In the opening moments of a Golden Globes night even more chaotic and confounding than usual, co-host Tina Fey raised a theoretical question: “Could this whole night have been an email?” Only the next three hours would tell. Well, sure, it could have been an email. But then you wouldn't have had Chadwick Boseman’s eloquent widow, bringing many to tears as she explained how she could never be as eloquent as her late husband. Or Jane Fonda, sharply calling out Hollywood for its lack of diversity on a night when her very hosts were under fire for exactly that. Or Chloé Zhao, making history as the first woman of Asian descent to win best director (and the first woman since 1984.) Or 98-year-old Norman Lear, giving the simplest explanation for his longevity: never living or laughing alone. Or Jodie Foster kissing her wife joyfully, eight years after very tentatively coming out on the same telecast. Of course, there were the usual confounding results and baffling snubs, compounded here by some epic Zoom fails. But then we had the kids and the dogs. And they were adorable. Next year, can we still have the kids and the dogs, please? Some key moments of the first and hopefully last virtual Globes night: AN OVERDUE RECKONING The evening began under a cloud of embarrassing revelations about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its lack of inclusion, including the damaging fact that there are no Black members in the 87-person body. Fey and co-host Amy Poehler addressed it early: “Even with stupid things, inclusivity is important." Winners like Daniel Levy of “Schitt's Creek” and presenters like Sterling K. Brown referred to it. Jane Fonda made it a theme of her powerful speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award. And the HFPA made a hasty onstage pledge to change. “We recognize we have our own work to do,” said vice-president Helen Hoehne. “We must have Black journalists in our organization.” “I DON'T HAVE HIS WORDS” The best-actor award to Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” had been expected. That did not dull the emotional impact of his victory. His widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, tearfully accepted in his honour, telling viewers that her husband, who died of colon cancer at 43 before the film was released, “would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify that little voice inside of all of us that tells you you can. That tells you to keep going, that calls you back to what you are meant to be doing at this moment in history.” But, she said poignantly, “I don't have his words." Co-star Viola Davis could be seen weeping as Ledward spoke. She was not alone. PREDICTABLE ZOOM FAILS It was obvious there were going to be awkward Zoom fails. It started early, when the very first winner, Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” was on mute as he accepted his award, leaving presenter Laura Dern to apologize for technical difficulties. Thankfully, the problem was resolved in time for the actor to speak. Jason Sudeikis, whose charmingly rambling speech ("This is nuts!") and rumpled hoodie signalled he hadn't expected to win, finally realized he needed to “wrap this puppy up.” And winner Catherine O'Hara ("Schitt's Creek") had some perhaps unwelcome help from her husband, whose efforts to provide applause sounds and play-off music on his phone while she spoke lost something in translation, causing confusion on social media. Oh yes, and there were those conversations between nominees before commercials — did they know we heard them? KIDS AND PETS, STILL BRINGING JOY Still, the virtual acceptances from winners stuck at home had a huge silver lining: happy kids and cute pets. When Mark Ruffalo won for “I Know This Much is True,” two of his teens could not control their joy enough to stay out of the camera shot. Not to be outdone, the adorable young daughter of Lee Isaac Chung, writer-director of the Korean-American family drama “Minari,” sat in his lap and hugged him throughout his acceptance for best foreign language film. “She’s the reason I made this film,” said Chung. Winner Jodie Foster ("The Mauritanian") also had a family member in her lap: her dog. Also seen: Sarah Paulson's dog, and Emma Corrin's cat. LOVE FOR BORAT, SNUB FOR BAKALOVA ... AND EXPOSURE FOR GIULIANI Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, breakout star of Amazon’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” had been widely expected to win, but lost out to Rosamund Pike ("I Care a Lot") who saluted Bakalova's bravery. In her movie, Pike said, “I had to swim up from a sinking car. I think I still would rather do that than have been in a room with Rudy Giuliani.” The former New York mayor's infamous cameo was also the butt of jokes from “Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen, who called Giuliani “a fresh new talent who came from nowhere and turned out to be a comedy genius ... I mean, who could get more laughs from one unzipping?” Baron Cohen, who won for best actor in a comedy, also joked that Donald Trump was “contesting the result” of his win. A FIERY FONDA Did you expect anything less from Fonda? In her memorable DeMille award speech, the multiple Globe winner extolled the virtues of cinematic storytelling — “stories can change our hearts and our minds” — then pivoted to admonishing Hollywood. “There's a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves,” she said, “a story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out: a story about who’s offered a seat at the table and who’s kept out of the rooms where decisions are made.” She said the arts should not merely keep step with society, but lead the way. “Let's be leaders,” she said. ZHAO MAKES HISTORY When Zhao won best director for her haunting and elegant “Nomadland,” she was the first Asian American woman ever to win that award. But that wasn't the only way she made history: it was the first directing Globe for a woman in nearly 40 years, since Barbra Streisand won for “Yentl." Her film, a look at itinerant Americans, “at its core for me is a pilgrimage through grief and healing,” Zhao said. “For everyone who has gone through this difficult and beautiful journey at some point in their lives, we don’t say goodbye, we say: See you down the road.” With Zhao's win, the road widens for other female directors. ___ This story has been corrected to show that Norman Lear is 98, not 99. Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press
Emma Corrin just won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Princess Diana.
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. She also says the province will soon share an updated vaccine plan that factors in expected shipments of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province will do that after getting guidance from the federal government on potentially extending the time between first and second doses, like B.C. is doing, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months, Elliott says She also says Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021. The Canadian Press
It’s hard to say what is the more impressive feat — remotely landing a spacecraft on Mars, or a kid from Norfolk County landing a job at NASA. Christopher Heirwegh’s unlikely trajectory took him from a Simcoe Composite School physics class to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where an instrument he helped design is scanning the surface of Mars for signs of ancient life. “It’s been a very exciting past couple of weeks, starting with the anticipation leading up to the landing, followed by the joy of knowing it made it successfully,” said Heirwegh, 39, a few days after watching the Mars rover Perseverance complete its 300 million-mile journey to the Red Planet on Feb. 18. As Perseverance floated down to the surface, Heirwegh was on the edge of his seat at his home in Pasadena, Calif. His wife, Meagan, and their six-year-old daughter, Harper, were by his side, with the rest of Heirwegh’s JPL team sharing in the suspense on a video call. “It hit me right at that moment before landing, around the parachute phase, that things are going to come in fast, and oh boy, if this doesn’t make it, where do we go from here?” Heirwegh said. “There was certainly some tension.” Perseverance’s thrusters soon kicked in to start its powered descent, and a sky crane took over to gently place the rover on Mars. While mission control filled with the cheers of relieved scientists, the Heirweghs tucked into celebratory shawarma and cake. Now that Perseverance is trundling around the Jezero crater, Heirwegh’s work has just begun. The physicist is keeping a close eye on PIXL, a high-tech X-ray machine that has been his sole professional focus since joining NASA in 2016. PIXL — the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry — is one of two instruments mounted on the lander’s robotic arm that will help answer the mission’s central question — has there been life on Mars? About the size of a lunch box, PIXL’s job is to scan Martian rocks for trace elements that could point to the presence of ancient life, while taking what Heirwegh describes as “super close-up pictures of rock and soil textures” that could reveal microbial evidence smaller than a grain of salt. PIXL has an X-ray tube at its heart, similar to what dentists use when photographing teeth. The scanner shoots pinpoint-sized X-ray beams into the rock, a process not unlike how artwork investigators chemically analyze paintings to detect forgeries. “We’re looking at things that tell us what the rock is made of, where the rock might have come from, if it was exposed to water, and also if it might have potentially harboured very primitive forms of life at one time,” Heirwegh explained. PIXL is best at finding evidence of inorganic material — heavier elements like calcium, lead and strontium — while another instrument on the rover, called SHERLOC, looks for “the building blocks of life,” lighter organic molecules like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Together, they search for “biosignatures” suggestive of fossilized bacteria that may have called a Martian ocean home billions of years ago. “Our two instruments can each produce two-dimensional elemental maps,” Heirwegh said, likening each pinpoint of data collected to the pixels on a television that combine to form a clear picture. “We’re hoping we can eventually overlay the two maps so we can really get a good idea of what the rock is all about.” Reaching for the stars The grandson of tobacco farmers who immigrated to Norfolk County from Belgium, Heirwegh grew up enthralled by the stars in the night sky and the vastness of space. He never missed an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation — “mostly just the Rodenberry years,” he clarified — and pored over images of the solar system captured by the Voyager probes. “I found that pretty fascinating, and that kind of led me to what I do now,” he said. Mike and Laurie Heirwegh have followed their son’s career with pride. “Some of the stuff is way above what we understand. Christopher always keeps it as simple as possible for us,” Mike said with a laugh. Mike, a retired pharmacist and business owner, said his “studious” and “reserved” son excelled in a science-heavy course load at Simcoe Composite School. “Whitney, our daughter, said he had this microscope he got at Christmas and would project images up in his room and explain what was on the slides to her and her sister Danielle,” added Laurie, who owns a gift shop in Simcoe. Four years studying undergraduate science at McMaster University in Hamilton led to a master’s in medical physics at Mac, where Heirwegh first tried his hand at X-ray technology. He further studied X-ray fluorescence and radiation science while doing his PhD and post-doctoral fellowship in applied physics at the University of Guelph, which involved analyzing data collected by the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers. That piqued NASA’s interest, creating a rare opportunity for a Canadian to join the Jet Propulsion Lab. “There were not too many people who were doing that,” Mike Heirwegh said. “To get a job like he’s doing in NASA, you have to be uniquely different than any American.” The family left their house in Guelph to make a new life in America, with Meagan Heirwegh, herself an accomplished academic, putting her career on hold so her husband could follow his dream. “She was extremely supportive of taking this step,” Heirwegh said. “That’s been a really key part of it, and something that helped me to have the courage to make such a drastic move.” While navigating the immigration process, Heirwegh got to work calibrating PIXL years ahead of its launch on Perseverance. Past Mars rovers have used X-ray fluorescence spectrometers, but PIXL is the first with an X-ray tube, a technological milestone Heirwegh finds “quite rewarding.” In the months ahead, Heirwegh and his fellow scientists will analyze the trove of scientific data Perseverance will transmit across space to the Jet Propulsion Lab, while making sure their high-tech scanner stays properly calibrated. To keep himself calibrated in what can be a high-pressure job, Heirwegh exercises every morning, and he and Meagan solve a Mensa puzzle together over breakfast. “It’s a nice way to jump-start the physical and mental gears,” he said. Heirwegh could not have known what the future held when he decided to leave Canada and boldly go to NASA to reach for the stars. But his parents say their son was destined to work on the Mars project. “I think the term ‘perseverance’ is very much like Christopher,” Mike said. “He persevered to get to where he is.” J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
SURREY, B.C. — RCMP say a third suspect has surrendered to police after a youth was assaulted with a weapon Monday in an attack outside a school in Surrey, B.C. Two other youths were taken into custody shortly after the assault outside Panorama Ridge Secondary School. Police say the third suspect surrendered later on Monday and all three youths remained in custody overnight. The suspects were scheduled to appear in court Tuesday and investigators say none of them are known to police. The victim was taken to hospital in stable condition Monday and police have not released further details about what led to the assault. A statement issued Tuesday by RCMP says the attack is believed to be related to an ongoing dispute among the teens and is not linked to gang activity, and there's no indication of any continuing risk to safety at the school. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
YANGON, Myanmar — Police in Myanmar repeatedly used tear gas and rubber bullets Tuesday against crowds protesting last month's coup, but the demonstrators regrouped after each volley and tried to defend themselves with barricades as standoffs between protesters and security forces intensified. Authorities have escalated their crackdown on the protests in recent days. The United Nations said it believed at least 18 people were killed on Sunday when security forces fired into crowds, while a rights group said more than 1,000 people were detained over the weekend, including an Associated Press journalist. A lawyer for the journalist said he has been charged with an offence that could see him imprisoned for up to three years. Despite the increasingly brutal crackdown, demonstrators have continued to flood the streets — and are beginning to more rigorously resist attempts to disperse them. Hundreds, many wearing construction helmets and carrying makeshift shields, gathered in Myanmar's largest city of Yangon, where a day earlier police had fired repeated rounds of tear gas. They dragged bamboo poles and debris to form barricades, chanted slogans and sang songs at the police lines. They even threw banana skins onto the road in front of them in a bid to slow any police rush. The mainly young demonstrators fled in panic each time tear gas canisters were fired but soon returned to their barricades. Videos posted on social media showed similar chaotic scenes in the Insein neighbourhood of northern Yangon. Protesters also took up their flags and banners to march through the streets of Dawei, a small city in southeastern Myanmar that has seen almost daily large demonstrations against the coup. One group of demonstrators was targeted by the security forces as it entered a narrow street on its way to pay respects at the house of a man killed in Sunday’s crackdown. Another was attacked on the main street in the city’s centre. Police also dispersed protests in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, on Tuesday. Yangon, Dawei and Mandalay were among the cities where security forces reportedly fired live ammunition into crowds Sunday, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. There were reports that they also fired live rounds Tuesday, but they could not immediately be confirmed. Some fear the junta’s escalating use of force is meant to provoke a violent backlash by the demonstrators — who have largely remained nonviolent — in order to discredit them and justify an even harsher crackdown. Videos from recent days show a greater number of protesters trying to stand their ground and throw objects at the police. “I beg the people in Myanmar not to fall in this trap, so to stay peaceful,” U.N. Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener said in interview with CNN, acknowledging that it was easier for her, safely away from the violence, to urge peaceful protesting. She also accused the authorities of spreading rumours about the conditions of people in detention to stir up even more anger on the streets. The Feb. 1 coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. It came the day a newly elected Parliament was supposed to take office. Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term, but instead she was detained along with President Win Myint and other senior officials. The military government has charged Suu Kyi, 75, with several offences that critics say are trumped up merely to keep her jailed and potentially prevent her from participating in the election promised in a year’s time by the military. Her party says it does not know where Suu Kyi — who has a long history of campaigning for democracy in Myanmar — is being held. The weekend crackdown drew international condemnation. In addition to the use of force, authorities also detained more than 1,000 people, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. That included at least eight journalists, among them Thein Zaw of the AP, who was detained while covering the protests. His lawyer said Tuesday that he and five other Myanmar journalists have been charged with violating a public order law. The AP has decried his detention as arbitrary and called for his immediate release. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the use of force and arbitrary arrests “unacceptable,” according to his spokesperson. The U.S., British and other governments issued similar statements of concern. But the military has showed no sign of backing down. The protesters and their supporters have appealed for help from abroad, but there are few prospects for major intervention. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional group of 10 nations, has a policy of seeking a consensus among its members, making it unlikely to take strong action. A virtual meeting Tuesday of the group's foreign ministers ended with only a statement — issued by the group’s chair, rather than a joint declaration — calling for an end to violence and for talks to try to reach a peaceful settlement. The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has proposed that countries could institute a global embargo on the sale of arms to Myanmar and “tough, targeted and co-ordinated sanctions” against those responsible for the coup, the crackdown and other rights abuses. But any kind of co-ordinated action at the United Nations would be difficult since two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions. ___ Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report. The Associated Press
Pedal power is coming to Mitchell’s Bay after council officially awarded a contract for the construction of a bike lane. On Monday, Chatham-Kent council awarded Armstrong Paving and Materials Group Ltd. with a $291,290.73 contract for the project. North Kent Coun. Jamie McGrail said the Mitchell's Bay Area Association has been working hard to get this project off the ground and completed for months. The association also contributed $25,000 toward the project. “They're excited that hopefully come June or July, we invite everybody to come down to Mitchell's Bay and take advantage of this new trail, because it really does complete an awesome trail system that's already here,” she said. The bike lane will be constructed along Bay Line which is the only roadway leading into the waterfront community. The 1.5 metre-wide paved shoulder will extend west from Winter Line Road to Dover Beach Park and connect to Memorial Park and Trail, the South Lakeshore Trail, and surrounding residential neighbourhoods. The route has been identified as a key connector for The Great Trail – a cross-Canada 24,000-kilometre system of greenways, waterways, and roadways – and the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. “Both of these national and provincially promoted routes are identified on the respective organizations’ mapping as a key connection. This route is also identified in the Chatham-Kent trails master plan through the implementation plan,” reads a report to council. Public consultation also took place with only one opposition expressed toward the project. Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice
Another GTA region has begun inoculating seniors 80 years of age and older. Shallima Maharaj has the story.
The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) moved into the green zone of the province’s COVID-19 reopening framework on Monday, and the shift has once again raised concerns about the risk of opening the region while the rest of the province remains under in lock down. At a recently held Collingwood council meeting, Collingwood Deputy Mayor, Keith Hull said if he were a councillor in TBM he would be "terrified" that the province just opened up the town as "Ontario's playground," for anyone and everyone to come without restrictions. TBM Mayor Alar Soever said he is more concerned about people abiding by public health protocols once they arrive at TBM, as opposed to monitoring or restricting where they are travelling from. “I think if everybody follows all of the protocols, regardless of where they're from, then, we should continue to see success. The bottom line is people have been coming up here since March and travelling back and forth,” Soever said. “People should just appreciate the fact that we are in the green zone, but keep up their guard, follow all the health protocols and I don't think we will have a problem,” he continued. Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for the GBHU said he is concerned about people coming into the area from other high-risk regions, but he is confident in the community’s ability to continue to embrace safety measures. “This is definitely a top concern these days,” Arra said. “But, we look at the way the community has performed over the past 12 months, and I have a high-level of confidence that people will keep their guard up. However, we do need to do a bit more during this time, just because of the discrepancy between the level of risk between the two areas." In terms of initiating control measures, such as check stops coming into the community or address checks, Arra said nothing is off the table. “If there are indications that more intrusive measures are needed, we might go there. But at this point, it's education and communication to businesses and to the public in Grey-Bruce,” Arra said. Soever said check stops are not overly realistic and would be very difficult to manage logistically. “I just don't think there is a practical way of doing it,” he said. “When people do come here, as long as they socially distance and monitor their own health, and stay home when they have even minimal symptoms, then I think it's going to be just fine,” Soever said. Soever added that he would encourage residents to focus on where transmission of COVID-19 is occurring and follow the messages being provided by the GBHU. “Regardless of what zone you're in, just keep following the public health advice. We're in the green zone now. But if people don't follow the rules, we can go backwards pretty quick,” Soever said. According to Arra, since the onset of the pandemic, there have been no reports of case transmission related to a visitor and the majority of cases in the region are linked to private parties and social gatherings. “It's difficult to predict the future. But it's so easy to look at the past. We have a whole summer of visitors coming to the area from high-risk area hotspots and not once did we have reports of case transmission related to a visitor,” Arra said. “That really speaks to the commitment of businesses, local businesses and local community members to protect themselves, their family and the community. I see no reason why this would be any different going forward.” Cases are reported based on the primary address of the person who tests positive for COVID-19, the health unit will receive positive test results for individuals whose primary address is in Grey and Bruce County. As the community begins to embrace the freedom of the green zone, Arra pleads with the public to remember the 3W’s. "Washing hands frequently watching distance - regardless of the colour of the zone, regardless of where the person is from, these things have and will keep us safe until enough vaccines are in arms," Arra said. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission told Congress on Tuesday that the agency should address how to protect investors who use online stock-trading platforms with flashy tech gimmicks that entice them to trade more. Gary Gensler, who was a chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration, testified by video for his confirmation hearing by the Senate Banking Committee. He was asked about the roiling stock-trading drama involving GameStop shares that has spurred clamour for tighter regulation of Wall Street. The trading frenzy in shares of the struggling video-game retailer lifted their price 1,600% in January, though they later fell back to earth after days of wild price swings. “At the core it’s about protecting investors,” Gensler said. Among the issues to be examined, he said, is the use of “behavioural” technology in stock-trading apps. “What does it mean when you have behavioural prompts to get investors to do more transactions? We’re going to have to study that and think about it,” Gensler told the panel. The GameStop episode prompted lawmakers to raise concern about the business model of Robinhood, the online trading platform that hosted a wave of trading in GameStop. Critics have accused Robinhood of trying to lure young people with little or no experience trading stocks by including features on its trading platform that resemble gaming apps — like showering users' screens with virtual confetti when they make a trade. Lawmakers have asked whether Robinhood is doing enough to communicate the risks to its users. Robinhood offers commission-free trading, but critics say customers pay another, hidden price because Robinhood provides their data on buying and selling to Wall Street firms. If confirmed to the SEC post, Gensler said, he would work to strengthen transparency and accountability in the markets. That will enable people “to invest with confidence and be protected from fraud and manipulation,” he said. “It means promoting efficiency and competition, so our markets operate with lower costs to companies and higher returns to investors. ... And above all, it means making sure our markets serve the needs of working families.” Democratic senators urged Gensler to take up requiring corporations to fully disclose their climate change risks and political spending, and punishing companies for violations of securities laws. “That means upgrading climate-risk disclosure requirements that are out of date, punishing misconduct and enforcing the protections on the books,” said the committee chair, Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. “And it means working with other agencies — the banking regulators — to head off growing problems before they become emergencies that hurt the economy. We’ve seen what happens when markets don’t have real safeguards, and most people are left to fend for themselves — just look at the electricity market in Texas.” Gensler has experience as a tough markets regulator during the 2008-09 financial crisis as CFTC chair. More recently, he has been in academics. Biden’s selection of Gensler to lead the SEC signals a goal of turning the Wall Street watchdog agency toward an activist role after a deregulatory stretch during the Trump administration. Gensler was a leader and adviser of Biden’s presidential transition team responsible for the Federal Reserve, banking issues and securities regulation. No evident opposition to his confirmation to the SEC post has emerged, and approval by the full Senate is expected. Several Republican senators used Tuesday’s hearing, though, to argue against the imposition of new regulations in the financial markets, at the risk of stifling innovation and improperly expanding the government’s authority. The GameStop episode has bolstered political momentum toward tighter regulation of the securities markets, though Republican lawmakers and regulators generally will oppose new rules. Possible avenues for new rules that have been raised include requiring market players to disclose short-selling positions and restricting arrangements of payment for order flow — a common practice in which Wall Street trading firms pay companies like Robinhood to send them their customers’ orders for execution. The GameStop turbulence shows that “the SEC too often stands by while the stock market functions as a casino ... with tilted roulette tables,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Jay Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer who headed the SEC during the Trump administration, presided over a deregulatory push to soften rules affecting Wall Street and the financial markets, as President Donald Trump pledged when he took office. Rules under the Dodd-Frank law that tightened the reins on banks and Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis and the Great Recession were relaxed. Clayton also eased rules for smaller companies raising capital in the market. Gensler comes armed with receptiveness to new financial technologies and cryptocurrency. As a professor of economics and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he has focused research and teaching on public policy as well as digital currencies and blockchain, the global running ledgers of digital currency transactions. With a background of having worked for nearly 20 years at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse investment bank, Gensler surprised many by being a tough regulator of big banks as head of the CFTC. He imposed oversight on the $400 trillion worldwide market for the complex financial instruments that helped spark the 2008-09 crisis. Gensler pushed for stricter regulations that big banks and financial firms had lobbied against, and he wasn’t afraid to take positions that clashed with the Obama administration. Marcy Gordon, The Associated Press
TORONTO — Ontario's health minister says the province won't administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to seniors. Christine Elliott says the province plans to follow the advice of a national panel recommending against using that vaccine on people aged 65 and older. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended the shot not be used for seniors due to concern about limited data on how it will work in older populations. Elliott says the vaccine could more easily be used in sites like correctional facilities because it does not need to be stored at the same cold temperatures as other vaccines already in use. She also says the province is waiting for recommendations from the immunization committee on whether Ontario can extend the interval between administering first and second vaccine doses to four months. Elliott says Ontario will share its updated vaccine rollout plan once that advice is received, factoring in expected supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses as well. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
Corinne Tougas, Vincent Marcoux, Vincent Lafleur et Mélisande Leblanc forment un joyeux quatuor à l’œuvre derrière Le Jardin des Funambules. Ils se sont lancés dans un projet de serres froides ! L’autonomie alimentaire et la santé environnementale, des enjeux clés aujourd’hui, reposent notamment sur une agriculture locale et bio pour une alimentation saine et durable. Et ce, quatre saisons par année ! Rencontre avec Vincent Marcoux. Ces quatre anciens urbains formés en agriculture biologique ont acquis leur terre en 2016, et ont commencé leur production l’année suivante. « On trouvait ça un peu désolant d’avoir des serres vides l’hiver. On a donc plongé dans les cultures hivernales, raconte Vincent. Il existe plusieurs façons de faire. D’abord, les serres doivent pouvoir supporter la charge de la neige. Nous en exploitons cinq, certaines très peu chauffées, entre 1 et 5 degrés, et d’autres pas du tout. Dès qu’il y a une percée de soleil, rapidement, l’effet de serre se fait sentir ! Plus besoin de chauffage, il faut même ventiler. Ce n’est pas tant la température que le manque de lumière qui agit sur les cultures. » Une oasis dans le désert Des légumes verts, sains et frais au cœur de l’hiver, ça ressemble à un rêve qui devient réalité ! « Au Québec, pour l’instant, peu prennent les devants. Mais plus au sud comme dans le Maine et le Vermont ayant des climats similaires aux nôtres, plusieurs maraîchers l’expérimentent depuis longtemps et obtiennent d’excellents résultats, se réjouit M. Marcoux. On y va par essais et ajustements en utilisant le minimum de ressources et de technologies, le tout en phase avec notre objectif d’équilibre ! De plus, tirer des revenus l’hiver réduit notre charge de travail durant l’été. Trouver la bonne combinaison entre le travail, la famille et la vie personnelle était au cœur de nos réflexions initiales. Vivre décemment de ce métier en harmonie avec nos valeurs, c’est possible ! » Mesclun, laitue, roquette, oignons verts, céleri, chou kale, épinards, etc. qui ne viennent pas du bout du monde, voilà une véritable révolution alimentaire nordique ! Et ce, grâce à des défricheurs passionnés. « Dès le début de notre entreprise, on tenait à notre mission éducative. Il ne s’agit pas seulement de nourrir les gens, mais également d’aider ceux qui voudraient emboiter le pas ! Une agriculture en santé au Québec, voilà un projet qui aide à traverser des périodes comme celle que nous vivons », conclut-il. Suivez-les de près ! Leur site regorge d’infos et d’espoir en quelque sorte. Et c’est bientôt le moment de s’inscrire pour les paniers estivaux. lejardindesfunambules.com facebook.com/Lejardindesfunambules Mireille Fréjeau, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal L'Étincelle
ROME — In more farcical scenes in Serie A, bemused Lazio players walked onto the Stadio Olimpico pitch — with some even taking selfies — despite knowing that their Torino opponents were self-isolating hundreds of miles away in Turin on Tuesday. A coronavirus outbreak forced Torino players and staff into self-isolation that doesn't end until midnight Tuesday, hours after the scheduled kickoff against Lazio in Rome. Nevertheless, Lazio followed its usual matchday routine and the club announced the starting lineup on social media. The players walked around the field and some snapped selfies as they waited until 45 minutes after kickoff, when the match could be officially called off. Serie A’s governing body held an emergency meeting earlier in the day but voted not to postpone the match. “You can’t defend the league and its integrity by ignoring objective reality,” Torino president Urbano Cairo said when asked if he expected that decision. "We can’t move from Turin, that’s glaringly obvious. "I expect things to be done logically, if you add one plus one you shouldn’t have to do a thousand steps to get to two.” The decision saw a repeat of the scenes around the Juventus-Napoli match last October when the Bianconeri followed their regular matchday routine and went out onto the field despite knowing their opponent had not left Naples. Napoli was handed a 3-0 loss by the Italian league and docked one point but eventually had that overturned on appeal by the Italian Olympic Committee — after several failed attempts in other courts — and the match will be rescheduled. Cairo said the club will also fight its case through the courts if it is handed a 3-0 loss by the league's disciplinary commission. “Now we’ll see what will happen. It’s obvious we’ll appeal. We will do all the appeals possible," he said. Torino’s match against Sassuolo last Friday was postponed until March 17. That decision was announced the day before the match, two days after the local health authority in Turin ordered the temporary closure of the club’s training ground and instructed all the players and coaching staff to self-isolate. Eight Torino players and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The more contagious variant that emerged in England has been identified in some cases. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press
An all-candidates forum took place virtually via Zoom on Feb. 23, 2021 for the Coast Mountains School District trustee by-election to fill the Terrace seat vacated when Art Erasmus moved away last year. All seven candidates participated via Zoom, and the forum was streamed live on the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce Facebook page. Sarah Zimmerman, executive director of communications for Coast Mountains College served as the moderator for the event. Dave Crawley, Ed Harrison, Peter Lambright, Roger Leclerc, Lynn Parker, Diana Penner and Kate Spangl are all vying for the Terrace seat. The forum lasted two hours, and there were some disruptions with the online format as some candidates found themselves muted occasionally and had to start their answer over. Two candidates were given one minute to respond to a question, and other candidates could use one of two rebuttals to respond to a question that they were not asked. All candidates were given an opportunity to share what they would most like to accomplish should they be elected. Here are their responses in the order that candidates answered. Peter Lambright: “If I am successful for the next couple years while I sit on the board, I strongly believe we should be lobbying and hitting up the provincial government fast and hard so that we can start updating our failing infrastructure. As Terrace is growing, and it is the hub of the north, we have a lot of young people moving here for work and jobs, and once again if we did this together as Terrace, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Haisla and Nisga’a, with their support and our support and our working forward for the greater future of our school district, we can start to get a lot of the different benefits if we started doing it all as one, and as someone who’s been in Aboriginal relations and is related to pretty much everybody around here, and as a former chief I know most of the leaders and I know they would step forwards for the greater good of their kids.” Ed Harrison: “I think the five-year plan is actually the critical component of the district’s thrust in terms of the new curriculum because it truly asks the district to seriously look at and analyze what parents, students, guardians are saying about the school system and gives it a basis to build on over the next five years, and it also does seriously hold people accountable for what it is they are saying they want to do, so I would see that as the critical component.” Lynn Parker: “From my platform it is accountability, it is to ensure, and it will go along with what I said before about the five-year plan, if we are to work on more ways to support a student in reading, writing, math or science to excel in their education and acknowledge employees needing to feel value for their work efforts, if we are to help get this five year off the ground by ensuring each child has their say in class about what supports they need, I think we need to hear from the students and hear from the staff, so we need that somehow, so I think our biggest pressure is to ensure that they are heard.” Kate Spangl: “I think for me the biggest priority is what I said in my opening, is communication, is open, flowing, timely, respectful communication that we are seeking from our community, from our parents, from our students. I echo what Lynn and Ed said about our five-year plan, we have to have that communication from all of our partners in order for that five-year plan to be solid and to be meaningful. I think opening up more lines of direct communication is what I would really like to achieve in the next year and a half.” Dave Crawley: “I think for me, first of all would be to help guide the schools through the pandemic to get us past the COVID-19 and onto a better way and then the five-year plan is very important so I believe that having a direction, having goals and then checking along the way to see that we are on track and that we are moving in the right direction is essential to the success of the schools and to the learning of the students, all of them.” Roger Leclerc: “I think exiting out of COVID-19 is going to take a while and its going to really affect the delivery of programs and services at the school district, and I agree with the district’s plan, that we need to get this done but along with that we need to have an implementation strategy, that we take that plan and implement it in the district, just the plan itself needs to have that next step to go with it, so those are my priorities.” Diana Penner: “I think over and above the biggest thing for me is teamwork, I think we’ve discovered more and more that every time when something falls off the radar screen the quickest way that we fall off with it is that we’re not all on the same page, so for me it’s always been teamwork. It’s about our 4,000 students, hearing their voices heard, the 770 staff, hearing their voices heard, it’s about all of our 19 schools being on the same page, all of us wanting the same thing for one another and working with one another. So having said that technology I think right now is the place where we are falling off the quickest so I think that for me, staying abreast with what’s going on with technology and this is a prime example with our mics and all that sort of stuff, it’s a hard track to stay on.” The entire all candidates forum can be viewed on the Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce Facebook page. General voting day is March 6 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Terrace Sportsplex Multipurpose Room. There is also an advance voting day and that is March 3 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Terrace Sportsplex Multipurpose Room. Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News
The Sun Peaks Pharmacy will remain closed for the remainder of the week, but curbside and delivery service is available after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Clancy O’Malley, owner of the pharmacy, said the plan is to continue operating in this fashion until staff is able to safely return to work in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. “At this point, I’m planning on keeping it as delivery only and curbside pickup until the other staff is able to safely return to work, as per Interior Health [guidelines],” said O’Malley. Last week, The Sun Peaks Pharmacy informed the community of a positive COVID-19 case involving one of its staff members. The individual was likely positive with the virus as far back as Feb. 16 or 17, 2021. Another staff member, who was a close contact, is now self-isolating as well as a precaution, said O’Malley. O’Malley said that he was not in close contact with the staff. “Thankfully, I haven’t really been working up here much, so I didn’t have any close contact with them,” he explained. O’Malley is now filling orders himself. He added that the public can purchase off-the-shelf items as well. Dr. Shane Barclay of the Sun Peaks Health Centre informed the community 33 COVID tests were conducted on Friday, Feb. 26 resulting in zero positive cases. “This is very encouraging,” stated Barclay in the public letter. “We will continue to monitor the situation and keep the community aware of any developments. Thanks to everyone for your continuing vigilance and safety measures.” The possibility of transmission between the staff members and the public is thought to be low, as precautions, such as mask-wearing, were in place. COVID testing is available in both Sun Peaks and Kamloops. More information on testing and information on booking a test can be found here. To voice any concerns or inquire about orders, you can contact O’Malley directly at email@example.com or (778) 996-4245. Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.
Venezuelan intelligence services monitored six U.S.-based executives of state-owned refiner Citgo Petroleum for a year on U.S. soil to determine their involvement in a deal the government deemed fraudulent, leading to their 2017 arrest in Caracas on corruption charges, according to court testimony. The executives, known as the Citgo Six, were sentenced by a Venezuelan court in November to between eight and 13 years in prison for corruption in a procedure the U.S. State Department labeled a "kangaroo court". Five of the men are naturalized U.S. citizens.
Staff and customers at MacCarthy GM in Terrace raised $700 to support anti-bullying initiatives for Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 24. A board was set up inside the dealership where customers could write anti-bullying messages and donate. In 2007, two Nova Scotia students took action after witnessing a younger student being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. The students bought 50 pink T-shirts and encouraged schoolmates to wear them and send a powerful message of solidarity to the bully. According to pinkshirtday.ca, proceeds from shirt sales and donations helped to fund programs that impacted over 59,000 youth, including Kids Help Phone, Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Canada and the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News
SALEM, Mass. — A second panel from American artist Jacob Lawrence's sweeping series “Struggle: From the History of the American People" that has been hidden from public view for decades has been located, the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts announced Tuesday. Officially entitled “Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840 — 115,773,” the painting known as panel 28 had not been seen in public since 1960 and was known only through a black-and-white reproduction. “We are thrilled to share news of this important discovery, especially at a time when Americans are actively engaged with democracy,” Lydia Gordon, the museum's associate curator said in a statement. The Salem-based Peabody Essex Museum organized the exhibit. The painting will now join nearly 30 of the Black artist’s other works painted in the 1950s for the last two stops of a national tour in Seattle and Washington, D.C., museum officials said. The 30-piece series remains incomplete, as the whereabouts of three panels remain a mystery, the museum said. The 12-inch-by-16-inch (30.5-centimetre-by-40.5-centimetre) panel was found in a New York City apartment, like another painting in the series, panel 16, that was rediscovered in a different home in October. The owner, who wants to remain anonymous, inherited the panel 28 from family, who — like the figures depicted — were immigrants. The egg tempera on hardboard piece in vivid reds and yellows depicts two women in shawls clutching babies, one of them nursing, as well as a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and holding a flower pot containing a single red rose, America's national flower. The subjects have oversized hands, symbolizing what it meant to arrive only with what could be carried, the museum said. It was inspired by a table of immigration statistics published in Richard B. Morris’s Encyclopedia of American History. “Lawrence created this body of work during the modern civil rights era to interpret pivotal moments in the American Revolution and early decades of the republic as ongoing struggles," Gordon said. The panel has undergone some restoration work and will join the exhibit, “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” starting Friday at the Seattle Art Museum through May 23, and at then at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. from June 26 until Sept. 19. It is the first time in more than 60 years the pieces are being shown together. Museum officials hope that the discovery of panels 28 and 16 — which depicts Shays’ Rebellion, the 1786–87 tax revolt in western Massachusetts, leads to the discovery of the three panels that remain missing. The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Emergency loans made to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic have been added to a list of government programs considered at high risk of waste, fraud or mismanagement. The most common of those emergency loans, PPP loans, are provided at a low interest rate and are fully forgivable under conditions that include spending a certain percentage on payroll costs. The loans were created by Congress and have proven exceedingly popular as shops, restaurants and other small businesses try to survive the pandemic. The Government Accountability Office said Tuesday that millions of small businesses benefitted from the emergency loans, but the speed with which the relief programs were set up limited safeguards necessary to identify risks, “including susceptibility to improper payments and potential fraud.” The Small Business Administration made or guaranteed more than 14.7 million loans and grants totalling about $744 billion between March and December. Congress approved an additional $304 billion in emergency loans in December. The GAO said in the report that, as of January, it continues to experience delays in obtaining key information about the loans, including detailed oversight plans and documentation for estimating improper payments. “There's no doubt they’ve had a positive impact. However, the management of these programs needs to be dramatically improved," U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro told reporters in previewing the report. Government auditors release a high-risk list near the beginning of every new Congress. The list is designed to increase attention on the shortfalls cited by the GAO, and to prompt action that can often save taxpayer dollars and improve government operations. Auditors also added the government’s efforts to prevent drug misuse to the high-risk list. The GAO had warned as the pandemic began that it would be doing so. At the time, it noted that the pandemic could fuel the conditions that contribute to drug misuse, such as unemployment. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the largest ever increase of drug overdose deaths during a 12-month period that ended the previous May. The CDC noted a particular acceleration in drug overdose deaths as widespread mitigation measures kicked in. “This is heartbreaking," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Portman said that the country and his home state had finally seen a drop in overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in decades. “Substantial progress. And yet now, with the pandemic, under this horrible pandemic, we have this horrible addiction crisis that has grown," Portman said. Auditors said that maintaining sustained attention to the problem of drug abuse will be challenging in the coming months with agencies focused on addressing the pandemic. “This makes developing and implementing a co-ordinated, strategic approach even more important as agencies’ resources are also being diverted, in part, to pandemic priorities,” the report said. On a positive note, the GAO said the Department of Defence had made concerted progress in how it aligns its support infrastructure with the needs of the country’s military forces, It dropped the support program from it's high-risk list. For example, in citing, progress, auditors said the Army reduced its leased footprint in the Washington D.C. region from a peak of 3.9 million square feet in 2011 to roughly 1 million square feet as of September 2019. Kevin Freking, The Associated Press
A major spending scandal at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has led to some difficult questions of its board of directors, which includes Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine and Area P Director Mel Rothenburger. In a major investigative series, Kamloops This Week (KTW) reporter Jessica Wallace detailed how the regional district’s former chief administrative officer put to use his tax-payer funded credit card. Over a five year period, Sukh Gill spent over $500,000 on the card. This included $174,000 on coffee shops and restaurants, with Gill charging money on the card an average of once every two days. Former staff and outgoing directors were treated to dinners and pricey parting gifts. A number of gift cards were also purchased and working meals at high-end restaurants were numerous. On Monday, March 1, current board chair Ken Gillis announced the TNRD will commission an investigation into the spending scandal, though the timeline and scope have yet to be determined. “On behalf of myself and the entire Board of Directors, I am here to say that we take full ownership and accountability for the lack of financial oversight on this matter,” said a media statement from Gillis. None of the spending was against policy, and the TNRD has stated publicly that the spending was not the reason for Gill’s departure in February of 2020. The regional district has not explained why he left and called his departure a retirement; it has been reported that he received a $500,000-plus severance and payout upon his departure. The spending scandal has drawn widespread condemnation, with Kris Sims, director of the British Columbia Chapter of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, calling it one of the worst examples of government misspending she has seen. “This is one of the worst examples I’ve seen when it comes to expense accounts,” said Sims. Sims said it isn’t just the “big eye-popping” spends, such as an $8,000 spent at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C., but rather the “constant drip” of spending. “Like every other day, more or less, this person was eating and drinking and not paying for it themselves,” said Sims. Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is one of 11 member municipalities of the TNRD. Raine, who is one of 26 directors for the TNRD, has served on the board since 2010, and currently chairs the organization’s auditing committee, a position he held in 2013 and 2015 to 2017. The audit committee’s role is to approve of the hiring of an audit firm, meet with the auditor to review the plan for audits and then receive the end product. Like other TNRD staff and directors, Raine is mentioned in the reported spending. Raine appears on four line items over the five year period related to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Annual Conference in Halifax, N.S. in 2018. Raine declined comment for the story, instead directing Sun Peaks Independent News to speak with current TNRD board chair Gillis. Gillis said that while some of the spending highlighted in the KTW investigation was lavish, in other cases, it was justified, and that one must also keep in mind that Gill also often paid for required big-ticket items, such as hotel rooms for directors or working lunch meals for directors, on his credit card. “In mea culpa mode, we obviously should have had some means in place to have the CAO’s expenses reviewed, [which] we do have now,” said Gillis. Gillis added the board was not fully aware of the scale of spending that was taking place as CAO spending was not presented in one clear place for directors to see. Asked if some of the meals that he joined Gill and others at raised a red flag, Gillis said that they did, but they never translated into policy. “I thought [that] this is a bit extreme,” said Gillis, “And I mentioned it to Mr. Gill on one occasion, but he didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about it. You think well, I guess that this is the way things are done? “There were red flags raised on certain issues at certain times, but for some reason, [they] didn’t really seem to go anywhere.” In 2018, Gillis attended a dinner at Whistler’s high end Bearfoot Bistro during the Union of Municipalities Convention. The meal cost taxpayers $8,000 and has a flashpoint for outrage around the CAO spending. Gillis said that while wine may have flowed a bit too freely, the evening was a strong networking opportunity that brought together staff with local and provincial politicians. “It was a wonderful networking opportunity,” he said. “It gave us a great chance to become more familiar with the municipal councillors [and the] issues that they were dealing with at any given time.” Gillis added that while board members were discouraged from “badgering the MLA” with specific issues, they were able to make connections and get the ball rolling on important matters. Gillis said the organization has put in a number of measures to curb spending in recent months. This includes changing the TNRD’s hospitality policy to limit drinks to two (beer or wine) at events. The regional district has also created policies where the chair or vice-chair has to sign off on CAO expenses and staff are not allowed to expense alcohol. “We have made a requirement that all Visa receipts submitted must be accompanied and backed up by the invoice,” he said. “So in other words, you can’t just submit the little tab that comes off the machine at a restaurant, you have to have the restaurant bill attached to that.” Mel Rothenberger, director for Area P, which covers Sun Peaks, said that he would like to see the rules go even further. He noted that he pushed for a cash bar this summer when the board voted for the two-drink limit at events. Rothenburger was elected in 2014 and is tied to numerous meals out with Gill, including a $523 meal at the Boathouse Restaurant in downtown Vancouver in 2015. Rothenburger was also part of a 13-member party from the regional district who stayed at the Pan Pacific between three and five nights at $399 a night during a conference. The total cost of the accommodation for the party was $6,094.66. Asked about his presence at the dinners, Rothenburger said that he kept his orders to a reasonable amount. “I’ve always tried to be careful about my spending and my expenses tend to certainly be on the lower half of the list of the totals over the years,” he said. “Two years ago, for example, I made a motion which was successful that the cost for spouses not be paid, that we clarify that spouses are not eligible to be paid when they accompany directors to various events. That was approved that it was actually reinforced last year.” Rothenburger said that he would like the TNRD to take an “open book approach” to CAO and director spending in the future. “I think if we could produce a report with details of that spending, at least quarterly, maybe even monthly, if that’s possible, that would go a great distance towards restoring public confidence and also giving us a means to pay careful attention to that spending,” he said. Moving forward, Sims of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation said things will need to be different. She said that the incident highlights the need for a strong office of the Auditor General for local government, where staff can report misspending. “We don’t have a strong, effective municipal Auditor General,” she said. “And we don’t have a team of watchdogs keeping an eye on these books. Whistleblowers have next to nowhere to call, and when they get a sense that something is going wrong in their workplace, they’re scared for their jobs.” Overall, Sims said she hopes that the event does not turn people off local government. She added local government is among the most personal forms of government and while scandals like this can result in disillusionment, it is important for citizens to demand for change and better safeguards. Since the publication of the KTW report, one board member—-Area E Director Sally Watson—has gone on record saying that the board of directors was complicit in the CAO spending over the years. Sims added it’s important for all board members to speak up on the issue. “They owe it to the people to give an explanation,” she said. “And maybe they do have an explanation. Who knows? Maybe they honestly didn’t know. Maybe they were somehow being kept in the dark. If that’s true, just say so.” Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.