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The backlog of passport applications that led to frustrating delays for travellers has been “virtually eliminated” and passport delivery has returned to the processing times before the pandemic, says a federal cabinet minister.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced the turnaround on Tuesday, during a news conference at the federal cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Ont.

Ms. Gould said Service Canada, which handles passports, nearly doubled its work force between March and December, expanding access to service, opened more offices, and added processing capacity.

“Since its peak in June, 2022, after dedicating resources to ensure these Canadians received their passports, approximately 98 per cent of the backlog of applications has been processed. The backlog is virtually eliminated,” said Ms. Gould.

“As was the case prior to the pandemic, there are going to be seasonal peaks which might mean there are lineups at offices sometimes.”

Last spring, challenges securing passports prompted some Canadians to wait outside government offices for days in an attempt to renew them amid a resurgence in travel prompted by the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions.

The Official Opposition Conservatives said the federal government should have been able to predict the increased demand for passport renewal as countries reopen their borders.

There was no immediate response Tuesday from the Conservatives on Ms. Gould’s comments. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre delivered a statement in Vancouver on another subject but did not take media questions.

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 signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY'S HEADLINES

FEDERAL COURT RULES ON BUREAU APPEAL OF ROGERS-SHAW MERGER APPROVAL - The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed the Competition Bureau’s appeal of a tribunal decision approving Rogers Communications Inc.’s proposed $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. Story here.

CABINET RETREAT IN HAMILTON - Former Bank of Canada senior deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins is among a group of experts set to brief Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet during their retreat in Hamilton this week as they chart their government’s economic agenda for 2023. Story here. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians don’t want to “plunge” into an election this year – and he believes his governance deal with the NDP is going “extremely well.” Story here from Global News.

OTTAWA UNDERESTIMATING RECESSION, INTEREST-RATE RISKS: DODGE - The federal government is underestimating the risks presented by a possible 2023 recession and prolonged high interest rates, says former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, who warns the Liberals may have a hard time delivering on all their recent political commitments. Story here.

LIFT RESTRICTIONS: PEI POTATO FARMERS - Prince Edward Island potato farmers say a new report on potato wart shows the 2021 decision to halt exports to the United States went too far, and they want remaining restrictions lifted for farms where the soil-borne fungus has not been found. Story here.

CAMEROON REJECTS CANADIAN PEACE OUTREACH - Three days after Canada announced it would be facilitating a long-sought peace process for the armed conflict in Cameroon, the government of Cameroon, on Monday night, has dealt a severe blow to the process by denying the substance of the Canadian announcement. Story here.

FORTIN CLEARED BY MILITARY - The Canadian military has concluded on the balance of probabilities that Major-General Dany Fortin “did not engage in sexual misconduct” after the senior military officer was acquitted late last year of sexual assault late in 1988. Story here.

MORNEAU HAD IDEAS ON FIXING PM, GOVERNOR-GENERAL RESIDENCES - Former finance minister Bill Morneau says he once proposed bringing together past prime ministers to review the condition and upkeep of two publicly funded residences for Canada’s leaders, but the idea was ignored. Story here.

LAWMAKERS MOVE AGAINST LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR HITTING CHILDREN - Hitting children is still legal in Canada, but there are lawmakers who want to change that. Over the past year, individual parliamentarians have again taken aim at the protection, which is contained in Section 43 of the Criminal Code; bills to repeal it are now before both the House and Senate. Story here.

INNOVATING ON INNOVATION - After years of disappointing innovation programs that haven’t fixed Canada’s chronic economic underperformance, the Liberal government’s latest attempt at getting it right is the Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency, announced in the 2022 budget. Story here.

ONTARIO HOUSING PLAN UNDER FIRE FROM RURAL LEADERS - Premier Doug Ford and his top ministers got an earful from members of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association on Monday, as mayors and councillors from small communities raised concerns about the province’s housing plan and its move to allow development on parts of the protected Greenbelt. Story here.

OTTAWA POLICE PREPARE FOR PROTESTS - Ottawa Police say they are preparing for protests ahead of the one-year anniversary of the chaotic demonstrations against COVID-19 measures that clogged the downtown core for weeks, but that they were unable to give a clear indication of what residents should expect. Story here.

ROUYN-NORANDA RESIDENTS RALLY AGAINST SMELTER - As research shows carcinogens in their children’s bodies, people in the Quebec city of Rouyn-Noranda are demanding more loudly that the local copper smelter – long exempt from provincial emissions rules – should clean up its act. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

HOUSE ON A BREAK – The House of Commons is on a break until Jan. 30.

POILIEVRE OPENS CONSULTATIONS ON FIRST NATIONS REVENUE MODEL - Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, in Vancouver, said he is launching consultations with First Nations and industry on a new optional revenue model to guarantee First Nations communities more direct fiscal revenues from resource projects on First Nations lands. He said Conservative caucus critics will deal with the consultations. “There are many questions such a proposal will still need to answer. That is why we will listen and get it right,” he said in a statement. He did not take media questions at the event where he announced the plan.

HEATHER SCOFFIELD EXITS - Heather Scoffield, the Ottawa bureau chief for the Toronto Star and economics columnist for the paper, has announced her departure from the Star, effective Tuesday. In a tweet here, she said it was time to make some changes in her life after 30 years in journalism, with a decade in her leadership role on Parliament Hill. She said she is, next week, joining the Business Council of Canada as its senior vice-president of strategy.

PARTY CONVENTIONS - The federal Liberals have announced plans for a national convention on May 4-6 in Ottawa. The federal Conservatives are holding their 2023 convention in Quebec City from Sept. 7-9.

