Venezuela government 'terrified' of calling election

The late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and his allies triumphed nearly every time voters went to the ballot box. But Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, appears to have lost interest in testing the will of the people. 

Amid a severe economic crisis, opinion polls show that support for Maduro and for ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) politicians is collapsing. In response, electoral authorities — whom analysts claim take orders from the executive branch — have over the past year shelved or delayed elections large and small. 

‘We are not going to have elections…. What we are going to have here is revolution, and more revolution.’
Diosdado Cabello

In October, the Maduro government abruptly cancelled a recall referendum that could have removed the president from office. Gubernatorial elections scheduled for December have been postponed. Even voting for the leadership of many labour unions, professional organizations, public university governments and neighbourhood councils has been suspended. 

For Chavismo, the leftist political movement founded by Chavez and which has ruled Venezuela for the past 18 years, “elections used to be sacred when they knew they could easily win them,” said Eugenio Martínez, a Caracas journalist who specializes in electoral issues. “But as soon as elections became uncomfortable, they have tried to avoid them or to change the rules.” 

Venezuelan officials contend that elections are simply not a priority right now because they are dealing with more pressing matters, such as food shortages and triple-digit inflation they describe as part of an “economic war” being waged against them by the opposition.  

In a January speech, Diosdado Cabello, a congressman and a key power broker within the ruling PSUV, bluntly stated: “We are not going to have elections…. What we are going to have here is revolution, and more revolution.” 

VENEZUELA-POLITICS/

Opposition supporters hold placards that read ‘Elections now’ during a rally against Maduro’s government, in Caracas, on January 23, 2017. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

‘There is a dictatorship’

Critics call these moves troubling signs for democracy in Venezuela and wonder whether the 2018 presidential election will be free and fair — or whether it will be held at all. 

Last week, Luis Almagro, who heads the Organization of American States, said that Venezuela must hold general elections immediately, and if it doesn’t, member states — including Canada — should suspend Venezuela from the Washington-based regional body.

According to Almagro, phobia of elections is just the latest sign of Maduro’s turn toward authoritarianism. His government holds more than 100 political prisoners and has cracked down on the media. It controls nearly all branches of power. Although the opposition holds a majority of seats in congress, the executive branch has neutered that body by using the judicial system to nullify new legislation.   

In a column published Tuesday in the Bogota, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, Almagro declared: “Today… there is a dictatorship” in Venezuela. 

The electoral impasse has left opposition leaders in limbo.

‘The government is terrified of measuring its popularity through a popular vote.’
– Jose Graterol

Jose Graterol, a lawyer who is trying to run for governor of western Falcon state, has spent the past year visiting towns and villages, shaking hands and giving speeches about his vision of the future. But now, he says, it’s unclear whether there will even be a vote. Sitting governors have so far ruled an three extra months beyond their normal four-year terms, and electoral authorities have yet to set a date for new elections. 

“This shows that the government is terrified of measuring its popularity through a popular vote,” Graterol said. 

The PSUV currently controls 20 of 23 state houses. But polls indicate that if elections were held now, the opposition could win about 16 governorships, marking a huge shift in power. In the last nationwide elections, held in December 2015, the government suffered a humiliating defeat, with opposition candidates winning 112 of 167 congressional seats. And since then, both the economy and support for the government have eroded further. 

“The government controls nearly all levers of power while the opposition has the support of the voters,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas analyst for the International Crisis Group. “That’s why the opposition needs to have elections and why the government doesn’t.” 

December 2018 election uncertain

Besides delays, the Maduro government is trying to weed out the competition in case of future elections, said Martínez, the journalist. For example, the National Electoral Council declared that all political parties must gather thousands of member signatures in order to maintain their legal status, but each party gets just two days to carry out this process. 

When a centrist party called Avanzada Progresista recently tried to sign up members in Caracas, the electoral council changed the location of the registration sites at the last minute, creating chaos, said party activist Maribel Castillo. Avanzada Progresista maintained its legal status but several small opposition parties have already lost theirs. 

