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Seeking asylum, selling pot, building pipelines: how politics mattered this week


OTTAWA — It's been a week of strategizing by all three federal parties, with the Liberal caucus talkfesting in Kelowna, B.C., the Conservatives meeting in Winnipeg, and the NDP leadership candidates thumping their chests with new endorsements.

But against the backdrop of record-breaking hurricanes, a massive earthquake and a tsunami warning touching places where so many Canadians have spent happy days, the machinations of Canadian politics seemed small indeed.

The devastating weather events seeped into the caucus rooms, with the Liberals and the Conservatives scrapping over how or whether environmental protection should be integrated into economic policy.

Most of the politicians' attention, however, was on tax policy, immigration and positioning for the fall session of Parliament.

As they plotted and brainstormed, there were some more concrete policy developments — involving asylum-seekers, legalizing marijuana and building oil pipelines.

Here's how politics mattered this week:

ASYLUM IF NECESSARY, BUT....

Canada's immigration door may well be open for Rohingya refugees and some of the "dreamers" who could soon see their status in the United States revoked, the federal government is indicating.

But for Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians thinking of walking illegally across the U.S. border into Canada? Not so much.

On Wednesday, the federal government said it would send Spanish-speaking MP Pablo Rodriguez to Los Angeles to make sure the Salvadoran and Honduran communities understand Canadian refugee rules — and their implications — before they risk crossing the border into Canada. The move mirrors the trip Haitian-born MP Emmanuel Dubourg made last month to Florida to head off the crush of Haitians heading to Canada to claim refugee status.

But on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a different tone. He suggested Canada's willingness to bring in Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. He also showed openness to accepting some of the 800,000 "dreamers" who arrived illegally in the United States as children and were allowed to stay, but now may have to leave.

A contradiction in attitude? Trudeau says no. Rather, he says Canada is open and compassionate to people who are truly refugees and who follow the right procedures.

The Conservatives aren't buying it. Expect them to go hard on this file when Parliament resumes.

POT AND THE PROVINCES

Plans to legalize marijuana are ramping up (I won't say 'into high gear') as the July 2018 deadline looms closer.

After some initial bristling this summer from some provinces about the federally imposed timeline and grumbling about the amount of resources from Ottawa, Ontario is now plunging ahead — the first province to roll out details about how it will meet Ottawa's deadlines to have a system in place for the sale and regulation of cannabis.

The province plans to set up 150 storefronts run by Ontario's liquor control board.

At the same time, the federal government is dedicating $274 million for policing and border control. And the Finance Department is forging a taxation regime that should be ready for consultation soon.

The momentum is unmistakable. But whether the provinces, the federal government and the public are all ready by next July is still an open question.

PIPELINE PREDICAMENT

The Liberals say frequently that they can — and must — marry economic development goals with environmental ambition and vow that oil pipelines will be built even as greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

But on Thursday, TransCanada Corp., said it was putting its plans for the 4,500-kilometre Energy East pipeline on hold so that the company can figure out if it's still viable after new regulatory expectations were rolled out last month.

The National Energy Board said in August that the approval process for Energy East will include — for the first time ever — an examination of emissions created at all stages of the project, from oil extraction to end use.

The hold on Energy East comes just weeks after Petronas cancelled its plans for a massive, $36-billion liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia.

Critics are quick to blame government red tape for driving away investment in natural resources and the Energy East news drew sharp condemnation from the Conservatives.

They argue that Trudeau's environmental and economic goals are not compatible and environment is trumping the economy at a time when Canada can't afford to be losing investment.

Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press



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