Kimberley, B.C. received more than 30 cm of snow overnight.
Kimberley, B.C. received more than 30 cm of snow overnight.
In announcing a planned phone call on Friday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the White House's intended message was clear: Traditional allies are back in favour while despots, dictators and the killers of dissenters are on the outs. The way press secretary Jen Psaki announced the scheduled call with Trudeau was revealing, as it came in response to a question that had nothing at all to do with Canada's prime minister. She was asked about Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she was asked when Biden would speak with the Russian leader. Psaki replied that it wasn't an immediate priority. "[Biden's] first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau," she said. "I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it's important to rebuild those relationships." U.S. plans to investigate Russia Psaki elaborated on Putin in a separate news conference where she described Russia as "reckless" and "adversarial." She said Biden has tasked the intelligence community with reporting on a variety of alleged Russian transgressions: cyberattacks on U.S. companies, interference in U.S. politics, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Russian-paid bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Yet the goal of rebalancing relationships away from rivals toward like-minded countries has been tested already. Some Canadians, notably Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, want trade retaliation against the U.S. following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of the new administration. The decision undermines Canada's No. 1 export to the United States: oil. WATCH | The National's report on Keystone XL: Biden's foreign policy ambitions will keep being tested as international relationships undergo unwieldy twists on any given issue due to practical and political considerations. Here is what we already know about the Biden administration's approach to other countries after its first couple of days in office. The moves so far The administration will release a report on suspected Saudi government involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue the last administration showed little interest in pursuing. It is also threatening to cancel support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It is willing to consider new NATO expansion on Russia's doorstep, into Georgia, and in fact is staunchly supportive of the international military alliance. And Biden has rejoined previous alliances the U.S. was either scheduled to exit (the World Health Organization) or had already left (the Paris climate accord). These activities are intended to signal a dramatic change in foreign policy from Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, who frequently bashed the leaders of democracies and international institutions while simultaneously cultivating friendly relationships with non-democratic leaders in the Middle East, Russia and North Korea. There will be contradictions in Biden's approach — as there were in Trump's. For example, while Trump often had kind words for dictators, he also sanctioned their countries on occasion, including Russia and China. Also, don't count on an ambitious foreign policy from Biden. Early on, the new administration will be busy juggling domestic crises, said Edward Alden, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations. "I think we are going to see an approach to alliances that looks a lot like [Barack] Obama's — engaged, respectful, but not overly ambitious," said Alden, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "The United States has enormous problems at home, and those are going to take priority for some time." Alden said he does expect some new international initiatives, such as more active co-operation on global vaccine distribution. Biden wants changes on Canada-U.S. pandemic travel On COVID-19, Biden also wants to immediately connect with Canada and Mexico to establish new rules within 14 days for pandemic-related travel safety measures. Alden also expects an attempt to rework and revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and establish greater co-ordination with other countries in confronting China. For example, Biden has proposed a summit of democracies where countries can share ideas for countering autocracies. Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing this week that the last administration had a point in reorienting policy toward Beijing. "President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," Blinken said. "The basic principle was the right one, and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy." He got into a testy exchange at that hearing with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican who favours a hands-off approach on foreign affairs. When Blinken said he was open to expanding NATO membership to Russia's neighbour Georgia, Paul called that a recipe for war with Russia. Blinken argued the opposite is true. After years of Russian incursions in non-NATO Georgia and Ukraine, recent evidence suggests Russia is most belligerent with countries outside NATO's shield, he said. Keystone XL: The early irritant Biden and Trudeau are expected to discuss new travel measures to control the spread of COVID-19, as well as Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would run south from Alberta to Nebraska. So far, Trudeau has shown little desire to escalate the pipeline issue. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the other hand, has demanded retaliatory action, and some trade experts say potential legal avenues do exist. WATCH | Kenny on the fate of Keystone XL: But they're skeptical they will achieve much. Eric Miller of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a cross-border consulting firm specializing in trade and government affairs, said the best that pipeline-backers can hope for is to sue the U.S. government for financial compensation for the cancelled project. He said the Alberta government and the project's developer, TC Energy, can try suing under the investor-state dispute chapter in the old NAFTA, which will remain in effect for two more years for existing investments. "[But] nothing is going to force the Biden administration to deliver the permit," Miller said. "One has to be clear that there is no world in which Joe Biden [retreats on this]." Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doubts complaints from Canada will make a difference. He said the most politically effective argument for the pipeline would come from Americans — from the companies and unions that would have serviced the project. The Ohio-based lawyer said challenges under U.S. laws, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, could potentially work, but he cautioned: "They're high hurdles."
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is easing some of its COVID-19 restrictions in southern and central areas as case numbers continue to slowly drop. Starting Saturday, non-essential retail stores will be allowed to reopen at 25 per cent capacity. Since November, they have been limited to delivery or curbside pickup service. Hair salons, barber shops and some personal health services such as reflexology can restart as well. A ban on social visits inside private homes is being eased. Households will be allowed to designate two people who will be allowed to visit indoors. Up to five people can visit outdoors. "Our collective progress in reducing the spread of COVID means we can undertake these very careful, very cautious reopenings at this point," Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said Thursday. The changes will last three weeks, at which time more openings could be considered, Roussin said. The changes are not being made in the northern health region, where outbreaks in isolated communities have caused a spike in case numbers in recent weeks. Health officials reported 196 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday and five more deaths. More than half the new cases were northern residents. The Retail Council of Canada welcomed the news that some restrictions would be eased. "We're relieved by today's announcement that follows over two months of very severe restrictions that have left retailers limping along using curbside delivery where possible," council spokesman John Graham said. While non-essential stores can reopen, some other businesses, including gyms, bars and nail salons, must remain closed. Restaurants will continue to be limited to takeout and delivery. With the demand for intensive care unit beds still running above pre-pandemic capacity, Roussin said special care must be taken when it comes to places where people gather. "Venues that have prolonged, indoor contact — crowded places, enclosed spaces — those are where a lot of the risk (of virus transmission) lies," Roussin said. Premier Brian Pallister has left the door open to providing more supports for businesses as the closures and capacity limits continue, although did not provide specifics. Pallister said he is trusting Manitobans to follow the rules, and made special mention of household visits. "We don't have enough enforcement people to check every household," Pallister said. "We're asking you to follow the rules because that's how we'll keep each other safe." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Sir Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best. While the discovery of insulin has saved the lives of millions of people afflicted with diabetes, it is not a cure. Diabetes continues to take the lives of Canadi-ans and the rate of dia-betes is alarming. One in three Canadians are living with, or are at risk of developing diabetes. Currently, youth around 20 years-old have a 50 per cent chance of being diagnose with Type 2 dia-betes in their lifetime. The current COVID-19 pandemic is hindering care for some people with diabetes and placing people with the disease at three-times higher risk of dying from the virus if contracted. Diabetes Canada is launching a new fund-raising and awareness campaign called, “We Can’t Wait Another 100 Years to End Diabetes.”“ The discovery of insu-lin in Canada ranks among the leading achievements of medical research,” said Laura Syron, President and CEO of Diabetes Canada. “Although insulin has enabled an incredible change in life expectancy and quality of life for millions of people around the world, it isn’t a cure. It is a treatment. More than ever, the millions of Canadians with or at risk of diabetes need our support. We can’t wait another 100 years and we hope Canadians will support us and help to end diabetes.” Beginning in January 2021, the year long campaign will recognize the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize-winning scientific achievement by Sir Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and fellow scientists and co-discoveres of insulin, JJR Macleod and James Collip. While celebrating the milestone, the campaign aims to remind Canadians about the serious and sometimes deadly consequences of the disease which can lead to other chronic illnesses includ-ing blindness, heart attack and stroke, amputation and kidney failure. Through the campaign, Diabetes Canada will engage in a national conversation about the disease. Although this is the anniversary of an incredible discovery, Diabetes Canada says “insulin is not enough. It is the starting line, not the finish line for diabetes.” New Tecumseth has a special connection to Sir Frederick Banting. He was born on a farm in Alliston in 1891 and attended high school in the Town before leaving to attend school at the University of Toronto.T he Banting Homestead Heritage Park preserves this historic site. Diabetes Canada was started by Charles Best in 1940, and is dedicated to supporting people living with diabetes. None Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
If you are planning to go for a skate on the outdoor rink in Tottenham, plan on waiting in line. Because of the new situation with lockdown across the province, the Town has had to make adjustments to its facilities. This includes the number of people allowed to gather at both indoor and outdoor facilities and during outdoor activities. As a result, the outdoor ice pad at the Tottenham Com-munity & Fitness Centre has changed the allowable number of people on the ice at one time, as well as the length of time individual skate can stay on the ice. The ice pad will remain open for skating only. A maximum of five skaters will be allowed on the rink at any given time and masks must be worn at all times when on the ice. A time limit of 30 minutes will be in place for each skater, rather than the previous 55 minutes, to allow access for more people. There was a plan to create outdoor ice rinks at the Fairgrounds in Beeton and at Doner Park in Alliston. However, the weather has not provided the proper temperatures to start flooding, and with new public directives regarding the number of people allowed to gather, and the effort to have people stay home, it was decided to pause any effort to create those rinks. In addition, the indoor ice surfaces at the New Tecums-eth Recreation Centre and the Tottenham Community Centre will be removed to reduce the costs associated with maintaining an ice surface that can’t be used. Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
A regional chief from the Assembly of First Nations says the practice of birth alerts may result in court action. “I have not out-ruled bringing forward a class action for all birth alerts that have been put in place, for the atrocities and the separation between mothers and children unnecessarily in the past,” said Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart. Hart was speaking at the AFN’S virtual gathering Jan. 19 to discuss An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. That Act came into law Jan. 1, 2020. Section 14 of the Act ends the practise of birth alerts. It states, in part, “To the extent that providing a prenatal service that promotes preventive care is consistent with what will likely be in the best interests of an Indigenous child after he or she is born, the provision of that service is to be given priority over other services in order to prevent the apprehension of the child at the time of the child’s birth.” Birth alerts, according to the Manitoba Department of Children and Families, “are used as a mechanism to notify hospitals and other child and family services (CFS) agencies of the need for further assessment before a newborn is discharged to the care of a parent who has been assessed as ‘high risk’. Under this practice, a CFS agency issues the birth alert and Manitoba Families is responsible for the distribution of the alert.” Manitoba stopped issuing birth alerts as of July 1, 2020, six months after the federal Act came into force, announcing the practise would be “replaced with preventative and community-based supports for families.” For Ontario, the call came even later. The Ontario Ministry of Children and Women’s Issues made the announcement on July 14, 2020 that it would eliminate the birth alerts effective Oct. 15, 2020. “It has been reported the practice of birth alerts disproportionately affects racialized and marginalized mothers and families,” the Ontario government said in a news release. Ending the use of birth alerts was a recommendation from both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the legacy of Indian residential schools, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “The birth alerts, in my respectful view as a law professor and someone who has worked in this field for a long time as a lawyer, they have never been legal in terms of taking your private information and pasting it into an entire healthcare system,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who also spoke at the AFN virtual conference. She called birth alerts “one of the most traumatic, toxic, harmful experiences” a mother could have with her newborn baby ripped away from her. Turpel-Lafond pointed out that that experience with the healthcare system followed the mother, who often times was reluctant to seek health care and when she did she experienced discrimination because the birth alert was on her file. “I do see for … Indigenous women, even by the time they’re grandparents, their kids have (been) brought up, they still feel they cannot access needed health care and they are treated disrespectfully in the health care system. That is discrimination, the stain of discrimination,” she said. Turpel-Lafond said she is aware of some provinces and territories claiming they are phasing out birth alerts, but have not as of yet, which she called “unconscionable.” Indiginews reported on Jan. 15 that British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon officially cancelled the practice of birth alerts in 2019, but Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Quebec continue the practice of birth alerts. Neither Hart nor Turpel-Lafond offered any suggestions for remedies should a class action go ahead. However, Turpel-Lafond said there has to be consequences “because harm has been done.” Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
Premier François Legault says if the federal government doesn't want to ban non-essential flights then it should force those returning home from vacation to quarantine in a hotel, at their own expense, for two weeks. At a news conference Thursday, Legault said cracking down on travel abroad will help reduce the possibility of bringing new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus back to the province from resorts where people congregate from all over the world. The current system of checking up on people with automated calls simply isn't enough, he said, raising concern March break will lead to another surge in cases. "Right now, the quarantine for these people is not a big enough guarantee for the protection of Quebecers," the premier said. Legault said hotel quarantining worked in New Zealand and could be effective here. He said there is plenty of room in hotels, and that the RCMP or Quebec provincial police could help enforce the quarantine. The daily number of infections has been on the decline in Quebec for the past 10 days, though Legault said it's too early to lift restrictions, given that hospitalizations remain high, at just under 1,500. Legault is scheduled to speak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later Thursday. Earlier this week, Trudeau urged Canadians travelling for pleasure to cancel their plans but said there are limits to what Ottawa can do to stop them, given constitutional guarantees on the freedom of movement. "Our measures have been very strong, but we're always open to strengthening them as necessary," Trudeau said, when asked if the government would consider a ban on international travel. "We're always looking at various measures as they are effective elsewhere in the world."
WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House easily passed legislation required to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as President Joe Biden’s secretary of defence, brushing aside concerns that his retirement occurred inside the seven-year window that safeguards civilian leadership of the military. Thursday's 326-78 vote would grant a waiver that would exempt Austin from the seven-year rule. All signs point to quick action in the Senate after that, putting Austin on track to be confirmed as secretary by week's end. Austin, a 41-year veteran of the Army, has promised to surround himself with qualified civilians and include them in policy decisions. He said he has spent nearly his entire life committed to the principle of civilian control over the military. While the waiver is expected to be approved, the vote puts some Democrats in a position to look like they've flip-flopped. Many of them opposed a similar waiver in 2017 for Jim Mattis, former President Donald Trump's first secretary of defence. Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, said he understands why some have questioned the wisdom of putting a recently retired general in charge of the Defence Department. Much of his focus this week, including in his remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, has been on persuading members of Congress that although he has been out of uniform for less than five years, he sees himself as a civilian, not a general. Some aspects of his policy priorities are less clear. He emphasized on Tuesday that he will follow Biden’s lead in giving renewed attention to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. “I will quickly review the department’s contributions to coronavirus relief efforts, ensuring we are doing everything we can — and then some — to help distribute vaccines across the country and to vaccinate our troops and preserve readiness,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under questioning by senators, Austin pledged to address white supremacy and violent extremism in the ranks of the military — problems that received relatively little public attention from his immediate predecessor, Mark Esper. Austin promised to “rid our ranks of racists,” and said he takes the problem personally. “The Defence Department’s job is to keep America safe from our enemies,” he said. “But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.” Austin said he will insist that the leaders of every military service know that extremist behaviour in their ranks is unacceptable. “This is not something we can be passive on,” he said. “This is something I think we have to be active on, and we have to lean into it and make sure that we’re doing the right things to create the right climate.” He offered glimpses of other policy priorities, indicating that he embraces the view among many in Congress that China is the “pacing challenge,” or the leading national security problem for the U.S. The Middle East was the main focus for Austin during much of his 41-year Army career, particularly when he reached senior officer ranks. He served several tours of duty as a commander in Iraq, including as the top commander in 2010-11. An aspect of the defence secretary’s job that is unfamiliar to most who take the job is the far-flung and complex network of nuclear forces that are central to U.S. defence strategy. As a career Army officer, Austin had little reason to learn the intricacies of nuclear policy, since the Army has no nuclear weapons. He told his confirmation hearing that he would bone up on this topic before committing to any change in the nuclear policies set by the Trump administration, including its pursuit of nuclear modernization. Austin, a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in 2012 as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army. A year later he assumed command of Central Command, where he fashioned and began implementing a strategy for rolling back the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He describes himself as the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia, who will speak his mind to Congress and to Biden. Robert Burns And Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press
The elephants are counted using a computer algorithm trained to identify the creatures against a variety of backdrops.View on euronews
A doctor at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax says pregnant women should talk with their doctors and weigh the risks of getting the COVID-19 vaccine given the lack of data available right now. Pregnant women were excluded from initial clinical trials for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which means there's no information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for them. Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, said there's no blanket recommendation telling Canadian women who are pregnant or breastfeeding not to get immunized, but "theoretical risks" should be considered. "It's really a case-by-case basis, individual decision of that risk," he told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday. "If somebody is not seen coming into contact with people with COVID-19 and they're pregnant, they might be able to afford to wait several months and get the vaccine as soon as they deliver." Women working on the front lines of the pandemic may have different considerations, he added. "If somebody is in a position where they are much more likely to be exposed, then that individual risk might be more from the COVID-19 and a woman might choose to get the vaccine during pregnancy, and we're seeing both of those situations and both of those different types of decisions," Halperin said. Early research released in December from the University of British Columbia shows that pregnant women are at higher risk of being hospitalized if they do get the virus compared to non-pregnant women in the same age group. Researchers cautioned that their study is preliminary and only included data from cases in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. Data could be available later this year Halperin said at this point there are no red flags that the COVID vaccines themselves are harmful to a mother and baby. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which provides advice to the federal government, recommends that approved COVID-19 vaccines may be provided to people excluded from clinical trials, "if a risk assessment deems that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks for the individual." "The biggest risk is if somebody, a woman, had a fever with the vaccine, which you can get and if it were a high fever, fever itself can be harmful, not all the time, but occasionally to the fetus, so it's that type of risk that we're looking at," Halperin said. That could be a small risk compared to the risk of getting COVID-19, he added. Halperin estimates it could still be six to eight months before data about how pregnant and breastfeeding women respond to the vaccine is available. "There are women who are getting the vaccine and we'll be collecting data from women who do receive the vaccine in order to see how they respond to the vaccine and to ensure that it is safe," he said. Halperin advises women trying to get pregnant to take a similar approach and weigh the risks. "If one gets the vaccine, one should wait about a month or six weeks before getting pregnant … even theoretically there wouldn't be lasting risks so one doesn't have to not get pregnant for a year, just for a matter of weeks." He said at one time pregnant women weren't involved in clinical trials at all over concerns about harming the fetus. "That's no longer considered to be ethically sound because we need to use vaccines in pregnant women, and therefore we need to get data from clinical trials from pregnant women, but they're still excluded from the initial studies," Halperin said. Studies involving pregnant women and children are only done once the vaccines are deemed safe for the general public, he said. More vaccines on the horizon People who are immunocompromised also weren't part of the initial clinical trials for the vaccines, and Halperin said it's a good idea for them to talk with their health-care providers about the risks of getting immunized. "Right now, there are very few exclusions to getting vaccinated," he said. "People who have had anaphylactic reactions to vaccines in the past … should take care with immunizing." Halperin said more vaccines will be available to Nova Scotians in the months ahead. The U.K. was the first country to approve the new AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and Halperin expects Canada won't be far behind. "Hopefully within a month or so, we'll have maybe four vaccines and further ones a couple of months beyond that." MORE TOP STORIES
Muskoka Climate change co-ordinator Kevin Boyle said the district’s goal of reducing its corporate and community emissions by 50 per cent in the next 10 years was no certainty. Boyle spoke to an audience of 37 at the Environment Haliburton! (EH) enviro-café Jan. 12 to discuss “A New Leaf: Muskoka’s Climate Strategy” and its creation. The strategy’s goal is significantly greater than Haliburton County’s corporate plan to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent from 2018 levels by 2030. Boyle doubted the goal would have been reached without the advocacy efforts of Climate Action Muskoka (CAM), who demanded it. “You see them every Friday on the corner. That momentum really builds,” Boyle said. “While that is an ambitious target, that shouldn’t be seen as an ambitious target. That is what the science tells us we should do. That should be seen as the baseline.” Boyle highlighted the years of effort that went into building the climate strategy passed Dec. 21, which also includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050. He said action is needed to address climate change and took pride in Muskoka’s efforts. “I am very happy despite how confusing the process was - and it was - where we got to and how much support the council has for it and how much support the community has for it,” Boyle said. “It brings strong policy leadership and firm targets which put climate action at the forefront of all decision-making,” CAM spokesperson Melinda Zytaruk said in a press release. The County of Haliburton passed its corporate climate change mitigation plan in September. The County is still working on adaptation and community plans. Boyle complimented the County for getting all its lower-tier townships on board with the overarching plan but said he could not celebrate if Muskoka went for a lower target, given scientific consensus about the need for greater reductions. “I would rather fail at meeting 50 per cent but try, rather than set something lower. In saying that, I’m not criticizing other governments that haven’t set that target. Maybe they could set that target and blow beyond it,” Boyle said. Canada’s formal goal is to reach a 30 per cent reduction of 2005 levels by 2030, though the federal government has said it will exceed that. Ontario’s climate action plan aims to reduce its emissions by 37 per cent by 2030 from 1990 levels. Boyle said Muskoka's goal will require community buy-in, given 98 per cent of the district’s emissions are from community-based sources. “You need buy-in from everybody. So, you really want everyone at the table when you’re developing those reduction strategies,” he said. EH! vice-president Terry Moore said the presentation had takeaways for the organization for when the County begins its community planning. “It’s a lot of encouragement,” Moore said. “Some really good ideas and lessons for us.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
For 17-year-old Ethan Turpin, a high school student and aspiring welder, co-op has been a pandemic saving grace. “He came home with a sense of confidence, of achievement, and things that he wouldn't be able to get anywhere else because he's not allowed to go anywhere,” said Linda Stenhouse, his grandmother. Ethan is enrolled in a co-operative education program at Waterdown District High School, completing his placement at Flamboro Technical Services, a fabrication and millwrighting company. Stenhouse said he has been invited back for another term. “He went from failing grades and ended up being an honour student,” she said. “We likened it to the fact that he was in the co-op program.” The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) says about half of its students are able to continue with co-op placements — both in person and virtual — amid a provincewide stay-at-home order announced by the Ontario government on Jan. 12. The board has been offering in-person co-op placements since Oct. 21, “after a pause to ensure that student safety was considered, and appropriate protocols were in place,” HWDSB spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator. In cases where an in-person placement is not possible, staff will determine whether or not the student can continue virtually or present “alternate learning opportunities” in order to meet curriculum expectations. “There are some community placements that have been unable to place a student given the recent provincial state of emergency stay-at-home order,” he said. “Horse-crazy” Meghan Wahl said she found out last week she would not be going back to her placement at Halton Equine Veterinary Services, where she cleaned stalls, filled water buckets and observed procedures. “That was kind of hard because Meg had to say bye to everyone, like, then,” her mother, Nicolle Wahl, said. Meghan was given the “green light” to begin a co-op placement at the horse vet in October. “It was the vet part, the technical, hands-on seeing treatments and stuff, that was really interesting,” she said. Her mother said masking and physical distancing — where possible — were required at the vet clinic. “The fact that it was in a medical setting was the reason why both my husband and I felt comfortable with sending Meg,” she said. “That definitely made us feel reassured that she was in a safe environment.” Abbie Boyko’s son, a grade 12 student with the HWDSB, landed a part-time job at his co-op placement, the auto department at the Canadian Tire on Barton Street, before his placement ended when the province further tightened restrictions. “It's very disappointing because it's a great opportunity for students,” Boyko said. “He's just lucky that he did well in his co-op that they've hired him on.” She said co-op is valuable for high school students, particularly those who are graduating. “Not every child is going to go on to college or university, they're going to be out in the (workforce),” she said. Students in the Catholic board, which paused in-person co-ops after winter break to “do some consulting,” were offered the option to go back to in-person placements last week after feedback from co-op teachers. “They felt it was very important to continue with that provision, should the parents and the students still want it,” said Sandie Pizzuti, superintendent of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB). The board has added more requirements, including face shields, a revised consent form, repeated COVID-19 training and additional workplace evaluation. The board expects to have approximately 730 students in co-op this school year — about two-thirds of last year’s enrolment. Pizzuti said she understands the concerns some families may have over the decision to return to in-person placements. “But what we needed to do was listen to what our co-op teachers were telling us based on student voice and student input," she said. “And we felt that for those who really wanted to get back to their workplace — and in the case where we felt their workplace was very, very safe — that we would still provide the opportunity because we want them to have a very meaningful, relevant experience.” Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
