Basically all of us on Monday morning!
Basically all of us on Monday morning!
In announcing a planned phone call on Friday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the White House's intended message was clear: Traditional allies are back in favour while despots, dictators and the killers of dissenters are on the outs. The way press secretary Jen Psaki announced the scheduled call with Trudeau was revealing, as it came in response to a question that had nothing at all to do with Canada's prime minister. She was asked about Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she was asked when Biden would speak with the Russian leader. Psaki replied that it wasn't an immediate priority. "[Biden's] first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau," she said. "I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it's important to rebuild those relationships." U.S. plans to investigate Russia Psaki elaborated on Putin in a separate news conference where she described Russia as "reckless" and "adversarial." She said Biden has tasked the intelligence community with reporting on a variety of alleged Russian transgressions: cyberattacks on U.S. companies, interference in U.S. politics, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Russian-paid bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Yet the goal of rebalancing relationships away from rivals toward like-minded countries has been tested already. Some Canadians, notably Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, want trade retaliation against the U.S. following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of the new administration. The decision undermines Canada's No. 1 export to the United States: oil. WATCH | The National's report on Keystone XL: Biden's foreign policy ambitions will keep being tested as international relationships undergo unwieldy twists on any given issue due to practical and political considerations. Here is what we already know about the Biden administration's approach to other countries after its first couple of days in office. The moves so far The administration will release a report on suspected Saudi government involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue the last administration showed little interest in pursuing. It is also threatening to cancel support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It is willing to consider new NATO expansion on Russia's doorstep, into Georgia, and in fact is staunchly supportive of the international military alliance. And Biden has rejoined previous alliances the U.S. was either scheduled to exit (the World Health Organization) or had already left (the Paris climate accord). These activities are intended to signal a dramatic change in foreign policy from Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, who frequently bashed the leaders of democracies and international institutions while simultaneously cultivating friendly relationships with non-democratic leaders in the Middle East, Russia and North Korea. There will be contradictions in Biden's approach — as there were in Trump's. For example, while Trump often had kind words for dictators, he also sanctioned their countries on occasion, including Russia and China. Also, don't count on an ambitious foreign policy from Biden. Early on, the new administration will be busy juggling domestic crises, said Edward Alden, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations. "I think we are going to see an approach to alliances that looks a lot like [Barack] Obama's — engaged, respectful, but not overly ambitious," said Alden, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "The United States has enormous problems at home, and those are going to take priority for some time." Alden said he does expect some new international initiatives, such as more active co-operation on global vaccine distribution. Biden wants changes on Canada-U.S. pandemic travel On COVID-19, Biden also wants to immediately connect with Canada and Mexico to establish new rules within 14 days for pandemic-related travel safety measures. Alden also expects an attempt to rework and revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and establish greater co-ordination with other countries in confronting China. For example, Biden has proposed a summit of democracies where countries can share ideas for countering autocracies. Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing this week that the last administration had a point in reorienting policy toward Beijing. "President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," Blinken said. "The basic principle was the right one, and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy." He got into a testy exchange at that hearing with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican who favours a hands-off approach on foreign affairs. When Blinken said he was open to expanding NATO membership to Russia's neighbour Georgia, Paul called that a recipe for war with Russia. Blinken argued the opposite is true. After years of Russian incursions in non-NATO Georgia and Ukraine, recent evidence suggests Russia is most belligerent with countries outside NATO's shield, he said. Keystone XL: The early irritant Biden and Trudeau are expected to discuss new travel measures to control the spread of COVID-19, as well as Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would run south from Alberta to Nebraska. So far, Trudeau has shown little desire to escalate the pipeline issue. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the other hand, has demanded retaliatory action, and some trade experts say potential legal avenues do exist. WATCH | Kenny on the fate of Keystone XL: But they're skeptical they will achieve much. Eric Miller of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a cross-border consulting firm specializing in trade and government affairs, said the best that pipeline-backers can hope for is to sue the U.S. government for financial compensation for the cancelled project. He said the Alberta government and the project's developer, TC Energy, can try suing under the investor-state dispute chapter in the old NAFTA, which will remain in effect for two more years for existing investments. "[But] nothing is going to force the Biden administration to deliver the permit," Miller said. "One has to be clear that there is no world in which Joe Biden [retreats on this]." Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doubts complaints from Canada will make a difference. He said the most politically effective argument for the pipeline would come from Americans — from the companies and unions that would have serviced the project. The Ohio-based lawyer said challenges under U.S. laws, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, could potentially work, but he cautioned: "They're high hurdles."
Surrounded by snow and ice — with sleet starting to fall — Ellen Lamont had all the teaching tools she could ever want to explain the states of matter to her elementary students this week. “What happens to our masks when we breathe outside?” Lamont asked her Grade 4/5 immersion students, each one seated in a homemade snow seat in their outdoor classroom, during a natural sciences lesson taught in French. She told them what they first exhale is a gas that condenses on their face coverings, and if they are outside long enough in the cold, that liquid may freeze and turn into a solid. Lamont could never have predicted she would be using personal protective equipment to conduct a lesson, nor she would ever be teaching in what her students have come to affectionately call “snow class” (classe de neige). The first-year teacher said she has taken all the pivots required during the COVID-19 pandemic in stride — and that’s how Laura Secord School’s snow class came to be. On Rupert DePape’s first day back after the holiday break, the fifth grader said he came across a sign posted near the designated school door for his class. The 10-year-old followed Lamont’s written instructions, and instead of entering the Wolseley area school as usual, built himself a snow chair. “We’re stuck in our seat, and have to stay far apart, and can’t really talk much (this year). Outside, it’s a lot more flexible with all the things you can do,” said Rupert, whose favourite subjects are history and math; the latter of which is taught outside, unless the wind chill makes the temperature feel -28 C or colder. While noting snow class can get “a bit chilly,” he said it’s superior to in-class learning, because all of the students can learn together and move freely. Lamont and David Seburn, an educational assistant, have been overseeing a duplex classroom, with Grade 4s in one room and Grade 5s in another, since Manitoba schools entered a restricted level (code orange) on the province’s pandemic response system. “I thought to myself, ‘It would be so nice — if just for this morning, we could all be outside so I could deliver this material once, altogether,’” Lamont said, recalling the moment she first decided to hold class outdoors Jan. 4. Engagement levels immediately spiked and students were more focused when they returned to their indoor classrooms to do pen-and-paper activities, she said. The success of an initial outdoor period has led to daily snow class lessons, which involve physical activity and the use of natural manipulatives, such as tree branches and ice cubes. Community members have donated Christmas trees, food colouring and a tree stump to decorate the space. The students also went on a nature walk to find items to make ice art with to spruce up the space. “To immerse children in nature and to create a love and reverence of nature is very important for this generation so we have kids that care about the environment and will protect it as they grow older,” said Seburn, an educational assistant and forest school practitioner-in-training who is currently enrolled in a course at the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. It’s not only easier to engage students outdoors, he said, but also safer, at present. Lauren Phillips said she is incredibly appreciative of how her children’s teachers, at both Laura Secord and River Heights School, have put emphasis on the importance of fresh air this year, in recognition COVID-19 can be transmitted through aerosols. “There’s this notion of schools being safe, but schools aren’t safe if the behaviours aren’t safe,” Phillips said. While her seventh grader’s teacher keeps the windows open during the school day, she said her son is ecstatic about snow class with Lamont. “Most people say school sucks, but I don’t really get why,” said Callie Neek, a fourth grader in the class. The nine-year-old said she would much rather be in school than at home, so she can see her friends and learn outside. As long as students are getting something out of it, Lamont said snow class will continue throughout the school year. “They’ve been so adaptive, so flexible, so willing to happily go along with whatever we’re doing and show up and try their best,” the Winnipeg teacher said. “They have really truly amazed me.” One of her students has suggested the class collect more stumps, so they can continue to learn outside when the snow melts. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
A strong negative reaction from members of the public to an off-leash dog park being included in designs for a new greenspace on Hartwell Way could prompt a re-think to the Town’s policies on rec spaces for four-legged friends. Last week, Council received revised plans for the proposed park in Aurora’s northeast, a new design which includes naturalized features and, in response to a community survey, no off-leash dog park. Council received initial concepts for the park in March of 2020. At the time, two designs were on the table which they directed be put out to the public, particularly residents in the homes within a short walking distance to the land in question, and that consultation process began last fall. According to a report from Sara Tienkamp, Aurora’s Manager of Parks and Fleet, approximately 720 letters were delivered to residents within a 500-metre radius of the land. The letters directed residents to take a look at the concept plans and weigh in on them virtually through the Town’s Engage Aurora platform. Out of these 720 letters, the Town got 178 responses and while the overall feedback was positive, it was a very different story for the dog park. Posed with the question, “Do you agree with the proposal to have a small, fenced dog run in this park?” 119 respondents said they disagreed with this component of the plan, with 40 saying they agreed, 11 voting for “somewhat agreed” and just two residents falling into the “somewhat disagree” camp. Just two respondents said they neither agreed nor disagreed. “Residents were concerned about the potential for noise from barking, security of dogs, odours and inappropriateness of an off-leash park in a residential area,” said Ms. Tienkamp. “As such, staff have removed the amenity from the design plans and the area will be programmed as an open space turf area for residents to utilize for recreation. “Staff have standing direction from Council to incorporate off-leash components in park design. Resident feedback on park design where off-leash parks have been included in design continues to be met with strong opposition. It is recommended that staff continue to pursue off-leash park opportunities but not as a part of park design where lands are located within a residential neighbourhood with bordering homes.” Conversely, a proposal to include a community garden in the area received a much warmer reception. In previous neighbourhood-adjacent parks, plans to include community gardens have received push-back from residents, who have cited odour, aesthetics and the potential to attract pests among their concerns. This case, however, might be an exception. “Community gardens have been suggested in other new park design/retrofits and unfortunately have not been well-received by the public; however, the respondents to the public consultation for this park were very pleased with the natural aesthetic of the design and inclusion of a community garden with raised accessible plots for gardening,” said Ms. Tienkamp. “In addition, residents expressed a strong interest in assisting with the administration of the community garden. “As such, the community gardens will remain part of the park design and staff will work to engage a group partner for the governance of the plots by creating an administration model similar to the York Region Food Network’s management plan for the current Aurora Community Garden.” Reviewing the report at last Tuesday’s General Committee meeting, lawmakers said that further work is needed to indentify appropriate locations for off-leash amenities. “I understand the rescinding of incorporating the dog park areas,” said Councillor Rachel Gilliland. “I certainly wouldn’t want to eliminate all options or opportunities to have dog parks located in alternative areas.” Asking staff whether there would be any further efforts to identify appropriate locations, Al Downey, Aurora’s Director of Operations, said the last Council was provided with a list of criteria for dog parks and potential locations. “The direction was that there was no direction coming from that,” said Mr. Downey. “Council had not asked us to identify any particular area. I would be more than happy to reintroduce that to Council. I think dog parks have to be looked at separately. It is an issue people would like to see them [but] they don’t necessarily want to see them in their neighbourhood but [close to] their neighbourhood. “We looked at hydro corridors and some of those areas [as potential locations] and those are somewhat problematic because they are not our lands [and] would take some negotiations, but I will do my very best to look at those reports and see if I can get that to Council as soon as possible.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
VANCOUVER — Tyler Toffoli continued to run amok over the Canucks Thursday, tallying two goals and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens dominated Vancouver 7-3. The three points added to the hat trick Toffoli scored against the Canucks — his former team — in Vancouver’s 6-5 shootout win over Montreal on Wednesday. Joel Armia had two goals and two assists, and Josh Anderson, Jake Evans and Ben Chiarot each scored for the Canadiens (3-0-2) Thursday. Vancouver (2-4-0) got a pair of goals from Bo Horvat, one from Brandon Sutter and a pair of assists from Tyler Myers, who took a five-minute major for a checking to the head on Armia late in the third period to go along with three minors for a total of 11 minutes in penalties. Montreal goalie Jake Allen registered 14 saves and captured the 150th win of his NHL career. Thatcher Demko stopped 35-of-42 shots for the Canucks. The Canadiens sealed the score with 1:05 left on the clock when Chiarot's rocket from the blue line beat Demko. The goal was Montreal's only power-play marker on the night, despite having the man advantage nine times. Sutter temporarily put a dent in the Canadiens' lead 4:56 into the third period with a nifty backhand that hit the cross bar before dropping into the net, making the score 6-3. But the Canucks had already fallen apart over the course of 94 seconds in the second frame. Toffoli scored Montreal's second short-handed goal of the night, putting a shot behind Demko 1:13 in. Vancouver battled through much of the frame before crumbling around the 15-minute mark. J.T. Miller took a shot from the blue line that Allen turned away with his pads. Nick Suzuki stole the rebound and sprinted down the ice alone. Demko stopped Suzuki's shot but Anderson was lying in wait at the side of the net to bat the rebound out of the air and into the Canucks goal. Just nine seconds later the Canadiens struck again when Paul Byron whipped a pass across the crease to Evans, who buried it. Armia struck next, scoring with a backhand shot from the slot to put Montreal up 6-2. Vancouver challenged the play for goalie interference but after a review, officials upheld the call on the ice. It was the second flurry of scoring action on the night. The two sides also combined for four goals in the first eight minutes of the game. The Canadiens were first on the board after Brogan Rafferty was caught trying to clear the puck from behind the Canucks' net. It was picked off his stick and a battle ensued in front of the crease. Toffoli came away with it and snapped a shot past Demko to open the scoring 1:54 into the first frame. It took Vancouver less than 90 seconds to respond. Myers took a long shot from the top of the face-off circle and Horvat deflected it in to knot the score at 1-1. A Canucks power play took a turn for the worse after Jonathan Drouin was called for holding 3:55 into the first period. Vancouver defenceman Nate Schmidt gave the puck away deep inside his own zone, where it was picked up by Toffoli. He dished it off to Armia and the right-winger fired it past Demko for Montreal's first short-handed marker of the night. Horvat tied the game at 2-2, beating Allen with a one-timer from the point on a power play before the midway mark of the first period. Vancouver’s veteran defenceman Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic were injured Wednesday's outing and missed Thursday’s game. Hamonic was placed on injured reserve Thursday. The lack of blue line depth was apparent in the second half of the back-to-back, with the Canucks dressing Rafferty, Olli Juolevi and Jalen Chatfield — a trio that had played a total of seven NHL games. Chatfield suffered an upper-body injury midway through the first period and did not return. The Habs and Canucks will close out their three-game series at Rogers Arena on Saturday. NOTE: All five of Toffoli's goals this season have come against Vancouver. The 28-year-old centre signed with Montreal in free agency after play 10 regular-season games with the Canucks last year. … The Canadiens fared better on the Canucks' power play than their own, scoring two short-handed markers and capitalized on just one man advantage. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021. Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
Although it might be at least another week before Aurora’s Community Energy Plan receives its final ratification from Council, local youth have given the goal to slash greenhouse gas emissions and find efficiencies an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Council, meeting at the Committee level, gave its tentative approval to the Town’s draft Community Energy Plan, one which identifies sources of emissions and proposes solutions, all with a goal of cutting emissions down by 80 per cent from 2018 levels by 2050. Before the official debates could even get under way, however, three elementary students stepped up to have their voices heard on the issue. And their message was clear: it’s time to get moving to improve the environment. “I have always loved the environment and the older I get the more I see what climate change is doing to our planet,” said Alexandra L. “I love our community and I would love to help as much as I can. Because I realize what is happening to our earth, I would like to change the environmental impact we’re having on our plants and animals. “This is a huge step in the right direction and hopefully in the future we will be able to see the change it has made. I am well aware of what is happening to our earth and humans are the cause. We are also noticing how it is already impacting ecosystems, some more than others, and communities play a huge role in these impacts. Luckily, just as we are the problem, we can also be part of the solution.” By taking these steps towards sustainability, we will be on the road towards healthier lives, she said. “By activating this plan, it can also create job opportunities for citizens as we need people to create these electric car stations and solar panels,” she said. “It can be extremely beneficial financially for you and the community as well. I don’t see how there could be any downsides to this plan and I really hope it becomes a reality as it will impact the environment in the most positive way possible. I can finish growing up in this community in the years to come by watching how this plan evolves to create a better world.” Students Valerie S. and Sumaya C. offered similar viewpoints, presenting together, albeit separately, during last week’s Committee meeting held over Zoom. “The next years are the last we can really make a difference,” said Valerie. “The plan will help the community of Aurora to develop an eco-friendly environment which can really help us in the future. We think the ideas in this plan…are beneficial and can be put to great use by our Town.” Added Sumaya: “We think that becoming more sustainable is immensely important. Becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly would be more cost-effective and could help save money in our community. We could use that money for more eco-friendly and sustainable changes throughout the Town or [for] new programs in the future.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
President Joe Biden is hiring a group of national security veterans with deep cyber expertise, drawing praise from former defense officials and investigators as the U.S. government works to recover from one of the biggest hacks of its agencies attributed to Russian spies. "It is great to see the priority that the new administration is giving to cyber," said Suzanne Spaulding, director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cybersecurity was demoted as a policy field under the Trump administration.
As the vaccine rolls out in long-term care homes across the country, some provinces, including British Columbia, are also prioritizing essential caregivers for a shot to benefit residents and staff. But there’s some inconsistency about who qualifies as essential.
Intel Corp executives have raised the possibility of licensing chipmaking technology from outside firms, a move that could see it exchanging manufacturing secrets with rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) or Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. Intel is one of the few remaining semiconductor firms that both designs and manufactures its own chips, but the business model has come into question in recent years as the company lost its manufacturing lead to the Taiwanese and Korean companies. But licensing technology could help Intel avoid major investments in rivals' factories that outsourcing deals would likely entail.
CHICAGO — Elizabeth Shelby had her inauguration outfit planned weeks in advance: blue jeans, a Kamala Harris sweatshirt, a green coat, and pink Chuck Taylors as an homage to her sorority’s colours and Vice-President Harris’ signature shoe. And pearls, just like the ones Harris wore when she graduated from Howard University, was sworn into Congress, and was sworn in as the first woman, first Black and South Asian person, and first Alpha Kappa Alpha member to serve as vice-president. Shelby, a member of the Alpha Psi chapter of AKA, had hoped to wear her pearls at the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Instead, she donned them at home in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, AKA, the oldest sorority of the historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up the Divine Nine, called off inauguration events and urged members to stay home. So countless AKA members celebrated the historic moment in their living rooms, on Twitter and on Zoom calls. “I wanted to help show Kamala that her sisters are behind her always,” Shelby said. “I wanted her to look out and see a sea of pink and green and know that this is her moment.” After the Capitol insurrection, Shelby cancelled her plane tickets and hotel reservation. The rioting robbed many AKAs of their feeling of safety at the inauguration and beyond, she said, and many members have been telling each other to stop wearing their letters in public for safety reasons. But Shelby said that didn't stop her from celebrating at a Zoom viewing party with her local graduate chapter. “I’m not going to let this take the joy out of this moment,” she said. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, joined AKA in 1986 at Howard University, one of the country’s oldest historically Black colleges and universities. When she accepted the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in August, she thanked AKA, saying, “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha.” Soon after, donations in increments of $19.08, marking the year, 1908, when the sorority was founded, started flowing in to a Biden-Harris campaign fundraising committee. Alpha Kappa Alpha declared on Twitter that Jan. 20 would be Soror Kamala D. Harris Day, and encouraged members to share photos of their celebrations with the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDay. Andrea Morgan, who became an AKA the same year Harris did, posted photos of her pink sweater and pearls on Twitter with the hashtag, which she told the AP “makes us feel closer together even when we're far apart." “If we were able to be there in person, I don’t think you’d be able to look anywhere without seeing pink and green,” said Genita Harris of the Delta Omega Omega chapter in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. "Now on social media, this is a showing of our solidarity, of our love and support for our soror.” She said group chats with her sorority sisters were “going bananas” during a historic moment for the sisterhood and for HBCUs. “It’s been the same story of white men for centuries," she said. “Now a new story is being written, and it’s our story.” AKA soror Josclynn Brandon booked her plane tickets to D.C. the day Biden announced Harris as his running mate in August. When the 2020 presidential election was called, CNN was playing on her phone on the dashboard of her car. She pulled over and cried. “I knew then that I was going to see Kamala Harris make history,” she said. “It confirmed that Black women and women of colour are so much more capable than some people believe us to be.” Brandon made plans to be in D.C. from Jan. 13-21 to celebrate the sorority’s Founders’ Day on Jan. 15, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration, all in the same city where AKA was founded. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, she, too, cancelled her trip. “It did rob me of my feeling of safety while going to D.C., and it robbed me of the moment of seeing a Black woman and sorority sister become VP right in front of me,” she said. “But it took away so much more than just me going to D.C. It takes away from this celebration and robs our incoming administration of the full celebration they deserved.” Brandon watched Harris' swearing-in from her home in Indianapolis while wearing a sweatshirt with a photo of Harris from college and the words, “The Vice-President is my sorority sister.” “I’m still going to celebrate,” she said. “I’m not going to let that group’s action take away this moment. I don’t want to let them win.” Shelby grew up hearing young Black boys say they wanted to be president after Barack Obama made history as the country’s first Black president. Now, she hopes Black girls will have those dreams too. “It’s a historic moment,” she said. “To see not only a woman but a woman of colour and member of the Divine Nine become vice-president is something I never even dreamed of happening as a little girl growing up in America.” “There is a pride I can’t put into words,” she continued. “It is such a joy to see her rise to this place in our country. It is such a joy to know that she is one of us, that she represents us. She is truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams.” ___ Associated Press writer Cheyanne Mumphrey in Phoenix contributed. Fernando is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christinetfern. Christine Fernando, The Associated Press
Thursday's Games NHL Montreal 7 Vancouver 3 Winnipeg 4 Ottawa 1 N.Y. Islanders 4 New Jersey 1 Tampa Bay 3 Columbus 2 (OT) Boston 5 Philadelphia 4 (SO) Los Angeles 4 Colorado 2 Florida at Carolina -- postponed --- NBA L.A. Lakers 113 Milwaukee 106 New York 119 Golden State 104 Utah 129 New Orleans 118 --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 21, 2021. The Canadian Press
Amazon Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney, who announced the plan in a news conference with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, said a company executive will be working with Washington State's Vaccine Command Center. The clinic will be hosted in partnership with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.
SAN DIEGO — In the days before Joe Biden became president, construction crews worked quickly to finish Donald Trump’s wall at an iconic cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971 as a symbol of international friendship. Biden on Wednesday ordered a “pause” on all wall construction within a week, one of 17 executive orders issued on his first day in office, including six dealing with immigration. The order leaves billions of dollars of work unfinished — but still under contract — after Trump worked feverishly last year to build more than 450 miles (720 kilometres), a goal he said he achieved eight days before leaving office. As of Jan. 15, the government spent $6.1 billion of the $10.8 billion in work it signed contracts to have done, according to a Senate Democratic aide with knowledge of the contracts who spoke on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public. The full amount under contract would have extended Trump’s wall to 664 miles (1,069 kilometres). Biden, seeking to fulfil a pledge not to build “another foot,” gave his administration two months to determine how much it would cost to cancel contracts and whether money could be spent elsewhere. The Senate aide said fees would be negotiated with contractors and the administration would seek to spend whatever's left on related uses on the border, such as roads, lights, sensors and other technology. Publicly, the Trump administration said it secured $15 billion for the wall. The Senate aide said it was actually $16.45 billion as of Wednesday, $5.8 billion of which was appropriated by Congress and the rest diverted from the Defence and Treasury departments. The Trump administration notified the Senate aide on Jan. 14 that it was moving ahead with a contract for $863 million, but it was not awarded. The Army Corps of Engineers, which has awarded wall contracts with Defence Department money, said Thursday that it told crews not to install any additional barriers and to limit activity over the next few days to what is “necessary to safely prepare each site for a suspension of work.” John Kurc, an activist who posts videos of dynamite blasts by wall construction crews, said he saw one dynamite charge being set Wednesday afternoon in Guadalupe Canyon in easternmost Arizona, even as the inauguration was playing out in Washington. Heavy machines have been crawling over roadways gouged into rocky mountainsides, tapping open holes for posts on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property. Advocates in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest area for illegal crossings, and near Nogales, Arizona, saw idle construction equipment Thursday. But in San Diego, crews were out replacing a steel fence with imposing, tightly spaced poles topped with flat steel plates rising 30 feet (9 metres), said Dan Watman of Friends of Friendship Park, a group that promotes public access to the cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Contractors began last week, said Watman, who was informed of the project in a December conference call with Border Patrol agents but got no explanation for it. The agency referred questions to the White House, which had no immediate comment. Trump said the border wall would be “virtually impenetrable” and paid for by Mexico, which never happened. While the wall is much more formidable than the barriers it replaced, it isn't uncommon for smugglers to guide people over or through it. Portions can be sawed with power tools sold at home improvement stores. Despite Trump's bravado, Border Patrol officials have said the wall was never meant to stop everyone but rather to slow their advance. Jose Edgar Zuleta, whose business selling religious jewelry in the Mexican city of Puebla dried up during the coronavirus pandemic, cleared two walls in Friendship Park in October with a special ladder. He moved through brush in a heavily patrolled area for about half an hour before getting caught. His 21-year-old son, who went ahead of him, got picked up hours later. The cross-border park has hosted yoga classes, concerts and countless news conferences, including one in 2018 with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce a “zero tolerance” policy that caused thousands of children to be separated from their parents at the border. An old bullfighting ring and ocean-view restaurants surround the Mexican side; wetland scrub stretches into the United States. Years ago, people passed baked goods, kissed and shook hands through a chain-link fence. Watman remembers passing tools back and forth in 2007 to plant a cross-border garden that still stands. Since 2012, after construction of a double wall at the park, the Border Patrol has opened a gate many weekends for up to 10 people at a time to exchange words with those in Mexico. SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won contracts to build double walls blanketing 14 miles (22 kilometres) in San Diego. Company spokeswoman Liz Rogers said work at Friendship Park is separate and done by another company. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month on whether the government' illegally diverted billions of dollars from the Defence Department to build the wall after Congress denied money that Trump sought, triggering a 35-day government shutdown in 2017. It is unclear if Biden will adopt Trump's position before the Supreme Court. The government's brief is due Feb. 11. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador welcomed Biden’s decision to stop wall construction but, in defence of Trump, noted that U.S. presidents going back to 1990s built border barriers. He displayed a chart to prove his point. ___ Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston, Anita Snow in Phoenix and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed. ___ This story has been corrected to show that border wall contractor SLSCO Ltd. says another company is doing the work at Friendship Park in San Diego. Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press
The “Shop Local” movement is in full swing as we endure a second lockdown, but there’s another movement one resident says we should take to heart as well: grow local – at least when it comes to eggs. That was the message delivered to Council last week by local resident Darryl Moore. Mr. Moore, a long-time proponent of a being able to keep backyard hens in Aurora, said going down this road and adopting the necessary bylaws to make it happen could pave the way not only for home-raised food in the form of eggs, but also pets, companionship, and even educational opportunities. “These are small things, but they’re important,” said Mr. Moore. “I know I have autistic children and animals are a very good thing for them, and chickens work very well that way. As well, people are learning where their food comes from.” This is not the first time Council has considered a backyard hen program, but previous efforts have fallen on the issues of odour, noise, and potentially attracting predators into neighbourhoods. Mr. Moore tackled these issues point by point, contending that backyard hens have no greater impact than dogs, cats or other conventional pets when it comes to odour and any scents are easily mitigated. As for noise, roosters would be the main culprits and would fall outside of any backyard hen program. But the issue of predators, however, was less clear cut. “It depends on where you live,” said Mr. Moore. “Where I live on Victoria Street, wolves and coyotes are not a big issue. Next to a ravine, they might be. It is easy enough to fortify the coops so it is not a big issue and you fortify them as much as you need depending on the types of predators you can expect. Chickens are on the bottom of the food chain, so animals are going to want to eat them, but it is easy enough to take care of.” The impact of backyard hens on property values, he admitted, was harder to evaluate but research and conversations with realtors, he contended, indicate it is minimal. “The main issue is people’s perceptions,” he said. “Property value is a perception. It isn’t really there because there isn’t an issue – people often don’t notice the chickens. Everyone