Inside SNC-Lavalin’s long lobbying campaign to change the sentencing rules

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Justin Trudeau’s government was just four months old when SNC-Lavalin came knocking on the door, looking for help.

The stakes for the global construction and engineering firm were enormous. In 2015, federal prosecutors charged SNC-Lavalin with offering Libyan government officials $48 million in bribes and defrauding Libyan organizations of another $130 million.

If convicted, the company would be slapped with a 10-year ban on receiving federal government contracts. SNC-Lavalin saw its very existence at stake.

So the company launched a multi-year lobbying effort to convince the Trudeau government to change the Criminal Code. Its goal was to see the Trudeau government introduce deferred prosecution agreements — DPAs, for short — which typically are sentencing agreements between prosecutors and corporations charged with white collar crimes.

For SNC-Lavalin, the DPA option would offer a lifeline — allowing the company to pay fines and restitution while escaping criminal prosecution and the threat of that 10-year ban.

SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying and the introduction of DPAs blew up into a major controversy this week when Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister, announced she was quitting the Liberal cabinet — just days after a Globe and Mail report claimed she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to help the Quebec-based multinational engineering firm avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.

The company’s lobbying push started on Feb. 2, 2016, when company officials met with Francois-Philippe Champagne. The Quebec MP, now the infrastructure minister, was at the time the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

It’s the first meeting listed in the federal lobbyist registry which saw SNC-Lavalin press the Trudeau government on justice and law enforcement.

As the month rolled along, SNC-Lavalin lobbied its way up the Ottawa power chain. On Feb. 11, 2016, the company had its first discussion on justice and law enforcement with a member of the Prime Minister’s Office — an event that would be repeated at least 18 times over the next few years.

That initial meeting was with Cyrus Reporter, who at the time was listed as Trudeau’s senior adviser. Days later, SNC-Lavalin met with Robert Asselin, Morneau’s senior policy adviser at the Department of Finance.

Another meeting followed with the PMO — this time with Mathieu Bouchard, Trudeau’s adviser on Quebec issues. Bouchard has been SNC-Lavalin’s main point of contact in the PMO ever since.

A very broad lobbying effort

Before the month was over, SNC-Lavalin also had met with top officials at Global Affairs Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development, including Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains himself.

The company’s initial lobbying efforts were focused entirely on the PMO and top economic ministries, even though the lobbyist registry says the meetings were to discuss justice and law enforcement.

By the time 2016 was over, SNC-Lavalin had expanded its lobbying efforts to include the Privy Council Office, Export Development Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Public Safety.

In 2017, its lobbying effort widened to include Treasury Board, Natural Resources and Environment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould during a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015 in Ottawa. (CP/Adrian Wyld)

SNC-Lavalin even met with a policy adviser in the Department of Heritage. The minister at the time, Mélanie Joly, is a Quebec MP.

Twenty months and 51 meetings after SNC Lavalin’s initial meeting with Champagne, the company’s efforts appeared to be paying off.

The government launched consultations to discuss a DPA regime in Canada. The consultations even had their own customized hashtag: #LetsTalkCorporateWrongdoing.

In February 2018, Morneau would deliver the budget item that SNC Lavalin wanted. The budget implementation bill contained changes to the Criminal Code that would bring DPAs to Canada.

Lobbying the opposition

It was a justice reform provision baked into a 500-page omnibus budget bill. The measures were discussed at the House finance committee without ever appearing on the justice committee’s agenda.

In May 2018, Conservative finance critic Pierre Polievre asked Morneau why his budget bill included « a provision that would allow accused white collar criminals charged with bribery, fraud, insider trading and other offences to have all charges dropped. »

« We believe that our approach to deferred prosecution agreements will enable us to pursue an approach that is functioning and doing well in other economies, » Morneau replied. « One that will result in more effective continuation of business success by companies once they have paid their dues to society. »

Around this time, SNC Lavalin broadened its lobbying efforts again. The budget bill was tabled but it still needed to pass through the House and the Senate.

So the company secured meetings with officials in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and top senators — including Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate. Once again, the topic listed in the lobbyist registry was ‘justice and law enforcement’.

The budget bill passed through Parliament and was given royal assent on June 21, 2018, making DPAs a viable legal option in Canada. Step one in SNC Lavalin’s efforts to save itself had been successful.

Step two would be to secure a DPA for itself. That would prove to be more difficult.

Wilson-Raybould gets involved

A few weeks after the budget passed, SNC-Lavalin had another meeting with PMO — this time with Bouchard and Elder Marques, who was a senior adviser in Trudeau’s office at the time. Prior to that he had been Bains’ chief of staff in Innovation and had been one of the first officials to meet with SNC-Lavalin when the lobbying effort began in 2016.

The next important date in this story comes not from the lobbyist registry but from the PMO itself. On Sept. 17, 2018, MPs were returning to Ottawa for the re-opening of Parliament — and Trudeau had a meeting scheduled with his justice minister, Wilson-Raybould.

