Justin Trudeau, Joe Biden and a kitchen sink agenda

Politics Insider for Nov. 10: The PM calls the president-elect, a promising vaccine sounds even more promising, and the Bank of Canada has a shortlist of $5 faces

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Sometimes, it’s nice to hear good news, even if that news is wrapped in caution and caveats. Yesterday, Pfizer announced preliminary data shows its third-phase COVID-19 vaccine might be 90 per cent effective. Stock markets soared. The anxious hordes relaxed, even if only a little. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allowed a little optimism. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. That was the carrot. Then came the stick. “We need to stay strong and hang in there a few more months, maybe more than that, but we can see it coming.” Canada has secured at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine (and is still negotiating).

Biden his time: It didn’t take long for the PM to get Joe Biden on the phone. Trudeau, one of the first world leaders to recognize the president-elect’s new gig at the White House, spoke with Biden about a full bilateral summit’s worth of issues, including “climate change and COVID-19,” as well as “trade, energy, NATO, anti-Black racism, and China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.” For now, the pair “agreed to keep in touch and work closely together.” On energy in particular, a transcript of the call likely included mention of a certain Keystone XL pipeline.

Trudeau’s major announcement of the day committed $1.75 billion to “help connect Canadians to high-speed Internet across the country, grow businesses, and create jobs.” The government claims the spending will connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026—and everyone else by 2030. This, of course, wasn’t the first time such a commitment was uttered aloud. Jim Flaherty’s 2014 budget spent “$305 million over five years” for “an additional 280,000 Canadian households.” Five years earlier, Flaherty had pledged “$225 million over three years” to “develop and implement a strategy on extending broadband coverage to unserved communities.” In 2016, the Liberals promised “$500 million over five years” for broadband in “rural and remote communities.”

The Liberals have lost a backbench MP to the independent ranks. Yasmin Ratansi, a five-time winner who lost only once in 2011, is leaving the caucus. CBC News reports that Ratansi employed her sister for several years, a violation of federal ethics rules. Sources said they were asked to help conceal her identity, even calling her by a different name.

An election won’t be easy for the Liberals: Five years out from his last election, former NDP leader Tom Mulcair writes in Maclean’s that Liberals can’t so easily manipulate the electorate—and their own party platform—the next time ’round. Justin Trudeau will have to run on his record, against a disciplined Tory foe in Erin O’Toole and a new challenger who replaces the longtime leader of the smallest party in the Commons:

Normally, the Red playbook says, pivot to the NDP and Green base and say: sorry, but you have to vote for us this time otherwise those horrible Conservatives will get back in. It has often worked. This time, it’ll be a lot harder for Trudeau to pull that off. For one thing, progressives are fed up with his broken promises on key environmental and social issues. For another, the Greens have a new leader who appears, so far, to be able to reassure and inspire.

Let’s dump social media and cable news: Put your hand up if you spent the last week glued to your cable news and social networks of choice, watching and scrolling and watching and scrolling, perking up at excitement and/or indignation whenever and wherever they were offered. Andrew MacDougall, writing in Maclean’s, thinks we should collectively back away from the talking heads and Twitter threads that now dominate our lives:

Pulling news content off social media would be a risk, yes, but it’s less of a risk than hoping the current information environment will improve. The news can either die on its terms or someone else’s, and right now social media companies and cable news programmers are incentivized to virality and outrage, not analysis or introspection. More importantly, their current output is cheap, unlike quality journalism. They do not, as presently constructed, serve a civic good. We wouldn’t miss them when they’re gone.

The fiver’s new face: When the feds decided to put a new face on the $5 banknote, the Bank of Canada threw the doors wide open for nominations. The people submitted more than 600 names, many of which are classic picks for Heritage Moments. The criteria were simple. Nominees must be real people, Canadian and deceased since at least March 11, 1995. The bank released a short list of eight, including the beloved Terry Fox. But finalists also include the first female French-Canadian journalist, the most highly-decorated Indigenous soldier, and the first known Chinese-Canadian born in Canada. Check out the full list.

The acronym saw this coming: The Globe and Mail reports on a flailing commercial rent subsidy that’s caught in parliamentary limbo. The program’s enabling legislation made it seem like businesses would have to pre-pay their rent to qualify for the subsidy—a paradoxical ask. When the government tried to amend the bill, the deputy speaker ruled the amendment out of order because it could involve new spending. Now the Senate will take a look. If the upper chamber amends the bill and the Commons agrees on the change, the program might not be truly CERS’d.

A fitting tribute: Yesterday, the dominion carillonneur on Parliament Hill rang out the notes of the Jeopardy! theme song on the occasion of Alex Trebek‘s passing. CTV’s Michel Boyer caught the moment on camera.