Snow-swimming should be a new Olympic sport! How awesome is that? Credit to "@howitcametobe / @misssarahalyssa".
Snow-swimming should be a new Olympic sport! How awesome is that? Credit to "@howitcametobe / @misssarahalyssa".
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Antony Blinken as America’s top diplomat, tasked with carrying out President Joe Biden’s commitment to reverse the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine that weakened international alliances. Senators voted 78-22 to approve Blinken, a longtime Biden confidant, as the nation’s 71st secretary of state, succeeding Mike Pompeo. The position is the most senior Cabinet position, with the secretary fourth in the line of presidential succession. Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. He has pledged to be a leading force in the administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances. He is expected to start work on Wednesday after being sworn in, according to State Department officials. “American leadership still matters,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing. “The reality is, the world simply does not organize itself. When we’re not engaged, when we’re not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen. Either some other country tries to take our place, but not in a way that’s likely to advance our interests and values, or maybe just as bad, no one does and then you have chaos.” Blinken vowed that the Biden administration would approach the world with both humility and confidence, saying “we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad.” Despite promising renewed American leadership and an emphasis on shoring up strained ties with allies in Europe and Asia, Blinken told lawmakers that he agreed with many of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives. He backed the so-called Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states, and a tough stance on China over human rights and its assertiveness in the South China Sea. He did, however, signal that the Biden administration is interested in bringing Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew in 2018. Trump's secretaries of state nominees met with significant opposition from Democrats. Trump’s first nominee for the job, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was approved by a 56 to 43 vote and served only 13 months before Trump fired him in tweet. His successor, Pompeo, was confirmed in a 57-42 vote. Opposition to Blinken centred on Iran policy and concerns among conservatives that he will abandon Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Blinken inherits a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Neither Tillerson nor Pompeo offered strong resistance to the Trump administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention. Although the department escaped proposed cuts of more than 30% of its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, Many diplomats opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancement under an administration that they believed didn't value their expertise. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement. Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice-President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who is now serving as special envoy for climate change. Matthew Lee, The Associated Press
BETHEL, Alaska — Residents of an Alaska village met with health officials and government agencies to consider methods to restore running water after a fire destroyed the community's water plant. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has provided bottled water and hand sanitizer to residents of Tuluksak since the community's water plant and laundromat burned Jan. 16. Alaska State Troopers said the fire burned as residents of the Alaska Native community northeast of Bethel unsuccessfully tried to douse the flames with water hauled from the Tuluksak River. Health corporation President Dan Winkelman said in a statement that everything possible will be done to help restore Tuluksak's water service. “We understand the importance of this resource, and our staff will continue to work hand-in-hand with Tribal, state, and federal representatives to bring about solutions to restore access to it as quickly as possible,” Winkelman said. The corporation hosted a meeting last week for local, state and federal agencies. The groups discussed connecting a community well to the school, which is equipped to provide running water. Residents could temporarily use the system for laundry and to transfer water to their homes. John Nichols of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who attended the meeting, said the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has a portable water treatment plant in Bethel that could be operational in the village by the summer. But officials must determine if the plant can purify water from the Tuluksak River, a tributary of the Kuskokwim River. Residents have previously complained to the state Legislature about sediment making Tuluksak River water unsafe to drink. Nichols said purifying the water would require different processes than those used in other water sources. “If you were to, say, look at the waters of the Kenai River versus the Copper River versus the Kuskokwim River, you can tell just by looking that the water quality is very, very different,” Nichols said. If the corporation's purifier does not work, a portable system from the continental U.S. may be required. The tribe must verify whether the building was insured before agencies can release funds to subsidize any system. Community officials said the person who has the insurance information was not immediately available after testing positive for COVID-19. The Associated Press
An Australian gold mining company was arraigned on a slew of environmental charges in provincial court in Dartmouth, N.S., Tuesday morning. Atlantic Mining NS Inc. faces 32 charges under the province's Environment Act related to its gold mining operation in eastern Nova Scotia. Atlantic Mining NS Inc. is a subsidiary of St Barbara Limited, but is better known for its corporate name, Atlantic Gold Corp. The company is accused of "failing to comply with the conditions of an approval" and "releasing substances into the environment in amount, concentration or level in excess of approval level or regulations." The offences allegedly took place between February 2018 and May 2020. Most of the charges are related to the area of Mooseland and Moose River Gold Mines, where the company has an open pit gold mine. The other alleged offence locations named in the charging information are 15 Mile Stream, Jed Lake and Seloam Brook. The company was granted a request to adjourn the case until March 15, when it will enter a plea. Atlantic Gold plans to develop three more open pit gold mines on the Eastern Shore and truck the ore to a central processing facility at Mooseland where it operates the Touquoy mine. The company recently told investors it will proceed next with 15 Mile Stream and Beaver Dam locations. The startup date for its controversial Cochrane Hill site on the St. Marys River has been delayed by several years. There is uncertainty over whether the province will allow the company access to the water supply it wants to use at Cochrane Hill. There is some local opposition because of its proximity to the St. Marys River, home to a remaining Atlantic salmon population. MORE TOP STORIES