CASPER, Wyo. — The U.S. government has approved routes for a system of pipelines that would move carbon dioxide across Wyoming in what could be by far the largest such network in North America, if it is developed. The greenhouse gas would be captured from coal-fired power plants, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it causes global warming. The captured gas would instead be pumped underground to add pressure to and boost production from oil fields. In all, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management designated 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres) of federal land for pipeline development through the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the plans last Friday, days before leaving office with the rest of President Donald Trump's administration. The approval allows companies to begin submitting pipeline construction proposals. Wyoming officials including Republican Gov. Mark Gordon have promoted carbon capture as a way to boost the state's struggling coal mining industry. Utilities nationwide have been turning away from coal-fired electricity in favour of cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewable energy. “The ability to have a CO2 delivery system, as made possible by the pipeline corridor initiative, helps make CO2 commercially viable,” Gordon said in a statement Wednesday. Whether a large system of carbon capture for oil production is technically and economically feasible remains to be seen. One of two such systems in North America, the Petra Nova facility in Texas, has been offline since global oil prices plummeted last year. The Petra Nova system moves carbon dioxide 80 miles (130 kilometres) from a power plant to an oil field in southeastern Texas. In southeastern Saskatchewan, Canada, near the U.S. border, the Boundary Dam carbon dioxide system connects a power plant with an oil field 40 miles (65 kilometres) away. Energy markets drive development of carbon capture projects for oil development, said Matt Fry, state of Wyoming project manager for the pipeline initiative. “We’re just helping to incentivize and provide some sort of a bridge for folks to help them move forward. Hopefully, this and future federal incentives will help get the ball rolling, and we’ll get some projects on the ground,” Fry said. Environmental groups including the Western Watersheds Project have criticized the pipeline corridor plan, saying the pipelines would cross habitat of sage grouse — brown, chicken-sized birds that spend most of their time on the ground. Sage grouse numbers have dwindled substantially over the past century and much of their habitat in Wyoming carries development restrictions. The Associated Press
“If I ever got a chance to speak to the Biden administration, I would plead my case,” said Nekaneet First Nation Chief Alvin Francis, president of Natural Law Energy (NLE). That “case” would be the value in continuing the United States’ portion of the 1,897-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline which travels from Hardisty, Alberta, through Saskatchewan, Montana and South Dakota, ending in Steele City, Nebraska. Yesterday, in his first day in office, new U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order rescinding his predecessor Donald Trump’s Presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline border crossing. NLE, a group of three Alberta and two Saskatchewan First Nations, has been working towards a $1 billion investment in the TC Energy-owned Keystone XL pipeline. “It's a disappointment, right? It really is because it's going to affect many First Nations, even the tribes in the United States. It's going to affect them because TC Energy was almost close to actually signing up joint venture partnerships with those in the United States side,” said Francis. He says chairmen of the Nebraska tribes have told him that Biden wants to create jobs and this pipeline meets that goal. First Nations involvement was recognized by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a scathing address late Wednesday afternoon that condemned the new U.S. administration for rescinding the permit and not respecting its closest ally and trading partner. “Let me also point out that TC Energy has made tremendous progress in bringing on board First Nations on both sides of the border as potential equity partners,” said Kenney. However, not all U.S. tribes support the pipeline. The Native Organizers Alliance applauded Biden for his decision. “Farmers, tribal councils, ranchers, and Native non-profit organizations have been instrumental in raising awareness around the significant threats to the health and resources of Native peoples living in the path of the pipeline. And sovereign tribes have taken the issue to court to protect their territories and the Missouri River bioregion for all,” said NOA executive director Judith Le Blanc. Earlier Wednesday, in anticipation of President Biden’s decision, Calgary-based TC Energy shutdown its operation. Kenney said that shutdown had cost 2,000 people their jobs. Francis admits Biden’s actions were not unexpected. In fact, the too-close-to-call November U.S. election had dampened some of the activity undertaken by NLE. Late last year, NLE hired consultants Price Waterhouse Canada to round up investors for the $1 billion investment. Investors were found but nothing was finalized. “(Price Waterhouse has) done their job on that. But really it was, of course, the election. That's what they were waiting for also,” said Francis. Also of note were preliminary talks with the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation. The Crown corporation created by the Alberta United Conservative Party government offers loan guarantees from $25 million to $250 million for Indigenous-led natural resource projects. “Say the project and partnership was at the point they were ready to paper the deal, we would not be in a position to offer a guarantee at this time, because there is a huge risk in respect to the way the American election may go. We don’t want to put Alberta taxpayer dollars at risk,” AIOC CEO Alicia Dubois told Windspeaker.com last October. Trump’s approval of Keystone XL came after outgoing President Barack Obama nixed the project. Biden had promised to cancel the project should he win. The Kenney government has invested $1.5 billion of taxpayer money in the Keystone XL pipeline. The Biden administration is saying no to the project now, says Francis, but he is a “glass is half-full” person. He believes Biden’s decision is political as the new president is “getting away from everything Trump has put his stamp on.” “I'm not going to give up on it because, really, Keystone XL is going to be the safest, most environmentally-friendly pipeline that is. We just have to go back to the drawing table and really re-evaluate what have we got to do to make it even more environmentally friendly?” said Francis. He believes that part of that discussion with the Biden administration has to include the science around the pipeline that makes it environmentally safe and the ongoing need for oil. Francis is hopeful there is a future for Keystone because “it really is such a big project that it could mean, in every community that we have signed up, it'll make an economic difference.” In the meantime, Francis says NLE remains involved with TC Energy. “Whenever there is something, a project that is available, if they are going to approach us to see if we have interest and, of course, we're going to show interest, because any economic development or project that we can actually put our hand on to make it more green, more environmentally friendly, we want to be there to back it up,” he said. While Keystone XL pipeline is a set back for Nekaneet First Nation, it is not the only project driving the economics for that Treaty 4 Nation. “I’m always involved with the province (of Saskatchewan). I’m always talking to them in every which way,” he said. Francis said he has received band member approval to develop a section of land along a 1.5 km-stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. He says investors are committed to a gas station in that area and there are talks about a possible Tim Hortons franchise. However, since COVID-19 hit, development has stalled. NLE members also include Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan and three Alberta First Nations: Ermineskin Cree, Montana, and Louis Bull Tribe. Each member was to share equally in the benefits from the Keystone XL pipeline project. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
If you have been shopping for a new or used car over the past few months, you prob-ably noticed that local dealerships are starting to look a little bare as their lots don’t have the same amount of inventory they had a year ago. A check with one dealership noted that they usually have around 150 units on the lot but had been reduced to around 20 .It is a two-fold problem. During a visit to a prominent dealer in the Orangeville area, it was explained that dealerships are having trouble getting new vehicles delivered to their lots. Disruptions in trans-portation due to the current pandemic means dealerships can’t get the inventory they need. On top of that, the recent province-wide lockdown has seen a drop in sales as custom-ers aren’t as willing to make appointments to visit a dealership. One sales person said, “It happened almost overnight. People just stopped coming in.” The shortage of vehicles has also impacted the used car market. With fewer people trad-ing in their old cars, there isn’t a lot of inven-tory on the pre-owned side of the dealership lots. “Used cars are going fast,” one salesperson said. “There’s not a lot of vehicles coming in. When we get a nice one it won’t be here long.” The latest concern in the auto industry is a shortage of parts that is causing delays in pro-duction. The parts shortage has affected pretty much every auto manufacture, not only in North America but around the world. In Brampton, the Chrysler plant has already seen temporary layoffs and also suspended operations at its plant in Mexico. The Alliston Honda plant has announced it will stop production on one of its lines during the week for January 25. The problem is a shortage of semiconductor microchips.After a slow down in production earlier in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, semiconductor manufacturers allocated more capacity to meet the soaring demand from consumer-electronics makers. Microchip makers favour consumer-electronics customers because their orders are larger than those of automakers. The annual smartphone market alone is more than 1 billion devices compared to fewer than 100 million for cars. The pandemic has resulted in an increase in sales in phones, game consoles, smart TVs and laptops, as people are spending more time at home. New cars are using more and more micro-chips in their vehicles to handle everything from navigation systems to traction control.Industry experts say the situation will most likely turn around in the next three months. Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
NEW YORK — A New York judge on Thursday denied the National Rifle Association’s bid to throw out a state lawsuit that seeks to put the powerful gun advocacy group out of business. Judge Joel Cohen’s ruling will allow New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit to move ahead in state court in Manhattan, rather than dismissing it on technical grounds or moving it to federal court, as the NRA’s lawyers desired. James’ lawsuit, filed last August, seeks the NRA’s dissolution under state non-profit law over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for trips, no-show contracts and other expenditures. James is the state’s chief law enforcement officer and has regulatory power over non-profit organizations incorporated in the state, such as the NRA, Cohen said. “It would be inappropriate to find that the attorney couldn’t pursue her claims in state court just because one of the defendants wants to proceed in federal court,” Cohen said at a hearing held by video because of the coronavirus pandemic. Cohen also rejected the NRA’s arguments that James’ lawsuit was improperly filed in Manhattan and should’ve been filed in Albany, where the NRA’s incorporation paperwork lists an address. The NRA’s arguments for dismissing the case did not involve the merits of the case. The NRA has been incorporated in New York since 1871, though it is headquartered in Virginia and last week filed for bankruptcy protection in Texas in a bid to reincorporate in that state. The NRA, in announcing its bankruptcy filing last Friday, said it wanted to break free of a “corrupt political and regulatory environment in New York” and that it saw Texas as friendlier to its interests. The NRA’s lawyers said at a bankruptcy court hearing on Wednesday in Dallas that they wouldn’t use the Chapter 11 proceedings to halt the lawsuit. After Thursday’s ruling, they said they were ready to go ahead with the case, including a meeting with lawyers from James’ office on Friday and another hearing in March. In a letter to Cohen in advance of Thursday’s heading, NRA lawyer Sarah Rogers said the organization had no position on seeking to stay the case through bankruptcy, but that it reserved right to seek such orders from bankruptcy court in the future. Normally, a bankruptcy filing would halt all pending litigation. James’ office contends that its lawsuit is covered by an exemption involving a state’s regulatory powers and cannot be stopped by bankruptcy. Assistant New York Attorney General James Sheehan said he hoped to bring the case to trial by early 2022. In seeking to dismiss or move the state’s lawsuit to federal court, Rogers argued that many of its misspending and self-dealing allegations were also contained in pending lawsuits in federal court — a slate of cases she described as a “tangled nest of litigation.” Part of Rogers’ argument for moving the state lawsuit to federal court involved an error in the state’s original filing that she said altered the timeline of when it was filed. James’s office filed its lawsuit on Aug. 6, but later had to amend the complaint to include a part that was left. That same day, the NRA filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging James’ actions were motivated by hostility toward its political advocacy, including her comments in 2018 that the NRA is a “terrorist organization.” Rogers contended that because of the filing glitch James’ lawsuit should be considered a counterclaim to the NRA’s lawsuit and handled alongside of it in federal court. Cohen rejected that, saying Rogers was placing “far too much weight on a non-substantive error that was quickly fixed.” “The attorney general filed first,” he said. ___ Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press
Highlands East council voted to move ahead with drafting an exotic animal bylaw to address the possibility of them in the municipality. Bylaw enforcement officer, Kristen Boylan, brought the idea forward Jan. 19. She said it was a response to a recent controversy in the neighbouring Hastings Highlands, where the municipality lacked such a law to address a family bringing in a collection of lions and tigers to create a roadside safari experience. Boylan said Ontario is the only Canadian province without exotic animals legislation. About half of Ontario municipalities have rules on them, but none within the County. She said with the dog bylaw due for an update, she decided they should address the matter. “If we do not have a bylaw, there’s nothing to stop anyone from bringing in say, lion cubs, bears, pythons,” Boylan said. “No way of having any enforcement should we receive any complaints.” Boylan also offered an option to have a unified bylaw including dogs and exotic pets, but deputy mayor Cec Ryall said it would make more sense to separate them. “In the case of dogs, it’s pretty well defined,” Ryall said, noting the distinction between exotic and other unregulated animals such as domestic cats. “We’re going to licence exotic animals, but we’re not going to licence cats.” As an example, Boylan cited a 2019 Huntsville bylaw, which she said reduced complaints there. Coun. Suzanne Partridge said she is in favour of prohibiting exotic pets but added she did not want to do so for dog hybrids, which are illegal in Huntsville. “My last dog who just died in June was a hybrid and I wouldn’t have been allowed to have her and it was a sweetheart,” she said, adding it can be difficult to determine a hybrid without DNA testing. “It can’t just be the judgement of the bylaw control officer.” Boylan replied she could research and bring forward information on hybrids. Coun. Cam McKenzie said the municipality would need to figure out how to grandfather the rules for those who already have such pets. “Snakes are more common than what most people realize,” McKenzie said. “To try and prohibit them is going to cause some issues … That is something we maybe want to think about before we do this.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
