Watch how this baby dances to the 'Trolls' movie song during the ending credits. Hilarious!
Watch how this baby dances to the 'Trolls' movie song during the ending credits. Hilarious!
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — As Quebec began booking appointments Thursday for its expanded COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the province's health minister said he's in favour of vaccine passports for those who have been fully inoculated. Christian Dube was asked at a news conference whether such passports could be used to allow access to entertainment venues or restaurants. He said yes, drawing a parallel to the time of the H1N1 flu when people were required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding flights. "We're in digital world, I do not see why we could not have a QR code, like on a boarding pass when we fly," Dube said. “For me, a digital vaccine passport is normal, and we have teams that are looking into it." He said he has heard from businesses that would like to be able to check for proof of vaccination before letting people in. The notion of vaccine passports has been debated around the world as vaccinations have increased, but it has also raised ethical issues about possible discrimination. Quebec solidaire member of the legislature Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois criticized Dube's response and urged the government to tread carefully. “The potentially discriminatory effects of a 'vaccination passport' are considerable," Nadeau-Dubois wrote on Twitter. "It's not just about taking a plane or dining out, serious questions arise about access to housing, the right to work, to name just these two examples.” Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said he would not want such a passport to be seen as a free pass. “One of the dangers is that we say we’re vaccinated and we end up in a free-for-all,” Arruda said. "We know it'll protect you, it'll decrease your risk of complications, but it won't necessarily stop transmission to someone else." So far, only about four per cent of Quebecers have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Dube said Moderna has confirmed a shipment for March and the province expects to receive 700,000 doses in total, so it will be able to begin providing second doses as of March 15, falling within the 90-day limit the government set out in January. Inoculation is set to ramp up next week with vaccinations for anyone 85 and up in the Montreal area beginning Monday and elsewhere on March 8. In the Montreal suburb of Laval, some people in the designated age group were already getting shots Thursday. Dube tweeted at the end of the day that close to 100,000 people had signed up for appointments on the first day, and he said there were just minor issues with the online platform and phone booking system. Also Thursday, Quebec announced it will require elementary school students in regions hardest hit by COVID-19 to wear masks when they return from next week's March break, as the cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 variants continue to rise. Across the province, the number of suspected cases of coronavirus variants jumped to 772, an increase of 170. The number of cases confirmed through sequencing increased to 34, including 30 of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Arruda said that during the fall, outbreaks were seen mostly in high schools. But since Christmas more cases are being detected in primary schools. The Health Department said students in Grades 1 to 6 will wear pediatric procedural masks at all times inside classrooms and on school transport in Quebec's red pandemic-alert zones, which include Montreal and Quebec City. The new health orders comes into effect March 8, when students return from break. The province will be providing masks to the students, as it has done since Jan. 18 in high schools, where masks are mandatory. In elementary schools, only students in Grades 5 and 6 were previously required to wear masks in class. Health officials said certain students with special needs will be exempt from the new health order, and it won't apply when children are outside playing. On Wednesday, Montreal's public health director said 40 per cent of cases linked to variants in Montreal involve children, with another 20 per cent involving people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, believed to be parents of young children. As of Wednesday, there were 2,403 active cases in schools and 907 closed classrooms across the province due to COVID-19. Twelve schools were listed as closed or partially closed. Meanwhile, Quebec reported 858 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths attributed to the virus. Hospitalizations declined by 22 to 633 and there were eight fewer patients listed in intensive care, for a total of 122. Quebec has reported 285,330 confirmed cases and 10,361 deaths attributed to the virus, with 266,879 people listed as recovered. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
(Radio-Canada - image credit) A Riverview man arrested during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Moncton last month was found fit to stand trial following a 30-day psychiatric evaluation. David Robert West, 54, will be released from custody and is next scheduled to appear in court April 6. West was among five people arrested and held in custody following the Jan. 24 protest outside Moncton city hall, but was the only one still in custody. He appeared in Moncton provincial court Thursday afternoon by video from the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre in Shediac. Defence lawyer Guillaume LeBlanc told provincial court Judge Paul Duffie that he had yet to receive disclosure of the Crown's evidence. West indicated during an appearance Jan. 28 that he was "just not all there in the head right now." A judge had ordered the psychiatric evaluation at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton at LeBlanc's request. West faces several criminal charges, including allegations he resisted a police officer on Oct. 8, 2020, assaulted a peace officer on the same date, caused a disturbance at a grocery store in Moncton on Dec. 31, 2020 and violated the province's Emergency Measures Act at a Shediac grocery store on Jan. 22 this year, according to a list of charges read in court Thursday. Jonathan Rossiter, 29, of Nackawic, Dawn Teakles, 49, of Moncton, Nicholas Deangelis, 34, of Bathurst, and Britney Green, 31, of Bathurst were the others arrested and charged following the Jan. 24 protest. Green and Deangelis are scheduled to return to court March 10. Teakles returns to court March 22. An arrest warrant was issued after Rossiter missed his Tuesday court appearance.
OTTAWA — A British Columbia businessman who made an illegal contribution to New Democrat MP Peter Julian's 2015 election campaign has been ordered to pay $7,500 to the receiver general of Canada. Elections commissioner Yves Côté says Robert Gibbs, co-owner of Romar Communications, provided free website development services to Julian's campaign. Gibbs told Julian's campaign that the work was done by volunteers, after work hours. However, unbeknownst to the campaign, Côté says three workers were paid $1,000 each for their work, the commercial value of which Côté says was actually $6,000. In its report to Elections Canada, Julian's campaign reported non-monetary contributions worth $2,000 from each of the three workers. Since that exceeded the $1,500 individual donation limit, the campaign paid $1,500 to Gibbs' company on the understanding that it would be given to the three workers, but Gibbs kept the money. The $7,500 Gibbs must now pay the receiver general represents the commercial value of the work done plus the $1,500 from the campaign that was never given to the workers. Côté announced the payment as part of a compliance agreement with Gibbs. Compliance agreements are commonly used by the elections commissioner to deal with relatively minor violations of the Canada Elections Act. They do not constitute a criminal conviction in a court of law and do not create a criminal record for the offender. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
BRUSSELS — European Union leaders vowed Thursday to accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and pressed pharmaceutical companies to respect their delivery commitments, as concern mounts about the spread of new variants of the virus. However, the leaders could offer no prospect of short-term respite for curfew-weary, mask-wearing citizens, many of whom have often worked from home over the last year — if they have not lost their jobs. The leaders also said that restrictions, including on travel, should remain in place in many parts of the 27-nation bloc. COVID-19 has killed more than 531,000 people across the EU. “Our top priority now is speeding up the production and delivery of vaccines and vaccinations,” EU Council President Charles Michel said, adding a warning for vaccine makers: “We want more predictability and transparency to ensure that pharmaceutical companies comply with their commitments.” The European Commission has sealed deals with several companies for well over 2 billion vaccine shots — far more than the EU population of around 450 million — but only three have been authorized: jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Officials say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be approved next month. But some seniors officials at the big pharmaceutical companies, a few of whom were grilled by EU lawmakers not far from where Michel was chairing the videoconference summit in Brussels, said it's no simple matter to build new vaccine production sites. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said production problems are inevitable as companies work around the clock to do in one year what normally takes 3-4 years. Most of the company chiefs said they expect an improvement in the second quarter. “Every time there is a human error, equipment breaking down... or raw material from one of our suppliers late by a day, you cannot start making the product because it will not be safe, you will not have the right quality,” Bancel said, explaining the technological issues facing producers. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said a big challenge is to improve yield — the number of doses that can be extracted from a litre of vaccine. He also rejected the idea that companies can simply open new production sites to solve the problem, saying that engineers must spend a lot of time training staff. “Our teams are absolutely stretched to the maximum. There’s no way they could train any more people,” he said. Soriot insisted that most companies developing vaccines probably face the same constraint. Soriot came under fire after he confirmed that the company would deliver less than half the vaccines it had committed to in the first quarter. The EU has partly blamed supply delays for lagging far behind nations like Israel, the United States and Britain when it comes to vaccinations. By early this week, 6.5% of the adults living in the EU had been vaccinated, compared to more than 27% in the U.K. Soriot said AstraZeneca would deliver 40 million doses to the EU in the first quarter, attributing the delay to complicated production issues, including “lower than expected output in our dedicated European supply chain.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted pointedly that in terms of companies honouring the delivery commitments in their contracts with Europe, “there is room for improvement” at AstraZeneca. Still, despite the slow vaccine rollout in Europe, delayed by almost a month compared to former member the U.K., von der Leyen said the bloc still aims to inoculate 70% of all adults — around 255 million people — by September. “This is a goal that we are confident we will reach,” she said. Border checks remain a sore point. Divisions among EU member countries, including Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Czech Republic, on restrictions to stave off transmission has again raised the spectre of travel delays and long traffic backups in a bloc that prides itself on being a seamless market. Michel told reporters that “non-essential travel may still need to be restricted, but measures should be proportionate.” The leaders were also updated on the movement of fast-spreading new variants of the virus within Europe, with the so-called U.K variant now present in 26 member countries. The variant first detected in South Africa has been identified in 14, while the Brazilian type is known to be in 7. This means that restrictions could well continue through coming months. “There is a growing COVID fatigue among our citizens. It has been a very trying year, but we should not let up now,” said von der Leyen. Also debated was the issue of "vaccine certificates," which could help smooth a return to air travel and possibly avoid another disastrous summer holiday season, as the tourism industry and broader economies suffer from restrictions. Southern European countries dependent on tourism, like Greece and Spain, support such a system, but their northern EU partners, like Germany, doubt whether the certificates would work. Von der Leyen said it would be technically possible to develop a “green pass” using a minimum of data indicating whether a person has been vaccinated, tested negative, or is immune after contracting the disease, within about three months, but that many political issues must first be resolved. French President Emmanuel Macron insisted the EU nations should move in lockstep. “None of us will accept that to attract tourists, one country would have looser rules than another and would be taking risks by making people come from the other side of the world to fill up its hotels,” he said. “The most important question remains whether you can still transmit the disease. It is a crucial question,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters. He also raised concern about other issues, like the exclusion of those who have not been vaccinated, or cannot be. Rutte also said Europeans should consider whether the discussion on vaccination certificates should involve other international institutions such as the World Health Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Air Transport Association. “You have to be careful that by adding more weight to it, the whole thing does not collapse onto itself,” he warned. ___ Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris, Frank Jordans from Berlin Lorne Cook And Raf Casert, The Associated Press
Four-County Crisis short-term case manager, Andrew Hodson, is busier than ever working during a pandemic. As part of the local mental health crisis response program, his job takes him all over the region. Demand for mental health services is up across the province and Four-County Crisis is no exception, with Hodson’s caseload up more than 25 per cent. Hodson said he helps people from all walks of life dealing with a wide range of issues, including drug addiction. He said Haliburton is not immune to the problem, with many types of hard drugs being used and becoming more readily available over the years as opposed to being imported from the city. “It’s a harrowing landscape,” Hodson said. “I see it having tentacles into housing, into health care, into mental health, relationships … Because there are so many paths to lead into these situations, I think we need that many paths out. I think options are great – I don’t think there’s a one-stop solution.” Hodson is one of many in the sector working to address addictions in Haliburton and beyond. But local providers say finding funding to improve their work can be challenging. Jack Veitch is the manager of community engagement and education at the district branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and works with Hodson. He said CMHA offers a range of successful programs to help those suffering from addiction but they are short-staffed. “We need five Andrew (Hodsons). We need to have a whole, big-structured approach. We need more and more support within the community, so it’s not reliant on one, fantastic employee,” Veitch said. Veitch highlighted the provincial government’s promise of $3.8 billion over 10 years toward mental health. But he said finances are an issue locally – with no baseline funding or cost of living adjustment for nine years. He said that $3.8 billion should go beyond just hospital settings and larger centres, adding those in positions of power might not understand how much distance can make accessing care difficult. “Sometimes think, ‘oh well, Haliburton County, we got a support out there. They’re in Wilberforce, they can get to Minden’,” he said. “Not realizing that’s a heck of a hike if you don’t have a car. “Let’s make sure these dollars are rolled out in community mental health care in our rural communities, where the need is clearly there,” Veitch added. Unifying care Minden’s Dr. Nell Thomas said the pandemic has brought increased struggle for her patients dealing with addictions. She said the impact on drug supply lines has made people turn to more dangerous substances. She further said with rural doctors dealing with COVID, there is not as much time to address addiction. “I know that a couple of my patients that I was holding their hand and maybe inching toward them getting to rehab, I have not seen in (months),” Thomas said. “We all know those folks with addictions are suffering and being lost.” But Thomas does have a vision for a solution. She said current care approaches are often too siloed and collaboration can be difficult in a rural setting. She said if the funding existed, she would like to build a new local medical centre that could bring more providers under one roof, improving ease of access. She further said a stronger, team-based method is necessary. “I attend conferences and I see just how many different organizations and agencies exist. I’m floored at all the different acronyms,” she said. “Spits and spurts and not a truly cohesive approach. My vision would be to have a team, representing social work, counselling, crisis, medicine, nursing, public health. I have patients that are going into (emergency rooms) far too often.” But she said the funding is not there for such a thing, particularly given Haliburton’s relatively low population. As is, she said it is difficult connecting people with different treatment options. “Very frustrating for the doctors, in general, trying to get resources for patients because of the waitlists,” she said. “Because of the hoops you have to jump to get people connected is time-consuming and frustrating.” Marg Cox is the executive director of Point in Time and sits on the CKL and Haliburton County Poverty Reduction Roundtable. She said there are some links to the stresses of poverty and substance abuse, though added drug abuse impacts people of all economic circumstances. “We know that people that are experiencing poverty are experiencing huge stressors in terms of daily living and trying to pay their rent, put food on the table,” Cox said. “Throw COVID on top of it and we know folks are under a great deal of pressure. And we know that when people are under pressure, they’re more likely to turn to substances.” She said the issues creating poverty – which the roundtable focuses on – would have downstream impacts on substance abuse as well. “There would be a very good reduction in terms of substance use if people had adequate incomes, adequate housing, good food to eat and less stress related to poverty,” Cox said. Help in the legal system Thomas said she believes in a “carrot, not the stick” method when dealing with substance abuse in the justice system. “You can lay charges around in circles. You can have a very short-term response to that, but you’re not going to have a long-term solution by using legal means. It’s really about providing alternatives and space and realistic options for people.” Veitch and Hodson both echoed the sentiment. However, they highlighted the successful collaborations they have with police and the justice system for court diversion, intervening to help those struggling with mental health or addiction issues. “We’re there ready in the court system,” Hodson said. “As opposed to a fine or some sort of punishment, we can encourage that person to engage with addictions support, engage with mental health support … I’ve stood in court beside people – literally – after six months of help. And speaking to the judge on behalf of their own recovery, these are powerful, powerful moments where people have recounted their gratitude for having an opportunity to turn things around.” Veitch said punitive measures have not been an historically successful way to stop repeat offences. “How can we still create this level of accountability and reduce recidivism?” Veitch said. “It’s creating all these fantastic court partnership programs, where there’s still a level of accountability for the offender. But there’s also a level of treatment and care and support.” Beyond the need for increased resources, Hodson said it is vital that the community care for those suffering from addiction. “We need to develop something for Haliburton, from Haliburton,” he said. “I ask people, ‘what on earth got you through that (addiction)?’ What I hear, it’s not what you’d expect. You hear things like, ‘my Mom never stopped loving me. My probation officer, ladies at the food bank, always treated me with dignity. Never made me feel like a second-class citizen.’ “That is everything. We can build all the buildings and develop all the medications we want to develop. If we don’t have that community that makes people feel loved - and there’s a place on the table waiting for them - I don’t know where we go.” But he said there are plenty of people in Haliburton – from police to churches to human services to parents – ready to lend a helping hand. “Are we perfect? Of course not, but there is an invisible army of people in this County offering their support,” he said. “I’ve seen so many remarkable cases of recovery in this community and it’s heart warming. Those stories just don’t make the headlines, but they are out there.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
