WASHINGTON — Disputing President Donald Trump’s persistent, baseless claims, Attorney General William Barr declared Tuesday the U.S. Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.Barr's comments, in an interview with the The Associated Press, contradict the concerted effort by Trump, his boss, to subvert the results of last month's voting and block President-elect Joe Biden from taking his place in the White House.Barr told the AP that U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”The comments, which drew immediate criticism from Trump attorneys, were especially notable coming from Barr, who has been one of the president's most ardent allies. Before the election, he had repeatedly raised the notion that mail-in voting could be especially vulnerable to fraud during the coronavirus pandemic as Americans feared going to polls and instead chose to vote by mail.More to Trump's liking, Barr revealed in the AP interview that in October he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel, giving the prosecutor the authority to continue to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe after Biden takes over and making it difficult to fire him. Biden hasn't said what he might do with the investigation, and his transition team didn't comment Tuesday.Trump has long railed against the investigation into whether his 2016 campaign was co-ordinating with Russia, but he and Republican allies had hoped the results would be delivered before the 2020 election and would help sway voters. So far, there has been only one criminal case, a guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer to a single false statement charge.Under federal regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest. An attorney general must document such reasons in writing.Barr went to the White House Tuesday for a previously scheduled meeting that lasted about three hours.Trump didn't directly comment on the attorney general's remarks on the election. But his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his political campaign issued a scathing statement claiming that, "with all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance” of an investigation into the president's complaints.Other administration officials who have come out forcefully against Trump's allegations of voter-fraud evidence have been fired. But it's not clear whether Barr might suffer the same fate. He maintains a lofty position with Trump, and despite their differences the two see eye-to-eye on quite a lot.Still, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer quipped: “I guess he’s the next one to be fired.”Last month, Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorneys across the country allowing them to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the 2020 presidential election was certified, despite no evidence at that time of widespread fraud.That memorandum gave prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election was certified. Soon after it was issued, the department’s top elections crime official announced he would step aside from that position because of the memo.The Trump campaign team led by Giuliani has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to dump millions of illegal votes into the system with no evidence. They have filed multiple lawsuits in battleground states alleging that partisan poll watchers didn’t have a clear enough view at polling sites in some locations and therefore something illegal must have happened. The claims have been repeatedly dismissed including by Republican judges who have ruled the suits lacked evidence.But local Republicans in some battleground states have followed Trump in making unsupported claims, prompting grave concerns over potential damage to American democracy.Trump himself continues to rail against the election in tweets and in interviews though his own administration has said the 2020 election was the most secure ever. He recently allowed his administration to begin the transition over to Biden, but he still refuses to admit he lost.The issues they've have pointed to are typical in every election: Problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks on mail-in ballots, as well as the potential for a small number of ballots miscast or lost.But they've gone further. Attorney Sidney Powell has spun fictional tales of election systems flipping votes, German servers storing U.S. voting information and election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chavez,” – the late Venezuelan president who died in 2013. Powell has since been removed from the legal team after an interview she gave where she threatened to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.Barr didn't name Powell specifically but said: “There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”In the campaign statement, Giuliani claimed there was “ample evidence of illegal voting in at least six states, which they have not examined.”“We have many witnesses swearing under oath they saw crimes being committed in connection with voter fraud. As far as we know, not a single one has been interviewed by the DOJ. The Justice Department also hasn’t audited any voting machines or used their subpoena powers to determine the truth,” he said.However, Barr said earlier that people were confusing the use of the federal criminal justice system with allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits. He said a remedy for many complaints would be a top-down audit by state or local officials, not the U.S. Justice Department.“There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all," he said, but first there must be a basis to believe there is a crime to investigate.“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. ... And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on."___Associated Press Writers Lisa Mascaro and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
Refinery owner Philadelphia Energy Solutions later told regulators that the blasts released nearly 700,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals, including butane, and about 3,200 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, which can cause fatal lung injury in high concentrations. The score was based on readings from part of the federal network of air quality monitoring devices, which are operated by the city of Philadelphia with oversight from state regulators and the EPA. “To say there was no impact to air quality was crazy,” said Peter DeCarlo, an environmental engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University who lived in Philadelphia at the time and studied the city’s monitoring system.
MADRID — Emergency services in Spain's Canary Islands say 68 people from North Africa have been the first migrants to arrive in the Atlantic Ocean archipelago since authorities dismantled a squalid makeshift camp that had brought criticism and shame to the government.One boat with 34 men was rescued by Spain's Maritime Rescue Service, while another boat with 33 adults and one teenager, all men, docked in Maspalomas beach on Gran Canaria Island, the 112 emergency service tweeted Tuesday.The migrants were taken to the Arguineguín dock on the same island, which closed as a processing centre Monday after three months of criticism for holding thousands of Africans in squalor, some times for weeks, while they were identified and tested for the coronavirus.Spain's ombudsman had ordered the makeshift camp’s closure, where potential asylum-seekers had difficulty accessing legal counselling.A minimal structure has been left to deal with new arrivals before the migrants and asylum-seekers are distributed between military barracks — where they can be only held for up to 72 hours — empty hotels or other facilities.More than 20,000 people seeking a better life have arrived so far this year in the Spanish archipelago across from the northwest African coast, up from 1,500 in the same period of 2019. At least 500 people have died in their attempt to reach Europe through the Canary Islands.The Associated Press
Reporters sans frontières editor Pauline Adès-Mével says the controversial Article 24 could allow police to stop journalists reporting live from the scene of an incident.View on euronews
Dec. 1 marks Giving Tuesday, the follow-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday that encourages people to consider where they can make a charitable donation or find some other way of giving back to the community.With the COVID-19 pandemic this year, however, there's a renewed focus on the needs of the most vulnerable, says Kate Bahen, the managing director at Charity Intelligence, a non-profit that evaluates the Canadian charity sector."We're putting the basic necessities back to the forefront. The women's shelters. The food banks," Bahen said on CBC's B.C. Today. "We're hearing from a lot of donors who used to give to, you know, symphonies, art museums, etc., and we're seeing a real rotation in giving back to the community and back to the essential services." Bahen has a few tips for those interested in giving back this season. Do your research and give with intention. It's important to know what impact your donation is having in the community, says Bahen, especially at a time when dollars need to be stretched. Bahen says Canadians give $17 billion to charities each year, but early estimates show that giving is likely going to be down by about 37 per cent due to hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. "When you're giving at this time, we need donations to do the most good possible," she said, pointing out that Charity Intelligence has research and analysis available on its website that can help inform a giving decision. She said going through previous statements can help you judge whether a charity needs help this year, or whether another one might be better served."Just like some people are very well off and are going to be fine and some people are really struggling, there are some charities that are really well off. They have tens of millions of dollars in the bank, they'll be able to come through COVID fine, absolutely fine," she said. "There are lots of other charities that are really trying to keep their lights on."Sometimes, cash is best. Bahen says pay attention to what people need. She notes that food banks would much rather have cash than items purchased at a grocery store and then donated. "A local food bank ... has its purchasing power. It can buy four times as much food with that dollar as you could spending it retail. It knows its clients. It knows what it needs," she said. The same goes for gift cards or cash vouchers for families in need. "Giving cash has dignity with it. It's a trust, it's a respect. It's saying to them … get what you need, rather than what we think you should have," she said.It's a tough year. Take care of yourself, too.Finally, Bahen said, not everyone will be able to give in the same capacity as previous years — and that's perfectly fine."When you've lost your job, when you've faced financial uncertainty, you cannot make a charitable donation. You have to take care of yourself," she said. "[For] those who are in a position to give, it's time for us to dig deep and help out our neighbours."On Dec. 4, join us virtually for special broadcasts and digital Meet and Greets with your favourite CBC British Columbia hosts, and donate to Food Banks B.C. from the comfort of your own home. For more, visit cbc.ca/openhouse
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are in a tight race to launch their COVID-19 vaccines in Europe after both applied for emergency EU approval on Tuesday, though there was uncertainty over whether a rollout could begin this year. The applications to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) came a day after Moderna sought emergency use for its shot in the United States and more than a week after Pfizer and BioNTech did the same. U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German development partner BioNTech said their vaccine could be launched in the European Union as early as this month.
