WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Venezuela's opposition is discussing scaling back the interim government of opposition leader Juan Guaido that has won diplomatic recognition by dozens of countries that disavowed President Nicolas Maduro, nine legislators told Reuters. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, in 2019 called Maduro a usurper following his disputed re-election and assumed a parallel presidency based on articles of the constitution that make the head of the National Assembly next in line to rule the country. Guaido's lawmaker allies have said they will continue to insist that they are legitimate parliamentarians after Jan. 5, arguing that their constitutional mandate remains intact because Sunday's vote is rigged.
Homicide investigators say a fourth person has been charged in the Remembrance Day shooting of a man in Surrey, B.C., last year.Andrew Baldwin, 30, was killed Nov. 11, 2019, at a house in the 10700-block of 124 Street. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced Wednesday that Munroop Hayer has been charged with first-degree murder.Supt. Elija Rain with the Surrey RCMP said Hayer is well known to police in the Lower Mainland.Jordan Bottomley and Jagpal Hothi have already been charged with first-degree murder in the case.Jasman Basran, 21, was charged in May with being an accessory to murder.Baldwin was gunned down just weeks after his younger brother, 27-year-old Keith Baldwin, was shot and killed in Chilliwack, B.C. Both men were known to police.Sgt. Frank Jang with IHIT read a statement Wednesday from Baldwin's mother, Julie. "Andrew was a caring, giving person and his loyalty to his family, friends, loved ones and co-workers was unwavering," the note read. "We will all miss him, every moment of every day."
IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut's two-week lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 was lifted in almost all communities Wednesday as the territory had more recovered than active cases for the first time. Schools, businesses and workplaces were allowed to reopen, except in Arviat, which had 65 active cases. The coastal community on the western edge of Hudson Bay is to remain shut down for at least two more weeks.Nunavut had 80 active infections Wednesday and 113 recovered cases for a total of 193. There were 11 new cases — all in Arviat. The territory had not had any cases at all until early November.Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said his team hadn't yet determined if community transmission in Arviat is ongoing."I know this is a difficult time as these strict measures continue, but please understand it is not meant to punish Arviat. This is the best way to break community transmission and the fastest way to eventually loosening these restrictions," Patterson said. The Canadian Red Cross has been on the ground in Arviat to help people self-isolate and to contact trace. Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, in the same region as Arviat, still have active COVID-19 cases, but no evidence of community transmission.Masks remain mandatory in all public spaces in the three communities, although students in Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet do not have to wear them in classrooms as long as they are physical distancing, Patterson said.He credited Nunavut's shrinking case count with residents observing public-health orders and the work of contact tracers to "break chains of transmission."Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that the federal government will provide rapid-testing machines to Nunavut's isolation hotels in Winnipeg. The territory's public-health orders require anyone who leaves the territory must isolate for 14 days in a southern hotel before flying home. Patterson said Winnipeg is currently the jurisdiction that poses the biggest risk to Nunavummiut who travel there. Using the Panbio COVID-19 Ag rapid-testing device, which provides results in 15 minutes, Nunavummiut staying in the hubs will be tested several times throughout their stay. "The testing will be initially offered to everybody, whether they have symptoms or not ... as a way to augment the current isolation practice and reduce the chance of COVID getting through the isolation hubs," Patterson said. Nunavut's first cases of COVID-19 were individuals who completed 14 days of isolation in Winnipeg hotels. Patterson said it's still unknown how exactly they contracted the novel coronavirus while in isolation and an investigation into how it happened continues.The Northwest Territories, which has a similar isolation rule, announced Tuesday that residents who leave the territory for non-essential travel will have to pay for their two-week isolation stays. Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut's health minister, said Nunavut has considered a similar move, but isn't making residents pay for isolation stays at this time. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.___This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News FellowshipEmma Tranter, The Canadian Press
New membership is bringing new ideas to one Tay Township neighbourhood. Several of those new ideas were presented to council at a recent meeting by Victoria Reaume,president, Talpines Property Owners' Association. “Waubaushene has changed over the last few years and it's still changing a lot,” she said. “We see young families and retirees moving into town. They're looking for wonderful new things to do in the community.” One of those, said Reaume, is to enhance the usability of the Tay Trail. “We've raised a number of issues with bylaw about motorized vehicles,” she said. “The township did do some stakeouts and managed to catch some folks who were riding motorcycles on the trail and other types of vehicles.” But the trail, said Reaume, is increasingly being used by bike clubs and there seem to be no speed limits. “They will ride by in numbers like 20 and it's scary when they drive by at that speed,” she said. “We're asking for more signage because clearly people are not seeing the signage that exists.” The group is also looking to beautify Pine Street Beach with a mural on the tin building in the vicinity, said Reaume. “It's a very popular site and we're starting to see people use it more,” she said, talking about the beach. “We also mentioned last year a ramp or stairs at the beach so people with mobility problems could have better access