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FIRST READING: Oh, look at that, nobody cares about COVID anymore


Get ready for the highest gas prices in Canadian history

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

Just as COVID was thoroughly booted from the headlines, governments across Canada have been quietly chucking out many of the more onerous public health measures introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As per usual, the federal government is stubbornly bucking these trends. Federal strictures banning travel and government employment for the unvaccinated remain in place, with no signals whatsoever as to when they will be rescinded. B.C., which has spent much of the pandemic with a comparatively light hand on restrictions, is also holding off any plans on rescinding its proof-of-vaccination program.

COVID is still killing a fair number of Canadians. On Tuesday, the disease claimed 36 – roughly one every 40 minutes. But the reopenings are being driven by a general acknowledgement from public health officials that lockdown measures are increasingly ineffective at limiting the spread of more contagious variants – and that the harms from restrictions no longer justify the benefits.

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If you’re under the impression that all of these mandates were purely driven by science and had no political dimension whatsoever, you may be disheartened by a recent story reported by Radio-Canada. The broadcaster obtained documents from within the Quebec Ministry of Health showing that after the province announced the reimposition of a curfew in December, staff members were sent scrambling to dig up evidence that the measure was scientifically necessary (something they had trouble doing).

A courtroom sketch of Freedom Convoy organizer Tamara Lich. Thursday will mark the start of her third week in jail after she was arrested on mischief charges on Feb. 17. On Wednesday, Lich’s lawyer filed an affidavit asking the court to review the Feb. 22 decision that denied her bail on the grounds that the judge who made the decision was a former Liberal candidate.
A courtroom sketch of Freedom Convoy organizer Tamara Lich. Thursday will mark the start of her third week in jail after she was arrested on mischief charges on Feb. 17. On Wednesday, Lich’s lawyer filed an affidavit asking the court to review the Feb. 22 decision that denied her bail on the grounds that the judge who made the decision was a former Liberal candidate. Photo by REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

WAR IN UKRAINE

The good news from Ukraine: There are widespread reports that Russian troops are disorganized, demoralized and sabotaging their own equipment to avoid going into battle against Ukrainians. There is also evidence Russian President Vladimir Putin may be suffering from a terminal illness.

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The bad news from Ukraine: While Russia has clearly failed to achieve its goal of capturing Ukraine intact with minimal resistance, Russian actions remain consistent with using a sustained ground assault to overwhelm Ukrainian defences.

Canadians are wildly in support of the Ukrainian side of this conflict. A new Maru Public Opinion poll found that 91 per cent of Canadians were with Ukraine, and 81 per cent wished they could do more for the embattled country. Although the survey question was admittedly a little leading; respondents were asked if “they stand with the people of Ukraine in full opposition to the tyranny of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.”

The Hoosli Male Ukrainian Chorus opened Tuesday night’s Winnipeg Jets game with a singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The team said it was to express “heartfelt support for Ukraine and for more than 180,000 Ukrainian-Canadians living in Manitoba.”
The Hoosli Male Ukrainian Chorus opened Tuesday night’s Winnipeg Jets game with a singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The team said it was to express “heartfelt support for Ukraine and for more than 180,000 Ukrainian-Canadians living in Manitoba.” Photo by Winnipeg Jets/Twitter

Throughout the worst depths of the Ukraine crisis, one of Canada’s top diplomats has been hanging out in Armenia – the only member of the Council of Europe to take Russia’s side in the recent conflict. Stéphane Dion, the one-time Liberal leader now serving as Canada’s Ambassador to Germany, was there to discuss a bunch of buzzword-y type things like the “digitalization of public service.” In a write-up for his Substack, frequent Postmedia columnist Terry Glavin is not a fan. “As diplomatic earthquakes were shattering taboos in Germany and Brussels … Dion was meeting with Armenian women entrepreneurs at roundtables to discuss ways to ‘strengthen inclusive commercial and community engagement,’” he wrote.

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Writing for the National Post, Geoff Russ has a piece on the Canadian progressives who can’t quite abandon their hatred of Western militarism (even if said militarism is being mobilized to help defend a democratic state in an existential war with an autocracy). Russ rounded up the more lefty members of the NDP, including Svend Robinson, who were blaming the war on NATO.

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The worldwide move to ban anything Russian may be getting a little out of hand. An Italian university wanted to ban study of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Glasgow Film Festival dropped two Russian films from its catalogue. And the Canadian Junior Hockey League announced that 16 and 17 year olds from Russia and Belarus will be banned from the draft. In a statement, Ukrainian-born hockey agent Dan Milstein voiced his opposition to the CJHL policy, saying “I do not believe banning teenagers for something they do not control is the answer.”

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ECONOMIX

The Bank of Canada finally got around to raising interest rates for a change. On Wednesday, the overnight rate goes from 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent. Central bankers reportedly wanted to keep interest rates rock bottom for just a little while longer, but rising inflation forced their hand. Inflation is at root a problem of too much money in the market, so it’s generally curbed by policies (such as higher interest rates) which incentivize people to put it in the bank.

COVID-19 has made everyone pretty comfortable with accumulating obscene quantities of government debt, so it’s particularly jaw-dropping that Alberta has just become one of the few governments in the Western world that is actually running a surplus. In an analysis for The Hub, Alberta economist Trevor Tombe broke down how it’s entirely possible that Alberta could be completely debt-free in just eight years. The main reason? Super-duper high oil prices.

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Speaking of high oil prices, much of central Canada is soon going to be walloped with gas prices that are higher than anything yet seen in our long national history of using internal combustion engines. According to veteran gas price analyst Dan McTeague, Toronto gas prices are going to peak above $1.70 by the weekend.

IN OTHER NEWS

Although it wasn’t overly explicit, Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by U.S. President Joe Biden included some oblique shots at Canada. It came in the section where Biden re-upped his plans to “buy American.” “We will buy American to make sure everything from the deck of an aircraft carrier to the steel on highway guardrails are made in America,” he said. The line reflects a growing protectionist sentiment in the U.S. that is often coming at the expense of Canadian industry – most notably in our auto sector.

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The results of a recent U.N. General Assembly vote demanding Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine. The only countries openly opposing the resolution (aside from Russia and Belarus) were North Korea, Syria and Eritrea.
The results of a recent U.N. General Assembly vote demanding Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine. The only countries openly opposing the resolution (aside from Russia and Belarus) were North Korea, Syria and Eritrea. Photo by United Nations

Since the feds don’t have anything else going on, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has promised to bring in even more gun control legislation. It comes after the Liberals passed an order banning whole categories of long-guns based on their “assault-style” appearance, as well as pledging $1 billion to assist municipalities in enacting local handgun bans. This is the part where we should probably mention that the vast majority of Canadian crime guns are illegal pieces smuggled in from the U.S. and thus outside the realm of Canadian gun control legislation.

With an election looming, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already begun engaging in a regrettable tradition for incumbent Canadian governments nearing the end of their mandates: He is using taxpayer money to commission a bunch of ads about how great everything is. The “Ontario is getting stronger” campaign features images of humming factories, pristine infrastructure, active construction sites and plenty of attractive multi-ethnic blue-collar workers.

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