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2nd Republican senator urges Trump to resign as impeachment looms

Two Republican senators now say U.S. President Donald Trump should resign in the wake of deadly riots at the Capitol, while support for the House drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible” after a violent mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol building on Wednesday. Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”

Toomey said even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offences in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Resignation, Toomey said, was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rearview mirror for us.” The senator was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.

House leaders, furious after the violent insurrection against them, appear determined to act despite the short timeline.

Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week” but did not say outright that there would be a vote on impeachment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus to ‘be prepared to return to Washington this week’ but did not say outright that there would be a vote on impeachment. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said that “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.”

Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina and a close ally of president-elect Joe Biden, suggested that if the House of Representatives does vote to impeach, Pelosi might hold the charges — known as articles of impeachment — until after Biden’s first 100 days in office. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could not begin before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“Let’s give president-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Clyburn said. “And maybe we will send the articles some time after that.”

Clyburn said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.

Republicans split

Another idea being considered is to have a separate vote that would prevent Trump from ever holding office again. That could potentially only need a simple majority vote of 51 senators, unlike impeachment, in which two-thirds of the 100-member Senate must support a conviction.

Toomey indicated that he might support such a vote: “I think the president has disqualified himself from ever certainly serving in office again,” he said. “I don’t think he is electable in any way.”

The Senate is set to be split evenly at 50-50 but under Democratic control once vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and the two Democrats who won in Georgia’s Senate run-off last week are sworn in. Harris will be the Senate’s tie-breaking vote.

WATCH | Trump and the future of the Republican Party:

CBC News speaks with Chris Galdieri, associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, for his take on the state of the Republican Party. How divided is it, where does it go from here and how much influence will Trump and Trumpism have? 4:10

While many have criticized Trump, Republicans have said that impeachment would be divisive in a time of unity.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said that instead of coming together, Democrats want to “talk about ridiculous things like `Let’s impeach a president’ who isn’t even going to be in office in about nine days.” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Trump’s actions “were clearly reckless,” but “my personal view is that the president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again.”

Still, some Republicans might be supportive.

WATCH | Former White House chief of staff says Trump should resign:

Former secretary of defense, director of CIA, and White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta, says Donald Trump should resign and allow Mike Pence to steer the final days of the administration. 8:21

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said he would take a look at any articles that the House sends over. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic, said he will “vote the right way” if the matter is put in front of him. But, he said, “I honestly don’t think impeachment is the smart move because I think it victimizes Donald Trump again.”

The Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and just days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment once more has advanced rapidly since the riot at the Capitol.

Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include more than 200 co-sponsors.

Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.

The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice-president. It would be the first time a U.S. president has been impeached twice.

Potentially complicating Pelosi’s decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”

Trump increasingly isolated

A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the electoral college.

The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.

A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building, and many other officers were injured. A woman from California was fatally shot by Capitol Police, and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.

WATCH | Photojournalist recalls chaos at U.S. Capitol:

Andrew Harnik, a photojournalist with The Associated Press, recounts the moments when he sheltered in place with members of the U.S. Congress and shares some of the powerful images he took. 6:36

Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history.

Trump has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defence, and the White House declined to comment on the new Republican calls for resignation. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House, as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two cabinet members — both women.

Toomey appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and NBC’s Meet the Press. Clyburn was on Fox News Sunday and CNN. Kinzinger was on ABC’s This Week, Blunt was on CBS’s Face the Nation and Rubio was on Fox News Channel’s Sunday Morning Futures.

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CBC | World News

Why err on the side of caution as COVID-19 looms in health-care workplaces

Hospitals, long-term care homes and other workplaces in Canada need to err on the side of caution or risk being paralyzed in the face of uncertainty from COVID-19, some doctors say.

Six months after the country’s first presumed case, more than 8,900 devastating deaths have occurred mainly among elders and 98,000 others have recovered. Restrictions to everyday routines curbed transmission and avoided overwhelming health-care systems, but public health officials warn people still need to protect themselves to keep case numbers low.

COVID-19 is a tricky disease. Its symptoms can be absent or vague, its course remains unpredictable to physicians and its exact methods and timing of transmission haven’t been nailed down.

Those lingering uncertainties are on Dr. Lauren Crosby’s mind as Calgary ramps up day and elective surgeries.

“When you’re working in the context of scientific uncertainty, especially in the case of an impending and serious threat to health, it’s unreasonable to clarify, to wait for the answers to all your questions before you take action to avert the threat,” said Crosby, an anesthesia resident in Calgary.

Reassurance of higher-level precautions

That’s why Crosby and her father, Dr. Edward Crosby, an anesthesiologist at Ottawa Hospital, wrote an opinion piece last week in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesiology titled “Applying the precautionary principle to personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic: did we learn the lessons of SARS?”

“If we can’t be certain then we should be safe,” she said.

For the Crosbys, one of the lessons from the 44 deaths from SARS in Toronto in 2003 is that when health-care workers are asked to put themselves at risk of infection to care for others, PPE like masks, gowns and gloves should be provided. It’s an application of the precautionary principle — the idea of erring on the side of caution to protect public health.

Justice Horace Krever first recommended the precautionary principle during the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada in 1997.

