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FIRST READING: And here comes the Jean Charest hate!


Russia is also militarizing the Arctic, if anyone’s interested

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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 Saturdays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

Jean Charest’s main pitch to become Conservative Party leader is that he’s electable. “I will make this party win,” he said an exclusive interview with the National Post. “I know how this federal system works, and I know how to make it work and to make it work efficiently to get big things done.”

However, he already faces the notable obstacle that a significant swath of the conservative movement that Charest is hoping to lead really, really doesn’t like him.

Writing in the Washington Post, right-leaning Canadian pundit J.J. McCullough calls Charest’s bid “preposterous” and “elitist.” McCullough’s basic gist is that at the very moment that populism is surging on both sides of the Canadian political spectrum, Charest (an “increasingly obscure character to much of modern Canada”) apparently thinks he can become prime minister on the back of a bunch of political war stories from the 1990s.

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In this 2015 photo, Canadian Ensaf Haidar holds a photo of her husband Raif Badawi, who was imprisoned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a series of blogs criticizing the regime. In 2018, Canada’s opposition to Badawi’s imprisonment would even spark a full-blown diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh. This week, Haidar confirmed that after 10 years in prison, Badawi has been released.
In this 2015 photo, Canadian Ensaf Haidar holds a photo of her husband Raif Badawi, who was imprisoned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a series of blogs criticizing the regime. In 2018, Canada’s opposition to Badawi’s imprisonment would even spark a full-blown diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh. This week, Haidar confirmed that after 10 years in prison, Badawi has been released. Photo by REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

Conservative Senator Leo Housakos is working for the Pierre Poilievre campaign, so he’s obviously not going to be thrilled about the Charest candidacy. In Housakos’ anti-Charest op-ed for the Toronto Sun, he notes that the last time Charest ran a conservative party (as the leader of the Progressive Conservatives right after Kim Campbell) he finished “dead last” in the 1997 election and ultimately left the party $10 million in debt. Housakos also isn’t crazy about Charest’s record as Quebec premier. “Charest’s entire tenure as premier was one of scandal and allegations of corruption,” he wrote.

Jenni Byrne was one of Ottawa’s most powerful backroom operators in the final years of the Harper Government. Byrne has gone all-out on the anti-Charest messaging: A video posted last week to her social media brands Charest a “Liberal” who loves carbon taxes and supported the long-gun registry.

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Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Stephen Harper. He said Charest’s political career isn’t exactly “showered in glory,” and that he seems to be overestimating the Conservative Party’s love for Red Tories. “The vast majority of past and present MPs, current and ex-staffers and grassroots supporters are firmly on the right-leaning Blue Tory side,” he wrote in an op-ed for the National Post. “Only the most oblivious of political analysts, or the biggest of political liars, would believe this fact to be incorrect.”

Pollster Philippe Fournier has no dog in this fight, but in a piece for Maclean’s he writes how it’s almost mathematically impossible for Charest to have any chance of winning the leadership. The only province that actually recognizes Charest in any significant numbers (Quebec) also happens to hate his guts. With Conservative support already trending heavily towards Pierre Poilievre, Fournier estimates that between now and September, Charest would need to recruit 1,000 new party members every single day.

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And there’s this take from the National Post’s Chris Selley, written two weeks ago when the idea of a Charest candidacy could still have been considered a bizarre political in-joke. Charest has no history whatsoever with the modern Conservative Party, he actively worked against its fortune in Quebec during the Harper years, and doesn’t seem to grasp how much the membership hates the idea of a carbon tax. “It’s tough to imagine he would bother putting himself through the humiliation of a doomed leadership run,” wrote Selley.

Lest this newsletter seem a bit anti-Charest, we also found some conservatives who don’t despise him

  • Robert Libman ran for the Conservatives in 2015. His pitch for Charest is that the Conservative Party “desperately needs a leader with the skill-set required to bridge important internal schisms, including the expanding gap between the Quebec wing and the rest of the party.”
  • Or you can read the Feb 22 “Canada needs you, Mr. Charest” letter in which four sitting Conservative MPs begged the former Mulroney cabinet minister to consider a run. “Your resilience is unflinching,” they wrote.

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And People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier seems to like him. As Bernier wrote on Twitter last week “I endorse Jean Charest as next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.” The inclusion of a “silly face” emoji, however, seems to undercut some of the earnestness of the message. Although, interestingly, some early Abacus polling has found that if Charest did win, it would likely result in a flood of support to the PPC.

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WAR IN UKRAINE

Canada’s top soldier, Wayne Eyre, said this week that in the Canadian Arctic it’s “not inconceivable that our sovereignty may be challenged.” Eyre, of course, was talking about Russia, Canada’s over-the-pole neighbour. Not only does Moscow have a proven track record of invading adjacent countries, but Eyre noted that Russia has been conducting a “remilitarization” of its North.

Eyre is right: At the exact same time that Russia was stacking up military hardware around the borders of Ukraine, it was also reoccupying former Soviet bases in its Arctic. Just two years ago, satellite photos confirmed that Russia was laying a new runway at Nagurskoye, a High Arctic air station initially built as a staging ground for nuclear bombers targeting the United States.

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Roman Abramovich, likely one of Russia’s most well-known oligarchs, has just been personally sanctioned by Canada in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich became well-known in the U.K. for his purchase of Chelsea Football Club. He also owns one of the world’s largest yachts, which is currently at sea to prevent its seizure by European authorities.

Don’t expect this thing to be showing up in Halifax anytime soon.
Don’t expect this thing to be showing up in Halifax anytime soon. Photo by Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As the National Post reported this week, there are so many Canadian nationals now fighting in Ukraine that they’ve reportedly formed their own battalion. The most well-known is probably “Wali,” a veteran Canadian Armed Forces sniper who wrote a 2019 book about his service in Afghanistan and has been posting regular updates about the war since arriving in Ukraine last week. “I’m far from the best sniper in existence,” he wrote Friday. “The reality is I’m just a programmer who has again picked up his sniper rifle.”

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Ukrainian-Canadian priest Father Yuriy was on a temporary visit to his home country when the invasion began. He’s now become a chaplain with the Territorial Defence Force and in an interview with the National Post he said he has no plans to return home to Toronto until the war is over. “We have to pray and stay with God. Because where there is God, there is victory,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s existential fight against Russia is being watched particularly closely by the hundreds of Canadian soldiers who served on Operation Unifier, Canada’s eight-year mission to train the Ukrainian military for just such an invasion …

  • “I am incredibly proud of them, seeing how they have risen,” Lt.-Col. Melanie Lake, former commander of Operation Unifier, told CBC.
  • Andriy Tovstiuk is a Ukrainian-Canadian who joined the Canadian Armed Forces specifically to serve in Operation Unifier. “They are giving the Russian troops hell and will continue to do so until this completely unjustified war ends,” he wrote in a recent post.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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And the National Post’s Adam Zivo was in Lviv, Ukraine, a city in the country’s west that remains relatively untouched by the conflict. He found citizens in the picturesque city continuing to go about their lives with steely normalcy – albeit after work they volunteer to weave camouflage netting and pack Molotov cocktails.

IN OTHER NEWS

Americans have this semi-obnoxious penchant to threaten a move to Canada whenever a Republican candidate wins the presidency (even though they never, ever actually follow through). It looks like the term “Immigration to Canada” was trending on South Korean Twitter after the country elected a populist president often called the Korean version of Donald Trump. Yoon Suk Yeol is a free market absolutist who favours the abolition of a minimum wage and government food inspection, and he’s also gotten into trouble for claiming that South Korean women do not face discrimination.

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The federal government is continuing to lurch ahead with Bill C-11, a law that could force whole swaths of the internet (including social media) to be regulated by the CRTC. Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa tech law expert, noted in a recent blog post that C-11 proposes to regulate the “discoverability” of Canadian content online. What this means is that companies such as Netflix and YouTube would be forced to push Canadian content on its Canadian users. Geist’s chief issue with this is that online streamers are already pretty good at offering Canadian content to anyone who wants it. Geist proved this by opening dummy accounts on both YouTube and Netflix and making a few searches for the word “Canada.” Within seconds, he was being hit by an avalanche of recommendations for everything from Quebec YouTubers to Canadian indy films.

One of the emerging foreign policy themes of the last week is how Canada has gotten a reputation in Europe for completely phoning in its NATO commitments. It was the exact opposite story in the early years of the Cold War, when the Canadian Armed Forces was large enough to operate no less than four dedicated air bases in Europe, including this one at Zweibrücken, Germany.
One of the emerging foreign policy themes of the last week is how Canada has gotten a reputation in Europe for completely phoning in its NATO commitments. It was the exact opposite story in the early years of the Cold War, when the Canadian Armed Forces was large enough to operate no less than four dedicated air bases in Europe, including this one at Zweibrücken, Germany. Photo by Department of National Defence Archives

And Canada has at least one Conservative who doesn’t think they should be the one to lead the party. “Upon reflection, I’ve decided not to seek the Conservative leadership,” wrote Michael Chong in a Friday statement. Chong is one of the hawkish anti-China voices in the Conservative caucus (Beijing has personally sanctioned him) and he said he’d prefer to focus on “foreign policy” rather than go through another leadership race.

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