TORONTO — Few things have lifted Rojhan Paydar’s spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic quite like a Netflix watch party.Isolated inside her home, the Toronto resident is too often short on social opportunities and long on streaming options. So like many people, she’s recreated the experience of watching Netflix with friends through an unofficial web browser application called Teleparty, formerly known as Netflix Party.It’s been an opportunity for Paydar to gather with pals on a virtual couch while they gasp over the twists of true crime series, “Unsolved Mysteries." Even more often, she's used the app with her boyfriend for date nights watching the dysfunction unfold on “Tiger King" and other bingeable series.“Sometimes we’d eat dinner and set up our webcams to see each other,” she said.“Knowing he was there and we were doing something in real-time — it felt really good and made me less lonely."Not long ago, viewing party technology was a tool reserved for unique situations: a long-distance couple or fans of a niche TV series searching for like-minded people.But a year into the pandemic, weekly rituals have evolved, and online watch parties have proven many of us are desperate for some semblance of connection.As the winter months stretch on, and strict stay-at-home orders grip large parts of the country, observers say the watch party, and apps that help make it happen, are due for a second wave of popularity.“I think we may have seen a cultural shift,” suggested Daniel Keyes, associate professor of cultural studies at the University of British Columbia.“The pandemic and the fact we had to self-isolate totally accelerated it. It made it more mainstream.”For younger generations raised on YouTube and Twitch, watch parties are already part of the zeitgeist. Everyone else, including streaming giants themselves, seem to be playing cultural catchup.Last year, as the pandemic wore on, Amazon Prime Video introduced group chat elements into the laptop version of its platform. Disney Plus took a more restrained approach with a feature that allows up to seven people to sync their screens, but only communicate through emojis.Other streamers, such as Netflix and Crave, have so far chosen not to launch social elements on their platforms. That move could be strategic as the companies observe a sea change in how some viewers consume television, suggested Carmi Levy, director at technology advisory firm Info-Tech Research Group."It's almost as if the snow globe has been shaken and companies like Netflix are waiting for everything to settle down before they decide where to place their bets," he said."Social TV is a thing and it isn't going anywhere. It's very much like remote work: considered the exception before the pandemic, but now the rule."Levy said the entertainment industry couldn't have predicted how quickly the change took hold with casual viewers. For years, upstart tech companies launched second-screen watch party innovations, and most of them failed miserably.That's left the door open for the latest generation of alternatives to capitalize on filling the void, among them TwoStream, a paid monthly watch party option, and Syncplay, which is free.One of the most ambitious newcomers is Scener, a venture-funded operation out of Seattle that currently supports the likes of Netflix, Disney Plus, Vimeo and horror platform Shudder. In a few clicks, viewers can react to a show through their webcam or type out thoughts on their keyboard.Co-founder Joe Braidwood said replicating the in-person experience, in particular, “the laughter, the screams and the horror,” was a goal of his company long before the pandemic. But it wasn’t always easy getting others to see the value.“Two years ago I would talk to investors about social TV and they would laugh at me,” he recalled over a Zoom chat.“They told me, ‘People don't want social experiences when they're watching television.’ But all you need to do is look on Twitter.”Even before the pandemic, he said, people were engaging over social media platforms about their favourite shows. Now, since everyone's holed up in their homes, Scener's growth has been exponential. Cumulative weekly minutes of programming watched grew nearly 42,000 per cent from March 2020 to January 2021 (57,785 minutes versus 24.2 million minutes), according to data provided by the company.“People who haven't hung out with their best friend while watching ‘The Flight Attendant’ or shared a family Christmas while watching an old classic movie on Scener, they just don't know what this feels like,” he added.“There's this real texture to it... it's warm engagement with people that you care about.”Hoovie, a Vancouver-based virtual watch party service, aims to bridge the gap between art house cinema outings and the comfort of a living room chat.Hosts can dive into the company’s independent film catalogue and book ticketed showings for small groups, typically in the range of 10 to 20 people. After the movie, they’re encouraged to engage in a webcam conversation on the platform that’s inspired by the film’s themes.Co-founder Fiona Rayher describes Hoovie as a platform meant to evoke those experiences outside the cinema where groups of people – sometimes strangers – would passionately discuss what they’d just watched and maybe head to a nearby restaurant for drinks."You’d meet new people and you’d stay connected," she said. "It was all serendipitous."Hoovie plans to debut a "book club for movies" early this year that'll build on connecting movie fans. Every month, subscribers will gather for online screenings that include a post-film conversation with members, filmmakers and critics. Each film will be rounded out with a wine pairing sent by mail.Selling nostalgia for the pre-pandemic days may sound appealing in lockdown, but the question remains on how attractive watch parties will be once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.It's a question Paydar said she thinks about often as she logs onto a watch party for another episode of "Unsolved Mysteries.""Whenever someone asks, 'If COVID ended right now, where would you go?' the first thing I say is, 'I'd like to go to a movie theatre,'" she said."There's something about being in a physical theatre and going with a group of friends...Those end-of-the-night goodbyes, getting late-night eats with my friends.. (we're) creating memories I get to hold on to forever," she said."I don't think that can be replaced."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021. David Friend, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — U.S. home prices jumped in November at the fastest pace in more than six years, fueled by demand for more living space as Americans stick closer to home during the pandemic. Home prices soared 9.1% in November compared with 12 months ago, according to Tuesday’s report on the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index. That is the largest increase since May 2014. Low borrowing costs are also contributing to rising home sales, which have sharply reduced the number of dwellings available. The limited inventory of homes is pushing up home prices. Sales of existing homes rose in December and home sales for all of 2020 rose to the highest level in 14 years. Phoenix posted the largest price gain in November from a year earlier for the 18th straight month, with a 13.8% increase. Seattle's 12.7% gain was the second-highest, followed by San Diego at 12.3%. All 19 cities reported larger year-over-year price gains in November than in October. Detroit wasn’t able to fully report its home sales data because of delays related to a coronavirus lockdown. Home sales may slow in the coming months, consistent with declining sales in the winter, but are expected to remain elevated. The number of people who signed contracts to purchase homes fell in November compared with October, but was at a record high for November. Contract signings are usually followed by a completed sale within two months. Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press
TBILISI, Georgia — Europe's top human rights court on Thursday found Russia responsible for a swath of violations in Georgia's breakaway regions after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Georgia hailed the verdict by the European Court of Human Rights as a major victory. President Salome Zurabishvili described the ruling as “historic,” noting that Georgia was “recognized as a victim of this war and it is a great achievement for our country, our society, our history and our future." Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia also described the verdict as a landmark move, saying that “the case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights has ended with Georgia’s victory.” The August 2008 war erupted amid rising tensions over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, much of which was under control of Russia-backed separatists. Georgia said it launched an artillery barrage on the regional capital after Russian combat troops entered the region and shelled Georgian villages, but Russia claimed the troops entered only in response to the artillery. After the war, Moscow set up military bases in South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian province, Abkhazia, and recognized them as independent states, while most of the world has continued to consider them part of Georgia. In its case against Russia, Georgia accused it of violating the European Convention on Human Rights both during and after the war, but the ECHR only accepted the Georgian complaints related to the period after the fighting. The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Russia exercised effective control over Georgia's separatist regions after the hostilities and was responsible for ill-treatment and acts of torture against Georgian prisoners of war, arbitrary detentions of Georgians and "inhuman and degrading treatment” of 160 detained Georgian civilians, who were held in crowded confinement for more than two weeks in August 2008. It also held Russia responsible for preventing forcibly displaced ethnic Georgians from returning to the separatist regions after the conflict. The court ordered Moscow to conduct a probe into human rights violations during the hostilities and in their aftermath. Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani hailed the ECHR’s ruling as “an unprecedented international victory of the Georgian state." Russia's Justice Ministry voiced disagreement with some of the court's conclusions blaming Russia for the incidents in South Ossetia and Abkhazia "despite the fact that the Russian troops' direct involvement in them was never proven." At the same time, the ministry emphasized the ECHR's decision that the Georgian complaints related to the period of fighting were inadmissible. ___ Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report. Sophiko Megrelidze, The Associated Press
POLITIQUE. À l’issue d’une rencontre avec des acteurs des milieux économiques, la députée de Shefford, Andréanne Larouche et son collègue d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Sébastien Lemire, par ailleurs vice-président du Comité permanent de l’industrie, des sciences et de la technologie, proposent un fonds propre aux régions. «Je voulais ouvrir un espace de dialogue avec des dirigeants d’organismes économiques, d’entreprises et de municipalités pour échanger sur nos propositions pour la relance», a expliqué Andréanne Larouche au sujet de sa tournée de consultations économiques. Elle a reçu de nombreux témoignages d’entrepreneurs en difficulté selon les bureaux de circonscription des deux élus. «La pénurie de main-d’œuvre est aussi un enjeu qui freine le développement économique de nos régions et qui comporte de nombreuses ramifications. Je pense à la complexité et aux délais en matière d’immigration en lien avec les travailleurs étrangers et aux problématiques de logements qui limitent grandement les possibilités d’attraction de travailleurs», analyse le député d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Sébastien Lemire. Sa collègue de Shefford et lui saluent les contributions des centres d’aide aux entreprises (CAE), mais ils préconisent qu’on leur donne «plus de moyens afin qu’ils assurent un soutien de proximité aux entrepreneurs.» En effet, plus de 200 000 PME, soit 20 % des emplois du secteur privé, envisagent sérieusement de mettre la clé sous la porte selon la dernière mise à jour de l’analyse de la fédération canadienne de l’entreprise indépendante. Un fonds de développement par et pour les régions Sébastien Lemire estime que les questions du développement territorial nécessitent des « solutions flexibles adaptées aux régions » et non des approches globales développées à Ottawa. En parlant d’Internet, le bloquiste annonce que le comité de l’industrie a dans ses cartons un rapport sur cet «enjeu fondamental» pour lequel sa circonscription, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, a pris 20 ans de retard. «Il faut s’assurer de démocratiser son accès pour tous, même dans les zones moins densément peuplées… il faut sortir de la logique de rentabilité », dit-il en conférence de presse dans un plaidoyer énergique sur l’accès au développement régional. Les deux élus soutiennent «la mise en place d’un fonds de développement par et pour les régions», qui devra être déployé en fonction des besoins spécifiques de celles-ci. Ils déplorent «des improvisations d’Ottawa» même s’ils reconnaissent que les programmes s’ajustent progressivement. Ils prônent «les enjeux identifiés par les régions», comme les incubateurs d’entreprises ou l’innovation territoriale plutôt que «des programmes mur à mur mal adaptés» conçus à partir des mégalopoles uniformes. En cette veille de rentrée parlementaire et en prélude au budget fédéral, Andréanne Larouche envisage de poursuivre ses consultations «afin que les programmes soient les mieux adaptés aux besoins des entrepreneurs.»Godlove Kamwa, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Canada Français
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says even one case of COVID-19 coming in from abroad is a case too many. He says new restrictions on travel are coming and he is urging Canadians to cancel all travel plans they may have. He says that includes travel abroad and travel to other provinces. He says while the number of new cases linked to travel remains low, the government won't hesitate to impose stricter measures at the border. He says the bad choices of a few won't be allowed to put others in danger. The Liberal government has been hinting that tougher border controls are coming and Trudeau says they are working on what can be done without interrupting trade flows. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021. The Canadian Press
When drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna learned to successfully incorporate messenger RNA technology into a COVID-19 vaccine, experts say they likely opened the door to a significant shift in the future of immunization.The milestone in vaccine development was met with enthusiasm from most, but the seemingly swift pace and novel approach is causing hesitancy in others. Experts say the new technique shouldn't dissuade people from getting the vaccine. While the mRNA method is new to inoculations, the actual technology has been around for decades. The difference now, they say, is scientists have ironed out the kinks to make a useful product."It sounds fancy, mRNA, but there's nothing outlandish about it," said Dr. Earl Brown, a virology and microbiology specialist with the University of Ottawa. "This is the way our cells operate — we live by mRNA."Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were the first inoculations approved for humans to use mRNA, which provides our cells with instructions to make proteins. In the case of COVID vaccines, the injected material shows cells how to make a harmless piece of the coronavirus spike protein, which then teaches our immune system to recognize the virus and fight off a future infection.Scientists made the vaccine by programming genetic material from the spike protein into mRNA, a process that theoretically could work for other viruses."As long as you know how to create those instructions — that genetic code you need to convince your body to create that target — you can design an mRNA vaccine against any antigen," said Nicole Basta, an associate professor of epidemiology at McGill."But the question is whether it will be effective, and whether it will be safe."The development of future mRNA vaccines might be quick, Basta says, but they would need to go through the usual evaluation process and clinical trials to ensure safety and efficacy. So vaccines for other viruses won't be popping up overnight.Still, Basta adds, there's potential for using mRNA to either improve upon existing vaccines or to develop new ones against other pathogens.Dr. Scott Halperin, a professor at Dalhousie University and the director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, sees mRNA vaccines as "evolutionary rather than revolutionary."Part of the reason COVID vaccines came together so