how the U.K. viewed the tweets: "Mr. Trump may feel that he's scored his social-media hit for the day, but in the U.K., the mood, for once, is united. Ms. May, an embattled Prime Minister, has been defended by left and right for standing up to Mr. Trump. Indeed, many are hoping for more, recalling the famous scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant's British Prime Minister says no to a bullying U.S. President. It's amazing the consensus Mr. Trump can bring about in a single tweet."

Rich Lowry (Politico) on the Tweeter-in-chief: "Trump's presidency is much better than his Twitter feed."

Ezra Klein (Vox) on the case for impeaching more presidents: "An objection to this is that it might lead to more common impeachment proceedings in the future. And indeed it might. Other developed countries operate on roughly that basis, with occasional no-confidence votes and snap elections being used to impose midterm accountability, and they get along just fine."

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