The Daily Visionary: Thursday, January 10, 2019

PM Trudeau calls three byelections for February 25 in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called three federal byelections to be held on February 25.  The three ridings in which constituents will be voting in a new Member of Parliament (MP) are Burnaby South, British Columbia, Outremont, Quebec, and York–Simcoe, Ontario.


The Burnaby South seat was vacated by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who resigned to successfully run for election as mayor of Vancouver on October 20, 2018. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running for the seat against Liberal nominee Karen Wang (daycare owner), Conservative nominee Jay Shin (corporate lawyer), and People's Party of Canada nominee Laura-Lynn Thompson (author and media personality). The Green Party chose to extend Mr. Singh a “leader’s courtesy” and not run a candidate against him.


Mr. Singh has been leader of the federal New Democrats since October 2017. After spending months touring the country meeting with people and saying he was comfortable with not having a seat in the House of Commons, Mr. Singh decided it was time to try to get elected federally and be in Parliament for key political moments, such as Question Period.


A Prime Minister has up to 180 days to call a byelection after a seat is vacated. The recently-passed election reform bill C-76 changed the rules to state that a byelection cannot be called within nine months of the scheduled general election date, which is expected to be October 21, 2019.


PM Trudeau has faced pressure from Mr. Singh and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to call these byelection races, criticizing him for delaying the byelections, accusing him of playing politics, and being petty for not holding votes to fill these vacancies earlier. "Voters in these vacant seats deserve the chance to have their voices heard," Mr. Scheer said in a statement last Friday.


The Montreal riding of Outremont was left vacant in August, by the resignation of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair. There, formal president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation Julia Sanchez is running for the NDP, facing off against past candidate and Liberal staffer Rachel Bendayan, and Conservative Candidate Jasmine Louras.


The Ontario riding of York-Simcoe was left vacant by the September resignation of Conservative MP Peter Van Loan. It’s a long-held Conservative riding, where the defending party is running business owner Scot Davidson. The Liberal candidate is Shaun Tanaka, professor and past federal candidate, and community organizer Jessa McLean is running for the NDP.


There is one outstanding vacancy, in former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C. riding. She officially resigned her seat this week, following her announcement she would be running for the provincial NDP. That byelection will have to be announced sometime between January 18 and July 6. Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio has also said he will be resigning on January 22, days after the window closes on the possibility to hold a byelection to replace him.


Italy’s Minister Salvini says populists could spark a 'European Spring'


Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called for an alliance with Poland among others during a visit to Warsaw, ahead of European Parliament elections this May. This was his latest effort to unify Eurosceptic allies against the pro-E.U. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Minister Salvini’s Italian League party pledges to create a “new European spring” and work supportively with Poland’s government.


The Minister vowed to forge a “new equilibrium” that would challenge the traditional pro-EU axis between Paris and Berlin, saying, "The Europe that will be born in June will have a different pace compared to the one of today, which is guided by bureaucrats." Speaking alongside his Polish counterpart, Joachim Brudzinski, he continued to say, "In Europe, one has always spoken about a French-German axis. We are preparing for a new equilibrium and a new energy in Europe. And Poland and Italy will be the protagonists of this new European spring, of this rebirth of true European values." Echoing former chief strategist to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Minister Salvini said that some E.U. leaders tried to deny Europe's "Judeo-Christian origins.”


Minister Salvini and the Polish government are both in opposition to illegal migration and criticize the E.U.’s ability via Brussels to impose rules on national budgets. During his visit to Poland, Minister Salvini was highly critical of a deal reached during the day to allow 49 migrants to disembark from two non-governmental organization (NGO) rescue ships in Malta. He said he was opposed to the E.U.-brokered deal, saying that it would only encourage human traffickers in Libya to smuggle more migrants across the sea.


I am, and I will remain, absolutely against any new arrivals in Italy. I will continue to work to expel the far too many illegals who are already in this country. To give in to pressure and threats from Europe and from the NGOs is a sign of weakness that is not worthy of the Italian people,” he wrote on Twitter, his position at odds with Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, who welcomed an end to the impasse.


Additionally, the right-wing political party Vox agreed to support a conservative/center-right coalition with Ciudadanos in the formation of a regional government in Andalusia, Spain, the country’s most populous region. Twelve of Vox’s candidates won election in December, against expectations that the traditional stronghold for the Socialist Party would prevail. In return for its support, Vox made a 37-point agreement with the conservative People’s Party (PP) that includes commitments to tackle illegal immigration, reduce regional taxes, and combat Islamic fundamentalism. “Today illegal immigration and corruption lose (...) and the Andalusians, the defense of the family and a more pluralistic politics win,” said Vox Deputy Leader Javier Ortega. “The Andalusians have chosen a government of change to put an end to 40 years of awful socialist policies, and (PP coalition leader Juanma Moreno) is not going to let them down,” PP Leader Pablo Casado wrote on Twitter.


Further elections will be held in Spain this year, with polls showing that the right of center political parties could also win seats in other parts of the country.


Divisions and policy confusion in Brazil’s new government


In his government’s first week, Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro faced divisions between his political and economic teams over plans to overhaul a messy tax code and costly pension system to bring a high budget deficit under control.


President Bolsonaro’s comments in interviews and Twitter posts have been at odds with senior aides, which has supposedly concerned investors who expected the government to arrive focused on a swift pension reform to shore up its finances before tackling an array of hot-button social issues and foreign policy proposals. President Bolsonaro told reporters he was increasing the tax on financial operations and cutting the highest income tax rate, prompting a quick denial from an undersecretary to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, with Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni later, saying the President was mistaken.

Investors had been pleased at the team of orthodox economists assembled by Minister Guedes, many of whom are fellow alumni of the University of Chicago’s free-market school of economics. Investors fear the government will turn first to the social issues dear to President Bolsonaro’s conservative electoral base, burning political capital needed for the unpopular pension reform.


Brazil's stock market has been one of the best performing in the world over the past six months, with the benchmark Bovespa stock index .BVSP climbing 25 percent as President Bolsonaro won election in October and appointed his market-friendly cabinet. Wednesday saw a record high for the Bovespa. “Optimism about the new Brazilian government is adding to the global scenario,” the President said on Twitter.


President Bolsonaro had proposed in an interview with the SBT television network that the new minimum retirement age would be 62 for men and 57 for women, higher than now but lower than ages proposed by the previous government. Investors read that as a sign that he could water down the bill written by the prior government to limit the political costs, easing passage through Congress but requiring further legislation down the road. Minister Guedes has said he favors a tougher proposal that may be politically difficult but would make a larger and more lasting impact on public debt, which has soared to 77 percent of gross domestic product.


The political and economic teams are at odds. There is a lack of cohesion and even coordination between President Bolsonaro’s closest aides,” said Leonardo Barreto, head of Brasilia-based political consultancy Factual. He also said Minister Guedes is taking an all-or-nothing approach to fiscal reforms, while Chief of Staff Lorenzoni has signaled he would make concessions to lawmakers to shore up political support. The contradictions highlight broader tensions in Bolsonaro’s government, which brings together statist former military officers, right-wing nationalists, the Chicago-trained economists, and Christian evangelicals, all of whom have different priorities within the coalition.


French Ex-Sarkozy Minister leaves the conservative party to join Marine Le Pen


Two politicians, including an ex-minister from Nicolas Sarkozy’s former government, have left France’s conservative party to join Leader Marine Le Pen’s National Front after she dropped a demand for the country to quit the European Union (E.U.). Thierry Mariani’s defection marks a coup for Le Pen as he is the most senior member of Les Republicains (LR) that her Rassemblement National (RN) party has poached, and “It’s an important event because its part of the reshaping of politics,” Le Pen said on Radio Classique. Former conservative lawmaker Jean-Paul Garraud also defected.


The defection underscores the challenge faced by Les Republicains as the party tries to recover from President Emmanuel Macron’s emphatic national election win in 2017, which took votes from the center-right parties, and create dominance among the fragmented political right. Opinion polls place Ms. Le Pen’s party at about 21 percent support, ahead of President Macron’s Republique En Marche (LREM) party, in voting intentions. Les Republicains are at 13 percent. Republicains Leader Laurent Wauquiez, who served as transport minister under Mr. Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, told Le Parisien newspaper, “Marine Le Pen represents the only true alternative to Macron.”


Ms. Le Pen told Valeurs Actuelles magazine that France’s “yellow vest” protests had also exposed “convergences” of opinion between her party and the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Both parties have supported the movement that has been protesting the high cost of living since mid-November, although Le Pen said they remain poles apart on immigration. Les Republicains have become more closely aligned to the Rassemblement National on issues such as immigration and law and order. That has bolstered the appeal of Le Pen to some on the fringe of the mainstream party while also alienating more moderate figures.


Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe distanced himself from Les Republicains last week by not renewing his membership, saying, “There is a drift toward theses that are very close to the extreme right, and an ambiguity about Europe that I am not comfortable with.” He said he believed it was Macron who was going in the right direction.


Prince Charles’ charitable foundation funds yoga and meditation for young prisoners


The Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation’s (PWCF) distributes funds to the charities closest to the heir to the throne’s heart. The Prince’s Foundation went through a restructure to streamline around his 70th birthday, when he said, “As I approach something of a milestone in my own life, I have had a chance to reflect on how best to ensure my charities can continue to help those people and causes they were initially set up to serve, both now and for many years to come.” The Foundation gave out £4.4million in grants in 2017/8, compared with £3.1m in the financial year before, and the level of donations decreased to £3m from £4.5m.


Among the causes funded in 2018 was yoga, meditation, and “breath-focused stretches” for young prisoners to help restore “hope and positivity” behind bars. The Duchess of Cornwall has previously spoken of the benefits of the exercise, practising it herself, while the Duchess of Sussex is a devotee.


The PWCF’s annual report for 2018 shows that trustees approved a “small grant” – defined as up to £5,000 – to the Prison Phoenix Trust, which “encourages prisoners in the development of their spiritual welfare, through the practices of meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath”. The report states: “Incarceration can take a severe toll on offenders’ mental health, especially in young people. The project aims to improve young offenders’ wellbeing and restore hope and positivity towards the future, with a view to reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Classes include breath-focused stretches and meditation sensitively tailored to participants’ needs.”


The Prison Phoenix Trust was offered a grant to run five new classes and continue seven existing classes, with the project already in place across 88 prisons and yoga for young offenders at Feltham, Hydebank Wood, Portland, and Werrington Young Offender Institutions. 


Significantly larger grants were also given in 2018 by PWCF to support Britain's bees, since the Prince is concerned about the decline of “pollinator populations”. Approximately £37,000 was designated to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which looks after rare bumblebees in North Devon, and £118,000 to Oxford Plant Sciences for research into the behaviour of pollinators in agricultural landscapes.


Funds were also given to the Elderflowers Programme, which brings music and movement to those with dementia in Edinburgh, and Families United Network, which puts on activities from Mexican-themed parties to trampolining and baking for young people with disabilities. Another small grant was given to The People’s Postcode Lottery, which worked to improve isolated rural areas with cafes and community groups.

Small independent charities, which may otherwise struggle to raise funds in a crowded field, are invited to apply for grants up to £5,000 online. The Charitable Foundation applies funds raised through donations, investments and commercial activity, including the Duchy Originals range and profits from Highgrove shop and garden tours, to charities and organisations which reflect the Prince’s key interests and concerns.

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