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Politics Briefing: The frustration of talking to government departments

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer an official apology on November 28 to Canadians who were criminally prosecuted or dismissed from the military or public service because they were gay.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Good morning,

Sometimes in this newsletter we try to pull back the curtain a bit, to help Globe readers understand the process of political reporting. Here's a recent experience in asking for information from federal departments.

As part of the government's Canada 150 celebrations, 38 initiatives were selected as "signature" projects. Last week I noticed one of the projects, Project Tessera, a survey run by the same company that produced Vote Compass and, had yet to launch. In fact, the domain name had expired. I contacted the polling firm's CEO, who said it would launch before the end of the month under a different name.

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I also went to the Canadian Heritage department, which is responsible for selecting and funding Canada 150 projects. I asked the department three questions. Two days later, I received these responses. For length purposes, I've abridged my questions, but the answers are reproduced in full.

Question 1: What's going on with Project Tessera?

"Project Tessera is proceeding well and is expected to launch shortly."

Question 2: Of the 38 signature projects, how many have yet to launch?

"There are 38 Signature projects, each delivering on their own schedule. Some have completed their activities while others are on-going."

Question 3: Do you know how many Canadians have seen or participated in the projects? If not, when will you know?

"Since final reports for most Signature projects are not due until 2018, statistics on the results achieved are not yet available.  Once all information has been compiled and synthesized, results will be made available to the public."

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As you can see, the answers don't provide much in the way of information. But it could be worse – another department, asked a different question about another story last week, told me they couldn't respond….but that I was free to file an access-to-information request if I wanted an answer.

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 set to formally apologize on Nov. 28 to LGBTQ Canadians who were kicked out of the military or public service for their sexuality, as recently as 1989. And homosexuality was a criminal offence up until 1969.

North American free-trade agreement talks continue until Tuesday in Mexico City, and Mexico seems open to concessions on autos to help break the logjam.

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau's potential conflict of interest with a bill that would change pension law was flagged with Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in September, but she didn't launch an investigation until the debate came to the House of Commons in November.

And more than 15,000 people are on Canada's deportation list, the CBC reports, but many of their home countries won't take them back.

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the slow pace of Liberal appointments: It seems indicative of the Liberals' midterm funk. They cast a lot of effort into enunciating grandiose plans on everything from First Nations to innovation policy, or peacekeeping, but they have more trouble with nuts and bolts. Give the Liberals points for appointing more women, but deduct some for failing to name an ethics commissioner, or information commissioner, or appointees to other posts."

Adam Radwanski (The Globe and Mail) on deliverology: "Mr. Trudeau gravitated toward deliverology largely because it was seen to have worked well during Dalton McGuinty's early years in office. Not coincidentally, Mr. Trudeau's top advisers served the former Ontario premier back then. But as they have essentially attempted a massive scale-up, they seem to have abandoned some core tenets that made it work provincially, similar to the way it had for Mr. Blair in Britain."

Peter Shier (The Globe and Mail) on cannabis: "The issue now is for Canada to boldly step up and own this space. As wine is to France and whisky is to Scotland, let cannabis be to Canada."

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on the Supreme Court: "Ideally, for the Prime Minister, his next appointee would be an Indigenous woman. This would not only allow him to prevent the number of female justices from falling to three from the current four – four being considered a minimum number for a self-styled 'feminist' prime minister. It would allow him to make history by putting an Indigenous judge on the top court."

Andrew Coyne (National Post) on the economy: "Maybe, just maybe, the public does not share in the belief, apparently universal among the political class, that everything that happens in the economy is because of the government. It is a delusion in which all the parties collude, and have for decades. Governments, of course, like to claim credit for any jobs that are created, as if they had personally hired every one of them."

Allison Hanes (Montreal Gazette) on a Quebec town's swimming-pool nudity ban: "We accept the scantily clad human body being put prominently on display in advertising, on television, in film and on the internet — but only in its air-brushed glory. The sight of an ordinary person in the raw — forget it. It seems highly hypocritical to bombard kids with sexualized images of improbably perfect models only to shield them from the sight of a roll of flesh or the pull of gravity? How are we cultivating a healthy body image in our children (or ourselves) if the subliminal take-away is that average bodies are somehow offensive?"


A military intervention last week signaled the end of Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule of Zimbabwe. Over the weekend, tens of thousands marched to celebrate his downfall and demand his resignation. Geoffrey York reports from the streets of Harare on why it happened and whether the change will usher in a new era of hope​.

The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Riyadh, evidently forced by Saudi Arabia, has thrust the country into political crisis. He travelled to France and met with President Emmanuel Macron over the weekend and plans to return to Lebanon this week. Eric Reguly travels to Beirut to explain how growing regional tensions stoked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have threatened Lebanon's delicate balance of power.

And at the Halifax International Security Forum, a top Afghan official says that Taliban extremists should have a place at peace talks, when the opportunity arises.

Doug Saunders (The Globe and Mail) on NAFTA and Mexico: "The current round of NAFTA negotiations going awry or Mr. Trump scuppering the heart of the agreement pose a far, far greater threat to Mexico than to Canada or the United States. It would be damaging, but not fatal, to the Canadian economy. For Mexico, it is an existential threat."

The Globe and Mail editorial board on sexual minorities: "The reality is there are regions of the world where it is still difficult, and even dangerous, to be gay. For the most part, same-sex marriage remains a primarily Western phenomenon. Homosexuality is considered a crime in much of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and is punishable by death in some places. It's an intolerable situation that cannot and will not last. The advance of LGBTQ rights is inexorable. The latest evidence is the vote in Australia, a country where the political middle is generally situated to the right, but which still embraced tolerance and equality."

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