Harold Varner III held on to win the Australian PGA Championship by two shots on Sunday, claiming his first title outside the United States after a roller-coaster last round 65 that included seven birdies and two bogeys in a nine-hole run at Royal Pines. (Latest Golf stories)The 26-year-old American was a runner-up here last year after losing a three-way playoff to Nathan Holman, but he avoided the extra hole this time. He took a two-shot lead into the last hole and tapped in for par to finish 19 under.Varner was two clear of Andrew Dodt and four clear of former No.1-ranked Adam Scott. Dodt held a two-shot lead before the final round but couldn’t match it with Varner’s nine birdies over the last 18 holes and closed with a 69.”Right now I’m just super excited,” Varner said. “After last year, it feels good to come back and finish it off.”It’s my first win since the mini tours, so it’s a step in the right direction.”Varner had a hectic week at the event that is co-sanctioned by the Australasian and European Tours. After lightning and rain stopped his first round after 14 holes, he had to set the alarm for 2:45 a.m. Friday to get up in time for an early courtesy car ride to his 5:30 a.m. tee off.He finished his first round on a roll and in a share of the lead at 7 under, then went out and finished his second round before lunch time on day two. His spare time has included black jack at the Casino where he’s staying, and where he was headed Sunday night.advertisementBeing his first win outside the mini tours, he wasn’t fully across the routine for a champion that included extra interviews, news conferences, photos opportunities and trophy presentations.”Nobody told me about the other stuff that goes along with winning. There might have been 1,000 pictures out there,” he said in a news conference, before filling the trophy with champagne, taking a sip and passing it around. “Winning is cool.”Scott started the last day four shots off the pace but again was wayward off the tee. The 2013 Masters champion kept in touch with three birdies in four holes from the eighth and added an eagle at the par 5 15th before finishing with a 67.”It was my best round of the week and it wasn’t good enough unfortunately,” he said. “But, I kept myself in it for most of the day and they’ve just played better.”Scott said he planned to put the clubs away for a while and enjoy a break in Queensland state, where he grew up, catching up on family time, watching some cricket and tennis and doing some surfing.The clubs “will be away for a couple of weeks and if they’re not too rusty by Christmas I might bring them back out and shake some of the rust off,” he said. “I’ll just play around for fun and then I’ll get serious once the new year starts. I need a good break for lots of reasons but it would be good to not play too much before the new year now.”Varner, who is the only player other than Tiger Woods with black heritage on the PGA Tour, had four top-10 finishes last year in his rookie season on the premier U.S. tour and is hoping this win is the launching pad for a better 2017.He was the first American to win the Australian PGA title since Hale Irwin in 1978 at Royal Melbourne, and the first non-Australian to claim the title since 1999.”Winning is just … different,” he said. “Three years, I haven’t won, so this is special.”
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s justice minister says the government will eliminate a controversial ban on political floor-crossing and end a legal battle with an ousted former backbencher.Heather Stefanson said the Progressive Conservative government will act next month to remove a section of the Legislative Assembly Act that says anyone who leaves or is kicked out of one party’s caucus cannot join another. The law offers only two options — sit as an independent until the next election, or resign and run in a byelection under a new party banner.“We think it’s a bad law and it’s not in the spirit of parliamentary tradition,” Stefanson told The Canadian Press Tuesday.“We’re not going to spend … tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend a bill that should never have been introduced in the first place.”Former NDP premier Gary Doer brought in the provision in 2006, shortly after David Emerson was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal and, within days, crossed the floor to the Conservatives.At the time, Doer said the law was needed to ensure voters’ wishes were respected.The law is being challenged by former federal cabinet minister and MLA Steven Fletcher, who was kicked out of the provincial Tory caucus in June after criticizing the government’s plan to set up a new Crown corporation to promote energy efficiency.Fletcher’s lawsuit, filed last month, alleges the law violates his rights of expression and association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Fletcher said he has no intention of joining another party but is fighting the law on principle.Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said he always considered the law “a political gimmick” and a likely violation of the constitution.If the government lifts the ban on floor-crossing, he said it could tempt some disgruntled New Democrats — upset over the election of Wab Kinew as leader last Saturday — into joining another caucus or even forming their own splinter group.“You could have a kind of core, small group of New Democrat MLAs who would in some way distance themselves from the main caucus,” Thomas said.“They could split off in some way and sit as a group … and if they acquired a new name as a registered political party, they would qualify for the benefits that come with being an official party in the legislature.”Something similar happened in federal politics in 2001, when a handful of members of the Canadian Alliance caucus broke away from leader Stockwell Day and formed the short-lived Democratic Representative Caucus.In Manitoba, four legislature members are enough to qualify for official caucus status.The Opposition New Democrats have just emerged from a divisive leadership contest that saw Kinew, a political rookie, beat out former cabinet minister Steve Ashton. Kinew has been dogged by recently revealed details of assault charges he faced 14 years ago involving a former girlfriend, Tara Hart.Hart went public last week and said she was thrown across a living room. The charges were stayed in 2004 and Kinew has repeatedly denied the accusation.Thomas said Kinew was already opposed by some NDP members who consider him too new to the party to lead it, and controversy over the assault charges has added to the acrimony.“Mr. Kinew has a big challenge to bring unity and harmony within the party.”
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press OTTAWA — Politicians are increasingly concerned that social media giants have become so big, powerful and rich that they are effectively above the law — at least in a small country like Canada.Their concern was on display last week at a meeting of the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee, where Liberal MPs raked Google over the coals for its decision not to run any political ads during this fall’s federal election campaign, rather than comply with a new law that requires them keep an online ad registry.“Here’s my frustration,” Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told Google Canada representatives Jason Kee and Colin McKay.“You have a company that makes billions of dollars and looks at … a small jurisdiction in Canada and says, ‘Your democracy doesn’t matter enough to us, we’re not going to participate.’ But if a big player decided to change the rules, I guarantee that you would follow those rules.“But we are too small for you. You are too big, you are too important and we are just not important enough for Google for you to take us seriously.”“I’d contest that observation,” responded McKay.He and Kee maintained the decision was strictly a technical one: Google engineers could not, in the short time frame required by the government, come up with a system that would reliably detect partisan and issue-oriented ads during the campaign and ensure they were all archived along with information identifying the source of the ads.Following the last U.S. presidential election, when a spotlight was shone on the use of social media to spread fake news, sow dissension and manipulate the election outcome, Kee said Google created a template for political ad registries that it used in last fall’s U.S. midterms and will deploy in India and the European Union. But he said it’s not compatible with the specific requirements of the Canadian law, about which he said Google was not consulted.Kee said Google will try to comply with the registry law by the next election in 2023.It was clear Liberals on the committee weren’t buying the explanation. It was equally clear their frustration with social media giants extends well beyond Google and the political ad registry.Quebec MP David Graham accused Google and Facebook of ignoring Canadian copyright law. And another Quebec Liberal, Frank Baylis, linked the ad registry and copyright issues, arguing that Google makes billions by posting ads on content it obtains for free because copyright law doesn’t apply to social media platforms.“The minute you start controlling these ads, you move from being a platform to proof positive you’re a publisher and once you’re a publisher, you’re subject to copyright and all that,” Baylis said, maintaining that’s the “real reason” Google has opted out of the political ad registry, not “this technical mumbo-jumbo” offered by the company.Kee said that was “not remotely” the case.Facebook has decided to comply with the ad registry law but the committee had another bone to pick with that company. It adopted unanimous motions to summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to appear at the second meeting of the international grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy, which the Commons committee is hosting in Ottawa on May 28. The grand committee involves parliamentarians from Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore.The summons came after the Facebook duo failed to respond to an invitation to appear. Zuckerberg has testified at a congressional committee in Washington following last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of some 87 million Facebook users was improperly shared with the political consultancy firm. But he refused to appear at the grand committee’s first meeting in the U.K. and has repeatedly ignored invitations to appear before the Canadian committee to discuss Facebook’s handling of Canadians’ private information.Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien last month concluded that Facebook violated Canadian privacy laws by failing to ensure Cambridge Analytica got clear consent to use individuals’ personal information. He is going to court to force Facebook — which maintains Canadians were not affected by the scandal and that it has since made “dramatic improvements” to protect users’ privacy — to comply with privacy laws.In an interview, Erskine-Smith noted that social media giants fought against the European Union’s general data protection regulation, which imposed strict new rules for protecting individuals’ privacy and stiff fines for companies that fail to do so. But once the law went into effect, they complied with it because the EU, unlike Canada, “is a substantial jurisdiction that they can’t ignore.”More recently, he said the giants have professed to be in favour of stronger, government-imposed rules on privacy and the spread of hate and misinformation. And Karina Gould, Canada’s minister of democratic institutions, has been signalling that regulations are coming because she’s been disappointed by social media platforms’ efforts to self-regulate.But said Erskine-Smith: “The problem is, unless we have global co-operation in establishing those new rules, we’re still going to open the door to companies saying, selectively, ‘This jurisdiction is too small, the market isn’t large enough to warrant changing our rules so we’re just going to ignore it.’”Digital media expert Taylor Owen said that’s certainly true when it comes to regulation of political ads. But he said it will be more difficult to arrive at internationally co-ordinated regulations on harmful speech and competition, where laws are much more nationally specific.Still, Owen said there’s no reason why Canada alone could not beef up its laws, as other countries have done, to impose steep fines on social media giants that violate privacy laws or don’t go far enough to constrain disinformation and hateful content. And, judging by the markedly hostile tone MPs in the governing party have adopted lately, he thinks that’s coming soon.Whereas politicians initially embraced social media as a positive means to engage with voters, most western governments, including Canada’s, have come to a “radically different” view, said Owen, Beaverbrook chair in media ethics and communication at McGill University’s Max Bell school of public policy.“The tone and the attitude of government is fundamentally changing. There is no trust anymore,” he said.