The federal government is looking into putting COVID-19 testing in place for essential workers crossing Canada’s land border, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
The federal government is looking into putting COVID-19 testing in place for essential workers crossing Canada’s land border, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
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
Loblaw Companies Ltd.'s discount grocery stores are starting to win back market share after consumers flocked to conventional supermarkets at the outset of the pandemic, the company's president said Thursday. Sarah Davis said COVID-19 restrictions prompted many consumers to opt for conventional grocery stores as they sought a more "complete shop" while they limited the number of times they shopped a week. "When the pandemic started, we saw a flight to conventional, which had a significant impact on our discount business," she told analysts during a conference call after Loblaw reported its fourth-quarter profit and revenue rose compared with a year ago. The trend positively impacted sales at the company's conventional grocery stores. But given Loblaw's food business breakdown is about 60 per cent discount stores and 40 per cent conventional, Davis said the company has been "working to win that market share back." The company's fourth-quarter results showed a "closing of the gap," she said. "We're seeing an improved trajectory." Loblaw said its food retail same-store sales grew 8.6 per cent, with its conventional division growing 10.6 per cent and its discount division growing 7.4 per cent. That's up from the discount division's growth of 4.7 per cent in the previous quarter. Davis said the "food divisional results" were more balanced in the fourth quarter than they have been since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting customers are returning to discount stores following a "short pandemic hiatus." "We're seeing a little bit of change in consumer patterns, maybe not just the one shop," she said. "We're seeing a few more shoppers doing more than one shop in a week, perhaps shopping in a few different banners as well." Loblaw has conventional grocery stores like Loblaws, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer, Real Atlantic Superstore and Provigo, as well as a discount division, which includes No Frills and Maxi. Overall, the company said it earned net income available to common shareholders of $345 million or 98 cents per diluted share for the 13-week period ended Jan. 2, boosted in part by an extra week in the quarter. The result compared with a profit of $254 million or 70 cents per diluted share for the 12-week period ended Dec. 28, 2019. Revenue totalled $13.29 billion, up from $11.59 billion. Loblaw’s e-commerce sales spiked 160 per cent during the quarter as many provinces reinstated lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Meanwhile, Davis said the company is "ready to play a key role in the nationwide vaccination effort." She said the retailer's supply chain is able to deliver vaccines and begin administering the shots the day it receives them. The company's 1,300 Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix drugstores across the country are within 10 minutes of most Canadians, Davis added. The company's pharmacies have administered seasonal influenza vaccinations for years and are well positioned to do the same with the COVID-19 vaccines, she said. Yet Davis said Loblaw has not been given the rollout strategy across all provinces or the timing yet. The company's pharmacists in Alberta will start offering the vaccine in some stores next week, she said. Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all indicated the company will be part of the vaccination process, but Loblaw hasn't received more details such as the exact timing, Davis said. In British Columbia and Quebec, meanwhile, she said it appears pharmacists could play a role at the mass vaccination sites, but not within the drugstores themselves. However, Davis said the vaccine will likely be around for a long time and it's possible the scope of the pharmacy's role in some provinces could expand over time. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:L) Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press
NEW YORK — Wall Street's GameStop saga won't stop. After weeks of going dormant, shares of GameStop have suddenly shot higher again, rising 18.6% Thursday after surging 75% in the last hour of trading Wednesday. Thursday's gain, which topped 101% before shrinking, came even as most stocks across Wall Street fell sharply on worries about rising interest rates. The moves are reminiscent of the shocking 1,625% surge for GameStop in January, when bands of smaller and novice investors communicating on social media launched the struggling video game retailer's stock. That initial supernova heightened questions about whether the broader market was in a bubble and whether a new generation of traders should be able to take full advantage of the free trades available on their phones. Global markets swooned momentarily; Congress held a hearing. No clear reason seems to be behind this most recent move, leaving market observers to grasp at what little news is out there, but it does demonstrate the increased power that regular investors suddenly have. One major piece that drove last month’s surge is not as big a player this time around: a huge build-up of what’s called “short interest,” or bets by investors that the stock is set to fall. After short-selling funds got badly burned by last month's sudden surge, many fewer GameStop shares are being sold short now. That means this pop may not reach last month's heights. “It’s like dropping a ping-pong ball on the table,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. "The first bounce is the greatest while subsequent bounces are a bit more muted. We’re still getting a bounce, but it’s probably not going to drive up GameStop to $500 a share.” Here’s what we know: KITTY ROARS AGAIN — The most influential GameStop-backer may be Keith Gill, a colorful personality known for wearing a red headband and cat-themed T-shirts. He’s given regular updates of his GameStop holdings on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, going back to when a share cost just 85 cents in 2019. A day after testifying in a Congressional hearing about GameStop last week, he indicated he added another 50,000 shares after Feb. 3, doubling his GameStop stock position. By Feb. 3, GameStop had dropped toward $90 after touching a momentary peak of $483 in late January. CFO EXIT — This is one of the few actual pieces of news. Late Tuesday, GameStop said its chief financial officer had agreed to leave the company and that he was entitled to the benefits due to him under his employment contract for a “good reason” resignation. Speculation rose that the departure was part of the company’s accelerating transformation from a struggling brick-and-mortar retailer to a digital seller better able to compete in an increasingly online business. But this information was known when trading began on Wednesday, and the stock didn't surge until hours later. THE ICE CREAM CONE — Ryan Cohen is a co-founder of the Chewy online pet-supplies company. He is also a big shareholder of GameStop and on its board of directors. GameStop backers see his involvement as a key reason to bet on a successful transformation for the company into a successful digital powerhouse. On Wednesday, an hour or so before GameStop shares spiked, Cohen tweeted a photo of an ice cream cone from McDonald’s, along with an emoji of a frog. Sounds fairly mundane, but nothing is normal in the GameStop saga. Market watchers and Reddit users tried to parse the cryptic image. Some focused on how the original photo seems to have accompanied an article about a person who created a website tracking whether McDonald’s ice cream machines are working ... a person whose past tweets indicate he may be a holder of GameStop stock. LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE — Some market watchers speculated that GameStop’s surprise reanimation was a reaction to critical comments from Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. “That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you get a whole lot of people who are using liquid stock markets to gamble the way they would in betting on race horses,” Munger said on Wednesday while speaking at the annual meeting of Los Angeles Daily Journal The remarks didn’t win Munger many admirers on WallStreetBets, where traders often see themselves in opposition to Baby Boomers, hedge funds and others. One Redditor posted a chart in the forum showing the spike in GameStop’s shares, adding: “TAKE THAT CHARLIE MUNGER.” TRADING FRENZY — The stock's movement were so wild that trading was temporarily halted four times on Thursday for volatility. Even though some novice investors suspected something nefarious, such halts are normal. There are rules that mandate a halt in trading when a stock rises or falls by a certain percentage within a certain time. Even so, GameStop shares changed hands more times by midday Thursday than for Apple, a company with a market value nearly 180 times the size of GameStop. REGULATORS REACT — The Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission are reviewing whether trading practices were consistent with “investor protection and fair and efficient markets.” At a hearing last week by the House Financial Services Committee, some lawmakers floated the possibility of crafting new rules requiring market players to disclose short-selling positions and restricting arrangements of payment for order flow, a common practice in the securities markets in which Wall Street trading firms such as Citadel pay companies like Robinhood to send them their customers’ orders for execution. Stan Choe And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press
Quebecers 85 years and older were able to register for COVID-19 vaccinations starting Thursday, while seniors in Ontario will have to wait weeks to book in that province. The Quebec appointments are to begin next week in the Montreal region. Ontario’s vaccine distribution committee, blaming a lack of supply for the delay, has said seniors won’t be able to book appointments until March 15. Provinces are moving forward with their vaccine distribution plans as federal officials assure the disruptions that have plagued supply lines have been rectified. The vaccine appointment launch in Alberta on Wednesday left many frustrated when the government's online portal crashed after more than 150,000 people tried to get access to it about the same time. Some 230,000 people born in 1946 or earlier are now eligible to be immunized in that province. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, military commander in charge of the federal vaccine distribution program, said he understands that provinces may not have a lot of confidence in dose deliveries after a disappointing performance in February. But supply is already ramping back up, he said. The largest number of doses yet was delivered this week — 643,000 across the country. "Provinces are now in a position to fully deploy their immunization plans," Fortin said. Even with setbacks in recent weeks, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said more than 40 per cent of seniors over 80 have received one dose of the vaccine. About 5.5 per cent have received a second dose. Njoo cautioned it is not time for people to let their guard down. "For now, however, COVID-19 remains a serious threat” Concern over spread of the novel coronavirus in Quebec has prompted officials there to require primary school students in red pandemic-alert zones, including the greater Montreal area, to wear masks starting March 8. It won't apply to certain students with special needs or when children are playing outside. The more contagious B.1.1.7 variant — first detected in the United Kingdom — has become a significant concern in Montreal, where there is still widespread community transmission. The variant is making up eight to 10 per cent of new cases. Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal's public health director, said 40 per cent of cases linked to variants in the city involved children. Hospitalizations, however, are declining provincewide. Health authorities are reporting 858 new infections and 16 more deaths. Ontario was to release new COVID-19 projections later Thursday. The province has reported 1,138 new infections and 23 more deaths linked to the virus. There has been a total of 20,945 new cases across Canada over the past seven days. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
Advocates behind a campaign for province-wide public transit say it would increase safety and access in underserved rural communities, while others recommend improving competitiveness so the private sector steps up. “There have to be substantive investments made by government all across the province,” said Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond. “But there also needs to be a climate in British Columbia where we have the private sector looking at filling some of those gaps, as well.” In 2018, Greyhound cancelled bus routes across the province citing low ridership and reduced profitability, the provincial government opened the routes up for bids, and all but two are now covered by private operators, according to a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson. One remaining gap is the former Greyhound route from Kamloops, through Valemount and Jasper, and into Edmonton. “If it's not a medical issue, you can't go to Kamloops or Vancouver or anywhere points south for any sort of pleasure or business, unless you drive,” said Barb Shepherd, a winter bus rider and advocate for increased bus service through Valemount. “Even twice a week like the one going to Prince George would be fine.” When Greyhound cancelled its B.C. routes, the provincial government formed BC Bus North to connect regional centres, including Valemount, Prince George, Smithers, Prince Rupert, Mackenzie, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson. “A lot of the rest of the province was left with a kind of a piecemeal bunch of routes that don't necessarily work together and don't run very often,” said Maryann Abbs, one of the volunteers behind the Let’s Ride! campaign to make public transit B.C.-wide. “Why don't we treat the rest of the province like it needs transit, and have it as a public service?” said Abbs. “We think it's a win-win for the government to put some money into providing decent transit service for the rest of the province outside the Lower Mainland.” Transportation dollars tend to focus on massive infrastructure projects and regions of congested traffic, said Bond, a former transportation minister under the Liberal government and current MLA for the rural-urban riding of Prince George-Valemount. “I'm certainly a supporter of those kinds of (urban) investments, (but) transportation issues exist across the entire province.” In fact, nearly 20 per cent of most people’s expenses in B.C. are for transportation costs, according to BC Transit’s 2020 Strategic Plan. “It is far and away the number one thing we're trying to improve on in the province,” said Ed Staples, president of the B.C. Rural Health Network, a collective of communities advocating for improved rural health care delivery. In a survey of British Columbians last year by UBC’s Centre for Rural Health Research, rural residents spent an average of $777 in transportation costs to access healthcare services outside their home communities for their most recent health issue. “For people living rural, to be able to access the care that they need, many have to rely on transportation that they can't provide for themselves,” said Staples. “Even if they can provide transportation, sometimes it's a huge inconvenience.” The province has a mix of public city transit and private-public intercity services. Communities over 10,000 population, and most over 5,000, usually have transit run by local government in partnership with BC Transit. In smaller communities, residents can book custom transit, via Handy Dart or the health authorities, to reach medical appointments as far away as Vancouver. Still, non-medical transport between many rural communities remains a challenge. “Many areas of the province are without any regional transit system, and rely heavily on private transportation services such as taxis and private charters,” said representatives of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (IBCIC) in a letter to Premier John Horgan last November. “We need a unified, provincially-owned and operated public transportation system across BC, bridging communities and making transportation accessible for all.” People need better access to get to work, daycare and medical appointments, said UBCIC secretary-treasurer and Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Judy Wilson. “It should be provided without hardship to families that live below the poverty line.” Some people resort to hitchhiking or finding rides through social media, said Wilson. “(The Province) did a lot of investments in Vancouver, but they need to also invest in the rural and remote areas,” she said. Recently announced Safe Restart funding, provided jointly by the federal and provincial governments, will limit fare increases and provide $86 million, mainly to BC Transit municipal partnerships, according to the ministry. The provincial government also funded 12 mostly Indigenous communities in the north to purchase vehicles and operate their own transportation services. “People question the viability of Greyhound routes, but it depends on how convenient they are; it depends on the frequency of when they come through communities,” Bond said. “How do we make it competitive enough and how do we make it convenient enough that there's room for private sector companies to survive?” According to a ministry source, the application process was simplified to encourage private sector intercity bus operators to serve abandoned Greyhound routes. Thompson Valley Charters, a Kamloops owned and operated transportation company, recently applied to run a twice-a-week bus service from Kamloops to Edmonton. “Public transportation to urban centres is a need for Valemount, particularly in the winter,” said village mayor, Owen Torgerson. “The offer from Thompson Valley Ltd. will provide a partial solution and hopefully will show others in the private sector that rural public transport is a sound business model.” The solutions are up for discussion, but ideally, people would have a public transportation system that runs on a regular basis, that they can count on to get them where they need to go, said Staples. “And that's not what we have right now,” he said. Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
WINNIPEG — Manitoba New Democrats will meet this weekend and may debate everything from hiking the minimum wage to stopping pipelines to running nicer election ads. The official Opposition party is to hear from delegates online at a policy convention Saturday. Among the resolutions being put forward by local constituency groups is one that calls for increasing the minimum wage to a level that could exceed $15 an hour. Another resolution calls on the party to push the federal and provincial governments to oppose any new pipelines, fracking or extraction projects. And another calls on the party to avoid negative personal attacks in election campaigns. In the 2019 election, the NDP ran ads with actors who appeared to call Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister an "ass," although the ending of the word was drowned out by traffic noise. "The Manitoba NDP will not engage in personally denigrating messaging during election campaigns," reads the resolution from the party's Interlake-Gimli constituency association. It says negative messaging must be avoided because it hurts the party's integrity, detracts from the party's platform and "because NDP election campaigns should not have to feel shame for the party's messaging." It's not clear how many resolutions will be debated this weekend. Because of time limits at each convention, only a small amount of the dozens of resolutions get discussed before time runs out. Even resolutions that get approved are not guaranteed to be adopted by the party if it forms government. Former NDP Premier Gary Doer never enacted convention resolutions that called for a ban on replacement workers during labour disputes, for example. On the minimum wage, a resolution put forward this year on behalf of some two-dozen constituency associations calls for a living wage that "may exceed $15 an hour when the NDP forms government." On energy projects, a resolution calls for an end to new pipelines, fracking and extraction projects in order to respect Indigenous land and to move Canada away from fossil fuels. Some resolutions call for aid during the COVID-19 pandemic — more health-care staff, more supports for small businesses and a ban on tenant evictions. Others call for expanded social programs — a cap on post-secondary tuition tied to inflation, no-fare transit in Winnipeg and wider medicare coverage for things like dental work and eye care. The weekend meeting is the second part of a NDP convention that started last month, when delegates gave Wab Kinew 93 per cent support in a leadership review. Recent opinion polls have suggested the party has grown in popularity. One survey in December from Probe Research Inc. suggested NDP support had surpassed that of the governing Tories for the first time in more than four years. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb 25, 2021. Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada is launching an investigation and reviewing its practices after two returning travellers were allegedly sexually assaulted during their mandatory quarantine periods. A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said allegations of assaults reported in the media this week are "really concerning." Cole Davidson said the public health agency would review its own procedures as well as those of its service providers to ensure the safety of travellers returning to the country. The response follows reports that a quarantine screening officer as well as a returning traveller have been charged in separate sexual assault cases that allegedly occurred last week. The Opposition Conservatives immediately demanded a suspension of the obligation for travellers to quarantine in hotels until better safety measures are in place, as well as an end to the use of security guards, who they say haven't been properly evaluated, to check on people quarantining at home. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says he doesn't necessarily believe the quarantine measures need to be suspended, but he wants to see improvements to ensure the safety of travellers under quarantine. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases reported at the military service academies dropped in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 school year, the Pentagon said Thursday. The report, which is required by law annually, comes as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that reducing sexual assault is one of his top priorities. He was recently briefed on the military service's programs to counter the problem. “We have been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right,” Austin said last week at his first Pentagon news conference. He promised stronger efforts. “You can look for us to take additional steps in looking in detail at ourselves and what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what measures we need to take going forward to ensure that we provide for a safe and secure and productive environment for our teammates,” he said. “Any other approach is, in my view, irresponsible.” Thursday's Pentagon report said the number of reported sexual assault cases at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy fell to 129 from 149 in the previous academic year. Sexual harassment reports dropped to 12 from 17. The report said the reason for the declines is unclear, but it noted that in-person classes at the military academies were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials altered most academy activities, including holding graduations virtually and postponing commissioning ceremonies. Thus, it said, the academies offered only about three-quarters of normal levels of interaction. Separately, an in-person survey of military academy students that is normally conducted to give the Pentagon a better understanding of the sexual assault problem and its prevalence was cancelled because of the pandemic. Robert Burns, The Associated Press
TORONTO — Ontario had no updated plan for dealing with a pandemic when COVID-19 began cutting a deadly swath through the province last spring, a public commission was told. In testimony before the panel released on Thursday, the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, denied responsibility for the shortcoming. The province had developed a pandemic response plan in 2006 that was updated in 2013, but the process stalled after work started on a "Ready and Resilient" blueprint in 2016. "Do you have any knowledge about the "Ready and Resilient" plan and why it wasn't completed in four years before COVID?" commission co-counsel John Callaghan asked. "The process was in place, and they were doing reviews on it," Williams answered. "Why was it not done?" "Because it was not completed." The commission is delving into the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Ontario's long-term care homes. To date, coronavirus disease has killed 3,753 residents and 11 staff members. Williams said pandemic preparation drifted down the priority list because things had been relatively quiet for several years. Historically, he said, planning focused on influenza A, a situation that hadn't changed as late as 2019 when the World Health Organization said the world is not ready for a pandemic. "For seven years, you never felt the need to increase your pandemic plan, your influenza pandemic plan?" Callaghan asked. "We did quality work back in 2006," Williams said. "You are saying, in your opinion, it was your decision not to upgrade the 2013 plan?" "No, I was not asked to update the plan." Williams said he "took flak" over pushing more robust preparation for a major infectious disease outbreak because others saw the exercise as wasting time and resources for something that would never occur. "It is hard to keep that prevention thing always at the front table because the tyranny of the urgent always pushes things aside," Williams said. "It was to me disappointing to find the lack of depth and breadth of infection prevention and control expertise that was available out there." Williams said he was shocked to discover the poor situation at long-term care homes when it came to masks and other personal protective equipment. The purpose of the provincial stockpile, he said, was to equip front-line doctors and their offices, not long-term care facilities. Nursing homes, he said, were supposed to have their own supplies able to last between four and seven weeks. However, when the pandemic hit in earnest, he learned most of the protective equipment was made in China and global demand had outstripped supply. "That was startling and shocking to me that that had happened in there because it is something that I thought we had in-house; anyways in North America at least," he said. Constant staff turnover of key personnel in nursing homes hampered efforts to ensure adequate infection prevention controls were in place, he said. "The changeover was at times disconcerting," he said. Callaghan called it "vexing" the commission had received 217,000 pages of documents from Williams only in the week before he testified. The co-counsel also noted Williams had provided 2,000 pages of his redacted notes. New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said Williams' testimony made it "astoundingly clear" the government was trying to hide its response to COVID-19 in nursing homes. “The Ford government and Dr. Williams are taking great pains to hide, bury and cover up how they dealt with COVID-19 in long-term care homes,” Horwath said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
Strathmore town council passed first reading of a bylaw that, if enacted, would prohibit conversation therapy from being practiced or advertised in Strathmore. First reading of the Prohibited Business Bylaw passed unanimously by town council on Feb. 17. The bylaw will be deliberated again for second and third reading at the council meeting on March 17. The bylaw was first introduced to council by Geoff Person, communications manager, during the town’s Feb. 10 committee of the whole meeting. During a public engagement process held last summer, the town received views from over 170 people providing support for banning conversion therapy in Strathmore, said Person. The town used this feedback to help draft the specifics of the bylaw, which is modelled off the City of Calgary’s Prohibited Business Bylaw, passed in May 2020. Under the proposed bylaw, conversion therapy is defined as any practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. If adopted, the bylaw would prohibit conversion therapy from being offered as a business service in town, and would also prohibit the advertising of these services. The specified penalty for an offence under the draft bylaw is $10,000. If that fine is not paid, anyone guilty would be liable to up to a year in prison. An in-person session will be held for residents to share their views on the bylaw on the evening of March 17. Speakers must register and each presentation will be limited to three minutes. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
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. 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, and the lawmaker was not identified. 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 indicated one, the House Health and Social Services Committee, would be held by teleconference. Austin Baird, communications director for the Stutes-led Alaska House Coalition, said the leaders of that committee found a way to hold the meeting safely. The meeting topic involves 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 planned to press on with its work Thursday though “vulnerable staff and legislators” were encouraged to stay home, said Daniel McDonald with the Senate majority press office. 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 declined to identify the House member who tested positive. 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.” 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 has yet to meet this session. 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
LOS ANGELES — Rebel Wilson is going to the dogs. And it’s not the first time. The Australian actress comes from a family with a long history of handling and grooming dogs and will return to her roots as host of ABC’s “Pooch Perfect,” an eight-episode series featuring 10 dog groomers and their assistants competing in challenges. She said Thursday that her great-grandmother began a beagle club in Australia and that her mother judges dog shows internationally. As a child, Wilson travelled in her family’s yellow van to shows and sold grooming products despite being allergic to dogs. “My mom was devastated when I chose not to continue the family legacy,” Wilson said in a virtual call with the Television Critics Association. “When I told her I wasn’t going to continue in the family business and try to be an international movie star, she cried. I had to tell her in a public place so she wouldn’t do anything too crazy.” In the show, Lisa Vanderpump, dog groomer Jorge Bendersky and veterinarian Callie Harris will vote on creations from dog groomers and one team will be sent back to the doghouse — or eliminated — each week. The remaining teams square off in a grooming transformation. The top three teams will compete for $100,000. The show debuts March 30 and is based on an Australian version. “Pooch Perfect” is Wilson’s first project after undergoing her own transformation. She lost 60 pounds during her self-proclaimed year of health last year. “I’ve been showing it off on Instagram a bit too shamelessly,” she said. “I get two looks per episode, and I like to work with my stylist and show off the new physique because still single. So this is my prime-time opportunity to just really put it out there.” Wilson worked without a studio audience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the seats are filled with stuffed animals. “I do try to bring the comedy in the show,” she said. “I also do what's called ‘dogography' in the show, which is a new term I invented. We dress the PAs (production assistants) up in dog costumes, and I work out little dances. I tried to lighten it up.” Beth Harris, The Associated Press
(Lea Storry/Twitter - image credit) The fireball that lit up the sky across the Prairies on Monday morning was a small piece of a comet that burned up in the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Alberta say. "Using two observation sites, we were able to calculate both its trajectory and velocity, which tell us about the origin of the meteor and reveal that it was a piece of a comet," Patrick Hill, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a news release Thursday. "This chunk was largely made of dust and ice, burning up immediately without leaving anything to find on the ground — but instead giving us a spectacular flash." The flash, captured by dozens of doorbell cameras and dashcams, occurred at 6:23 a.m. local time as the debris streaked through the sky to a final point on its trajectory 120 kilometres north of Edmonton, the researchers said. The flash was visible throughout Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan due to the unusually high altitude of the fireball, they said. WATCH | Fireball flashes across the Prairie sky: The chunk, likely only tens of centimetres across in size, was travelling at more than 220,000 km/h when it entered the atmosphere, they said. "This incredible speed and the orbit of the fireball tell us that the object came at us from way out at the edge of the solar system — telling us it was a comet, rather than a relatively slower rock coming from the asteroid belt," Chris Herd, curator of the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection and science professor, said in the release. "Comets are made up of dust and ice and are weaker than rocky objects, and hitting our atmosphere would have been like hitting a brick wall for something travelling at this speed," Herd said. 'This is an incredible mystery to have solved' While rocky objects usually burn up between 15 to 20 kilometres above the ground, Monday's fireball occurred at an altitude of 46 kilometres allowing the flash to be seen across a wide area. "All meteoroids — objects that become meteors once they enter Earth's atmosphere — enter at the same altitude and then start to burn up with friction," Hill said. "Sturdier, rocky meteoroids can sometimes survive to make it to the ground, but because this was going so fast and was made of weaker material, it flashed out much higher in the atmosphere and was visible from much farther away." The research team calculated the trajectory of the fireball by using dark-sky images captured at the Hesje Observatory at the Augustana Miquelon Lake Research Station and at Lakeland College's observation station in Vermilion, Alta., the release said. "This is an incredible mystery to have solved," Herd said. "We're thrilled that we caught it on two of our cameras, which could give everyone who saw this amazing fireball a solution."
Authorities say that all those connected to the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have now been arrested.View on euronews
TORONTO — Eight schools in Toronto now have at least one case of a more contagious COVID-19 variant. In a letter to parents, Toronto Public Health says the discovery is not unexpected as the variants are known to be spreading across Ontario. The health unit says affected students were sent home. The unit also says it has followed up with close contacts and is recommending testing. Of the schools, three are in the Toronto District School Board, three are in the Catholic board, and two are private. Public health says everyone in a household should complete the daily screening tool for staff, visitors and all students before going to school. 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. The Canadian Press
Boeing Co will pay $6.6 million to U.S. regulators as part of a settlement over quality and safety-oversight lapses going back years, a setback that comes as Boeing wrestles with repairs to flawed 787 Dreamliner jets that could dwarf the cost of the federal penalty. Boeing is beginning painstaking repairs and forensic inspections to fix structural integrity flaws embedded deep inside at least 88 parked 787s built over the last year or so, a third industry source said. The inspections and retrofits could take up to a month per plane and are likely to cost hundreds of millions - if not billions - of dollars, though it depends on the number of planes and defects involved, the person said.
CAMEROON, Cameroon — Linda Thomas-Greenfield presented her credentials as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday, officially taking on one of the most challenging jobs for the Biden administration of helping to restore the United States as a top multilateral player on the global stage after former President Donald Trump’s unilateral “America First” policy. The longtime American career diplomat thanked Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, who swore her in on Wednesday, for choosing her for the “distinguished position.” “That was made all the more wonderful because I knew you were here,” she told Guterres who served as the U.N.’s refugee chief before his election to the U.N. post. “I worked with you in the past on refugee issues so I’m looking forward very anxiously to getting to work and working on many of the key issues that we know are before the United Nations and we know that people around the globe are looking to us for.” Guterres warmly welcomed Thomas-Greenfield, calling her a “distinguished global citizen" with great compassion for refugees. Thomas-Greenfield and Guterres then moved to his private office on the 38th floor of U.N. headquarters overlooking New York’s East River for private talks. She will be jumping right into her new job, tackling global peace and security issues with Russia, China and a dozen other countries because the United States takes over the rotating presidency of the powerful U.N. Security Council on Monday. And she might even decide to attend a council meeting on Friday. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told a group of reporters Wednesday that “the red carpet” will be rolled out for Thomas-Greenfield and Moscow is ready to work with President Joe Biden’s administration -- but “it takes two to tango.” “We are looking forward to interactions with her,” he told a group of reporters Wednesday. “You can count on our most favourable attitudes and positive emotions towards her as a member of our Security Council family.” Noting Thomas-Greenfield's decades as a U.S. diplomat, he said “it's always easier to interact with professionals." But he said America’s view that Russia is “an enemy” and a “threat” hasn’t changed under Biden, so “it’s very difficult to imagine how the interaction with us might change with such starting points of the positions of the new administration.” Nonetheless, Polyansky said, “there are a lot of things Russia and the United States can do together” and “we will judge the new administration by what it does.” “We’re in favour of co-operation,” he said. But “it takes two to tango, and really we’re ready to dance, but we need a good and reliable partner who knows all the moves and who respects us” as a country with certain positions, “doesn’t view us as a threat” and sees “our obvious national interests in many issues.” Thomas-Greenfield, a retired 35-year veteran of the U.S. foreign service who rose to be assistant secretary of state for Africa, resigned during the Trump administration. She will be the third African-American, and the second African-American woman, to hold the U.N. post. Her confirmation on Tuesday was hailed by Democrats and advocates of the United Nations who had lamented former President Donald Trump’s “America First” unilateral approach to international affairs and rejoiced at President Joe Biden’s return to multilateralism. At the Senate hearing on her nomination, Thomas-Greenfield called China “a strategic adversary” that threatens the world, and called a speech she gave in 2019 that praised China’s initiatives in Africa but made no mention of its human rights abuses a mistake. The Senate voted 78-20 to confirm her with Republican opponents saying she was soft on China and would not stand up for U.S. principles at the U.N. Thomas-Greenfield said at the hearing that Washington will be working not only with allies “but to see where we can find common ground with the Russians and the Chinese to put more pressure on the Iranians to push them back into strict compliance” with the 2015 agreement to rein in their nuclear program. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and Biden has indicated the U.S. will rejoin it, though how that might happen remains a major question. Polyansky said Russia welcomes the “positive developments” on the Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. agreement to extend the START nuclear agreement, adding that Moscow is ready for serious and meaningful discussions “first and foremost in the area of strategic stability.” Thomas-Greenfield stressed at the hearing that the U.S. will be reengaging internationally and promoting American values -- “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security.” Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that Thomas-Greenfield should promote human rights as “a top priority.” “She should abandon the Trump administration’s selective approach to human rights – enthusiastically condemning its enemies’ abuses while ignoring rights violations of allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “But there’s room for continuity on China and Syria," Charbonneau said. “She should make expanding the coalition of nations willing to speak out against Beijing’s human rights abuses one of her chief goals at the U.N., above trying to bring African, Asian, and Latin American states into the fold. And she should continue to push for expanded humanitarian access to all parts of Syria.” Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press
Businesses in Strathmore could start paying different licensing fees, depending on their size or other characteristics. A motion passed during the on Feb. 17 town council meeting directs town administration to explore whether Strathmore could adopt an approach used in other municipalities, where different license fees are charged depending on business size. Under the town’s current business license bylaw, passed in 2010, general business licenses cost $100 for residential businesses and $200 for non-residential businesses. Under this model, a large “big box” retailer pays the same fee as a small downtown storefront. Strathmore town Councillor Jason Montgomery said Canmore uses a tiered structure, where different businesses pay different amounts, depending on certain variables. In Canmore, license fees vary by square footage (for retail, commercial, wholesale and industrial businesses), by number of rooms (for hotels) and by seating (for restaurants), among other business-specific classes. Chestermere also employs a tiered approach for home-based businesses. It differentiates home businesses into two classes based on whether clients or customers visit, with a major home business (where customers visit) is charged $100 annually for a business license, compared to $50 for a minor home business (where customers do not visit). The intent of the possible change would not be to take in more revenue from business license fees overall, but rather to ease fees on smaller businesses that use less resources than larger ones, said Montgomery. Adopting the change would make the system fairer among different sized businesses in the community, said Mayor Pat Fule. Councillor Denise Peterson also spoke in support of the motion. “I think our community has grown to the point that it’s time for a review of how we operate,” she said. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers. The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country's parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc's Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms. The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail.
WELLINGTON COUNTY – The Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project is looking toward the next phase targeting funding broadband projects in lower-density areas. SWIFT is a non-profit that aims to subsidize broadband projects in rural southwestern Ontario areas that have poor or no connectivity. George Bridge, Minto mayor and SWIFT board member, and Barry Field, SWIFT executive director, gave an update on the project to Wellington County council at Thursday’s meeting. In the presentation Bridge noted some highlights from the first phase of the project, called SWIFT 1.0. He explained they are exceeding their target of 50,000 premises served by a few thousand and are very close to reaching their kilometre of fibre laid goal. He was also happy to report that despite earlier concerns from smaller companies about SWIFT becoming a “Bell and Rogers show,” projects from small internet service providers (ISPs) accounted for about half of the funding given through SWIFT’s first phase. The small ISPs will become more important for SWIFT 2.0, the next phase of the project where SWIFT intends to focus on projects in lower density areas. “The bigger ones, Bell and Rogers, they go after so many people per km but your small ISP, for example they’ve gone down as low 3.1 density per km or three houses on a km,” Bridge said. “Our next round we’ll get into, some of the low hanging fruit has been done, now we need to get out to that last mile.” The funding is a big question for the next phase as there has been no commitment on what the province and federal governments will give, if anything at all. A third of SWIFT is funded by the province and a third from the federal government, with the private sector filling in another third and municipal governments providing some capital contributions. Coun. David Anderson asked if there’s anything they could do to give projects a better chance at a successful grant application. Field said municipal financial support or just letter of support for a grant application — which Field noted applies for other funding beyond SWIFT — can go a long way. He also said it might be helpful to encourage local ISPs to apply for funding if they haven’t done so. Wellington North mayor Andy Lennox questioned how to ensure funding gets distributed more equitably so lower density projects aren’t missed again. Field said by the time SWIFT 2.0 comes around those will be most of the projects left and to lower the number of premises per kilometre required, which in the first phase is at around 17 premises per km on average. “There are things we can do in the (request for proposals), the procurement itself, to not only encourage but ensure that we’re not getting at that easiest of the remaining premises,” Field said, noting this was a valid criticism of SWIFT 1.0. “We did have a very high premises count target we had to achieve and that kind of led to policies we had to encourage more premises passed.” Coun. Jeff Duncan asked if a possible federal election this year could delay or impact the next phase. Field said he wasn’t sure but did stress there is no commitment from upper levels of government to fund SWIFT 2.0. Bridge said they’ve been advocating through the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to all political parties and there is no question from any of them that this is needed. The presentation was accepted as information from council. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com