In its 80 recorded meetings to lobby on justice issues, SNC-Lavalin never once spoke to Wilson-Raybould or anyone from the Department of Justice.

But given that the budget omnibus bill had gone through a full cabinet process, Wilson-Raybould would have been acutely aware of the push for DPAs — and SNC Lavalin’s desire for one. After lobbying Ottawa to change the law, the company was now asking prosecutors to cut it a deal.

Trudeau has said more than once in recent days that he reassured Wilson-Raybould at that September meeting.

« I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone, » Trudeau said this week in Vancouver.

The day after the PM and Wilson-Raybould spoke, SNC-Lavalin was back lobbying the government — this time meeting with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to, once again, discuss justice issues.

Things fall apart

None of the firm’s efforts seem to have paid off. In October, prosecutors told SNC-Lavalin it would not get a DPA. The criminal charges were going to court. SNC Lavalin’s lifeline was fraying. Events started to move fast.

The company made the news public in an October 10 statement. On Oct. 11, SNC-Lavalin met with Elder Marques, the PMO senior adviser.  A week later, the company announced that it would challenge the prosecutor’s decision.

The Globe and Mail reports that this is the period when Wilson-Raybould allegedly was pressured by unnamed officials in the PMO to intervene in the prosecution. Trudeau denies the allegations. Wilson-Raybould has refused to address them publicly, citing solicitor-client privilege.

In December, SNC-Lavalin issued a statement saying its Quebec operations were under threat as a result of « ongoing legal challenges. »

In January of this year, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio. This week, she quit cabinet entirely. Her resignation letter did not offer a specific explanation.

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The Kooples change de partition

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Quelque dix ans après son lancement, le label mixte des frères Elicha s’ouvre à d’autres tendances comme le sportswear.

Les hommes ont considérablement évolué au cours des dix dernières années. Ils ne s’en tiennent plus à un style précis. Nos collections reflètent cette évolution via une palette plus large de coupes et de vêtements», explique Alexandre Elicha, cofondateur avec ses frères Laurent et Raphaël de The Kooples qui s’est rapidement fait une place dans le paysage de la mode accessible. Autre actualité: de la maroquinerie pour homme imaginée avec Zayn Malik. Si le nom de ce jeune chanteur anglais ne vous dit pas grand-chose, ses multiples tatouages sur les photos de la campagne n’ont pas pu vous échapper !«C’est une formidable tête d’affiche sur les réseaux sociaux (plus de 30 millions d’abonnés sur Instagram, ndlr) et, par ailleurs, il partage sa vie avec Gigi Hadid (près de 46 millions, ndlr)», justifie le responsable de l’univers masculin de la marque. Comme ses cadets, Alexandre Elicha a la mode et la communication dans le sang.

Officiellement, leur success-story a commencé incognito, à l’été 2008, avec des affiches de couples placardées dans tout Paris. D’aucuns ont alors pensé que The Kooples était «un jeune groupe de rock ou un nouveau site de rencontres», rigole-t-il. En fait, il s’agissait d’une marque inconnue qui ne lésinait pas sur les moyens. Et s’apprêtait à inaugurer cinq boutiques dans la capitale et huit autres en province pour commencer…

Un lancement trop bien orchestré pour être l’œuvre de débutants! En vérité, les frères Elicha sont des enfants de la balle. En 1995, leurs parents avaient fondé Comptoir des Cotonniers. Cette marque fut la première de son segment à se doter de son propre réseau de magasins, soutenu par des images qui jouaient sur la complicité mère-fille à l’heure du shopping. Seul bémol: l’enseigne ne touchera jamais à la mode masculine alors que Georgette et Tony Elicha ont trois grands garçons qui ne rêvent que de cela. N’en déplaise, ils apprennent les ficelles du métier dans leur ombre. Et rétabliront la parité le moment venu. En 2005, lorsque la société est vendue, les trois frères veulent cependant tourner la page. «On rêvait de cinéma ou de musique et, en même temps, on ne pouvait pas s’empêcher d’écumer des boutiques», dit encore Alexandre Elicha. La formidable percée de The Kooples tient aussi à leur capacité à sentir le marché.

Thekooples.com

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L’affaire Bissonnette: pour que la haine ne change pas de camp

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Algérien de naissance, je fais partie de cette génération dont l’enfance a été marquée à tout jamais par la guerre civile dont ce pays fut le théâtre durant les années quatre-vingt-dix et qui a coûté la vie à autant de citoyens qu’en Syrie. Je prétends donc connaître quelque chose de ces tumultes haineux qui déchirent un peuple au nom de la foi, ou du moins de ceux qui s’en réclament. J’ai ressenti quelque fois dans ma vie, au plus profond de moi-même, quelque chose de la terreur et de la colère qu’éprouvent les familles et les proches de ceux qui ont péri lors du drame de Québec.

Heureusement, nous sommes dans un autre pays et à une autre époque. Nous sommes au Québec — terre d’accueil si l’en est — où l’on peut refaire sa vie sans avoir à voir à redouter les atavismes les plus violents. J’ose croire que le drame qui s’est joué à la grande mosquée de Québec au soir du 29 janvier 2017 n’est qu’un funeste accident de l’histoire.

