Tory motion showdown and the U.S. presidential debate: In The News for Oct. 22

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kick-start your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Oct. 22 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

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One day after surviving a confidence vote on a Conservative motion, Justin Trudeau's minority Liberal government faces another Conservative motion that could trigger yet more high-stakes drama over the possibility of a snap election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The official Opposition is using its second opposition day this week to debate a motion calling for a sweeping probe by the House of Commons health committee into a host of issues relating to the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The motion is so broad and the demand for documents so massive that the Liberals are expected to argue that its passage would paralyze the government — the same argument used to declare the first Conservative motion a confidence matter.

The government survived the subsequent confidence vote on that motion — which would have created a special committee to investigate the WE Charity affair and other alleged examples of corruption — with NDP, Green and independent MPs grudgingly joining with the Liberals on Wednesday to defeat the motion.

But all opposition parties blamed Prime Minister Trudeau for turning the issue into a confidence matter that threatened to plunge the country into an election.

With opposition resentment over the handling of that motion still fresh, the government now has to decide whether to play the same card again on the second Conservative motion.---

Also this ...

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has tested negative for COVID-19 but will continue to isolate at home after one of his cabinet ministers tested positive.

Kenney says he was tested Wednesday afternoon because he attended events with Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard last week.

"The results have come back negative," he said in the statement late Wednesday. "I am feeling healthy, and am not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms."

Kenney said he will isolate until Oct. 29 and, in the meantime, work from home.

Allard went into self-isolation last weekend because a close contact tested positive, the premier's office said.

She was notified Wednesday that she had tested positive for the virus, and Kenney immediately went into isolation and was tested.

"Minister Allard’s close contacts are currently being notified and will be advised to isolate and get tested," said Harrison Fleming, a spokesman for Kenney.

"We are not currently aware of any close contacts of Minister Allard’s showing symptoms."

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

Television viewers across the United States and Canada might well wonder tonight why living room couches don't come with seatbelts.

After last month's interruptive, insult-riddled debate performance against Joe Biden, Donald Trump has a chance to redeem himself — though observers don't expect him to try.

Instead, they're bracing for another show of vintage Trump, one in which he'll seek to be heard even in spite of his muted microphone.

The Commission on Presidential Debates will be cutting off the opposing mic during two-minute opening statements before each 15-minute segment.

Tonight's debate, hosted by Belmont University in Tennessee, will be moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker.

Topics will include American families, race relations, climate change, national security and leadership.

Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien called the decision to cut off microphones an attempt by the commission "to provide advantage to their favoured candidate."

In fact, the commission said in a statement this week, it's designed to level the playing field for the two candidates.

"One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough," the statement said.

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Also this ...

Iran is responsible for emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple states aimed at intimidating the recipients into voting for President Donald Trump, U.S. officials said Wednesday night in calling out both Tehran and Russia for activities meant to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.

The activities attributed to Iran mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage. Most public election interference discussion has centred on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China.

The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the U.S. government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.

"These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," said John Ratcliffe, the government's top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the U.S. would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.

"You should be confident that your vote counts," Wray said. "Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism."

Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the U.S. has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned "we will come after you" if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.

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On this day in 1945 ...

The Canadian Citizenship Act received its first reading in the House of Commons. Until the Act became law in January 1947, the legal terms Canadian National or British Subject were used to designate non-aliens in Canada. Under the law, all Canadians, whether or not they had been born in Canada, became citizens. Canada became the first Commonwealth country to create its own class of citizenship.

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In business ...

WestJet says it will begin providing some refunds to passengers who had their WestJet and Swoop flights cancelled by the airlines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company says the refunds —the first offered by Canadian airlines — will be in the original form of payment rather than a credit for future flights as it had been previously offering.

The refunds won't apply to those who cancelled their own flights or who purchased non-refundable basic fares.

WestJet said the refunds only apply to flights it cancelled because it is focusing on reinstating the practice "in line with its regulatory tariff and booking conditions that were in place pre-COVID."

It added that it has never offered the ability to refund the original form of payment for basic fares.

The Calgary-based company said it will begin on Nov. 2 to contact eligible passengers, starting with those whose flights were cancelled at the onset of the pandemic last spring.

"We are an airline that has built its reputation on putting people first," said Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO.

"We have heard loud and clear from the travelling public that in this COVID world they are looking for reassurance on two fronts: the safest possible travel environment; and refunds."

It asks passengers not to contact the company to avoid overloading its contact centre.

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ICYMI ...

George McKay belts out a hearty "ho ho ho" as he makes the rounds at a weekend farmers market in Brampton, Ont.

Wearing full Santa garb, from tasselled hat to silver bells and with an all-real white beard, the 68-year-old greets children who scamper up before shuffling back when his mask reminds them Kris Kringle has physical distancing protocols, too.

"One little boy asked me last weekend, ‘Santa, are you OK? Are you going to be able to do the toys this year?’ I said, ‘Buddy, don’t be concerned. Santa will be there.’"

But COVID-19 precautions mean opportunities to greet the big man in person are dwindling this year. Toronto cancelled its public Santa Claus parade for the first time in its more than 100-year history, and municipalities around the country have done the same. Retailers scrapped in-store visits, corporate parties are out of the question and hospitals are reconsidering who can safely walk their wards.

That leaves Santas across the country in a state of limbo as organizations mull whether to adapt traditional greeting-and-photo sessions, go virtual or cut the kindly old elf from the advent calendar entirely.

"I’ve been doing Santa for 45 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life," says McKay. "Parades are being cancelled everywhere."

In a typical year he books 100 or 120 events. This year, he's got about 11.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020

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