quickly was the technology had been developing for years, Halperin said. The global pandemic offered scientists a pressing opportunity — and unprecedented funding and collaboration — to try again for a viable injection.Previous research had been done on creating mRNA vaccines against Zika and other viruses, Halperin added, and there were earlier efforts focused on cancer treatments. Coronavirus-specific research was further sped up by spike protein analysis from SARS and MERS.While the mRNA technology itself is impressive, Halperin says improvements need to be made to create a more temperature-stable product before these types of vaccines and treatments "truly take over.""The logistics of delivering mRNA vaccines right now, we wouldn't want to have to do that for every vaccine we produce," he said, referencing the ultra-cold storage temperature that's currently needed. "But I do think it's an important milestone."Scientists are expected to continue advancing the technology, just as they did recently in solving two confounding problems with mRNA — its fragility and instability.Brown says fragility was resolved by packaging the mRNA in a fat coating, giving it something to help bind onto cells so it wouldn't disintegrate upon injection. The instability was conquered by modifying the uracil component of RNA, one of the four units of its genetic code."The technology application is new, but the science is mature," Brown said. "We've just reached the point at which we can apply it." Traditional vaccines typically contain a killed or weakened virus, Brown said. Those methods are still being used in COVID vaccine development, including by AstraZeneca-Oxford, whose product has not yet been approved in Canada.A benefit to using mRNA is the speed at which a vaccine can be developed or updated once scientists know what to target, Brown says. While experts believe current vaccines will work against recent variants of the COVID virus — including one originating in the U.K. that's more transmissible — Brown says mRNA's adaptability could theoretically come in handy if new strains emerged that necessitated an update. "In six weeks they could produce something," he said. "It would still have to go through Phase 3 trials, but it does give you more flexibility and a big leg up."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021. Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
Weather is getting cooler and beards are getting bushier as some Canadian men look to add an extra layer of warmth to their faces this winter.Others, motivated by lockdown measures and extended work-from-home terms, may view this as a perfect time to see how unruly those whiskers can get before a trim is needed.But as long as mask-wearing is encouraged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should they worry about facial hair interfering with the effectiveness of face coverings?Some experts say men should shave their beards in order to obtain the best mask fit, but others say it depends how long the stubble gets, and if their job requires a tighter-fitting respirator.The CDC has an infographic on facial hair and N-95s on its website, outlining styles that are safe, including handlebar mustaches and soul patches. Other looks — like extended goatees, muttonchops and Van Dykes — cross the seal of the mask and need to go. Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based physician, says that advice is fine for health-care workers, but when it comes to regular cloth masks, breaking a seal isn't as much of a concern."If it's covering your mouth and nose, it's doing what it's supposed to do," he said. "Whether there's a gap on the side isn't really here or there because there's always a gap." Dr. Jane Wang, a clinical instructor at UBC who has studied face masks extensively, disagrees.Wang's recent research suggests men with beards experience more leakage — droplets expelling through gaps in the mask — than those without. Leaky areas of masks are most prominent around the nose, chin and the cheeks, and pleated masks tend to leak more than other styles.Having facial hair jutting out of a mask increases that leakage zone, she said. So the most effective way to ensure a cloth mask fits around the face is to remove the beard."Having more leaks decreases the filtration," Wang said, adding that research on mask fit and leaks date back to the 1990s. "So the air we breathe will go through the leak and not the filter of the mask."Dr. Lisa Bryski, an emergency-room physician in Winnipeg, has seen many colleagues shave off their beards in order to properly wear masks in the health-care field. While a cloth covering doesn't provide the same level of protection as an N-95, Bryski suggests men outside front-line work settings might want to pick up the razor too."It's a personal choice, but anything you do to increase your own protection and protection of others is appropriate in these times," she said. "Where shaving is not an option, keeping the beard groomed and trimmed may reduce the amount of hair and help with mask seal."Bryski acknowledged that for some men, like those in the Sikh community, beards may be an integral part of religious identity.Sukhmeet Sachal, a second-year medical student at UBC, recognized that and is offering a solution. Sachal is part of a group that has been handing out modified face masks to Sikh men at gurdwaras, or places of assembly and worship. The masks, made by volunteers, wrap around beards and tie over turbans, offering Sikh men a better alternative than a regular face mask they could buy at a store.Sachal said he got the idea when he walked into a gurdwara with his father and saw hardly anyone wearing a mask. While he says there may have been a combination of reasons for that, the beards played a part."We heard from people directly that there were no masks available for them," Sachal said. "When they went to the store, they didn't find any."Sachal says hair, whether it's on your face or head, is seen in Sikhism as a gift from God. Turbans are wrapped around hair to protect it, and most Sikh men refrain from cutting their hair or shaving their beards."That's why these masks are important," Sachal said. "They allow people to practise their religion while being safe."Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, looks at beards as a "variable" in how well a mask fits, but "not a determiner."A mask can be ill-fitting whether you have a beard or not, he explained. And while the length of facial hair will impact fit further, he says mask-wearing is only one safety precaution we should be practising."I don't think beards should be demonized, because it's not just about wearing a mask," he said. "You're also maintaining physical distance, you're also not doing large crowds... "It's when you start thinking that masks protect you completely that beards become more risky."Wang says those keeping their beards should still wear face masks."It'll be less effective, but it's better than nothing," she said.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020. Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
QUEBEC — The 24-year-old man accused in the Quebec City Halloween night sword attack appeared briefly before a judge today. Carl Girouard appeared by video conference in a Quebec City courtroom, where he was granted the right to have his vehicle and cellphone returned to him. The prosecution disclosed more evidence it had collected against the suspect and told the court it had almost completed disclosure, adding that some laboratory test results were pending. Girouard, from Ste-Therese, a northern suburb of Montreal, remains in detention and is scheduled to return to court March 12. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder after a man dressed in a medieval costume and wielding a Japanese-style sword went on a rampage Oct. 31 in Quebec City's historic district. Two local residents, Francois Duchesne and Suzanne Clermont, were killed and five others were seriously injured in the attack. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021. The Canadian Press
Greg Funston, a University of Alberta PhD student, and his team uncovered the first tyrannosaur embryo fossils ever recorded.
Initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are set to roll into the country in the next few weeks, and Canadians will be wondering where they stand in the inoculation line.Which segment of the population will get the first doses, once Canada approves them for use, and how long will it take before most of us are inoculated and we can reach that point of herd immunity?The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has already recommended early doses be given to: residents and staff of long-term care homes; adults 70 years or older (starting with those 80 and over); front-line health-care workers; and adults in Indigenous communities — but there's still some debate among experts on whether that's the best strategy for a vaccine rollout.Dr. Ross Upshur of the University of Toronto's School of Public Health, agrees with NACI's recommendations, but he says there's also an argument to be made for vaccinating those more likely to spread the virus first — including people with jobs in the community that can't work from home."There is quite a vigorous debate and ... quite a varied set of arguments about who should go first and the priority list," Upshur said. "And that's because people have very deep and different intuitions about what fairness means, and which fundamental values should illuminate the distribution of scarce resources." Upshur says prioritization, which will fall to the provinces and territories to determine, will depend on the goal of the vaccination strategy.If the main objective is to ensure economic recovery by limiting community spread, essential workers might get vaccinated first, Upshur explained. But if the goal is to limit deaths by preventing our most vulnerable populations from getting COVID, older people, especially those in long-term care, should jump to the front of the line."Each one of those aims leads to favouring a different kind of population," he said. "So priority-setting is a complex task."But because there's going to be a limited number of doses available, choices will have to be made soon."Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Canadian soil by the end of the month, with the first doses delivered next week.Canada, which is currently reviewing several vaccine candidates, has purchased 20 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, and is set to receive four million doses — enough to inoculate two million people — by March.Kelly Grindrod, a researcher and associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy, says the concept of prioritizing the COVID vaccine may be hard for some to grasp. Grindrod agrees with NACI's recommendations of where the first stage of vaccine distribution should go, but subsequent stages of rollout become trickier.Certain individuals may perceive themselves to be in a higher-risk group and therefore more deserving of a vaccine than others, she said, and it will be hard to determine for example, if a 50-year-old with asthma who works from home should be vaccinated over a taxi driver."What I always say is: if you don't know anybody who's gotten the virus, you're probably one of the last to get the vaccine," Grindrod said. "So that might mean you have a middle-class income and you don't work in a factory or a grocery store."If you're feeling like COVID is something that's not really in your world, that's probably a suggestion that you're fairly low-risk for getting the virus in the first place."Grindrod says it's important to remember that immunizing the majority of Canadians will take a long time. The first stage alone could take months, she said, estimating that Canada will be able to vaccinate roughly three million people (in a country of 38 million) in the first quarter of 2021. "If we're all vaccinated by next Christmas, we will have done a great job," she said.Upshur agrees that getting to herd immunity will take time, but having multiple vaccine candidates reporting high efficacy rates should speed up that process — at least in theory."As exciting as it is to have these studies showing really good results, there's still a lot more questions," he said. "There's a lot more that needs to be done before we can be sure that these vaccines are going to achieve the goals that we hope."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020. Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
This translation is part of a new initiative to provide content to our Chinese readers. You can find the English version, written by reporter Sheila Wang here. 聖誕節後不久，約克區的COVID-19病例激增至前所未有的水平，對陽性率的分析表明，病毒在部分城市的社區傳染率遠高於其他地區。 根據非營利組織 ICES 的數據，在1月的第一周內，North Woodbridge 社區的陽性率最高，為18.5％，這意味著在接受COVID-19檢測的人中，有近五分之一是陽性的，這一數字幾乎是當時安省總體陽性率6.8％的三倍。 數據還顯示，在同一時期內，萬錦東南區的陽性率僅次於North Woodbridge，達到17%，是約克區第二高的地區。 這兩個社區的測試陽性率均遠高於約克地區的平均水平，約克地區在同一周內的平均陽性率約為10％。 約克大學流行病學家Susan Rogers Van Katwyk 表示，盡管陽性率沒有「安全閾值」，但根據安省的重啟計劃，陽性率為2.5％或更高的公共衛生區域將被列為紅色「控制」區。 「這是一個很好的指標，表明我們應該在約克區進行更多的測試，它同時也提醒我們在本地區感染COVID-19的危險程度。」 Van Katwyk還說，陽性率與病例數等其他指標一起幫助公共衛生局了解社區的傳染狀況以及是否需要更嚴格的規定。一般而言，如果陽性病例過多或總測試的次數太少，那麽陽性率就會偏高。 約克區公共衛生部門通過其每日更新的頁面追蹤COVID-19測試結果。該數據顯示，截至1月20日，每10萬人中有44,472人做了檢測，較去年12月份大幅增加。 以下交互地圖展示了從1月3日至1月9日約克區每個社區的感染率。 大多數重災區似乎都集中在旺市，例如Kleinburg和Maple社區，那裏的陽性率遠高於10%。 約克南部另一個較為嚴重的社區是Oak Ridges，陽性率12%，是全省平均水平的2倍，也比烈治文山其他社區要高得多。 在北部，大多數社區的陽性率低於省平均水平，除了southwest Newmarket（11%）和Holland Landing/River Drive Park（9%）社區。 下面的折線圖顯示了該地區自8月30日以來各社區每個月的平均陽性率。 盡管秋季有所下降，但陽性率仍呈上升趨勢，並在聖誕節期間大幅上升。 在12月20日當周，約克區的平均陽性率為7.5％，一周後飆升至11％。 Van Katwyk強調：「我認為抗疫措施必須更加明確，那就是嚴格執行居家令。只要檢測呈陽性的人數還在上升，我們就需要采取更有力的措施，或者更加密切地追蹤所有接觸者。」 約克區發言人Patrick Casey 並沒有就該地區「追蹤接觸者的能力」的問題直接置評，他表示，約克區使用安省政府研發的虛擬助手來幫助識別病例接觸者，主要依賴「人們對各自密切接觸者的公開和誠實」。 數據說明:由於使用的數據僅顯示了在測試期間至少有6人呈COVID-19陽性的前排序區域，因此部分社區在這張地圖中沒有顯示。 Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun
RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina state senator announced Tuesday that he's running for the U.S. Senate in 2022, hoping to flip fortunes for Democrats from his state to serve in the chamber after a string of defeats. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte business attorney, Afghan war veteran and National Guard soldier, unveiled his bid, saying he is committed to “honest and decent politics” and “working people and working families.” Jackson, 38, is the second Democrat to enter the race to succeed three-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is not seeking reelection. Erica Smith, a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020 to challenge Republican incumbent Thom Tillis, is in again. Tillis ultimately narrowly defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham in November. Those two campaigns and outside groups spent $287 million combined, an all-time record before the two Georgia Senate elections that went to Jan. 5 runoffs swamped that total. In contrast with North Carolina's hyper-nationalized Senate race in 2020, Jackson said he'll attempt to turn his campaign inward, by pledging to visit all 100 counties as the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. He said he'll hold town halls in each to “build an agenda that’s actually tailored to our state, not an agenda that’s imported from D.C. or from donors.” “People want a different approach. They want an approach that they can respect and one that respects them,” he said in a video that features his wife and three young children. “Look, folks, you should have higher expectations for this office than you currently do.” North Carolina Republicans have now won four consecutive Senate races dating to 2010. Cunningham’s bid for U.S. Senate was derailed in the campaign's final weeks by his acknowledgement of a recent extramarital affair. But Democrats nationally are heartened by victories elsewhere, including those for both Georgia seats. That caused a 50-50 split in the chamber that gave Democrats control because Vice-President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, breaks ties. Other Democrats are weighing whether to enter the contest, which will still require massive fundraising even in the coming months to gain the attention of voters in the March 2021 primaries. On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro announced he's running last month and is already travelling on the GOP meeting circuit seeking support. North Carolina native Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump, is also considering a bid. Jackson decided against running for Senate in 2020 after meeting with then-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer ultimately backed Cunningham's bid. Jackson's military career is similar to that of Cunningham. He enlisted in the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 attacks and served in Afghanistan. He's a military attorney in a North Carolina National Guard unit and a former local prosecutor. Jackson was ordered to guard training in the final weeks of his state Senate race this past fall, handing his reelection campaign to his wife. While Jackson's file of legislative accomplishments in Raleigh is thin — largely the result of serving in the minority party — he's made splashes with recorded floor speeches and social media posts that have gone viral. That social media presence has buoyed his fundraising and profile. State Republicans already tried to link Jackson to Cunningham on Tuesday, calling him “Cal Jr.” “North Carolina needs leaders who get results and Cal Jr. believes success equals retweets,” state GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton said in a news release. Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press
PARIS — French lawmakers on Tuesday debated an animal welfare bill that would ban using wild animals in travelling circuses and keeping dolphins and whales in captivity in marine parks, amid other restrictions. Circus workers held a protest against the bill outside the National Assembly, saying the measure would cause circuses and jobs to vanish, if it becomes law. “That’s death for circuses,” Royal Circus director William Kerwich told The Associated Press. The bill, which also bans the use of wild animals in television shows, nightclubs and private parties, calls for a transition period of five to seven years depending on the location. The wild animal ban would not apply to permanent shows or to zoos. Anther provision of the legislation is aimed at shutting down mink farms within the next five years. The bill would also require new pet owners to obtain certificates guaranteeing they have the specific knowledge needed to care for their animals. It would stiffen for penalty for committing abuse that leads to the death of pet animals to up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of 45,000 euros ($54,750.) Protesting circus workers said French law is already strict enough to ensure the welfare of the animals appearing in their shows. Kerwich, the Royal Circus director, said he is worried about what would happen to the 800 or so animals owned by French circuses. “They are alive, we won't be able to reintroduce them in nature and we won't be able to keep them. Who will pay?” he asked. “We don't want to abandon them.” Kerwich said that about 14 million spectators attend traditional circuses featuring animals in France while 1 million go to circuses with only human acts. Frederic Edelstein, a lion trainer for the Pinder Circus, advocated for “an art that is part of our country's culture.” “A trainer doesn't hurt an animal, he seeks complicity, respect between humans and animals," Edelstein said. “I have 12 magnificent white lions. They love me....It is out of question for me to let my animals go away.” Animal rights activists also organized a gathering near the National Assembly on Tuesday, saying they think the proposed law does not go far enough. “There's nothing about hunting. There’s nothing about intensive farming....So we are here to demand that these gaps be filled,” Muriel Fusi, a representative of the Animalist Party in Paris, said. One Voice, an animal defence organization, called the bill “a big step in the right direction” but said it wants the wild animal ban to be extended to non-travelling circuses and shows. “Maybe we won’t see elephants, lions and hippopotamuses on the roads any more, but a new category of sedentary circuses will be allowed to multiply,” it said in a statement. A vote on the bill is set to take place by Friday. Lawmakers in French President Emmanuel Macron’s party, which has the majority at the National Assembly, support the measure. After the lower chamber votes, the bill will go to the Senate. Most European countries have partially or totally banned the use of wild animals in circuses. In recent years, some major circuses in France announced they were voluntarily ending such acts. An amusement park north of Paris announced Monday it was shutting down its dolphin show. The Asterix park said its eight dolphins would be transferred within two months to other aquariums in Europe because they could not be reintroduced into their natural environment. Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press
Organizers of a food bank for Black Edmontonians say there will be many families left behind if the service ends in March. Each week, dozens of families of African and Caribbean descent ranging from two to 10 members collect hampers packed with culturally relevant food. Despite demand, organizers had to cap the program at 90 families so staff and volunteers could keep up with collection, packing and distribution. The service was launched in May thanks to the collaboration of multiple Black-led Alberta organizations under the banner of African Diaspora COVID-19 Relief. But the funding and food from donors such as the Edmonton Community Foundation, Islamic Relief Canada, The Ghana Friendship Society and Loblaws, as well as personal donations, will soon run out. "It is a need that needs to be filled," said Emmanuel Onah, youth program manager at the Africa Centre, where the program is coordinated, clients pick up hampers and donations are being accepted. "It's a gaping hole in all of the resources that are currently available." The Liberia Friendship Society of Canada, the Jamaica Association of Northern Alberta and the Black Students Association University of Alberta are also among more than a dozen groups involved that will meet Sunday to determine next steps. Nii Koney, executive director of the Nile Valley Foundation, who rallied the coalition to action, said the program emerged from weekly meetings among Black organizations looking for ways to best respond to the pandemic. Initially they were surprised by all the middle-class community members who needed help. "People are bringing nice cars, they will come and park in the front, they will come with their wife and husband, they will sometimes come, the whole family," Koney said. "So now I know that if we didn't provide these services, it would be a great disservice to the community." Onah said a large part of the appeal comes from offering culturally relevant food tailor-made for each family whether it's injera, an Ethiopian fermented flatbread, or turtle beans, popular in the Caribbean. "The peace of mind you get when you're eating something that you're familiar with or you grew up with and is inline with your culture and your background — that all contributes to overall wellness. That all contributes to mental wellness, especially in the time where we're in a pandemic," said Onah. The initiative also supports local businesses largely by sourcing food from community stores on 118th Avenue and Stony Plain Road.
Sharon Bala knows the power of recognizing yourself in a story, and the pain of seeing your identity smeared across the page. The Sri Lankan-Canadian author says misrepresentations in fiction can feel like a form of literary violence, warping the way some readers see the real-life harms against people who aren't like them. "When we see ourselves misrepresented on the page, it just feels like the writer has taken their pen and shoved it into our eyes," said Bala, who won awards acclaim for her 2018 debut novel "The Boat People." "We can't pretend that we live in some rarefied bubble as writers where we are separate from the world." From using sexual violence against women as a plot point in a male hero's arc, to killing off an Indigenous character for dramatic tension, Bala said storytelling tropes often serve as a mirror of the systemic indifference toward the suffering of marginalized groups. But as society reckons with these injustices, the St. John's, N.L.-based novelist said a long-simmering conversation among authors about how to responsibly write about identities other than their own, whether that be a character of a different race, gender, sexuality, ability or class. In the past, she said, the public discourse about literary representation has been dominated by a privileged few stoking fears over perceived threats to authors' purported "right" to pluck inspiration from other communities as they please, said Bala. Examples include the 2017 CanLit controversy over an online campaign to fund a writing prize for cultural appropriation, or the tastemakers who rose to American author Jeanine Cummins' defence after the January release of her much-hyped book, "American Dirt," drew criticism from Latino writers and activists for trading in stereotypes about Mexicans. But Bala, who hosted an online workshop on literary representation earlier this month, says the strong turnout shows that writers know they can no longer afford to weaponize "the other" as a cudgel in someone else's narrative. Rather, she said, creators are grappling with questions that in some ways cut to the core of the mission of fiction: How do you write about who you don't know, and should you? "None of us are perfect. We're all going to make mistakes," said Bala. "But I think that if we ... have tried and still made the mistake, there's actually a lot of empathy for that within the writing community." Bala said she only writes about communities she has ties to, and people she'll have to answer to for any distortions. She's also a proponent of bringing in "sensitivity readers" — cultural experts who review manuscripts for inaccuracies — early in the writing process to catch misconceptions before they become embedded in the narrative. Emma Donoghue, the London, Ont.-based author behind "Room," said she's also enlisted the help of cultural consultants as part of her process. But ultimately, Donoghue said she and other white writers have a responsibility to assess their own abilities and motives before depicting different demographics. "I think it's a richer cultural landscape," she said. "If that means that the writers who used to sort of costlessly write about anything have to be a bit more careful, then that just comes with the territory." Acclaimed author Thomas King, who is of Greek and Cherokee descent, said he tries not to stray too far from his realm of experience in writing his protagonists. Characters of diverse backgrounds often populate his narratives, but King said he wouldn't write from another community's point of view because he wouldn't feel comfortable "taking on that skin." King said some of the most persistent pop culture narratives play into cliches and stereotypes to reinforce the audience's pre-existing biases. "While they're not authentic, to the public mind, they appear to be," he said. "Certainly, for Native people that happened with non-Native writers writing about Native characters." Novelist Andre Alexis holds that being too beholden to the burden of accurate representation can restrict the imaginative possibilities of literature. The Trinidad-born, Ottawa-raised writer said problems can arise when playing pretend with someone else's reality, and writers should have to answer for their misrepresentations. However, Alexis maintains that imagining "the other" serves a vital function not only in the arts, but for society at large. "It's important for the Americans to imagine what it's like to be a member of one of the countries they've attacked and ruined," said Alexis, who won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize for "Fifteen Dogs." "That imagining of the others who you have made to suffer is a tremendously significant moral step." Sanchari Sur, a genderqueer writer who uses the pronouns "she" and "they" interchangeably, said growing up they never saw queer characters, particularly South Asian ones, represented in fiction. "When you don't see yourself represented, or when you see yourself represented as a stereotype or negatively, that does impact you," said Sur, who is earning a PhD in English at Wilfrid Laurier University. Still, Sur said there needs to be space for writers to make mistakes and engage with critical feedback. Sur confronted this issue during a writers' retreat when they received a negative response to a piece they wrote that centred on a transgender woman's experience of familial emotional trauma. Sur, who was wrestling with their own gender identity at the time, said some trans participants at the retreat took issue with a non-trans author writing about the trans body in relation to trauma. Sur said the critiques caught them off guard, and it took months to work up the wherewithal to return to fiction. In the time since, Sur has come to see that there were technical problems with the story that contributed to the blowback, and feels they're a better writer because of the incident. "If you're being called out for something that is inherently wrong or dehumanizing in some way, then you have to acknowledge that and you have to learn from it." Kim Davids Mandar, an emerging writer in Guelph, Ont., said the complexities of literary representation have personal resonance for her as the daughter of immigrants who fled post-apartheid South Africa to provide a better life for their mixed-race family in Canada. When a publisher approached her about conducting a series of interviews for a collection, Davids Mandar said she jumped at the chance to ask some of Canada's finest literary minds about how they work through questions of difference, identity and appropriation. The editor of "(In)Appropriate," which was released earlier this month, said she didn't reach any tidy conclusions during her conversations with the book's contributors, including Sur, Eden Robinson, Michael Crummey and Ian Williams. One theme that emerged was the role that publishers and booksellers play in amplifying certain voices at the expense of others, she said. A 2018 survey by the Association of Canadian Publishers on diversity found 82 per cent of the 279 respondents who worked in the industry identified as white. "I think we can't pretend that we don't live within this context, and that it doesn't actually impact the books industry," said Davids Mandar. Overall, Davids Mandar said she walked away from the book with a renewed sense of urgency for Canada's literary community to engage in these shifting, sometimes messy conversations. "It really reflects where we're at, each of us as individuals, but also as a community, in truthfully embracing the fact that we need unity, but we also need diversity and we have to have them together." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020. Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
This story is part of a new initiative to provide content to our Chinese readers. You can find the English version here. 展望2021年，人們希望新冠肺炎大流行能盡快過去，生活可以早日如常。但我們身邊正在經歷入睡困難、焦慮、憤怒或情緒低沉的人比比皆是。疫情的持續所帶給所有人的壓力不言而喻，恢復身心健康之路任重道遠。 在封城和禁止社交的大環境下，如何幫助他人和自己提高的心理的靈活性，增強應對疫情的復原力？ 保泰社區抗疫行動(Project PROTECH)作為加拿大政府的新前沿研究基金(NFRF) 資助的研究項目，現正在招募加拿大講英語、國語或粵語的華人，參加一個名為「應對全球流行病 - 接受，承諾，與賦權」的免費培訓項目(PACER: Pandemic Acceptance and Commitment to Empowerment Response Training)，希望幫助受新冠病毒影響的人提高復原能力。 滿足條件的人，還能獲得相應的報酬。 這個項目自2020年下半年展開以來，以英語培訓了近一百位參加者, 現在保泰團隊持續加強培訓內容, 發展出了中、英、粵三種語言的培訓模式, 推出第二階段的培訓，讓更多社區內的新移民、留學 生、非居民等不同群體都能參與其中。 萬錦市民張女士在參加完培訓後，認為這個項目增強了自己價值觀的建設。「比如我喜歡旅遊，但因為疫情不能去了，我學會了可以用其他事替代，同時依然保持該價值觀在心裏。」 她開始重新思考，自己為什麼喜歡旅遊？是希望尋找快樂，以及和遠方的家人、朋友團聚。「疫情之下，我可以通過看一些書籍、紀錄片，和親友視頻聊天，達到相同的效果。同時我做了未來的旅遊計劃，往這個方向去努力。其實我還是在追求這個價值和東西，這是疫情期間的一種別樣的疏導自己的方式。」 要參加PACER培訓，你須年滿18歲，來自加拿大華人社區，並且至少能流利使用英語、國語或粵語中的一種。你可以是上班族，居家學習的大學生，社區領袖，或是感染了新冠病毒的人士，照顧患病家人的受影響者等。 參加本研究完全是自願的。所有在小組分享的私人信息將被嚴格保密。因此，參與者均須簽署一份保密協議。該培訓項目為期 6 周，以在線自學的模塊進行，每周與其他參與者一同參加由培訓者帶領的在線小組討論。 通過這個培訓，參與者將會學習到正念、接受與承諾療法(ACT)，以及集體賦權心理教育等專業的心理應對技能。Project PROTECH還將邀請你完成培訓前、後以及後續的跟進問卷調查。你還可以誌願選擇參加線上的焦點小組，以幫助評估該項目的有效性。 為表示對該研究項目參與者的謝意，每完成一份問卷，你將獲得$20加幣。參加培訓結束三個月後的後續線上焦點小組，你還將再獲得$30加幣。這項研究已由瑞爾森(Ryerson)大學研究倫理委員會(REB 2020-12)和大學健康網絡(UHN)研究倫理委員會批準，旨在與華裔社區一起共同應對新冠肺炎的持續影響。 下期培訓的每周在線小組討論將於1月27開始，連續 6 周，以中、英、粵三種語言，在每周三晚8點到9點半舉行。培訓人數有限，請在培訓開始前盡早註冊，保泰稍後將推出更多培訓時間表。 想獲得有關保泰社區抗疫行動培訓的相關信息，或有意參與培訓，請訪問網頁 www.projectPROTECH.ca。 Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun
HELSINKI — A new two-party coalition government was sworn in Tuesday in Estonia, led by the first woman prime minister since the Baltic nation regained independence in 1991. The 15-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas took office after lawmakers in Estonia's parliament approved the government appointed by President Kersti Kaljulaid. Kallas, 43, is a lawyer and former European Parliament member. The centre-right Reform Party that she chairs and and the left-leaning Center Party, which are Estonia’s two biggest political parties, reached a deal on Sunday to form a government. The previous Cabinet, with Center leader Juri Ratas as prime minister, collapsed this month due to a corruption scandal. The two parties each have seven ministers in the Cabinet in addition to Kallas serving as prime minister. The government controls a comfortable majority in the 101-seat Riigikogu. Kallas stressed gender balance in forming the new Cabinet, placing several women in key positions, including naming the Reform Party's Keit Pentus-Rosimannus as finance minister and Eva-Maria Liimets, Estonia’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, as the foreign minister. Kallas' Cabinet has a little over two years to leave its mark in this European Union and NATO member before the next general election set for March 2023. One of the government's immediate priorities is to tackle Estonia’s worsening coronavirus situation and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. The Reform Party, a pro-business party espousing liberal economic policies, emerged as the winner of Estonia's 2019 general election under Kallas' lead. However, she was outmanoeuvred by Ratas' Center Party, which formed a three-party coalition with the populist right-wing EKRE party and the conservative Fatherland party. But Ratas’ government, which took office in April 2019, was shaky from the start due to strong rhetoric from the nationalist EKRE, the nation’s third-largest party which runs on an anti-immigration and anti-EU agenda. The EKRE leaders, Mart Helme and his son Martin, brought the government to the brink of collapse at least twice. However, Ratas' government was eventually brought down on Jan. 13 by a corruption scandal involving an official suspected of accepting a private donation for the Center Party in exchange for a political favour on a real estate development at the harbour district of the capital, Tallinn. Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, is now one of the few countries where both the head of state and the head of government are women. However, that may not necessarily last long as Estonian lawmakers will convene by September to elect a new president. Kaljulaid, who assumed her post in October 2016, hasn't announced whether she will seek reelection to another five year term. Jari Tanner, The Associated Press