Je ne suis ni juriste ni juge et je ne saurais dire droit si on m’en confiait la lourde charge. Mais comme tant d’autres, je ne crois pas que briser la vie de tant de personnes mérite autre chose qu’un lourd châtiment. Une sentence qui fait exemple sans enlever au bourreau ce que nous pouvons encore partager avec lui : son humanité. Il ne me semble pas que le juge ait ordonné autre chose en privant Alexandre Bissonnette de tout espoir de libération avant 40 ans… toute une vie et bien au-delà.

Toutefois, force est de constater que ce jugement semble être encore plus controversé que l’acte abject, unanimement condamné partout à travers le monde. Les familles des victimes ont immédiatement déploré la clémence de la sentence. Clémence avez-vous dit, quand le meurtrier n’aura à prétendre à une libération qu’au seuil de sa retraite ? Nous avons eu droit à l’imagerie habituelle des familles des victimes indignées qui crient leur colère ô combien légitime. Or chacun sait que l’émotion est rarement bonne conseillère, surtout quand les circonstances sont aussi terribles.

Je ne suis pas pratiquant et je crois bien plus en la justice des hommes qu’en une hypothétique justice divine. J’ai toutefois grandi dans une culture musulmane et, comme tous mes petits camarades, j’ai été initié aux valeurs essentielles de l’islam dès le plus jeune âge, à l’école primaire.

J’aimerais donc rappeler deux préceptes fondateurs de cette religion, le pardon et le repentir. Le repentir dépend de l’autre, mais le pardon dépend de nous. S’il est important de croire en la miséricorde et au pardon de Dieu, n’est-il pas nécessaire de baser les relations humaines sur le pardon ? L’islam n’enseigne-t-il pas que nous ne pouvons attendre le pardon divin à moins de pardonner aussi à ceux qui nous font du tort ? Pardonner à ses ennemis est l’un des enseignements clés de l’islam. Le Coran décrit les croyants comme étant : « Ceux qui évitent les péchés majeurs et que lorsqu’ils sont en colère, ils pardonnent. » (42 : 37). N’est-il pas dit : « Le tribut du mal, c’est son mal, mais quiconque pardonne et se rachète, sa récompense est auprès d’Allah. » (42 : 40). Le prophète ne dit-il pas que Dieu lui a commandé neuf choses, dont le pardon ?

La sentence rendue par le juge François Huot n’est pas inintelligible pour de bons croyants, car la vengeance n’est pas musulmane. Ne laissons surtout pas la haine changer de camp. Rien ne nous y oblige.

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Elementary students challenge Quispamsis town council on climate change – New Brunswick

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Five Grade 5 students at the École des Pionniers Elementary School in Quispamsis, N.B., have made a pitch to town council on the issue of climate change.

The students are asking the town to sign the Citizens’ Universal Declaration of Climate Emergency. They feel the time to act is now.

“Our planet is technically in danger, and we need to change it now before it’s too late,” said student Diego Arseneault.


READ MORE:
Advocacy groups call on federal government to declare climate change a public health emergency

“It’s going to be our world, and if we don’t make change now, it’s going to be too late by the time we’re in charge,” added Leah Doucet.

The students took turns over a 10-minute period to make the case for signing the declaration. They referenced events close to home, like record flooding in the spring of last year, as a potential sign of things to come. These pre-teens say they’re already concerned.

“I’m worried about our future and I want other people to have a good life and not have to worry about the future,” said Arseneault.

The town doesn’t sign declarations as a matter of policy but did recognize the declaration and invited the students to work with the town’s climate change committee.


READ MORE:
Richmond may be next city to declare climate emergency

“I really think that they understand what we were trying to say and that we all hope that every human has a happy planet and there’s a better world,” said student Jacob Somers.

Grade 5 student Chloe Ryder added: “I think that at least we put the word out and that they’ll think about it.”

The school’s principal says they were hoping council would have signed the declaration right away but is encouraged moving forward.

“We’re very open to the idea of discussing this with them and giving them the right arguments to actually step up and sign and align with us,” added Anik Duplessis.


READ MORE:
Halifax joins Vancouver as 2nd Canadian city to declare climate emergency

The mayor says the students certainly made their point.

“We feel that this is extremely important and we want to make sure that we do this and work with the schools and the community,” said Mayor Gary Clark. “We certainly are forward-thinking in the town, where we already have started this in 2018.”

At the end of the day, the wish is quite simple, according to student Isabel Cormier. “It’s really important for everyone to live a happy life and including the earth — to live a happy life.”

Halifax and Vancouver are the only two major Canadian cities to have signed the declaration. Several communities in Quebec have also signed.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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How climate change is behind this week’s extreme cold snap

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Baby, it’s frigid outside.

A large swath of Canada, from the Prairies to Nova Scotia, is under a deep freeze. Temperatures in Winnipeg are dipping down to –36 C Monday night with a windchill of almost –50 C. In Windsor, which is typically the warmest spot in Ontario, the overnight temperature will dip to –27 C with a windchill of –40 C.

