WASHINGTON — When Joe Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday outside a wounded U.S. Capitol, he will begin reshaping the office of the presidency itself as he sets out to lead a bitterly divided nation struggling with a devastating pandemic and an insurrection meant to stop his ascension to power. Biden had campaigned as a rebuke to President Donald Trump, a singular figure whose political power was fueled by discord and grievance. The Democrat framed his election as one to “heal the soul” of the nation and repair the presidency, restoring the White House image as a symbol of stability and credibility. In ways big and small, Biden will look to change the office he will soon inhabit. Incendiary tweets are out, wonky policy briefings are in. Biden, as much an institutionalist as Trump has been a disruptor, will look to change the tone and priorities of the office. “It really is about restoring some dignity to the office, about picking truth over lies, unity over division,” Biden said soon after he launched his campaign. “It’s about who we are.” The White House is about 2 miles up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol, where broken windows, heavy fortifications and hundreds of National Guard members provide a visible reminder of the power of a president’s words. Trump's supporters left a Jan. 6 rally by the president near the White House to commit violence in his name at the Capitol, laying siege to the citadel of democracy and underscoring the herculean task Biden faces in trying to heal the nation’s searing divisions. Few presidents have taken on the job having thought more about the mark he wants to make on it than Biden. He has spent more than 40 years in Washington and captured the White House after two previous failed attempts. He frequently praises his former boss, President Barack Obama, as an example of how to lead during crisis. “Biden’s main task is going to be need to be to reestablish the symbol of the White House to the world as a place of integrity and good governance. Because right now everything is in disarray,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor at Rice University. “But Biden is uniquely situated to do this, his whole life has been spent in Washington and he spent eight years watching the job up close.” The changes will be sweeping, starting with the president's approach to the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed nearly 400,000 American lives. The sharp break from Trump won’t just come in federal policy, but in personal conduct. Trump flouted the virus, his staff largely eschewing masks in the warren of cramped West Wing offices while the president hosted “superspreader” events at the White House and on the road. Biden’s team is considering having many staffers work from home; those who do enter the building will wear masks. Biden has already been vaccinated, something Trump, who got the virus last fall, has chosen not to do despite suggestions that it would set an example for the nation. Biden’s approach to the day-to-day responsibilities of the office will also be a break from his predecessor. For one, Twitter won't be a principal source of news. Trump’s trail of tweets has roiled the capital for four years. Across Washington, phones would buzz with alerts anytime the president used his most potent political weapon to attack Democrats and keep Republicans in line. Biden’s tweets tend to be bland news releases and policy details with the occasional “Here’s the deal, folks” thrown in for good measure. Allied lawmakers are unlikely to have to pretend not to have seen the latest posting in order to avoid commenting on it. Biden has said he wants Americans to view the president as a role model again; no more coarse and demeaning language or racist, divisive rhetoric. His team has promised to restore daily news briefings and the president-elect does not refer to the press as “the enemy of the people.” But it remains to be seen whether he will be as accessible as Trump, who until his postelection hibernation, took more questions from reporters than any of his recent predecessors. While Trump filled out much of his Cabinet and White House staff with relatives, political neophytes and newcomers to government, Biden has turned to seasoned hands, bringing in Obama administration veterans and career officials. Policy papers will be back in vogue and governing by cable chyron likely out. Trump was mostly indifferent to the machinations of Congress, at times appearing to be an observer of his own administration. Biden, a longtime senator who will have Democratic control of both houses, is positioned to use the weight of his office to push an ambitious legislative agenda. His team will be tested, though, by the tumult at home: a virus that is killing more than 4,000 people a day, a sluggish vaccination distribution program, a worsening economy and contention over the upcoming second impeachment trial for Trump. Biden also has as much work ahead repairing the image of the presidency overseas as he does on American shores. Trump repositioned the United States in the world, pulling the U.S. out of a number of multilateral trade deals and climate agreements in favour of a more insular foreign policy. His ever-shifting beliefs and moods strained relations with some of the nation’s oldest allies, including much of Western Europe. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, Trump fostered competition, not co-operation, on research and vaccine development. Trump also abandoned the tradition role the president plays in shining a light on human rights abuses around the world. Biden, who spent years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had a vast foreign policy portfolio as vice-president, has pledged a course correction. He has promised to repair alliances, rejoin the Paris climate treaty and the World Health Organization and said he would shore up U.S. national security by first addressing health, economic and political crises at home. Offering the White House as a symbol of stability to global capitals won’t be easy for Biden as Trump’s shadow looms. “He has a structural problem and needs to make the U.S. seem more reliable. We’re diminished in stature and less predictable,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He noted that even after Biden’s win, the European Union bolstered ties to China with a new investment treaty. “Everyone around the world is hedging, they have no idea if Biden’s a one-term president or what could come after him,” Haass said. “There is a fear across the world that Trump or Trumpism could return in four years.” ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press
NASA's deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing briefly ignited all four engines of its behemoth core stage for the first time on Saturday, cutting short a crucial test to advance a years-delayed U.S. government program to return humans to the moon in the next few years. Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27 p.m. local time (2227 GMT) for just over a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket's first launch in November this year. "Today was a good day," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference after the test, adding "we got lots of data that we're going to be able to sort through" to determine if a do-over is needed and whether a November 2021 debut launch date is still possible.
A study in Janvier, Alta., is trying to find out what happened to the local population of Arctic grayling, a once prominent freshwater fish. Arctic grayling, a member of the salmon family, is classified as a species of special concern with the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee, meaning without human intervention, the species may be under the threat of extinction. Chief Vern Janvier of Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, 400 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, said when he was a growing up in the 1970s, he would fish in a local creek for Arctic grayling, considered a delicacy. A few years later those fishing trips stopped, because the fish were no longer around, Janvier said. "We really wanted to know if there was any fish left," Janvier said. "It's a fish that we used to eat that we haven't had for a long time. We haven't been able to catch them." He'd like to see the population bounce back, as "it'd be a good thing for my grandchildren to experience the fish." Water samples show evidence of fish Now the First Nation has teamed up with a consultant to study the over-winter habitat of the Arctic grayling, to see where they live, and what could be behind the population's decline. The study uses eDNA, which is DNA collected from environmental samples like water. It's a process that can tell researchers where the fish is found, without having to use potentially harmful practices like electrofishing. The researchers take water samples and get them tested to see if Arctic grayling are present in the water body. Last winter, samples of eDNA were collected from locations identified by elders. The fish were found in three out of four of the areas. Janvier said he was excited by the discovery and the research. "For me, as a chief, it shows ... you can put some basis on scientific knowledge. But the ability to mix the Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge is probably the biggest success and we need to do more of that," he said. Study in 3rd year Lead researcher Sarah Hechtenthal, owner of Owl Feather Consulting, said she used western science and traditional knowledge to craft the study. The project is in its third year of funding, having received a total of $228,600 since 2018 from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Researchers will be back out this winter to sample other potential habitat locations, depending on COVID-19 restrictions. The study is now using data loggers in the water, to help Hechtenthal understand what made the rivers and creeks in the area ideal habitat for Arctic grayling in the first place. Stuart Janvier, industry relations coordinator for the First Nation, said this information will be helpful for future industrial development in the area such as oilsands projects. "We want to make sure our traditional lands and the wildlife and the environment it's going to remain intact," he said. "We are the protectors of the environment."
New Brunswick writer Richard Vaughan's life and legacy is now being celebrated through a virtual art exhibition. The acclaimed author, poet and playwright died in Fredericton in October. He was 55. Known as Cut. Paste. Resist. Redux, the multimedia exhibition consists of film strips created from collages. Those images are paired with voiceovers of friends and colleagues reading various excerpts from his poetry, chat books and novels. Marie Maltais, director of the UNB Arts Centre, helped organize the project and described Vaughan as "a shining star of New Brunswick's cultural scene." She said the exhibit is a way to "bring back the genius" of the writer. "He was an advocate, he was someone who was very down to earth, you could approach him," Maltais said. Vaughan was born in Saint John, but lived and worked in Montreal, Toronto and Berlin before returning to his home province last year to work as writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick. He wrote under the name R.M. Vaughan. He is remembered as a pioneer for LGBTQ artists and a talented writer who could address many subjects. The new exhibit was inspired by a collage project Vaughan organized with Ken Moffatt, the Jack Layton chair at Ryerson University, early last year. They put out a call for submissions from community members focused on the theme of resistance. More than 200 collages came in from around the world, and were displayed as part of the Cut, Paste, Resist art show at UNB. That initial show has evolved into the project presented online this month in Vaughan's memory. Maltais reached out to Moffatt shortly after Vaughan's death to collaborate on the project. It is being held virtually on the centre's website because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recorded readings from 17 different people will be released throughout the month. The response to the show has been positive, with people sharing fond memories. Maltais said she remembers Vaughan as someone who really cared about his students and the cultural community. "I have spoken to a few people that were mentored by him, and it is really a terrible loss," she said.
“I am very much encouraging my 92-year-old mom to get in line as soon as (a COVID-19 vaccine) is available in her community and she’s all ready and excited about it as well,” said Leila Gillis. She is acting chief nursing officer and director general primary health care with the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). Gillis was speaking on Jan. 14 on the weekly virtual town hall hosted by the First Nations Health Managers Association. “Many communities are currently managing active outbreaks and had such a challenging Christmas period. I worked through it all. And there’s still evidence of community transmission in many, many jurisdictions across the country,” said Gillis. According to figures posted on the ISC website of coronavirus activity on First Nations reserves, as of Jan. 14 ISC “is aware of” 12,071 confirmed positive cases; 4,581 active cases; 7,377 recovered cases and 113 deaths. Worst hit are reserves in the prairie provinces with Alberta numbering 3,944 confirmed positive cases, Manitoba with 3,201 and Saskatchewan with 3,084. British Columbia is next with 1,081 confirmed positive cases. “We’re still working hard to prevent COVID spread in our continued and longstanding public health measures and we can’t lose sight of that while we’re also working to organize and support one of the biggest vaccine administration campaigns in this country’s history,” said Gillis, who spent time reassuring Indigenous viewers and listeners of the safety of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Some First Nations and Inuit communities or members of those communities have been prioritized in the first phase of the vaccine rollout. The vaccines have been “rigorously tested” and the benefits far outweigh the risks, said Gillis. Valerie Gideon, senior assistant deputy minister with FNIHB, said in a national news conference on Jan. 13 that having Indigenous health