Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse discusses how his team handled the Charlotte Hornets’ zone defense the second time around after struggling to execute against it on Thursday.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse discusses how his team handled the Charlotte Hornets’ zone defense the second time around after struggling to execute against it on Thursday.
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
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 received sporadic mental health treatment immediately after he left the military in 2015, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday. The provincial inquiry in Nova Scotia learned the Canadian Armed Forces had arranged for therapy to continue for Lionel Desmond after he was medically discharged. But the lack of structure outside the military created new challenges for the mentally ill veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who worked at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, was tasked with providing the former corporal with treatment from June 2015 to October 2016. The psychologist said there were problems from the start because Desmond, then 32, often cancelled appointments or didn't show up. Plans for therapy were derailed by the fact that Desmond spent much of his time travelling between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he was trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife, Shanna, and his young daughter, Aaliyah. "In terms of commitment and engagement, it was interfering with the therapy process," Murgatroyd testified. "We were concerned with this inconsistency." Murgatroyd said it was clear Desmond needed help. In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, mental health professionals contracted by the military told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage. Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the federally funded clinic, which receives referrals from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP. "Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down," Murgatroyd said. As well, he said Desmond made it clear his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was in turmoil. "There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained," he said, adding that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress. Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and "homicidal thoughts without intent." "He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia," Murgatroyd noted after an early therapy session in 2015. Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard the former corporal did not disclose this concern while he was in the military. Though Desmond was under Murgatroyd's care for 16 months, the psychologist said his therapeutic plan never got off the ground. "We were just putting out fires rather than working on any real intervention," he said. He said it appeared Desmond's source of psychological distress eventually shifted from his combat-related PTSD symptoms to an angry "fixation" with his wife's handling of their finances and concerns that she may be cheating on him. Murgatroyd said Desmond told him about gruesome nightmares he had that suggested his wife had been sleeping with another man, whose head was later found on the floor. The psychologist agreed when asked if Desmond's dreams were having an impact on his perception of reality. Murgatroyd said that helped explain why Desmond would later revoke his consent to allow the clinic to share information with his wife. Eventually, staff at the clinic decided therapy for Desmond wasn't an option until he was properly stabilized. They recommended he should take part in an intensive treatment program at Ste. Anne's hospital in Montreal, which has an in-patient operational stress injury clinic. By April 2016, Desmond had agreed to go to Ste. Anne's, having recognized that his relationship with his wife was deteriorating amid talk of divorce, Murgatroyd said. The following month, Desmond reached "an all-time low," Murgatroyd said, adding that his patient was distressed about the state of his finances and the idea his wife was manipulative and could not be trusted. "With things spiralling down, he was looking for help." Desmond arrived at St. Anne's on May 30, 2016, but he left less than three months into a six-month program, even though he had reported he was enjoying his stay there, Murgatroyd said. The inquiry has heard that Desmond returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Murgatroyd and Veterans Affairs Canada were making arrangements for treatment in Nova Scotia. Staff at Ste. Anne's had recommended Desmond receive an in-depth neuro-psychological assessment and more treatment, but that never happened. On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a semi-automatic rifle. Later that day, he fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family's home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
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
City councillors discussed the merits of new public murals at this week’s parks, recreation and cultural services committee meeting. Six mural projects were recommended through the city’s public art community mural program. The budget of the program is $30,000, and this year’s projects are also being funded by other sources. The proposed projects are as follows: • Lehigh Hanson, a construction manufacturer on Mitchell island, is anticipated to cost $12,000, of which $6,000 will come from the mural program and $6,000 from a grant that supports the city’s environmental stewardship work on Mitchell Island) • McMath secondary is anticipated to cost $17,000 of which $8,000 will come from the mural program funding and $9,000 from the school. • Thompson elementary is anticipated to cost $6,200 of which $6,000 will come from the mural program funding and $200 from the school. • Homma elementary is anticipated to cost $10,000 of which $5,000 will come from the mural program funding and $5,000 from the school. • Westwind elementary is anticipated to cost $5,000 all from the mural program funding. • Gateway Theatre is anticipated to cost $20,000 all funded by the theatre itself. This project was highly rated but due to its costs was only deemed feasible after Gateway said they could finance the mural with funds from a show cancelled due to the pandemic. Several Richmond artists are being recommended to work on these projects: Fiona Tang at Thompson, Atheana Picha at Homma and Dawn Lo at Westwind (in collaboration with a second artist). Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel
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
Ohio on Thursday became the first state to challenge the U.S. Census Bureau's decision to push back the release of 2020 census figures so more time can be spent on fixing any inaccuracies in the data. The lawsuit filed by Ohio asks a federal judge in Dayton to restore a March 31 deadline for the Census Bureau to turn over 2020 census figures used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts, instead of a Sept. 30 deadline announced by the statistical agency earlier this month. The lawsuit claims the delay will undermine Ohio's process of redrawing districts. Census Bureau officials blamed the need for extra time on operational delays during the 2020 census caused by the pandemic. The dates for releasing the 2020 census data have bounced all over the calendar because of court fights and changes made to adjust to hurdles posed by the pandemic and efforts to comply with federally mandated deadlines. The 2020 census data include state population counts used for determining the distribution of congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states, as well as redistricting data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently announced plans to introduce legislation that would push back the deadline for the state population counts from the end of last year to the end of April and the due date for the redistricting data from the statutorily required March 31 date to Sept. 30. The redistricting data includes counts of population by race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy status at geographic levels as small as neighbourhoods, and they are used for drawing voting districts for Congress and state legislatures. Unlike past decades when the data were released to states on a flow basis, the 2020 redistricting data will be made available to the states all at once, according to the Census Bureau. The delay in releasing the redistricting data has sent states scrambling to come up with alternative plans because many will not get the data until after their legal deadlines for drawing new districts, requiring them to