The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday upheld a national carbon tax that is the centrepiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate plan, rejecting a constitutional challenge by several provinces.
The federal government imposed the levy in 2019 in order to meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, from 2005 levels.
Initially set at Can$20 (US$16) per tonne of emissions, the carbon pricing scheme — which applies to a range of fuels and sources of CO2 emissions — is to incrementally rise to Can$170 per tonne by the end of the decade. This would be equivalent to about 28 cents per liter of gasoline.
“Addressing climate change requires collective national and international action… because the harmful effects of GHGs (greenhouse gases) are, by their very nature, not confined by borders,” the court said in its decision.
It found that the federal parliament “has jurisdiction to enact this law as a matter of national concern under the peace, order and good government clause of the constitution.”
Oil-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces, as well as Ontario, rejected the federal backstop on their own carbon pricing schemes that don’t measure up to the federal minimum price on carbon.
Federal opposition leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, vowed this week to get rid of the national carbon tax if his Tories unseat Trudeau’s Liberals in the next election.
Ottawa argued in court that climate change is a national threat requiring a federal response, but the provinces pushed back at the feds’ intrusion on their jurisdiction over the environment.
The court noted that provinces left to regulate emissions on their own risked failing to address this “existential threat.” It said it could take just one of the 10 provinces to straggle for nationwide efforts to collapse, threatening “Canada as a whole.”
As such, federal intrusion on provincial jurisdiction in this specific case is justified, it concluded.
The most recent report presented b y the Canadian government showed that Canada’s CO2 emissions increased by two percent between 2017 and 2018.
Croatia’s prime minister publicly received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jab on Wednesday to quell fears over its safety, as the country battles an infection surge.
Andrej Plenkovic, who had the disease in November, is trying to ease concerns from Croatians who have been rejecting the vaccine after fears were raised of a link to rare blood clotting disorders.
More than a dozen mostly European countries briefly suspended its use earlier this month, with most resuming rollouts after the EU’s drug regulator deemed it safe.
Yet the controversy threatens to rollback growing support for vaccination in Croatia just at the moment when infections are on the rise.
A survey showed on Sunday that 65 percent of Croatians either wanted to get a Covid jab or had already received one, compared with a poll in December that suggested less than a half would get the vaccine.
A quarter of respondents told the latest poll they were against vaccination and the remaining 10 percent were undecided.
When Israel this month holds its fourth election in less than two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hope goodwill from a world-beating Covid vaccination campaign can finally secure him an elusive majority government.
The last time Israelis went to the polls just a year ago, they delivered a result that had already become familiar: neither the right-wing Netanyahu nor his centrist challenger Benny Gantz had enough support for a parliamentary majority.
The world, and Israeli politics, have since been upended by the pandemic. Just weeks after the last election, Israel entered the first of three coronavirus lockdowns.
In May, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, and Gantz formed a unity government, declaring that the public health threat required political stability.
But their coalition, which had been set to last three years, collapsed in December when Netanyahu’s refusal to approve a 2021 budget forced new elections, to be held on March 23.
Netanyahu, a wily political veteran, is now hoping he can sneak over the line thanks to the inoculation drive.
The 71-year-old also hopes for a boost from having clinched historic normalisation deals with four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — agreements he claims mark a new era in the Middle East.
But despite Netanyahu’s apparent successes, polls point to another indecisive result, with the premier so far lacking a clear path to form a government.
– ‘Vaccine nation’ –
Israel, a country of about nine million people, has given the two recommended jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to around four million residents, an inoculation pace envied by many nations.
Netanyahu has been happy to take the credit for boldly reaching out early to drug-makers with approved vaccines.
“Do you know how many presidents and prime ministers call Pfizer and Moderna? They don’t answer. But when it’s me, they take the call,” he said days ago.
“I convinced them that Israel would be a model country to roll out the vaccine: who else will do that? Definitely not (Yair) Lapid, (Naftali) Bennett and Gideon (Saar),” he proclaimed, referring to his main election challengers.
Israel secured a large vaccine stock from Pfizer because its highly digitised medical system enabled it to offer the company fast, precious data on the product’s impact.
Netanyahu has repeatedly visited vaccination centres and adopted the phrase “Vaccine Nation”, a play on the “Start-up Nation” tag Israel acquired because of its burgeoning high-tech sector.
But some voters also blame Netanyahu for the painful lockdowns.
His political allies, ultra-Orthodox Jews, have flouted restrictions — often with a muted police response — fuelling transmission while many other citizens were following the rules.
– Right-wing pitch –
As the vaccine edges Israel out of the pandemic, its political landscape is shifting.
Gantz’s supporters punished him for entering a Netanyahu-led government and his fractured Blue and White party may not even get enough votes to qualify for parliament.
Netanyahu’s former partner, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, has emerged as his main challenger, polls show.
And a former prominent member of Netanyahu’s Likud, Gideon Saar, has formed his own party to run against the premier.
Seeking to make up any lost ground, Netanyahu has tried to appeal to Arab voters, despite having disparaged them in past campaigns and backing a 2018 law that downgraded Arabic’s status as an official language.
For all that has changed since the last election, a single question for voters has again dominated this year’s campaign: are you for Netanyahu or against him?
The electorate is “divided between those who want Netanyahu to continue to another term in office and those who hope to see him finally head home”, the head of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, Yohanan Plesner, told AFP.
Seeking to shore up his right-wing support in the campaign’s final days, Netanyahu on Sunday visited Kfar Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Settlers, who live in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law, are also being courted by Netanyahu’s right-wing rivals, Saar and Bennett.
Netanyahu recalled visiting Kfar Etzion in its early days, some 50 years ago, and lauded the “wonderful pioneering activity” of his audience.
He warned voters that straying from Likud would be a “terrible mistake” that could produce a left-wing government.
“Vote Likud,” he told them. “We will create a strong, stable, right wing government.”
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lay out a “roadmap” for rebuilding US-Canada relations Tuesday during their first bilateral meeting, a senior official said, although the scrapped Keystone pipeline could present a hurdle.
Following the turbulence of Donald Trump’s presidency, Biden would have hoped to use his well-honed skills of personal connection while meeting face-to-face with the leader of the key ally to the north.
However, the meeting will occur virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the neighboring states to build on their common values from afar instead of in person, a senior US administration official told reporters on the eve of Biden’s first bilateral event as president.
“I think the biggest deliverable from the trip, or from the meeting, is going to be essentially… a roadmap to reinvigorate US-Canada collaboration,” the official said Monday.
Announcements on “next steps” will be made in multiple areas such as diplomacy, transportation or infrastructure, and battling Covid-19, the official said.
Biden and Trudeau will address several mutual priorities, including tackling climate change, revving up the North American economy, the Arctic, and threats to democracy in Myanmar and Venezuela.
“By being on the same line on several subjects, like climate change or economic revival, we can do more together,” Trudeau’s office said, offering similar broad brush strokes.
But the sides will also wade into the thorny issue of China’s “unfair economic practices,” its human rights record and Beijing’s continued detention of two Canadian nationals, according to the senior US official.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 in what was seen as likely retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that year on a US warrant.
“Certainly we expect the prime minister to raise it, and the president is ready to discuss it,” the official said.
The official would not be drawn on how US-Canada ties might have been damaged during the four-year Trump administration, opting instead to highlight the various “shared interests” between the two countries.
One sticking point that is likely to come up: Biden’s decision to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa.
Biden rescinded the permit by executive order on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign commitment, and “the decision will not be reconsidered,” the official said.
The summit begins with a 45-minute closed-door bilateral meeting with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, along with their Canadian counterparts.
It will then be expanded to a broader bilateral discussion.
New Zealand announced the suspension of high-level military and political contacts with Myanmar Tuesday, the first major international move to isolate the country’s ruling junta following a coup.
Unveiling the measures, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for the international community to “strongly condemn what we’re seeing happen in Myanmar”.
“After years of working hard to build a democracy in Myanmar, I think every New Zealander would be devastated to see what we’ve seen in recent days led by the military,” she told reporters.
“Our strong message is we will do what we can from here in New Zealand.”
Ardern said the measures would include travel bans on senior military figures.
Myanmar’s military last week detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, ending a decade of civilian rule.
Ardern said New Zealand wanted the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session to discuss developments in Myanmar.
She added that New Zealand’s aid programmes in Myanmar, worth about NZ$42 million ($30.5 million), would continue with safeguards that they did not benefit, or come under the control of, the military junta.
“We’re being very cautious with whatever aid and development work we do there that we are not propping up that regime,” she said.
Ardern conceded New Zealand had limited leverage on Myanmar’s military but said Suu Kyi had personally thanked her during past meetings for Wellington’s help during the country’s transition to democracy.
“While it may seem New Zealand’s position on this may not seem particularly relevant, one of the last occasions when I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Aung San Suu Kyi, she specifically mentioned some of our representatives from New Zealand in Myanmar,” Ardern said.
“They were well regarded and well respected and I think it played a really constructive role in that critical time for Myanmar and their transition.”
The junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency last week, promising to hold fresh elections after that, without offering any precise timeframe.
In doing so they ended Myanmar’s 10-year experiment with democracy after close to 50 years of military rule.
The generals justified the coup by claiming fraud in November’s elections, which the NLD won by a landslide.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta dismissed the allegations of fraud.
“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the military-led government and we call on the military to immediately release all detained political leaders and restore civilian rule,” she said in a statement.
The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday to fight the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.
The measure will remain in force for at least two weeks, Castex told a news conference.
Up to now, most of France has been under an 8:00 pm curfew, with some parts of the country, especially in the hard-hit east, already under the stricter 6:00 pm curfew.
Castex said a much-feared infection surge following the year-end holidays had not happened, but said a new lockdown could be imposed “without delay” if the health situation were to deteriorate badly.
The situation in France is “under control”, he said, but still “fragile”.
Schools will remain open, but indoor sports activities have again been banned for now.
Castex also said that travellers arriving in France from non-European Union destinations would have to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old, and would have to self-isolate for seven days. They would then have to take a second test.
The investigation centres on a property company called Porto Franco which received a large state loan and struck a lucrative deal with city authorities in the capital Tallinn, whose mayor is also from the party.
Hillar Teder, a businessman and the father of the company’s owner, donated large sums to the Centre Party.
– Far-right out? –
Political analyst Rein Toomla from the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies said it was “quite possible” that Ratas would stay on as a minister in a Kallas cabinet.
He said any future participation in the government by EKRE, which is also anti-EU, was “highly unlikely”.
The resignation could also scupper plans for a controversial referendum on same-sex marriage that the coalition had been planning to hold this spring.
New elections would only take place if no candidate for prime minister can command a parliamentary majority.
Estonia last went to the polls in 2019.
The Reform Party came first in those elections but failed to clinch a deal for a majority coalition.
Instead, the Centre Party forged a coalition with EKRE and the right-wing Isamaa conservatives.
Toomla said a grand coalition between Reform, Centre, Isamaa and the Social Democrats was “the most sensible option in the current complicated situation”.
Such an alliance “would ensure the biggest support for the government” in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and to steer an economic recovery, he said.
The Centre and Reform parties have alternated in government over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.
Both strongly support Estonia’s EU and NATO membership, which they see as a buffer against Soviet-era master Russia.
They have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country one of the eurozone’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratios.
Israel’s prime minister on Monday directed authorities to approve construction of 800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank days before President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel administration leaves office.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed that plans be advanced for the construction of about 800 units in Judea and Samaria,” a statement from the premier’s office said, using biblical terms for the West Bank.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in next week, has indicated that his administration will restore US policy opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Trump’s administration gave unprecedented US support to settler groups, highlighted by a declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as being in violation of international law.
Pompeo in November also became the first top US diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Netanyahu is facing re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.
A series of recent of polls indicate the veteran prime minister is facing a strong right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who defected from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to run against the premier.
Netanyahu is widely expected to make a series of plays for right-wing votes, including by bolstering his pro-settlement credentials, before the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that 100 of the new units were to be built in the Tal Menashe settlement, where French-Israeli Esther Horgen was murdered last month.
Israel’s security services have said the settler was murdered by Palestinian Mohammed Cabha, claiming he had political motives for her killing related to the occupation.
Netanyahu’s order to advance settlement construction is not final, with the process having to clear several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.
There are currently some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, living amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday postponed a post-Brexit trip planned this month to India after the Covid crisis worsened in Britain, Downing Street said.
“The prime minister spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a spokesperson said, blaming a fast-spreading strain of the virus.
Johnson announced a new England-wide lockdown on Monday following the emergence of the virulent new strain, explaining urgent action was needed to prevent spiralling numbers of cases overwhelming health services.
“The prime minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus,” Downing Street said Johnson had told his Indian counterpart.
Johnson still hopes to visit India in the first half of 2021, before Modi is due to attend a G7 summit in Britain later this year.
The British leader was due to be a guest at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26, shortly after the UK left the European Union’s single market and as it seeks new trade deals around the world, particularly in fast-growing Asia.
Announcing the trip last month, Johnson said the visit would showcase “Global Britain” and help to deliver a “quantum leap” in Britain’s relations with India, the jewel of its former empire.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Monday blamed a coronavirus outbreak linked to the kingdom’s largest seafood market on low-paid migrant workers employed in the country’s lucrative shrimp industry.
Thailand has been on high alert since Thursday when a 67-year-old prawn seller from Mahachai market tested positive for coronavirus.
Contact tracing and mass testing found more than 800 cases so far linked to the site — a major outbreak for a country which previously had just 4,000 confirmed infections.
The majority of the new cases are workers from Myanmar, who toil on shrimping boats and in processing factories linked to the multi-billion-dollar Thai seafood industry.
On Monday Prayut blamed the outbreak on factories employing illegal migrant workers, who he accused of illegally crossing the porous Myanmar-Thailand border.
“They snuck out and came back in,” he said.
Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Myanmar — which has seen an alarming spike since August and still registers some 1,000 new cases a day.
“I have told authorities there must be a system to trace workers,” he said, adding that he was hopeful the situation would improve in a week.
Health officials said the infection rate at Mahachai market is “about 42 percent”.
The market and its vicinity have been on lockdown since Saturday with the thousands living there barred from leaving.
On Monday the market was ringed by barbed wire and authorities distributed food to workers quarantined inside.
Myanmar shrimp transporter Min Min Tun said it was “unfair and one-sided” that Thais were blaming them without evidence.
He added that no information has been provided about who has tested positive, causing fear in the worker community.
“We could all be infected since we don’t have the information who to avoid and where not to go,” he said.
Thailand’s economy is highly reliant on millions of low-wage labourers from neighbouring Myanmar and Cambodia who keep the kingdom’s seafood, manufacturing, construction and service sectors humming.
But the migrant workforce faces widespread discrimination, and the outbreak has ignited anti-Myanmar sentiment among Thais — including for those who live and work among the Myanmar community in Mahachai.
“I would not get close to them under any circumstances,” said food vendor Maneerat Jekpan working outside the market, admitting she was “anti-Burmese”.
Despite her animosity, she still brought food to the quarantined workers because she was “worried they wouldn’t have anything to eat”.
Pfizer and BioNTech will deliver the first doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to Canada this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday, with inoculations to start as early as next week.
“Canada has secured an agreement with Pfizer to begin early delivery of doses of their vaccine candidate,” Trudeau told a news conference.
“We are now contracted to receive up to 249,000 of our initial doses of Pfizer BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine in the month of December,” he said.
Pending Health Canada regulatory approval, expected this week, the prime minister said the first shipments to 14 sites across Canada could be delivered next week, with millions more doses to follow in 2021.
The federal government has contracted with several pharmaceutical companies — including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech, Sanofi and GSK, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Medicago and Moderna — to secure more than 400 million vaccine doses for its population of 38 million.
The US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s vaccine is at the most advanced stage, having proved 95 percent effective in late-stage clinical trials and already secured approval in Britain where its world-first rollout is to begin Tuesday.
Ottawa in August signed a deal with Pfizer for 20 million doses plus options for millions more.
It poses some logistical challenges, however, including that it must be stored at extreme sub-zero temperatures and requires two doses given a week apart to be effective.
Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine rollout, said it will take only one or two days after it arrives to “unpack, thaw, decant, mix” and inject it into the arms of Canadians.