Long lineup of cars waiting for a test on a cold, windy day.
Long lineup of cars waiting for a test on a cold, windy day.
(Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP - image credit) Two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden met to set a new tone for Canada-U.S. relations, the Biden administration official whose decisions may affect Canada's economy the most sat for three hours of questioning at her confirmation hearing before the Senate finance committee Thursday. Some cabinet confirmations become partisan wrestling matches. By the end of her appearance, the confirmation of Katherine Tai as the next United States Trade Representative felt more like a collective laying on of hands. The chair, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, called her a "superb choice." All ranking Democrats and Republicans from not only the Senate but also the House of Representatives Ways and Means committee applauded the depth of her skills and experience with a long list of complimentary adjectives. Representative Richard Neal from Massachusetts, appearing as a guest Democratic chair of the House committee, told senators he considers Tai to be like family after her seven years as legal counsel for his committee. Tai played a critical role in crafting and negotiating bipartisan support for endgame revisions that ensured Congressional approval of the revised North American trade agreement by delivering more environmental and labour protections. "There is one issue that all of us in this room agree upon: enforcement, enforcement, enforcement of these trade agreements," Neal said, praising Tai's "understated grit." Biden's pick was endorsed by leaders from the environmental, business and labour communities, Neal said. Tai accompanied Neal on a critical trip to Ottawa in November 2019 to persuade Canada to agree to amend the new NAFTA so it could get through Congress. The Trudeau government had thought its negotiations with the Trump administration were over. Canada's ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, came to know Tai well as Canada's lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. She said she remembers having lunch with her that day and their "vibrant conversation" with the assembled politicians about how international trade can benefit domestic workers — a focus the Biden administration now embraces. Canada's ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, far right, joined her then-minister Chrystia Freeland as Representative Richard Neal met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 6, 2019. House Democrats asked Canada to agree to amendments they were making to secure Congressional approval for the renegotiated NAFTA. "I think that's just telling on where some of the priorities may well lie," Hillman told CBC News earlier this winter. "She has specific expertise in that area." Fortunately for the Trudeau government, Tai's vision for "expanding the winner's circle" of beneficiaries of international trade lines up with the beliefs of Canadian Liberals like Chrystia Freeland who have spoken about making deals work for small businesses and middle class workers — not just corporations. Winning with win-wins During Thursday's hearing, Tai said she wants to move away from negotiations that pit one sector's workers against another. It's a sharp contrast with the zero-sum style of the Trump administration, which was more focused on scoring targeted political wins than mutually-beneficial gains. "We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time." - USTR nominee Katherine Tai While that could come as a relief for trading partners like Canada, Tai's hearing also revealed several priorities to watch carefully. For example, will Tai continue Robert Lighthizer's push to "re-shore" as many commodities in as many supply chains as possible, to repatriate jobs for American workers? "There's been a lot of disruption and consternation that have accompanied some of those policies," she said — without specifically calling out Trump administration tactics like using national security grounds to slap tariffs on foreign steel. "I'd want to accomplish similar goals in a more effective, process-driven manner." And what about the critical product shortages the U.S. is facing, especially during the pandemic? President Biden signed an executive order this week to strengthen U.S. supply chains for advanced batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors. "A lot of the assumptions that we have based our trade programs on [have] maximized efficiency without regard for the requirement for resilience," Tai said. Rethinking the China strategy Between 2011-14, Tai was the USTR's chief counsel for trade enforcement with China. On Thursday, she told senators the U.S. needs a "strategic and coherent plan for holding China accountable to its promises and effectively competing with its state-directed economics." The government must have "a united front of U.S. allies," she added. "China is simultaneously a rival, a partner and an outsized player whose cooperation we'll also need to address certain global challenges," she said. "We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time." Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, himself a former USTR during the George W. Bush administration, pushed her to explain how the U.S. could compete with the "techno-nationalist" approach China takes on semiconductors — which he said are subsidized by up to 40 per cent, allowing the Communist regime to dominate the global market. "We can't compete by doing the things China does, so we have to figure out how we can compete by marshalling all the tools and resources that we have in the U.S. government," Tai said. Later she described how the Chinese state is able to conduct its economy "almost like a conductor with an orchestra," while Americans trust the "invisible hand" of the free market. The U.S. government may need to revisit this, she said, "knowing the strategy and the ambition that we are up against." Fellow Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown asked Tai whether she'd make it a top priority to crack down on imports that trace back to China's forced labour program, which human rights investigators believe abuses potentially millions from China's minority Uighur and Turkic Muslim population to pick crops like cotton. "Yes," she said. "I think the use of forced labour is probably the crudest example of the race to the bottom." 'Laser-focused' on Huawei Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who also sits on the Senate intelligence committee, urged Tai to form a "coalition of the willing" to compete with the Chinese "authoritarian capitalism" model that's enabled the rise of tech giants like Huawei. Trade negotiations have to protect the security of digital infrastructure, he said, and the U.S. should consider asking trading partners to prohibit certain Chinese technologies. "If we keep Huawei out of American domestic markets but it gets the rest of the world, we're not going to be successful," Warner said. Sen. Tom Carper, left, greets Katherine Tai, Joe Biden's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, and meets her mother, right, at Tai's confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. Tai agreed with him, and said the U.S. government should be "laser-focused" on this, and not just in trade negotiations. To counter China's influence, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper asked whether it would be a "fool's errand" to rejoin partners like Canada in the Pacific Rim trading bloc — which was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. left it in 2017. Tai said the thinking behind the CPTPP remains a "solid equation" but the world in 2021 is "very different in important ways" to the climate in 2016, when Congress failed to approve the TPP. Carper also asked how trade policy is affected by the Biden administration's renewed multilateral approach to climate change. "The rest of the world is coming up with its own climate solutions, and that means that as other countries and economies begin to regulate in this area, climate and trade policies become a part of our competitive landscape," she said. 