either rewrite laws or ask courts to allow them a free pass because of the delay. Candidates may not know yet whether they will live in the district they want to run in by the filing deadline. In some cases, if fights over new maps drag into the new year, primaries may have to be delayed. Ohio law requires a newly formed commission to finalize state legislative districts by Sept. 1 and to hold three public meetings before doing so. Ohio's General Assembly is required adopt a map for congressional districts by Sept. 30. Ohio won't be able to use the 2020 census data to redraw districts if the figures aren't released until the end of September. That will force the state to use alternative figures, setting off a fight over which data to use and “fanning partisan flames when one data source is eventually chosen, no matter how precise and reliable," the lawsuit said. “The many people who voted for redistricting reform deserve better than to have their efforts thwarted by a federal government that refuses to do its job," the lawsuit said. “No doubt, the pandemic has greatly complicated the Census Bureau’s task. But the pandemic has complicated the jobs of firefighters, police officers, and judges too. All those public servants found ways to continue fulfilling their obligations to the public, recognizing that government officials may not shelter in place while their duties go unfulfilled." The Census Bureau said in a statement that it doesn't comment on pending litigation. Meanwhile, a coalition of municipalities and civil rights groups that had sued the Census Bureau over concerns about data quality and deadlines said in a court filing Wednesday that they were working toward a potential agreement to their lawsuit with the statistical agency. A hearing on the lawsuit in federal court in San Jose, California, had been scheduled for Friday, but both sides in a court filing asked for a delay until next month to continue “good-faith discussions concerning the potential resolution of this case." ___ This story has been corrected to reflect that the commission must finalize state legislative districts by Sept. 1, not Sept. 30. ___ Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern. The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighbouring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week. But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves. “Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute. However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful." That's because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem. New York City health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday sought to tamp down worries about the new variant, emphasizing that the new research is preliminary and little is known about the variant. “Some variants are just that, they’re variants.” said Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor. WHAT DID THEY FIND IN NEW YORK? Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists. The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech's Anthony West, a co-author of the paper. On Thursday, Columbia University researchers released their research that scrutinized about 1,100 virus samples from patients treated at the university's medical centre, dating back to November. During the second week of February, the new variant was identified in 12% of the samples, they reported. They also found patients infected with the mutated virus were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized. Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines — a mutation seen in other worrisome variants. “There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said. HOW MANY OTHER VARIANTS ARE THERE? New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three are considered the most worrisome — they've been designated “variants of concern." They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries. The one identified in the U.K. late last year has since been found in 45 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain is concerning because it has so many mutations, nearly two dozen. Some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and that current vaccines and antibody drugs target. One of the spike protein mutations is seen in the variants discovered early on in Brazil and South Africa, and, now, the new variant in New York. A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention. It's been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn't enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have. WHAT'S NEXT? After what many described as a slow start, the federal government in recent weeks has ramped up its genetic sequencing to look for and study virus variants to figure out which ones might be a problem. In the meantime, Ana S. Gonzalez Reiche, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, urged caution. “Without evidence, we don’t need to alarm ourselves about every variant detected,” she said. Studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a variant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions. In response, drug companies are already figuring out how to modify their vaccines. Experts say that in the meantime, public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant. “Emerging of variants will occur," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. "The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.” ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Marion Renault, The Associated Press
(Doug Husby/CBC - image credit) A B.C.'s babysitter's conviction in the 2011 death of a toddler may have been the result of a miscarriage of justice, according to a special prosecutor appointed by the province. Tammy Bouvette's Charter rights may have been breached by the non-disclosure of documents rejecting a medical examiner's conclusion that the injuries to 19-month-old Iyanna Teeple were intentional, Vancouver defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford has found. "There is a strong case to be made that Ms. Bouvette did not receive disclosure of significant, relevant materials," a news release from the B.C. Prosecution Service states. "Her conviction may, accordingly, represent a miscarriage of justice." Sandford has recommended that the case undergo an appeal to determine what happened. Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder in the toddler's death, but pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in order to avoid an automatic life sentence and was sentenced to a year in prison with credit for time served in 2013. The charges stem from May 2011, when Bouvette was caring for Iyanna in a Cranbrook home. She found the little girl unresponsive in a bathtub and called 911. Iyanna was airlifted to Calgary for treatment, but she could not be saved. Iyanna was found face down in a bathtub on May 26, 2011, while being babysat by Bouvette, who was 28 at the time. Last year, a retired B.C. Mountie told CBC's The Fifth Estate that investigators originally considered the death a tragic accident. Bouvette told police that she had left the child to attend to a spill in another room. But medical examiner Dr. Evan Matshes told prosecutors there was "no benign" explanation for some of the injuries on the toddler's body and identified bruising that was "typical of child abuse," according to court documents obtained by CBC. 'Unreasonable' conclusions about injuries An investigation by The Fifth Estate found that three forensic pathologists were later asked to review the autopsy in response to concerns about some of Matshes's other findings. The panel of medical experts stated in their report that the comments Matshes made to the prosecutor about "intentional injuries" on the body and prior abuse were "unreasonable." Bouvette's lawyer, Jesse Gelber, has said he never received a copy of that review. By law, prosecutors must provide defence counsel with all relevant documents in a criminal case. In an interview last year, Bouvette told CBC that the conviction has had a profound effect on her life, and she cannot forgive anyone responsible for withholding potentially exonerating material. "I am not a baby-killer.… People just look at me differently like I was some type of monster and I'm not," she said. "I'm a loving person and a loving mom." Sandford was appointed to review the case in January 2020 in response to CBC's inquiries about the apparent lack of disclosure in the case. She has now recommended that Bouvette's legal team be provided with all of the evidence uncovered during her investigation. The prosecution service says that if Bouvette applies to the B.C. Court of Appeal for an extension to file an appeal and the right to file fresh evidence, the Crown will not oppose those applications.
On Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responded to an auditor general report from earlier in the day that stated AG Karen Hogan was "very concerned and disheartened" that the Liberal government was unable to meet its commitment to ending all boil water advisories for Indigenous communities. Miller accepted the AG's recommendations and went over the water advisories that have been lifted, as well as the finances secured to work ahead to end all the advisories.
After the latest transition between in-person and remote learning, there are approximately 465 more students — 418 at the Catholic board and 47 at the public board — in Hamilton classrooms. Hundreds of Hamilton students switched learning models at both boards this week, some moving to virtual learning and others returning to their home schools. By Thursday, about 680 students at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board returned to classrooms across the city. A similar number — approximately 636 students — chose to switch into a remote learning program. These students made the switch earlier this month, as of the Feb. 8 return to school. “Families are making choices for many reasons,” spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator. He said frustration with technology, isolation, difficulty motivating their kids and changes in circumstances are among the reasons parents are choosing to send kids back to the classroom. Families who took their kids out of classrooms cited concerns about kids’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, in-school enrolment at the Catholic board is up at the elementary level and down at the secondary level. As of Monday, 15,970 students are learning in-person — compared to 15,552 in the fall. Monday was the last opportunity for HWCDSB students to transition between learning models. Virtual learning at the secondary level increased by about 1,500 students — from 1,942 in the fall to 3,412 as of Feb. 23. Board chair Pat Daly said he believes age has “a lot to do with it.” “A high school student is able to stay home alone,” he said. “With elementary-aged children, a lot of parents would not have that option.” He said some parents may have realized that being in school is “really helpful” for kids’ mental health and socialization. To support the latest transition, boards were required to shuffle — and, in the case of the public board, hire — teaching staff. The public board opened seven classrooms, adding 8.4 full-time equivalent teachers to the elementary roster, as well as three full-time dedicated early childhood educators, as the board welcomed back a number of full-day kindergarten students through this transition. No new teachers were hired at the Catholic board as a result of the latest reorganization. “The change would have been teachers moving from a virtual classroom to in-school,” Daly said. “So we didn't have to hire additional teachers to keep the class sizes low.” Daly said the board hired approximately 65 teachers at the beginning of the year “to lower class sizes,” and have maintained those hires throughout the year. Current in-person class sizes, which are similar to those in the fall, range between 12 and 25 students. Virtual classrooms have between 16 and 32. Josie Pini, principal at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School, said the 16 students who returned to in-person learning should have covered the same curriculum in their virtual classrooms. But, as with any time a student changes classrooms, teachers would have to do a “gap analysis” to determine the level of each individual student. “In any one class, you'll have students of all different levels anyway, so it's just a matter of finding out which level they're going to fit into and then teach them from there,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) is in the process of applying for a federal grant that may assist the municipality in creating additional parking lots near trailheads. “We discussed the trailhead parking and webcams and we felt it would be a good project to apply for this,” said Ruth Prince, director of finance and IT services for TBM. TBM will be applying for the Healthy Communities Grant Initiative, a $31 million investment from the federal government that was established to assist municipalities in transforming public spaces in response to COVID-19. Canadian municipalities are able to apply for grant funds, ranging from $5,000 to $250,000, under three streams – safe and vibrant public spaces, improved mobility and digital solutions. “We're going to apply for $250,000, which is the full amount, the maximum amount that we can apply for,” Prince added. TBM is looking to acquire the grant funds to help create additional parking near outdoor recreational areas, an ongoing problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Lack of parking at these areas pre-dates the onset of COVID-19 and staff anticipate that this capacity issue will continue into the future,” said Prince in a staff report to council. Town staff have identified four potential trailhead locations that require upgrades to parking: The grant application will look to specifically address the three town-owned properties at Pretty River Provincial Park and Loree Forest. According to Prince, a detailed budget has not been created for these projects. “However, as a benchmark the town budgeted $103,000 to extend the Metcalfe Rock parking lot and feel that the $250,000 would allow for some good improvements to the three locations,” Prince stated. In addition to creating new parking areas, the town is also looking to install webcams, which would allow individuals to check how busy the parking lots are before leaving the house. The deadline to apply is March 9 and application results are expected to be received by the end of April. If TBM receives the funding, the correlating projects must be completed by June 30. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
