Pricey trees and wild cats in an abandoned town; In The News for Dec. 12

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 12.

What we are watching in Canada ...

Ontario's four major teachers' unions will hold a joint news conference this morning to give an update on their ongoing contract talks with the province.

The unions — which represent both elementary and high school teachers in public, Catholic and French boards — have provided little detail about the planned announcement.

But last month, the four unions issued a joint statement condemning the passage of the Progressive Conservative government's wage cap legislation.

The unions say the bill, which caps all public sector salary increases at one per cent per year for the next three years, violates their charter rights.

They said at the time they were preparing a court challenge of the legislation.

The government has said the wage cap bill respects the bargaining process, noting it still allows for employees to get raises for seniority, performance or increased qualifications.

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Also this ...

A sentencing hearing starts today for a man who struck a police officer with a car before stabbing him multiple times outside an Edmonton football game.

Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, who is 32, was also found guilty of running down four pedestrians with a U-Haul van in September 2017.

A jury convicted Sharif in October of attempted murder, aggravated assault, criminal flight causing bodily harm and dangerous driving.

He was not represented by a lawyer.

The three-week trial heard from about 40 Crown witnesses, but Sharif declined to call any witnesses and did not testify in his own defence.

He has also declined to participate in a pre-sentencing report, which can help a judge determine punishment.

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ICYMI (In case you missed it) ...

MONTREAL — Consumers on the hunt for a Christmas tree have little to cheer about this year, as prices are through the roof due to a shortage of trees that can be traced back to the 2008 financial crisis.  

The Great Recession put thousands of American Christmas tree farmers out of business, resulting in far fewer seedlings being planted. As trees have a maturity cycle of 10 years, the lack of supply is just now beginning to bite, pushing up U.S. demand for Canadian Christmas trees and causing higher prices for consumers across the continent.

The average price of a tree rose 123 per cent to US$78 in 2018 from US$35 in 2013, says the U.S. National Christmas Tree Association. Price growth has also occurred in Canada with sales at Christmas tree farms up by 15 per cent annually for the last five years on average.

Part of the reason was to make up for a decade of stable pricing and rising labour costs, but demand has been growing steadily for the past few years — with a sharp spurt this year — said Stephanie Quinn, who runs the nursery with her husband Phil.

Their top-price Tannenbaums now cost $80 while bargain timber goes for $55, with the price dependent on quality, species and height.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

The House Judiciary Committee took the first steps toward voting on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, beginning a marathon two-day session to consider the historic charges.

Democrats and Republicans on the panel used the prime-time hearing to make final arguments for and against impeachment. Both sides appealed to Americans' sense of history — Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to hold the president in check, and Republicans decrying the process and what it means for the future of the country.

On Thursday, the committee will consider amendments and likely hold a final vote to send the articles to the House floor. The two articles of impeachment that Democrats introduced Tuesday charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his dealings with Ukraine.

The articles aren't expected to be changed, though, as Democrats are unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump's impeachment.

Democrats have already agreed to the language, which span only nine pages and say that Trump acted "corruptly" and "betrayed the nation" when he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election. Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn't have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

Britain's election has been like the country's late-autumn weather: chilly and dull, with blustery outbursts.

On the last day of the campaign, political leaders dashed around the U.K. on Wednesday trying to win over millions of undecided voters who will likely determine the outcome.

Opinion polls suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives have a lead over the main opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn ahead of Thursday's election. But all the parties are nervous about the verdict of a volatile electorate fed up after years of Brexit wrangling.

Truck driver Clive Jordan expressed a weariness that could be heard up and down the country during the five-week campaign.

"Basically I just want it over and done with now," he said. "Nobody's doing what they said. Everybody's lying."

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Weird and wild ...

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Cat lovers across Atlantic Canada are rallying to save feral felines in a Newfoundland town that will soon be abandoned, as the provincial government backs down from a plan to destroy the animals.

Human residents of Little Bay Islands are scheduled to leave by the end of the month, leaving dozens of feral cats without the assistance they need to survive.

Carol Hull, a local advocate who has tended to the cats for years, said the colony has grown too large for her to adopt or re-home by herself.

Like many small outports in the province, Little Bay Islands' population has dwindled over the years, with some owners leaving their pets behind. The animals have procreated and formed a roaming band that Hull estimates at about 40 animals.

Sonya Higgins with Nova Scotia rescue group Healing Animal SCARS says volunteers are willing to travel and help local rescue groups trap the cats — but plans are on hold until they hear from the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources says it will not get in the way as volunteers step in.

"Individuals opposed to the province's intended response have established their own plan for dealing with the feral cats," the statement said. "Veterinarians with the Animal Health Division do not endorse this plan, but will be monitoring the situation with the hope that it is successful."

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Know your news ...

Merriam-Webster.com says "they" is its word of the year for 2019, citing increased attention given to those who consider themselves nonbinary and use it as a personal pronoun. In The News reported on Dictionary.com's word of the year earlier this month. What was it? 

(Keep reading for the answer)

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On this day in 1985 ...

A U.S. DC-8 crashed and exploded on a hillside shortly after taking off from Gander, Nfld. The crash claimed the lives of 250 U.S. military personnel and eight crew members, the worst air crash on Canadian soil.

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Your health ...

TORONTO — A new study finds that people who live in Ontario's poorest neighbourhoods are more likely to suffer avoidable deaths than those who live in the richest neighbourhoods.

Researchers at ICES, a non-profit research institute that uses population-based health information, found 124,000 avoidable deaths in the "most materially deprived areas" between 1993 and 2014. 

That's compared to 66,000 avoidable deaths in the most well-off areas, where average income, education and employment levels were highest.

Preventable deaths include those from lack of timely medical intervention, for instance, or smoking.

Lead author and Ottawa-based family doctor Austin Zygmunt calls the gap "huge," and notes the disparity grew even as avoidable deaths in Ontario decreased by almost half — a drop mostly due to advances in medical treatment of diseases.

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Celebrity news ...

STOCKHOLM — A$AP Rocky is back in Sweden.

The American rapper is set to perform in Stockholm, where he was convicted of assault in August for a street brawl.

A$AP Rocky, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, will appear at Stockholm's Ericsson Globe arena Wednesday evening.

Mayers was arrested along with his two bodyguards after a 19-year-old man was hurt in the June 30 fight.

During his return trip this week, A$AP Rocky hoped to entertain inmates at the prison where he was held for weeks this summer. Swedish prison officials nixed the idea.

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Know your news answer ...

"Existential." Dictionary.com credited climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy and an angsty little plastic spork named Forky from "Toy Story 4."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2019.

 

The Canadian Press