A castle gets a makeover and a new mortgage stress test; In The News for Feb. 19

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 Feb. 19 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

A small, mobile RCMP detachment in a remote area of British Columbia has become a bargaining chip in proposed talks that many hope could put an end to blockades that have disrupted rail and road traffic across the country.

The demonstrations are in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline through their territory and the federal minister in charge of Indigenous relations has proposed a meeting with the chiefs to diffuse the situation.

However, a hereditary chief representing one of 13 Wet'suwet'en house groups, said they won't meet with Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart Scott Fraser until the RCMP detachment is removed.

Chief Woos accuses the RCMP of acting as "bullies," and says all hereditary chiefs are in agreement.

RCMP say in a statement they are aware of the request and discussions are underway on next steps, while Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said during an emergency debate that "there is a clear path forward."

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has called his own meeting, saying on Twitter that as chairman of the Council of the Federation he will convene a conference call with Canada's premiers.

Moe said the blockades have been up for almost two weeks and while the prime minister spoke in Parliament about the ongoing illegal activity "he offered no course of action to protect the economic interests of our nation."

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Also this ...

The federal government says there are now 43 Canadians on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan who have contracted the novel coronavirus, just as others from the Diamond Princess are set to arrive home later this week.

At last count more than 450 people from the Diamond Princess, held in the port of Yokohama, had tested positive for the virus known as COVID-19. Authorities both in Japan and here say only people who are examined and found healthy would be allowed to fly to quarantine in Canada.

But not everyone who is healthy will travel.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says some aboard the cruise ship have indicated they plan to stay with ill family members, but their travel home, whenever it happens, will be tracked.

They too will be subject to quarantine rules when they land.

She said there are others aboard the cruise ship who officials are still trying to get in touch with.

In all, there are 256 Canadians aboard the cruise ship.

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

Jurors at former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's rape trial have begun their deliberations.

The case has pitted the often-harrowing testimony by his accusers against the defence 's contention that the acts were consensual, surrounded by friendly, flirtatious emails and further meetings with the film producer.

The panel of seven men and five women received instructions in the law from the judge before beginning to weigh charges that Weinstein raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman in 2006.

Jurors will also be weighing actress Annabella Sciorra's account of a mid-1990s rape in considering charges alleging Weinstein is a sexual predator, even though the allegation is too old to be charged on its own due to statute of limitations in effect at the time.

Other accusers testified as part of the prosecution's effort to show he used the same tactics to victimize many women over the years.

A torrent of allegations against Weinstein in October of 2017 spawned the #MeToo movement.

His trial is seen as a landmark moment for the cause, but Judge James Burke has cautioned jurors that it is "not a referendum on the #MeToo movement."

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

The worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years has reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war, officials announced Tuesday.

Around 2,000 locusts were spotted inside the country, Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo told reporters. Authorities will try to control the outbreak, he added.

The locusts have been seen in Eastern Equatoria state near the borders with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. All have been affected by the outbreak that has been influenced by the changing climate in the region.

The situation in those three countries "remains extremely alarming," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in its latest Locust Watch update Monday. Locusts also have reached Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania and more recently Uganda.

The soil in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria has a sandy nature that allows the locusts to lay eggs easily, said Meshack Malo, country representative with the FAO.

At this stage "if we are not able to deal with them ... it will be a problem," he said.

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ICYMI (In case you missed it) ...

OTTAWA — The federal government is changing the stress test rate for insured mortgages starting April 6 that experts say should make it marginally easier for some buyers to purchase their first home, or owners refinancing their existing mortgages.

The new minimum qualifying rate will be the greater of the borrower's contract rate or the weekly median five-year fixed insured mortgage rate from mortgage insurance applications, plus two percentage points.

The stress test rate currently is the greater of the borrower's contract rate or the Bank of Canada five-year benchmark posted mortgage rate, which is based on the posted rates at the six largest banks.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the stress test will rise and fall if there are changes in the median interest rates lenders are providing, while continuing to ensure people only take on mortgages they can afford.

"We think these are positive moves to ensure that the approach remains effective for Canadians and that it also deals with changing market conditions," Morneau said Tuesday in announcing the change.

The federal government required the stress test apply to all insured mortgages in 2016.

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Weird and wild ...

ORLANDO, Fla. — Even Cinderella needs an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Disney officials said Monday that the iconic Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida would be renovated over the next several months.

The most noticeable changes will be the addition of gold trim to most of the castle and the darkening of the blue hue on the castle's turrets. The castle is located in the Magic Kingdom park.

Work on the castle will last through the summer. Despite the work, shows at the castle will continue as usual, Jason Kirk, a vice-president of the Magic Kingdom, said in a blog post.

The renovation is coming during the 70th anniversary of the release of the 1950 classic animated film "Cinderella."

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Know your news ...

Liberal Dwight Ball has announced he is stepping down as Newfoundland premier after four years in power. After Joey Smallwood, who was Newfoundland's next longest serving Liberal premier? 

(Keep scrolling for the answer)

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On this day in 2008 ...

The B.C. government introduced North America's first full-fledged carbon tax in an effort to curb greenhouse gases.

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Your health ...

VANCOUVER — New research suggests frequent exposure to common household cleaning products can increase a child's risk of developing asthma.

The CHILD Cohort Study found young infants living in homes where cleaning products were used frequently were more likely to develop childhood wheeze and asthma by age three.

Lead author Jaclyn Parks, a health sciences graduate student at Simon Fraser University, says the first few months of life are critical to the development of a baby's immune and respiratory systems.

"The risks of recurrent wheeze and asthma were notably higher in homes with frequent use of certain products, such as liquid or solid air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, dusting sprays, antimicrobial hand sanitizers and oven cleaners," Parks says.

"It may be important for people to consider removing scented spray cleaning products from their cleaning routine. We believe that the smell of a healthy home is no smell at all."

The study was published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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Entertainment news ...

TORONTO — It will be a celebrated ending for "Schitt's Creek" and "Anne with an E" at next month's Canadian Screen Awards, with a slew of nominations for each show.

"Schitt's Creek," currently in its final season, is up for a leading 26 trophies going into Canadian Screen Week. Organizers say that's a record number of nominations for a television series in a single year.

Nominations for the internationally beloved riches-to-rags story include best comedy series, best writing, and best lead actor for both father-son stars/co-creators Daniel and Eugene Levy.

Meanwhile, the CBC coming-of-age story "Anne with an E," which was cancelled in late November after three seasons, is next with 17 nominations.

Its chances include best drama series, best writing, and best lead actress for Amybeth McNulty, who plays the titular Prince Edward Island orphan from Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel "Anne of Green Gables."

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Know your news answer ...

Clyde Wells. Wells served nearly seven years as Newfoundland premier from May 1989 to January 1996. 

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.

The Canadian Press