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Prince Edward Island’s Premier is welcoming newly announced help from the federal government as the province grapples with the fallout from a month-long potato export ban to the United States.

Dennis King was referring Monday to a commitment by Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau earlier in the day to provide $28-million to help manage the surplus of potatoes since the ban.

The money will be used to support the diversion of surplus potatoes to food banks, help dispose of surplus potatoes in an environmentally sound way, and open new markets.

“These supports will be critical in diverting world-class potatoes to food banks, food-aid groups and those who can use them instead of destroying these perfectly good nutritious potatoes,” the Progressive Conservative Premier said in a statement.

“These types of creative solutions are exactly what we need to do in the interim to move our excess potatoes until the U.S. market is reopened.”

In announcing the fund at a news conference Monday, Ms. Bibeau said the federal government is working with stakeholders in PEI on details around implementing the assistance program, and also trying to resolve the ban. She also said Ottawa is trying to resolve the situation.

“We are really doing everything possible to reassure the Americans, working with the industry, working with the province,” she said. “Our hope is to reopen the market for fresh potatoes as soon as possible.”

Since Nov. 22, farmers in PEI have been barred from exporting potatoes to the United States because of the discovery of a fungal potato wart on two fields in the province. The wart poses no threat to human health or food safety.

When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the move, it confirmed high levels of the fungus in two PEI farms - a first in 21 years. The PEI potato crop is worth more than $1-billion annually to the province’s economy.

Reporter Greg Mercer explored the struggles of Prince Edward Island potato farmers earlier this month in a 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 signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

BREAKING - Amid rapidly growing COVID-19 cases, Quebec’s Health Minister says bars, theatres and entertainment venues will close as of 5 p.m. Monday, while restaurants will be allowed to remain open at reduced capacity between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Story here.

$400M FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR PHOENIX COMPENSATION - Ottawa paid out $400-million to federal public servants last year as part of continuing compensation for damages related to the Phoenix pay system, which caused major payroll disruptions across the government. Story here.

TORIES RULE OUT CANADA-CHINA COMMITTEE - The federal Conservatives say they will not launch a bid to resurrect a parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations for more than 18 months. Story here.

CHALLENGE TO MANITOBA PREMIER’S ELECTION REJECTED - A judge has rejected a court challenge of the vote that made Heather Stefanson leader of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives and the province’s Premier. Shelly Glover, who came up just short with 49 per cent of the ballots on Oct. 30, alleged there were several problems with the way the race was run, but the justice ruled Ms. Glover did not produce evidence of any irregularities that could have altered the outcome. Story here.

MONTREAL/OTTAWA MAYORS HAVE COVID-19 The mayors of two major Canadian cities have tested positive for COVID-19. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson disclosed his diagnosis, but says he is not experiencing symptoms. Story here from CTV. Montreal Mayor Mayor Valerie Plante also says she has tested positive so is working remotely in isolation. Story here , from CBC.

FEDS DEPOSIT MILLIONS INTO WRONG ACCOUNTS - The federal government deposited nearly $26-million into the wrong bank accounts during the last fiscal year – and more than $10-million of it may be gone for good. From CBC. Story here.

OMICRON STALLS RETURN OF FEDERAL PUBLIC SERVANTS - Plans for federal public servants to return to work have been thrown into doubt by the Omicron variant. There’s no blueprint for the return,” Kathryn May reports in Policy Options. “Departments will muddle through, adapt as they go, much like they did when employees were first sent home to work in March 2020. The eventual return will expose what rules and policies will have to be updated.” Story here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31, 2022, at 11 a.m ET.

FOREIGN MINISTERS CONCERNED ABOUT HONG KONG ELECTIONS - Foreign ministers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have issued a statement, noting the outcome of the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, and expressing “grave concern” over the erosion of democratic elements of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s electoral system. “We urge the People’s Republic of China to act in accordance with its international obligations to respect protected rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, including those guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” says the statement issued by Global Affairs Canada.

THE DECIBEL - On Monday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, science reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains what the latest science says about how Omicron is different from other variants like Delta, in three important ways: its transmissibility, how well it can escape the vaccines we have now, and how sick it can make us. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Personal, in Montreal.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

No schedule released for Deputy Prime Minister.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s winter of MP discontent: “Andrew Scheer didn’t get this far. Now Erin O’Toole faces the long cold winter of a losing Conservative leader. Making sure that the many Tory MPs who are still ambivalent about his leadership don’t turn cold on him in the next few months will be key to his survival. Already he has seen a handful of current and former officials try to kick-start moves to have an early vote on his leadership – he booted Conservative Senator Denise Batters from the party’s caucus, but Tory senators chose to keep her in their group, anyway. Now, Conservative MPs are heading back to their ridings, back to constituents and party members and holiday cheer, and Mr. O’Toole doesn’t know how much of their conversations will be grumbling about the state of the party and the Leader.”

Kelly Cryderman (The Globe and Mail) on Brian Jean returning to politics, with his sights set on his former UCP leadership rival, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney: “Is this a real thing? Until now, internal party frustration with Mr. Kenney has failed to lead to any major turning point, despite many times in 2021 when it seemed possible. The most recent example, at the UCP AGM in November, was a mixed bag of internal party votes that went both for and against Mr. Kenney. But there was not much in the way of visible dissent, and the Premier came out of the weekend looking buoyed and confident. But now there is an actual thing – the leadership review – for the Premier’s opponents to organize around. Mr. Jean – who was leader of the Wildrose party in the 2015 election that saw the NDP win power after more than four decades of Progressive Conservative rule – has an advantage of being able to campaign full-time while Mr. Kenney still has to do the difficult work of governing through an Omicron wave of the pandemic.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the need for a strong pandemic response now, despite Omicron being discouraging: “Don’t fall for the cynical rhetoric of the selfishly unvaccinated, such as failed politician Maxime Bernier, who tweeted recently that “both the vaccinated and unvaccinated can spread the virus.” While that is superficially true, it reeks of false equivalency. As American professor Dr. Sarah Parcak responded in a now viral tweet: “Both Serena Williams and I can play tennis.” The point here, masterfully made, is that the unvaccinated are still far more at risk of poor outcomes if they contract the coronavirus. Vaccines aren’t the only tool in our pandemic tool box either. We’ve gotten much better at treating COVID-19, with the arrival of antivirals, and a better understanding of how to best use monoclonal antibodies and other drugs.”

Sheema Khan (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on the proof of systemic racism in Quebec Premier François Legault’s own Bill 21: “Defenders of the bill assert that it is the natural outcome of the Quiet Revolution, during which Quebec removed the entrenched influence of the Catholic Church. Yet, as Melinda Meng points out in the Harvard International Review, the Catholic Church designed the provincial curriculum to indoctrinate children, with priests and nuns central to its delivery. Today, teachers are hired to deliver a religiously neutral curriculum designed by the state. Their personal belief has no correlation with the curriculum.”

André Pratte (The Montreal Gazette) on how the anti-Bill 21 initiative of some mayors from outside Quebec is already backfiring:I have no doubt that the mayors and councillors think they are usefully supporting freedom of religion. But, believe me, as someone who is fighting Bill 21 from within Quebec, this does not help at all. If this debate becomes a Quebec vs. ROC issue, Quebecers will rally behind their government, and the Quebec-based opponents of Bill 21 will have an even harder time being heard.”

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