B.C.’s provincial health officer says she was surprised by shortages of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Bonnie Henry says she's relieved workers and residents in long-term care facilities have had the chance to receive a dose of vaccine.
B.C.’s provincial health officer says she was surprised by shortages of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Bonnie Henry says she's relieved workers and residents in long-term care facilities have had the chance to receive a dose of vaccine.
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
ÉMILIE PELLETIER Initiative de journalisme local — Le Droit La santé publique de l’Ontario rapporte, dans son plus récent bilan publié jeudi matin, plus de 1100 infections à la COVID-19 répertoriées la veille. Mercredi, 1138 Ontariens ont reçu un diagnostic positif à la COVID-19, portant le total à 297 311 cas depuis le début de la crise sanitaire. Parmi les cas, 449 ont été répertoriés comme variants du Royaume-Uni, 11 de l’Afrique du Sud et deux du Brésil, jusqu’à présent. La province déplore 23 nouveaux décès causés par le virus survenus au cours de la journée de mercredi. En tout, la COVID-19 a emporté 6916 Ontariens. Foyers de soins de longue durée Parmi ceux-ci, 3742 étaient des résidents de foyers de soins de longue durée (FSLD), et 11 travaillaient dans ces établissements. Mercredi, trois résidents de FSLD ont perdu la vie en raison du virus. La même journée, 687 personnes atteintes du coronavirus étaient hospitalisées, dont 283 aux soins intensifs. Parmi ces derniers, 182 patients étaient sous respirateur. Mercredi, 19 112 Ontariens ont roulé leur manche pour recevoir une dose du vaccin contre la COVID-19. On compte 255 449 pour qui la vaccination est terminée, ce qui signifie que ces individus ont reçu leurs deux doses jugées nécessaires pour être immunisés contre le virus. En tout, 621 112 doses du vaccin ont été administrées en Ontario. Cela représente environ 2,47% de la population ayant reçu au moins une dose. Émilie Pelletier, journaliste, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Droit
Dysart et al council expressed concerns with a Places for People proposal to turn Lakeview Motel into a new affordable housing development. City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL) housing program supervisor, Michelle Corley, presented to council Feb. 23 about the proposal to rehabilitate the motel into 15 affordable housing units, including 12 bachelor suites. As part of the CKL-Haliburton affordable housing program, Corley sought approximately $45,268 from Dysart in waived building fees and exemptions. But council delayed approval for staff to review the plan further. Mayor Andrea Roberts said they only have about $10,000 that could be used for affordable housing in the 2021 budget under economic development. “Very large contribution. We don’t have any reserves for that,” Roberts said. The proposal is part of an overarching Affordable Housing Target Program, spurring development with government incentives. Corley said the project is also contingent on a $150,000 interest-free forgivable loan from the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative. The project is separate from an affordable build Places for People is also proposing on Wallings Road municipal land, which Dysart council provided in-principal support for. Coun. John Smith said the Wallings Road project is more aligned with the municipal vision. He said he takes issue with converting the motel, given the need for summer tourism accommodations. “I struggle with, on a conceptual level, how this really advances the wellbeing of our community,” Smith said. Roberts said they cannot get into that philosophy and council’s responsibility is to examine what Dysart’s contribution should be. The Lakeview Motel went on the market in November, with its owners planning to retire. Coun. Larry Clarke said he was concerned about whether the development would provide for locals versus being taken up by people from outside the community through the housing program, which has a waiting list with both County and CKL residents. “To have it targeted for people looking for affordable housing, that are not going to be part of our economy here, to me is a concern,” Clarke said. Corley said people on the waiting list often choose communities they are familiar with, but it is not a guarantee. She further said council should keep in mind they plan to have a quarterly intake, with more projects to come. The County aims to create 750 new affordable units within the next 10 years. “We are really trying to work hard toward meeting and achieving these targets,” she said. “There’s the hope we can eventually have a plan within budgets or other planning and development policies that when it comes to affordable housing, there’s kind of a clear standard on what incentives could be offered.” Roberts said she wants to get clarification from staff around the equivalent residential unit (ERU) calculation. The development is requesting an exemption for adding seven additional ERUs, amounting to $32,900. Council voted to receive the report. Roberts asked staff to bring it back to the next committee of the whole meeting March 9. Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
The harmless puppy just wanted to play around! How cute is that?
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at easing many of its COVID-19 restrictions as the province's pandemic indicators continue to improve. A set of proposed changes released Thursday includes doubling capacity limits in stores and restaurants, as well as for personal services, to 50 per cent. Seating at restaurant tables would still be limited to members of the same household. Indoor religious services could operate at 25 per cent capacity instead of the current 10 per cent. Indoor arcades and outdoor amusement parks could reopen with capacity limits. The few facilities that would have to remain closed include theatres, concert halls and casinos. The cap on outdoor gatherings would rise to 10 people from five. And instead of households being permitted to only designate two people as visitors, the province could allow two-household bubbles so entire families could get together. "Manitoba's case numbers, test positivity rate (and) health-care-system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer. The proposed changes could take effect as early as March 5 and are subject to public feedback before any final decisions are made, he said. Changes could also be phased in. Health officials reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction for a net increase of 67. The province's case count has dropped sharply since a severe spike in the fall when Manitoba led all the provinces in the per-capita rate of new infections. The strain on intensive care units has eased and the test positivity rate has dropped from 13 per cent to 4.3. The proposed changes could also mean big shifts for sports enthusiasts and players of video lottery terminals. VLTs would be allowed to operate again as long as they were two metres apart or separated by physical barriers. Indoor gyms and fitness facilities could offer group classes again, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit. Roussin said there is a risk in such indoor settings. "There is risk involved with all these things and we're weighing the benefit ... to having businesses open, the benefit for people (of) physical activity," he said. "It's very cautious and 25 per cent capacity, I think, gives us that ability to have people spaced out quite a bit." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
NEW YORK — Christian Siriano opened his second show of the pandemic Thursday with two ladies in bed, models who emerged flawless in black one-pieces, then dressed for all to see before hitting the runway. It was a dreamy, colour-saturated show during a tough time for fashion inspiration, Siriano said. He created an alternate reality inspired by a recent jaunt to Aspen, Colorado, to visit family for the first time in a year. While most designers have gone fully digital during an expanded New York Fashion Week that has stretched the traditional calendar, Siriano remains committed to the runway. “If you take this away, and the glamour, then it's like I'm just at the office talking about money all day, and that's not what I want,” he told The Associated Press after the fall-winter show attended by about 75 in-person guests. “I wouldn't want to do this job if I couldn't have this world.” In this world, shared on Instagram Live, there were looks for hidden parties and cocktail hours in the Colorado mountains, and silky evening dresses in fuchsia and chartreuse. There were cutouts, and ruffles and lace for ombre and peekaboo impact. And there was Siriano muse Coca Rocha camping it up for the cameras in a voluminous black gown with a plunging neckline — after she woke up to start the show. Siriano included two thrifted pieces he previously designed and found on the site thredUP, including a black fringe coat he made about seven years ago. He was pleasantly surprised it held up, both esthetically and through its well-worn years. The other look was a plunging silk crepe dress in fuchsia washed many times. “You shouldn't do that because it's silk, but it looked so cool. It looked worn but new. Hopefully it will show people we can do this in fashion,” Siriano said of the growing reuse movement. He partnered with thredUP after creating the universal logo for thrift, in the shape of a coat hanger. As for his newly created clothes, there was an “homage to the lodge” in plaid lames and cashmeres, melting into sunset-drenched oranges and pinks inspired by his Colorado vacation. He threw in some creams in a snakeskin print and bright winter whites, including a white jacket worn with loose fuchsia trousers for day. Siriano carried his check lame print from a trouser set to a strapless cocktail gown to a loose, long-sleeve top with a plunge. There were psychedelic swirls of orange and brown in a pantsuit and an evening dress with a high slit. What if, heaven forbid, he's forced to design a third collection in a pandemic come the September show cycle, trying to wrangle staff working remotely while sourcing materials. “Honestly, I don't know," Siriano said, "because I love doing this but it's very hard to do in a pandemic. The logistics are a challenge, but we're just going to move on and hope for the best.” Leanne Italie, The Associated Press
(CBC - image credit) A second worker from the Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer has died after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19. Henry De Leon, 50, worked at the plant for 15 years. His family told CBC News he died from COVID-19 on Wednesday night, after three weeks on a ventilator in an Edmonton hospital. A father of two adult children and grandfather of three, De Leon tested positive on Jan. 28, his family said and the company confirmed. He was hospitalized first in Red Deer, then transferred to Edmonton, where he died. His death has not yet been linked to the known outbreak at the plant, which ceased operations earlier this month in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. The city of Red Deer hit a new record for COVID-19 cases this week, with 574 active cases as of Wednesday. Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak at the plant on Nov. 17. A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the department has only been notified of one death linked to that outbreak, the Jan. 28 death of Darwin Doloque, 35. "If a second death is reported to Alberta Health, we will publicly report it," spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a statement. He was always happy De Leon's daughter described him as "the happiest and most caring guy," and said he was "the best dad we could ever ask for." Like Doloque and many other employees at Olymel, De Leon immigrated to Canada. He came from the Dominican Republic, and his friend and former neighbour, Patricia Marcado, said he dreamed of returning there in retirement. Marcado said his friend was full of joy and love for his family. "He was a very happy guy," she said. "He cooked, he cleaned. He did everything for his wife. He was the best husband ever, the best dad ever." Patricia Salazar worked with Le Deon for 15 years and spent lunch breaks with him at the same table with other friends — some Canadian, some from El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. De Leon's wife, who also works at Olymel, would often join them. "We always sit together at the same table with his wife and other friends," Salazar said. "He was very, very happy all the time." She recalled De Leon showing off photos of his grandchildren, and said De Leon and his wife were "all the time together, wherever they go, in the plant or outside."
