Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine doses are still “very much on track” despite new threats from Europe on exports by drugmakers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine doses are still “very much on track” despite new threats from Europe on exports by drugmakers.
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. She also says the province will soon share an updated vaccine plan that factors in expected shipments of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province will do that after getting guidance from the federal government on potentially extending the time between first and second doses, like B.C. is doing, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months, Elliott says She also says Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021. The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee is unanimously urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to promise he won't call a federal election while the COVID-19 pandemic rages across Canada.In a report by the procedure and House affairs committee, even Liberal members supported a recommendation calling for a commitment that there will be no election during the pandemic, unless Trudeau's minority Liberal government is defeated on a confidence vote.The committee makes no similar call for opposition parties to promise not to trigger an election during the pandemic by voting non-confidence in the government.However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has vowed his party won't vote to bring the government down as long as the country is in the grip of COVID-19.That should be enough to ensure the survival of the minority Liberal government for the foreseeable future, unless Trudeau decides to trigger an election himself.Trudeau has repeatedly insisted he has no interest in forcing an election but opposition parties remain suspicious."Unfortunately, the Liberal government has already indicated their desire to recklessly send Canadians to the polls at whatever time they deem to be the most advantageous for the prime minister," the Conservatives say in a supplementary report to the committee's report.Indeed, the Conservatives assert, without explanation, that Trudeau has already tried to orchestrate his government's defeat.They thank Liberal committee members for taking "a stand against the whims of the prime minister, who has been eagerly pressing towards an election for the last few months."At the same time, Conservatives have been pursuing a strategy that could give Trudeau justification for calling an election: They've been systematically blocking the government's legislative agenda, including repeatedly delaying a bill authorizing billions in pandemic-related aid.They have also blocked debate on a bill that would give Elections Canada special powers to conduct an election safely, if need be, during the pandemic.Bill C-19 is the government's response to chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault, who has said special measures are urgent given that a minority government is inherently unstable and could theoretically fall at any time. However, some opposition MPs view the legislation as proof that the Liberals are planning to trigger an election.In their own supplementary report, New Democrats argue that an election in the midst of the pandemic "has the potential to undermine the health of our democracy." They point to the current delay in Newfoundland and Labrador's election due to a COVID outbreak as an example of the "delays, confusion and unforeseen barriers in voting" that could undermine Canadians' confidence in the outcome of a federal election."This raises the spectre of a government whose political legitimacy is openly challenged," the NDP committee members say, adding that could lead to the kind of crisis that provoked a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of former president Donald Trump.The Capitol riot, sparked by Trump's unfounded claims that mail-in ballots were fraudulent, appears to have been on the minds of opposition committee members when it comes to other recommendations for how to safely conduct an election, if necessary, during the pandemic.Anticipating a massive increase in mail-in ballots, the chief electoral officer has, among other things, suggested that mail-in ballots received one day after the close of in-person polls should still be counted.The Conservatives say the procedure and House affairs committee should have rejected that proposal, arguing that "the election should end on Election Day and Canadians deserve to know the results without delay."Bloc Quebecois committee members, in their supplementary report, similarly argue that extending the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots "would delay the election results, which would fuel voter suspicion and undermine confidence in the electoral system, which is obviously undesirable."This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — In all, Lionel Desmond spent five years seeking treatment for debilitating mental disorders that emerged after he served as an infantryman during a violent tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007. In 2011, he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression while still serving in the military. But it wasn't until 2016 — almost a year after he was discharged from the military — that he was also diagnosed with "mixed personality traits," an inquiry in Nova Scotia learned Tuesday. The provincial fatality inquiry is investigating why the former corporal bought a rifle on Jan. 3, 2017 and fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in their rural Nova Scotia home. The inquiry has heard much evidence about Desmond's PTSD and depression, mental disorders that combined to cause poor sleep, vivid nightmares, anti-social behaviour, hyper-vigilance and flashbacks that forced him to relive gruesome firefights. But something new was introduced Tuesday by Dr. Robert Ouellette, a psychiatrist at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal, where Desmond was assessed and received in-patient treatment between May 30 and Aug. 15, 2016. Ouellette said Desmond also suffered from so-called mixed personality traits, which mainly involved obsessive compulsive and paranoid behaviour. The psychiatrist said these traits, which were not full-blown disorders, complicated Desmond's treatment because they made him suspicious of other people's motives and unwilling to trust others. "He was not sure if we were working with him or against him," Ouellette testified. As well, Ouellette said these traits seemed to feed Desmond's mistrust and jealousy towards his wife. "They doubt everybody," he said, referring to Desmond's condition. "They will not confide in others because they feel they will turn against them." Ouellette said Desmond's anger and jealousy toward his wife wasn't caused by his PTSD, but the psychiatrist said the condition "might have exacerbated these traits of his personality." Ouellette stressed that the former corporal would have benefited from taking additional medications, something he agreed to do before he arrived at the hospital. But by June 16, 2016, Desmond told Ouellette he would not be taking more drugs. At one point, Desmond told the psychiatrist: "You're not going to take the demon out of me." Still, Ouellette said his patient had made progress in the initial stabilization program, when he reported better sleep patterns, more energy, increased socialization and virtually no depression. That's why Ouellette recommended Desmond for the residential phase of the treatment program, even though he felt his chances for success were only "50/50." In the end, Desmond refused to take new medications, and he left the treatment program before it was finished in August 2016, the inquiry has heard. "If he would have taken the right medications, he would have shown more progress in the residential program and later at home," Ouellette said. The prescribed medications and therapy at the hospital would have also helped Desmond control his outbursts, he said. "Anger was a major problem for him," he said. When asked if Desmond should have been able to access firearms, Ouellette said that would have been a bad idea, mainly because of his anger management challenges. Despite Desmond's lack of co-operation when it came to medications, Ouellette reported that his patient was highly motivated to attend the residential program because he was desperate to become a better father and husband. "There were a lot of problems with his wife," Ouellette said. "He made that the purpose of being with us .... He was always talking more about his marital life than his PTSD symptoms." Ouellette said Desmond's wife told hospital staff that her husband had never been physically violent toward her and their daughter, and she said she was not afraid of him. The psychiatrist said Shanna and Aaliyah Desmond had visited him in Montreal for four days, and there was every indication it was a successful encounter. Desmond left the hospital in August 2016. The inquiry has heard that Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Veterans Affairs Canada was in the process of getting him the help he needed. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
Trois-Rivières – Quatre jeunes entrepreneurs de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec font partie des 75 qui ont été sélectionnés par le gouvernement du Québec pour recevoir une bourse d'honneur de 25 000$. Cette bourse est remise à des personnes de 18 à 35 ans issus de 16 régions du Québec pour favoriser le développement de leur entreprise. Chaque récipiendaire bénéficiera également d'un accompagnement gratuit d'un an, offert par le Réseau Mentorat. En Mauricie, Florence Bélanger de la Coopérative La Charrette et Luc Lévesque de l'entreprise Le Maltraiteur ont été choisis. La Coopérative La Charrette produit des légumes biologiques vitaminés et colorés sous forme de paniers bio pour les restaurants et épiceries ainsi que pour des kiosques libre-service. L’entreprise d’économie sociale vise à créer des emplois de qualité en région et à tisser des liens durables avec ses clients. Quant au Maltraiteur, il s'agit d'une compagnie de malterie qui élabore une gamme de malts traditionnels provenant de producteurs locaux de céréales certifiées Agrinature pour créer des saveurs d’ici et répondre aux besoins des microbrasseurs et microdistilleurs du Québec. Au Centre-du-Québec, le choix s'est arrêté sur Mathieu Gauthier du restaurant Le Rachel et sur Rose Guillemette de Kear's Workshop. Le Rachel est un restaurant gastronomique drummondvillois qui se spécialise dans la mise en valeur des produits locaux et saisonniers, les vins d’importation privée biologiques, les cocktails originaux et les bières de microbrasserie. Des menus dégustation de trois ou cinq services à l’aveugle sont offerts tous les soirs et le restaurant offre des cours de cuisine, de mixologie et de sommellerie aux clients intéressés. Pour ce qui est de Kear's Workshop, cette boutique en ligne vend des vêtements de mode fabriqués uniquement à partir de matières recyclées : sandales, casquettes, manteaux, t-shirts et maillots de bain. Avec sa diversité de produits, de modèles et de couleurs autant pour les hommes que pour les femmes, Kear’s Workshop veut pousser les gens à changer leur manière d’agir et de penser. Ses maillots de bain sont conçus à partir de bouteilles d’eau en plastique ainsi que de filets à pêche. « Les enjeux et les défis économiques auxquels nous sommes confrontés sont nombreux. La pandémie a frappé le Québec de plein fouet, et le gouvernement s'affaire à le remettre en marche. Soutenir et accompagner de jeunes entrepreneurs permet de poser un jalon important dans le passage vers une économie transformée, renouvelée et tournée vers l'avenir. Bravo aux récipiendaires! », exprime MarieChantal Chassé, adjointe parlementaire du ministre de l'Économie et de l'Innovation pour les volets Innovation et entrepreneuriat. «Je félicite les gagnants des 75 bourses d'honneur pour l'année 2020. Le Québec a besoin de jeunes entrepreneurs en vue d'assurer sa vitalité économique et cette initiative est une belle façon de stimuler la création d'entreprise. Je tiens à souligner la grande mobilisation des différents intervenants régionaux et la concertation entre eux. Plus il y aura d'entreprises en croissance, plus nous générerons de la richesse partout au Québec. Nous comptons sur l'énergie, la créativité et l'audace de leurs dirigeants pour faire croître et prospérer les régions», souligne pour sa part Marie-Eve Proulx, ministre déléguée au Développement économique régional et ministre des régions de Chaudière-Appalaches et du Bas-Saint-Laurent. La cérémonie de reconnaissance aura lieu le 18 mars prochain, au cours de l'événement virtuel Expo Entrepreneurs 2021. Ce sont 410 projets qui ont été évalués selon, notamment, leur originalité, leur caractère novateur, leur plan marketing et leur analyse de marché. Ces candidatures ont été évaluées par le ministère de l'Économie et de l'Innovation, conjointement avec le Carrefour d'entrepreneuriat et d'innovation-Desjardins de l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, les espaces régionaux d'accélération et de croissance, les tables d'action en entrepreneuriat de chacune des régions et plusieurs entrepreneurs. En 2018 et en 2019, 195 bourses d'honneur de 25 000 $ ont été attribuées, dont 50 à des entrepreneurs de la diversité de tous âges et 145 à des entrepreneurs de 18 à 35 ans. Marc-André Pelletier, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Nouvelliste
Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the U.S. to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let down their guard yet. The state will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock. The governors of Michigan and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of San Francisco. “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed." A year into the outbreak, politicians and ordinary Americans alike have grown tired of rules meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed over a half-million people in the United States. Some places are lifting infection control measures; in other places, people are ignoring them. Top health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have responded by begging people repeatedly not to risk another deadly wave of contagion just when the nation is making progress in vaccinating people and victory over the pandemic is in sight. U.S. cases have plunged more than 70% over the past two months from an average of nearly 250,000 new infections a day, while average deaths per day have plummeted about 40% since mid-January. But the two curves have levelled off abruptly in the past several days and have even risen slightly, and the numbers are still running at alarmingly high levels, with an average of about 2,000 deaths and 68,000 cases per day. Health officials are increasingly worried about virus mutations. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned on Monday. Even so, many states are allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining, reopening movie theatres and expanding mass gatherings, while Americans are eager to socialize again. An Indianapolis-area bar was filled with maskless patrons over the weekend. In Southern California, people waited in lines that snaked through a parking lot on a recent weekday afternoon for the chance to shop and eat at Downtown Disney, part of the Disneyland. (The theme park's rides remain closed.) And Florida is getting ready to welcome students on spring break. “People want to stay safe, but at the same time, the fatigue has hit,” said Ryan Luke, who is organizing a weekend rally in Eagle, Idaho, to encourage people to patronize businesses that don’t require masks. "We just want to live a quasi-normal life.” Miichael Junge argued against a mask mandate when officials in the Missouri tourist town of Branson passed one and said he hasn’t enforced it in his Lost Boys Barber Company. He said he is sick of it. “I think the whole thing is a joke honestly,” he said. “They originally said that this was going to go for a month and they have pushed it out to indefinitely. ... It should have been done a long time ago.” In San Francisco, and upbeat Mayor London Breed announced that California gave the green light to indoor dining and the reopening of of movie theatres and gyms. Florida is getting ready for spring break travellers to flock to its sunny beaches. The state is considered to be in an “active outbreak,” along with Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina, according to the data-tracking website CovidActNow. Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis made it clear during his annual State of the State speech Tuesday that he welcomes more visitors to Florida in his drive to keep the state’s economy thriving. Municipalities can impose their own mask rules and curfews, restrict beach access and place some limits on bars and restaurants, but some have virtually no such measures in place ahead of the season. Miami Beach will require masks both indoors and out and will restrict the number of people allowed on the beach as well as in bars and restaurants. “If you want to party without restrictions, then go somewhere else. Go to Vegas,” Miami Beach City Manager Raul Aguila said during a recent virtual meeting. “We will be taking a zero-tolerance attitude towards that behaviour.” In Michigan, a group called All Business Is Essential has resisted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s virus policies, and many people are abandoning mask requirements and other measures, said group leader Erik Kiilunen. “At some point you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Do I want a zero-risk life?’” he said. “It’s become a farce, really. People have quit living for a year, at what price?” “I think everybody wants things to get back the way they were,” said Aubrey D. Jenkins, the fire chief in Columbia, South Carolina, whose department issues dozens of $100 citations every weekend to bar-goers who refuse to wear masks or keep their distance. “But we still have to be real cautious.” ___ Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahasee, Florida; Anila Yoganathan in Tucker, Georgia; John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Paul J. Webber in Austin, Texas; Janie Har in San Francisco; and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this story. The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Jhene Aiko will take on hosting duties at the Grammy Awards premiere ceremony this month. The Recording Academy announced Tuesday that the Grammy-nominated singer will host the pre-show, where most trophies are awarded. It will be streamed live on the Grammy’s website ahead of the 63rd annual ceremony on March 14. The Grammys will be held in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. The pre-show will feature performances by rapper Burna Boy, singer Rufus Wainwright, jazz band Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, pianist Igor Levit, singer Poppy and Latin electropop musician Lido Pimienta. Aiko’s third studio album “Chilombo” is nominated for album of the year and best progressive R&B album. She’s also up for best R&B performance for her song “Lightning & Thunder,” featuring John Legend. The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape at the slowest pace of any in modern history, with fewer than a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month into his tenure. Among Biden’s 23 nominees with Cabinet rank, just 11 have been confirmed by the Senate, or about half. And among the 15 core nominees to lead federal agencies, 10 have been confirmed, or about two thirds. According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month into their first terms, the previous four presidents had 84% of their core Cabinet picks confirmed. The delay in confirmations means some departments are left without their top decision-makers as they attempt to put in place policies to address the overlapping crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said there are a number of “big decisions” at HHS and across the federal government that are waiting on leadership from the top. “It’s very unfortunate. And in the middle of a huge health crisis, it’s the wrong thing to do,” she said. “Civil servants are capable, but they need leadership. And they’re used to having leaders.” Shalala was confirmed two days after President Bill Clinton was sworn in, and said she had her chain of command ready to go and could immediately dig into a long list of decisions and policy changes. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s HHS nominee, will get a committee vote Wednesday, and he’s expected to receive easy confirmation. But Shalala pointed to a laundry list of issues — from oversight of hospitals, health care companies and nursing homes during the pandemic to issues surrounding drug pricing, telemedicine and child care services — that urgently need his input. Lacking a department head, she said, “just slows everything down.” Matt Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit organization that tracks presidential transitions, said federal departments tend to act more conservatively around decision-making and shifting policies without the top brass in place. “Missing the top person means that it’s pretty difficult to actually address the very big questions and to make big changes," he said. “And there’s a natural conservatism in place when people don’t know yet what the top person is going to really want.” The slow pace in confirmations partly results from the delay in the transition process resulting from President Donald Trump's attempts to dispute his loss in the 2020 presidential race and from what the Biden White House says was a lack of co-operation from Trump administration officials. Senate Democrats did not win a majority of seats in the chamber until the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections, and then it took nearly a month for Democratic and Republican leadership to agree on a resolution governing the organization of the upper chamber, which further delayed committee work. And Democrats privately acknowledge that Trump’s second impeachment trial also slowed down the process some, eating up a week of valuable time in the Senate and bogging lawmakers down with other work beyond reviewing and processing Biden’s nominees. Still, Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates said that after the delays “stemming from the previous administration’s resistance to the will of the American people,” the relatively smooth confirmation progress in recent weeks “is both welcome and appreciated.” He added, however, “it is hardly enough, and nominees with strong bipartisan support — and who are critical to defeating the pandemic and turning our economy around with the creation of millions of jobs — remain needlessly obstructed by individual members. That must change.” The Biden administration has prioritized confirming those nominees who are key to national security, the economy and public health decisions. Biden does have in place his director of national intelligence, and his top brass at the departments of State, Homeland Security and Defence, as well as his treasury secretary. But in addition to waiting on Becerra at HHS, the administration lacks top leaders at the Justice Department, Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration, departments that will be key to some of Biden's top priorities and the implementation of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill, if it's passed into law later this month. And the delay in confirming top posts also means a delay in confirming and seating deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, who are often in charge of the nitty gritty in implementing major policy. Shalala noted, for instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will offer guidance on how insurers should cover coronavirus costs and implementation on aspects of the COVID-19 aid bill, and currently only has an acting administrator. She also noted HHS has deputies who oversee everything from refugee resettlement to child care programs. Among those awaiting confirmation is Biden’s nominee to head the budget office, Neera Tanden. Her nomination is in doubt after she lost support from a key Democrat and a number of centrist Republicans, adding to uncertainty surrounding the administration’s first budget. The Biden administration has yet to offer a timeline for releasing the budget, citing the transition delays and a lack of co-operation from the Trump administration. That puts them behind most recent presidents, who typically submit written budget toplines to Congress by the end of February, though Trump didn’t submit his until mid-March. The Biden administration has not been completely hamstrung by the slow pace of confirmations, however. The White House has issued a number of executive orders outlining policy reviews and changes that are underway at federal departments, and civil servants are working through key policy decisions, even without Senate-confirmed leadership in place. For instance, while Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Miguel Cardona, was just confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, the department's acting head last month put out guidelines requiring states to administer standardized tests despite the pandemic. And Stier noted that the Biden administration has installed hundreds of non-Senate-confirmed staff across the federal government, helping to provide guidance even without department heads in place. Biden himself swore in more than 1,100 non-Senate-confirmed staff throughout the federal government on the first day of his presidency, a number Stier said was unprecedented. "It ameliorates the problem in that you then have in place people who can provide guidance to the career team about what the administration’s positions and priorities are," Stier said. ___ AP writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Matthew Daly and Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report. Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press
Western Hockey League broadcaster Bob Ridley marked a career milestone Saturday, calling his 4,000th game for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Ridley has been the voice of the team broadcasts since the Tigers' first game, Oct. 15, 1970, and he's called every game since, but one. "Those 50 years and 4,000 games went by real quick, so I guess I might have enjoyed what I was doing," said Ridley on the Calgary Eyeopener. Saturday's game at Co-op Place resulted in a Tigers win, 7-2, against the Red Deer Rebels in the 2020-21 home opener. LISTEN to Ridley's famous voice here: He said that despite the building being empty save the players, it was a "marvellous evening" of tribute from team staff and players. However, the looming achievement was a bit of a distraction. "I'm kind of glad that milestone has come and gone and I can move on with other things," he said. He was originally set to call his milestone game in March 2020, but the pandemic put a pause on that until the team returned to action last month with a shortened season. For 50 seasons, Ridley has done play-by-play for the games; and for 45 seasons, he's also driven the team bus. "That's one way I got to meet and know the players real well," he said. "As a result of it, I became very, very good friends with most of them." Many NHL stars got their start with the Tigers, including Lanny McDonald, Kelly Hrudey, Rob Niedermayer, Trevor Linden, Tom Lysiak and Bryan McCabe. Bob Ridley was honoured by the team and staff on Saturday at Medicine Hat's Co-op Place.(Medicine Hat Tigers) Career in review Ridley, originally from Vulcan, Alta., began broadcasting on the radio on weekends in Drumheller while studying at Mount Royal College in Calgary. He went on to do more radio gigs, and started to call play-by-play for a baseball team in Swift Current, Sask. After moving to Medicine Hat in 1968, he began broadcasting senior hockey. In 1969, the Medicine Hat hockey rink, called Arena Gardens, burned to the ground, but it was replaced a year later with the Medicine Hat Arena. That same year, 1970, the Tigers entered the league as a franchise and Ridley began calling their games. The one game he missed came in 1972, when he was assigned to cover the women's national curling championship in Saskatoon. The game has changed since those early days, says Ridley, who has seen three generations of athletes play, in some cases. "It's so fast now and it seems to change about every three or four years … it's so quick now. And speed and scale is what it's all about," he said. "That's what keeps me going, watching these young kids develop and move on and more kids coming up through the ranks." Last week, the WHL announced a new award, the Bob Ridley Award for Media Excellence, which will be awarded annually in his honour. He was the first recipient of the award, among many in his career. He says he's not fussed about hitting any other major milestone but rather will be "just taking it one game at a time." With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.
EDMONTON — Asmaa Ali says slurs about her hijab and the colour of her skin have become so frequent she doesn't report them to police anymore. Whether she's running errands or on her way to work as a nurse at an Edmonton hospital, the 23-year-old Somali-Canadian says she's always looking over her shoulder. She and several other Black and Muslim women in her life are feeling more frightened in public, she says, because of an increasing number of assaults. Five Somali-Canadian women, all wearing hijabs, have been attacked or threatened in Edmonton in the last 10 weeks. "I've always been hyper-vigilant in public spaces because of my identity. But hearing about these attacks has made me more anxious and aware of my surroundings." Ali says she also has been assaulted in the past, but is too traumatized to reveal details. Avoiding public transit, not running errands alone and self-defence classes are all things she says she and her female friends and family are considering. Edmonton's Al-Rashid Mosque began offering Muslim women self-defence lessons following the recent attacks. The classes are full. Ali says the number of hate crimes reported to Alberta's police forces are not reflective of the increasing number of people approaching her with their stories of assaults. "It makes me enraged," she says. "Most of my visibly Muslim friends and family members have a story of some kind of Islamophobia. The general public hears about this through the media, while our reality is that these are our sisters and our mothers." Trent Daley is a member of Edmonton's Anti-Racism Advisory Committee. He says someone approaches him or his network on a weekly basis about an assault. Most victims are Black and Muslim women. "There's been a notable marked increase (in assaults) following the pandemic. It's so pervasive right now," Daley says. "It's full of racial epithets, full of disgusting language targeting them based off the scarf that they wear and the identity they presumed that this person has. It's dehumanizing." Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. Cheryl Voordenhout with the Edmonton Police Service says it received 60 reports of hate crimes last year. So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women. On Dec. 8, a mother and daughter were violently attacked in the Southgate mall parking lot. A week later, near the same mall, another woman was subject to racial slurs as someone tried to hit her head with a shopping bag. In February, a man made racial comments and became aggressive toward a woman at the University of Alberta transit centre. The same day, a man came up behind a woman walking in a popular neighbourhood, pushed her to the ground and made threats to kill her and tear off her burqa. The latest attack happened Feb. 17. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said a man approached a Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab at the Century Park transit station, swore at her and threatened to kill her. Political leaders, including Premier Jason Kenney, have spoken out against the attacks. But the CEO of the national Muslims council says condemnation is not enough and government leaders at the local and provincial level need to take action. "Anti-Black racism is a real problem in Alberta," said Mustafa Farooq. "Black-Muslim women tend to face greater challenges than almost anyone else, because racism and gendered Islamophobia are real problems. "We can look, for example, at street harassment bylaws. We can look at ways in which anti-racism initiatives are being funded. We can look at hate crime units and their advocacy in dealing with these challenges," Farooq says. "So much can be done immediately, but it's not happening." Daley adds that recent rallies and marches in Edmonton and Calgary in opposition to COVID-19 measures are examples of how the pandemic has exacerbated racism in Alberta. Some participants were seen carrying tiki torches, which many say are a symbol used by white supremacists. Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said the police service is doubling down in its effort to work with the Somali community to address racially motivated assaults. "We've got to listen to what they need and then we've got to figure out how we can ... actually get some of the changes that they need," he said at a news conference Tuesday. McFee also alluded to the suspects in the assaults possibly having mental-health issues. Ali says the Muslim community needs support from leaders and neighbours. "It's widely researched that repeatedly experiencing racism ... causes worse health outcomes for communities of colour. In a pandemic that's brought so many of our inequalities to the forefront, these (attacks) are only making it worse," she says. "Every single time we hear that yet another woman has been attacked, we hold our breath and call our family and friends." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021 ___ This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — North American stock markets were quieter after experiencing strong gains to start March. The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 121.98 points to 18,421.60. But U.S. markets were lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 143.99 points at 13,391.52. The S&P 500 index was down 31.53 points at 3,870.29, while the Nasdaq composite was down 230.04 points at 13,358.79. The Canadian dollar traded for 79.20 cents US compared with 78.98 cents US on Monday. The April crude oil contract was down 89 cents at US$59.75 per barrel and the April natural gas contract was up 6.2 cents at US$2.84 per mmBTU. The April gold contract was up US$10.60 at US$1,733.60 an ounce and the May copper contract was up 10.9 cents at US$4.22 a pound. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X) The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Residential sales in metropolitan Montreal fell in February for the first time in six years as transactions plunged outside Quebec's largest city. The Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers says the number of sales decreased three per cent from a year earlier to 5,106 homes for the first February decline since 2015. Sales decreased 32 per cent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 14 per cent in Laval, 10 per cent in Vaudreuil-Soulanges and eight per cent on the South Shore. However, sales increased six per cent on the Island of Montreal due to the strength of the condo market. Sales of plexes with two to five units increased 19 per cent, single-family homes fell 14 per cent and condo sales were up eight per cent. The median price for single-family homes increased 28 per cent to $460,000. Condominium prices rose 24 per cent to $340,000 and plex prices climbed nine per cent to $650,000. Total sales in metropolitan Quebec City increased six per cent with condos up 50 per cent and plexes 48 per cent higher. Single-family homes were down 11 per cent. The median price of single-family homes grew 13 per cent to $295,000, plexes were up 16 per cent to $375,000 and condos were four per cent higher at $198,000. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Nearly a decade ago, the United States was touting Myanmar as an American success story. The Obama administration reveled in the restoration of civilian rule in the longtime U.S. pariah as a top foreign policy achievement and a potential model for engaging with other adversaries, such as Iran and Cuba. But today, Myanmar is once again an international outcast, facing a new wave of U.S. sanctions. A coup has returned the military to power and pro-democracy activists, reform advocates and journalists have been attacked and detained in a brutal crackdown. The collapse is not America’s fault, to be sure, but it follows inconsistent efforts to nudge the Southeast Asian nation further toward democracy, enthusiasm for which was diminished by a systematic campaign of repression against Muslim minorities in the country's north. After years of robust diplomacy with Myanmar under President Barack Obama focused mainly on then-opposition leader and now jailed State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Trump administration adopted a largely hands-off policy. It focused primarily on Myanmar’s strategic importance in the competition between the United States and China for influence in the region. Myanmar has become a reminder that, for all the hopefulness and anticipation of Obama administration officials – many of whom now serve in the Biden administration – there are limits to America’s ability to shape developments in another nation, particularly one so reclusive and far away. The restoration of civilian rule after six decades of dictatorship was at least partially the fruit of one of the Obama administration’s earliest attempts to reach out to a country long denounced by the U.S. Overtures to Iran and Cuba would come later, buoyed in part by what appeared to be success in Myanmar. Sanctions were eased, diplomatic representation bolstered and aid was increased. Obama made two trips to Myanmar, also known as Burma, as president and his two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, each visited the country twice themselves. Clinton’s visit in 2011 was the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.. She met with Suu Kyi at the lakeside home where the opposition leader had been held under house arrest for years, Just six years earlier, President George W. Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had branded Myanmar as one of six “outposts of tyranny” for the military’s refusal to brook dissent and rejection of democratic elections. And, in 2007, as world leaders gathered at the annual United Nations General Assembly, a crackdown on Buddhist monk-led protests, the so-called “Saffron Revolution,” attracted widespread concern and international condemnation, including high-profile repudiations from Rice and then-first lady Laura Bush. Thus, the opening initiated by Obama and Clinton in 2010 augured what many hoped would be a new beginning for Myanmar, whose military leaders were then ostensibly concerned about being overly reliant on China for trade and security. There was initial enthusiasm over the thaw, over Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi’s elevation to a leadership role despite being barred from running for office, and over Myanmar’s steady but hesitant opening of its once cloistered country. But that soon faded, most notably over the government’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, who became the target of a ruthless campaign of repression and abuse. Repeated entreaties to Suu Kyi, who was appointed State Councilor after her National League for Democracy won 60% of the vote, and others on behalf of the Rohingya and other minorities went unheeded. Still, the Obama administration continued to have faith in her. “Proud of my friend Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma for never giving up in the long struggle to bring change to their country,” Clinton said in 2015, after having devoted an entire chapter of her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices” to the Obama administration’s policies toward the nation. Despite Kerry’s two trips to Myanmar, the administration became rapidly consumed with the Iran nuclear deal and normalization of ties with Cuba. At the same time, it was pursuing an ill-fated effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. So Myanmar’s halting and imperfect democratization was left largely untended by officials in Washington. When President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration made no secret of the fact that it was focused less on bilateral ties than in concentrating on a broader effort to blunt China’s growing regional influence. In November 2017, Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made that administration’s only high-level visit to the country and on his return declared that the military-backed violence against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state amounted to “ethnic cleansing.” Sanctions on the country’s top military leaders followed the next month. But since then, U.S. attention to Myanmar has been sporadic, dominated primarily by public expressions of disappointment in Suu Kyi, who defended the military crackdown in Rakhine and opposed efforts to initiate and international investigation into it. Stirrings of the Feb. 1 coup, coming as those elected in November 2020 elections won by Suu Kyi’s party were to take their seats in parliament, did not appear to be a priority in Washington, where officials were preoccupied by domestic political problems of their own. In its final weeks in office, the Trump administration made no public comments about growing civilian-military tensions in Myanmar despite speaking out about democracy concerns in Venezuela, Tanzania, Uganda, Cuba, Iran and Russia. After taking over on Jan. 20, the Biden administration was similarly silent until Jan. 29 when the U.S. Embassy in Yangon signed onto a joint statement with several other embassies to support democracy in the country and to oppose “any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.” The warning went unheeded by the military. “There was a risk that the Burmese generals were playing us,” Clinton wrote about the 2010-11 rapprochement with Myanmar in “Hard Choices.” That fear may have been prescient. Matthew Lee, The Associated Press
On Wednesday, the verdict in Toronto’s van attack trial will be revealed. Alek Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Erica Vella reports.
