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Good morning,

On March 4 of this year Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned using Novichok, a deadly nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Mr. Skripal was a Russian double agent who had moved to Britain in a spy swap. British authorities blamed Russia, calling the incident a “hostile action” and moved to expel 23 members of the Russian embassy in London. Days later, Russia responded in kind, expelling 23 Britons. But this diplomatic war was not confined to just the United Kingdom and Russia. Canada got involved in the standoff and expelled four Russians who were trying to “undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy,” in solidarity with Britain. Canada would also go on to deny visa renewals for three more Russian diplomats who had already left the country to bar them from returning. Diplomatic incidents such as this aren’t uncommon, but according to more than 180 pages of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, Canada’s approach to the skirmish differed greatly this year. The Globe’s Grant Robertson reports that Ottawa didn’t want to discreetly dismiss diplomats in an effort to avoid a public international spat, the path usually taken in instances like this. Instead, the federal government wanted to send Russia a message. E-mails show that senior Global Affairs Canada staff sought to denounce a “wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour by Russia,” not only the attack on the Skripals.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Mayaz Alam in Toronto while Chris Hannay is on vacation. It is exclusively available to our digital subscribers. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

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TODAY’S HEADLINES

Boris Birshtein has made powerful friends and millions of dollars as a middleman between the West and the fractured former USSR. But who is he really, and who does he work for? The Globe’s Mark MacKinnon followed his trail – and ended up in a maze of geopolitics that includes everyone from a former deputy mayor of Leningrad named Vladimir Putin to a real estate developer named Donald Trump. We’ve also laid out the web of ties that includes world leaders, spies and mafia dons.

Canada’s green energy industry is beginning to shift from Ontario to Alberta. The two provinces have taken different approaches to growing renewables. In Ontario, the government set rates under the now-scrapped Green Energy Act while Alberta holds auctions to see which company can supply the market with the cheapest power. Although Ontario and Quebec remain the two largest producers of renewable electricity, Western provinces are gaining ground. Experts in the wind industry say the heart of the field is near the Crowsnest Pass.

Federal Liberals have nominated Karen Wang, a daycare owner, in the Burnaby South by-election, which will feature NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Ms. Wang was a candidate for the BC Liberals in the 2017 election and will be running to replace former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who is now Vancouver’s Mayor.

The federal cabinet has approved designs for special toonies that will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Around 14,000 Canadian soldiers were part of the Allied assault on Normandy in June of 1944. Cabinet has also approved a loonie that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to decriminalize homosexual acts.

Sarah McIver, a teacher from Alberta who had been detained in China, has returned to Canada after being released from custody. The Chinese government said that Ms. McIver was being held under “administrative punishment” because she was teaching English in the country illegally.

Pro-pipeline protesters are planning a convoy to Ottawa in February to demand action from the federal government to help the oil patch.

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After a long-delayed election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doubts are growing about the peaceful transfer of power from President Joseph Kabila. Sunday’s vote was touted as a historic election, the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. Opposition parties, however, say that Mr. Kabila and his allies are behind the logistical chaos voters faced in an effort to retain power amid dismal projections by an independent poll ahead of the election.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping said that progress was being made to deescalate the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. Testy U.S.-China relations have shaken global financial markets for most of the year, with tariffs affecting hundreds of billions of dollars of trade flows.

Amid allegations of a rigged election, Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, has claimed victory and is poised to rule for a third straight term. Ms. Hasina’s Awami League party won more than 280 seats in the 300-seat Parliament, according to the country’s election commission, while the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, won just six seats. At least 17 people died amid violence on election day and reports allege ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging by the ruling party in the world’s ninth-most populous country.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, said that the EU is not trying to foil Brexit and that it is prepared to discuss future ties once Britain’s Parliament approves the divorce deal.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is against the withdrawal of up to half of the American soldiers stationed in the country, saying that it would thwart efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban.

And as we move on from 2018, The Globe asked its readers to predict what they think will happen in 2019. This is what you told us.

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Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on a chaotic 2018: “The thing about 2018 isn’t that it was the first year of big events in Canadian politics. Jean Chrétien went through the 1995 Quebec referendum and Stephen Harper endured the 2008 global financial crisis. It’s that’s there were so many – big choices, big surprises, big milestones – that came so fast.”

Donald Savoie (The Globe and Mail) on Canadian unity: “Threats to Canada’s federation are as old as Canada itself. But these threats are taking new forms. It is now less about Quebec’s place in the federation and more about growing regional frustrations in Western and Atlantic Canada over the workings of national political institutions. And, left unattended, these cracks could well threaten Canada’s unity.”

Meghan Sali (The Globe and Mail) on phone-bill populism: “unlike so many other pocketbook issues, we have yet to see any political party of the day claim this issue as their own. Despite big talk, inaction from Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has only fuelled frustration. But the issue can’t remain apolitical. Given the ubiquity of outrage and disappointment over ever-rising telecom costs – and the deep mistrust of the companies that provide these services – the political appeal of promising to rein in these costs is obvious.”

Taylor Owen (The Globe and Mail) on regulating Big Tech: “This year was defined by outrage against tech – but 2019 will be the year that the long and messy process of governing it begins.”

David Fraser (The Globe and Mail) on the Saudi LAV deal: “The fact remains that the work being done in Canada on the LAV project shows our allies that we have the ability and capability to produce high-quality equipment. If the Canadian government cancels the project, talent and employment will move out of Canada. What will we be left with? A devastating loss of talent, expertise and scientific innovation that’s impossible to replace.”

Adam Radwanski (The Globe and Mail) on Doug Ford in 2019: “One of the bigger wild cards in the coming year’s election campaign, Mr. Ford could be of help to Mr. Scheer – or considerable hindrance. And the federal Conservatives won’t have much control over which it is.”

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Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Trudeau’s year to come: “There are a number of issues that could hurt Mr. Trudeau in 2019. A big one is immigration. The government needs to demonstrate that the large number of irregular border-crossers, and the multi-year delays in deciding their cases, are not the new normal. The Liberals' less-than-urgent handling of this dossier suggests they are still banking on it resolving itself. They may get lucky. But if spring brings a resurgence in irregular crossings, voters could run out of patience. Another issue is pipelines. If the Liberals can get work started on the Trans Mountain expansion in British Columbia by next summer, it will be a win for them. If they don’t, it will hang over their heads at election time. But the government’s biggest liability remains Mr. Trudeau himself.”

Vivek Goel (The Globe and Mail) on investing in the future: “Postsecondary and training institutions, employers and governments must promote emerging sectors and retraining to ensure new skills meet new market needs. Trying to turn the tide by saving jobs that are being overtaken by technology is not a winning strategy.”

Nouriel Roubini (The Globe and Mail) on Trump and Dr. Strangelove: “Mr. Trump is now the Dr. Strangelove of financial markets. Like the paranoid madman in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, he is flirting with mutually assured economic destruction. Now that markets see the danger, the risk of a financial crisis and global recession has grown.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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