to the beach. We don't want a boat ramp for sure. We do want a pedestrian ramp, something that people can use to walk down more easily.” As well, Reaume said, a lot of the seniors and kids go down to enjoy the beach, where there's no shade. “We know that other parks in Tay have gazebos,” she said. “We just want something to provide a bit of shade; we don't need anything fancy.” At least two councillors expressed support at the meeting. “We could maybe look at accessibility grants out there to make that beach more accessible,” said Coun. Mary Warnock. “I'm sure there are artists out there looking to paint something so you could collaborate with them. And I'm sure staff would appreciate the help in getting some money for signage.” Coun. Jeff Bumstead said he could watch out for opportunities through the Cultural Alliance Committee channel. A final decision about how much money can be given to the Talpines POA will be made at a December council meeting around grants.Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
As the death toll from illicit drug overdoses continues to mount unabated in B.C., advocates want more specialized services and harm reduction measures to help protect young people. Another 162 fatalities occurred in October due to toxic drug supply, for a total of 1,386 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service's most recent figures. Of those killed this year by the overdose crisis, 19 per cent, or 269 deaths, were young people aged 29 years old or younger, with 14 of the dead under the age of 19, the coroners service figures show. Kali Sedgemore, a youth outreach worker and peer harm reduction advocate in Vancouver, said the ongoing public health emergency is in its fifth year, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating the harms. “We don’t even have time to grieve because we know we will hear about another (death) the next day,” Sedgemore said. The dangers of the toxic illicit drug supply are being compounded as people following pandemic protocols use illicit drugs alone and as harm reduction services have been reduced, or wait times have increased at overdose prevention sites (OPS) during the pandemic, Sedgemore added. Youth do not make up the largest number of fatalities, but all overdose deaths are largely unnecessary and preventable, Sedgemore said. In 2020, 70 per cent of those who have died from the toxic drug supply fall between the ages of 30 and 59, and males account for 80 per cent of the deaths to date. Most overdose fatalities involved people dying alone indoors. One immediate way to reduce the harms from toxic illicit drugs to youth is to provide harm reduction and OPS services dedicated strictly to their demographic, Sedgemore said. “Youth are vulnerable to manipulation by adults,” Sedgemore said, adding young people are at risk of being exploited sexually or for money or other reasons. Specialized harm reduction services are already hard to come by in urban areas such as Vancouver but are even more scarce in smaller communities and rural areas, Sedgemore said, noting they originally came from a small community from the northern part of Vancouver Island. Plus, young people — especially those under the age of 18 — are often deterred from using harm reduction services or supplies by providers due to their age, or can come under increased scrutiny from staff at these locations, they said. Both of these situations make youth uncomfortable, Sedgemore said. It’s also critical that medical professionals, social workers or other service providers don’t push youth into treatment before they are ready, Sedgemore stressed. Doing so only puts youth at increased risk, forcing them to be more secretive about any illicit drug use and increasing the unwillingness to use harm reduction services or call emergency services in case of an overdose. Research shows abstinence education, or the "just say no to drugs" approach, is not as effective as talking openly about illicit drugs, the associated risks and, if youth should choose to use them, how to do it safely, Sedgemore said. However, there is also the need for more youth treatment beds and shorter wait-lists for youth seeking help, Sedgemore said, especially closer to their own communities. “I don’t think it’s great sending a youth away from their own hometown and the people youth are used to seeing every day.” The B.C. government plans to double the number of treatment beds for youth aged 12 to 24 who are struggling with substance use. A total of 60 young people under the age of 24 lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning from toxic street drugs from January to June 2020, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. The province committed $36 million to create another 123 treatment beds for young people, in addition to 20 beds recently established at a new youth facility in the Fraser Valley. Prior to the recent announcements, B.C. had 103 treatment beds for youth. The new beds are part of a broader continuum of care the B.C. government is planning for young people that will include culturally safe, youth-specific services in both rural and smaller city centres, the ministry stated. Building on its network of youth-specific mental health and substance use services, the province will develop eight new Foundry centres, for a total of 19 youth hubs. Foundry centres provide primary care, youth and family peer supports, walk-in counselling, mental health and substance use services and social services all under one roof. Steve Ayers, program manager for the Foundry located in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, agreed that youth benefit from specialized services and being in charge of any decisions about their drug or alcohol use. “If a counsellor is going to really be impactful, they have to let the client drive the process of making changes around substance use,” Ayers said. “The objective of substance use counselling is to help youth have a better life, and what are some concrete ways that might happen, depending on their choices of course,” he said. Many youth use substances to deal with trauma or anxiety, so alternate tools or strategies need to be developed to help young people deal with that suffering, he added. It’s dangerous to assume youth overdoses due to illicit drugs are only a big-city problem, Ayers said. “It’s absolutely a misconception,” he said, adding the issues that fuel youth substance use exist in every community across Canada. However, youth generally don’t tend to be as entrenched with illicit hard drugs as some other age demographics, especially in rural areas where supply might be limited, Ayers said. “If there’s no supply (of illicit drugs) kids will find other things to do to cope with what they are struggling with,” he said. However, kids and families in rural or remote communities such as the Discovery Islands or small communities across North Vancouver Island can face additional challenges or gaps in accessing supports, Ayers said. Many Foundry services are now available online to try to mitigate the challenges for youth living in more isolated communities who need support, especially with travel limitations due to the pandemic, he said. The youth hub also works with schools to meet with students during class time for those who have to bus in and out of Campbell River. Young people and their families just need to reach out and the Foundry will try to find a fix for any stumbling blocks to service, Ayers said. “We always seem to be able to find them and reach them with help,” he said. “Unless they're just not reaching out at all. And honestly, those are the people that we’re scared for most.” Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National ObserverRochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, is launching her bid for a third two-year term heading the GOP's governing organization after the party’s stronger-than-anticipated showing in November’s election, even though President Donald Trump lost. In a letter Wednesday to the 168 members of the RNC announcing her candidacy, McDaniel said she has the support of Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader McCarthy of California, as well as a supermajority of committee members — all but assuring her victory. McDaniel was selected by Trump for the role four years ago and he endorsed her for a new term about a week after the Nov. 3 election. That could give the outgoing president additional sway over the party as he ponders his own future, including a potential presidential run in 2024. McDaniel, in her letter, echoed Trump's rhetoric about the election and said she would step up the RNC's voting-related litigation efforts and form a committee on election integrity "to continue battling the Democrats’ unprecedented attempts to change election laws." While she did not repeat Trump's false claims that he won the election, McDaniel said the GOP continues “to fight for President Trump" as he makes legal challenges across the country. McDaniel also promised “to explore ways to transition” from what she called the “biased” Commission on Presidential Debates.” Trump has vented about the nonpartisan commission, which instituted tight safeguards against the coronavirus after Trump came down with COVID-19. Trump refused to participate after the commission decided the second debate would be virtual; it ended up being cancelled. Despite Trump's musing about running again in four years, McDaniel pledged to uphold the party's neutrality in primaries. The GOP "will remain neutral and focus on laying the groundwork," she wrote. “I will work to ensure that all Republican candidates can be successful.” Under McDaniel, the GOP deployed the largest field operation in politics, including more than 3,000 staffers and 2.6 million volunteers, and raised more than $1.3 billion for GOP candidates. Republicans restored much of their field program this summer despite the pandemic while Democrats largely kept to all-virtual voter contacts. Republicans believe that helped them outperform expectations by retaining vulnerable Senate seats and narrowing Democrats’ majority in the House. “President Trump earned more minority votes than any Republican candidate in decades, and a record number of women, minorities and veterans were elected to office,” McDaniel wrote. “This is a legacy our Party can be proud of, and we must continue to build on this historic momentum.” Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Bruce Power has wasted no time getting its “Be a Light” campaign up and running. The campaign, announced on Nov. 19, pledged $1 million to redouble efforts to fight COVID-19. It is putting a focus on five pillars, public awareness, providing protection, a buy local initiative and supporting physical and mental health and lending a helping hand. On Nov. 24, the campaign committed $250,000 to support the maintenance and enhancement of the Kincardine Trails, assisting with the completion of the Signature Trail project, and the Saugeen Rail Trail, which will assist in the environmentally-friendly paving of two section of the trail in Port Elgin and Southampton. . It will also support a feasibility student into the development of a trail at Saugeen First Nation. Be a Light acknowledges that staying active an spending time outdoors has an important role in helping people manage the pandemic. An additional $50,000 will support mental health initiatives at the Grey Bruce branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Westover Treatment Centre recovery support and the Grey Bruce “We CARE” project supporting mental health in youth. One day later, the campaign announced it would provide $150,000 in protective equipment to communities and organizations in Bruce, Grey and Huron counties. That donation will include 175,000 three-ply disposable masks and 2,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to primary health care facilities, Indigenous communities, and other organizations in the region. Fifty self-standing automatic temperature monitors will be provided for long-term and health care facilities, and other high-traffic areas to provide hands-free, rapid temperature screening. The equipment provides an addition layer of protection for people in the community. “With rising COVID numbers across the region and province, we recognized how important protective equipment is to stopping the spread,” said Pat Dalzell, Bruce Power’s Head of Corporate Affairs. “By getting masks and hand sanitizers to the facilities and businesses that need them we can help keep the community safe from COVID-19. By providing automatic temperature monitors to local long-term and health care facilities, we’re also providing another protective barrier for our society’s most vulnerable population – our seniors and the ill – as well as our vitally important frontline workers.” On Nov. 26, the campaign announced multiple contributions to the lending a helping hand sector. A financial commitment of $350,000 will be distributed across Bruce, Grey and Huron to say thank-you to health and long term care workers, provide aid for breakfast programs for children, purchase grocery gift cards for families in need, fund the purchase of toys for Christmas and purchase new winter coats, which will be distributed by United Way of Bruce Grey and Huron-Perth Children’s Aid Society. Boxes of chocolates, purchased from a local retailer, will be sent to hospitals, assessment centres and health unit offices in a gesture of thanks while providing support for the buy local initiative. “COVID-19 has put a strain on many families, workers, and organizations across Grey and Bruce counties,” said Francesca Dobbyn, Executive Director, United Way of Bruce Grey. “The need in our community is even greater this year, and we thank Bruce Power for once again stepping up to assist families, seniors, frontline workers, and hungry schoolchildren this holiday season. Thousands of people will have happier and healthier holidays thanks to Bruce Power’s outreach efforts.” Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020. A Barrie Catholic elementary school is the latest to close a classroom after someone tested positive for COVID-19. St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School principal Rich Foshay sent a letter to parents Oct. 1 explaining the situation, without revealing if the infected person is a student or teacher. Foshay told parents the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will determine who may be at risk and “ensure that school staff, families and students are provided with the appropriate information.” Foshay said he will send a voice message and email, on behalf of the health unit, to all individuals that need to take further steps as a result of this positive case. “If you do not receive a voice message and email directly, then your child is not part of the affected cohort,” his letter states. St. Catherine of Siena, located on Summerset Drive, is the sixth Simcoe Catholic elementary school to close at least one classroom due to a positive COVID case. “We all must work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a school community, we will pray for all those impacted by this virus and continue to demonstrate compassion and respect for one another as we navigate this situation,” Foshay said. The school will advise the health unit of any person who came in contact with the infected person, including in before and after-school care and on a school bus. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all areas in the school where the person may have been has already taken place and will continue to be a priority, Foshay said. Visit the www.simcoemuskokahealth.org or contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or (toll free) 1-877-721-7520 ext. 5830 for more health-related information. Visit www.smcdsb.on.ca for details about the school reopening plan. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the priority list for the first COVID-19 vaccines is being refined because there won't be enough doses available in the first round to cover the initial groups recommended.
VANCOUVER — The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says November home sales were down from October — but still well above the same time last year, as the market catches up to the effects of COVID-19.The board says real estate agents sold 3,064 homes last month, down 16.9 per cent from October, but up 22.7 per cent from November 2019.The board's report says the benchmark price of a Vancouver home hit $1,044,000, up 5.8 per cent from November 2019.Vancouver is a seller's market, board chairwoman Colette Gerber said, as demand for detached houses and townhomes is pushing prices higher while the rate of new listings lags. Although the number of homes listed for sale in November rose 36.2 per cent year-over-year to 4,068, new listings were down 27 per cent from October. That left the sales-to-active listings ratio — a closely watched figure in the industry — at 27.6 per cent, still above the 20 per cent level where prices tend to rise.Meanwhile, November sales passed 3,000 for the first time since 2015, marking the second-best November in the past decade.“The supply of homes for sale are a critical factor in understanding home price trends," Gerber said in the report.The Vancouver area has seen near-record home sales since the summer, said Gerber, after COVID-19 restrictions tamped down on the usual home buying season, which tends to peak in spring and slow down by winter.The was a surge of sales in the far reaches of the metro area, such as the Sunshine Coast, Gulf Islands and Squamish, as homebuyers looked toward less dense neighbourhoods amid work-from-home arrangements and physical distancing policies, according to Gerber. The Sunshine Coast, in particular, saw home sales jump 82.8 per cent.The trend of buyers seeking space was also apparent in the type of homes sold. Detached home sales were up 28.6 per cent during the month, with prices up 9.4 per cent from a year ago. More than 40 per cent more attached homes were sold this November than last, and prices for properties such as townhomes were up 5.6 per cent from November 2019.Apartment sales growth was slower, up 12.2 per cent, as apartment prices rose 3.4 per cent from last year.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
Tay council wrangled with budget-item options in an attempt to bring down the proposed tax levy as much as possible, eventually settling on a 2% increase. The number is expected to go down to at least 1.4% or 1.2% once the blended tax rate from the county is shared with the municipality, said treasurer Joanne Sanders, who presented a detailed budget to council at its recent special meeting. She told councillors about items that had been taken off the list to help bring the tax rate down to 2%, including major expenses like repairs to bridges. "Granny White bridge, Rumney Road culvert and the Rosemount Road north bridge have all been removed from the capital budget," she said. "We did some more research there and no safety issues came up. The most recent bridge report still had those repairs in the one- to five-year category." These projects will be re-assessed during the 2020 bridge report, added Sanders. And with growth, comes surplus And it is this surplus, said Sanders, which is helping keep the tax rate down. "We are projecting a healthy surplus for the close of 2020," she said. "The greatest contributors are salaries and the supplementary assessments, which created additional income. There is a surplus of $349,500 left in the 2020 projected surplus. We do have funds to work with." Most of that money, Sanders said, has come from growth in the area. "Rather than $93,000 being covered by growth, we're looking at $128,000," she said. "That reduces our reliance on the reserve from $66,500 to $31,500." And with the additional bylaw summer student and administrative summer student positions also taken out of the budget, the reliance on surplus fell further to $19,600. Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle warned about relying too much on growth. "Moving forward, we need to remember the future may not be so kind to us," he said. "We're running out of inventory. Do we require that growth to balance our budget? What impact does that have year-in and year-out?" Sanders said money from supplementary assessments as a result of growth in the area doesn't show up immediately on a budget, but trickles in over a few years. But with great growth comes higher liability, and that means higher insurance costs, she said. According to the budget Sanders shared, insurance costs are estimated to increase by 20% or $84,000 for next year, adding she doesn't see a light at the end of that tunnel. "They're not saying the landscape is going to change," said Sanders. "Last year, we looked at increasing our deductible to decrease our rate, but I don't see a huge light at the end of the tunnel." Capitals projects Coun. Jeff Bumstead wasn't sure if that move would end up saving the township any money in the long run. "If we're pushing these replacements to the end of that one- to five-year suggested range, are we looking at further cost or replacement?" he asked. Rick Bingham, interim operational service general manager, agreed with the councillor's assumption. "You need to do some rehabilitation before it gets to the point you have to do a reconstruction," said Bingham. "I think there are quite a few of them that will need to be reconstructed because they haven't had any rehabilitation done over the years. "I understand the former director had engaged the consultants to do a feasibility review and they will be providing a report over the next couple weeks on how money is best spent on bridges so we can stay ahead of the game," he added. Seeing the trend of removing projects from the capital budget, Coun. Barry Norris came up with another 'money-saving' suggestion. "The dry hydrants for the rural areas; I don't support it," he said talking about the emergency preparedness list. "The fact that we have tankers and mutual aid, I still can't support that at this point in time. Council may want to weight in to defer that expenditure." Fire Chief Brian Thomas made the case for fire safety. "The dry hydrants are a water source for the fire department to use while they're fighting fires out in the rural areas," he said. "We have $10,000 down for the next three years to find locations and get agreements with property owners so that we can enter their property to access the water sources. We do have mutual-aid agreements, but we still need the water source for all those tankers. The closer the water source is the more readily available; then the firefighters will have the amounts of water they will need." Then Norris focused on the planned sidewalk for Seventh Avenue and wondered about $127,000 expenditure. "I find it tough to increase that. The next thing we're going to have to do is clear it through the winter," said Norris, who instead suggested staff should consider putting in a base and a screen top over the pathway. "If it's substantially used, I have no problems putting a top coat on," he said. "To allow $30,000 to do that, let's see how it pans out. We can deviate that to another part of the capital." That suggestion did not sit well with Coun. Sandy Talbot, who said she wasn't sure why Norris had a problem with a project she considered a 'no brainer.' "This has been on the books for two years," she said, noting the safety of children who catch a bus there is a paramount concern. "I'm not sure if you're aware there's an incline on that road on Seventh Avenue, which is like a speedway and people are going down the road at unbelievable speeds. We need this. People walk this road on a daily basis. We need to ensure the safety of our residents." And she had support from councillors Paul Raymond and Mary Warnock. "I agree with Coun. Talbot," said the latter. "They've waited long enough. Sidewalks are important in our community to make them walkable. As we're going to see in official plans that come out, making our communities age-friendly, sidewalks are going to be a priority. I don't think there's any reason to delay this any further." With that, Norris' bid to remove those two items from the list was defeated. Expenses and overtime Talbot had her own concerns over some of the items contained within the budget. "Under expenditures, there's a cost for a rental car for $7,000. What did we need that car for?" she said. Sanders said that was thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. "It was for bylaw due to physical distancing requirements," she added. "It's on the COVID-related expenses list." Talbot then said she was concerned about the amount of overtime recorded. "It's $55,000," she said. "Can you give me an explanation of that? It's a lot of money. It's almost another position." Sanders said that wasn't just in one department, but spread across various township sections. "In a lot of cases, overtime was worked due to COVID-19, additional research and setting stuff up," she said. "There was also additional time that we felt was worked because we didn't necessarily fill positions as quickly as we would have because filling positions wasn't feasible during the height of COVID-19. So you have staff doing double-duty and that's why you see a fair bit of overtime." Talbot said she would like to see overtime kept in check moving forward. "Our aim should be reducing the overtime hours," she said. "I understand (the need) with our snowplow drivers or a public works emergency. But we need to be adherent to the lowest overtime we can allow. We're responsible for the monies of this township. In turn, we need to adhere to some kind of reduction in the overtime as possible." Grants and funding requests This section will be discussed in further detail at an upcoming December meeting, still council directed staff around two moves. "We can take the YMCA out," said Mayor Ted Walker. "They're not going to take us up on the loan offer." He took a bit of a hard line around the funding request made by the Severn Sound Environmental Association. "They had a huge increase last year and this year, the increase looks rather substantial as well," he said, talking about their request of $76,070 from 2019, that increased to $108,462 for this year and has gone up further to $122,042 for next year. "I'm wondering if we've heard anything back from them about this huge increase. "I think we should wait for their response and if we don't get any, we should budget what we did last year," added Walker.Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
ÉMILIE PELLETIER Initiative de journalisme local — Le Droit Le gouvernement Ford ne permettra pas l’ouverture partielle des commerces non essentiels dans les zones en confinement, même après qu’une quarantaine de grands détaillants comme La Baie et Canadian Tire lui en aient fait la demande. Les commerces à grande surface ont écrit, dans une lettre adressée au premier ministre Doug Ford et à la ministre de la Santé Christine Elliott, que la stratégie de l’Ontario de fermer toutes les entreprises non essentielles dans les zones en confinement n’a pas mené à une réduction du nombre de consommateurs dans les magasins. Au contraire, jugent-ils, cette stratégie a plutôt eu un effet de concentration des clients dans les magasins toujours ouverts. Les commerçants croient aussi que la politique actuelle de l’Ontario mène les gens dans les régions en confinement comme Toronto et Peel à se déplacer vers des régions où les entreprises sont ouvertes, posant ainsi « un risque encore plus grand pour la santé publique ». Par ailleurs, ces grandes entreprises qui ont été forcées de fermer déplorent que très peu des cas de la COVID-19 ont été associés à des environnements de vente au détail, selon les statistiques de la santé publique de l’Ontario. Afin de « mettre moins de gens dans plus de magasins », les grands détaillants qui ont signé la lettre ont proposé de permettre l’ouverture de tous les magasins, mais de limiter le nombre de clients à 25 % dans ceux qui sont jugés comme non essentiels. « Nous espérons que les gens qui vont magasiner dans les commerces qui demeurent ouverts n’y vont que pour les items essentiels, parce que c’est la seule raison pourquoi ils sont toujours ouverts », a précisé la ministre de la Santé, en conférence de presse, mercredi. À ses dires, l’objectif de la politique est de modifier les tendances de transmissions et de réduire les contacts. Mme Elliott a supplié les Ontariens de continuer d’encourager les entreprises locales en y passant leurs commandes, plutôt que de consommer auprès de grandes multinationales comme Amazon. Rappelons que les régions de Toronto et de Peel sont en zone grise-confinement. Le gouvernement ontarien demande aux résidents de ces régions de ne sortir de chez soi que pour les activités essentielles, telles que l’épicerie, les achats en pharmacie, l’exercice physique en plein air et les rendez-vous médicaux. La santé mentale des entrepreneurs chambranlante Selon les derniers résultats du sondage de la Fédération canadienne de l’entreprise indépendante (FCEI), les propriétaires de petites entreprises ressentent de plus en plus l’épuisement de la pandémie. Près de la moitié d’entre eux ont déclaré avoir souffert de problèmes de santé mentale à la suite de l’arrivée de la COVID-19, et 43 % ont affirmé avoir travaillé beaucoup plus d’heures. Seulement 29 % des entreprises qui ont répondu au sondage ont réalisé des ventes normales au cours du mois de novembre. Émilie Pelletier, journaliste, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Droit
More small- and medium-sized businesses will be able to apply for a provincial grant under a recently extended program. Applications for the small and medium enterprise (SME) relaunch grant were due last week but a second round of applications will now be available until March 31, according to the Alberta government. “A lot of our small- and medium-sized businesses have taken advantage of (the grant),” said Larry Gibson, Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce chairperson. Gibson said the chamber has heard from approximately a half-dozen businesses that have applied since the program was introduced in June, including a couple near Clairmont. The SME relaunch grant benefits businesses, co-operatives and non-profits that have experienced significant revenue loss during the pandemic. The SME grant is for 15 per cent of the business’ pre-COVID monthly revenue, or a maximum of $5,000, said Justin Brattinga, Jobs, Economy and Innovation department press secretary. “Five thousand dollars doesn’t go far these days, but it is a helpful program when you’re looking at added expenses,” Gibson said. “Most of the (local businesses) are using the grant to offset some of the extra costs, in plexiglass shields, the masks and sanitization.” Gibson said Grande Prairie-area businesses that have shown interest in the grant represent a variety of sectors, including retail, small manufacturing organizations and the restaurant and hospitality industries. To qualify, a business must have fewer than 500 employees and be affected by provincial restrictions, or have revenue losses of 40 per cent, according to the Alberta government. Initially, the SME grant required the business to have revenue losses of 50 per cent, a threshold lowered to 40 per cent retroactively to March, Brattinga said. The lowered threshold will enable thousands of more businesses across the province to benefit, he said. The chamber observed many small- and medium-sized businesses experience losses in the range of 40 and 50 per cent between April and May, Gibson said. The new funding is available to businesses in enhanced-status areas of the province, such as the city and county of Grande Prairie and the municipalities within the county.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 1, 2020 Fourteen ATV riders could have saved themselves more than $100 if they had purchased an off-road trail permit. Instead they were hit with a $215 fine for breaking a Simcoe County bylaw that requires the $103 permits to use trails designated for off-road use. Riding in undesignated areas also carries a $215 fine. Huronia West OPP officers and trail wardens stopped 65 riders in County of Simcoe Forests Sept. 27, with the majority of the trail users in full compliance with regulations. Police remind ATV riders that under provincial laws a helmet, licence plate, registration, insurance and driver's licence are required when operating off-road vehicles on public trails, road allowances and Simcoe County Forests trails. They must be presented to an officer upon demand. Trail permits can be purchased from OFATV and OFTR. For details refer to https://myoftr.ca or call 855-637-6387. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Discovery is joining the increasingly crowded streaming fray with its own reality-focused service Discovery Plus that will include shows from the Food Network, HGTV, TLC and its other networks. It launches Jan 4.The service will cost $5 a month with ads and $7 a month without ads. By comparison, the ad-free Disney Plus costs $7 a month and Netflix' most popular plan costs $14 a month.Each account will include up to five user profiles and support four concurrent streams. Discovery said the service will be available on “major platforms," connected TVs, web, mobile and tablets, but it didn't specify which services would carry it.Discovery CEO David Zaslav first announced the streaming service in late 2019, but did not provide details until now.Discovery has built a reality-TV empire with popular channels that feature reality programming, including the Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery and others. Hit shows have included TLC's “90-Day Fiance," HGTV's “Fixer-Upper" and Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on the Food Network.The service will offer some originals like “90-Day Fiance” spinoff “90-Day Diaries” and “Long Island Medium” spinoff “Long Island Medium: There in Spirit.”Verizon customers will get a year free of the service, similar to the deal that Verizon did when Disney Plus launched in late 2019.Discovery Plus joins a slew of new streaming services started to challenge traditional TV providers and dominant streaming services like Hulu and Netflix over the past year, including Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Comcast’s Peacock service. CBS recently rebranded its CBS All Access service as Paramount Plus, relaunching in 2021.The service will role out in 25 countries in 2021 including Italy, Spain, U.K. and Ireland as well as India.The Associated Press
For paramedics on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis, taking a moment to decompress after a harrowing call before gearing up for the next one can be critical for maintaining mental health.But in the Fraser Health Authority region right now, those breaks are few and far between.The Lower Mainland continues to see the highest transmission of the disease, with more cases of the virus reported in the Fraser Health region — which includes the cities of Surrey, Burnaby, Abbotsford and Coquitlam — than the other four regions combined.As the second wave of the pandemic batters the suburban regions of Metro Vancouver, those scrambling to save lives say it's their colleagues in the trenches, and the promise of a vaccine, that are giving them the strength to carry on."We can see there will be a light at the end of the tunnel," said Dave Leary, spokesperson for Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., on CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday.But right now, Leary said paramedics are not only going to work with the fear of bringing home the virus, they're also dealing with a "never-ending" onslaught of overdose calls due to the concurrent opioid crisis."We don't have the amount of time we need in between calls to decompress," said Leary. "The mental health toll is quite high."Staff, he said, are leaning on one another, and employer stress programs, for support.According to Leary, there is also a current staffing crisis among B.C. paramedics, meaning colleagues are stepping up to cover service gaps for one another and still respond to calls as quickly as possible.And when they do pull up to area hospitals with a patient in need, the scene can be very, very busy.On Nov. 24, Burnaby Hospital, one of the region's busiest, stopped taking most new admissions after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, which came a little more than a week after a Nov. 15 fire in the building.While the fire disruption did not definitively cause further virus spread, it caused stress for hospital staff who had to relocate patients safely on the fly."It is a bit stressed in terms of not only the availability of beds, but also staff availability as well. But we just hold on," said respirologist Susan Kwan.Kwan said given the dire situation in the region right now, and the stress it is causing the public and patients, it is more important than ever for front-line workers to stay positive to reduce fear.Like the paramedics bringing patients to the doors, Kwan said much of the staff on the other side of those doors are turning to one another to keep morale high."We are cautiously proceeding and the staff is still in good spirits overall," said Kwan on The Early Edition on Friday. When hospital employees have been isolated at home because of virus exposure, there has been incredible support from colleagues who check in regularly to offer support and prayer, Kwan told CBC on Monday.By Kwan's last count on Nov. 27, 44 staff members at Burnaby Hospital had tested positive for COVID-19."This is a battle that we are all fighting together," she said. "Without collegial cohesion, it would be much harder."It's not just the custodians, nurses, transporters, doctors, therapists, dietitians and pharmacists where Kwan works that are helping each other out, Kwan says, but also teams at other hospitals in the region.Kwan said after the Nov. 15 fire, staff had to relocate some patients and reduce bed availability. Other hospitals admitted patients Burnaby had no space for, and Kwan says the favour will be repaid if required."If we have any capacity, we will be willing to help," said Kwan.There are now 8,796 people with active COVID-19 cases in B.C. out of 33,894 cases to date. The Fraser Health region has 6,430 of those active cases.The next update of cases is at 3 p.m. PT Wednesday.Tap here to listen to the complete interview with Dave Leary and here to listen to Dr. Susan Kwan on CBC's The Early Edition.
Dental services are resuming in six N.W.T. communities, the territorial government announced on Wednesday. Health facilities in Fort Providence, Sambaa K’e, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, Fort Resolution, and Aklavik have been cleared to once again host visits from private dentists. On Wednesday, the GNWT said facilities in the six communities had met standards and been approved by the chief public health officer. Private dentistry clinics in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik had all kept services open throughout most of the pandemic, but all non-urgent dental travel to smaller communities was suspended by the federal government in March. "The remaining N.W.T. communities that previously received visiting dental services will be able to resume operations when facility upgrades are complete, contracts are in place, and facilities are inspected and meet COVID-19 safety protocols," read a statement from the territorial government. "The necessary assessments and required work are expected to continue throughout 2021-2022. Further updates will be provided as health facilities in additional communities are confirmed to be able to accommodate visiting dentists." In communities where dental services remain unavailable, the federal ageny Indigenous Services Canada will support travel for Non-Insured Health Benefit clients to receive services elsewhere.Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio
THUNDER BAY — Thunder Bay police will begin publishing the names of all drivers charged with impaired driving offences in order to deter individuals from getting behind the wheel impaired as the annual Festive RIDE program officially launched on Wednesday. The number of individuals charged with impaired driving offences have been ‘staggering’ so far this year, according to Thunder Bay Police Const. Mark Cattani with the traffic unit. “We are at a point now where we are essentially running out of options,” Cattani said during a virtual news conference. At the end of last year’s festive RIDE season, police reported a record of 204 individuals charged with impaired driving for the total year. “This was by far the greatest number we had ever seen,” Cattani said. “I am discouraged and unfortunately have to report that we are at 251 impaired drivers at this point without even having started the RIDE program.” Starting Wednesday, Dec. 2, police will begin publishing the names of people who are charged with impaired driving offences in hopes of deterring individuals from driving impaired, a practice that has been in place in several other police forces in Ontario. “There is a very clear need for enforcement,” Cattani said. “We are already beyond so far where we have already been any other year.” The OPP have named alleged drunk divers for years in news releases. During Wednesday’s news conference, police reported in the last 24 hours four individuals had been charged with impaired driving. Two who were drug-impaired and two under the influence of alcohol. “We feel this is probably one of the most effective ways as a supplement to the RIDE program itself to get impaired drivers off the road potentially,” Cattani said. The festive RIDE program runs from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1, 2021.Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source
Homelessness in Hythe and the possibility of establishing a shelter in the village have become hot topics in the wake of this year’s economic downturn. The Village of Hythe is requesting feedback ahead of proposed virtual town hall to discuss the issue. “This is the first time to my knowledge that we’ve really experienced the issue, so we’re looking at options for how to deal with it,” said mayor Brian Peterson. No date has yet been set for a virtual meeting, said Leona Hanson, village chief administrative officer. Peterson said he doesn’t believe homelessness is widespread in Hythe, but it poses a great problem to those directly affected. “It’s a small-scale problem, but with large impacts to individuals,” he said. Peterson said he doesn’t believe the number of homeless residents exceeds a half dozen. There is a combination of causes of local housing instability; COVID, falling oil prices and their impact on the economy, he said. The former 7 Lakes Motel near Tags had provided long-term housing for many people and its closure earlier this year has contributed to the issue. Some of the former residents have found other accommodations, but others haven’t, Peterson said. Though rumours have been circulating on social media that the former motel will be re-purposed as a homeless shelter, nothing concrete has been received by the village, said Peterson. A number of concerned citizens have begun discussing how to address homelessness in Hythe, and the idea of re-purposing the motel has been suggested, he said. The group isn’t yet well-established and it hasn’t yet proposed a plan, Peterson said. If the former motel were to be converted into a shelter the village would need to approve that re-purposing through a development permit process, he said. Village CAO Hanson is working on a potential virtual town hall before a plan is advanced, Peterson said, adding the village isn’t considering funding a facility because it lacks the resources. Peterson said there’ve been no applications for a development permit yet, but the process has typically taken months. Homelessness is an urgent issue, but he said the process needs to ensure a good plan for a shelter is in place. “You need to do it right, and ask, ‘Is it the right place?’” Peterson said. “The shelter is a basic concept, but I need a lot more information than that.” He said he’s heard concerns from residents about having a shelter in the community, including whether the village can handle issues often associated with homelessness, mental health and addictions. “Those are valid concerns, and how do you deal with that and what resources are available?” Peterson said. “We certainly don’t have those resources available here today.” That said, some Hythe residents are already struggling with housing instability and mental health or addictions and Peterson said he’s not aware of anyone moving to Hythe to use the shelter. Other residents have expressed concerns about the rising crime they perceive would come with a shelter. Peterson said RCMP response times in Hythe are already an issue. “Adding extra stress to the system is not a good thing,” he said. Before the town hall, feedback is being accepted at 780-356-3888 or email@example.com and residents can also express interest in attending the meeting by using that email address.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News