Evening Brief: An ‘Omicron-centric’ agenda



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Good evening to you.

Given the “significant uncertainty” created by supply chain issues, inflation and the new Omicron variant, the speed of Canada’s economic recovery is going to be tough to predict. That was the overarching message a short while ago as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the government’s fall economic statement. High housing prices are also not helping.

The economic outlook is forecasting slower growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) than first estimated in the 2021 budget. GDP growth is expected to be 4.6 per cent in 2021, down from the 5.8 per cent projected in the April budget. Despite the delay, the government predicts that GDP growth will return to pre-pandemic levels by the first quarter of 2022, one of the fastest recoveries among G7 countries, according to the government.

“As 2021 draws to a close, finishing the fight against COVID-19 remains our most important national project,” Freeland said. “We are very aware of the worries Canadians are having about paying their bills. We know housing prices are a real concern, especially for those in the middle class looking to buy their first home.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland attends a news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 6. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Freeland announced that Ottawa will spend another $4.5 billion to combat the highly infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19. Of that, $500 million is to manage pressures from border and travel restrictions, and $4 billion is for industries that are likely to suffer further if Omicron cases spike, such as tourism and hospitality businesses.

The Liberals are also offering up to $742 million to low income seniors whose GIS was clawed back this year. CBC has more on that.

CTV has this round-up of the highlights from the economic statement.

Freeland delivered the update virtually out of “an abundance of caution” after two of her staffers tested positive on rapid COVID tests. She herself has had two negative tests. She posted about this on Twitter about 90 minutes before she was supposed to give the update in the House.

“Today, two members of my staff, who used rapid antigen tests as a precaution, received a positive test result,” Freeland said on Twitter about 90 minutes before she was to rise in the House of Commons and deliver her update.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that Omicron is “scary,” but in a year-end radio interview said the summer will be better once we get through the winter. That’s probably cold comfort for many. As we get ready to hunker down in the face of rising cases, summer seems a VERY long way off.

Government House leader Mark Holland speaks during a news conference in November, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Still on the Hill: Without ruling them out entirely, the government doesn’t plan to use procedural tactics to speed up passage of two priority bills in the House of Commons, Government House leader Mark Holland said today, despite just a few days remaining before the Christmas break.

“It is my hope that we don’t require time allocation or closure. I’m hoping the opposition parties will continue to work with us. I think we’ve demonstrated goodwill throughout this process. I’d like to see us continue that.” House leaders from all parties were set to meet today. More from Aidan Chamandy.

Meanwhile, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion says there’s no question that the public’s confidence in government has dropped. Several polls have shown the decline, “both in Canada and abroad,” he told the House of Commons’ Procedure and House Affairs committee today. And according to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer report, 46 per cent of Canadians believe the government is “purposely misleading them.” Rachel Emmanuel reports.

Comings and Goings: Crestview and McMillan add key staff

The Sprout: CFIA gives update of P.E.I.-U.S. potato dispute

Net Zero: Russia vetoes UN resolution casting climate crisis as security issue

In Other Headlines:

Military preparing to act quickly on Arbour’s plan to fight sex misconduct: minister (CP)
Ontario tightens rules in long-term care homes as province logs 1,429 new COVID cases (CBC)
Ontario’s top doc says announcement coming on measures to slow Omicron (CTV)
Quebecers should go back to working from home as COVID-19 cases rise: health minister (CTV)
Canada’s energy regulator criticized for not modelling a net-zero future (CBC)
NDP leader would back federal intervention in court challenge to Quebec’s Bill 21 (CP)
NDP MP launches bill to lower voting age to 16 (CBC)

Internationally:

There’s word from the World Health Organization today that Omicron is spreading at a rate that hasn’t been seen with previous variants. While 77 countries have reported cases, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that it’s likely in most countries even if it has yet to be detected. He also cautioned against those dismissing the variant as mild. “Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.” That story from Al Jazeera.

Echoing the message delivered by other countries in recent weeks, today Germany warned Russia there would be “massive consequences” if it sees fit to invade Ukraine and violate its territorial integrity. That was the message delivered by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in a phone call with her Russian counterpart. Reuters reports.

In Other International Headlines:

Denmark and Norway rush in stricter Covid measures as cases soar (The Guardian)
S. Korea marks deadliest day of pandemic as hospitals buckle (AP)
Channel tragedy: French authorities identify 26 victims (BBC)
U.S. Air Force discharges 27 for refusal to get COVID vaccine (AP)
U.S. court declines to block United Airlines vaccine mandate (Reuters)
Kenya’s High Court suspends mandatory COVID vaccination order (Al Jazeera)
Photojournalist in Myanmar dies in military custody a week after arrest (The Guardian)
Andrew Cuomo ordered to forfeit $5.1M in pandemic book profits (Bloomberg)
White House calls Jan. 6 text revelations ‘disappointing’ (The Hill)
Belarus hands opposition leader’s husband 18 years in prison (AP)

In Opinion:

Sean Strickland: Skilled tradespeople deserve fair tax treatment ahead of holidays

James Cohen: Money laundering tests our ‘humble and audacious’ foreign policy

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine: The military has apologized for sexual misconduct. Now what?

The Kicker:

(Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard)

Finally, as COVID cases rise and Ontarians call for rapid tests to be made widely available and free of charge, Premier Doug Ford is starting to feel like he should maybe look into this whole Omicron thing. That story from the Beaverton.

Have a good night.

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