VENEZUELA-POLITICS/

An opposition supporter holds a placard that reads ‘Wanted for destroying a country. Reward: A free Venezuela,’ with images depicting Maduro, left, and Diosdado Cabello, of Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), during a rally in Caracas, September 1, 2016. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

In recent elections, opposition parties fielded candidates through a coalition known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable. But now the Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit brought by a ruling party politician alleging that the coalition committed fraud. A guilty verdict would effectively outlaw the opposition coalition.  

All of this manoeuvring has many Venezuelans wondering whether the government intends to comply with the constitution by holding presidential elections by December 2018. Gunson said that cancelling the vote would be a major step toward pariah status, as the Maduro government would be widely be considered a de facto regime propped up only by the military. 

However, Martínez said many high-ranking government officials have been accused of drug trafficking, human rights abuses and corruption, and they fear prison or extradition to the United States should the opposition win the presidency. 

He predicted: “If Chavismo doesn’t think it has a way to win the elections, it will not hold elections.” 

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Why Venezuela's government is 'terrified' of calling an election

The late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and his allies triumphed nearly every time voters went to the ballot box. But Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, appears to have lost interest in testing the will of the people. 

Amid a severe economic crisis, opinion polls show that support for Maduro and for ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) politicians is collapsing. In response, electoral authorities — whom analysts claim take orders from the executive branch — have over the past year shelved or delayed elections large and small. 

‘We are not going to have elections…. What we are going to have here is revolution, and more revolution.’
Diosdado Cabello

In October, the Maduro government abruptly cancelled a recall referendum that could have removed the president from office. Gubernatorial elections scheduled for December have been postponed. Even voting for the leadership of many labour unions, professional organizations, public university governments and neighbourhood councils has been suspended. 

For Chavismo, the leftist political movement founded by Chavez and which has ruled Venezuela for the past 18 years, “elections used to be sacred when they knew they could easily win them,” said Eugenio Martínez, a Caracas journalist who specializes in electoral issues. “But as soon as elections became uncomfortable, they have tried to avoid them or to change the rules.” 

Venezuelan officials contend that elections are simply not a priority right now because they are dealing with more pressing matters, such as food shortages and triple-digit inflation they describe as part of an “economic war” being waged against them by the opposition.  

In a January speech, Diosdado Cabello, a congressman and a key power broker within the ruling PSUV, bluntly stated: “We are not going to have elections…. What we are going to have here is revolution, and more revolution.” 

VENEZUELA-POLITICS/

Opposition supporters hold placards that read ‘Elections now’ during a rally against Maduro’s government, in Caracas, on January 23, 2017. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

‘There is a dictatorship’

Critics call these moves troubling signs for democracy in Venezuela and wonder whether the 2018 presidential election will be free and fair — or whether it will be held at all. 

Last week, Luis Almagro, who heads the Organization of American States, said that Venezuela must hold general elections immediately, and if it doesn’t, member states — including Canada — should suspend Venezuela from the Washington-based regional body.

According to Almagro, phobia of elections is just the latest sign of Maduro’s turn toward authoritarianism. His government holds more than 100 political prisoners and has cracked down on the media. It controls nearly all branches of power. Although the opposition holds a majority of seats in congress, the executive branch has neutered that body by using the judicial system to nullify new legislation.   

In a column published Tuesday in the Bogota, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, Almagro declared: “Today… there is a dictatorship” in Venezuela. 

The electoral impasse has left opposition leaders in limbo.

‘The government is terrified of measuring its popularity through a popular vote.’
– Jose Graterol

Jose Graterol, a lawyer who is trying to run for governor of western Falcon state, has spent the past year visiting towns and villages, shaking hands and giving speeches about his vision of the future. But now, he says, it’s unclear whether there will even be a vote. Sitting governors have so far ruled an three extra months beyond their normal four-year terms, and electoral authorities have yet to set a date for new elections. 

“This shows that the government is terrified of measuring its popularity through a popular vote,” Graterol said. 