Justice Archie Campbell’s 2006 SARS Commission also called for the health concerns of health-care workers to be taken seriously so they feel safe, even if that requires higher levels of precautions, Crosby said.

Friends and family members of residents at Extendicare Guildwood Long-Term Care home, in Toronto, hold a rally on June 12. They say including long-term care in the Canada Health Act could better protect residents. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

If health-care workers become sick with COVID-19, they pose a “triple threat” as vectors for more disease transmission, reduced capacity in the health-care system and by becoming patients.

“Scarcity is not a valid reason to limit protective equipment and to limit access to that equipment,” Crosby said.

Instead, she said, to prepare for a second wave, PPE should be used as efficiently as possible, including decontaminating and repurposing it and using other barriers during procedures that spray infectious aerosols.

Fostering public trust

People working in any industry need to feel involved in decision making and have their concerns addressed, Crosby said. Otherwise, there can be a loss of public trust, low morale, anxiety and confusion. In health-care settings, the stress can lead to burnout of workers who are particularly in demand during the pandemic.

WATCH | Lives remembered in Quebec:

Staff and family laid 101 flowers — one for each of the seniors who lost their lives at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval, the Quebec long-term care home hit hardest by COVID-19. 1:17

Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia, called the idea of applying the precautionary principle an important and timely conversation because COVID-19 has already hit long-term care homes and other shared living facilities hard.

“We have an opportunity, a very narrow window,” Wong said in an interview. “We should take action now.”

How? Wong told a COVID-19 guidance for long-term care homes.

Be transparent as evidence evolves

Tim Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy, supports applying the precautionary principle.

He said it has an intuitive appeal. During COVID-19, it’s been raised in the context of wearing masks and weighing the use of pharmaceutical treatments like hydroxychloroquine.

“If you’re going to do that, then you have to take extra care to ensure that you’re being transparent about the information that you’re using, the evidence you’re using to make the decision,” Caulfield said. “You want to make sure that you are open to change as the evidence evolves.”

He pointed to an association between jurisdictions around the world, such as Australia and regions of France, which have been the most successful in containing the disease so far, and public trust in key institutions and decision makers.

“In the face of uncertainty, we still have to march forward and we have to do it in a manner that benefits the most, and I think that we can’t allow uncertainty to paralyze us,” Caulfield said.

(CBC News)

Dr. Timothy Paul Hanna, a clinician and scientist at Queen’s University Cancer Research Institute, applied the precautionary principle to help guide Ontario’s prioritization plans for cancer care during COVID-19.

Potential risks to patients include:

  • Infection risk by leaving their homes to come for treatment.
  • Possible side-effects of treatment, such as radiation for lung cancer that further diminishes lung function after getting COVID-19.
  • Treatment and diagnostic delays associated with rationing care when hospitals scale back.

“We’re really fortunate across Canada,” Hanna said. ‘We weren’t left as single institutions or single physicians to proceed based on our own opinion when resources became limited. I think that that’s a real plus of our universal health-care system.”

Provincial prioritization frameworks weighed factors he wrote about such as the magnitude of benefit from treatment, if the treatment is meant to be curative or palliative, patient considerations such as age, comorbidity, and preferences as well as the availability of human resources and equipment to treat cancers.

Canada has a narrow window of opportunity to better protect its most vulnerable, says Dr. Roger Wong. (Submitted by UBC)

“Regardless of how we discover how well we might have done, I think the mental health effects and social stress, the impacts on patients and their families having to wait or having to experience care in maybe a different way, like through telemedicine or other virtual means, I’m sure we’ll find has been hard on patients.”

Canadians are touched not only as patients, but as employees and citizens, too.

Soma Ray-Ellis, chair of the employment group at Gardiner Roberts LLP in Toronto, said that as non-essential employees return to work and social gatherings occur, more direction is needed on applying precautionary principles together with human rights, occupational health and safety and privacy legislations.

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CBC | Health News

‘Catastrophe’ looms as displaced Syrians flee toward closed Turkish border

“The children. Thousands of children under the trees.”  

That’s the answer that came crackling back from Dr. Tammam Lodami on the phone from the northern Syrian town of al-Dana when asked for a description of conditions on the ground.  

North of Idlib city and west of Aleppo, the town is caught between a two-pronged advance by Syrian government troops and their Russian backers as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeks to regain control of the last opposition enclave in the country.  

“This is the case,” Lodami said as he struggled to convey the scale of the crisis he’s witnessing, the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the conflict and headed towards a closed Turkish border with no shelter and temperatures dipping as low as –7 C.  

“My English is humble,” he said. “I want to reach my voice to the world.”  

But very little seems capable of permeating the indifference of the world and that elusive body known as the diplomatic community these days, not even when warnings sound of another possible escalation in a war about to enter its 10th year.  

Dr. Tammam Lodami, a dentist who now works as an administrator for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations in the northern Syrian town of al-Dana, says the town where he normally practises is overflowing with people displaced from elsewhere in the country. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

“You can consider these days as a catastrophe,” said Lodami, a dentist by trade who now works for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM).

“Families leave their towns and homes for fear of indiscriminate bombardment. [The Syrian regime forces] target hospitals, medical centres, ambulances, schools, markets and civilians. Everything.”

‘Fastest-growing displacement’

Syria has spent the war systematically corralling rebel opposition fighters, extremist groups, political activists and hundreds of thousands of displaced people into Idlib province.

