With Matt Di Nicolantonio.
With Matt Di Nicolantonio.
WASHINGTON — Three new senators were sworn into office after President Joe Biden's inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges. In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden's nominee for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines late Wednesday, overcoming Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member. It's traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president’s administration. On Thursday, the new Senate majority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hoped Biden's nominees for the departments of Defence, Homeland Security, State and Treasury could also be swiftly confirmed. “To leave these seats vacant does a disservice to America,” Schumer said at the Capitol. Schumer introduced all six new Democratic senators — the “majority makers” — who he said represent an “expanding Democratic majority." Four are from the West and two from the South. They are a diverse group bringing several firsts to the Senate, along with Schumer's rise as the first Jewish majority leader of the Senate. The three who joined on Wednesday — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Alex Padilla of California — took the oath of office from Kamala Harris, a former California senator who is first woman to be vice-president, and the first Black woman and Asian-American to hold that office. Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, is the first Black senator from Georgia. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, is Jewish and also the now youngest member of the Senate, at 33. They won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans, to lock the majority for Democrats. Padilla, a the son of immigrants from Mexico, becomes his state's first Latino senator, tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term. They join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote. “Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years, we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.” Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation's painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump. Congress is being called on to consider Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election. The Senate will need to confirm other Biden Cabinet nominees. Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is not relinquishing power without a fight. Haines' nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he sought information about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas, over Biden's proposed immigration changes. McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. At her first White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and centre for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday. Psaki said the president will be “quite involved” in negotiations over the COVID relief package, but left the details of the upcoming impeachment trial to Congress. The Senate can “multitask,” she said. That’s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial. Meantime, the power-sharing talks between Schumer and McConnell have hit a stalemate. It’s an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution over committee assignments and staffing resources, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden’s agenda. Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances. For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to “fight like hell” during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden’s election. __ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. ___ This story has been updated to correct that Sen. Tom Cotton represents Arkansas, not Oklahoma. Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
B.C. is seeing a rise in radicalization and extremist views spurred by COVID-19 and an increasingly tense political atmosphere, experts say. White nationalism and extreme-right and incel ideologies are of particular concern, says Garth Davies, an associate professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University. He says B.C. is not immune to the kind of radicalization that has led to violence like the riot at the U.S. Capitol. "I worry about exactly what they worry about down in the States," Davies said. "For us to believe we don't have the same problems, we are incorrect. We have right-wing extremists up here, we have incel extremists up here. And we've seen upticks in that during the COVID pandemic." Davies is an executive board member with Shift, a B.C. risk-reduction and violence prevention program that seeks to provide support to those at risk of radicalization. He says the pandemic has created a perfect storm for radicalization: people are spending more time online while facing mental, physical and financial difficulties. They're searching for ways to cope and feel connected to others and finding a barrage of misinformation online, like QAnon, anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. "People are afraid, they're scared, they're nervous," he said. "Originally, they were out there looking for information. Now they're looking for explanations." New research from Canada's Department of National Defence suggests the longer the pandemic continues, the stronger right-wing extremism and other threats are likely to become. The federal Liberal government has identified the rise of right-wing extremism and hate as a major threat to Canada. There are at least 130 active far-right extremist groups in Canada, a 30 per cent increase since 2015, according to Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University. Social media playing on people's vulnerabilities Former white supremacist Tony McAleer says an alienated sense of self made him susceptible to radicalization. The B.C. man and his racist former allies at one point fought for the West Coast to be a whites-only enclave. He is now an author and co-founder of Life After Hate, an organization focused on helping people abandon far-right extremist views. He says a person's vulnerabilities can lead them to intertwine ideology with identity. "When I came across the skinheads and later these neo-Nazi groups, I got acceptance when I felt unlovable, I got power when I felt powerless, and I got attention when I felt invisible. And with these things lacking in my life, it sure felt fantastic," he said. McAleer left the white supremacist movement in the late 1990s, but says social media in the 21st century is being used in the same ways that drew him toward hatred: playing on people's fears and insecurities to weave a false narrative, and whipping up feelings of loss and aggrievement in the face of a changing, more inclusive society. "Things like ... diversity and inclusion get spun into, 'you're being excluded, you're losing a place at university to someone who's more diverse than you ... somebody is taking your jobs," he said. Increase in hate crimes during pandemic Cpl. Anthony Statham, who works with the B.C. RCMP's hate crimes unit, says there has been a "significant" increase in such crimes since the pandemic began. When it comes to online radicalization, he says police cannot act unless the material meets the threshold for a criminal investigation, otherwise they could be violating a person's right to free speech. Asked whether this means police have to wait for violence to happen before acting on hate speech, he was not specific on what exactly would compel police to act. He said it's a "legally complex" area, with radicalization being legally "impossible to define," but they can act if someone's words show a clear threat to public safety. "We can't go scanning the Internet and looking for things that we think are offensive ... we're potentially inhibiting people's charter rights," he said. "If something is very obviously violent, we can conduct an investigation into that simultaneous with [a social media] platform taking some kind of action." Kasari Govendor, B.C.'s human rights commissioner, says there are no laws in B.C. or Canada that deal with hate speech in a human rights context, and there is no "easy fix" when it comes to extremism. She says British Columbians can play a personal role in reducing violence by acknowledging Canada is not immune to racism and by looking inward. "When we see the impacts of these stereotypes, we have an obligation to ask ourselves what biases do we hold and how can we become actively anti-racist," she said. Censorship not the answer Both Davies and McAleer say social media censorship is not necessarily the solution to getting a handle on extremism in Canada. McAleer says pushing misinformation off Facebook or Twitter doesn't make radicalized ideas go away — instead, they'll find their way to smaller platforms with less moderation. They also say telling people their views are wrong can make them lean further into extremist beliefs. Davies believes the problem of extremism will get worse before it gets better, and it will take "years of conversation" to re-establish basic ideas of what constitutes truth, fact, and validity. "As long as the really harsh political divides are going on … this conversation isn't going to get any better. Because right now, we're not talking to each other. We're talking past each other," he said.