The PSUV currently controls 20 of 23 state houses. But polls indicate that if elections were held now, the opposition could win about 16 governorships, marking a huge shift in power. In the last nationwide elections, held in December 2015, the government suffered a humiliating defeat, with opposition candidates winning 112 of 167 congressional seats. And since then, both the economy and support for the government have eroded further. 

“The government controls nearly all levers of power while the opposition has the support of the voters,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas analyst for the International Crisis Group. “That’s why the opposition needs to have elections and why the government doesn’t.” 

December 2018 election uncertain

Besides delays, the Maduro government is trying to weed out the competition in case of future elections, said Martínez, the journalist. For example, the National Electoral Council declared that all political parties must gather thousands of member signatures in order to maintain their legal status, but each party gets just two days to carry out this process. 

When a centrist party called Avanzada Progresista recently tried to sign up members in Caracas, the electoral council changed the location of the registration sites at the last minute, creating chaos, said party activist Maribel Castillo. Avanzada Progresista maintained its legal status but several small opposition parties have already lost theirs. 

VENEZUELA-POLITICS/

An opposition supporter holds a placard that reads ‘Wanted for destroying a country. Reward: A free Venezuela,’ with images depicting Maduro, left, and Diosdado Cabello, of Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), during a rally in Caracas, September 1, 2016. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

In recent elections, opposition parties fielded candidates through a coalition known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable. But now the Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit brought by a ruling party politician alleging that the coalition committed fraud. A guilty verdict would effectively outlaw the opposition coalition.  

All of this manoeuvring has many Venezuelans wondering whether the government intends to comply with the constitution by holding presidential elections by December 2018. Gunson said that cancelling the vote would be a major step toward pariah status, as the Maduro government would be widely be considered a de facto regime propped up only by the military. 

However, Martínez said many high-ranking government officials have been accused of drug trafficking, human rights abuses and corruption, and they fear prison or extradition to the United States should the opposition win the presidency. 

He predicted: “If Chavismo doesn’t think it has a way to win the elections, it will not hold elections.” 

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U.S. Uncertainty Looms Over Canada's Budget

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government will chart the next segment of its mandate this week in what’s expected to be a modest budget — but the omnipresent economic unknowns in the U.S. could eventually force Ottawa from a steady-as-she-goes course.

For now, the stronger U.S. economy is benefiting Canada. Finance Minister Bill Morneau will present the country’s budget Wednesday amid a brightening outlook, thanks in large part to the United States.

In recent months, healthier Canadian numbers — from trade, to labour, to housing — have encouraged forecasters to raise their projections for economic growth.

Some believe these improvements will put Ottawa on a path toward smaller annual deficits than what the government had predicted last fall. After a surprisingly robust finish to 2016, Ottawa’s anticipated $25.1-billion shortfall for 2016-17 is widely expected to come in less than projected.

trudeau trump
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk from the Oval Office to the Residence of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 13, 2017.

In normal times, the modest momentum would provide a dose of optimism for a government drawing up its budget.

But Canada’s current economic climate is far from typical.

The November election win for U.S. President Donald Trump has led to significant uncertainty in what is by far Canada’s top trading partner.

Even with the recent economic improvements, there are widespread concerns in Canada about U.S. proposals, including discussion about major changes to trade and tax policies.

Many warn the changes, which could include a border adjustment tax, could have severe economic consequences on this side of the border.

For now, with so many unknowns, sources have said Ottawa has no plans to take steps in the budget to directly address the Trump-related economic fears.

“The government is building this year’s budget with not a great deal of clarity …”
— Craig Alexander

It remains to be seen whether Ottawa will have the flexibility to respond to any changes implemented in the U.S. over the course of the year.

“The government is building this year’s budget with not a great deal of clarity about the geopolitical risks that could impact the Canadian economy,” said Craig Alexander, chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada.

“And so, they might want to be sensitive to that and they might want to delay some of the measures they were thinking about until they actually have greater clarity about what’s happening south of the border.”

Indeed, major spending decisions on defence and international aid seem to have been deferred to later this year.

bill morneau
Finance Minister Bill Morneau takes part in a news conference in Ottawa in 2015.