Now the Assad regime seems to be coming for its opponents, among them al-Qaeda-linked miliants, with Russian airstrikes paving a brutal path for troops on the ground.  

Regime forces began their advance in April 2019,  but it has been picking up steam.  Some 800,000 Syrians have fled their homes in northwestern Syria since early December, according to the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs.

On Tuesday, spokesperson Jens Laerke described it as the largest number of people displaced in a single period since the start of the Syrian crisis almost nine years ago.

It’s “the fastest-growing displacement we’ve ever seen in the country,” he said at a news conference in Geneva.  

An internally displaced girl looks out from a tent in Azaz, Syria, on Thursday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

It’s not difficult to understand why when faced with the daily images of the damned coming out of Idlib:  relatives weeping over the charred bodies of loved ones killed in airstrikes, White Helmet rescue workers plucking bloodied and crying children out of the rubble.  

Roads leading toward the Turkish border are clogged with vehicles loaded down with families lucky enough to have them or to clamber on carrying what they can.

Many are headed toward Atmeh, a sprawling camp of about one million people along Syria’s still-closed border with Turkey.

‘Emergency conditions’

Dr. Okbaa Jaddou, a pediatrician there, said their hospital has only 40 beds.

“On [these] beds, we put 80 [children] or maybe 120 [children], because [there are]  so many people now,” he said in a Skype interview on Wednesday. “We are operating in emergency conditions.”

Originally from Hama, a city further south, Jaddou has been living at Atma for two years.  

“I was displaced and I [haven’t] found any place more safe than the Syrian-Turkish border because the [Syrian] regime has bombed everywhere.”  

“If the situation [continues], we are going to see a very big crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border.”

Internally displaced people receive bread at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria, on Thursday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Idlib was supposed to be a “de-escalation zone,” agreed to in a ceasefire deal worked out between Turkey, which supports some rebel groups inside Idlib, and Russia.

An estimated 1,800 civilians, according to new reports, have been killed since then.  

The recent deaths of a number of Turkish soldiers killed by Syrian shelling has raised tensions considerably. Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered troop reinforcements to the border.

Alarm bells

“If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today,” he said to thundering applause in the Turkish parliament, “regardless of the lines of the [ceasefire].”  

The prospect of Syrian and Turkish troops trading fire in a direct confrontation has sounded alarm bells.  

“What we must absolutely prevent is this developing into wider conflict between the Turks, the Syrians and the Russians,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a director of the group Doctors Under Fire and an adviser to NGOs working in Syria.

An ex-soldier and chemical weapons expert, he would like to see NATO countries, including Canada, do more to support Turkey in the current crisis.

But Turkey has also angered Western allies in recent months by moving against Syrian Kurds in the northeast credited with helping allied troops fighting the Islamic State or ISIS.  

Roads leading towards the Turkish border are clogged with vehicles loaded down with families. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

De Bretton-Gordan said the view in the United Kingdom at least is that it shouldn’t get involved until it’s all over and then help to pick up the pieces.  

“You know, I’ve had meetings with British government ministers asking for this but there is a view certainly here in London that the whole of Idlib that’s not under Turkish or Russian control is being run by the Jihadis. That’s just not the case.”  

Doctors on the ground at the Bab al Hawa hospital near the Turkish border estimate that 95 per cent of the victims of the latest offensive are civilian, with two-thirds women and children.  

Morale threatened

“Three million civilians trapped,” said de Bretton-Gordon. “If there’s no medical support to help them, their morale completely goes. And as we know at the moment, most of them are rushing towards the Turkish border.”  

The presence of a stronger Turkish military presence along that border offers comfort to those sheltering nearby, according to Jaddou, but few believe Turkey is strong enough to face Syria given the Russian and Iranian allies supporting Damascus.  

“Ten minutes ago, I heard four bombings from Turkish cannons,” he said.  

“But these four bombings cannot change the situation because Russia supports the Assad regime with their war planes.

“Idlib, the last opposition castle, is going to surrender. Because people with only rifles cannot fight war planes.”  

Lodami described an ever-growing ‘catastrophe’ to CBC News by phone from al-Dana in Idlib province, where for the past few days he says he’s witnessed thousands of Syrians trying to escape fierce fighting. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

In al-Dana, Lodami doesn’t want to talk about the Turkish-Syrian confrontation. It’s a political question and he is concerned with helping the needy, he said.  

“How we will [face] our God with the children?” he asks. “All the world.  All the world there is a very big problem. They don’t give any care or interest in these children and women under the trees.”  

Ask him what their immediate needs are and the answer comes without a pause.

“We need peace. Just peace.” 

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CBC | World News

Canada finalizes roster as world juniors puck drop looms

Benoit-Olivier Groulx of the Halifax Mooseheads was the final cut Hockey Canada made on Saturday as Canada finalized its roster ahead of the world junior hockey championship.

The roster includes three goaltenders, seven defencemen and 13 forwards.

Barrett Hayton, Alex Lafreniere, Jared McIsaac, Ty Smith and Joe Veleno are all returning from Canada’s sixth place finish at last year’s tournament that was held in Vancouver and Victoria.

