Three lynx emerge from a snowy forest to cross the road in Grande Prairie, AB.
Three lynx emerge from a snowy forest to cross the road in Grande Prairie, AB.
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
After the latest transition between in-person and remote learning, there are approximately 465 more students — 418 at the Catholic board and 47 at the public board — in Hamilton classrooms. Hundreds of Hamilton students switched learning models at both boards this week, some moving to virtual learning and others returning to their home schools. By Thursday, about 680 students at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board returned to classrooms across the city. A similar number — approximately 636 students — chose to switch into a remote learning program. These students made the switch earlier this month, as of the Feb. 8 return to school. “Families are making choices for many reasons,” spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator. He said frustration with technology, isolation, difficulty motivating their kids and changes in circumstances are among the reasons parents are choosing to send kids back to the classroom. Families who took their kids out of classrooms cited concerns about kids’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, in-school enrolment at the Catholic board is up at the elementary level and down at the secondary level. As of Monday, 15,970 students are learning in-person — compared to 15,552 in the fall. Monday was the last opportunity for HWCDSB students to transition between learning models. Virtual learning at the secondary level increased by about 1,500 students — from 1,942 in the fall to 3,412 as of Feb. 23. Board chair Pat Daly said he believes age has “a lot to do with it.” “A high school student is able to stay home alone,” he said. “With elementary-aged children, a lot of parents would not have that option.” He said some parents may have realized that being in school is “really helpful” for kids’ mental health and socialization. To support the latest transition, boards were required to shuffle — and, in the case of the public board, hire — teaching staff. The public board opened seven classrooms, adding 8.4 full-time equivalent teachers to the elementary roster, as well as three full-time dedicated early childhood educators, as the board welcomed back a number of full-day kindergarten students through this transition. No new teachers were hired at the Catholic board as a result of the latest reorganization. “The change would have been teachers moving from a virtual classroom to in-school,” Daly said. “So we didn't have to hire additional teachers to keep the class sizes low.” Daly said the board hired approximately 65 teachers at the beginning of the year “to lower class sizes,” and have maintained those hires throughout the year. Current in-person class sizes, which are similar to those in the fall, range between 12 and 25 students. Virtual classrooms have between 16 and 32. Josie Pini, principal at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School, said the 16 students who returned to in-person learning should have covered the same curriculum in their virtual classrooms. But, as with any time a student changes classrooms, teachers would have to do a “gap analysis” to determine the level of each individual student. “In any one class, you'll have students of all different levels anyway, so it's just a matter of finding out which level they're going to fit into and then teach them from there,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
In the midst of dealing with the pandemic and growing anti-racism movements across North America, Yaw Obrenu Yamoah was also busy last year writing his first short film. Black Boys Dont Cry is set to premiere on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. in the Kelowna Cultural District on the RCA Commons fields between the Rotary Centre for the Arts and the Kelowna Art Gallery. “It just felt like yes, it’s the time to get this out, for everyone to understand what it means to be in this,” Yamoah tells IndigiNews over FaceTime. “Last year was the highest it’s ever been for black youth killing themselves. I just thought I gotta do this.” The future of our newsroom depends on you. The long-term sustainability of IndigiNews will rely on regular contributions from readers like you. If you value our reporting, please consider becoming a monthly supporter. His roughly three-minute film titled Black Boys Don’t Cry responds to high suicide rates among Black youth in North America, he explains. According to the 2019 report, Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America, “Black males, five to 11 years, are more likely to die by suicide compared to their White peers.” The suicide death rate among Black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.” It’s a grave reality for the Black community — and something Yamoah has considered deeply in his own life as a Black man, he says. Yamoah says that over the past two years, he has taken “inspiration from life,” to address his own realization that a lot of his own personal traumas were left unhealed. He started asking questions like: “What is Black masculinity? What does it mean for people like us, who are trying to feel, trying to grow in this world?,” he says. Addressing his own reflections on those questions gave him insight into how other Black men, youth in particular, might be experiencing Black masculinity. “I started looking at it and I started hearing it,” Yamoah explains. While there’s all this fighting, all of this happening, all of us trying to understand something our kids can’t feel. They don’t know how to go outside and feel good in themselves.” He also started to think critically about how Black women are often the ones upholding the community, he says. “It’s the Black women that have to deal with us, so if we don’t express ourselves, we put it on them — our mothers, our sisters, our wives,” Yamoah says. When he finished writing the short, he sent the script to Trophy Ewila, determined that even with “just a small crew,” they could make it happen. Ewila immediately connected to what he read and agreed to be the curator for the short film. He reflects on his own experience with Black masculinity, as he sits in his living room, surrounded by art and instruments. “It’s an important conversation to be able to be comfortable, to just be ourselves, even in public,” he says. In Black Boys Don’t Cry, a young boy is depicted waking up at three in the morning, to learn that his cousin has died. “The film goes on to explore mental health, suicide, loneliness, love and the expression of masculinity within the Black community,” a press release for ‘Black Boys Don’t Cry’ states. The film brings important attention to several symptoms of colonization and continued violence against Black bodies, Ewila explains. “In these uncertain times, with so much going on, there is so much emotion that we have to hold, and form this idea of being a man and having to be strong all the time,” Ewila says. “Sometimes it’s a lot, and just to be comfortable with your own imperfections and to be comfortable to say, yo, it’s a lot and release those tears.” The team shot the short film over three hours, a process that was “beautiful,” Ewila says. “It was an honour to be in that room.” This experience allowed the participants to embody their authentic selves, he describes, which translated into the character development of the film. “Everybody was crying in the room. Even I cried, and turned away, because of my own Black masculinity,” he says. “We had to pause and take a break, it was much like a ritual of letting go of those tears that we hold onto.” Ewila shares that the importance of bringing this film to the Kelowna Cultural District was to create a sense of belonging in a community that — prior to Yamoah breaking ground for the Black community — was predominantly represented by the settler population. During the uprisings that followed the murder of George Floyd last year, Yamoah says the artist in him was also desperately working to “shine royalty, shine beauty,” onto the Black community, which he didn’t see happening. “I just thought man, black kids on this earth are killing themselves more than any other race right now. So for me that’s important, because I know what that might feel like,” Yamoa says. “As an artist, you tackle your own life, your own mortality, it’s something that I’ve danced with a little too much.” The premiere is doubling as a visual installation where the film will be installed as an art exhibit. “The positioning of the visual installation in the Cultural District is to celebrate [Yamoah’s] major contribution to culture and inclusivity in Kelowna,” the press release states. “It is also to highlight the disconnect between major institutions in the Cultural District and the Black artist community in the city. We hope to use this moment to continue a conversation on matters of equity, diversity and inclusion within the Cultural District and in Kelowna at large,” says Ewila. With COVID-19 in mind, the film and an artist talk will be livestreamed on YouTube and a watch party will be hosted on the IndigiNews Facebook page. Ewila says it’s time for the Black community to have space and for local institutions to begin to seek out the people doing the work, instead of asking BIPOC people to check a diversity box. “We are not just bodies to be used for diversity. We’re also looking for diversity,” Ewila says. “It’s also something that we want, we keep having to look into pockets for our own stories.” Yamoah has been a “hero” to the Black community in Kelowna, Ewila says, as he has worked tirelessly to encourage Black artists to keep taking space with their stories through art, film, fashion and creating community. Ewila says it’s because of Yamoah that he’s been able to be the artist that he is today and be the man who will take the space needed for the future of Black youth in the city. He says becoming a father to his son has heightened the importance of this work, to create a space for his child to grow in an environment he can recognize his own beauty, and express his emotions. “I sometimes struggle taking him to the park, and I just watch him play and he’s laughing and he’s enjoying life… all I can say is ‘I hope this world doesn’t take that from you,’” says Ewila. “We want to have more options for him to see himself out there in public, to see different facets of himself out there I think that’s really the inspiration from the playground to let you try and find your community to have more spaces to be around your vibe and not just being seen as a body all the time.” Ewila hopes this project and those like it will benefit his son, and other Black youth, carving out safer and more vibrant spaces for them to be the unique complex people they are. Kelsie Kilawna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 received sporadic mental health treatment immediately after he left the military in 2015, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday. The provincial inquiry in Nova Scotia learned the Canadian Armed Forces had arranged for therapy to continue for Lionel Desmond after he was medically discharged. But the lack of structure outside the military created new challenges for the mentally ill veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who worked at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, was tasked with providing the former corporal with treatment from June 2015 to October 2016. The psychologist said there were problems from the start because Desmond, then 32, often cancelled appointments or didn't show up. Plans for therapy were derailed by the fact that Desmond spent much of his time travelling between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he was trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife, Shanna, and his young daughter, Aaliyah. "In terms of commitment and engagement, it was interfering with the therapy process," Murgatroyd testified. "We were concerned with this inconsistency." Murgatroyd said it was clear Desmond needed help. In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, mental health professionals contracted by the military told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage. Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the federally funded clinic, which receives referrals from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP. "Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down," Murgatroyd said. As well, he said Desmond made it clear his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was in turmoil. "There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained," he said, adding that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress. Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and "homicidal thoughts without intent." "He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia," Murgatroyd noted after an early therapy session in 2015. Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard the former corporal did not disclose this concern while he was in the military. Though Desmond was under Murgatroyd's care for 16 months, the psychologist said his therapeutic plan never got off the ground. "We were just putting out fires rather than working on any real intervention," he said. He said it appeared Desmond's source of psychological distress eventually shifted from his combat-related PTSD symptoms to an angry "fixation" with his wife's handling of their finances and concerns that she may be cheating on him. Murgatroyd said Desmond told him about gruesome nightmares he had that suggested his wife had been sleeping with another man, whose head was later found on the floor. The psychologist agreed when asked if Desmond's dreams were having an impact on his perception of reality. Murgatroyd said that helped explain why Desmond would later revoke his consent to allow the clinic to share information with his wife. Eventually, staff at the clinic decided therapy for Desmond wasn't an option until he was properly stabilized. They recommended he should take part in an intensive treatment program at Ste. Anne's hospital in Montreal, which has an in-patient operational stress injury clinic. By April 2016, Desmond had agreed to go to Ste. Anne's, having recognized that his relationship with his wife was deteriorating amid talk of divorce, Murgatroyd said. The following month, Desmond reached "an all-time low," Murgatroyd said, adding that his patient was distressed about the state of his finances and the idea his wife was manipulative and could not be trusted. "With things spiralling down, he was looking for help." Desmond arrived at St. Anne's on May 30, 2016, but he left less than three months into a six-month program, even though he had reported he was enjoying his stay there, Murgatroyd said. The inquiry has heard that Desmond returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Murgatroyd and Veterans Affairs Canada were making arrangements for treatment in Nova Scotia. Staff at Ste. Anne's had recommended Desmond receive an in-depth neuro-psychological assessment and more treatment, but that never happened. On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a semi-automatic rifle. Later that day, he fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family's home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
On Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responded to an auditor general report from earlier in the day that stated AG Karen Hogan was "very concerned and disheartened" that the Liberal government was unable to meet its commitment to ending all boil water advisories for Indigenous communities. Miller accepted the AG's recommendations and went over the water advisories that have been lifted, as well as the finances secured to work ahead to end all the advisories.
WELLINGTON COUNTY – The Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project is looking toward the next phase targeting funding broadband projects in lower-density areas. SWIFT is a non-profit that aims to subsidize broadband projects in rural southwestern Ontario areas that have poor or no connectivity. George Bridge, Minto mayor and SWIFT board member, and Barry Field, SWIFT executive director, gave an update on the project to Wellington County council at Thursday’s meeting. In the presentation Bridge noted some highlights from the first phase of the project, called SWIFT 1.0. He explained they are exceeding their target of 50,000 premises served by a few thousand and are very close to reaching their kilometre of fibre laid goal. He was also happy to report that despite earlier concerns from smaller companies about SWIFT becoming a “Bell and Rogers show,” projects from small internet service providers (ISPs) accounted for about half of the funding given through SWIFT’s first phase. The small ISPs will become more important for SWIFT 2.0, the next phase of the project where SWIFT intends to focus on projects in lower density areas. “The bigger ones, Bell and Rogers, they go after so many people per km but your small ISP, for example they’ve gone down as low 3.1 density per km or three houses on a km,” Bridge said. “Our next round we’ll get into, some of the low hanging fruit has been done, now we need to get out to that last mile.” The funding is a big question for the next phase as there has been no commitment on what the province and federal governments will give, if anything at all. A third of SWIFT is funded by the province and a third from the federal government, with the private sector filling in another third and municipal governments providing some capital contributions. Coun. David Anderson asked if there’s anything they could do to give projects a better chance at a successful grant application. Field said municipal financial support or just letter of support for a grant application — which Field noted applies for other funding beyond SWIFT — can go a long way. He also said it might be helpful to encourage local ISPs to apply for funding if they haven’t done so. Wellington North mayor Andy Lennox questioned how to ensure funding gets distributed more equitably so lower density projects aren’t missed again. Field said by the time SWIFT 2.0 comes around those will be most of the projects left and to lower the number of premises per kilometre required, which in the first phase is at around 17 premises per km on average. “There are things we can do in the (request for proposals), the procurement itself, to not only encourage but ensure that we’re not getting at that easiest of the remaining premises,” Field said, noting this was a valid criticism of SWIFT 1.0. “We did have a very high premises count target we had to achieve and that kind of led to policies we had to encourage more premises passed.” Coun. Jeff Duncan asked if a possible federal election this year could delay or impact the next phase. Field said he wasn’t sure but did stress there is no commitment from upper levels of government to fund SWIFT 2.0. Bridge said they’ve been advocating through the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to all political parties and there is no question from any of them that this is needed. The presentation was accepted as information from council. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
MEXICO CITY — The number of monarch butterflies that showed up at their winter resting grounds in central Mexico decreased by about 26% this year, and four times as many trees were lost to illegal logging, drought and other causes, making 2020 a bad year for the butterflies. The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) in 2020, compared to 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05 hectares (14.95 acres) detected in 2018. Because the monarchs cluster so densely in pine and fir trees, it is easier to count them by area rather than by individuals. Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico's Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions,” the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies' wintering grounds in Mexico. Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4 hectares (33 acres), a huge increase from the 0.43 hectare (1 acre) lost to logging last year. Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localized” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve. In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9 hectares (17 acres) in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65 hectares (51 acres). That compares to an overall loss of about 5 hectares (12.3 acres) from all causes the previous year. Tavera said the drought was affecting the butterflies themselves, as well as the pine and fir trees where the clump together for warmth. “The severe drought we are experiencing is having effects,” Tavera said. “All the forests in the reserve are under water stress, the forests are dry.” “The butterflies are looking for water on the lower slopes, near the houses,” she noted. Tavera also expressed concern about the sever winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross — and feed and lay their eggs — on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months. “This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze. It was also a bad year for the mountain farming communities that depend for part of their income on tourists who visit the reserves. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, visits fell from around 490,000 last year, to just 80,000 in the 2020-2021 season. It was unclear whether the drop in tourism income contributed to the increased logging. Rickards said there has long been pressure on the area's forests from people who want to open land for planting crops. Felipe Martínez Meza, director of the butterfly reserve, said there have been attempts to plant orchards of avocados — hugely profitable crop for farmers in the area — in the buffer zones around the reserve. The high mountain peaks where the butterflies clump in trees are probably a bit above the altitude where avocado trees like to grow, Martinez Meza said. But the buffer zones provide protection and support for the higher areas, and he said more must be done to combat the change in land use. Frequently, illegal logging is carried out by outsiders or organized gangs, and not by the farm communities that technically own the land. Millions of monarchs migrate from the U.S. and Canada each year to forests west of Mexico’s capital. The butterflies hit a low of just 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres) in 2013-2014. Loss of habitat, especially the milkweed where the monarchs lay their eggs, pesticide and herbicide use, as well climate change, all pose threats to the species’ migration. While there was plenty of bad news for the butterflies — very few showed up to some historic wintering sites like Sierra Chincua — there was the welcome news that a new wintering site was discovered nearby, in a mountaintop near the Lagunas de Zempoala protected area, near Mexico City. Tavera said the wintering site had always been there, but was so difficult to reach that it wasn't discovered until earlier this month. Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press