Two battleground states, Wisconsin and Arizona, certified their presidential election results in favour of Joe Biden, even as President Donald Trump's legal team continued to dispute the results.Biden’s victory in Wisconsin was certified Monday following a partial recount that only added to his 20,600-vote margin over Trump, who has promised to file a lawsuit seeking to undo the results.Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, signed a certificate that completed the process after the canvass report showing Biden as the winner following the recount was approved by the chairwoman of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. Evers’ signature was required by law and is typically a procedural step that receives little attention.“Today I carried out my duty to certify the November 3rd election,” Evers said in a statement. “I want to thank our clerks, election administrators, and poll workers across our state for working tirelessly to ensure we had a safe, fair, and efficient election. Thank you for all your good work.”The action Monday now starts a five-day deadline for Trump to file a lawsuit, which he promised would come no later than Tuesday. Trump is mounting a longshot attempt to overturn the results by disqualifying as many as 238,000 ballots. Trump’s attorneys have alleged without evidence that there was widespread fraud and illegal activity.Biden’s campaign has said the recount showed that Biden won Wisconsin decisively and there was no fraud. Even if Trump were successful in Wisconsin, the state’s 10 Electoral College votes would not be enough to undo Biden’s overall victory as states around the country certify results.Earlier Monday, Arizona officials certified Biden’s narrow victory in that state.Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey both vouched for the integrity of the election before signing off on the results.“We do elections well here in Arizona. The system is strong,” Ducey said.He did not directly address Trump’s claims of irregularities but said the state pulled off a successful election with a mix of in-person and mail voting despite the pandemic.Hobbs said Arizona voters should know that the election “was conducted with transparency, accuracy and fairness in accordance with Arizona’s laws and election procedures, despite numerous unfounded claims to the contrary.”Biden is only the second Democrat in 70 years to win Arizona. In the final tally, he beat Trump by 10,457 votes, or 0.3% of the nearly 3.4 million ballots cast.Even as Hobbs, Ducey, the state attorney general and chief justice of the state Supreme Court certified the election results, Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis met in a Phoenix hotel ballroom a few miles away to lay out claims of irregularities in the vote count in Arizona and elsewhere. But they did not provide evidence of widespread fraud.“The officials certifying have made no effort to find out the truth, which to me, gives the state Legislature the perfect reason to take over the conduct of this election because it’s being conducted irresponsibly and unfairly,” Giuliani said.Nine Republican state lawmakers attended the meeting. They had requested permission to hold a formal legislative hearing at the Capitol but were denied by the Republican House speaker and Senate president.Trump berated Ducey on Twitter Monday night, asking, “Why is he rushing to put a Democrat in office, especially when so many horrible things concerning voter fraud are being revealed at the hearing going on right now.”Elections challenges brought by the Trump campaign or his backers in key battleground states have largely been unsuccessful as Trump continues to allege voter fraud while refusing to concede.There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. In fact, election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities.___Bauer reported from Madison, Wis.; Cooper and Tang reported from Phoenix.Scott Bauer, Jonathan J. Cooper And Terry Tang, The Associated Press
New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization is warning residents to pay close attention to Tuesday's rainfall warnings.Environment Canada has marked the first day of December by issuing a rainfall warning for more than half the province.Central and southwestern parts of New Brunswick can expect between 40 and 120 millimetres of rain Tuesday into Wednesday morning.However, some regions in southwestern New Brunswick could see up to 180 millimetres. "No one should be caught off guard at this point, so stay informed through trusted sources and make sure you are prepared to react if needed," said Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick EMO.Downey said people should also check their storm drains and rain gutters and have an emergency kit ready.Special weather statements issuedThe national weather agency has also issued a special weather statement for eastern New Brunswick, where up to 50 millimetres of rain is expected. Those areas include: * The Acadian Peninsula. * Bathurst and Chaleur region. * Kent County. * Kouchibouguac National Park. * Miramichi area. * The Moncton area.Environment Canada said similar rainfall events in the past have caused road washouts and localized flooding in low-lying areas."Heavy downpours can cause flash floods and water pooling on roads," the agency said in a statement."Localized flooding in low-lying areas is possible. Don't approach washouts near rivers, creeks and culverts."Environment Canada says the storm is similar to one that caused severe flooding in December 2010.This year, however, the ground is not frozen so it should be able to absorb a lot more rain."We've been running a water deficiency throughout the province for pretty much all of 2020," said Jill Mapea, a meteorologist with Environment Canada."The ground is not very saturated at all."After a bit of a lull Tuesday morning, Mapea said the heaviest rain was expected Tuesday afternoon and evening."Fingers crossed it doesn't come down too hard," she said, "but I think a lot of people with wells are welcoming this rain." However, Mapea wasn't ruling out the possibility of flooding."You never know. Sometimes a big downpour can raise those levels really quick."Populated areas might expect some street flooding, she said if storm drains are overwhelmed.
