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Whales, border-crossers, private clinics: how politics touched us this week

OTTAWA — There was nothing left to do except crack bitter Armageddon jokes. Disbelief turned to deep concern and then faded to a sense of futility as Canadian politicians attempted to make sense of Donald Trump's tweet-war with North Korea this week.
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OTTAWA — There was nothing left to do except crack bitter Armageddon jokes.

Disbelief turned to deep concern and then faded to a sense of futility as Canadian politicians attempted to make sense of Donald Trump's tweet-war with North Korea this week.

The nuclear antagonism, punctuated by vicious and public Republican bickering that filled the American airwaves, was a stark reminder to the many Canadian officials engaged on the NAFTA file that Ottawa's sharp focus on the trade talks starting Wednesday is not shared by the White House.

Against the backdrop of high-stakes Twitter, Canadian politics were notable this week for action on whales, border crossers, and private heath care.

Here are three ways politics touched us recently:

WHALE-WATCHING

There are only about 500 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, and 10 of them have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the past two months, alarming conservationists, the fishing industry and the federal government.

So on Friday, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced some interim measures aimed at protecting the 18-metre-long mammals — even though no one knows for sure why they are dying in this particular area.

Since they seem to be dying of blunt trauma from swimming into boats, ships are now having to cut their speed as they pass through part of the Gulf, until the whales' migration is finished.

And because the whales are getting tangled up in fishing gear, the government has also shut down parts of the snow crab fishery and restricted other types of fishing.

The story is not over. Researchers are still looking into why and how so many whales are dying, and there may be more protective steps to come.

Environmentalists want the government to take a closer look at oil and gas activity in the area, to see if the whales' habitat or stamina is being hurt.

BORDER-WATCHING

With hundreds of migrants crossing illegally into Quebec over the past few weeks and straining provincial resources for processing and accommodation, the federal government has subtly changed its tone — and now its policy approach — in how it deals with the border-crossers.

The government has decided to dedicate 20 extra officials to focusing solely on handling their applications for asylum, hoping to take care of the paperwork before camping out at Olympic Stadium in the summer turns into desperation in winter.

There is mounting pressure on the federal government to ensure that a relatively welcoming atmosphere in Montreal does not turn sour.

Premier Philippe Couillard lashed out this week at political opponent Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, for stirring up negative sentiment around the asylum seekers.

PRIVATE CLINIC-WATCHING

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is eyeing yet another province for its flirtations with private health care.

Over the past year, she has taken on Quebec for its user fees and Saskatchewan for its private MRI scans.

Now, the federal government is working with the provincial government in British Columbia to look at extra-billing practices at three clinics.

The Canada Health Act prohibits extra billing for services that are considered medically necessary. Provinces risk having some of their federal health transfers clawed back if they contravene the act.

Driving the crackdown is a concern that private health care will disadvantage those who don't have extra money to pay for the care they need.

 

Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press



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