WATCH | Canada bests Switzerland in world juniors exhibition:

Dawson Mercer, Liam Foudy and Bowen Byram scored as Canada blanked Switzerland 3-0 in their first warm-up game ahead of the upcoming World Junior Championship. 1:07

It also includes Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale, who won a silver medal with Canada’s men’s summer under-18 team at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

“The management group and coaches have done a terrific job working with the players and finalizing the roster,” said Shawn Bullock, director of men’s national teams with Hockey Canada. “This team has a lot of skill, international experience and, most importantly, is a group of quality young men.”

The puck will officially drop on Boxing Day when Canada takes on the United States in the Czech Republic.

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CBC | Sports News

Brexit talks face uphill struggle as Oct. 31 deadline looms

The United Kingdom and the EU said Monday that Brexit talks were making progress — but not yet enough to ensure a deal by the end of the month — as the government tried to look beyond the country’s stalled EU exit with a policy platform read by the Queen in Parliament.

In terms of historical importance, the painstaking paragraph-by-paragraph talks at the EU’s glass-and-steel Berlaymont headquarters outweighed the regal ritual in which an ermine-bedecked monarch delivered a speech on the priorities of a Conservative government that could last as little as weeks or months.

But the spectacle, complete with horse-drawn coaches, lords in scarlet robes and a diamond-studded crown, at least provided a diversion from the long Brexit grind.

The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and an EU summit on Thursday or Friday is considered one of the last possible chances to approve a divorce agreement. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the country will leave at the end of the month with or without a deal.

Technical teams from Britain and the EU worked through the weekend to secure a last-minute deal, although both sides said significant gaps remain between their positions.

Johnson’s spokesperson, James Slack, said “the talks remain constructive but there is still a lot of work to do.”

Discussions centred on the difficult issue of the future border arrangements between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Britain has put forward a complex proposal to eliminate the need for customs checks, but EU officials say more work is needed.

An EU diplomat familiar with the talks said there would likely need to be a three-month extension to Brexit to turn the proposals into a legally binding deal.

“There are big problems remaining to counter smuggling and fraud because the British outlines are still that vague,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. “There is momentum but there is still little movement.”

Arriving for a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said “the less we say now, the better.”

Despite his reticence, Coveney said “a deal is possible, and it is possible this month. May be possible this week. But we are not there yet.”

Coveney insisted it was essential to give the negotiators time to iron out the remaining difficulties.

“There is still a lot of work to do.”

In London, Queen Elizabeth delivered a speech outlining an ambitious — and critics say undeliverable — legislative program for Johnson’s government.

The 10-minute speech, read by the 93-year-old monarch from a gilded throne in the House of Lords but written by the government, included more than 20 bills, including a law to implement an EU withdrawal agreement, should one be reached.

Johnson, right, and opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, walk through the Commons Members Lobby on Monday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

It also contained plans for post-Brexit reforms to agriculture, fishing and immigration — ending the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the U.K. in 2021. The speech also included a long list of domestic policies, from longer sentences for violent criminals to no-fault divorce, tougher air pollution rules and new building-safety rules.

The government’s critics called Monday’s speech a stunt, because Johnson’s Conservative administration lacks a majority in Parliament and an election looks likely within the next few months, whether or not Britain leaves the EU as scheduled on Oct. 31.

The speech was part of the State Opening of Parliament, a ceremony steeped in centuries-old symbolism of the power struggle between Parliament and the British monarchy. Lawmakers are summoned to listen to the Queen by a security official named Black Rod — but only complied after slamming the House of Commons door in their face to symbolize their independence.

The state opening is usually an annual event, but amid the country’s Brexit chaos there has been no queen’s speech for more than two years — the longest gap for more than three centuries.

EU leaders, including Johnson, are due to meet in Brussels Thursday and Friday to see whether a Brexit deal is possible before Oct. 31.

The challenge of maintaining an invisible border on the island of Ireland — something that underpinned both the local economy and the region’s peace deal — has dominated Brexit discussions for three years since U.K. voters chose in 2016 to leave the EU.

Negotiations intensified last week after Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said they could see a “pathway” to a divorce agreement that avoids a no-deal Brexit, something economists say would hurt both the U.K. and EU economies.

If a Brexit deal is reached, it still needs to be approved by both the British and European parliaments. Many British lawmakers — on both pro-Brexit and pro-EU sides of the debate — remain unconvinced.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday his party was unlikely to support any deal agreed upon by Johnson.

Members of the Queen’s bodyguard, known as Gentlemen at Arms, await the arrival of the Queen for opening of Parliament in London on Monday. (Richard Pohle/pool, Reuters)

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CBC | World News

Mitch Marner’s contract status looms large over Leafs as camp nears

To prepare you for the opening of NHL training camps in mid-September, CBC Sports will do a deep dive on one of the seven Canadian-based clubs every Thursday. The Toronto Maple Leafs are examined in the seventh and final installment.

Click here to read about the Montreal CanadiensWinnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Ottawa Senators.

If you’re a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fanatic, there was one massive reason the agony continued this summer: Mitch Marner remains unsigned.

It’s no secret the Leafs have a salary cap problem to fit Marner back into the fold. According to capfriendly.com, their payroll currently sits at $ 84.4-million US. With relief from Nathan Horton ($ 5.3 million) and David Clarkson ($ 5.25 million) going on the long-term injury list, that leaves Toronto $ 7.65 million under the $ 81.5-million salary cap limit.

Marner is an $ 11-million-a-season player. So there still is a huge problem to solve.

The Leafs brass have nobody to blame but themselves. Last summer, general manager Kyle Dubas knew he had to sign three of their top players in William Nylander, Auston Matthews and Marner in the next year.

The diminutive dynamo is one of the many restricted free agents in the NHL without a contract. Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay), Charlie McAvoy (Boston), Zach Werenski (Columbus), Patrick Laine (Winnipeg), Kyle Connor (Winnipeg), Brock Boeser (Vancouver) and Brendan Perlini (Chicago) are several other prominent youngsters without a deal as training camp fast approaches.

A matter of number-crunching

The salary cap has expanded in small increments in the past few seasons. New revenue streams have hit a wall, and only ticket-price hikes have been responsible for the small increases in the cap ceiling. 

The Leafs still went out and signed John Tavares to a seven-year, $ 11-million-a-season cap hit. The thinking was evident: Tavares would immediately make the Leafs a Stanley Cup contender. But, once again, Toronto could not get out of the first round.

Nylander (six years, $ 6.96 million) was signed last December after a prolonged contract dispute, and Matthews was rewarded with an extension (five years, $ 11.63 million) last February.

These developments put the spotlight immediately on Marner’s unresolved situation.  

Almost forgotten has been the number of changes the Maple Leafs have undergone since the Boston Bruins ousted them 5-1 in Game 7 on Apr. 23. Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, Cody Ceci, Ilya Mikheyev, Ben Harpur and Garrett Wilson were added. Shipped out were Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey and Garret Sparks.

Barrie and Ceci have upgraded the Leafs top-four on the blueline. But with Brown going to the Ottawa Senators in the Ceci trade and Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche in the Barrie move, where’s the grit?

Toronto can beat plenty of teams with its skill and possession game as well as its reliance on goaltender Frederik Andersen. But toughness is required when the playoffs roll around.

Blues, Capitals provide blueprint

The St. Louis Blues proved having plenty of sandpaper in your lineup wins championships in defeating another grit-filled team in the Bruins. Oh yeah, the Leafs know all about the Bruins toughness.

The Washington Capitals were pretty good in the toughness department, too, with Tom Wilson leading the way in 2017-18.

The Leafs hope forwards Wilson and Mason Marchment can help in the sandpaper department. Marchment, however, has yet to play in the NHL after two full seasons in the minors.

Other AHL Toronto Marlies hopefuls to make the Leafs include Swedish defencemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren. Spezza appears to be destined for the fourth-line and duty on the second power-play unit.

But all this doesn’t matter unless Marner saga plays out in the Maple Leafs favour. And the bad news after that? Four members of the Leafs blue line — Ceci, Barrie, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl — are slated to become UFAs next summer.

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CBC | Sports News

Brexit is just a sideshow. A bigger danger for the European Union looms from the east

Ah Brexit. We watch the follies and fatuousness of the British ruling class as it tries to pry the country from the clutches of the "Brussels bureaucrats." The spectacle offers a hideous fascination.

But increasingly in Brussels, Brexit is a bore, a sideshow. The mounting danger for the European Union is in the east. It's called "Orbanism."

Viktor Orban is the prime minister of Hungary. He's an enormous thorn in the body politic of the EU. He practises what his followers like to call "illiberal democracy." He also practises a policy of systematic provocation of the EU.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during the celebrations of the 62nd anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 in Budapest on Oct. 23, 2018. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

And he's not alone. Poland is another major "enemy from within," followed at a distance by the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These are the so-called Visegrad countries. One of their leaders' goals is to weaken the power of Brussels while still collecting the rich subsidies the EU offers.

The EU, facing the loss of one of its biggest members, does not want to be seen as weak or, in the worst-case scenario, to watch other member countries leave the union.

Orban's latest low blow is his decision to offer political asylum to an old friend, Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski is the former prime minister of the small Balkan country of Macedonia, once a part of Yugoslavia. He's also a convicted criminal, found guilty of corruption while prime minister and given a two-year prison sentence.

Macedonia's former prime minister Nikola Gruevski enters a court in Skopje, Macedonia, on Oct. 5, 2018. (Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)

Rather than serve it, Gruevski fled through Albania to Hungary in early November.

Gruevski, in a Facebook post, sought to portray himself as a victim, not a perpetrator. He said he might be "eliminated" if he was sent to prison.

What were you thinking?

It was on that basis, a Hungarian government newspaper said, that he met the conditions for political asylum.

A European commissioner, Johannes Hahn, quickly tweeted, "If confirmed, I expect a sound explanation" from Orban.  That's Eurospeak for "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

The decision undermines the EU's common police and security policy, particularly since EU countries, including Hungary, have approved Macedonia as a candidate for membership.

Orban has offered nothing but disdainful silence. (On Friday, he did say Hungary will evaluate Macedonia's request to extradite Gruevski.)

It's all part of a multi-pronged strategy. For instance, Orban's government has been trying for years to hobble the Central European University in Budapest, founded by the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthopist George Soros.

Soros has campaigned in favour of democracy and open borders in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. Orban has held power with a menu of nationalism and fear of migrants. Despite EU pressure, his government has refused for 17 months to give the university legal status under a restrictive new law governing foreign institutions. The CEU is accredited in the U.S.

Soros was a major target of Orban's party in its winning election campaign in the spring of 2018. It ran billboards saying "Stop Soros" and accused him of funding a "Soros plan" to erase national identities and increase migration flows to Europe.

'Enough is enough'

Now the CEU rector, former Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has said his university will have to start a move to Vienna if it isn't recognized officially by Dec. 1.

"Everything — a barrage of misinformation — is simply falsehoods," Ignatieff said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. "So, we've said enough is enough, I've got a university to run."

It was Orban, along with the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who torpedoed the EU policy on settling refugees after hundreds of thousands reached Europe in 2015. The Visegrad countries simply vetoed their quotas of refugees.

This November, the Czech Republic went further, refusing to sign a non-binding UN pact supporting orderly migration as a basic human right. The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, said the pact was a threat to his country's security and sovereignty.

On Nov. 11, in Poland, the country's president, Andrzej Duda, led a Polish independence day march along with government leaders. Just behind them marched far-right nationalist groups with banners calling for "White Poland" and "Death to Enemies of the Country." 

Polish President Andrzej Duda delivers a speech before the official start of a march marking the 100th anniversary of Polish independence in Warsaw on Nov. 11, 2018. (Agencja Gazeta/Agata Grzybowska via Reuters)

This, too, was seen by many as a provocation aimed at Brussels.

Poland's right-wing Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and immediately began bringing the national broadcaster under party control, parachuting party loyalists into leadership positions.

Then it took aim at Poland's judges. The government rewrote the rules to give it control over the naming of senior judges. 

Cynical populism

Brussels reacted by invoking Article 7 of the EU treaty, citing a "clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law" in Poland.

For Brussels, all this is cynical populism. Unfortunately for the EU, it's very successful populism. 

The Law and Justice party has a majority in parliament. Orban's party won a two-thirds majority this year. And Babis's new party ANO swept to power last year.

But even cynical populists run into problems.

Orban's granting of asylum to a criminal friend has become the object of sardonic jokes in Hungary. After years of refusing asylum to all refugees from Syria, his opponents say, he's finally found one refugee he will help.

In the Czech Republic, Babis is having bigger problems. He's a billionaire who controls much of the agricultural sector. But in October 2017, 11 people, including Babis and his wife, were charged by Czech prosecutors with defrauding the EU of $ 3 million in subsidies in connection with his business dealings.

Ten years earlier, it's alleged that he transferred a spa resort he owned to his son and daughter so their shell company could qualify for small-enterprise subsidies from Brussels. Once the money was pocketed, the resort was transferred back to him. For now, Babis denies all fraud allegations and is protected by parliamentary immunity.

But just a few days ago, on Nov. 14, Babis's son made a sensational charge.

All but kidnapped

He said he had been all but kidnapped by one of his father's lieutenants and taken to Crimea to stop him telling Czech police of his role in the subsidy deal. The prime minister said his son was mentally ill.

Thousands demonstrated in Prague. The opposition called a vote of no-confidence. Babis narrowly survived. But he is now severely weakened.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest rally demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague on Nov. 7, 2018. (David W. Cerny/Reuters)

And even Brexit can be put to use by Brussels. Britain this year was the third biggest net contributor to the EU, turning over more than $ 15 billion.

Anticipating Britain's exit, the EU has rewritten its subsidy projections for 2021 to 2027. And the big losers are, you guessed it, the Visegrad four. They stand to lose up to 25 per cent of their EU subsidies. 

The official reason is that their economies have improved so much.

Unofficially, let's call it Brussels payback. And the pressure works. On Nov. 21, Poland said it would drop its plan to lower the retirement age for Supreme Court judges to 65, which would have swept half the senior judges away.

This is a war of attrition, and far from over.

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Idlib explained: Why war looms large over Syria's last rebel stronghold

Alarm bells are sounding as Syria and its Russian backers gear up for what many believe will be an all-out assault on the rebel-held province of Idlib, in the country's northwest.

Residents in the enclave — Syria's last major rebel-held territory — have taken to the streets to ask for international intervention. There are grave fears for Idlib's civilian population, mixed in, as it is in some parts, with rebel groups.

Aid agencies say an assault could spark a humanitarian crisis yet unseen in the seven-year-old civil war.

Here's a look at the situation in Idlib.

Why is Idlib so important now?

Idlib has essentially become a giant holding pen for remaining Syrian opposition fighters in the years since Russia's military intervention on behalf of Assad back in 2015.

What followed was a brutal, but patterned, approach that saw major rebel strongholds in other parts of the country destroyed one by one: Homs, Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa.

Enclaves were besieged, starved and bombed before the defeated rebels and their families were offered a one-way ticket out: surrender and a bus ride to another rebel-held territory of their choice.

Most wound up in Idlib.

A Syrian woman pushes a baby stroller loaded with produce from the market in Idlib. The city is home to nearly 3 million people, one-third of them already displaced from other parts of Syria. (Zein Al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

As such, it represents a tantalizing and potentially definitive prize for Assad as he seeks to fulfil his long-held pledge to take back "every inch" of Syria from rebel hands.

But Idlib province is home to nearly 3 million people, one-third of them already displaced from other parts of Syria.