has the right to enjoy their property to the best they can and that is probably the thing that comes up: they don’t want the nuisance of a chicken next door. There’s a lot of interest in this Town for backyard hens and I am really hoping that given the experience other municipalities have had, including ones right next door, that we can move quickly and implement based on knowledge and come up with some pilot project to get started and then move from there.” If Aurora adopted a backyard hen program, they wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. Similar programs have been piloted in the City of Toronto while the Town of Newmarket has incorporated provisions into their bylaws whereby all one has to do is apply for a permit with the Town, with some restrictions tied to yard size. Mr. Moore’s pitch received a mixed reception from Council. One lawmaker to signal their tentative support was Councillor Rachel Gilliland, who questioned the best method of getting a pilot project up and running. While the earliest a motion to do can be brought forward is February, she said there is much to consider. “It seems there is an appetite and other municipalities have taken that step,” she said. “Maybe there is some room to foster this idea and something we can implement here.” Less enthusiastic, however, was Councillor Harold Kim, who said he would not be able to support the idea “at this time.” “It is not because I don’t necessarily agree with your project, because it is certainly a noteworthy one…but this reminds me of when a couple of members of Council, including the then-mayor introduced the transparent garbage bags [initiative]. It was a very worthy project to move forward with, but do we have acceptance from the general community and the public? They have also inherited an intrinsic right to enjoy their property. Even though everything you say might be scientifically correct, it is about convincing everyone around you and that is a big problem and the challenge for me. I think it is just a matter of time. “It is about convincing our fellow neighbours and our community members to adopt it. It is not necessarily an overcoming [of] the fears of coyotes or salmonella…even though we have all the facts on the presentation. It is about convincing the general public. For those reasons, it is going to be challenging for me to sponsor it.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
Elected president of the Métis Nation B.C., Clara Morin Dal Col, has been suspended from her position amid escalating tension within its leadership. Nine members of the board voted to suspend her from her role as president in an unexpected meeting on Monday, tapping vice-president Lissa Dawn Smith to step in as acting president. Tension between Dal Col and board members has been playing out publicly for weeks, with waves of reactions from Métis people in B.C. throughout the turmoil. There are more than 21,000 registered citizens with Métis Nation B.C. which has 11 board members, including Dal Col. Some citizens have publicly taken sides, while others are expressing confusion and concern. Many are calling for more transparency around the events that led up to Dal Col's suspension after it was publicly announced on Tuesday. "This was not a decision taken lightly by the board," read a public statement released by Métis Nation B.C. on Tuesday. The specific reasons for the suspension were unclear in the statement — beyond broad allegations that Dal Col had contravened the oath of office and breached policies and procedures. The statement said, "the board was left with no other option but to issue a suspension." Métis National Council calls suspension a 'shocking coup' Leadership of the Manitoba Métis Federation and Métis National Council published a joint press release about Dal Col's suspension on Thursday, characterizing the board's actions as a "shocking coup." "This is a black eye for democracy," wrote Métis National Council president Clément Chartier. "We are disgusted by this underhanded attempt to eliminate a rightfully elected leader." The press release also stated that the federation and national council will not recognize Smith as the Métis Nation B.C. president. The mandate and direction of the national council flows from regionally elected leadership from the Métis governing bodies in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. There is ongoing tension and disagreement around the standing of the Métis Nation of Ontario at the national council. Public statements from Métis Nation B.C. and Dal Col in the lead-up to her suspension show that dispute over the status of the Ontario organization is among many points of disagreement between board members and Dal Col. Daniel Fontaine, CEO of Métis Nation B.C., was limited in what he would say about the suspension citing due process and Dal Col's right to appeal. "For us as public servants working at Métis Nation, our role is really to make sure that due process is undertaken. We want to make sure that all of our bylaws, our constitution, everything is properly adhered to," he said. "I'm confident that the process is unfolding as it should and we'll see what happens." When asked about the statement put out by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the National Council, Fontaine said he anticipates the board will issue a response soon. Dal Col was first elected president of the Métis Nation B.C. in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, securing 48 per cent of the votes cast for three candidates. Dal Col was not available for an interview prior to publishing.
The B.C. government is facing criticism for not making public a report into the effect of the pandemic on long-term care homes and failing to the tell the public that it was commissioned at all. Several organizations have confirmed they provided information in the summer of 2020 to consulting firm Ernst and Young, which was hired by the provincial government to look into how COVID-19 outbreaks were handled and how the virus was able to spread at different facilities. They now wonder why the Ministry of Health has not made the independent report public as B.C. deals with the second wave of COVID-19 infections. The Hospital Employees Union and B.C. Care Providers Association, which represents care home operators, said they also talked to Ernst and Young for the report. SafeCareBC, an industry funded, non-profit association which advocates for injury-free working conditions in the sector, also gave feedback. "We were approached back in July," said SafeCareBC CEO Jennifer Lyle. Lyle said the organization described challenges in obtaining personal protective equipment or PPE, staffing shortages and burnout, the province's single-site order for long-term care workers, the impact of the pandemic on mental health and visitation restrictions. "We also engaged with our members to help solicit their experiences and feedback from what they've experienced going through the first wave of the pandemic." The existence of the Ernst and Young report is causing confusion because B.C.'s seniors' advocate said last week that her office, too, is reviewing care homes. That report is expected to include facilities that experienced major, fatal outbreaks such as Little Mountain Place in Vancouver, Tabor Village in Abbotsford, Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and Langley Lodge. B.C. Liberals urge report's release The B.C. liberals are pushing for the independent report to be released as soon as possible and question why the recommendations weren't made public after the research was conducted last summer. Interim B.C. Liberal Leader Shirley Bond is calling for transparency regarding the report. "The little that we, and the public at large, do know about this report leaves us with plenty of questions and — out of respect to the hundreds of B.C. families that have been struck by tragedy as a result of outbreaks in long-term care homes — we expect the government to provide answers and release the report," said Bond. The Ministry of Health told another news outlet it is set to release the findings next week. It did not respond to CBC News by deadline.
Citing “long-standing and glaring systemic issues,” in Brampton’s bail court, a judge has stayed a string of serious criminal charges, including 10 gambling and 53 illicit gaming counts, against two men who waited 12 days for a bail hearing. In a damning ruling released last week, Superior Court Justice David Harris said he reviewed more than two dozen cases and found “pervasive” bail delays had occurred with “alarming frequency” in violation of accused persons’ charter right to a bail hearing in a reasonable amount of time — typically within 24 hours or three days for more complex hearings requiring a special bail hearing. “It is most regrettable that it has come to this,” Harris wrote. “Sadly, the long-standing nature of this problem and the profoundly detrimental effect on countless others not before the court, coupled with the virtually inevitable perpetuation of delays into the future, requires a stay.” In his ruling, Harris slammed a culture of indifference and complacency. “The alarm bell has been sounding for decades now. But at least in Brampton, no progress seems to have been made. A blind eye has often been turned to the delays. Maybe it is hoped the problem will go away on its own,” he wrote. Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brian Gray declined to comment on the judge’s findings, saying “as this matter is within the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to comment.” In his ruling, Harris cited a memo written by a Peel Crown attorney acknowledging significant and persistent systemic problems in scheduling special bail hearings in Brampton. “The specific concern of the Peel Crown Attorneys’ office is the delay in scheduling these hearings beyond the three-day remand allowed in the Criminal Code without the explicit consent of the defence,” wrote Crown Darilynn Allison. “However, because of the volume and resourcing issues, this is precisely what is taking place on a near-daily basis in the bail courts.” The case at the centre of Harris’s ruling involved Raffaele Simonelli and Michael Simonelli, cousins who were arrested on Dec. 12, 2019, along with two dozen others after a two-year police investigation known as Project Hobart. The Simonellis had been facing a slew of charges related to allegedly operating an illegal gaming house in Mississauga as part of a criminal organization — charges Harris called particularly serious due to the aggravating factor of their alleged links to organized crime. According to transcripts presented to Harris by defence lawyer Sonya Shikhman, 26 Brampton special bail hearings conducted in 2019 had delays ranging from five days at the low end to 35 days at the high end. The average delay was approximately 13 days; none was conducted within three days, Harris wrote. In the Simonellis’ case, lawyers for both men were ready to proceed with special bail hearings on Dec. 13, 2019, the day after their arrest, but the Crown, emphasizing the complexity and seriousness of the matter, asked for it to be adjourned until Jan. 3, 2020. The police had “ample time to prepare the paperwork necessary for the Crown and defence to conduct a bail hearing” and to alert the court more resources would be needed that day. But instead of an executive summary focused on three grounds for bail, the police provided a 95-page synopsis that was of “little real assistance in the conduct of a bail hearing,” Harris wrote. The justice of the peace agreed to the three-week adjournment sought by the Crown, citing a variety of factors including lack of courtroom availability “I can’t speak to the issue of resources other than they do not exist,” the justice of the peace said, in response to an outcry by numerous defence lawyers in court that day. Harris called the three-week delay over the holidays “egregious.” As a result of an application filed by Shikhman, the bail hearing was held 12 days later, on Dec. 24, 2019. Ultimately, both men were released on bail, with strict house arrest conditions. Shikhman told the Star that although Brampton stands out for the frequency and length of delays, it is a systemic problem seen provincewide. “The system needs a remember that if you let things fall through the cracks and don’t keep up with the growing population and the amount of resources required, then you’re violating constitutional rights of a systemic nature,” Shikhman said. Last May, the Ontario Court of Justice issued new directives to speed up special bail hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began after the Simonellis’ hearing. However, Harris wrote, no evidence was provided by the Crown to show these measures have had any effect on reducing delays. “Whether the problem is scarcity of resources, inefficient use of available resources or both in combination, the evidence adduced shows that nothing significant has been done to address the situation besides Ms. Allison’s memo and the practice directions,” Harris wrote. “These efforts have failed to wrestle with the root of the problem or lead to meaningful change.” Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
WASHINGTON — Testing wristbands are in. Mask-wearing is mandatory. Desks are socially distanced. The clearest sign that there's a new boss at the White House is the deference being paid to coronavirus public health guidlines. It’s a striking contrast to Donald Trump’s White House, which was the epicenter of no less than three separate outbreaks of COVID-19, their true scale not fully known because aides refused to discuss cases publicly. While the Trump administration was known for flouting safety recommendations, the Biden team has made a point of abiding by the same strict guidelines they’re urging Americans to follow to stem the spread of the virus. It’s part of an overall effort from President Joe Biden to lead by example on the coronavirus pandemic, an ethos carried over from his campaign and transition. “One of the great tragedies of the Trump administration was a refusal to recognize that many Americans model the behaviour of our leadership," said Ben LaBolt, a former press secretary to President Barack Obama who worked on the Biden transition. “The Biden administration understands the powerful message that adhering to their own guidelines and modeling the best public health behaviour sends, and knows that that’s the best path to climbing out of this until we can get a shot in the arm of every American.” To that end, most of Biden’s White House staff is working from home, co-ordinating with colleagues by email or phone. While the White House aims to have more people working onsite next week, officials intend to operate with substantially reduced staffing for the duration of the pandemic. When hundreds of administration staffers were sworn in by Biden on Wednesday, the ceremony was virtual, with the president looking out at team members displayed in boxes on video screens. The emphasis on adhering to public safety guidelines touches matters both big and small in the White House. Jeffrey Wexler is the White House director of COVID-19 operations, overseeing the implementation of safety guidelines throughout the administration, a role he also served during the transition and campaign. During her first press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested those working in the office would receive daily testing and N95 masks would be mandatory. Indeed, Biden's new federal mask mandate executive order requires that federal employees, contractors and others in federal buildings and on federal lands wear masks and adhere to social distancing requirements. The executive order allows for agency heads to make “case-by-case exceptions" — like, for instance, Psaki's. She wears one until she steps up to the podium for briefings. Officials in close contact with Biden wear wristbands to signify they have been tested that day. Every event with the president is carefully choreographed to maintain distancing, with strips of paper taped to the carpet to show the likes of Vice-President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci where to stand when Biden is delivering an address. When Biden met with his COVID team in the State Dining Room on Thursday, the five people in the room sat at individual tables placed at least six feet apart and four others joined by Zoom to keep numbers down. Plexiglass barriers have been set up at some desks that are in open areas, but nearly all staff who are already working in the building have enclosed offices. The Biden team already had a robust contact tracing program set up during the transition, which it's keeping around for any possible exposures. Staffers also were issued laptops with wallpaper displays that offer a list of COVID symptoms and a directive to “call the White House medical unit” if they have experienced any of them. The Trump White House was another story altogether. After one virus scare in May, the White House mandated mask-wearing, with a memo from chief of staff Mark Meadows requiring their use in shared workspaces and meetings. Simple surgical masks were placed at the entrance to the West Wing. But after only a few days of moderate compliance, mask-wearing fell away almost entirely, as Trump made it clear to aides he did not like the visual of people around him wearing masks — let alone wearing one himself. Trump’s White House reduced staffing capacity during the earliest days of the pandemic, but by late spring, when Trump was intent on projecting that the country was “reopening” from pandemic lockdowns — and the U.S. was at roughly 80,000 deaths — aides quickly resumed normal operations. That provided ideal conditions for the spread of an airborne virus. It was only after Trump himself tested positive that some aides began staggering their work schedules to provide enhanced distancing and contingencies in case someone tested positive. Those working for the new administration welcome the stricter guidelines now, but they do pose some potential complications as the Biden team builds out its operation. Karen Finney, who was a spokeswoman in the Clinton White House, said the first challenge may simply be creating a cohesiveness and camaraderie when some new staffers are brought on board without ever having worked in the same room. “When you sit in the same office as everyone, it’s just a different dynamic," she said. “There's a sense of, ‘We’ve got each other's backs, we're going to be working together on this.'” Finney added that most of the staff are used to working remotely at this point, so it's not necessarily a new challenge. But she allowed that the national COVID response itself could be somewhat hamstrung by the COVID requirements at the White House. “Having to co-ordinate between limited staff in the office, those working remotely, along with governors, mayors, their staff, those on the Hill — it’s a challenge,” she said. “They’ve had the time to think through how to do some of this, but look, it’s going to be a work in progress." Alexandra Jaffe And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Google and Facebook Inc have granted an Australian local government news provider status, drawing questions about the internet giants' efforts to curate news media. Bundaberg Council, a regional government, told Reuters a website it runs received classification as a Google "news source", making it the country's first local government with that accreditation. That means a council-funded website containing only public relations content gets priority in Google News searches about the agriculture hub of 100,000 people, accompanied by a "news source" tag.
Mayor George Pirie’s State of the City address coincided with a major announcement. During his address, Pirie announced the sale of the former Tweed & Hickory and Bucovetsky’s retail building on Third Avenue. Due to the pandemic, the annual event, hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce, was held virtually over Zoom. The mayor was tasked with giving an overall update on the city, its operations, the local economy, and hot-button issues, as well as answering questions from chamber members and the media. After a question came about encouraging new construction and developments in the city centre as opposed to on the outskirts, Pirie was happy to state that the historic three-storey building at 227 Third Ave. will finally be undergoing major refurbishment in the near future. Things Engraved and Bloomex are the named purchasers. “I’m very, very excited about this,” said Pirie, adding that it is a significant announcement for the city and the Downtown Timmins Business Improvement Association. Pirie said it wasn’t an easy property to sell. “It takes a long time to find the right partner.” He added that much of the leg work was done with another local business owner who felt there was a major opportunity at that location. “We’ve got a good environment. The situation is improving on the ground. We've got a major corporation who says, 'Yeah, this looks like a great place to locate.’” While it is promising news to have another retailer open up shop in the downtown core, given the current circumstances, many local businesses are struggling to keep up with bills. Pirie said the city is doing everything it can to help, such as freezing tax payments and not implementing late fees, and said that everyone in the community has a role to play as well by making a concerted effort to shop at locally owned businesses whenever possible. “Shop there. Yes, you can go to Walmart or whatever, I guess. No. 1, you’re not going to get the same quality of service and more than likely, you’re not going to get the same quality of goods. Help them. Stop in and shop there. Pick something up. That’s what we can all do to help. It’s not just an idle phrase ‘shop local.’” In the meantime, renovation work on the recently purchased building is expected to begin later in 2021, and will run for approximately one year. The city said the goal is to bring the historic building “back to its former glory.” The company said its vision is to use the space to create a multi-retail “European Market” vibe with various departments such as home decor, clothing, wedding and bridal, gardening, and floral. Once fully operational, approximately 20 jobs will be created. Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press
An additional $50 million in provincial funding is being earmarked for K-12 school capital projects, ranging from roof replacements to ventilation system upgrades, Manitoba’s education minister announced Thursday. Combined with a prior 2020 budget commitment of $160 million, the sum will both help facilities get much-needed upgrades and bring the province closer to its goal of opening 20 new schools in 10 years, Education Minister Cliff Cullen told reporters. “We must continue Manitoba’s ongoing investment in school infrastructure for the longevity of our schools and to improve accessibility for all students,” he said during a news conference. Cullen said investments will be made into multi-year projects already underway, purchasing future school sites, upgrading mechanical systems in schools, structural projects, and building new portable classrooms across Manitoba. Of the $210 million in total funding for infrastructure projects, $76 million has been allocated for existing projects and $61 million for new schools. Six new schools have opened, two are going to tender in the spring, and design will start on four projects during the 2021-22 school year, Cullen said. New schools are expected to be built in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine and the Brandon, Louis Riel, River East Transcona, Seven Oaks, and Pembina Trails school divisions in the coming years. The province plans to spend $64 million on 84 renewal projects. That sum is broken down into: $10 million for access projects, such as elevator and wheelchair lift installations; $21 million for mechanical system upgrades for infrastructure, such as boilers and ventilation systems; $16 million for roof replacements; and $16 million to fix structural problems with aging foundations, walls and historic entrance stonework. The remaining $8 million is for building portable classrooms that can be moved wherever needed. Following the announcement, NDP education critic Nello Altomare called on the province to make “a real” investment in schools. “Now more than ever, kids deserve a quality education system that helps them succeed despite the pandemic. The Pallister government can continue to make promises, but the reality is they would rather underspend than help kids,” Altomare, MLA for Transcona, said in a statement. Last year, for the third year in a row, public schools received a $6.6-million boost in funding, totalling $1.33 billion — an approximately 0.5 per cent increase. Critics voiced concerns about the operating funding allocations — which are typically announced in late January — not keeping up with inflation and the province hamstringing divisions by capping education property tax increases to a maximum of two per cent. Also on the education file, Manitoba Education confirmed Thursday it is calling off spring senior provincial exams for the second year in a row. The province previously cancelled Grade 12 winter exams, citing learning disruptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re still expecting that teachers will be evaluating Grade 12 students, whether that be some form of exam or testing,” Cullen said, adding the decision was made to ease the burden on students and teachers this year. The minister added Manitobans can expect an announcement on the teacher COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot in the coming days. Sixty rapid tests had been completed, as of Thursday afternoon. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press