New COVID-19 travel measures cause confusion; and Freeland will give a budget update

Politics Insider for Dec 3, 2021: Omicron variant chaos; a financial reckoning coming; and an unpopular monarchy
MISSISSAUGA, Nov. 29, 2021 International travelers wearing face masks walk with their luggage carts to a COVID-19 testing site after arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Nov. 28, 2021. Two people in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the Ontario provincial government on Sunday. (Credit Image: © Zou Zheng/Xinhua via ZUMA Press)

Not up, not running: The plan to test all non-American travellers to Canada for COVID-19 has prompted confusion among passengers and airport operators alike, CBC reports. Few details are available about the federal response to the Omicron variant.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday the new arrival testing program will take effect immediately. “That is starting today,” the minister told reporters. But there are no signs today that the program is actually up and running.

“One concern is just when this goes into effect … something even Air Canada and WestJet appear not to know,” Cameron Turner, a traveller from Victoria, B.C., asked CBC News. “Another concern is just where travellers are expected to self isolate while waiting for their test results.”

And on Thursday, the president of the Canadian Airports Council said he’s still not sure how the program will work.

Snowbird tests: Joe Biden announced a new testing regime on Thursday that will require all inbound travellers, including Canadians, to get tested no later than 24 hours before their departure, CP reports. That may complicate travel plans for snowbirds.

Unknown: Omicron’s impact on the world remains a mystery, the BBC reports, because although cases in South Africa are surging, it is weeks too soon to know what that will do to hospitalization rates.

Boost or share? As medical experts call on rich countries to share vaccine, Western countries considering doling out boosters at home, because of studies that indicate the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines might begin to wane after six months, Global reports. More than 10 million Canadians will reach that deadline by the new year

Tories were right: Speaker Anthony Rota ruled Thursday that the board of internal economy — the all-party committee that manages the parliamentary precinct — overstepped its authority by mandating vaccines on the Hill, CP reports.

Rota sided Thursday with the Conservatives in concluding that the all-party board of internal economy did not have the authority to impose a vaccine mandate. He said only the House itself can make a decision to restrict access to the chamber and other parliamentary buildings. However, Rota’s ruling changes nothing for MPs or anyone else wanting access to the precinct. Last week, Liberals and New Democrats joined forces to approve a motion to resume hybrid sittings, which also specified that anyone entering the precinct must be fully immunized against COVID-19 or have a valid medical exemption.

Lab compromise: The Liberals offered a compromise Thursday to end a stand off over secret documents related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s high security infectious disease laboratory, the Globe reports.

Government House Leader Mark Holland told the House of Commons late Thursday that the federal cabinet is now prepared to turn over all the documents to a special committee of MPs from the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and New Democrats. Any dispute about whether to make public records would be decided by a panel of three former senior judges.

Federal opposition parties have fought for records that could shed light on why Ottawa expelled and then fired two scientists from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Financial reckoning coming: The Liberals are asking Parliament to approve billions in new spending during a four-week sitting but have yet to release a financial accounting of how it spent more than $600-billion last year during Canada’s pandemic response, the Globe reports.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, said he doesn’t see a reason why the government appears to be waiting to release key information, such as the public accounts and a fall fiscal update. “They should be at the front end [of the current four-week sitting],” he said in an interview, adding that committees should also be sitting to review spending requests. “That is the standard practice and a good practice and I’m not really sure there’s any reason not to have that. I’m sure that the work is done on the public accounts and there’s no reason not to table it. Finance [Canada] has had plenty of time.”

Update coming: Chrystia Freeland will release a financial update on Dec. 14, CBC reports.

Battle of wits: Speaking of Freeland, Aaron Wherry has an interesting column at CBC reviewing the parliamentary back and forth between her and Pierre Poilievre, and suggesting it could be just the beginning of a long battle of wits.

If O’Toole were to lose his tenuous grip on the Conservative leadership, attention would quickly focus on Poilievre — either as a potential candidate or as a potentially influential figure in deciding who leads the party next. Whenever Trudeau decides to step aside, Freeland will be foremost in the pool of possible successors.

O’Toole unpopular: In L’actualité, polling expert Philippe J. Fournier has an article (translation) on Erin O’Toole’s polling numbers, which are bad and getting worse.

Among his party voters, 70% say they still have a positive impression of him, a lower proportion than for Trudeau and Singh among their respective voters, but higher than the same measure by Abacus last spring (it was then 62%). However, we note that the Conservative leader scores anemic with voters in other parties: only between 8% and 13% of New Democrats, Bloc, Liberals and Green voters view O’Toole favourably.

Monarchy unpopular: A new poll, taken in the wake of Barbados becoming a republic, shows a majority of Canadians are in favour of cutting ties with the British monarchy, but it would not be easy, Global reports. There would be complicated implications for treaty relationships with Indigenous peoples, and also the constitutional amending formula makes a such change next to impossible.

Livestock deaths: Hundreds of thousands of livestock perished in floodwaters in British Columbia, Bloomberg reports.

— Stephen Maher