A porcupine wanders away over the snow.
A porcupine wanders away over the snow.
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 The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said.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
A new educational resource looks at British Columbia’s long history of racist policies and the resiliency of the many Indigenous, Black and racialized people who have been affected. The open-source booklet Challenging Racist British Columbia: 150 Years and Counting was released today by co-publishers the University of Victoria (UVic) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The 80-page document is being made available as Black History Month wraps up and as B.C. approaches its 150th anniversary of joining Canada this July 20. “In 1871, this province joined the Canadian federation and, ever since, communities of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized peoples have waged protracted struggles against the dispossession of Indigenous lands, institutionalized discrimination, and the politics of exclusion,” the report begins. “They have won many victories, yet, 150 years later, we are witnessing yet another uprising against systemic racism.” The booklet was written by a group of academics and activists from diverse communities, who link historical events to recent anti-racism movements — around Black Lives Matter, the Wet’suwet’en blockades and more. One of the report’s authors Christine O’Bonsawin, a historian from the Abenaki, Odanak Nation, says the goal of the report is to educate people in so-called B.C. about the many injustices that haven’t been widely discussed in schools. O’Bonsawin is faculty of UVic’s History and Indigenous Studies departments, and the university’s former director of Indigenous Studies. “An important role of historians is to connect the past with the present,” she tells IndigiNews over the phone. “No doubt it’s a booklet about justice, and it’s about racism and oppression, but we wanted to prioritize activism, resistance and resilience.” The booklet’s authors say it’s meant to be utilized by teachers, scholars, policymakers and others doing anti-racism work. O’Bonsawin says those behind the report are doing outreach to provincial education organizations to ensure that it does. “One of our guiding objectives was that we hoped this would be useful for teachers to support the K-12 Indigenization process,” she says. “We wanted to make sure this was a public document that was accessible to all.” The document is divided into six sections covering various stories from the Indigenous, Black, Chinese, South Asian and Japanese communities. It spans from 1871, when B.C. joined Canada, to the present day. It includes historical photos, poems, and profiles of key people and organizations. Another of the report’s authors Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra — coordinator of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley and co-curator of exhibits at the Sikh Heritage Museum — says it counteracts inaccurate information about B.C. history. “This book offers a bold, honest, historical correction to the false narrative that Canada is exempt from white supremacy and racist nation state formations,” Sandhra says in a statement. “And for that reason, this book is the exact resource needed in this pivotal moment where an anti-racist movement continues to take shape. It is a resource for activists, students, educators, community professionals — it is a resource for all.” President of the BC Black History of Awareness Society, Sylvia Mangue Alene, says the booklet showcases how racism must be challenged. “In this booklet, subjects have answered in a very clear way what needs to be challenged, and that is racism,” she says in a statement. “Racism is challenged because we believe that there are better ways to treat people and that is with respect and inclusiveness in all aspects that life has to offer.” With B.C.’s 150th anniversary approaching, report co-author John Price, a historian at UVic, adds that it marks the ways in which activists and communities have been standing up to racism since the province’s formation. “Hopefully it serves as a wake-up call to governments that no longer should they engage in divide-and-rule policies. 150 years is long enough,” he says. The booklet’s other authors are Nicholas XEMŦOLTW̱ Claxton, Denise Fong, Fran Morrison and Maryka Omatsu. According to the resource website and accompanying press release, an interactive digital version of the resource “providing direct access to primary and community-based sources,” as well as an accompanying 20-minute video, will be released sometime this spring. Cara McKenna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
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
VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says the province isn't at a point where restrictions can be lifted due to concerns about the potential for rapid spread of COVID-19. Dr. Bonnie Henry says she understands the desire from B.C. residents to see restrictions lifted, such as the limit on social gatherings, but it can't happen yet. There are 395 more cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths. Henry says B.C. has seen its rolling seven-day average of cases rise, and there's potential to see rapid growth in the number of cases if residents "are not careful." On that front, B.C. is ramping its screening for variants of concern, with the aim to test 100 per cent of COVID-positive samples to see if they are likely variants that should be sent on for further testing. Henry also spoke of the challenges she's faced during the pandemic, including death threats and the impact they have had on her family and co-workers. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
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
Tay residents were unanimous that council is putting the cart before the horse by including a short-term rental accommodation (STRA) definition into its zoning bylaw. About a dozen residents expressed their thoughts, either by attending a recent public meeting or by sending in prior written comment, of which all but one aligned with the general sentiment that it was premature to include a definition before the ad hoc committee had completed its process. The proposed definition says STRA “shall mean the use of a main building containing a dwelling unit, or any part thereof,that is operating or offering a place of temporary accommodation, lodging or occupancy by way of concession, permit, lease, license, rental agreement or similar commercial arrangement for any period of 31 consecutive calendar days or less, throughout all or any part of a calendar year. "Short Term Rental uses shall not mean or include a motel, hotel, bed and breakfast establishment, cabin rental establishment, tourist lodge or similar commercial or institutional use.” Tay resident Patrick Hawkins was first in line at the virtual public meeting. "I oppose the definition of STR as I indicated in my written submission," he said. "With the greatest respect to council and staff, it puts the cart before the horse. It assumes there is something to regulate before the ad hoc committee does its work. It assumes council can decide on the definition and what has to be regulated before it has done the necessary work." Hawkins said the basic problem is the lack of definition around the problem. "This council needs to address whether this is a problem that can actually be fixed by new regulation or is it a problem that needs to be fixed with better enforcement and stiffer fines under current regulation," he said. Pavan Sharma was of a similar view. "There are a lot of bylaws that exist in the toolbox, so by trying to regulate STRAs right off the bat, versus trying to enforce existing bylaws, it causes more complications," said the Victoria Harbour resident. "It will end up potentially costing more because you still would have to enforce STR licensing versus dealing with the root problem." The next resident, John Rose, had an issue with the exclusion of bed and breakfasts from the definition. "I heard Mr. Farquharson talk about B&B in the usual definition, one of the hallmarks is that the owners residing are residents," he said. "Unfortunately, from what I see in the zoning bylaw definition, both the current zoning bylaw of B&B establishments and the draft from May 2018, neither requires the owner to be a resident at the dwelling at the time. "There can be some real confusion about whether someone is operating a B&B or STRA. Someone trying to avoid regulations that apply to STRAs could simply say, 'I meet the definition of the B&B so I'm operating a B&B and not an STRA.'" When another resident also raised a similar question,Steve Farquharson, general manager, protective and development services, manager of planning and development services, had to reiterate the section of the zoning bylaw that deals with B&Bs. "Section 4.4 of the zoning bylaw has regulations in place for B&B," he said. "The use shall be carried out by land owner who resides in the dwelling unit. It's not in the definition, but there are policies in place within the existing bylaw for B&Bs." Resident Kate Tagseth took it further. "The zoning covers commercial uses and we know AirBnBs are commercial," she said. "They're a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The houses we've been looking up in Victoria Harbour are listed as AirBnB accommodations. "I would agree with some of the earlier speakers that at this point a definition of a short-term rental is a little premature because you can't legislate something that is illegal. Our zoning already alludes to the fact that businesses in residential areas are illegal." Another resident said regulating STRs would affect the township's economy. "One of the reasons is that I think by having a definition which may lead to regulation could stifle economic development to the township," said Tiere Sharma. "If it were to be regulated in some fashion going in the future, I think it would prohibit tourism to the township and affect businesses. I would recommend any current STRs be grandfathered in and be exempt from future rules." Mara Burton said supports the definition if the addition would help bylaw enforce the current illegal use of short-term rentals. "These are neighbourhoods and we want to make sure we know our neighbours," she said. At the beginning of the meeting, Farquharson had said that all comments received will be compiled and presented to the ad hoc committee for further consideration before anything is brought to council. "We understand it's a very hot topic within the municipality, as well as other municipalities within Simcoe County, especially those that have waterfront property," he added. "We are just proposing to add the definition in there." Later in the evening, Tay resident James Pedretti questioned Farquharson's use of the term "hot topic." "The intent of my comment is that we're not the only municipality that's dealing with this item," clarified the latter. "We've had sessions at the County of Simcoe. The comment of it being a hot topic item is that we're not alone in dealing with this. It's not a revenue generating stream the township is looking at." Cathy Graham had questions about the types of properties to be included in the definition. "When you're defining your STRs, will you also be including the difference between single-family dwellings (and larger units) in the STRs?" she asked. Farquharson said the proposed definition currently does not distinguish between building structures. "It does say dwelling unit," he added. "If it's something we need to have in there, we can look to address that when we report back." All comments and feedback around the addition of a definition will be compiled and presented to an ad hoc committee, which will comprise of two council members, Coun. Paul Raymond, chair, and Coun. Mary Warnock, vice chair, of the protective and development services committee, Farquharson, township planner, the municipal law enforcement officer and any other staff as designated by Farquharson. Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
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. 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
Exploring the mountains, breathing in the fresh air, and connecting to the land is when Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) woman Myia Antone is happiest — whether it's hiking, skiing, or simply sitting back and taking in the beauty that surrounds her. Sharing this feeling with others and breaking down barriers to outdoor recreation for indigenous women has become her passion. The 24-year-old is the founder and director of Indigenous Women Outdoors, a new non-profit organization that helps First Nations women reconnect to their traditional territories and roots through backcountry sports on the North Shore and in Squamish. The group creates safe learning experiences through outdoor programs that provide gear and training to give women the confidence to take part in skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, and other activities. Antone's inspiration to help women in her community reignite their connection to the outdoors stems from facing barriers to backcountry sports in her own childhood, as well as not seeing a whole lot of indigenous representation in the outdoor industry growing up. “I always loved getting outdoors, but as everyone knows there are so many barriers for folx to get outside, whether that's gear or time, money or knowledge,” she said. “Growing up in Squamish, I saw so many people doing these really crazy, cool activities and I wanted to try them but that wasn't really an option for me at that point. Then when I got older and I was able to start affording these things a bit more and I started getting into the sports, I saw no other indigenous folx, or very few of us, in these spaces.” Breaking down barriers to the backcountry In 2017, Antone put the wheels in motion to start making a change with Tá7elnexwtway, a hiking project for Squamish Nation women that she kick-started with a grant. “I guess I've always just wanted to help people, especially in my community, and figure out how best I can,” she said. “So, I started a hiking program a couple of years ago. There was a lot of excitement around it, and I realized I wanted to grow it and help more indigenous folx who live on my territory.” The result is her inspiring non-profit organization IWO, which launched last year. “By creating a non-profit, I was really able to reach a wider audience and apply for more grants," Antone said. "It's through the grants and the partnerships now with local organizations that we’re able to offer some pretty awesome programming.” At the moment, the IWO courses are a little restricted due to COVID-19 provincial health officer regulations, but they are currently running a backcountry mentorship program for six women, focused on skiing, snowboarding and avalanche safety. “Everyone in the program is new to the backcountry, so it's pretty sweet being able to support these women on their journey,” Antone said. “We've been doing two workshops a month, all about safety in the backcountry and we provide [Avalanche Canada] AST courses for everyone. It's just a way to get outside and be in the mountains surrounded by the forest and the trees with other Indigenous folx.” When asked how women have responded to the program so far, Antone exclaimed: “Oh my gosh. They love it!” A post shared by indigenous women outdoors (@indigwomenoutdoors)Reigniting a connection to the land While backcountry safety and practical skills are a big part of the programming, Antone is also passionate about reconnecting Indigenous peoples to their lands and roots because it allows an opportunity for healing and to share knowledge and culture in a safe space. “It's such a special feeling to be in the mountains with just other Indigenous women, especially because a bunch of us are from the local communities,” she said. “Knowledge sharing is really easy when you're in a really safe and comfortable space. A lot of us are either coming back to our communities or cultures and learning our languages and ceremonies and so, we get to really share that piece of ourselves with the group too. “We get to leave every day just so happy in our hearts and spirits, and our minds are full of knowledge.” On top of running the non-profit, Antone is also a full-time student in the Squamish Language program at Simon Fraser University – learning and teaching the traditional language is another of her great loves. “There is this really amazing energy in the Indigenous revitalization space, where a lot of young folx are wanting to reclaim that piece of us and are wanting to learn and teach the languages that our people come from,” said Antone, who is also a UBC graduate in environment and sustainability. “For me, getting outside and land-based learning is such a big piece of it. So, I'm hoping to bridge my outdoor work with my language work. “I think that would be my dream.” Antone is also hoping to break down the barriers surrounding indigenous knowledge of the land and the outdoors and make it more widely recognized. “I think there is space in avalanche safety training and in the outdoor world to really uphold Indigenous knowledge, especially when the local communities have been on these lands for generations and thousands of years. We have such an intimate knowledge of these lands ... but we don’t hold space for that.” Youngest recipient of the Tim Jones Award Her inspirational work was recognized this week on the North Shore. In her mid-20s, Antone has become the youngest recipient of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival's Tim Jones Community Achievement Award, which is co-presented by North Shore Rescue. The award is presented to a community member who has made an outstanding contribution to the North Shore outdoor or sports community, in memoriam of the late and great Tim Jones, a paramedic and chief for more than 24 years with North Shore Rescue. Now in its eighth year, the award represents Jones’ legacy and serves as an inspiration to the community to selflessly help others. It highlights those who educate and share a passion for nature and a love for the North Shore’s backyard