Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met its crown prince, an Israeli official said on Monday, in what would be the first publicly confirmed visit there by an Israeli leader as the countries close ranks against Iran. Earlier, Israeli media said Netanyahu had secretly flown on Sunday to Neom, on the Red Sea, for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Reports of the meeting between the crown prince and Netanyahu were denied by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
In May, the City of Mississauga gnashed its teeth. At the time, it was knee-deep in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of long-term care homes in the city were in outbreak, with dozens of deaths recorded. Business owners were also hurting, their shuttered bars, restaurants and gyms collecting dust and debt. Inside City Hall, losses were mounting daily. Reluctantly, the City had been forced to let roughly 2,000 staff, mostly part-time, seasonal employees, go from its empty recreation facilities. Help eventually offered by the federal and provincial governments was still months away from materializing. Quietly, while the world was distracted, the Doug Ford PC government was forging ahead with its plans to seismically shift how developers pay for growth. Under the area of development subsidies known as a Community Benefits Charge (CBC), the Province was toying with new rules for planning. These fees are often paid by builders to create enhanced features such as green spaces or other amenities that are built using additional money charged to developers in exchange for project changes that generally create more profit, such as adding additional floors to a condo building. Changes were introduced as one of many initiatives in Bill 108 (More Homes, More Choice) — legislation that was almost universally decried around municipal council tables when it received royal assent in 2019. The Province allowed consultation in May (when Mississauga was preoccupied with its pandemic response) which revolved around parks. Just how much greenspace developers needed to provide for even more new residents that would eventually be housed in expanded projects, was a question that created tension. According to staff reports in Brampton and Mississauga at the time, the proposed changes meant developers would pay less to cities, for the features they have for decades been expected to provide when building large residential projects. Municipalities, under the PC government’s plan, would be worse off, while developers would be further ahead. “At a time when we are grappling with the unprecedented financial impacts of COVID-19, the proposed Community Benefits Charge will leave Council [with] even more difficult decisions,” then City Manager, Janice Baker, told Mississauga Council. Under the current rules, developers have to offer a certain amount of parkland to cities and, if they want to reduce that amount, they have to pay a fee. The CBC proposals limited parkland related contributions to 10 percent of the land’s value for high-rise buildings, meaning the projects with the most residents would offer the least public space per capita. “The proposed CBC weakens the link between population growth and the increased need for services,” a Mississauga staff report earlier in the year stated. In Mississauga, under the current system, high and medium-density developments contribute 74 percent of parkland (either physically or in payments). The CBC proposals meant dense developments would cough up just 31 percent of the funding for the city’s new greenspace, with non-residential and low-density homes (which already have backyards) making up the difference. It seemed illogical. After a passionate response from Mississauga and other cities angered by the prospect of a revenue hit while they are reeling financially because of the pandemic, the PC government has rolled back its proposed changes. Under Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act) Queen’s Park rapidly back-peddled, returning parkland contributions by developers to the pre-pandemic levels. “The new community benefits charge authority provides local governments with the flexibility to collect funds for any growth-related services required due to higher density residential development, as long as those costs are not being recovered under other tools,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipalities and Housing explained to The Pointer. “A community benefits charge may enable municipalities to recover the capital costs of any service, as long as it is needed to support new growth … the types of services funded through community benefits charges could include parks, recreation centres, affordable housing, child care, cycling infrastructure and others.” “We were very pleased the Province listened to the feedback from municipalities and rolled back many of the proposed Bill 108 provisions around the Community Benefits Charge,” Jason Bevan, director, city planning strategies, told The Pointer. “We look forward to seeing the final CBC regulations on the percentage of land value cap.” The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) which advocates for the lowest tier of government, said it was “pleased to see the addition of eligible services for development charge recovery being restored” alongside “maintaining existing parkland provisions and the flexibility of CBCs as a tool to recover additional costs”. After a year of consternation for cities, the Province has largely walked back its plans for the CBC. The legislation, initially blasted as a developer freebie, has gradually been softened. Originally, the new legislative changes impacted a range of community features that municipalities have to provide for residents under the development proposals submitted by builders after assembling land for growth. Municipalities were concerned they would have to stretch the funds from the charge to cover features such as libraries, community centres, parks and playgrounds. Responding to feedback, the Province changed tack and protected a range of community features that will continue to be covered by development charges. Specific infrastructure, including libraries and other “soft” services, are covered under the Development Charges Act. Developers will continue to pay for the costs associated with growth. But, realistically, these charges are generally covered by buyers who pay for them through increased unit costs that developers charge when setting their sale prices. It seems much more fair to have the people in a particular new development pay for the surrounding features and services they will enjoy, rather than having property tax payers in general cover the expenses when municipalities have to fund them. At the beginning of October, further regulations were released which made the CBC picture a little clearer still. While the charge is designed to capture certain soft community services not always covered by traditional development charges, there are several areas explicitly excluded. Long-term care, universities, clubhouses or retirement homes cannot be funded using the latest form of CBCs. The new CBC mechanism, brought in to codify an element of development which previously operated as more of a negotiation, comes with strict rules. Cities are tasked, over the next two years, with creating a CBC strategy and bylaw to estimate the amount and type of development where the charge may be used. The strategy should also estimate the increased need for facilities and services as a direct result of developments and the associated growth-related costs. It must acknowledge any grants or subsidies made to help with such projects. A potential sticking point for municipal councils is a cap on the CBC, meaning the charge cannot exceed 4 percent of the value of the lands being developed. If developers disagree with the land valuation, they can dispute it. The likely outcome will see buyers cover any increased costs, as developers across the province won’t have to worry about unfair pricing competition because all builders will have to raise prices. In the end, it will be mostly young buyers who will absorb the additional financial burden for creating enhanced community features they will benefit from. Moving forward, municipalities will also produce an annual report showing how much money is in their CBC and parkland reserves. The reports will detail where money is spent and how projects not using CBC charges were funded. The concept behind the strategy and bylaw is to make costs more predictable for developers and reduce negotiations between individual builders and local politicians. Exactly what community features Mississauga will prioritize under the new CBC system will become clearer over the next two years, as the City draws together its bylaw for the charge. These community standards will best serve the public if they are directly involved and make clear what they want in their neighbourhoods. In essence, as long as cities don’t double charge through other parkland contributions or development charges, they can hit developers with a bill for any growth costs, other than the small list of features that are exempt. The amount is capped under the 4 percent limit, based on the land value. But it still gives high-growth municipalities such as Mississauga and Brampton welcome breathing room as they no longer have to worry about paying for a range of new community features while struggling with the financial damage caused by the pandemic. Smart decision making around the bylaw, with some elements still emerging, should help ensure that as new developments keep springing up across the city, growth will pay for growth in Mississauga. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @isaaccallan Tel: 647 561-4879 COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
