Watch how these Shar Pei puppies adorably react to a lemon slice. Too cute!
Watch how these Shar Pei puppies adorably react to a lemon slice. Too cute!
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
Businesses in Strathmore could start paying different licensing fees, depending on their size or other characteristics. A motion passed during the on Feb. 17 town council meeting directs town administration to explore whether Strathmore could adopt an approach used in other municipalities, where different license fees are charged depending on business size. Under the town’s current business license bylaw, passed in 2010, general business licenses cost $100 for residential businesses and $200 for non-residential businesses. Under this model, a large “big box” retailer pays the same fee as a small downtown storefront. Strathmore town Councillor Jason Montgomery said Canmore uses a tiered structure, where different businesses pay different amounts, depending on certain variables. In Canmore, license fees vary by square footage (for retail, commercial, wholesale and industrial businesses), by number of rooms (for hotels) and by seating (for restaurants), among other business-specific classes. Chestermere also employs a tiered approach for home-based businesses. It differentiates home businesses into two classes based on whether clients or customers visit, with a major home business (where customers visit) is charged $100 annually for a business license, compared to $50 for a minor home business (where customers do not visit). The intent of the possible change would not be to take in more revenue from business license fees overall, but rather to ease fees on smaller businesses that use less resources than larger ones, said Montgomery. Adopting the change would make the system fairer among different sized businesses in the community, said Mayor Pat Fule. Councillor Denise Peterson also spoke in support of the motion. “I think our community has grown to the point that it’s time for a review of how we operate,” she said. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
WASHINGTON — The number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases reported at the military service academies dropped in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 school year, the Pentagon said Thursday. The report, which is required by law annually, comes as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that reducing sexual assault is one of his top priorities. He was recently briefed on the military service's programs to counter the problem. “We have been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right,” Austin said last week at his first Pentagon news conference. He promised stronger efforts. “You can look for us to take additional steps in looking in detail at ourselves and what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what measures we need to take going forward to ensure that we provide for a safe and secure and productive environment for our teammates,” he said. “Any other approach is, in my view, irresponsible.” Thursday's Pentagon report said the number of reported sexual assault cases at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy fell to 129 from 149 in the previous academic year. Sexual harassment reports dropped to 12 from 17. The report said the reason for the declines is unclear, but it noted that in-person classes at the military academies were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials altered most academy activities, including holding graduations virtually and postponing commissioning ceremonies. Thus, it said, the academies offered only about three-quarters of normal levels of interaction. Separately, an in-person survey of military academy students that is normally conducted to give the Pentagon a better understanding of the sexual assault problem and its prevalence was cancelled because of the pandemic. Robert Burns, The Associated Press
Canada's Auditor General Karen Hogan on Thursday delivered her 2021 report, including five performance audit reports to the House of Commons. Hogan's report found that Canada's ship building strategy was slow to deliver combat and non-combat ships.
Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers. The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country's parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc's Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms. The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail.
TORONTO — The head of the Business Council of Canada is worried about the country's inability to produce vaccines and certain medical supplies, but hopes the pandemic will pressure governments to rectify the situation. "Canadians saw back in the crisis, when it began last year, that we got caught relying on the integrity of supply chains that were vulnerable to a pandemic," said Goldy Hyder, the council's president and chief executive, in an online discussion hosted by MedicAlert Canada on Thursday. "Who knew you could only get masks or something from one country? How did that happen? … That innovation needs to be brought back to Canada to some extent." Hyder's remarks, made in conversation with University Health Netwok infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch and MedicAlert chief executive Leslie McGill, come as Canada nears the anniversary of the first closures of businesses and public spaces because of COVID-19. The country has spent the last year trying to quell the virus, but also grappling with a lack of vaccines, medical supplies and pharmaceutical manufacturers in Canada. With most manufacturing facilities for these products located overseas, it has impacted Canada's ability to quickly access personal protective equipment, edge out other countries vying for vaccines and prepare itself to deal with future pandemics. Hyder is proud of how companies including Canada Goose shifted from making luxury winter coats to scrubs and patient gowns and aviation manufacturer CAE Inc. rushed to start producing ventilators, but said Canada needs to look at pain points the pandemic highlighted too. "How did we get to the point where Canada can't manufacture vaccines?" he said. "Canada had that capacity and we lost it and so clearly there has to be analysis of what are the actions that policy-makers took that drove away the investment that would create the manufacturing capabilities for vaccines." Canada is buying at least 238 million doses of seven different vaccines, but only one is from a Canadian company — Medicago — and none will initially be produced in Canada. So far the country has been purchasing and receiving vaccines made in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech. Earlier this week, Entos Pharmaceuticals in Alberta said a lack of federal funding early in the pandemic kept homegrown COVID-19 vaccines from moving as quickly as international versions. Dr. Gary Kobinger, a Laval University microbiologist behind Ebola and Zika vaccines, added his non-profit had a COVID-19 vaccine with promising early results last February, but it stalled because they lacked funding. Hyder has grown used to seeing Canada lack this kind of capital and "muddle through things." The pandemic has been no different, he said. Canadians have taken pride in having far fewer COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations than the U.S., but Hyder believes that shouldn't be the measure of success. "We have to aspire to do better and policy is a very big part of that," he said. "Policies effect the next time, so I am really hoping we don't let ourselves off the hook by saying thank God we did better than the Americans … We need to build back better. — With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX: GOOS, TSX:CAE.TO) Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Federal auditor general Karen Hogan delivered a stark warning Thursday that government mismanagement is threatening to leave the navy and coast guard without the ships they need to defend Canada and protect its waterways. The warning is in a new report that offers a scathing assessment of the state of Ottawa’s multibillion-dollar national shipbuilding strategy nearly 10 years after it was launched. Hogan and her team found delays across the board in the construction and delivery of new ships for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Those delays are threatening to create gaps as the navy and coast guard vessels those ships are supposed to replace are near retirement, or in some cases have already reached that stage. Those include the navy’s three destroyers and two support ships, while the coast guard has had to do without some research vessels and icebreakers because its existing ships are docked for repairs. Hogan's report says the government has mitigated some of the short-term effects but Canada is already feeling the pinch as ships retire or are forced into extended maintenance. “The delivery of many ships was significantly delayed, and further delays could result in several vessels being retired before new vessels are operational,” the report says. “National Defence and the Canadian Coast Guard have implemented measures to maintain their operational capabilities until new ships are delivered, but interim capabilities are limited and cannot be extended indefinitely.” The report added that it had not assessed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but noted that shipyards have either closed or reduced their workforces due restrictions, which will further threaten schedules. The auditor general’s report came one day after the parliamentary budget office estimated that building 15 new warships — just one part of the strategy — will cost $77.3 billion, about $17 billion than the government’s stated price. Both reports are likely to raise fresh questions about the shipbuilding plan, which was launched in earnest in October 2011 when Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax and Seaspan Marine in Vancouver were selected to build dozens of navy and coast guard vessels. The government is now working to add a third shipyard to the program, Chantier Davie in Quebec City, to build a series of icebreakers. “The delays that we saw in this audit should really be seen as a shared responsibility,” Hogan said. “There were delays in designing and determining capabilities that were needed. Then there were delays in production.” Procurement Minister Anita Anand defended the strategy, saying shipyards have so far delivered four ships and created thousands of jobs. She also insisted that the government was on track after facing some early challenges that “were not yet informed by actual build experience at the shipyards, and expertise in Canada was still developing.” “I am of the view that the shipbuilding strategy has been, by and large, successful,” Anand said. “I don't think it is a mistake when you see the contribution to the Canadian economy ... and the actual vessels that have been produced.” But Conservative defence critic James Bezan held up the report as evidence of the Liberal government's mismanagement. Hogan acknowledged the complexity of building new ships but said that was “compounded” by the shipbuilding plan’s other objectives: creating a Canadian shipbuilding industry and boosting the economy. To that end, nearly a decade after the strategy was launched, the auditor said the government did not know if the two shipyards in Halifax and Vancouver had even reached a state where they “met international ship-construction standards to enable efficient ship production.” Officials also had not assessed whether the shipyards — or even the government departments involved — had enough staff to implement the shipbuilding plan and deliver the new ships on schedule. “We noted instances where such staff shortages caused shipbuilding delays,” the auditor’s report says, adding the government only drew up a draft human-resources plan for the shipbuilding strategy in December 2019. Hogan’s report also catalogues some of the changes to the schedule and cost of the various individual projects in the plan, which is supposed to deliver dozens of new vessels over 30 years. That included several amendments to the contract with Seaspan Marine for three fisheries-science vessels for the coast guard, which saw the delivery schedule pushed back by two to three years. The report revealed the Vancouver shipyard “sustained significant financial losses” during the construction of those vessels, the last of which was delivered in October, due to a significant underestimation in the time and effort needed to build them. “This not only threatened the strategy’s overall objective of creating a sustainable marine industry,” the auditor general’s report says, “but also put the renewal of the federal fleet in peril.” Seaspan spokeswoman Amy McLeod suggested Thursday that the Vancouver shipyard had overcome those problems. “In very close collaboration with our government partners, Seaspan Shipyards and its (national shipbuilding strategy) ecosystem are firing on all cylinders and delivering ships, jobs and economic benefits across Canada.” Irving Shipbuilding did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hogan also raised concerns about building a polar icebreaker to replace the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. The new ship was pulled from Seaspan’s order book in 2019 and the government has not decided where it will be built. The auditor general did suggest departments have started to learn from some of their earlier mistakes and expressed a cautious hope those lessons would ease some of the problems. “But there was little room for further delay,” Hogan’s report says. “Delaying could result in a loss of capability to deliver essential government programs.” As an example, she noted that the last of the navy’s existing Halifax-class frigates is due to retire in 2047 — only one year before the last of 15 new warships is scheduled to arrive. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
1. “A Court of Silver Flames” by Sarah J. Maas (Bloomsbury) 2. “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press) 3. “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates (Knopf) 4. “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Griffin) 5. “Relentless” by Mark Greaney (Berkley) 6. “Just As I Am: A Memoir” by Cicely Tyson (HarperCollins) 7. “Bridgerton: The Duke and I” by Julia Quinn (Avon) 8. “Missing and Endangered” by J.A. Jance (William Morrow) 9. “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee (One World) 10. “Walk in My Combat Boots” by James Patterson, Matt Eversmann with Christ Mooney (Little, Brown) 11. “I Love You to the Moon and Back” by Amelia Hepworth (Tiger Tales) 12. “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy (HarperOne) 13. “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig (Viking) 14. “Keep Sharp” by Sanjay Gupta (Simon & Schuster) 15. “The Sanatorium” by Sarah Pearse (Pamela Dorman Books) 16. “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (Ember) 17. “Winning the War in Your Mind” by Craig Groeschel (Zondervan) 18. “Faithless in Death” by J.D. Robb (St. Martin’s Press) 19. “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett (Riverhead) 20. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear (Avery) 21. “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amber-Allen) 22. “Bridgerton: The Viscount Who Loved Me” by Julia Quinn (Avon) 23. “The Russian” by James Patterson and James O. Born (Little, Brown) 24. “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab (Tor) 25. “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama (Crown) The Associated Press
Wheatland County council is considering sending a letter to provincial representatives and municipalities requesting provincewide COVID-19 public health restrictions be lifted. During its regular meeting on Feb. 6, Wheatland council voted 5-2 in favour of a motion directing administration to draft a letter protesting COVID-19 public health restrictions, with Reeve Amber Link and Councillor Glenn Koester voting in opposition. The motion was proposed by Councillor Tom Ikert. “I am becoming very distressed about the amount of not only economic damage, but the amount of mental health damage that’s being done with this shutdown,” he said, during the meeting. “We’ve got to get people out, (and) we’ve got to quit treating this like it’s the end of the world.” Ikert said once the letter is drafted, it should be sent to Premier Jason Kenney and local MLAs, with council’s approval. Councillor Jason Wilson said in addition to these provincial officials, the letter should be sent to all municipalities in Alberta. “It’s not just a provincial issue,” he said. “We’re facing federal restrictions as well that are very hindering – hindering our industry that crosses borders (and) deals with airlines.” Provincewide shutdowns have pitted rural and urban areas against each other, said Councillor Scott Klassen. “(COVID-19) does hit the large centres,” he said. “Our urban partners are afraid, and they have the numbers to support that, but we don’t (in) rural Alberta.” Councillor Donna Biggar said she supports a more regional approach to restrictions. “That way, maybe the government can actually concentrate on those areas (and) why those numbers are going up (there),” she said. Councillor Ben Armstrong said he and many others in the community have been not following restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. Wilson said he too has at times engaged in social gatherings, against the restrictions. “A person’s greatest strength against anything is their refusal to follow the rules – that shows the most discontent,” he said. But this view was not unanimous among council. “I don’t like that nobody can come to my house,” said Councillor Glenn Koester. “But we follow the rules here, and my kids follow the rules.” Wilson said more seniors are experiencing reduced quality of life because of restrictions than are being affected by the virus directly. “My question to policymakers is, when are you going to start asking seniors what they want? You can assume they want to sit in a room with food being passed through a little hole, like in a jail, or they can risk living, to have a life, to see their family, and be part of society,” he said. “I think that quality of life far outweighs any risk of this disease.” But Koester said the threat of COVID-19 to seniors’ health is undeniable, with resultant deaths in such places as Wheatland Lodge and AgeCare Sagewood. Unlike the province, which has physicians, mathematicians and other professionals on staff, Wheatland County only has their feelings on the matter, he said. “What’s our expertise?” Koester asked, adding that easing restrictions now could result in a larger cost later, especially with the uncertainty of newly identified variants of the virus in the province. “I don’t like (restrictions), but opening and closing back and forth is not the answer either.” On March 2, council will debate the drafted letter and vote on whether it be sent. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
The COVID-19 vaccine is now being made available to Alberta seniors aged 75 and over. All Alberta residents born in 1946 or earlier may now book appointments to be vaccinated through Alberta Health Services (AHS) using online and telephone booking systems. AHS started offering the vaccine directly to all residents in retirement centres, lodges, supportive living and other congregate living facilities with residents aged 75 or older, as of Feb. 19. Then on Feb. 24, the province opened appointments to all residents aged 75 or older, regardless of where they live. Appointment availability is based on vaccine supply. Appointments can be booked online (albertahealthservices.ca) or by calling 811. Seniors isolated seniors and those with mobility challenges can call 21 for assistance finding a ride to and form their vaccination appointment. These vaccinations are being provided as part of Phase 1 of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Other people eligible to receive the vaccine under this phase include select healthcare workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, and First Nations, Inuit, Métis and persons 65 years of age and over living in a First Nations community or Metis Settlement. Phase 2 of the province’s vaccination program is scheduled from April to September 2021, but timelines are subject to change depending on vaccine supply, according to the government. This phase is broken down into four groups (A to D), of about 1.8 million Albertans, with each group being eligible once the vaccination of the previous group is complete. Group A consists of Albertans aged 65 to 74, First Nations, Inuit and Metis people aged 50 to 64, and staff of licensed supportive living not included in Phase 1. Group B includes Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions. Group C is composed of residents and staff of congregate living settings (e.g., prisons, homeless shelters, group homes), and caregivers who are most at risk of severe outcomes. Group D includes Albertans aged 50 to 64 and First Nations Inuit and Métis people aged 35 to 49. Phase 3, scheduled for fall 2021, will see the anticipated roll-out of the vaccine to the rest of the public. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
CHARLOTTETOWN — The spring session of the Prince Edward Island legislature has opened with a throne speech acknowledging the challenges of the past year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry thanked the chief medical officer of health and other front-line workers for their efforts keeping Islanders healthy and safe. "We owe a debt of gratitude to those who put themselves in danger to accommodate our needs," Perry said Thursday. "Because of them, and because of the faithful adherence to public health protocols on the part of all Islanders, we are in an enviable position to make a speedy recovery from this pandemic," she said. Perry said she walks in the footsteps of the many governors and lieutenant-governors during the 170 years of government on Prince Edward Island, but joked she's probably the first to wear a mask into the legislative chamber. The speech outlined a number of new health initiatives planned by the Progressive Conservative government, including the creation of three new primary care homes. "Islanders assigned to primary care homes will have quicker access to the appropriate health professional," Perry said. "The new model will employ more virtual care options in circumstances where a physical visit may be unnecessary." She said the government is also creating a five-year, $10-million fund for mental health and addictions. "And to ensure that attention to our mental health has parity with our physical health, my government will establish the P.E.I. Centre for Mental Well-being," she said. She said the centre will provide guidance to ensure mental health services are responsive to the needs of the community. Perry says the government will table a seniors health strategy during this legislative session, which will focus on preventing hospital admissions and increasing at-home care. She said the government will also increase efforts to recruit and retain more health professionals. A working group will collaborate to expand the nursing programs at UPEI and Holland College, and the government will establish a $5-million fund to recruit nurses and nurse practitioners over the next five years. The government also announced a $2.5-million Retention, Mentorship and Training Fund for registered nurses and nurse practitioners currently working on Prince Edward Island. Perry said the government will announce programs to support the development and use of clean-technology solutions to cut carbon emissions. The government will also increase access to childcare by adding 300 additional childcare spaces this year, she said. The speech acknowledged the pressures felt by the tourism sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Perry said 2021 will be a stabilizing year for the tourism industry. "We will focus on a local campaign, working to reopen the Atlantic Bubble, and as our vaccine programs result in immunity over time, opening to travellers from the rest of Canada," she said. Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said considering the importance of tourism to the provincial economy, he expected more help for the sector. "I didn't hear any funding in there to ensure tourism operators are going to be there when tourism comes back, hopefully in 2022," he said in an interview. Bevan-Baker said he was pleased to see some emphasis on developing the clean-tech sector but overall was disappointed with the throne speech. "It's a pretty timid vision for what Prince Edward Island should be," he said. Premier Dennis King says the spring session will include the 2021-22 operating budget and that the government plans to introduce about 20 pieces of legislation. The governing Progressive Conservatives hold 14 seats in the legislature, while the Greens have eight and the Liberals five. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. - By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton. The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The federal government has been granted one more month to expand access to medical assistance in dying. Quebec Superior Court Justice Martin Sheehan has agreed to give the government a fourth extension — until March 26 — to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 court ruling. The decision comes just one day before the previous deadline was to expire. The 2019 ruling struck down a provision in the law that allows assisted dying only for those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable." The government has introduced Bill C-7 to expand assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the end of their lives. It is currently stalled in the House of Commons, where the Conservatives are refusing to facilitate debate on the government's response to amendments made by the Senate. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
A one-time payment will be provided to hundreds of thousands of Albertans working to provide critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $465 million program, a joint initiative between the provincial and federal government, will give $1,200 cash payments, called the Critical Worker Benefit, to workers across various sectors. The program includes about $118 million in provincial funds and up to $347 million in federal funds. Workers in healthcare, social services, education and the private sector that have worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 13, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021 are eligible to receive the payment. “It’s a sign of appreciation for the people whose hard work make life easier for the rest of us,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney,” during a Feb. 10 press conference announcing the funding. “These workers are the ones who have sustained and maintained Alberta through the pandemic at very considerable risk to themselves, and they will continue doing that through the months to come.” About 161,000 employees in the health-care sector will be eligible to receive the payment, including orderlies and patient service associates, respiratory therapists and technologists, nurses (RNs, RPNs, LPNs), food services, housekeeping and maintenance workers, and unit clerks. In social services professions, another 45,000 workers will also be eligible, including community disability service workers and practitioners, personal care aides, child development workers, family and youth counsellors, crisis intervention and shelter workers, home support workers, seniors lodge staff, cleaners, food preparation and maintenance workers. Up to 36,000 workers in the education sector will eligible, including teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cleaning staff, and administration support. Additionally, private sector workers making $25 per hour or less also qualify, including critical retail workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; private health provider workers, such as dental assistants, massage therapists and medical administration assistants; food manufacturing and processing workers; truck transportation workers, such as truck drivers, and delivery and courier services drivers; and warehouse and storage workers, such as shippers and receivers. Private-sector employers must apply for the funding by March 19. Public-sector employees will automatically receive the funding if they are part of the government’s payment system. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
WHITEHORSE — Yukon is beginning to look toward revising its pandemic restrictions as the number of active cases of COVID-19 returns to zero. Speaking at the weekly COVID-19 update in Whitehorse, deputy premier Ranj Pillai says Yukon is "putting resources in place" to be prepared when the time to adjust restrictions arrives. In the meantime, Pillai says the government is extending and expanding assistance to hard-hit Yukon businesses. Supports include extensions to Sept. 30 for several programs, including a plan that helps businesses break even and another that supports employers who pay workers to stay home when they're sick. A new program also allows small and medium-sized businesses to seek up to $100,000 in deferred-interest loans, with no payments due until 2023 and forgiveness of 25 per cent of the amount if certain conditions are met. Pillai and chief medical officer of health Dr. Brendan Hanley both mentioned "hiccups" as the territory launched its online reservation site for immunization appointments, but Hanley says the problems have been resolved. The availability of vaccine marks an "exciting time" for Yukon residents, he told the news conference on Thursday. "We have seen an incredible uptake in appointments," Hanley says, confirming he has a booking next week for his first dose of the vaccine. "The turnout so far shows so much promise that we are well on our way to immunizing the majority of our population." Yukon has had 72 cases of COVID-19 and one death since the pandemic began. Its website shows 10,781 people have received their first vaccination and 3,585 have been given their second shot. The government has assured all Yukon residents who want the vaccine that they are guaranteed to receive both doses required for maximum immunity. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
(St-Albert Cheese Co-Op - image credit) The St-Albert Cheese Co-op in eastern Ontario is temporarily closed as it deals with a COVID-19 outbreak. Three employees have tested positive at the factory in St. Albert, Ont., over the past week. The mobile unit of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) was sent to the cheese factory Thursday to screen all 180 staff members for COVID-19. As a result, both the store and factory will be temporarily closed for screening. "We believe we have no choice if we want to stop the spread, and especially we're concerned about the health of our workers," said general manager Éric Lafontaine. "We're shocked. We're disappointed, because you'd never want that to happen." Lafontaine said the three workers who have tested positive are only experiencing mild symptoms, "so that at least that's a good sign for now." Product still safe, says director Lafontaine assured customers that there was no transmission of the virus to any of their products, as the food production facility already has a number of health and safety measures in place. Workers sanitize their hands and surfaces and wear prersonal protective equipment, Lafontaine said, while also getting their temperature checked before starting their shifts. 'We believe we have no choice if we're going to stop the spread,' says Éric Lafontaine, general manager of the St. Albert Cheese Co-op. He said they were closing the plant out of caution, given the threat posed by more contagious variants. "It's been 11 months since the COVID started and we never had any case. It's just unfortunate that we [just got our first case and] now we have three cases in the same week," Lafontaine said. The store will reopen on Saturday, but the factory will stay closed several days after so that management has time to get test results back and evaluate the situation, Lafontaine said. "We believe with all the measures in place, the spread should not be that big and we should be [able] to continue the operation really soon," Lafontaine said. When asked about the situation at St-Albert during a briefing Thursday, EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis offered few details. "We aware of the situation and we're investigating that right now," he said, adding the EOHU would likely provide additional information Friday.
Wheatland County voted not to support the draft of a regional planning document that, if adopted, could shape development across 10 municipalities in the Calgary region into the future. The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) was established by regulation passed by the NDP-led provincial government in 2017 to promote the long-term sustainability of the region around Calgary. It is composed of 10 member municipalities, including Strathmore and (a portion of) Wheatland County. A requirement of the CMRB is the creation of a regional planning document to establish overarching planning strategies for the region, relating to such things as land use, infrastructure investment and service delivery. This document, called the CMRB Growth and Servicing Plan, is due to be submitted to the province by March 1. While a draft growth and servicing plan has been developed by an external consultant, HDR Calthorpe, a planning consulting firm, it has not yet been finalized. As such, the CMRB is requesting an extension of this deadline to June 1, but it has not yet publicly received a response from the province. HDR Calthorpe has been presenting an overview of the draft CMRB Growth and Servicing Plan to member municipalities. This plan was presented to Strathmore town council during its Feb. 10 committee of the whole meeting and to Wheatland County council during its Feb. 16 regular meeting. Following the Feb. 16 presentation, Wheatland County Reeve Amber Link raised several questions about the impacts of the proposed CMRB Growth and Servicing Plan on Wheatland County. An aspect of the draft regional growth plan could affect Wheatland County as it prohibits employment areas from rural areas, outside of hamlets and “joint planning areas” (of which there are three: between Calgary and Chestermere, Calgary and Airdrie, and Okotoks and High River). The plan thus aspires to shut down rural growth and mandate that most of the growth in the Calgary metropolitan region be directed into urban municipalities, said Link. “This entire plan is built on a basic premise that specific types of development are only appropriate in certain municipalities, and that’s really being delineated by virtue of whether a municipality is considered urban or rural – and that doesn’t capture the reality of Alberta,” said Link. “Our rural neighbours in the CMRB have demonstrated that effective, sustainable and efficient servicing can happen for industrial or commercial developments outside of urban centres.” With challenges in the oil and gas sector, Wheatland County has seen significant reductions to its linear tax assessment revenue. In response, its council has been looking to attract investment, diversify and maintain the sustainability of the municipality, said Link. But this new restriction could hinder long-term investment attraction. “This growth plan certainly constrains, if not completely sterilizes, our ability to (attract investment).” The CMRB draft growth and servicing plan honours existing area structure plans (ASP), planning documents for major developments (e.g. residential communities, industrial parks), passed by member municipalities. But if significant amendments to an ASP are required, approval from the CMRB will be required. Under the CMRB regulation, if a decision is to be made by a vote, it must be supported by at least two thirds of the representatives from member municipalities with at least two thirds of the population in the Calgary metropolitan region. As Calgary accounts for about 90 per cent of the Calgary metropolitan region’s total population, this essentially gives the City of Calgary veto power. This voting structure of the CMRB, together with the growth plan, will move decisions away from local democratic governments to a model where one municipality exercises authority over all others, said Link. “That voting structure is essentially based on the notion that authority is given due to the population of that certain municipality, and ignores the responsibility we as rural municipalities have for stewarding large masses of land and our local communities.” This dynamic could affect Wheatland County directly, which has an approved ASP for its West Highway 1 industrial park which currently requires developers to provide self-servicing for wastewater and stormwater. But as the county is considering providing servicing to the area, this would likely constitute a significant change, requiring CMRB approval, and may not be seen as aligned with the new plan. “I don’t think anybody could have anticipated that our local autonomy would be stripped, and another municipality would be making the decisions on those amendments,” said Link. Link also questioned whether public engagement for the growth and servicing plan was sufficient. “The public was only asked to comment on high-level concepts,” she said. “They were never given the opportunity to comment on policy that would give them an understanding of how the plan would impact them.” There was little to no participation by Wheatland County residents, she added. Later in the meeting, Wheatland County council passed unanimously a multi-part motion to not support the draft regional growth plan, stating it is concerned significant portions of the growth plan have not been submitted as required. “We just don’t feel that we can in good conscience support the growth plan as it stands with the impacts of the policy that it contains,” said Link. “It is potentially extremely detrimental to economic growth in Alberta.” The contract between CMRB and HDR Calthorpe stipulates the submission of the regional growth plan, as well as a regional servicing plan and a regional evaluation framework, the motion states. But Wheatland County is “greatly concerned” none of this work has been “satisfactorily completed,” despite the county contributing over $165,000 worth of staff and elected officials’ time over the past 13 months towards the project, it reads. As a result, county council is requesting an analysis of the time and money spent by all member municipalities as contributions toward the work of the consultant for review and discussion at the next CMRB board meeting. An accounting of all project costs to date and project work submitted should also be provided, according to the motion. The final part of the motion states the CMRB board should review the draft submissions while considering the provincial mandate of red tape reduction and other provincial economic strategies. An updated growth and servicing plan will be presented to the CMRB during its next meeting, on Feb. 26. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
TORONTO — Proposed changes to Ontario's election laws introduced Thursday by the Progressive Conservatives were slammed by the Opposition as an attempt to silence critics amid mounting failures in the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government said the election law reforms were aimed at limiting third-party advertising and boosting voter participation. Attorney General Doug Downey, who introduced the bill, said one of the proposed changes would extend the $637,200 spending limit placed on third-party advertisers from six months before an election to a year. “Ontario is the only place where we count third party in the millions (of dollars) instead of in the thousands,” he said in an interview. “And we've heard from Elections Ontario that they have concerns with that dynamic.” Third parties, such as the conservative group Ontario Proud and union-led Working Families Coalition, have played a significant role in recent provincial elections, launching extensive advertising campaigns in bids to sway the vote. The province said more than $5 million was spent by third-party advertisers before and during the 2018 election. The next provincial vote is set to take place in the spring of 2022. The bill also proposes to limit what the government calls “collusion” between those third parties and political parties. “We just want transparency and fairness,” Downey said. “When we talk with third parties spending their ($637,200), we want to make sure that there's rules around them sharing information, common vendors, common contributors, use of funds from foreign sources.” The amount individuals can donate to a party, candidate or constituency association would also double from $1,650 to $3,300 a year. New Democrat legislator Taras Natyshak slammed the proposed limits on third-party advertisers. “At a time when long-term care advocates, organizations of health leaders, and the families of nursing home residents are speaking up about the horrors in long-term care, it looks like Ford is trying to silence his critics,” he said in a statement. Natyshak said doubling the individual contribution limit will drag the government back to the days of "cash-for-access" fundraising. Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said while he supports some measures in the bill, like continuing the per-vote subsidy, increasing donation limits is a problem. "My biggest concern is that they're slowly opening the door back up to pay-to-play politics," he said. "How many regular Ontarians can afford to contribute that much to a candidate, constituency association and a party?" University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said the rule changes on individual donations will benefit both the Progressive Conservative government and the Liberal party, but stressed they won’t be the sole factor in deciding the 2022 election. “When the current government came to power, defeating the Liberals wasn't because of money,” he said. “It was because people essentially wanted a change.” Wiseman said the new limits placed on third-party advertisers might be a way the government thinks it’s giving itself a leg up, but the groups will find ways to maximize their message. “This is changing things at the margins,” he said. “Most groups will just try to spend the money as close as they can to election day.” The bill also proposes to extend the number of advance polling days from five to 10. "Ultimately, we want to make it easier and safer for people to vote," Downey said. The legislation will, for the first time, clarify the use of social media accounts by provincial legislators. It will also give Elections Ontario more enforcement powers, and the ability to fine individuals or groups it deems to have violated election rules. Currently, the province's chief electoral officer must report infractions to the Ministry of the Attorney General, which then decides whether to prosecute. Downey said the change would align Ontario with federal practices. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version, based on information provided by the government, said the spending limit placed on third parties six months before an election was $600,000.
NEW YORK — Author and editor Nadja Spiegelman is heading a new literary magazine that will highlight writing from around the world. Astra Quarterly will likely release its first issue later this year. “It feels like the ideal moment for a publication whose primary focus is on international literature. There is a growing awareness that America is not the centre of the world, that reading widely is vital to all of us,” Spiegelman told The Associated Press. “Technology has led to the rise of a multilingual, multicultural class of readers and writers, all of whom are in conversation with one another. Astra Quarterly hopes to be read in Mexico City or Lagos as much as in New York or Paris.” Spiegelman most recently served as online editor of The Paris Review. She has also written the memoir “I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This,” and such illustrated works as “Lost in NYC” and the upcoming “Blancaflor.” Astra Quarterly will be released through Astra Publishing House, which announced the new, English-language publication Thursday. The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY — The number of monarch butterflies that showed up at their winter resting grounds in central Mexico decreased by about 26% this year, and four times as many trees were lost to illegal logging, drought and other causes, making 2020 a bad year for the butterflies. The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) in 2020, compared to 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05 hectares (14.95 acres) detected in 2018. Because the monarchs cluster so densely in pine and fir trees, it is easier to count them by area rather than by individuals. Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico's Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions,” the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies' wintering grounds in Mexico. Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4 hectares (33 acres), a huge increase from the 0.43 hectare (1 acre) lost to logging last year. Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localized” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve. In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9 hectares (17 acres) in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65 hectares (51 acres). That compares to an overall loss of about 5 hectares (12.3 acres) from all causes the previous year. Tavera said the drought was affecting the butterflies themselves, as well as the pine and fir trees where the clump together for warmth. “The severe drought we are experiencing is having effects,” Tavera said. “All the forests in the reserve are under water stress, the forests are dry.” “The butterflies are looking for water on the lower slopes, near the houses,” she noted. Tavera also expressed concern about the sever winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross — and feed and lay their eggs — on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months. “This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze. It was also a bad year for the mountain farming communities that depend for part of their income on tourists who visit the reserves. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, visits fell from around 490,000 last year, to just 80,000 in the 2020-2021 season. It was unclear whether the drop in tourism income contributed to the increased logging. Rickards said there has long been pressure on the area's forests from people who want to open land for planting crops. Felipe Martínez Meza, director of the butterfly reserve, said there have been attempts to plant orchards of avocados — hugely profitable crop for farmers in the area — in the buffer zones around the reserve. The high mountain peaks where the butterflies clump in trees are probably a bit above the altitude where avocado trees like to grow, Martinez Meza said. But the buffer zones provide protection and support for the higher areas, and he said more must be done to combat the change in land use. Frequently, illegal logging is carried out by outsiders or organized gangs, and not by the farm communities that technically own the land. Millions of monarchs migrate from the U.S. and Canada each year to forests west of Mexico’s capital. The butterflies hit a low of just 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres) in 2013-2014. Loss of habitat, especially the milkweed where the monarchs lay their eggs, pesticide and herbicide use, as well climate change, all pose threats to the species’ migration. While there was plenty of bad news for the butterflies — very few showed up to some historic wintering sites like Sierra Chincua — there was the welcome news that a new wintering site was discovered nearby, in a mountaintop near the Lagunas de Zempoala protected area, near Mexico City. Tavera said the wintering site had always been there, but was so difficult to reach that it wasn't discovered until earlier this month. Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press
Strathmore town council passed first reading of a bylaw that, if enacted, would prohibit conversation therapy from being practiced or advertised in Strathmore. First reading of the Prohibited Business Bylaw passed unanimously by town council on Feb. 17. The bylaw will be deliberated again for second and third reading at the council meeting on March 17. The bylaw was first introduced to council by Geoff Person, communications manager, during the town’s Feb. 10 committee of the whole meeting. During a public engagement process held last summer, the town received views from over 170 people providing support for banning conversion therapy in Strathmore, said Person. The town used this feedback to help draft the specifics of the bylaw, which is modelled off the City of Calgary’s Prohibited Business Bylaw, passed in May 2020. Under the proposed bylaw, conversion therapy is defined as any practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. If adopted, the bylaw would prohibit conversion therapy from being offered as a business service in town, and would also prohibit the advertising of these services. The specified penalty for an offence under the draft bylaw is $10,000. If that fine is not paid, anyone guilty would be liable to up to a year in prison. An in-person session will be held for residents to share their views on the bylaw on the evening of March 17. Speakers must register and each presentation will be limited to three minutes. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times