CHICAGO — Elizabeth Shelby had her inauguration outfit planned weeks in advance: blue jeans, a Kamala Harris sweatshirt, a green coat, and pink Chuck Taylors as an homage to her sorority’s colours and Vice-President Harris’ signature shoe. And pearls, just like the ones Harris wore when she graduated from Howard University, was sworn into Congress, and was sworn in as the first woman, first Black and South Asian person, and first Alpha Kappa Alpha member to serve as vice-president. Shelby, a member of the Alpha Psi chapter of AKA, had hoped to wear her pearls at the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Instead, she donned them at home in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, AKA, the oldest sorority of the historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up the Divine Nine, called off inauguration events and urged members to stay home. So countless AKA members celebrated the historic moment in their living rooms, on Twitter and on Zoom calls. “I wanted to help show Kamala that her sisters are behind her always,” Shelby said. “I wanted her to look out and see a sea of pink and green and know that this is her moment.” After the Capitol insurrection, Shelby cancelled her plane tickets and hotel reservation. The rioting robbed many AKAs of their feeling of safety at the inauguration and beyond, she said, and many members have been telling each other to stop wearing their letters in public for safety reasons. But Shelby said that didn't stop her from celebrating at a Zoom viewing party with her local graduate chapter. “I’m not going to let this take the joy out of this moment,” she said. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, joined AKA in 1986 at Howard University, one of the country’s oldest historically Black colleges and universities. When she accepted the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in August, she thanked AKA, saying, “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha.” Soon after, donations in increments of $19.08, marking the year, 1908, when the sorority was founded, started flowing in to a Biden-Harris campaign fundraising committee. Alpha Kappa Alpha declared on Twitter that Jan. 20 would be Soror Kamala D. Harris Day, and encouraged members to share photos of their celebrations with the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDay. Andrea Morgan, who became an AKA the same year Harris did, posted photos of her pink sweater and pearls on Twitter with the hashtag, which she told the AP “makes us feel closer together even when we're far apart." “If we were able to be there in person, I don’t think you’d be able to look anywhere without seeing pink and green,” said Genita Harris of the Delta Omega Omega chapter in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. "Now on social media, this is a showing of our solidarity, of our love and support for our soror.” She said group chats with her sorority sisters were “going bananas” during a historic moment for the sisterhood and for HBCUs. “It’s been the same story of white men for centuries," she said. “Now a new story is being written, and it’s our story.” AKA soror Josclynn Brandon booked her plane tickets to D.C. the day Biden announced Harris as his running mate in August. When the 2020 presidential election was called, CNN was playing on her phone on the dashboard of her car. She pulled over and cried. “I knew then that I was going to see Kamala Harris make history,” she said. “It confirmed that Black women and women of colour are so much more capable than some people believe us to be.” Brandon made plans to be in D.C. from Jan. 13-21 to celebrate the sorority’s Founders’ Day on Jan. 15, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration, all in the same city where AKA was founded. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, she, too, cancelled her trip. “It did rob me of my feeling of safety while going to D.C., and it robbed me of the moment of seeing a Black woman and sorority sister become VP right in front of me,” she said. “But it took away so much more than just me going to D.C. It takes away from this celebration and robs our incoming administration of the full celebration they deserved.” Brandon watched Harris' swearing-in from her home in Indianapolis while wearing a sweatshirt with a photo of Harris from college and the words, “The Vice-President is my sorority sister.” “I’m still going to celebrate,” she said. “I’m not going to let that group’s action take away this moment. I don’t want to let them win.” Shelby grew up hearing young Black boys say they wanted to be president after Barack Obama made history as the country’s first Black president. Now, she hopes Black girls will have those dreams too. “It’s a historic moment,” she said. “To see not only a woman but a woman of colour and member of the Divine Nine become vice-president is something I never even dreamed of happening as a little girl growing up in America.” “There is a pride I can’t put into words,” she continued. “It is such a joy to see her rise to this place in our country. It is such a joy to know that she is one of us, that she represents us. She is truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams.” — Fernando is a member of the Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christinetfern. Christine Fernando, The Associated Press
FREDERICTON — New Brunswick is at a "tipping point" as health officials try to control the spread of COVID-19, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Thursday. Officials are giving time to see if present health orders are working, she said, adding that they won't hesitate to move the province into another tight lockdown if necessary. "We know that once the doubling time shortens to the point where you're doubling every day, that's exponential growth and we definitely don't want to see that," Russell said. "We definitely are at a tipping point." Russell said the number of new infections in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton zones appear stable after officials moved those regions to the red pandemic-alert level. The Campbellton, Bathurst and Miramichi zones will remain at the orange level, she said, adding that her biggest concern is the Edmundston region, which shares a border with Quebec. "The situation in (Edmundston) remains gravely concerning," Russell said. "The outbreak has spread into workplaces and adult residential facilities, which is deeply worrying." Health officials reported 32 new cases Thursday, bringing the province's active reported case count to 324. Of the new cases, 19 were identified in the Edmundston area. New Brunswick's case rate is about 132 cases per 100,000 people. Premier Blaine Higgs said the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton zones could move back to the orange level sooner rather than later. "If we continue to focus on protecting each other, we could move these zones to orange in a mater of days, not weeks or months," he said. University of Toronto professor Dr. David Fisman said New Brunswick's current situation is similar to where Manitoba was last fall, right before cases rose sharply after months of relatively few infections. “I have been suggesting to people that New Brunswick is on a knife edge right now and can go either way,” Fisman said in an email Thursday. Manitoba, which once had some of the lowest infection rates in the country, quickly became a cautionary tale