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What We’re Watching: Trudeau hangs on, Mali sanctions lifted, US stimulus uncertainty

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Reuters

Canadian government survives confidence vote: Against the backdrop of intense political discord and an ethics controversy that caused his approval ratings to plummet in recent months, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government will live to see another day after surviving a confidence vote in parliament. Building on a "bold" plan for Canada's post-pandemic revival delivered last month (which many analysts criticized as lacking sufficient detail), Trudeau presented his plan for economic and social recovery — including the creation of 1 million new jobs in the near term — in what's called a parliamentary "Throne Speech." After some political wrangling, his minority Liberal government held on after a 77-152 vote, avoiding a snap election thanks to the support of the left-leaning New Democratic Party. A string of ethics scandals (in which the PM was found to have violated federal conflict of interest rules) has cratered support for Trudeau, a former darling of the center left. We're watching to see whether his ambitious recovery initiative will also steer Trudeau's own political bounce back.


Mali post-coup sanctions lifted: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has removed the border and trade sanctions placed on Mali in the wake of the August 5 coup, a day after the ruling junta appointed a 25-member transitional government led by the former defense minister that will call elections within 18 months. The move represents an about-face for the regional economic power bloc, which initially made lifting the crippling sanctions contingent on a full transition to civilian rule but acquiesced to military officials taking over key roles, likely to prevent jihadists from filling the power vacuum by taking over parts of the country like they did right after another coup eight years ago. ECOWAS recognition and lifting of the sanctions are big wins for the junta leaders, who can now claim legitimacy for their uprising and resume business with neighboring countries. We're keeping an eye on the new government's ability to restore stability to post-coup Mali, which still grapples with worsening security (a problem affecting the entire Sahel), an ailing economy, and rampant corruption.

Trump's mixed signals on US stimulus: Hours after Donald Trump announced that his administration would not pursue another round of coronavirus relief legislation (which would, among other things, give cash to hard-hit Americans) until after the November election (if he is reelected), the US President walked back his original tweet, urging Democrats and Republicans to agree on a relief package for US airlines, small businesses, as well as direct payments to individual Americans. In response to the flip-flop, the US stock market tanked and later bounced bank, while both parties were left confused about how to move forward. It's unclear why Trump appeared willing to risk further hurting US businesses — and workers — to boost his reelection odds by gambling the stimulus deal on his (unlikely) victory. Either way, it appears that Congressional Republicans might have convinced the president to backtrack after the Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell warned of dire economic consequences if an aid package is not passed — and fast. Meanwhile, negotiations remain deadlocked. Will there be a breakthrough before November 3?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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