ATLANTA — After weathering criticism for certifying President Donald Trump's narrow election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, Republican officials in Georgia are proposing additional requirements for the state's vote-by-mail process, despite no evidence of systemic fraud or irregularities. Two state Senate committees held hearings Thursday to begin a review of Georgia’s voting laws. Republicans are zeroing in on a plan to require a photo ID for ballots cast by mail. Voting rights activists and Democrats argue that the change isn't necessary and would disenfranchise voters. Biden beat Trump by just over 12,500 votes in Georgia, with Biden receiving nearly twice as many of the record number of absentee ballots as the Republican president, according to the secretary of state's office. A recount requested by Trump was wrapping up and wasn't expected to change the overall outcome. Trump, who for months has sowed unsubstantiated doubt about the integrity of mail-in votes, has also made baseless claims of widespread fraud in the presidential race in Georgia. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff have vehemently rebuffed those claims, stating unequivocally that there is no evidence of systemic errors or fraud in last month's election. Yet Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans who have been publicly lambasted by Trump, have joined the push to require a photo ID for absentee voting. “Voters casting their ballots in person must show a photo ID, and we should consider applying that same standard to mail-in balloting,” Kemp said in remarks streamed live online. Kemp faced accusations of voter suppression during his successful 2018 run for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, an election he oversaw as Georgia's previous secretary of state. He vehemently denied the allegations. Kemp faces reelection — and a possible rematch against Abrams — in 2022. Raffensperger also has suggested allowing state officials to intervene in counties that have systemic problems with administering elections and broadening the ways in which challenges can be posed to votes cast by residents who don’t live where they say. The photo ID idea has support among several members of the state legislature, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan. “I don't think there should be different standards for the same process,” Dugan said in an interview. Republican House Speaker David Ralston has been skeptical of voting by mail, telling a local news outlet in April that increased mail voting “will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.” Political analysts have said that typically more Democrats than Republicans use mail-in ballots. Ralston later said he was not talking about his party losing an advantage but the potential for fraud. “We must do everything in our power to ensure votes are not stolen, cast fraudulently or plagued by administrative errors,” he said in a statement this week. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said in an interview with The Associated Press that currently anyone who knows someone’s name, address and date of birth can request an absentee ballot on that person’s behalf. She said that while signature matches provide some security for mail-in ballots, the process should be shored up. One way to do that could be to require a person's driver's license number or a photocopy of a separate form of ID, she said. “We need to secure all avenues that we can of absentee ballots so we never have a candidate run around this state again saying the election was stolen because of absentee ballots,” she said. While Republicans seem ready to press forward with the photo ID requirement during the upcoming legislative session, Democrats and civil rights organizations are raising alarms. With no evidence of widespread fraud or other problems in the election, it doesn’t make sense to talk about measures that could ultimately prove to be barriers to voting, said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?" she asked. “The rule should be first, ‘Do no harm’ when it comes to democracy, and whenever there are more restrictions being put on a process, you run the risk of disenfranchising Georgia citizens.” Young says adding a photo ID requirement for absentee voting would be harmful because “we know that these barriers have a different impact on African American voters, on younger voters and, in this instance, on seniors who have certainly earned the right” to vote. State Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat, echoed Young’s concerns, saying Republicans were offering solutions in search of a problem. “What this says to me is that they just don’t want people voting," Jordan said. “And they specifically don’t want Democrats voting, or people that don’t support their chosen candidates voting, and they’re going to try to make it as hard as possible." Democrats and voting rights groups have for years sought to decrease rejections of absentee ballots in Georgia, arguing that minorities have been disproportionately affected. Absentee ballots are sometimes rejected because signatures on the outer envelope are deemed not to match signatures in the voter registration system, or because the envelope is not signed at all. An agreement signed in March to settle a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party spells out a standard process that must be used statewide to judge the signatures. That agreement has been the subject of much of Trump's online ire, and he has incorrectly said it “makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes.” Ben Nadler And Kate Brumback, The Associated Press
NEW DELHI — Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth said Thursday he plans to launch his own political party in southern India in January, ending years of speculation by millions of his fans on his political future.He said in a tweet that he will make an announcement on Dec. 31, apparently in relation to legislative elections in Tamil Nadu state expected around June next year. He started taking an active part in politics in 2017.Rajinikanth, 69, is one of India’s most popular stars with more than 175 films since 1975, mostly in the Tamil and Telugu languages.“In the upcoming Assembly elections, the emergence of spiritual politics will happen for sure. A wonder will happen,” he tweeted. An announcement on matters connected to the party's launch will be made Dec. 31, he said.His political prospects appear bright following a vacuum created by the deaths of Jayaram Jayalalithaa, an actor-turned politician with the governing party in the state, and Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the leader of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party.Cinema has always influenced Tamil politics by turning actors into popular politicians.C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi were scriptwriters who went on to become chief ministers. M.G. Ramachandran, a top actor-turned-politician, also had a strong following.Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, Rajinikanth worked as a bus conductor for three years before joining an acting school. He started in small roles as a villain in Tamil cinema and worked his way up, landing roles in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai.Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan also tried his hand in politics as a member of India’s Parliament, representing the Congress party in support of his friend, then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in the 1980s. He resigned after three years following allegations that he accepted bribes in the purchase of artillery guns. His name was later cleared in the scandal.Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press
MORRISBURG – Alight at Night may be open for the holidays, but don’t expect to see bus tours arriving this year. The St. Lawrence Parks Commission kicked off the 20th annual light event at Upper Canada Village on November 27th with limited numbers of people able to attend. Tickets are sold online only and limited to blocks in 30 minute intervals between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on nights it is open. Already, the SLPC reports that the first two weeks of tickets have been sold out. However there was concern from area residents that bus tour companies were bringing visitors from areas where higher levels of COVID-19 infection are located. Several tour companies have listings on their websites for bus trips to Alight At Night from previous years, or for 2021. No bus tour packages have been advertised for 2020. “For the 2020 season, group sales have been paused,” said SLPC spokesperson Rosalyn Gambhir. “Upper Canada Village does not have tour operators/companies or buses groups booked for our winter event Alight at Night.” She said that the SLPC has been working to ensure the event continues during the holiday season, even with the current pandemic situation. “This year, like our fall event Pumpkinferno, there are a limited number of tickets available each night and attendance has been drastically limited every half hour,” Gambhir said. “If needed, numbers will be adjusted based on COVID-19 protocols.” This July, the provincial government provided a $7 million funding infusion to the cash-strapped agency, to assist with operating during the pandemic. Two million of that funding was specifically for Upper Canada Village, which ran a shorter season for 2020 with fewer parts of the attraction open. The SLPC was able to run the popular Pumpkinferno event throughout October. Alight at Night runs on select nights until December 17th, then operates nightly except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day until January 2nd.Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader
Councillors from local townships met Nov. 25 to digest a massive services delivery review with 12 recommendations for more collaboration that could save upwards of $1.18 million annually. Toronto-based consultant, StrategyCorp., presented 12 initiatives for more intermunicipal partnerships. Their report follows months of work and more than 100 interviews/workshops with councillors and staff. The firm said between operational efficiencies, productivity gains, and $74,000 in more revenue, the implemented strategies could provide that $1.18 million. StrategyCorp principal, John Matheson, said they did not approach the job like auditors but to work alongside staff. He said there is a clear willingness on the part of municipalities for more collaboration. “We’re not saying we found great big problems with waste here,” Matheson said. “We’re saying we were invited to come work with the team, to try and find better ways of doing things and not surprisingly, you spend this kind of effort, that we found some.” The recommendations do not directly address the idea of amalgamation, which was never in the terms of reference for the review. Instead, it tackles where municipalities could improve services with different levels of co-operation, including places where services could be integrated to one provider – whether the County, a special body or a lead municipality. Matheson praised the council for being open-minded about possible improvements and being willing to do a review, as well as creating a safe space for staff to consider different ideas. “What you’ve really done is wiped away a lot of the historical stresses that come out of the air about forced amalgamation. Where people are worried about hanging onto their right to continue providing governance for fear of being stripped away from them by a provincial government,” Matheson said. “There’s lots of different ways to achieve things to the benefit of better public administration, better value for money.” Councillors spent four hours delving into the report and questioning each of its recommendation sections. Coun. Bob Carter of Minden Hills questioned the fire service recommendations only extending to joint training, noting common issues across the municipalities such as succession planning, increased demand and escalating costs. “It seems to me the process for determining what was looked at was not only a quantitative process but a qualitative assessment,” Carter said. Matheson said that is accurate, adding their recommendations focused on improvements that could achieve more for fewer or similar dollars, rather than improvements that could be more costly. He added they decided on the subjects of deeper dives after their estimate of what was most worthwhile after the first phase of the process. “It’s not that theoretically, you couldn’t do more,” Matheson said. “We would just evaluate those opportunities as being a little less ripe in the light of the state of readiness of the organizations.” Next steps The review recommends implementation over several years, but divides recommendations into short, medium, and long-term. It suggests addressing some things, such as communications, economic development and collaborative procurement starting in 2021. The review recommends the County begin implementation of other initiatives like planning, building, septic and bylaw in 2022. Warden Liz Danielsen said the review should be a standing item on the County committee of the whole. She added a special meeting should be called in January or early February to start working through it and the proposed timelines. “We’ve got a lot to absorb and lots to talk about,” Danielsen said. “We need to start thinking about how we’re going to move forward.” Coun. Carol Moffatt said some of the ideas in the report are not new, such as the County having an economic development position. “To me, it seems like some of the reason why some of this collaboration isn’t already happening will be the same reasons why some of it doesn’t move ahead going forward,” she said. “We all sitting around this table today need to really, genuinely understand – that whether and how any of this moves forward depends on the will of each and all of us to conceive something for the greater good. For the benefit of the community.” The Highlander will detail more aspects of the 138-page report in the coming weeks. Significant changes recommended • Roads, bridges, and drainage: Implement capital bundling, allowing contractors to secure multiple projects at once. Formalize joint planning of road maintenance. • Fire services: Integrate fire training and explore a joint-training facility. • Waste management: Approve a working group to standardize waste management processes across the County and/or do a Countywide review of landfills and transfer stations. • Building, septic, bylaw: Explore either shared service agreements or integrate services. • Planning: Create one, central official plan with secondary plans below it. Standardize more of the planning processes across the townships. Create a new County-level planning position to assist. • Economic development: Create a new economic development staff position. • Collaborative procurement: Approve a new staff position for the process and approve a new shared-service agreement. • Integrated digital strategy: Integrate long-term IT planning and municipal IT investment decisions. • Co-ordination of legal services: Hire a county-level in-house municipal barrister and solicitor and approve a shared service agreement for it. • Human resources co-ordination: Explore the benefits of a centralizing human resource information system. Pool benefits together and create shared-service agreements for key HR functions. • Communications: Approve a new central communications position, which would also include grant writing. • Co-ordination: Create a new implementation committee of County council to promote effective collaboration between local municipalities.Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
À 11 mois du scrutin municipal, Action Laval confirme la candidature d’un second nouveau candidat en l’espace d’une semaine. Il s’agit de Yanie Langevin Charbonneau qui briguera les suffrages dans le district Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, actuellement représenté par le chef de Parti Laval et opposition officielle, Michel Trottier. Comptable professionnelle agréé, Mme Langevin Charbonneau agit présentement à titre de conseillère en matière de finances publiques et comptabilité municipale auprès de la cheffe du parti, Sonia Baudelot, et du caucus. Dans un communiqué publié le 2 décembre, elle dit souhaiter apporter ses «connaissances» et son «expertise» pour une «meilleure gestion des finances publiques». Diplômée de l’École des hautes études commerciales HEC Montréal, la nouvelle recrue de 28 ans est à la tête de son «propre cabinet de comptable dont les bureaux sont à Laval», souligne-t-on. Yanie Langevin Charbonneau succède ainsi à Francine LeBlanc, qui avait défendu les couleurs du parti lors de l’élection partielle du 24 novembre 2019 dans Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. L’ex-candidate d’Action Laval avait mené une chaude lutte, obtenant 1251 voix et 29,4 % des suffrages dans une course à trois remportée à l’arrachée par Michel Trottier. Mme LeBlanc devait toutefois rompre tous ses liens avec cette formation politique l’hiver dernier. Une décision qu’elle avait communiquée au chef intérimaire Achille Ciffeli au début du mois de mars 2020, quelques semaines après que les conseillers David De Cotis, Isabella Tassoni et Paolo Galati eurent annoncé leur retrait du caucus alors qu’ils étaient sous enquête à la Commission municipale du Québec (CMQ) relativement à ders omissions en lien avec leur Déclaration d’intérêts pécuniaires. Précisons que l’enquête administrative menée en vertu de la Loi sur l’éthique et la déontologie en matière municipale s’était soldée sans qu’aucune accusation ne soit portée. Les trois élus ont depuis réintégré le caucus du parti.Stéphane St-Amour, Initiative de journalisme local, Courrier Laval
WASHINGTON — In the modern twist on old-fashioned war games, the U.S. military dispatched cyber fighters to Estonia this fall to help the small Baltic nation search out and block potential cyber threats from Russia. The goal was not only to help a NATO partner long targeted by its powerful neighbour but also to gain insight on Russian tactics that could be used against the U.S. and its elections. The U.S. Cyber Command operation occurred in Estonia from late September to early November, officials from both countries disclosed this week, just as the U.S. was working to safeguard its election systems from foreign interference and to keep coronavirus research from the prying reach of hackers in countries including Russia and China. Estonian officials say they found nothing malicious during the operation. The mission, an effort analogous to two nations working jointly in a military operation on land or sea, represents an evolution in cyber tactics by U.S. forces who had long been more accustomed to reacting to threats but are now doing more — including in foreign countries — to glean advance insight into malicious activity and to stop attacks before they reach their targets. The Defence Department has worked to highlight that more aggressive “hunt forward” strategy in recent years, particularly after Russia interfered through hacking and covert social media campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. American officials were on high alert for similar interference in 2020 but described no major problems on Nov. 3. “When we look at the threats that we face, from Russia or other adversaries, it really is all about the partnerships and our ability to expand really the scope, scale and pace of operations in order to make it more difficult for adversaries to execute operations either in the United States, Estonia or other places,” Brig. Gen. William Hartman, commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, said in a conference call with a small group of reporters this week. Estonia, a former Soviet republic, was in some ways a natural fit for a partnership with Cyber Command because in years past it has been a cyber target of nearby Russia, including crippling attacks on government networks in 2007. Estonian officials say they have since strengthened their cyber defences, created a cybersecurity strategy and developed their own cyber command, which like the U.S. version is part of the country’s military. While nothing malicious was found on the networks during the exercise, “what we did learn is how the U.S. conducts these kinds of operations, which is definitely useful for us because there are a lot of kind of capability developments that we are doing right now,” said Mihkel Tikk, deputy commander of Estonia’s Cyber Command. Tikk added: “In some areas, it is wise to learn from others than having to reinvent the wheel.” Hartman declined to discuss specifics of the operation but said the networks in Estonia were “very well defended.” “I don’t want anyone to leave here with the impression that Estonian networks were full of adversary activity from a broad range of nation states” because that is not the case, he added. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, has hinted at a more aggressive, proactive federal government approach to cyber threats. In an August piece for Foreign Affairs magazine, for instance, Nakasone wrote that U.S cyber fighters have moved away from a “reactive, defensive posture” and are increasingly engaging in combat with foreign adversaries online. Cyber Command has worked in past years with countries including Montenegro and North Macedonia on similar missions. Estonian officials say they believe the partnership could be a deterrent to countries such as Russia. “These kinds of operations, I think, they will continue,” said Undersecretary of Defence Margus Matt. But, he added, “I don’t know how much we will speak of them publicly.” U.S. officials say they think the risks of a proactive approach — a country could regard such an operation as a provocation toward a broader international cyber conflict — are outweighed by the benefits. “We believe that inaction in cyberspace contributes to escalation more than reasonable action in cyberspace,” said Thomas Wingfield, deputy assistant secretary of defence for cyber policy. Eric Tucker, The Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece — The body of a woman was recovered Thursday on the Greek island of Lesbos and identified as that of a woman reported missing after a migrant boat sank the previous day. The coast guard said the body was recovered from a rocky part of the coast, bringing the death toll from the sinking to two. Another 32 people, all from Somalia and including three children, had been rescued from the sea after the dinghy they had been travelling in from the nearby Turkish coast sank off Lesbos early Wednesday morning, Greek authorities said. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas accused the Turkish coast guard of refusing to help the migrants when they issued a distress call. “It is clear that the Turkish vessel, despite the request for help, didn’t help, didn’t rescue the passengers of the fatal boat while they were in Turkish territorial waters,” Petsas said Thursday. "On the contrary, it urged them to move forward, it carried out manoeuvrs against the boat so that it would continue its course toward Greek shores.” Petsas said smuggling gangs were knowingly endangering people’s lives by sending them out to illegally cross the European Union’s borders in unseaworthy vessels. “People who are not in danger on land, Turkey sends them into danger at sea, in boats that don’t fulfil any safety requirements and are driven by people without permits or knowledge of the rules of the sea,” he said, adding that turning a blind eye to such practices was a “usual practice” by neighbouring Turkey. Turkey's coast guard vehemently denied the allegation, saying in a statement that it dispatched a boat after the distress call but found the dinghy to be in Greek waters with a Greek coast guard boat close enough to help. “Due to the fact that the scene of said incident was within the Greek waters and there was no response to the calls in any manner, it had not been possible to intervene in the scene of incident; nevertheless, Turkish assets continued to stay and wait within the Turkish territorial waters," the Turkish statement said. The coast guard also provided a recording of a Turkish unit telling its Greek counterparts in a call that the migrants “need to be rescued immediately" or otherwise Greece would be responsible. Greece remains one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Mideast, Africa and Asia. The vast majority make their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, often in unseaworthy and grossly overcrowded dinghies and boats. The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a lower federal court to reexamine California restrictions on indoor religious services in areas hard hit by the coronavirus in light of the justices' recent ruling in favour of churches and synagogues in New York. The high court's unsigned order, with no noted dissent, leaves the California restrictions in place for now. But it throws out a federal district court ruling that rejected a challenge to the limits from Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state. Last week, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues. With a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has put most of the state under heightened restrictions, which include a ban on indoor singing and chanting. The Associated Press
Plans for a new LRT station at Victoria Park/Stampede will involve building a temporary platform during construction.Gone will be the old concrete walkway that leads pedestrians to the current platform and in its place will be a street-level stop. It's the first step in creating a permanent platform and extending 17th Avenue into Stampede Park over a level crossing of the tracks."It's been a challenge to figure out how do you usher so many Calgarians through the site, through to downtown and beyond, and keep construction working and the team has come up with a really ingenious solution to do a temporary platform closer to Macleod Trail," said Kate Thompson, the CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which is overseeing the project and the transformation of the Stampede Grounds. She said there are three tracks in the location, which frees up space. Thompson said the overhead walkway will come down in the spring. Inside Stampede Park, most of Weadickville is being demolished or moved, the wooden stockade fence has been cut down and the Coca-Cola stage will be torn down to make way for the new roadway. Opening the park to 17th Avenue is happening at the same time as the extension of the BMO Centre gets underway, with the $500 million project slated for completion in 2024. That project involves demolishing the old Corral, which will begin next week. Also pegged for a 2024 opening date is the new arena on the north end of the grounds.
Natalie Sideserf of Sideserf Cake Studio in Austin, Texas creates a realistic cake that looks like a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish! Unreal!
When Tanya Talaga thinks of Indigenous innovation, she thinks about moving into uncharted territory. “[It’s about] moving into areas where we haven’t traditionally been, but we have every right to be,” she says. “We can be there strongly and with an absolutely beautiful different perspective of many different nations and many different people.” Talaga is an award-winning author, a columnist and — now — the CEO of an Indigenous production company called Makwa Creative. She will be giving a keynote speech at the first annual Indigenous Innovators Gathering hosted by Victoria-based digital agency Animikii which aims to drive social innovation through “Indigenous technology.” The gathering will be held virtually on Dec. 3. In her keynote, Talaga says she will incorporate the Seven Anishinaabe Grandfather Teachings that have guided much of her work and life — humility, truth, honesty, wisdom, respect, courage and love. Talaga recently wrote and produced a seven-episode Audible Original podcast with the title “Seven Truths,” with each episode delving into different stories around each teaching. “We think a lot about those seven truths and we think a lot about how people today are really looking for something to hold onto and something to believe in,” she says. “The seven grandfather teachings are just that really. You don’t have to be Anishinaabe to believe in the seven teachings. Many different nations have different variations of the teachings.” As Talaga moves forward to new projects — including a new book that’s in the works — she says she is grateful to be part of a community of Indigenous innovators who are blazing trails in their own respective fields. “It makes the work that we do so much more meaningful and true,” she says. Talaga says that talent is exemplified by the second speaker at the Indigenous Innovators Gathering: Teara Fraser. Fraser is the first Indigenous woman to start an airline in Canada — Iskwew Air. “She is a pilot, she owns her own business, she owns her own airline. How incredible is that? I think she is so incredibly inspiring,” Talaga says. Event co-facilitator Samantha Vanderdonck, a project coordinator with Animikii, and Tyler McLeod, Business Development Strategist, say the purpose of the three-hour gathering is to highlight the innovation that’s happening across Turtle Island. “[It] isn’t solely just about technology and software development,” McLeod says. “It spans across arts, communication, culture, health, education … It’s about inspiring the next generation.” At the gathering, there will also be a performance by hoop dancer Notorious Cree, who has gained hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok and Instagram, as well as facilitated breakout sessions where participants can ask questions. The event will be recorded for those who aren’t able to attend live. Vanderdonck says this is the first Indigenous Innovators Gathering of many, as Animikii plans to host similar events four times per year going forward. “Highlighting the fact that there are so many incredible people already working in the industry … helps for others to know that they can do it too,” she says.Catherine Lafferty, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
Patricia Young describes her home of Walker’s Point as a place where people believe in the importance of community. “I think if you look up ‘community’ in the dictionary, you’ll see Walker’s Point listed,” she said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, that community often gathered at the Walker’s Point Community Centre for activities and socializing: people went to check out books at the library inside, attend exercise classes, crafting sessions or the monthly potluck dinners. Paola Randall, like Young, has lived in Walker’s Point for over 20 years. She spent a lot of time at the community centre before the pandemic: she’s part of the library’s executive board and used to play pickleball there. “We see it as a hub,” she said. “It really connects us to all the services of the township, as well as bringing us together.” Young, who’s part of the community centre’s hall board, said while people are understanding of the situation they’re in, the loss of some of their traditional events is felt. “I’ve run into a few people and they have specifically said, ‘We really miss the potluck suppers,’” she said. She added, however, no one wants to “jeopardize people’s health and safety.” Community centres in Bala, Port Carling, Minett and Milford Bay reopened Nov. 2, allowing 10 people maximum in their facilities at a time for an hour a day, booked in advance. However, many feel they aren’t out of the woods yet. Residents, particularly seniors, don’t want to take the risk of infection by going out and are still leaning on the adjustments and virtual support systems they’ve developed during the pandemic in lieu of these in-person gathering places. Part of the Walker’s Point Community Centre is open to the public for limited use. The library, which has 500 members, reopened on Nov. 4. It’s open Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and allows one person at a time into the library to check out or return books. The reopening, limited in its capacity, has been a mood-booster for many. "I think people are just happy to have it there," Young said. Heather Elliott works with the District of Muskoka, where she’s in charge of running free service programs for seniors in the region, including community centres in Torrance Bay, Milford Bay, Port Carling and Ullswater. They host a handbell choir, a course on learning to use the computer and various social events — all held virtually now. Once the pandemic began and people were confined to their homes for several weeks, Elliott said her team began reaching out to residents to see how they were faring physically and mentally. “Many of them are living alone and life is very different for them during a pandemic,” she said, “but we see them logging in and participating in ways that I don’t think they ever would a year ago.” While Young said she and the people she knows in the community have been doing well throughout the pandemic, she understands many must be feeling isolated. Connections through Facebook, email and over the phone have become essential in Walker’s Point. “We are definitely there for each other. It’s a very strong community,” Randall said. Elliott said, for the health and safety of their elderly population, who are more vulnerable to the consequences of the virus, they haven’t transitioned into hosting indoor events. “We’re hearing from seniors at this point that they’re not comfortable resuming in-person programming,” she said. She said they’re prioritizing plans for outdoor events like walking groups in Muskoka Lakes trails this winter. Walker’s Point residents, like Young, know one thing for certain: things are likely not going to change before the year is over. A clear sign of this is the cancellation of their annual holiday potluck, a hit event with local families and children, which ran out of the community centre. Young is planning for a more quiet, subdued Christmas in town: “We just won’t have any of the normal socializing,” she said. STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Our reporter wanted to see how residents are faring in places where the community centre is a cornerstone of local socialization and togetherness given limited openings during the pandemic. Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
MIAMI — Brad Six becomes Santa Claus, pulling his black boots over his red pants in the office of a Miami outdoor supply company. It's hot, so he forgoes the traditional heavy jacket for a lightweight vest and grabs his Santa hat.But before sliding it on, the gray-bearded 61-year-old dons a plastic face shield and then takes his chair positioned behind a plexiglass sheet."Getting paid is nice, but to get your battery recharged and to really get something lasting out of it requires interacting with the kids — you don’t get a lot of that this year,” said Six, who first portrayed Santa 35 years ago.This is Santa Claus in the Coronavirus Age, where visits are conducted with layers of protection or online. Putting hundreds of kids daily onto Santa's lap to talk into his face — that's not happening for most. The physical attributes that make the perfect Santa align perfectly with those that make COVID-19 especially deadly.“Most of us tick all the boxes: We are old, we are overweight, we have diabetes and if we don’t have diabetes, we have heart disease,” said Stephen Arnold, the president of IBRBS, an association formerly known as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.That has spurred creativity in Santa's workshops. Santas conducting in-person visits are using some combination of masks, the outdoors, barriers and distance for safety. Others are doing virtual visits, where children chat with Santa online for prices typically ranging from $20 to $100, depending on the length and extras, such as whether customers want a recording. Some Santas are taking the season off.“Santa safety is our No. 1 concern” and negotiated into every contract, said Mitch Allen, president of HireSanta, one of the nation's largest agencies. He said the pandemic initially dried up his business, but it bounced back, especially online.The average Santa makes $5,000 to $10,000 during a normal season, Allen said. That's a welcome bonus for men often retired on a fixed income, but many Santas say revenue is down as corporate parties and other lucrative gigs evaporated.Jac Grimes, a Santa in Greensboro, North Carolina, gave up home visits, about a third of his business. He did it not just for his own health, but to prevent becoming a superspreader, fearing he'd pass the virus from one family to the next.At a farmers market he annually works, Grimes and his wife dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and sit in a parking lot where they to talk to people who remain inside their cars. Some homeowners associations are moving their annual Santa-visitation parties outdoors; Grimes will arrive in his red convertible to greet the crowds from afar.One of the hardest adjustments Santas have made is wearing masks that hide their painstakingly grown beards.“Santa performers are fairly vain people — if they are good,” Grimes said.The virus has many Santas and parents turning to virtual visits, which are booked through each Santa's personal website or agencies like Allen's. That often has Santas turning to their children and others for help mastering the computer skills needed.“It has been a challenge,” said Christopher Saunders, a Santa performer in Tool, Texas, a small town near Dallas.But Saunders and others say virtual sessions are a good if imperfect substitute for in-person visits. Parents fill out questionnaires, allowing performers to personalize their patter, and a side benefit is that the sessions aren't rushed. Many Santa mall visits last no more than two minutes to keep the line moving.“You get a different energy,” Saunders said of the virtual visits. “You can see the child’s expressions, as pure as they are.”Jim Beidel, a Santa performer near Seattle, said knowing the children's personal stories, such as their friends and school, helps Santas sell their Christmas magic.“It really enhances the engagement, the suspension of disbelief, especially among the older children," he said.But even Santas with the best gigs are hurting. Howard Graham usually portrays Santa in the grand foyer of New York's Radio City Music Hall during its Christmas show featuring the Rockettes. That's gone, so he's doing virtual visits and five days with a historic railroad in Pennsylvania. Still, he's taking a financial and emotional hit.“I love what I do ... bringing them (children) a little bit of smiles and hope,” said Graham, who has played Santa at Radio City for eight years. “I am going to do what I can not to change that.”That was also Six's goal as he settled recently into Santa's throne for a three-hour shift at Miami's Bass Pro Shops.As families sat in front of the plexiglass for photos, Six tilted his head so his face shield didn't reflect the camera's flash. He cheerfully waved children around the plexiglass so they could tell him their wish list, keeping them 6 feet (1.8 metres) back. As he wished them a Merry Christmas, an elf swooped in with disinfectant, wiping the plexiglass and bench before the next group sat.Six said the arrangement is “a little easier physically on Santa's back because he doesn't have to pick anybody up, but it's not as enjoyable because Santa doesn't get the interaction he normally gets.”But for families, sitting with Santa, even if behind a shield, is a bit of normalcy in abnormal times.Paul and Sarah Morris and their children, 5-year-old Theo and Sophy, 4, were among the first to visit Six that night. An Air Force family visiting from Hawaii, the Morrises cajoled their children into hugging for their photo. “Stop wiggling,” Theo said, scolding his sister before each sibling told Santa their Christmas wish. Sophy wanted candy; Theo, a remote control Ford Mustang.“This is definitely different," Sarah Morris said of the setup, “but the kids are excited and that's what matters.”Terry Spencer, The Associated Press
ESKASONI, N.S. — The provincial government announced Wednesday it was committing more than $700,000 to help with the transportation needs of multiple communities and as a result, Eskasoni First Nation will receive $117,685 for transit funding. “We’re excited, this is something the community members have been asking for and we got it,” said Chief Leroy Denny. In Eskasoni, the money will go toward purchasing a nine-passenger van for door-to-door service within the Mi’kmaq community and a 20-person bus offering routes to Sydney and Membertou First Nation. The province will contribute $67,685 for the van and $50,000 for the bus. Funding for the initiative was provided through the accessible transportation program and covers 75 per cent of the vehicle cost. Other funding announcements for Cape Breton communities includes: $17,353 for a five-passenger van for La Cooperative de Transport de Cheticamp; $55,385 for an eight-passenger van for Strait Area Transit, and $50,000 for a 16-passenger bus for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Denny says the transit service is something the community has advocated for in the past and the system will address some of the barriers the residents face. Eskasoni is about 44 km from Sydney and Denny says some community members on a fixed income must pay money for rides into town so the bus will be a cost-saving tool. Bus service will come at a small fee, but the price will not be fixed until bus drivers are hired and more is known about the operating fees. “Public transportation allows people to more fully participate in their communities and better access work, schools, shopping and important services,” said Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, minister of communities, culture and heritage in a news release. Denny expects the transit system to be operational in early 2021 but will adhere to strict safety guidelines as the province deals with the second wave of COVID-19. He believes reliable transportation may lead to more employment for some community members. “Transportation is very important if you want to get to school or work,” said Denny. In October, the Eskasoni health department launched a bus system to help ease transportation concerns when accessing health care. The recent announcement is separate from that initiative. But both are expected to help residents without vehicles travel around the large reserve. Eskasoni has more than 4,500 residents and spans more than 100 hectares of land. Denny says the population continues to grow and the transit system is another way to help the community. “It’s a really good thing and we’re excited for it,” said Denny.Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post
U.S. President Donald Trump's administration issued rules to restrict travel to the United States by Chinese Communist Party members and their families, the State Department said in a statement sent on Thursday. The policy reduces the maximum validity of B1/B2 visitor visas for Party members and their immediate family members from 10 years to 1 month, the statement said. The measure was aimed at protecting the nation from the party's "malign influence."
Seven classrooms have been shut down at Diamond Trail Public School in Welland after an individual there tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. “As part of COVID-19 case management and infection control protocol, students and staff who had close contact with the individual are being contacted and told by NRPH (Niagara Region Public Health) to stay home and self-isolate,” District School Board of Niagara said in a news release. Whether the individual who contracted the coronavirus is a student or staff member was not publicly known Wednesday. “The preventative COVID-19 practices that Diamond Trail has been following since the beginning of school, such as wearing PPE, physical distancing, maintaining hand hygiene, and doing the daily health screening, will continue,” DSBN said. The same day DSBN reported the case at Diamond Trail, Niagara Catholic District School Board confirmed that the case count at St. Martin Catholic Elementary school in Stevensville had climbed to double digits. The province’s database is indicating that three of the school’s10 cases have been resolved. Of the remaining cases, four have been identified as students and three as staff. The Niagara Catholic website indicated these seven cases are the only active cases for the board. An outbreak was declared at St. Martin on Nov. 19. For DSBN, there are seven active cases from six schools; two at Prince Philip and one case at Martha Cullimore in Niagara Falls, two cases at Eden High School in St. Catharines, one at Port Colborne High School and one at Diamond Trail. Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: email@example.comSean Vanderklis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara Falls Review
Islanders who would like to donate reusable, non-medical masks can now drop off donations at all eight Access PEI locations across the province. And for Islanders who may need a reusable mask and can't afford one, free masks will now be available at 14 food banks and pantries around P.E.I. Minister of Social Development and Housing Ernie Hudson made the announcement about both organisations in the legislature Wednesday. "For many Islanders, purchasing masks may not fall within their budget. Every Islander deserves access to protection against COVID-19," Hudson said as part of the announcement.> It's great to see that the government is kind of answering the call and getting up to the plate \- Alyssa MacKinnon, co-founder of Mask Central PEIAlyssa MacKinnon, co-founder of Mask Central PEI, said her group helped facilitate the mask donation drop-offs at Access PEI.Mask Central PEI is a Facebook group that helps connect people who want to donate masks with organizations looking for mask donations. MacKinnon said Premier Dennis King and his staff reached out to her group, wondering how they could help get masks out to Islanders as quickly as possible. "We're very excited and we're really overwhelmed with the support that we've been getting," said MacKinnon. "It's great to see that the government is kind of answering the call and getting up to the plate, and implementing getting these masks out to low-income Islanders where they need it the most."Islanders' generosity overwhelming MacKinnon said that since she helped launch the new group just eight days ago, the support and generosity they've gotten from Islanders has been overwhelming. She said that with donation drop-offs at Access PEI locations from Souris to Tignish, the Island is well-covered. "Those, I think, are amazing strides coming not only from us, but from the province and from Islanders to kind of address what low-income Islanders' needs are," said MacKinnon. The 14 food bank locations where people can pick up a donated mask also range across the province. You can see a full list of the food banks and the Access PEI locations on the Mask Central PEI Facebook page.More from CBC P.E.I.
LRT service on Ottawa's Confederation Line will be suspended between Blair and Hurdman stations this weekend for more work on the track's switch heaters.That eastern section of the line will close Saturday and Sunday. Similar work led to closures over the last two weekends.Last winter, snow accumulation appeared to cause switches on the eastern leg of the Confederation Line to malfunction, one of the key causes of the delays that beset the transit system.The Trillium Line has switch heaters powered by propane and natural gas, whereas the newer Confederation Line's were originally electric. The new heaters being installed will be powered by natural gas.Replacement buses will run in place of trains on that part of the line, while trains will continue to run between Hurdman and Tunney's Pasture stations.
TORONTO — The chief executive of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce says he's determined to protect and win more market share in areas like personal and small business banking as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage."We've made good progress … but there's more upside to capture in the year and years ahead," said Victor Dodig on a Thursday call to discuss the bank's fourth-quarter financial results.Dodig said the move is one of his top priorities as the bank and country head into another year of uncertainty caused by the virus.The bulk of 2020 has been challenging for banks like CIBC, which were forced to help customers navigate an unexpected pandemic replete with temporary lockdowns, soaring unemployment levels and consumer demand for loan deferrals and other abatements.CIBC, however, is already seeing some of the strains caused by COVID-19 ease up.Client applications, Dodig said, have recovered from earlier lows and are even generating positive year-over-year growth.Traction from digital offerings like the bank's GoalPlanner personal finance app, are also proving to be asset."Our investments in technology over the past several years to digitize and simplify our bank are allowing us to provide real-time remote support to our clients at a time when physical distancing has become the norm," Dodig said.His remarks came as CIBC beat expectations even as its fourth-quarter profit edged down compared with a year ago.The bank earned nearly $1.02 billion or $2.20 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 21, down from $1.19 billion or $2.58 per diluted share in the same quarter last year.On an adjusted basis, CIBC earned $2.79 per diluted share for the quarter, down from $2.84 per diluted share a year ago.Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $2.52 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.CIBC's revenue totalled $4.6 billion, down from $4.77 billion a year earlier.Like most of the big Canadian banks, which reported fourth-quarter earnings this week, CIBC took a step back from pouring record-breaking amounts of cash into reserves to protect themselves from bad loans.Provisions for credit losses amounted to $291 million, down from $402 million a year ago and $525 million in the bank's third quarter.CIBC also announced Thursday that Katharine Stevenson, who has been an independent director since 2011, will become chair of the board at the company's annual meeting set for April 8, 2021.Stevenson will succeed John Manley, who will retire from the board at the meeting after serving six years as chair and 16 years as a CIBC director.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.Companies in this story: (TSX:CM)Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
MADRID — The lower house of Spain's parliament approved a proposed 2021 budget Thursday in what was seen as a vote of confidence in the left-wing coalition government’s plans for increased spending on infrastructure, education, employment and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of 188 lawmakers in the 350-seat chamber voted to pass the budget plan. Representatives from the main conservative and right-wing parties voted against it. Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had to rely on support from myriad small and regional nationalist parties to get the spending plan through, leading to charges he is reliant on groups that aim to damage Spanish unity. But Sánchez's supporters said the variety of the lawmakers endorsing the budget showed strength and confidence. "Never has a budget received the support of so many groups and so many parties,” said the Socialist Party's Congress of Deputies spokeswoman, Adriana Lastra. She said the vote indicated Sánchez's government would “be around for many years.” The vote was one of the biggest shows of support for Sánchez since he first took office in mid-2018. The government previously had to run the country with extensions to a budget drawn up by the previous conservative government, which severely curtailed social spending. The new budget must still be approved in the Senate before the end of the year but is not expected to face obstacles there. Spain is struggling to recover from the economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic, which has raised unemployment and stymied economic growth. The Associated Press