OTTAWA — A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oilpatch. But the annual inventory of fossil fuel subsidies published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development also highlights that almost all of the direct aid was paid out in two programs to protect jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions. It raises further questions about how to define fossil fuel subsidies, an issue Canada has not solved despite promising to eliminate "inefficient" ones for more than a decade now. "The problematic aspect is how do we make sure they're not supporting for future fossil fuel production," said Vanessa Corkal, a policy analyst at the IISD and author of the report. The IISD report shows Canada spent at least $1.9 billion in direct aid to the traditional energy sector last year, up from $600 million in 2019. More than three-quarters of that — $1.5 billion — was to help companies restore abandoned oil wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. These are wells that were left with no owner, often when a company went bankrupt, but which continue to leak emissions, mostly methane. It's estimated there are more than 125,000 of them in Canada. Another $320 million was aid to Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry, which was hit hard last year by the pandemic and the oil price collapse in the spring. Corkal said initially the oil recovery fund for the province was pitched in a way that would require it to show an environmental impact, but it's not clear that's happening. Most of that funding has yet to be committed. Canada first promised to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies as part of a G20 commitment in 2009, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau more recently set a target date of 2025 to do it. There is no set definition yet for what inefficient means. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says that in his view, programs that are good for the environment don't count. "Fossil fuel subsidies are those that are largely dedicated to either enhanced fossil fuel production or extraction," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press Thursday. Wilkinson said he thinks most of the measures listed in the new report aren't subsidies, including the funds to properly decommission abandoned wells. "That, in my mind, is not a fossil fuel subsidy," he said. "If you want to call it a fossil fuel subsidy then it's not an inefficient fossil fuel subsidy. Those are things that are about environmental remediation. They're about ensuring you're putting people back to work while doing good things for the environment." Corkal said any kind of financial support to companies that produce fossil fuels could ultimately help those companies invest to produce more oil and gas. She said that just makes no sense when the government is trying to reduce that production by putting a price on the pollution they create when burned. The report likened having subsidies and a carbon price to "trying to bail water out of a leaky boat." The G20 fossil fuel subsidy promise has led to multiple countries partnering up to do peer reviews of each other's subsidies. The United States and China, Germany and Mexico, and Italy and Indonesia all completed their reports in 18 to 24 months. Canada and Argentina agreed to a joint review in June 2018, but it's still not finished. Wilkinson would not say when it might be done. Corkal said it's impossible to phase out anything until there's a full picture of what exists. Environment groups welcomed the orphaned oil well program last spring, believing it to be a better way to help the sector than subsidizing oil production. But Corkal said taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for cleaning up orphaned wells permanently. "Even if a subsidy has clear emissions reductions benefits, it's ultimately still reducing the cost of business for fossil fuel producers," she said. President Joe Biden made eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the United States an immediate priority. On his first full day in office he directed all federal agencies to identify any direct federal spending on fossil fuels, and to eliminate any such spending from the budget next year. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
WELLINGTON COUNTY – The Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project is looking toward the next phase targeting funding broadband projects in lower-density areas. SWIFT is a non-profit that aims to subsidize broadband projects in rural southwestern Ontario areas that have poor or no connectivity. George Bridge, Minto mayor and SWIFT board member, and Barry Field, SWIFT executive director, gave an update on the project to Wellington County council at Thursday’s meeting. In the presentation Bridge noted some highlights from the first phase of the project, called SWIFT 1.0. He explained they are exceeding their target of 50,000 premises served by a few thousand and are very close to reaching their kilometre of fibre laid goal. He was also happy to report that despite earlier concerns from smaller companies about SWIFT becoming a “Bell and Rogers show,” projects from small internet service providers (ISPs) accounted for about half of the funding given through SWIFT’s first phase. The small ISPs will become more important for SWIFT 2.0, the next phase of the project where SWIFT intends to focus on projects in lower density areas. “The bigger ones, Bell and Rogers, they go after so many people per km but your small ISP, for example they’ve gone down as low 3.1 density per km or three houses on a km,” Bridge said. “Our next round we’ll get into, some of the low hanging fruit has been done, now we need to get out to that last mile.” The funding is a big question for the next phase as there has been no commitment on what the province and federal governments will give, if anything at all. A third of SWIFT is funded by the province and a third from the federal government, with the private sector filling in another third and municipal governments providing some capital contributions. Coun. David Anderson asked if there’s anything they could do to give projects a better chance at a successful grant application. Field said municipal financial support or just letter of support for a grant application — which Field noted applies for other funding beyond SWIFT — can go a long way. He also said it might be helpful to encourage local ISPs to apply for funding if they haven’t done so. Wellington North mayor Andy Lennox questioned how to ensure funding gets distributed more equitably so lower density projects aren’t missed again. Field said by the time SWIFT 2.0 comes around those will be most of the projects left and to lower the number of premises per kilometre required, which in the first phase is at around 17 premises per km on average. “There are things we can do in the (request for proposals), the procurement itself, to not only encourage but ensure that we’re not getting at that easiest of the remaining premises,” Field said, noting this was a valid criticism of SWIFT 1.0. “We did have a very high premises count target we had to achieve and that kind of led to policies we had to encourage more premises passed.” Coun. Jeff Duncan asked if a possible federal election this year could delay or impact the next phase. Field said he wasn’t sure but did stress there is no commitment from upper levels of government to fund SWIFT 2.0. Bridge said they’ve been advocating through the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to all political parties and there is no question from any of them that this is needed. The presentation was accepted as information from council. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
(Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC - image credit) York Regional Police say their homicide unit has been called in to investigate a "suspicious" death after a man's body was found on a road in Vaughan, Ont. on Thursday morning. Police say they were called to the area of Teston at Rodinea roads at around 8 a.m. after the body was located. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, police say. There's no confirmation yet of man's identity and cause of death. The homicide unit has since taken over the investigation. Police are appealing to anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the area or anyone with home surveillance video to contact them.
Strathmore town council passed first reading of a bylaw that, if enacted, would prohibit conversation therapy from being practiced or advertised in Strathmore. First reading of the Prohibited Business Bylaw passed unanimously by town council on Feb. 17. The bylaw will be deliberated again for second and third reading at the council meeting on March 17. The bylaw was first introduced to council by Geoff Person, communications manager, during the town’s Feb. 10 committee of the whole meeting. During a public engagement process held last summer, the town received views from over 170 people providing support for banning conversion therapy in Strathmore, said Person. The town used this feedback to help draft the specifics of the bylaw, which is modelled off the City of Calgary’s Prohibited Business Bylaw, passed in May 2020. Under the proposed bylaw, conversion therapy is defined as any practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. If adopted, the bylaw would prohibit conversion therapy from being offered as a business service in town, and would also prohibit the advertising of these services. The specified penalty for an offence under the draft bylaw is $10,000. If that fine is not paid, anyone guilty would be liable to up to a year in prison. An in-person session will be held for residents to share their views on the bylaw on the evening of March 17. Speakers must register and each presentation will be limited to three minutes. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
LOS ANGELES — Rebel Wilson is going to the dogs. And it’s not the first time. The Australian actress comes from a family with a long history of handling and grooming dogs and will return to her roots as host of ABC’s “Pooch Perfect,” an eight-episode series featuring 10 dog groomers and their assistants competing in challenges. She said Thursday that her great-grandmother began a beagle club in Australia and that her mother judges dog shows internationally. As a child, Wilson travelled in her family’s yellow van to shows and sold grooming products despite being allergic to dogs. “My mom was devastated when I chose not to continue the family legacy,” Wilson said in a virtual call with the Television Critics Association. “When I told her I wasn’t going to continue in the family business and try to be an international movie star, she cried. I had to tell her in a public place so she wouldn’t do anything too crazy.” In the show, Lisa Vanderpump, dog groomer Jorge Bendersky and veterinarian Callie Harris will vote on creations from dog groomers and one team will be sent back to the doghouse — or eliminated — each week. The remaining teams square off in a grooming transformation. The top three teams will compete for $100,000. The show debuts March 30 and is based on an Australian version. “Pooch Perfect” is Wilson’s first project after undergoing her own transformation. She lost 60 pounds during her self-proclaimed year of health last year. “I’ve been showing it off on Instagram a bit too shamelessly,” she said. “I get two looks per episode, and I like to work with my stylist and show off the new physique because still single. So this is my prime-time opportunity to just really put it out there.” Wilson worked without a studio audience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the seats are filled with stuffed animals. “I do try to bring the comedy in the show,” she said. “I also do what's called ‘dogography' in the show, which is a new term I invented. We dress the PAs (production assistants) up in dog costumes, and I work out little dances. I tried to lighten it up.” Beth Harris, The Associated Press
La Ville de Saint-Sauveur a acquis deux terrains par dons écologiques pour créer la réserve naturelle du Mont-Christie. Les travaux débuteront au printemps et les sentiers seront accessibles dès l’été 2021. Un nouveau projet parmi les nombreux autres de la Ville. Ces dons proviennent du promoteur Immo-Mc inc et de Madame Nancy Guillemette qui ont donné chacun une partie de leur terrain. Au total, cela représente 1,6 million de pieds carrés dans le domaine du Mont-Christie, en bas et à l’est de la montagne du même nom. Il s’agit d’un milieu humide et un lac se trouve également au centre. La création de la réserve permettra de préserver ce territoire naturel et d’y faire de l’interprétation. « Il s’agit d’un don écologique, car c’est un milieu humide et il n’est pas possible de toute façon de construire dans ce genre d’endroit », a précisé le maire de la Ville, M. Jacques Gariépy. La Ville profitera donc de ce territoire pour y installer des sentiers d’interprétation de la faune et du milieu naturel. « Dans ce coin, la faune est très diversifiée. Des écologistes vont d’ailleurs travailler avec nous pour développer cette partie. » Des passerelles en bois seront également construites pour que le terrain ne soit pas abimé, mais aussi parce qu’il s’agit d’un milieu humide, donc il y a souvent de l’eau. Comme il s’agit de dons, la Ville a eu moins d’investissements à faire, sauf pour les infrastructures de bois et l’aménagement. Dans le budget 2021, le montant est estimé à 600 000$. En été, les sentiers seront accessibles pour la randonnée pédestre et pour y faire de l’interprétation. En hiver, il sera possible d’y faire de la randonnée pédestre également, mais aussi de la raquette et du ski de fond. « On regarde pour peut-être permettre le fatbike à l’hiver », précise le maire. Il y aura également un belvédère avec une vue sur le lac et le terrain pour y faire de l’interprétation. « Les écoles et les camps de jour pourront également en profiter. Du point de vue académique, c’est très intéressant. » Il y aura deux accès pour entrer dans la réserve : un sur la rue de l’Église et un autre à l’extrémité du chemin Papineau. Des stationnements sont prévus aussi à ces endroits, mais il reste à la Ville d’acquérir ces deux terrains situés au nord et au sud. Selon le maire, il est aussi important de prendre en compte cet enjeu avant de lancer le projet. « Le problème qu’on a dans les sentiers des Pays-d’en-Haut, c’est que les gens se stationnent n’importe où dans les milieux résidentiels et dans les rues, car il n’y a pas assez de stationnements. » La Ville souhaite donc travailler en amont, et ouvrir la réserve lorsque des stationnements auront été prévus à cet effet. Cela fait déjà plusieurs années que la Ville de Saint-Sauveur travaille pour créer cette réserve. « C’est un long processus, autant du point de vue écologique qu’au niveau interne. Mais toutes ces étapes sont maintenant passées et nous sommes prêts à passer à d’autres choses », explique M. Gariépy. Dès le printemps, la Ville entamera l’aménagement des sentiers et des passerelles en bois et travaillera avec des écologistes pour le volet interprétation. Mais la réserve du Mont-Christie n’est pas le seul projet qui prendra forme cette année. En effet, grâce au don écologique de la famille De Volpi, la Ville a acquis un terrain de plus de 3 millions de pieds carrés. Ce dernier est situé près du Lac des Becs-Scies et de la municipalité de Mille-Isles. À cet endroit seront aménagés des sentiers de randonnée pédestre et de vélo qui seront accessibles dès cet été. Certains sont déjà en place, mais il restera à les baliser par la Ville. Dans les autres grands projets de Saint-Sauveur, il y a également l’acquisition du Cap Molson pour y faire des sentiers balisés et y construire un belvédère. « Nous sommes actuellement en procédure d’expropriation. Dans les prochaines semaines ou mois, la procédure devrait être finalisée. On devrait commencer les travaux prochainement. » La Ville souhaite principalement sécuriser les sentiers, comme ils sont déjà beaucoup utilisés. Les sentiers du sommet de la Marquise seront aussi accessibles dès cet été. Il reste à la Ville d’acquérir un terrain pour en faire un stationnement à l’entrée sud des sentiers pour empêcher les gens de se stationner dans les rues. Selon M. Gariépy, ces projets aboutissent presque tous maintenant, mais la Ville travaillait sur eux depuis des années. « Les projets étaient liés à des échéanciers écologiques, avec le ministère de l’Environnement notamment. Par exemple, pour les sentiers du Mont-Christie, on attendait des autorisations de leur part qu’on a eues. » Voyant l’engouement pour le plein air cette année en raison de la pandémie, ces projets s’inscrivent parfaitement dans le mouvement. « On n’avait pas prévu la COVID-19 il y a deux ou trois ans lorsqu’on avait commencé ces projets, mais la concrétisation de ces derniers tombe pile avec ce besoin. » Marie-Catherine Goudreau, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal Accès
WASHINGTON — Antony Blinken will meet virtually Friday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau in a day of online diplomacy for the U.S. secretary of state. Blinken will meet with Trudeau, Garneau and other members of the federal cabinet as part of a "virtual trip" to Canada and Mexico, Blinken's first bilateral video conferences since taking office. The visit follows up on Trudeau's own virtual summit this week with U.S. President Joe Biden, which produced a "road map" for plans to collaborate on issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19. The pandemic made an in-person visit impossible, said Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. "We decided to do this virtually instead of waiting for the time when it would be safer to travel," Chung said. "This is the new world we live in through virtual platforms, but we thought it was really important to engage with both Canada and Mexico early on." Agenda items for the two "neighbours, friends and allies" also include "defending human rights in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, and bolstering our shared defence and security," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. That means the conversations will likely include the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians who have spent the last two years in custody in China. Spavor and Kovrig — the "two Michaels," as they are known in Canada — were swept up in the weeks that followed Canada's arrest in December 2018 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei and daughter of the company's founder. Meng is facing extradition to the U.S., where she has been charged with violating sanctions against Iran — a case some observers believe is sure to keep the two Michaels behind bars indefinitely. On Tuesday, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure their release, but offered no clues as to what specifically the U.S. is prepared to do. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi would only say the U.S. will "continue to seek extradition" of Meng, who is under house arrest in Vancouver and due back in court Monday. Earlier this month, Canada, the U.S. and a coalition of 56 other countries collectively denounced the state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes. "We've been consistently for the past year talking about the two Michaels … and calling for Beijing to release these two individuals and stop the arbitrary detention," Chung said. "Human beings should not be used as pawns. And we stand by Canada, our strong friend and partner, in the issues of arbitrary detention and for the release of the two Canadian citizens." The followup work after Tuesday's bilateral meetings continued this week in other departments as well. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spoke Wednesday with John Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate, to shore up plans for more stringent emissions-reduction targets in advance of a climate summit in April. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra committed to more stringent vehicle pollution standards to push both countries toward a zero-emissions future on roadways throughout the continent. They are also collaborating on new standards for aviation and for seagoing vessels, as well as efforts to develop new clean-tech solutions with an eye toward the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Blinken is also scheduled to meet with a group of Canadian students, as well as with Mexico's foreign secretary and secretary of the economy during a "visit" to a port of entry facility along the southern U.S. border. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. James McCarten, The Canadian Press
((RCMP) - image credit) The New Brunswick RCMP say their major crime unit is investigating the suspicious death of a 49-year-old woman whose body was found near Tracadie-Sheila. At about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, members of the Tracadie RCMP responded to a report of a dead woman on Chemin W. Gautreau, in the area of Pont-Landry, the force said in a media release Thursday. The woman's body was found by a passerby, RCMP said. An autopsy will be done on Friday to assist police in the investigation and to help determine the woman's exact cause of death, the RCMP said. The force said anyone with information about the incident can contact the major crime unit at 1-888-506-7267. Information can also be provided anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, by downloading the secure P3 mobile app, or by secure web tips at www.crimenb.ca.
Canada's Auditor General Karen Hogan on Thursday delivered her 2021 report, including five performance audit reports to the House of Commons. Hogan's report found that Canada's ship building strategy was slow to deliver combat and non-combat ships.
OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada is launching an investigation and reviewing its practices after two returning travellers were allegedly sexually assaulted during their mandatory quarantine periods. A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said allegations of assaults reported in the media this week are "really concerning." Cole Davidson said the public health agency would review its own procedures as well as those of its service providers to ensure the safety of travellers returning to the country. The response follows reports that a quarantine screening officer as well as a returning traveller have been charged in separate sexual assault cases that allegedly occurred last week. The Opposition Conservatives immediately demanded a suspension of the obligation for travellers to quarantine in hotels until better safety measures are in place, as well as an end to the use of security guards, who they say haven't been properly evaluated, to check on people quarantining at home. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says he doesn't necessarily believe the quarantine measures need to be suspended, but he wants to see improvements to ensure the safety of travellers under quarantine. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 The Canadian Press
TORONTO — The head of the Business Council of Canada is worried about the country's inability to produce vaccines and certain medical supplies, but hopes the pandemic will pressure governments to rectify the situation. "Canadians saw back in the crisis, when it began last year, that we got caught relying on the integrity of supply chains that were vulnerable to a pandemic," said Goldy Hyder, the council's president and chief executive, in an online discussion hosted by MedicAlert Canada on Thursday. "Who knew you could only get masks or something from one country? How did that happen? … That innovation needs to be brought back to Canada to some extent." Hyder's remarks, made in conversation with University Health Netwok infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch and MedicAlert chief executive Leslie McGill, come as Canada nears the anniversary of the first closures of businesses and public spaces because of COVID-19. The country has spent the last year trying to quell the virus, but also grappling with a lack of vaccines, medical supplies and pharmaceutical manufacturers in Canada. With most manufacturing facilities for these products located overseas, it has impacted Canada's ability to quickly access personal protective equipment, edge out other countries vying for vaccines and prepare itself to deal with future pandemics. Hyder is proud of how companies including Canada Goose shifted from making luxury winter coats to scrubs and patient gowns and aviation manufacturer CAE Inc. rushed to start producing ventilators, but said Canada needs to look at pain points the pandemic highlighted too. "How did we get to the point where Canada can't manufacture vaccines?" he said. "Canada had that capacity and we lost it and so clearly there has to be analysis of what are the actions that policy-makers took that drove away the investment that would create the manufacturing capabilities for vaccines." Canada is buying at least 238 million doses of seven different vaccines, but only one is from a Canadian company — Medicago — and none will initially be produced in Canada. So far the country has been purchasing and receiving vaccines made in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech. Earlier this week, Entos Pharmaceuticals in Alberta said a lack of federal funding early in the pandemic kept homegrown COVID-19 vaccines from moving as quickly as international versions. Dr. Gary Kobinger, a Laval University microbiologist behind Ebola and Zika vaccines, added his non-profit had a COVID-19 vaccine with promising early results last February, but it stalled because they lacked funding. Hyder has grown used to seeing Canada lack this kind of capital and "muddle through things." The pandemic has been no different, he said. Canadians have taken pride in having far fewer COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations than the U.S., but Hyder believes that shouldn't be the measure of success. "We have to aspire to do better and policy is a very big part of that," he said. "Policies effect the next time, so I am really hoping we don't let ourselves off the hook by saying thank God we did better than the Americans … We need to build back better. — With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX: GOOS, TSX:CAE.TO) Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
The Strathmore town hall solar project is proceeding, dependent on grant funding and after the establishment of a reserve to meet the eventual costs of decommissioning. During its regular meeting on Feb. 17, Strathmore town council voted to approve a proposal to construct a solar power array on the rooftop of the new Strathmore Municipal Building. The 73.5-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system will be installed by SkyFire Energy Inc. at an estimated cost of about $120,000. However, the decision was made dependent on the receipt of a grant from the Alberta Municipal Solar Program that, if received, will limit the town’s cost of the project to less than $70,000. The estimated program funding will be a $36,000 rebate ($0.75 per watt) plus a first-time applicant bonus of about $18,000 ($0.25 per watt). The cost will be sourced from unspent funds allocated to the town hall. The decision comes after proposals for rooftop solar for the building have come to council before, with different project details and suppliers. Council voted to approve a solar panel array for the building on May 20, 2020, but this decision was deferred on Sept. 2, due to uncertainty of grant funding for the project. But then on Oct. 21, town council directed administration to again pursue the concept of installing solar panels on the building’s roof. Given SkyFire’s new proposal and the availability of the grant funding, council decided the financials for the project now work. The project is projected to provide the town about $4,500 per year in savings, while reducing the building’s dependence on the electrical grid by about 55 per cent. The panels will require about $1,000 per year of maintenance, however. Administration returned with this new proposal on Feb. 3, but council wanted answers to several inquiries before deciding, so the proposal was postponed to the following meeting, on Feb. 17. One of the questions during the Feb. 3 meeting, raised by Councillor Tari Cockx, was whether the solar panel project would affect the view of residents of Lambert Village, located across Second Avenue from the new municipal building. But as the top (third) floor at Lambert Village is below the roof level of the municipal building, residents there will not be able to see the panels or see any reflection from them, explained Ethan Wilson, the town’s infrastructure manager, during the Feb, 17 meeting. The panels are static, being arranged at an optimum angle for Strathmore, meaning there will be no noise as in some other systems. There will be rooftop access to the solar panels, so the array can be maintained throughout the year, including the clearing of snow, as necessary. No changes are needed to the current roof layout to install the panels, said Wilson. Another issue brought up during the Feb. 3 meeting, by Councillor Jason Montgomery, was the cost of recycling the panels at the end of their estimated 30-year lifespan. SkyFire will provide a full three-year warranty, alongside manufacturer and product warranties ranging between 10 and 25 years in duration. There are currently options to recycle the panel materials, said Wilson. But the panels would still need to be removed from the building and disassembled at the end of their lifetime. However, there is indication the programs available now will be improved in 30 years, with the Alberta Recycling Management Authority starting a two-year pilot program for electronics recycling, including solar panels, he said. But in response to this uncertainty, Montgomery requested the establishment of a reserve fund to pay for the ultimate removal and disposal of the solar array at the end of its lifetime. “Something that’s been very important to me is just that whenever we embark on a new project or new idea, that we are looking down the road of what our future obligations are,” he said. As part of the motion to approve the project, town council directed the creation of a restricted reserve fund for end-of-life disposal of the solar array, to which $1,500 will be allocated yearly. The motion to approve the project then passed unanimously. Proceeding with the project is an achievement 10 years after the town hired a consulting firm to produce a report, called the Strathmore Community Sustainability Plan, identifying ways the town could be more sustainable, recounted Councillor Bob Sobol, during the Feb. 17 meeting. One of the recommendations was to establish a sustainability committee. “They believe, as do I, that it is time for the town to take more aggressive steps regarding dealing with solar energy,” he said. Other benefits of the project include reducing the building’s electrical bill, thereby insuring against rising power prices, it being an environmentally friendly project, and providing leadership in sustainability, said Sobol. “I support this project, which I see as a pilot, and encourage council to support our municipality’s first journey into clean, sustainable energy.” Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
TORONTO — Ontario had no updated plan for dealing with a pandemic when COVID-19 began cutting a deadly swath through the province last spring, a public commission was told. In testimony before the panel released on Thursday, the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, denied responsibility for the shortcoming. The province had developed a pandemic response plan in 2006 that was updated in 2013, but the process stalled after work started on a "Ready and Resilient" blueprint in 2016. "Do you have any knowledge about the "Ready and Resilient" plan and why it wasn't completed in four years before COVID?" commission co-counsel John Callaghan asked. "The process was in place, and they were doing reviews on it," Williams answered. "Why was it not done?" "Because it was not completed." The commission is delving into the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Ontario's long-term care homes. To date, coronavirus disease has killed 3,753 residents and 11 staff members. Williams said pandemic preparation drifted down the priority list because things had been relatively quiet for several years. Historically, he said, planning focused on influenza A, a situation that hadn't changed as late as 2019 when the World Health Organization said the world is not ready for a pandemic. "For seven years, you never felt the need to increase your pandemic plan, your influenza pandemic plan?" Callaghan asked. "We did quality work back in 2006," Williams said. "You are saying, in your opinion, it was your decision not to upgrade the 2013 plan?" "No, I was not asked to update the plan." Williams said he "took flak" over pushing more robust preparation for a major infectious disease outbreak because others saw the exercise as wasting time and resources for something that would never occur. "It is hard to keep that prevention thing always at the front table because the tyranny of the urgent always pushes things aside," Williams said. "It was to me disappointing to find the lack of depth and breadth of infection prevention and control expertise that was available out there." Williams said he was shocked to discover the poor situation at long-term care homes when it came to masks and other personal protective equipment. The purpose of the provincial stockpile, he said, was to equip front-line doctors and their offices, not long-term care facilities. Nursing homes, he said, were supposed to have their own supplies able to last between four and seven weeks. However, when the pandemic hit in earnest, he learned most of the protective equipment was made in China and global demand had outstripped supply. "That was startling and shocking to me that that had happened in there because it is something that I thought we had in-house; anyways in North America at least," he said. Constant staff turnover of key personnel in nursing homes hampered efforts to ensure adequate infection prevention controls were in place, he said. "The changeover was at times disconcerting," he said. Callaghan called it "vexing" the commission had received 217,000 pages of documents from Williams only in the week before he testified. The co-counsel also noted Williams had provided 2,000 pages of his redacted notes. New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said Williams' testimony made it "astoundingly clear" the government was trying to hide its response to COVID-19 in nursing homes. “The Ford government and Dr. Williams are taking great pains to hide, bury and cover up how they dealt with COVID-19 in long-term care homes,” Horwath said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
A one-time payment will be provided to hundreds of thousands of Albertans working to provide critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $465 million program, a joint initiative between the provincial and federal government, will give $1,200 cash payments, called the Critical Worker Benefit, to workers across various sectors. The program includes about $118 million in provincial funds and up to $347 million in federal funds. Workers in healthcare, social services, education and the private sector that have worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 13, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021 are eligible to receive the payment. “It’s a sign of appreciation for the people whose hard work make life easier for the rest of us,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney,” during a Feb. 10 press conference announcing the funding. “These workers are the ones who have sustained and maintained Alberta through the pandemic at very considerable risk to themselves, and they will continue doing that through the months to come.” About 161,000 employees in the health-care sector will be eligible to receive the payment, including orderlies and patient service associates, respiratory therapists and technologists, nurses (RNs, RPNs, LPNs), food services, housekeeping and maintenance workers, and unit clerks. In social services professions, another 45,000 workers will also be eligible, including community disability service workers and practitioners, personal care aides, child development workers, family and youth counsellors, crisis intervention and shelter workers, home support workers, seniors lodge staff, cleaners, food preparation and maintenance workers. Up to 36,000 workers in the education sector will eligible, including teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cleaning staff, and administration support. Additionally, private sector workers making $25 per hour or less also qualify, including critical retail workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; private health provider workers, such as dental assistants, massage therapists and medical administration assistants; food manufacturing and processing workers; truck transportation workers, such as truck drivers, and delivery and courier services drivers; and warehouse and storage workers, such as shippers and receivers. Private-sector employers must apply for the funding by March 19. Public-sector employees will automatically receive the funding if they are part of the government’s payment system. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times