'Digging in' on dairy Tai also promised to work closely with senators who raised issues about commodities important to their states — and Canada. But the veteran trade diplomat didn't tip her hand too much on what Canada should expect. Idaho's Mike Crapo was assured she'll work on "longstanding issues" in softwood lumber. She told Iowa's Chuck Grassley she's aware of the "very clear promises" Canada made on dairy as part of concluding the NAFTA negotiations, and how important they were to win the support of some senators. Some of these Canada-U.S. issues "date back to the beginning of time," she said, adding she was looking forward to "digging in" on the enforcement process her predecessor began in December. Several senators pushed for more attention to America's beef, of which Tai said she was a "very happy consumer." South Dakota Sen. John Thune expressed frustration with the World Trade Organization's ruling against the cattle industry's protectionist country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules, prompting a commitment from Tai to work with livestock producers on a new labelling system that could survive a WTO challenge. One of the toughest questioners Thursday proved to be former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who slammed the lack of transparency in past trade negotiations and told Tai her administration needs to "take a hard line." Warren called for limiting the influence of corporations and industries on advisory committees and releasing more negotiating drafts so the public understands what's being done on their behalf. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Wyden asked Tai to send her ideas for improving the transparency of trade processes to the committee's bipartisan leadership within 30 days. Katherine Tai bumps elbows with Congressional leaders following her Thursday confirmation hearing on Capital Hill. Throughout the hearing, senators described Tai's confirmation as "historic." She's the first woman of colour and first Asian-American (her parents emigrated from Taiwan) to serve as USTR. Pennsylvania's Bob Casey asked if she'd commit to working on women's economic empowerment and participation in trade laws. She answered with just one word: "Yes."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is struggling to beat back his biggest political challenge in years from a protest movement which began with disgruntled farmers travelling to New Delhi on tractors and is now gaining wider support at home and abroad. Simmering in makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of farmers since last year, the movement has seen a dramatic growth in recent weeks, getting backing from environmental activists, opposition parties and even A-list Western celebrities. At its heart are three new farm laws passed by the government last September, thanks to the majority Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys in the lower house of parliament.
WINNIPEG — Kyle Connor scored two goals and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled the debut of the Montreal Canadiens' new head coach Dominique Ducharme with a 6-3 win on Thursday. Nate Thompson scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, while Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist. Blake Wheeler also scored and added two assists for the Jets (12-6-1), who've won three in a row. Joel Armia scored twice for the Canadiens (9-6-4), who've lost four straight. Tomas Tatar scored the Habs other goal while Jeff Petry had two assists. The Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, promoting Ducharme to interim head coach. The move came on the heels of Montreal's 5-4 shootout loss to Ottawa the previous night. Ducharme originally joined the Canadiens coaching staff in 2018 after 10 seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After lofty pre-season expectations and a hot start to the season, the Habs have struggled, plummeting to fourth in the North Division. The misery continued despite the coaching change, and raised more questions about struggling goalie Carey Price, with Habs fans calling for backup Jake Allen. Price allowed five goals on 29 shots, while Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck only had to make 18 saves for the win. Armia got Montreal on the scoreboard in the first period with his third goal of the season, firing a shot through the legs of Hellebuyck at 13:45. Armia notched No. 4 at 17:29 with the Canadiens in transition again. After a gesture from Jonathan Drouin to head for the net, Armia redirected Drouin's pass past Hellebuyck. Connor sliced the difference in half on the power play with his ninth goal of the season at 5:37 of a second period that saw three Jets goals, poking in the puck past Price in a scramble in front of the net. The Habs answered with their own power-play goal from Tatar at 7:33 of the second, but Connor cut the lead to a goal once again, finishing a tic-tac-toe passing play at 11:50. Wheeler scored at 14:31 to tie the game 3-3- heading into the third period. Mason Appleton slid the puck to Thompson, who scored through Price's legs for the go-ahead at 6:37 of the third. Dubois padded the Jets lead at 12:37, and Sheifele had an empty-netter at 18:22. Montreal lost forward Josh Anderson to an injury in the first period. Anderson collided with Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. He finished his shift but then headed to the locker-room, and was ultimately ruled out. The Habs and Jets meet again on Saturday. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone addressed concerns about how vaccinations are rolling out in the province during a media availability on Thursday. Livingstone explained that the province is still working on strengthening processes and communication around availability. “We are committed to a vaccine distribution process that is fast, fair, transparent and safe. As you have seen, we are making great strides in getting our infrastructure up quickly to manage higher volumes of vaccine as they arrive,” Livingstone said. There have been as many as 4,000 vaccines delivered in a single day and he is confident Saskatchewan can deliver more that. “As an example, out of those 4,000 vaccines that were delivered on the weekend, on Saturday, 3,300 were in rural and northern Saskatchewan and were not using our large vaccination capabilities in either Regina and Saskatoon,” Livingstone said. In recent weeks, the process for notifying individuals 70-years-old and over has been a hot button issue for the SHA. Livingstone explained that in phase one of the rollout vaccines are distributed at community long-term care and personal care home residents and certain prioritized healthcare workers as a priority group. “After those populations are vaccinated, local public health officers or officials will be establishing clinics for residents 70 plus. To fill these clinics, we are contacting eligible recipients wherever possible by phone based on their age and location until all available appointments are filled,” Livingstone said. The subject of vaccination in Prince Albert was addressed during the regular councillor’s forum at the end of the city council meeting on Monday by Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick. He used part of his time in the forum to let the public know that public health was contacting people to get vaccinated in the city. “So just for people that are watching, make sure you answer your phone when you see that unknown number because that is your chance to get vaccinated. And I thank the health district and public health for actually making it a lot easier for seniors to get vaccinated rather than posting it on social media and you have to phone in and hope to heck that you are one that gets in there and a lot of those seniors don’t have access to technology,” Ogrodnick said. Priority sequencing continues in phase two as the oldest residents are contacted first and then descending ages are contacted. “Note that the appointment availability is driven by vaccine availability. At this time there isn’t a clinic in the province that is able to receive enough vaccines to immunize all residents eligible in phase one. Once these appointments are filled, the clinic must be suspended until more vaccines are made available to the province,” the province said. Livingstone explained that shifting vaccine availability creates challenges for residents who are aware of clinics but have not been contacted and for public health officials who have to shift each week because of lack of consistent supplies. “We are currently looking at many ways to improve the booking process, not just for phase one but also phase two in the province and you will see some important changes very soon,” Livingstone said. In the future, the system will be moving to residents contacting health authorities to choose a local vaccination site and vaccination time which will improve the process. “It will still be hampered by a lack of vaccine supply — until that vaccine starts flowing in a consistent manner,” Livingstone said. Livingstone explained that a website and phone number with this information will be available in the next 10 days. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
The Peace River Regional District will issue a letter of support for a plan by Telus to expand LTE connectivity in the region. The company is applying to the federal Universal Broadband Fund and is under the wire after its original Feb. 15 deadline was pushed to March. PRRD directors expressed mixed opinions at their board meeting Thursday, with some saying the company has failed to properly communicate with them. Hudson’s Hope Mayor Dave Heiberg said he was initially skeptical, but was convinced of the benefits after a conversation with Telus’ Northern Alberta and BC Interior General Manager Brian Bettis. "This is what the fibre working group was trying to achieve, to get that last mile,” said Heiberg of PRRD’s connectivity committee. “And if the intent is to provide these areas with service to premise, that is a large part of what our goal was, in my mind.” Telus is proposing to expand connectivity in Bear Flat, Bear Mountain, East Pine, Farmington, Farrell Creek, Fort St John, Goodlow, Moberly Lake, Mount Wabi, Pouce Coupe, Prespatou, Rose Prairie, Septimus, Taylor, and Tupper. Heiberg noted the company is also looking at fibre optic and cellular upgrades around Canyon Drive and a portion of Beryl Prairie in Hudson's Hope. But director Leonard Hiebert says the company has backed out meetings scheduled with electoral area directors about their plans. “Considering they’re a communications company, they don’t communicate very well,” said Hiebert. “I can’t justify supporting this if they’re not going to communicate with us in the areas that they’re trying to do this work in." "They expect us to support them blindly," he said. Chetwynd Mayor Allen Courtoreille says the district's questions to Telus about its plans have also gone unanswered. "To this day, I haven’t got a response to what they were going to give us in terms of fibre. I would not support this,” said Courtoreille. Director Dan Rose said Telus is the most likely to complete any cellular upgrades in the region, but said it has not improved its communications with the PRRD. “We met with Brian Bettis when he was first appointed into this new role, and he guaranteed us that we would see a big change in how they communicated. And we have, they’re even worse,” said Rose. “People who adjudicate these applications probably place a fair amount of weight in to what kind of support they’re getting from the community. This is not nearly enough information for me, after the way we’ve been left hanging.” Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman agreed that Telus is the only choice for connectivity, and supported writing a letter of support. “Connectivity is a topic on absolutely every bloody call that we have with every minister, regardless of what their mandate letter contains," Ackerman said. "Putting in this infrastructure is extremely expensive.” Director Karen Goodings noted there are a number of other connectivity initiatives already underway. “We’re getting this again from too many directions, and not being able to ascertain what ones are actually going to be able to support the people,” said Goodings. Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead said connectivity is a problem in rural areas, pointing to areas around Prespatou and Buick Creek. “It’s very spotty in terms of being able to have any access to anything," Bumstead. "This is a good thing if we can increase capacity." Telus representative Bettis said the company is spending $10 million dollars on the plan, and that the federal grant would only cover a portion of its infrastructure costs. He said says some new LTE towers will be installed, while others will be upgraded to enhance existing service. "It's been a particular challenge getting back in front of the PRRD for a proper meeting," he said of the directors' criticisms. "Universal broadband fund is a significant initiative, and we wanted to make sure that every municipality elligible was able to be engaged." Scheduling has been an issue, he said. "With that comes the fact that we're dealing with multiple municipalities across different areas, and trying to co-ordinate meetings. Most councils meet on similiar days," he said, adding he met with directors shortly after Christmas, providing background and maps on the proposed LTE upgrades. Bettis says he's reached out to arrange another meeting with the regional district. email@example.com Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News
Winnipeg has posted an abysmal score on climate change policy, when compared to its Canadian peers. Climate Reality Project (Canadian arm of the environmental non-governmental organization created by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore) carries out annual rankings of the nation’s municipalities to measure progress on a number of metrics. According to its newly released 2020 National Climate League report, Winnipeg overall ranks middle of the pack at best, and dead last in many categories, in the large city category (more than 600,000 residents). One positive for the city, says Susan Lindsay, who works with Winnipeg not-for-profit Climate Change Connection and is regional manager for Climate Reality Project: there is much room for improvement. “The standings give us like a clear indication of our city’s priorities — that climate and sustainability isn’t one of our city’s priorities,” Lindsay said Wednesday. Transportation is the second-largest contributor to national greenhouse gas emissions (after the oil and gas industry) and there are a number of indicators that consider policy progress towards low-emissions transportation. In the NCL report, Winnipeg ranked last in nearly all of related categories, including kilometres of bike lanes, cyclist and pedestrian safety, number of electric vehicle chargers, number of transit trips, and number of car-share vehicles available to residents. Winnipeg has 307 km of bike lanes, compared to Calgary, which had the most (1,290 km). The city logged 97.7 injuries and deaths of cyclists/pedestrians per 100,000 residents, compared with the second-worst performing large city: Calgary (58.7). Winnipeg has nine EV chargers per 100,000 people, compared to Montreal at 96. Sixty-seven transit trips were logged per capita in Winnipeg, compared with 236 in Montreal. The 2020 report gathered some information on household expenditures on gas and diesel fuels, but statistics were only available for a handful of cities of any size. In Winnipeg, the average household spends $3,102 on fuels per year. Buildings are another key source of emissions in cities, principally from heating them. Winnipeg was in the middle of the pack when it comes to the number of sustainable buildings, with 1.6 that qualify under one of the international sustainability certification programs per 100,000 people. Vancouver topped the large cities at 8.6. The average Winnipegger is responsible for approximately 670 kilograms of garbage going to landfills each year, the report says. The Manitoba capital ranked second worst in this category. Edmonton was last at 680 kg; best in class was Toronto (430 kg). In smog days per year, Winnipeg came in at 18; Calgary was worst-in-class with 69. Winnipeg had previously been tops in the category but fell substantially in the rankings. “Over the last two years, the city of Winnipeg has experienced an increase in number of days with a rating of 4 or over on the Air Quality Health Index. In the (prior) two years, they rarely experienced days where the Air Quality Health Index was above 4. The increase in poor air quality days can be attributed to the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires in the region, and Winnipeg was affected quite harshly in 2019 (the year we last have data for). We can expect to see a decrease in air quality across the entire country as forest fires continue to rage more intensely as the years go on,” the report reads. The report also touches on some seemingly unrelated indicators, such as the cost of housing. It explains the importance of such a measure in reference to climate change by saying: “Affordable housing that is located within urban centres, close to people’s place of work and that incorporates green infrastructure will make more efficient use of land, transportation systems, and energy resources.” On this measure, Winnipeg experienced a 2.47 per cent increase in the average annual increase in the cost of housing. Only Vancouver and Toronto had housing costs rise faster. Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
WASHINGTON — The Senate parliamentarian dealt a potentially lethal blow Thursday to Democrats’ drive to hike the minimum wage, deciding that the cherished progressive goal must fall from a massive COVID-19 relief bill the party is trying to speed through Congress. The finding by Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan arbiter of its rules, means Democrats face an overwhelmingly uphill battle to boost the minimum wage this year because of solid Republican opposition. Their proposal would raise the federal minimum gradually to $15 hourly by 2025, well above the $7.25 floor in place since 2009. President Joe Biden was “disappointed” in the outcome but respected the parliamentarian's ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The Senate has a long tradition of obeying the parliamentarian's decisions with few exceptions, a history that is revered by traditionalists like Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran. “He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” Psaki said. Democrats are pushing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure through Congress under special rules that will let them avoid a Senate filibuster by Republicans, a tactic that Democrats would need an unattainable 60 votes to defeat. But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an “incidental” impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes. The parliamentarian decides if provisions pass that test. MacDonough's decision now forces Democrats to make politically painful choices about what to do next on the minimum wage, which has long caused internal party rifts. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats “are not going to give up the fight” to raise the minimum wage to $15. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, hailed MacDonough's decision. He said it shows the special procedure that Democrats are using to protect the relief bill “cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change — by either party — on a simple majority vote." Republicans solidly oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt businesses and cost jobs. They also oppose the overall relief bill, saying it’s too expensive, not targeted enough at the people and businesses that most need it and a grab bag of gifts for Democratic allies. In the wake of the decision, Democratic leaders were likely to face unrest from rank-and-file lawmakers, who have long had differences over the federal minimum wage. They can afford little dissension: Democrats have just a 10-vote edge in the House and no votes to spare in the Senate. Progressives seeking to maximize Democratic control of the White House and Congress have wanted party leaders to push aggressively on the issue. But Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have voiced opposition to including the minimum wage hike in the relief bill, and other moderates have expressed concerns, too. Even so, MacDonough's decision might actually make passage of the overall relief bill easier because efforts to find a minimum wage compromise among Democrats could have been contentious. Democrats have said they could still pursue a minimum wage boost in free-standing legislation or attach it to legislation expected later this year that is to be aimed at a massive infrastructure program. But they’d still face the challenge of garnering 60 Senate votes, a hurdle that has upended Democratic attempts to boost the minimum wage for over a decade. Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a chief sponsor of the minimum wage effort, blamed “archaic and undemocratic" Senate rules for the setback. He said he'd try amending the overall relief package to erase tax deductions from large corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide incentives to small businesses to raise wages. The parliamentarian's decision came to light the night before Democrats were set to push through the House an initial version of the $1.9 trillion relief legislation that still includes the minimum wage boost. “House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary. Therefore, this provision will remain in the" bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. The overall relief bill is Biden’s first legislative priority. It is aimed at combating a year-old pandemic that’s stalled much of the economy, killed half a million Americans and reshaped the daily lives of virtually everyone. Despite their paper-thin congressional majorities, Democratic leaders were hoping that House approval of the package would be followed by passage in the Senate, where changes seem likely. Democrats are aiming to get the legislation to Biden’s desk by mid-March. The relief bill would provide millions of people with $1,400 direct payments. It contains billions of dollars for vaccines and COVID-19 testing, schools, state and local governments, the ailing restaurant and airline industries and emergency jobless benefits while providing tax breaks to lower earners and families with children. In a study that’s been cited by both sides in the clash, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the $15 increase would increase wages for 27 million workers and lift 900,000 people out of poverty by 2025, but would also kill 1.4 million jobs. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have state minimum wages that exceed the federal $7.25 hourly floor, with only the District of Columbia currently requiring a $15 minimum. Seven states have laws putting their minimums on a pathway to $15 in a future year, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures Alan Fram, The Associated Press
Futur dentists, dental hygienists-in-training and instructors of oral medicine in Manitoba are wanted for a new study on the risks associated with COVID-19 infection, transmission and immunity. Ottawa has earmarked $1.4 million through its COVID-19 immunity task force to fund a national study that aims to investigate the effect the novel coronavirus has on people who work in dental clinics, labs and offices on university campuses. The University of Manitoba is among 10 schools recruiting dental and dental hygiene students, as well as residents, faculty, and support staff involved with patient care to take part in the McGill University-led research project. While many university programs have moved online amid the pandemic, dentistry students and staff have continued to do in-person labs to practise procedures on mannequins and patients. “Many of our medical counterparts have transitioned to doing virtual consults with their patients, but it’s a little bit harder to do that with clinical dentistry,” said Dr. Robert Schroth, a professor and clinician scientist at the Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry in Winnipeg. “We’re such a unique population, in that we’re very closely in confined quarters with aerosols.” Despite heightened personal protective equipment, that reality puts dentistry students and staff, theoretically, at a higher risk for acquiring COVID-19, Schroth said, noting aerosol transmission is recognized as one of the main ways the novel coronavirus is transmitted. The Manitoba Dental Association has released guidelines to encourage dentistry professionals to use aerosol-reduction techniques, including using a rubber dam and doing pre-procedural antiviral rinses, when treating patients. Schroth said the research team behind the new study wants to know if existing preventive measures are working or if they need to be adjusted. The researchers plan to secure 800 participants, from dentistry colleges in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Every month for a year, participants are expected to provide a saliva sample and answer a questionnaire. The former will allow researchers to test samples for active SARS-CoV-2 infections, while the latter will allow for sociodemographic, socioeconomic, and health status information to be collected. If an individual tests positive, they will be asked for additional saliva and blood samples so researchers can perform antibody tests to determine if they have any signs of immunity to COVID-19. The research team will also collect data from each dentistry college about their training settings, infection-control protocols, counts of students and staff and total COVID-19 cases. As vaccines roll out, participants who are immunized will be monitored to see what their immune response is like. Manitoba recently broadened COVID-19 immunization criteria to include all health-care professionals who have direct contact with patients in dental offices. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Rapid testing for COVID-19 will be expanding in the province in the near future. The rapid test kits allocated by the federal government will now be available in available in a variety of settings to test asymptomatic individuals. Saskatchewan has created a strategy to deploy more than 700,000 rapid point-of-care tests received through a federal government allocation. The tests will be used in a variety of settings including walk-in or drive-thru sites, mobile testing and pop-up testing sites. In media availability on Thursday, Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone explained that testing is an important part of the strategy in maintaining offensive work around containing, mitigating and delaying the virus spread. “These are simple tests, are readily available and some of the new sites that will be included in this expansion include personal care homes, group homes, detox facilities, emergency shelters and schools. Rapid tests will also be made available to ambulance, police and fire services as well as pharmacy and dental offices for staff that work within those areas to insure that we are screening essential workers in those areas,” Livingstone said. The tests are already available at over 150 long-term care facilities and over 100 areas in acute care. Livingstone explained that the Medical Laboratory Licensing Regulations have been amended to exempt point of care COVID-19 specimen collection and testing sites from requiring a laboratory license when those sites have entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He explained that the lab license was a barrier and was lifted because the test is simple and safe. “These changes give us the ability to move swiftly to expand testing options,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a release. “We know that testing plays a crucial role in helping to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and now with variants of concern surfacing in our province it is more important than ever that testing is expanded to make it easier, quicker and more convenient to access.” Many of these sectors may not have the capacity to use these tests on their own, so the Ministry of Health is working with SaskBuilds and Procurement to develop a Request for Pre-Qualifications (RFPQ) tender for third-party providers to deliver testing to these locations. This will enhance the number and variety of venues where rapid testing is offered. Livingstone explained that one example of why the RFPQ tender was in place was for ambulance, fire and police and participating pharmacies and dental offices. “This is going to take a little bit of time but we are committed to using these tests widely across many venues in the province as soon as possible. There are still some operational and logistic details to sort out but there is hope that the delivery and support for the expanded venues can happen over the next few weeks,” Livingstone said. Livingstone stated that the program could move quicker in schools because they have existing public health infrastructure with public health staff to do testing. The SHA is also looking at pop-up point of care testing sites and the ability for health care workers to carry out weekly surveillance testing on themselves. The Ministry of Health and SHA will work with various sectors and provider groups to ensure training and support is in place to use these testing resources to their full potential. Any rapid point-of-care tests that return a positive result will need to be retested to confirm the result using a PCR test with the Saskatchewan Health Authority labs. However, negative tests do not need to be retested for confirmation, which is expected to reduce pressure on provincial lab resources. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
New Zealand's government said on Friday that it was backing a new project that uses drone technology to understand and protect the endangered Māui dolphins in the country. Maui dolphins live in a small stretch of ocean off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island and current estimates suggest that only 63 dolphins older than one year remain, raising concerns that they may soon become extinct. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is capable of finding and tracking Māui dolphins using artificial intelligence.
Australia said on Friday it would lift a near two-year ban on flights involving Boeing Co 737 MAX planes, becoming among the first in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. "We ... are confident that the aircraft are safe," Graeme Crawford, acting chief of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said in a statement. The regulator has accepted comprehensive return-to-service requirements set by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the 737 MAX, he added.
TORONTO — The head of Canada's largest pension fund received a COVID-19 vaccination while on a "very personal" trip to Dubai, he told staff in an email Thursday night. Mark Machin disclosed the information in an internal memo after the Wall Street Journal reported he flew to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, where he received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is awaiting the second dose. Machin said in the email viewed by The Canadian Press that he remains in Dubai with his partner "for many reasons, some of which are deeply personal." "This was a very personal trip and was undertaken after careful consideration and consultation," the memo reads. CPP Investments did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening. The federal government is actively discouraging Canadians from travelling abroad and recently implemented strict quarantine measures for those returning home. Machin told staff he followed all travel protocols related to his role as head of the pension fund while on the trip. "This trip was intended to be very private and I am disappointed it has become the focus of public attention and expected criticism," he wrote. Several politicians and health-care officials have become high profile flashpoints of public anger in recent months for leaving the country despite public health advice to the contrary. Among them, the former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract. Rod Phillips, Ontario's former finance minister, resigned from his post in late December after taking a personal trip to St. Barts. CPP Investments, which had $475.7 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, invests money on behalf of retired and active employees covered by the Canada Pension Plan. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that while CPPIB is an independent organization, the revelation is "very troubling." "The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad," Katherine Cuplinskas said in an emailed statement. "We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter." Machin, who has been in his current role since 2016, joined CPP Investments in 2012. Prior to joining the pension fund manager, he spent 20 years at investment bank Goldman Sachs. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
The Alberta government's latest budget is far from the "fiscal reckoning" Premier Jason Kenney had long promised. Instead, there are very few cuts and lots of debt — a situation the province blames on the pandemic and shrinking oil revenue.
Astronaut Joshua Kutryk touched down in the gym at Christ the King School this week — not via a spacecraft, but rather a massive video screen. The St. Vital school welcomed Kutryk, who was hired by the Canadian Space Agency in 2016, as a virtual guest speaker for a 45-minute presentation about his career Wednesday. He answered questions about his profession, including what he is most looking forward to when he gets assigned a mission to outer space. “The view back,” said Kutryk, during the videocall broadcast into classrooms of wide-eyed students. “You see nothing but Earth in the void blackness of space, everything that’s ever been human on Earth. That’s when you probably realize, more than anything, how important it is to protect it.” Middle-schoolers won the visit, which was scheduled for the spring and was postponed because of COVID-19, through the Canadian Space Agency’s Junior Astronauts program. Teacher Teresa Edwards’ 2019-20 class of sixth graders was selected, after completing two science projects. They first compared the temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in their classroom to those in the International Space Station. The second project involved participating in a Mars rover simulation during which students communicated with a pretend operator. Given recent announcements about NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars last week, and the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, Edwards said students are extra keen to learn about planetary exploration. “I hope it inspires them to pursue their dreams, whether they be in science or math or engineering or perhaps in other areas, and to stretch their limits,” she said about Kutryk’s visit. Edwards added she learned something new Wednesday: astronaut trainees must go underground for several weeks to simulate the experience of being cut off from the outside world. That was among the anecdotes Kutryk, who is from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., shared about his training. “Trying to be an astronaut is really a lifelong endeavour,” he said, speaking from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kutryk’s resume includes four degrees and experience as a test and fighter pilot, engineer and lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He became a certified astronaut following two and a half years of intensive training, including exercises underwater and in jets to mimic the outer space environment. Mo Ogunbodede said she was shocked by how long it took. “The fact they have to go underwater for a long time, that surprised me too,” Mo said. Even though she is not a confident swimmer, the 12-year-old said she isn’t discouraged from pursuing a career in astronomy; Mo simply knows what she’s up against now. Before signing off Wednesday, Kutryk had a simple message for students: “Dream big!” Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
(Thanassis Stavrakis/The Associated Press - image credit) Saskatchewan is expanding its rapid-testing capabilities as concerns rise over coronavirus variants. The province is set to deploy more than 700,000 rapid tests, which were procured through a federal government allocation, according to a Thursday news release. "These safe and simple tests will be used in a variety of settings including walk-in or drive-thru sites, mobile testing and pop-up testing sites," the province's news release said. "Tests will also be available for ambulance, fire and police and participating pharmacies and dental offices." The tests will also be offered to to long-term and personal care homes, shelters, group homes and schools, the province said. The Ministry of Health said it's developing a tender for third-party providers to conduct the tests, since care homes, shelters, schools and others won't likely have the capacity or training to administer the tests on their own. "I think we need to use testing even more now because of the variants of concern," Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said Thursday. Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, added that provincial legislation had been amended so that the places where the tests are being deployed don't need a lab licence. The change allows for a quicker expansion of testing services in the province. "There isn't a point-of-care test that's going to expire in the province of Saskatchewan," Livingstone said. "We'll have them used well in advance of that," he said. With coronavirus variants "as well as a slower than what we want immunization strategy because of vaccine supply, this extra testing is going to go a long way to put a bigger safety blanket across many areas," said Livingstone. Any positive results from a rapid test will have to be confirmed with a lab test. A negative test does not need to be retested for confirmation. Shahab says that it's normal for testing rates to fluctuate depending on how much COVID-19 is spreading in the community, but that it's important to keep testing above a certain level. He didn't have an exact number for that level. "Testing rates sometimes also start trending down and that's not very good, because then you can start missing COVID," he said. "We've already had situations where people were delaying testing testing even though they were symptomatic."
A disengaged lighting system in a vehicle led to a Cardinal man being arrested on multiple drug-related offences earlier this week. Ontario Provincial Police from the Grenville detachment say they were on general patrol Wednesday night when officers noticed a vehicle without its lighting system on and conducted a traffic stop at 9:40 p.m. Police did not identify on what road the traffic stop took place. Police say after speaking with the driver, they found him to be in possession of what is believed to be methamphetamine. After arresting the man, a search of the vehicle found serval packages of the drug, including in pill form. Also found in the search was a scale, packaging material and a quantity of cash, said police. John Fahrngruber, 61, has been charged with two counts of possession of a Schedule I substance, one count of possession of a Schedule I substance for the purpose of trafficking, failure to comply with an undertaking and possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime under $5,000. Police released the accused from custody, and he is scheduled for a court appearance in Brockville on April 30. Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times
The United States has pledged to tell the world its conclusions on what role Saudi Arabia's crown prince played in the brutal killing and dismembering of a U.S.-based journalist, but as important is what comes next — what the Biden administration plans to do about it. Ahead of the release of the declassified U.S. intelligence report, and announcement of any U.S. punitive measures, President Joe Biden spoke to Saudi King Salman on Thursday for the first time since taking office more than a month ago. It was a later-than-usual courtesy call to the Middle East ally, timing seen as reflecting Biden's displeasure. Still, a White House readout made no mention of the killing or the report. The conversation was overshadowed by the expected imminent release of findings on whether the king's son approved the Oct. 2, 2018, killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's authoritarian consolidation of power, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in 2018 that the prince likely ordered the killing, a finding reported by news media but never officially released. The White House said Biden on Thursday discussed with King Salman the two countries' “longstanding partnership” and welcomed the kingdom's recent releases of an advocate for women's rights and some of its other political detainees. The language came in contrast to Biden's pledge as a candidate to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah” over the killing. The White House offered no immediate explanation for his milder tone with the king. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Khashoggi’s killing in a report about the call between Biden and King Salman, instead focusing on regional issues such as Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen. The king and Biden stressed “the depth of the relationship between the two countries and the importance of strengthening the partnership between them to serve their interests and achieve security and stability in the region and the world,” the report said. The prince's critics, including a rights group founded by the slain journalist, want him to make good on that pledge with sanctions or other tough actions targeting and isolating the prince. They fear Biden will go with condemnation instead, eschewing a lasting standoff with the likely future ruler of an important, but often difficult, U.S. strategic ally, valued both for its oil reserves and its status as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East. The killing drew bipartisan outrage. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Thursday that he hopes Biden talks to the king ”very straight about it, and very emphatically, and says that this is not acceptable.” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he understood the administration to be considering new sanctions to accompany release of the report. “So it’s a day of reckoning, but one that’s long overdue.” The report's findings, and Biden's resulting next steps, at a minimum will set the administration's tone for dealing with the ambitious 35-year-old prince. Critics blame Mohammed bin Salman for the kingdom's imprisonment and alleged torture of peaceful rights advocates, businesspeople and other royals at home and for launching a devastating war in neighbouring Yemen and a failed economic blockade against neighbouring Qatar, among other actions. Mohammed bin Salman has consolidated power rapidly since his father, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, in his 80s, became king in 2015. Salman is one of the last living sons of modern Saudi Arabia’s original founder. Given his age and Saudi royals' longevity, the prince could rule for the next half-century, if he follows his aging father to the throne. "This was in the span of two or three years — just imagine what will happen in the next 40 years if they allow him to rule,” Abdullah al Oudh, a Saudi man who has received asylum in the United States after Saudi Arabia imprisoned al Oudh’s father in 2017 over a tweet urging Saudi reconciliation with Qatar, said Thursday. “This guy ... sees the world as a stage for his botched operations," said Oudh, a Gulf research director for Democracy for the Arab World Now, a rights group Khashoggi founded shortly before his murder. The Saudi Arabia Embassy spokesman in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi's killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials. The prince said in 2019 he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it. U.S. intelligence findings are coming out more than two years after Khashoggi walked hand-in-hand with his fiancee to the Saudi consulate in Turkey. He planned to pick up documents for their wedding. The errand was recorded by surveillance cameras that tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours leading up to his killing. Inside the consulate, Khashoggi died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival. A Turkish bug planted at the embassy reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi military colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building. The whereabouts of his remains remain unknown. Much of the damage from the killing of Khashoggi, a gregarious and well-regarded Saudi journalist with influential supporters in the United States and around the world, has already been absorbed by the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Once in office, Biden said he would maintain whatever scale of relations with Saudi Arabia that U.S. interests required. He also ordered an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and said he would stop the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. He's given few details of what weapons and support he meant. Asked how the release of the findings would affect Biden's approach toward Saudi Arabia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that a range of options was on the table. “There are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability," Psaki said. “There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia, given the threats they face in the region.” Congress in 2019 demanded the release of the report's findings, but the Trump administration refused. The Biden administration agreed to release a declassified version. Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison in Khashoggi's killing. They were not identified. ___ Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Chicago contributed to this report. Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press
People on reserve have received the coronavirus vaccine at a rate of six times higher than Canadians, yet Dr. Evan Adams said he is still fielding questions about whether or not people should be signing up for injections. “People are so suspicious that we’re trying to do something bad to them, when we’re trying to do something good for them… I find it sad that some people don’t trust. In a way, of course, it’s understandable we don’t trust particular things, but I hope there are somethings that you would trust and I hope you would trust, say, an Indigenous physician like me, who says, ‘Let me help. I’m very interested and very concerned about you and your family and your knowledge keepers and your community’,” said Adams, deputy chief medical officer of Public Health, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). Adams, who was speaking today on the weekly edition of the First Nations Health Managers Association’s (FNHMA) virtual town hall, said he was grateful that science offered such an efficient method to protect against COVID-19. “I’m looking forward to having a vaccine. If I get a sore arm, if I feel a little bit tired, I’ll probably just smile through all of that because … the vaccine is teaching my body to fight off the natural virus,” he said. FNHMA CEO Marion Crowe, who hosts the town hall, said it was important that First Nations people were able to hear such information from a First Nations physician. “I’m grateful to have an Indigenous physician here with us … so that we know to trust in the words that you speak, the inherent knowledge that you share, and the wisdom of your experiences and education… while understanding that some of us are a little bit mistrusting when it comes to any government initiative,” said Crowe. She added that mistrust has stemmed from a health system that continues to prove itself to discriminate systemically and from history where Indigenous people were test subjects. Adding levity to the serious discussion, Crowe said she was willing to be a “guinea pig.” “This is one time I’m happy that I’ll be a guinea pig because I’m right in there with all the front line – police, ambulance, doctors, nurses, … (personal support workers), long term care folks. If we’re going to wipe out everyone, that’s the group we’ll be with, so we’re not going to do that. So just having confidence in the science is going to be so welcoming and evidence-based,” said Crowe. Evans said the impact of the virus is beginning to lessen on reserves thanks to the vaccine coupled with other measures such as handwashing, physical distancing and masking. But statistics to this point have been sobering and demonstrate that First Nations people in community, and Indigenous people in general, contract COVID-19 at a rate 1.67 higher than Canadians. However, hospitalization rates (at 0.6 times Canadians) and fatality rates (at 0.42 times Canadians) are lower because COVID is hitting more First Nations youth and less Elders. As of Feb. 24, ISC is aware of 222 deaths on reserve. While there are new variants of the coronavirus appearing throughout Canada, none have been officially reported on reserves. “We expect that one day we will hear about cases on reserve because that’s the nature of how viruses work … so we will eventually see more and more cases of that variant and probably will start to see it in communities,” said Evans. Evans offered reassurance, though, saying that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were “excellent” for the UK variant and offered “partial” coverage for the South African variant. Evans said that when people were tested for the virus, further screening followed to indicate if a variant was involved. The variant was confirmed by testing in a provincial or national lab. Although ISC is not in charge of the vaccination roll-out, which falls into the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, Evans said his department would still provide support where needed. “The provinces are supposed to speak to Indigenous leadership and confirm with them that the plans that they’re making for their communities are acceptable, are well organized, are giving priorities where they should be,” said Evans. He pointed out that depending on the community and leadership, the vaccine will be rolled out differently. However, he said, that roll-out must be “evidenced-based,” which means it would comply with the latest National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines. Those guidelines have “adults in Indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences” recommended for Stage 1. NACI also acknowledged that in urban settings where poverty, systemic racism and homelessness were factors, “these populations may be considered for immunization concurrent with remote and isolated Indigenous communities if feasibly identified within jurisdictions, understanding that these are traditionally hardly reached populations for immunization programs.” Evans said it has been “nerve-racking” waiting for the vaccine because of production issues experienced by manufacturers, but the shipment of both vaccines will be ramping up. He said while people are waiting for their vaccines, they “should be happy” for the Elders and others who have received theirs. “If you are relatively well, you shouldn’t mind having to wait. And those of you with the most risk, yes, you should be prioritized. Let’s keep speaking up for those amongst us who are most at risk and help them get vaccinated,” said Evans. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
If you're coming to “ Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry ” hoping for a primer on the music sensation, you’ve come to the wrong place. Filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s two hour and 20-minute documentary about the “Ocean Eyes” singer and songwriter is not biography or reportage. It’s a verite-style plunge into her life, her home, her concerts, her process, her Tourette’s, her brother’s bedroom where they famously write all their songs and even her diary in the year in which she became a star. It is raw and filled with music — over 20 of her songs are played over the course of the film, including live performances, like her extraordinary Coachella showing in 2019. Some are shown in full. It is also very, very long. Cutler, who also did “The September Issue” and “Belushi,” cited seminal verite rock docs “Gimme Shelter” and “Dont Look Back” as inspiration. But both of those came a few years and albums into The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan’s superstardom. Eilish’s ascent is extraordinary and yet she is still in the early part of her artistic and actual life. Fans will certainly disagree, as is their right, but it is an enormous amount of unfiltered space to give to an artist who is still getting started. There's no right or wrong way to make a documentary like this, but for the Eilish curious and not the Eilish die-hards, it's initiation by fire without any context. Clearly someone in Eilish’s camp had an eye toward legacy when they invited Cutler to her family home to see if he wanted to follow the then-16-year-old during her breakout year, during which she and her brother Finneas wrote, recorded and released her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Eilish is funny and sullen and charismatic and moody, just as you’d want and expect a teenage artist to be. She gets dreamy and protective of her followers, saying “they’re not my fans, they’re like part of me” and complains that for her, writing songs is “torture.” And she breaks the fourth wall occasionally (she’d told Cutler that she wanted it to be like “The Office”) to let the audience knows that she knows they’re there. Her brother is the driving force a lot of the productivity in their cozy family home in the Highland Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles (he’s since moved out). Their parents homeschooled them and music was always part of their life, with mom, Maggie Baird, teaching them how to write songs and dad, Patrick O’Connell, teaching instruments. It is interesting to see her and Finneas riff about lyrics and test things out — he has anxiety about having to produce a hit and she couldn’t care less — and the juxtaposition of her glamorous appearances and performances with the modest normalcy of their home life. There are some terrific moments that Cutler caught out on the road: In one instance, she meets Katy Perry who introduces Eilish to her fiance — “a big fan.” It’s only later that Eilish realizes that was Orlando Bloom. Her brother reminds her he is “Will Turner from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies.” She wants a redo. “I thought he was just some dude,” she says. Another is her first meeting with Justin Bieber. She talks about her longstanding obsession in an interview, he gets in touch three days before her album release about wanting to collaborate. (She tells her manager that “he could ask me to kill my dog and I would.”) Then at Coachella he appears as she’s greeting a hoard of her fans. She freezes and becomes a fan herself. Later she’ll sob over a heartfelt message he sends her. And there are some incredibly vulnerable moments too, showing the performer exhausted and annoyed. Eilish remains as unique and enigmatic as she seems from a distance, but also is presented very much like a normal Los Angeles teenager, getting her driver's license, dreaming of a matte black Dodge Challenger and texting with a largely absent boyfriend. Fans will eat up every morsel of this documentary and wish for more. For newcomers, however, it might benefit from watching in installments, which is one of the benefits of the film debuting on Apple TV+. There’s even an intermission to help take the guesswork out of where to hit pause. This does not come across as a vanity project that’s been intensely controlled by the star or the machinery around her, either. It’s refreshing. It's also probably one of the last times we’ll all be invited into her life in this way. “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” an Apple TV+ and Neon release out Friday, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 140 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. ___ Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia — Facebook announced on Friday preliminary agreements with three Australian publishers, a day after the Parliament passed a law that would make the digital giants pay for news. Facebook said letters of intent had been signed with independent news organizations Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media. The commercial agreements are subject to the signing of full agreements within the next 60 days, a Facebook statement said. “These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook,” the statement said. Schwartz Media chief executive Rebecca Costello said the deal would help her company continue to produce independent journalism. “It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press,” Costello said. Private Media chief executive Will Hayward said the new deal built on an existing Facebook partnership. Australia's Parliament on Thursday had passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code. In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a six-day-old ban on Australians accessing and sharing news. Access to Australian news sites did not appear to be fully restored until Friday. Google, the only other digital giant targeted by the legislation, has already struck content licensing deals, or is close to deals, with some of Australia’s biggest news publishers including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Seven West Media. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new Australian law was critical to the deals that Australian media businesses were negotiating with the two gateways to the internet. Under the law, if a platform can't reach agreement with a news business, an arbitration panel can be appointed to set a legally binding price for journalism. "Global tech giants are changing the world, but we can’t let them run the world,” Morrison told reporters. “People in free societies like Australia, who go to ballot boxes and who go and they vote, that’s who should run the world,” Morrison added. Facebook Vice-President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg on Wednesday took a veiled swipe at News Corp. in a social media post criticizing Australia’s law, which is aimed at setting a fair price for the Australian journalism that the digital platforms display. “It is ironic that some of the biggest publishers that have long advocated for free markets and voluntary commercial undertakings now appear to be in favour of state sponsored price setting,” the former British deputy prime minister wrote. News Corp. Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said last week that his company had pay negotiations with Facebook. “Having been someone who’s dealt with Facebook over the past months, we have some weeks where we’re getting good engagement and think we’re progressing and then you get silence. I think the door is still open,” Miller told a Senate inquiry into Australian media diversity. News Corp. owns most of Australia’s major newspapers, and some analysts argue the U.S.-based international media empire is the driver for the conservative Australian government making Facebook and Google pay. News Corp. has announced a wide-ranging deal with Google covering operations in the United States and Britain as well as Australia. Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press