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Canada’s vaccination efforts got a boost this morning with the announcement that health regulators have approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is the third approved in Canada, with two more – from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax – still being reviewed.

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In its decision, Health Canada said the AstraZeneca drug is less effective than those from Pfizer and Moderna – 62 per cent versus 95 and 94 – but that it is safe and still has an effect on reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey and Chris Hannay. 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 signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

EDITOR’S NOTE FROM CHRIS HANNAY

We have some big news for readers of the Politics Briefing newsletter today. After 5½ years and more than 1,000 editions, I am handing over the reins of the newsletter so I can take up a new challenge with the Report on Business team. I wanted to thank you so much for reading over the years. Having a place in your inboxes each morning has been an enormous privilege and I think you will love what’s next for the newsletter.

We are very excited to announce that Ian Bailey is the new regular writer of Politics Briefing. For long-time readers of The Globe, Ian will be no stranger: he is a veteran reporter of politics – both provincial and federal – from our Vancouver office. In addition to writing the newsletter each morning, he will move to Ottawa later this year and lend his pen to some of the most important federal politics stories of the day.

Thanks again for reading and we will be back in your inboxes on Monday.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

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Mark Machin, the chief executive officer of Canada Pension Plan’s investment branch, has stepped down after he received a COVID-19 vaccine while in the United Arab Emirates.

The federal government has not provided adequate support to First Nations to access safe drinking water, the Auditor-General says in a report.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party government has released a budget that projects an $18.2-billion deficit for 2021-22, second only to the province’s record $20.2-billion shortfall estimated in the current year. As a result, spending will be frozen as the government relies on a rebound in resource revenue to stem the bleeding from the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic downturn that has dragged on for years.

Fewer than half of the provinces and territories have online booking systems up and running so members of the public can make their appointments for the largest vaccination campaign in Canadian history. Some of those that have launched their systems have faced crashes and bugs.

There is no indication that federal security agencies were consulted before Beijing visa centre was approved

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Leader and incumbent Premier Andrew Furey says he believes the province’s chaotic and delayed election is legitimate, and that he will have a valid mandate to govern if he wins.

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B.C. Premier John Horgan and the province’s Energy Minister Bruce Ralston are making an 11 am PT announcement in Victoria on the troubled Site C hydroelectric dam, forecast to cost at least $10-billion. Issues around rising costs and construction delays prompted the July, 2020 appointment of a former deputy finance minister to review the project and that report is being released today. Mr. Horgan has said he wanted to receive that report before deciding on the fate of the project. Justine Hunter reported on Mr. Horgan’s Site C challenge in December, 2020.

PRIME MINISTER’S ITINERARY

In addition to remarks on the COVID-19 situation as well as a news conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled Friday to join Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Kirsten Hillman, the ambassador of Canada to the United States, in a 3 p.m. EST virtual meeting with Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State. The meeting comes in the same week as a first face-to-face virtual bilateral meeting between the prime minister and U.S. President Joe Biden.

Adrian Morrow, the U.S. Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, offers a perspective on this new meeting:

“The meeting between Justin Trudeau, Joe Biden and sundry cabinet ministers on Tuesday didn’t produce any firm agreements, but more a promise to have their governments work together on a bunch of issues. Climate-related regulations and handling China, particularly the two Michaels, were the main ones. So Antony Blinken’s meetings today with Trudeau and Marc Garneau are about starting that work. I think the idea is to map out in more detail what specifically they are going to try to sort out over the next few months.

“For the Americans, there seems to be a particular focus on the Arctic, which is important both because of climate change and defence policy. The U.S. and Canada have been in negotiations for years over modernizing NORAD, which would probably entail Canada spending more money on defence, and likely building more infrastructure in the Arctic – lengthening runways, upgrading radar systems.

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“What exactly will come out of the meeting today is unclear. The State Department yesterday said the two countries are going to cover a laundry list of things – the pandemic, climate, economy, multilateral institutions. And Canada is certain to press on the two Michaels. So seeing immediate concrete action on any one thing seems unlikely. But it may be useful for the two sides in narrowing down the list of the specifics they need to negotiate further.

“The other purpose of the meeting is for the Americans to affirm, once again, that they want to rekindle relationships with their allies. It’s all a little abstract and vague, but tone certainly matters in diplomacy. So there’s some usefulness in Mr. Blinken making Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Garneau feel heard by him. It will help when Biden wants people to line up behind him in international negotiations – climate talks in Glasgow later this year, for instance.”

Mr. Morrow was part of a team of Globe reporters who covered the first bilaterial summit of the Biden presidency earlier this week.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Erin O’Toole caught between a rock and a hard place: “It’s hard not to be sympathetic to the plight of Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole these days. There are two big things standing between him and the Prime Minister’s Office: the Trudeau Liberals, and his own party.”

Andrew MacDougall (Ottawa Citizen) on why Erin O’Toole needs a bold policy approach: " The bolder O’Toole’s policy, the less he’ll be framed by reruns of Conservatives (and conservatism) passim. Circumstance is also in favour of a bold approach, as the effects of the coronavirus are broad, profound and potentially long-lasting.”

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Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail) on Sioux Lookout, Ont. as emblematic of the First Nations housing crisis: In a country like Canada, if you spend the night outside with temperatures dipping to -40C, you die. And in Sioux Lookout, Ont., 13 people without homes perished on the streets between the start of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, according to the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB). Thirteen tragic deaths represents 1.6 per 1,000 of the population at the time. To put it in perspective, that percentage applied to the Greater Toronto Area would mean more than 9,400 deaths, says Henry Wall, the KDSB’s chief administrative officer. And his estimates don’t even figure in the larger cities of Kenora or Dryden.

Kelly Cryderman (The Globe and Mail) on the Alberta budget: “Alberta’s 2021-22 budget is a grim news document, with forecasts of a rapidly increasing provincial debt and more tightening of public-sector spending. Some difficult decisions have been kicked down the road, including any real discussion of how to stabilize the province’s famously volatile revenue streams. The glimmers of optimism in the provincial budget come mainly from the discussion of years further out, when Alberta has theoretically emerged from the current crisis mode.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on the one group of Canadians the government can get away with torturing: “Surely, it would be an unrelenting, riot-in-the-streets-type scandal if the Canadian government was actively torturing any demographic of citizens under its direct purview. It seems ridiculous to even contemplate: Privy Council staffers locked in rooms for days where the lights never go off; military personnel starved of basic human contact for days or weeks; park rangers deprived of medical assistance even in scenarios of acute physical or mental distress.”

As some provincial public health officers are facing criticism from various quarters, Rob Shaw (The Orca) offers a defence of Dr. Bonnie Henry: “She is not without faults. But she’s an exponentially better leader than any provincial politician I’ve seen during this crisis. And she’s still our best bet, by far, to get us out of this pandemic while saving the maximum amount of lives possible.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on a “thoroughly retro” Quebec Premier François Legault : “Ten years ago this month, François Legault altered the course of Quebec – and, by definition, Canadian – history in ways that almost no one understood at the time. With the 2011 launch of his Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, or Coalition for Quebec’s Future, the former Parti Québécois cabinet minister aimed to knock the “national question” off the political agenda after four decades of increasingly sterile debates over sovereignty. His crew of disaffected separatists and soft federalists sought to put bread-and-butter issues above existential ones and “renovate” the Quebec state for the 21st century.”

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