Ontario has tapped former head of the Canadian Armed Forces Gen. Rick Hillier to lead a new task force that will oversee the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the province, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday.At the province's daily press conference, Ford said Ontario is being told that the first doses of the vaccine are expected to be ready in early 2021."We need military precision," Ford said, noting that rollout of the vaccine will be a "massive logistical challenge.""We will get vaccines to every part of this province when they are ready."Still, Health Minister Christine Elliott cautioned that vaccinations are "still months away" and urged people to continue to follow public health guidelines.Elliott said the province is still waiting to hear exactly when it will start receiving vaccines, but it is expected that Ontario's most vulnerable and healthcare workers would start getting them before March. These people will have to be vaccinated twice in 21 days, she said.This news comes as Ontario reported 1,589 more cases of COVID-19 on Monday, another single-day record as Toronto and Peel Region move into a second lockdown.The new cases include 336 in Toronto, 535 in Peel and 205 in York Region. They drive the seven-day average up to 1,423 after six consecutive days of increases.Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today's update were: * Waterloo Region: 83 * Hamilton: 61 * Windsor: 56 * Halton Region: 53 * Durham Region: 41 * Ottawa: 40 * Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 30 * Simcoe Muskoka: 25 * Niagara Region: 24 * Brant County: 16 * Thunder Bay: 16 * Middlesex-London: 13[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary, which include data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.]Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said Monday that Toronto is "holding the line" on cases, but noted that infections are now ticking up in other red and yellow zones in the province."It's not just the lockdown areas that have to be concerned," Williams said.Sixty of the new infections were school-related, including 51 students and nine staff members. A total of 676, or about 14 per cent, of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools have reported one current case of COVID-19. Three schools remain closed due to the illness.The additional cases come as Ontario's labs processed 37,471 test samples for the novel coronavirus, and 18,394 were added to the queue to be completed. The province reported an overall test positivity rate of 4.6 per cent.With today's update there are currently 13,004 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 in the province, the most at any point since the outbreak began in late January. Further, 19 more people with COVID-19 have died, the province said, pushing the official death toll to 3,505. The additional deaths include 11 residents of long-term care and a man in his 20s, the fifth person in their 20s to die with COVID-19 in Ontario. So far this month, 360 people with infections of the novel coronavirus have died provincewide.The number of people with confirmed cases in hospitals grew by 23, up to 507. Some 156 of those patients are being treated in intensive care. Public health officials have identified 150 as the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures are likely to be postponed because of burdens on the hospital system.2nd lockdown begins for Toronto, PeelMeanwhile, Toronto and Peel Region have entered the most restrictive tier of Ontario's pandemic protection plan.It means that for at least the next 28 days, non-essential retailers can only offer curbside pickup, while restaurants are closed to all but takeout and delivery orders.Personal services have also been forced to close, but schools and child-care centres remain open.Ford announced the move on Friday, but it didn't come into effect until 12:01 a.m. today.That gave residents of Toronto and Peel the chance to stock up over the weekend, and many did — flooding local malls, even as those facilities extended hours in an effort to prevent too many people from coming at once.Ford fielded several questions from reporters Monday about why he isn't allowing small businesses to stay open in some way, yet big box stores are allowed to remain open.In particular, Ford was asked why the province isn't following Manitoba's model, where businesses are required to remove any non-essential goods from the shelves or rope off those areas.Ford said he had spoken with the CEO of Walmart, and said the practice was causing "massive problems" in that province."It would be a logistical nightmare," Ford said.Still, the premier said he knows that forcing businesses to close is "not fair," and went on to list things he says the province has done to help them.Hudson's Bay location to close after opening MondayFord was also asked why a Hudson's Bay department store location on Queen Street West at Yonge Street in Toronto was open Monday, despite the lockdown. Ford passed the question to Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate chief medical officer of health, who emphasized that residents should avoid going out. In a statement Monday evening, Alexandra Hilkene, Elliott's press secretary, said that while big-box stores with a "full grocery component" are allowed to remain open for in-person shopping, retailers like the Bay and IKEA are not. On Monday night, Hudson's Bay released a statement saying it had closed all Toronto locations but opened the store at Queen and Yonge because a grocery store is located there."We understood this to be in line with the province's direction, however we have now made the decision to close our Queen Street store [on Tuesday]. All Hudson's Bay stores in Toronto and Peel will offer shoppers curbside pickup," the statement from Hudson's Bay Company spokesperson Tiffany Bourré reads.Durham, Waterloo move to red zoneWhile Toronto and Peel face the strictest measures, other areas of the province are also seeing rules tighten.Durham Region and Waterloo joined York Region in the red classification today. The rules limit restaurants, gyms and food courts to 10 indoor patrons with social distancing, with even tighter restrictions on private gatherings.York's local medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, went even further by ordering additional measures aimed at banquet halls and convention centres, as well as retail outlets.They include at least two metres distancing or a cap of 50 people for both indoor and outdoor events such as weddings and funerals. Shopping malls and stores must also set capacity limits that ensure two metres between shoppers.Penalties for offenders are fines fines of up to $5,000 per day for an individual and up to $25,000 per day for a corporation. The areas around Huron, Perth, Simcoe, Muskoka, and Windsor-Essex have also moved to the orange classification, which caps gatherings at staffed businesses to 50 people indoors, or four per table at restaurants.Motion to extend CMOH's termThe provincial government introduced a motion in the legislature Monday to extend the term of Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. Williams said Monday afternoon that Ford and Elliott asked him to stay on. He said he feels like the role of medical officer of health is "not for what you can get out of it, but what you can contribute to it."Williams's five-year tenure was set to expire in February, but the motion would see it lengthened to September 2021. However, the provincial NDP did not provide unanimous consent on the issue today, so it will be debated and go through a vote."The chief medical officer of health is a critical player in the pandemic response strategy. Re-appointing him with no process and no discussion is turning this key public health decision into a political game," said Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sara Singh in a statement."We recognize there are very legitimate concerns about how the government is handling this pandemic," said Singh. "The Ford government cut back on public health protections just as the second wave was starting to surge, and set disastrously high thresholds for action.While Ford has repeatedly praised Williams for his role in formulating Ontario's response to COVID-19, Williams has come under increased public scrutiny as a second wave of the illness grips parts of the province.He was recently criticized by peers for suggesting that even virus hotspots could move into the green "prevent" tier of Ontario's restrictions framework by Christmas. Ford again threw his support behind Williams Monday."I do not ever believe in changing a dance partner in the middle of a dance, especially when he's an incredible dancer," Ford said.
The grief and lessons, five years after I lost my brother.
The Petit Noel art exhibit and sale features a variety of work by local and area painters, photographers, potters and artisans at the Callander Bay Heritage Museum & Alex Dufresne Gallery. “We have over 30 people participating and the show is a great snapshot of the various artistic talents we have here in Northeastern Ontario,” states a museum notice. There will not be an opening reception and numbers are restricted as per COVID-19 safety restrictions but visitors welcome Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Please wear your mask, respect social distancing, and do not visit if you are not feeling well.”Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca
MILAN — In a signal of rebirth, the Donizetti theatre in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, reopened this weekend after three years of renovations.But the planned gala celebration had to be postponed, and new productions for an annual festival dedicated to the city's native composer Gaetano Donizetti had to be streamed online from an empty theatre.Festival musical director Riccardo Frizza said the autumn festival was envisioned as a life-affirming moment for the city and province, where 6,000 people died in a single month last spring. In the summer he conducted Donizett's Requiem, performed outside the city’s cemetery in tribute to the dead.“You have to know that in my festival orchestra and in the chorus there are people who lost two or three family members,’’ Frizza said. “We couldn’t do the festival without having done this tribute to those who aren’t with us anymore.”Plans for an audience had to be scrapped after the virus started to resurge in October, even if Bergamo itself is experiencing lighter contagion than the spring, when images of army trucks transporting the dead to other regions for cremation laid bare the pandemic's toll. The calendar was cut to three productions.All three weekend performances of Donizetti’s “Marino Faliero,” “Le Nozze in Villa” and “Belisario” are available online indefinitely for a subscription price of 59 euros ($70.) Frizza said the money is needed to help freelance singers and musicians recoup some income during a year in which classical music has been all but shutdown by the coronavirus.Italy shut all theatres in February, and there was a tentative reopening over the summer.While some other theatres are offering free online streaming of their archives, Frizza said few are offering new opera productions. The Donizetti theatre package includes extras like commentary, interviews and a virtual tour of the renovated theatre, its frescoed ceilings given a fresh vibrancy. Another Donizetti opera filmed last year, “L'Ange De Nisida," will be released on Wednesday.By comparison, Milan’s famed La Scala theatre will broadcast a Dec. 7 concert on state television, substituting its traditional gala season-opener.To ensure the health of the Donizetti Festival orchestra, singers and chorus, strict protocols were put into place, including weekly testing and separate rehearsals. During the weekend performances, the chorus, most of the orchestra and Frizza wore masks.At La Scala, more than 40 members of the chorus have tested positive for the virus, plus another 18 in the orchestra.Frizza, who suffered a mild bout with the virus during the March peak when Italy was in total lockdown, said no one in the festival contracted the virus during the rehearsals. That's critical to allowing the live performances to go ahead despite the partial lockdown in Lombardy.“No one can imagine the March lockdown without music, without books, without televised performances,” Frizza said. “The pandemic has taught those who hadn’t understood before, the importance of culture, arts and beauty in the world.”Colleen Barry, The Associated Press
Noël-Ange Coderre, 76 ans, est une artiste sculpteure de Danville. Globetrotteuse curieuse, tant au sens propre qu’au figuré, elle est toujours en quête d’horizons nouveaux. Toujours prête à embarquer pour des aventures imprévisibles, même au grand large. Mais c’est dans le bronze et l’aluminium combinés à du bois ou de la pierre qu’elle a jetée l’ancre… « Lorsque j’étais petite, en solitaire, je bricolais avec des ciseaux, des crayons, du papier, des roches et des branches, se souvient-elle. À l’époque, les beaux-arts n’étaient pas considérés comme une avenue sérieuse. J’ai donc été du côté de l’enseignement au secondaire en me disant que lorsque je serais grande, je ferais ce que je veux! Ainsi, j’ai passé mon bac en arts à l’âge de 44 ans! Et je n’ai pas arrêté de créer depuis… » « Rien ne se perd, tout se recrée » Voilà sa philosophie, bonifiée par des expériences pittoresques. Son art et son intuition l’ont guidée partout dans le monde avec des expositions collectives et solos, notamment au Mexique et en France. Elle a également connu l’appel du large : « En 2000, j’ai traversé une partie du Pacifique avec un capitaine et un coéquipier. Un gros défi, une puissante rencontre avec moi-même! Ce genre d’expérience nous sort de notre zone de confort. J’ai réalisé que nos peurs nous empêchent de vivre. Surtout, il ne faut pas les laisser avoir de l’emprise sur nous! » En 2008, elle a aussi vécu des expériences humanitaires en Tanzanie (près du Rwanda) avec les enfants de la rue. « Mon conjoint enseignait l’anglais aux jeunes, et moi les arts plastiques, raconte-t-elle. Je n’avais aucun matériel! On dessinait sur des feuilles de bananier séchées. Ça a vraiment été enrichissant! » Sans doute était-elle comme un poisson dans l’eau puisque la récupération rythme sa vie. « À la fin des années 1970, j’ai eu la chance de connaitre Normand Maurice, le père de la récupération au Québec, précise-t-elle. À travers l’enseignement, il a même récupéré bon nombre d’élèves en difficulté comme les décrocheurs! Pour moi, il reste LE pédagogue par excellence. Et ma démarche artistique est toujours liée à la récupération, au jeu du jumelage des matières et des formes qui m’inspirent. » Échanger avec cette artiste chaleureuse et poétique donne l’impression d’échanger avec la femme qui murmure à l’oreille de la nature… Vous pouvez admirer ses œuvres dans le cadre d’une expo pour Noël du 20 novembre au 20 décembre à La Galerie Perkins, à Danville.Mireille Fréjeau, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal L'Étincelle
Wuhan, the Chinese city that was ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic, went into lockdown on Jan. 23. Life has returned to nearly normal 10 months later, but residents there still remember the harsh conditions.