The Calgary Board of Education says Hub online students will still have the option to return to in-person learning at their schools starting on Feb. 1, but students currently doing in-person learning will not be allowed to move online. In an update sent to CBE families on Monday, the district says that they will not be accommodating new requests for Hub online learning in the new year. That's "in order to ensure continuity of learning and minimize disruption to in-person classes that may arise from the movement of staff from in person to online," reads the update from chief superintendent Christopher Usih.Kayla Martinez, who is the mother of a boy in Grade 1, says she began the process to switch her son out of in-person learning to Hub a few weeks ago. "Basically, [the pandemic] is just getting worse. [At] the schools there is outbreak after outbreak after outbreak," she said."I just don't want to put my one-year-old daughter at risk as she has low immunity."Martinez said she's been grateful that the process hasn't been difficult. "They sent me paperwork, which I'm already getting filled out and I have to take a paper for his old school to sign release and there has been no issues at all," she said. Martinez said she feels that other parents and guardians should have the same choice to do what they feel is safest and most appropriate for their children."You can't say no other families are allowed to register online. They don't know everybody's home life. They don't know the reasons why people may be choosing to pull their children and put them in online schooling," she said. "We were basically assuming as a province that things were going to get better and it's just getting worse. The numbers keep rising, so don't take the choice from people."The district says any Hub families wishing to transition their child back to the classroom must inform the school of their decision before Jan. 8.
OTTAWA — A new poll suggests most Canadians aren't currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first.Thirty-seven per cent of respondents to a survey conducted by Léger and the Association for Canadian Studies say they are very concerned that Canada may not receive doses of a new COVID vaccine as early as the United States."That's not necessarily low, but I think most pundits would have expected this number to be much higher," said Léger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.Meanwhile, 48 per cent say they are not concerned about getting a vaccine first and 10 per cent say they don't care at all or are not planning to get vaccinated anyway.Getting a vaccine before other countries doesn't seem to be "a major (issue for the Liberal government), which is contrary to what we might have thought … when the prime minister actually said that we would not be the first ones to get doses," Bourque said.The amount of concern regarding getting a COVID-19 vaccine first varies along party lines, with 45 per cent of self-identified Conservative supporters saying they are very concerned that Canada may not receive doses of a new COVID vaccine at the same time as other countries. Only 38 per cent of Liberal supporters say they are concerned. "The Conservative voters have the highest rate of people who say they're very concerned about not getting (a vaccine) first," said Bourque. "It's probably just because they tend to have a negative view or perspective on the Trudeau government, period."Furthermore, with the likelihood of multiple vaccines arriving over a period of time, just 28 per cent of respondents said they will take the first vaccine they can get, while 45 per cent said they will wait for other vaccines to become available.Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians and 55 per cent say it should be given on a voluntary basis.But the poll suggests that the vast majority of Canadians want people entering Canada to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with 83 per cent of respondents saying vaccines should be required. Also, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said employers should be able to demand that workers be vaccinated.The poll suggests that 65 per cent of Canadians intend to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it's approved by Health Canada and available for free while 17 per cent say they don't intend to. "That proportion used to be a bit higher, closer to 70 per cent in the spring. Since then it's gone down," said Bourque. "Over the past three months, when we've actually asked the question again, it is fairly stable in the mid-60s.""It really seems that two thirds of us are kind of committed to this idea of getting the vaccine when it's available."The poll of 1,516 adult Canadians in an online panel was conducted from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29 and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press
When Johnny Beach was just six years old, something caught his eye."On YouTube, I found a 14-year-old boy playing the Orange Blossom Special and it just moved me and I really wanted to do it," he said.His mother, Jamie O'Donnell, said it was love at first sight."He was captivated by it. He begged us for six months to get him a fiddle, so we got him a fiddle and he took right to it," she said.Now eight, the Riverview boy is passionate about fiddling, takes lessons and practises at least 30 minutes a day.Johnny joined some young fiddle players called the Plucky Pizzicatos, who perform for seniors and take part in some fundraising benefits.JohnnyBut when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that all stopped. Johnny decided to keep on playing."He was just practising in front of our house and as people were walking by on the street they were cheering for him and we even had a few people that ran up and gave him a little tip, so he got this idea to street perform," O'Donnell said. ""It was just a way that he could share his gift with others."And Johnny made a decision about what to do with the money."I just want to help people that need the money, and I don't really need it for anything, so I just like to give it to people that need it," he said.Johnny's first donation was $300 to Riverview P.R.O. Kids, which provides financial assistance to help kids take part in sports, and artistic and recreational activities. The organization has helped Johnny qith his fiddle lessons.O'Donnell said Johnny's next donation was to an organization near and dear to the whole family's heart: Friends of the Moncton Hospital.Johnny received life-saving surgery at the Moncton Hospital at the age of three.Johnny has made two donations of $200.Now with the holidays approaching, he's turned his attention to the Albert County Food Bank."He knows that turkey dinner is something everybody likes to enjoy at Christmastime," O'Donnell said. "Not every family has that opportunity, so he knows that the Albert County Food Bank gives Christmas boxes and turkey dinners to families, so that's his focus right now … to see how much money he can raise for them in time for their Christmas boxes."Donations are also coming in online.With the weather turning colder, O'Donnell hopes they can find some place indoors where Johnny can continue playing and raising money."With COVID, it's really difficult because businesses — there's a lot of guidelines and a lot of restrictions and businesses definitely don't want to be doing anything that could potentially draw any kind of a crowd, and he tends to draw a little bit of a crowd wherever he is."So it's been really hard to find somewhere indoors."But that was far from Johnny's mind as he chose a tune from his songbook and picked up his fiddle. He played with joy, tapping his foot along to the beat.Johnny said he'll keep raising money. And he hopes to become a professional fiddler someday.His mother gets emotional watching him play."I have those happy cries, like, a few times a week. Just the amazing things that people say and seeing that's my little boy — that's just motivating and inspiring people and bringing so much joy everywhere he goes. Proud would be an understatement."
MONTREAL — Canadians planning to buy a live Christmas tree this season should start shopping now and expect to pay more, the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association says.Farmers anticipate 2020 will be a record sales year. Association head Larry Downey says it's simple supply and demand: a shortage of trees coupled with a greater appetite from people hoping to liven up their living spaces amid widespread stay-at-home orders. “Personally, we don’t see COVID affecting us,” says Downey, whose family farm in Hatley, Que. sells up to 30,000 Christmas trees each year.Most wholesale farmers Downey has spoken this year with have already reached sales records, he added, with much of the demand coming from vendors in the United States. Retailers typically place their orders for trees as early as June, Downey says.The Christmas tree market is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, which put many U.S. growers out of business and led others to reduce planting. Since saplings take eight to 10 years to reach the size of a typical Christmas tree, the effects of the lower supply have only recently emerged. In turn, the shortage has pushed prices upward. Downey says Christmas trees are retailing for about $5 more this year, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for several years. The average price of a tree rose 123 per cent to US$78 in 2018 from US$35 in 2013, according to the U.S. National Christmas Tree Association.Prices are on the rise in Canada as well. Stephane Bernier, who runs Plantation Bernier in Lac-Brome, Que., and Bronwyn Harper, who co-owns the Hillcrest Tree Farm near Ottawa, both say they have raised prices for Christmas trees this year.On top of the shortage, tree sellers say they are expecting strong demand from consumers looking for an outdoor, physically distanced activity and who want to add some holiday cheer to their homes, where people are spending more time amid a second wave of Covid-19 cases. The pandemic has already led to some greater-than-expected spending in the home improvement market, a trend that could bode well for Christmas tree sales. Some tree varieties such as Fraser firs, prized for their pleasant fragrance and excellent needle retention, are even more sought after. Harper says she is selling Fraser firs for around $85 — or $20 more than last year — after her supplier raised prices. (Fraser firs can’t grow on her property because of the terrain, Harper says.)The anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some retailers to purchase more trees wholesale.Phil Quinn, the co-owner of Quinn Farm near Montreal, says he had to buy additional trees from wholesalers to sell at his farm since he didn’t grow enough on his own property to meet the demand he expects this year. And Harper says she's received many calls from people looking for wholesale trees, although she only sells to retail customers.“Everyone wants a tree and they want it now,” says Quinn, who expects to be sold out of trees by the second week of December. But while demand for trees is expected to be strong, the pandemic has created its own set of challenges for tree vendors. Most sellers will not be able to offering the same set of attractions this year, with physical distancing requirements forcing farms to scrap additional draws such as wagon rides and fire pits.Harper says her biggest challenge this year will be developing clear distancing guidelines for people picking up trees. The farm’s owners won’t allow people to bring their dogs, for example, nor will they offer horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides. Rather than serving hot apple cider, Hillcrest Tree Farm will be giving people treats to take away when they leave.“What might have been a one-hour visit will be a shorter visit this year,” Harper says.Similarly, Serge Lapointe, the owner of Plantation JLS in Sainte-Angele-de-Monnoir, Que., says his farm won’t have anywhere for Christmas tree buyers to congregate this year, unlike in previous years when it offered visitors rides and the chance to take a photo with Santa Claus.One aspect of the Christmas tree market to watch this year will be how lockdown orders affect how people buy trees, including whether they go in person to pick them up or order them online, says Paul Quinn (no relation to Phil Quinn), an analyst at RBC Dominion Securities who studies Christmas tree sales from year to year. Retail tree vendors could face some competition from large online players: On their websites, Home Depot and Walmart both list natural Fraser Fir trees for sale, available for delivery before Christmas. A search on Amazon’s website revealed no results for natural Christmas trees, although the company offers a variety of artificial trees for sale.But Phil Quinn says people are looking to take advantage of the chance to pick out their own tree in person, noting his farm is seeing greater interest in its choose-and-cut option, even with Quebec at its highest COVID-19 alert level.“People are just asking for some kind of normalcy,” Quinn says.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.Jon Victor, The Canadian Press
A patch of land in the heart of downtown was slated to become much-needed green space, but when Montreal tried to expropriate the land, the owner of three of the parcels fought the plan in court hard enough that the city gave up.The six-year legal battle cost taxpayers nearly $3 million as, after the city withdrew its expropriation attempt, it was required to cover the developer's legal fees and expenses.Now an 11-storey residential complex with commercial space on the ground floor is going up near the corner of Ste-Catherine and MacKay streets, leaving people in the area wondering when they are finally going to get the park space they've been promised for years.The 85-unit apartment complex is currently under construction next to St. Jax Anglican Church, where Graham Singh is the pastor."There's no green space between Atwater and University along Ste-Catherine," he said."It's been a major priority for our municipal government. It's been a major request for every single community group I'm part of — more green space downtown."He said community groups and activists in the neighbourhood learned Montreal withdrew its expropriation bid back in March, but no new, alternative park plans have been presented since then."It's kind of disappointing that we lost the opportunity for a green space," said Maryse Chapdelaine of the Peter-McGill Community Council, a neighbourhood advocacy organization."There's a sharp lack of green spaces in our neighbourhood."She said everybody was excited when the borough announced the plan to open a park at that corner so many years ago.Elected officials refuse to commentEvery time Chapdelaine's community group and others went to ask the borough council about the matter in the years that followed, she said, they were told that no information could be divulged due to legal reasons.And now, even though the case has been settled since March, the borough's district councillor, Cathy Wong, is refusing to comment.When CBC Montreal contacted her by email, a centre city spokesperson replied, saying no elected officials will speak on the matter.The story began under former Mayor Denis Coderre, but the party that followed in his footsteps, Ensemble Montréal, is also refusing to be interviewed on the matter or provide any details on the court case.The owner of the three of the four lots the city tried to expropriate is Immeubles Prime Inc. The developer has had several court cases against the city over the years, CBC Montreal has learned. The company did not respond to several requests for comment.Park plans kick off with land reservationHowever, city spokesperson Anik de Repentigny did provide a basic timeline of events in an emailed statement.The Ville-Marie borough council decreed in October 2014 that the four lots were reserved for park development at the northeast intersection of Mackay and Ste-Catherine and that reservation was renewed again two years later, she said.By 2016, negotiations weren't going well and the city decided to expropriate the land. Public documents show roughly $10.7 million was set aside to cover the cost.But the court challenges led to long delays, suspending the expropriation and thwarting the city's project, de Repentigny said.Concerned about the cost of a extended court battle, the city reached a settlement.That came out to $2.5 million in capital, plus $481,654 in legal and expert fees that went to Prime. The city council then approved this expenditure in March, paying the developer.The developer has since had a permit approved for its mixed-use development as it did not require a zoning derogation and the city has set its sights on building a public square in the area.That project will encourage citizen participation in the planning process, she said, without providing details."Despite everything, creating new green spaces in the city centre remains at the heart of the priorities of the Ville-Marie borough and the city," de Repentigny said.
What began as an idea for two Cree best friends has turned into a podcast that is catching on with their laid back conversation and list of Indigenous guests."We firmly believe that everyone has a story," said River Thomas, 25, originally from the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan, and co-host of Foxing Around."Everyone comes from all aspects of life with some sort of knowledge they can give or share to the general public."The other co-host is Raymond Fox, 25, originally from the Sweetgrass First Nation in Saskatchewan. The pair currently live and produce the program out of their basement in Olds, Alta., where they both are student athletes.Fox attends Red Deer College, where he plays soccer, and Thomas goes to Olds College on a partial volleyball scholarship."The thing I am most proud of is we are doing this together," Fox said."To do this with my best friend is the best part about it." Fox came up with the idea to do their own podcast after being interviewed on a Saskatchewan podcast this past summer."I was shown the basics and thought it would be a great platform to start Foxing Around," said Fox. Fox thought with COVID-19 restrictions it was a great time to do it, so the pair scraped up some funds to buy used microphones and a mixer and with a homemade green screen the podcast was on the air in October."We wanted to create meaningful conversation, but at the same time keep it light," he said. The list of guests has included a wide variety of people from actor Adam Beach, international round dance singers Fawn and Tia Wood, as well as Saskatchewan rapper Joey Styles, who was their first guest."They are just starting out and you get that feeling it was something they were meant to do," said Styles. "It seems to be thriving; they are connecting with people while realizing their dream and inspiring others."The show has gained thousands of followers and comments from the audience are reflected, with issues ranging from culture, entertainment and personal stories of guests. Melissa Worm, originally from Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan said that, as a listener, she was excited to hear about the subjects the show delves into."Hearing the culture being talked about from a younger point of view and how honest and open the space they created to talk about these things is becoming, is really very exciting," she said.Fox said they hope to bring together people who have success stories with others who can either learn from them or relate to them. According to the pair they have had messages and comments from Indigenous people all over Canada and the United States. The podcast airs every Sunday on Facebook and can be found on YouTube.
It's been a bit of a roller-coaster weekend for Toronto father Yaser Nadaf, after Ontario's new asymptomatic testing for schools in COVID-19 hot spots turned up 19 new positive cases at his children's school.While his daughter and her Grade 3 class were cleared to return to school on Monday, his son's Grade 2 class must self-isolate for 14 days, even though the youngster himself was among those who tested negative.The weekend's testing blitz at Thorncliffe Park Public School — the first Toronto District School Board (TDSB) location selected for the voluntary testing pilot announced last week — saw 14 classes affected and sent home for two weeks. However, the rest of the school will remain open, according to direction from Toronto Public Health.Nadaf is rolling with it, saying he believes teachers and staff have been trying their best to maintain health and safety precautions and protocols."What can we do? This is going on everywhere in the world," he said. "They try their best, but at the same time they cannot prevent it completely."Testing asymptomatic students and staff is currently being offered at designated schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions and Ottawa — four Ontario regions with a high number of active COVID-19 cases.The goal is to improve tracking of the coronavirus and prevent transmission within schools, as well as to inform future public health decisions. While parents and health experts seem to be applauding the pilot, some are also highlighting shortcomings in how it's being rolled out.Over the weekend, testing also began in Ottawa at Manordale Public School, part of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Amber Mammoletti, an occasional teacher working at two schools this fall, dropped by on Sunday to be tested with her son, Fynn."I think there's people walking around not realizing they have it — no symptoms — so it's just better to keep everyone safe: Get tested if you can and see what happens," she said.WATCH | How testing helped Cornell University become a model of COVID-19 prevention:School boards are working with local public health authorities to determine which schools to target over the next four weeks, but the expectation is that new positives will undoubtedly emerge, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said."The 19 cases we've learned about over the weekend [at Thorncliffe Park PS] as a result of the testing is a concern, but it's not unexpected," he said Monday."While this information is concerning, it really is the information that our public health officials need to know, because it gives them a better snapshot of how many of those asymptomatic people are positive cases of COVID."Despite the batch of positive cases arising from this first weekend, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated his assertion that "99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free" during a press briefing on Monday afternoon.Acknowledging that "we still have work to do" in tracking COVID-19 cases in communities, he characterized the new testing initiative as an extension of the existing safety measures his ministry had announced."The fact that hundreds of children, students and staff have gotten tested [at Thorncliffe Park PS] in conjunction with the local public health unit I think underscores that the plan in place is ... working hard to mitigate any further spread: identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don't have spreaders within the school." 'Canaries in the coal mine'A targeted campaign of testing in schools — which in most neighbourhoods are considered trusted, known places — is a welcome tool that adds to the barometer of what's happening in the communities they're located in, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton."Parents who may not be encouraged to go get tested in their local communities will readily take their kids to the school, which is a place they know," he said."Things like this are going to be canaries in the coal mine. You kind of get a better sense of what's happening in the community by doing these local testing strategies."He added the caveat, however, that the type of test being used will likely cause more chaos for families and schools.For the pilot, Ontario is using PCR testing, which detects the genetic material of a virus. Although considered the gold standard, it's also so sensitive it would "pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago," Chagla said.He suggested that they could have chosen rapid antigen tests, which flag active infections by identifying proteins on the surface of infectious virus particles.The rapid antigen tests may offer a more precise picture "of who is really a threat to the community versus who had COVID six weeks ago, where they're not really a threat," Chagla said.WATCH | Nova Scotia offers rapid COVID-19 tests in Halifax for asymptomatic cases:Though Toronto parent Jessica Lyons welcomes the introduction of asymptomatic testing, she said it comes months late and should be offered more widely."This is desperately needed," said the mother of two school-aged children and an organizer with the Ontario Parent Action Network."Much more testing in schools — to make it accessible, to make it easy for parents and families and students to do — is really essential. So we support this pilot, obviously, but we think that it should have come ... weeks and weeks ago, and it needs to be expanded."Back in Thorncliffe Park, among the Toronto communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this year, parents in the neighbourhood expressed concern about the new positive cases found through the testing initiative. But they're also adamant about one thing: their schools staying open.Remote learning last spring was "really hard for kids. We've seen the mental stress on our child and other kids," said Osamah Aldhaby, father of a second grader who he said really missed being at school."When we were kids, you know, we used to run away from school," Aldhad noted."Now they're actually really wanting to go to school, which is really important for them."
With COVID-19 case numbers climbing in Atlantic Canada, it wouldn't seem the best time for a restaurant to expand its business — but two Island eateries are doing just that.Terry Nabuurs ran Terry's Berries Food Truck outside of Lone Oak Brewing in Borden-Carleton this past summer. Now, he has moved inside with a new restaurant called The Abby, named in honour of the passenger ferry MV Abegweit.The restaurant opened officially Friday and will run year-round. Although the pandemic is on Nabuurs's mind, he feels this is the right time to expand."I think it's important to stay steady on the rudder and you know, try and keep going ahead. We're just going to be very cognizant of how the pandemic plays out here," Nabuurs said."We've been pretty lucky with some strong leadership, who have had to make some difficult decisions."One of the things Nabuurs learned is how to keep contact limited and lineups smaller. The food truck stationed outside the brewery used a buzzer system. Customers were given a buzzer and when their food was ready, it went off, notifying them to pick up their order.Nabuurs said he is implementing the same protocol at The Abby."If things change, we'll just adapt with those changes and continue on," he said.Nabuurs said he believes local support will be enough to keep the restaurant going — something made more important by the heightened travel restrictions between the Atlantic provinces."When we came up here we were really hoping to get some local support and we have kind of been overwhelmed with how people have supported us," he said."I think people are more aware now of supporting local businesses then we have ever seen."Nabuurs said he is grateful for local support and it is what is keeping businesses alive during COVID-19.Contactless is keyNabuurs isn't alone in expanding his food offerings during the pandemic. Nimrods' is aiming to open a permanent location at the former Kentucky Fried Chicken location in Stratford in the middle of December.The restaurant, normally found on the floating dock at Peakes Quay during the summer, opened a temporary second location there during Burger Love this fall."I think it is a bit of a scary time to be living in, especially in the restaurant industry," said Bruce Rooney, general manager of Nimrods'.He said a key factor was that the Stratford building already had a drive-thru to provide a contactless option, so that people don't have to get out of their vehicles to pick up food. The drive-thru will give Nimrods' an advantage in this, its first year of winter operation, "having that convenient option where people can just pull on through and get on their way."Nimrods' will also have a dine-in option, for use as long as public health restrictions allow during this stage of the pandemic. More from CBC P.E.I.
Alberta Health is now collecting data on the racial and ethnic background of people diagnosed with COVID-19 but says the data is not yet ready for public release because it's not complete. A snippet of the data was put out by the premier's issues manager Monday, in defence of the premier's comments about high caseloads in the South Asian community. "Albertans of South & East Asian descent account for just under 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases, but represent only 11 per cent of the population," Matt Wolf posted on Twitter. The tweet was one of several Wolf posted in response to what he described as misplaced outrage from some of Premier Jason Kenney's critics over Kenney's recent comments about high caseloads in northeast Calgary, where many immigrants live. "Some are arguing that the premier is 'blaming' or 'stigmatizing' Albertans by trying to raise awareness amongst cultural communities about how to slow the spread," Wolf tweeted. "No, the premier is not 'blaming' any groups of Albertans. COVID-19 affects all elements of our society. But data does show that some cultural communities are disproportionately affected." That data is only currently available to Wolf and other members of the provincial government, however. CBC News asked the province last week for the data, after the premier said on RedFM radio that "we are seeing a very high level of spread in the South Asian community." In response, Alberta Health provided a written statement saying the information is being collected but is not yet being published. "To date, we have not been publicly reporting on the race, ethnicity or socio-economic status of Albertans with COVID-19, focusing instead on risk factors and case-specific data by age and location," the statement said. It went on to say that Alberta Health "may revisit this in the future when it's feasible." Asked Monday about Wolf's tweet, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the numbers he cited were "preliminary." "We have been working over the past several months on putting that data together and doing some analysis so that we would be able to communicate it as a comprehensive whole, with complete analysis," Hinshaw said. "That's not complete at this time." 'We need less confusion and more transparency' Dr. Hakique Virani, a clinical associate professor of public health with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta, said he was glad to learn the province is now collecting this data but he believes it should be shared publicly, in its entirety, not in snippets. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to hit new highs daily, and Virani believes Albertans' trust in the pandemic response has already been undermined for a variety of reasons. He says it doesn't help when the public is told data exists but isn't ready to be published, only for select parts of the data to then be released on social media. "When you're hearing two different messages from within the same government, it becomes even more of a challenge," Virani said. "So we need less confusion and more transparency. And this doesn't serve either of those purposes." Virani said there is value in collecting this type of data, which has many potential applications. "It's not just of interest to researchers, but it's interesting to public health practitioners," he said. "To have local data about certain at-risk groups is invaluable to mounting a sensible response." Repeated calls for more data like this In Toronto, demographic data like this was collected early in pandemic, and it showed minority groups were over-represented in reported cases of COVID-19. Human rights advocates, anti-racism groups, researchers and social agencies have been calling for months for similar data to be collected and shared publicly in Alberta. "It could lead to a change in health care," Linda McKay-Panos with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre told CBC News in August. "We need to know what's going on in order to more effectively treat it." There have been similar calls in Quebec and British Columbia for more of this type of data to be gathered and released. In the United States, data on race and ethnicity is more routinely collected alongside health data. In that country, Black people, Indigenous people and Hispanic people are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than white and Asian people, according to the COVID Tracking Project. There are multiple, overlapping and complex reasons for this, according to researchers who have studied the topic. The reasons for the high rates among Calgarians of South Asian descent are also complex, Kenney said Monday. Kenney elaborates Speaking to former Wildrose leader and Progressive Conservative MLA Danielle Smith, who now hosts a radio show on NewsTalk 770, the premier said there are a wide range of factors related to the rapid spread of COVID-19 among Albertans of particular international backgrounds. He cited lower socio-economic status, more dense housing, larger households and linguistic barriers among those factors. "And some folks, especially refugees who didn't have the benefit of formal education, may even have limited literacy in their own maternal tongue, which means our efforts to translate materials, for example, uncovered that guidelines don't necessarily have the same impact that they might in the broader population," Kenney said. He said the province is looking at ways to do more "on the ground" outreach to better communicate the latest public health advice to people in situations like that, in addition to supports for people who test positive for COVID-19 but cannot effectively self-isolate due to their living situation at home. "These are great, hardworking people and we need to to help them," Kenney said. "So I've asked our team to come up with a much, much bigger package of free hotel isolation where the province will cover the bills." "This is not at all about blame," the premier added. "It is about reaching out." Role of work Coun. George Chahal, who represents Ward 5 in northeast Calgary, believes one of the biggest factors at play in this part of the city is the type of work that many people do. He said it's especially common for people in his ward to have jobs that put them at increased risk, such as working in meat-packing plants, driving taxis, buses or ride-sharing vehicles like Uber, working in hospitals or nursing homes, and working in retail or grocery stores. "Most of these residents don't have a choice to work from home," Chahal said Monday, in an interview on The Calgary Eyeopener. "We also see in northeast Calgary, there are some of the highest rates of public-transit use — pre-pandemic and during the pandemic," Chahal added. "So I think this is an important factor, as well." Contact-tracing backlog affects November data Hinshaw said Alberta Health aims to release the additional demographic-based data when it's more complete. That will take some time, she said, as the data is gathered via contact tracers and there have been significant backlogs in that system — and gaps in data collection, as a result. "We will not have reliable ethnicity data for the month of November," Hinshaw said. "It's really important to remember that single numbers that are released should never be used to stigmatize particular communities," she added. "There are many reasons why individuals who self-identified within a particular ethnic group may be over-represented and that could have more to do with occupation or with other factors in those individuals' lives, and absolutely should not be taken to infer any kind of blame or stigma on particular individuals."
Monday's fiscal update gave us a pretty good look at how much red ink has been spilled on the federal government's finances — and just how long it might take to clean it up.A series of pronouncements from Canada's biggest lenders this week should give us a similar glimpse of how things are doing in the real economy.The so-called Big Six banks are slated to reveal their fourth-quarter earnings starting Tuesday morning. Bank of Montreal kicked things off with a 33 per cent profit hike, and Scotiabank came next with a slight dip to $1.9 billion.Those two will be followed by the Royal Bank of Canada and National Bank of Canada on Wednesday. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Toronto-Dominion Bank close things out on Thursday.All of those sets of numbers will be closely scrutinized by investors and policy-makers for signs of how the consumers and businesses that borrow and save with the banks are doing. If banks report that businesses are taking out new loans to invest and grow while paying back their existing debts, that's a good sign for the economy.And if Canadian consumers are tapping banks to borrow money for such things as buying homes and other investments, that, too, is a good sign of confidence that the economy may be recovering from COVID-19.Mortgage deferralsOne of the biggest dark clouds hanging over banks is the billions of dollars worth of mortgages that borrowers asked to defer interest payments on earlier in the pandemic.It's been estimated that roughly three-quarters of a million borrowers applied to defer their mortgage at some point this year, which is roughly one in six people with a home loan — buying every one of them a few months' relief from interest payments even as it added to the cost and length of the loan in the long run.Most of those deferred loans were for between three and six months, which means they either recently expired or are about to — prompting fears that a wave of mortgage delinquencies could be coming. But based on what the banks have suggested recently, that worst-case scenario doesn't seem to be coming to pass.Scotiabank recently revealed that among the borrowers on its books with a mortgage deferral that has already expired, 99 per cent of them are up to date on their payments. The bank had about $39 billion worth of deferred loans on its books as of the end of August, so that payback rate is an encouraging sign, as most of that debt is slated to come due again in the period Scotiabank will be reporting on this week."Our customers continue to make their payments on time after their deferrals have expired," CEO Brian Porter said in a statement. "We expect the vast majority of the remaining balances to expire this quarter."Most of the other big banks said similar things at a recent banking conference.When asked about the status of deferrals, BMO's chief financial officer, Thomas Flynn, said: "The vast, vast, vast majority of customers [are] returning to a status where they are making payments to us ... and the existing deferrals will run off largely over the balance of the year."I would say we're not expecting a radically different outcome," he said of the loan deferrals that have yet to expire.Rod Bolger, Flynn's counterpart at RBC, said similar things at the same event, noting that most of the people who asked the bank for a loan deferral had lots of equity in their homes, had very high credit scores and were dual-income households — all things that would suggest they are safe bets to pay it off.And so far, it seems as though they are: "We're not looking at seeing a big spike in foreclosures," Bolger said. "We expect that these mortgages, as they come off the deferral program, to remain the homes of our clients" in most cases.This week will be our first chance to see if those early trends are playing out in the numbers.Savings are up, tooSo, that's the likely good news. And there could be some more of it on the books of the big banks, depending on your definition of "good."It may seem counterintuitive in a pandemic, but the amount that Canadian households are saving has skyrocketed during COVID-19. Statistics Canada reported over the summer that the savings rate shot up to 28 per cent in the second quarter, the highest level in decades.While many people lost their jobs and income during the pandemic, the unprecedented level of government support programs, such as the Canada emergency response benefit, helped millions of them keep their heads above water.The spike in savings suggests that many people took that government cash and stashed it away for a rainy day, which is not as good as you might think for the big banks.Cash in the bank may feel good for the person saving it, but the banks don't make any money from that — it actually costs them a minuscule amount in terms of interest payments every month.Economists Benjamin Tal and Katherine Judge with CIBC recently estimated that Canadian consumers and businesses are currently sitting on a record high of $170 billion in cash.While the savings rate was 28 per cent in the spring, CIBC estimates it likely fell to about 13 per cent since then, which is still high by historical standards. "We suspect that the vast majority of excess cash is parked in the chequing accounts of mid- and high-income households," they said in a recent report.Rainy-day money feels great to those who have it, but cash in the bank does little for everyone else — including the banks. Unless that cash gets put to work by being spent at businesses, it's going to be hard for the economy to fully recover — and based on where it is, it's unlikely to move any time soon."With the happy days of summer over, it is reasonable to assume that mid- and high-income households will, in fact, reduce consumption of nonessentials again," Tal and Judge said in their report.So it will be important to look at how much cash the banks say they have in accounts right now and remember that every dollar they have there is one less in the actual economy.
The central metaphor of Chrystia Freeland's speech to the House of Commons on Monday was seasonal."We know the winter ahead will be hard," the finance minister said. "But we also know that spring will follow winter."As a reference to the pandemic, this can be taken quite literally. The second wave of COVID-19 is still building, Canadians are suffering and significant hardship is still on the way as the weather turns cold. Eventually, things will get better. Brighter days are ahead.In terms of fiscal policy, Freeland's fall economic statement was an attempt both to account for the long winter of our pandemic discontent and to hold out some hope. With that eye to the spring, Monday's fiscal update sets up a pivotal budget next year — one that, whether it passes or fails, could be among the most consequential in this country's recent history.To counter the pandemic, Freeland now predicts that the federal government will have to spend $267.3 billion in the current fiscal year to support individuals, businesses and provinces. Another $45.9 billion in aid could be required in the next fiscal year. Before any stimulus to restart the economy is spent, Freeland said, the debt-to-GDP ratio would peak at 52.6 per cent.A deficit debate deferredEven with the vast sums involved, there have been relatively few concrete complaints to date about the scope of the government's pandemic spending. The debate going forward is more likely to be about how the government's accumulated debt should influence its future actions — though even Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has said he would take another ten years to balance the budget.Looking forward, Freeland said the federal government will be prepared to spend between $70 billion and $100 billion over the next three fiscal years to pull the country out of the pandemic-induced recession. But the vast majority of that stimulus — as well as any new permanent spending — will be detailed at a later date.WATCH: Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on pandemic spendingMonday's fall economic statement lays out some broad priorities, all of which were at least hinted at in September's throne speech: creating new opportunities for women, expanding access to early learning and child care, fighting systemic racism, making it easier to find affordable housing, increasing immigration, continuing the pursuit of reconciliation and building a cleaner, greener economy. And this fiscal update does offer a number of "down payments" on new plans to deal with those concerns.In all, the fall economic statement projects about $15 billion in new spending over the next five years under the heading of "building back better," alongside a smattering of tax changes expected eventually to provide about $2 billion in new annual revenue.'Guardrails' over 'anchors'To the consternation of fans of "fiscal anchors" — a concept that has exploded in popularity over the last nine months — Freeland's update stops short of explaining how federal spending will theoretically be tied down in the long-term.Instead, there are comparisons to debt and stimulus spending by other G7 countries and a promise of "fiscal guardrails" to judge how much stimulus spending is needed and for how long. There is also a preemptive argument against moving too quickly to return the budget to balance."The experience of many countries following the 2008-09 global financial crisis … suggests that economies that withdrew fiscal support too quickly experienced slower growth afterwards," the update reads at page 99 — a sentence that could be read as a reference to the post-recession policies of the previous Conservative government.COVID-19's second wave in Canada, and the prospect of a difficult winter ahead, necessarily complicate any plans to launch that stimulus or begin building for the long-term.Details coming in the springBut there are big things that remain to be explained, such as how much new funding the Liberals might be willing to provide to the provinces for health care — an issue that could involve specific commitments for pharmacare and long-term care. On child care, Freeland vowed that next year's budget will "lay out the plan to provide affordable, accessible, inclusive and high-quality child care from coast to coast to coast."Liberals can argue that they have identified the things that the federal government should be focused on now — that such an agenda reflects both the lessons of the pandemic and the needs of the future. But it has yet to explain how those pieces might fit together on the federal balance sheet.In his response to the fiscal update, Conservative leader Erin O'Toole mostly sidestepped the specifics. He repeated his party's claim that Canada can expect to get access to a COVID-19 vaccine later than many other nations — a prediction that soon will be either borne out or dismissed. Of the larger debate, he mostly spoke of values.WATCH: Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole on government borrowingHe enthused about "hard work" and "perseverance" and mentioned that his first job in high school had been as a dishwasher and short-order cook. He accused the prime minister of being "paternalistic" toward the provinces. He borrowed Stephen Harper's preferred framing to argue that there is now a fundamental conflict of visions between the "somewheres" and the "anywheres."Those might be powerful emotional arguments for some audiences, particularly when deployed against a famous and cosmopolitan prime minister whose support is based in major cities. But while it's not at all clear how the Trudeau government will make "building back better" work in practice, it's even less clear what O'Toole's alternative agenda would look like — what he would offer the "somewheres" and whether he'll have counter-proposals to what the Liberals eventually offer.By spring, we could have clearer pictures of both the state of the pandemic and the Liberal government's post-pandemic agenda. A new Liberal climate plan, for instance, could come before the end of this year.As a result, a lot will be riding on next spring's budget — from a stimulus agenda defined by Liberal priorities to another promise of a national child care system. This being a minority government, the fate of this promised plan for a post-pandemic spring will depend on whether it can win the necessary votes in Parliament — or, failing that, a general election.
The federal government is extending financial protection to workers whose employer goes bankrupt in a foreign country as a direct result of problems experienced two years ago by call centre workers in Sydney, N.S.In 2018, about 600 employees of ServiCom were thrown out of work three weeks before Christmas after the call centre's American owner, JNET Communications, filed for bankruptcy in a U.S. court.That meant the workers had no way to recover the pay they were owed and would otherwise receive under the federal Wage Earner Protection Program.The employees faced a bleak holiday season, owed about $1 million in pay and bonuses with little hope of recovery.By the new year, another U.S. call centre company — MCI Canada — bought ServiCom's assets and restarted the Sydney operation.Employees said they hunkered down and made it through Christmas with the help of friends and family.Three months later, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour tried something it had never done before.The province filed a court action on behalf of the employees. It sought a declaration of bankruptcy in Canada to allow the workers to access the wage protection program.That was granted and, in June 2019, the workers started getting back pay.According to a regulatory impact analysis published in the Canada Gazette, Ottawa is changing the regulations as a direct result of the ServiCom decision to protect Canadian workers by including them under the program, even if their employer is based in another country.The wage protection program allows workers to access up to $2,000 in back pay and gives employees "super-priority" status, which means wages and vacation pay rank ahead of secured creditors in a bankruptcy case.Going to court to help workers access the program was "complicated and time consuming," the analysis said, and changing the regulations is expected to result in only a small number of additional claims and little extra cost.The new regulations are expected to take effect this spring.MORE TOP STORIES