The province is pushing off deep cuts to its bottom line in order to help protect the economy and lives during the pandemic as it anticipates high deficits, even higher debt and modest recovery to its revenues. On Feb. 25, the Alberta government released its annual budget, giving Albertans their first in-depth look at the fiscal picture for the province since the pandemic hit, with the UCP government pushing off the large cuts it had proposed in 2019 and 2020 until mass COVID-19 vaccinations take place. Instead, the province said the focus of its latest budget is on protecting Albertans’ health and jobs and positioning the economy for recovery while still trying to deliver services in an efficient way. “Adequately resourcing health care is our number one priority,” Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said. In the past year, the province has invested $5.8 billion in its COVID-19 response and recovery. The UCP has budgeted another $3.1 billion for the 2021-22 economic recovery, along with another $1.25 billion for a COVID-19 contingency plan, which includes the roll-out of the vaccine across the province. “We are working with health and (Alberta Health Services) to make sure they have all the resources they need to deal with the pandemic,” Toews said. In a press conference following the release of the budget, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley criticized the budget as a "deer-in-the-headlights" budget that didn't take into consideration population and inflation growth, and didn't spend in the right areas. "We needed to see a budget that had a plan to get people back to work, keep young people in Alberta, grow the tech sector, diversify our economy ... (but) as much as Jason Kenney is trying to claim otherwise, this is a cuts budget," Notley said. "By failing to account for simple population and inflation, Jason Kenney is ignoring the fact that we have more people in the province and things tend to get a little bit more expensive over time, even in the last year." Alberta’s revenue fell to a forecasted $42.3 billion in 2020, $7.7 billion less than the government had budgeted for last February. In the coming year, the province is estimating revenues will recover slightly, coming in at $43.7 billion thanks to factors like higher resource revenue, more income tax. Alberta’s revenues could recover to pre-pandemic levels within a couple years, rising to $47.4 billion next year and $50.9 billion the following year. However, due to COVID-19, the province is also falling deeper into debt and further away from balancing its budget. The province is estimating a deficit of $18.2 billion in 2021-22, though that deficit should shrink to $11 billion next year and $8 billion the following year. “I am very disappointed we can’t present a balanced budget in our first term,” Toews said. Taxpayer-supported debt is at $98.3 billion and is expected to hit $115.8 billion by the end of 2021-22 – number $21.4 billion and $32.9 billion higher, respectively, than expected in last year’s budget, in part due to the higher deficit. In 2022-23, debt is estimated to climb to $128.1 billion, rising further to $132.5 billion by 2023-24. That will bring debt servicing costs soaring up to the highest rates the province has ever seen. Taxpayers will be coughing up $2.8 billion in 2021-22 just to service provincial debt, which is around 5.3 per cent of estimated total revenue. In lieu of a path to a balanced budget, the government has introduced new “anchors” to guide fiscal decision-making, including keeping net debt to GDP under 30 per cent, getting per-capita spending in line with comparator provinces, and after the pandemic, re-establishing a commitment to balance the budget. “The fiscal anchors will be very important,” Toews said. In 2021-22, the province projects its net debt to GDP to be 24.5 per cent, climbing to 26.1 per cent in 2022-23 and 26.6 per cent in 2023-24. Overall in 2021, real GDP is expected to grow by 4.8 per cent. This climb comes after a drop in GDP by 7.8 per cent in 2020 and a near-flat GDP in 2019. One way the province is aiming to get its fiscal house in order is through accountability, with a bright spotlight shining on public sector compensation and getting Alberta’s public sector spending in line with other provinces. Right now, about half the province’s operating expenses are related to compensation. The provincial budget states Alberta will be enabling private sector delivery to services “when it is more efficient to do so.” Some $26.7 billion of the provincial budget is spent overall on public sector compensation. The budget will see a continuation of the province's goal to reduce the size of the public sector, which it aims to reduce by 7.7 per cent over four years, ending in 2023. It aims to bring per-capita spending in line with other provinces on health care, education and public sector compensation, and to reduce the size of government. But even once Alberta gets spending in line with other provinces, which is expected in 2023-24, the province will still face an $8-billion deficit. While Toews said there “are no new taxes or tax increases in Budget 2021,” the province will have to eventually address the gaping hole in its revenues, which the minister said will be done by appointing a revenue panel. During the pandemic, addressing revenue is not a priority, Toews said, and the province plans to focus on supporting healthcare, readying the economy for a recovery and fiscal accountability, but the question of looming fiscal shortfalls will need to be addressed in the coming years, which could be achieved by a provincial sales tax (PST). Alberta is currently the only province without a PST. “Tax increases are much more harmful than spending reductions,” Toews said on Feb. 25. Cancelling crude-by-rail contracts is expected to cost $2.287 billion, up $120 million from the August fiscal update due to the high oil differential and the current oil market. The NDP government created the crude-by-rail plan in their governing term after hitting roadblocks getting pipelines out of the province approved, but the UCP squashed the program once elected. No accounting provision has been built into the budget to handle the hit the province will take from Keystone XL, as the province is still negotiating with TC Energy to determine what the final hit to taxpayers will look like. The province invested $1.5 billion in the pipeline, which was killed when U.S. President Joe Biden was inaugurated in January. Alberta’s economy is now pegged to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2022, one year earlier than had been expected in the mid-year quarterly fiscal update. This change is primarily due to rapid vaccine development, economic activity and demand for oil that is expected to follow. While an early recovery is good news, the province hadn’t even fully recovered from the 2015 recession before the pandemic hit. Officials are predicting the province won’t reach 2014 economic markers until 2023. Overall, this economic outlook is rosier than officials predicted in the past three quarterly fiscal updates, due to higher oil prices and early vaccine development, but the province is making modest predictions for its path forward. A recent sharp increase in oil prices in the past few weeks sent West Texas Intermediate (WTI) up to $55 from $45, but the province won’t be betting the farm on those high oil prices. For this coming year, Alberta is estimating oil prices to average out to $46, and climb to $56.50 by 2023-24. The province is predicting more conservative WTI prices than the private sector, predicting $5 below the private sector average for 2021-22 and $2 below for the following year. Along with hope that oil prices will rebound, the province is panning for a provincial recovery by investing in infrastructure, including $21 billion in construction projects to support 90,000 new jobs. This will be $1.7 billion more than what had been planned in Budget 2020 for 2021-22. The government is also earmarking $1.5 billion to support targeted strategies to help out key sectors, like agriculture, energy, technology and tourism, and plans for that funding will be released during the year. The pot also includes a contingency of $500 million in 2021-22 to fund emerging sector strategies and any further economic recovery needs that arise during the year. Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette
(Submitted by Darcy Iron - image credit) Some of Darcy Iron's earliest memories are of hunting with his grandfather. He remembers falling asleep on his grandfather's boat early one morning when he was about four or five years old. Iron''s aunties used to bug him about how fast he'd run home after school, trying to get there in time to go hunting. He still remembers feeling crestfallen the days he missed out. As an adult, Iron hunts to feed his small family. He said it's cheaper and healthier as a single parent to fill his freezer with game meat. He is trying to instill his love of the land and hunting in his children. Iron said he has always been aware of the tense relationship between treaty hunters and conservation officers in Saskatchewan. He'd had some personal experience, but on Dec. 30 he was detained by a conservation officer for more than an hour due to what could be summed up as a filing error. The officer also confiscated Iron's firearms for more than a month and refused to give them back until he could provide proof of a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). Iron said it stemmed back to him being charged criminally in 2006 and given a 10-year firearms ban. He said RCMP forgot to update his record once the ban ended. Fast-forward to that day in late December. Iron took his two children, nine and 11, to an area near Meecham, Sask., to watch for animals. He said he brought a firearm just in case the opportunity to put food in his freezer arose. He encountered a conservation officer on his way to Crown lands and said it was a fairly cordial experience. Iron said he and his children didn't stick around the area long and decided to head back to their home in Saskatoon. Iron said the same conservation officer pulled him over again while the family was leaving. This time, Iron said, the conservation officer had discovered the errant firearms ban on Iron's record. Iron said he was detained in the officer's vehicle. He said he explained his situation and that the officer seemed understanding and contacted RCMP to verify the firearms ban was over. Iron said the officer also told Iron he had warrants out for his arrest in Alberta and would have to wait for the warrant situation to be figured out before he could be released. In the meantime, Iron had to wait in the conservation officer's vehicle while his two children waited in the family vehicle. "My daughter, she was crying when I went back to the truck. She was hurt," Iron said, adding he found out she was scared he was going to be taken away by the officer. "[My son] was able to pull it together a bit because he's 11-years-old, you know, he's a little man there, and trying to calm his sister down." Iron said the conservation officer only checked on his kids once in the hour-plus he was detained. Iron was given a ticket for carrying a firearm contrary to a court order thanks to the erroneous ban label. Despite the alleged warrants, he was eventually allowed to leave. He said he had no idea why he would have warrants out for his arrest in Alberta and that he hasn't been contacted at all by the RCMP about the matter in the nearly two months that passed between when he was detained and when he spoke with CBC News. Iron said the firearms-related ticket against him was dropped. An uncomfortable turn Iron said he and the conservation officer made conversation to pass the time while waiting for response on both the warrants and the firearms matter. Things took an uncomfortable turn, Iron said. "One of the things he did mention was, 'you guys are always going around, you know, shooting animals with your windows down, shooting out of vehicles and making it bad for everybody else,'" Iron said. "I'm like, 'Excuse me? Who are you referring to? You guys?'" Iron said the conservation officer tried to backtrack and told Iron he didn't mean him specifically, but Iron pressed further and told the officer he felt the comment was directed at First Nations hunters specifically. Iron also said he inquired about why his guns were being seized and felt uncomfortable with the response he got. He said he was under the impression that as a treaty hunter, he would not have to obtain his PAL. He said the conservation officer told him he "needed to get into the 20th century" and obtain the licence. In an emailed statement, the provincial Ministry of Environment said it would investigate the incident. The statement did not say if the conservation officer would apologize to Iron. It said the ministry had not received a formal complaint from him about the interaction. Iron was with his children Cecilia, 9, and Hunter, 11, when they were stopped by the conservation officer last December. The ministry statement outlined the conservation officer's reasoning for taking the firearms, stating a normal field check showed Iron had a firearms prohibition and outstanding warrants for his arrest. "The officer attempted to confirm outstanding warrants as per normal standard process. Warrants must be verified by home RCMP detachment in which the file originates," the statement said. After a delay in getting a response from that home detachment, the conservation officer released Iron "and provided an opportunity for voluntary compliance with the warrants