ARCHITECTURE AWARDS - Governor-General Mary Simon, on Tuesday afternoon, was scheduled, in Ottawa, to present the Governor-General’s Medals in Architecture and Landscape Architecture recognizing 13 projects, and individuals from across the country.

FORMER B.C. CHIEFS OF STAFF REFLECT ON POLITICS IN B.C. - Geoff Meggs, the chief of staff to former British Columbia NDP Premier John Horgan, and Mike McDonald, the former chief of staff to former BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark, talk about the current state of BC politics in an edition of Herle Burly podcast, available here.

PRIME MINISTER'S DAY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Hamilton, Ont., attended private meetings, met for more than half an hour with Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath and attended the cabinet retreat.

LEADERS

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, in Vancouver, delivered remarks.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, in Qualicum Beach, B.C., and NDP MP Gord Johns of Courtenay-Alberni, hosted a roundtable with residents on health care, and then spoke to the media. Later, they toured the Port Alberni Terminals and meet with the Port Authority and Canadian Maritime Engineering Limited. In the evening, Singh and NDP MP Lisa Marie Barron of Nanaimo-Ladysmith attended a meet-and-greet event in Nanaimo.

No schedules released for other party leaders.

THE DECIBEL

On Tuesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Senior parliamentary reporter Steven Chase talks about why Canada, alone, can’t make the decision to send Ukraine our Leopard-2 tanks. Ukraine wants about 300 tanks. President Volodymyr Zelensky believes that western battle tanks could be the key to driving Russian troops out of his country. But the allies, including Canada, are still deliberating on whether they should send them. Mr. Chase also explains why the tank issue may be the escalation that provokes a Russian backlash. The Decibel is here.

TRIBUTE

David E. Smith, one of Canada’s finest and most inquisitive political scholars who possessed well into his 80s a teenage boy’s romantic love for his country, died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Jan. 2 at his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. He was 86. Obituary here.

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Ontario Premier Doug Ford can turn carbon taxes conservative: Ontario Premier Doug Ford faces two thorny taxation issues as his Progressive Conservative government finishes the first year of its second mandate. The first is an unfulfilled promise to cut corporate tax rates that Mr. Ford made during the 2018 campaign. The second is the question of what to do with the revenue from the industrial carbon tax that the province began administering this month, taking over from an Ottawa-run version. Luckily for Mr. Ford, those two problems can solve each other – and could allow his government to push carbon policy in a more free-market direction, away from the more-tax, more-spending track that the federal Liberals have been on.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on the question of why should Sir John A. take the blame for Canada’s injustices to Indigenous peoples: In the latest indignity visited upon the memory of Canada’s first prime minister, Ottawa’s National Capital Commission has announced plans to substitute an Indigenous name for what is now the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. Why does everyone pick on Sir John A. and not Sir Wilfrid? Wilfrid Laurier, one of Canada’s most beloved prime ministers, expanded the residential-school system and suppressed a 1907 report that revealed the schools were cruel and unsafe. His interior minister, Clifford Sifton, dispossessed First Nations of their lands in order to promote settlement in the Prairies. His governments also blocked Black and Chinese immigrants from entering Canada.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on how health reform can’t wait so here’s where to start: Every Canadian should have ready access to a primary-care provider within a 30-minute drive of where they live or work. Politicians need to focus on measuring and improving health outcomes for citizens, not just increasing their health budgets. And there needs to be a recognition that failing to fix health care will compromise the country’s economy and future prosperity. Those are some of the bold foundational commitments to reform that are imperative if we hope to pull Canada’s foundering medicare system back from the brink, according to a blue-ribbon panel.”

Leslie Palti-Guzman and Rachel Ziemba (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada turned away Germany and Japan on LNG, but cannot keep doing that: Canada’s economic opportunities go beyond the potential battery and processing technologies that Mr. Trudeau brought up when he’d deflected Mr. Kishida’s LNG request, or the hydrogen project discussions that resulted from Mr. Scholz’s visit. Canada’s economic opportunities could also include a role for other energy sources. Over all, Canada could look at the current global environment and embrace all of them in its approach to its energy production. Doing so could help reach economic and geopolitical goals.”

Julia Rady (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how random acts of violence won’t end if all we do is react to them: Media coverage tends to focus on the immediate tragedy of such violence, or on calls for greater accountability from elected officials to “fix” it. Such violent incidents typically prompt authorities to rely on hindsight, to play the blame game concerning what went wrong and to issue bland statements of remorse. Approaches that address the broader, multi-faceted and underlying issues that contribute to these breakdowns in society receive far less attention. If we did try to broaden our perspectives, we might be forced to confront issues and traumas deeply rooted in our failure to meet the needs of marginalized people, and a system where a lack of support allows insecurity and mental illness to grow. People are hurting, and they are hurting others. Sorting out why requires taking a longer view, and asking ourselves how we can mitigate these problems, even if such measures require patience and time.”

Allison Hanes (The Montreal Gazette) on how, at some point, Ottawa must stand up for the Constitution:Let’s face it: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If he dares even muse about standing up for constitutional rights and reining in the overuse of the notwithstanding clause by the provinces, he knows he will earn a stern rebuke from Quebec Premier François Legault. If he doesn’t, he comes across as a doormat too weak to stand up for the most basic principles of justice in a democratic society. This no-win situation explains why Trudeau typically only addresses this sensitive and unsettled question when called upon to do so — like when asked about it by journalists. It also explains why, despite lofty pronouncements, his government is still reluctant to do anything concrete to prevent provinces from making an end run around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms nearly four years after Quebec and Ontario pioneered this crafty strategy.”

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