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Trudeau Expels MPs From Party, Threatens to Sue Opposition Leader

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  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party and banned them from running in October’s election as Liberals.
  • Wilson-Raybould, who previously served as the Attorney General and Justice Minister, accused Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a criminal case against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and then reassigning her when she refused.
  • Opposition leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau, threatening to sue him for libel over statements he made regarding the case.

Trudeau Kicks Former Ministers Out of Party

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled two former ministers from the Liberal Party, in a move intended to create unity between members of his party.

Trudeau said Tuesday that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott are no longer allowed in the Liberal Party.

Trudeau also banned Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from running for the party in the federal election in October.

The move comes as Trudeau has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a huge engineering and construction firm based in Canada.

The criminal case against SNC says the company paid millions in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts between 2001 and 2011, including millions of dollars to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

When Trudeau and the Liberal Party took office in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was given oversight of the case against SNC in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General.

A Scandal is Born

Then in January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould to the Veterans Affairs Department, which was considered a major demotion.

On February 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report claiming Trudeau and his aides had tried to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Wilson-Raybould resigned less than a week after the story was published.

Shortly after that, Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee, and claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”

She said what they did was not illegal, but that it crossed informal lines intended to keep politics and criminal prosecutions separate.

Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Philpott resigned from her post as Treasury Board president, saying in a resignation letter that she had lost all confidence in the government.

Both women remained as members of the Canadian Parliament in the Liberal Party after they stepped down from their cabinet positions.

Why Were They Expelled?

Trudeau has continually denied any wrongdoing and has said he takes the concerns very seriously.

Trudeau’s decision to eject Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is largely considered part of his broader efforts to do damage control before he faces a federal election in October.

However, it has not been unprompted. Parliamentarians in the Liberal Party have recently pushed Trudeau to remove both women from caucus on the grounds that they were undermining party unity.

“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau said in a press conference on Tuesday, “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”

Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Stir the Pot

The Liberal Party putting pressure on Trudeau to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott did not come out of the blue.

About two weeks ago, Wilson-Raybould publicly released a secret a recording of a phone call she had in December with Canada’s Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who is Canada’s top civil servant.

In the phone call, she told Wernick that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.” Wilson-Raybould released the records shortly after Wernick announced that he was going to step down from his position before the upcoming election.

In addition to continually supporting Wilson-Raybould, Philpott also angered members of the Liberal Party after she gave an interview with MacLeans on March 21.

“There’s much more to the story that should be told,” Philpott said in the interveiw, “I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.”

Both women can still run for election again, but they would have to run as a different party, which could be challenging. So far neither Wilson-Raybould nor Philpott have said they are going to run for Parliament again in October under another party.

Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Respond

Wilson-Raybould responded to Trudeau’s move to expel her in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing, “I have no regrets. I will speak the truth as I will continue to do.”

Wilson-Raybould also defended herself in a letter to the Liberal Party, writing:

“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings.”

Philpott also responded to her expulsion in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences to the party and to the country,”wrote Philpott, “And it has been decided that there is no place for me in the caucus.”

Unprecedented Action

Trudeau’s move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott may have come from internal pressures inside the Liberal Party as they inch closer to the election, but this kind of action is largely unprecedented in Canadain politics.

“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor, “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”

Cochrane also said that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s ejections especially come as shock because they represent a change of course for Trudeau, who has continually said that Liberals needed strong legislators with different points of view, and who also campaigned on transparency and government accountability.

“The difference here is that Trudeau explicitly promised in the last election to do business differently than previous governments,” Cochrane told the National Post.

Trudeau is also receiving criticism because he has been championed in the past as a self-described feminist and a supporter of indigenous rights.

Now, his opponents have used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, in order to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.

Trudeau Threatens Lawsuit Against Opposition Leader for ‘Libel’

On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau’s lawyer on March 31, threatening to sue him for libel.

On March 29, Scheer posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding Wilson-Raybould and the SNC case. According to Trudeau’s attorney, Scheer’s statement was“beyond the pale of fair debate” and “libelous.”

Trudeau’s lawyer also said Scheer’s statement, “Contained highly defamatory comments about Prime Minister Trudeau.” The letter concludes that it should be taken as a notice for any subsequent action.

Scheer responded to the letter in a tweet, writing, “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in this scandal.”

The tweet also included a letter from Scheer’s own lawyer in response to Trudeau’s letter, which called the libel claim “completely without merit,” and claimed Scheer was “performing his constitutional duty to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account.”

Scheer later tweeted that he welcomed Trudeau’s lawsuit, “Because he will finally be forced to testify under oath.”

Whether or not Trudeau will move ahead with the lawsuit is yet to be known.

See what others are saying: (National Post) (CBC) (The Washington Post)

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China Rushes to Build New Hospital as Coronavirus Spreads

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  • Chinese authorities announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan by Feb. 3 to treat patients of a deadly new virus that has killed at least 26 people. 
  • More than 800 cases of the never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus have been detected.
  • The majority of the cases are in China, though some have been found in other countries, including the United States. 
  • Officials hope the new hospital will help alleviate some of the pressure on China’s healthcare system, which has been overwhelmed in the wake of the outbreak.

Race to Build Hospital

In the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 26 people, China announced plans on Friday to quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat patients of the epidemic. 

The hospital is being constructed in Wuhan, where the deadly “2019-nCOV” virus originated and is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 3. Images and video from Chinese media show dozens of workers preparing the site. 

Wuhan authorities said the new hospital’s purpose is to “address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” the Associated Press reported

China’s healthcare system has been strained by the outbreak. At least eight hospitals across Wuhan have called for protective medical gear donations, according to the Associated Press, citing notices online. Video footage has emerged showing health facilities packed with people desperate for help.  

“I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming,” an unnamed doctor told BBC. “The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before.”

The expedited Wuhan hospital is reminiscent of another project that China undertook almost two decades ago. In 2003, when the nation was swept up by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread to 28 other countries and killed nearly 800 people, a hospital was built from scratch in Beijing in just under a week. 

The Wuhan structure is modeled off the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing and is being made from prefabricated buildings that help with fast assembly.

What is the Coronavirus?

The outbreak causing all the panic is a novel coronavirus — a strain of the coronavirus that has never been seen before. According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments. SARS is a member of this family.

Coronaviruses can be transmitted between people and animals. The novel coronavirus was suspected to have come from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for disinfection. The new strain is particularly intimidating because it is not yet known how it affects people or how to treat it.   

At least 12 Chinese cities near the center of the outbreak have been placed on a travel lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus, affecting roughly 35 million residents. The lockdown comes just ahead of one of China’s most important holidays, Lunar New Year, throwing a wrench in many people’s celebration plans. 

More than 800 cases of the virus have been detected and a few have been found in countries beyond China, including the United States. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the new virus has not yet reached a level that makes it a global health emergency.

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Guardian) (The Washington Post)

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Brexit Officially Becomes Law in the United Kingdom

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  • British Parliament passed a final Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.
  • The following day, Queen Elizabeth gave the bill her royal assent, a formality that turns a bill into law.
  • While the European Parliament is set to make the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union official next week, the U.K. still has a long journey ahead in laying out a new relationship with the EU and countries like the United States.

Brexit Becomes Law

After a bitter three and a half year struggle that resulted in the resignation of two prime ministers, protests, elections, and multiple delays, the United Kingdom has officially signed a Brexit withdrawal agreement. 

Queen Elizabeth gave her royal assent to the bill on Thursday, a formality that gave the agreement the rule of law. Her signature came after parliament passed the agreement Wednesday evening.

In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament’s elected lower house, the House of Commons. The massive win was seen as a mandate that the United Kingdom wanted to divorce itself from the European Union, and Johnson’s victory gave him the ability to pass the withdrawal agreement through the Commons with ease in early January.

The bill was then sent to the non-elected upper house, the House of Lords. On Tuesday, the Lords passed the bill back to the Commons with several amendments attached. Notably, one of those amendments included a provision that would have protected the rights of refugee children to be reunited with their parents if their parents were in the U.K. post-Brexit.

On Wednesday, the Commons used its majority to reject those amendments and tossed the bill back to the Lords. The Lords, lacking a majority to pass the amendments, passed the bill to prevent the U.K. from missing its current Jan. 31 deadline. 

Before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, however, the EU’s parliament will also need to vote on a final approval of the withdrawal agreement. That vote is expected to happen Jan. 29, and like the Queen’s royal assent, this stage is also largely being viewed as a formality, with it easily expected to pass.

When it does, the U.K. will officially end its 40-year relationship with the EU. 

Reaction to Brexit’s Passage

Unlike the raucous and theatrical debate normally associated with Brexit, the withdrawal agreement’s final passage was largely by the numbers and met with little resistance. 

Thursday, when Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced in the Commons that the Queen had given her royal assent, only a handful of members of parliament either threw cheers or jeers. Likely, this is a consequence of December’s sweeping elections. 

However, that doesn’t mean MP’s and other lawmakers haven’t stifled their strong feelings for the agreement’s passage. 

Just after the royal assent announcement, Scottish MP Ian Blackford said the U.K. is facing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland don’t support Brexit.

On Wednesday, member Alf Dubs—who had proposed the child refugee amendment—expressed his frustration on Twitter. 

“It is bitterly disappointing that after a victory in the Lords, the government have voted down my amendment in the Commons,” he said. “What could be more humane than asking that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe be able to join relatives in this country?”

To note, one of the reasons Dubs is so passionate about the amendment is because he came to the U.K. as a child to escape Nazi persecution shortly before the start of the Second World War.

On the other hand, on Wednesday, after Parliament passed the withdrawal agreement, Johnson said in a statement, “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country,” he added.

What Happens Once the Divorce Becomes Official?

Following next week’s expected divorce, the U.K. will begin an 11-month transition period with the EU that is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2021.

During that time, it will continue to follow most of the EU’s rules, but it won’t actually have any decision-making power in the EU.

The U.K. and the EU will also continue to hash out details of what their relationship will look like after that transition period. For example, that includes things like an ambitious free-trade deal, agriculture, and security.

As for negotiations, those are expected to start either sometime next month or in early March, but like how Brexit saw multiple extensions, a lot of EU officials believe this transition period will also need to be extended. Many believe 11 months is too short of a time frame to completely work out all of the details. Johnson, however, has refused to agree to any extensions.

At the same time, Johnson has also been vocal about getting a free-trade deal with the U.S. While in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also indicated the U.S.’s desire for a trade deal, saying, “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also said that a trade deal shouldn’t be too hard because the U.S. and the U.K. have similar economies.

But the U.S. and U.K. are also currently in a disagreement over a so-called “tech tax.” That riff stims from the U.K.’s plan to introduce a digital services tax on tech companies like Facebook and Google. Mnuchin then threatened to retaliate by potentially slapping a tariff on U.K. car exports.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Independent) (Business Insider)

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Greece Elects Katerina Sakellaropoulou as First Woman President

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  • Greece’s first female president was elected on Wednesday in an overwhelming majority vote.
  • Beyond being a large step toward gender equality, Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s election to the largely ceremonial role was a rare display of unity in Greek politics.
  • The high judge received support from lawmakers across all major political parties after being nominated as a nonpartisan candidate by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
  • This was a notable move from the Prime Minister as all but one of the 18 senior positions in his Cabinet are currently held by men.

First Female President-Elect

History was made in Greece on Wednesday when Katerina Sakellaropoulou was chosen to be the nation’s first woman president. 

The 63-year-old high court judge was elected to the largely ceremonial post by parliament in an overwhelming majority vote that showed unity among Greek politicians. She took the presidency in a 261-33 vote, well above the 200 votes needed to win, and received support from Greek lawmakers across all major political parties. Six members of parliament were not present. 

After being notified of her election, Sakellaropoulou said she would strive for the “broadest possible consensus” while she fulfills her presidential duties.  

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Sakellaropoulou last week as a non-partisan candidate, a move some believe he took to counter the criticism he has faced for selecting nearly an all-male cabinet after he was elected in July 2019. In the current Greek Cabinet, all eighteen senior positions are held by men except for one. 

Sakellaropoulou is a trailblazer in the effort to fix the gender imbalance in the country’s government. She has spent the last fifteen months serving as the president of the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, and was the first woman to step into that role, too.

Sakellaropoulou will begin her five-year term in March, when the term of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the current president, comes to an end.

Praise for Sakellaropoulou

Upon the news of Sakellaropoulou’s win, several prominent figures spoke up to express their support. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted that Greece is “moving ahead into a new era of equality. 

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, also applauded Sakellaropoulou on Twitter.

“A great signal to elect the Republic’s first female head of state,” Michel wrote. “I strongly believe that Greece will continue to contribute to the future development of the European Union.”

Prime Minister Mitsotakis described the new president-elect as “a great judiciary personality who unites all Greeks from the minute this procedure began.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Independent) (The Washington Post)

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