Gerald Butts’ departure marks end of position rarely seen in Canadian political life

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In a past political life, working for a long-ago premier of Ontario, Gerald Butts helped usher in a new provincial holiday called Family Day.

Little did Butts know that he’d be marking Family Day in 2019 stepping down from a job at the very top of a government led by his old university friend, Justin Trudeau.

Many people step down from political life to spend more time with their families, but this professional parting of the ways between Butts and Trudeau will be as tumultuous as a family breakup — not just in the lives of this duo, but for the government as a whole.

It’s a question that has come up periodically throughout Trudeau’s rise to power and the past three and a half years of Liberal governance: could Trudeau exist without Butts at his side?

The short answer is yes, of course: life and government does go on, as Butts himself said in the no one is indispensable part of his public statement Monday. Note too that Katie Telford, chief of staff to Trudeau, remains in the PMO and while her personal history with Trudeau is shorter and less high-profile, the tight, inner circle around the PM hasn’t totally left the building.

Butts travelled with Trudeau; he sat in caucus and cabinet (along with Telford.) He spoke for the prime minister, on Twitter and social media, and on deep background to reporters. When Trudeau dined with foreign leaders, Butts and Telford were often at the same table. When cabinet ministers or MPs requested a private meeting with the PM, they could usually count on the presence of Butts or Telford in the room if the request was granted — and that’s if they weren’t just told to meet with Butts instead.

This dynamic, incidentally, could be crucial to the ongoing questions about what led to the demotion and departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet, which precipitated Butts’ resignation. She spoke to Butts on a number of occasions before the now-infamous January cabinet shuffle; Butts was at Trudeau’s side in the conversations the ex-minister held with the PM before she quit her new job as veterans’ affairs minister. That’s how things worked in this government.

That’s how things worked with Trudeau. He and Butts met at McGill University when they were both studying English literature and on the debating team. Their friendship endured after university, even as Trudeau moved to B.C. to teach and Butts went on to work in politics — first, briefly, as an aide in the Jean Chretien years, and then on to Queen’s Park, to serve as senior adviser to premier Dalton McGuinty.

It’s there that Butts met Telford, then a chief adviser to then education minister Gerard Kennedy. Trudeau surprised some people by supporting Kennedy in the 2006 federal Liberal leadership — not the people who knew of his friendship to Butts, and through him, then to Telford.

By 2012, when he was working at the head of the World Wildlife Fund in Canada, Butts was helping his friend get into the Liberal leadership race and amassing the team around him. Butts has a huge network of friends in politics. One of his early mentors was James Coutts, the man who served as principal secretary to Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau. Just a few months ago, Butts was one of the keynote speakers at an event to donate Coutts’ diaries to Trinity College at the University of Toronto.

Traditionalists in the Liberal party — indeed in Canadian politics — often balked at Butts’ large public profile while serving with Trudeau. While the prime minister himself grew more cautious in public life, speaking increasingly through careful statements and behind talking points, Butts was very much a personality on social media, sparring with critics of the government, often impolitically.

Two speculative conclusions arose: either Butts was saying what the PM couldn’t, or worse, that Butts was the real voice behind the power at the centre. Neither is likely correct: it’s probably more accurate to say that the two spoke — and thought — in tandem.

Back in 2013, in those early days while Trudeau was running for the Liberal leadership, we sat down for a long interview for an ebook I was writing for the Star. I asked Trudeau to talk about his inner circle of advisers and his relationship to each of them. Here’s what he said to me about Butts:

“Thinking objectively about Gerry is like thinking about myself and that’s a really challenging thing to try and figure out. We bounce off each other really well,” Trudeau said.

Now Trudeau speaks alone, at least for his government. It’s not entirely clear how and when and where we’ll be hearing from Butts again, but those who have known him for a long time know that he’s unlikely to disappear into obscurity.

For a while, Butts was posting instalments on his Facebook page from a favourite book called “The Daily Stoic.” The book contains meditations for each day and the instalment for Feb. 18 is called “Prepare for the Storm.” Butts is gone from the PMO, but the storm isn’t over, for Trudeau or his old friend.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: sdelacourt@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt

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‘Happy tears’: Friday marks 1st payday for reopened Sydney call centre

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Spirits were high at the Sydney Call Centre on Friday for the first payday under new management.

Hundreds of people were laid off just weeks before Christmas after their former employer, ServiCom, went bankrupt.

The call centre reopened on Jan. 2, after being purchased by Iowa businessman Anthony Marlowe, who was in Sydney, N.S., Friday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

For Sandra Bonnar, who was celebrating her birthday Friday, the paycheque was a much-appreciated present. It’s the first pay she’s received since Nov. 10.