professionals involved in the process is significant in addressing suspicion from the Indigenous population. “There are a lot of amazing Indigenous health professionals that are speaking very proactively about the vaccine and supporting that understanding that the (ISC) Minister (Marc Miller) is speaking to and I think that makes a significant difference. “They are such influential decision makers with respect to the vaccine planning and administration process, not only within their communities, but overall in the context of supporting First Nations and others across the provinces,” said Gideon. Still some members of the Indigenous population have approached the vaccine with wariness. “The hesitancy comes sometimes with good reason,” said Miller. “You see that hesitancy that is based on perhaps experiences … So it’s based on reality.” He pointed out that Indigenous peoples were the target of medical procedures and experiments in the 1950s and 1960s and they continue to experience mistreatment in today’s healthcare system. Miller also talked about the need to have information available in Indigenous languages as well as the need to build trust with health officials who come into communities to deliver the vaccinations. “One (way) that works best is when you engage local communities to get that information out there, tell people there’s an informed choice, and let them make the choice. It makes for more work but it makes for better vaccination strategies,” said Miller. “We’ve heard a lot more request for the vaccine to arrive than we’ve heard hesitancy… That’s at the leadership level. We will see in the numbers of uptake,” said Gideon. Miller said 75 per cent of the adult population in the territories are expected to have received their second dose of the vaccine by the end of March. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. Rollout of the vaccine to urban Indigenous population – a larger number than live on reserve – will require “coordination amongst partners, provinces and territories. Efficient and effective roll out requires co-planning and is dependent on full collaboration and partnership,” said Miller. He said figures weren’t available for how COVID was impacting Indigenous people living in cities, although he did say that those living in Montreal and Winnipeg had been “really hit.” “Our government is working with all provinces and territories to encourage full inclusion of Indigenous perspectives to ensure an integrated and coordinated approach to support the administration and planning process of the COVID-19 vaccine for Indigenous peoples,” he said. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
'Significant growth' in the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) could help keep taxes down while increasing the cash available for the town to spend in 2021. TBM will be finalizing its 2021 budget in early February, which currently proposes a 1.3 per cent tax rate increase. “The actual tax levy is increasing by 5.2 per cent. However, because we've seen significant growth, we are going to receive an extra $635,988 in tax revenue. So, the end result is that there's a 1.3 per cent tax rate increase,” stated Ruth Prince, director of finance and IT for TBM. “The town has been in a very fortunate position.” The proposed budget outlines an average residential property tax bill of $5,466 based on an assessment of $620,000. Of the $5,466, 17.4 per cent or $949 would be filtered to the education tax; 41.3 per cent or $2,256 is allocated to Grey County and $2,256 or 41.4 per cent remains in TBM. Assessments for 2021 have been frozen at the 2020 assessment rate level in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “So, what does that mean for an average town tax bill? If your assessment is that $620,000, you may see the town portion increased [from 2020] by $31,” Prince said. In the proposed budget, the town’s capital budget totals $23.6 million with 13 per cent of the funding coming from development charges and the remaining funds being drawn from long-term debt, property owners and reserves. Capital projects outlined for 2021 include the Camperdown Wastewater Extension, upgrades to Jozo Weider Boulevard, replacement of two bridges, as well as replacing an aerial pumper in the fire department's fleet. “We are being prudent, but we are trying to do a lot,” stated TBM Mayor, Alar Soever. TBM has outlined four studies that are expected to be completed in 2021 – the town’s density/intensification study, the Leisure Activity Plan, a compensation review and the Fire Master Plan. Town staff and council have also suggested additions to the base budget, including several new staff positions: an administrative assistant to committees; a communications assistant; a communications coordinator; a fire prevention inspector; an additional landfill operator; a contract building inspector; permit and inspection assistant; lot development technologist; and a development reviewer. In addition, TBM has outlined plans to pursue the creation of a dog park in Craigleith, installation of EV charging stations, adding a parks vehicle to its fleet and has also diverted funds into the communications department for additional advertising. The base budget additions total $917,550, with $496,680 being drawn from taxation. Four departments in TBM – water, wastewater, harbour and building departments – are funded through user fees, not taxation. “In terms of water and wastewater rates, there is no change to the water consumption, but there is a two per cent proposed increase to the wastewater consumption charge, and that would see an increase of approximately $6 a year,” Prince said. The draft budget also proposes several changes to the fee structure at the Thornbury Harbour, including a $2-per-foot increase to the Seasonal Mooring fees. Town staff have been actively working on the draft budget since June and TBM council held budget deliberation meetings on Dec. 2, 7 and 9, as well as a public meeting on Jan. 11. Comments received at the public meeting included concerns around the Camperdown Wastewater Extension project, affordability for seniors on a fixed income, and housing concerns. “Young families are effectively being precluded from living in the area as they simply cannot afford to live here. Home prices [are] rising at an alarming rate and [there is] alack of housing inventory available,” stated Katie Bell, in a letter to council. “The town deferred 2020 tax bill payment by one month in an effort to help residents meet the payment indicating the council acknowledges the difficult economic environment. Now, instead of continued support to the constituents, council will introduce a tax hike,” Bell continued. The Blue Mountain Ratepayers Association (BMRA), which has its own budget review committee, performed an analysis of the TBM draft budget and presented a deputation to TBM council on Dec. 8. In its deputation to council, the BMRA applauded the town for their continued efforts in remaining fiscally responsible while addressing the needs of the community through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the group drew some concerns around the town’s ability to complete capital projects in a timely manner. “Depreciation is greater than new capital builds and has been for some time,” stated Brian Harkness, chair of BMRA's budget review committee in the deputation to council. The BMRA is also continuing its efforts in trying to find justification in the large percentage of tax dollars that is allocated to the county, in comparison to other lower-tier municipalities in the region. “BMRA is concerned about the increasing amount of municipal tax assessment dollars directed to the county and not available for the town to spend on needed capital projects, such as a modern community centre,” Harkness continued. Currently, 41.3 per cent of the tax dollars collected from TBM residents is allocated to Grey County. In 2020, the average TBM resident paid $2,268 in tax dollars to Grey County, which is the highest paid by any resident of all nine Grey County municipalities. The Municipality of Grey Highlands held the second-highest contribution rate in 2020, contributing, on average, $1,483 per resident. Comments from the public meeting will be presented to council in a staff report on Jan. 26, where council members will take one final look at the proposed draft budget. “We're now at 1.37 [per cent increase], but we're going to be meeting to fine tune things once a public meeting where everybody will have a chance to provide some more comments,” Soever said, adding that council members hope to reduce expenditures further to reach a zero per cent tax increase. The budget bylaw will appear before council for final approval on Feb. 8. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
The build-up to next month's Australian Open was thrown into disarray on Saturday when 47 players were forced into two weeks of strict hotel quarantine after coronavirus infections were reported on two chartered flights carrying them to Melbourne. Two dozen players and their staff landed from Los Angeles to go into quarantine after an aircrew member and a passenger, who was not a player, tested positive for COVID-19. A further 23 players arriving by a chartered flight from Abu Dhabi met a similar fate after another non-player passenger was found positive, the organisers of the year's first grand slam said in a statement.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has congratulated Nick Mantas on winning the Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt byelection. Preliminary results show Mantas won a narrow victory Friday night to replace former Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis in Ward 22. Tory said the byelection happened at a crucial time for the city. "As mayor, it is my job to work with every member of city council," Tory said in a statement. "I look forward to working with councillor-elect Mantas on the issues that are important to him and the residents of Ward 22. "This is a crucial time for our city as we continue to face the challenge of COVID-19. I know councillor-elect mantas is committed to helping our efforts as a city government to confront this virus and make the residents and businesses of Scarborough-Agincourt get through these extremely tough times," Tory added. Tory said he also looks forward to working with Mantas on the prudent management of the city's finances and on the maintenance of strong partnerships with the other governments. He thanked voters who cast their ballot in the byelection either by mail or in person. "Your commitment to making sure your voice is heard as part of our democratic process is so important and has helped make sure Ward 22 will continue to be represented at Toronto City Hall," he said. Mantas, who was the former chief of staff to Karygiannis, was considered one of the more high-profile candidates among the 28 running in the byelection for Scarborough-Agincourt. According to the city's unofficial results, Mantas had a total of 3,261 votes with all 41 polls reporting. He won by a margin of just 223 votes over his nearest rival, Manna Wong, who garnered 3,038 votes. The results are deemed unofficial until the city clerk can declare a winner, according to a tweet from Toronto Elections. Karygiannis was removed as city councillor in September 2020 due to a campaign spending violation in the 2018 municipal election.
Denmark on Saturday found its first case of a more contagious coronavirus variant from South Africa, and saw a rise in the number of infections with the highly transmissible B117 variant first identified in Britain, health authorities said. The Nordic country extended a lockdown for three weeks on Wednesday in a bid to curtail the spread of the new variant from Britain, which authorities expect to be the dominant one by mid-February. Denmark has become a front-runner in monitoring coronavirus mutations by running most positive tests through genome sequencing analysis.
Collette Catto of Whitehorse loves to cook. She also likes to be creative. She's been making bannock since she was a young girl, but she recently hit on something that's proving to be a mouth-watering hit — stuffed bannock. "I make bannock with stuffed bacon and cheese. People like the bacon and cheese," she said. Catto started off with her basic bannock recipe and then she had the idea. "I started rolling it out and making it flat, so I added a bit more flour to make it pliable so that I could use it when I was making Indian tacos," Catto said. "So then I started messing around with it one day, and started testing things out on my family to see if they liked it." Bacon-and-cheese was one successful recipe, bannock-wrapped burgers was another. Cooking through a pandemic Catto is originally from Haines Junction, Yukon. Her family moved to Whitehorse in September. They noticed immediately the higher costs of living in the city and wanted to help those that were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. She's been taking bannock orders online for people to pick up, and sometimes she delivers. Demand has been going up. "I usually sell to individuals, raise money and then just donate it to who needs it for some of their bills or to help pay their rent. You know, things like that," Catto said. "It's a small world and we're all going through a lot of stuff, so we're just trying to help out where we can." Catto says at peak times, she's been selling hundreds of pieces of bannock. The most important meal of the day Catto's most recent experiment was a breakfast-stuffed bannock. She says the feedback she has received already is encouraging. "The people that have picked them up, they love it. They're like, 'where has this been? It's incredible,'" Catto said. Catto says she plans to continue experimenting with what she can put in a piece of bannock "We were thinking chicken tacos. We were thinking maybe pizza. It's an endless supply of thoughts. We just enjoy cooking and it keeps me busy."
In the summer, with half of Memorial Drive in Calgary shut down to traffic, a group of protesters set up near the Peace Bridge to draw attention to a bewildering array of grievances. One sign attacked Justin Trudeau, another warned of 5G networks, some supported oil and gas, while others cautioned against "chemtrails." But the main thrust of the gathering was to oppose COVID-19 restrictions, masks and vaccines. As the pandemic dragged on, that group morphed and found new stomping grounds in front of Calgary City Hall. Coalescing around the banner of "freedom," they railed against government COVID-19 lockdowns, mask laws and public health measures. They marched through downtown Calgary with signs that proclaimed them lions, not sheep. Alternative medicine hippies strode alongside yellow vesters in what at first seemed an odd countercultural pairing but is a natural alliance based on a shared distrust of governments, health mandates, corporations and more. The reason for their unity lies deep in our evolutionary history and the brute force of societal shifts that are shaking civilizational foundations. Those forces have conspired to make Alberta a prime breeding ground for the kind of conspiratorial thinking on display, which pulls nuggets of truth from the flurry of science in real time and contorts it into a narrative of oppression. It is a near-perfect storm for the small minority caught up in it. The question is: how did they find themselves in its path? How we're wired Humans have evolved to be really good at fitting into groups. Our malleable brains can adapt beliefs in order to thrive within our given tribe. But that sort of cognitive wiring can lead us astray. Adrian Bardon, a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and the author of The Truth About Denial: Bias and Self-Deception in Science, Politics and Religion, has obviously spent some time thinking about how these sorts of movements come to be. Writing in The Conversation, he says although the phenomena of denialism is "many and varied," the story behind it is "quite simple." "Human cognition is inseparable from the unconscious emotional responses that go with it," he writes. "Under the right conditions, universal human traits like in-group favouritism, existential anxiety and a desire for stability and control combine into a toxic, system-justifying identity politics." It's why protesters against Trudeau and 5G and chemtrails and, and, and ... all came to march under the same banner, protesting public health measures supported by growing scientific consensus. Speaking to CBC News, Bardon specifically breaks down the current storm over pandemic responses and says the combination of economic threats, politicization by elites and the visual/visceral effect of masks is a fearsome combination for fuelling science denialism and ideological polarization. "It starts with the lack of trust, and then the reasons for the lack of trust comes next, and then you're already in an ideological community," he says. "And then that explains why your community is all of one voice on what the story is, but this story is made up. The reaction comes first, and then you rationalize the reaction." He says covering faces interferes with one of the most fundamental ways we interpret other people, but creates a new signal. "At this point, after the politicization of it, not wearing a mask is immediately understood by the mask-wearing people to be a statement, and wearing the mask is an accusation. And it creates this incredibly toxic environment," he says. There's also no better metaphor for a muzzle than something really darn close to a muzzle. With the science around COVID-19 evolving in real time and government's struggling to keep up and keep track, the stage is set for our minds to fill in the gaps. The psychology Another person who's spent some time thinking about the current moment is Steven Taylor, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics. Taylor says one major issue is the lack of scientific literacy in the world and the belief by many that "science is really no different from opinion." Among those of a conspiratorial nature, there is also often an urge to feel special, he says, and possessing what you believe to be secret knowledge can be a big boost. "It's going to feed your self-esteem," says Taylor. It works in tandem with a phenomenon known as psychological reactance, which Taylor describes as a "kind of allergic reaction to being told what to do." "So if I came up to a person like that, and started to explain why I thought masks were effective, two things would happen," says Taylor. "First, they would get very angry, and second, they would start to automatically generate reasons for themselves as to why masks are ineffective. So my strategy would backfire if I tried to directly confront them." That, along with the fact that the vast majority of people support wearing masks, is why Taylor doesn't think governments should mandate their use. Adding to the mix are the sometimes confusing debates and changing recommendations about public health that have allowed a wide opening for doubters and reactionaries. All of those factors combine to make Alberta prime breeding ground for COVID denialism. The Alberta scene The first thing to note is that the protests against lockdowns and masks in Alberta are small. This does not represent the majority. But still, there is a vocal core group that isn't going to go away and that has at points drawn bigger crowds than many expected. Recent polling, too, has suggested Albertans are the least likely Canadians to consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible, if at all. Bardon notes that denial of science rears its head pretty forcefully when the economy is threatened — something that has been fraying nerves in Alberta long before the pandemic brought government shutdowns. There is anxiety about income, about empty office towers in Calgary, about the continued existence of the oil and gas industry that once seemed a limitless well of wealth. The economic powerhouse of Canada is sputtering and many look at a sort of global network of elites and their war on global warming as a major factor in its demise. Some of the same protesters that were out in yellow vests calling Trudeau a traitor while sporting "I Love Alberta Oil and Gas" sweaters are now out calling for an end to lockdowns as another elite attack. Many in the province feel powerless in the face of global forces that have battered their world, and that leads them to reach for the comforts of a group and a belief system that nourishes them. When Trudeau was re-elected in 2019, Albertans had voted in droves for the Conservative opposition and the reaction to the minority government was angry. Separatists were emboldened and started drawing more attention and crowds, attempting to walk off with a province because they disagreed with the outcome of a democractic election. Sprinkle in some good old-fashioned Alberta myth-making, like the maverick spirit, egalitarianism and the belief that Albertans share a full-throttled libertarian-tinged conservatism, and the recipe is nearly complete. With the addition of a provincial government that has preached personal responsibility, provided mixed messages, resisted some health measures and recently saw MLAs and cabinet ministers ignore the government's own travel advice, the meal is cooked. It's not a stretch to see why many in the province feel left behind, without agency. That's something Bardon says is the very core of anxiety. "You feel anxious, and then you look for something to project that on.… Conspiracy theorists latch on to the conspiracy they just ran across, and if your community already has some preconceived notions as to what the threat is out there, you latch on to that," he says. If you give yourself a story, it gives back. That's not the way some in the protests see it, though. Freedom walker Jake Eskesen is an organizer with Freedom Walk Calgary, which recently branched off from Walk for Freedom over an internal dispute. Speaking just before Christmas, he says the weekly protests are about, well, freedom. "We're standing, basically for our constitutional rights, which are currently being infringed upon by the government," says Eskesen, who previously organized events for what he calls the Alberta independence movement. Personally, he doesn't think the COVID-19 statistics — including death rates and hospitalizations — justify the measures being taken by governments to restrict freedoms and the ability of people to earn a living. He gets his information from places like Post Millennial and The Rebel and also directly from Alberta Health Services statistics, while largely shunning mainstream news which he feels is trying to sell one narrow narrative. The government, he says, is the enemy. Eskesen possesses a complete certainty that his views are correct, while questioning every study, every public health recommendation, the way COVID tests are conducted and more. He, like 20 per cent of Alberta respondents to a recent poll, says he would not get the vaccine until he's convinced it's safe — and that would take a lot, he says. In short, Eskesen has a high threshold for science to convince him that the virus is serious and the measures in place help fight it are worthwhile. Everywhere he looks he sees a lack of the kind of evidence he would need to change his mind even if his own convictions are based on less — and often on misinformation or misinterpretation. Yet he acknowledges that everyone pre-forms opinions and that they're "looking for information to support it." He says it's important to step back and honestly ask yourself whether bias is getting in the way of clearly understanding an issue. So does he ever worry that maybe he's wrong and his actions are putting other people in harm's way? "No. No, not at all." The world of narratives We live now, for better or for worse, in a world of narratives. Storylines that carry us in their wake in a way that has never existed before, at least not to this extent. Information overload, anxiety, rapidly changing technologies and societies have left people clambering for support and anchors. For answers to those empty pits in their stomachs and relief from constricted chests. The more complex the world becomes, the more our prehistoric cerebral architecture kicks in, forcing our flexible thought processes into groupthink of one kind or another and further erecting barriers to thinking that threatens it. We see the results in some dramatic ways, like the storming of the U.S. Capitol building last week. But also in smaller ways like the weekly marches through downtown Calgary. But that's not to say it's all based on a lie, even if much of it is. The official narrative is something that should never be considered sacrosanct, but neither should some of its conspiracy-laden counterparts. So although COVID tests do, indeed, test for COVID, and there is a scientific consensus around masks and restrictions, there are still questions to be asked and answered. There's no doubt small businesses and the people who own them and depend on them for incomes are suffering. Shutdowns have been painful. And then there's the question of government making inroads into our daily lives. "Honestly, with the governments' track record, I have a very hard time believing that once the vaccines are rolled out that they will then relinquish a lot of these powers," says Eskesen.
Three European powers on Saturday warned Iran against starting work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, saying it contravened the 2015 nuclear deal and had serious military implications. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, and Tehran said on Wednesday that Iran had started the work, the latest breach of its agreement with six major powers as it presses for a lifting of U.S. sanctions. "We strongly encourage Iran to end this activity, and return to full compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without delay, if it is serious about preserving this agreement," France, Britain and Germany said in a joint statement.
BEIJING — China on Saturday finished building a 1,500-room hospital for COVID-19 patients to fight a surge in infections the government said are harder to contain and that it blamed on infected people or goods from abroad. The hospital is one of six with a total of 6,500 rooms being built in Nangong, south of Beijing in Hebei province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. China had largely contained the coronavirus that first was detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 but has suffered a surge of cases since December. A total of 645 people are being treated in Nangong and the Hebei provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, Xinhua said. A 3,000-room hospital is under construction in Shijiazhuang. Virus clusters also have been found in Beijing and the provinces of Heilongjiang and Liaoning in the northeast and Sichuan in the southwest. The latest infections spread unusually fast, the National Health Commission said. “It is harder to handle,” a Commission statement said. “Community transmission already has happened when the epidemic is found, so it is difficult to prevent.” The Commission blamed the latest cases on people or goods arriving from abroad. It blamed “abnormal management” and “inadequate protection of workers” involved in imports but gave no details. “They are all imported from abroad. It was caused by entry personnel or contaminated cold chain imported goods,” said the statement. The Chinese government has suggested the disease might have originated abroad and publicized what it says is the discovery of the virus on imported food, mostly frozen fish, though foreign scientists are skeptical. Also Saturday, the city government of Beijing said travellers arriving in the Chinese capital from abroad would be required to undergo an additional week of “medical monitoring” after a 14-day quarantine but gave no details. Nationwide, the Health Commission reported 130 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. It said 90 of those were in Hebei. On Saturday, the Hebei government reported 32 additional cases since midnight, the Shanghai news outlet The Paper reported. In Shijiazhuang, authorities have finished construction of 1,000 rooms of the planned hospital, state TV said Saturday. Xinhua said all the facilities are due to be completed within a week. A similar program of rapid hospital construction was launched by the ruling Communist Party at the start of the outbreak last year in Wuhan. More than 10 million people in Shijiazhuang underwent virus tests by late Friday, Xinhua said, citing a deputy mayor, Meng Xianghong. It said 247 locally transmitted cases were found. Meanwhile, researchers sent by the World Health Organization were in Wuhan preparing to investigate the origins of the virus. The team, which arrived Thursday, was under a two-week quarantine but was due to talk with Chinese experts by video link. The team's arrival was held up for months by diplomatic wrangling that prompted a rare public complaint by the head of the WHO. That delay, and the secretive ruling party’s orders to scientists not to talk publicly about the disease, have raised questions about whether Beijing might try to block discoveries that would hurt its self-proclaimed status as a leader in the anti-virus battle. Joe McDonald, The Associated Press
For much of 2020, the COVID-19 story in British Columbia was a tale of two pandemics: the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths were in the Lower Mainland, with the rest of the province only seeing intermittent outbreaks. Not anymore. For the last month, active cases have plunged in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and risen everywhere else. Adjusted for population, the biggest hot spots in the province are now places like Fort St. John, Terrace, Burns Lake and Revelstoke. There's 10 months of data to show what happens if outbreaks aren't dealt with quickly, if people don't self-isolate, if firm measures aren't taken. Which is why some of the conversation by local leaders in the Interior is how to — or whether to — ignore the small minority advocating for the opposite approach. "It's been rough. It's not been good," said 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall, who says his community and the surrounding area now have more than 60 cases. Campsall estimates only one or two per cent of the community are attending anti-mask rallies or blatantly ignoring provincial health guidelines. But says it does have an impact. "I'll be blunt. We live in a me, me, me world. It's all about me, it's not about the community … people have got to get the right information." 'We know what has to be done' While the term "COVID fatigue" is often used in the Lower Mainland, beyond Hope there's a concern of COVID complacency — communities that haven't seen the same level of transmission or hospitalizations, who may be slow to respond to the moment. "We know what has to be done. You just have to be very careful, you've got to keep your bubble very small," said Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming. At the same time, his own council passed a motion pushing the province to reopen places of worship, over Cumming's opposition. "There's clearly people within the community finding this not something they truly back or believe in … but the science is clear." Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has seen his community become the centre of large rallies against health orders in recent months and struggles with whether criticizing those folks only amplifies their message. "I don't think it's going to stop people from doing this behaviour," he said. "All I would say is I'd rather speak to the vast majority of people who believe in science, who believe this is real, and who have done their best to stop the spread." And with thousands of people being vaccinated every day, Basran hopes people can see light at the end of the tunnel. "Everyone is really frustrated. Unfortunately, we're going to have to keep the fight up," he said. "We are so close to the end here." Deaths still happening in care homes That end, however, will come too late to people like Chris Ashburn in Vernon. His father John died Jan. 5 in the Heritage Square long-term care home, where seven people have passed away since an outbreak was declared in late December. "His only symptoms they had noticed at [first] were a runny nose," said Ashburn, who was grateful for the efforts of health-care workers and said his dad had "led a very robust, great life." As more and more communities across British Columbia deal with large outbreaks, Ashburn is optimistic the vaccine will bring stability. But he also has a message for people downplaying the effects of the virus. "It's unfathomable to me that we're basically a year into this, and they still find a platform for an opinion that this isn't real," he said. "I hope for the sake of them, they don't have to go through what we went through." With files from Brady Strachan and Daybreak South
Thousands of genomic sequences have been identified from the original strain of the novel coronavirus. Depending on the rate of transmission and efforts to curb infections, the variant will either die out or dominate. Crystal Goomansingh explains how researchers are tracking the virus as it evolves.
Suicide rates in Japan have jumped in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among women and children, even though they fell in the first wave when the government offered generous handouts to people, a survey found. The July-October suicide rate rose 16% from the same period a year earlier, a stark reversal of the February-June decline of 14%, according to the study by researchers at Hong Kong University and Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology. The early decline in suicides was affected by such factors as government subsidies, reduced working hours and school closure, the study found.
Hopes are high for Woodmere Stealdeal, as he heads into the 2021 racing season on the heels of a perfect 13-0 record. The P.E.I.-bred and Nova Scotia-trained gelding not only went undefeated on the Maritime harness racing circuit in 2020, he also set records at every track where he raced. "He's a real smart horse. He gets lots of speed. That's why I like him," said trainer Danny Romo, who has spent a lifetime teaching horses how to race. He was impressed by Woodmere Stealdeal's positive attitude and good manners. "Any time we train him, he goes as fast as we wanted him to go," he said. "You felt like he wanted to do it." They call him Steal for short, and Romo said from the start the horse was a natural that stood out from the rest. Steal reminds him of another impressive horse he trained in the early 2000s, Firms Phantom, who wracked up an impressive 28 straight wins as a two- and three-year old. Good genes The son of Steelhead Hanover and Very Ideal Hanover, Stealdeal was bred at Woodmere Standardbreds in Marshfield, P.E.I. Operator Bruce Wood attributes Steal's success to good training, but also good rearing and good genes. Steal's mother was an impressive horse too, he said, often pacing in the 1:53 range. She was "a real kind-hearted mare," said Wood, adding that Steal had a similar disposition, along with being "a really smart yearling and very athletic looking." Even when the race is over, he'll never let anyone pass him. — Bruce Wood, Woodmere Standardbreds After acquiring Steal in 2019, it didn't take long for owners Bob Sumarah and Kevin Dorey to realize they had something special on their hands. "After the first race, he looked fantastic," said Sumarah. Romo trains Steal at Romo Stables in Truro, N.S., and said this horse didn't require much pushing and seems to have a drive to win. His career debut was July 9 in Summerside, P.E.I., finishing in 1:57.1 and taking the Atlantic Sires Stakes A event. After winning that first race, he continued to lead the pack, and continued to shave time off his finishes, ending the season with 1:54.1 times at both Red Shores Charlottetown and the Truro Raceway. Woodmere Stealdeal was driven by Marc Campbell and Clare MacDonald in 2020. "He's had an incredible season," said Dorey. "He went 13 for 13. He raced at five tracks and he set five track records. And I can't recall any two-year-old in Atlantic Canada ever accomplishing that feat." "He's a fast, fast horse. And he loves to pass horses," said Dorey. "He loves attention. He loves people." Wood is pleased and proud of Steal's success and hopes it continues. "We follow them like they're our kids once they start their racing career," said Wood. He's not always able to catch the races in person, but when he can't he always watches them later online. "It's pretty neat to see him break record after record." The impressive season drew $68,646 in earnings, according to Standardbred Canada, including the Atlantic Breeds Crown, Joe O'Brien Memorial and the Maritime Breeders Championship. When the racing season starts in May, Steal will be competing as a three-year-old. And hopes are high that he'll continue to set records in 2021. Wood said Woodmere Stealdeal's desire to win is clear. Even when he wins a race by lengths, instead of slowing down and cooling off right away, he continues to run. "Even when the race is over, he'll never let anyone pass him." More from CBC P.E.I.
KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s electoral commission says longtime President Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth term while top opposition challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging and officials struggle to explain how polling results were compiled amid an internet blackout. In a generational clash widely watched across the African continent, with a booming young population and a host of aging leaders, the 38-year-old singer-turned-lawmaker Wine posed arguably the greatest challenge yet to Museveni. He had strong support in urban centres where frustration with unemployment and corruption is high. The electoral commission said Museveni received 58% of ballots and Wine 34%, and voter turnout was 52%. The top United States diplomat to Africa has called the electoral process “fundamentally flawed.” Thursday’s vote followed the East African country’s worst pre-election violence since the 76-year-old Museveni took office in 1986. Wine and other opposition candidates were often harassed, and more than 50 people were killed when security forces put down riots in November over Wine’s arrest. Wine petitioned the International Criminal Court this month over alleged torture and other abuses by security forces. While the president holds on to power, at least 15 of his Cabinet ministers, including the vice-president, were voted out, with many losing to candidates from Wine’s party, local media reported. Wine claimed victory Friday, asserting that he had video evidence of vote-rigging and saying “every legal option is on the table” to challenge the official election results, including peaceful protests. Candidates can challenge election results at the Supreme Court. Hours later, he tweeted that the military had entered his home compound and “we are in serious trouble,” which a military spokeswoman denied. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was roughed up and arrested several times while campaigning but was never convicted, and eventually he campaigned wearing a flak jacket and said he feared for his life. A heavy presence of security forces remained around his home, where he has said he was alone with his wife and a single security guard. Uganda’s electoral commission has said Wine should prove his allegations of rigging, and it has deflected questions about how countrywide voting results were transmitted during the internet blackout by saying “we designed our own system.” It could not explain how it worked. Monitoring of the vote was further complicated by the arrests of independent monitors and the denial of accreditation to so many members of the U.S. observer mission that the U.S. called it off. Another major observer, the European Union, said its offer to deploy electoral experts “was not taken up.” “Uganda’s electoral process has been fundamentally flawed,” the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, tweeted Saturday, calling for the immediate and full restoration of internet access and warning that “the U.S. response hinges on what the Ugandan government does now.” Museveni, once praised as part of a new generation of African leaders, still has support among some in Uganda for bringing stability. A longtime U.S. security ally, he once criticized African leaders who refused to step aside but has since overseen the removal of term limits and an age limit on the presidency. The head of the African Union observer team, Samuel Azuu Fonkam, told reporters he could not say whether the election had been free and fair, noting the “limited” AU mission which largely focused on the capital, Kampala. Asked about Wine’s allegations of rigging, he said he could not “speak about things we did not see or observe.” The East African Community observer team in its preliminary statement noted issues including “disproportionate use of force in some instances” by security forces, the internet shutdown, some late-opening polling stations and isolated cases of failure in biometric kits to verify voters. But it called the vote largely peaceful and said it “demonstrated the level of maturity expected of a democracy.” Uganda’s elections are often marred by allegations of fraud and abuses by security forces. The previous election saw sporadic post-election riots. The Associated Press
China promised on Saturday to donate 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines as the two countries signed infrastructure deals aimed at boosting post-pandemic recovery efforts, officials said. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte imposed one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to contain the virus in March last year - bringing one of Asia's fastest-growing economies to a standstill. "As a friend of the Philippines and your closest neighbour, we will firmly stand with the people of the Philippines until the defeat of this virus," senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said during a meeting with the Philippines' foreign minister.
A plane carrying one million doses of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Saturday in Serbia, making it the first European country to receive the Chinese vaccine for mass inoculation programmes. President Aleksandar Vucic was accompanied by Beijing's ambassador to the Balkan country at Belgrade's airport as containers carrying the vaccines were unloaded from an Air Serbia plane. "I would like to thank President Xi Jinping and Chinese leadership for sending us one million doses of the vaccine," Vucic, who has helped forge close ties with China in recent years, told reporters.