PARIS — Just like the leaves of its gilded fans, France’s storied fan-making museum could fold and vanish. The splendid Musee de l’Eventail in Paris, classed as a historical monument, is the cultural world’s latest coronavirus victim. It has until Jan. 23 to pay up over 117,000 euros ($142,000) in rent arrears — stemming mainly from losses during lockdowns, otherwise it will close. And with it will go the savoir-faire of its workshop. The studio that teaches design and restoration to a new generation of fan-makers was placed on France’s intangible heritage list last year. “It is a tragedy. I can’t believe Parisians will let a part of their heritage die. I have a problem, because I always believed there would be a miracle,” the museum's 74-year-old director, Anne Hoguet, told the AP. There may be some surprise that France, a country that famously prizes its culture, has not done more to save the museum, especially given that the French public was so eager to help other cultural sites in danger, such as its burned-out Notre Dame cathedral. It might be a question of size. Hoguet said she was “exhausted” by the fight for survival that has hit smaller institutions but spared larger ones, such as Florence’s Uffizi which re-opens this week. “Like all small museums, we had troubles before, but the health crisis has been a catastrophe," she said. Bailiffs are even threatening to seize the museum's artefacts from next Monday, numbering 2,500 original pieces — including historic fans made from turtle shell, lace and silk and adorned with diamonds and rubies. Like many of Paris' 130 museums, Hoguet said her institution — which charges just 7 euros entry and is located in the French capital’s popular 10th district — was forced to close for most of 2020 because of government virus restrictions. On top of that, money coming from the workshop’s fan restorations also evaporated because of the tightening of spending during the pandemic. “The aristocratic families who send me their fans to restore all fled to their country homes in lockdown, so I had no more commissions. They wanted to save their money.” She said she would previously have charged between 500 and 600 euros per fan to restore them to their original state using traditional materials, and she used the income from that to pay the rent. Even when the museum briefly re-opened last September, Hoguet had trouble getting the same levels of footfall as before. “Because people were preoccupied with the virus, culture and heritage got forgotten — and dangerously,” she said. Hoguet is the fourth generation in charge of what is Paris’ last original fan-making workshop. She has trained directly or indirectly five young fan-makers, whom she hopes will carry the torch of the storied craft. The making of fans, traditionally with wooden sticks and painted paper leaves, has been considered sacred in many ancient cultures. But in France, its golden age was in the French court of 18th-century Versailles, where women used fan as forms of communication to flirt expertly or to hide modestly behind. The images painted on them would often chronicle the current affairs of the world around them. To this day, they remain part of France's fashion heritage DNA, featuring elaborately in couture collections by Chanel, Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier. Hoguet's father bought the museum’s impressive collection of fans in 1960. It spans the period from the Renaissance to the 20th century, including “advertising” or “illustrated” pieces, as well as vellum, kidskin and feathered fans. She is very much an eccentric of the old school. A staff of one, she has no cohesive fundraising tool set up other than email, but her efforts to rally support since 2019 have been valiant. She says that she has been so failed by French authorities that she now has trouble sleeping. She had rallied the French Culture Ministry and been in talks with Paris City Hall, but it has, she said, made no difference. “What is the point of marking us out as intangible heritage if they will not protect us?” she asked. Paris City Hall did not immediately respond when contacted by AP. “The problem with savoir-faire, is that it can very quickly die," Hoguet said. ___ Adamson reported from Leeds, England Thomas Adamson And Michel Euler, The Associated Press
The Liberal bus rolled into Grand Falls-Windsor on Wednesday as the leadup to the 2021 provincial election kept moving. In the shadow of that bus and flanked by Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans candidate Debbie Ball and Exploits candidate Rodney Mercer, Liberal Leader Andrew Furey unveiled another part of the Liberal party’s campaign platform. In particular, the Liberals pledged to provide feminine hygiene products in schools at no cost. “There is good evidence that young women will miss school because they don’t have access to feminine care products,” said Furey. “One in seven Canadian young women, or non-binary individuals, will miss school because they do not have access to feminine care products. “That is simply not good enough and this Liberal government intends to make sure that is not a barrier to young women and non-binary individuals from reaching their full potential. That is the commitment we’ve made today.” Before making the announcement, the Liberals consulted with local women’s organizations, and hope this will alleviate the access problems that exist around these products. The move to provide free feminine hygiene products was a part of a larger commitment to work with various community groups, educators and students to improve the health curriculum in the province. Furey said the cost of having these products available in schools would be found within the health-care budget. “The cost will be found within the health-care budget, but the cost of not having them is young women and non-binary individuals missing school is far greater than the cost accrued to the system for this,” he said. Terri Lynn Burry said Wednesday's announcement is an important one for young women in the province. “I think it is amazing and I think it should be done,” said Burry, program director for the Youth 2000 Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor. “We would definitely look at it for the centre.” In her work, Burry is often asked for hygiene products by the girls and families who use the centre. There are times when families can’t afford them and instead go without them, and that’s why the centre has products on hand, she said. Burry said it can be embarrassing for girls to ask for products if they don’t have any on hand, and they often find it difficult. “It is something that should be readily available. It is something that is a necessity and if it was readily available there wouldn’t be such a stigma attached to it sometimes, especially for young children,” she said. “It is new to them and it is embarrassing for some of them.” During the stop, the premier was asked about some health-care issues that pertain to residents in central Newfoundland. Namely, he was questioned about where his government stands with issues such as returning 24-hour emergency services to the hospital in Botwood, as well as supporting the Lionel Kelland Hospice in Grand Falls-Windsor. In both instances, he maintained the government is working toward solutions for both. “We’re aware of the issues and we’re committed to building on the commitments of the past,” said Furey. Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The fate of one of Germany's most storied soccer clubs lies with two strikers born 18 years apart. The return to Schalke of the 37-year-old Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Ajax is a desperate roll of the dice by a team trying to cling on to top-division status amid financial turmoil worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Huntelaar joins up with an unexpected star in 19-year-old Californian Matthew Hoppe, who was an obscure name even to Schalke fans before a sudden breakthrough into the first team in November and five goals in his last three games. Hoppe earned last-place Schalke's first league win in nearly a year with a hat trick against Hoffenheim on Jan. 9 but his goal in a 2-1 defeat to Cologne on Wednesday showed he can't always get the points on his own. Huntelaar scored 126 goals in 240 games in his first spell with Schalke and could make his latest debut for the club against Bayern Munich on Sunday. After Bayern hammered Schalke 8-0 on the opening day of the season, it's likely to be an exercise in damage limitation for the hosts in Gelsenkirchen. Huntelaar remains a threat — he scored twice as a late substitute in his last game for Ajax — but one of the main reasons he left Schalke in 2017 was a concern that he couldn't stay fit enough for the Bundesliga. Huntelaar missed the Cologne defeat with a calf problem but said Wednesday that he hopes to be fit to take on Bayern. “There's hope that he can safely play part of the game,” said Christian Gross, Schalke's fourth coach of the season, in comments reported by the dpa agency. Relegation would be a catastrophe for Schalke, which has played in the Bundesliga every year since 1991 and until recently viewed the Champions League as its natural habitat. The pandemic cut off much-needed ticket income just as Schalke was trying to make up for years of overspending. Mounting debts mean even the process of getting a competition license for next season will be a headache. When storied clubs drop out of the Bundesliga, they're far from guaranteed to return. Hamburg, Hannover and Nuremberg are all rattling around the second tier while wealthy clubs with little history like Leipzig and Hoffenheim sit in the Bundesliga. Former champion Kaiserslautern is now a third-tier team with a 50,000-seat stadium and financial problems. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports James Ellingworth, The Associated Press
From a global perspective, there was nothing unique about the recent raid on the U.S. Capitol. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have backed military coups around the world for decades.