mountains, just as Jones did. While the past seven recipients of the award – which is usually regarded as more of a lifetime achievement – have been quite a bit older than Antone, this year the VIMFF shifted its focus to a younger generation to “inspire everyone that making a change and contributing to society does not come with age, but with passion and tenacity.” And, Antone has demonstrated all of that and so much more through her work with IWO. It’s why her friend and colleague Sandy Ward nominated her. “She strives to break down the barriers that keep these women from recreational sports, including high costs of equipment and access to knowledge,” Ward said in her submission. “She provides a safe space for these women to learn and thrive within a very tough industry.” And, the judges couldn’t agree more. Lindsay Jones, wife of the late Tim Jones, said Antone was “a wonderful role model.” “She selflessly helps other Indigenous women feel safe and supported while inspiring them to reconnect with their ancestral land,” she said. Peter Haigh, a North Shore Rescue member, said Antone deserved the recognition, and he hoped the spotlight helped her become better known, so she can encourage more participation in the outdoors. “Myia is re-introducing members of her society who would typically not learn to enjoy the great outdoors that some of us love,” he said. “She is active in the outdoors and encouraging others to experience the healing powers.” 'Honoured' to be recognized for her work Antone said she was “grateful and surprised” to receive the Tim Jones Award. “I'm very honoured that a friend nominated me,” she said. “I do work really hard and I put my head down, and that's just what I've always done, and what I do. So, to have people that I really look up to see that in me, it just means so much." She said it was “amazing” the award was now acknowledging younger generations. “The reality is we're going to be doing this work for a really, really long time, and to see people recognize that in us already, is really empowering and it makes me want to work even harder and inspire more people," Antone said. “I'm just really excited and I really hope that I can hold Tim Jones’ legacy in a beautiful way and really honour his life, his spirit, and his family.” Looking to the future, Antone hopes to grow the IWO community through a mentorship program with past participants. “I hope that we are able to inspire other indigenous folx to want to try these outdoor sports and have a base where we can support more and more people," she said. “I would love next year for people to not have to ask me what my non-profit is, but for them to just know who we are and what we do and know that our door is always open.” Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers pressed the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Thursday to explain why the force wasn't prepared to fend off a violent mob of insurrectionists even though officials had compiled specific, compelling intelligence that extremists were likely to attack Congress and try to halt the certification of Donald Trump's election loss. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman conceded there were multiple levels of failures that allowed hundreds of pro-Trump rioters to storm their way into the U.S. Capitol, overwhelming outnumbered officers and breaking through doors and windows. However, she denied that law enforcement failed to take seriously warnings of violence before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Three days before the riot, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning that armed extremists were poised for violence and could invade Congress because they saw it as the last chance to overturn the election results, Pittman said. Her testimony drove home a seeming disconnect between the intelligence and the preparation. Lawmakers, who were witnesses and potential victims last month as well as investigators now, are trying to get answers to why this symbol of American democracy was overrun so quickly by a mob whose plans were online and known. Reports aside, the assault was much bigger than expected, Pittman said. “Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat,” she said. Later, under questioning by the House subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tim Ryan, Pittman said that while there may have been thousands of people heading to the Capitol from a pro-Trump rally, about 800 people actually made their way into the building. Pittman's testimony provided the clearest and most detailed picture so far that Capitol Police were so concerned by the intelligence that they took extraordinary measures, including giving assault-style rifles to agents guarding congressional leaders and having other officers waiting with evacuation vehicles for top lawmakers to flee the Capitol, if needed. On Jan. 6, however, as the invaders wielded metal pipes, planks of wood, stun guns and bear spray, the vastly outnumbered rank-and-file officers inside the building were left to fend for themselves without proper communication or strong guidance from supervisors. The officers weren't sure when they could use deadly force, had failed to properly lock down the building and could be heard making frantic radio calls for backup as they were shoved to the ground and beaten by rioters, with some left bloodied. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman that police shot. While Pittman said in her testimony that sergeants and lieutenants were supposed to pass on intelligence to the department’s rank and file, many officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they would face. Four officers told The Associated Press shortly after the riot that they heard nothing from then-Chief Steven Sund, Pittman, or other top commanders as the building was breached. And officers were left in many cases to improvise or try to save colleagues facing peril. One officer said the department did not hold planning meetings with rank-and-file officers prior to Jan. 6 as it does with routine events like holiday concerts. The officer and others who spoke to AP were not authorized by the department to speak publicly and were granted anonymity. Thursday's hearing highlighted specific intelligence failures. Lawmakers focused not only on the Capitol Police force's own advance assessment of threats but on why senior department officials never reviewed a report from the FBI that warned about concerning online posts foreshadowing a “war” at the Capitol. That warning made its way to investigators within the police force and to the department's intelligence unit but was never forwarded up the chain of command, Pittman said. Even if it had reached the top officials, Pittman argued, Capitol Police wouldn't have done anything differently. Before she was named acting police chief — Sund, the former chief, resigned after the riot — Pittman was the assistant chief in charge of intelligence operations. “We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture, per se," Pittman said. “The information that was shared was very similar to what U.S. Capitol Police already had, in terms of the militia groups, the white supremacist groups, as well as the extremists that were going to participate in acts of violence and potentially be armed on the campus.” Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, said the internal report that the protests would be focused on the Capitol, and then the FBI memo firming that up “should have elevated the response, and it didn’t.” “And that’s where, you know, leaders get paid for judgment. And that was some bad judgment,” Ryan said. “And they also get paid to have nerve, and courage, to make the tough decisions when those tough decisions needed to be made.” The panel’s top Republican, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, said the top Capitol Police officials “either failed to take seriously the intelligence received or the intelligence failed to reach the right people.” The issue was also raised of whether police were hampered by a reluctance by higher-ups to call for National Guard troops to help. The police force is overseen by a separate body — the Capitol Police Board — which includes the sergeants at arms of both houses. Sund said at a separate hearing on Tuesday that then-House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving was concerned about the “optics” of the guard defending the Capitol, a contention Irving denied. In her testimony, Pittman denied that race played a role in the failure to heed warning signs. Images of white rioters moving unimpeded through the Capitol evoked comparisons to the far more heavy-handed response of law enforcement to Black Lives Matter protests and other marches and rallies. Pittman noted that she became the department’s first Black chief when she replaced Sund. Pittman is not only facing pressure from congressional leaders, but also faces internal criticism from her own officers, particularly after the Capitol Police union recently issued a vote of no confidence against her. Ryan stopped short of saying Pittman should be fired but said there are “some real questions about the decision making that was made.” He said there are “a lot of concerns” among Republicans and Democrats on the committee about her leadership and noted the lack of trust on her force. ___ Merchant reported from Houston. Michael Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick And Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press
The Highland Storm returned to the ice Feb. 19 to begin a second session after withstanding another pandemic-induced lockdown. The Storm announced an eight-week session Feb. 17, running until April 17. It will use a similar format to the one done in the fall, with enforced health protocols and teams only made up of local players, with no travel. Storm president, Jason Morissette, said more than 90 per cent of players and families from the first session were willing to play again. “It’s a good opportunity to get out and be able to do something they’ve been away from for a while during the lockdown,” Morissette said. “Outlet for the kids to be able to go exercise and do something that’s fun.” The continuation is possible due to the district being an “orange” zone, midway within the province’s COVID-19 response framework. With that comes a new protocol that only one person may accompany a player to watch, though people can still help their children get dressed before leaving for the duration of the game or practice. People from outside the district’s health unit also cannot enter the arena. “We’re going to follow all of the safety measures we did in the first session, which went well,” Morissette said. Still, the remainder of the season is in a precarious position. If cases spike and the district get moved to a “red” zone or back into lockdown, hockey would be disallowed. Morissette said that will probably mean the end to the season, even if restrictions were lifted afterwards. “The logistics of it would be very challenging,” Morissette said. At coaches’ request, Morissette said the organization will do more four-on-four play as well where possible, instead of only three-on-three. “Allow more kids to be on the ice each shift, rather than kids waiting on the bench,” he said. “It represents a little bit more of a challenge to the players that are sort of higher skillsets.” The Ontario Minor Hockey Association recognized the efforts of its volunteers to keep the game going in the pandemic as part of its Thank A Volunteer Week running Feb. 22-28. “Volunteers all over the province have found new and creative ways to offer some form of hockey,” executive director, Ian Taylor, said. “It speaks to the love they have for our game and the benefits it provides our children.” Morrissette said it is worthwhile to help youth mental health, which the pandemic has taken its toll on. He urged the community to follow protocols to minimize risks and keep the season going. “We’re excited kids do get the chance to get back onto the ice,” he said. “The number one priority is trying to keep everybody healthy and safe.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
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.
