Canada's health officials spoke about the recent change in guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on the time between two COVID-19 vaccine doses, and how that may contribute to vaccine hesitancy in Canada.
The Yukon government is expecting to be in the red this year, with a projected $12.7-million deficit in a $1.79-billion budget that doesn't shy away from capital spending. This time last year the picture looked very different: the government's budget then boasted a modest surplus of $4.1 million. However, like most things, that picture was upended by the global pandemic. By the time fall rolled around, Yukon showed a $31.6-million deficit due to a drop in tax revenues caused by an economic slowdown and an increase in public health spending. "That is entirely the result of economic and social supports as well as health services for Yukoners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver. Capital spending and COVID-19 recovery are priorities The proposed 2021-22 budget includes a significant increase in spending, with the territory predicting robust capital spending to the tune of $434 million this year. The government says this is a "record-breaking amount" — up 17 per cent from last year — and an attempt to help the economy recover from the pandemic. The government says some of that capital spending will be offset by federal transfers. Some capital spending highlights include: $54.3 million for bridges and highways; $20.1 million for Yukon's diverse fibre line on the Dempster Highway; $16.5 million for airports and aerodromes; The government estimates that operations and maintenance spending will amount to $1.35 billion. $48.9 million for COVID-19 relief In 2020-21, the government allocated more than $107.5 million to managing the pandemic. This year, it's allocating less than half that amount — $48.9 million — to COVID-19 relief. Out of that amount, $15 million has been included as part of a "COVID-19 contingency fund." The contingencies are set aside for unexpected expenses related to the pandemic, and are not included in departmental budgets. They would need to be presented to the Legislative Assembly for approval in order to be spent. If they aren't needed, the government says, money remaining will be used to cover the deficit. Other budget highlights include: $86.8 million for continuing care, home care, palliative care programs and day programs; $25.2 million for early learning and universal childcare; $10.5 million for a Whistle Bend elementary school; $70.2 million for social supports, mental wellness and substance-use programs; $50 million to address climate change through clean transportation programs, fast-charging stations and electric vehicles, community energy retrofit projects and energy rebates; and $5.7 million for a secure unit in the Whitehorse General Hospital for people experiencing acute mental health episodes. "This budget builds on the strong foundation we have developed over the past four years and continues us on the path toward a brighter future for the Yukon," said Silver on Thursday. This budget comes as Yukon edges toward a territorial election. Premier Silver has repeatedly declined to offer hints as to when an election might be called, but all three parties are currently nominating candidates.(Wayne Vallevand/ CBC) The territory's net debt is expected to increase over the next three years due to forecasted deficit spending in response to COVID-19, as well as major infrastructure spending. The net debt is expected to hit $175.4 million by the end of the year, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 5.4 per cent. Optimistic about the future The territorial government is optimistic about the future, though. Over the next five years, Silver projects, the GDP growth will continue, averaging 4.7 per cent per year out to 2025. Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada to experience slight GDP growth in 2020, increasing by 0.1 per cent last year. Further growth is expected, in part, thanks to increases in tax revenue, increased capital spending, and growth in the mining sector. Total government revenue is forecast to be $1.37 billion this year, an increase of 5.1 per cent from last year's estimates. Tax revenue is expected to go up 2 per cent. Decreases are anticipated in personal income tax, and more significantly, in fuel oil tax, while increases are expected in corporate income tax and insurance premium tax. Federal grants, including the Territorial Formula Financing program, represent more than 80 per cent of Yukon's total revenue this year. This budget comes as Yukon edges toward a territorial election. Premier Silver has repeatedly declined to offer hints as to when an election might be called, but all three parties are currently nominating candidates.
Premiers say federal COVID-19 vaccine procurement delays have left them no choice but to stretch out the time between doses, as pharmacies in some parts of Ontario were preparing to start giving shots next week. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that he had asked chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw some time ago to take a serious look into allowing a four-month gap between shots after seeing "tremendous" results in the United Kingdom and Israel. He said an outbreak driven by a new, more transmissible COVID-19 variant started at a seniors' home in Edmonton on Monday just as residents were supposed to be receiving their vaccines. "They should have been vaccinated weeks ago, like they were in similar settings in the United States, Israel, the U.K. and many, many other countries," he said following a virtual premiers' meeting. "This is extremely frustrating and I think we have no choice but to expand the interval to get more people covered." British Columbia announced Monday that it would be allowing up to four months between doses. Several other provinces followed suit after a national panel of vaccine experts recommended Wednesday that such an extension would be appropriate if supplies are limited. Labels of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines call for a three or four-week gap between doses. Research has shown one dose is 70 to 80 per cent effective for up to two months, but it's unclear how long protection lasts beyond that. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Thursday his province is moving to the four-month interval because the federal government has done a "disappointing job at best" in quickly getting vaccines to provinces. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister added: "Let's face it: this strategy has become necessary as a consequence of an absence of vaccines." A Health Canada official said Thursday that a decision on Johnson and Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine could come "within days." It would be the fourth to be approved, following ones from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Ottawa's vaccine rollout, told a media briefing that nearly three million doses have been distributed to the provinces and territories so far. "In April, we're anticipating a steep increase in vaccine availability," he said. That includes 23 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines between April and June and at least 1.5 million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by mid-May. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said many of the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses the province receives will go to pharmacies for a pilot program beginning next week. The Ontario Pharmacists Association said about 380 pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex will be doling out shots initially. A similar program in Alberta began with pharmacies in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary this week. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia is easing public-health restrictions in and around Halifax. Health officials in the Atlantic province said rules that came into effect last week limiting restaurant hours, prohibiting sports events and discouraging non-essential travel will end Friday morning in the capital region. Nova Scotia reported three new cases Thursday and 29 active ones. Ontario, meanwhile, recorded 994 new infections, almost four per cent higher than the previous report, but the third straight day below 1,000. It also linked 10 more deaths to the virus. Quebec said it had 707 new cases, along with 20 additional deaths. It is easing restrictions in Quebec City and four other regions starting Monday, but keeping them in place in the Montreal area due to concern over variants. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021 Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press
REGINA — The Saskatchewan government has shot a boost of optimism into its fight against COVID-19, announcing it will join other provinces by delaying the second dose of vaccines to speed up immunizations. Speaking Thursday at a news conference with other premiers, Premier Scott Moe said people will get their second shot up to four months after the first, which falls in line with a recent recommendation from Canada's national immunization committee. Alberta, Manitoba and other provinces made similar announcements after British Columbia first said Monday it was moving to a four-month delay. The shift comes as health experts point to people being well protected against the novel coronavirus with a first dose, noting the country faces a limited supply of vaccines. "The benefits are tremendous," Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said during a briefing. "We can emerge out of the pandemic three months earlier than we had anticipated. With a two-dose program, it would have taken us till September. Now we can vaccinate everyone 18 and older as early as June." Provincial health officials said that starting Friday, staff will only be giving first shots. The change will not apply to people who have appointments booked to receive a second dose, long-term care residents and staff, as well as those in personal care homes. Shahab said since vaccinations started in long-term care homes, there have been fewer outbreaks and infections in the facilities. To date, about 84,000 vaccinations have been done in Saskatchewan out of the roughly 400,000 shots needed to inoculate residents 70 and older and health-care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure. Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said he expects most of these vaccinations under the first stage of the province's immunization program will be finished in early April. He also asked for patience, as the authority has to adjust how it delivers vaccines with the new four-month window between doses. Saskatchewan reported 169 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths on Thursday. The province of 1.1 million people also continues to lead the country with the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada. Moe said earlier in the week that delaying the second dose of vaccine would be a game-changer for how long public-health restrictions need to stay in place. The current order is in effect until March 19. Shahab said decisions about what rules might be relaxed could come next week. "I know it's been very hard for people not to be able meet each other in their houses," he said. "In the past, we did have, you know, two to three households as a bubble of up to ten. So that's something that we're looking at." The Ministry of Health also said it would use 15,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on people aged 60 to 64 and certain health-care workers. A national panel has recommended it not be used on seniors. The province said these vaccinations will start later this month and eligible residents will be able to book an appointment by phone through a system that is expected to launch next week. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021 Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
The municipality of Grey Highlands is calling in backup to assist in gathering public input for its Downtown Markdale Revisioning project. “In a pandemic world, as we know, we're all Zoomed out and tired of sitting at a computer screen. We wanted to make sure that this was a fulsome opportunity for the community to engage,” said Michele Harris, director of community and economic development for Grey Highlands. At a council meeting held on Wednesday, Grey Highlands council approved appointing The Planning Partnership as the consultants for the project. In 2018, the municipality purchased 20 Toronto Street North, a two-acre property located in downtown Markdale. Markdale is the largest settlement area in Grey Highlands with 1,200 residents. The rural community is also located near Highway 10 and Grey Road 12, which sees 9,300 daily travellers in the peak season. At the time of the purchase, the municipality declared the site would serve as “a place where cultural and market interests intermingle to catalyze the region’s economy and contribute to the revitalization of Markdale’s downtown core”. In late 2020, council moved the project forward, authorizing staff to proceed with an RFEI process that would seek out applicants to assist the municipality through the community engagement process. The RFEI also called on applicants to outline how they would create a plan to build awareness around the project; propose post-project recommendations on how to keep the community updated and provide a final report highlighting the results of the process. In early February, two submissions were recommended to proceed to the next step in the Downtown Markdale Revisioning RFEI. Fotenn and The Planning Partnership provided full RFP submissions to the municipality’s Technical Review Team in mid-February. “The committee was unanimous in my recommendation of the Planning Partnership, they're extremely experienced in this field, their firm's depth of expertise, their approaches to community engagement are going to be really interesting,” said Harris. The Technical Review Team includes three volunteer representatives from the community, as well as the CAO and Harris. During the presentation process the proponents were asked to identify their experience in understanding how zoning and planning regulations would need to be considered; the importance of the project as a catalyst for downtown revitalization; their approach to meaningful community engagement; and experience with similar projects. “This company had been using a lot of these virtual tools, in parallel with their traditional tools, prior to the pandemic,” Harris explained. “This is not new for them. They have the experience that I think really sets them apart from most of the other submissions we received.” Council approved spending $31,000 for the consulting portion of the project, which will be funded through the municipality’s working capital reserve. According to Harris, the project is expected to begin almost immediately and staff expect to deliver the final report from the consultants by the end of June. “We will be communicating out to the public what the process is and what the timelines are,” she added. “I'm really interested to see how the community embraces this.” Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
Fourteen variants of concern have been identified in COVID-19 cases in the region, that number more than doubling last week from five last Monday to 12 on Friday, and 14 by Monday. The cases are located in Northumberland County and City of Kawartha Lakes, identified as the N501Y variant, and were acquired outside the region, according to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit. Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health, spoke to the topic and provided the most updated numbers at that point on Feb. 24 at his regularly-scheduled weekly press conference. At that time, he mentioned five new variants of concern in addition to the three prior cases, but later in the afternoon an additional case had been added. Three more were identified in the health unit’s Friday epidemiological report, an additional two in the March 1 report. “The situation with VOCs can change quickly,” he said in comments shared by the health unit an hour after the press conference. “The source of all of these VOCs are tied to contacts with others outside the HKPRDHU region,” Gemmill said in comments. “The nine VOCs involve three clusters and a single case … and in all these situations, these local VOCs are well under control as the people involved are isolating and limiting their contacts.” In last week’s meeting, Gemmill said he did not have at that time the information about where the cases were located, nor which strain had been identified. When it was noted by a reporter that people are concerned and want further information, Gemmill said: “We need to assume that coronavirus is everywhere,” he said. “We need to assume that the variants could pop up anywhere. So far, they’ve all had the acquisition outside of our area, which means it’s not being transmitted in [the HKPR region]. I agree there’s a public interest in knowing which county it’s in, we’ll get that for you, but I think that people need to behave as though they could be exposed to this at any point. I think that’s a message I have to keep repeating, repeating, repeating, because it’s so key to the preventative measures.” On Feb. 9, the region’s first identified variant of concern was reported. That case was linked to a resident in Port Hope, and later at a Feb. 17 press conference, Gemmill said two of that resident’s household contacts were also identified as having variant cases of COVID-19, noting that those individuals had been isolating. “This is a controlled situation,” said Gemmill at that time. “Since they’ve all been quarantined, I’m not worried particularly about these cases.” Across Ontario, Gemmill said at the Feb. 17 press conference, the proportion of positive cases constituted by the variants of concern are rising, and he was hearing “worrisome chatter” about it being identified in other parts of Ontario. “We have been affected, but in a very minor way, but this is becoming a big issue across the province of Ontario,” he said. The variants are more transmissible than the original virus, and can amplify cases because of the ease in which they spread, which has led to speculation about a potential third wave and lockdown to protect hospital capacity. “Anything is possible, but I’ll be completely forthright with you, the way this variant is behaving, the one [identified in] the U.K. primarily, I’m not sure we’re going to have control of it, so it could theoretically replace the original virus and become the dominant one, and then it’s going to be a lot more difficult to control,” said Gemmill. As of the March 2 HKPRD health unit update, Haliburton County has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one current high-risk contact. City of Kawartha Lakes currently has 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 43 high-risk contacts, and Northumberland County has 17 current cases of COVID-19 and 53 high-risk contacts. “What is worrisome is the continuing spread of coronavirus variants across Ontario,” said Gemmill in Feb. 24 comments. “We are likely to see more of these VOCs in our region, so the need to take public health prevention measures continues to be important until more people are vaccinated.” Sue Tiffin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to extend its ban on smoking and vaping in indoor public places to First Nations communities, but it could face a court battle. The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill in the legislature Thursday that would end an exemption for reserves and other areas of federal jurisdiction, including military bases, from the provincial smoking ban. Ceremonial tobacco use would still be allowed. "We want to ensure that our entire province, not just sections of it, provide that equitable access to smoke-free … and vapour-free work environments," Audrey Gordon, minister for mental health, wellness and recovery, said. "This issue is a public health issue." The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the province does not have the right to impose a smoking ban and could end up in court if it proceeds. "First Nations will not stand idly by and allow the province to take liberties of this sort," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said. Many First Nations communities have their own bylaws that govern smoking in public places. Some allow smoking in bingo halls and video lottery terminal lounges. Last year, after COVID-19 restrictions forced video lottery terminal lounges to close, Premier Brian Pallister said he might not let ones that allow smoking to reopen when the restrictions are lifted. The Opposition New Democrats said the government should back up. "Indigenous people have rights that the government has to respect," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. "And I think for them to announce this bill without giving people in leadership positions in Indigenous communities the heads-up is the wrong approach." First Nations communities could also lose revenue if the plan goes ahead, Kinew said. Gordon said the government will consult with Indigenous leaders as early as next week. The bill is among dozens that could be passed by the legislature in June. Although it might not take effect immediately, Gordon said. "What I'm focused on is having that consultation … I'm really focused on that engagement and we'll save that decision (on when the law would take effect) for a later date." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Gisèle Fortaich a été la première citoyenne lavalloise à recevoir une dose du vaccin contre la COVID-19 dans le cadre de l’opération de vaccination lancée le jeudi 25 février au Quartier Laval. La dame de 86 ans jugeait qu’il était important pour elle d’aller se faire vacciner, notamment après avoir contracté le virus il y a quelques mois. «Au début, je ne pensais pas que je l’aurais attrapée, note-t-elle. Par la suite, j’ai été malade et eu plusieurs symptômes, mais les gens du CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée m’ont bien traité.» Notons qu’elle n’est pas résidente de cet endroit et qu’elle y allait plutôt pour y suivre des traitements de physiothérapie. Par ailleurs, Mme Fortaich recommande à tous les Lavallois de se faire vacciner. «Ce n’est pas facile de vivre avec la COVID-19, donc il est important d’aller se faire vacciner le plus rapidement possible.» Elle affirme n’avoir ressenti aucun effet secondaire après avoir reçu cette première dose. Rappelons que la vaccination est désormais accessible aux citoyens lavallois âgés de 70 ans et plus en date du jeudi 4 mars. Ceux-ci sont invités à prendre rendez-vous au Québec.ca/vaccinCOVID ou par téléphone au 1 877 644-4545. Nicholas Pereira, Initiative de journalisme local, Courrier Laval
Once upon a time, dear children, before you were born, they made a fairytale movie about a kingdom called Zamunda. “Coming to America,” starring Eddie Murphy at the height of his popularity and charisma, became a huge hit and a cult classic. In this film, dear children, Murphy played Prince Akeem — he didn’t need to be called Prince Charming, because he was already so darned charming. We met him on the morning of his 21st birthday, awakening in his palace bedroom to a full orchestra, servants tossing rose petals at his feet, and gorgeous naked women servicing him in the bathtub until his royal appendage was deemed clean. Oops! Sorry, kids. Some parts of “Coming To America” didn’t age very well. Including most of the stuff about women. But 33 years and one #MeToo movement later, it’s time for a reboot. The good news about “Coming 2 America,” directed by Craig Brewer, is that things have gotten better for women in Zamunda. Yes, it’s still a patriarchy (more on that soon) and yes, there are still obedient royal bathers. But we don’t see their naked breasts or backsides. There’s also a bathtub gag involving the great Leslie Jones that flips the gender dynamic entirely and gratifyingly (especially for her). And now, Prince Akeem is not a randy young heir but an established family man. Happily married for 30 years to Princess Lisa — the bride he found in Queens in the last film — he has three daughters, brave and feisty. The eldest wants to be his heir. A female heir? That’s not done, in Zamunda. But the times, they are — or might be — a-changin'. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this sequel, despite (or perhaps because of) its nod to modern sensibilities, isn’t nearly as funny or edgy as the original. It has seemingly everything -- the original cast, some well-known newcomers, high-profile cameos — and eye-popping costumes by the great Ruth E. Carter (an Oscar winner for “Black Panther”). It has set pieces and choreography and de-aging technology and overlaying plot lines. What it has less of, is fun. Still, just like we go to college reunions 30 years later to recapture the magic, fans of the first will flock to it on Amazon Prime. They likely won’t be too disappointed. Especially because, despite the knowing references to urban gentrification, transgender offspring, Teslas and even unnecessary movie sequels, little has really changed. Obviously Murphy is back, as producer and star. So is Arsenio Hall, as trusty sidekick Semmi (and a bunch of other roles). Also back: the stately James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer; Shari Headley as Lisa (a seriously underwritten role); and Louie Anderson as Maurice. John Amos is back as Lisa’s dad, still ripping off McDonald’s. And of course the My-T-Sharp barbershop crew is back in Queens. A new presence is the casually appealing Jermaine Fowler as Lavelle, Akeem’s previously unknown son. Celebrity guests include a highly amusing Wesley Snipes as flamboyant General Izzi, leader of Nexdoria (next door); Tracy Morgan as Lavelle’s uncle; and Jones as his uninhibited mother. Another “Saturday Night Live” face, Colin Jost, makes the most of a brief cameo. Among notable musical appearances, Gladys Knight sings “Midnight Train From Zamunda.” The plot follows a familiar trajectory, beginning in Zamunda and travelling to Queens to solve a major need. In this case, the need is not a bride, but a male heir. Akeem, who becomes king upon his father’s death, learns he unknowingly sired a son during that Queens trip three decades ago (it was Semmi’s fault!) He needs a male heir to cement his power. So he brings Lavelle, a ticket scalper who aspires to much more, back to Zamunda, along with Mom. But Lavelle needs to learn royal ways, and pass a “princely test” which includes facing down a lion. There’s also the matter of Akeem’s daughter, Meeka (a luminous KiKi Layne, not given enough screen time), who rightly deserves to be queen one day. Complicating matters entirely, Lavelle falls not for his intended bride, Izzi's daughter, but for his royal barber, Mirembe, who aspires to her own shop one day (women don’t own businesses in Zamunda). Again, it all feels like a 30th reunion — maybe because it IS one — where the liquor flows, old stories are rehashed, the men haven’t aged quite as well as the women, the kids steal the show, and by the end you’re happy to have gone but feel no need to be at the next one. “Coming 2 America,” an Amazon Studios release, has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for crude and sexual content, language and drug content.” Running time: 110 minutes. Two stars out of four. MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned, Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Georgia moved closer Thursday to the possible repeal of an 1863 law that lets private citizens make an arrest, more than a year after the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man chased by white men who said they suspected he had committed a crime. House Bill 479 was approved unanimously by the chamber's Judiciary Committee and could soon move to the House floor for a vote. Georgia's current law was enacted during the Civil War and allows citizens to arrest someone if a crime is committed in their presence or they have “immediate knowledge” that a crime has been committed. Critics say it has long been used to justify lynchings of African Americans. Gov. Brian Kemp has endorsed the bill, saying Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020, shows it’s time for the law to be changed. “Some tried to justify the actions of the killers by claiming they had protection under an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse,” Kemp said last month. The bill would remove from state law the broad powers granted to ordinary citizens to make an arrest, while allowing store and restaurant employees to detain those suspected of stealing. Licensed security guards and private detectives also would be able to make arrests. A previous version of the bill limited the time a person could be detained before police arrive to one hour, but that was changed to stipulate a person could be held for a “reasonable” amount of time. The father and son who armed themselves and pursued Arbery, Greg and Travis McMichael, weren’t arrested or charged until more than two months after the shooting. The first outside prosecutor assigned to the case cited Georgia’s citizen arrest law in a letter to police arguing the shooting was justified. The McMichaels’ lawyers have said they pursued Arbery suspecting he was a burglar, after security cameras had previously recorded him entering a home under construction. They said Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun. The McMichaels were charged with murder. Video of the fatal encounter was taken by William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbour who joined the chase and also was later charged with murder. Prosecutors have said Arbery stole nothing and was merely out jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him. They remain jailed without bond. The Associated Press
Canada's premiers are demanding that Ottawa immediately give them an extra $28 billion for health care this year, with a promise of at least a five-per-cent hike in the annual transfer payment each year thereafter.
The Saskatchewan government says it will follow new federal guidelines to speed up its vaccination schedule. The province is expanding the period between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to up to 120 days. That means everyone over 18 years old in Saskatchewan will be able to receive a vaccination by the end of June, the province says. Most other provinces have said they will also follow the recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI). The new four-month gap is a departure from the previous practice of three weeks and in some cases up to six weeks between doses. Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the decision is evidence-based and will speed up the vaccination rollout. "The benefits are tremendous. We can emerge out of the pandemic three months earlier than we had anticipated. The two-dose program ... it would have taken us to September," said Shahab at a news conference Thursday in Regina. "Having said that, everything will be monitored closely. All provinces will be closely monitoring." Shahab said the maximum 16-week interval doesn't mean people won't get their second dose quicker than that. Second doses will go as originally scheduled for residents and staff in long-term and personal care homes, according to the province. Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab the benefits of spreading out the first and second vaccine doses are tremendous.(Trent Peppler/CBC) Shahab also said people shouldn't worry about which of the three approved vaccines they receive. "We all need to be patient. We need to be ready in our minds that when our turn comes, we should be ready to get vaccinated. It is my recommendation that we accept any vaccine," said Shahab. The newly approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is expected to arrive in Sask. this month. Residents aged 60 to 64 and Phase 1 priority health-care workers will be offered the first 15,500 doses, according to the province. The 60 to 64 age group have access to the new vaccine because the National Advisory Committee's recommends that AstraZeneca-Oxford supply be targeted to people younger than 65. The province said administration of the AstraZeneca-Oxford doses will begin on March 22 and the doses will be distributed to six major hubs throughout the province. All of the allocated doses are expected to be administered within one week on a by-appointment basis. Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the addition both AstraZeneca-Oxford and moving to vaccinate all adults with a first dose means that phase one of the province's immunization plan should be complete by April. Livingstone also said he is confident the second doses will be available when the time comes. "We're optimistic for sure, with phase one and starting phase two early. And with the supplies that we're seeing on the horizon. But those second doses I don't think are going to be a challenge at all," Livingstone said. The province said health-care workers will receive a notification of their eligibility for vaccination directly from the Saskatchewan Health Authority Members of the public who are eligible for vaccination will be able to book by phone. The province said its phone-in booking system is undergoing final testing and is expected to launch next week. The province said there may be some growing pains during the transition to the new booking system. Livingstone asked for patience from the public as the system launches.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration's nominee for top Pentagon policy adviser was met with sharp criticism from Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, including accusations that he has been too partisan. Colin Kahl, who served as national security adviser to then-Vice-President Joe Biden during the Obama administration, faced repeated questions on his previous support for the Iran nuclear deal and how he would approach that issue now. And a number of GOP senators said they were troubled by partisan tweets Kohl put out during Donald Trump's presidency and they would oppose his nomination. It wasn't clear whether there was enough opposition to derail his nomination. “We know that there is a new administration and that we will have policy disagreements that we will all try to work through,” said the ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. “But how will you rectify the fact that many Americans, including those who work at the Department of Defence, know you only through your very partisan comments? How can we be confident that you will be a model of nonpartisan policy analysis — which is what the job requires — if you are confirmed?” Kahl said he worked on a bipartisan basis in his previous jobs in the Obama administration, which included a stint as deputy defence secretary for Middle East issues at the Pentagon from 2009 to2011. And he told the panel, “This is not a political job, it’s a policy job ... I have a long track record of putting politics aside and working on policy.” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others read a number of Kahl's tweets that condemned Republicans and the Trump administration. Cotton said the “volatile” tweets would hurt his ability to work with Congress, adding “your judgement around war and peace are almost always wrong.” In response, Kahl offered an apology, saying the last few years have been politically polarizing and there were times he got swept up in that on social media. “There were a number of positions that President Trump took that I strongly opposed,” he said. "I think the language that I used in opposing those was sometimes disrespectful, and for that, I apologize.” Kahl got broader support from Democrats, including Sen. Maizie Hirono of Hawaii, who chastised committee members for slamming Kahl's tweets. ““That kind of criticism regarding tweets from folks who didn’t say anything about the kind of lying, racist tweets out of the former president, I think, is pretty rich,” she said. Others, including the panel chairman, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., sought commitments on improving Pentagon policies and relations with other countries that soured during Trump's tenure. Reed said he hoped that Kahl would help establish a strong defence policy office to ensure there is a unified effort on national security challenges and to repair ties with NATO and other allies. Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
The province is sending some pandemic relief money to Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover to help the cultural institution get back on its feet. Lighthouse will receive $71,858 through the government’s Arts Recovery Support Fund. Lisa MacLeod, the minister overseeing the province’s tourism and cultural industries, announced the funding this week as part of a $25-million package for artists and arts organizations in Ontario. “Ontario’s arts sector was among the first and hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a ‘high-touch’ sector that depends on gatherings of people, and will take the longest to recover,” MacLeod said in a statement. Reopening venues like Lighthouse “will play an important role in the mental health and well-being of Ontarians and an equally important role in the province’s economic and social recovery,” MacLeod said. The funding was available for organizations and individuals who already receive grants through the Ontario Arts Council. Venues with operating budgets of over $1 million automatically qualified. “We’re so grateful for it, and we’re thrilled,” said Lighthouse executive director Nicole Campbell. “The government recognizes the arts and culture industry as being devastated during this time, with not being able to open for the last year.” Lighthouse closed its doors in mid-March of last year, which meant scrapping the entire summer season, the popular community show starring local amateur actors, and a crowded slate of off-season events. It added up to “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in lost revenue, Campbell said. While the provincial money will help — as will almost $215,000 brought in by a summertime fundraising campaign — Campbell cautioned that there are more financial and logistical hurdles to overcome before the theatre can welcome patrons back. “We don’t want anyone to think that just by receiving this money, we can reopen,” she said. “With the regulations, up until a few weeks ago we couldn’t have anyone in the building. So we keep having to adapt.” One challenge for Lighthouse is even the loosest of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions means “severe revenue limitations,” Campbell explained, because a theatre that usually fits 350 patrons is limited to 50 per show. When Lighthouse can reopen is of keen interest to restaurants, hotels and bed and breakfasts throughout the region that rely on the theatre to bring in customers, as mentioned by Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett in the funding announcement. “This is quite welcome news for our Lighthouse Festival Theatre and all who enjoy its offerings,” Barrett said. “Lighthouse Theatre is an anchor for our area’s visitor-based economy.” Campbell expects to make an announcement about the summer season in the next few months. “We’re waiting as long as we can to announce anything,” she said, explaining that she and artistic director Derek Ritschel are mulling over scenarios that will ensure the safety of artists, patrons and staff. “We can pretty confidently say that we’re going to have theatre this summer,” Campbell said. “We just have a few different options of what it’ll look like.” J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer is defending his decision to hand-deliver some ballot kits to people in his St. John's, N.L., neighbourhood. Bruce Chaulk said Thursday he sees no problem in the fact he personally delivered ballots to about six people, including Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and Liberal Finance Minister Siobhan Coady. Chaulk said in some cases he had prepared ballot kits for candidates who didn't live in their districts. "I had the kits done and could drop them in the mail, but looking at the addresses I thought I could just drop them off on the way home," he said in an interview. He said the personal service wasn't requested; he did it on his own initiative. "I don't think it's much of an issue," Chaulk said about delivering ballots to Crosbie and Coady. "Both live in my neighbourhood. They are literally around the corner." Elections NL moved to special mail-in ballots after cancelling in-person voting on Feb. 12 following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the capital region. Since then, concerns have been expressed about whether voters would receive their ballots in time to have them back in the mail by the March 12 deadline. Robyn LeGrow, the Tory candidate for St. John's Centre, took issue with Chaulk's decision to hand-deliver some ballots. She said the service contrasts starkly with that provided to people in remote areas of Labrador who are concerned they won't receive their ballots in time or won't be able to understand them because they are not translated into their Indigenous language. "You're hearing about the person responsible for all of this having no problem with going around and hand-delivering," LeGrow said in an interview Thursday. "It just shows his disregard for the disenfranchisement of the people I've talked about." Memorial University political science professor Amanda Bittner said Chaulk's actions do not look good considering the concerns expressed by rural voters. "Meanwhile the (chief electoral officer) is hand-delivering ballots to those who are already privileged and live in the same upper-middle class neighbourhood as him," Bittner wrote in an email. "There is a perception that he did something wrong because this was wrong. It is not appropriate for the chief electoral officer to be facilitating the franchise for a select group, hand-picked by himself." Ballots must be postmarked by March 12, and Chaulk recommends that voters not wait until the last day to send them. He said many people have skipped the mail and put their ballots in the Election's NL mail slot. "They are hand-delivering them back," he said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. — By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton. The Canadian Press
Port Alberni, BC - As B.C. moved to Phase 2 of its immunization plan on Monday, the Nuu-chah-nulth nations of Tseshaht and Hupacasath remained unsure when COVID-19 vaccines would reach their communities. The province’s shift in approach, which prioritizes age groups, prompted confusion from community leaders who said that it deviated from the community-wide vaccination plan that was promised. In a letter addressed to B.C.’s health ministry on Feb. 26, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council said “the initial plan and framework [included] having every single First Nation on Vancouver Island vaccinated by March.” Mariah Charleson, NTC vice-president, said that the province’s lack of communication is “alarming.” “There was no consultation at all with any First Nation leadership regarding this big change,” she said. “We’re worried for the two communities that didn’t receive the [vaccine].” However, today the worry is over as eligible community members living on-reserve in Tseshaht and Hupacasath began receiving their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Ken Watts, Tseshaht First Nation elected chief, described it as a “big relief.” While standing outside the vaccine clinic at Maht Mahs Gym in Port Alberni, Watts looked to a line-up of around 20 vehicles. “We have a lot of happy elders and community members,” he said. “They’re really excited.” Advocating for his members by “pushing politically at all levels,” Watts said that the “pressure helped.” The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) said community-based vaccination clinics organized in partnership with First Nation communities will continue through the roll-out of Phase 2. “The province of B.C.’s vaccination strategy calls for rural and remote First Nations communities to be vaccinated in Phase 1 and the balance of First Nations communities as part of Phase 2 by the end of March,” said a spokesperson from FNHA. “Vaccine availability has hampered this plan until just recently and the timeline is still realistic.” On Monday, the province announced it is extending the interval between first and second doses of vaccines to four months. The delay in administration of second doses means every eligible person in B.C. can receive the first dose by mid-to-late July. "At every step of the way, we are putting the health and safety of British Columbians first,” said Premier John Horgan in a media release. "B.C. was one of the first provinces to lay out our vaccine plan, and now we're moving to Phase 2 to reach even more of our seniors and elders. We're getting vaccine into arms as fast as we can given early supply delays from manufacturers, and we're seeing it start to make a difference for people and their communities throughout our province.” While Charleson said she was relieved Tseshaht and Hupacasath would receive community-wide vaccinations, she stands behind her frustration in the province’s lack of consultation with First Nations leadership. “It’s a lot of change and it’s literally just been flying at us,” she said. “We haven’t been a part of those discussions – we’re being told.” As part of Phase 2 of the province’s largest vaccination roll-out in history, over 400,000 people in B.C. will be immunized from March to early-April. Seniors and high-risk people residing in independent living and senior’s supportive housing - including staff - are being immunized, which began on Monday. All Indigenous peoples born in 1956 or earlier will be eligible to receive the vaccine and can call to book their vaccine appointment on March 8. "We can now see the light at the end of what has been a difficult and challenging time for us all,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a release. “To get us through, we need to continue to work together and support each other. We are working hard each and every day to make sure that everyone who wants a vaccine gets one.” As of March 1, 283,182 doses of vaccine have been administered in B.C., 86,537 of which are second shots. With immunizations underway for the remaining two Nuu-chah-nulth nations, Watts said he can breathe a little easier. “I don’t think you know how much of a relief today is,” he said. Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-Shilth-Sa
HALIFAX — New federal guidelines on increasing the interval between vaccine doses should permit all Nova Scotians who want a COVID-19 vaccine to get one shot by the end of June, Premier Iain Rankin said Thursday. The new recommendations by the national panel of vaccine experts mean the province can stop holding back half its vaccine supply as booster shots and instead vaccinate more people with a single dose, Rankin said. With the shipments of at least three vaccines expected to increase over the coming weeks, there should be enough supply to provide at least one dose to those who want one by the start of summer, he added. "As we move forward we will not have to hold that (quantity) back," Rankin told reporters following his first cabinet meeting since becoming premier. "If you do the math that means that with the doses that we have been promised ... all Nova Scotians would be able to get their first dose by the end of June." Nova Scotia's stated goal is to immunize 70 per cent of its population by September. Rankin said there will likely be more details about the province's plan at Friday's COVID-19 briefing. On Wednesday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended provinces wait four month between doses when faced with a limited supply, in order to quickly immunize as many people as possible. Nova Scotia is to get 13,000 doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine next week, which would be added to its supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The AstraZeneca shipment must be used by April 2 and is to be administered to residents across the province aged 50 to 64 years starting March 15. The vaccine will be given out at 26 locations on a first come, first served basis. Also Thursday, health officials announced that restrictions on restaurant operating hours and sporting events will be lifted in Halifax and its surrounding regions on Friday morning. Residents of long-term care homes in the Halifax area are still limited to receiving visits from two designated caregivers. Officials say the restrictions for long-term care residents will remain in place in the region until March 27. The province reported three new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — all in the Halifax area. Two involved contacts of previously reported cases and the third was under investigation. Nova Scotia has 29 active reported cases of the disease. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
CALGARY — Parkland Corp. is reporting lower fourth-quarter earnings and revenue as affects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns continue to erode fuel sales. The Calgary-based convenience store operator and fuel retailer says it had net earnings of $53 million in the last three months of 2020 on revenue of $3.47 billion, down from $176 million on revenue of $4.78 billion in the same period of 2019. It says it sold 5.4 billion litres of fuel and petroleum products in the fourth quarter, a decrease of seven per cent compared with the year-earlier period. It says lower volumes were offset by strong per unit fuel profit margins in Canada and in its international operations, as well as robust company convenience store same-store sales growth in Canada of around eight per cent and a healthy 90 per cent utilization of its Burnaby, B.C., refinery. Parkland says it will hike its dividend by two per cent, its ninth consecutive annual increase. The company says it plans growth capital spending of between $175 million and $275 million in 2021, along with between $225 million and $275 million in maintenance capital spending, including about $40 million of work deferred from 2020. "In 2021, we will strengthen our customer offerings and continue our organic growth initiatives, advance our disciplined acquisition strategy and deepen our commitment to providing customers with low-carbon fuel choices as part of our broader sustainability efforts," said CEO Bob Espey. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:PKI) The Canadian Press
VICTORIA — The B.C. government has eased the eligibility requirements for small and medium-sized businesses applying for funds under its $345-million pandemic recovery grant program. The province has also extended the deadline for businesses to apply from the end of this month to Aug. 31, or until all the money has been spent. Businesses with up to 149 employees must now show a 30 per cent drop in revenue in any one month between March 2020 and the time of application compared with the same time period during the year before. The grant program previously required businesses to show a 70 per cent drop at some point during March or April last year, plus additional revenue losses of 30 to 50 per cent from May 2020 until their application. Ravi Rahlon, the minister of jobs and economic recovery, says the province has been "nimble" with the program and the changes directly follow feedback from the business community. He says about $55 million has been distributed through the program so far and influx of applications hasn't slowed down, though he couldn't say how many more businesses may now apply given the latest changes. "Certainly we have some businesses that have applied that weren't able to get the funding because they didn't meet (requirements), and now we'll be able to call them and tell them that in fact they do have funding available." This is the second time the government has eased the program's eligibility requirements. Businesses may apply for grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, with additional funds available to tourism-related businesses, which Kahlon says represent just over half of applicants to the program so far. The province says businesses don't need to resubmit existing applications and those received previously will be reviewed under the new criteria. In a statement, Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone urged the NDP government to eliminate the requirement that businesses must be at least 18 months old. Kahlon says the rule stands and businesses that apply by the new deadline must have been operating since last March, "so essentially anyone that had a business when the pandemic started can apply for this grant." B.C. is also offering up to $2,000 to be paid directly to professional service providers for businesses that need help creating a required recovery plan. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. The Canadian Press
Like many across the world in the past year, students enrolled in Confederation College's Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) program have felt the impacts of COVID-19 but they are still striving to move forward with both their education and their future in the workforce. The current cohort of CICE students are nearing the end of their two-year program, which gives adults with learning challenges the chance to experience college, and earn valuable work experience. Classes are scheduled to end in April and their job placements begin soon after. While in regular years the program sees students take part in three different work placements, CICE program Integration Facilitator Jenni Morrison said there's been an knock-on effect from the pandemic that has made getting students into a placement more difficult. "Their first semester they all completed fine and then second semester came around and that's when COVID hit, so none of the students were able to do a second placement," Morrison said. "That's been the biggest hurdle we've run into thus far. We've been very fortunate to be allowed into the college with strict regulations coming with that.” The second and third placements have been amalgamated into one 135 hour stretch, with an extended time to complete it. Morrison noted that much of the class has been moved online to deal with the pandemic, which helps to keep everyone safely distanced and allows students who have responsibilities beyond school to also take part without being there in person. "We've had to learn and adapt a lot to the technology," Morrison said. "It hasn't all been a bad thing fully. It has created a lot more independence for the students as well, but it's definitely unfortunate for the CICE program that we miss just having that direct one to one contact." This year's cohort, made up of Andrew Yerxa, Carrie Jolicoeur and Jake Vandermeer, have proven their flexibility and adaptability to the changes that have been necessitated by the COVID pandemic. Even while missing out on some larger experiences of the CICE college program, such as planned field trips and placements that were cancelled, the students have each continued on with their schooling, which is also the first post-secondary experience they've had. "I've done co-op placements before but not college," Yerxa explained. Jolicoeur noted that the changes they've had to make to their classes because of COVID have made it a bit more difficult to navigate, as she has a toddler she has to provide care for while also trying to complete a college program. "With COVID [my daughter] wasn't allowed to go to daycare, so I had her and this to do," she explained. "Now that she's going to daycare, it's a little easier to do it at home. Transportation was really hard at first too, because people were busy, but I managed to get there before, and I would like to come back to the college part if I get my daughter back to daycare. It's been pretty good, it's been fun." Still, Jolicoeur said she's thankful for the CICE program as it gives her a chance to attend college, which she hadn't felt was achievable due to a learning disability. For his part, Vandermeer said taking on a college course during a pandemic "hasn't been too bad." Each of the students have recently started their final placement, with Yerxa heading to The Bargain Shop, Jolicoeur to Community Living Fort Frances and District, and Vandermeer potentially going to either the Salvation Army on Scott Street, or Wasaw, pending a few final details. Morrison said it was a challenge for her and the students to work out placements, as the COVID-19 restrictions have led many businesses to restrict even their own employees from coming in to work, and all were thankful for the businesses they did contact who were willing to work together to accommodate the CICE students for their placements. As for their placements, each of the CICE students noted that their placements play to their strengths and things they already enjoy, and can help open the door to more opportunities in the future. "It's a lot of fun for me to get out in the community with a lot of different people," Yerxa said. "I've been working with a lot of different people throughout the years, I'm comfortable with it. I've been working at Manitou Mounds too, so that's where I get all my experience from." "I was stuck between two different things I wanted to do, the ECE program or PSW, so I've kind of gotten the best of both worlds," Jolicoeur said, though she added she's not yet sure which path she'll pursue in the future. Vandermeer shared that a placement with Wasaw would allow him to be outside in his element, cutting wood and enjoying the outdoors, maybe even taking the time to roast marshmallows when he gets a chance. "I can have a good time with my family, my sisters and nephews," he said. "I am so proud of all the work and perseverance the students have shown in the last year of this program," Morrison added. "COVID has not made it easy on any of them. I am looking forward to seeing them all finish the program successfully." As the CICE program at Confederation College runs every two years, the next intake is scheduled for Fall 2021, and Morrison said the college will be offering a new online way for interested students to check out the college and learn a bit more about what the program has to offer, though they will have to act fast. "I think it's going to be a bit of a harder intake this fall because I don't know if people are necessarily thinking about college at this point in the world," she said. "We are doing an information open house for the CICE program, just trying to get the program information out there for what people need to know, virtually of course. It will be on March 3 at 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., so we're hoping we get some agencies, some parents, maybe some students who are interested in the program, just so they can learn a little bit more about what the program is and the types of supports we offer to incoming students." For more information about the CICE program at Confederation College, check out the programs webpage at https://www.confederationcollege.ca/program/community-integration-through-co-operative-education. To register for the virtual open house visit the college's Facebook page. Ken Kellar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times