Central Ontario can expect heavy snow and winter weather that could make driving hazardous on Thursday. Environment Canada has issued snow squall watches for the Dufferin, Barrie, Muskoka, and Bruce County areas. The weather agency says lake effect squalls are expected to develop in the afternoon, with up to 15 centimetres expected before the evening. Squalls can quickly reduce visibility and drivers are warned to be cautious or postpone trips. Winter weather advisories are also in effect for areas around Haliburton, Peterborough and Algonquin Provincial Park due to expected heavy snow or squalls. In the north, Environment Canada is advising of heavy snow and strong winds around Sault Ste. Marie, with 15 to 25 centimetres expected today. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021. The Canadian Press
Researchers have said around 52,000 deaths in Europe could be prevented each year if emissions are cut to WHO guidelines. View on euronews
With more than a third of Oujé-Bougoumou's entire population of 980 people currently in mandatory self-isolation, Chief Curtis Bosum has had a very busy start to 2021. Since Jan. 7, there have been 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this tight-knit Cree community, located more than 730 kilometres north of Montreal. Many of the people self-isolating are close enough contacts of the 27 positive cases to be put in precautionary self-isolation by Cree public health. "That's why the contact tracing is so huge. We're such a small community ... we're very close to one another, not only in the family, but [also as] friends," said Bosum. Bosum said the vast majority of residents are doing a great job of controlling the outbreak, respecting the self-isolation and following the protocols. He stressed how important it is to continue to do so. I think this really scared the community. - Curtis Bosum, Chief Oujé-Bougoumou "I'm very grateful that they are responding in a positive way. Theyunderstand the importance. I think this really scared the community," said Bosum. The outbreak in Oujé-Bougoumou is linked to gatherings and parties over the new year that has also led to 33 cases so far in the nearby Cree community of Mistissini. It has also led to a vast and ongoing contract tracing exercise by Cree public health, which at last count, included 727 contacts and more than 597 COVID-19 tests. All of the Cree communities, including Oujé-Bougoumou, are currently in the most restrictive phase of the Cree Nation's deconfinement plan, in wihch indoor and outdoor gatherings are forbidden, and community access and businesses are restricted to essential services only. Oujé-Bougoumou, along with some other communities, have also put in place a curfew. "When we increase restrictions and measures, this helps the contact tracing team to do its work to track further transmission," said Bertie Wapachee, Chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, in one of his regular addresses to the Cree communities. For Bosum, the outbreak has also been a confirmation of the warnings Cree leadership have been giving since March, that if the virus got into the communities, it would spread like wildfire. "It's kind of sad that the outbreak was so devastating ... so big right now," said Bosum. No grocery store a challenge It's also complicated by the fact that Oujé-Bougoumou is one of the only Cree communities without a grocery store. That means at the beginning of the outbreak, many residents were regularly traveling to nearby non-Cree towns to buy food. Early on in the pandemic, community leadership fast-tracked renovations to an old fire hall to give the residents access to basics like bread, butter, flour and frozen goods such as vegetables without needing to leave Oujé-Bougoumou, according to Bosum. They are also working with a grocery store of a major chain about an hour away for food deliveries. Building a local grocery store was already in the works before the pandemic, but is now even more of a priority according to Bosum. "Oujé has faced so many challenges during this pandemic," he said. Signs of hope Now two weeks into the outbreak, Bosum said he's starting to see some signs of hope. On Wednesday, there were no new names added to the list of positive cases in Oujé-Bougoumou, and six of the 27 positive cases who are now considered recovered, according to Bosum. "So 14 days of people being isolated ... if we continue with the trend right now, this will slow down," he said, adding there are no signs of community transmission in Oujé-Bougoumou. "So, some hope," said Bosum, adding the community knows and appreciates that other Cree communities are keeping Oujé-Bougoumou in their prayers.
Plans to transform Brampton from a sprawling suburb into a modern, transit city took a significant step forward in December. The release last month of a business case by provincial agency Metrolinx for a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor along Queen Street offers a glimpse of the city’s exciting future. The lengthy document provides broad ideas for design, cost and justification of the potentially game-changing route. The street is already one of Brampton’s busiest for transit ridership, something a BRT would only increase. Boarding figures for Brampton Transit from fall 2018 show more than 20,000 daily riders on its express route alone. The corridor carries essential workers to and from the job, also ferrying students who live in Brampton to York University. Shoppers use it to reach the Bramalea City Centre and development planned for the corridor holds the promise of completely reshaping what has been an eyesore for decades. City Hall has positioned Queen Street as the road where Brampton meets the future. In 2018, the City of Brampton undertook a major soul-searching project by hiring Vancouver-based urban planner Larry Beasley to supervise the creation of its 2040 Vision. The document, which included input from some 13,000 residents, laid out how Brampton would look in the future if it embraced density, transit and smart growth. It suggested Queen Street could be the heart of that transformation. Density could bring more than just housing, Beasley and his team of visionaries promised. An inspired plan would bring culture and vibrant public life to the sprawling streetscape. Its aging strip malls and cracked sidewalks, devoid of pedestrians, would give way to the new suburbia of the GTA. “The strong westerly and easterly urban anchors for central Queen Street, Downtown and Bramalea, set up the best potential in Brampton to create its own grand boulevard and to host a ‘boulevard lifestyle’ where everything is immediately at hand,” the Vision states. Higher order transit plays a key part in this plan, allowing for sidewalks to be expanded, pushing out cars and integrating people into their surroundings. Instead of vast tracts of potholed parking lots that act as urban barriers, literally forcing residents away from all the spaces in between (driving from one plaza to the next to shop or dine) rapid transit lines fill in all the gaps with rich commercial offerings, boutiques, cafes and intimate sidewalk culture. Dense housing along these corridors acts as the catalyst, as cars are replaced by transit and sprawl is filled in by human activity. The Queen Street Corridor plan aims to support future rapid transit expansion. The City of Brampton took its first step toward the future in 2010 when it introduced Zum services along the route. Zum buses are express vehicles with occasional lane skips, but not fully fledged rapid transit. The total length of the area Metrolinx has considered for its initial investigation of a BRT corridor is 18.5 kilometres through Brampton and a further 5.5 kilometres in Vaughan. Transforming parts of the Queen Street corridor from its current state of barren, industrial and suburban roadways into a dense downtown will have its challenges. In Brampton, 83 percent of residents arrive at work by car, while 14 percent travel by transit. The city’s public transit use is roughly in line with provincial averages, but a rapid transit corridor could see it begin to fulfill its aspirations of shedding its car-dominated suburban past, when developers literally designed areas such as Bramalea, Canada’s first fully planned, post-war satellite community, built by Bramalea Consolidated Developments when the car was king. To transform Queen Street from its role as a commuter thoroughfare for vehicles into a boulevard lined with teeming patios and urban cyclists, its current use by commercial transportation and logistics companies will need to be rethought. Between 8 and 12 percent of the corridor’s traffic is currently medium or heavy trucks. “The relationship between density and higher order transit service is symbiotic,” Brampton Ward 1 and 5 Councillor Rowena Santos told The Pointer through a City spokesperson. “Having sufficient ridership is key to the viability of a rapid transit service, and an efficient and effective mobility solution – such as rapid transit – supports the 2040 Vision for