Even before any concrete economic moves by Trump, the U.S. resurgence has had negative effects in Canada.

A research note by TD last week said U.S. rate increases have already started to push up Canadian mortgage rates, creating “significant risk” in an economy with high household debt and soaring real estate prices.

Higher U.S. interest rates since Trump’s victory could also lead to bigger debt payments for Ottawa in the future, though some economists believe the effects will be offset by the benefits for Canada from a growing American economy.

Deficits expected for years

At the same time, Ottawa faces tight fiscal constraints and it’s expected to deliver a slim budget with few big-ticket items.

The Liberals have already committed to major spending increases for investments over the coming years in areas like infrastructure and expanded child benefits, which they argue will help lift the economy over the long haul.

The Trudeau government’s outlook is predicting several years of double-digit deficits.

The Liberals abandoned their election pledge to run annual shortfalls of no more than $10 billion over their mandate and to balance the books in four years.

Instead, Morneau has pledged to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio — also known as the debt burden — below its current level by 2019-20.

“The question is, are we just basically spending money like drunken sailors?”
— Randall Bartlett

But sticking with the vow on the debt-to-GDP ratio means Morneau has very little “wiggle room” when it comes to new spending, says Randall Bartlett, chief economist at a University of Ottawa think tank.

He believes the government should do more to analyze the performance of these investments to ensure Canadians are getting bang for their buck.

“The question is, are we just basically spending money like drunken sailors?” said Bartlett, whose Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy is directed by former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page.

But without accounting for U.S. policy changes — since they remain unknowns — Bartlett believes the stronger economy has put Ottawa on track to shave a few billion dollars off each of its projected deficits from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Questions have been raised by Morneau’s decision to base his upcoming budget’s projections on forecasts he received from private-sector economists in mid-January.

Economy has improved since January

The Finance Department traditionally uses a survey of private-sector forecasters to determine its baseline projections, but those numbers are usually delivered only a few weeks prior to the budget.

Bartlett believes the economy has improved so much since January that the government will have a needlessly pessimistic forecast underlying the budget numbers — which would make it easier for Ottawa to beat these lower fiscal expectations down the road.

Scotiabank chief economist Jean-Francois Perrault, a former assistant deputy minister under Morneau, said he doesn’t believe the economic projections for Canada have improved enough since January to make a big difference.

Perrault is predicting slightly bigger annual deficits over the coming years. He said it’s partly due to higher-than-expected government spending and his expectation the government will reintroduce its $3-billion yearly risk adjustment.

“We have a fiscal path in Canada that has reasonably high deficits for a pretty significant period of time,” said Perrault, who added that the feds are in good fiscal shape and he’s not immediately concerned about the string of shortfalls.

Taxes will have to increase and spending will have to come down

But he noted that when Ottawa does take steps to return to balance it will need “pretty significant” spending cuts and tax increases to make it happen.

Perrault said it’s technically possible the economy will grow enough before the end of the Liberal mandate to eliminate the deficit on its own — without tax hikes and spending reductions. But he added such a scenario is “far fetched.”

And when it comes to addressing the U.S. uncertainty, Perrault said Canadians could see Ottawa make its big policy moves in the 2017 fall economic statement or even in next year’s budget.

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Australian Government Likely Has To Compromise On Asylum Seeker Ban

Government hopes to prohibit refugees from Manus, Nauru camps from ever setting foot in country

By Julia Holman

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Nov. 9, 2016) – The Government may have to compromise if it wants its legislation banning refugees who are in offshore detention from ever visiting Australia to pass the Senate.

Senator Nick Xenophon and his party colleagues were briefed on the issue yesterday by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The Government’s proposal is to ban refugees who are on Manus Island and Nauru from ever visiting Australia even on a business or a tourist visa.

Senator Xenophon said his party might not vote as a bloc on the issue.

“It does go much further than current laws and it is a vexed moral issue,” Senator Xenophon told AM.

“It is a conscience issue for the team. I expect we will all have differing positions in relation to this, and I respect that.”

He said the numbers in the Senate were “very finely balanced” on this issue, but personally he would be more likely to support it if there was an increase to the humanitarian intake.

[PIR editor’s note: On Nov. 8, 2016 RNZI reported that ‘The opposition Labor party in Australia will oppose the government’s bill that blocks boat people from ever returning there.’]

He said back in 2014 he voted with the Government to introduce temporary protection visas because there was a significant lift in refugee numbers

“We pushed really hard to increase the humanitarian intake, which we did by 7,500 people,” he said.

“That’s 7,500 souls that would otherwise be languishing in a refugee camp somewhere in the world that will be able to call Australia home.

“And in my view, Australia is a big country with a big heart, I would like to see an even bigger increase in our humanitarian intake.” 

Another crossbench senator, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, said he would not be pushing for an increase in the humanitarian intake, although he did not want to see the numbers go down either.

But he was sceptical about whether the Government could stop refugees who become citizens of a country like Canada or New Zealand from visiting Australia.

“Suppose a refugee is banned from ever coming to Australia as a result of arriving here illegally, then goes to New Zealand and becomes a citizen of New Zealand and then wants to visit Australia,” he said.

“Are they seriously going to prohibit that person from entering the country? How would we even know who that was? If they’ve got a New Zealand passport we just let them in automatically anyway.”

Government needs support of eight crossbenchers

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he wanted a vote in the Lower House by the end of the week.

With Labor and the Greens opposing the legislation, the Government needs the support of eight out of 10 Senate crossbenchers.

However, Nick Xenophon said the Upper House would not be in any hurry to make a decision.

“I still haven’t reached a final position and I don’t believe it’s fair to say that my colleagues have necessarily reached a final position,” he said.

“It depends what all the elements of the legislation are and whether the Government is prepared to move on some of those elements of the legislation.

“If there is some way that the humanitarian intake can be increased, that a third country can be found for those languishing on Nauru or Manus Island, that you don’t compromise the strong position that we have on people smugglers, and to make sure that we don’t see a revival of that trade and with it the drownings at sea and the gross exploitation of those asylum seekers, then maybe, just maybe, we can come up with a solution that is far from perfect but would be an improvement on what we have now.”

Radio Australia
Copyright © 2016 Radio Australia. All Rights Reserved

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Infrastructure: Narendra Modi government eyes Rs 50,000 cr from funds via toll-operate-transfer mode for NHAI

NHAI can securitise the toll receivables by collecting an upfront concession fee.

In a move that could fetch the government upwards of R50,000 crore, a host of pension funds, sovereign funds and private equity funds may invest in the 75 road projects to be bid out in the toll-operate-transfer (TOT ) mode. Players such as Macquarie, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Canada Pension Fund, Brookfield Asset Management, and IDFC Alternatives in India are understood to have shown keen interest in these projects. National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials are believed to have indicated to players the first lot of projects could be up for bidding as early as April.

The TOT model will allow the government to lease out 75 operational projects constructed by the NHAI or a concessionaire with a combined length of over 4,300 km to private players for a concession period ranging between 25 years and 30 years.

NHAI can securitise the toll receivables by collecting an upfront concession fee. Funds are eyeing these ventures as a good investment opportunity given the risks are minimal. MK Sinha, managing partner and chief executive officer, IDFC Alternatives, told FE that TOT ventures are probably the best way to attract foreign and private capital chasing yield investments without taking on any construction and development risk. “Taking construction and development risks in road construction has not worked well for the private sector and has also resulted in large claims from NHAI on account of various delays,” Sinha pointed out.

Both the ministry of road transport and highways and NHAI have had discussions with these potential concessionaires in the last year to year and a half to evolve a model to minimise hurdles in the future, sources said.
As part of the concession agreement, detailed engineering studies of these projects have been undertaken to spot any latent defects, a senior executive from a construction firm told FE. Prospective concessionaires have suggested the tariff be fixed and that the government allow a 5% hike in tariff irrespective of inflation. That would then leave just the traffic to be estimated, bringing some certainty in cash flows, they feel. At present, toll tariffs are linked to the WPI.

Repeated calls and messages sent to senior officials at NHAI did not elicit any response till the time of going to press.
After the expiry of the lease period, TOT projects that have been operational and generating toll revenues for at least the last couple of years would return to the government’s fold. Bidders will recoup their investments and returns by collecting toll over the lease tenure. During the period, maintenance will also be the responsibility of the concessionaire.

In a recent report, Icra noted that given the wide variation in toll collections, the attractiveness of certain stretches with long vintage and established traffic volumes — especially the ones along the Golden Quadrilateral — is much more compared with the ones with less operational track record and poor toll collections. K Ravichandran, senior vice-president & group head, corporate ratings, observed that it makes sense to bundle the projects so that weaker projects are not left out. “NHAI could also consider keeping floor and cap so that the bidding is not very aggressive in case of attractive stretches,” he said.

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Omar Khadr’s lawyer says ‘it’s time for the government to . . . apologize to him’ and settle suit

As the Canadian government offers an apology and millions in compensation for Ottawa’s role in the detention and torture of three Canadians held in Syria and Egypt, federal lawyers appear to be digging in for a long fight against former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old and grievously injured when he was captured in 2002.

Lawyers for Khadr, now 30, have been fighting the federal government since 2004 regarding abuses they say occurred to the Toronto-born captive under the Liberal and Conservative administrations.

The crux of the $20-million suit is Canada’s unwillingness to recognize that according to international law, Khadr should have been treated as a child soldier during his incarceration. Most damning is the allegation that Ottawa not only failed to protect Khadr as a passive bystander during the abuse of the teenage prisoner, but co-operated with the U.S. in violation of Canadian constitutional and international laws protecting the rights of minors.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already condemned the federal government’s treatment of Khadr in three separate cases, including a 2010 unanimous ruling that said the participation of Canadian officials in Khadr’s Guantanamo interrogations violated his constitutional rights and “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

“It’s time for the government to close the door and apologize to him. Instead, they’re going to drag him back through the nightmares of his time in Guantanamo in examining him about his experiences,” Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney said in an interview Saturday.

Edney, along with Toronto lawyer John Phillips, said Khadr will testify if essential to settling the case, but object to the need when his case has been so well documented in the media and through years of other cases litigated both here and the U.S.

“With the information and evidence so available, is the examination of Omar intended to show that he did not suffer from torture and abuse, that he suffered no damage from his incarceration as a child and the loss of his adolescence through early manhood without any rehabilitation by either the U.S. or Canada?” Phillips asks in a February letter to Department of Justice lawyer Barney Brucker. “I do not see how the Minister can achieve any benefit by subjecting Omar to further interrogation.”

Khadr was 15 when shot and captured following a July 27, 2002 firefight in Afghanistan where U.S. Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer was fatally wounded. In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes under Guantanamo’s controversial military commissions, including “murder in violation of the laws of war” for Speer’s death. In return, the Pentagon gave Khadr an eight-year sentence and chance to return to Canada.

Khadr later said he agreed to the plea deal as he believed it as his only way out of Guantanamo and has only vague recollections of the firefight.

Their case was similar to that of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar, who received an apology and $10.5 million from the federal government after a 2006 inquiry found that Canadian officials passed information about Arar to the U.S. and Syria, leading to his detention and torture.

Khadr was transferred from Guantanamo into Canadian custody in 2012 and released on bail in 2015. The Liberal government dropped the appeal of Khadr’s bail last year, breaking with its Conservative predecessor that fought to keep the Toronto-born captive behind bars.

He has lived a quiet life as a student in Edmonton since his release, only recently moving out of the Edney’s home into his own apartment.

But he is back with the Edneys this weekend recovering from a lengthy and complicated surgery last week to try to repair damage to his shoulder sustained in the firefight.

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Drugs, alcohol found in autopsy of Paris airport attacker

Police questioned and released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators continue to search for clues and an autopsy and toxicology tests found drugs and alcohol in his system.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize the gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport on Saturday morning.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamic Islamist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These include coordinated bombings and shootings in November 2015 in Paris when 130 people were killed and scores injured.

With the country in the throes of a highly charged election campaign before a two-round presidential election in April and May, the attacks fuelled the political debate about security.

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar. They said he became a radicalized Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

FRANCE-SHOOTING/

Emergency services arrive at Orly airport southern terminal after the incident. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody for theft and he did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol after a routine traffic stop north of Paris before fleeing, officials said.

Later he entered a bar in Vitry-sur-Seine, on the other side of Paris about 10 kilometres from Orly, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone. He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Regret after police stopped car

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but then released, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist. He has never prayed: he drinks. And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness. I screwed up with a policeman.”

AFP_MR7ST

Security forces enforced went into action after soldiers shot and killed a man who tried to seize the weapon of a fellow soldier. (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

The Paris prosecutors’ office said toxicology tests conducted as part of an autopsy found traces of cocaine and cannabis in Belgacem’s blood.

He also had 0.93 grams of alcohol per litre of blood when he died Saturday, the prosecutors’ office said. The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 grams per litre.

A police search of his flat found cocaine, said Molins, the Paris prosecutor.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

‘Our government is overwhelmed,’ says Le Pen

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor. French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

Presidential candidates responded swiftly to the incident.

Conservative François Fillon said that France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against a proposal to lift a state of emergency in place since the November 2015 attacks.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, said the Orly attacker could have caused a “massacre.”

“Our government is overwhelmed, stunned, paralyzed like a rabbit in the headlights,” she told an election rally.

Last words of Paris attacker: I am here to die for Allah2:19

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Canada working on policies to deal with increased automation in the workforce

TORONTO, Canada – According to a report prepared for top officials at Employment and Social Development Canada, millions of jobs are seen to be threatened due to the rise of machines. 

The report is said to have pointed out statistics, leading to a warning to Federal officials that machines are going to replace more jobs in the workforce in the coming years.

Officials were urged to rethink how government helps the unemployed.

The documents in the report however, do not hint at how federal policy will have to adapt to increased automation in the workforce.

It reportedly notes that predicting the future is a risky proposition.

However, experts were quick in pointing out that the documents also fail to point out that the rise of the machines is an immediate concern that the government must quickly address.

According to the methodology used, the Canadian economy stands to lose between 1.5 million and 7.5 million jobs in the coming years due to automation.

Further, jobs at the most risk are those that require repetitive activities like an automotive assembly line.

But some high-skilled workers, including financial advisers are already being replaced by software programs. 

Further, the documents noted that journalists could see themselves increasingly replaced by robots.

According to Sunil Johal, policy director with the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, “Many of the trends that may concern us about technology and automation in terms of what their impacts could be on workers are already happening and that’s, I think, the missing piece here. People are projecting this into, well, in 10 years we may be in a difficult situation. The reality is many Canadians are already ill-served by government policies when it comes to skills training, when it comes to employment insurance, when it comes to the broader suite of public services to support Canadians.”

On a more optimistic tone, the document clarified that new jobs would be created, in a bid to keep the economy working – claiming, as technology kills jobs, it also creates new ones. 

According to the documents, the main issue is that no one knows if enough jobs will be created to replace those lost, nor if they will all be as well-paid.

A part of the presentation released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act read, “Predicting the future brings significant risk. We cannot know what future jobs will be created or whether enough of them will be created to offset displaced workers or whether automation will offset the pressures arising from slowing labour force growth.”

The budget is now expected to put a figure on the actual federal contribution to training, negotiations with provinces and territories on the main funding vehicle for the cash — the labour market development agreements.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu was quoted as saying that the government is looking to find a way to help sectors who are short of workers, and guide people into emerging fields.

In the interview, Hajdu said, “Successful economies and countries are ones that can be adaptive and that’s why skills development is so important. I’m excited about being able to do that work and help people gain those skills for the shortages that we have in specific sectors and to help support that innovation agenda that really is about fostering creativity and being thoughtful and deliberate about what skills we’re training people for.”