If Syria proceeds with a major offensive, as it is threatening to do with Moscow's help, aid agencies warn of a "humanitarian catastrophe" not yet seen during the seven-year-old civil war.

Syria and Russia say Idlib is a "nest of terrorists" that must be destroyed.

Is an offensive inevitable?

At a summit in Tehran on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to Syria and Russia's other major backer, Iran, to prevent Idlib from becoming a "lake of blood."

He got nowhere.

His appeals for a ceasefire were rejected by Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, who said fighting terrorism in Idlib was inevitable.

A Syrian rebel fighter evacuated from the town of Dumayr, east of Damascus, holds his son while sitting in a bus on April 20, 2018. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has already been softening the ground. It resumed bombing targets in Idlib earlier this week after a 22-day pause — a pattern reminiscent of Russian tactics ahead of the fall of Aleppo in 2016.

Syrian forces are also said to be massing along Idlib's southern borders.

How many opposition fighters are in Idlib and who are they?

The U.S. military has estimated that as many as 30,000 militants are in the region, while the Russians say that more than 70 per cent of Idlib is controlled by "terrorists."

Ascribing militants to the various groups is a complicated matter.

The most powerful and influential is widely believed to be Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadi umbrella group associated with al-Qaeda and formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

The UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has estimated there are 10,000 al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters in Idlib, including a significant number of foreigners.

Turkey is also backing a number of Idlib-based militants opposed to the Assad regime and to HTS, including some hardline Islamist groups and members of the more moderate Free Syrian Army, making its intervention in Tehran especially complicated.

Sifting out rebel groups — particularly the hardcore jihadists — from the civilian population will be a complicated task.

Ankara also has a number of observer bases in Idlib as part of an earlier de-escalation plan brokered with Russia and Iran.

What about Washington?  

U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted that "if it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry. And the United States is going to get very angry too."

More specifically, the White House has issued a statement threatening to repeat attacks on Syrian targets if lines are crossed.

"Let us be clear," the statement said. "It remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its allies will respond swiftly and appropriately."

In 2017, the U.S. launched a Tomahawk missile attack against a Syrian airbase near Homs after a suspected poison gas attack.

And in April of this year, the U.S., the United Kingdom and France launched more than 100 missiles in response to what they said was a chemical weapons attack on the opposition stronghold of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta.  

Is there any way out for the people of Idlib?

De Mistura, the UN envoy, is urging for more time to set up  humanitarian corridors for people anxious to leave the area.

With Idlib located in a northwest corner of Syria, many are afraid they'll have nowhere to go but into the arms of an unforgiving Syrian army or be pressed against a closed border with Turkey, which is fearful of another flood of refugees across its frontiers. (And maybe further beyond again, to Europe.)

An estimated 3.5 million people displaced by the violence in Syria have already sought refuge in Turkey.

A boy tries on an improvised gas mask in Idlib, Syria on Sept. 3, 2018. U.S. officials said this week they had evidence the Syrian government was preparing to use chemical weapons in what's believed to be an imminent assault on the rebel enclave. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

It is possible that the people of Idlib may try to flee further north, to other territory jointly controlled by Turkey and some Syrian rebels.

There is also speculation that any offensive may begin in small stages, with a focus on retaking control of strategic roads.

But with many of the region's residents bracing for the worst, those who can are moving their families into bomb shelters or caves.

As de Mistura and many other seasoned Syrian watchers continue to warn, there are no more Idlib's to flee to.

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U.S. House, Senate seek spending deals as another government shutdown looms

Buoyed by the sudden likelihood of a budget pact, lawmakers are on track to avoid a repeat of last month’s government shutdown — though U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly raised the possibility of closing things down again if he can’t have his way on immigration.

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” Trump declared on Tuesday, repeating the sentiment for emphasis.

Trump’s comments contrasted with the progress made on Capitol Hill, where the House passed a short-term spending measure Tuesday night and Senate leaders were closing in on a larger, long-term pact after a midnight Thursday night deadline. The broader agreement would award whopping spending increases to both the Pentagon and domestic federal programs, as well as approve overdue disaster relief money and, perhaps, crucial legislation to increase the government’s borrowing limit and avoid possible default.

Democratic leaders have dropped their strategy of using the funding fight to extract concessions on immigration, specifically on seeking extended protections for the “dreamer” immigrants who have lived in the country illegally since they were children. Instead, the Democrats prepared to cut a deal that would reap tens of billions of dollars for other priorities — including combating opioids — while taking their chances on solving the immigration impasse later.

Tuesday night’s 245-182 House vote, mostly along party lines, set the machinery in motion. The six-week stopgap spending bill contains increases for the military that long have been demanded by Trump and his Republican allies. But the measure appears increasingly likely to be rewritten by the Senate to include legislation implementing the brewing broader budget pact.

Mitch McConnell

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky met Tuesday with reporters as work continues on a plan to keep the government open ahead of a funding deadline, at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The budget negotiations, conducted chiefly by the Senate’s top leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Chuck Schumer of New York, have intensified in recent days — and the looming government shutdown at midnight Thursday added urgency to the talks. In addition to the military and domestic spending, the deal taking shape would approve overdue disaster relief money and, perhaps, crucial legislation to increase the government’s borrowing limit and avoid possible default.

Both McConnell and Schumer reported progress Tuesday morning.

“I think we’re on the way to getting an agreement and getting it very soon,” McConnell said.

Immigration issue in limbo

Prospects for dealing with immigration, however, were as fuzzy as ever. The Senate is slated next week to begin a debate to address the dilemma of immigrants left vulnerable by the looming expiration of former president Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Weeks of bargaining have left the two parties divided over how to extend protections for such dreamer immigrants and a court ruling has blunted a March 5 deadline.


DACA recipients and supporters protest outside Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan. 22. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

McConnell said Tuesday that while he hopes “we will end up having something,” he was unsure if any proposed measure would get the 60 votes needed for approval.

On Tuesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly threw fuel on the dispute as he defended Trump’s proposed solution. The retired general noted the White House proposal would expand protection for some 1.8 million immigrants. That group includes both the 690,000 currently shielded and also “the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” he said.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, his party’s chief immigration negotiator, bristled at the comment.

“I’m sorry for that characterization. It doesn’t surprise me from Gen. Kelly,” he said.

The budget talks appeared to be going more smoothly.

Republican defence hawks were prevailing over the party’s depleted ranks of deficit hawks, championing major new spending on military programs. Democrats, meanwhile, leveraged their influence to increase spending for domestic priorities such as combating opioid misuse.

The result could be the return of trillion-dollar deficits for the first time since Obama’s first term.

New March deadline

The stopgap spending bill would keep the government open through March 23 to allow time to write and pass detailed follow-up “omnibus” legislation to fund the government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

The prospective longer-term budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the government’s troubled health care system for veterans.

The temporary funding measure would also reauthorize funding for community health centres, which enjoy widespread bipartisan support.

‘DACA’s important and it ought to get done. But what’s the path?’– Rep. Adam Smith of Washington

Aides in both parties said the budget measure may also contain a provision to raise the government’s $ 20.5 trillion borrowing limit. Legislation to increase the debt ceiling is always a headache, especially for House Republican leaders whose rank and file have in the past used the votes to register objection to deficit spending.

Another likely addition is more than $ 80 billion in long-overdue hurricane relief for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a top priority of lawmakers in both parties.

Under Congress’ arcane ways, a broad-brush agreement to increase legally binding spending “caps” — which would otherwise keep the budgets for the military and domestic agencies essentially frozen — would be approved, then followed by a far more detailed catchall spending bill that would take weeks to negotiate.

It’s clear that Senate Democrats have no appetite for another government shutdown. Their unity splintered during last month’s three-day closure.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California had linked progress on the budget with action to address the immigration program, but other Democrats are beginning to agitate for de-linking the two, lest the opportunity for a budget pact be lost. And having tried and failed to link progress on the budget to DACA during last month’s government shutdown battle, many Democrats aren’t spoiling for a repeat.

“It’s hard. If we can get a good deal that funds disaster relief, funds domestic priorities, funds the opioid crisis it would be a difficult call,” said Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state. “DACA’s important and it ought to get done. But what’s the path?”

Schumer said he and Pelosi are “working from the same page,” appearing to discount speculation that she might oppose the coming pact.

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Coastal Texas, oil and gas industry prepare as tropical storm Harvey looms

Tropical storm Harvey has gained strength over the Gulf of Mexico and is still forecast to develop into a hurricane on Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.

The storm, located about 600 km southeast of Port Mansfield, Texas with maximum sustained winds of 70 km/r is likely to approach the Texas coast on Friday, the NHC said on Thursday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level, making state resources available for possible rescue and recovery actions. Abbott also pre-emptively declared a state of disaster for 30 counties on or near the coast to speed deployment of state resources to any areas affected.

“Heavy rainfall is likely to spread across portions of eastern Texas, Louisiana, and the lower Mississippi Valley from Friday through early next week and could cause life-threatening flooding,” the NHC said.

Emergency officials asked residents along the upper Texas coastline to move or prepare to move inland. Those in low-lying areas were urged to seek higher ground, and those elsewhere were told to monitor official announcements closely. 

On South Padre Island, people filled sandbags and loaded them into cars and vans to take to protect exposed homes and businesses. Others in the forecast path of the storm sought out generators, plywood and other goods from hardware stores.

Rainfall totals of 25 to 38 cm were possible over the middle and upper Texas coast and southwest Louisiana through Tuesday, the Miami-based hurricane centre said.

Royal Dutch Shell, Anadarko Petroleum and Exxon Mobil announced they were curbing some oil and gas output on at facilities in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Harvey.

Tropical Weather Texas

Leo Sermiento, left, and Emilio Gutierrez, right, fill sandbags on South Padre Island, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level and is making state resources available for preparation and possible rescue and recovery actions. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald/Associated Press)

Oil production slows

Shell said it was evacuating all personnel from the roughly 100,000 barrel-per-day Perdido oil and gas production platform as a precaution. Anadarko said it had shut in production and was evacuating workers from its Boomvang, Gunnison, Lucius and Nansen platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Exxon was in the process of reducing production at its Hoover facility in the Gulf of Mexico, company spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said. The company said it was also working on transportation plans for staged evacuation of its personnel from its offshore facilities, expected to be in the path of the storm, to shore.

The U.S. Gulf of Mexico is home to about 17 per cent of American crude oil output and 5 per cent of dry natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 45 per cent of the nation’s oil refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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