WASHINGTON — Disputing President Donald Trump’s persistent, baseless claims, Attorney General William Barr declared the U.S. Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.Barr's comments, in an interview Tuesday with the The Associated Press, contradict the concerted effort by Trump, his boss, to subvert the results of last month's voting and block President-elect Joe Biden from taking his place in the White House.Barr told the AP that U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”The comments, which drew immediate criticism from Trump attorneys, were especially notable coming from Barr, who has been one of the president's most ardent allies. Before the election, he had repeatedly raised the notion that mail-in voting could be especially vulnerable to fraud during the coronavirus pandemic as Americans feared going to polls and instead chose to vote by mail.More to Trump's liking, Barr revealed in the AP interview that in October he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel, giving the prosecutor the authority to continue to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe after Biden takes over and making it difficult to fire him. Biden hasn't said what he might do with the investigation, and his transition team didn't comment Tuesday.Trump has long railed against the investigation into whether his 2016 campaign was co-ordinating with Russia, but he and Republican allies had hoped the results would be delivered before the 2020 election and would help sway voters. So far, there has been only one criminal case, a guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer to a single false statement charge.Under federal regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest. An attorney general must document such reasons in writing.Barr went to the White House Tuesday for a previously scheduled meeting that lasted about three hours.Trump didn't directly comment on the attorney general's remarks on the election. But his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his political campaign issued a scathing statement claiming that, "with all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance” of an investigation into the president's complaints.Other administration officials who have come out forcefully against Trump's allegations of voter-fraud evidence have been fired. But it's not clear whether Barr might suffer the same fate. He maintains a lofty position with Trump, and despite their differences the two see eye-to-eye on quite a lot.Still, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer quipped: “I guess he’s the next one to be fired.”Last month, Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorneys across the country allowing them to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the 2020 presidential election was certified, despite no evidence at that time of widespread fraud.That memorandum gave prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election was certified. Soon after it was issued, the department’s top elections crime official announced he would step aside from that position because of the memo.The Trump campaign team led by Giuliani has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to dump millions of illegal votes into the system with no evidence. They have filed multiple lawsuits in battleground states alleging that partisan poll watchers didn’t have a clear enough view at polling sites in some locations and therefore something illegal must have happened. The claims have been repeatedly dismissed including by Republican judges who have ruled the suits lacked evidence.But local Republicans in some battleground states have followed Trump in making unsupported claims, prompting grave concerns over potential damage to American democracy.Trump himself continues to rail against the election in tweets and in interviews though his own administration has said the 2020 election was the most secure ever. He recently allowed his administration to begin the transition over to Biden, but he still refuses to admit he lost.The issues they've have pointed to are typical in every election: Problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks on mail-in ballots, as well as the potential for a small number of ballots miscast or lost.But they've gone further. Attorney Sidney Powell has spun fictional tales of election systems flipping votes, German servers storing U.S. voting information and election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chavez,” – the late Venezuelan president who died in 2013. Powell has since been removed from the legal team after an interview she gave where she threatened to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.Barr didn't name Powell specifically but said: “There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”In the campaign statement, Giuliani claimed there was “ample evidence of illegal voting in at least six states, which they have not examined.”“We have many witnesses swearing under oath they saw crimes being committed in connection with voter fraud. As far as we know, not a single one has been interviewed by the DOJ. The Justice Department also hasn’t audited any voting machines or used their subpoena powers to determine the truth,” he said.However, Barr said earlier that people were confusing the use of the federal criminal justice system with allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits. He said a remedy for many complaints would be a top-down audit by state or local officials, not the U.S. Justice Department.“There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all," he said, but first there must be a basis to believe there is a crime to investigate.“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. ... And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on."___Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
Statistics from Public Health Ontario (PHO) show the opioid-related death rates in many parts of Northern Ontario are significantly higher than the numbers being reported by Toronto Public Health and some other Southern Ontario locations. For comparison purposes, statistics were compiled in quarterly segments from the end of March 2019, through to the end March of 2020, which was the one-year time period with the latest available information on Emergency Room visits, hospitalizations and opioids-related deaths. In the first quarter of this year, just in the Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) jurisdiction, the rate of opioid deaths was listed at 41.9 per 100,000 population, an increase of 16.7 per cent from the previous year. This was based on a population of 200,424 within the jurisdiction of the Sudbury health unit, which includes the City of Greater Sudbury and several surrounding smaller communities, such as Espanola, Chapleau and on Manitoulin Island. Public Health Ontario said this accounts for 21 deaths in the first three months of this year for the PHSD service area. The Sudbury health unit's own opioid surveillance program reports that from January 2020 to June 2020, opioids have claimed 44 lives. The Sudbury health unit jurisdiction, in the first three months of this year, also had an opioid death rate more than three times higher than the national rate in Canada, which is 12.