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What to watch for in five upcoming by-elections

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Feb.21, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

CANADIAN NEWS YOU SHOULD KNOW

A bill to expand U.S. border guards' preclearance authority attracted little attention when the deal was made with former U.S. president Barack Obama's administration. Now, under the new President, some Canadian politicians are raising concerns. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says preclearance is actually better for Canadians, because it means they remain on Canadian soil where they can be protected by the Charter.

Ontario is advising prosecutors that they can skip preliminary inquiries and go right to trial if they think the hearings will lead to undue delays. It's part of a recent push to speed up the sluggish court systems.

The Prime Minister is defending the purchase of a chain of B.C. retirement homes by a Chinese company with a murky corporate structure, and he dodged questions about who owned it.

There are serious problems with how Parliament reviews government spending, and even though Treasury Board President Scott Brison admits the estimates system is "almost incomprehensible," fixing it has proved to take just as long as you might imagine it would.

And another member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery has been hired by the Prime Minister's Office: columnist Michael Den Tandt, who left the National Post earlier this month, will be a "comms advisor on Can-US relations." The Liberals previously hired Postmedia bureau chief Mark Kennedy; Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle; CTV editor David Taylor; and CBC reporters James Cudmore and James Fitzmorris. All now work in senior communications roles with various ministers.

ISSUES BRIEFING: BY-ELECTIONS

With Stephen Harper's retirement from public life, Mauril Bélanger's tragic death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), and veteran politicians Jason Kenney, Stéphane Dion and John McCallum moving on to new jobs elsewhere (the former to Alberta provincial politics, the latter two to diplomatic posts overseas), there are five empty chairs in the House of Commons right now. There is now finally a plan to fill them.

By-elections have been called in all five ridings for April 3. Unless something extraordinary happens (and it rarely does in by-elections), the results themselves will not be particularly interesting. The five seats are among the safest in the country, with each incumbent winning more than 55 per cent of the vote in 2015.

What will be interesting to watch are the candidates. By-elections in safe seats are an ideal time for a governing party to bring a star candidate into Parliament (in fact that was how Mr. Dion, recruited by Jean Chrétien, entered the House in a by-election in 1996).  In Ottawa-Vanier, Mona Fortier, a longtime aide to the late Mr. Bélanger, won the Liberal nomination. In Markham-Thornhill, Mary Ng has taken a leave of absence from her job as the Prime Minister's head of appointments to run for the Liberal banner. And in the Montreal riding of Saint-Laurent, former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister Yolande James appears to have the support of some top people in the party.

U.S. NEWS YOU SHOULD KNOW

The long-awaited re-release of Donald Trump's executive order on immigration has been pushed back to next week.

The Trump administration has rolled back protections for transgender students.

And the key to getting Mr. Trump to tweet less, according to former staffers who talked to Politico, is to make sure he reads only positive news coverage. "He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren't responding enough for him," one said.

LUNCHTIME LONG READ

Marcel Prud'homme, a Liberal from Montreal, served 45 years in Parliament, in both the House and Senate. In all that time, his outspoken views ensured he never made cabinet. He died at the age of 82 in January.

WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail): "By declaring Montreal a sanctuary city, asking local police to suspend co-operation with the Canada Border Services Agency, [Mayor Denis] Coderre is only testing the limits of Canadian tolerance."

Chantal Hébert (Toronto Star): "What makes this set of by-elections special is not its probable non-impact on the makeup of the House of Commons but rather the big shoes that the incumbents are leaving behind for others to try to fill."

Andrew MacDougall (Globe and Mail): "If Conservatives want to win the next federal election they will do it by presenting a friendlier face to a wider section of the electorate. This isn't an argument to drop conservatism, it's a plea to sell conservatism – actual conservatism, not its populist incantation – as a happy warrior, not as an angry misanthrope."

Lorrie Goldstein (Toronto Sun): "As a Jew, my fear of Islam – pertaining specifically to that malignant and widespread strain of it that hates Jews – is completely rational. But even if it was irrational, it is not the business of the government to tell me how I should FEEL about anything."

Todd Hirsch (Globe and Mail): "Income inequality and disparity of opportunity will be the greatest economic challenge for industrialized countries in the 21st century. And while Canadians like to think we are unlike our U.S. neighbours, we are not immune from anger, fear and frustration. If we ignore it, we will suffer the outcomes that other countries are now experiencing."

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Written by Chris Hannay.

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