Ontario health minister Christine Elliott told Sudbury MPP Jamie West this past week that while many parts of Ontario do not have all the mental health resources that many people need right now, there is a plan in place to have provincewide mental health and addictions services. Elliott was responding to West's plea for the government to take action to immediately increase funding for mental health services in Sudbury. “Sudburians are suffering,” said West during question period at the Ontario Legislature. “Family members are mourning and local health resources are overwhelmed," he added. West described how he had met with Denise Sandul of Sudbury, the mother of 22-year-old Myles Keaney, who died of an opioid overdose earlier this year. He also told the legislature that a cross had been erected in downtown Sudbury close to where Keaney died, as a memoriam to a young life lost. West said the number of crosses had increased dramatically to the point where it is expected more than 50 crosses will be in place before too long. “Will the premier commit to immediate increased funding to help Sudburians like Denise and her family?” asked West in the legislature. Health Minister Elliott stood to respond and offered her sympathies. "First, let me express my condolences to Myles’s family and all of the other families who have lost anyone through an overdose, through addictions of any kind. That is something none of us want to see happen in the province of Ontario," said Elliott. She added that Ontario has a plan in place to address mental health concerns across the province. "That is why we brought forward our Roadmap to Wellness, to make sure that across Ontario — that includes Northern Ontario, southern, eastern and western Ontario — we can have that core basket of addictions and mental health treatments," said Elliott. The Roadmap to Wellness is a joint federal-provincial 10-year action plan to address several concerns that include too long wait times, barriers to access, fragmented services, uneven quality of services and lack of data. Elliott said the addictions and mental health crisis is similar to what existed several years ago with the shortfalls in cancer care in Ontario. Elliott said it took time and money before cancer care was improved significantly. She said work is underway, costing billions of dollars, to ensure that all parts of Ontario get better mental health and addictions support. In his comments in the Legislature, West also stated the opioid overdoses are involved in as many as 50 to 80 deaths per week in Ontario. In a study published earlier this year by Public Health Ontario (PHO), it was stated that opioid deaths were quickly outpacing the number of deaths that occurred in Ontario in 2019 and the increase might be as much as 50 per cent higher by the end of this year. "If the number of opioid-related deaths continues to increase at the weekly pandemic rate for the rest of 2020, it is anticipated that there will be 2,271 opioid-related deaths in the province by the end of the year. This would represent a 50-per-cent increase from the year prior (1,512 opioid-related deaths in 2019)," said the PHO report. Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com
COVID-19. Récemment, le premier ministre François Legault a annoncé que les restaurants, les salles de spectacles et les salles d'entraînement situés en zone rouge resteront fermés jusqu'au 11 janvier prochain. Le gouvernement a par la même occasion autorisé les rassemblements familiaux pour quelques jours durant la période des Fêtes. Pourtant, les restaurants auraient pu représenter des lieux sécuritaires pour des réunions en famille, étant donné les nombreux investissements sur le plan sanitaire revendique la Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ). «C'est un coup extrêmement dur pour plusieurs entreprises, non seulement sur leurs finances, mais aussi sur leur moral. Nous comprenons que les chiffres actuels des cas de COVID-19 ne permettent pas un retour à la normale complet, mais les entreprises en restauration ont investi des sommes importantes pour l'aménagement de leurs espaces selon les meilleures normes sanitaires. Les rassemblements en nombre limité dans ces établissements auraient pu se faire sans compromettre la santé publique», souligne Charles Milliard, président-directeur général de la FCCQ. «La communauté d'affaires, autant dans les villes qu'en région, pousse un cri du cœur devant la crainte de voir plusieurs commerces disparaître en raison de cette nouvelle fermeture prolongée. Les entreprises ont suivi toutes les consignes depuis le tout début de la pandémie. Elles ont fermé une première fois, ont investi pour adapter leur commerce, ont refermé temporairement et maintenant, on repousse encore une fois leur réouverture. On ne peut rester insensible à la réalité que ces entreprises rencontrent. Tout en demeurant vigilant sur les pratiques de santé publique, selon nous, le gouvernement devrait préparer le terrain à la réouverture des restaurants, et envoyer des signaux en ce sens aux entrepreneurs en restauration ainsi qu'à la population», ajoute Charles Milliard qui a des demandes pour le gouvernement. Les voici: «Il y a environ 21 000 établissements en restauration au Québec qui sont dans l'incertitude. Il y a des réalités régionales différentes et des solutions mur à mur sont difficilement envisageables. On comprend le défi pour le gouvernement du Québec de répondre à ces préoccupations. Seulement, il serait nécessaire qu'il envoie des signaux positifs à cette industrie, pour une reprise à court terme. Il faut travailler dès maintenant à un scénario de reprise des opérations en restauration au 11 janvier 2021, avec un nombre restreint en salle à manger, car un report au-delà de cette date aurait des conséquences encore plus dévastatrices sur l'industrie», conclut Charles Milliard. Stéphane Lévesque, Initiative de journalisme local, L'Hebdo Journal
U.S. stocks closed higher in a choppy session on Monday as hopes for a COVID-19 vaccine lifted economically sensitive sectors such as energy and industrials, but a pullback in megacap shares curbed gains on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. Energy shares got a boost from another gain in oil prices, which have risen on anticipation a vaccine will help demand recover. "As they move out of those growth names, it's still this continued move into larger cyclical, value names which is why you see the Dow performing so well and the Nasdaq under some pressure."
The Atlantic bubble is no more.Both Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I are exiting the Atlantic bubble for at least two weeks as COVID-19 cases rise in parts of the region.Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey said the province will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the other Atlantic provinces to see if the two-week break needs to be extended. Travel to and from Newfoundland and Labrador will only be for essential reasons, he said."The Atlantic Bubble has been a source of pride ... but the situation has changed," Furey said at a news conference.P.E.I. Premier Dennis King delivered a similar message during a nearly simultaneous news conference, saying his government would re-evaluate over the next two weeks.King said the changing epidemiology in the region was concerning, "and it forces us to use what I believe are the tools in our limited toolbox to do everything we can to avoid an outbreak here in P.E.I."He said that given the province's small size, it wouldn't take much for its health-care system to become overwhelmed.Atlantic bubble established July 3Newfoundland's heightened travel restrictions will come into effect on Wednesday, and P.E.I.'s come into effect Monday at midnight.Since July 3, residents of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I and Newfoundland and Labrador were able to travel relatively freely across each other's borders without quarantining.COVID-19 case numbers in all the Atlantic provinces were low throughout the summer and fall, but that began to change last week in parts of the region.New Brunswick tightened restrictions in Moncton and Saint John last week as cases rose, and the province reported its highest ever single-day case count on Saturday with 23 new cases. As of Monday, that province had a total of 89 active cases. Nova Scotia also started recording a spike in cases last week and public health confirmed there is community spread, with most transmission happening in the Halifax area. As of Monday's reporting, the province had a total of 51 known active cases.Newfoundland and Labrador is currently reporting 23 active cases — including two new cases announced Monday — and P.E.I has two, with the latest one reported at Monday's news conference.No plans to burst N.S.-N.B. bubbleIn a news conference Monday afternoon, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the change will not affect New Brunswick's rules.He said he and the other Atlantic premiers held a teleconference last night when they discussed the decision."We certainly understand the situation that Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. are in, and their concerns with our current situation in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia," he said.Still, Higgs said he and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil have decided not to burst the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick bubble for now.He said most cases in Nova Scotia are in the Halifax region. He said there has been a focus on testing there, and people in the Halifax area are being encouraged to not travel outside of the region.WATCH | P.E.I. and N.L. to exit Atlantic bubble for at least 2 weeks:Higgs said enforcing an isolation requirement for Nova Scotia would not be a good use of resources."We want to keep our resources deployed along our northern borders between New Brunswick and Quebec, and to enhance our activity along the border between Maine and New Brunswick," he said."We're aligned in containing this in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick independently, and I think we're best served to ensure that we each follow our own protocols."He said any New Brunswickers travelling to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, including for work, should contact the government in the two provinces to see how the changes will affect them.Higgs also said the change does not affect New Brunswickers coming home after working in P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador.While the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border remains open, Higgs still urged New Brunswickers to avoid non-essential travel. That message was also in a news release from the Council of Atlantic Premiers on Monday morning, which advised caution while travelling within the Atlantic bubble.The office of Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed Monday that travellers from all other Atlantic provinces can still enter Nova Scotia without quarantining. MORE TOP STORIES
LOS ANGELES — Bruce Swedien, a five-time Grammy-winning audio engineer who collaborated with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, has died. He was 86. His daughter, musician Roberta Swedien, said her father died Nov. 16 in Gainesville, Florida, after battling an illness and complications from surgery. The New York Times reported that he tested positive for the coronavirus but was asymptomatic. “He had a long life full of love, great music, big boats and a beautiful marriage,” Roberta Swedien posted on Facebook. “We will celebrate that life. He was loved by everyone.” Bruce Swedien had more than 65 years of music industry experience and was best known for his collaborations on Jackson’s hit albums “Thriller” and “Off the Wall.” He also had recording sessions with some of music's biggest names including Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Duke Ellington and Diana Ross. Swedien, the son of two musicians, landed a position at Universal Studios where he was mentored by legendary engineer, Bill Putnam. His career rose to new heights when he teamed up with Jones to mix the soundtrack “The Wiz” before both collaborated on Jackson’s 1979 debut album “Off the Wall.” Swedien worked as an engineer on three more albums for Jackson including “Thriller,” “Bad” and “Dangerous.” He won Grammys for those albums in the best engineered album, non-classical category then two more for Jones’ albums “Q’s Jook Joint” and “Back on the Block.” Jones posted on social media that he was “devastated” about the news of Swedien’s death, calling him a sonic genius. Swedien is survived by his wife, Bea, of 67 years and two daughters. He was preceded in death by his son. The Associated Press
A former refugee and a Saskatoon teenager are working together to help African families escape persecution."It's important to work with people who know the issues and know what's needed," Eric James, 17, said.Several years ago, Fulgence Ndagijimana was imprisoned for his religious beliefs in his native Burundi. A group of people in Saskatoon worked hard to secure his release through fundraising, a letter-writing campaign and other advocacy.One of those people was Eric James, who was just 12 years old at the time. He created and maintained a website, which attracted more than 1,200 signatures calling for Ndagijimana's release."I felt like it was appalling. It was not right. It shouldn't happen," James said. "As a 12-year-old, I didn't have a great understanding of why it was happening. I just felt that it shouldn't."Ndagijimana was eventually released and resettled in Saskatoon. He recently moved to Ottawa and is continuing his studies at the University of Saskatchewan.But he hasn't forgotten what it felt like in prison, and to have that surge of support from hundreds of strangers halfway around the world. That's why he and James are now fighting to bring other refugee families to Canada.James and Ndagijimana have raised more than $30,000 so far. Once they raise another $5,000, an anonymous donor has agreed to match it.They will apply to the Canadian government to bring a family of six refugees to Canada."I'm thankful I'm alive," Ndagijimana said. "I want to do something positive and helpful with my life for others. I felt the same thing from many thousands of other people."The charity he founded, Flaming Chalice International, helps refugees to resettle, but also helps those stuck in refugee camps or other precarious situations."When I was released [from prison], I felt a renewed sense of purpose," Ndagijimana said."To have someone like Eric helping me, someone so young — that gives me hope."
JERUSALEM — Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials. The reported meeting was the latest move by the Trump Administration to promote normalized ties between Israel and the broader Arab world and reflected the shared concern of all three nations about Iran. The Israeli news site Walla, followed quickly by other Hebrew-language media, cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, flew to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. People travelling with Pompeo declined comment. Netanyahu, in a meeting with his Likud Party, also declined to explicitly confirm the visit. “I have not addressed such things for years and I will not start with that now. For years I have spared no effort to strengthen Israel and expand the circle of peace,” he said. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, denied on Twitter that the meeting took place. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” he wrote. He did not elaborate. The flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com showed a Gulfstream IV private jet took off from Tel Aviv on Sunday night and flew south along the edge of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing. The flight took off from Neom over three hours later and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv. Pompeo, who was in Israel last week, travelled with a small group of American reporters on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince. While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach. The Trump administration, as well as Netanyahu, would love to add the Saudis to that list before it leaves office in January. In Sudan, a military official said an Israeli delegation was in the country on Monday to discuss the normalization efforts. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the visit with the media. King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state as a condition for recognizing Israel. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, likely is more open to the idea of normalizing relations without major progress in the moribund peace process. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in countering archrival Iran, and they have welcomed the Trump administration's pressure campaign on the Iranians, which included withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran and imposing tough economic sanctions on the Tehran government. The reported meeting puts even more pressure on Iran ahead of an incoming Biden administration that has signalled a potential willingness to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. “I think there's a message to Iran. Look, there's a front against you. There's two months to go to the new administration. Beware. We are on the same page,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a prestigious Israeli think-tank . In an apparent message to President-elect Joe Biden, Netanyahu said in a speech Sunday evening, shortly before the reported trip to Saudi Arabia: “We must not return to the previous nuclear deal." In the same speech, Netanyahu also praised “trailblazing Arab leaders who understand the benefits of peace" and predicted “we will see other states that widen the circle of peace.” In another possible reference to the Saudi meeting, a Netanyahu aide, Topaz Luk, accused Netanyahu's rival and coalition partner, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, of “playing politics at the same time that the prime minister is making peace.” Gantz on Sunday launched an investigation into Israel's purchase of German submarines — a scandal that has turned several close Netanyahu confidants into criminal suspects. Netanyahu himself is not a suspect. The reported visit Sunday night to Neom, still a largely undeveloped desert region alongside the north end of the Red Sea, also reflected Prince Mohammed's ambitions. It brought two world leaders to Neom, which he hopes will become a futuristic, skyline-studded Saudi version of Dubai that will offer the kingdom jobs and cement a future beyond its vast crude oil reserves. It also would reframe a rule so far colored by the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the kingdom’s grinding war in Yemen. It was unclear where the three men met, though the Saudi royal family has massive mansions along the turquoise waters of the Red Sea, with a major golf course. Netanyahu has long signalled back-channel relations with the Saudis, though the nations have never officially confirmed a meeting between their leaders. But Saudi Arabia appears to have given its blessing to the decisions of its Gulf neighbours, the UAE and Bahrain, to establish ties with Israel. The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh. ___ Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed. Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press
PARIS — The trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling was suspended Monday less than two hours after it started, to allow a medical report on one of the defendants.Sarkozy is accused of having tried to illegally obtain information from a magistrate about an investigation involving him in 2014.This is the first trial for the 65-year-old politician, who has faced several other judicial investigations since leaving office in 2012.He stands trial in a Paris court along with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73. They face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($1.2 million.) They deny any wrongdoing.Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into suspected illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.Sarkozy arrived at the court surrounded by his lawyers and bodyguards, in the presence of dozens of journalists. The Paris court has been placed under high security as hearings in the case, scheduled until Dec. 10, are taking place at the same time as another key trial — that of the 2015 attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket.The trial started Monday in the absence of Azibert, whose lawyer requested the hearings to be postponed. He argued his client's bad health makes it risky for him to travel and appear in court amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading the court to suspend proceedings pending an expert medical report. The trial will resume on Thursday.In 2014, Sarkozy and Herzog used secret mobile phones — registered to the alias name of “Paul Bismuth” — to be be able to have private talks as they feared their conversations were being tapped.Sarkozy and Herzog explained that they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal phone tapping. Investigative judges, however, suspect they actually wanted to avoid being tapped by investigators.Judges have found that discussions between Sarkozy and his lawyer suggested they had knowledge that judicial investigators at the time tapped their conversations on their official phones — they mentioned “judges listening.”Sarkozy argued that he never intervened to help Azibert, who never got the job and retired in 2014.Investigative judges consider that as soon as a deal has been offered, it constitutes a criminal offence even if the promises haven't been fulfilled.Legal proceedings against Sarkozy have been dropped in the Bettencourt case.Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, pointed at judicial harassment, accusing judges of breaching lawyer-client privilege via wiretapping.“I don't want things that I didn't do to be held against me. The French need to know... that I'm not a rotten person,” he told BFM TV earlier this month.He said he was facing the trial in a “combative” mood.Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money, breach of trust and conflict of interest and given a two-year suspended prison sentence for actions during his time as Paris mayor, before he was president from 1995 to 2007.Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial investigations.Allegations, which include illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, cast a shadow over Sarkozy's comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential election.After failing to be chosen as candidate by his conservative party, he withdrew from active politics.Sarkozy remained the most popular figure amid French right-wing voters in recent years. His memoirs published this summer, “The Time of Storms,” was a bestseller for weeks.Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges including “illegal campaign financing” in the Libyan investigation, which has been underway since 2013 — and prompted the wiretapping of his phones.Earlier this month, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine retracted his previous statements that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros ($5.9 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff, Claude Gueant.Instead, he told news broadcaster BFM and magazine Paris-Match that there were “no Libyan financing.”Sarkozy said that the truth “finally comes out.”Financial prosecutors said in a statement that charges in the Libyan case are based “on strong or corroborated evidence that are not limited to one person’s statement only.”Meanwhile, the former president will stand another trial in spring 2021 along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.His conservative party and a company named Bygmalion are accused of using a special invoice system to conceal unauthorized overspending.They are suspected of having spent 42.8 million euros ($50.7 million), almost twice the maximum authorized, to finance the campaign, which ended up in victory for Socialist rival Francois Hollande.Nicolas Vaux-Montagny And Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press
Agriculture in Labrador has always been a bit of a hard go. While there is a huge amount of agricultural land in the region — far more than on the island portion of the province — the vast majority of it is uncleared and even getting access to some of it could take years. There is a bright side, though. In recent years, a few new farms have popped up and one is even planning to sell local beef. Food insecurity is a big issue in Labrador, with high prices and the area only producing one per cent of the food it consumes. The provincial government created a work sector plan for agriculture in the last few years and highlighted some concerns producers are having in Labrador, including the lack of an abattoir or the ability to sell large-scale commercial eggs in the region and the need for more Crown land to be made available for agriculture. On Nature’s Best Farm, Desmond Sellars has been growing produce such as carrots and potatoes in the region for about 20 years. He is a familiar face to many in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as the guy who sells vegetables in front of the courthouse, There is a huge amount of opportunity for farmers in Labrador, according to Sellars, but he feels the industry is still in its infancy stage and 'requires a lot of zeroes in your bank account.’ “Farmers here in Labrador can produce more but it always comes down to policy around agriculture. There’s no question about the soil, there’s no question about the land being able to produce, but we do not have the right policy and the right supports at the present time to support increased agriculture here in Labrador.” Things are moving in the right direction, he said, with the province recognizing the need for more locally produced food, but agriculture is a long game and that’s even more true in Labrador. It can take years to get leased land from the government, he said, and that’s just the first hurdle. Since all agricultural land in Labrador is leased, not granted, farmers don’t have access to any capital from it to go to banks, and so have to invest a lot of their own money up front. Even then, he said, the province still owns it and when a farmer retires, all the investments they made on the land can be lost. Freight costs are another barrier, he said. It costs just as much to ship things sometimes as the items themselves. That drives up his cost, which is a barrier to selling his produce to local stores. It’s cheaper for local stores in bring in food from outside the province than buy from him, he said, and that needs to be addressed. “Farmers don’t need a handout, they need a hand up,” he said. ‘If I could, for example, be able to expense freight on a subsidy basis I could compete with P.E.I., Ontario, New Brunswick, and I’d have that market, I know I would. That wouldn’t be a terrible cost to anyone, but it would be a big step for producers.” At the end of the day, he said, young people need to see that agriculture is something worthwhile to pursue and he doesn’t see a lot of that messaging out there. While farming is a long-term investment because of the large upfront capital costs, he said, it can be very profitable and there need to be more conversations around that. “The whole notion of farming as an important, viable business for this province and for people to engage in, there aren’t enough conversations around that. Farming is an underdeveloped part of this province, that’s self-evident. For that to change it requires ongoing conversations and I would argue some policy changes. “ Jim Purdy is one of the operators of Birch Lane Farm on Mud Lake Road in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which produces a wide variety of products, from produce to live chickens and live ducks to berries and jams. Purdy highlighted some of the same issues as Sellars, especially around the impact of freight costs and getting Crown land. “Our biggest competition isn’t here, it’s in Quebec and Ontario. They can sell their product cheaper here than we can produce it for. We have to depend on the local market, loyalty, to sell our products.” Purdy said people do recognize that locally grown food tastes better, but producers need to move into larger commercial markets to be able to grow and that isn’t possible right now. Other provinces have programs to assist with that, he said, and something needs to be done in Newfoundland and Labrador. Things that aren’t issues in less remote places, he said, like getting a tractor fixed or hiring someone to clear land, can be a real barrier in Labrador. “I would say that there’s less than 200 acres of cleared agricultural land in Labrador and in some places that’s a small farm,” he said. “It’s not like you can call someone and get them to do it. We don’t have the infrastructure here for agriculture, it’s as simple as that.” He said in his opinion other provinces have done a lot more to help with agricultural production and it doesn’t seem to be a priority for the government in Newfoundland and Labrador. Much like Sellars, Purdy cites the rules around Crown land and the unwillingness of government to grant it to farmers. “They can but they won’t,” he said. “It took me a few years to get a lease and that was on land no one else wanted. Can you imagine how long it would take if someone else had wanted it? I don’t know why the process takes so long but it isn’t helping anything. If you want to farm here, you better be ready for a long investment,” he said. When asked what could be done to help the industry grow Purdy said he didn’t even know where to start, but government offering more support is a big part of it. When SaltWire Network contacted Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture Minister Elvis Loveless, who was given the portfolio three months ago, he said he hasn’t had a chance go to Labrador to meet with local producers yet and discuss the issues, but he’s committed to doing so. “Our goal, in terms of helping farmers, is opening up access to land,” Loveless said when asked about the concerns expressed over the inability to get granted agricultural land. “Farmers, in order to grow vegetables, or just around the culture of growing, need land, there’s no doubt. I won’t make a commitment on a timeframe, but I will commit to talking to farmers. I’m looking to get on the ground in Labrador and have those conversations with them; what are their priorities moving their industry forward in Labrador?” Loveless said in terms of issues, it’s “all on the table.” He referenced recent investments made by the provincial government in the central Labrador region for community gardens and a cold storage and packaging facility in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and said there are plans to make more agricultural land available in the region. “Having access to safe and healthy food is on everyone’s minds, and addressing those needs has never been more important than right now, especially in Labrador, where the residents rely heavily on food imported from other areas, and that’s something we’d like to change.” Tomorrow: a new beef farm is the only one of its kind in Labrador. Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his representative said Monday.The announcement came a day after the musician won favourite male Latin artist and favourite Latin album for "YHLQMDLG” at the American Music Awards.Bad Bunny, whose real name is Benito Martínez Ocasio, was scheduled to sing his hit, “Dákiti,” with Jhay Cortez at the event but cancelled without explanation, leaving many fans disappointed. The singer, however, presented the award for favourite Latin female artist remotely.Publicist Sujeylee Solá told The Associated Press that Bad Bunny wasn't showing any major symptoms as of Monday. She did not provide further details, saying only that the musician was not granting any interviews.The Associated Press
The vice president of an Island trucking company says it's doing everything it can to keep everyone safe while continuing to follow the changing rules for rotational workers. "As an industry, we're going to do what we kind of have to do to keep the community around us safe," Andy Keith with Seafood Express Transport told Island Morning's Laura Chapin. "It does pose some additional challenges for us, but if we have to do it, we have to do it."Currently, there are around 900 Islanders who are considered rotational workers — including truckers. For them, special guidelines and testing routines are expected to be followed. 'Unprecedented times for everybody'Recently, P.E.I.'s Chief Public Heath office put out a reminder of those rules after a rotational worker visited a number of stores before testing positive for COVID-19.It remains unclear if that rotational worker was a truck driver. But currently, commercial truck drivers who are residents of P.E.I. must be tested three times to be exempt from isolation. There is, however, an exception for those who are only in the province for a few days. The rules "come out quickly and they change quite often unfortunately so that's been a challenge," said Keith. For his drivers, Keith said questions about the guidelines have ranged from do they need to self-isolate from their families to can they go to a doctor's appointment when they're home."With the new rules changes now, its been a little more clear and there's a little more clarity in what they can and can't do," he said. "I think it's unprecedented times for everybody so we're all kind of rolling with the punches at this point."'They should be proud'According to Keith, some drivers have also taken this as an opportunity to increase their workload since the options to socialize during their days off are limited. "A lot of cases our drivers are here and their families are back in their home countries," he said. "They have that optimistic viewpoint to say, 'Well maybe I'll just keep working and work a little harder make a little extra money.'"And for others, Keith said he can understand how it might be tough being a rotational worker during a time where travel isn't recommended. "We're telling our drivers that they're providing an essential service," he said. "They're really the heroes of ... bringing food products to Islanders and to Atlantic Canadian and Canadians as a whole.""They should be proud of what they're doing."More from CBC P.E.I.
These weren’t the piano lessons of my youth. Quite the opposite. Gone was the septuagenarian teacher crowding me on a piano bench at my grandmother’s house, extolling the importance of Christian hymns. “Old Rugged Cross,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “How Great Thou Art." Grandma finally accepted my resignation after a few solid years of protest. Then last spring, as the pandemic droned on, I’d lost my job, and our schools in the Boston area remained closed, I decided to start taking piano lessons again. It had been 30 years. The grand staff was a foreign language and the only key I could recognize was middle C. The first day, I propped up my phone, clicked a Zoom link for our lesson and found an energetic college student staring back at me. I’d been thinking about returning to piano for a while, but never had the free time required for learning a skill until the shutdown in March. It was rainy and frigid in New England, and I needed an antidote for the monotony of pandemic life. Some were tending sourdough starters, others binge-watched Netflix. I started piano lessons. I wasn’t the only one who chose music. NEW WAYS TO PASS TIME “I knew nothing about the ukulele community before COVID,” said Pat Adamson-Waitley, 64, of Edina, Minnesota. Adamson-Waitley had played the ukulele a handful of times, but in March, she said, “I started playing it every day.” She joined Zoom jams with other players, and bought two ukuleles and two songbooks. Summer's warm weather took her away from the ukulele a little, but she still averages 30 minutes of playing time a day. Clubs like the Twin Cities ukulele club, an informal group of about 300 people, have welcomed many people discovering music for the first time, or finding it again. Tom Ehlinger, 69, of Bloomington, Minnesota, leads the club’s weekly Zoom jams. “One thing that’s different about the Zoom jam is that it’s much easier to get to than an in-person jam,” he said. “There’s no traffic.” Since March, Ehlinger has received inquiries from people as far away as New York City wanting to join. “It brings people together solely for the purpose of doing something enjoyable,” he said. NEVER A BETTER TIME As for formal lessons, Andrew Geant, co-founder of Chicago-based Wyzant, an online marketplace for private tutors, said music has become one of the company’s fastest growing areas. Cello tutors in April experienced a 450 per cent increase in students and a 400 per cent rise in lessons from last year, he said. By October, the number had grown to a 4,500 per cent increase in students and a 4,730 per cent increase in lessons. The cost of online lessons is lower than in-person instruction, Geant noted. And if the student and teacher don’t match well, it’s easy to find a new instructor. “Online, you can find the right instructor because you’re no longer bound by geography,” he said. Rashida Bryant, 44, is an Atlanta-based voice instructor through Wyzant who saw her client roster double from April to June, when she had 30 students. Her students range in age from early teenagers to people in their late 60s. “Everybody has different reasons for doing it, but if you’re going to be at home, then this is a better time than any,” she said. A SENSE OF CONTROL Turning to music during bleak times has a long history, said Joy Allen, chair of Music Therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “It gives us choice and control, and we don’t have a lot of that right now,” she said. Music also provides social connection, Allen said, and a link to the familiar. During lockdown, private piano lessons for Andrea Cordero Fage’s two teenage sons in Harrison, New York, stopped, but something new happened. The brothers, whose interest in music has waxed and waned over the years, “came into their own musically,” she said. “I would have never imagined it.” They started playing piano for hours a day. They researched movie soundtracks, like the one to the 2014 science fiction epic “Interstellar,” by Hans Zimmer, and learned the score on their own with the assistance of sites like YouTube. “After dinner, one would play and the other would watch. Then they’d switch,” Cordero Fage said. “I think they fed off each other, saw it as a challenge.” Studying or listening to music can harness our focus, said Melita Belgrave, associate dean and professor of music therapy at Arizona State University. Throughout the pandemic, many people have been watching concerts at home but retaining a semblance of the shared experience. The millions of people who streamed the movie version of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is an example. “People are finding themselves drawn to the arts and crafts,” Belgrave said. “We are learning new ways to connect with each other.” I haven’t figured out whether my Zoom piano lessons will continue past the pandemic. I've gone from knowing middle C to playing cusp chords, eight-key scales and Mozart. But even if returning to regular life interrupts my lessons, piano will always be one of my best pandemic memories. Tracee M. Herbaugh, The Associated Press