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Should Canada extend its maternity leave to 18 months?

For Katherine Keeling, mother of three-year-old Bruce, the option of taking an 18-month maternity leave and sharing it with her husband would have made life a lot easier.

It would have given her more time to look for child care and allowed her and her husband to spend more time with their son, she says.

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“When I was three months pregnant, I was already putting my name down on all the day cares in my neighbourhood and just outside my neighbourhood,” the Toronto native said.

“By the time I was almost ready to go back to work, I hadn’t received a call from any of them.”


READ MORE:
Child care and parental leave: What could be in the 2017 federal budget

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been toying with the idea of extending parental leave and benefits from the current 12 to 18 months. The Liberals’ proposal would stretch the current overall amount of benefits over a longer period of time, resulting in smaller paycheques for moms and dads taking time off work.

WATCH: Woman advocates for maternity benefits for parents who lose a baby





Although Keeling likes the idea of spending more time with her son, she admits taking 18 months off work would be financially difficult. She took a 10-month maternity leave, and her husband took six weeks. After that time, she said they were forced to go back to work because of money.

”We struggled and we ended up having to pull some money off our line of credit to kind of balance it out,” Keeling said.

READ MORE: Mom’s job cut after maternity leave; what are your rights?

She’s also concerned with the consequence the extended parental leave would have on her job security.

“It’s a myth that you can’t be fired when you’re on maternity leave. I worry that the longer you are away from your work the more enticing that might seem to a company. You are away so much.”

Global News readers sound off

According to a recent report, Canada doesn’t just need to extend parental benefits — the entire system is due for an overhaul.

For one, parental benefits should be taken out of the employment insurance system and be made its own federal program, the Institute for Research on Public Policy study said.


READ MORE:
25 groups issue open letter to Justin Trudeau over extended maternity leave proposal

The current system leaves many new parents not eligible for benefits, including those who work part-time, are self-employed or are freelance workers.

The report sparked a wave of response from Global News readers.

“I would like to see leeway in the required hours for maternity leave if mothers-to-be are in school while pregnant,” Amy said in an email to Global News.

WATCH: Ontario mother urges province to help cover cost of expensive prescription formula for baby





She said it can be a struggle to bank enough work hours while in school — especially if you didn’t exactly plan your pregnancy.

“Trying to hold down school and get 600 hours in a part-time job is tough if you were self-employed or a contractor before and surprised by your pregnancy.”

Another woman said she couldn’t work due to her high-risk pregnancy, leaving her without benefits.

“I have been working since two days after I turned 15 and because I only worked part time while going to full-time school with my first child — I was categorized as high risk so I wasn’t able to work most of my pregnancy — I wasn’t able to qualify for EI,” said Jessie A.

An extended 18-month leave would allow for more bonding with baby, a number of readers said, and result in more fathers taking time off.

WATCH: Katherine Keeling says husband would have benefited from longer parental leave because he could spend more time with son.





Another overwhelming response: Canada’s parental leave benefits do not pay enough.

“Currently mat leave benefits are less than minimum wage,” Shawna wrote. “It’s no wonder it’s hard to make ends meet for some families.”

At the moment, parents living anywhere other than Quebec receive EI payments equivalent to 55 per cent of employment earnings, up to a maximum of $537 per week.

“It is very challenging to live on 55 per cent of your income with increased expenses,” said Stephanie, in an email.

“I would also like to have the ability to work part-time while on parental leave without losing 50 per cent of it.”

Enhanced parental leave should be considered an investment in Canada’s future, readers said.

“We are raising the next generation,” said Melissa J.

“We need the support of our government to raise children with a chance to become productive, caring and adaptive members of society.”

Canada’s fertility rate has been steadily declining over the last several decades, and the country now has more seniors than kids for the first time ever. Immigration keeps Canada’s population growth afloat.

“Strong families save the government money and in a country with such a small population, it would only make sense to support families, not penalize them,” said Global News reader T. Galambos.

With files from Erica Alini, Global News. Some reader email responses have been edited for clarity and/or length.


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