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Politics Politics Briefing: Politics needs to address the ‘open secrets’

Pages and staff prepare the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in December, 2015.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Good morning,

A series of sexual harassment or misconduct allegations that have sidelined three Canadian politicians in the past several days has revived questions about the pervasiveness of such behaviour within the halls of power. Last night, federal Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr resigned over sexual harassment allegations. Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, and Jamie Baillie, leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives, resigned or were forced out of their jobs the day before over allegations of sexual harassment.

When similar scandals rocked Hollywood and other industries, the discussion quickly moved to the "open secrets" that allowed powerful men to act with impunity. In a column, A. H. Reaume argues that such a "whisper network" is very much alive in Canadian politics, aided by a party system that puts partisan optics over protecting young staffer and volunteers: "There are men that women are told to stay away from. But these whispers don't reach everyone." She notes that more than half the female MPs who responded to a recent Canadian Press survey said they had been the target of sexual misconduct while in office.

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Lori Turnbull writes in a column that the #MeToo movement has shown predators will no longer find a "safe space" in politics: "It has taken too long to get here and many people have been hurt, so let's not be too triumphant. But, instead of expecting to be harassed at work, politicians, political staff, and everyone else in this environment can, instead, expect and demand to be treated with respect by everyone in their workplace, without exception." And John Ibbitson says the pace of the revelations and resignations should serve as a warning to others: "Each time one person says j'accuse, another comes closer to finding the courage. There are a lot of men no longer sleeping well at night."

The resignations have also revived the debate about how political parties and Parliament handle such cases — and whether they should review how they've handled them in the past.

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CANADIAN HEADLINES

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says First Nations should create their own legislation to address child welfare and the federal government says it will support them if they do.

The federal government will stay out of a court challenge on Quebec's controversial face-covering law.

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The Canadian military's highest-ranking judge has been charged with fraud.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is backing his ambassador to China, John McCallum, who says Canada increasingly has more in common with China than with the United States.

British Columbia's NDP government insists it remains committed to an election pledge to freeze electricity rates, despite recent comments from Premier John Horgan that there may be better ways to protect consumers. The New Democrats made a series of populist campaign pledges around affordability, including a rate freeze, but the government has yet to explain how some of those promises will work or how they will be paid for.

The City of Vancouver is preparing to require condo developers to give locals first crack at buying pre-sale condos, and some are doing it voluntarily while they wait for the new rules – but the policies might not help when many new projects are aimed at luxury buyers.

A meeting aimed at hashing out a dispute between Alberta and Saskatchewan about licence plates has been delayed to give the Saskatchewan Party a chance to pick a successor to Premier Brad Wall.

And the new federal lobbying commissioner says she will drop an investigation into pharmaceutical executive Barry Sherman and a Liberal fundraiser he hosted, citing the billionaire's death.

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Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Saskatchewan's outgoing premier Brad Wall: "During his time in office, Mr. Wall drastically reduced wait lists for surgeries, produced ledgers that earned a Triple A credit rating, indexed the province's minimum wage, got more than 400 people with intellectual disabilities into group homes they needed, fought off a foreign takeover of the Saskatchewan-based PotashCorp. and oversaw record population growth and an infrastructure spending spree that resulted in new schools, hospitals and roadways. He accomplished a lot."

Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Canada Post: "Political courage has been in short supply on the Canada Post file for decades. Here was an opportunity to show some. By passing it up, a government that purports to do things differently is serving up more of the same."

Parisa Mahboubi (The Globe and Mail) on the labour market: "Given the share of involuntary part-time employees, the headline unemployment rate alone is not a sufficient tool to monitor the labour market. Specifically, it does not account for discouraged workers – who have given up looking for a job. Instead, the latter phenomenon manifests itself in the declining labour-force participation rates observed since the 2008-09 recession."

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on harassment on Parliament Hill: "The Globe and Mail for days asked House of Commons staff whether the secretive Board of Internal Economy had paid any confidential settlements on behalf on MPs facing complaints of sexual harassment, only to be told the answer was confidential – until Thursday evening, when a spokesperson said there have been no such settlements for sexual harassment, at least in the past five years. The Senate still says such matters are confidential."

Adam Radwanski (The Globe and Mail) on what comes next: "It's anyone's guess how many of the people Mr. Brown brought into the tent will now choose to exit it. So with a couple of months at most to prepare for the election and introduce himself or herself to Ontarians, his successor will either have to start virtually from scratch, or work with an apparatus custom-built for a leader last seen literally fleeing the building."

John Doyle (The Globe and Mail) on the press conference: "In the annals of Canadian politics, that was surely the most bizarre and unsettling news conference ever. "

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Dierdre McMurdy (The Globe and Mail) on what the Progressive Conservative party can do to win: "The challenge is not insurmountable if focus and discipline prevail. And that is a big 'if' in any campaign. The Tory party has 200,000 members and has, to date, been outpacing both the Liberals and NDP in fundraising. The Liberals are at a historically low-ebb, and Andrea Horwath's New Democrats have failed to break through in several by-elections. The Tories have, furthermore, recruited several high-profile candidates and have a number of caucus members with solid election experience. There is also a wealth of exiled federal Tory talent upon which the Ontario party can draw."

Erica Ifill and Erin Gee (Ottawa Citizen) on power: "Politics is the ultimate power profession, a space typically occupied by white, heterosexual males in Canada. When we work for candidate or someone who holds office, we think they can do no wrong. We believe in them, in their message, in what they stand for. We deify them. It is that power discrepancy, absent of accountability, that can make them dangerous."

Tasha Kheiriddin (Global) on consent: "In the last century, scandals revolved less around sexual coercion, and more around infidelity and sexual taboos. Clinton's blurred the two, but today, it seems cheating isn't even an issue: consent is."

Arshy Mann (Daily Xtra) on social conservatism: "Brown's support for LGBT rights, however symbolic, was a major step forward for the PCs. It was not very long ago that the Progressive Conservatives were fighting GSAs tooth-and-nail and using homophobic messaging to attack Ontario's first lesbian premier. Had he been elected premier, homophobes and transphobes in Ontario could have lost their only viable political vehicle for good. So it's no surprise it was the social conservatives who were the first out of the gate to denounce Brown and demand his resignation."

Edward Prutschi (Toronto Sun) on the allegations: "How is Brown to even begin the work of clearing his name of 'false allegations' when the allegations themselves are a sound-byte in a news clip? While it remains distantly possible for Brown to expend enormous legal fees and years of litigation to unmask his accusers in an attempt to challenge their case in a civil courtroom, there are many hurdles along such a road, none of which can be cleared until long after the impending election. In contrast, the barriers to entry for the complete annihilation of Brown's reputation are few and finite."

Christie Blatchford (National Post) on due process: "Whatever the merits of their accusations — and how is anyone to know? — the mere act of making them to a journalist was enough. This is all it takes now."

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Supriya Dwivedi (Global News) on open secrets: "Don't get me wrong, I think it's commendable that several members of Brown's senior staff resigned within minutes of Brown's monstrosity of a presser, but the reality is that a man like Brown should never have risen to the ranks of leader, and one has to wonder who around him knew what and when. This is only compounded by the fact that one of his own staffers who resigned last night was himself subject to very public sexual misconduct allegations."

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INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES

The New York Times is reporting that U.S. President Donald Trump ordered his White House lawyers to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June, 2017, but ultimately backed off when the counsel threatened to quit rather than carry out the request. Later during the summer, Mr. Trump, his lawyer John Down and adviser Kellyanne Conway all denied that Mr. Trump had considered firing Mr. Mueller. Here's a brief timeline of events on Mr. Trump's relationship with the law since assuming office (courtesy of Washington Post reporter Mark Berman and Atlantic reporter Natasha Bertrand): Fired acting attorney-general Sally Yates, asked then FBI director James Comey for his loyalty, asked Mr. Comey to drop the FBI's probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn (who has since pled guilty to lying to the FBI), fired Mr. Comey, told Attorney-General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, told Republican senators to end their probe and tried to fire Mr. Mueller.

South African President Jacob Zuma's power is fading and investigators are moving closer in their probe of his relationships with wealthy businessmen. Mr. Zuma's term runs through mid-2019 but signs are emerging that he will be pushed out amid allegations of corruption. The Globe's Africa correspondent Geoffrey York reports that the new leader of the ruling African National Congress Party is assuming control of the instruments of power and has turned his sights on cleaning up corruption and mismanagement.

Turkey and the U.S. are NATO allies, but the former is threatening the latter that if it doesn't end support for Kurdish YPG fighters it could risk a confrontation of ground troops in Syria. It has been a week since Turkey launched Operation "Olive Branch," an incursion into northwestern Syria.

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Russian agents created 129 events on social media during the U.S. election campaign. 62,500 people said that they would attend the events, according to Facebook.

The United Nations says that conditions are not yet safe for the Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh amid persecution to return to their homeland. Nearly 700,000 people from the minority group have fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state since August.

Spain is acting to block the election of Carles Puigdemont as leader of Catalonia. Mr. Puigdemont was head of the region until fleeing the country in October to avoid arrest after Catalonia unilaterally declared independence from Spain. Roger Torrent, who was recently elected as the speaker of Catalonia's newly elected parliament, put forth Mr. Puigdemont as the only option to become regional president, something that Spain's central government had warned against.

And the Doomsday Clock is at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since the Cold War. The Doomsday Clock acts as a symbolic indicator of how close we are to annihilation.

Bessma Momani (The Globe and Mail) on Turkey and Syria: "If and when the Turks take on the SDF militia in Manbij and surrounding areas, they will be within sight of U.S. troops stationed there to help train and guide the SDF. While no American troops were present in the Afrin region, hundreds, if not more, are stationed in the lands surrounding Manbij. Two NATO allies may come face-to-face with each other if diplomatic resources are not correctly deployed."

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on Davos: "Such is the irony of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, where everyone pledges to combat the triple threats of wealth inequality, global warming and protectionism but where corporate leaders seem practically giddy about U.S. President Donald Trump's economic policies." (for subscribers)

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