The top doctor for the Thunder Bay, Ont., area is recommending all schools move classes online for the next two weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases. Dr. Janet DeMille made the recommendation in a Thursday memo to school boards in the region. Lakehead Public Schools shared the memo on its website and announced classes would move online starting Monday, with further instruction from the health unit to come. The school board had called for the move to virtual school this week amid outbreaks that had already forced four schools online. The board said COVID-19 cases and exposures have led to a staffing shortage and sent hundreds of students into isolation. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the situation in Thunder Bay schools is related to rising COVID-19 transmission in the broader community. "There's actions being taken to reduce that ... at the community level which ultimately will help ensure schools can reopen and stay safe in the province," Lecce told reporters on Thursday. He said testing resources will be deployed to school communities Schools elsewhere in Ontario were dealing with cases of more infectious variants of COVID-19 on Thursday. As of Thursday, 11 schools in Toronto had detected at least one case of a more contagious COVID-19 variant. Affected individuals and cohorts have been sent home based on their risk level, according to the local public health unit. The Toronto District School Board said Earl Grey SPS, Edgewood PS and Pleasant View MS were added to the list on Thursday. A spokesman for Toronto District School Board said the public health unit has not advised schools to take any additional health and safety measures at this time. "But at the same time, they're reminding everyone of the importance of the existing health and safety measures," said Ryan Bird. "While concerning, we have received assurances from public health officials that there are no additional precautions that need to be taken." Variant cases have been found in Toronto's public and Catholic school boards, as well as two private schools. Lecce pointed to new provincial requirements that students with one COVID-19 symptom must now isolate for 10 days to illustrate the province's stronger public health measures for schools light of the new variants. "The province has stepped up the requirements, both on the system and on families, just to be absolutely vigilant that we don't see variants of concerns spreading and creating challenges for our kids, for our staff and just for the healthcare system that we're trying to protect," Lecce told reporters on Thursday. On Wednesday, public health officials dismissed students and staff from two Sudbury, Ont., schools following five confirmed cases of COVID-19. All five cases have been identified by Public Health Sudbury and Districts as variants of concern. Provincial data as of 10:30 a.m. on Thursday reported 18 schools closed due to COVID-19 and 430 schools with a reported case, representing nearly nine per cent of schools provincewide. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Denise Paglinawan and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
(Anja Sharma/Facebook - image credit) A Calgary judge offered compassion in sentencing a man with a potentially terminal brain tumour who killed a woman by driving after his doctor told him not to. James Beagrie lost consciousness while driving in May 2017, killing Anjna Sharma, 48, a beloved wife and mother of three who was out for a walk while on a break from work. Originally charged with criminal negligence causing death, Beagrie pleaded guilty last year to dangerous driving causing death. Earlier this week, prosecutor Kane Richards proposed a 2½-year prison term with a 7½-year driving ban. Defence lawyer Allan Fay argued for two years in custody and a five-year driving prohibition. "Justice without compassion is not justice at all," said Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Neufeld in handing down a 27-month sentence with a 7½-year driving ban. Just three months before Sharma was killed, Beagrie had blacked out and crashed while driving. He also told his doctor he'd recently lost consciousness at work three or four times. Still, Beagrie got behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 on May 23, 2017. At the sentencing hearing, victim impact statements from Sharma's husband and three children were read aloud. Sharma's husband of 23 years, Suneet Sharma, said he feels "battered and bruised" and would never feel whole again without her. "My heart suffers from the deepest wound — a wound from which I will never recover." Her children — who were 12, 15 and 19 at the time of the crash — described struggling with anxiety, depression and anger, as well as missing school. Neufeld addressed Beagrie directly Thursday afternoon. "This ordeal does not need to define the rest of your life just as I truly hope it will not define the rest of the lives and happiness of the Sharma family," said the judge. "Based on what I have learned from the victim, Mrs. Sharma, I think she would agree." Beagrie's health 'precarious' Beagrie had been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour in January 2013. In February 2017, Beagrie was in a car accident in Drumheller, Alta., after he blacked out while driving. He met with his family doctor twice and was required to fill out paperwork for Alberta Transportation. Over three months, Beagrie missed the deadline to file the paperwork twice and was advised by the department on May 12 that his licence would be suspended on June 6. Although benign, the tumour hasn't been checked since 2018. But if it continued to progress, survival rates are less than 12 months, Neufeld noted in his decision. Because of Beagrie's precarious health condition, Neufeld lowered what would be a 30-month sentence to 27 months. "A sentence of 2.5 years — I hope this is not the case — may turn out to be a life sentence," said Neufeld. "I do not accept that your life is over … I hope you will recover."
JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska House cancelled most Thursday hearings after a member tested positive for COVID-19, disrupting work that just recently got underway in the chamber after weeks of organizational delays. The disclosure followed the announcement Wednesday that Gov. Mike Dunleavy had tested positive for COVID-19. Dunleavy was in quarantine at his Wasilla area home with what the state’s chief medical officer said were mild symptoms. Alaska House Republicans, in a release Thursday, identified the lawmaker as Rep. Mike Cronk of Tok, a member of their caucus. The release states that Cronk is in quarantine in Juneau and experiencing mild symptoms after testing positive Wednesday. It says Cronk's staff had tested negative as of Thursday morning and that contact tracers had begun identifying close contacts of Cronk. It was not immediately clear where Cronk may have been exposed, said Ben Dietderich, a spokesperson for the House Republicans. He said two other House members who attended a recent event with Cronk outside of Juneau tested negative on Wednesday. House Speaker Louise Stutes, in an email to fellow representatives Wednesday, announced a member had tested positive. The email did not say when the test was taken or identify the lawmaker. Protocols in place for access to the Capitol require testing every five days, filling out a health questionnaire for daily access and undergoing a temperature check. Capitol access to the public has been restricted. Stutes asked that House members and staff come into the Capitol Thursday only if necessary. She said this was to allow for the “appropriate response, contact tracing, and cleaning to occur.” She said any House member or staff requiring entry into the Capitol on Thursday must be tested Thursday and provide proof of that test. Stutes said all House committees would be cancelled Thursday though the posted schedule showed the House Health and Social Services Committee would meet by teleconference. The meeting topic involved a proposed reorganization of the state health department. One week ago, on Feb. 18, the House, which has struggled to organize a clear governing majority, set up committees a month into the session. The first House committee meetings began this week. The Senate pressed on with its work Thursday though “vulnerable staff and legislators” were encouraged to stay home, said Daniel McDonald with the Senate majority press office. Neither the House nor the Senate had planned floor sessions for Thursday. The Senate earlier this session passed a resolution intended to allow for remote voting if necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House has yet to act on a similar measure. Jessica Geary, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said by email that the contractor handling testing and screening for the Legislature is “assisting with disinfection and sanitation protocols” and working with public health officials on contact tracing. She said there also had been a case in which an aide had tested positive. Geary cited health protocols that state if the person is asymptomatic, “two follow up tests, taken 24 hours apart and producing a negative result, will allow them to be cleared by public health. That is what happened in this instance and there is no relation to the current positive case in the House." A code of conduct, adopted by the Legislative Council ahead of the session, said legislators and staff must avoid nonessential trips out of Juneau, the capital city. Geary has said it is up to individual legislators to define what is essential travel. Stutes asked House lawmakers and staff Thursday to not travel outside of Juneau "unless absolutely necessary until further notice.” The House has considerable work before it, she said. “Further, recent events highlight the likelihood of additional COVID protocol delays and the increased risk of contagion from travelling outside of the Capitol Building bubble,” Stutes said. She added the House would be working weekends “until our business, the people’s business, is concluded.” Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said he was the only one in his office Thursday afternoon. He said he's asked members of his minority caucus to test before coming into the Capitol, even if they are still within their testing cycle, and said he has been keeping regular contact with House leaders for updates. Begich said he sent staff home when he learned of the House case. There are mask-wearing requirements in the Capitol, and dividers have been placed between members on the House and Senate floors. But lawmakers often huddle to talk, and seating around committee tables or in committee rooms does not always allow for or encourage spacing. State health officials have recommended mask wearing, keeping at least 6 feet from others and handwashing as mitigation steps. Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, has taken over as chair of the Legislative Council, a committee of House and Senate leaders that handles legislative business. The council met for the first time this session on Thursday, by teleconference. Hannan, who was working from home Thursday, said she's been asked if protocols would change. She said she thinks the current situation is “a reminder that we're probably not ready to change our protocols, that COVID is actively spreading when mitigation efforts like masking, distancing and handwashing aren't being done fastidiously.” Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press
(Google Street View - image credit) An argument over physical distancing in a Nanaimo mall parking lot quickly escalated into a stabbing late Wednesday afternoon. RCMP say a 50-year-old man, his wife and daughter were standing at their car outside the Dollarama in the Port Place shopping centre on Terminal Avenue, when the suspect walked in front of them. The wife reported to police that her daughter, 25, told the suspect he was too close to them and should maintain a six-foot separation, according to a police statement Thursday. "The suspect took exception to this comment and yelled some obscenities at her," the statement says. RCMP say the suspect then struck the father with a metal cup, and when a struggle began, the father was stabbed. He was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The suspect managed to run away but was spotted about an hour later on Gabriola Island where he was arrested at his home, the statement says. The suspect, whose name police are not releasing, is expected in Nanaimo Provincial Court on May 25, to face a charge of assault with a weapon.
NEW YORK — Is it Mr. Potato Head or not? Hasbro created confusion Thursday when it announced that it would drop the “Mr.” from the brand’s name in order to be more inclusive and so all could feel “welcome in the Potato Head world.” It also said it would sell a new playset this fall without the Mr. and Mrs. designations that will let kids create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads. But in a tweet later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still live on and be sold in stores, but under the Potato Head brand. In a picture posted on Twitter, the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” names are less prominently displayed at the bottom of the box, instead of the top. “While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD,” the company tweeted. The tweet came after news of the brand name change exploded on Twitter, with people asking if Barbie will change her name next. “I think Hasbro needs to drop the “Bro” and just be “Has,'” another person tweeted. Hasbro appears to want to have it both ways: expand the brand, while not killing off its most iconic characters, which appeared in the “Toy Story” films. “They are looking to broaden the franchise,” said Robert Passikoff, founder of marketing consultancy Brand Keys. “You take the focus of what is essentially one character and now allow it to be a platform for many characters.” Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice-president at Hasbro, said the intention of the brand name change was to be more inclusive and to have the characters still live within the Potato Head universe. “It created a lot of excitement," she said about the reaction. GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, applauded the more inclusive Potato playset. “Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys, which encourages them to be their authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer, in a statement. Many toymakers have been updating their classic brands in recent years, hoping to relate to today’s kids and reflect more modern families. “It’s a potato,” said Ali Mierzejewski, editor in chief at toy review site The Toy Insider, about the new playset. “But kids like to see themselves in the toys they are playing with.” Barbie, for example, has tried to shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. The Thomas the Tank Engine toy line added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll. Mr. Potato Head first hit the toy scene in 1952, when it didn’t even come with a plastic potato — kids had to supply their own vegetable to poke eyes, a nose or moustache into. Hasbro, which also makes Monopoly and My Little Pony, bought the brand and eventually added a plastic spud. Joseph Pisani, The Associated Press
VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says the province isn't at a point where restrictions can be lifted due to concerns about the potential for rapid spread of COVID-19. Dr. Bonnie Henry says she understands the desire from B.C. residents to see restrictions lifted, such as the limit on social gatherings, but it can't happen yet. There are 395 more cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths. Henry says B.C. has seen its rolling seven-day average of cases rise, and there's potential to see rapid growth in the number of cases if residents "are not careful." On that front, B.C. is ramping its screening for variants of concern, with the aim to test 100 per cent of COVID-positive samples to see if they are likely variants that should be sent on for further testing. Henry also spoke of the challenges she's faced during the pandemic, including death threats and the impact they have had on her family and co-workers. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
Tay residents were unanimous that council is putting the cart before the horse by including a short-term rental accommodation (STRA) definition into its zoning bylaw. About a dozen residents expressed their thoughts, either by attending a recent public meeting or by sending in prior written comment, of which all but one aligned with the general sentiment that it was premature to include a definition before the ad hoc committee had completed its process. The proposed definition says STRA “shall mean the use of a main building containing a dwelling unit, or any part thereof,that is operating or offering a place of temporary accommodation, lodging or occupancy by way of concession, permit, lease, license, rental agreement or similar commercial arrangement for any period of 31 consecutive calendar days or less, throughout all or any part of a calendar year. "Short Term Rental uses shall not mean or include a motel, hotel, bed and breakfast establishment, cabin rental establishment, tourist lodge or similar commercial or institutional use.” Tay resident Patrick Hawkins was first in line at the virtual public meeting. "I oppose the definition of STR as I indicated in my written submission," he said. "With the greatest respect to council and staff, it puts the cart before the horse. It assumes there is something to regulate before the ad hoc committee does its work. It assumes council can decide on the definition and what has to be regulated before it has done the necessary work." Hawkins said the basic problem is the lack of definition around the problem. "This council needs to address whether this is a problem that can actually be fixed by new regulation or is it a problem that needs to be fixed with better enforcement and stiffer fines under current regulation," he said. Pavan Sharma was of a similar view. "There are a lot of bylaws that exist in the toolbox, so by trying to regulate STRAs right off the bat, versus trying to enforce existing bylaws, it causes more complications," said the Victoria Harbour resident. "It will end up potentially costing more because you still would have to enforce STR licensing versus dealing with the root problem." The next resident, John Rose, had an issue with the exclusion of bed and breakfasts from the definition. "I heard Mr. Farquharson talk about B&B in the usual definition, one of the hallmarks is that the owners residing are residents," he said. "Unfortunately, from what I see in the zoning bylaw definition, both the current zoning bylaw of B&B establishments and the draft from May 2018, neither requires the owner to be a resident at the dwelling at the time. "There can be some real confusion about whether someone is operating a B&B or STRA. Someone trying to avoid regulations that apply to STRAs could simply say, 'I meet the definition of the B&B so I'm operating a B&B and not an STRA.'" When another resident also raised a similar question,Steve Farquharson, general manager, protective and development services, manager of planning and development services, had to reiterate the section of the zoning bylaw that deals with B&Bs. "Section 4.4 of the zoning bylaw has regulations in place for B&B," he said. "The use shall be carried out by land owner who resides in the dwelling unit. It's not in the definition, but there are policies in place within the existing bylaw for B&Bs." Resident Kate Tagseth took it further. "The zoning covers commercial uses and we know AirBnBs are commercial," she said. "They're a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The houses we've been looking up in Victoria Harbour are listed as AirBnB accommodations. "I would agree with some of the earlier speakers that at this point a definition of a short-term rental is a little premature because you can't legislate something that is illegal. Our zoning already alludes to the fact that businesses in residential areas are illegal." Another resident said regulating STRs would affect the township's economy. "One of the reasons is that I think by having a definition which may lead to regulation could stifle economic development to the township," said Tiere Sharma. "If it were to be regulated in some fashion going in the future, I think it would prohibit tourism to the township and affect businesses. I would recommend any current STRs be grandfathered in and be exempt from future rules." Mara Burton said supports the definition if the addition would help bylaw enforce the current illegal use of short-term rentals. "These are neighbourhoods and we want to make sure we know our neighbours," she said. At the beginning of the meeting, Farquharson had said that all comments received will be compiled and presented to the ad hoc committee for further consideration before anything is brought to council. "We understand it's a very hot topic within the municipality, as well as other municipalities within Simcoe County, especially those that have waterfront property," he added. "We are just proposing to add the definition in there." Later in the evening, Tay resident James Pedretti questioned Farquharson's use of the term "hot topic." "The intent of my comment is that we're not the only municipality that's dealing with this item," clarified the latter. "We've had sessions at the County of Simcoe. The comment of it being a hot topic item is that we're not alone in dealing with this. It's not a revenue generating stream the township is looking at." Cathy Graham had questions about the types of properties to be included in the definition. "When you're defining your STRs, will you also be including the difference between single-family dwellings (and larger units) in the STRs?" she asked. Farquharson said the proposed definition currently does not distinguish between building structures. "It does say dwelling unit," he added. "If it's something we need to have in there, we can look to address that when we report back." All comments and feedback around the addition of a definition will be compiled and presented to an ad hoc committee, which will comprise of two council members, Coun. Paul Raymond, chair, and Coun. Mary Warnock, vice chair, of the protective and development services committee, Farquharson, township planner, the municipal law enforcement officer and any other staff as designated by Farquharson. Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers pressed the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Thursday to explain why the force wasn't prepared to fend off a violent mob of insurrectionists even though officials had compiled specific, compelling intelligence that extremists were likely to attack Congress and try to halt the certification of Donald Trump's election loss. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman conceded there were multiple levels of failures that allowed hundreds of pro-Trump rioters to storm their way into the U.S. Capitol, overwhelming outnumbered officers and breaking through doors and windows. However, she denied that law enforcement failed to take seriously warnings of violence before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Three days before the riot, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning that armed extremists were poised for violence and could invade Congress because they saw it as the last chance to overturn the election results, Pittman said. Her testimony drove home a seeming disconnect between the intelligence and the preparation. Lawmakers, who were witnesses and potential victims last month as well as investigators now, are trying to get answers to why this symbol of American democracy was overrun so quickly by a mob whose plans were online and known. Reports aside, the assault was much bigger than expected, Pittman said. “Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat,” she said. Later, under questioning by the House subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tim Ryan, Pittman said that while there may have been thousands of people heading to the Capitol from a pro-Trump rally, about 800 people actually made their way into the building. Pittman's testimony provided the clearest and most detailed picture so far that Capitol Police were so concerned by the intelligence that they took extraordinary measures, including giving assault-style rifles to agents guarding congressional leaders and having other officers waiting with evacuation vehicles for top lawmakers to flee the Capitol, if needed. On Jan. 6, however, as the invaders wielded metal pipes, planks of wood, stun guns and bear spray, the vastly outnumbered rank-and-file officers inside the building were left to fend for themselves without proper communication or strong guidance from supervisors. The officers weren't sure when they could use deadly force, had failed to properly lock down the building and could be heard making frantic radio calls for backup as they were shoved to the ground and beaten by rioters, with some left bloodied. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman that police shot. While Pittman said in her testimony that sergeants and lieutenants were supposed to pass on intelligence to the department’s rank and file, many officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they would face. Four officers told The Associated Press shortly after the riot that they heard nothing from then-Chief Steven Sund, Pittman, or other top commanders as the building was breached. And officers were left in many cases to improvise or try to save colleagues facing peril. One officer said the department did not hold planning meetings with rank-and-file officers prior to Jan. 6 as it does with routine events like holiday concerts. The officer and others who spoke to AP were not authorized by the department to speak publicly and were granted anonymity. Thursday's hearing highlighted specific intelligence failures. Lawmakers focused not only on the Capitol Police force's own advance assessment of threats but on why senior department officials never reviewed a report from the FBI that warned about concerning online posts foreshadowing a “war” at the Capitol. That warning made its way to investigators within the police force and to the department's intelligence unit but was never forwarded up the chain of command, Pittman said. Even if it had reached the top officials, Pittman argued, Capitol Police wouldn't have done anything differently. Before she was named acting police chief — Sund, the former chief, resigned after the riot — Pittman was the assistant chief in charge of intelligence operations. “We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture, per se," Pittman said. “The information that was shared was very similar to what U.S. Capitol Police already had, in terms of the militia groups, the white supremacist groups, as well as the extremists that were going to participate in acts of violence and potentially be armed on the campus.” Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, said the internal report that the protests would be focused on the Capitol, and then the FBI memo firming that up “should have elevated the response, and it didn’t.” “And that’s where, you know, leaders get paid for judgment. And that was some bad judgment,” Ryan said. “And they also get paid to have nerve, and courage, to make the tough decisions when those tough decisions needed to be made.” The panel’s top Republican, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, said the top Capitol Police officials “either failed to take seriously the intelligence received or the intelligence failed to reach the right people.” The issue was also raised of whether police were hampered by a reluctance by higher-ups to call for National Guard troops to help. The police force is overseen by a separate body — the Capitol Police Board — which includes the sergeants at arms of both houses. Sund said at a separate hearing on Tuesday that then-House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving was concerned about the “optics” of the guard defending the Capitol, a contention Irving denied. In her testimony, Pittman denied that race played a role in the failure to heed warning signs. Images of white rioters moving unimpeded through the Capitol evoked comparisons to the far more heavy-handed response of law enforcement to Black Lives Matter protests and other marches and rallies. Pittman noted that she became the department’s first Black chief when she replaced Sund. Pittman is not only facing pressure from congressional leaders, but also faces internal criticism from her own officers, particularly after the Capitol Police union recently issued a vote of no confidence against her. Ryan stopped short of saying Pittman should be fired but said there are “some real questions about the decision making that was made.” He said there are “a lot of concerns” among Republicans and Democrats on the committee about her leadership and noted the lack of trust on her force. ___ Merchant reported from Houston. Michael Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick And Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press
VICTORIA — A special prosecutor says there may have been a miscarriage of justice when a babysitter was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in the drowning of a toddler in Cranbrook, B.C. Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge in the death of 19-month-old Iyanna Teeple, who was found unconscious and not breathing in a bathtub while under her care. The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. The service says in a statement Thursday that Sandford has completed her review and provided a written report, in which she says there is a strong case to be made that Bouvette did not receive disclosure of significant and relevant materials. The statement says Sandford concluded that as a result of that non-disclosure, Bouvette's charter rights may have been breached and her conviction may represent a miscarriage of justice. It says Sandford found a review by the B.C. Court of Appeal is desirable in order to determine whether a miscarriage of justice occurred, and she directed the prosecution service to provide Bouvette with copies of all materials collected in her investigation. The prosecution service says the Crown will not oppose Bouvette if she applies to the Appeal Court for a time extension to file an appeal of her conviction, nor if she applies to file fresh evidence based on any materials not previously disclosed to her. It says Sandford will continue as special prosecutor on the matter and has already taken steps to begin implementing her conclusions and recommendations. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
(Janet Dwyer - image credit) Lou Lynn, artist and sculptor based in the Slocan Valley of B.C.'s West Kootenay region, has won the Saidye Bronfman Award, as part of this year's Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts. The $25,000 Saidye Bronfman Award was created in 1977 by Canada's Bronfman Family and became a Governor General's award in 2007. Lynn lives and runs a studio in Winlaw, a small community of 400 residents about a 40-minute drive northwest of Nelson, B.C. Educated in the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, the Kootenay-based artist enjoys combining glass and metals in her artwork. In 2016, she held a two-month exhibition at Nelson's Touchstones Museum of Art and History, showcasing artworks made of bronze and glass inspired by buttons and kitchen utensils. Using glass and bronze, Lynn also casts kitchen and home utensils that, once found in all homes, are now obscure. "It makes us think about our histories as makers and about the hand, mind and body working in concert to create beautiful and functional objects that enrich our world," say Craft Council of British Columbia's executive director Raine Mckay and artist Amy Gogarty — who jointly nominated Lynn for the award — in a written statement Tuesday. Lynn says the COVID-19 pandemic has posed tremendous challenges to artists. "I slowly saw myself and then a number of my peers' opportunities started drying up," she said Wednesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "It was a difficult time to be productive [as an artist] because this pandemic is all consuming." Lynn previously taught professional practices in the art industry with the Kootenay School of Arts in Nelson for 14 years. She has delivered over 80 workshops across Canada teaching artists how to sell their works. "Artists actually can do business and they need to do business," she said. Lou Lynn said she enjoys combining glass and metals in her artwork. In 2016, she held a two-month exhibition at Nelson’s Touchstones Museum of Art and History, showcasing artworks of bronze and glass inspired by buttons and kitchen utensils. Lynn says she hopes artists could receive more support from local communities during the pandemic. "People are going out of the way to try and support the small businesses, and I would hope that it's the case with artists as well," she said. Besides the Saidye Bronfman Award, the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts include six Artistic Achievement Awards and an Outstanding Contribution Award. Tahltan-Tlingit master carver Dempsey Bob, based in Terrace, is one of the two B.C. recipients of the Governor General's awards. He won the Artistic Achievement Award. The Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts were created in 1999 by then governor general Adrienne Clarkson and the Canada Council for the Arts. Each winner will receive a $25,000 prize. Tap the link below to hear Lou Lynn's interview on Daybreak South:
BERLIN — Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored late to steer Arsenal into the last 16 of the Europa League with a 3-2 win over Benfica on Thursday, while Napoli and both German teams were knocked out. Arsenal had to come from behind to advance 4-3 on aggregate, while Napoli is out despite beating Granada 2-1 in the second leg. The modest Spanish club surprisingly advanced 3-2 on aggregate. “The dream continues!” Granada midfielder Luis Milla said on Twitter. Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim went out with 2-0 losses at home to Swiss side Young Boys and Norwegian minnow Molde, respectively. "A huge disappointment," Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz said after losing 6-3 on aggregate. Manchester United drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad for a 4-0 aggregate win, and Milan progressed on away goals, 3-3 on aggregate, after drawing 1-1 at home with Red Star Belgrade. Goals from Lukas Provod and Abdallah Sima in the second half gave Slavia Prague a 2-0 win at Leicester to progress after their goalless first leg. Roma had little difficulty getting past Sporting Braga with a 3-1 win at home for 5-1 over two legs. AUBAMEYANG’S LATE DECIDER Aubameyang scored twice for Arsenal, including the decisive 87th-minute winner just as the Gunners were poised to go out on the away goals rule despite playing both games abroad due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. The teams played the second leg in Athens while the first leg ended 1-1 in Rome after Benfica’s home game was relocated from Portugal. Aubameyang opened the scoring in the 21st, finishing clinically after Bukayo Saka played him through. Diogo Gonçalves equalized with a perfectly placed free kick inside the top left corner in the 43rd. A mistake from Dani Ceballos gifted Benfica its second goal after an Arsenal corner in the 61st. Benfica goalkeeper Helton Leite produced a long kick out that Ceballos tried heading back to his own goalkeeper, but only inadvertently laid it off for Rafa Silva, who rounded Bernd Leno before finishing into the empty net. It was just the Portuguese team’s second effort on target on the night. But left back Kieran Tierney replied with a strike inside the far post in the 67th after showing good composure to elude a Benfica defender, and Aubameyang completed the turnaround with a close-range header to the 19-year-old Saka’s cross. “We never seem to do it the easy way,” Tierney said. UNITED YOUNGSTER MAKES BOW Shola Shoretire came on as a substitute to become Manchester United's youngest player in European competition. Aged 17 years, 23 days, Shoretire replaced previous record holder Norman Whiteside. Sociedad captain Mikel Oyarzabal missed a good chance to start an unlikely comeback when he sent a penalty high and wide in the 13th minute, and United did enough thereafter to keep the visitors from getting into the game. United defender Axel Tuanzebe thought he scored his first senior goal midway through the second half, but it was disallowed as teammate Victor Lindelöf had crashed with his knee into Jon Bautista’s head while jumping for the ball. The Swedish defender was booked after a VAR review. TRIBUTE FOR TA BI Milan forward Franck Kessié paid tribute to Atalanta youth player Willy Ta Bi after scoring his penalty early against Red Star Belgrade. The 21-year-old Ta Bi died of cancer on Tuesday. Kessié held up a shirt with the text “To God, champion.” Mirko Ivanic played a brilliant pass for forward Ben to equalize in the 24th, two minutes after he hit the crossbar with a free kick. Belgrade defender Marko Gobeljic, who had conceded the penalty early on, was sent off with his second yellow card in the 70th as his team was chasing the goal it needed to get through. EINDHOVEN OUT, AJAX THROUGH Egyptian forward Kouka scored late for Olympiakos to knock PSV Eindhoven out despite a 2-1 defeat. The Greek team won 5-4 on aggregate. Ajax progressed with a 2-1 win over Lille (4-2 on aggregate), Rangers cruised through with a 5-2 win over Belgian team Antwerp (9-5), Shakhtar Donetsk beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0 (3-0), Villarreal defeated Salzburg 2-1 (4-1), Dinamo Zagreb beat Krasnodar 1-0 (4-2), and Dynamo Kyiv won 1-0 at Club Brugge to progress 2-1 on aggregate. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP CiaráN Fahey, The Associated Press
REGINA — Saskatchewan's top doctor says the presence of more contagious variants makes testing even more important to stem the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Saqib Shahab says the province needs to keep its daily cases low and people must follow public-health advice to try to prevent more infectious variants from taking over. "We need to use testing more, even more now, because of the variants of concern," he said during a briefing Thursday. The province says thousands of rapid-testing kits from Ottawa will be deployed into long-term care homes, schools, detox facilities, shelters, as well as to first responders. The province is also looking to hire a third-party provider to help any groups that may be unable to use the kits themselves. Shahab says some people have delayed getting tested and gone to work with symptoms, which has led to outbreaks. Testing will help the province's caseload decrease because tests can help break chains of transmission, he said. Cory Neudorf, a public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said provinces are at a critical point in the pandemic. He said vaccine rollouts for the most vulnerable are in their early days and the risk is that variants could drive up spread before many older residents are immunized. Two weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Health Authority gave an update to physicians that included a discussion on community spread with some point-in-time modelling. A senior medical which warned that confirmed cases in the province could double to 50,000 by mid-April, if certain indicators didn't change, such as the reproductive figure for how many people one person with COVID-19 infects. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Thursday that calculation was based on an earlier case count. It said as of Feb. 20, the reproductive figure has been below one. That means case growth is less than it was when the town hall estimate was given. “It’s a slightly less possibility than it was a few weeks ago, but it’s still possible that we would be seeing a resurgence by mid-April. Whether or not it gets to 50,000 cases, I don’t know," Neudorf said. Neudorf does point out that caseloads have begun to stabilize and drop in the past few weeks in parts of the province, including around Saskatoon and in the south. The province on Thursday reported 211 new infections after only 56 on Wednesday — the lowest count in months. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic took hold last March sits at slightly over 28,000. Shahab said it's a positive sign that pressure on the health system has dropped. There were 165 people in hospital and 18 in intensive care Thursday. But Saskatchewan, with a population of 1.1 million, still reports having the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada. It also has two cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom with no known links to travel. Shahab has said this is the third week in some time in which seven-day averages of new daily cases are below 200. He also said the province's test positivity rate is about seven per cent, down from 10. Still, health officials say more testing is needed because it's higher than five per cent. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Stacey Abrams, whose voting rights work helped make Georgia into a swing state, exhorted Congress on Thursday to reject “outright lies" that have historically restricted access to the ballot as Democrats began their push for a sweeping overhaul of election and ethics laws. “A lie cloaked in the seductive appeal of election integrity has weakened access to democracy for millions,” Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race, said during a committee hearing for the bill, which was introduced as H.R. 1 to signal its importance to the party's agenda. Democrats feel a sense of urgency to enact the legislation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when their narrow majorities in the House and Senate will be at risk. The bill, which good-government groups have championed, is advancing against a backdrop of Republican-controlled states seizing on former President Donald Trump's false claims about a stolen 2020 election to push legislation that would make it more difficult to vote. Democrats argue that voters of colour, a key constituency for the party, would be disproportionately affected. It also comes on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, a highly partisan affair that is typically controlled by state legislatures. With Republicans controlling the majority of statehouse, the process alone could help the GOP win enough seats to recapture the House. The Democratic bill would instead require that the boundaries be drawn by independent commissions. “Every political player knows what’s at stake,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan good-government group based in Washington. “There is a race between what is going on in Republican state legislatures, and this effort to pass federal rules to protect the right to vote of every eligible citizen.” To Republicans, the proposal amounts to a massive federal intrusion in locally administered elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the measure the last time it was up for debate in Congress, calling it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” “If this bill were to become law, it would be the largest expansion of the federal government’s role in elections that we have ever seen,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “The harm to the states’ electoral process outweighs the minor burdens imposed on the rights to vote.” The debate over the measure comes in the tumultuous aftermath of the 2020 election, which saw record mail-in voting because of the pandemic. After losing the White House, Trump repeated ad nauseam a false claim that the outcome was due to widespread voter fraud as he sought to overturn President Joe Biden's win. But there was no widespread fraud, as has been confirmed by election officials across the country and then-Attorney General William Barr. Dozens of legal challenges to the election put forth by Trump and his allies were dismissed, including by the Supreme Court. Republican-controlled state legislatures, spurred to action by Trump’s claims, have nonetheless moved to put in place new voting restrictions in dozens of states, including Abrams' Georgia. That's where congressional Democrats' effort comes into play. Citing Congress' constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, Democrats want national rules that they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would stymie state GOP efforts by mandating early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject. The 791-page measure, which was first introduced two years ago, would also require dark money political groups to disclose anonymous donors, as well as create reporting requirements for online political ads. It would appropriate nearly $2 billion for election infrastructure upgrades. And in a rearview nod at Trump, it would obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns. Despite staunch GOP opposition, the bill is all but certain to pass the House. But daunting challenges lay ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice-President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they would need 60 votes under the Senate’s current rules to overcome a Republican filibuster — a tally they are unlikely to reach. Under pressure from the party’s left flank, Democrats have proposed eliminating the filibuster but lack the votes to do so. It’s an open question whether Democrats will find ways around that hurdle, potentially by mustering the votes to change the filibuster rules to exempt specific types of legislation — including those that deal with voting rights. Given the closing window to pass legislation before 2022, many in the party remain hopeful it will be signed into law by Biden, whose administration has said the bill is a priority. “We may not get the opportunity to make this change again for many, many decades, so let's not miss that window,” said John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “Shame on us if we don’t get this done.” Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press