(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit) As the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rises, so too does the need for ventilators — and the people who know how they work. And that, according to one union, is an urgent problem. The Association of Allied Health Professionals, which represents respiratory therapists, says their members were already stretched thin prior to the pandemic. It penned a scathing open letter to the Liberal government Thursday, claiming the union's pleas for help have been roundly ignored. "It's not access to ventilators, but access to the respiratory therapists needed to operate them that's the real risk right now," the letter said. Union president Gordon Piercey told CBC News he's hearing from some of the 60 respiratory therapists in Newfoundland and Labrador, worried about how the province will handle a spike in people admitted for breathing issues. "They worry about their patients. They worry about their coworkers working that night shift, and they're worried about what they're going to face the next morning when they go in," Piercey said. "We are really concerned about what the plan is. If we have increased hospitalizations due to COVID, what that will look like." Gordon Piercey, president of the union that represents the province's 60 respiratory therapists, says many of them fear the worst if hospitalizations continue to rise. There aren't any contingencies he's aware of if those therapists are sent to quarantine or fall ill themselves, he says. Piercey says his members often work 12-hour shifts without a break, running between departments. If enough of them are forced to stay home, he wonders how treatment could continue. "They will do the work, probably to their own detriment, their own ... mental health and wellbeing," he said. "But that's not good enough." As an outbreak in the most populous part of the province continues to spread coronavirus variant B117, patients have found themselves facing delays when seeking emergency care. Eastern Health has said its staff at Health Sciences Centre in St. John's is pushed to its limits this week, as COVID patients flock there for treatment and upwards of 300 health-care workers remain in isolation. For weeks prior to the outbreak, the province had no more than one person in the hospital at a time. Now it has ten, according to the Department of Health, with five of those in intensive care. Therapists fear worst-case scenario Staffing shortages continue to plague the regional health authorities, with some medical workers told they may be summoned to fill gaps left by those completing a quarantine period. It's especially noticeable in long-term care centres, like Pleasantview Towers in St. John's, said Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses' Association of N.L. "They are looking at people with skill mix," said Coffey. "They are looking at people with the experience to redeploy back to Pleasantview Towers." "We've been a year into this pandemic and we feel like some of these conversations probably should have happened before this," Piercey said, indicating that the union wrote to the premier's office Monday to request a discussion. "It's now after lunch on Thursday and we still haven't heard a thing ... I've never experienced us treated that way by any former administration of government." Later Thursday afternoon, the premier's office issued a statement to CBC News, saying Premier Andrew Furey and Health Minister John Haggie — both in caretaker roles until votes are counted in March — had acknowledged the union's concerns and offered to set up a meeting. "We are happy to meet as representatives of the Liberal Party," the statement said, "respecting the caretaker government convention currently in place." "I think everyone's worst-case scenario right now is this pandemic accelerating to a point where health-care resources are going to become very, very strained," Piercey said. "We want to have this conversation ... And we don't want to be caught in a situation where we're trying to catch up after things have gone astray." Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
EDMONTON — Alberta's United Conservative government tabled its budget Thursday. Here are some of the highlights: — No new taxes or tax increases. — Deficit of $18.2 billion on estimated revenues of $43.7 billion. — Spending of $57.3 billion before expenditures on COVID-19 and cancelled crude-by-rail contracts. — Spending on COVID-19 to be $1.1 billion. An extra $1.8 billion as needed. — Taxpayer-supported debt of almost $116 billion by March 2022. Annual debt interest charges almost $3 billion. — Capital spending to be $20.7 billion over three years. — Heritage Savings Trust Fund pegged to reach $16.7 billion. — Personal income tax to generate an estimated $11.6 billion. — Corporate income tax estimated to be $1.9 billion. — Cannabis tax to come in at $105 million. — Public sector compensation, excluding physicians, set at $21.5 billion. To fall to $20.8 billion by 2024. — Compensation for doctors to remain steady from $5.2 billion now to $5.3 billion by 2024. — $3.1 billion to diversify economy and expand aviation, tech, pharmaceutical and tourism sectors. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images - image credit) The P.E.I. city of Summerside has been placed on COVID-19 alert after the Island's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, confirmed a cluster of three new cases Thursday evening. The cluster consists of three males in their 20s. The cases are currently under investigation and contact tracing is underway, said a press release that also promised a public update Friday. Anyone living in Summerside who is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 is being urged to get tested Friday and self-isolate until results come back. The news release said there will be increased testing capacity available at the city's Slemon Park facility. Summerside has a population of about 15,000 people. Prince Edward Island now has six active cases of COVID-19, and has diagnosed a total of 120 cases since the pandemic began almost a year ago. Two of those active cases were announced Wednesday after two women travelled within Atlantic Canada. Upon their return, Morrison told CBC on Thursday, one of them visited the Toys R Us store in Charlottetown between 10 a.m. and noon AT. Investigation underway Morrison said an investigation is underway involving any public health orders that may have been violated. Since the Atlantic bubble closed in December, in the face of rising case counts in the other three provinces in the region, anyone who has been off the Island must self-isolate on return. There are a few exceptions, involving single-day travel for a limited number of reasons, where the people involved do not have to self-isolate if they remained masked at all times and observed physical distancing. The symptoms of COVID-19 can include: Fever. Cough or worsening of a previous cough. Possible loss of taste and/or smell. Sore throat. New or worsening fatigue. Headache. Shortness of breath. Runny nose. More from CBC P.E.I.