Even in parts of the U.S. Midwest, temperatures are expected to have a wind chill of –50 C.

This may leave some, like U.S. president Donald Trump, wondering where global warming has wandered off to.

The fact is, it’s climate change, or global warming, that’s behind this extreme cold.

Ever since the bitter winter of 2014, a new winter-weather catchphrase has been making the rounds: polar vortex.

The polar vortex is nothing new. It’s just that it typically it encircles the north pole. However, in recent years, it seems to be meandering southward every so often.

« This air mass always exists, and it often gets bumped and pushed around. In this case, the jet stream pushed it all the way down to the U.S. Midwest, » said CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. « Sometimes that air mass can get split, or divided because of the jet stream, so it ends up getting stuck in place. »

That’s what happened this week: the jet stream managed to split the descending polar vortex into three.

The jet stream

Though it’s a relatively new area of study, there’s increasing evidence that suggests this phenomenon will happen more often and become more extreme.

The key lies with the jet stream, a narrow, fast-moving band of air in our upper atmosphere that moves weather patterns around. In the past, the jet stream moved fairly smoothly around the northern hemisphere. But recently, it’s developed more pronounced kinks that can bring cold, Arctic air much farther south than in the past, or bring heat from the Gulf of Mexico further north than has been typical.

And it’s linked to the Arctic.

A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than anywhere else on Earth. This temperature difference upsets the stability of the jet stream.

And that brings the cold Arctic air southward where it can linger, a result that meteorologists call a blocking pattern.

« We have seen more of these; we’ve noticed that trend already, that’s proven. And all of our climate models show this trend will continue, » Wagstaffe said. « And that doesn’t just mean more heat and more drought conditions. It can also mean more of these extreme cold blasts or extreme wet or snowy systems staying in place longer than normal. »

Climate vs. weather

The important thing to remember when discussing climate change is that climate and weather are two separate entities.

Weather is the state of the atmosphere pertaining to things like wind, moisture, temperature and more that occur on a day-to-day basis. Climate, on the other hand, is the average weather in one place over a long period of time.

Just because you step outside and the tears caused by bitter wind freeze on your cheeks, doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening.

In fact, at the same time much of Canada is in a deep freeze, other parts of the world are experiencing the opposite.

« The atmosphere is always trying to balance out its energy, » Wagstaffe said. « So right now, on the other side of the globe, parts of northern Europe and northern Russia, they’re actually experiencing record-breaking warm temperatures for this time of the year, and really close to the north pole. »

Climate change isn’t about what’s happening today, but what’s happening globally, over time.

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Homeless aid group makes a difference but demands change

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It was a bittersweet anniversary Saturday, as volunteers for the Project Winter Survival homeless relief effort packed emergency kits and sleeping bags to prevent further Toronto street deaths during a weekend cold snap.

“Today is the 20th annual Engage and Change Project Winter Survival and while some people said that’s incredible, it’s pathetic,” said Jody Steinhauer, the founder of Project Winter Survival. She blamed the city of Toronto for failing to prevent two recent exposure deaths — and a suspected third — of homeless people on its streets.

“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Barbara Berryman, who now has a home and a job and spoke at Sunday’s event.
“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Barbara Berryman, who now has a home and a job and spoke at Sunday’s event.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

“We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death,” an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers and journalists at the North York warehouse of the Bargains Group, the clothing wholesaler she heads.

She said Project Winter Survival has been besieged with requests for survival kits this year: homeless aid groups sought 21,000 kits, up 60 per cent from last year, while the number of homeless people on the street has jumped to 9,000 this year from 6,000 in 2018. It’s time for Toronto to make good on its many promises of homeless aid, Steinhauer said.

“I don’t want to be doing this. So, for all of you, we need to put the pressure on the city of Toronto: open up 1,000 shelter beds, get people into housing long-term with support solutions so that next year at this time, we can be indoors and being proud.”

(City officials have pledged to open three new 24-hour shelter sites for homeless Torontonians, but only one is currently operating: a 100-bed facility in Liberty Village, run by the St. Felix Centre. The other two are expected to open in March and April.)

Read more:

‘If it is not my daughter it will be someone else’s’

It’s tough to be homeless in Toronto and it’s getting tougher

City of Toronto staff say $3 million cost overrun for shelter conversion won’t happen again

Steinhauer was speaking after 100 volunteers, each of whom had helped raise funds and gather other donations for homeless relief, spent hours packing and boxing 3,000 black knapsacks and blue sleeping bags.

These life-saving gifts — to which several major banks, the Salvation Army, GoodLife Fitness, Nestlé Waters and other firms have contributed — will be swiftly distributed to 210 social service agencies, homeless shelters and outreach providers throughout the GTA. Toronto police officers also carry some of the kits with them in their patrol cars, to hand out to homeless people they find shivering on the streets.

Project Winter Survival traditionally packs its kits on the third Saturday in January, in an assembly-line effort marked by good humour, loud music and friendly competition to win a homemade “Stanley Cup” for the most efficient of two teams, one wearing orange tuques and the other blue ones. Each kit contains $175 worth of donated clothing, food and personal care items.

But the timing for this year’s event couldn’t be better: Environment Canada issued an extreme cold warning for southern Ontario, with temperatures expected to drop below -24 C by Sunday night.

Steinhauer told the Star she’s been contacted by representatives of homeless shelters who haven’t been able to keep up with demand from people needing relief from the cold.

“We have a woman here from Out of the Cold who just told me last night they had to turn five people away. They didn’t even have a mat for them.”

Jody Steinhauer's Project Winter Survival has packed thousands of kits for homeless people since 1999. "We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death," an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers Saturday.
Jody Steinhauer’s Project Winter Survival has packed thousands of kits for homeless people since 1999. « We should not have to be building survival kits in the city of Toronto to keep people from freezing to death, » an impassioned Steinhauer told volunteers Saturday.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The mass packing effort was assisted by members of 13th Division of the Toronto Police Service, longtime supports of Project Winter Survival. Insp. Justin Vander Heyden told the crowd he was recently transferred to 13 Division and he’s “very deeply touched” to see what his colleagues have been involved with for the past 11 years. He admitted he wasn’t fully apprised of the need for such a large-scale homeless relief effort until he witnessed it with his own eyes.

“I’m also a local resident and I didn’t know that this was going on in my very own community. And I have to tell you, I’m a bit embarrassed by it,” Vander Heyden said.

“But I’m so overwhelmed with pride that people have all come out here to give up their day for this amazing cause. These kits will probably go out to homeless people in the city tonight, probably within blocks of where we’re standing right now. And my officers in 13th Division couuldn’t be more proud to be a part of this.”

Vander Heyden added that he brought his 11-year-old son with him to assist with the packing, because “I want him to see how we treat our vulnerable people in this city, and what it takes to actually get it done together as partners.”

Project Winter Survival has distributed more than 35,000 survival kits since Steinhauer founded her group in 1999, during a winter so brutal that then Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the Canadian army to help shovel snow.

The relief effort has not only saved lives, but also changed them, Steinhauer said, as she welcomed to the stage two former homeless people: Peter Armory, 56, and Barbara Berryman, 49, who today have both homes and jobs after getting through rough periods of their lives. Armory, whom Steinhauer employs at the Bargains Group, was there with his son Joshua, age 5.

“I am a survivor of homelessness,” said Berryman, who works as a photographer and is a budding novelist, as she thanked Steinhauer and Project Winter Survival.

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This Flatbread Recipe Will Forever Change Your Weeknight Dinners | Healthyish

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The idea of baking bread for dinner feels like a fever dream, perhaps sparked by bingeing one too many reruns of The Barefoot Contessa. And while whipping up a loaf of sourdough on a Tuesday is wildly ambitious and, frankly, totally inadvisable, flatbread, on the other hand, is downright easy. You don’t even have to turn on your oven! It’s a low-commitment bread for busy and impatient people, and thus perfect for weeknights, impromptu dinner parties, and any other time you feel like eating it.

Chris Morocco’s low-key whole wheat flatbread recipe (inspired by chef Josh McFadden’s yogurt flatbreads from Bon Appetit’s August 2015 issue), uses whole-milk yogurt to create a complex, tangy flavor similar to—but again, much easier than!—sourdough bread. It only needs five ingredients and twenty minutes of your time. Start by quickly whisking together whole wheat flour, salt, baking powder, and all-purpose flour, then add in the whole-milk yogurt. Resist the temptation to use Greek yogurt, which will throw off the ratio of dry to wet ingredients and keep the dough from hydrating properly.

Once the yogurt is incorporated, knead the dough with your hands until it’s mostly smooth, which should take about a minute. Divide the dough into two places and wrap them in plastic, then set them aside for 15 minutes. (This is called “resting” the dough, and it will make it easier to roll.)

Next comes the fun part: rolling out the flatbreads. Take a moment to dust your work surface with some all-purpose flour, which will prevent the dough from sticking to your countertop. Then, working one at a time, roll out the dough until it’s as thick as two stacked quarters (a.k.a. ⅛ inch). Use a clean wine bottle if a rolling pin hasn’t made its way into your kitchen arsenal, and don’t stress if the flatbreads aren’t perfectly round. Lopsided flatbreads are still very delicious!

Once both flatbreads are rolled out, heat a medium cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Cook flatbread until underside is golden brown and puffy with a few charred spots, about two minutes, then turn and cook the other side until it’s golden brown, about a minute longer. Transfer to a plate, then repeat with remaining dough.

It’s tempting to devour these flatbreads when they’re straight out of the skillet, but adding toppings will make them even more delicious. We love to pile on tender cauliflower and tofu, but they’re also a natural base for jammy eggs, peak-season tomatoes, and random leftovers. The power of flatbread transforms all—and with all the ingredients already tucked away in your pantry, a fresh batch is never far away.

Make this flatbread recipe tonight:

FGFP-Cauliflower-Flatbread-Horizontal.jpg

Chef Josh McFadden’s crazy-simple yogurt flatbreads from Bon Appetit’s August 2015 issue inspired this whole-grain version. It pairs with just about anything you can think of. Make sure to use conventional (i.e., not Greek) yogurt, otherwise the ratio of dry to wet ingredients will be thrown off. This recipe is part of the 2019 Feel Good Food Plan, our ten-day plan for starting the year off right.

SEE RECIPE

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Your tax bill could change in 2019. Here’s what to expect.

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A whole host of federal tax changes come into effect in the new year. Some will hit your paycheque, others your bills — and if you’re a small business owner, there are a couple of changes coming for which you’ve likely been preparing for months.

Starting in January, Canadians’ Canada Pension Plan contributions increase from 4.95 per cent to 5.1 per cent on earnings between $3,500 and $57,400. It’s the first of five years of graduated increases running until 2023, when the rate will reach 5.95 per cent.

The increases are going to pay for what eventually will be an enhanced CPP. The Quebec Pension Plan will see similar changes.

« You can think of it as a cost right now, but you’re actually going to be contributing toward an enhanced Canada Pension Plan benefit over time, ultimately leading to a higher amount of pensionable earnings, » said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC.

« So you’re actually going to get something in return for that extra contribution. »

Partially offsetting that increased CPP contribution on your paycheque will be a drop in Employment Insurance premiums, from $1.66 to $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings.

2019 also will be the first tax year when low income workers can qualify for a more generous Canada Workers Benefit, a program intended to help the working poor stay employed.

The maximum benefit will increase by between $300 and $400, based on whether the applicant is single or part of a family. That brings the maximum benefits to $1,355 for a single person or $2,335 for a single parent or couple, depending on personal incomes.

However, as 2019 is the eligibility year, low income workers will have to wait until 2020 to get the boosted benefit.

Experts say more than half of Canadians who live in poverty are working.

« Gone is this idea, I hope … that people live in poverty because they just need to find a job, they need to pull up their boot straps and get off their couch, » said Michele Bliss of the non-profit advocacy group Canada Without Poverty. « That idea is so antiquated. »

Small business tax changes

One of the big news stories of the past year and half has been the changes the federal government is making to small business taxes. The most controversial change affects the rules on how much passive income an incorporated small business can hold.

Passive income is money earned in interest on funds that sit idle within an incorporated business, without being reinvested or used to cover operating expenses. As of January 1, business owners can hold up to $50,000 in passive income before they start to lose access to the advantageous small business tax rate.

Small businesses pay a relatively low tax rate — currently 10 per cent — on the first $500,000 of business earnings. But staring in January, if those businesses hold in excess of the new limit on passive income, some of that first half-million in earnings will be subjected to the much higher corporate rate, depending on how far over the new limit they are.

The federal government’s goal is to encourage business owners to reinvest their passive earnings into their businesses, or into hiring more people, rather than sitting on the cash.

« I think a lot of small businesses are still unaware that some of the changes are coming, » said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

« In fact, that’s one of my biggest worries. I think a lot of firms are sitting ducks for the Canada Revenue Agency. »

However, the small business tax rate is going down from 10 to 9 per cent in 2019 — a move long promised by the Liberal government, one that many saw as an attempt to placate a small business community angered by the passive income changes.

« But the passive investment increases are going to eclipse any reduction in taxes that a small business might feel, » said Kelly.

Still, the federal government estimates the average small business — one that has eligible business income of $107,000 — will keep an extra $1,600 per year after the cut.

And for some really small businesses — especially those not incorporated and with no passive income to worry about — that tax cut will be very welcome.

« 2018 was actually one of the toughest years we’ve had. We sell a niche product that’s been copied and is now sold in box stores. So we’re competing with a lot of big businesses here, » said Katrina Barclay of Malenka Originals in Ottawa. Her store refurbishes outdated furniture with a special chalk paint.

« At the end of the day, at the end of the month, if there’s a little bit of extra money left over that we can reinvest into the business, then it definitely helps. »

Higher prices at the pump

Possibly the most politically charged tax change coming in 2019 is Ottawa’s new carbon pricing system. In jurisdictions that don’t have carbon pricing mechanisms of their own, Ottawa will levy a tax on fossil fuels of $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions starting in the new year, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Emissions over set limits from large, industrial emitters in provinces without carbon pricing systems will fall under the federal governments carbon pricing rules starting in January. For consumers, the cost of fossil fuels and the services they support will start going up in April.

The government estimates that, once the carbon tax is in place in the provinces where it will be imposed, the cost of a litre of gasoline will go up 4.42 cents, natural gas will go up 3.91 cents per cubic metre and propane will go up 3.10 cents a litre.

People in those provinces will get direct rebates to offset the increased costs. The amount will vary based on the province and the number of people in the household. In Ontario, for example, the rebate for the average household (defined as 2.6 people) would be about $300 a year, or about $248 in New Brunswick, or $336 in Manitoba, or $598 in Saskatchewan.

« I think the government has designed this system in a way that will prevent us from getting a big ding from the carbon pricing system, » said Nick Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa.

In Yukon and Nunavut, consumers will see the cost of fossil fuels rise due to carbon pricing — but because the territories themselves are adopting the federal system, the revenue will go to the territorial governments, not to individual households.

Other tax and price changes coming:

Postage stamp prices are set to increase.

Many personal income tax credit and benefit amounts are being indexed to inflation:

  • The basic personal amount rises to $12,069
  • The annual contribution limit to tax-free savings accounts will increase to $6,000 from $5,500

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Jagmeet Singh and the NDP look to change the narrative in 2019

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OTTAWA—The leader of the New Democratic Party is talking about fear and insecurity.

Not his own, mind you; nor that of his party. Perched on a couch in his Parliament Hill office, Jagmeet Singh is in his usual high spirits, his ebullience by now a well-known characteristic.

It’s almost enough to mask the starkness of his talking points. Singh is making the case that, behind the rosy economic statistics held aloft by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government, “real people, real Canadians” are struggling.

Look at the General Motors shutdown in Oshawa, he says. Hundreds laid off in Cape Breton. Workers protesting wage cuts at the Montreal airport. On the cusp of an election year, “this insecurity, this fear” pervades Trudeau’s Canada, Singh says. People are worried about precarious work, the cost of living, the looming scourge of climate change — and the NDP is here to assuage that fear.

“The reality is that, for everyday people, things aren’t going well,” Singh told the Star early one evening in December.

“Our mission is to make sure we stand up for those people who don’t feel like there is anyone in their corner.”

Singh might know something about being on the ropes.

More than a year since his dominant campaign to clinch the federal NDP leadership, Singh has had — by his own acknowledgement — some “political ups and downs.” Fundraising has tanked since the days when the New Democrats were the official opposition in Ottawa. A parade of sitting MPs have decided to sit out the 2019 federal election, including veterans from the NDP’s front bench (though Singh points out at least one former parliamentarian is vying for a comeback, Toronto’s Andrew Cash). Through it all, Singh has been forced to quell controversies like the furor last spring over his attendance at Sikh separatist events and allegations of inappropriate behaviour against two of his MPs.

Now Singh is looking to turn the page on all that in the new year, when the NDP leader has not one, but two all-important elections on the calendar.

First, at some point in February, Singh will get his chance to enter the House of Commons for the first time. The former Ontario MPP from Brampton has never held a federal seat. But in his search for a vacancy, the NDP leader decided in August to relocate to British Columbia so he can run in Burnaby South, a riding that was held by New Democrat Kennedy Stewart until he resigned to run — successfully — for the Vancouver mayoralty.

If all goes well for Singh in Burnaby — and one poll conducted this fall suggested the riding is by no means a lock for him — Singh will then turn to the larger battle: the general election slated for October.

Farouk Karim, a former NDP press secretary who campaigned with Quebec MP Guy Caron in the 2017 NDP leadership race, said there’s no doubt Singh and his party are in a slump. The party was roundly defeated in each of the eight byelections held since Singh became leader, posting a lower share of the total votes in each contest compared to the general election in 2015.

Singh himself has foregone a salary from the NDP while the party has struggled to fundraise. Donations have dropped to less than $5 million in 2017 from $18.6 million in 2015, according to filings with Elections Canada. Quarterly reports so far in 2018 don’t look any better.

Meanwhile, the party’s standing in national polls has stalled in third place, well behind the Liberals and Conservatives and not that far ahead of Elizabeth May and the Green party.

The challenge for the NDP, Karim said, is to make the case to voters on the progressive side of the spectrum that Trudeau’s Liberal government has failed to deliver on their priorities. That might be hard, given that the Liberals are still governing on their first mandate from voters. Voting for change is like trying to convince a family to buy a new household appliance after only a few years, he said.

“It’s easier to make the case that there are ‘manufacturing defects,’” Karim said.

Karim hears this when Singh attacks the Liberals for nationalizing the Trans Mountain Pipeline, a $4.5-billion purchase that the NDP contends will undermine Canada’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement. The party is also rolling out new rhetoric about how the NDP is “on your side,” a message that Karim said is meant to highlight the party’s traditional association with unions’ and workers’ rights, versus the Liberal government that passed legislation to force striking Canada Post employees back to work.

At the same time, some have argued the political field has shifted with the prevalence of populist nationalism in Europe and the United States. Frank Graves, president of the EKOS Research Associates, said the same forces that draw people to anti-elitist rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump could be a major factor in Canada’s 2019 election.

That could present another opportunity for the NDP, if it can position itself as the champion of those who feel left out of wider economic success by pursuing policies such as more aggressive taxation of the rich, Graves said.

Indeed, Singh has already unveiled a suite of proposals to close tax loopholes for corporate leaders and stop the rich from hiding their money, but left-wing critics such as Avi Lewis — co-author of the environmental and social democratic treatise, the Leap Manifesto — are calling on him to sharpen his demands with attention-grabbing proposals like “free transit for all.”

“One of the answers could be to tap this populist vein,” said Graves. “(Singh) could definitely be a magnet for people who find it thrilling to hear these things spoken in a more direct way.”

Political strategies aside, Singh’s first hurdle is the February byelection in Burnaby South. For Karim, victory there is the only way to spark a brighter 2019 for the social democratic party — or put Singh’s leadership in question.

“People are counting out the NDP, so there is a lot of room to surprise people in 2019,” he said.

“And people love a comeback kid story.”

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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Year of change for Canadian sports fans in 2018 as media rivals stepped up to compete

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The way the NHL regular season is shaping up, it’s a good bet that five of the seven Canadian teams could reach the playoffs this spring.

That’s the kind of playoff CanCon that Rogers was hoping for when it signed a massive $5.2-billion US, 12-year deal to land the league’s broadcasting rights in 2013, a move that gave Sportsnet an immediate edge in its long-running rivalry with TSN.

After some early challenges, Rogers is set to get more bang for its buck as more teams from north of the border move into contention.

« Rogers gambled that Canadian teams would be coming back, » said sports marketing expert Richard Powers, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. « When they signed that deal, Canadian teams were really in a lull.

« They have come back. »

The partnership between the media giant and the league was announced in November 2013 and the deal kicked in for the 2014-15 season. Five Canadian teams made the playoffs that spring but three crashed out in the first round and the others were eliminated in Round 2.

The worst-case scenario for Rogers arrived a year later as Canadian teams were shut out of the post-season. Five teams made the cut in 2017 but three were eliminated in the opening round, with the Ottawa Senators making it to the conference final.

Last spring, only Winnipeg and Toronto reached the post-season. The Maple Leafs made a first-round exit while the Jets were eliminated in the conference final.

« The length of that deal was extraordinary and the amount that they paid was extraordinary, » Powers said. « I think they’re actually leveraging it quite well. I don’t know what else they can do. Everybody knows it’s Rogers. »

Sportsnet, which is part of Rogers Media, bills itself as Canada’s No. 1 sports media brand. The network’s main rival since its inception in 1998 has been TSN, which calls itself Canada’s sports leader, and is a division of Bell Media.

Changing landscape

The sports media landscape had a much different look two decades ago. Nowadays, each network boasts multiple feeds, online and mobile viewing options, and an impressive lineup of marquee international properties.

In addition to hockey, some of Sportsnet’s domestic offerings include the Toronto Blue Jays/MLB (the Blue Jays are owned by Rogers), the Grand Slam of Curling and the Canadian Hockey League. TSN’s lineup includes some regional NHL games along with the Canadian Football League, world junior hockey championship and the Season of Champions curling events.

« I think (the rivalry is) great for consumers and for viewers, » Powers said. « It keeps both teams, at each network, it keeps their eyes on the ball so to speak, no pun intended. They are looking for ways to beat the competition … so I think the ultimate winners are the fans and the viewers. »

Two of the more notable contracts — Sportsnet’s MLB deal and TSN’s deal with the CFL — run through 2021. One deal that is up in just over a year is TSN’s contract with Curling Canada for the Season of Champions events.

It will be worth watching to see if Sportsnet doubles down on a ratings winner like curling by trying to land the package, which includes the Tim Hortons Brier, Scotties Tournament of Hearts and world championships.

Fans react while watching the NFL’s Super Bowl, one of the biggest television events of the year. (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

« Sometimes you acquire rights just to sort of put a stake in the ground in terms of the bigger picture, » said Vancouver-based marketing communications executive Tom Mayenknecht. « That’s where I would really start. The bigger picture is that we probably have the most competitive sports television landscape that we’ve ever had in this country. »

However, one big question mark remains as Sportsnet has yet to name a successor for president Scott Moore. He left the company in October, with Rogers Media president Rick Brace currently handling the position on an interim basis.

Moore has said that if Sportsnet hadn’t landed the NHL rights, the network would have become a « regional, inconsequential player. » He added the deal has paid for itself each year because Sportsnet can enjoy the financial returns that come with it.

« If you’re going to buy sports media in this country now, you’re going to call us first, » Moore told The Canadian Press last October. « It used to be all the big deals went to TSN and we got what was left over. »

In addition to traditional broadcasters, subscription video streaming services like DAZN could make more of a dent on the Canadian sporting scene over the coming years.

Online powerhouses like Twitter, Facebook and Amazon could be in the mix as well.

One example of the changing dynamics came last summer at the RBC Canadian Open golf tournament. Coverage was provided by a varied lineup that included TSN/RDS, Global TV, DAZN, Twitter, PGA Tour Live, the Golf Channel and Facebook.

The hammer comes with hockey though, and the Canadian sports media landscape could have a much different look when talks begin on the next NHL deal.

The current contract expires in 2026.

« TSN and Sportsnet are no longer the only players within, » said Mayenknecht, who hosts a sports business show that airs on TSN Radio and other stations around the country. « They’re the lead players for sure, but they’re part of a much more organic, changing landscape. »

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