A coalition of five local agencies are working together to provide better support services for members of the community. The Strathmore Wheatland Wellness Resource Project will help residents of Strathmore and Wheatland County come to one place to access resources. It is composed of the Golden Hills School Division, Growing Family Society, Strathmore FCSS, Wheatland County Counselling and Wheatland FCSS.“ It’s a great partnership of not-for-profits coming together,” said May Rostecki-Budzey, executive director of the Growing Families Society. The provincial government announced the provision of grant funding of $100,000 to Wheatland County Counselling and $85,460 to the Growing Families Society on Feb. 11. Wheatland County Counselling is providing service delivery of the navigation phone lines, helping direct people to the proper channels for whatever they need, explained Rostecki-Budzey. If a crisis does arise, the caller can be redirected to one of the therapists there. Each member organization also collaborates to determine what resources are needed in the community, both in Strathmore and among rural communities in Wheatland County, explained Brittany Olsen, Wheatland County Counselling office manager. “We’ve able to identify needs for residents, from counselling to nutrition support and financial support,” said Olsen. The project is in its infancy, so it provides information only and does not perform case management. Other organizations may connect their services through the project as well, she said. “We’ve been able to help a dozen people so far, and we’re just wishing to still continue to help,” she said. Residents can access the project online at swwellness.ca or by phone 403-962-0167, email email@example.com and through its Facebook page. Providing access to many programs from a single point and contact makes getting support easier and less time consuming for residents, explained Olsen. “Instead of them being frustrated with Google searching, finding what resources are available to them and clicking a bunch of links, we’ve provided a one-stop shop resource providing them the information they need.” Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
A one-time payment will be provided to hundreds of thousands of Albertans working to provide critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $465 million program, a joint initiative between the provincial and federal government, will give $1,200 cash payments, called the Critical Worker Benefit, to workers across various sectors. The program includes about $118 million in provincial funds and up to $347 million in federal funds. Workers in healthcare, social services, education and the private sector that have worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 13, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021 are eligible to receive the payment. “It’s a sign of appreciation for the people whose hard work make life easier for the rest of us,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney,” during a Feb. 10 press conference announcing the funding. “These workers are the ones who have sustained and maintained Alberta through the pandemic at very considerable risk to themselves, and they will continue doing that through the months to come.” About 161,000 employees in the health-care sector will be eligible to receive the payment, including orderlies and patient service associates, respiratory therapists and technologists, nurses (RNs, RPNs, LPNs), food services, housekeeping and maintenance workers, and unit clerks. In social services professions, another 45,000 workers will also be eligible, including community disability service workers and practitioners, personal care aides, child development workers, family and youth counsellors, crisis intervention and shelter workers, home support workers, seniors lodge staff, cleaners, food preparation and maintenance workers. Up to 36,000 workers in the education sector will eligible, including teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cleaning staff, and administration support. Additionally, private sector workers making $25 per hour or less also qualify, including critical retail workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; private health provider workers, such as dental assistants, massage therapists and medical administration assistants; food manufacturing and processing workers; truck transportation workers, such as truck drivers, and delivery and courier services drivers; and warehouse and storage workers, such as shippers and receivers. Private-sector employers must apply for the funding by March 19. Public-sector employees will automatically receive the funding if they are part of the government’s payment system. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
The child care sector is being adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and government funding cuts, according to the results of a recent survey. The 2020 Child Care Operator Survey is conducted on a biennial basis by Public Interest Alberta, a non-profit focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues. The purpose of the survey is to gain insights into the overall conditions of the child care sector, as well as the impacts of the pandemic. The results of the survey show that the pandemic negatively affected almost all (about 98 per cent) of respondents, in a variety of ways. The top five impacts of the pandemic were causing operators to lay off staff (62 per cent of respondents), full or partial closures (57 per cent), cutbacks on supplies (about 50 per cent), decreased programming (46 per cent) and increased staff turnover (23 per cent). Other impacts identified by respondents included increased fees, wage and hour cuts, mental health impacts, decreased enrollment, cutting of nutrition programs and financial strain for personal protective equipment. The results of the survey also showed the sector has been affected by funding cuts enacted by the provincial government over the past two budgets. Concerns related to this included government cuts (57 per cent of respondents), affordability of qualified staff (56 per cent), funding for noon-care hours such as professional development or lesson planning (56 per cent), recruitment (47 per cent), administrative tasks (37 per cent) and staff retention (30 per cent). “At a time when the sector is already struggling with pandemic-related issues like full or partial closures, or being forced to lay off staff, the government has not changed course on the significant cuts it made to child care sector funding,” said Joel French, Public Interest Alberta executive director, in a news release. “Child care operators have been significantly impacted by the ending of the Benefit Contribution Grant, in particular, which resulted in fee increases to parents, cutbacks to program supplies, decreases in programming and staff layoffs.” According to the survey, most operators (76 per cent) were not consulted on major government changes in the sector, including elimination of the Benefit Contribution Grant, which offsets the costs to child care operators of mandatory employer payroll contributions. On average, non-profit organizations reported lower fees, yet tended to have more qualified staff. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
Strathmore town council passed first reading of a bylaw that, if enacted, would prohibit conversation therapy from being practiced or advertised in Strathmore. First reading of the Prohibited Business Bylaw passed unanimously by town council on Feb. 17. The bylaw will be deliberated again for second and third reading at the council meeting on March 17. The bylaw was first introduced to council by Geoff Person, communications manager, during the town’s Feb. 10 committee of the whole meeting. During a public engagement process held last summer, the town received views from over 170 people providing support for banning conversion therapy in Strathmore, said Person. The town used this feedback to help draft the specifics of the bylaw, which is modelled off the City of Calgary’s Prohibited Business Bylaw, passed in May 2020. Under the proposed bylaw, conversion therapy is defined as any practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. If adopted, the bylaw would prohibit conversion therapy from being offered as a business service in town, and would also prohibit the advertising of these services. The specified penalty for an offence under the draft bylaw is $10,000. If that fine is not paid, anyone guilty would be liable to up to a year in prison. An in-person session will be held for residents to share their views on the bylaw on the evening of March 17. Speakers must register and each presentation will be limited to three minutes. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
EDMONTON — Alberta's United Conservative government tabled its budget Thursday. Here are some of the highlights: — No new taxes or tax increases. — Deficit of $18.2 billion on estimated revenues of $43.7 billion. — Spending of $57.3 billion before expenditures on COVID-19 and cancelled crude-by-rail contracts. — Spending on COVID-19 to be $1.1 billion. An extra $1.8 billion as needed. — Taxpayer-supported debt of almost $116 billion by March 2022. Annual debt interest charges almost $3 billion. — Capital spending to be $20.7 billion over three years. — Heritage Savings Trust Fund pegged to reach $16.7 billion. — Personal income tax to generate an estimated $11.6 billion. — Corporate income tax estimated to be $1.9 billion. — Cannabis tax to come in at $105 million. — Public sector compensation, excluding physicians, set at $21.5 billion. To fall to $20.8 billion by 2024. — Compensation for doctors to remain steady from $5.2 billion now to $5.3 billion by 2024. — $3.1 billion to diversify economy and expand aviation, tech, pharmaceutical and tourism sectors. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
After pivoting the popular Pig Out festival due to the pandemic in 2020, Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is bringing back the new Pig Out Trails format to keep the event safe and fun as it marks 10 years in the community. On May 28 and 29, Pig Out Trails returns as attendees cruise down a curated trial of wine tasting experiences guided by some of the region’s most established winemakers in outdoor settings. The event’s format is again designed to be flexible in order to accommodate the fast-changing nature of the pandemic health and safety regulations. “Flexible” has been the key word for event organizers recently. Last year, the event was moved from May to October, and the team at Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country put together a modified event with groups in separate pods, touring and tasting outdoors at different venues. While the weather was briefly uncooperative last year, the response to the new format from attendees was very positive “I had emails in my inbox in November asking what we were doing for Pig Out for 2021 and what the format was going to be like,” said Jennifer Busmann, executive director of Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country. Many guests at 2020’s Pig Out Trails were happy to simply be attending an event at all in a year that didn’t see many. “It was really heartwarming for all those Pig Out attendees who came in October. Just due to the restrictions and the numbers and how we safely move people through our region and what we were permitted to do. We had about 540 guests total attend in these small little groups. They were so thankful and so excited that it just gave you a little pep in your step to see that,” Busmann said. Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country will be using the work they accomplished to create a safe event in 2020 as a foundation for this year’s Pig Out event. Working with the local health authority, developing health and safety plans, contact tracing, keeping guests spaced out and outdoors are all foundational building blocks for putting on events as case numbers and public health restrictions are liable to change at any moment. “We’re a really small team of people that put all of this together. So we’re using that framework as a basis, which was really a lot of work to put together and understand all of the pieces, all of the changes and all of the regulatory bodies,” Busmann said. “We’re using that as a foundation to build and brainstorm and put all of our pieces together. Then we really just have to wait and bend and flex and see what happens within the province.” On Saturday, May 29, 2021 Pig Out Trails attendees will board a dedicated bus adhering to recommended safety protocols including mandatory face masks and hand sanitizer, before heading to the first of four winery stops. The event’s “Escape the Pen” theme will be interpreted in different and unique ways at each of the 40 wineries that feature along 10 different trails, as they create outdoor tasting experiences, aimed at showcasing their wines as well as educating guests in farming and grape growing practices and the art of winemaking. Each stop will also feature a delicious dish prepared by Oliver Eats Ltd., visiting guest chefs, or from select onsite restaurant partners including Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, the culinary team at Phantom Creek Estates and Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery. A popular addition to last year’s Pig Out Trails, Vancouver’s Paella Guys, will return in 2021 as well. On Friday May 28, two iconic wineries, one on the Black Sage Road Bench and one on the Golden Mile Bench will host “guest chef dinners,” small, outdoor, multi-course feasts prepared by the Paella Guys alongside other notable local and guest chefs and paired with a range of wines from vineyards nearby. Tickets for the Pig Out Trails ($99 per person plus tax) and the Pig Out Guest Chef Dinner ($129 per person plus tax and gratuity) are now available on the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country website: www.oliverosoyoos.com. Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle
Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers. The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country's parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc's Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms. The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail.
County curlers are rocking the ice again as the Haliburton Curling Club reopened its doors Feb. 17 for its first session since the Dec. 26 lockdown. The club ran for several weeks in November and December with a limited slate of approximately 100 curlers, three nights a week, with COVID safety restrictions in place. It is the only curling club in the County which is operating amidst the pandemic. But the lockdown put a premature halt on the winter 2020-2021 schedule. Still, president, Kent Milford, said they were able to carry on with the lockdown lifted. “The only comment we’ve heard is people are just glad they’ve got an opportunity to get out and do something,” Milford said. “Relieve some of the boredom and stress and other things we’ve all faced over the last year.” The sport is not the same this year. Health precautions mean the social gathering aspect cannot be as robust. Travelling for bonspiels is also out. The lockdown also forced a schedule change, though Milford said they reorganized it by picking up where they left off. “No one’s overly concerned this year in making sure we have an even schedule or even some sort of competitive schedule,” Milford said. “It’s just to get some exercise, have some fun, have a little bit of social activity.” Board director, Wanda Stephen, said the first day back went well. “There was a great, big, sigh of relief from the crowd that was here, saying, ‘Yay, we made it’,” Stephen said. “Because there are a lot of clubs that didn’t reopen.” Milford said the club is in a financially stable position. But a major fundraiser – the Haliburton Home and Cottage Show – was cancelled in 2020 and is doubtful again for 2021. “Our strategy is we’re preparing for a show, so if we can have one, the logistics are in place,” Milford said. “It is difficult for me to see how we can have a show this year with the number of people we would normally have.” The club was allowed to curl thanks to the district staying in an “orange” zone under provincial COVID-19 protocol. But if case numbers worsen in the district, pushing that colour to “red” or “gray,” the club would have to halt. “Just hoping we can make it to the end of April without any shutdowns,” Stephen said. Milford said the curling sessions have remained COVID-safe, with no cases associated with the rink. He said they will follow whatever public health asks of them – and members are willing to work through those hurdles. “Curling is really an integral part of the community,” Milford said. “As long as we can keep them safe, and they wanted to do that, then we felt it was important to continue.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
The COVID-19 vaccine is now being made available to Alberta seniors aged 75 and over. All Alberta residents born in 1946 or earlier may now book appointments to be vaccinated through Alberta Health Services (AHS) using online and telephone booking systems. AHS started offering the vaccine directly to all residents in retirement centres, lodges, supportive living and other congregate living facilities with residents aged 75 or older, as of Feb. 19. Then on Feb. 24, the province opened appointments to all residents aged 75 or older, regardless of where they live. Appointment availability is based on vaccine supply. Appointments can be booked online (albertahealthservices.ca) or by calling 811. Seniors isolated seniors and those with mobility challenges can call 21 for assistance finding a ride to and form their vaccination appointment. These vaccinations are being provided as part of Phase 1 of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Other people eligible to receive the vaccine under this phase include select healthcare workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, and First Nations, Inuit, Métis and persons 65 years of age and over living in a First Nations community or Metis Settlement. Phase 2 of the province’s vaccination program is scheduled from April to September 2021, but timelines are subject to change depending on vaccine supply, according to the government. This phase is broken down into four groups (A to D), of about 1.8 million Albertans, with each group being eligible once the vaccination of the previous group is complete. Group A consists of Albertans aged 65 to 74, First Nations, Inuit and Metis people aged 50 to 64, and staff of licensed supportive living not included in Phase 1. Group B includes Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions. Group C is composed of residents and staff of congregate living settings (e.g., prisons, homeless shelters, group homes), and caregivers who are most at risk of severe outcomes. Group D includes Albertans aged 50 to 64 and First Nations Inuit and Métis people aged 35 to 49. Phase 3, scheduled for fall 2021, will see the anticipated roll-out of the vaccine to the rest of the public. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
TORONTO — Ontario's explanation that ongoing tests are delaying the launch of its vaccine-booking web portal doesn't carry water for experts, who said Thursday that the province should have begun those trials months ago. The website – set to launch in mid-March when residents aged 80 and older can start getting vaccinated against COVID-19 – has already been piloted, but the government said it won't go live until the province is sure it can withstand the large volume of requests expected. Experts said, however, that the government should have been able to have the site up and running earlier. Similar sites are already up and running in provinces such as Quebec and Alberta, though the web portal for the latter crashed Wednesday when 150,000 people visited it at once. It's since been restored. Elsewhere, such as in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, the websites won't launch until March. Nancy Walton, a professor of nursing at Ryerson University with a specialization in mobile technologies, said Ontario has had plenty of time to plan its vaccine rollout and could have launched the web portal well in advance of the appointments that will be booked through it. "Rolling out that plan and setting up an online portal with a call centre ahead of time seems reasonable," she said. There are a number of things the government must take into account when building such a system, not the least of which is accessibility, she said. People who are not particularly tech savvy – including those who are older and didn't grow up around computers – should be able to navigate the system intuitively, she said, noting that could tack on time to the development process. Eyal de Lara, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto, said the site also has to be accessible to people with disabilities – and specifically must work with screen readers used by people who are blind. That tends to be lower on the to-do list for private corporations building websites, rightly or wrongly, he said. The province's site also should be accessible to people who don't speak English or French as a first language, he noted. From a technical standpoint, he said, concerns about the site crashing are legitimate but can be dealt with. "It's not an impossible task, of course, but it is a complex task," de Lara said, pointing to initial problems with the Obamacare website launch in the U.S. as an example. That site wasn't engineered properly to be able to handle a huge influx of traffic, he said, making it impossible to use. Ontario is right to put time and effort into widescale testing of its web portal, though it could have started on that process sooner, he said. The province also has to make sure the site is incredibly secure, given the sensitive nature of health-care information, not to mention privacy laws. "It's a potential target for attacks, and actually doing a proper security review takes time," de Lara said. "This type of application is not something that you can just put together in a couple of weeks... It's clearly a task that will take several months to do." The head of the province's vaccine task force, retired general Rick Hillier, said his team is "furiously working" to test and refine the website so it can launch on March 15. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that the government wanted to ensure the system won't crash when it goes live. "We don't want to rush to failure," she said. Elliott also said it "will probably take another short while" to get vaccinations started for those aged 80 and older after they book their appointments through the portal as the province has to first vaccinate those in the highest-priority groups, such as long-term care. The province also plans to launch a phone line alongside its web portal in mid-March. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is reeling after news defence chief Admiral Art McDonald is being investigated for misconduct, only weeks after military police launched an investigation into allegations against his predecessor. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan revealed late Wednesday that McDonald had "voluntarily stepped aside" while military police investigate unspecified allegations. He is on paid leave. McDonald took over as the chief of the defence staff last month from Gen. Jonathan Vance, who is now being investigated after allegations of inappropriate behaviour. Vance has denied any wrongdoing and McDonald has not commented. Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre has been appointed acting chief of the defence staff. Conservative defence critic James Bezan called Thursday for the government to reveal the nature of the allegations against McDonald, who used his first address as defence chief on Jan. 14 to apologize to victims of military sexual misconduct and hate. “In the interest of morale, and for our women and men in uniform to have confidence in the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces, Minister Sajjan must confirm why chief of defence staff Admiral Art McDonald is under investigation,” Bezan said in a statement. There is clearly something wrong with the Liberal government's vetting process, said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. "There seems to be a pattern of behaviour with the government’s appointed positions." Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the message from the government must be that the military "can be no less than exemplary.” “I believe that the people that go into the army, that decide that this is their choice for a career, are good people, and must not be judged as a whole. I believe that there are a few people in the institutions that are not up to the task of being exemplary.” In a memo to members of the Forces on Wednesday, McDonald made no mention of allegations against him, but said the "time for patience is over" and the military must "accelerate our culture change." "Our institution can no longer put the burden of change and transformation on those affected by harassment, discrimination, or any form of misconduct. That burden must rest on us. All of us," he wrote. "I as the Chief, along with all the leaders in CAF, need to work every day to earn your trust. And we are all committed to doing so." "If you are considering speaking to anyone with information on (the Vance) case, or any other case of alleged misconduct, you have my support to come forward, to speak up, and to tell the truth. And you can expect to be heard, supported, and protected as you do." The investigation of McDonald has renewed calls for external oversight of the military, which self-polices allegations of sexual misconduct in the ranks. Lawyer and retired colonel Michel Drapeau said the government needs to appoint a permanent and independent inspector general similar to those in other militaries. That person would have the investigative powers to look into allegations of wrongdoing within the Canadian Armed Forces. “If, during his investigation, he came across any evidence of a criminal nature, he would be duty bound to stop his investigations and turn the matter to the criminal police,” Drapeau said in an email. Barring that, Drapeau said, Sajjan should immediately convene a board of inquiry — perhaps headed by a military judge — to investigate the allegations against McDonald, with police only involved if the allegations are of a criminal nature. Should police become involved, Drapeau added, it should be the RCMP, not the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the investigative arm of the military police. “I do not have confidence in terms of training, experience and independence,” Drapeau said of the service, known as the NIS. “Additionally, (the military police) and NIS report to the vice-chief of the defence staff, which makes any claim of ‘independence’ illusory.” In addition to criminal offences, Canadian military personnel can also be charged with what are known as service offences, which usually relate to conduct such as drunkenness or having a relationship with a subordinate. Former naval reservist Marie-Claude Gagnon, who founded a group for survivors of military sexual misconduct called It's Just 700, has been raising concerns for years about gaps in the system. She said the time for external oversight of the Armed Forces is now. "External oversight, it's essential," Gagnon said. "Self-policing itself has never worked. … It's not a recipe for success. I'm hoping that there's no doubt that there needs to be oversight." In the House of Commons Thursday, Conservative MP Leona Alleslev said a thorough, independent investigation of the allegations against McDonald is critical, but senior officers who may themselves be complicit remain in key positions within the chain of command. "How will the minister ensure that compromised senior officers are not interfering in these investigations to protect themselves?" she asked during question period. Sajjan replied that all allegations would be investigated thoroughly, independent from the chain of command. "And regardless of position, and regardless of rank, we will take the appropriate action because we owe it to our members." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. —With files from Christopher Reynolds and Jim Bronskill Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — A British Columbia businessman who made an illegal contribution to New Democrat MP Peter Julian's 2015 election campaign has been ordered to pay $7,500 to the receiver general of Canada. Elections commissioner Yves Côté says Robert Gibbs, co-owner of Romar Communications, provided free website development services to Julian's campaign. Gibbs told Julian's campaign that the work was done by volunteers, after work hours. However, unbeknownst to the campaign, Côté says three workers were paid $1,000 each for their work, the commercial value of which Côté says was actually $6,000. In its report to Elections Canada, Julian's campaign reported non-monetary contributions worth $2,000 from each of the three workers. Since that exceeded the $1,500 individual donation limit, the campaign paid $1,500 to Gibbs' company on the understanding that it would be given to the three workers, but Gibbs kept the money. The $7,500 Gibbs must now pay the receiver general represents the commercial value of the work done plus the $1,500 from the campaign that was never given to the workers. Côté announced the payment as part of a compliance agreement with Gibbs. Compliance agreements are commonly used by the elections commissioner to deal with relatively minor violations of the Canada Elections Act. They do not constitute a criminal conviction in a court of law and do not create a criminal record for the offender. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
The Highland Storm returned to the ice Feb. 19 to begin a second session after withstanding another pandemic-induced lockdown. The Storm announced an eight-week session Feb. 17, running until April 17. It will use a similar format to the one done in the fall, with enforced health protocols and teams only made up of local players, with no travel. Storm president, Jason Morissette, said more than 90 per cent of players and families from the first session were willing to play again. “It’s a good opportunity to get out and be able to do something they’ve been away from for a while during the lockdown,” Morissette said. “Outlet for the kids to be able to go exercise and do something that’s fun.” The continuation is possible due to the district being an “orange” zone, midway within the province’s COVID-19 response framework. With that comes a new protocol that only one person may accompany a player to watch, though people can still help their children get dressed before leaving for the duration of the game or practice. People from outside the district’s health unit also cannot enter the arena. “We’re going to follow all of the safety measures we did in the first session, which went well,” Morissette said. Still, the remainder of the season is in a precarious position. If cases spike and the district get moved to a “red” zone or back into lockdown, hockey would be disallowed. Morissette said that will probably mean the end to the season, even if restrictions were lifted afterwards. “The logistics of it would be very challenging,” Morissette said. At coaches’ request, Morissette said the organization will do more four-on-four play as well where possible, instead of only three-on-three. “Allow more kids to be on the ice each shift, rather than kids waiting on the bench,” he said. “It represents a little bit more of a challenge to the players that are sort of higher skillsets.” The Ontario Minor Hockey Association recognized the efforts of its volunteers to keep the game going in the pandemic as part of its Thank A Volunteer Week running Feb. 22-28. “Volunteers all over the province have found new and creative ways to offer some form of hockey,” executive director, Ian Taylor, said. “It speaks to the love they have for our game and the benefits it provides our children.” Morrissette said it is worthwhile to help youth mental health, which the pandemic has taken its toll on. He urged the community to follow protocols to minimize risks and keep the season going. “We’re excited kids do get the chance to get back onto the ice,” he said. “The number one priority is trying to keep everybody healthy and safe.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander