Sitting just above the surface are some very different icicles.
Sitting just above the surface are some very different icicles.
When the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars last month, it arrived with a B.C.-made tool in its figurative tool belt. The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered U.S. rover landed on the red planet on Feb. 18, with a mandate to drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be returned to NASA in about 2031. That drilling will be done using a drill bit tip designed and manufactured by a company based in Langford, B.C. "It has great wear and fraction resistance so it is perfect for a Mars application," said Ron Sivorat, business director for Kennametal Inc., during an interview on CBC's All Points West. The drill bit tip is made from K92-grade tungsten carbide blanks, which Sivorat said are one of the toughest grades used for drilling here on earth and he is confident it will be good enough for Mars. According to Sivorat, the company has had a relationship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2014, when the space agency first began ordering and testing Kennametal Inc. drill bit tips. In 2018, the company learned NASA wanted to work with it to build a bit for Perseverance. Sivorat said staff built the drill bit to NASA's specifications and then sent it to the agency who finessed it somewhat for its Mars mission. When Perseverance landed safely on the fourth planet from the sun, it was an exciting moment for Kennametal Inc. employees, many of whom watched the landing online and are continuing to check on Perservance's daily progress updates. "We know that we are going to be part of, in one way or another, an historical event that will be remembered for many years to come," said Sivorat. Sivorat said he expects the drill bit built in B.C. to start penetrating the surface of Mars in the next couple of weeks. And B.C. is not the only Canadian province with a connection to Perseverance. Canadian Photonic Labs, based in Minnedosa, Man., manufactured a high-speed and highly-durable camera that played an instrumental role in landing the rover. The Manitoba company's relationship with NASA dates back roughly 15 years, he said — but much of the work that's happened in that time has been cloaked in secrecy.
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials began expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 22, opening community clinics for people aged 80 years and older. Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, has said the province's plan is to open another 10 clinics in March for 48,000 people who will be mailed a letter informing them how to book an appointment. Strang said the vaccination program will then expand to the next age group in descending order until everyone in the province is offered the chance to be immunized. The age groups will proceed in five-year blocks. Future community clinics are to be held March 8 in Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro; March 15 in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth; and March 22 in Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth. The province began its vaccination campaign with residents of long-term care homes, those who work directly with patients, those who are 80 and older, and those who are at risk for other reasons including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island The province says the first phase of its vaccination drive, currently slated to last until the end of March, targets residents and staff of long-term and community care, as well as health-care workers with direct patient contact at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. Those 80 and older, adults in Indigenous communities, and truck drivers and other rotational workers are also included. The next phase, which is scheduled to begin in April, will target those above 70 and essential workers. The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors on Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. The province says the vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies of vaccine safety and efficacy in those populations. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry also says first responders and essential workers may be eligible to get vaccinated starting in April as the province also decides on a strategy for the newly authorized AstraZeneca vaccine. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Axel Schuster's first season as sporting director of the Vancouver Whitecaps was anything but boring. Despite navigating a series of unprecedented challenges, he believes the club finished last year with a solid foundation they can build on as training camp opens this week. "We spoke about it. We still think we did some sustainable, good steps," Schuster said. "Obviously we didn’t really meet our expectations at the very end, but it was close and now we have a new bar and we want to jump over this.” Last year, Schuster navigated the club through a season full of stops and starts as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the Major League Soccer schedule and forced all three Canadian clubs to relocate south of the border. The Whitecaps lived at a hotel in downtown Portland for more than two months and played at Providence Park, home of the rival Portland Timbers. The 'Caps ended the unusual campaign outside of the playoffs for the third year in a row with a 9-14-0 record. All of the upheaval took its toll on the group, Schuster said. “It took us too long to come back into shape and into structure, to be that team that we wanted to be at the beginning of the season, that we had been in the first two games," he said. “I will stress and challenge my team and my coaches to say ‘We want to be a big step better than last year.’” There'll be more hurdles this season, however. The team is holding its training camp in Vancouver but plans are in the works to relocate to Salt Lake City due to border restrictions. There's hope the team can return to Vancouver before the end of the season if conditions improve. COVID-19 has also made it difficult to organize pre-season games, Schuster said. The club isn't planning on playing any exhibition matches until they arrive in Utah ahead of the season kick off on April 17. One positive note heading into 2021 is the team's relatively low turnover. Two dozen players from last year's roster are back, including last year's leading goal scorer Lucas Cavallini. The team will also get back goaltenders Maxime Crepeau and Thomas Hasal, who both suffered season ending injuries in 2020. Crepeau went down with a fractured thumb in July and Hasal followed in September with a concussion and stress fracture in his left tibia. Having so many returning players means the club can skip the rebuilding process this pre-season, said coach Marc Dos Santos. It's a very different starting point from what the 'Caps have seen in the past two years, where the club attempted to integrate a number of new players before the season began. "It gives you a better chance to succeed," Dos Santos said Monday after the team's first voluntary group training session. "At the end of the day, when I look at the teams that succeed in MLS, they're groups that have been together for a good amount of time. They're groups that there's a chemistry between guys, there's a core that's important that comes back year after year. And that's where we have to get as a club." A few new faces will filter into the training facility in the coming weeks. Colombian striker Deiber Caicedo has yet to join the group after signing a three-year deal in January. Draft picks Javian Brown, a Jamaican right back, and David Egbo, a Nigerian forward, are still finishing up immigration paperwork. And goalkeeper Evan Newton is in Vancouver, finishing his quarantine and is expected to begin training soon. Adding to the team this off-season was tougher, Schuster said, not only because of the pandemic, but because he and Dos Santos are confident in the squad's existing core. "That makes it more complicated to add more quality because you only want to add more quality, you want to add better players," he explained. "So obviously the recruitment process is also more complicated because you have to go to another shelf in the store, in the market to find the right players." Still, there are likely more pieces to come. There's talk that the Whitecaps are looking to sign Bruno Gaspar, a 27-year-old right back with Portuguese side Sporting CP. Schuster declined to comment on any pending deals, but said he is still working hard on bolstering the team. "We feel even better knowing that there are more to come," he said. "We are hopeful that we get them." No matter who's on the roster this year, the club's objective will be clear, Schuster said — play hard and make it into the post-season. "The goal is to go straight to the playoffs and be a playoff team," he said. "We want to be a team that competes to win every single game." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021. Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
Tofino, BC - Robert Stanley was in Tofino when he heard about the house fire that claimed the life of an Ahousaht First Nation member last week. He had traveled from his home on Flores Island to attend a nine-day Captain’s Boat Camp. The loss weighed on him heavily and his first impulse was to drop-out of the course and return home. It didn’t feel right for Stanley to be so far away from his grieving community. Before he could follow through, members from his nation encouraged him to stay, saying, “there was nothing he could do.” Emotionally tapped out and disinterested, he struggled through the beginning of the in-class marine training. It wasn’t until he was out on a boat during a practical session that Stanley started to feel more at peace. “The water soothed my heart,” he said. Along with four other Nuu-chah-nulth students, Stanley was taking the boat camp to get his certifications to be a captain on a small commercial vessel. The $3,000 course was offered to 16 Nuu-chah-nulth participants from Ahousaht and the regions of Tofino and Ucluelet at no cost. It was limited to those geographical areas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Funded by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the course was facilitated by Uu-a-thluk, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s fisheries program. Selected on a first-come-first-serve basis, 11 participants signed-up and will walk away with certifications for Small Vessel Operator Proficiency (SVOP), Small Domestic Vessel Basic Safety (SDV-BS), Restricted Operator Marine Radio Licence (ROC-M) and Marine Basic First Aid. Stanley works as a commercial fisherman and has been driving trollers since he was 11 years old. No stranger to the water, he never uses a map for navigation. Instead, he relies on the traditional markers his grandfather taught him, like the top of Lone Cone Mountain. He enrolled in the course to renew his certificates so that he could run his brother’s boat. While he has no trouble maneuvering through local waters, Stanley said he “loved the practical training” that allowed him to practice his skills. Joe Titian also traveled from his community of Ahousaht to attend the course. Although he has been on boats since he was nine years old and started commercially fishing at the age of 12, he needed to renew his certificates to run a water taxi for his brother-in-law. As he pulled out of the Tofino marina, the 63-year-old quoted Dolly Parton and said, "Everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain; but there can't be a rainbow without a little rain.” Relying on his fellow classmate, Brianna Lambert, for navigational directions, Titian continued driving out into rough seas up the Tofino Inlet. Datum Marine Services instructor, Marla Barker, guided them through a “person overboard drill” where Titian had to demonstrate a high-speed turn to rescue a fallen buoy, they covered anchoring and docking a boat, along with slow-speed maneuvering. After catching up with the other participants who were on different boats, the rain stopped as the skies parted. A vibrant rainbow emerged that arched across the inlet. It was like the ancestors were comforting the students in an embrace. As the day ended, the group gathered on a dock in Cannery bay. “You guys showed a lot of courage for hanging in there,” said Ed Houlihan, a Datum Marine instructor. While Stanley said he couldn’t wait to get back to his family and community, he was proud to have made it through the course. “It’s what my community wanted,” he said. Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-Shilth-Sa
The Massachusetts financial professional who gained notoriety as GameStop bull "Roaring Kitty" is no longer a broker registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, according to the organization's online records. Keith Gill, known as Roaring Kitty on YouTube and DeepF***ingValue on Reddit, is no longer a registered financial broker as of Feb. 26, the FINRA records show. Gill became a central figure in a January trading frenzy in which shares of the ailing videogame retailer surged more than 1,000% in two weeks, driven by interest among retail investors in online forums.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has eased slightly more restrictions tied to COVID-19. Libraries can now open at 15 per cent capacity and gyms can now host indoors low-impact group activities, like Pilates and tai chi. Kenney had been expected to ease rules in other areas, such as retail capacity and hotels, but he says the COVID numbers have hit a plateau and they need more time to assess just to be safe.
The B.C. government says it is in the process of sending out apology letters, and is prepared to compensate the thousands of Grade 12 students who were issued incorrect transcripts in 2019. In a statement Monday, the province says it is accepting online applications for compensation from affected students who can "demonstrate losses or expenses that arose from the June 2019 provincial Grade 12 exam tabulation errors." It also says apology letters are being sent to all students whose exam marks were impacted. In 2019, the Ministry of Education admitted two tabulation errors resulted in incorrect exam results for 18,741 students who wrote provincial exams in June 2019. An August 2020 Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson report made recommendations, two of which were to apologize and compensate students who faced financial implications as a result of the errors. The ministry says it has now acted on all six of the report's recommendations and had previously implemented four of those relating to "processes and protocols for quality assurance, escalation of issues and communication protocols." It also says it made immediate changes to "ensure a more rigorous process for provincial assessments." According to the statement, an independent third party will provide adjudication services for the compensation fund which launched Monday. It says applicants will be notified of claim decisions by that third party and promises a detailed process for appealing denials. Claim submissions will be accepted until May 24, and compensation will be issued for validated claims by August 2021.
B.C. is moving into the second phase of its immunization plan, vaccinating seniors in the community aged 80 and up over the course of this month. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also said the second dose of the three approved vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca—will be delayed to four months or 16 weeks, to provide more protection to more people sooner. Henry said the initial dose provides “a very high level of real-world protection.” In Phase 2, more than 400,000 people in B.C. will receive their first vaccine dose from March to early April, including: • seniors and high-risk people residing in independent living and seniors' supportive housing (including staff); • home-care support clients and staff; • Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, Inuit) peoples born in or before 1956 (65 years and older); and • seniors born in or before 1941 (80 years and older). Today, first-dose immunizations begin for those living and working in independent living centres and seniors' supportive housing, as well as home-care support clients and staff. Health authorities will directly contact those in this priority group to book appointments—there is no need to call. Beginning Monday (March 8), seniors aged 80+ and Indigenous peoples aged 65+ who are not living in independent living or seniors' supportive housing can make one call to book their appointment through their local health authority call centre according to a staggered schedule. This is to avoid long waits and system overload. Immunization clinic locations will be confirmed at time of booking, with vaccinations starting as early as March 15: • March 8: Seniors born in or before 1931 (90 years+) and Indigenous people born in or before 1956 (65 years+) may call to book their vaccine appointment; • March 15: Seniors born in or before 1936 (85 years+) may call to book their vaccine appointment; and • March 22: Seniors born in or before 1941 (80 years+) may call to book their vaccine appointment. Health authority contact information, complete call-in schedules, hours of operations and step-by-step instructions on how to call to book an appointment for yourself, for a family member, for a friend or neighbour will be available on March 8, here: www.gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst "We can now see the light at the end of what has been a difficult and challenging time for us all. To get us through, we need to continue to work together and support each other," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. "We are working hard each and every day to make sure that everyone who wants a vaccine gets one, and my new provincial health officer order significantly expands the range of health professions and occupations who can support our immunization clinics, including dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians, paramedics, firefighters and retired nurses." For health professionals who want to sign up to support B.C.'s immunization efforts as immunizers, visit: https://forms.hlth.gov.bc.ca/registry-covid-19 Immunizing other priority groups identified in Phase 2, many of whom have already received their first dose, is also underway, including: • Indigenous communities, Indigenous Elders, hospital staff, community general practitioners and medical specialists not immunized in Phase 1; • vulnerable populations living and working in select congregate settings; and • staff in community home support and nursing services for seniors. In mid-April, Phase 3 will begin mass vaccination of people aged 79 to 60 years, and people aged 16+ who are extremely clinically vulnerable, at community immunization clinics throughout B.C. Mobile clinics will be available in some rural communities and for people who are homebound due to mobility issues. In Phase 3, British Columbians will register and book their appointments to receive their first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine through an online registration tool. People born between 1942 and 1946 (ages 79-75), and Indigenous peoples born between the years of 1956 and 1960 (ages 64-60), will be able to register for an appointment online or by phone by March 31. As of last week, 252,373 people in B.C. have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 73,808 who have received their second dose. “Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are far from out of this,” said Premier John Horgan. “We have a long way to go.” Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel
MILAN — Fashion is off the hamster wheel, taking a deep breath that is allowing some freshness to seep into the once relentless cycle. “It is so weird thinking about fashion, and the kind of hamster wheel of fashion, and how we never had a break and always complained about it,’’ Marc Jacobs said during a Milan Fashion Week video chat with Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons post-digital show. “And then you get a break, and you complain.” Instead, he said, he was taking the moment to watch others, and be inspired. Milan Fashion Week of mostly womenswear previews for next fall and winter wrapped a nearly all-digital edition on Monday. Only one designer — Daniel Del Core, marking his brand's debut — held a live runway show for a small number of guests. While the bustle of live shows with the parade of itinerant fashionistas decamping from New York to London, Milan and finally Paris was missed, designers also were stimulated by the slower pace of the pandemic-era fashion cycle. Austrian designer Arthur Arbesser shrank his collection to just 25 looks, which he presented in visits to his Milan studio and video calls, opting out of a digital runway show. For the creations, he upcycled textiles from previous collections that had been stashed in a studio cubbyhole. The designer revitalized them either by printing a new design on the other side, in the case of a pretty pleated skirt, or printing over the original with a different pattern, in the case of a black architectural detailing over a striped cotton. Arbesser said the enforced quiet of the COVID-19-era restrictions, along with the necessity of saving money, pushed other creative forces to the fore. He and his team created a patchwork mini-dress out of cotton, silk and technical nylon, and they experimented with Shibori hand-dying for a wool mini skirt. The collection bears Arbesser’s love of prints, this season’s inspired by an actual painter’s palette that he picked up at a flea market, which he mashes up with geometrical patterns and materials that range from soft silk jersey to wool to knits. “I felt it was important to keep writing this story, my little story, keep adding chapters,’’ Arbesser said of his 8-year-old brand. “I am happy that even doing something so reduced, so little, while at the same time producing quality, you can still be seen, you can actually sell your production.” Global masters Dolce&Gabbana took a technological leap forward with a no-holds-barred, youth-inspired collection featuring technical textiles in bold hues intermingled with hologram finishes, metallic glimmers and even multi-colored Styrofoam beads, for a feast of colorful confections. The 140 looks included some reinterpretations of Domenico Dolce and Stefan Gabbana’s iconic pieces — including Madonna’s bejeweled bodysuit and corsets worn by dancers in Prince’s “Cream” video — from the early days when Dolce&Gabbana helped define the