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COVID-19 Canada: Political parties remain undecided on how to resume House of Commons


OTTAWA — Canada’s political parties have until 11 a.m. Eastern time to reach a deal about how best to re-open Parliament or else the House of Commons is to resume on its normal schedule, but so far no consensus has been reached.

The NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and Liberals reached a tentative agreement to sit in person once a week, but Conservatives have said that is not enough.

Most parties say the only reason to be physically present in the House of Commons is to vote on legislation. The reason they proposed one sitting per week is so those votes can happen quickly, without having to reconvene an emergency session.

Two virtual sittings of the committee of the whole per week can accommodate all other needs, said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a Monday morning news conference

Those virtual sittings would not only minimize contact, but also make sure people in regions far from Ottawa would be able to question the government.

“It’s important to hear voices from parliamentarians across this country,” Singh said.

The NDP have three MPs in Ottawa, including Singh, who say they are prepared to stay in the capital as long as necessary to reach a deal with the other parties.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet accused the Conservatives of holding parliament “hostage” for partisan reasons, and said he wants to get to the business of serving Canadians and the people of Quebec.

The Bloc said its priorities during the next sitting of the House is to promote the needs of seniors, and the NDP cited students who will be out of work this summer as one of their top concerns.

Both the NDP and the Bloc said they were confident a deal could be reached by the 11 a.m. deadline.

The Senate has broken until at least June 2, though several committees have plans to meet virtually and the full body can be recalled if legislation need to be passed.



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As Amazon.com flexes its muscle, Seattle moves to curb corporate political donations


SEATTLE (Reuters) – Seattle, the Pacific Northwest city where home-grown online retailer Amazon.com has increasingly flexed its political muscle, is expected to approve on Monday legislation banning political contributions by companies with at least 5% foreign ownership.

FILE PHOTO: People take in the view from the top of the Space Needle in this aerial photo in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. Picture taken March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

The move is likely to trigger renewed debate on the legality of corporate donations in U.S. elections while drawing an immediate court challenge.

A six-member committee of Seattle City Council has already unanimously approved the measure, making it almost certain that the full nine-member council will pass it on Monday.

The bill is widely viewed as aimed at reining in political spending from companies such as Am

azon.com (AMZN.O). Amazon, Seattle’s largest employer, donated a record $1.5 million to back a slate of pro-business candidates in the November council elections – a campaign that was largely unsuccessful.

At least 9% of Amazon’s stock is owned by foreign investors, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.

A spokesman for Amazon, which has been butting heads with the city for two years over attempts to levy more taxes on the company, declined to comment.

“What they are proposing is likely an unconstitutional backdoor ban on U.S. companies speaking about local elections,” Jim Manley, an attorney with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, told Reuters.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling struck down limits on political contributions by corporations or unions. Companies and unions may not give money directly to campaigns but may spend unlimited amounts on ads and other means.

The legislation before the Seattle City Council says that companies that have at least 5% of their shares held by foreigners, or 1% by a single foreigner, are subject to foreign influence and therefore cannot participate in elections.

Amazon’s $1.5 million political donation for Seattle’s November elections represented more than half of the nearly $2.7 million raised by a Super Pac for those elections. Four years ago, Amazon donated $25,000.

Super Pacs may accept unlimited contributions from any non-foreign source.

Amazon began to prominently flex its political muscle in May 2018 when the Seattle council approved an employee “head tax” on the city’s largest companies, in order to combat a housing crisis. Just four weeks later, the City Council repealed the tax after a coalition of businesses, with Amazon at the forefront, mounted a well-financed campaign for a referendum to repeal the tax.

Socialist council member Kshama Sawant says she will restart the “Tax Amazon” campaign she led in 2018 with a rally at City Hall on Monday.

Seattle is not the first city to take aim at campaign spending. St. Petersburg, Florida, approved a similar ordinance on foreign-influenced corporations in 2017 that has not yet been challenged in court.

Reporting by Gregory Scruggs; additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Israel set for unprecedented third election amid political gridlock



Israel is heading towards an unprecedented third election in one year after both Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival failed to form a government and were unable to agree a deal for a unity coalition.

As a midnight deadline passed, there was no last-minute deal between the two sides and MPs instead voted through a bill to send Israelis to the polls for a third time in 11 months on March 2, 2020.

By a vote of 94 in favour to none opposed, lawmakers approved a motion dissolving parliament and setting the new election date.

Mr Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue & White party, blamed each other for what has become the worst stalemate in Israeli political history.

Mr Gantz said the prime minister was dragging the country into new elections to try to win a Right-wing majority which would grant him immunity from the criminal corruption charges he faces. He denies wrongdoing. 

“It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity,” Mr Gantz said. 

Mr Netanyahu said Mr Gantz and his allies had never seriously entered into negotiations on a unity government.

“It’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government,” he said. 





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Political row over Usman Khan prison release deepens – Channel 4 News



1 Dec 2019

The political row over why Usman Khan was free to launch his deadly knife attack on Friday intensified today.

The political row over why Usman Khan was free to launch his deadly knife attack on Friday intensified today.

Claiming a law brought in under Labour made his release inevitable, the Prime Minister said he would bring in tougher sentences.

But the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised cuts to the criminal justice system saying “you can’t keep people safe on the cheap”.



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Political will was not enough for justice reform in #Moldova


The lack of political will to carry out rule of law reforms is frequently the reason why reforms are not fully implemented. The case of Moldova proves that in societies where strong vested interests still persist, political savviness is equally as important as political will.

Old and new political power brokers in Moldova struck a fragile pact in June to oust Vladimir Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc had built a network of corruption and patronage with the help of the Democratic Party, which he treated as a personal vehicle and which allowed him and a small economic elite circle to enrich themselves off of government institutions and state-owned enterprises, to the detriment of Moldovan citizens and the health of their political process.

Maia Sandu, co-leader of the pro-reform ACUM electoral bloc, then formed a technocratic government with a remit to implement Moldova’s lagging reform agenda. Though made up of ministers with the integrity and political will to implement difficult transformational reforms, its biggest weakness was its coalition partner – the pro-Russian Socialists’ Party and its informal leader, Igor Dodon, the president of Moldova.

Now the Socialists – threatened by how key reforms to the justice system would impact their interests – have joined forces with Plahotniuc’s former allies, the Democratic Party, to oust ACUM, exploiting the party’s lack of political savviness.

Reform interrupted

It was always clear the coalition would be short-lived. President Dodon and the co-ruling Socialists joined to buy themselves time, with the hope that they could restrict the most far-reaching reforms and tie the hands of ACUM ministers. In less than five months, however, the Sandu government initiated key reforms in the judicial system, aimed at dismantling Plahotniuc’s networks of patronage but also impacting the Socialists, who to a large degree also profited from the previous status quo.

The red line came over a last-minute change in the selection process of the prosecutor general proposed by Sandu on 6 November, which the Socialists claimed was unconstitutional and gave them the justification to put forward a motion of no confidence in the Sandu government. This was conveniently supported by the Democratic Party, who appeared threatened by an independent prosecutor’s office and saw an opportunity to return to power.

Thus, the political will to reform proved insufficient in the absence of a clear strategy on how to address the concerns of the old regime that they would be prosecuted and their vested interests threatened. Here, ACUM’s lack of political experience let them down. With their hands tied from the beginning in a fragile coalition with the Socialists, ACUM were unable to prevent sabotage from within state institutions and their own coalition, and could not find consensus to proceed with more radical methods to tackle corruption.

Less than two days after the Sandu government was out, a new government was sworn in on 14 November. Prime Minister Ion Chicu was an adviser to President Dodon before taking office and former minister of finance under the Plahotniuc-backed government of Pavel Filip, as part of a cabinet of ministers consisting largely of other presidential advisers and former high-level bureaucrats and ministers from the Plahotniuc era.

The new government

A top priority for the Chicu government is to convince the international community that it is independent from President Dodon, and that its ‘technocrats’ will keep the course of reforms of the Sandu government. This is critical to preserving the financial assistance of Western partners, which the Moldovan government heavily relies on, particularly with a presidential election campaign next year, when they will likely want to create fiscal space for various giveaways to voters.

But within its first week in office, Chicu appears incapable of walking this line. Reverting to the initially proposed pre-selection process of prosecutor general signals that the post could be filled by a loyal appointee of President Dodon. Moreover, Chicu’s first visit abroad was to Russia, allegedly a major financial contributor of the Socialists’ Party. With the Socialists now holding the presidency, government, Chisinau mayoralty, and the parliament speaker’s seat, the danger of an increased Russian influence on key political decisions is very real.

A government steered by President Dodon risks bringing Moldova back to where it was before June, with a political elite mimicking reforms while misusing power for private gains. The biggest danger is that instead of continuing the reform process to bring Moldova back on its European integration path, the new government may focus on strengthening the old patronage system, this time with President Dodon at the top of the pyramid.

Lessons

This new minority government, supported by the Democrats, is a more natural one for President Dodon and therefore has more chances to survive, at least until presidential elections in autumn of 2020. Both the Socialists and the Democrats will likely seek to use this time to rebuild their own methods of capturing state resources. But with the Socialists relying on the Democrats’ votes in parliament, this is a recipe for further political instability.

Similar to Moldova, several other states across the post-Soviet space such as Ukraine and Armenia have had new political forces come to power with the political will and mandate to carry out difficult reforms to strengthen rule of law and fight systemic corruption in their countries. What they all have in common is the lack of political experience of how to create change, while old elites, used to thinking on their feet to defend their vested interests, retain their connections and economic and political influence.

Moldova is a good example of why political will needs to be backed up by clear strategy on how to deal with threatened vested interests in order for new political forces to be able to maintain themselves in power and reforms to be sustainable. When the chance comes again for fresh leaders to come to power, it is importantthey are politically prepared to use it swiftly and wisely.





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