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. By comparison, for the Toronto Public Health area, the rate of opioid deaths was 11.4 per 100,000 population. It is an increase of 8.6 per cent from the previous year. This was based on a population of 3,090,377. The rate for the last three months of 2019 was 10.5 per 100,000. For the third quarter, the rate was lower at 6.1 deaths per 100,000. The second quarter of 2019 in Toronto, the death rate was 10.5 and in the first quarter the death rate was 11.2 deaths per 100,000. The lower rate was evident in other parts of Southern Ontario. In the jurisdiction of Ottawa Public Health, the rate of opioid deaths was lower at 7.7 per 100,000, the first three months of this year. This was for a population of slightly more than one million. In the Peel region, Peel Public Health reported an even lower fatality rate of 7.6 per 100,000 residents, for a population listed at more than 1.5 million. In the Windsor - Essex County Health Unit, the opioid fatality rate was 15.2 per 100,000 based on a population of roughly 420,000. In the Niagara Public Health Region, the death rate in the first three months this year was reported at 23.1 per 100,000 population for a region of more than 468,000 residents. Back to Northern Ontario, the rates were far higher in general. The Porcupine Health Unit, representing Timmins and several other smaller northern towns, also has a high rate of opioid deaths according to the PHO stats. For the first three months of this year, the death rate attributed to opioids was 32.8 per 100,000 population, three times the Toronto rate. This was for a population of 85,273. Figures for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) for the first quarter of this year revealed a mortality rate of 28.5 per 100,000 population. This was for a population of nearly 155,000 in the TBDHU jurisdiction. For the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit it was revealed that the rate of opioid deaths was 18.6 per 100,000 population. This was for a region of more than 129,000 residents. The Timiskaming Health Unit, which includes such communities as Kirkland Lake and Temiskaming Shores, the rate was 12.1 per 100,000 for a jurisdiction with a population of more than 33,000 residents. Four deaths occurred in that jurisdiction between March 2019 and March 2020. Further west in the jurisdiction of the Northwestern Health Unit, for communities such as Kenora, Red Lake and Dryden, the mortality rate for the first three months of this year was 9.8 per 100,000, a couple of points lower than Toronto. This was for a population just short of 82,000. A full report on the patterns of opioid-related deaths in Ontario during 2020 the pandemic may be causing some unintended consequences. "In June 2020, Ontario’s Chief Coroner announced a 25 per cent increase in suspected drug-related deaths between March and May 2020, compared to the monthly median reported in 2019. Similar trends have been reported elsewhere in Canada," said the report. "It is expected that this increase in drug-related deaths is being driven by a combination of numerous factors, including an increasingly toxic unregulated (‘street’) drug supply, barriers to access to harm reduction services and treatment, and physical distancing requirements leading to more people using drugs alone."Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com
Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced his top cabinet picks, and selected Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark as the Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. Mark holds the distinction of being the first First Nations woman to serve in the B.C. Legislature. She was elected to the riding in 2016 and previously served as the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, before being given this new assignment. Mark’s appointment was heralded by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA). “We look forward to working closely with Melanie Mark, the new Minister of Tourism, Arts Culture and Sport to tackle the significant challenges facing the industry, and ultimately moving the sector down the path to economic recovery,” said TOTA President and chief executive officer Glenn Mandziuk. Mandziuk is currently serving as the chair of the BC Regional Tourism Secretariat. The organization is a collaboration between the province’s regional destination management organizations and is giving key input on the province’s tourism recovery plan. Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.
TORONTO — The 2021 Juno Awards are moving to May for their 50th anniversary.Organizers behind Canada's biggest night in music say the golden celebration, set to take place in Toronto, is being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.The televised show will happen on May 16, 2021, about a month and a half after its originally planned date in March.Allan Reid, head of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, says the move is intended to give artists and the local community more options to celebrate in a time when physical distancing measures are expected to still be in place."We also hope that the warmer weather will bring more opportunities for some unique outdoor programming," he said in a press conference."The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a huge effect on the city and our music community, but we will be resilient and live music will return, and we will be there to help in any way we can."The return of the Juno Awards to Toronto, for the first time in a decade, was billed as a splashy affair when it was announced last year. Thousands of fans were expected to gather inside the Scotiabank Arena, with many past honorees in attendance.How the momentous occasion might take shape in the pandemic is a work in progress, Reid said, and it's still undetermined whether any of the Juno performances will be permitted to take place indoors.The organization also stopped short of announcing details for Juno Week, a series of concerts and events leading up to the broadcast that in other years have proven to be a business boon for local bars and concert halls.Other changes will be introduced as part of the Junos anniversary, including three new looks for the award statuette.The updated designs take inspiration from designer Shirley Elford's human-shaped molten-glass award, first handed out in 2000.A gold Juno will be given to Juno Award winners, while a silver version is for recipients of a special Juno prize, and a gold and silver variation goes to Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees.There's also a notable change within the R&B categories, first announced in October. The R&B recording of the year award will now be two distinct prizes, one for contemporary R&B recording of the year and another for traditional R&B/soul recording of the year.Reid noted that artist submissions for the Junos reached a record high, though he did not offer specific figures. He said the historic interest shows the resiliency of Canadian musicians in a difficult year that saw many of their concert tours cancelled.Nominees for the Juno Awards will be announced early in 2021.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020. David Friend, The Canadian Press
Norfolk County’s answer to Cruella de Vil is believed to have stolen two puppies from a Delhi home on Friday. Norfolk OPP say the alleged dognappers came to the Tisdale Road property — just south of Delhi — between 6:40 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 27 and made off with two tan-coloured female pups, along with a trail camera. The five-month-old dogs are described as a mix of ridgeback, mastiff, Newfoundlander and shepherd. Police welcome tips from the public to solve this case and get the pups back home. Information about the theft can be left with the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers via 1-800-222-8477 or helpsolvecrime.com.J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
A Stephenville judge has found two people from Newfoundland's west coast guilty in the death of Mittens the cat, dismissing inconsistencies in a witness's testimony. Jody Anderson of Port aux Basques and Peter Rossiter of O'Regan's were convicted in provincial court Tuesday of injuring or endangering an animal. Charges of causing the cat unnecessary suffering were stayed."Given the evidence presented at trial, the only reasonable explanation of what happened to the cat is that it was killed by either Mr. Rossiter or Ms. Anderson or both," said Judge Lynn Cole in delivering her decision.Mittens, under the foster care of Anderson, was killed with an axe Sept. 10, 2019, in Port aux Basques. The following month, police charged Anderson and Rossiter with the cat's death.In her decision, Cole said there were some inconsistencies in one witness's recounting of what happened on the night Mittens was killed, but said minor inconsistencies are normal in court matters. A witness testified that Anderson and Rossiter went into a bathroom with an axe, an empty garbage bag and a cat. When they came out, they were carrying something in a bag. The cat was not seen again.Rallies held for MittensFollowing the cat's disappearance, animal rights groups in the region began vigils and rallies throughout the province that demanded justice for Mittens. While the evidence around the actual killing of the cat was circumstantial, Cole said, reasonable doubt can exclude any other alternative. And while it was not established which of the two did the killing, said the judge, they both acted in a common purpose."They were both a party to the killing of the cat," she said.Anderson and Rossiter are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22.Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