as cases rose by several hundred each day by mid-November. Fisman said certain factors have preceded big waves in places that previously had a low case count, including the spread of COVID-19 in schools, meat-packing facilities, long-term care homes and among highly mobile young people. Dalhousie University immunology professor David Kelvin said reducing viral transmission among the young is key to controlling the virus, because cases in youth are often asymptomatic. Kelvin said in an email Thursday that strategies such as pop-up rapid testing may help identify hot spots among young people. He added, however, that more research may be needed to see what lies behind the New Brunswick case increases in order to project where trend is headed. “It could be New Brunswick is in the early stages and will continue on the exponential increase in cases,” he said, though there is also the possibility the numbers have plateaued as social events from the holiday season have subsided, he added. Fisman said he found the province's interventions "lagging," adding that shifting between various pandemic-alert levels isn't ideal when faced with a sharp increase in cases. "I think when you are hanging on to de facto COVID-free status, it is worth pulling out the stops and having a short, hard lockdown … the whole enchilada," Fisman said. "It is significant short-term pain, but as Manitoba showed, the cost of allowing things to spiral is far more painful." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021. — By Danielle Edwards in Halifax and with files from Michael Tutton. — — — This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. The Canadian Press
Dozens of asylum seekers crowded the U.S. port of entry in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden began his term in office by reversing many of former President Trump's hardline immigration policies. In its first public announcement, Biden's Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday it would end all enrollments in a controversial Trump program - known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) - that since 2019 has forced more than 65,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings, sometimes for months or even years.
TORONTO — As Ontario struggles to beat back a dire wave of COVID-19, workplace spread has been singled out by public health experts, mayors and top health officials as a major source of infections. Experts and workers say government measures so far haven’t directly targeted the issue, but fairly simple practices would help track and reduce infections. Epidemiologist Colin Furness at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health said there should be clear consequences for employers that don't take proper precautions at this point in the pandemic. “We know from contact tracing data and outbreak investigations what some of the most risky environments are. We should be coming down on them like a ton of bricks,” Furness said. Hundreds of people have been infected in recent outbreaks linked to workplaces, including at least 121 workers at a Canada Post facility whose cases were reported this week and more than 140 people at a Cargill-owned meat processing facility in Guelph, Ont., last month. Hundreds of migrant workers tested positive on Ontario farms last summer, and more than 5,000 long-term care staff have been infected to date. But observers said there isn’t consistency when it comes to penalties for employers, or even naming workplaces where outbreaks happen. Traditionally, workplaces have been challenging for public health because harsh enforcement might mean future issues are covered up, Furness said. There are some signs of change, however, led by Toronto Public Health. The health unit said this month it would name employers with significant outbreaks and enforce reporting of cases among workers, a move Furness called “revolutionary.” Putting pressure on employers is also important to make sure other measures are effective, Furness said, including paid sick leave, which has become a prominent political issue in Ontario. Mayors from province’s largest cities have been calling for months for accessible, universal paid sick leave so workers don't come to work sick over fear of losing income – an argument supported nearly universally by public health experts. Janice Mills, who has a job in auto manufacturing, said sick leave is the biggest issue at the Glencoe, Ont, plant where she works with about 50 other people per shift. Workers can apply for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit introduced to support people missing work over a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure, but they’re only eligible if they miss 50 per cent of the work week. That's an issue for hourly workers at Mills' plant, she said, because if someone falls ill on Thursday or Friday, they can’t make use of the benefit until the following week. “That's very difficult for people to wrap their heads around,” Mills said. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Ontario isn’t looking to implement its own sick leave policy because there are still millions of dollars available through the federal benefit. He said the program is sufficient, but workers may not know about it, and he’s asking federal ministers to ensure there isn’t a delay in getting money out to people. “I feel strongly that we shouldn't duplicate this program,” he said in an interview. Furness said sick leave is important, but it doesn’t guarantee workers won’t face repercussions for accessing it – so employers should be held accountable if people are pressured into working while sick. Tim Sly, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Ryerson University, pointed to regular asymptomatic testing as another key measure that would help assess workplace spread. He noted other regions have made use of rapid tests to find the virus among people who may not know they're infected, but Ontario has until recently been reluctant to introduce the practice. “Why we've delayed it so often, I have not a clue," he said. "It costs so little, it's easy to do, and if you repeat it, you're getting up to really good standards of screening.” Some industries in Ontario, such as film and television production, are already regularly testing employees for COVID-19, and the government plans to ramp up asymptomatic testing in the coming months by sending rapid tests to hard-hit sectors like farms, manufacturing and long-term care. McNaughton said an asymptomatic testing pilot has already begun on construction sites in the Greater Toronto Area, and he said there will be "huge emphasis" on testing workers going forward. He also pointed to the government’s recent “inspection blitz” of big-box stores, which is expanding to more industries. Most fines have been relatively small, at less than $1,000 per infraction, but McNaughton said some larger investigations are underway, and employers should be aware of the potential for fines up to $1.5 million. “I hope my message was clear to every big corporation out there, every shareholder, that if they're not having a safe work environment for their workers, and for customers, I won't hesitate to shut them down,” he said. Meanwhile, frontline workers say appreciation for their work isn't often reflected in the province's official pandemic response. Brittany Nisbett, who works at a group home for disabled adults in the Niagara Region, said new restrictions announced this month haven’t changed anything in her working life – in fact, she said new limits on store hours have made it harder to complete errands during time off. She said it’s been an emotionally taxing year, especially when co-workers and clients have tested positive for the disease, but one silver living has been growing public acknowledgment of the work she does. She’d like to see that reflected with a permanent wage increase, paid sick days and more staff for support. “If you’re going to call us heroes, then I think that we need to be treated like heroes,” Nisbett said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021. The Canadian Press