TORONTO — Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations, the province said Tuesday, but it remained unclear who those shots would go to. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that's recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older. "Anyone over that age it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine," Elliott said. There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to "suggested superior efficacy.'' Elliott said the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot is still a "very versatile" vaccine because it doesn't have the same cold storage requirements as the other two. As a result, the newly approved shot might be used in correctional facilities, she said, although she did not provide further details. Canada is set to receive a half-million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Wednesday, according to the federal procurement minister. Elliott said an updated vaccination plan that factors in expected Oxford-AstraZeneca supply will be shared soon but the province is first awaiting federal guidance about potentially extending the interval of time between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months. "There's a lot that is in the mix right now, but we expect that to be finalized very shortly and we will be making a public announcement of the plan very soon," Elliott said. British Columbia announced Monday that it was implementing the four-month interval for doses. Elliott said extending the time between doses would make a "considerable" difference in the vaccine rollout, but the government wants to make its decision based on scientific advice. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the lack of clarity on the government's vaccine distribution plan is troubling. "Why isn't the government being upfront, being clear, being transparent about what the plan is," she said. "I don't think the government is providing any of that information and Ontarians deserve to know." Ontario has so far focused on vaccinating the highest-priority groups, including long-term care residents and certain health-care workers. The province has said it aims to start vaccinating residents aged 80 and older starting the third week of March, though the timeline is subject to change. Some public health units, however, have moved ahead with vaccinations for the general population, starting with the 80 and older cohort. Those units are taking bookings for immunizations through their own web or phone systems as a provincial portal remains under development. In London, Ont., the city's top doctor said the health unit booked more than 5,000 appointments for seniors aged 80 and older within two hours of opening its booking system Tuesday morning. "Tremendous response from the 80+ crowd!" Dr. Chris Mackie wrote on Twitter, adding that the phone line was "overwhelmed" with 145,000 calls. In York Region, seniors lined up outside large vaccination sites for the second day in a row, many leaning on walkers or wheelchairs in the cold weather. Hamilton and Guelph reported long wait times amid high call volumes as vaccines were made available to older residents. The province, meanwhile, began testing its vaccine booking web portal in six public health units on Monday ahead of its full launch on March 15. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit said Tuesday that it was testing the portal with a small group of health-care workers already scheduled to be vaccinated. "We are evaluating the results of this pilot to help inform further development of the system before it opens up for the community," it said. Participants were contacted through their employer and the health unit said it's not yet making appointments for those in the 80 and older age cohort. Ontario reported 966 more COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and 11 more deaths from the virus. It has administered a total of 727,021 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
The Village of Clive will hold its annual “Fun Fest” this summer even if it’s limited to COVID-friendly events. Councillors made the decision at their Feb. 22 regular meeting held via Zoom to meet pandemic rules. Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Carla Kenney presented councillors with a list of proposed events for a 2021 Fun Fest and stated that by June it may be possible to hold outdoor social events. Coun. Susan Russell stated fireworks would be great and something people would look forward to. Russell noted the village should try to keep the event as “normal” as possible and trust people to follow pandemic rules. Russell stated she also liked a scavenger hunt idea. Coun. Jeremy Whelan stated some measures, such as people watching the fireworks from their cars, could be done rather easily. Coun. Norma Penny agreed fireworks should be fine regardless of the pandemic situation, and both a parade and no-contact scavenger hunt should also work. Kenney noted if the event was to be held in June, the village normally begins planning at the end of February. Councillors passed a motion that the Village of Clive proceed with planning a 2021 Fun Fest. Fire rules Councillors provided more input on the proposed fire protection bylaw. Kenney noted the bylaw would allow fines to be moved onto a tax roll if left unpaid. The topic of mesh screens over fire pits returned. A staff report noted Lacombe County requires such screens for fire safety, while other municipalities, like Sylvan Lake, don’t. Coun. Hallman stated she wasn’t sure the majority of residents would agree with the mesh screen requirement, and Coun. Penny agreed. Penny stated she didn’t see a need for mesh screens. Coun. Susan Russell stated she understood the screens can help reduce fire risk. Coun. Whelan stated he also didn’t see the need for screens, as sparks can still get through mesh. Mayor Henry stated, if councillors include mesh screens in the bylaw, everyone should be expected to follow the rules. Councillors decided staff would remove the mesh screen requirement, and simply encourage people to use them. The draft bylaw will return at a future meeting. Addressing in Clive Councillors unanimously approved second and third reading of the Addressing Bylaw, brought forward a few weeks ago after an instance where emergency personnel apparently had trouble finding a residence. CAO Kenney stated first reading was already passed, it had been publicly advertised, the CAO has the authority to administer the bylaw and council has the authority to choose street names. Coun. Hallman asked if, in violation, a resident will get at least one warning first before getting tickets. Kenney stated the village staff usually go warning first for everything before tickets are considered. Mayor Henry noted penalties are listed in the bylaw. In-person meetings Mayor Henry asked her peers if they wanted to resume in-person meetings, or continue with Zoom over the internet. She noted the provincial government is still encouraging councils to meet with Zoom. Kenney stated in-person meetings could be done if all guidelines are followed; however, any delegations would have to be done virtually. Coun. Hallman was in favour of continuing with Zoom to avoid any more pandemic expenses. Coun. Penny agreed but stated councillors should look at this again in April as Clive’s internet isn’t that great. Mayor Henry noted some provincial grant money might be available for COVID barriers in the village office. Coun. Russell stated in-person meetings are always superior when it comes to understanding everything that’s going on. Councillors decided to continue with Zoom for now but have staff look into the costs of barriers in the village office to accommodate council meetings. Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Jihadis linked to the Islamic State group attacked the northeastern Nigerian town of Dikwa and humanitarian posts there, security officials said. The attack in Borno state that began late Monday night came about 48 hours after the governor of Borno state, Babagana Zulum, visited the community along with other officials, to distribute cash and food to displaced families there. The assailants arrived in trucks and motorcycles, surrounding residents and people staying at a camp for people who are displaced within Nigeria, residents said. The member representing Dikwa at the Borno state House of Assembly, Zakariya Dikwa, said they burned down the police station, the primary health centre and attacked humanitarian offices and left with their vehicles. “The attack was massive because the Boko Haram fighters went there with over 13 gun trucks — all of which had their bodies pasted with mud,” he said. The military later confirmed the fighters are with Boko Haram offshoot The Islamic State of West Africa Province, known as ISWAP. It said in a statement Tuesday that the military had routed the jihadis from Dikwa with heavy bombardment and firepower. The jihadis tried to invade the town after hearing of the food distribution. The U.N. co-ordinator of humanitarian affairs in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, also confirmed an attack on humanitarian facilities in Dikwa, saying several aid facilities were directly targeted, in a statement released by the UNOCHA office in Nigeria. “The attack started last night and, as information is still coming through, I am outraged to hear the premises of several aid agencies and a hospital were reportedly set ablaze or sustained damage,” he said. “I strongly condemn the attack and am deeply concerned about the safety and security of civilians in Dikwa, including internally displaced people inside and outside camps and thousands of people who had returned to the community to rebuild their lives after years in displacement.” The attack “will affect the support provided to nearly 100,000 people who are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic risks spreading in Borno State,” he said. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said “the humanitarian hub was managed by the International Organization for Migration," the U.N. agency that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers. ISWAP split from Boko Haram in 2016 and has become a threat in the region. Nigeria has been fighting the more than 10-year Boko Haram insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions. Haruna Umar, The Associated Press
Administrative staff presented Kneehill County council members with a draft policy to reduce council remunerations to aid the county in saving money amid financial hardships, which came as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during the Tuesday, February 23 regular Kneehill County council meeting. Discussion first began in December 2020 and was brought back to council during the Tuesday, January 26 council meeting where council voted in favour of administration drafting a new remuneration policy. “I like how it’s all brought back into one policy, especially Schedule A showing a decrease of 15 per cent roughly,” said Councillor Debbie Penner. According to council expense reports, each council member receives an annual base pay remuneration of $27,958; the Reeve and Deputy Reeve receive base pay of $36,468 and $31,605 respectively. Attendance at regular council meetings is included in the base salary rates, and council also receive per diem for attendance at other board and committee meetings, mileage allowance for travel--which is already at the minimum mandatory rate set by the Canada Revenue Agency, and a communications allowance--which has been beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when attendance at regular council and committee meetings may not have been feasible. Council remuneration fell under numerous policies, including overnight and conference attendance. The drafted Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy will combine the 13 current policies into a singular, overarching policy. The draft policy will reduce council base pay by 15 per cent and includes compensation for attendance at various social functions as representatives of Kneehill County, including various ceremonies, parades, and photo ops. Councillor Kenneth King thanked his fellow council members for the work done to review the policies. He moved for the new Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy to be brought back for ratification at the Tuesday, March 9 council meeting. Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail
PIERRE, S.D. — Top South Dakota lawmakers announced a proposal on Tuesday to delay evaluating whether the state's attorney general should be impeached until the conclusion of the criminal case against him for hitting and killing a man with his car. House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, released a plan he will present to a House committee on Wednesday, arguing that a delay was necessary in light of a judge's order last week that halted Gov. Kristi Noem and government officials from releasing evidence in the investigation. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg — also a Republican — is facing three misdemeanour charges for striking and killing a man walking on the shoulder of a highway late on Sept. 12. Ravnsborg initially told authorities that he thought he had struck a deer or another large animal and said he searched the unlit area with a cellphone flashlight. He said he didn’t realize he had killed a man until the next day when he returned to the accident scene. A bipartisan group of lawmakers had filed articles of impeachment against the state's top law enforcement officer last week, just hours after Noem had called for Ravnsborg to resign. The Republican governor also made the extraordinary move of releasing videos of interviews Ravnsborg had with criminal investigators. But her administration was later forced to remove the videos by a judge in the county where the criminal case against Ravnsborg is proceeding. “Our proceedings need to be fair and transparent," Gosch said in a statement. "In light of the recent court order issued by the Honorable John Brown, we have some concerns on what our abilities are in a public proceeding.” Gosch's proposal amounted to a step back from the impeachment proceedings after the governor and some lawmakers had used nearly every available means to get Ravnsborg to resign last week. The lawmaker said he would propose removing the articles of impeachment from the legislative resolution and replacing them with a statement saying that after Ravnsborg's criminal trial, the House “may evaluate whether articles of impeachment ... are necessary and proceed accordingly.” Both House Republican Leader, Kent Peterson, and Democratic Leader, Jamie Smith, said they agreed with the delay. A hearing date for Ravnsborg's criminal case has not been set. Gosch said it would also require a special session of the Legislature to reconvene for impeachment, which would require support from two-thirds of both chambers. If the House decided to proceed with the impeachment, it would take a simple majority to advance the impeachment charges to the Senate. There, it would require two-thirds of senators to convict and remove him from office. Noem would get to appoint a replacement if Ravnsborg leaves or is removed from office. Stephen Groves, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer says new COVID-19 cases are starting to tick back up after a month-long decline, giving urgency to the question of who should receive doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive in Canada Wednesday. The "moderate increase" at the national level noted by Dr. Theresa Tam is in keeping with models forecasting a spike in cases over the next two months unless stricter public health measures are imposed to combat more contagious strains of the virus. “The concern is that we will soon see an impact on hospitalization, critical care and mortality trends," Tam said Tuesday. Canada saw 2,933 new cases on average over the past week, a figure similar to last Friday's numbers that revealed week-over-week increases of between eight and 14 per cent in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The uptick comes as provinces figure out how to allocate their various vaccines, especially as Canada receives 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced at the Serum Institute of India. About 445,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are also arriving this week, said Procurement Minister Anita Anand. Guidance on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has caused some confusion. Health Canada authorized its use last week for all adults but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends it not be administered to people 65 and over. The advisory committee cites concern over limited data from clinical trials for older patients. Health Canada also acknowledges that issue. But the advisory panel, which recommends how vaccines should be used, says the limitation means seniors should take priority for the two greenlighted mRNA vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — where dearth of data is not an issue. Alberta's health minister said Monday the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca's vaccine to anyone over 65. British Columbia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island are on similar courses, though details on who will get those jabs is not always clear. "With clinical testing of AstraZeneca limited to those under 65, we will need to adjust our plan to look at a parallel track for some of these more flexible vaccines in order to cast the widest net possible," the B.C. health ministry said in an email. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott characterized Oxford-AstraZeneca as "very versatile " because it lacks the same cold-storage requirements as the two other vaccines in use in Canada. It won't go to seniors, but she said shots might be administered in correctional facilities for that reason. P.E.I. will target AstraZeneca at "healthy younger individuals who are working in certain front-line, essential services," said Dr. Heather Morrison, the province's chief medical officer of health. Health officials in Quebec and New Brunswick say they await further advice from health authorities and are taking time to examine how to deploy the latest vaccine. Nova Scotia's chief medical health officer Dr. Robert Strang said the province has yet to give an answer to Ottawa "about whether we actually want to take the vaccine." All provinces must provide a response by midday Thursday, he said. Two experts say essential workers who are more likely to contract and transmit COVID-19 should be prioritized for immunization with the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses. Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller and mathematician at Simon Fraser University, and Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, also say the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be better promoted by provincial health officials as a strong alternative to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca reported their vaccine is about 62 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 while Pifzer-BioNTech and Moderna have said the efficacy of their vaccines is about 95 per cent. But Colijn and Bach say the fact there have been no hospitalizations from severe illness and no deaths among those receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine needs to be underscored because people awaiting immunization seem to be fixated on the higher efficacy data for the first two vaccines approved in Canada. "If the AstraZeneca vaccine will prevent you from getting really sick that's still a win for you," Colijn said. "I see this huge, huge benefit of vaccinating young people, particularly people with high contact, essential workers, sooner." No province has been spared from the increase in new variants circulating across the country, though several continue to ease anti-pandemic restrictions. Modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada projected a steep surge in new cases starting late last month — and reaching 20,000 new cases a day before May — if public health measures weren't tightened. Since that Feb. 19 forecast, restrictions in many regions have loosened as Canadians return to restaurants, cinemas and hair salons. But Tam said Canada is gaining ground on "the vaccine-versus-variants leg of this marathon" every day. "Canada is prepared, and Canada remains on track," she said. Provinces have now reported 1,257 cases of the B.1.1.7 mutation that was first identified in the United Kingdom, 99 cases of the B. 18.104.22.168 strain first identified in South Africa, and three of the P. 1 variant first identified in Brazil. There have been 870,033 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 22,017 deaths as of Monday night. There were 30,430 active cases across Canada, with an average of 42 deaths reported daily over the past week. Provinces are also figuring out whether to stick to the original injection schedules or extend the interval between doses beyond three or four weeks. The national advisory committee is expected to update its recommendations this week. Ontario is waiting for that guidance, while B.C. is pushing ahead with its plan to prolong the interval to four months. Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said Monday the decision was based on local and international evidence that shows the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provides "miraculous" 90 per cent protection from the virus. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. — With files from Camille Bains, Kevin Bissett, Laura Dhillon Kane and Holly McKenzie-Sutter. Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Ontarians should be encouraged to see friends and relatives outdoors in the coming months, some health experts said Tuesday in stressing the need for realistic pandemic guidance following a winter of isolation. Now that most of the province has emerged from the stay-at-home order imposed in January, it's crucial to give residents safer options to socialize to help prevent another spike in COVID-19 infections, particularly in light of new, more contagious variants of the virus, some experts said. "It's really important now that we find realistic solutions for people, and what we know is that we by all means should avoid ... that people now congregate inside," said Dr. Peter Juni, an epidemiologist and director of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table. "People are social animals. We need something to balance ourselves mentally, socially, and psychologically, and so we will need to find a good way forward." A simple message – that outdoor, distanced gatherings are safer, while any indoor gatherings with people from other households should be avoided – should help people make decisions based on common sense, he said. Juni said he felt the need to bring the issue to the science table after seeing photos of large crowds and lineups inside malls and big box stores over the weekend, which he said gave him "goosebumps." The group will discuss possible recommendations to the province regarding messaging related to gatherings over the next few weeks, he said. While being outdoors doesn't mean there is zero risk of infection, that risk becomes "minimal" if people also follow distancing and masking guidelines, he said. By comparison, congregating indoors is "playing with fire," he said. Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University, said switching the messaging to promote outdoor activities makes sense from a harm reduction standpoint. "Folks have been indoors for quite some time. We know the mental health and other psychological issues that are going to be a result ... of our lockdown and quarantine measures," he said. "So if folks can get outdoors and it's safe to do so, I think it should be encouraged." There is a risk people may get used to seeing their loved ones when the weather is nice, and then break the rules when it's too cold or snowy to meet outdoors, Mohan said. "Are you comfortable saying, 'hey we probably can't see each other today, let's wait until it gets warmer,' or does it become sort of a lack of compliance where 'hey, we've already seen each other outside, it's no big deal to come inside for a quick cup of coffee,'" he said. "And that's where it becomes problematic." People also have to be reasonable in terms of the kinds of gatherings they're having, Mohan said, noting it won't be safe to have "500 people in a backyard barbecue." Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor at Ryerson University, echoed that warning. "In very general terms, 'outdoors' presents a huge reduction in risk, all other factors being unchanged. BUT this is NOT the time for throwing the masks away and getting into yelling at sports arenas or close-up BBQ parties," he said in an email. "Those will be super-spreader events for sure, especially with the new variants." Most of Ontario has returned to the government's colour-coded system of pandemic restrictions after weeks under an order that required residents to stay home except for essential activities. The government still advises all residents to limit close contact to those in their household. Restrictions regarding gatherings vary between the colour-coded zones, with the more stringent grey or lockdown zone prohibiting indoor gatherings and allowing outdoor ones of up to 10 people with distancing measures in place. Regions in the green, or least restrictive, zone permit private gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, along with events of up to 50 people indoors and up to 100 outdoors, all with distancing measures in place. Three regions -- Toronto, Peel, and North Bay-Parry Sound -- remain under the stay-at-home order that's set to last until March 8. A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of updating the guidelines on outdoor gatherings. Health officials in Toronto, meanwhile, said their guidance on socializing remains the same. "Our advice at this time is still to try to maintain as much distance and to not interact with people with whom you don't live," the city's top public health doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said earlier this week. "And if you have to be outside, to really keep your distance and to ensure that you're wearing your mask as much as possible." - with files from Denise Paglinawan This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press