NEW YORK — Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page, the star of “Juno," “Inception” and “The Umbrella Academy,” came out as transgender Tuesday in an announcement greeted as a watershed moment for the trans community in Hollywood. “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer," Page said in a statement on social media. Page, the 33-year-old actor from Nova Scotia, said his decision to come out as trans, which also involved changing his first name, came after a long journey and with much support from the LGBTQ community. “I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self,” Page wrote. “I’ve been endlessly inspired by so many in the trans community. Thank you for your courage, your generosity and ceaselessly working to make this world a more inclusive and compassionate place.” “The more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive,” added Page, who said his pronouns are “he" and "they.” Page signed his statement with the words, “All my love, Elliot.” The announcement was celebrated widely on social media by LGBTQ rights advocates and many in the film industry. Netflix, maker of the comic book series “The Umbrella Academy," said, “So proud of our superhero! We love you Elliot!” "Elliot Page has given us fantastic characters on-screen, and has been an outspoken advocate for all LGBTQ people,” said Nick Adams, GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Media. “He will now be an inspiration to countless trans and non-binary people. All transgender people deserve the chance to be ourselves and to be accepted for who we are. We celebrate the remarkable Elliot Page today.” Page broke out in Jason Reitman's 2007 film “Juno” in a performance as a pregnant teenager that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Page has frequently worked to bring the lives of LGBTQ characters to screen, including the 2015 film “Freeheld,” which he produced and starred in as the partner of a dying New Jersey police detective who had been denied pension benefits. Last year, he made his directorial debut with the documentary “There's Something in the Water,” about environmental damage on Black and First Nations communities in Nova Scotia. Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
TORONTO — DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. says sales of cars and trucks fell in November as COVID-19 restrictions returned.The consultancy says 128,351 cars and trucks were sold last month, down 10.4 per cent from a year ago. DesRosiers says the November decline marks a pull back from strong performances in September and October.DesRosiers managing partner Andrew King says the auto market is still relatively strong compared with this spring, after sales fell nearly 75 per cent from their year-ago levels in April.But the consultants say auto sales are still set to be down about 20 per cent this year compared with 2019, between spring's lockdowns and new COVID-19 restrictions.DesRosiers now estimates that 2020 auto sales will total slightly more than 1.5 million for the full year.“It was always apparent that the recovery in the market was never going to be a straight line," said King in a statement. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.The Canadian Press
November was the worst month of the pandemic for the Grey-Bruce health region, an area that until then had largely avoided the spikes in COVID-19 cases that had plagued much of the province. Grey-Bruce Public Health logged 159 new infections last month – nearly doubling its case count – bringing the total to 337 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Nov. 30. The region continues to defy the odds and has had zero deaths nine months into the pandemic. “It has been the worst month, but nothing that is not manageable so far,” said Ian Arra, medical officer of health for Grey-Bruce. “The underlining principle to all these cases is COVID fatigue.” In early November, about half the cases in Grey-Bruce were linked to travel within health regions, he said. Most of these cases were either from locals visiting family and friends in other regions or “hot spots” and contracting COVID-19. A smaller portion was from out-of-towners visiting those who live in Grey and Bruce counties. The other half of cases were then attributed to spread within households to friends and family. “People lower their guards and the pandemic is there,” Arra said. “As soon as people relax, the virus will transmit.” As the month continued, Arra said the second category – locally transmitted cases between friends and families – rose in the region. Along with that, so did the number of close contacts of cases. Grey-Bruce Public Health publicly posts the number of high-risk close contacts it is currently working with. As of Nov. 30, that number sat at 216, with 50 active cases. “In March and April, we used to see with each case two or three close contacts,” Arra said. “In November, we saw an average of about 10, maybe more.” Another factor in November’s spike is cases among Mennonite and Amish communities. Arra said the large size of Amish and Mennonite families often leads to more transmission within one household but stressed it would be wrong to “point the finger” at these communities, adding they have been working well with the health unit. Meanwhile, schools and workplaces in his region have remained mostly free of COVID-19 transmission. Although there have been cases in schools, there have been zero outbreaks. “Schools are safe, so kids, who are less reliable than adults, by following the recommendations, are being safe,” he said. “So, there is no excuse for any of us.” In long-term care settings, Grey-Bruce has seen few outbreaks; although some cases have been detected, Arra said there has been only one instance of secondary transmission occurring, which was back in March. One long-term care home is currently considered in outbreak, with one positive staff case. As of Dec. 1, the area doesn't have any people being treated in hospital for COVID-19. Arra said he is beginning to see the region buck the second-wave trend of skyrocketing case counts. “We see the numbers right now in Grey Bruce levelling, they have not kept going up,” he said. Mid-month, Bruce Power launched Be A Light: Beating COVID-19 Together, a $1 million campaign to boost public health communication and provide more resources to the community. Arra said that campaign – with increased messaging on billboards, radio ads, TV stations and local papers – helped shift public attitudes about following public health guidelines to fight against COVID-19. “Within one week, not surprisingly, there was a change in the level of concern from the public and that really is what we need." Grey-Bruce is in the yellow-protect zone of the province’s COVID-19 restriction framework, but Arra said if residents continue to follow public health protocols like hand washing, proper mask-wearing, and avoiding unnecessary gatherings, that could change before the holidays. “Everyone asks for a white Christmas, but we will be asking for a green one,” Arra said, referencing the lowest coloured tier on the restriction framework. Even with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, Arra said residents must stay vigilant in safeguarding against the novel coronavirus. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel … it is around the corner,” he said. “We need to double down.” MaxMartin@postmedia.com Twitter.com/MaxatLFPressMax Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest drugmakers developing a vaccine against COVID-19, on Tuesday began the process of applying for emergency approval of its vaccine from the European Medicines Agency and Health Canada.In what’s called a rolling submission, J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical business sent regulators in the EU and Canada early testing data from its experimental one-dose vaccine for preventing COVID-19. Rolling submissions are used to speed up evaluation of crucial drugs by giving regulators data as it becomes available, and while human testing is still ongoing, rather than submitting reams of data at once after testing ends.Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that the European Medicines Agency allowed the rolling submission mainly due to positive results from laboratory testing, which showed the vaccine triggered a robust immune response, creating antibodies that could fight the virus.The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company also talking with regulators in other countries around the world about starting rolling reviews with them.J&J is now in the final phase of testing its one-dose vaccine on human volunteers. Meanwhile, it recently began a second study looking at whether two vaccine doses work better than just one.The company has said it will provide its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis throughout the pandemic emergency.___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— U.S. panel to decide who should get the first COVID-19 shots— BioNTech and Pfizer ask European regulator for expedited approval of coronavirus vaccine— Americans face new COVID-19 restrictions after Thanksgiving— At tiny rural hospitals, exhausted medical workers t reat friends and family— Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton tests positive for coronavirus— A pop-up school has blossomed to teach reading, writing, math and art to Central American children living in a camp of asylum seekers stuck at America’s doorstep___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:MIAMI — Florida joined Texas and California in surpassing 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday as the governor has vowed not to adopt any further restrictions or impose closures like those enacted in the spring and summer.Hospitalizations have also climbed in the state with 4,261 COVID-19 patients, up from 4,139 tallied on Monday.The figure is still less than half what hospitals saw in late July, but it has steadily climbed since October after plateauing at about 2,000 hospitalizations daily for weeks following the summer surge of the virus.The state’s health department on Tuesday reported 82 new virus deaths, raising the toll in the third-most populous state to at least 18,942 since the beginning of the pandemic.While vaccines could arrive as early as this month, officials say it will be spring at the earliest before most people can receive the treatment.Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday on Twitter that the priority for the allocation of the new vaccines should be to residents of long-term care facilities who are “by far the most likely demographic to die with COVID.”___SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco officials said Tuesday that they are considering more stringent restrictions on businesses and private gatherings as cases continue to spike.Mayor London Breed said the speed with which the city’s rate climbed showed “how fast (COVID-19) can move.”She acknowledged the sacrifices people have already made to tamp down two spikes in the spring and summer.“If I’m honest, as someone who basically lives alone, it’s been a tough year for me personally. ... I was so happy to tell everyone just a month ago that San Francisco has done such a good job with COVID that we were in the yellow” tier the state uses to measure case rates.The city’s health director, Dr. Grant Colfax, said new orders could come as soon as Wednesday that may further limit outdoor dining, reduce capacity at local businesses and gyms and potentially impose a quarantine order like the one Santa Clara County adopted.___DENVER -- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert and urged people to wear masks and socially distance to prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays.Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Tuesday that Colorado isn’t alone in seeing a spike in cases. He pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.He said the country will likely see “a surge upon a surge” of cases, based on the number of people who travelled for Thanksgiving. About one in 41 Colorado residents is believed to be contagious with the virus.___RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Tuesday that North Carolina will soon receive nearly 85,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine from the federal government.Frontline healthcare workers at hospitals will be the first to get vaccinated, followed by other health workers and vulnerable populations, such as people with at least two comorbidities.Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, says North Carolina will receive a weekly allocation of vaccine doses from the federal government. Its first allotment of 84,800 doses could come as soon as Dec. 15.Cooper said every resident in the state will be able to receive a free vaccine, regardless of whether they have health insurance.___BATON ROUGE, La. — The number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana’s hospitals continues to grow, intensifying worries that coronavirus cases from Thanksgiving holiday gatherings will balloon the number further and could overwhelm hospitals.Louisiana’s health department said 1,280 people in Louisiana were hospitalized Tuesday because of COVID-19. That’s an increase of more than 200 over the last week and more than double the 596 COVID-19 patients hospitalized a month ago.Though hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients remain below Louisiana’s peak of nearly 2,000 in April during the first of the state’s three coronavirus surges, they have been steadily and sharply increasing since mid-October.This prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards to toughen Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses and gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving.His chief public health adviser Dr. Joe Kanter warned that the strong uptick in Louisiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations was happening at a rate “that our hospitals simply cannot stand” without running out of the staff needed to treat patients.___DENVER — Colorado’s Democrat-led Legislature is plowing ahead on special session legislation to provide limited state relief to businesses, students and others affected by the coronavirus pandemic.Democrats have overcome Republican objections to the scope of the aid and GOP attempts to limit the Democratic governor’s ability to decree public health orders.The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed bills to direct $5 million to help residents to pay utility bills; $50 million to assist landlords and tenants; and $100 million to the governor’s office for use in the public health emergency. The bills were immediately taken up by the House.___BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota lawmakers decided to require masks at the state capitol. for the three-day organizational session.The vote Tuesday is supported by legislative leaders but opposed by far-right members of the Republican-controlled Legislature.House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner told reporters Tuesday they support a mask mandate at Capitol legislative spaces to help protect lawmakers and the public.Lawmakers are expected to finalize the rules Thursday for the upcoming session it convenes Jan. 5.___BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A health official says Alabama hospitals treating a record number of COVID-19 patients are bracing for a “tidal wave” of additional cases linked to holiday gatherings.Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the University of Alabama at Birmingham says health care systems could be overwhelmed within two or three weeks. The Alabama Hospital Association says only 11% of the state’s intensive care beds were available Monday. The remaining spaces could be filled as more patients are admitted than leave hospitals.A statewide order requiring face masks in public expires Dec. 11, but it could be extended by Gov. Kay Ivey for additional weeks as in the past.Nearly 253,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and more than 3,600 have died in Alabama.___JOHNSTON, Iowa — Public health data in Iowa shows the coronavirus infection rate is slowing, but the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remains high.Iowa’s positivity rate declined in the past two weeks but remains third in the nation at 41%, according to Johns Hopkins University.Some of the ease in case positivity could be from reduced testing around the Thanksgiving holiday. Hospital officials were bracing for another surge in positive tests and illness because of Thanksgiving family gatherings.Iowa posted 24 deaths and 1,906 new confirmed cases on Tuesday. Hospitals reported 1,172 patients with COVID-19, up 10 from the previous day.___HELENA, Mont. — A new counselling hotline is available to help Montana residents struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus crisis.Gov. Steve Bullock announced the new hotline will be available for at least the next nine months. It’s funded by a $1.6 million federal grant.The governor’s office says the new service is meant to aid health care workers, first responders, school officials, veterans, the elderly, Native Americans, and farmers and ranchers but is available to all residents.More than 1,000 new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday in Montana, bringing the confirmed total to more than 63,000.___CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has returned to his office after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus in mid-November.He announced his return on Twitter. Sisolak, a Democrat, was isolating at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.He announced on Nov. 13 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Three days later, he said he was only experiencing mild head congestion.___NEW YORK — An influential scientific panel is set to tackle one of the most pressing questions in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic: Who should get the first vaccines when they become available?The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet in an open-to-the-public, virtual meeting to vote on a proposal that would give priority to health care workers and patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The two groups together represent around 23 million Americans out of a population of about 330 million.About 2 million people live in nursing homes and other U.S. long-term care facilities. Those patients and the staff members who care for them have accounted for 6% of the nation’s coronavirus cases and a staggering 39% of the deaths, CDC officials say.Later this month, the Food and Drug Administration will consider approval of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.Experts say the vaccines will probably not become widely available in the U.S. until the spring. There’s been more than 13.6 million confirmed cases and nearly 270,000 deaths in the U.S., the highest tallies in the world.___PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says France’s coronavirus vaccination program will likely start in early January on a focused population.A French public health watchdog recommended the first vaccines go to nursing home residents. No vaccines have been approved yet.Macron says the larger population is expected to get a potential vaccine between April and June.France has 2.2 million cases, fifth highest in the world, and more than 52,000 deaths.___PHOENIX — Arizona reported a record 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, which included delayed reporting because of the holiday weekend.The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported 10,322 coronavirus cases and 48 deaths. Arizona’s previous single-day high was 4,878 on July 1.Arizona’s latest seven-day rolling average of daily new cases was 3,499 on Monday.Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 continued to increase, reaching 2,594 on Monday, with 597 patients in intensive care unit beds.___TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada won’t lift restrictions at the U.S.--Canada border until the coronavirus is significantly under control throughout the world.Canada has limited border crossings to essential travel since March. Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Canada is fortunate that trade in essential goods like agriculture products and pharmaceuticals is still flowing back and forth.Trudeau says it’s critical that people not travel. He says while President-elect Joe Biden has an “obvious” different approach on the pandemic than President Donald Trump, the situation in the U.S. remains serious. The United States leads the world with 13.6 million coronavirus cases and nearly 270,000 deaths.About 400,000 people crossed the world’s longest international border each day before the pandemic closed it to nonessential travel nine months ago.___BERLIN — Germany’s health minister toured a new vaccination centre in Duesseldorf on Tuesday, preparing for possible mass vaccinations against the coronavirus in the coming weeks.Vaccinations in Germany will be free, voluntary and people will receive letters about when it’s their turn for the shot, Health Minister Jens Spahn says.The first shots will be given either in vaccination centres around the country or by mobile medical teams who will go to nursing homes to vaccinate the most vulnerable people. Later next year, doctors will vaccinate people at their local practices, the health minister says.Spahn expects Germany to receive five to eight million doses of vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as by Moderna.There will be 53 centres opened in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with 18 million people, where Duesseldorf is based. In Berlin, home to 3.6 million people, six centres are being prepared.In Germany, there were 13,604 confirmed cases and 388 deaths in the last 24 hours.___PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island has opened two field hospitals with a combined 900 beds to deal with an expected increase of COVID-19 patients.Care New England opened a field hospital with more than 300 beds in Cranston on Monday, the same day the state sent an emergency alert saying conventional hospitals had reached their coronavirus capacity.A facility with nearly 600 beds opened Tuesday at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. It is run by Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital group.There were 365 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals on Saturday, according to the state Department of Health. That’s down from a high of 381 on Nov. 23.___ISLAMABAD — A top Pakistani health official says Islamabad plans to procure a COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter of next year.The announcement Tuesday by Faisal Sultan came hours after Pakistan registered 67 more deaths and 2,458 new coronavirus cases.Pakistan has allocated $150 million to acquire vaccine, which first will be administered to frontline health workers and elderly people.The government has imposed a partial lockdown in many areas across Pakistan. Authorities have asked people to adhere to social distancing rules to avoid stricter measures.Pakistan’s death toll stands at 8,091 and more than 400,000 confirmed cases.deaths.The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Canada's decision to block American imports of certain prescription drugs from north of the border is getting stony silence from the Trump administration — a sign, one expert says, that the U.S. proposal is "dead in the water."The measure, first floated by Donald Trump a year ago as a strategy to help reduce America's staggering drug costs, took effect Monday after the president signed a pre-election executive order in September. On Saturday, however, Health Minister Patty Hajdu parried the effort with just days to spare, prohibiting bulk drug exports if they pose a risk of creating or worsening drug shortages in the Canadian market. The White House referred questions about the new limits to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has yet to respond to repeated media queries about where Canada's move leaves Trump's plan.That plan was "a desperate act by desperate people at a desperate time," said Dr. Allen Zagoren, a policy administration professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Canada represents only two per cent of global drug sales, and gets 68 per cent of its drugs from outside the country, Health Canada said in a news release announcing the export prohibitions. The U.S. market, on the other hand, comprises 44 per cent of pharmaceutical sales around the world. Buying drugs in Canada "was never realistic, ever," Zagoren said. "Even if Canada said, 'Sure,' there's no way — Canada doesn't have enough drugs. But it allowed them to make a promise. And then they could argue, 'Well, Canada won't let us. So it's them, not us.'"Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said the two countries have been discussing the issue of drug imports for more than a year. In those meetings, Canada has made it clear that given the relatively tiny size of the Canadian market, bulk imports from north of the border simply wouldn’t have the desired effect."We've been saying to them all along: one, we sympathize with your policy concern; two, buying bulk drugs from Canada isn't the solution to your policy concern; and three, above all else, we will always protect the supply of drugs to Canadians," Hillman said.Canada's response is not a blanket export ban, but a "narrow and tailored" measure that applies only to those drugs meant for domestic consumption that are already in short supply or at risk at becoming scarce, she added. Zagoren, who called Trump's proposal "dead in the water," said its failure could prove useful for president-elect Joe Biden's own efforts to address drug costs once he takes over the White House in January. Biden has promised to reduce drug costs, including through imports, and to give the U.S. government insurance program known as Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices — a plan that has the blessing of congressional Democrats. The fact that Trump's proposed solution has failed could provide Biden with helpful leverage in discussions with the all-powerful pharmaceutical industry, which has spent aggressively in its lobbying efforts to head off pricing reforms. "I think it helps the Biden administration, because it sets the stage. The Canadian argument signals to the Biden administration, 'Don't come here for this.' But Biden being the internationalist he is, and a very good friend of Canada, that's not going to happen in the Biden administration anyway." Biden has also promised to expand health insurance coverage to include more Americans, a move that has the potential to broaden the existing U.S. drug market. Much will depend on the outcome of a pair of Senate run-off elections next month in Georgia, where Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are seeking to unseat Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Should they both succeed, the 100-seat Senate will find itself in an even 50-50 split, giving the tiebreaking vote to Biden's vice-president, Kamala Harris. "It really hinges on the Georgia election as to how far the U.S. government will go with regard to drug prices, and especially on Medicare," Zagoren said. "There'll be a lot of negotiation in the backrooms with regard to pharmaceutical prices going forward. I do think there's going to be an attempt to bring them down, but I don't think it will be on the backs of the Canadians."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020. James McCarten, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Netflix Canada will bid farewell to "Friends" later this month as the hit sitcom moves to Crave.Both streaming platforms confirmed the switch on Tuesday, saying Dec. 31 will see all 10 seasons of the show depart Netflix for their new home on Crave under an exclusive agreement.The change comes as Crave continues to bulk up its streaming library of hit network TV comedies, which include "30 Rock," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Frasier."The streamer, owned by Bell Media, also recently picked up the rights to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," which will leave Netflix on Dec. 30.Netflix isn't left empty-handed when it comes to classic TV, however. The company says it will have the Canadian streaming rights to "Seinfeld" starting next year.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.The Canadian Press
British Columbia has seen more COVID-19 deaths over the past two weeks than the preceding two months because the virus has found its way back into nursing homes. And with long-term care workers exhausted and families frustrated, it's not clear what can be done.
Tuesday marked the first snow day that wasn't in Windsor-Essex, as school transportation was cancelled but secondary students in the public school board still had to do a full day of remote learning.The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) announced the policy last week, saying that students would be expected to do a full day of remote learning for the 2020-21 school year even if transportation is cancelled."For the current school year (2020-21), in the event that student transportation is cancelled in the city and/or the county, all secondary students will participate exclusively in remote on-line learning for that day," the news release says. Shelley Armstrong, the superintendent of business and treasurer at the GECDSB, said the board felt the decision made sense given the "quadmester" remote learning system students are using this year."It's really important that we do the best that we can to support their learning in the classrooms, and it's challenging to do that if there's a missed day," she said. "We really want to make sure that we're supporting them the best that we can with their education."Schools are still open for staff and elementary school students. But elementary students who stay home are not expected to do online work.Armstrong says that the board made the decision for this year only, and she's not certain snow days for secondary students are facing extinction."I don't know necessarily that that would be the case," she said.Armstrong added that if anyone has any questions about the new policy, they can reach out to school administrators."If anyone has specific questions for it, certainly they can reach out to the board office or the school principal, and we'll do our best to help them with any questions they may have," she said.
Décidément, la deuxième vague de COVID-19 n’a en rien freiner les ardeurs des dirigeants de Cominar qui vont de l’avant avec la première phase d’un vaste projet de développement industriel au nord de l’autoroute 440 ouest. Dès le printemps, le fonds de placement immobilier mettra en chantier un immeuble d’une superficie locative de 200 000 pieds carrés à l’angle nord-ouest des boulevards Saint-Elzéar et Curé-Labelle, dans Chomedey. À Laval, les espaces industriels disponibles se font rares, explique Bernard Poliquin, vice-président exécutif secteur immeubles de bureaux et industriels et chef des opérations immobilières. «Le taux de disponibilité est inférieur à 2 %», dit-il. En d’autres termes, il n’y aurait rien actuellement sur le marché pour accueillir un éventuel locataire à la recherche de 50 000 pieds carrés ou plus. Son collègue Jean Laramée, vice-président exécutif Développement chez Cominar, précise pour sa part que le rythme de construction sera dicté par le marché. Les plans prévoient deux bâtiments jumeaux à 30 M$ la copie en retrait du boulevard Curé-Labelle, entre la rue Philippe Lebon et le boulevard St-Elzéar, après quoi on creusera les fondations de bâtiments de plus petits gabarits en bordure de Curé-Labelle selon la demande. Une fois complété, ce développement totalisera quelque 600 000 pieds carrés d’espaces locatifs pour un investissement avoisinant les 80 à 100 M$, soutient M. Laramée. «C’est un site extrêmement convoité», reprend M. Poliquin, qui en donne pour preuve l’intérêt manifesté autant par d’éventuels utilisateurs que des investisseurs qui auraient bien aimé en faire l’acquisition. Le terrain en question, qui couvre 1,7 million de pieds carrés, se trouve tout juste au nord du bâtiment occupé par Wolseley Canada inc., principal distributeur de plomberie et de systèmes de chauffage, ventilation, climatisation et réfrigération au pays. Incidemment, cet établissement situé au 4200, rue Louis-B.-Mayer, est le plus récent immeuble industriel appartenant à Cominar. Parmi les plus importants fonds de placement immobilier diversifiés au Canada, Cominar est un propriétaire foncier incontournable à Laval. À preuve, il détient à lui seul 42 % de la superficie locative totale des immeubles à bureaux avec plus de 1,8 million de pieds carrés répartis en 19 édifices. Toujours à Laval, Cominar possède 20 bâtiments industriels pour 1,6 million de pieds carrés, un portefeuille qui devrait s’enrichir d’une demi-douzaine d’immeubles et de 600 000 pieds carrés additionnels d’ici les prochaines années. Enfin, le plus important propriétaire et gestionnaire d'immeubles commerciaux au Québec est également un poids lourd dans l’industrie du commerce au détail de Laval comme en témoignent ses trois propriétés au cœur du centre-ville que sont le Centre Laval, le Quartier Laval et le Centropolis.Stéphane St-Amour, Initiative de journalisme local, Courrier Laval
From Halifax to Toronto to Calgary to Vancouver, there are plenty of ways to safety enjoy the simple pleasure of Christmas lights.
On the Toronto Raptors' first full day in their temporary home away from home, the state of Florida hit an inglorious milestone, surpassing one million COVID-19 cases.Concern around the pandemic itself is just one of the huge challenges Canada's NBA team faces in Tampa, where the Raptors will host their home games for at least the first part of the season because of Canada's travel restrictions around COVID-19.The price tag of playing outside their own market is massive. "It's something we're going through with the league now," GM Bobby Webster said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "There is a discretionary fund that the NBA has . . . the last time it was invoked for something like this was Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans went to Oklahoma City."It's a huge strain on us as an organization, but I think, as you all know, when faced with different challenges or obstacles, we thrive, and we like it, so we're looking at it much more from a really unique experience for our team, for our staff."The Raptors made their team official on Tuesday. On a positive note, they signed Canadian Oshae Brissett to a multi-year extension. The restricted free agent forward from Mississauga, Ont., who split time between the Raptors and Raptors 905 of the G League last season, averaged 1.9 points in 19 games with the NBA team.The presence of Terence Davis at camp, however, is a contentious topic. Davis is facing seven charges, including two counts of third-degree assault, after he was arrested in New York on Oct. 27 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. "We've obviously had our conversations with Terence, done as much due diligence as we can on the situation," Webster said. He said the matter is in the hands of the NBA and the players' union and results of their investigation will determine whether Davis might be put on administrative leave."I think sometimes that may feel a bit unsatisfying but I think that we need to be respectful of that process as well," he said. The Raptors have taken a proactive approach to hiring women, so Webster was asked if their position on Davis is hypocritical. "We take this incredibly serious," he said. "There’s no basketball issue that would ever prevent us from doing anything, but we also have to go with our relationship and our understanding of the conversation and what happened."The Raptors began individual workouts at Saint Leo University on Tuesday. They're still in the process of setting up a practice facility in a downtown hotel — another of the huge hurdles no other team in the league faces. They got the hotel ballroom idea after seeing the league do it in the "bubble" at Walt Disney World. "If you can imagine a world-class basketball court, a world-class training room, a world-class weight room, there are challenges in doing that in the equipment but essentially the idea here was to create a world-class practice facility in a place where there isn’t one," Webster said. "That’s been fun and challenging for us."Webster, a dad of two young kids, isn't sure how many Raptors players and staff might move their families temporarily to Tampa. "We’re all in a bit of no-man’s land as we decide. We all wanted to come down here and see what the setup is . . . so see what the setup is here, what the comfort level is, obviously finding housing or living in a hotel is different than living in a place with a routine," he said. "I think over the course of the next few days or weeks we’ll have a better sense of it."Webster said they learned other lessons from being cooped up in the Disney World bubble for three months they can apply to this unique season."You really understand the meaning of being part of a team and relying on each other, not only for playing the games and getting to the arenas, but now it's our collective health, our collective well-being," he said. "I think that sense of belonging and unity is really important for a time like this, where everyone feels like we have each other's back, and we're all looking out for the greater good."If there is a plus side to playing in Tampa, Webster noted that it snowed Tuesday in Toronto. "We are here in nice, sunny Florida with no state income tax," Webster grinned.The Raptors also announced centre Henry Ellenson signed a multi-year contract. Ellenson played five games for the Brooklyn Nets last season. He has also played for Detroit and New York since entering the league in 2017.Meanwhile, the Raptors signed first-round pick Malachi Flynn to a rookie-scale contract and second-round pick Jalen Harris to a two-way contract.Free-agent forwards Alize Johnson and Yuta Watanabe have signed one-year, Exhibit-10 contracts.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Visitor parking is about to get tougher in Tiny Township. After a slew of parking-related complaints received this summer when visitors flocked to the area, staff sat down to come up with a parking strategy to be implemented next year. The result is an extended permit parking season and increased parking fines. "Currently, it's necessary to display one between May 15 and Sept. 15," said Steve Harvey, chief municipal law enforcement officer. "But as council has seen over the last few years with nicer weather over the fall, this year, we extended the season to Oct. 5. Staff is suggesting the parking permit season be extended by a month at each end, April 15 to Oct. 15." As for parking fines, he said, currently, a no-parking ticket is $50 if paid on time and $60 with penalty. "These are costs equal to a full-day parking," Harvey said. "We're recommending increasing it $75 and $90." A third part of the strategy is around the township's parking boundaries, he said. "During this summer, we received a lot of communications from residents on the eastern shoreline that were affected by day trippers that were using the little parks and walkways to beaches," Harvey said talking about Corrie Hamelin Park on Champlain Road and Peek-a-boo Trail at Tee Pee Point Park. In his report, he outlined five options for council to consider. Staff is suggesting targeted permit parking program at a specific parking lot, converting targeted open parking to permit parking, converting open parking along the eastern shoreline to permit parking or converting open parking across the township to permit parking. Council could also choose to take no action and see how it goes in 2021, said Harvey, adding staff recommended the second option be adopted with a clause that staff report back on the feasibility. Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma and Coun. Tony Mintoff both supported the option recommended by staff and suggested removing the need for staff to report back on the parking boundaries option. "We can adapt and increase the plan if we find ourselves in a similar position next summer," said Walma. Tiny sells 175 'non-resident' permits on a first-come, first-serve basis with a non-resident being defined as a resident of the Town of Midland, the Town of Penetanguishene, the Township of Tay and the Township of Springwater. Permits cost $100.00 and are not transferable. The decision will be ratified at a future council meeting.Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
Two Edmonton long-term care centres battling deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 are struggling to stay on top of patient care as the disease spreads among staff and residents. Capital Care Lynnwood and the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre are among 26 long-term care sites in the Edmonton zone listed on Tuesday as having COVID-19 outbreaks. As of Monday, the Lynnwood facility was reporting 84 active cases — 29 staff and 55 residents — plus six deaths. At the Chinatown centre, there are active cases among 45 residents and 42 staff, while 12 residents have died. Both facilities have acknowledged that the outbreaks are taking a toll on patient care, and are raising red flags for a health-care advocacy group and the union that represents long-term care workers. "Families are upset, they're afraid for their loved ones," Sandra Azocar, executive director for Friends of Medicare, told CBC News on Monday. "We get daily emails from families that are concerned, or that get calls from their loved ones saying, 'I didn't get a shower again, I didn't get my breakfast.' There's so many health concerns that are being reported by families that are not being addressed by some of the operators." At Lynnwood, where the outbreak affects two units, the staff shortage means patients may be getting bed baths instead of normal baths or showers, said Bonnie Roberts, site director at Capital Care Lynnwood. "Staff from other units are helping support the two units on outbreak," Roberts said in an emailed statement. "This means that some services have been impacted, or reduced, on the affected units." Meanwhile, the situation at the Chinatown facility is extremely challenging, said Sabrina Atwal, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services. "Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre is a standalone site with no other sites to draw staff from, and staffing agencies are also strapped trying to support many organizations, some contracted by AHS and others that are not," Atwal said in an emailed statement. Basic care needs, including meals, are being met, Atwal said. Problematic staffing protocols The outbreaks highlight what Azocar and Michael Dempsey, an Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice-president, call a systemic problem with how long-term care facilities are staffed. "The outbreaks are spreading rapidly, lots of staff members are affected and infected," Dempsey told CBC News. "There aren't enough workers to do this. … The models they're built on go way back with low, minimal staffing. And when you have something like this, they're just not prepared." Many of the staff members providing care are part-time workers, who in the past have worked at multiple locations to earn full-time paycheques with benefits, including sick leave. In April, Alberta's chief medical officer of health imposed a rule limiting employees to one worksite, but Azocar said the current shortage means staff are working in multiple sites. Even worse, fears about lost income may influence workers who aren't feeling well to go in to work regardless, she said. "When they need to be off because of illnesses, they're not being compensated," she said. "So a lot of people are being put into a position where they might not be able to afford to be truthful when they're not feeling well, and still going to work." Friends of Medicare wants to see regular, unannounced inspections to help ensure operators have met staffing levels, are following health orders and providing a high standard of care, Azocar said. "We need the provincial government to make sure that the working conditions for staff are supported, either through COVID pay or to get pay when they have to stay home and self-isolate," she said. "We need to make sure that these workers are kept healthy and able to work in a healthy facility." As of Monday, there have been 541 deaths in Alberta from COVID-19, of which 358 have been seniors aged 80 and older.
The federal government wants to hear from you on temporary foreign worker accommodations. The window to provide comments and have your voice heard will close on Dec. 22, 2020. In consultation with provincial governments, employers, workers and foreign partner countries, the federal government announced this past summer that it would develop minimum mandatory requirements for housing under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), under which upwards of 60,000 foreign workers come to Canada each year to ensure our agricultural sector continues to function. “The intent is not to pursue short-term changes … but to develop a lasting approach to improve living conditions for workers while considering elements that would make accommodations more adaptable to addressing any communicable disease outbreaks in the future,” read a document provided to Niagara This Week by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). To that end, the feds want to reduce overcrowding to bring about five outcomes: personal space and privacy; adaptability to public health measures to prevent virus spread; more amenities; heating, cooling and air quality; and internet access. The current open consultation process requires those wanting to participate to send an email to NC-TFWP-APT-PTET-EPA-GD@hrsdc-rhdcc.gc.ca requesting to take part. Through the public consultation period, the government wants feedback on “impacts and considerations for transitioning to new requirements,” and “approaches to strengthen oversight of worker accommodations.” New requirements under consideration for the TFWP include: ensuring workers have freedom of movement and can receive guests without restrictions; having proper heating and cooling equipment to maintain temperature range of 20 to 25.5 C; a maximum of four workers per bedroom with a minimum distance of two metres between all beds; washrooms being within work accommodations; and access to phones and free internet where available. The requirements under consideration can be viewed in their entirety by clicking here. “The consultations will inform the development of a lasting approach to improve living conditions for workers. Creating clear and consistent standards will also ensure employers fully understand their obligations and can better adhere to them,” an Oct. 27 press release read. The release also announced that the federal government will survey those employing agricultural temporary foreign workers so government can better understand current accommodation arrangements. Niagara This Week was provided a survey sample, which revealed questions about housing types like bunkhouses and mobile homes, square footage of common areas and sleeping spaces, amenities, and whether cooling/heating systems are controllable by workers — to name some. Another document provided to Niagara This Week from ESDC read that housing provided to workers “who may be vulnerable to exploitation due to their immigration status and other factors” is inconsistent. Common complaints, the document listed, are “overcrowding and lack of privacy, an inadequate number of washrooms and kitchen facilities per worker, lack of adequate heating/cooling” and deficiencies like leaks, mould and poor plumbing. “The increased attention on employer-provided accommodations through COVID-19 has highlighted several other common deficiencies in the quality of housing and living conditions for workers, including that group accommodations provided on many farms may increase the risk of communicable disease transmission, potentially putting the health of TFWs and the community at large at risk,” another paragraph read. Of the foreign workers who come to Canada each year, approximately 3,000 men and women come to work at Niagara’s farms; two of which experienced significant COVID-19 outbreaks so far this year.Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week