Alberta politician under fire and solo polar bear dips: In The News for Jan. 1

·7 min read

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 1 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Alberta's Opposition NDP is calling for Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard to step down over reports she took a vacation to Hawaii despite public-health recommendations against unnecessary travel.

NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci says Allard vacationed while Albertans have been sitting in their homes through the holidays to avoid getting COVID-19.

CBC News is reporting that Allard was in Hawaii this month on a family vacation and returned home on Wednesday.

Allard's press secretary and a spokeswoman for Premier Jason Kenney did not respond to phone calls or emails requesting comment.

The NDP says the United Conservative government should release how many of its caucus members have left the country since the Alberta legislature rose earlier this month.

Ceci notes that Allard is responsible for emergency management and her deputy minister is in charge of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in the province.

"She vacationed while Albertans have been sitting in their homes through the holidays, following strict public health orders and separated from family and friends while waiting on the vaccine," Ceci said Thursday in a release.

"This goes beyond just a member of the government caucus or a member of the government cabinet — Minister Allard is in charge of emergency management. She has made an unforgivable error and must resign her position immediately."

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Also this ...

Crowds are discouraged from gathering as people plunge into icy Canadian waters to ring in 2021, but the pandemic hasn’t frozen the charitable spirit behind the annual events.

Organizers of “polar swims” across the country are inviting people to participate in COVID-friendly dips with backyard adaptations or physically distanced events.

Keith Jolie said it’s disappointing that the usual crowd of more than 400 swimmers – and even more spectators – can’t gather on Toronto’s Sunnyside Beach this year.

But Toronto Polar Bear Club is encouraging people to share videos of their own jaunts to the nearest body of water – be it Lake Ontario or an ice-filled tub – along with a donation to Boost For Kids, a local child advocacy charity.

“This is a tough year for charities,” Jolie said Thursday in a telephone interview. “We really wanted to continue to support them.”

Jolie and his fellow organizers uploaded video to Facebook in early December of their own three-person dip at Sunnyside Beach to offer inspiration.

Most participants plan to hold their own swims on Jan. 1 for tradition’s sake, but Jolie said a few videos had started to roll in by New Year’s Eve, with people taking ice baths, hitting the lake in small groups or swimming near their cottages.

“It’s been pretty neat to see,” Jolie said in a phone interview on New Year’s Eve. “We're looking forward to seeing what people's creativity does.”

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

California hospitals ended the year on “the brink of catastrophe," a health official said as the pandemic pushed deaths and sickness to staggering levels and some medical centres scrambled to provide oxygen for the critically ill.

Meanwhile, fervent pleas to stay away from large gatherings — warnings backed by patrolling police and threats of large fines — replaced the usual public holiday calls to avoid drinking and driving or shooting off guns to celebrate the new year.

Officials warned that failure to social distance for the holidays could lead to yet another COVID-19 surge that could send the state's medical system on a path to disaster.

California on Thursday became the third state to exceed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, behind New York with nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas with more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In addition, San Diego County said it had confirmed a total of four cases involving a mutant variant of the coronavirus that appears to be much more contagious. Other cases have been confirmed in Florida and Colorado.

None of the men diagnosed with the strain in San Diego County had any known interaction with each other and at least three hadn’t travelled outside the country, leading public health officials to believe the new variant is “widespread in the community,” a county announcement said.

The county also ended the year by announcing a grim new death toll of 62, the single highest one-day figure since the pandemic began.

Hospitals, particularly in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley in the middle of the state, have been overrun with virus patients and don’t have any more intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

Britain’s long and sometimes acrimonious divorce from the European Union ended Thursday with an economic split that leaves the EU smaller and the U.K. freer but more isolated in a turbulent world.

Britain left the European bloc’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 11 p.m. London time, midnight in Brussels, completing the biggest single economic change the country has experienced since World War II. A different U.K.-EU trade deal will bring new restrictions and red tape, but for British Brexit supporters, it means reclaiming national independence from the EU and its web of rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose support for Brexit helped push the country out of the EU, called it "an amazing moment for this country."

"We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it," he said in a New Year’s video message.

The break comes 11 months after a political Brexit that left the two sides in the limbo of a "transition period" — like a separated couple still living together, wrangling and wondering whether they can remain friends. Now the U.K. has finally moved out.

It was a day some had longed for and others dreaded since Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, but it turned out to be something of an anticlimax. U.K. lockdown measures to curb the coronavirus curtailed mass gatherings to celebrate or mourn the moment, though a handful of Brexit supporters defied the restrictions to raise a toast outside Parliament as the Big Ben bell sounded 11 times on the hour.

A free trade agreement sealed on Christmas Eve after months of tense negotiations ensures that Britain and the 27-nation EU can continue to buy and sell goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the 660 billion pounds in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.

But companies face sheaves of new costs and paperwork, including customs declarations and border checks. Traders are struggling to digest the new rules imposed by the 1,200-page trade deal.

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On this day in 1947 ...

Canadians became "Canadian citizens" rather than "British citizens" as the Canadian Citizenship Act took effect.

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ICYMI ...

Tucked away in three university libraries across Canada are first edition copies of a book that experts say contains the building blocks of science.

Prof. Mordechai Feingold of the California Institute of Technology and Andrej Svorencik of the University of Mannheim in Germany are looking for more copies of Sir Isaac Newton's "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" in private collections.

The two experts in September published a paper in their "attempt to locate all surviving copies" of the first edition of Newton's book.

Many people believe that the book, published in 1687, was "so complicated" that no one read it, Feingold said. By tracing the ownership of first editions, the scientists want to show that not only was the book read but it was also understood.

"I mean, not necessarily as Newton did, but sufficiently to build on," he said in an interview.

A census of the book published in 1953 showed there were 189 copies scattered around the world but a new estimate puts the number at 386.

Dalhousie, McGill and the University of Toronto each have a copy of the 510-page leather-bound book.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press