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Hello,

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.

Canada’s Immigration Minister is touting the idea of a more digital immigration system, declaring current tools for applications and management out of date.

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“The reality is that right now, our immigration system is pretty retro,” Marco Mendicino told the Canadian Club in a Wednesday speech.

As Canada has raised levels of immigration – the goal is 401,000 new permanent residents this year –there have been challenges in capacity and processing times, which were exacerbated by the pandemic, he said.

“We need to retire our systems that are long past their `best-before’ date,” said the minister, calling for a modern, digital immigration system.

“This is going to be a transformational change in the way we do immigration.”

Mr. Mendicino depicted a scenario where prospective new Canadians could apply online, check back and get regular updates of the status of their application, and those applying for Permanent Residence from within Canada can have it confirmed without needing an in-person meeting.

He also said international students will complete a single, digital application tailored to their specific needs, eliminating the need to complete multiple forms.

And, he said, new Canadians would be able to complete their citizenship tests online and take their oath in an online ceremony viewed by loved ones from around the world. Over the past pandemic year, said the minister, 55,000 new Canadians have taken the oath in 9,000 virtual ceremonies.

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Mr. Mendicino said the recent federal budget commits over $800-million to create a new digital platform to replace the existing Global Case Management System. That platform, he said, will be the “cornerstone of our new, modern, immigration system.”

On another note, the minister said there have, so far, been 50,000 applicants for 90,000 spaces in a new program to grant permanent residency to temporary foreign workers and graduated international students.

“Early results are very strong,” Mr. Mendicino said of the program, which has been criticized by some migrants rights advocates for issues they say will exclude many from applying.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

CSIS URGING - Canada’s spy agency urged the removal of security clearances for two scientists who were later dismissed from the country’s top infectious-disease laboratory because of national-security concerns relating to their work with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to two sources.

ONTARIO STOPS ASTRAZENECA - Ontario will stop the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for first doses after the province tracked a recent increase in the incidence of a rare but serious blood clot condition linked to the shots, the second province after Alberta to put the vaccine on hold. Saskatchewan also said on Tuesday the province is no longer using AstraZeneca vaccines for first doses due to lack of supply.

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FREELAND DEFENDS CEWS - Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the federal wage subsidy Tuesday as opposition MPs expressed concern that the massive $110.6-billion emergency pandemic program has been used by large firms to pad their bottom lines. Conservative and NDP MPs questioned the minister about a Globe and Mail investigation, which found that hundreds of publicly traded companies, or their wholly owned subsidiaries, together received at least $3.6-billion in Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy payments as of late January. Among those companies were some of the biggest names in corporate Canada, as well as dozens of hedge funds and wealth managers.

$12B FROM FEDS FOR TORONTO/HAMILTON TRANSIT - The federal government is pouring more than $12-billion into five transit projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, including Toronto’s controversial Ontario Line and a Hamilton rapid-transit project the province had previously shelved.

FORCES SEXUAL MISCONDUCT - The military’s new Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture told MPs that her priorities are to review and improve the complaint system for dealing with sexual misconduct in the Forces, and to foster an environment where these abuses no longer happen.

DETAILS OF B.C. SICK-PAY PLAN - Employers in British Columbia will be required to pay workers their full wages for up to three days for COVID-19-related leave, as a stepping stone toward a permanent sick-pay program starting in 2022.

NEW QUEBEC LANGUAGE REFORMS - Quebec’s Coalition Avenir Québec government has given formal notice of its intention to table reforms to the Charter of the French Language. A new bill, expected to contain about 200 articles, will be tabled Thursday, and is expected to launch a fresh language debate, according to the Montreal Gazette.

MADU APOLOGIZES - Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu apologized Tuesday for accusing the NDP, media and federal government of wanting a COVID-19 disaster, one day after those comments sparked outrage and his office said he wouldn’t say sorry. The remarks drew the ire of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others. From the Edmonton Journal.

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PRIME MINISTER'S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister virtually attends the National Caucus meeting. He also attends Question Period. An interview with the Prime Minister airs on TVA Nouvelles with Pierre Jobin.

LEADERS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attends National NDP caucus meeting, holds a media availability and attends Question Period.

OPINION

Frank Ching (The Globe and Mail) on the fading attraction of Hong Kong as Beijing tightens its grip:At dinner tables around Hong Kong, conversations inevitably turn to the question of whether to stay or go. If the decision is to go, the discussion moves to the pros and cons of the country being considered, its tax rate, health care, schools and other issues. Similar conversations were held in the 1980s and early 1990s, before China’s takeover of Hong Kong in 1997. "

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Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on Bill C-10 and the two solitudes of internet broadcasting: “There are now two politically charged debates going on about the government’s bill to bring internet players under Canada’s broadcasting law. One, about protecting culture, dominates in Quebec. The other, warning of an Orwellian threat to freedom of expression, has become a flashpoint in English Canada. One barely connects to the other. It has become a two solitudes thing.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the possible larger consequences of Newfoundland and Labrador’s financial challenges: “Given how much trouble Newfoundland is in, and how far out of whack spending has grown, the panel’s recommendations are surprisingly modest: notably, a 5 per cent cut in “core” spending, plus a six-year freeze after that. And yet the province will likely prove unwilling to do even that – not while the alluring alternative of a federal bailout remains. This is what makes the situation so potentially perilous for the rest of the country. It isn’t only that a bailout would discourage Newfoundland from coming to grips with its fiscal problems: the precedent would discourage other provinces as well, some of whom – Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick – are in nearly as rough shape.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on the confusion around Bill C-10: “For an elected official who has now appeared multiple times on national television in an effort to offer clarity, it is puzzling that Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has been allowed to repeatedly defend a version of a signature bill that doesn’t seem to exist, under a mandate that makes no sense.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on why natural resources are still the only way forward for Newfoundland and Labrador: “While media coverage of the report tabled last week by the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team largely focused on its calls for painful government spending cuts, the crux of the panel’s recommendations involve reinvigorating the province’s resource economy by cutting red tape, boosting incentives for private investment and promoting Newfoundland’s oil and hydroelectricity as “cleaner” energy alternatives.”

Sergio Marchi (The Ottawa Citizen) on concerns about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans to issue a formal apology to the Italian-Canadian community over the internment of community members during the Second World War: “To be fully transparent, while I was an Opposition MP, I, too, argued for apologies towards Japanese and Italian Canadians, based on how they were treated during that war. But I feel differently today. I have since moved towards former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s position. He argued that the obligation of a government is not to right the past.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It's not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

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