at a later time." The firearms had to be seized, the ministry said, due to the apparent prohibition which was eventually sorted out with RCMP. As for why returning Iron's firearms took so long, the ministry said Iron was required to comply with The Firearms Act and obtain his PAL before the guns were returned. A generational conflict Iron said the comments the conservation officer made are emblematic of a tenuous relationship between conservation officers and treaty hunters that has spanned generations. He said his grandfather referred to conservation officers as Kanaweechikeewuk, or the "ones who are always watching out." Iron said the areas where conservation officers operated was common knowledge among his grandfather and his social circle of hunters. Often, he said, they would avoid the areas all together, but run-ins still happened. Iron said when he was in his teens, he knew of hunters who got into trouble for shooting in what were then newfangled things called wildlife corridors. Hunters — treaty and non-treaty alike — can't hunt in wildlife corridors in Saskatchewan. It's a rule he said he never understood, but always respected. Conservation officers, he said, would place animal decoys in the hopes of catching out-of-season hunters along the corridor on Highway 903 in Saskatchewan's west-central, close to Canoe Lake. Iron said he felt conservation officers used the method to target and punish First Nation hunters specifically, as they were placed close to the community and he heard of the decoys being used well before hunting season opened. Iron says an apology from the officer to his children could go a long way toward restoring some of the generations-long relationship status between treaty hunters and conservation officers. He saw historical parallels in the seizure of his firearms. Losing a gun, he said, could be detrimental to the well-being of a person's family, as they were relied on for hunting and often too expensive to quickly replace. The strained relationship was something he said he hoped to see change for the new generation of hunters and conservation officers — his kids included. "The part that really gets me the most is that my children were involved," Iron said. "What they're experiencing now is going to have an effect on them throughout their young lives and in the future and their outlook of conservation officers." Iron is calling for the officer to apologize directly to his children to reassure them that things can change for the better. He said he has noticed a change in his children. They are talking more about race. He noted how conversations around race are more prevalent online in the wake of the Black Live Matter movement and Indigenous rights-related subjects that made headlines last year. Even at their young age, his children took notice. Their interaction with the conservation officer led to a topic he didn't expect to talk with his kids about when they were so young: Saskatoon's notorious Starlight Tours. "It's bad enough what they experienced. I do my best to try and explain to them, you know, what's right and what's wrong," he said. "You have to be proactive. You have to try and reassure them that things are changing. Eventually, you won't have to go through situations like this when you're out there in 20, 30 years from now." FSIN backs calls for change The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) has long reported disputes between conservation officers and treaty hunters. FSIN's goal is the protection of inherent and treaty rights for First Nations people in Saskatchewan. FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said he has heard of many instances similar to Iron's. Cameron said the FSIN was willing to go as far as Iron was willing to take the matter on his behalf — all the way to the Human Rights Commission if needed. "To detain him in the vehicle for one hour or so, and have his young children in the vehicle crying and living in fear, not knowing where daddy is, you think [conservation officers] would ever do that to a non-First Nation hunter and his children?" Cameron said. "Never." Cameron said Iron's experience and the documented interactions between treaty hunters and conservation officers in Saskatchewan showed a lack of understanding of inherent and treaty rights. He said they highlight what he perceives as an old mentality among conservation officers, one that says First Nations people are always guilty. He called for the conservation officer who detained Iron to issue an apology and for the ministry of environment to fire him. "We want him terminated. That's complete BS, on what he said," Cameron said. "There are thousands of us who hunt ethically. And we respect the land, we respect the animal wholeheartedly. We don't shoot out the windows." Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations chief Bobby Cameron called for change within the ranks of conservation officers in Saskatchewan, after hearing of numerous negative interactions between officers and treaty hunters. In a news release published Tuesday, the FSIN called for a full investigation and review from the ministry into Iron's interaction with the officer. The FSIN announced it had set up a website for treaty hunters to report run-ins with conservation officers while hunting. Cameron also called for improved cultural sensitivity training from the ministry for conservation officers. The Ministry of Environment's comment said conservation officers receive two-year diplomas in resource environmental law, which include a treaty and hunting rights component. Once a position with the ministry is secured, would-be conservation officers take part in a 16-week education program through the Western Canadian Law Enforcement Academy, which also includes an educational section on Indigenous hunting and treaty rights. Finally, the ministry said, it requires all staff including conservation officers to take part in Indigenous awareness training. Cameron said the extra training he is calling for would basically be a stop-gap for what he hopes to achieve one day: First Nation conservation officers trained by First Nation communities using First Nation knowledge. "There's been a Chief's resolution to start training and educating our own conservation officers on reserve, through our own institutions, to do enforcement, the preservation, the protection, all the things we were taught," he said. "It may take a little while to get there, but we are going to get there, to that point."
(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.