bold sexiness of the 1990s. The result was a mix of Dolce&Gabbana’s trademark tailoring, often under strands of layered pearls and gold, alongside more futuristic elements that bely our new protective bearing: elaborate eye shields, plastic sneaker coverings and transparent slickers. Underlining this leap forward, a humanoid robot developed by the Italian Institute of Technology acted as master of ceremonies for the digital runway show. “The collection is a tribute to this generation that asks us about the 1990s,” Dolce said during an in-person presentation of the looks at the designers' showroom. The designers said the younger generation’s idea of sexy is much freer of preconceived notions than in the past, meaning men can wear lace T-shirts without a second thought. “It has nothing to do with sexuality,’’ Gabbana said. “It is almost a euphemism; it’s about pleasing themselves.” Giorgio Armani staged separate digital men's and women's collections in his own theatre both around a replica of a gorilla statue dubbed Uri that has been part of his personal home decor for decades. This green version of Uri evoked the designer's support of wildlife preservation, but also echoed the collections' ties to the natural world. Prints and designs that can be interpreted as leaves, or water lilies, or simple sea creatures, provided the motif for elegantly relaxed looks. The fashion world also paid tribute to creative colleagues in the theatre, which have been mostly empty in Italy since the start of the pandemic. Pierpaolo Piccioli staged the Valentino Fall/Winter 2020/21 collection live to empty seats in Milan’s Piccolo Theater, while the singer Cosima hauntingly intoned Sinead O’Conner’s lyrics: “It’s been so lonely without you here.” The Valentino collection was a sombre affair, fitting the moment. It featured tailored jackets that have been reconstructed into capes, layered with pointy-collared white shirts, skin-fitting tops with seemingly hand-cut holes. For women, there was a movement in flouncy miniskirts peeking out of jacket hems, while feminine flourishes like ruffles on shirts were employed with discipline. Accessories featured studded bags and boots. Milan designer Francesca Liberatore had planned an extravagant show in a Milan theatre with holographic effects, but decided against it in solidarity with theatre creatives who can't occupy that space. “I had the moral problem. How could I do a show in a theatre at this moment when artists themselves cannot recite in this place?” Liberatore said by phone. Instead, her virtual show featured an actor on an empty stage, and two-dimensional models, like paper dolls, in creations including reinvented trenches in camouflage, representing the state of siege society is living under in the pandemic. Colleen Barry, The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has agreed to live in the seat of state government in Charleston, ending a long-running challenge over his residency. A Kanawha County judge Monday signed an order dismissing a 2018 lawsuit filed by a former state lawmaker. Through his attorney, Justice said he intends to reside in Charleston “consistent with the definition of ‘reside’ in the Supreme Court of Appeals’ opinion," according to the dismissal order signed by Senior Status Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon. “The parties agree that Respondent’s voluntary agreement to reside at the seat of government within the meaning of the Constitution renders this case moot and that the case should be dismissed,” O'Hanlon wrote. In allowing the lawsuit to proceed in November, the state Supreme Court rejected arguments from Justice that the courts could not force him to live in the state capital. The challenge has been a thorn in the side of Justice, a two-term governor who defended living in Lewisburg even though the state constitution says the governor “shall reside at the seat of government” in Charleston. The justices wrote that courts had the right to compel the Republican governor to comply with the constitution. Justice's lawyers had appealed to the Supreme Court after the lower court declined to throw out the case. Democratic Del. Isaac Sponaugle brought the suit after bipartisan criticism that Justice lived 100 (160 kilometres) miles away from Charleston, near his resort, The Greenbrier. Both sides had argued over the definition of “residency.” Sponaugle claimed the common sense meaning of the word “residency” holds that the governor needs to sleep in Charleston. But Justice's lawyers have said the term was vague and the matter was a political question outside the court's purview. While defending the constitution's residency clause, the justices also said the governor "failed to meet his burden to show that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate powers.” Under the terms of the dismissal order, Justice, a billionaire businessman and richest person in the state who owns a complex business empire of coal and agricultural entities, agreed to pay $65,000 to Sponaugle for attorney fees and costs. John Raby, The Associated Press
VANCOUVER — A lawyer for the Huawei executive facing extradition to the United States says there's evidence showing the case against her is "manifestly unreliable" and he wants that evidence admitted to the record. Meng Wanzhou's lawyer Frank Addario says emails between staff at the telecom giant and international bank HSBC show the bank was well aware that Huawei controlled another company called Skycom, therefore Meng wasn't responsible for any violation of U.S. sanctions again Iran by the bank. He told the B.C. Supreme Court hearing that staff at HSBC knew that Skycom was sold to Canicula, that Canicula was Skycom's parent company and that Huawei controlled the Canicula account. Addario is asking the judge to admit affidavits including emails and bank account information into evidence to support the defence team's case at Meng's committal hearing, to be heard in May. Meng was arrested at Vancouver's airport in 2018 on a request by U.S. officials who allege she misrepresented the relationship between Huawei and Skycom, causing HSBC to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. Both she and Huawei deny the allegations. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021. The Canadian Press
After two full weeks of virtual events and activities, Bonhomme Carnaval has come to an end and the identity of this year's mascot has been unveiled. The annual carnival wrapped up with a virtual concert and unveiling of the Bonhomme last Saturday, Feb. 27. Emma Bertrand, a dance teacher at Dansons La Ronde and Melissa Kelly Dance Academy, was this year's Bonhomme Carnaval. The carnival was held virtually this year. Centre Culturel La Ronde’s executive director Lisa Bertrand said she didn’t expect such a big turnout and she was very happy with how many people tuned in online. “I’m super happy that the community supported (us). With the window contest, teachers and the principals were so supportive and the French community as well,” she said. “When I mentioned doing a virtual carnival to the board, I didn’t think it was going to be as much work as it was but I’m very, very happy with the result.” The evening show featuring the Lapointe family and Dayv Poulin and the reveal of Bonhomme reached 6,794 people on Facebook and garnered 1,770 engagements, 189 comments and 35 shares. Bertrand said the cooking workshops, as well as the Sip and Paint workshop, were a “great hit.” For the next year’s carnival, the centre is looking into offering virtual events again. “If we have our building, it will definitely be at our Centre Culturel La Ronde. If not, I’ll do a couple of events virtually. It was different and we had a lot of participation,” Bertrand said. “It was fun because we did have people from Montreal that joined, a few people from Cochrane, Iroquois Falls.” Hosting the carnival from a technical perspective has been challenging, Bertrand said, but it was also fun getting together virtually, seeing interactions between people and receiving love and support from the community. “It was virtual but we definitely felt the love,” said Bertrand. Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com