the Queen Street corridor as a higher density mixed use urban boulevard. This type of project goes a long way to cut down on the need for personal automobiles and it accelerates the establishment of healthy and vibrant 20-minute walkable neighbourhoods.” Santos has been Brampton Council’s loudest advocate for smart, active transportation and put words into action when she brought forward a successful motion in 2019 to stop a planned road widening of Williams Parkway, arguing that it did not fit with the 2040 Vision and the goal of getting people out of their cars. Along the Queen Street corridor, roughly half of all trips are made by students. The transit ridership is younger than average and offers potential to grow further in the future, according to Metrolinx. “There is a large market that can be considered ‘untapped’; i.e. who would be likely to take advantage of transit but have not yet adopted regular transit usage,” the report states. The Metrolinx business case proposes several scenarios for how to bring a bus rapid transit route to Queen Street. One suggests a single trunk route BRT corridor for the full length, while two other options involve splitting the route into two sections. The document concludes that combining different options to have several priority buses run along Queen Street on an uninterrupted trunk route would be the best outcome. Metrolinx has made high-level cost calculations, with a proposed construction year of 2023. If the project were to go ahead on schedule, the transit agency expects it to be operational by 2026. Depending on how the project is constructed, the costs would vary. One suggested scenario would see existing traffic lanes converted into separate, painted bus lanes for between $3 million and $5.1 million per kilometre. That option, Metrolinx estimates, would cost roughly $93 million in total. An alternative possibility would be to widen Queen Street for most of its length — estimated at between $15.7 and $26.4 million per kilometre and totalling just over $481 million. With construction potentially just three years away, few answers are available as to who will pay for the infrastructure. Following a theme for the City, Brampton doesn’t seem to have a funding plan. Mayor Patrick Brown has effectively frozen all funding options by the City for major infrastructure projects and other features highlighted in the 2040 Vision, which he has claimed to support. The three straight years of tax freezes he pushed through make it difficult to realize the aspirations of the forward thinking planning document. To the south, Mississauga is more prepared for its rapid transit vision. The City has submitted a federal funding application for its Dundas Street BRT route and added a share of the costs to its 10-year capital plan. The project itself was studied by the City in a 2018 master plan and is now in the midst of an environmental study, the cost of which is being shared by Metrolinx. By comparison, Brampton is kilometres behind. “High level capital and operating costs are provided in the Initial Business Case (IBC), and governance structures are discussed; however, final decisions on funding models have not been made at this time,” Santos said, when asked about the Queen Street BRT. A Metrolinx spokesperson said the preliminary design phase had funding and that “a governance structure is being established between Metrolinx, the City of Brampton and other stakeholders to oversee the preliminary design, preliminary design business case (PDBC), and Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) phase.” Like so many projects floated in Brampton, the Queen Street corridor oozes potential. In many ways, it shines through as a possible turning point which could begin to steer Brampton toward a denser, greener and more urban future. But, despite its standout potential, the usual problems raise their heads. Questions about funding have been met with unknowns from City Hall while the mayor has failed to take any leadership on key projects to move Brampton into the future. If construction is to begin on the project by 2023, to deliver rapid transit by 2026, funding will need to be secured — or at least earmarked — in the next two years. Email: email@example.com 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
More than a week into the work stoppage at the Burleigh Falls dam project, Parks Canada has issued a statement regarding the land defenders and their rights to the land within their treaty territory. “The Government of Canada is working to advance reconciliation and renew the relationships with Indigenous Peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, collaboration, and partnership,” says David Britton, director of Ontario waterways. Kawartha Nishnawbe land defenders in Burleigh Falls blocked work on the dam project on Jan. 13 after they say they were not consulted about the project. Parks Canada did consult with Curve Lake First Nation in previous meetings, and recently at a Jan 6, 2021 online virtual meeting stated the organization did consult with Kawartha Nishnawbe in 2016. “Parks Canada has offered to meet with Kawartha Nishnawbe,” adds Britton. “Not to my knowledge has there been any consultation with Kawartha Nishnawbe in 2016 regarding the replacement of the dam,” said Nodin Webb, spokesperson for Kawartha Nishnawbe. He went on to say Parks Canada is falsely claiming they consulted with the community as a whole in 2016. “I also do not believe Parks Canada is respecting us, if anything, they’ve ignored us,” adds Webb. Parks Canada says they remain available and hope to connect in a meaningful way through this process. “Parks Canada continues to meet with Curve Lake First Nation and other Williams Treaty First Nations on the upcoming phases of work for the Burleigh Falls dam replacement project and are working together to develop fisheries monitoring and mitigation plans,” says Britton. “We are fully aware of the litigation in court and we will not comment on the issue at this time. The part of the court litigation lies with Crown Indigenous Relations Services Canada,” added Britton. Curve Lake Chief Emily Whetung issued an official statement on the blockade. “Many of our members harvest in or near Burleigh Falls Dam area, and our goal through our consultation process with Parks Canada has been to protect the impacts on the species that our members harvest,” says Chief Whetung. The statement also says while Curve Lake First Nation recognizes the complicated history of the Kawartha Nishnawbe, their relationship to the land at Burleigh Falls, and their assertion with the Federal Government and Curve Lake respect that they have an independent perspective. “The Burleigh Falls Dam is located within the recognized pre-confederation and Williams Treaties Territory and we feel a responsibility to protect the environment and species in the area as the reconstruction project moves forward.” Parks Canada says there are do not know the full cost of the stoppage, but did say there is no impact on the spawning season. Natalie Hamilton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Peterborough This Week
The Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) have identified the victims of a double homicide in Fort Erie as two young women from Windsor and Toronto. Police say the victims are Juliana Pannunzio, 20, of Windsor, and Christina Crooks, 18, of Toronto. The information came hours after officers revealed more details about the incidents that led up to a double homicide in a Fort Erie home on the Niagara Parkway. NRPS say a group of people, some who don't live in the Niagara region, were at the home on Jan. 18. The home was a short-term rental. Someone fired a gun, and people left the house before officers arrived. Police found the two dead women in the home and say both had "obvious trauma to their bodies." Detectives are trying to identify anyone who was at the home, but the investigation is still in its infancy. Despite this, they don't believe there's an immediate threat to public safety. Police say, as they look for evidence, they will search the Niagara River with dive teams, resulting in closures between Black Creek Road and Switch Road. Police expect a presence in the area for days. "Homicide detectives are appealing to anyone who may reside or have a business in the area of the scene that has security cameras, doorbell cameras or dashboard cameras to contact them. They may have captured something that could assist the investigation," reads a release from police. Police find takeout food order at the scene Detectives said on Thursday afternoon they found a takeout food order at the scene. Inside a grey, plastic bag with "923" written on it was a white Styrofoam container with a cheeseburger, fries, chicken wings, celery, carrots and blue cheese dip. The bag also contained five ketchup packets from the brand, Sunspun. Police are looking to identify what restaurant the order came from. Detectives say they believe it was ordered on Monday, Jan. 18 or in the early morning hours of Jan. 19.
Union heads ensured Liberal Leader Andrew Furey and his team received a friendly reception in Arnold's Cove Wednesday, following a taxpayer-funded lifeline last week for the idled Come By Chance refinery. "He'll get a warm welcome," Glenn Nolan, president of Local 9316 of the United Steelworkers, said just before the Liberal bus pulled up to the union office late Wednesday afternoon. "Due to the fact that we just received money from the government, we're pretty optimistic about it," he added. The drab union boardroom was quickly filled with a crimson glow just after 4 p.m., as Furey and a squad of red-jacketed Liberals piled into the room — remaining mindful of the pandemic protocols for physical distancing. There were offers of hot coffee and cold pizza, then bantering about favourite hockey teams. Despite the cloud of economic uncertainty that has been darkening Placentia Bay for months, no one was expecting any tension. Nolan is confident that the nearly $17 million in public money announced on Friday — the same day Andrew Furey pulled the chain on a provincial general election — saved the refinery from total shutdown, and avoided a devastating blow to the provincial economy. "It would be very damaging," said Nolan. North Atlantic Refining Limited has not refined any fuels at Come By Chance since last April, when the owners, New York-based investment management firm Silverpeak, decided it was no longer viable to operate amid a pandemic and collapsing oil markets. The refinery has been in idle mode ever since, with at least two potential sales collapsing, dashing hopes that a new owner would swoop in with big plans to re-start the 130,000-barrel-per-day complex. Silverpeak had lobbied the government for months for financial help to keep the lights on at Come By Chance, rather than trying to market a mothballed refinery to potential buyers or investors, or expose sensitive processing equipment to a Newfoundland winter. Finally, amid a flurry of highly charged political announcements late last week, the Liberals declared it had reached a deal to keep the refinery in what's called warm idle mode. It came in the form of a $16.6 million grant to North Atlantic, on the condition that the company increase the workforce to 200 people — a third of the normal complement — and keep up with critical maintenance. Prior to Wednesday's meeting with Nolan, Furey defended the cash payment at a time when the province is facing a financial crisis that existed long prior to the arrival of the pandemic last winter. "We thought the best way to support the women and men who work in this industry right now is to keep this in a warm idle position, so it's perfectly positioned as oil rebounds to either restart or be sold for a high value," Furey explained. Furey skirted the question when repeatedly asked whether Silverpeak had threatened to turn out the lights unless the government opened its wallet. "We've been working with companies endlessly, and we arrived at a deal before the election," he said. Not everyone back to work: union The union says there are 153 people — a mixture of union and non-union positions — working at the site. Another 56 people will start receiving calls as early as Thursday, telling them to report for work as early as next week. Nolan said his phone has been ringing steadily, with sidelined refinery workers — many struggling to pay the bills and worried about the loss of health benefits — asking whether they'll gain from the injection of government cash. "Two hundred jobs is a great thing. Unfortunately, not everybody is going to get back," said Nolan. The government cash is expected to last until the end of June, and Furey hopes for a positive outcome by then. "We got six months now, and the pressure is on the company and other companies to come together to make a commercial deal that is ... the best value of the people of the province," he said. Meanwhile, an analyst who keeps a close watch on the North American refining industry has serious concerns about the future of Come By Chance. Marc Amons is with Wood Mackenzie, a natural resources research and consulting firm. Speaking from his office in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, Amons said the pandemic has pinched refiners around the world. He said demand for fuels such as gasoline, jet fuel and diesel is still "well below" pre-pandemic levels, and refiners are adapting by decreasing throughput and coping with shrinking profits. What's more, he said, Silverpeak is not the only refinery owner marketing their assets to prospective buyers. "There's other refining companies looking to sell or reposition their assets. So it's likely that any buyer looking to enter the space would have a choice of assets to purchase," he said. As for the decision by the Liberals to throw cash at the refinery, Amons said that might not be such a bad idea. He said there's a strong chance that the markets will rebound later in the year as COVID-19 vaccinations increase, and demand for fuels rebound. But, he added, "as we stand here today, there is still a fair amount of reason for pessimism for the outlook." Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
La CSD Construction est inquiète du contenu du projet de loi 59 portant sur des modifications au régime de la santé et sécurité du travail. C’est pourquoi la centrale syndicale a soumis plusieurs recommandations au ministre du Travail Jean Boulet pour bonifier le projet de loi lors de son passage en commission parlementaire, mercredi matin. Essentiellement, ces modifications portent sur la prévention avec des représentants en santé et sécurité plus nombreux, autonomes et indépendants des patrons. Par voie de communiqué, la CSD a fait savoir qu’après une analyse approfondie du projet de loi, elle porte un regard très critique sur ce qui est sur la table. « On ne va pas dans la bonne direction pour diminuer les accidents et les décès qui surviennent trop souvent dans l’industrie de la construction, industrie qui, rappelons-le, est la plus meurtrière au Québec », de s’indigner Carl Dufour, président de la CSD Construction. Selon lui, le projet de loi 59 porte plusieurs mesures qui tireront l’industrie vers le bas s’il n’est pas modifié et si le ministre ne retient pas les propositions de la CSD Construction. La centrale rappelle que l’occasion est unique pour modifier des lois qui n’ont pas été dépoussiérées depuis plus de 40 ans. « Tant qu’à réformer les lois en santé et sécurité du travail, réformons-les pour vrai », a déclaré M. Dufour. La CSD Construction demande la mise en place d’équipes volantes de représentants en santé et sécurité autonomes et indépendants qui seraient sous la responsabilité de chaque organisation syndicale. Ils seraient outillés pour faire de la prévention à temps plein. Dans sa forme actuelle, le projet de loi prévoit que les chantiers de 10 à 100 travailleurs, où il y a le plus haut taux de lésions, aient un représentant en santé et sécurité qui soit employé du chantier, donc de l’employeur. « Ce sont les chantiers où les règles sont les moins respectées par les employeurs. On le voit bien dans le cadre de la pandémie. Soyons réalistes, l’employé responsable de la santé et sécurité n’aura pas la liberté nécessaire pour soulever les problèmes et émettre des recommandations, surtout si elles sont coûteuses, à son dirigeant. Il y a donc ici un réel enjeu d’indépendance. Il faut rappeler qu’il n’existe pas de règle d’ancienneté et de priorité de rappel dans la construction », de préciser le président de la CSD Construction. Ce dernier a ajouté qu’« une prévention efficace est le nerf de la guerre pour faire perdre au secteur construction le triste record du plus grand nombre de décès reliés au travail, année après année ». Pour ce qui est des chantiers de plus de 100 travailleurs, le syndicat demande qu’on revoie les seuils pour permettre plus d’agents de sécurité et de représentants en santé et sécurité. Notamment, la CSD Construction demande qu’un représentant en santé et sécurité soit désigné pour chaque tranche de 100 travailleurs présents sur le chantier de construction, plutôt qu’à chaque tranche de 300, comme il est proposé. Le syndicat demande aussi que le seuil à partir duquel un agent de sécurité à temps plein doit être désigné sur un chantier demeure le même (8 millions de dollars) et ne soit pas majoré à 25 millions. La CSD Construction souligne que le projet de réforme prévoit un programme de prévention intéressant, qui doit être mis en place par l’employeur, ainsi qu’un comité supervisant l’application des mesures de prévention sur les chantiers de 20 travailleurs et plus.Denis Villeneuve, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Quotidien
Après le nom de la ville de Val-des-Sources, voilà le tour de la rue de l’Amiante de changer de nom. La rue, située dans le secteur industriel de Val-des-Sources, portera dorénavant le nom de la rue des Bâtisseurs. Ce changement allait de soi selon le maire Hugues Grimard. « On a changé Asbestos parce que ça voulait dire amiante et là c’est directement l’amiante, souligne-t-il. C’est la suite logique du repositionnement de notre appellation. » La ville a envoyé une lettre à tous les propriétaires fonciers de la rue pour obtenir des suggestions de nom, mais n’en a reçu aucun. Le conseil municipal a donc décidé d’aller de l’avant avec le nom des bâtisseurs. « On ne voulait pas faire un long et lourd processus », résume le maire. M. Grimard confirme aussi que le ministère des Transports devrait mettre à jour au printemps ses panneaux de signalisation pour enlever la mention d’Asbestos.Simon Roberge, Initiative de journalisme local, La Tribune
Allan Legere plotted a fresh escape the year he was convicted of a series of brutal killings that had created panic in Miramichi, according to a written decision denying him parole. The eight-page decision, which follows a Jan. 13 parole board hearing, also said that in May 2019, a weapon was found inside the television in his cell at the maximum security Edmonton Institution. The written decision reiterates the board's firm refusal of any form of parole for the 72-year-old inmate, noting Legere's failure to accept responsibility for his violence and his suggestion victims' families forgive him and "move on." The decision also contains new details of an escape attempt not widely known in the past. The convicted murderer, rapist and arsonist famously escaped from custody on May 3, 1989, while serving a life sentence for the murder of store owner John He then terrorized the Miramichi area as he carried out four more brutal murders, several arsons and a sexual assault before being recaptured on Nov. 24, 1989.Glendenning during a 1986 robbery. Yet, even when he was imprisoned at the maximum security Atlantic Institution in Renous following his 1991 conviction, Legere appeared to keep plotting how he could get away. "According to file information, you have a history of attempting to, and being successful in, escaping from custody," the decision read. "In 1987 you attempted to escape twice, in 1989 you did escape, and in 1991 you attempted once again to escape. "In regards to the 1991 attempt, file information relays that your plan to escape custody included an intention of taking a female staff hostage." Legere was convicted of the murders on Nov. 3, 1991 after DNA evidence confirmed his presence at the murder scenes. John Harris, a former Correctional Service Canada manager at the Atlantic Institution, said during a telephone interview that he recalled the 1991 escape attempt, which intelligence officers at the facility documented. He said it fit a pattern of past behaviour. "When that information [of the escape plan] started to come up, and it started to get a little intense, that's when the decision was made to have him transferred to the super maximum unit [near Montreal]," Harris recalled. Plan 'kept under wraps' The 77-year-old retired correctional officer said Legere's plan was "kept under wraps but it was put on the file to justify the transfer." "We had to caution some of the female staff members.... We weren't sure what woman it was, but we had an indication it was a female correctional officer." During his parole hearing last week, Legere didn't accept responsibility for the beating deaths, saying others committed them, and he blamed alcohol for his actions in tying up and sexually assaulting a woman. He said several times he didn't expect parole but would like a chance to pursue programs for his rehabilitation at a medium security prison. More recently, in May 2019, a weapon was found in your television during an X-ray. - Parole Board of Canada decision Harris urges the board and the federal correctional service to remain vigilant, as he said he believes that Legere will still plan an escape, despite his denials of such an intention during the hearing. "It won't be an escape as we think of it," Harris said. "He's planning to get to minimum security, where you can just walk away." During his hearing, Legere made a number of remarks critical of Rick MacLean, the former editor of the Miramichi Leader who documented the murderer's violence in the weekly newspaper and in two books he co-wrote. MacLean said in an interview that he finds it frightening to imagine what Legere might have done had he managed to escape again in 1991. "It would have been horrifying for me and my family," he said. The parole board's decision, released Monday night, said that after his 2015 transfer to Western Canada, Legere's behaviour continued to be "problematic," though it said his violence decreased and he managed at times to successfully participate in institutional employment programs. Legere, however, continued to develop fixations on female staff members and to behave inappropriately around them, the report said. "More recently, in May 2019, a weapon was found in your television during an X-ray. The board takes note that you have hidden contraband in your television in the past, and it is concerning that this behaviour has persisted over time." Harris said this also fits a pattern of past practice of Legere using the television for improper purposes. In 1989, guards failed to detect a television antenna Legere had hidden in his rectum, and he used it during his escape after being taken out of the prison for a medical appointment.
Like 8,000 flying trapeze artists passing in midair, the Biden and Trump administrations swapped out senior leadership of the federal government on the fly as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the nation's 46th president. Biden announced the dozens of career civil servants who would be leading federal agencies, pending Senate approval of his permanent nominees. Acting heads of Cabinet agencies raised their right hands Wednesday afternoon for oaths of office. Emails went out briefing federal employees on just which career employee would be serving as their acting boss. It’s a painstakingly executed exchange of Cabinet agency senior staffing with inherent risk of bad goof-ups in the best of years, former agency officials and scholars of the federal bureaucracy say. And this year, when Biden’s administration was starting work amid fears that President Donald Trump’s followers would launch more attacks like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, had added challenges. “Day One is always going to be the riskiest” when it comes to uncertainty about who's in charge, or the new people missing news of some critical event during an agency transition, said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University. One example, he said, would be scientists in the ranks learning of some vital development in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic or development of vaccines. “As sure as we’re talking here, these things happen,” Light said. “It’s a very dense hierarchy and there are no alarm bells." There was no immediate word of any trouble Wednesday in the first hours of the change in leadership. Biden supporters earlier had accused Trump security agencies of failing to share vital information in the weeks leading up to the handoff. Trump’s false insistence that he, not Biden, won the presidential election raised the level of worries over Wednesday’s transition. U.S. officials this month made a point of specifying in advance who would be the acting head of the Defence Department at 12:01 p.m. Wednesday, the minute after Biden became president. Deputy Defence Secretary David Norquist became acting head of the Defence Department between the resignation of Trump appointee Christopher C. Miller and Senate confirmation of Biden’s nominee to replace him, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. Across Cabinet-level agencies, most political appointees of the old administration turned in resignations by Inauguration Day, following tradition. Before leaving office, Trump had tweaked the orders of succession at some agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, in ways that changed which career staffer was in charge when all the political appointees go away. Environmental advocates and other opponents of the Trump administration, and scholars of government, expressed suspicion of some of Trump’s succession changes in his last weeks, fearing he might plant loyalists as acting heads to make trouble for Biden. But Barack Obama’s White House and others before him in their finals weeks also made adjustments to who’s left in charge in agencies, said Anne Joseph O’Connell, a Stanford Law School professor and expert in government process. That's usually “not because of party preferences but to help with good governance,” O’Connell said. “To the extent you care about government, you care about transition.” However, with Trump’s reluctance after Election Day to yield power, “you could see why many would question the need for changes to succession now,” she added. In any case, federal law on vacancies gives incoming presidents wide choice in picking their own acting agency heads from among employees, regardless of succession plans. Biden by Wednesday afternoon announced his own selections of acting agency heads, from the State Department to the Social Security Administration to the National Endowment for the Arts. “My expectation is that the incoming Biden administration will be relying very heavily on the vacancies act to staff their administration until their nominations are confirmed,” O’Connell said. Another Trump-era complication for this election cycle's power swap: Trump added more layers and senior staffers to federal government, Light said. Researchers have crunched the federal government’s annual directory of executive-level Cabinet staffers — the associates to the chiefs of staff, the deputies to the deputies — each year since the Kennedy administration. There were 451 of them, then. There were 3,265 of those senior Cabinet employees when Obama left town — and 4,886 at last count under Trump, Light said, in research that Brookings published in October. The thicker bureaucracy adds to the risk of vital communications not making it up to new leaders, Light said. The rule for any acting heads remaining from past administrations is simple, Light said: Do no harm. The understanding over the years is “acting appointees are not going to do anything significant” without warning, he said. “We just cross our fingers and hope that people will behave.” Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press
While Municipalities of Saskatchewan President Gordon Barnhart remains out of province on vacation, members of the organization said they are still in the dark about his plans to return. Barnhart did comment on his vacation to Hawaii with his wife for a Jan. 19 story written by Gary Horseman, a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Four-Town Journal. The Journal covers Saltcoats, the town where Barnhart is the mayor. “For the last nine years, Naomi and I have spent Christmas and January in Maui. This year, with COVID-19, we took extra precautions to ensure that our health and the health of those around us would be safe,” Barnhart told the Journal. “Before leaving for our vacation, I discussed with the Saltcoats council and administration how we could keep in contact while away. While in Maui, we both have been keeping up with work by email and phone, FaceTime and Zoom. As mayor of Saltcoats, I am in touch with councillors and administration on a daily basis. Arrangements have been made for me to fulfill my administrative duties by distance and I have been able to chair council meetings by Zoom. I take my role as mayor very seriously and believe I have been able to fulfill my duties to the best of my ability while still taking a holiday with my wife,” Barnhart continued. The fact that Barnhart has been taking precautions while travelling is great, said Naicam Mayor Rodger Hayward, Municipalities of Saskatchewan’s vice-president of towns, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that elected officials like Barnhart should be taking public health orders to not travel seriously. “As municipal leaders, we have a duty to lead by example, following all public health measures, orders and advisories. The premier has asked everyone to not do unnecessary travel and especially out-of-country travel,” he said. In Barnhart’s comments to the Four-Town Journal, he really didn’t address that key issue, Hayward said. While Municipalities of Saskatchewan is busy preparing for their upcoming virtual convention, Hayward said he is sure the president’s travel will be part of the conversation. “It'll be a little different because it's a virtual convention and it’s our very first one, so we'll see how it goes. But I'm sure it'll be a topic there. The office of president and the rest of the executive is up for election this year, as well.” Barnhart has not been in contact with Hayward as of Jan. 20. Hayward said he was in contact with only one other board member of Municipalities of Saskatchewan to give the same information that was given to the Four-Town Journal. Becky Zimmer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist
Hugo Paiz says he's gotten the run around, been laughed at, and spent countless hours worrying about his finances, during his nearly year-long dispute with Enmax over his January, 2020 bill which saw his electricity charges spike from a typical $80 per month to $1,527.28. Paiz says he, his wife and his daughter tried calling and emailing Enmax repeatedly to try to convince them it made a mistake — only to be continually pressured to pay up. Then this week Paiz's daughter reached out to CBC News in desperation and within about a day of CBC intervening, the company admitted it made a mistake. Now, Paiz hopes his story will help others avoid the same anxiety and stress he and his family experienced for months. "For me, coronavirus, it wasn't that bad the whole year, it was worse what they've been doing to me because you can see the papers, message and letters doing everything they can to make me to pay the bills, which I never use," said Hugo Paiz, 61, from his home in southeast Calgary. His daughter broke down in tears talking about the toll the ordeal has taken on her parents. "It's been tough because it's weighed on them, you know. My dad doesn't want to cry, my mother doesn't want to cry, but I can tell they're hurting," said Talia Paiz, Hugo's daughter. Enmax told CBC News their investigation discovered the meter was being misread and the family had been overcharged. "This was a case of human error by one of our readers of the meter, and it was due to the age and the weathering visual condition, condition of the front of Mr. Paiz's meter," said Corry Poole, vice-president of customer service at Enmax. But Paiz's daughter says while the company's acknowledgement brings relief, it doesn't take away what her mother and father went through trying to resolve the billing error. "Their words will never, ever fix what was already said to him and the mistreatment they did him," said Talia Paiz. 'No one would listen' Hugo Paiz lives with his wife and their 18-year-old son in a duplex in Penbrooke Meadows in southeast Calgary. Originally from Guatemala, he's been renting the same home for 13 years after moving from Toronto. The couple both work — he at a bottling facility, she at a potato chip manufacturing plant, while their son goes to school. They have four other children, including Talia, who live on their own. Hugo says he remembers opening his Enmax bill last year and going into shock when he read the total — a whopping $2044.95. "I almost fall with a heart attack the day I see the bill," said Paiz. He says he immediately went line by line to figure out why his bill was so high when he noticed a charge of more than $1,500 for his electricity. His bill includes gas, electricity, water, wastewater, storm water as well as garbage and recycling fees. He says he called Enmax representatives to explain that there was no way the three of them could have used that much electricity in one month. He says his family keeps a tight budget and are cognizant of turning lights off. The only extra draw they have on their electricity, he says, is a fish tank. But instead of any real solutions, he says he got patched from person to person. Paiz says one representative told him to hire an electrician to locate the problem, and so his landlord did. CBC News spoke to the landlord and the electrician. The electrician says he inspected the home and didn't find any problems, but says he did notice the meter reading on Paiz's bill didn't match what he was reading — rather it was much higher. The electrician then wrote a letter on Paiz's behalf to give to Enmax — which was shared with CBC News — but Paiz's daughter says Enmax said it didn't want to see it. "The first thing I got was laugh, someone started laughing and saying that because it was a third party and everything they weren't going to accept it," said Talia Paiz. "It's just no one would listen." Enmax calls it a 'learning opportunity' In the meantime, the company continued to request the money. Paiz ended up paying an extra $160 on his bills for three months for a total of $480. The family was also forced to pay a $425 deposit. The family says it kept asking Enmax to come to their house and check their meter to see if there was something wrong with it, but nobody did. However, after being contacted by CBC News, Enmax sent someone to check the meter and discovered the problem. The meter was working fine, but it had weathered and was being misread by the meter reader. Enmax then swapped the meter for a digital one. CBC News asked Enmax about the Paiz family's allegations of being mistreated over the phone. With respect to the laughter and the refusal to take the electrician's letter which said it appeared the meter was being misread, Poole, the vice-president of customer service at Enmax, says it's unfortunate the person refused it because any information is helpful in an investigation. "It was a complex issue. I can see when I review the account that many people were involved in trying to resolve this for the customer, but it certainly took too long and much longer than what we strive for and so we're using this as a learning opportunity here at Enmax," she said. 'Should have been fixed in a week' Hugo Paiz says the company has now apologized for the way he was treated and told him this problem "should have been resolved in a week" based on an initial email the family sent that contained a photo of their electricity meter after they got the bill. At the time, the company's email response said the photo only backed up the company's claims, but Poole now says it appears the company representative didn't take a close enough look at the photo to see that the meter had been weathered and had obscured dials. "Unfortunately, that is one of our learning opportunities there around the visual inspection of ... the photo of the meter when it comes in and what to look for and that's definitely something we've learned from here," said Poole. The company has also told Paiz it is working on resolving the bill and refunding both the overpayment and the deposit with interest. Paiz hopes the company does learn from his situation and creates a better system for customers who are disputing an overcharge so they are not forced to either go to the media or to court. "Start investigating the cases right away, don't let the people suffer years and years, months and months before they start putting any attention," said Paiz. For those who are having trouble with their utility bill there is another option. People can contact the Utilities Consumer Advocate. It issued the following statement in regards to this story: If Albertans have exhausted all known avenues to resolve a dispute with their electricity or natural gas provider, the mediation officers from Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) are available to contact the utility provider to advocate on the consumer's behalf. Mediation officers are knowledgeable about utility regulations, including terms and conditions, and can help steer the focus of a dispute toward problem solving. Mediation outcomes vary depending on the nature of the complaint, but can result in identifying and correcting previously unknown issues, establishing payment arrangements, or reducing incorrect billing. UCA Mediation services are available to small business, farm and residential utility consumers. Interpretation services are also available. Albertans with questions or concerns about their utility bill can contact the UCA at 310-4822 or visit ucahelps.alberta.ca for more information about the resources and services they provide.
The N.W.T. Housing Corporation has loosened rules for seniors trying to access its housing repair programming. Changes announced on Wednesday remove the need for home insurance and formal land tenure, and the GNWT will now only assess the incomes of seniors who own their homes. “These changes will put an end to situations where seniors cannot access assistance for repairs in smaller communities and allow them to remain in their homes and communities, where they are surrounded by the support of their families and friends,” said housing minister Paulie Chinna. Previously, the territory assessed the income of all income-earners in the household. Now, only the income of the applicant and co-applicant will be considered. Home insurance and land tenure are difficult to get in some communities. From now on, all residents – including seniors – in smaller communities can access home repair programs without either. The N.W.T. Housing Corporation said it would continue to help people to get home insurance and land tenure, to ensure their homes are protected. Residents in Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Hay River, Norman Wells and Yellowknife are still required to have land tenure and insurance when applying for the major stream of the Contributing Assistance for Repairs and Enhancement program. Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio