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Politics Politics Briefing: Ottawa’s chief information officer leaves for AI startup

Good morning,

The federal government’s chief information officer is leaving his post before the election to join an artificial-intelligence startup.

Alex Benay was named CIO in March of 2017 and tasked with shaking up Ottawa’s digital infrastructure. Some of his projects included the government’s shift to cloud-based services, including those offered by Amazon and Google, and leading the process to replace the failed Phoenix pay system. (In other job news, the Innovation Minister’s chief of staff left government last month to join one of the companies vying to replace Phoenix.)

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Mr. Benay’s new job is as chief client officer of MindBridge, an Ottawa company that in June received $14.5-million in federal government funds.

MindBridge is working on artificial-intelligence tools that it says will help auditors find financial irregularities.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by 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.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

China is expected to name its new ambassador to Canada soon. Reports suggest the position will go to Cong Peiwu, the Chinese government’s point man on North American policy who previously served in Beijing’s Ottawa embassy in the early 2000s.

As much as Canada-China relations have been tense this year, a potential trade war continues to brew between China and the United States. Globe business writer Michael Babad games out a few scenarios for what U.S. President Donald Trump might do with tariffs, and how the moves would affect the Canadian dollar.

SNC-Lavalin will sell its 10-per-cent stake in the Highway 407 toll road to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

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Political parties could be on pace to meet or exceed their record for the number of Indigenous candidates they are putting forward to voters. So far at least 43 Indigenous candidates are nominated to run in the fall election, and a couple of hundred nominations have yet to be decided. In the 2015 election, 54 Indigenous people ran under a party banner and, according to the Library of Parliament, 11 Indigenous MPs were elected.

And Alberta MLAs have voted to give themselves a pay cut. Salaries for members of the Legislative Assembly will go down 5 per cent, to $121,000 a year, while the salary for the premier will be cut 10 per cent to about $186,000 a year. “We were elected with a mandate to be fiscally responsible and that has to start at the top,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said. The opposition NDP supported the motion, but suggested it was done to give political cover to other government cuts. "Suggesting to cut the pay of politicians a few hundred dollars a month to give them licence to screw over the working people of Alberta is frankly ridiculous,” NDP MLA Thomas Dang said. He later withdrew the verb in that statement.

Globe and Mail editorial board on the need for a handgun ban: “Yes, Canada already has a solid regime of gun control, including prohibitions on certain high-powered and high-rate-of-fire weapons, and the screening all purchasers must pass. The current gun-control rules work and contribute to lower violence, but they could work better, and do more. It’s time to beef them up, with a focus on incidents such as those in Toronto over the weekend. Canada has to reduce the availability of the type of gun most commonly used in urban shootings: the handgun.”

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the Canada-Britain relationship, post-Brexit: “[Boris] Johnson’s government wants people to think a Canadian trade deal would be a piece of cake, too. Many in Britain worry about breaking away from their largest trading partners in the EU. Mr. Johnson has spread the notion that there will be ready replacements. But it won’t be easy. Or quick.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on SNC-Lavalin’s woes: “Just how the exit from fixed-price infrastructure contracts – known in the industry as lump-sum turnkey (LSTK) projects – jibes with the provincial government’s stated goal of protecting one of Quebec Inc.’s leading lights has many business observers in Quebec scratching their heads.”

Sarmishta Subramanian (Maclean’s) on the election and the news: “But the material risk we face in Canada is not one of electing lefty cult leaders or xenophobes or, well, even bigger xenophobes; it’s the degradation of a newsmedia that has generally avoided the U.S.-style partisan model that launched Pizzagate and the Birther movement, and been a mostly reliable source of what everyone considers to be information.”

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Christina Cameron (Policy Options) on managing historic sites, including the Chateau Laurier: “Despite the fact that 750 national historic sites fall outside of federal jurisdiction, this does not mean that the federal government has no leadership responsibility. Creating national historic sites is a federal responsibility. For 100 years, the minister responsible for Parks Canada has approved national designations and identified heritage values for each property, on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. At a minimum, the federal government has a moral obligation to advocate on behalf of all national historic sites, regardless of ownership, in order to protect their commemorative integrity and to encourage interventions and upgrades that follow national conservation standards.”

Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on the future of the Republican Party: “If you have any faith in the American people, you have to believe this time is approaching. Americans are too smart a people to let the degradation, this brandishing of all that is offensive about them, continue. They have faced dire challenges before. They will do so with this one. The moral compass will be retrieved.”

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