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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is concerned about the prospect of war in Ukraine and is considering all options when it comes to the safety of diplomatic staff in the country.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government, what they’re saying,” he told a news conference Wednesday.

Asked about Canada providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine, Mr. Trudeau said he would proceed cautiously in dealing with the conflict.

“One of the things we have seen is that Russia is looking for excuses or reasons to continue and even escalate its aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

“The decisions that we take will be based on what is best for Ukraine and what is best towards keeping peace globally as long as we possibly can.”

On the subject of evacuating embassy and Canadian military personnel, he said planning is under way for “multiple contingencies” to keep people safe and support the Ukrainian people. However, he said he could not get into any details.

Canada has a 200-soldier training mission in Ukraine, and a report said a small group of Canadian special forces has been deployed to Ukraine. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has been in the country this week meeting with officials.

Senior international correspondent Mark MacKinnon has been reporting this week from Kyiv. Story here.

And there’s an explainer here on the story so far regarding Russia’s and NATO’s standoff over Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says a Russian attack on Ukraine could come at short notice. Story here.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter sign-up page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

INFLATION HITS HIGH - Canadian inflation hit a three-decade high in December as consumers paid sharply more for groceries and appliances, the latest sign that the Bank of Canada may soon try to contain inflation with its first interest-rate increases since the start of the pandemic. Story here.

GOVERNMENT ASKS TORIES FOR SECOND LOOK AT DOCUMENT PROPOSAL - The federal government is urging the Conservatives to reconsider their rejection of a proposal for handling secret documents on the firings of two infectious-disease scientists. The matter led to a parliamentary showdown last June that saw opposition parties band together and cite parliamentary privilege to order the government to release records on the matter. Story here.

Reporter’s Comment, Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife: “It’s puzzling that the Conservatives are unwilling to accept the Liberal compromise. On the face of what the government has proposed, an-all party special committee of MPs would get to see the uncensored documents about the firing of the two scientists. They’d get to pick a panel of former senior judges. And those non-partisan judges decide on what can be released to the public if there is a national security dispute between the government and MPs. It’s possible the NDP and Bloc Québécois will accept the Liberal offer, leaving the Tories outside the committee room and completely ignorant of what transpired at the Winnipeg infectious disease lab.”

REVIEW FEDERAL USE OF CONSULTANTS: OPPOSITION - The three main opposition parties are calling on Auditor-General Karen Hogan to investigate the federal government’s relationship with McKinsey & Company after The Globe and Mail reported a sharp rise in federal outsourcing contracts to the global consulting firm. Story here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked at his Wednesday news conference about Globe and Mail reports on increasing federal spending by his government on outsourcing contracts in the category of professional and special services. That includes an increase in spending for the services of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. “There is tremendous capacity within the public service, but it is normal and to be expected that we would also need to turn to outside experts for further help on improving the efficiency and delivery of services to Canadians,” he said. Asked if he would welcome the Auditor-General reviewing outsourcing contracts, including those for McKinsey & Company, the Prime Minister said he welcomed all the work she will do in many areas.

Previous stories here and here.

NOT REINING IN SPENDING: TRUDEAU - Mr. Trudeau is giving no indications of plans to rein in government spending after a critical report by the parliamentary budget officer questioned the government’s case to spend tens of billions in planned stimulus. Story here.

ROCKING CHAIR RAISES QUESTIONS - The NDP says it is working with the Ethics Commissioner and intends to file a formal disclosure report on a $1,895 rocking chair given to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s wife in exchange for posting about the item on her Instagram account. Story here from CBC.

CANADA WORRIED ABOUT RUSSIAN TROOPS IN MALI - The Canadian government says it is deeply concerned about the deployment of Russian mercenary troops in Mali, one of Canada’s closest African partners, but is not yet prepared to withdraw a small contingent of Canadian soldiers and police from the West African country.

MANITOBA CABINET SHUFFLE - Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is adding a third health minister and promoting four backbenchers in her first cabinet shuffle since she took office in November. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

WHY I CALLED THE EDMONTON POLICE CHIEF: MADU - Point by point, Kaycee Madu, now on a leave of absence as Alberta’s justice minister, explains in a Twitter thread, accessible here, how he came to call the Edmonton police chief after receiving a distracted driving ticket. There’s a story here on the consequences of that call.

NEW POSTING FOR MCKENNA - Former federal environment minister Catherine McKenna is joining Columbia University as a distinguished visiting fellow with Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy. She will work on practical solutions to help scale climate action with the centre and the new Columbia Climate School. Details here.

JOLY HOSTING HAITI SUMMIT - Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will host a virtual foreign ministers’ meeting on Haiti on Friday to discuss supporting the country as it confronts a number of critical issues. Mr. Trudeau and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry will open the meeting.

THE DECIBEL – On Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, western arts correspondent Marsha Lederman talks about a new book, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Rosemary Sullivan. The book details what an investigative team found when they set out to learn who tipped off the authorities to Anne’s hiding spot? Ms. Lederman interviewed Sullivan about her book and explains what they found – and what we can learn from this story today. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. The Prime Minister addressed the COVID-19 situation along with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and held a media availability.

LEADERS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attends virtual caucus retreat.

No schedules released for other party leaders.

PUBLIC OPINION

BANK OF CANADA SURVEYS - Canadian businesses and consumers expect to feel the pinch of inflation for an extended period of time as continuing supply-chain disruptions and labour shortages push up costs and strong demand allows companies to pass these increases along to customers. Story here.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity: His biggest misstep has been his messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic. While Canadians are focused on getting through the latest wave, Mr. O’Toole last week used his podium to ask for understanding and accommodation for the roughly one in 10 adults who are unvaccinated and who are filling up hospital beds at a rate that far exceeds their proportion of the population. The current crisis would be much less serious if those Canadians had stepped forward and gotten their jabs last year, and yet Mr. O’Toole is serving as their advocate, rather than as the advocate of the thousands of vaccinated people who’ve had elective surgeries postponed, and of the vaccinated parents whose vaccinated children can’t go to school to see their vaccinated teachers, and the vaccinated business owners who’ve had to shut their doors to their vaccinated customers.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on how, as the pandemic drags on, governments can only do so much to protect us: “The fact is, governments can’t protect all their citizens. If that was the expectation, then we would have seen, and would have had to accept, lockdown after lockdown. Even then, not everyone would have been spared from the various mutant forms of COVID-19. As horrible as the pandemic has been, as ugly as the death rate is, I don’t think anyone wants their government to shut the economy down completely in an effort to stop the spread of Omicron, or whatever comes next. People have to eat and exist. We can’t hide until this is all over. It’s not possible. Which places the responsibility on all of us to stay as safe as we can.”

Emilie Coyle and Jackie Omstead (Policy Options) on how the use of solitary confinement continues in Canada despite the government’s announcement that it has been abolished: “Structured intervention units (SIUs) were implemented by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) just over two years ago to replace an administrative segregation regime that was deemed to be unconstitutional. The Ministry of Public Safety suggested that SIUs were designed to be a more humane way of separating people from the general prison population, with more time out of cells and more “meaningful human contact.” This change was supposed to be part of a “historic transformation” for federal corrections – a move that was supported by the public. The truth is, however, that there is no humane way to hold someone in solitary confinement. Whatever the form of solitary confinement – SIUs, mental health monitoring, lockdowns, dry celling – all are characterized by constant observation, intense isolation and severe mental health implications.”

John Michael McGrath (TVO) on what Rod Phillips’s departure means for the upcoming election: “Now for the obligatory “campaigns matter” disclaimer: all of this can change. Steven Del Duca and Andrea Horwath could both mount disastrous campaigns while the challengers on the right fail to materialize into anything worth noting. But the simplest way of thinking about the next several months is that in 2018, the Tories didn’t need to be particularly lucky, or even good campaigners, to win handily. The anger at the Liberals was such that even the polarizing choice of Doug Ford as leader didn’t hurt them much. This is going to be a harder race for them, and they’ll need to be both lucky and good. In politics, that’s a lot to ask.”

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