(Submitted by Sara Williams - image credit) In Windsor-Essex, the lead nurse administering vaccines to the Indigenous population says supply is meeting demand as the rollout continues to move forward. Starting next week, those high-risk and 40 and older in the region's Indigenous population can start receiving their vaccines. As of Thursday, registered nurse Sara Williams says 59 Indigenous people who are high-risk and 60 and older have received shots, with 57 of them getting both doses of the vaccine. "I think we're doing the best that we can to be able to get our message out there that vaccines are available," said Williams, who has been redeployed from working in the Erie Shores Healthcare emergency department to help with the vaccine rollout. But this in contrast to one neighbouring First Nations community who told CBC News last week that they don't feel the government is living up to its vaccine priority promises. Chief of Walpole Island First Nation Charles Sampson said the rollout has been slow and he still doesn't have enough vaccines for all of his seniors. Sara Williams is leading the vaccine rollout for Windsor-Essex's Indigenous population. Yet, Williams says that isn't the case for Windsor-Essex, where she feels like they have enough vaccine on hand to give out to those who want one. "[Windsor-Essex] had the highest cases in the province so we need to make sure we're doing priority where priority is due, I think that's where the rationale is," she said. 'Culturally aware space' created for Indigenous vaccinations Williams, who is Aamjiwnaang First Nation, has taken charge of the vaccine rollout for the Indigenous population at Windsor's St. Clair College Sportsplex. In doing so, she has created a culturally aware space for community members to get their shots. According to Williams, the rooms in the culturally aware space have tribal printed curtains, Indigenous artwork, sweetgrass, dream catchers and cedar on the outside. She said they also performed a ceremony before opening the space up, which involved prayer, smudging and washing the walls with cedar. "It's been really good, at first I wasn't really sure how it was going to be received," she said. "It's been amazing, I've had a few followup emails afterwards just thanking me for creating that space and they felt a lot more comfortable. I disclose to them that I am Indigenous and where I'm from and I think that helps to ease anxiety as well." There's also a waiting room with community agency pamphlets and spaces for people to wait in, rather than having them line up. She said the goal was to create a space that the community feels safe in and hopes their setup encourages more people to come get vaccinated. "A lot of people have contacted me with questions," she said. "There's a lot of hesitancy surrounding the vaccine, which is understandably so, Canada doesn't have the best history with vaccinating especially when you hear that inmates and Indigenous people are top priority it sort of raises red flags, so it's up to me to provide that education about the reasons why Indigenous people are a priority." Williams hopes the space she has set up makes people feel safe. She and Lacey George, who is also with SOAHAC, set up the space. She added that Indigenous people are known to have underlying medical conditions and, because of this, are likely to be more negatively impacted by COVID-19. She is working in partnership with Windsor Regional Hospital and the Southwestern Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre and says she's the only Indigenous nurse administering vaccines at this time. For other nurses to join her, she says it's important that they have cultural safety training.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Park Police on Thursday named Pamela Smith as its new chief, making her the first Black woman to lead the 230-year-old law enforcement agency. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the force, announced she would begin her term by establishing body-worn cameras for all Park Police officers. “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve,” Smith said in a statement, adding that body-worn cameras are “good for the public and good for our officers.” The camera program would begin in San Francisco within 90 days and spread to the rest of the country by the end of the year, the statement said. Smith inherits an extensive law enforcement agency that frequently finds itself under a spotlight at pivotal historical moments. The U.S. Park Police oversees national parks and federal property including the National Mall. Last summer, during tense protests over police brutality and racial inequity, Park Police was involved with violently clearing peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park near the White House so that then-President Donald Trump could pose in front of a church while holding up a Bible. The agency ended up embroiled in controversy over the tactics and munitions used against peaceful demonstrators. Smith's appointment follows that of Yogananda Pittman, who last month become the first Black person and first woman to be acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. She inherited an agency in turmoil after being overwhelmed in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters. Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press
EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an $18.2-billion deficit but also a promise that good times will return. Finance Minister Travis Toews said a continued vaccine rollout and more businesses opening up should put Alberta on track to start its rebound in the back half of this year. “Alberta’s economy is now expected to reach pre-COVID levels by 2022, one year earlier than expected,” Toews told a news conference prior to introducing the 2021-22 budget in the legislature. “(But) Albertans continue to face one of the most difficult times in our history. We’re ensuring that we’re resourcing our health-care response adequately to meet the pandemic challenge (and) we’re positioning the economy for growth and a rebound.” For now, the eye-popping deficits continue — $20.2 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31 and $18.2 billion forecast for the coming fiscal year. Toews and Premier Jason Kenney have called Alberta’s economic bludgeoning a rare “triple black swan” caused by the pandemic, the resulting global recession and an oil-price war that further depressed prices. The medium-term outlook is for more red ink. Alberta is on track to carry $98 billion in tax-supported debt this year, rising to more than $132 billion by 2024. The province's debt a decade ago was $5.1 billion. Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion. The budget delivered on promises to avoid tax increases in a province that has the lowest per-capita tax regime in Canada — and is the only one with no retail sales tax. The fiscal plan calls for $57 billion in spending, along with a minimum $1.1 billion to fight COVID-19 and another $1.8 billion in pandemic spending if needed. That's on top of $5.8 billion in COVID-19 spending last year. The health budget is to rise by about $1 billion to $21.4 billion. Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the budget fails on multiple fronts. “It’s a little bit of a deer in the headlights budget. It’s like they didn’t know what to do.” The NDP leader said much of Kenney’s “so-called economic recovery plan” has no overarching strategy and consists of reannouncements of old policies or money from the federal government. “(The plan) amounts to a couple hundred million dollars at best. This, out of a budget that includes almost $40 billion in expenses." Notley suggested the budget continues to undermine services across the board — either through direct reductions or by failing to fund for population growth and inflation. “Albertans will pay for Jason Kenney’s mistakes in many, many ways but ultimately the greatest cost is going to be that of lost opportunity." Non-renewable resource revenues, the traditional foundation of Alberta’s economy, are expected to bring in $2.9 billion, about half of what they were before the pandemic. Oil prices have rebounded in recent weeks to above US$60 a barrel for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate, but Toews said the province can’t count on or budget for renewed boom times. “We’re focused on what we can manage … and we’re looking to ensure that we’re delivering government services most efficiently.” Toews said the United Conservative government remains committed to reducing public-sector, per-capita spending to match that in comparable provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario. Indicators suggest the overall fiscal future, while not rosy, is brighter. Real gross domestic product, or GDP, is expected to rise 4.8 per cent this year after a 7.8 per cent decline in 2020. Alberta’s unemployment rate, estimated at 11.4 per cent last year, is expected to slowly decline to 7.3 per cent by 2023, close to its pre-pandemic level. The Alberta wing of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the high debt projections are worrisome, but more concerning is the lack of a plan to keep small- and medium-sized businesses solvent during the COVID crisis. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
MEXICO CITY — The number of monarch butterflies that showed up at their winter resting grounds in central Mexico decreased by about 26% this year, and four times as many trees were lost to illegal logging, drought and other causes, making 2020 a bad year for the butterflies. The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) in 2020, compared to 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05 hectares (14.95 acres) detected in 2018. Because the monarchs cluster so densely in pine and fir trees, it is easier to count them by area rather than by individuals. Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico's Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions,” the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies' wintering grounds in Mexico. Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4 hectares (33 acres), a huge increase from the 0.43 hectare (1 acre) lost to logging last year. Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localized” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve. In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9 hectares (17 acres) in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65 hectares (51 acres). That compares to an overall loss of about 5 hectares (12.3 acres) from all causes the previous year. Tavera said the drought was affecting the butterflies themselves, as well as the pine and fir trees where the clump together for warmth. “The severe drought we are experiencing is having effects,” Tavera said. “All the forests in the reserve are under water stress, the forests are dry.” “The butterflies are looking for water on the lower slopes, near the houses,” she noted. Tavera also expressed concern about the sever winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross — and feed and lay their eggs — on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months. “This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze. It was also a bad year for the mountain farming communities that depend for part of their income on tourists who visit the reserves. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, visits fell from around 490,000 last year, to just 80,000 in the 2020-2021 season. Environmentalist and writer Homero Aridjis, who grew up around the reserve, said the decline in butterflies and rise in logging was not surprising, given the reduction in Mexican government funding for protected natural areas and environmental work. “While the reserves were closed to tourism during practically the whole (winter) season, the way was open for loggers, with no control,” Aridjis said. “The question is, can the monarch migration survive this environmental negligence?” The U.S. group Center for Food Safety called for the monarchs to be granted endangered species protection, noting “the minimum population threshold needed to be out of the danger zone of extinction is six hectares.” It was unclear whether the drop in tourism income contributed to the increased logging. Rickards said there has long been pressure on the area's forests from people who want to open land for planting crops. Felipe Martínez Meza, director of the butterfly reserve, said there have been attempts to plant orchards of avocados — hugely profitable crop for farmers in the area — in the buffer zones around the reserve. The high mountain peaks where the butterflies clump in trees are probably a bit above the altitude where avocado trees like to grow, Martinez Meza said. But the buffer zones provide protection and support for the higher areas, and he said more must be done to combat the change in land use. Frequently, illegal logging is carried out by outsiders or organized gangs, and not by the farm communities that technically own the land. Millions of monarchs migrate from the U.S. and Canada each year to forests west of Mexico’s capital. The butterflies hit a low of just 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres) in 2013-2014. Loss of habitat, especially the milkweed where the monarchs lay their eggs, pesticide and herbicide use, as well climate change, all pose threats to the species’ migration. While there was plenty of bad news for the butterflies — very few showed up to some historic wintering sites like Sierra Chincua — there was the welcome news that a new wintering site was discovered nearby, in a mountaintop near the Lagunas de Zempoala protected area, near Mexico City. Tavera said the wintering site had always been there, but was so difficult to reach that it wasn't discovered until earlier this month. Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press
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
Grey County council meetings will soon be more accessible to area residents. “Following the last council meeting, I was approached by the station manager at Rogers TV out of Owen Sound. They are interested in picking up the stream of council and committee of the whole on Thursday mornings,” said Rob Hatten, communications manager for Grey County. Rogers TV provides coverage to Owen Sound, Georgian Bluffs, Meaford, and The Town of the Blue Mountains. Currently, county council meetings are being held virtually via Zoom and are streamed live through YouTube and the county's website. “This will be positive for increasing our reach through more traditional means that we haven't been a part of before,” Hatten said. The meetings will be streamed on Rogers at no cost to the county. And, in the instance of closed sessions of council, Rogers would be removed from the broadcast. Hatten added that Rogers will only have the availability to stream the meetings until 12 p.m. “So, on a day like this where the meeting does go long, they would simply just leave the meeting," he explained. "This is something that we will be able to continue when we get back into council chambers since we have already equipped ourselves with that recording equipment in there as well." Rogers TV will begin live streaming Grey County council and committee of the whole meetings on March 11. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca