This is the first encounter between Thorin and the newly hatched ducks. Safe to say they'll get along great!
This is the first encounter between Thorin and the newly hatched ducks. Safe to say they'll get along great!
The Burmese-Canadian community is calling on the federal government to provide more material support to anti-military protesters after a week that saw some of the deadliest clashes between police and demonstrators in Myanmar since the military coup in that country. The Burmese Canadian Action Network (BCAN) sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau this week, just one day after police killed 18 people and wounded 30, according to the United Nations. "We, Burmese Canadians across Canada, are calling on the Government of Canada to provide tangible support for Burmese people struggling for freedom and democracy," the letter reads. The crisis began after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide re-election as state counsellor of Myanmar — a position equivalent to a prime minister -- on Nov. 8 last year. The military questioned the results, accusing the winning party of fraud, before seizing power and placing Suu Kyi and other senior members of her government under arrest on Feb. 1. Since then, dozens of protesters have died -- 34 on Wednesday alone -- at the hands of police and more than 1,000 civilians and elected officials have been arrested. Anti-coup protesters maintain their position behind a barricade despite smoke from tear gas in San Chaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday, Mar. 5, 2021. Demonstrators defy growing violence by security forces and stage more anti-coup protests ahead of a special UN Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis.(The Associated Press) From pot-banging to protesters taking to the streets clad in hard-hats and goggles to protect themselves from assaults by police, the demonstrations are happening daily, in spite of bans on political protests and on social media. The letter to Trudeau and Garneau says Canada should take further action, including helping people who are now struggling with food scarcity. The civil unrest has caused major shutdowns in the country and interrupted the people's daily lives, especially those who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). BCAN appealed to Canada to send food and material support via UN agencies and civil society organizations. "We encourage you to find ways to provide such essential assistance urgently," its letter reads. The letter also calls on Canada to officially recognize the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Htaw (CRPH). The CRPH, which was created soon after the coup with the support of 400 elected MPs, combines the Lower and Upper Houses of Myanmar's parliament. Protesters hold up placards demanding the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw on March 4, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images) According to Tin Maung Htoo, spokesperson for the BCAN, the CRPH is currently working underground in defiance of the police and supporting the demonstrators under the radar, by releasing information and making announcements to the public. "We are quite encouraged by the [Canadian] government's stand and this stand and actions from the government is very encouraging for people on the ground in Burma, especially," he said, referring to a move by Canada and Britain to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar. The two countries made the move under the Special Economic Measures Act on Feb 18 after police violence escalated against demonstrators. We don't want to go back 20, 30 years -- back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can. - Tin Maung Htoo Maung Htoo was a student when he fled Myanmar during in 1988 after organizing protests against the military dictatorship. "More than 3,000 people, mostly students, were killed in the streets," Maung Htoo recalled. "There was no freedom of expression, association, student unions were banned." The regime lasted over 20 years, finally ending when Myanmar achieved partial democracy in 2010. Tin Maung Htoo, with the Burmese Canadian Action Network, says the people of Myanmar 'are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country.'(Submitted by Tin Maung Htoo) Two years before the country opened itself to the world, the military wrote a new constitution, which allowed it to keep some of its former powers, including 25 per cent of seats in parliament and control of the defence, border affairs and home ministries. When the military moved to take power in February, General Min Aung Hlaing announced the removal of 24 democratically elected ministers, naming 11 replacements.. Maung Htoo said he believes the coup is an act of desperation. He said the the military was gradually losing not only political control under Suu Kyi's leadership but also economic power, since big business organizations are military-backed and military-owned. "People are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country." Maung Htoo said. "We don't want to go back 20, 30 years ... back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can."
Squamish Nation council has presented a survey of 300 of its community members’ concerns regarding ongoing disruptions from rail operations just metres from their homes to CN Rail this week, in the hope immediate short-term changes will be made. With three rail tracks just 30 metres from some homes in the community of Eslhá7an, near Mosquito Creek in North Vancouver, residents say they have been putting up with unacceptable levels of noise, pollution and health impacts for far too long. “Think of a loud muscle car or motorcycle revving up outside your house late at night,” said Keith Nahanee, who lives just 45 metres from the tracks in Eslhá7an. “Now times that noise by 10. That’s what it’s like.” Nahanee, who has been dealing with the rail issue his whole life, said CN Rail trains were left idling just across from homes routinely at around 11 p.m. each night. “Not only do we hear the engines humming, but some houses rattle because of the engines,” the 48-year-old said, adding that he was consistently woken by the loud diesel engines and train cooling systems. “If they're going by, that's fine but they sit out here and idle. Sometimes the guy ends his shift out here. He’ll leave the train there and he'll go home and it's idling from around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., or midnight, until someone picks it up the next day.” Nahanee is one of the residents, mostly elders, – from Eslhá7an to Yekwaupsum – who filled out the survey detailing their concerns regarding the rail operations. But it’s not the first time he or other residents have made their voices heard, saying he had been sending complaints to CN Rail three times a month since he could remember. He said the response, if received, from CN Rail was the same each time, which explained idling was necessary for most of its locomotives, which are not designed to be easily turned on and off. Nahanee said the first thing the community really wanted was for the trains to idle somewhere else during the middle of the night, further from homes. “I mean, that’s all we want,” he said. “Between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., just let us sleep.” Khelsilem, Dustin Rivers, spokesperson for Squamish Nation, said the nation conducted the survey after a virtual meeting was held with CN Rail on Oct. 3, 2020, between nation council members and CN senior executives to reopen discussions on how to solve the ongoing disturbances to residents in the communities of Eslhá7an and Yekwaupsum. “The Squamish Nation has been dealing with these issues over many, many, many years and it seems like every so often we get some progress and then after a number of years the issues come up again,” he said, adding it was “frustrating” to be back at this stage. “Our leadership is really upset with CN and how they are treating our residents of our community, and while the Oct. 3 meeting was diplomatic and a point to sort of re-establish a relationship, we're still not seeing the kind of action that we would like to see on the ground to respect our residents and our elders in our community.” Khelsilem said leadership was hoping that would change and communications would become more fluid again with CN, after presenting the results of the survey on March 3. He said community members provided “a lot of explicit and specific feedback regarding issues around shunting, whistling, and idling which is basically directly in front of a lot of people's houses.” “The biggest issue, of course, for our members, is that there's a significant amount of activity, noise, pollution, and disruption happening during the evening and late into the night,” he said. “We have a number of families with young children, we have families who work and are trying to make a living for their families to provide for them, we have elders who are recovering from significant health issues … all of whom are being severely impacted.” While CN Rail has progressed on various initiatives over the past several years to reduce noise, such as train whistling cessation, rail lubrication, and installing automated gates at at-grade crossings, Khelsilem said more operational changes were needed. “There needs to be a change and a moratorium on when some of their operations are happening around our reserves,” he said, adding that the nation was calling for an end to locomotive idling adjacent to residential properties as a short term solution. Khelsilem said the issue dates back to the colonial history of the railways within Canada and how they were developed. “If you were to apply contemporary standards to rail lines, they would never allow rail lines to be built that close to a residential area like ours is,” he said. “If you look at the rest of the North Shore, there's not a lot of areas where there are rail lines in that close proximity, but because of the colonial history of governments unilaterally deciding and making these decisions, including the expropriation of reserve lands to suit the rail line expansions, we have this sort of horrible legacy of racist decisions that today we're feeling the impacts of in our community.” He said future long-term goals would be to see some of the rail lines near the community of Eslhá7an decommissioned and the idea to move the railway underground or below grade be explored. In response to complaints in July last year, CN Rail issued a statement saying the whistles are required by law for safety reasons and that idling is necessary for almost half of its fleet of locomotives, which are not designed to be easily turned on and off. “As a backbone of the Canadian and British Columbian economy, we operate our railroad 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; therefore, there will always be some noise associated with these operations,” the statement read. “CN is aware of the fact that it operates in close proximity to the communities through which we travel and is committed to make every effort to minimize the effects that may occur as a result of these operations.” CN Rail is now reviewing the results of the nation’s community complaints survey. Khelsilem said the nation would continue communications with CN Rail on short-term and long-term solutions. "They're open to potential changes, but no commitments have been made," he said. Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News
A new program in two Hamilton high schools aims to support the mental health of Black and racialized youth. Students at Bernie Custis Secondary School and Cathedral High School, both in central Hamilton, will have access to a “health and wellness connector” who will connect youth to services to support their overall health and well-being. “It's really important for us to give hope to the kids and to give hope to our youth, particularly the Black and racialized youth who seem, based on the data, to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Terri Bedminster, co-founder and executive director of Refuge Newcomer Health, the organization leading the program in partnership with the Hamilton School Based Network. “This program is to support Black youth in accessing community services around mental health, and other services, but also to have a familiar face or someone who identifies as the population.” A Statistics Canada report in October found that youth have experienced the greatest declines in mental health since the pandemic began. Visible minority groups were more likely to report “poor” mental health. The service was made possible by a $30,000 grant from Hamilton Community Foundation’s pandemic response fund. This service is an addition to an existing nurse practitioner program that Refuge piloted in 2012. When COVID-19 hit, the group began to consider other ways to support the youth hardest hit by the pandemic. “What we saw was that Black and racialized youth, based on a lot of feedback from community partners, were needing some support,” Bedminster said. Refuge will continue to work with community partners serving Black and racialized youth “to further understand ... the specific needs of these youth,” she said. With the funding, Refuge hired two Black young people — Dejehan “Lucky” Hamilton and Ashleigh Montague — on a part-time basis to spend time in both schools. “We know that relationships are key to Black youth,” Bedminster said. “The ability to connect and identify with someone who looks like you and may have experiences like you, that's key.” Hamilton, a lifelong Hamiltonian with expertise in arts education and youth mentorship, said he is excited to be “an additional resource for (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) students” — a group he has been passionate about for nearly a decade. “I’m a firm believer in the power of one,” he said. “If we can help, change, improve, or empower one young person that would be a win.” Sue Dunlop, superintendent of education responsible for Bernie Custis, said the school community is grateful to the team that is “enhancing opportunities for students.” Bernie Custis is part of a family of schools deemed “high priority” by the board. “This partnership removes barriers for students who are historically underserved and provides them with supports that will lead to success in school and beyond,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
VANCOUVER — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has reserved his decision on a request from three churches to throw out provincial health orders that prevent them from holding in-person services. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said Friday he doesn't want to delay unnecessarily and he appreciates the urgency of the matter from the petitioners' point of view, but he must give the case careful thought. "You've presented me with very difficult issues to resolve and I will take the time necessary to try and resolve those issues fairly." Hinkson gave no date on when he would release his decision. Jacqueline Hughes, a lawyer for B.C.'s attorney general, told the court the orders by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry do not single out or ban all in-person religious services and Henry has invited exemption requests. The petitioners include the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack. Hughes said the churches are now permitted to hold in-person services of up to 25 people, outdoors and with safety measures in place, through a "variance" to Henry's orders granted late last month. Individual worship and drive-in events are also permitted under the orders, subject to conditions, she said, while weddings, funerals and baptisms may include no more than 10 guests. Henry has the statutory powers during an emergency to issue orders she reasonably believes are necessary to prevent and mitigate further harm from a health hazard, including restricting entry to a place, said Hughes. The province's top doctor has made efforts to consult faith leaders while weighing their charter rights against data about COVID-19 cases in B.C. and explaining her reasoning in public briefings and in writing, she said. Paul Jaffe, legal counsel for the petitioners, has argued Henry's orders reflect a value judgment. On Friday, he said his clients have been subjected to discriminatory treatment compared with other groups. Orthodox Jewish synagogues were granted variances to hold indoor services on the Sabbath around the time Henry and the attorney general sought an injunction to stop his clients from worshipping in person, Jaffe said. Hinkson dismissed the province's injunction application last month, saying the provincial health officer has means under the Public Health Act to enforce the rules without a court order. Jaffe told the court on Friday there has been no change in the degree to which Henry's orders arbitrarily infringe on his clients' charter right to freedom of religion from the time they were made last November to now. "All the Crown has been able to show you are the opinions of Dr. Henry," he said. "But opinions aren't evidence. You need cogent, persuasive evidence to justify those opinions and there simply isn't any." He told the court earlier this week that his clients have adopted safety measures similar to those approved by the provincial health officer in places that remain open. Jaffe works with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based legal advocacy group that's also asking the court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for alleged violations of the public health orders. Hughes told the court on Friday "there's no absolute rule that constitutionally protected interests must be preferred to those that are just pressing and substantial" in matters such as the petition at hand. The only requirements, she said, are that any balance struck is reasonable, that "sincere religious practice" is accommodated where possible, and that religious and non-religious beliefs are treated neutrally. "We say Dr. Henry understood these requirements and applied them to best of her ability," Hughes told Hinkson. Henry's mandate to protect public health is a balancing exercise, she said, and "charter rights do not trump the public health mandate that she has and is continuing to exercise over the course of this pandemic." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021. This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press
The provincial government has established a new one-time benefit for parents for daycare costs during the pandemic. The Working Parents Benefit, announced during a government news conference on Feb. 24, will provide a one-time payment of $561 to parents in the province. To be eligible, parents must make less than $100,000, have children in childcare, and have paid three months of childcare between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2020. Examples of eligible childcare include licensed or unlicensed daycare, day homes, out-of-school care, or preschool. This new support will help families invest in childcare and preschool, but will also create economic stimulus, said Rebecca Schultz, the province’s minister of children’s services. The program is being funded with $108 million of unspent funds from Children’s Services to support the families of up to 192,000 children, according to the government. Applications for the benefit are made online, the date of opening varying regionally to manage volume, between March 1 to March 5. Applications will be open until March 31. A MyAlberta Digital ID is required to apply for the benefit. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
A Strathmore resident who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria has opened a new barbershop in the downtown core. Sam Al-Mubaied, together with business partner Ahmad Asheti, have opened the Strathmore Barbershop, located in the Strathmore Centre. A grand opening celebration was held on March 1, attended by Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule and Councillors Bob Sobol and Denise Peterson, along with other members of the community. The opening culminates Al-Mubaied’s relocation to Canada with his wife and family from Damascus, Syria in 2016 because of the Syrian civil war. “We weren’t safe there, especially the kids, so we had to leave,” he said. The Hope Community Covenant Church, along with five sponsors, helped Al-Mubaied and his family settle in Strathmore. Since then, Al-Mubaied and his family have adjusted to life here. “I love Strathmore – I feel like it’s my own town and my own community,” he said. “We’re so happy to be safe here.” The business has been ready to open for a few months, but was delayed by COVID-19 public health measures. So, Al-Mubaied took a “wait and see” approach to opening while many businesses were closed. But with personal and wellness businesses services open again (by appointment), Al-Mubaied decided the time was right to launch the new business venture. Like other barbers and hairdressers in town, Al-Mubaied will be working within the confines of COVID-19 protocols. “We’re working under the government’s rules,” he said. Al-Mubaied has been cutting hair for over 10 years and does not think his approach to the craft will be much different than in Syria. “Hair is hair, but every year, there are new styles,” he said. “I’m so excited to start serving the people of Strathmore.” At the reopening, Fule said that having businesses downtown, such as the Strathmore Barbershop, being successful is important to Strathmore’s downtown revitalization. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 10:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 5, 2021. In Canada, the provinces are reporting 85,376 new vaccinations administered for a total of 2,253,514 doses given. Nationwide, 561,238 people or 1.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 5,946.061 per 100,000. There were 8,190 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 2,622,210 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 85.94 per cent of their available vaccine supply. Please note that Newfoundland, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the territories typically do not report on a daily basis. Newfoundland is reporting 4,472 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 24,757 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 47.279 per 1,000. In the province, 1.61 per cent (8,427) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Newfoundland for a total of 35,620 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.8 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 69.5 per cent of its available vaccine supply. P.E.I. is reporting 1,105 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 13,281 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 83.724 per 1,000. In the province, 3.32 per cent (5,273) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to P.E.I. for a total of 14,715 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 9.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 90.25 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Nova Scotia is reporting 6,657 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 38,676 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 39.631 per 1,000. In the province, 1.48 per cent (14,395) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Nova Scotia for a total of 61,980 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.4 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 62.4 per cent of its available vaccine supply. New Brunswick is reporting 7,424 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 33,741 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 43.255 per 1,000. In the province, 1.56 per cent (12,142) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to New Brunswick for a total of 46,775 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.0 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 72.13 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Quebec is reporting 19,975 new vaccinations administered for a total of 510,479 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 59.659 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Quebec for a total of 638,445 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 7.5 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 79.96 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Ontario is reporting 35,886 new vaccinations administered for a total of 820,714 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 55.872 per 1,000. In the province, 1.83 per cent (269,063) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Ontario for a total of 903,285 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.1 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 90.86 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Manitoba is reporting 2,358 new vaccinations administered for a total of 84,937 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 61.682 per 1,000. In the province, 2.17 per cent (29,847) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were 8,190 new vaccines delivered to Manitoba for a total of 124,840 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 9.1 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 68.04 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Saskatchewan is reporting 2,789 new vaccinations administered for a total of 86,879 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 73.679 per 1,000. In the province, 2.37 per cent (27,945) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Saskatchewan for a total of 74,605 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 116.5 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Alberta is reporting 9,488 new vaccinations administered for a total of 275,719 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 62.634 per 1,000. In the province, 2.06 per cent (90,486) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Alberta for a total of 274,965 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.2 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 100.3 per cent of its available vaccine supply. British Columbia is reporting 12,357 new vaccinations administered for a total of 311,208 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 60.646 per 1,000. In the province, 1.69 per cent (86,865) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to British Columbia for a total of 385,080 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 7.5 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 80.82 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Yukon is reporting 1,279 new vaccinations administered for a total of 19,437 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 465.769 per 1,000. In the territory, 17.00 per cent (7,093) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Yukon for a total of 18,900 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 45 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 102.8 per cent of its available vaccine supply. The Northwest Territories are reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 19,775 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 438.285 per 1,000. In the territory, 10.10 per cent (4,558) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to the Northwest Territories for a total of 19,100 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 42 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 103.5 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Nunavut is reporting 158 new vaccinations administered for a total of 13,911 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 359.216 per 1,000. In the territory, 13.28 per cent (5,144) of the population has been fully vaccinated. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Nunavut for a total of 23,900 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 62 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 58.21 per cent of its available vaccine supply. *Notes on data: The figures are compiled by the COVID-19 Open Data Working Group based on the latest publicly available data and are subject to change. Note that some provinces report weekly, while others report same-day or figures from the previous day. Vaccine doses administered is not equivalent to the number of people inoculated as the approved vaccines require two doses per person. The vaccines are currently not being administered to children under 18 and those with certain health conditions. In some cases the number of doses administered may appear to exceed the number of doses distributed as some provinces have been drawing extra doses per vial. This report was automatically generated by The Canadian Press Digital Data Desk and was first published March 5, 2021. The Canadian Press
A group that advocates for people with disabilities says they should be prioritized for early vaccination, but Nova Scotia's top doctor, whose son has severe disabilities, disagrees. We talk to the mother of a girl with Down syndrome, which puts her daughter at greater risk of harm from COVID-19.
A tree disease caused by a fungus has been identified in Wheatland County and, if left unchecked, may result in the stunting or death of trees. Black knot, caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, is a disease affecting certain fruit trees (in the genus Prunus), including cherries and plums. The stems of affected trees show a blackish growth or swelling. On Feb. 17, Wheatland County announced its maintenance crews identified black knot in some of its communities. The county’s hamlet operations foreman said black knot was seen a few years ago, and while it does not seem widespread, residents should be aware of it and how to deal with it, wrote Mackenzie Maier, the county’s communication specialist, in an email. While the disease is considered common and widespread in Alberta, if it is left to progress, it can disfigure and reduce the growth of branches, sometimes leading to the death of the tree. It also stresses the infected tree, leaving it more prone to infection from other pathogens. The county cut the infected portions out of the trees areas it maintains. However, diseased branches were identified on private properties, so the county is asking landowners to assess their properties for its presence and remove any infected materials. To control black knot, all knot-bearing branches should be pruned out in late fall, winter or early spring, when plants are dormant and knots visible. Infected branches should be removed six to eight inches below the knot. To avoid spreading the spores of the fungus, shears should be cleaned and disinfected after use. Diseased wood should be either burned or removed from the site, as they may release spores for up to four months after removal. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
OTTAWA — Cole Maier had a pair of goals as the Manitoba Moose downed the Belleville Senators 3-1 on Friday in American Hockey League play. Mikhail Berdin made 21 saves to help Manitoba halt a four-game slide. C.J Suess also scored for the Moose (5-6-0), AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. Cody Goloubef found the back of the net for the Senators (1-5-0), who have dropped three straight games. Filip Gustavsson stopped 24-of-26 shots for the Ottawa Senators' AHL affiliate. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021. The Canadian Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Major League Baseball teams in California can welcomea limited number of fans back to ballparks on April 1 under new state rukes announced Friday that will also let Disneyland and other theme parks reopen for the first time in more than a year. The changes allow people to attend other outdoor sporting events and live performances in limited numbers that go into effect on baseball's opening day, when the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A's all have home games. The A's confirmed they will have fans in the stands. Disneyland officials did not say when the park would reopen. But when it does, only people who live in California can buy tickets. The same goes for MLB games and outdoor performances, as public health officials try to limit mixing while continuing to roll out coronavirus vaccinations. Indoor events such as NBA games and concerts are not included in the new rules announced by the adminstration of Gov. Gavin Newsom. The state is acting because the rates of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are declining while the number of people receiving vaccines is increasing, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s top public health official. “Today’s announcement is focused on building in some of the compelling science about how the virus behaves, and how activities when done a certain way can reduce risk,” Ghaly said. California divides its counties into four colour-coded tiers based on the spread of the virus. The purple tier is the most restrictive, followed by red, orange and yellow. Attendance limits are based on what tier a county is in. Outdoor sports are limited to 100 people in the purple tier. The limits increase to 20% capacity in the red tier, 33% in the orange tier and 67% in the yellow tier. Teams and event organizers can only sell tickets regionally in the purple tier. In the other tiers, teams and organizers can sell tickets to anyone living in California. No concessions will be allowed in the purple tier, while in others, concession sales will only be available at seats. Enforcing the rules will be left to venues. Ghaly and Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said organizers will have to sell tickets in advance and can cross-check to confirm hometowns to help with contact tracing if needed. Myers acknowledged that some people will try to beat the system, but she said officials hope people will respect the guidelines. The Oakland A’s announced rules that give a glimpse of what life will be like for fans during the pandemic. They will be seated in pods of two or four seats, and tickets will only be available on the MLB Ballpark app. Fans can order concessions on their phones and have them delivered to their seats. No tailgating is allowed, and teams will not accept cash inside the stadium. People who don’t have debit cards can purchase one with cash at a limited number of locations inside the venue. “We are excited to safely welcome fans back to our ballpark for the upcoming season,” A’s President Dave Kaval said. Theme parks can open in the red tier at 15% capacity and boost attendance limits as virus rates decrease. Again, only people who live in California can buy tickets. Indoor rides at outdoor parks will be allowed because they are typically short and can allow for proper spacing. “We can’t wait to welcome guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon,” Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said in a statement. Disneyland employees have been furloughed or out of a job for nearly a year. Andrea Zinder, president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents Disney workers, said employees are “excited to go back to work and provide Californians with a bit more magic in their lives." Disney fan Kenny King Jr.said he became an annual Disneyland passholder a decade ago and typically takes his family there five times a year. King, 38, and his family, who live in Pleasant Hill, last went to Disneyland in February 2020 for his birthday. He's excited to return with his 8-year-old daughter, who had just started enjoying rides such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain, and to take his 2-year-old son, who was mesmerized by the lights and sounds when he went to the park last year. “We’ll sit there at the house sometimes and we’ll be like man, I just miss Disneyland,” King said. He said he's confident Disney will take appropriate safety measures. “They’ve had plenty of time to game plan on that,” he said. Adam Beam And Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press
Two Bolton teens performed in a new virtual concert event organized and performed all by youth members. The online concert was live streamed on February 27 and was headlined by 14-year-old Mini Pop Kids star Peyton Garcia who performed a variety of cover songs from artists like Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa, as well as originals. In addition to Garcia, performances also featured America’s Got Talent finalists GEN: ZED, and OPUS Dance Collective dance group. The show was put together with the help of industry producer Jamie Hodgins. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online virtual concert allowed the young talent to continue to put on a show while keeping safe from the virus. Two of the participants were 14-year-old Caledon residents, Ava Barbuto and Hailey Vultao, who dance with Joanne Chapman’s School of Dance located in Brampton. Both girls have been dancing with each other since a very young age, and excitedly enough, are also best friends. “I started dancing when I was three years old, and I guess I loved it ever since. When my mom took me to my first ballet class, I remember that all the kids were crying and I wanted to be there,” said Ava. “I wanted to go to the next class, so I knew from there that that was something I wanted to continue to see how far I’ll go, and where I’ll go, and how much I’ll accomplish.” “I started dancing when I was two, and my sister danced, so when my mom put me in there to try it, I just found the love for it,” added Hailey. At the Joanne Chapman School of Dance, the girls learned not one, not two, but a variety of different types of dance, including ballet, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, just to name a few. Both Hailey and Ava began competing in dance at the dance school when they were three years old, and have grown into successful, competitive and talented dancers. Ava has danced in music videos and commercials, including Mini Pop Kids. She has also won several scholarships and awards at workshops and competitions. Hailey, same as Ava, began competing with Joanne Chapman School of Dance, and also danced for Mini Pops Kids concerts and videos. She has won several scholarships and awards as well including Miss Mini CanDance, Fever’s Junior Powerhouse and a DancerPalooza’s Beat Squad. Additionally, Hailey has also modelled for companies like Walmart and Joe Fresh. The online virtual concert was a huge success for not only the audience who got to watch from the comfort of their own homes, but by all performers and crew. “I think it went very well. I love how all the effects came together and all the different lighting. When we were filming it, we didn’t really know how it would turn out since we were behind the camera,” said Ava. “One of my favourite parts was the Bieber mash-up to perform and watch, because it has some of my favourite songs.” “My favourite part of the show was my favourite number, which was Levitation (by Dua Lipa), because it was really upbeat and just overall a very fun to dance too, but I also liked Falling because I got to do a duet with my best friend Ava,” explained Hailey. Although they weren’t able to perform in front of a physical audience, they were able to experience a different way of performing for an audience – but it did prove to have its challenges. “It’s really different,” said Ava. “It makes it harder for the dancers to try and learn and practising the choreography if we don’t know the exact steps. So, it’s more challenging than what we’re used to, but it was a fun experience.” A second part of the Virtual Concert Reality (VCR) is hoped to be coming this upcoming summer, where both girls will once again get to perform for a large online audience. You go girls! Alyssa Parkhill, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Caledon Citizen
Three more Hamilton schools are offering asymptomatic COVID-19 testing this week. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will offer asymptomatic testing at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek on Friday for students and staff at the high school. Orchard Park’s feeder elementary schools — Eastdale, Green Acres, South Meadow, R.L. Hyslop and Winona — are also eligible. This is the second time testing will be offered at Orchard Park, which was part of a Feb. 13 pilot clinic. At the Catholic board, testing will be available at Cathedral Catholic High School in central Hamilton on Friday for asymptomatic students and staff at the school and at Cathedral Children’s Centre. On Saturday, testing at the school will be for the feeder schools, Holy Name of Jesus, St. Ann Hamilton, St. Eugene, St. Lawrence, St. Luke, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, Sts. Peter & Paul. Hamilton public health says the rapid antigen test, which is being used at both Orchard Park and Cathedral, is “less invasive” than the nasopharyngeal swab. St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School is using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, lab-based and more accurate than rapid tests, at its clinic on Thursday evening. An outbreak was declared Feb. 23 at the east Hamilton elementary school, which has had four confirmed cases of the virus. PCR tests will be used as directed by public health “during an outbreak investigation.” “PCR tests will also be used for close contacts of confirmed cases,” said spokesperson James Berry in a Feb. 26 email to The Spectator. No cases were found among the more than 250 asymptomatic tests conducted at Hamilton schools last week. HWCDSB chair Pat Daly told The Spectator on Monday the board had “expected somewhat of a higher turnout” among students. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former President Donald Trump on Friday endorsed South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's bid for a second full term in 2022, continuing their yearslong alliance in a move to strengthen ties with the early-voting state that Trump won twice. In a statement through his Save America PAC, Trump commended McMaster's efforts on behalf of the military, veterans and law enforcement, saying the Republican “has my Complete and Total Endorsement as he runs for re-election!” The endorsement, along with other recent moves, continues to signal Trump's desire to maintain ties with South Carolina, home of the first presidential primary votes in the South. Earlier this week, Trump formally endorsed U.S. Sen. Tim Scott in his own 2022 reelect bid, also complimenting Scott’s work on behalf of the military, law enforcement and veterans. Last month, Trump gave backing to Drew McKissick for a third term as chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, signalling a desire to wade not only into state-level politics but also to play a role in maintaining the local party framework in places that backed his presidency and where his support remains steady. But the former president’s relationship with McMaster goes deeper, predating either man’s administration. In early 2016, then-Lt. Gov. McMaster threw his support behind Trump’s presidential bid, becoming the first statewide-elected official in the country to do so. That summer, McMaster was one of two speakers to formally nominate Trump at the Republican National Convention. The move helped boost Trump to a double-digit victory in South Carolina’s early primary. It also surprised many allies and friends of McMaster, a longtime member of South Carolina’s establishment GOP circles. But McMaster’s wager paid dividends a year later, when Trump picked Nikki Haley as his U.N. ambassador, allowing McMaster to ascend to the governor’s office, a post he had long sought. In 2018, as McMaster sought his first full term in office, Trump campaigned for his ally roughly 12 hours before polls opened in a GOP runoff race, which McMaster ultimately won. ___ Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press
Older residents in some congregate settings have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, although seniors in the community began receiving vaccines this week. Residents at The Court at Rushdale, an “all-inclusive retirement community” on Upper Sherman Avenue, have not yet received vaccines, raising concerns from a Hamilton woman whose parents live there. Public health says “all retirement homes in Hamilton, high risk and others,” received first doses of the vaccine through the mobile clinic. Atria Retirement Canada, which operates The Court at Rushdale, and other facilities across Canada, says the Hamilton home wasn’t part of the current rollout because it’s not regulated under the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA). “Our community is an unlicensed, independent living community and does not yet fall within the vaccine rollout set by public health,” says a statement attributed to president Kristy Grange. “Our residents and staff are very enthusiastic about receiving the vaccine when it arrives at the Court at Rushdale.” Mary Wright, whose parents are in their 90s and live at the home, is concerned the rollout is creating a “second class” of seniors. “I don’t think it should matter whether they’re part of RHRA or not,” she said. “You’re just going to leave all these elderly people hanging and twisting in the wind?” Public health didn’t confirm if only licensed homes had received vaccines or where unlicensed ones are in the line. “Vaccination rollout is based on the prioritization framework as determined by provincial guidelines,” said an emailed statement from spokesperson James Berry. He added working groups are looking to ensure vaccines are distributed “effectively and equitably.” The first phase in Ontario’s vaccination plan prioritizes long-term-care homes, high-risk retirement homes, First Nations elder care homes, and includes alternative level of care patients headed into congregate-care settings, among others. The second priority includes adults 80 years and older, and workers, residents and caregivers in retirement homes and other congregate-care sites for seniors, such as assisted living. Adults receiving chronic home care are also included. Hamilton began vaccinating seniors age 85 years and up starting March 1. Any facility that’s defined as a “retirement home” must be licensed under the Retirement Homes Act and is subject to regulation by the RHRA. But there are other seniors’ homes that “mash the criteria” for congregate care, such as supportive housing or apartment buildings, says McMaster University professor Andrew Costa. “Seniors living in congregate environments, whether licensed or unlicensed, definitely have greater priority for the vaccine,” said the assistant professor in clinical epidemiology. But he says it’s hard to identify congregate-care sites if they’re not licensed. Costa suggests consulting the list of home-care recipients to help. Even if fewer than half of the building’s residents receive home care, he hopes the entire building would be prioritized for the vaccine. Wright says her parents live in their own apartment but they and other residents receive home care through the LHIN. The building also offers congregate dining. She is particularly concerned about transparency and the “conflicting reports” from public health and Atria. “At any time, (COVID-19) could come in,” she said. “This is unconscionable.” Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination program is being extended into pharmacies, but only in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer for now. All Albertans aged 75 and older can book an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. In addition to Alberta Health Services (AHS) sites, a list of participating pharmacies is available through the website of Alberta Blue Cross (ab.bluecross.ca). Appointments at participating pharmacies are starting this week. As more doses become available, more pharmacies will begin to offer the vaccine, including in more communities. “As the vaccine supply increases in the province, we look forward to expanding the program to include all community pharmacists in pharmacies across the province,” said Margaret Wing, Alberta Pharmacists’ Association CEO, in a Feb. 24 government news release. By providing flu and other vaccines in the past, pharmacies have the skills needed to safely provide COVID-19 vaccines, according to the government. Albertans are being encouraged to have both doses of vaccine at the same location, so any first doses booked at a community pharmacy will be followed by the second dose at the same place. The pharmacies must be called directly to book an appointment through them. Residents must select the pharmacy that is located closest to them. No walk-ins are permitted. Booking for vaccination at AHS sites can still be made online (albertahealthservices.ca) or by calling 811. On Feb. 25, the government announced more than 100,000 Alberta seniors and 22,000 other seniors in congregate care settings have booked for a vaccination appointment. Combined with the 28,000 seniors in long-term already vaccinated, over half of Alberta’s 75-plus population either have already been vaccinated or are scheduled to receive a first dose. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
A local family with deep ties to the Rockyford area is being honoured for best representing the values of the family farm within their rural community. Gordon and Darlene Koester and family, with Koester Cattle Co. Inc., was a recipient of the BMO Farm Family Award, presented by the Calgary Stampede and BMO Bank of Montreal. This awards program was created to promote a renewed urban-rural relationship and to recognize outstanding southern Alberta farm families who best typify the value of the family farmer to society. The Koester’s local ties started in 1928, when the family moved from Iowa to Rockyford. Joe, one of nine children, and his wife, Tillie, purchased their own farmstead in 1950, raising eight children. Their son Gordon and his wife Darlene took over the family farm and raised four children. Sons Matthew and Adam became an integral part of the family farm operation, but in 2015, they decided to pursue their off-farm careers on a full-time basis. Bradie, one of the couple’s two daughters, and her husband, Dan, then jumped at the opportunity to come home and farm, and are now at the helm of the operation. The family winning the award was a surprise, said Gordon, in an interview. “I was taken back by the nomination, thinking there’s a lot of deserving people out there,’ he said. “I was humbled to be chosen, that’s for sure.” The Koesters have been an integral part of their community. Gordon is the past president of the Rockyford Lions Club and past chairman of the Rockyford Agricultural Society, Hall Board, Curling Club, Parish Council, Knights of Columbus and Minor Hockey, and is also a 25- year member of the Seed Growers Association. Darlene helped establish ringette in the Rockyford Community 30 years ago, and was a coach and manager throughout the years while her daughters played. She was also the Rockyford Rodeo secretary for 25 years in addition to driving a school bus for three decades. Dan and Bradie belong to the Rockyford Minor Hockey and Ringette Association as coaches and board members, in addition to Rockyford’s Ag Society, Lions Club, Rodeo Committee, Parish Council and Knights of Columbus. They also coach their girls’ fastball teams as well as play ringette and hockey on adult teams. Dan belongs to the Strathmore Seed Cleaning Plant and is entering his second year as chairman. Being established for multiple generations has helped the Koesters make such an impact in their community, said Gordon. “My father and mother taught us to be part of the community and make sure things work,” he said. “We’re a small enough community that everybody can take a turn.” Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
Over the February break there was an important symbol put in place at St. Francis School in Prince Albert. Maintenance from the Prince Albert Catholic School Division placed a handcrafted cross in the school's gymnasium. The cross was crafted by St. Francis Principal Richard Rapin's brother. It was the last stage of a large renovation beginning in 2019 when a flood swept through the school. “In the middle of the summer, we knew we needed a cross at that particular time to finish off our gym because it is the largest gathering place in our school,” Richard said. The other parts of the renovation included painting and new flooring. The gymnasium is currently in use as the place for physical education classes. The gymnasium serves as much more than just a place for sports. It acts as a gathering place for important events at the school including events such as liturgies, Grade 8 farewells and other milestones. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is not possible but when the pandemic is over, staff and students will once again gather in the space to celebrate together. “So we wanted a special cross for our gym and I approached my brother Phil who has made a number of them in Saskatoon and I asked him if he would be willing to build a cross for our gym and he said absolutely,” Richard said. “He phoned me a couple weeks later and I drove up to Saskatoon. I picked it up and our school division maintenance department mounted it on the wall. It sits there today and will be a permanent symbol in our school for decades to come.” He explained that there is a cross in every room in the school and this large cross suits the size of the gymnasium. This particular cross is nearly six feet tall and placed in a place of prominence next to both the stage and a Prayer of St. Francis, the Patron Saint of the school. “It really is a symbol that grabs every person's eye when they walk into the gymnasium,” he said. Phil Rapin has constructed a number of crosses located across Saskatoon where he is also employed as a teacher in the Catholic School system. Richard mused that when he enters buildings in Saskatoon he often wonders if his brother crafted the cross. The brothers are both originally from Prince Albert. Richard explained that once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, there will be a celebration of the cross overlooked by the Parish Priest for St. Francis. Richard explained that his brother did not craft and donate the cross for any type of recognition. “A cross is a tremendously important symbol in our Catholic faith, there is no getting around that and to have a cross in our school that is so visible is such a powerful symbol in our building,” Richard said. The cross was crafted by Phil from wood and steel with a design that he found on the Internet. He describes himself as a craftsman rather than an artist. He explained that he took the design and used a computer-driven steel cutting machine and cut the shape. The size of the design was too large for the machine and had to be done in two steps and welded together based on the original. He then polished the piece, cleaned it up, laminated a large piece of wood and traced and cut the wood. Phil explained that when he saw the design he was immediately struck by the beauty of it. The original intent was to have a cross that was lit from the back, similar to another one that he has constructed. Phil explained that the design represents more of a risen Jesus Christ as opposed to the crucified Jesus Christ. “It's just a different interpretation or look,” Phil said. The cross was donated so as to not create extra paperwork and because it promoted what the Catholic faith stands for. The piece is about itself rather, than who constructed it. Director of education Lorel Trumier detailed the cross to the regular board of education meeting on Monday and was proud to have it in a school in the division. “To get a cross made with that size and with that level of craftsmanship and carpentry it's really a gift to our Catholic education community at St. Francis,” Trumier said. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
This spring, Winnipeg’s civil service will unveil its new master plan for public transit, coming on the heels of Ottawa’s announcement to shovel billions of dollars into programs across the country over the next decade in an effort to lower emissions from the transportation sector. This convergence of public money and planning seems to offer Winnipeg a chance to reimagine what is possible in the realm of transit — what the system could be going forward, despite past failings. However, it is quickly becoming clear there are no visions of streetcars or light rail dancing in their heads. Dreams for Winnipeg’s transit system are much smaller, even among its biggest proponents, which speaks to how far the system still has to go in order to meet a threshold of service that would successfully convince people to leave their cars at home. Or, even more radically, not buy a car in the first place. Breaking people of their car-driving habit is a key aspect of national and municipal climate plans. More than 40 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions in Manitoba came from the transportation sector in 2018. Of the emissions from transportation, about 37 per cent comes from vehicles classified as light-duty cars and trucks. Electrification will help lower passenger-vehicle emissions, but prospective civic policies also rely on getting more people out of their vehicles altogether and on to bikes, buses and trains. “Investments in public transit will also require some behavioural changes on the part of commuters,” declared the Senate’s 2017 report on decarbonizing the transportation sector. “Unless taking transit is easier, faster and cheaper than taking a car for one’s daily commute, investments will not result in the desired emission reductions.” Ideally, all of the pieces are meant to come together to help solve the emissions problem. But in Winnipeg, the road forward is shaping up to be a long, slow one. ● ● ● Coun. Vivian Santos grew up getting around the city by bus, accepting the hour-long commute between her Southdale home and downtown that would otherwise take 15 minutes by car. As she got older, a bike became a better alternative to the bus, cutting her commute time in half. “I stopped taking transit because it was just, to be honest, a waste of my time in the morning,” she says. In the decades since, bus service hasn’t really improved, but her financial flexibility did, plus she added kids to the mix. And so, the Point Douglas councillor made the same choice most Winnipeggers who can afford it make, and she bought a car. There are now two in her household to shuffle her family around the city. Her children are getting to the age where they could start taking transit on their own — and she’d like to encourage them to do so — but it’s not realistic, based on where they live in the northwest part of the city. “There’s actually no transit service out here, to be honest with you. So if my son were to take transit, he would actually have to walk 10 minutes to McPhillips. Or he’d have to walk maybe seven minutes the other way down towards Pipeline and Templeton. So we’re really kind of outside of the transit system,” she says. Winnipeg has some of the lowest transit use rates per capita in the country, according to a recent report from Climate Reality Canada, the Canadian arm of former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s international environmental non-profit organization. Among large cities with more than 600,000 residents, Winnipeg came in last, with an average of 67 transit trips per person annually. The next lowest was Calgary with 84. The Canadian leader in transit trips per capita is Montreal, with 236. Nationally, transit ridership has increased from roughly 1.8 billion regular service trips in 2009 to 2.1 billion in 2017, according to the Canadian Urban Transit Association. But in Winnipeg, ridership stalled and even declined in that same time period, according to city statistics. The last census revealed Winnipeg was the only Canadian city where commuting by public transit had declined over the preceding 20-year period. Santos believes getting more people on transit isn’t about building rail lines or any other flashy, grand plans. To her, it’s much more simple — it’s about making transit more frequently accessible and reliable, and charging less money to use it. “I think a good balance of both should be done,” she says. “They need to be done together. Because I understand that if we lower the fees, we’re going to have more people come on, we’re gonna see an uptick rate of people taking the transit. So obviously, we need to increase purchasing buses, and we need to better our frequency.” To that end, she put a motion before the city’s public works committee in February to study what the impact of lower fares might be in Winnipeg. It was rejected in a 2-2 vote. Curt Hull, director of Winnipeg’s Climate Change Connection, agrees with Santos’s evaluation of what’s needed to bring the transit system up to speed, and explains why aiming higher at this point isn’t practical. “Implementing rapid transit by rail is really a long ways further from where we are. You don’t start with that. You start with building the demand with things like developing frequent service, and then once you get enough demand, enough ridership on a particular route, then you make it rail. So we’re a long ways away from that,” Hull says. Efforts to regenerate the transit system with rapid bus instrastructure — the second leg of the Southwest Transitway was completed last spring — have proven lacklustre, Hull says, but he is hopeful new, less capital-intensive improvements will help deliver more riders. In addition to Santos’s hopes for more frequent, cheaper service, Hull adds a couple of things to the wish list. The routes need to be simple, he says, and access to lines criss-crossing the city needs to be easy. He envisions something like an on-demand service for suburban neighbourhoods, where a small van or a similar vehicle shuttles a rider to the main bus lines. Having regular but empty buses running through those neighbourhoods doesn’t make sense, he says, but you can’t cut them off from the network, either. “The issue is the availability of funding for it,” he says. ●●● Winnipeg relies more heavily on the fare box to fund transit than any other city in the country on a per capita basis, which pins the system’s progress directly to ridership. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario — the system can’t be improved until ridership increases, but that won’t happen without system improvements. It also puts the system at risk for ridership fluctuations, as was the case for most of last year because of the pandemic. Across the country, transit ridership fell by more than 60 per cent in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. While it rebounded somewhat in the summer months, those minor gains were lost again amid the second wave in late fall and early winter. “That hits our system that much more than other systems,” says Coun. Matt Allard, chair of Winnipeg’s public works committee. Winnipeg’s reliance on fare-box revenues was cemented in 2017 when the provincial government moved away from its 50-50 funding agreement with the city. In 2019, fares represented 45 per cent of total expenditures on transit, which amounted to $91.7 million of $204 million. At the public works committee meeting in February where Santos put forward the idea of free or lower-fare transit, the conversation quickly turned from one that was simply about buses and dollar figures to a much more complicated question: is public transit something Winnipeggers consider to be a public good? Taxpayers who are childless or do not have school-age children still contribute money to the education system. Taxpayers who do not borrow books from the library still pay to keep the lights on and the shelves stocked. Those who do not drive still pay to keep the roads maintained. And all of those services are free of direct costs to the user. Winnipeggers have come to an implicit agreement that some things are in the public’s interest to fund. But so far, Winnipeg and its residents have yet to bring public transit under that umbrella. As long as the system relies heavily on the fare box, it will not be viewed as a public good. At least not to the same extent that other services are. Much like parents not bringing their children to a park with broken swings and garbage strewn everywhere, a neglected transit system will not yield higher ridership. It will not be a civic source of pride, as it is in many other cities. “Convenient access to public transit” is among the United Nations’ indicators for sustainable development goals. Yet, Winnipeg fails to meet measures of success that were created as goals in developing countries. International Institute for Sustainable Development targets for appropriate wait times and distance to the closest bus stop are unattainable for a third of Winnipeggers. Transit investments have been found to have significant positive spillover effects in economic development, especially in sectors such as tourism. It also stands to reason riders save money that would have otherwise have been spent on a car. Then there’s the significant shared benefits between climate interests in transit and equity policy across different socio-economic classes. “If you see transportation as a way of participating in society — which it certainly is — the more accessible transit is, the more people can easily get around and the more their experience becomes comparable to somebody who owns a vehicle, who’s more economically advantaged,” Allard says. The push for change has become louder as the urgency of climate action increases. Carolyn Kim, the director of transportation at the Pembina Institute, argues that making the decision as a city to invest in transit would be transformational, in itself. “If you’re able to increase the level of service, and people can ride a bus that is more frequent, it’s more reliable. It’s affordable,” Kim says. Also critical to the conversation is deliberately targeting dense housing and business development along the main transit arteries, she adds. Getting people onto transit is about making it a more convenient, cheaper alternative to driving. So the flip side of the equation, though often unpopular politically, is to find ways to increase the cost of driving through increased parking rates, lowering parking availability and other planning tools. It’s another avenue to pursue transformational changes, Kim says. Take London, as an example. The British city has created an “ultra-low emission zone” where, depending on how much your vehicle pollutes the air, you are charged a daily fee to drive in certain areas. Cities are free to get creative with policies and find solutions that work for them, Kim says, but they have the power to set priorities and pathways that change residents’ behaviour. ●●● Winnipeg is also contemplating where the electrification of buses fits into the picture. A pilot project for the use of both battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell buses will be considered by council this spring. Allard says he’s looking forward to debate on the topic, but to him, more buses on the road — regardless of how they’re powered — is the priority, since the transit fleet is responsible for such a small fraction of emissions in the city compared to personal passenger vehicles. Joanna Kyriazis, a senior policy adviser with Clean Energy Canada, warns against that kind of thinking, pointing out that electric buses actually stand to save cities money, since operation and maintenance costs are so much lower, even if up-front costs to purchase the vehicles are still higher. “The life of a bus is 12 to 18 years. And so if we keep making diesel bus purchases today, that that decision has consequences for another two decades,” she says. And the added allure of electric buses might be another way for the city to persuade drivers to park and ride, she says. Along with electrification, the new buses also come with GPS to track where they are on routes, and that information can then be sent to users. Generally, they also come with electronic-pass scanners, so riders don’t need to fumble with correct change and tickets. All of these upgrades make the transit experience better, she says. Plus, no more diesel fumes. “It’s also a great way for people to experience an electric vehicle for the first time. And the more we see them on our streets, the more we ride them, the more we see how many benefits they deliver, the more likely those riders are to go and buy an electric car themselves. So there are these spillover effects,” Kyriazis says. “Doing the same thing we’ve always done isn’t working. And so modernizing and connecting these vehicles is going to help improve the rider experience.” In Winnipeg, transformational changes might not be as big and headline-grabbing as they are in other cities, but this city is coming from behind and has more ground to make up if transit is going to become a priority. Rail lines or a world-class network of multi-modal transit aren’t on anyone’s realistic wish list. But perhaps Winnipeg is on the verge of a different radical change. One where transit isn’t looked at as a lost cause, but rather something to be invested in for the good of the community. Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Hamilton reported 64 new COVID-19 cases and five new outbreaks on Friday, as presumed variant cases continued to rise. The city now has 398 active cases, a decrease for the fourth straight day. The number of cases which screened positive for a variant rose by seven, bringing it to 88. All COVID-19 cases in Ontario are now screened for the COVID-19 variants that first appeared in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. Cases that screen positive for a variant are then sent for confirmation. Nearly all those cases end up being confirmed, according to Hamilton’s medical officer of health. To date, Hamilton has had four confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 strain, which first appeared in the U.K. The city reported five new outbreaks on Friday. Queen’s Garden long-term-care home on Queen Street North is back in outbreak with one staff case as of March 3, a day after its previous outbreak was declared over. AbleLiving Services Supportive Housing in the Strathcona neighbourhood has one staff case in the outbreak declared March 4. The facility offers apartments with 24-hour care for people with disabilities. The Carlisle Retirement Residence, on Main Street East at Wentworth Street South, has one staff case. St. Michael Catholic Elementary School on the Mountain and Hillfield Strathallan College, near Mohawk College, each have two cases. New cases were also reported in ongoing outbreaks at shelters. Two more patron cases were reported at the Salvation Army Booth Centre at 94 York Blvd. There have now been 54 cases in this outbreak, of which 43 are patron cases. The Good Shepherd Men’s Centre on Mary Street reported one new staff case, bringing it to three. There have been 12 cases in the outbreak. Four new staff cases were reported at Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre on Barton Street East. As of Thursday, Public Health Ontario was reporting a reproduction number of 1.03 for Hamilton, a slight improvement from the 1.11 rate one week prior, but still higher than the 0.7 threshold suggested for fast-spreading variants. Public health reported no new deaths on Friday. Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator