Crews tried to beat back two wildfires in Southern California early Tuesday that have kept tens of thousands of people out of their homes even as another round of dangerous fire weather raises the risk for flames erupting across the state. (Oct. 27)
Crews tried to beat back two wildfires in Southern California early Tuesday that have kept tens of thousands of people out of their homes even as another round of dangerous fire weather raises the risk for flames erupting across the state. (Oct. 27)
WASHINGTON — The General Services Administration ascertained Monday that President-elect Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from President Donald Trump’s administration and allowing Biden to co-ordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on Jan. 20.Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said in a tweet that he is directing his team to co-operate on the transition but is vowing to keep up the fight.Administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Trump efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, citing, “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.” Michigan certified Biden’s victory Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”Murphy, a Trump appointee, had faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration, including in critical national security and public health areas.“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” Murphy wrote in a letter to Biden.Trump tweeted shortly after her letter was made public: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”Pressure had been mounting on Murphy as an increasing number of Republicans, national security experts and business leaders said it was time for that process to move forward.Retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has repeatedly called for the transition to begin, released a new statement Monday saying that Trump should “put the country first” and help Biden’s administration succeed.“When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do,” Alexander said.Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio on Monday called for Murphy to release money and staffing needed for the transition. Portman, a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also said Biden should receive high-level briefings on national security and the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.Alexander and Portman, who have both aligned themselves with Trump, joined a growing number of Republican officials who in recent days have urged Trump to begin the transition immediately. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also urged a smooth transition, saying in a statement Monday that “at some point, the 2020 election must end.”Meanwhile, more than 160 business leaders asked Murphy to immediately acknowledge Biden as president-elect and begin the transition to a new administration. “Withholding resources and vital information from an incoming administration puts the public and economic health and security of America at risk,? the business leaders said in an open letter to Murphy.Separately, more than 100 Republican former national security officials — including former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte — said in a statement that Trump’s refusal to concede and allow for an orderly transition “constitutes a serious threat” to America’s democratic process. The officials signing the letter worked under four Republican presidents, including Trump.The statement called on “Republican leaders — especially those in Congress — to publicly demand that President Trump cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election.”Trump had publicly refused to accept defeat and launched a series of losing court battles across the country making baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and seeking to overturn the election results.Murphy missed a deadline on Monday set by House Democrats to brief lawmakers about the delay in beginning the transition, which is usually a routine step between the election and the inauguration. A spokeswoman for the GSA said that a deputy administrator would instead hold two separate briefings for House and Senate committees on Nov. 30.In response, the Democratic chairs of four committees and subcommittees said they could reschedule the meeting for Tuesday, but no later.“We cannot wait yet another week to obtain basic information about your refusal to make the ascertainment determination,” the Democrats said in a letter to Murphy. “Every additional day that is wasted is a day that the safety, health, and well-being of the American people is imperiled as the incoming Biden-Harris administration is blocked from fully preparing for the coronavirus pandemic, our nation’s dire economic crisis, and our national security.”Portman said it was “only prudent” for GSA to begin the transition process immediately.“Donald Trump is our president until Jan. 20, 2021, but in the likely event that Joe Biden becomes our next president, it is in the national interest that the transition is seamless and that America is ready on Day One of a new administration for the challenges we face,? Portman wrote in an op-ed calling for the transition to begin.Murphy's ascertainment will free up money for the transition and clear the way for Biden’s team to begin placing transition personnel at federal agencies. Trump administration officials had said they would not give Biden the classified presidential daily briefing on intelligence matters until the GSA makes the ascertainment official.“Now that GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has fulfilled her duty and ascertained the election results, the formal presidential transition can begin in full force,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. “Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges. The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”Among those signing the letter from business leaders were Jon Gray, president of the Blackstone private equity firm; Robert Bakish, president and CEO of ViacomCBS Inc.; Henry Kravis, the co-chief executive of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., another private equity giant; David Solomon, CEO at Goldman Sachs; and George H. Walker, CEO of the investment firm Neuberger Berman and a second cousin to former President George W. Bush.Matthew Daly, Zeke Miller And Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press
LONDON — Google faces fresh regulatory scrutiny in Britain over plans to revamp its ad data system, after an industry lobbying group complained to the competition watchdog that the changes would cement the U.S. tech giant's online dominance. Marketers for an Open Web, a coalition of technology and publishing companies, said Monday that it's urging the U.K. competition watchdog to step in and force Google to delay the rollout of its “privacy sandbox” scheduled for early next year. The new technology would remove so-called third party cookies that allow users to be tracked across the internet by storing information on their devices, replaced by tools owned by Google. That means login, advertising and other features would be taken off the open web and placed under Google’s control, the group said. The Competition and Markets Authority confirmed it received the complaint. “We take the matters raised in the complaint very seriously, and will assess them carefully with a view to deciding whether to open a formal investigation under the Competition Act,” it said in a statement, adding that if the concerns need urgent attention, it would consider using “interim measures" to stop any suspected anti-competitive conduct pending a full investigation. The complaint follows up on concerns about Google's new system that the watchdog raised in a July report about online platforms and digital advertising. The report recommended the British government adopt a new regulatory approach to governing digital giants making big money from online ads. Google said the new technology will increase privacy for users while also supporting publishers. “The ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used," the company said. Google's Chrome is the world's dominant web browser, and many others like Microsoft's Edge are based on its Chromium technology. Google controls more than 90% of the U.K.’s 7.3 billion-pound ($8.8 billion) search advertising market, the CMA said in its July report. Third-party cookies allow ad buyers to more effectively target their ads to web users. Privacy sandbox will deny publishers access to the cookies they use to sell digital ads, which will crimp their revenues by up to two-thirds, Marketers for an Open Web said. The group said Google’s changes will move the digital ad business “into the walled garden of its Chrome browser, where it would be beyond the reach of regulators.” It wants a delay until authorities come up with long term remedies to mitigate Google's dominance over key parts of the web. ___ For all of AP’s tech coverage, visit https://apnews.com/apf-technology ___ Follow Kelvin Chan at www.twitter.com/chanman Kelvin Chan, The Associated Press
BROCKTON – The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund allocation for Brockton has been decreasing over the past several years. Brockton received $2,380,000 in 2012; by 2017, that had decreased to $1,607,100. Brockton was notified that the 2021 allocation will decrease by $48,500 from 2020’s $1,536,600 to $1,488,100. The municipality relies on the OMPF grant to provide government services. Small, rural municipalities don’t have the large tax base that cities do. Coun. Steve Adams suggested drafting a letter to express concern over the decrease. Coun. Dean Leifso wondered if other municipalities in the area were getting the same decrease. Mayor Chris Peabody regarded the information as “mixed” news – both good and bad. It’s a bit of a drop. But he also noted Brockton has received a number of grants from “this government” and credited MPP Lisa Thompson for working on behalf of her constituents. Peabody said Leifso’s idea was a good one. “Let’s do some research.”Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times
SOUTH BRUCE – Sixty-four per cent of South Bruce residents would vote ‘no’ to a deep geological repository (DGR) if a vote were held today, according to results from an independent survey held in October. Sixteen per cent of respondents indicated they would vote for the proposal while 20 per cent said they were not sure. A total of 284 adult residents participated in the survey. The survey intended to represent the adult population of South Bruce. Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste (POW-NNW) commissioned Mainstreet Research, one of Canada’s top public opinion and market research firms, to ask residents of South Bruce “if a community vote were held today would you vote for or against creating a deep underground storage facility in South Bruce for high-level radioactive nuclear waste?” Residents were also asked how informed they felt about the issues. Sixty-four per cent answering they feel either very informed or somewhat informed. Only 13 per cent said they felt not informed at all. “This is a clear and resounding rejection of the proposed DGR,” Michelle Stein, president of POW-NNW said, “and residents feel informed enough to make the decision that they are not a willing host.” These findings echo the Municipality of South Bruce’s smaller poll from September 2020, which indicated that 74 per cent of residents want a referendum to vote on the project and 81 per cent of residents disagree with the municipality’s 36 principles for determining the community’s willingness to host the project. “Mayor Buckle and council have said repeatedly they are ‘willing to listen,’” added Ron Groen, a board member for POW-NNW. “I expect Mayor Buckle to listen to this message from a clear majority of the community and tell the NWMO our community is not a willing host.”Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times
As Toronto enters a new lockdown Monday, Mayor John Tory says an additional package of supports for those living in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 is coming."We owe it to the most vulnerable to make sure that extra measures are provided, extra supports are provided in their fight against COVID-19," he said at a news conference Monday. Tory said there will be expanded testing in the northwest parts of the city and northeast part in Scarborough that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 since the pandemic began. COVID-19 has exacerbated long-standing systemic health inequities related to racism, he said, noting Black people and racialized people who may be living in multi-generational households are at a far higher risk than others.He added that data demonstrates that COVID-19 hot spot neighbourhoods are experiencing lower testing rates and higher positivity rates. These neighbourhoods often house more essential workers who feel pressure to go to work, even when sick, he said. New supports involve a partnership with 11 community based organizations, and will include a broader sharing of public health information, expanded testing in harder hit neighbourhoods and increased public transportation to those testing sites. Tory also said an eviction moratorium is crucial along with better access to emergency services. "The city has been clear that the residential eviction ban in place earlier this year should continue. And we repeat that request to the provincial government again today," he said. As well, mayors and chairs across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton have gathered this week and are now calling on companies and governments to reassure workers that self-isolation after a positive test will not result in job loss or loss of income, said Tory.They are seeking additional assurances from the province that workplaces will be inspected to guarantee that they are following public health protocols, protecting workers and not requiring employees to be on the job while ill.Testing hesitancy an issue in hard-hit areas: CressyCoun. Joe Cressy, also the city's board of health chair, said new support measures will be implemented immediately for neighbourhoods in the northeast and northwest.Extra city facilities will be transformed into testing centres and buses will be retrofitted as mobile testing centres, he said.Testing hesitancy continues to be an issue those communities are grappling with, said Cressy. "For many residents, they're worried that a positive test result will mean staying home, which can mean lost income," he said. WATCH | Premier Doug Ford addresses business closures during lockdown:To address those concerns, the city is rolling out an outreach program that will be operated by "trusted local community outreach workers on the ground," he said.Those workers will also help residents with access to the city's isolation centre, so they know they can isolate safely without infecting other family members. Limit contact to support essential workers: de VillaThere are 331 new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto on Monday, along with 167 people in hospital. Forty-one of those people are in intensive care units, said Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, at the same news conference.Since de Villa's last update on Wednesday, there have been 2,177 new cases of COVID-19 in the city, she said. Toronto has reported 45 per cent of all cases for entire pandemic since Oct. 1.De Villa echoed Tory's comments in asking Toronto residents to stay home — as many essential workers do not have the option to do so.City data shows the risk of infection for those who live in more severely impacted neighbourhoods is close to double other areas, which house more essential workers, she said. "They're there because that's where we need them to be," she said. "So we owe it to them, those of us who can choose to keep more apart than others."Tory also spoke about retailers doing their part to limit the spread as well by not holding in-person Black Friday sales this week."You are open by order of the province so residents can buy essentials. You are not open to cash in on Black Friday," he said. Torontonians should engage with Black Friday sales online only, or use the curbside pickup option for smaller, independent retailers in the city, he said. Charges laid after large weekend gatheringsMatthew Peg, Toronto's fire chief and head of emergency management, announced a series of charges laid over the weekend due to large gatherings. He also provided an update on a variety of other COVID-19-related violations reported in the last few days.A large party in a storage unit held Friday night resulted in one charge, he said. Similarly, a crowded gathering on Lawrence Avenue West in the area of Allen Road on the same night resulted in 15 charges. Enforcement teams also extinguished 35 bonfires on Toronto beaches over the weekend and laid 33 charges in relation to trespassing on beaches and parks. Another 39 charges were laid after complaints were called in to 311 about at-home gatherings. Tory, de Villa address mental health, opioid crisisThe mental health of all residents, specifically those who are more impacted by the pandemic, is also a concern for the city and a " dramatic improvement and expansion of the mental health system" is required, Tory said in an interview Monday with CBC's Metro Morning."I mean, it's scandalous, really what we started with when the pandemic started. We should have been on a much better foundation before we began in terms of treatment programs for people with mental health and substance use issues," he said. While the city has expanded it's 211 service — where residents can call a hotline to speak to a mental health professional directly — there's much more left to be done, he said. In Toronto, as is the trend for Ontario overall, there's been a dramatic increase in opioid deaths over the course of the pandemic. A report from the start of November showed a total of 132 people in Toronto died between April 1 and Sept. 30 due to a suspected opioid overdose, nearly double the number from the same period in 2018 and 2019.Toronto officials have urged actions to tackle the opioid crisis including further collaboration with other levels of government. When asked about the increase in opioid-related deaths at the news conference, Tory said there hasn't been enough focus on the crisis.While the city has a "significant" harm reduction program, more needs to be done through the provincial health-care system, he said. De Villa also addressed opioid overdoses, stating that the city's board of health wants to move forward on recommendations to address the issue."COVID-19 has been an almost all consuming challenge for us to deal with. But that doesn't mean that we're not paying attention to other challenges," she said."So we continue to advance our overdose action plan. And we are certainly advocating at the other levels of government."
NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia’s government is again warning residents of the besieged capital of the embattled Tigray region as the clock ticks on a 72-hour ultimatum before a military assault, saying “anything can happen.”Senior official Redwan Hussein told reporters Monday that the Tigray regional leaders are “hiding out in a densely populated city; the slightest strike would end up losing lives.”Human rights groups and others were alarmed over the weekend when Ethiopia’s military warned civilians in the Tigray capital, Mekele, that there would be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves” before the offensive to flush out defiant regional leaders. Amnesty International warns that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian objects “is prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitutes war crimes.”Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, issued a 72-hour ultimatum Sunday for the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, to surrender.Redwan said that Mekele, a city of around 500,000 people, is now encircled at a distance of about 50 kilometres (30 miles), and with rougher terrain left behind “what remains is the plain land, easier for tanks.”He added, “by providing a brute fact, it is letting people to understand the reality and make the right choice.” Ethiopia’s government is urging Mekele residents to separate themselves from the TPLF leaders in time.Cara Anna, The Associated Press
Rick Massini has dedicated a good chunk of his time to public education, and helping students learn. This week he was honoured by the Alberta School Boards Association with the President’s Award. “I found out about this second hand, actually,” said Massini. “I was shocked and extremely honoured to get this award. “I’ve met so many great trustees around the province, and to be chosen for this award is amazing. “I’m speechless.” The award is given out every year to someone in the province who has made “an exemplary contribution to education.” Alberta School Boards Association president Lorrie Jess picked the winner of the award. Massini started teaching in the Hat in 1980 and began his career in Calgary eight years before that. He started in the Hat at Medicine Hat High School as a science, math and physical education teacher. He then went into a counselling role at Hat High. He then moved into the role as vice-principal at the same school. After that he moved to Ross Glen School to be principal. He is now the vice chair of the public school board. “It’s always been about helping people learn for me,” he said. “I really identified with students who may not have learned in traditional ways and may not have learned as fast, because I am a non-traditional learner. “Education is so important to me and I’ve always wanted to help students learn.”Mo Cranker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News
NORTH HURON – A new investigator was appointed by North Huron to look into livestock and poultry incidents, when they have been injured or killed as a result of wildlife predators. The current municipal investigator/livestock and poultry valuer, Keith Black, notified the township of his resignation recently and was thanked for his many years of service. Following Black’s resignation, the township initiated a public recruitment process to fill the position. According to Carson Lamb, who prepared the report for council, at the closing date of the advertisement, no applicants expressed interest in the position. Randy Scott expressed his interest after the township reached out to other area municipalities to see if any individual would be interested in the position. Scott brings his knowledge and experience to North Huron. He will be enlarging his present territory of Howick Township, where he currently holds the investigator position. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture administers the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program (OWDCP). They provide compensation to eligible applicants whose livestock, poultry, or honeybees have been damaged or killed due to wildlife. The OWDCP stipulates that municipalities must appoint a municipal investigator/livestock and poultry valuer to investigate incidents of damage that have been reported to the clerk of the municipality. Under the OWDCP, the municipal investigator/livestock and poultry valuer is responsible for: · Carrying out a full and impartial investigation within 72 hours of receiving the notification of the injury or death of livestock or poultry. · Taking three to six colour photos per eligible kill/injury incurred and collecting all necessary information to complete the application accurately. · Providing a completed program application to the owner and the clerk of the municipality within seven business days of completing an investigation.Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times
Le 10 novembre, les agents de Service correctionnel Canada au pénitencier de Port-Cartier ont intercepté un détenu qui tentait d’introduire des objets interdits et non autorisés dans l’établissement. Parmi les objets interdits saisis, il y a 180 timbres de nicotine de 21 milligrammes, 139,26 grammes de haschich et quatre clés USB. La valeur en établissement des objets saisis est évaluée à 41 256 $. Cette opération a été rendue possible grâce à la collaboration entre les agents correctionnels, l'équipe canine et des agents du renseignement de sécurité. La Sûreté du Québec mène une enquête sur cette saisie et des accusations criminelles pourraient être déposées.Vincent Berrouard, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Nord-Côtier
Staff at Ottawa's Bruyère flu clinics are piloting new technology that tracks a family's immunization records through an app to prepare for a paperless COVID-19 vaccination rollout.The new system, created by CANImmunize and called Clinic Flow, is being used to book flu shot appointments at two clinics run by the health-care group. Dr. Sufian Zayed, a family physician and unit director of the Bruyère family medicine centre, said his staff expected to be overwhelmed by the current flu season, but said the new system helped mitigate those fears. "It helped us significantly improve our efficiency, and we were able to cut our administration time by half," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday. The goal is to minimize the face-to-face interactions and paperwork normally associated with vaccination. People can book their appointment, complete their screening for COVID-19 and sign immunization consent forms — all before entering a clinic, said Katherine Atkinson, chief operating officer of CANImmunize.That information can then be sent to both the patient and the hospital's occupational health department for tracking purposes."Which is going to be really important for the COVID-19 vaccine," Atkinson said. "There'll be multiple vaccines on the market and they're all more than one dose. So having that information in real time is going to be really helpful in supporting the COVID-19 vaccine rollout." Patient privacy protectedWhile some initially raised privacy concerns about Canada's COVID-19 Alert app, Atkinson said this new digital platform requires the user's consent every step of the way."We use all of the top private security protocols to protect your information throughout the entire system," she said. If the pilot is deemed a success, Atkinson said her organization would like to work with CAN Health Network, a national partnership between leading Canadian health organizations, to make it available at hospitals across the country.Zayed said his team has already heard positive feedback about the new CANImmunize system, both from Bruyère staff and patients."From our patient standpoint, they have been very happy [for us to] to bring them in, to get their immunization and then be on their way without having to concern themselves about COVID-19 exposure because it's such a paperless system," he said.The pilot runs until the end of 2020 and is funded by the CAN Health Network.
WASHINGTON — A firearms-toting congresswoman-elect who owns a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, has already asked Capitol Police about carrying her weapon on Capitol grounds, her office has acknowledged. If she does so, she apparently won't be alone.The practice is allowed for lawmakers, with some limitations, under decades-old congressional regulations. The public is barred from carrying weapons in the Capitol, its grounds and office buildings.Republican Lauren Boebert, 33, was elected this month from a conservative western Colorado district after gaining notice as a brash pro-gun activist who straps a Glock pistol to her hip. In an upset last June, she defeated five-term Rep. Scott Tipton for the GOP nomination, in part by claiming he wasn't an ardent enough backer of President Donald Trump.Boebert asked Capitol Police officials about carrying her weapon when she and other House freshmen taking office in January were in town recently for orientation programs, according to two congressional officials. Both people — a Democrat and a Republican — spoke on condition of anonymity to describe her request.Aides to Boebert, who Trump endorsed as “a fighter" who will “never bow down to the establishment in Congress," did not make her available for an interview.“This was a private discussion and inquiry about what the rules are, and as a result the Congresswoman-Elect won’t be going on the record,” Boebert aide Laura Carno said in an email last week.The inquiries by Boebert, who runs Shooters Grill, come as guns remain a passionate issue for both parties, fueled by images of demonstrations by armed Trump supporters, conservative pushes to ease state gun restrictions and recent years' mass shootings.Even so, prospects for significantly changing federal gun laws seem scant as a new, narrowly divided Congress takes office in January alongside President-elect Joe Biden.Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki did not respond to a reporter’s questions about the department’s communications with Boebert and the number of lawmakers who carry firearms.The agency's officials did not answer directly when Democrats on the House Committee on Administration asked in 2018 how many lawmakers carry firearms in the Capitol. The officials said in a written response that they've “been made aware” of inquiries about carrying weapons.“There is no standing requirement” that lawmakers notify them when they carry a firearm in the Capitol, the officials wrote. Regulations require safe storage of weapons, but “that responsibility resides with the Member,” they said.A 1967 regulation says no federal or District of Columbia laws restricting firearms “shall prohibit any Member of Congress from maintaining firearms within the confines of his office" or “from transporting within Capitol grounds firearms unloaded and securely wrapped."Lawmakers may not bring weapons into the House chamber and other nearby areas, the regulations say, according to a letter Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., wrote in 2018. Aides can carry lawmakers’ weapons for them on the Capitol complex, he wrote.In his letter to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, Huffman summarized the regulations after being briefed on them by Irving. An opponent of letting members of Congress carry guns on Capitol grounds, Huffman abandoned a 2018 effort to halt the practice due to colleagues' strong opposition and said in an interview that he wouldn't try again this year due to continued resistance.Huffman said the loophole for lawmakers, adopted after a summer of racial unrest in American cities, is outdated and risky.He said members and their staffs carry firearms around the Capitol “all the time,” though he mentioned no names. He said lawmakers keep guns in their publicly accessible offices, though building entry has been limited due to COVID-19.“Members could have a loaded AK47 sitting on their desk and no one would ever do anything about it," Huffman said.He also said with lawmakers exempted from passing through screening devices throughout the Capitol campus, “no one checks” to make sure they're not bringing guns onto the House floor.Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., chairman of the House Second Amendment Caucus, justified letting lawmakers carry weapons. He cited the 2017 shooting spree when a gunman wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and four other people as they practiced baseball in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.“As soon as you leave the Capitol property, you are a target," Massie said.Also supporting Boebert is Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., like Boebert a hard-right conservative with a penchant for attracting publicity. Greene like Boebert has expressed support for QAnon conspiracy theories, though both have tried distancing themselves from the unfounded beliefs.“Not only do I support members of Congress carrying a firearm, I believe every American has that right." Greene said in a statement. “I will work every day to end ALL gun free zones.”Police periodically arrest people caught trying to bring firearms into the Capitol and its buildings.In 1999, Corey Lewandowski — then a congressional aide and later a manager of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign — was arrested when what court records called a loaded pistol was found in a laundry bag he was bringing into a House office building. Misdemeanor charges were dismissed.The Capitol Police protect the complex with over 2,300 officers and civilian employees, according to its website. Its officers routinely arrest people caught trying to carry weapons at the Capitol.The regulations letting lawmakers carry guns was written by the Capitol Police Board, which consists of four of Congress' top law enforcement and administrative officials.Alan Fram, The Associated Press
For Albertans fearful about the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the big numbers just keep piling up — on Monday the province reported 1,549 new cases and a total of 13,166 active cases. At her news conference, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province has reached "a precarious point" where the virus is spreading faster and more widely than at any other previous point in the past nine months."Today I will meet with the priorities implementation committee of cabinet to discuss a series of new measures to reduce the rising spread of COVID-19," Alberta's chief medical officer of health told the media just after 2 p.m. "Based on their decisions, we will provide a detailed update to Albertans tomorrow."Hinshaw kicked off her news conference with a stark reminder about what is at stake."To put it as plainly as possible, this is like a snowball rolling down a hill growing bigger and faster, and it will continue unless we implement strong measures to stop it," she said. "We must take action. Waiting any longer will impact our ability to care for Albertans in the weeks and months ahead. As chief medical officer of health, my role is to provide advice to government on how to protect the health of Albertans."The rapidly-rising case numbers is severely straining hospitals and ICU admissions and challenging the health system's ability to deliver care, Hinshaw said.On Monday, 328 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Alberta hospitals, including 62 in ICU beds. Another five deaths were reported, bringing the total of 476.More bad newsHinshaw had more bad news. She said the province's contact-tracing system has been unable to keep up with demand, given the significant increase in new cases over the past several weeks.Despite Alberta Health Services' efforts to recruit and train new contact tracers the team has not been able to keep up, she said."This means that there has been a slowly growing backlog of cases over the past several weeks who have not yet had a call from AHS to do the case investigation, Hinshaw said."To be clear, these have all received notification of their positive result. It is simply the investigation they have not had the opportunity to complete," she said."We are left with an incredibly difficult problem to solve. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the team, I have asked AHS to start with the most recently diagnosed cases and work backwards, trying to reach as many cases as possible, but prioritizing the cases which will have the greatest benefit in reducing further transmission."WATCH| Dr. Hinshaw says COVID-19 cases in Alberta are like a snowballAs a temporary measure, starting on Tuesday, if 10 days have passed since someone received a positive COVID-19 test result, AHS will no longer call that person to conduct a case investigation or contact tracing, she said. Those people will instead receive text messages notifying them to not expect calls, and to provide guidance on if or when their isolation period has ended."I am sorry that this change will leave a group of people without the opportunity to have a conversation with AHS to understand where they acquired the infection and how to better prevent onward spread," Hinshaw said. "But we must focus on looking forward and using our contact tracers where they have the greatest impact."It's a further deterioration of contact tracing in the province. Earlier this month, contact tracers stopped notifying anyone who was in close contact with an infected person, unless that contact occurred in a hospital, school or continuing care home.Some school cases to go untrackedDue to the current backlog, AHS may not be able to track and record every case linked to a school in the last two weeks, she said.In-school transmission has happened 182 times, so far, with 99 of those having only one new case as a result, Hinshaw said."I am confident that because of the diligence of our schools, parents, guardians and students, the number of cases in schools will remain stable, and we will continue to see a limited number of transmission events in schools. The best thing we can do to protect schools is to lower community transmission.Cases among health-care workers and those who work in continuing care are flagged through a separate mechanism, she said, and should not be part of the backlog.Over the past five days, Alberta has racked up 6,729 new cases, with 1,105 on Thursday, 1,155 on Friday, 1,336 on Saturday, 1,584 on Sunday and 1,549 on Monday. With 13,166 cases, Alberta now has more active COVID-19 cases than any other province or territory in Canada.Here's the regional breakdown of active cases reported on Monday. * Calgary zone: 4,845 * Edmonton zone: 5,991 * North zone: 748 * South zone: 664 * Central zone: 812 * Unknown: 106With COVID-19 cases setting new records on a daily basis, the Alberta Opposition is demanding the provincial government bring in mandatory measures to slow the spread of the virus.The five people whose deaths were reported on Monday were: * A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Covenant Care Chateau Vitaline in the Edmonton zone. * A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the North zone. * A woman in her 50s linked to the outbreak at Intercare Chinook Care Centre in the Calgary zone. * A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at the Peter Lougheed Centre in the Calgary zone. * A woman in her 70s from the South zone.'Crisis situation'"We are definitely in a crisis situation," Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Monday. "I think we've lost control of the virus."What we do need is for the government to step up and to engage with Albertans. And we haven't seen that."Notably, the number of new cases on Sunday was higher than those announced in Quebec and Ontario, which have populations two and 3.5 times larger than Alberta. As of the Sunday update, Alberta had 12,195 active cases. There were 319 people in hospital, including 60 in intensive-care beds. But Notley said there needs to be more than talk."We need to be taking pretty stringent steps at this point, now, to bend the curve. We need to be looking at targeted lockdowns and targeted restrictions in order to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads," she said.She couldn't be more specific about the types of measures, noting that would require access to data about the spread of the coronavirus.Only province without mask lawThat said, mandatory masks and limitations on places where people congregate would be obvious starting points, Notley told CBC. "For heaven's sakes, we're the only province in the country that doesn't have a mandatory mask bylaw. We have members of the UCP caucus literally saying, claiming, that masks increase the spread of the virus. I mean, they're on a completely different planet," she said.In Alberta, mask bylaws are the decision of municipal governments. Both Calgary and Edmonton have had mask bylaws in place since Aug. 1.Edmonton's bylaw was extended last week so that it will remain in effect until December 2021.Notley noted that any lockdowns would have a serious impact on businesses, especially smaller ones, and said it is important to bring in measures to ensure their economic health."Unfortunately, our premier and his caucus have been framing this decision-making process through the lens of saying you either protect the economy or you protect health," she said."Now we're in the situation where Alberta is by far and away the worst province in the country and the numbers are growing so quickly that we're going to have to make greater sacrifices in order to get the crisis under control."Cities can't go it alone, Iveson saysEdmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the city renewed its mask bylaw on Friday because councillors feel "very, very strongly" that the province faces an immediate crisis."I think this council is very, very committed to trying to support the right public health measures," he said. "We've also been consistent that we would prefer the province to take those steps, because they have the clearest mandate, the sharpest tools, the ability to do it in a regional catchment that's borderless, just like the virus. And also because they have better data than we have access to."The mayor said he has heard from business owners concerned about the safety of their employees and customers, and from epidemiologists concerned about the state of the health-care system."The numbers are extremely concerning, but they're also exactly what the epidemiologists who've been commenting have been saying for more than a week now. In terms of what the city can do, I'm loathe to act unilaterally because the virus is borderless."Iveson said he has spoken with several mayors around the region about the possibility of a co-ordinated response."It sounds like the province is going to take some further steps today or tomorrow," he said. "We'll look forward to see what those are. But we are looking at simultaneous regional emergency advisory committee meetings later this week, if necessary, should it fall on municipalities, as it did with the mask bylaw, to take decisive and hopefully co-ordinated action."Hinshaw also issued a plea for help from the public on Monday."We all need to reduce our social and cohort interactions as much as possible," she said. "If you can adapt your life to reduce the amount of time that you spend interacting with others, please do so now."This is a challenging moment but our province is strong and there is hope. We are seeing extremely promising news around vaccines and treatments, which may start being available sometime in the new year. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot give up now."
Wheatland County has given the green light for the lands of a former school site to be transferred to the Village of Hussar. Hussar School, owned by Golden Hills School Division (GHSD), closed in June 2016 after operating for 67 years. GHSD contacted Wheatland County in August 2017 to gauge the county’s interest in acquiring the Hussar school building and land. Originally, the county was developing plans to obtain the land the school was situated on. But the county eventually decided it didn’t want the land itself. Instead, the Village of Hussar wanted to acquire the land and submitted an expression of interest for the annexation to begin. In June and July 2020, the county informed the school division they could begin the land transfer to the Village of Hussar. The land was transferred to Hussar on Oct. 8. Now that the transfer has occurred, the land must be annexed officially. During its regular meeting on Nov. 10, Wheatland County council voted unanimously to direct administration to start the annexation process. Annexation is a multistep process outlined by provincial regulation. For an uncontested annexation, where all parties are in agreement, the process is simpler, however. After starting an annexation proposal, information is provided to a board, which reviews it and provides a recommendation for an Order in Council and documents to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. If approved, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta considers the annexation and signs the Order of Council. How the Village of Hussar will use the land is undetermined, said Kate Brandt, chief administrative officer. “As of right now, we don’t have any set decision,” she said, adding the village council will be discussing the topic soon. Hussar conducted a development survey to ascertain resident views on the future direction of the village, the results of which are published on its website. One of the questions asked respondents what the school site should be used for. Many of the 39 respondents said it should be kept as a park or recreational space, but 12 said the space could be used for seniors housing of some kind.Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
he recent spill in Lake Manitouwabing has been identified by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The agency stated that the spill has been determined to be fuel oil/furnace oil. Cleanup of the spill is being led by the Township of McKellar, its consultant and a local cleanup contractor according to Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks supervisor Chris Mahon. “The material leaking has been identified as furnace oil,” wrote Mahon in an email to this newspaper. “The oil was leaking from a nearby home.” On Nov. 13, the township notified residents that a substance was discovered coming out of a culvert near Patterson Lane and Lakeshore Drive. The leak was contained promptly by Adams Bros. Construction, according to the township. As for any long-lasting effects the spill could have on Lake Manitouwabing, Mahon said the ministry did not anticipate any impact. “A small sheen on the lake has dissipated,” he said. “A local environmental cleanup company deployed absorbent booms and absorbent material to contain, recover the (oil).” Asked about the risk of any further incidents, Mahon replied that any tank has the potential to leak if not properly maintained. “We like to remind residents that they should inspect their home heating fuel tanks on a regular basis to prevent leaks,” he said. The Township of McKellar issued a release on Nov. 19 saying that the spill continued to be contained and that there didn’t appear to be any major concerns about water usage in Lake Manitouwabing. “To be cautious, those along Lakeshore to the government dock are advised not to use lake water until the booms are removed,” the release states, adding that additional booms have been installed and are containing the spill to that area. According to McKellar Mayor Peter Hopkins, there hasn’t been an incident like this in Lake Manitouwabing in his 10 years as head of council. “We had a thing at the Ridge that looked like a spill, but it turned out to be red mud,” he said. “So, not to my knowledge.” The leak from the tank has been stopped, but the cleanup of the culvert is still in progress. “There’s no threat to public health,” Hopkins said. Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
Atlantic Canada's bubble allowed free travel between the four provinces, thanks to initially low COVID-19 cases in the region. But as concerns rise over infections now slowly rising in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward are pulling out of that bubble - for now. Mike Armstrong reports.
GREY-BRUCE – It took from March to May for the number of COVID-19 cases to reach 100. The area didn’t see the 200th case until Nov. 12. Since then, there have been 24 cases of COVID-19 reported throughout Grey-Bruce, with the most recent being three in Southgate. The health unit is working with the Bluewater District School Board to address a case in Northern Bruce Peninsula involving a school. The health unit is handling contact tracing and will get in touch with anyone deemed to be at risk. No school bus routes are affected. As of press time, the total number of cases in Grey-Bruce stood at 224, with 33 active cases. No one is currently hospitalized, and there are no outbreaks in facilities (long-term care homes, schools or daycares). Currently, Grey-Bruce remains Green – Prevent. In order to remain there, the local health unit states on its website, “We must stay vigilant with COVID-19 precautions. We have been seeing a deeply concerning trend of a significant increase in the number of cases locally, and in the number of close contacts of these cases. “These findings are indicative of fatigue related to following public health measures. It is important that we refocus our energy on the basic measures that can keep us safe – the same ones that got us through the spring first wave, including the three Ws of washing hands frequently, watching distance (ideally six feet) and wear face coverings correctly (over both nose and mouth).” The increase in numbers locally led to discussion on what to do about the community recovery centre located in Kincardine. The other community recovery centre in Hanover has been dismantled, with the components stored in case there’s a need. The council there decided it was important to get the ice surface back in use. Neither recovery centre was used prior to the dismantling of the one in Hanover. In light of rising numbers, Kincardine council has agreed to leave the recovery centre at the Davidson Centre in place for now. It’s in a gym, not on an ice surface (like Hanover’s), and public health has given permission for the indoor walking track above the gym to be used. There was some concern expressed at a recent council meeting in Kincardine that if the centre is dismantled, the components will not remain in the area but will be appropriated for use in an area where numbers are much higher. Neighbouring health units are reporting spikes in the numbers of cases, and deaths, including at long-term care homes.Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times
Rob Newman has some additional responsibilities in this, his second, year of serving on the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC) executive board. Newman originally thought he would continue to serve as one of the board of directors for the ASC, the national governing body for Indigenous sport in Canada. But shortly after the ASC’s annual general meeting in September, Lynn Lavallee, who held the presidency position for one year, resigned from her post. Carey Calder, who had been the ASC’s CEO for the past year, also resigned mere days after the association’s annual meeting. “We had a challenging AGM, so that might have had (something) to do with it,” Newman said of the two departures. The most immediate need for the ASC was to select a new president. And that was accomplished at a meeting in October when Newman was asked to fill the role, at least until the next AGM in September 2021. An ASC bylaw stipulated the role of president had to be filled by an individual already on the executive. “I’ve only been on their board for one year,” Newman said. “Hopefully, I established some sort of confidence that they would take this step.” For the past eight-and-a-half years, Newman has served as the CEO of Sport BC, the non-profit federation that represents more than 60 sports organizations throughout British Columbia. “Hopefully, I can bring some of my business acumen to the table,” he said of his new role with the ASC. With Newman’s ascension to the ASC presidency, there are now two Métis people playing key roles in prestigious Indigenous sports organizations. Last month Shannon Dunfield, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, was named as president of the North American Indigenous Games Council. “I think it shows there’s opportunities for Métis citizens to hold responsible titles in the Indigenous sports world,” Newman said. Newman, who is a citizen of the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan, lives in Saskatoon. He is currently working remotely on his Sport BC job. But before the pandemic he was commuting from his home to his job in Vancouver, usually flying back and forth weekly. A new CEO for the ASC will not be immediately hired. “We’re going to bring in an interim leader to get us through the next few months,” Newman said. This individual could be joining the organization as early as this week. Newman said the association will not be naming a new CEO before next April, when the ASC’s new fiscal year begins. Though he’s only held the presidency role for about a month now, Newman said he will in all likelihood run for the position at the 2021 ASC election. “I would hope I would have the support to continue,” he said. Like his Sport BC job, for the time being, Newman’s work with the ASC will also be done remotely. “The main focus will be getting our organizational house in order,” he said. Newman realizes there is plenty of work that needs to be done. That’s because at times there has not been much cohesion between the national organization and its affiliated provincial and territorial Indigenous sports bodies. “I would hope people have the desire to work together,” Newman said. “Obviously, we’re stronger when we work together.” Newman is hoping to start guiding the ASC in a new direction. “We need to work on a national strategy for Indigenous sport in Canada,” he said. “We’ll be tendering for a consultant to help us through that process.” The pandemic though has created some tough situations and not just for the ASC. “It’s challenging times for any sports organization because of the pandemic because you can’t host any events,” Newman said. Earlier this year one of the ASC’s marquee events, the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC), which had been scheduled for Regina in the spring, was cancelled. The 2021 NAHC tournament has also been cancelled. Newman is now hoping the annual tourney will take place again, starting in 2022. Newman said there is a chance national Indigenous championships could be added in other sports, including perhaps basketball and volleyball. “There has been talk at the board table to build up our programs,” he said. “There’s so many opportunities to do that.” Windspeaker.comBy Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
NORTH HURON – The Howson Dam spillway will be tested for stability to provide information to North Huron council that will ensure the structure’s safety, before any more plans are put in place regarding the dam. A report was submitted to council on Nov. 16 by Jamie McCarthy, director of public works, that included a proposal from Chant Limited to test the spillway, “a passage for surplus water from a dam or reservoir,” according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. This testing is to confirm the suitability of the existing concrete for rehabilitation and provide information regarding the dam’s safety if it were to be left in place. After decades of discussion, studies, and proposals, councillors recognize the need to move forward with some form of decision. Even though the money to do yet another study seems redundant, they passed the motion to accept the proposal. In a recorded vote, which passed 5–2, council authorized the first of two phases in the proposal at a total of $46,860 (exclusive of taxes). It will revisit phase two at a later date, once they have some answers from Chant Limited. According to the report, Chant Limited was the only company that submitted a bid for the Howson Dam Request for Proposal (RFP). Chant Limited’s submission was complete and provided costing for Phase One and Two. Phase One is the core sampling, testing, and reporting to North Huron council on the findings. Phase Two is the development of detailed estimates for all costs associated with removing the bridge and rehabilitation of the Howson Dam spillways. Their bid is as follows: A. Phase One – Concrete Spillway Testing - $46,860 B. Phase Two – Project Estimate (AACE Class 3) - $47,835 This engineering will be funded from the existing Howson Bridge Reserve Fund, which has a balance of $93,759. If through Phase One, core sampling and testing provide the outcome that triggers Phase Two, there will be a shortfall of $936. The outcome of Phase One will provide the information necessary for council to begin fundraising to rehabilitate the dam or to assure that the dam can stay in place as it is, safely.Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times
Wheatland County’s finances have been impacted in different ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the regular county council meeting on Nov. 10, the county’s third quarter unaudited financial statements were presented by Matthew Kurceba, manager of financial services. Figures were presented as of Sept. 30 and compared to values one year prior (Sept. 30, 2019). Regarding the county’s financial assets, the county’s cash position is on par with last year, measured one month after the county’s 2020 tax deadline of Aug. 31. However, taxes and grants in place of taxes receivable (outstanding municipal taxes) is higher as of September 2020 (about $9.7 million) compared to that of last year (about $7.2 million). This increase is mainly due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on county ratepayers, said Kurceba. Accounts payable has increased, from about $11.9 million to about $13 million, representing the amount of remaining education requisition payments and gravel pit repayments. The amount increased from last year due to education requisition payments being higher, due to taxes for non-residential properties from June and September 2020 being deferred until December 2020. Total operating expenses are lower than last year by $4 million. This decrease is due to measures taken by the county to decrease expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kurceba. A major factor in this was staff reductions, resulting in a reduced total salary figure and less overtime generated. But there were some other reasons why the pandemic reduced county expenses, explained CAO Brian Henderson. Training costs were lower, with many courses either not offered or deferred, he said. Additionally, fuel costs were lower, due to lower-than-expected diesel and gasoline prices.Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
Here’s a collection of 2020 holiday albums reviewed by The Associated Press. ____________ Carrie Underwood, “My Gift” (Capitol Nashville) Carrie Underwood takes fans to church with her first holiday album “The Gift,” a set of hymns and traditional Christmas classics that invoke the spiritual and religious themes of the season. Underwood’s interpretations of songs like “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” are simply produced with lush strings, allowing her to showcase her vibrato as she soars to the top of her range. You could imagine yourself in a pew, head bowed as you listened to her sing “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and all would be missing is a children’s choir and the smell of incense. But while Underwood could probably sing the Bible and sound great, the album’s more interesting tracks are original songs, including “Let There Be Peace,” a song she co-wrote where she’s backed by a choir on a rousing R&B gospel track. On one of the album’s 11 tracks, Underwood is joined on “Little Drummer Boy” by her 5-year-old son Isaiah, whose singing about “pah-wump-pah-pah-pump” and “dwums” is adorably cute, but it borders on saccharine. But the best song is her duet with John Legend on an original called “Hallelujah,” which Legend co-wrote. These two Grammy winners push each other to new and impressive heights as they raise their voices to the heavens. More of that please. — Kristin M. Hall ____________ Dolly Parton, “A Holly, Jolly Christmas” (Butterfly Records) Leave it to Dolly Parton to know just how to brighten up pandemic blues with a full dose of cheery holiday nostalgia. Her first Christmas album in 30 years sounds like it could have been made decades ago — even if she recorded it masked, gloved and appropriately socially distanced this past summer. Despite touches of pop culture — Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus are among her duet partners — the feeling is more Sinatra and Nat King Cole. The first track, “Holly Jolly Christmas,” sets the tone with a “ding, dong, ding” choral opening, honky-tonk undertones and Dolly’s folksy banter. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” delivers a flirty duet with Fallon as the two playfully trade gushy confessions and Parton teases at the end: “Oh, you sexy boy.” Several tunes are Parton originals, including “Christmas on the Square,” also the title of her new Netflix holiday musical. It’s a delightfully hokey offering, a vision of friends and families gathering for singing, dancing, snowball fights and other nostalgic fare. That may all be off the table this holiday season, but Parton at least gives us a welcome taste. — Lindsey Tanner ____________ Meghan Trainor, “A Very Trainor Christmas” (Epic) Put down that eggnog and go to Spotify right now: The winner of the best Christmas album of 2020 is clearly Meghan Trainor. The 18-track “A Very Trainor Christmas” is a marvel, a multi-textured triumph led by Trainor’s warm, retro and soulful voice — perfect for a holiday album. It boasts six excellent originals alongside smart covers of such songs as “Last Christmas” by Wham! and a ukulele-led “Winter Wonderland.” Trainor has somehow infused new energy and verve to old chestnuts. Her ‘60s-meets-2020 “Sleigh Ride” is like hearing a new song and her “Silent Night” is churchlike, respectfully glorious. Trainor has her family join her for some songs — cousins and her dad — and Earth, Wind & Fire stop by to help on an old-school, propulsive funky “Holidays.” (Seth MacFarlane is the album’s only odd note, taking himself far too seriously in a version of “White Christmas”). Of the clutch of new songs, there’s the gloriously funky-EDM “I Believe in Santa,” the trop-pop “Naughty List,” the sad violin ballad “Christmas Got Me Blue” and the gleeful “Christmas Party.” America, rejoice: We just got a great early Christmas present. — Mark Kennedy ____________ Leslie Odom, Jr., “The Christmas Album” (S-Curve/BMG) What is one thing you can count on when a Broadway star creates a holiday album? The vocals will not disappoint. Tony and Grammy winner Leslie Odom, Jr. has delivered a vibrant melting pot of holiday classics and original songs with “The Christmas Album.” Odom’s voice lends itself well to multi-genre music, making him an ideal candidate to bring forth some holiday cheer. From his jazzy rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” to the pop-forward “Last Christmas,” his album is — simply put — easy listening. Among the traditional yuletide tunes, Odom’s personally penned songs hold their own. “Snow” is a cold weather earworm, while “Winter Song” finds Odom’s smooth falsetto complimented by Cynthia Erivo’s sultry pipes. While most of his holiday covers are close in sound to their predecessors, the “Hamilton" star brings a unique South African influence to “Little Drummer Boy” with the help of the Mzansi Youth Choir and strips down the New Year’s Eve classic “Auld Lang Syne” to create tenderness. Not exclusively limited to Christmas songs, Odom delivers a brilliant, intimate performance of “Ma’oz Tzur,” accompanied by his wife, Nicolette Robinson, and a piano. “The Christmas Album” celebrates diversity and comfort in a year when both are sorely needed. — Ragan Clark ____________ Jamie Cullum, “The Pianoman at Christmas” (Blue Note) The title is misleading, because Jamie Cullum is more of a big band crooner than piano player on this set of 10 tunes he wrote in lockdown this spring. The arrangements are pandemic-defying, with 57 musicians by Cullum’s count, and they make “The Pianoman at Christmas” swing and soar. Horns and string orchestra trade off and blend beautifully, providing a broad canvas for Cullum to explore a range of holiday moods. Included are two tunes each about Santa, Christmas lights and the holiday blues. There’s also a cuddle song, and the topical, timely opener “It’s Christmas,” where a merry Cullum sings, “Shove your petty differences right up the chimney, please.” All of the songs are secular. “Don’t care about a saviour,” Cullum sings on the title cut. “Just want to hold onto you.” A few lyrics could have benefited from more time in the workshop. “The Jolly Fat Man” is jazzy fun, but Cullum tries unsuccessfully to rhyme hat with dispatch and relax with back. Nonetheless, he captures the spirit of the season. More than once Cullum belts a long note, and it’s easy to visualize him, head back and arms outstretched, happy to embrace the end of this awful year. — Steven Wine ____________ Tori Kelly, “A Tori Kelly Christmas" (Capitol/Schoolboy) Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds is easily one of the greatest music producers and songwriters of all time. So him in the producer’s chair plus Grammy-winning vocalist Tori Kelly in the vocal booth equals STUNNING, SENSATIONAL, EXTRAORDINARY and PHENOMENAL. Kelly is a top notch performer throughout “A Tori Kelly Christmas,” which features traditional classics like “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World,” where her vocals will instantly transport you to a church that people not only attend to praise and worship, but to also hear beautiful and exquisite music. Even the original tracks are cute and pleasant, including “Gift That Keeps on Giving” and “25th,” where Kelly sings sweet lyrics like “no more silent nights/I’ll be by your side” and “got nothing on my list/don’t you know my only wish is to hold you on the 25th?” She closes the album with an excellent and clean cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and it is so good we’re sure Cohen is smiling from above with his approval. — Mesfin Fekadu ____________ Goo Goo Dolls, “It’s Christmas All Over” (Warner) It’s hard to write a Christmas song and it’s doubly hard writing about a bad kid on Christmas, but Goo Goo Dolls have done it. The rockabilly “You Ain’t Getting Nothin’” is an unexpected and super step on the band’s solid first holiday record, “It’s Christmas All Over.” “You picked Santa’s pocket/And you stole his reindeer/You’re only 8 years old/I caught you drinking beer,” frontman John Rzeznik sings about someone who should be getting coal in their stocking. It’s one of two originals — and one reworking — on a 10-track album filled with jazzy covers of iconic holiday songs such as “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The title comes from a Tom Petty tune, which is respectfully covered. The other original is “This Is Christmas,” which has that beautiful melancholy the Goo Goo Dolls are known for. It earns its right to be a holiday classic of its own. The reworked song is “Better Days,” a wistful ode to peace from the band's 2006 album “Let Love In.” Here, it has been rebuilt with a child’s voice (the daughter of Jimmy McGorman, the band’s longtime collaborator). It’s powerfully affecting — revealing strong songwriting topped by a delicate voice. — Mark Kennedy ____________ Keedron Bryant, “The Best Time of Year" (Warner) Passionate is Keedron Bryant’s forte. At just 12 years old, he turned heads with his fiery plea “I Just Wanna Live,” a song about being a young Black man in America. Written by his mother Johnnetta Bryant after she watched the painful death of George Floyd, the song helped Bryant inspire and connect with people around the world. It even landed him a record deal. He’s 13 now and has released a Christmas EP that features a passionate and mature vocal performance from the budding superstar. Bryant tackles Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and adds his own wonderful spin to the song. And he and his sister, Aiyanna Bryant, are epic on their soulful version of Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight’s holiday classic, “Let It Snow.” The four-song EP closes with the original track “This Year,” an upbeat adventure promising that 2021 will be better than 2020 — a message we all need to hear, especially from the youth. After all — the children are our future. — Mesfin Fekadu ____________ Davy Jones, “It’s Christmas Time Once More” (Not Too Late Records) Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without reindeers, turtle doves, a partridge — and a Monkee. “It’s Christmas Time Once More,” a reimagined collection of traditional holiday songs from The Monkees’ late frontman Davy Jones, is a welcome and warm addition to the season. His gentle and expressive voice often got overshadowed by the goofy goings-on in his made-for-TV rock band. Here it is centre stage. Jones tackles songs like “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night” with English-accented aplomb. For a jazzy “White Christmas,” his voice is joined by his youngest daughter, singer-songwriter Annabel Jones, in a pretty duet that hits all the right notes. The songs have some miles on them. They were originally released in 1991 on cassette then on CD in 1997 and released again in 2005 as “Christmas Jones.” Producer Chip Douglas has given them new arrangements and added background vocals from former Monkees bandmate Micky Dolenz and his sister, Coco Dolenz. Douglas leans into rockabilly with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and banjo with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” One of the two bonus tracks is an original recording of Jones singing “White Christmas” with Douglas on guitar, recorded in 1967 in Douglas’ home in L.A.’s famed Laurel Canyon. It is wistful and blissed out. — Mark Kennedy Associated Press, The Associated Press