County curlers are rocking the ice again as the Haliburton Curling Club reopened its doors Feb. 17 for its first session since the Dec. 26 lockdown. The club ran for several weeks in November and December with a limited slate of approximately 100 curlers, three nights a week, with COVID safety restrictions in place. It is the only curling club in the County which is operating amidst the pandemic. But the lockdown put a premature halt on the winter 2020-2021 schedule. Still, president, Kent Milford, said they were able to carry on with the lockdown lifted. “The only comment we’ve heard is people are just glad they’ve got an opportunity to get out and do something,” Milford said. “Relieve some of the boredom and stress and other things we’ve all faced over the last year.” The sport is not the same this year. Health precautions mean the social gathering aspect cannot be as robust. Travelling for bonspiels is also out. The lockdown also forced a schedule change, though Milford said they reorganized it by picking up where they left off. “No one’s overly concerned this year in making sure we have an even schedule or even some sort of competitive schedule,” Milford said. “It’s just to get some exercise, have some fun, have a little bit of social activity.” Board director, Wanda Stephen, said the first day back went well. “There was a great, big, sigh of relief from the crowd that was here, saying, ‘Yay, we made it’,” Stephen said. “Because there are a lot of clubs that didn’t reopen.” Milford said the club is in a financially stable position. But a major fundraiser – the Haliburton Home and Cottage Show – was cancelled in 2020 and is doubtful again for 2021. “Our strategy is we’re preparing for a show, so if we can have one, the logistics are in place,” Milford said. “It is difficult for me to see how we can have a show this year with the number of people we would normally have.” The club was allowed to curl thanks to the district staying in an “orange” zone under provincial COVID-19 protocol. But if case numbers worsen in the district, pushing that colour to “red” or “gray,” the club would have to halt. “Just hoping we can make it to the end of April without any shutdowns,” Stephen said. Milford said the curling sessions have remained COVID-safe, with no cases associated with the rink. He said they will follow whatever public health asks of them – and members are willing to work through those hurdles. “Curling is really an integral part of the community,” Milford said. “As long as we can keep them safe, and they wanted to do that, then we felt it was important to continue.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
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
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.
Dysart et al council expressed concerns with a Places for People proposal to turn Lakeview Motel into a new affordable housing development. City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL) housing program supervisor, Michelle Corley, presented to council Feb. 23 about the proposal to rehabilitate the motel into 15 affordable housing units, including 12 bachelor suites. As part of the CKL-Haliburton affordable housing program, Corley sought approximately $45,268 from Dysart in waived building fees and exemptions. But council delayed approval for staff to review the plan further. Mayor Andrea Roberts said they only have about $10,000 that could be used for affordable housing in the 2021 budget under economic development. “Very large contribution. We don’t have any reserves for that,” Roberts said. The proposal is part of an overarching Affordable Housing Target Program, spurring development with government incentives. Corley said the project is also contingent on a $150,000 interest-free forgivable loan from the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative. The project is separate from an affordable build Places for People is also proposing on Wallings Road municipal land, which Dysart council provided in-principal support for. Coun. John Smith said the Wallings Road project is more aligned with the municipal vision. He said he takes issue with converting the motel, given the need for summer tourism accommodations. “I struggle with, on a conceptual level, how this really advances the wellbeing of our community,” Smith said. Roberts said they cannot get into that philosophy and council’s responsibility is to examine what Dysart’s contribution should be. The Lakeview Motel went on the market in November, with its owners planning to retire. Coun. Larry Clarke said he was concerned about whether the development would provide for locals versus being taken up by people from outside the community through the housing program, which has a waiting list with both County and CKL residents. “To have it targeted for people looking for affordable housing, that are not going to be part of our economy here, to me is a concern,” Clarke said. Corley said people on the waiting list often choose communities they are familiar with, but it is not a guarantee. She further said council should keep in mind they plan to have a quarterly intake, with more projects to come. The County aims to create 750 new affordable units within the next 10 years. “We are really trying to work hard toward meeting and achieving these targets,” she said. “There’s the hope we can eventually have a plan within budgets or other planning and development policies that when it comes to affordable housing, there’s kind of a clear standard on what incentives could be offered.” Roberts said she wants to get clarification from staff around the equivalent residential unit (ERU) calculation. The development is requesting an exemption for adding seven additional ERUs, amounting to $32,900. Council voted to receive the report. Roberts asked staff to bring it back to the next committee of the whole meeting March 9. Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
MONTREAL — As Quebec began booking appointments Thursday for its expanded COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the province's health minister said he's in favour of vaccine passports for those who have been fully inoculated. Christian Dube was asked at a news conference whether such passports could be used to allow access to entertainment venues or restaurants. He said yes, drawing a parallel to the time of the H1N1 flu when people were required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding flights. "We're in digital world, I do not see why we could not have a QR code, like on a boarding pass when we fly," Dube said. “For me, a digital vaccine passport is normal, and we have teams that are looking into it." He said he has heard from businesses that would like to be able to check for proof of vaccination before letting people in. The notion of vaccine passports has been debated around the world as vaccinations have increased, but it has also raised ethical issues about possible discrimination. Quebec solidaire member of the legislature Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois criticized Dube's response and urged the government to tread carefully. “The potentially discriminatory effects of a 'vaccination passport' are considerable," Nadeau-Dubois wrote on Twitter. "It's not just about taking a plane or dining out, serious questions arise about access to housing, the right to work, to name just these two examples.” Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said he would not want such a passport to be seen as a free pass. “One of the dangers is that we say we’re vaccinated and we end up in a free-for-all,” Arruda said. "We know it'll protect you, it'll decrease your risk of complications, but it won't necessarily stop transmission to someone else." So far, only about four per cent of Quebecers have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Dube said Moderna has confirmed a shipment for March and the province expects to receive 700,000 doses in total, so it will be able to begin providing second doses as of March 15, falling within the 90-day limit the government set out in January. Inoculation is set to ramp up next week with vaccinations for anyone 85 and up in the Montreal area beginning Monday and elsewhere on March 8. In the Montreal suburb of Laval, some people in the designated age group were already getting shots Thursday. Dube tweeted at the end of the day that close to 100,000 people had signed up for appointments on the first day, and he said there were just minor issues with the online platform and phone booking system. Also Thursday, Quebec announced it will require elementary school students in regions hardest hit by COVID-19 to wear masks when they return from next week's March break, as the cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 variants continue to rise. Across the province, the number of suspected cases of coronavirus variants jumped to 772, an increase of 170. The number of cases confirmed through sequencing increased to 34, including 30 of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Arruda said that during the fall, outbreaks were seen mostly in high schools. But since Christmas more cases are being detected in primary schools. The Health Department said students in Grades 1 to 6 will wear pediatric procedural masks at all times inside classrooms and on school transport in Quebec's red pandemic-alert zones, which include Montreal and Quebec City. The new health orders comes into effect March 8, when students return from break. The province will be providing masks to the students, as it has done since Jan. 18 in high schools, where masks are mandatory. In elementary schools, only students in Grades 5 and 6 were previously required to wear masks in class. Health officials said certain students with special needs will be exempt from the new health order, and it won't apply when children are outside playing. On Wednesday, Montreal's public health director said 40 per cent of cases linked to variants in Montreal involve children, with another 20 per cent involving people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, believed to be parents of young children. As of Wednesday, there were 2,403 active cases in schools and 907 closed classrooms across the province due to COVID-19. Twelve schools were listed as closed or partially closed. Meanwhile, Quebec reported 858 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths attributed to the virus. Hospitalizations declined by 22 to 633 and there were eight fewer patients listed in intensive care, for a total of 122. Quebec has reported 285,330 confirmed cases and 10,361 deaths attributed to the virus, with 266,879 people listed as recovered. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
(Queens District RCMP - image credit) For the second time this week, P.E.I. police have come to the rescue of a seal pup on land. A concerned citizen phoned Queens District RCMP Tuesday morning informing them a seal had crossed the highway near Fairview. The animal was heading away from the water and into a field. "Whenever we arrived on scene, our member located a trail," said Cst. Louanne McQuaid. "Along with the trail, through the drone we were able to locate the seal." The animal had made its way about three kilometres inland and was found near the woods, said McQuaid. RCMP say a trail was discovered upon arrival that helped locate the seal pup. "The seal was put in a hockey bag, safely rescued and [the federal] Department of Fisheries and Oceans released the seal back into the North Shore." Who to call if you see a lost seal According to the Marine Animal Response Society, record-low ice levels are driving the animals ashore. Just days earlier, the Charlottetown police had also captured and released a seal found on a city sidewalk. The seal was placed in hockey bag on the back of a snowmobile. "Typically the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is called for something like this," said McQuaid. "Sometimes people don't know who to call and when they don't know who to call they call the RCMP." Drone footage of the seal found nearly three kilometres inland. McQuaid said Islanders who come across a lost seal can contact either DFO or conservation officers. Members of the public can also get in touch with the Marine Animal Response Society, which will then reach out to the correct agencies. More from CBC P.E.I.