« When I opened my bank account this morning, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening … we’re back,' » she said.

Bonnar said she was one of the lucky ones because her husband has full-time work. Over the past several weeks, she did what she could to help out some of her co-workers who are single moms.

There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday marking the first payday at the reopened call centre. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Donna MacDonald said it was an « unbelievable relief » to return to work.

« There was tears, but they were happy tears today, » she said.

If the experience taught MacDonald anything, it’s that she can count on her co-workers and community for support.

« Whether it’s just a talk, or a cup of coffee, or [you] need somebody’s shoulder to cry on, everybody was there for everybody, » she said.

Sydney Call Centre owner Anthony Marlowe said he planned to treat his new employees to drinks on Friday night. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Marlowe is impressed by his new employees.

« It’s very touching the loyalty that the workers have had to their work family, » he said. « I’ve seen nothing like it. »

Marlowe hopes to grow that family. He’s signed a nine-year lease on the building and has plans to expand from the current 480 employees to as many as 700 in the future.

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Fatal stabbing in Scarborough marks Toronto’s first homicide of 2019

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Police have confirmed Toronto’s first homicide of the year after a man was fatally stabbed in a Scarborough residence early Sunday morning.

Police said they received a call at 12:24 a.m. about an individual with a stab wound in a residential building near Gordonridge Pl. and Danforth Rd.

The caller, an acquaintance of the victim, described the man as seriously injured, police said. When police arrived on scene with paramedics, they found the man with obvious signs of trauma and a life-threatening stab wound to his upper body.

Police said resuscitation efforts were made but the man, described to be in his 30s, was pronounced dead on scene. His death is Toronto’s first homicide of 2019.

The area surrounding the building has been closed off for an investigation but there are no road closures, police said. They have not yet released any information on possible suspects.

Premila D’Sa is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @premila_dsa

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Central Alberta saxophone player marks decades of entertaining crowds

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When Alec Salmon first performed on drums eight decades ago at his one-room schoolhouse near Bashaw in Central Alberta, it didn’t go well.

“When we got going, the crowd went out the door,” Salmon, 88, told Global News on Saturday, ahead of a performance in his former school. “We made such a heck of a bad noise.”

Since then, he has had a lot more practice, playing instruments that include the drums, accordion and banjo.


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Salmon’s main instrument is the saxophone, but he said he doesn’t play for his own satisfaction.

“I don’t really [enjoy playing], but it seems that the people do. They keep wanting me to come back,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Salmon estimates he has performed with 14 different bands over the years. For the past decade, he has led the group Alec and the Buffalo Lake Band.

“He’s just a lot of fun. He’s a joker,” said Judy Dinsmore, who plays spoons in the band. “He’s fun to be around.”

“We never ever had an alarm clock in our house,” said his son, Grant. “We got woken up at 5:00 by a saxophone or an accordion, or piano, or something like that.”


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Music never paid the bills for Salmon, who worked as a farmer and auctioneer.

“We played a lot of wedding dances and a lot of anniversaries, funerals and stuff like that — but I tell you, I never made enough money on it to get a haircut,” he said.

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Thanksgiving Monday marks 2018’s last day for Trent-Severn lock stations – Peterborough

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Thanksgiving Monday marks the final operational day of the season for all 44 locks along the Trent-Severn Waterway located between Trenton and Port Severn.

Martin Carfrae, who brought his family from Germany, was lucky to catch a glimpse of the action.


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“I was wondering whether they were closed today, but I’m so happy that they weren’t closed today and the girl at the tourist bureau said get down there right away and you won’t miss it,” said Carfrae.

Come Tuesday, the locks won’t be staffed.

“At which point you don’t get our help if something happens,” said lockmaster Ed Donald. “You have to be cognizant of that, aware, take extra precautions, and some of the life rings that are in strategic locations are left out over the winter but many of the tubs and the chambers and around the railings of the locks do get pulled in for the winter.”

Donald, who has been working the waterway since 1989, says the Trent Severn Waterway is the second-largest watershed in the world and it contributes enormously to the economy along the waterway system.

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“If we didn’t have this beautiful gem in the middle of Ontario, 386 km long going through all these towns and villages, then most would not survive,” said Donald.

While operations may be shutting down, it still takes a month to winterize and prepare for the 2019 season.

“Travel our lakes and rivers by snowmobile or four-wheeler as long as it’s deemed safe and there’s plenty of ice, and you’re not in any areas where there’s any currents involved,” Donald said, “then we would love you to continue to enjoy our system in the winter months, as well.”

The Trent-Severn Waterway will open up again on the May 24 long weekend, 2019.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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