“These are difficult days but there are better days ahead.” With the promise of new COVID-19 vaccinations available in both Barrie and Alliston, Kathy Dermott, spokesperson for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit signed off with a word of hope at Monday morning’s Zoom meeting. Midway through the inception of the province’s Phase 1 roll-out of vaccinations, Simcoe County was thrown back into the restrictive Grey Zone due to COVID-19 variants that have swept across Barrie during the last month. While businesses are balking at the imposed shutdowns and stringent customer visitation limits, seniors are rolling up their sleeves to take advantage of a chance to escape the deadly virus altogether. “Today we have four clinic locations that are open,” said Mary Ann Holmes, vice-president of the health unit’s immunization program. As of March 1, Holmes said vaccination clinics were open in Holly Community Centre, Alliston Memorial Clinic, in Huntsville, as well as a drive-thru clinic in Collingwood. “I’m happy to report that by the end of the week that all regions will have a clinic open and be able to offer vaccines,” she said. “The vaccine we’ve received to date has been Pfizer and we don’t have a line on when other products will be available. But we really would just be encouraging people to take advantage of the COVID vaccine that’s available to them whenever they’re eligible.” Simcoe County’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Gardner, confirmed the current Pfizer doses will be interspersed with Moderna and AstraZeneca brands once their supplies become available. “The fridge-stable vaccines are more mobile and potentially can be used for vaccination at home or in family practice settings or pharmacies,” Gardner said. Phase 1 priority groups include adults aged 80 years and older, Indigenous adults aged 55 and older, adult recipients of chronic home care, staff and residents in care settings and very high priority frontline health-care workers. Once the expected roll-out of Phase 2 inoculation arrives in early April, availability and distribution will broaden across the province. Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
CALGARY — The Calgary Real Estate Board said Monday that the market has faced low inventory levels compared to sales for the past several months, while prices continued to climb. The board's February numbers show that prices jumped by about 8 per cent to reach an average of $485,870, up from $446,690 the year prior. CREB's chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie attributed the spike to pandemic conditions. “Despite continued COVID-19 restrictions, housing activity continues to improve. Much of the strong sales activity is expected to be driven by exceptionally low mortgage rates,” she said. “Confidence is also likely improving as vaccine rollouts are underway. Additionally, some of the worst fears concerning the energy sector are easing with recent gains in energy prices.” Sales totalled 1,836 last month, a more than 54 per cent increase over February 2020 and a volume not seen since February 2014. New listings, however, didn't keep up the pace. They amounted to 2,848, a 13 per cent increase from 2,517 the year before. The gap between sales and new listings is doing little to help the market's inventory woes, CREB said. It estimated the area now has fewer than three months' worth of homes on the market. Conditions are particularly tight in the detached sector, especially for homes priced below $600,000, said CREB. That portion of the market alone has less than two months of housing supply, but is also experiencing the most significant price gains. Detached home sales in February amounted to 1,123, up from 678 the year prior, while prices edged up to $572,670 from $526,084 previously. New listings for the category were up about 17 per cent, but inventory was down by almost 30 per cent. At the other end of the housing spectrum, apartments and condos have a relatively high level of inventory compared to sales. CREB said 272 apartments sold in February, up from 209 the February before. Inventory in the category reached 1,433, a slight dip from 1,470 the year prior. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 1, 2021. The Canadian Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida officials are recommending that the state's antiquated unemployment processing system be replaced after a review confirmed what had long been known: a broken system full of glitches that was incapable of handling the unprecedented deluge of jobless claims spawned by the coronavirus outbreak. The state's Department of Economic Opportunity is recommending that the current system, known as CONNECT, be discarded and replaced with a more robust and modern system that employs cloud-based technology that could allow the system to more nimbly respond to increased demands. The department, which oversees the state's unemployment system, is asking lawmakers for $73 million over the next two years to modernize the system that left hundreds of thousands of jobless Floridians without unemployment checks for weeks and sometimes months. The director of the agency, Dane Eagle, told lawmakers Monday that Florida was not alone in its struggles. “We are far behind in where we need to be,” he said. “Florida is not the only state to experience these challenges." But as the unemployment rate surged when businesses closed, Florida was among the slowest states — if not the slowest — in getting unemployment checks to those with no other income to pay mortgages, rents and other necessities. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who likened the benefits claim system to an “old jalopy” breaking down at the Daytona 500, ordered the inspector general to investigate. The Economic Opportunity Department launched a review of its own, and the results were presented Monday to the legislative select committee on pandemic preparedness and response. The report makes clear that the system was neither prepared nor responsive at a time of crisis, when some 1.3 million Floridians, at the peak of unemployment in April, tried to access benefits through online portals that continually crashed or phone systems that only added to frustrations. The long awaited inspector general’s report could be released in a matter of weeks. The inspector general’s findings are current being reviewed by economic opportunity officials. The CONNECT system prompted concern from the start. Soon after the online portal launched in October 2013, it was beset by system crashes that prevented people from claiming benefits. Despite previous audits that identified numerous glitches, many of the problems were never addressed. Those same system failures prevented people from accessing the system. Critics warned that the system was doomed to fail. “Unfortunately, as it turns out, we were absolutely correct," said Democratic state Rep. Evan Jenne, the House minority co-leader. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 3.1 million people have filed unemployment claims in Florida. The state has paid out more than $23.1 billion in benefits — less than a fourth of that from the state's reemployment assistance program. The rest of the funds came from federal pandemic relief packages, some of it earmarked to supplement meagre unemployment checks and to provide benefits to gig workers and others who were not eligible for traditional state benefits. The state's electronic portal was initially unable to process claims filed by freelancers and other independent contractors, adding to confusion, frustration and anger. The state eventually put in place a parallel electronic system to handle claims from nontraditional workers. In fact the state's electronic portal was so overwhelmed that state officials reverted to filing claims on paper forms. As part of its just-completed review, the Department of Economic Opportunity is also asking lawmakers for authority to establish an Office of Accountability and Transparency, but it was unclear in a presentation submitted to the pandemic committee exactly what its role would be. In addition, it wants to create a Reemployment Assistance Modernization Strategic Planning Office to oversee the modernization effort. The new money requested by the Economic Opportunity Department adds to the $39 million COVID-19-related outlays in its current year budget. The $73 billion being requested for the next two years would nearly double the department’s budget during the same time period. A more modest $8 million is also being requested to supplement the department's typical annual budget of $41.3 million in the three years after. Before the pandemic, the Reemployment Assistance System budget was about $12 million annually. Meanwhile, the state’s Unemployment Benefit Trust Fund has been dramatically depleted. Its balance is now just $777 million -- less than a fifth of the $4 billion it had before the pandemic. Bobby Caina Calvan, The Associated Press
Local municipalities were among the 30 projects among a $1.39 million investment through the Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP), delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on behalf of the federal government. The programs aim is to strengthen local infrastructure planning and decision-making by increasing local asset management capacity through investments in activities such as asset management training, technology and software enhancements and information sharing. This is part of the federal government's commitment to providing local communities with tools and support for evidence-based decision-making that will help them plan a healthier, safer and more prosperous future for everyone. “The COVID-19 health crisis has reinforced the importance of infrastructure that supports safe, sustainable and healthy communities. Everything from ensuring communities have potable water to internet access to park spaces requires good planning. The 30 projects announced today ensure Saskatchewan municipalities have the tools and technology necessary to make well-informed decisions for the long term. Canada's infrastructure plan is resulting in thousands of projects, creating jobs across the country and building stronger communities.” Jim CarrSpecial Representative for the Prairies on behalf of Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities said in a release. Municipalities receiving funding in the region included the RM of Moose Range which received $36,080 for an asset management plan, the District of Lakeland which received $50,000 for an asset management framework and system project and the RM of Porcupine which received $50,000 for an asset management roadmap and system project. “Municipalities of all sizes are Canada’s builders. They own nearly 60 percent of the public infrastructure that support Canada’s economy and quality of life. With strengthened asset management practices, they are making infrastructure investment decisions based on sound and reliable data. Supported by our strong federal-municipal partnership, FCM is delivering programs from coast to coast to coast that help municipalities in Saskatchewan do what they do best: deliver solutions that work.” Garth Frizzell, President, Federation of Canadian Municipalities said in a release. MAMP offers funding, training, and resources to help small and medium sized municipalities improve their asset management policies and approaches enabling them to make solid infrastructure investment decisions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a new stream has been added to the over $33-billion Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to help fund pandemic-resilient infrastructure. Existing program streams have also been adapted to include more eligible project categories. The COVID-19 Resilience Stream will help other orders of governments whose finances have been significantly impacted by the pandemic by increasing the federal cost share for public infrastructure projects in a variety of areas including disaster mitigation and adaptation projects and pandemic-resilient infrastructure. Since 2016, the federal government has invested $28 billion in over 18,000 infrastructure projects in communities with populations under 100,000. More than 6,100 kilometres of highways and roads, and 103 bridges have been built, repaired or upgraded in rural communities, and more than 3,134 projects are providing rural communities with access to cleaner, more sustainable sources of drinking water. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
ÉMILIE PELLETIER Initiative de journalisme local — Le Droit Aucun résident de foyers de soins de longue durée de l’Ontario n’a perdu la vie en raison de la COVID-19 ni n’a reçu un diagnostic positif au virus, dimanche. Dans ces établissements, quatre employés ont été déclarés positivement à la COVID-19 au cours de la journée de dimanche, selon le plus récent bilan, publié lundi, par la province. En tout, plus de 21 500 cas de COVID-19 ont été répertoriés en FSLD depuis le début de la pandémie, dont 6 622 chez les employés. La province a déploré le décès, causé par le virus, de 3744 résidents de ces établissements, ainsi que de 11 employés. Dimanche, 1023 nouveaux cas de COVID-19 ont été ajoutés au bilan de l’Ontario, qui se situe maintenant à plus de 300 000 infections enregistrées jusqu’à présent. La province a répertorié 535 cas du variant du Royaume-Uni, 27 de l’Afrique du Sud et trois du Brésil. Décès Dimanche, le coronavirus a emporté six Ontariens. En tout, la maladie a causé la mort de 6986 résidents de la province. Au cours de la dernière journée, 659 personnes aux prises avec des symptômes de la COVID-19 étaient à l’hôpital, dont 280 aux soins intensifs avec des effets plus graves. Parmi ces derniers, 175 avaient besoin d’un respirateur pour rester en vie. L’Ontario a administré 714 695 doses du vaccin contre la COVID-19 jusqu’à présent. Dimanche, 17 424 Ontariens ont roulé leur manche pour recevoir une dose du vaccin. On compte, en date de dimanche à 20h30, 704 424 Ontariens pour qui la vaccination est terminée. Ces personnes ont reçu leurs deux doses jugées nécessaires par les fabricants pour être considérées comme immunisées. Un peu plus de 97% de la population de l’Ontario n’a encore reçu aucune dose du vaccin contre le coronavirus. Émilie Pelletier, journaliste, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Droit
MONTREAL — Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 began in earnest in the Montreal area Monday with long lines and grumbling from some seniors upset at the wait times to get a first injection. Hundreds of people, many holding walkers or in wheelchairs, waited in lines inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium; some were discouraged, others were angry. "It's a catastrophe," Jean-Yves Plourde, 75, said moments after being vaccinated against the virus that has killed more than 10,000 people in the province, mostly seniors. Plourde said his appointment was for 11:45 a.m. but he wasn't vaccinated until 1:20 p.m. "For the elderly, it seems to me that this is not a nice way to act," he said. Another man in line nearby commented: "This is badly organized." Others were visibly relieved after they had received a shot. "I will be able to get out of the house and see my grandchildren," said a delighted Pasqualina Mancini, 72. The province announced last week it was booking appointments for seniors aged 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal. But by Monday morning, public health officials announced they were widening eligibility to those 70 and older in Montreal, Laval and the Cote-Nord region, while the age limit was lowered to 80 in three other regions, including Quebec City. At the Olympic Stadium, some of those awaiting shots were in line close together, not respecting physical distancing rules. Folding chairs had been set up along the queue, and motorized shuttles transported some seniors around. The operation has the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people a day, Julie Provencher, a spokeswoman with the regional health authority, said in an interview. She asked people not to be too harsh because it was the first day. She also asked people not to arrive too early for their appointment to avoid creating long lines. Provencher said given the size of the operation, things were going relatively smoothly. "For the first day of the biggest mass vaccination in the history of humanity, I think it's going OK," she said. "People are happy when they get out; it's clear there is a delay." The campaign began as health officials on Monday reported the lowest number of new, daily infections since September: 613 COVID-19 cases. Officials reported six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one that occurred within the previous 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by 11, to 612, and 122 people were in intensive care, a rise of five. As of Monday morning, 200,000 appointments had been booked, Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter. Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday. Quebec expects to receive 100,620 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, with no deliveries of the Moderna vaccine scheduled. The Health Department said 6,308 doses of vaccine were administered Sunday, bringing the total so far to 438,815. Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably with the opening of mass vaccine clinics in the Montreal area. Outlying regions are expected to ramp up vaccinations after the March break holiday, which takes place this week. Quebec has so far concentrated its vaccination effort on health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in facilities such as long-term care and private care residences. The province has chosen to delay giving second doses in favour of administering a first jab to as many people as possible, but Dube said last week it will provide second doses beginning March 15. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021. ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Stephanie Marin and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — When earnings season rolls around, Duncan Fulton spends days preparing for calls with media, analysts and investors, but hardly ever gets a chance to deliver his messages directly to the people who frequent his Tim Hortons coffee shops or Popeyes drive-thrus. That changed in February when the chief operating officer of Restaurant Brands International joined chief executive Jose Cil on Clubhouse — an emerging audio platform that gives anyone with an iPhone and an app the ability to host and access discussions on every topic imaginable. "It's like reimagined talk radio with calls, but we are the producer," said Fulton, who hosted an "open kitchen" talk the day after RBI released its latest quarterly earnings. "Our guests don't care about our adjusted EBITDA. They care about real stuff, about our food, our brands, and so we said, 'Why don't we use Clubhouse?'" Fulton and Cil are the latest Canadian executives to turn to the app started by San Francisco serial entrepreneurs Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth last spring as a new way to host public conversations. As COVID-19 spread throughout the globe and lockdowns kept millions of people at home, executives from top venture capital and tech firms began to jockey for access to the invite-only audio platform. By the start of 2021, hundreds of business leaders and other Canadians had joined Clubhouse, which has offered increasing numbers of invites since late last year. Members have been able to hear SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discuss whether he believes in aliens, Shopify executives Tobi Lutke and Harley Finkelstein wax poetic about entrepreneurship and Wattpad founder Allen Lau talk about his recent decision to sell the company. "It's really democratizing corporate Canada and corporate America in a way," says Fulton, "because normally consumers wouldn't get this access to senior business leaders." He pitched a Clubhouse talk to Cil after being introduced to the platform by Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta, who got his invite from Finkelstein. After dipping into music conversations, Fulton found he liked the exploratory nature of the platform and that moderators have control over who can speak and when. "If you're a business leader that wants the safety of not taking questions, you can still go on there, share your views, and there's lots of people that are happy to not participate, not ask questions and just listen," he said. Richard Lachman, a digital media professor at Ryerson University, agreed the platform can be helpful for executives wanting to manage their image, but said users will quickly drop out of conversations if a speaker is boring them or recognize when someone is too scripted. Though executives go through media training, he said a few "embarrassments" will likely arise on the app if people don't know how to respond to "aggressive" questions or can't kick someone out of a discussion fast enough. While the app doesn't overtly market itself as private, its invite-only nature has built a casual atmosphere, even as its userbase grows. Clubhouse did not respond to a request for comment, but has a "rule" banning transcribing, recording or sharing personal information heard on the app. The company recently removed a bot it found sneaking into discussions to restream them to people without the app. Still, a quick search on social media reveals dozens of recordings and quotes from the app available online. Prominent venture capitalists faced criticism last year when audio leaked of them ridiculing New York Times journalist Taylor Lorenz and complaining that so-called cancel culture — sometimes described as withdrawing support for someone caught misbehaving or using outmoded language and expressions — had gone too far. There have also been privacy complaints from users who opted not to give the app access to their contact lists, but say it is detecting their sign-ups and alerting friends whose numbers they have stored. Once on the app, some users reported they stumbled upon misogyny and racism in discussions, despite rules against abuse and bullying and a feature to report problematic users. "Some of the challenges (Clubhouse) is facing is that this content is very unmoderated and we are not in 2003 in (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room, pretending that anything we make we know where it'll go and we'll just let the market figure it out," said Lachman. "We know what might happen. Online spaces can be incredibly toxic, they can be harsh and we know that things can be taken out context very quickly and easily duplicated on other platforms." Despite the issues, Deepak Anand, chief executive of medical cannabis company Materia Ventures, joined the app. He hosts several pot discussions on it every week, but is careful in his approach. He doesn't share anything on Clubhouse he wouldn't be comfortable with if it were leaked, but has seen several instances of people not realizing how public the app is. "People generally like to share more than they normally would on the platform because it's easy to get carried away and it almost seems like you're having a conversation with friends," he said. Among the positives, Anand says Clubhouse has helped him discover new ways to network while stuck at home during the pandemic and increased his social media followers. He's unsure the app will continue to be his go-to because a competitor, Twitter Spaces, has caught his eye. Tech Crunch reported that users who mined Twitter's coding have found Spaces, which is still in pilot mode, experimenting with ways to embed tweets into discussions, offer transcription for users with disabilities and enhance blocking capabilities. Facebook is said to be developing a similar platform, but hasn't formally released any details. The number of emerging audio apps and the flood of new Clubhouse users will make it even tougher for executives to stand out, Lachman predicted. "This might have value right now, but in a year or two from now, that might get lost." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:QSR, TSX:SHOP) Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Ontario's long-term care minister said she didn't go public early last year with concerns about COVID-19 spreading in nursing homes because she didn't consider herself an authority on the emerging threat. Merrilee Fullerton faced criticism from all three opposition parties Monday after newly released transcripts showed she told Ontario's long-term care commission she was aware of the dangers the novel coronavirus posed to the sector long before it was declared a global pandemic but kept those concerns within government. The minister, who is a physician, said while she was worried about a number of issues and discussed them with cabinet colleagues and the province's top doctor, she was no expert. "As a long-term care minister, I understand my role," she said. "I'm not the chief medical officer. I'm not a public health expert. I'm not a scientist ... I'm a retired family doctor who cares very deeply about long-term care and the residents and the staff." Fullerton testified before the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission last week, with the transcript posted online Sunday night. The commission heard that Fullerton and her deputy advocated for stronger measures than what the government was willing to put in place. "You were ahead of the chief medical officer of health in many respects, from your notes anyway," John Callaghan, the commission lawyer questioning Fullerton, told her. For instance, Fullerton's notes from the time suggest she was concerned about asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes as early as Feb. 5, 2020. That possibility wasn't publicly acknowledged by the government until much later. Fuller told the commission her personal history gave her insights into the situation that other politicians may lack. "I had suspicions early on only — well, because I'm a family doctor and spent many years dealing with the elderly," she said. "They may not present with typical symptoms, and so you always have to be watching." NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Fullerton should have spoken out earlier, suggesting that could have saved lives. "The amount of tragedy that Ontarians have had to deal with as a result of this is unforgivable and it is unforgettable," she said. "So there's a lot of responsibility to go around here." Horwath said Fullerton's testimony also pokes holes in Premier Doug Ford's pledge from the early days of the pandemic to create an "iron ring" around nursing homes. "This iron ring never materialized, it never existed," she said. Liberal Party health critic John Fraser said Fullerton should have spoken out publicly. "It's definitely clear right now that she should have fought harder," he said. "There was a lot at stake." Fullerton said Monday that she did not consider resigning from her role in protest because she felt she could make urgently needed changes to the sector. "Why would I resigned from a position where I felt I could be a strong voice and move something that had been neglected for so many years?" she said. "Why would I resign from that duty, from that responsibility, from that obligation?" COVID-19 has devastated Ontario's long-term care system, causing the deaths of 3,865 residents and 11 staff members so far. The commission also heard that Fullerton refused to suggest the risk of COVID-19 was low in a video filmed in early March. Her notes from the pandemic's first wave, read out during the interview, also show that she advocated for locking down long-term care homes before the province did so, and was concerned about staff not wearing personal protective equipment at all times the week before the province made it mandatory. Fullerton told the commission she was also advocating for essential caregivers to be allowed back into long-term care homes as early as May. Such caregivers — usually family members — weren't allowed back into the facilities until July, and even then, the Ministry of Long-Term Care has said, the rules were being applied inconsistently until adjustments were made in September. But she said others — particularly Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health — said the risk of essential caregivers bringing COVID-19 into the facilities was too great. "I was very eager to get caregivers back into the homes, because I believe it was well-being and emotional well-being," Fullerton said. "However, others understood differently and had their reasons for understanding the risks that they did, and so it was left." The commission is set to present its final report on April 30. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021. Shawn Jeffords and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press