The Associated Press spoke with Latino voters in the United States about key issues, including the economy, for the interview series "AP Newsmakers." (Nov. 3)
The Associated Press spoke with Latino voters in the United States about key issues, including the economy, for the interview series "AP Newsmakers." (Nov. 3)
Venezuela's government is encouraging private firms to sign import and export deals with companies in Asia and the Middle East as part of an effort to limit the impact of U.S. sanctions, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter. The plan expands on President Nicolas Maduro's existing commercial relationships with allies such as Turkey and Iran, which have already been providing the cash-strapped government with food and fuel in exchange for gold.
Niagara is now home to one of the best young spellers in Canada. Leena Jalees, 14, of St. Catharines took home the gold at this year’s Spelling Bee of Canada national championship, beating out 25 other competitors in the intermediate division (ages 12-14) across the country. Jalees, who has entered the regional competitions on two previous occasions, said this was her first time reaching the national level, after winning Niagara’s competition earlier in November. Jalees said she had always been a good speller, particularly when it came to everyday words, and thought entering a spelling bee would help her expand her spelling abilities when it came to new and unfamiliar words. “I thought it would be fun to learn new words, and become a better speller, and know the tactics of how to break down the words and be able to spell words I have never heard of before. So I decided to do a spelling bee, just to see how well I could do.” Jalees did more than okay. In her first appearance on the national stage, she was crowned the winner in the intermediate division of the Spelling Bee of Canada after correctly spelling the word “taxonomist”. For Jalees, the word was a no-brainier. “When I found out that was the word, I was so relieved because I was already familiar with that word. I already knew how to spell it, so I didn’t have to think about it.” So how does one study for a spelling bee? The competitors were given a manual of 400 words two and a half weeks prior to the competition, but that doesn’t include tiebreaker words, which are entirely new, and come down to the participants' ability to break down the word itself. Jalees said her strategy involves looking at the words as multiple units, and understanding the origin of the word itself. “One of the words was polemicist. I thought it was a medical word, but then when I knew it had to do with politics, then I decided to change the way I spelled it to ending in 'cist'. So I was very grateful I didn’t start spelling it the way I was initially going to.” Jalees, who hopes to one day be an OB/GYN said she hopes to defend her title at next year’s competition, as it may be her last year of eligibility. “I am going to try again next year, and see how well I can do again.” Also representing Niagara at the national championship were Jimmy Zhou, of Niagara Falls, who competed in the junior division (ages 9-11) and Shirley Chen, of St. Catharines, who competed in the primary division (ages 6-8).Bryan Levesque, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News
Saskatchewan appears to be on pace for a new record for drug overdose deaths.The Saskatchewan Coroners Service says that ass of Dec. 1, 323 people have died or are suspected to have died from overdoses since Jan. 1. Of those, 122 are confirmed to be deaths by overdose and 201 are presumed to be, but are still under investigation.The previous record is 171 overdose deaths in 2018.Regina Police Chief Evan Bray told CBC Radio's Blue Sky the provincial drug epidemic has been magnified in that city.He said there needs to be immediate action and a long-term plan — which may include harm reduction strategies — because police can't arrest their way out of a drug epidemic.Many advocates and addictions experts have been calling for a supervised consumption site for years. Bray said having health-care workers around when people are consuming drugs could be helpful."I know a [supervised consumption site] is a discussion that is happening in Regina and I think harm reduction is part of the overall fix for sure," he said.Saskatoon is the only place in the province that currently has a supervised consumption site, but the site does not receive government funding.Advocates and former addicts in Saskatoon told CBC News in September they believe there are a few other reasons for the higher overdose numbers, like increased use of fentanyl and other opioids, and fewer support groups due to the pandemic.New treatment centre, more detox bedsThe province said it's taking action to address opioid-related overdoses and deaths.The budget announced in June includes about $1.55 million to establish a new crystal meth treatment facility in Estevan.The province is also spending more than $1.7 million to fund 28 new detox beds in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert and North Battleford.More than $800,000 is going toward hiring addiction workers in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.The province has also implemented programs aimed at helping people with addictions — like Take Home Naloxone, which has already distributed more than 5,400 kits so far the year, the statement said — along with a rapid access addictions medicine program, mental health and addiction services and HealthLine 811.
NEW YORK — A year after a series of concerts in Puerto Rico that ended up being his last because of the pandemic, Daddy Yankee is bringing those performances to YouTube as a Christmas gift to his fans around the globe. “DY2K20,” the digital version of his show “Con Calma Pal’ Choli,” will be released in three parts on Yankee's YouTube channel, with the first installment out Friday. The others will drop on Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, respectively. “I wanted to give a Christmas present to all my fans during the pandemic, bring the party to their homes free of charge, bring them joy in such difficult times,” the reggaeton star told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Miami. Yankee, who has stayed mostly out of the spotlight in 2020, said that while the pandemic has hit many very hard, it has also allowed him to do something he hadn't done in three decades: Focus on his health and rest. It's something he had to gradually learn after gaining 40 pounds (almost 20 kilos) during the first months of quarantine. “Maybe because of the anxiety... I started eating and eating and eating and I put on the pounds like never before. I got to weigh 230 pounds (105 kilos) ... But I recovered my normal weight from 10 years ago. That was my focus,” said the “Despacito” and “Gasolina” singer, adding he achieved his goal by watching what he ate and exercising, a lot. “I devoted myself to my health and to something that was unknown to me, which was rest,” he said. “I started to learn how to live with calmness and to appreciate it... And I feel different, I feel in a new phase completely.” Now that he gained some balance in his life, he feels ready to reactivate his career. In addition to “DY2K20,” he has another surprise for his fans: A new music collaboration he will release in the coming days, although he wouldn't provide details yet. For now, he said he was blessed to finally share with the world the footage of a show staged at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot, which involved over 80 people who worked with “great passion, great creativity.” It was well-received, going from two scheduled dates to a full residence, with 12 sold-out shows, or 170,000 tickets. What many don't know is that a technical problem on opening night resulted in a new business opportunity: Massive concerts in the daylight hours, something never seen before on the island. After getting stuck on a platform over the stage, Yankee announced to the audience that he would give them an extra show for free, and it was a matinee. He adjusted the content to make it family friendly, and ended up doing one more that way. Another unique aspect of “Con Calma Pal’ Choli,” which featured artists like Ozuna, Wisin & Yandel and Nicky Jam, was the use of holograms to replace those who weren't there to perform live. “I wanted the artists to be gigantic, on people's faces, so the audience could feel that they were in front of them and we achieved that,” Yankee said. “It was a concert that became a residence, like if Las Vegas had moved to Puerto Rico.” ___ Follow Sigal Ratner-Arias on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner. Sigal Ratner-Arias, The Associated Press
WELLINGTON COUNTY – A newly-announced mobile addictions services van in Wellington County aims to bridge healthcare gaps in rural areas of the county. Stonehenge Therapeutic Community recently got $900,000 in funding from Ontario Health to enhance their addiction services. Kristen Kerr, executive director of Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, said about a third of this is going toward a project to serve the needs of rural Wellington County residents who face substance use issues. They are expanding their Rapid Access Addiction Clinics (RAAC), where there is only one in Wellington County, with a mobile van that can address issues with transportation, a common gap in health services in the county. “These clinics offer specialized medical addiction services and that can be hard to access when you live in a rural community,” Kerr said. “Sometimes it can be quite a long geographic distance to get to a clinic that is stationary. We have four existing clinics but most of them are far from Harriston for example.” Kerr said another issue in rural areas when accessing addiction services relates to anonymity. The thought is In a smaller community, people who are using such services can be more easily identified by other residents. The van itself will act as a mobile medical clinic that is staffed with a nurse practitioner. “It will be able to go to more central or accessible locations so that folks from the rural areas can more easily access the clinic,” Kerr said. The nurse practitioner can provide medicine services, addictions counselling and referrals. Kerr said they are working out the fine details with their rural healthcare partners such as precisely where the van will go in the county and therefore couldn’t say exactly where it will be making stops. Some of the funding is also going toward enhancing supportive housing they have in Guelph for those who face substance-use issues and have some level of involvement in the justice system. Kerr said the van concept was created from feedback about barriers clients face in rural areas and they will continue to listen and learn how they can improve. “I think listening to those who need to access service and listening to the voice of people with lived experience is key to knowing what more we need to do,” Kerr said. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
For the second time in the past five days, Niagara Region Public Health has advised District School Board of Niagara that one individual at Port Colborne High School has tested positive for COVID-19. The first case was confirmed on Nov. 29. As a result of the two COVID-19 cases, three classrooms have been closed. Local school boards will not identify the individual who tested positive. However, the provincial online database that tracks school-related COVID-19 cases does identify the Nov. 29 case as staff member. Today’s case will not be immediately known as the provincial database lags behind school boards in its reporting. In a media release, DSBN said, “As part of COVID-19 case management and infection control protocol, students and staff who had close contact with the individual have been contacted and told by NRPH to stay home and self-isolate.” Provincial guidelines indicate “an outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection.” Public health has not indicated if it will declare an outbreak at Port High. Preventative COVID-19 practices that Port Colborne High School has been following since classes started, such as wearing PPE, physical distancing, maintaining hand hygiene, and doing the daily health screening, will continue, DSBN said. Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgSean Vanderklis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara Falls Review
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska has returned to work after recovering from COVID-19, his office said. Young's staff said the veteran Republican lawmaker was back at work in his congressional office in Washington, D.C., The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday. The 87-year-old announced Nov. 12 he had tested positive for the coronavirus. In March, Young referred to the coronavirus as the “beer virus” before an audience that included older Alaskans and said the media had contributed to hysteria over COVID-19. His campaign manager told the Anchorage Daily News at the time that the virus’ impact is real and that Young was trying to urge calm. After contracting the virus, Young said he had not grasped the severity of the illness. “Very frankly, I had not felt this sick in a very long time, and I am grateful to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers,” Young said following his release from an Anchorage hospital Nov. 16. Young is now “preparing to fight harder than ever” for Alaskans, spokesman Zack Brown said. Voters last month reelected Young, Alaska’s lone U.S. representative, to serve his 25th term in office. Young has held his seat since 1973 and is the longest-serving Republican in congressional history. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. The Associated Press
This column is an opinion from Graham Thomson, an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years.Buried amidst the ongoing COVID confusion and controversy this week in Alberta came a bit of unusual news: the UCP government and NDP opposition agreed on something.It wasn't exactly a Kumbaya moment but the two battling political parties that have turned the legislature's daily question period into a form of trench warfare finally see eye-to-eye on an issue.They're both unhappy with the announcement on Monday from federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland involving much-anticipated changes to the fiscal stabilization program that provides money to provinces experiencing a significant drop in revenue year-over-year.Alberta, of course, has been experiencing chronic revenue drops year-over-year-over-year. Because of a series of bad years topped off by a COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta's revenue ride is less like a roller coaster and more like the Drop of Doom.The fiscal stabilization program wasn't designed for that kind of multi-billion-dollar collapse in revenues.In 2016, for example, the Alberta government under the NDP complained that it lost $6.5 billion in revenue because of low oil prices but only received $250 million from the stabilization program that was capped at $60 per provincial resident.After forming government in 2019, the United Conservative Party took up the fight and this year demanded $4 billion instead of the $266 million offered. Not only that, the UCP wanted the higher stabilization payments to be retroactive to 2015.On Monday, Freeland announced the cap is being hiked to $170 per capita, meaning the province is now entitled to receive $750 million this year. But the payments will not be retroactive."[I am] very disappointed that the caps weren't lifted entirely," said Finance Minister Travis Toews. "It really doesn't go far enough."For her part, NDP Leader Rachel Notley sounded like a clone of Toews: "I would continue to advocate for the removal of the cap and I would also suggest that this should be retroactive to when Alberta deserved a fair fiscal stabilization formula in the first place."But the fight to remove the cap completely has gone from difficult to impossible because of the pandemic.WATCH | Alberta politicians unhappy with federal stabilization changesThis year, every province will probably be applying for aid under the stabilization program. Ottawa, already neck-deep in pandemic debt, would be swamped with billions of new claims under a sky's-the-limit fiscal stabilization program.And, besides, premiers who had been supporting Jason Kenney's call for a capless program will likely be happy enough to receive almost triple the amount of money than was available under the old formula.Change of heartBut Kenney's disappointment with Ottawa on Monday shifted to satisfaction on Wednesday.He performed such a sudden change in direction he might need a neck brace for whiplash. But that's the kind loopy politics you get during a pandemic.On Monday, the issue was money.On Wednesday, it was a COVID-19 vaccine."We've been assured by the federal government that shipments will begin to arrive by Jan. 4 and continue to arrive in waves throughout the early part of next year," said Kenney, putting the kind of faith in the federal government apparently not shared by federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole.Setting a firm timeline for a vaccine rollout is not particularly risky for Kenney. If the plan works, great. Albertans might be happy enough that Kenney sees his approval ratings start to rise after a year of steady decline. If the vaccines don't arrive on time, Kenney can blame Ottawa yet again for Alberta's problems.Of course, a third scenario is Ottawa delivers the vaccine as promised but Alberta has trouble with the logistics of getting Albertans vaccinated.To that end, Kenney has called in the military — sort of. He has appointed Paul Wynnyk, the deputy minister of municipal affairs and a former general in the Canadian Forces, to lead the province's vaccine task force.In the meantime, as Alberta continues to lead the country in COVID cases, playing in the background is a plan to call on the federal government and Red Cross to set up emergency hospitals should the virus overwhelm our health-care system.Kenney is still trying to spin a positive tale out of the distressing pandemic reality, still trusting that Albertans will take personal responsibility to flatten the curve, still insisting there is "light at the end of the tunnel."But that light might just be a Red Cross truck coming with a field hospital to house Alberta's ever growing number of pandemic patients.
OTTAWA — The national unemployment rate was 8.5 per cent in November. Statistics Canada also released seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average unemployment rates for major cities. It cautions, however, that the figures may fluctuate widely because they are based on small statistical samples. Here are the jobless rates last month by city (numbers from the previous month in brackets):— St. John's, N.L. 9.3 per cent (8.8)— Halifax 6.6 per cent (7.7)— Moncton, N.B. 8.9 per cent (8.3)— Saint John, N.B. 10.2 per cent (10.0)— Saguenay, Que. 5.2 per cent (5.0)— Quebec City 4.3 per cent (4.5)— Sherbrooke, Que. 6.4 per cent (7.0)— Trois-Rivieres, Que. 5.7 per cent (6.0)— Montreal 8.5 per cent (9.6)— Gatineau, Que. 7.2 per cent (7.9)— Ottawa 7.1 per cent (8.2)— Kingston, Ont. 7.2 per cent (8.5)— Peterborough, Ont. 11.9 per cent (11.7)— Oshawa, Ont. 7.9 per cent (8.3)— Toronto 10.7 per cent (11.5)— Hamilton, Ont. 8.0 per cent (9.2)— St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont. 7.2 per cent (7.5)— Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ont. 9.1 per cent (10.8)— Brantford, Ont. 6.6 per cent (7.2)— Guelph, Ont. 7.0 per cent (8.3)— London, Ont. 8.4 per cent (8.9)— Windsor, Ont. 10.6 per cent (10.8)— Barrie, Ont. 10.6 per cent (9.2)— Greater Sudbury, Ont. 7.6 per cent (7.9)— Thunder Bay, Ont. 7.5 per cent (7.6)— Winnipeg 8.1 per cent (8.7)— Regina 5.4 per cent (6.1)— Saskatoon 7.8 per cent (8.1)— Calgary 10.7 per cent (11.3)— Edmonton 11.3 per cent (12.0)— Kelowna, B.C. 4.7 per cent (6.2)— Abbotsford-Mission, B.C. 8.1 per cent (8.6)— Vancouver 8.1 per cent (9.7)— Victoria 6.3 per cent (7.6)This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020 and was generated automatically.The Canadian Press
AL-QAYYARAH, IRAQ (Reuters) - Tuqqa Abdullah and her Iraqi family have wandered from one displaced people's camp to the next in the past three years, buying time and hoping they will one day be able to go home. Just 14 when her father took the family to the then Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Mosul, she has inherited a legacy that might take generations to overcome. When Iraqi forces captured Mosul in the dying days of the three-year-old IS caliphate in 2017, Abdullah's father and older sons were killed.
Despite a province-wide rental freeze for 2021, Windsorite Amanda Younan says she's "angry" that her landlord is trying to increase her rent for March. Younan, who has been renting a home off of Erie Street for the last seven years, says she was notified three weeks ago that her rent will increase by 1.5 per cent. But in October, the province implemented a rental freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The freeze prevents rental increases for most tenants in 2021. When Younan emailed her landlord about the freeze, she said they told her it only applied to people on social assistance or those who have occupied a residence after 2018. Yet, on the Ontario government's website, it says the rent freeze applies to most tenants, including those living in: * Rented houses, apartments and condos (including units occupied for the first time for residential purposes after Nov. 15, 2018). * Basement apartments. * Care homes (including retirement homes). * Mobile home parks. * Land lease communities. * Rent-geared-to-income units and market rent units in community housing. * Affordable housing units created through federally and/or provincially funded programs. Worries others might be 'taken advantage of'Younan currently pays $900 for her space. Although she acknowledges that the increase is minimal — about $13 — she says it's the "principle of following the rules." "I think everyone just needs to know about it because they're going to be taken advantage of," she said. "I don't want [my landlord] to retaliate against us for anything like we're just trying to follow the rules. They should have to follow the rules like everybody else." Younan said she went to the Landlord and Tenant Board, which confirmed that she shouldn't be subject to the increase.But Younan said her landlord has not responded to her email that includes the board's response. CBC News has reviewed the emails between Younan and her landlord. Home 2 Home Properties Inc. is the property management company for Younan's rental. Marie Latif with Home 2 Home Properties Inc. spoke with CBC News, though she did not want to do a formal interview. Latif said that the tenant does not have to pay the rent increase, though Younan says they have not told her that. Few exemptions to rent freezeIn an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing confirmed that the government's passing of bill 204, Helping Tenants and Small Businesses Act, 2020, means that most rents can not increase next year. "There are very few exemptions to this freeze," the statement reads. Exceptions to this include above guideline increases approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board before Oct. 1, 2020. These can still be approved by the board and applied to 2021 rents if they are for "costs related to eligible capital repairs and security services, but not if they are for extraordinary increases in municipal taxes and charges," the website states. Additionally, the website notes that tenants and landlords can still agree on rent increases in exchange for another service or facility, such as air conditioning or parking. The rent freeze is expected to end on Dec. 31, 2021, and landlords are to give "proper 90 days' notice beforehand for a rent increase that takes effect in 2022," the website states. As a result of this, Legal Assistance of Windsor lawyer Anna Colombo told CBC News that anyone given notice of a rent increase does not have to pay it for 2021, regardless of their income level. "[Younan] might want to have a conversation with her landlord ... and communicate that she's not going to be paying that rent increase that those aren't allowed until January 2022 and again providing that proper 90 day notice, within the proper amount and the proper form," Colombo said. MPP says many similar complaints have been heard Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky says Younan is not alone and that what she has experienced is "very common." "It goes back to the fact that the government needs to do a better job of ensuring that the tenants know their rights and that those rights are respected and enforced. But also that landlords know the rules and are clear on what it is that they can and can't do as far as the rent increases come or evictions and things like that," she said. Gretzky attributes uncertainty on this to the government failing to appropriately and consistently communicate. "What we've seen with many government announcements and decisions lately is it tends to be very fluid so things change and people get confused or direction is unclear," she said. She said tenants should continue to voice their concerns or issues to their local MPP.
Nominations are open to recognize individuals in the territory who “work to strengthen the arts, culture, heritage and languages of the N.W.T.” The Minister’s Culture and Heritage Awards celebrate “outstanding leadership in the North” and raise awareness about the importance of protecting, preserving and celebrating the different cultures and unique ways of life in the territory. There are five categories: According to the GNWT's website, a Minister's Choice Award will also be handed out this year at the discretion of RJ Simpson, the minister. Awards will be given to winners virtually this year, due to COVID-19. Northerners looking to nominate a peer must submit the necessary form by January 8, 2021.Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio
BERLIN — Veteran German diplomat Helga Schmid, a key behind-the-scenes negotiator of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, was named Friday as the new administrative head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.The Vienna-based regional security organization plays an important role in trying to resolve conflicts in Europe and on its periphery, including Ukraine. Its 57 members include Russia and the United States.A career diplomat, the 59-year-old Schmid was the German embassy's spokeswoman in Washington during the early 1990s, before taking senior roles at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, and later moved to Brussels. She spent the last four years as the head of the EU's diplomatic service.The post of OSCE secretary general comes with a three-year term that can be renewed once. The secretary general is the administrative head of the OSCE, complementing the presidency which rotates annually among member states.A branch of the organization also conducts election monitoring missions, including during last month's U.S. presidential vote.The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is adjusting the scope of his agenda to meet the challenges of governing with a narrowly divided Congress and the complications of legislating during a raging pandemic.Rather than immediately pursue ambitious legislation to combat climate change, the incoming administration may try to wrap provisions into a coronavirus aid bill. Biden's team is also considering smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act while tabling the more contentious fight over creating a public option to compete with private insurers.Biden is already working on an array of executive actions to achieve some of his bolder priorities on climate change and immigration without having to navigate congressional gridlock.The manoeuvring reflects a disappointing political reality for Biden, who campaigned on a pledge to address the nation's problems with measures that would rival the scope of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. But Democrats acknowledge that big legislative accomplishments are unlikely, even in the best-case scenario in which the party gains a slim majority in the Senate.“Let’s assume my dream comes true,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said, referring to a tight majority for his party. “I think we have to carefully construct any change in the Affordable Care Act, or any other issue, like climate change, based on the reality of the 50-50 Senate.”“There’s so many areas, which we value so much that Republicans do not, that it will be tough to guide through the Senate under the circumstances,” the Illinois Democrat added.Biden's agenda hinges on the fate of two Senate runoff races in Georgia, which will be decided on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both seats, the chamber will be evenly divided, with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.In that event, Biden's agenda items stand a better chance of at least getting a vote. If Republicans maintain control, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not bring the new president's priorities to the floor.Biden's initial focus on Capitol Hill will be a multibillion-dollar coronavirus aid bill, which is certain to require significant political capital after lawmakers have been deadlocked over negotiations on Capitol Hill for months.The president-elect said Thursday on CNN that while he supports a $900 billion compromise bill introduced this week by a bipartisan group of negotiators, the bill is “a good start" but it's “not enough” and he plans to ask for more when he's in office. His team is already working on his own coronavirus relief package.People close to Biden's transition team say they're looking at that stimulus as a potential avenue for enacting some climate reforms — like aid for green jobs or moving the nation toward a carbon-free energy system — that might be tougher to get on their own.Durbin mentioned President Barack Obama’s first term as a precedent for what Biden will encounter when he takes office.Then, Obama was forced to focus much of his early energy on a stimulus package to deal with the financial crisis, and he spent months wrangling with his own party on his health care overhaul. Obama also enacted financial regulatory reform, but other progressive priorities, like cap and trade legislation and immigration reform, ultimately lost steam.And he had a significant House and Senate majority at the time.Still, some Republicans argue that if Biden approaches negotiations in good faith, there are some common areas of agreement. Rohit Kumar, the co-leader of PwC's Washington National Tax Services and a former top aide to McConnell, said it's possible to find a compromise on some smaller-scale priorities, like an infrastructure bill, addressing the opioid crisis and even a police reform bill.“There is stuff in the middle, if Biden is willing to do deals in the middle — and that means being willing to strike agreements that progressive members don’t love, and maybe have them vote no, and be at peace with that,” he said.Indeed, speaking on CNN Thursday, Biden expressed optimism about cutting deals with Republicans. He said when it comes to national security and the “economic necessity” of keeping people employed and reinvigorating the economy, “there's plenty of room we can work.”Still, he acknowledged, "I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be hard."But here, progressives, not Republicans, could be the roadblock. Waleed Shahid, spokesperson for the liberal Justice Democrats, said progressives are “worried and anxious” about Biden's history of making what he called “toxic compromises with McConnell."“I think progressives will probably play a key role in trying to push Democrats to have a spine in any negotiations with Mitch McConnell,” he said. “People will hold him accountable for what he ran on.”Shaheed said he believes progressives could play a role in pushing the Biden administration to embrace a more “aggressive approach” and pursue executive actions to address some Democratic priorities.And indeed, Biden’s transition team has already been at work crafting a list of potential unilateral moves he could take early on.He plans to reverse Trump’s rollback of a number of public health and environmental protections the Obama administration put in place. He’ll rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord and rescind the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries. He could also unilaterally reestablish protections for “Dreamers” who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.But some of his biggest campaign pledges require congressional action and are certain to face GOP opposition.Biden has promised to take major legislative action on immigration reform and gun control, but prior legislative efforts on both of those issues — with bipartisan support — have failed multiple times.He’s also pledged to roll back the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy, forgive some student loan debt and make some public college free — all heavy lifts in a closely divided or Republican-controlled Senate.“It’s easy to be skeptical and pessimistic in this Senate,” Durbin said. “I hope that they give us a chance to break through and be constructive and put an end to some of the obstruction.”Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press
When Stéphanie Chouinard and her husband, Sean, were looking to buy their first home in Toronto this year, they discussed how kids would fit into the picture — searching for a home near a French school, but also one that offered enough space. The couple had been living in a one-bedroom rental, and despite saving, recognized that some areas were out of reach. Their search narrowed in on East York, but even there, Chouinard said any “livable” houses or townhouses they saw were north of $800,000. So a federal program offering help to first-time home buyers, which capped purchase prices at around $505,000, wasn’t an option. “When we saw that program, we knew right away that this wasn’t going to be helping us at all,” said Chouinard. While their combined income was enough for a family-sized home — and high enough to also render them ineligible for the incentive — Chouinard believes the federal rules may have excluded other young families who were looking to have children in their first homes. “If you have a family or are planning to have a family in the near future, that program will very likely not be of much use to you,” she said. And though a federal economic update this week outlined changes to the program to come for Toronto in the spring, Chouinard believes families looking for something beyond a modest apartment will still be “very, very limited.” The federal program offers a shared-equity mortgage through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to reduce the amount that first-time buyers need to save for a down payment and lower monthly mortgage costs. Ottawa pays either five or 10 per cent of the price, and homeowners later pay back that same percentage of the home’s updated value. In its first year, fewer than 10,000 mortgages across Canada were approved through the program — despite a three-year goal of helping 100,000 families. Alberta and Quebec have seen the most uptake: from Feb. 1 to Sept. 1 this year, there were 712 mortgages approved and accepted in Edmonton, 378 in Calgary, and 55 in Airdrie, Alta., but just one in Vancouver, six in Victoria and 16 in Toronto. From Sept. 1, 2019 to Feb. 1, there were more than 4.5 times as many approved and accepted mortgages in Calgary than there were across the Greater Toronto Area. Montreal saw nearly seven times as many approved and accepted mortgages as the GTA in that time. The government has recognized since at least the last election that changes were likely needed for Canada’s hottest markets, and said this week they were coming in spring. Households earning up to $150,000 instead of $120,000 will soon qualify in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, and their purchases can total 4.5 times their income, instead of only four times. “It’s not going to get you a three-bedroom downtown or anything, but it’s more aligned with the Toronto housing market,” said Heather Tremain, CEO of the non-profit developer Options for Homes. She sees the changes as positive, but she urged Ottawa to dig deeper into why some may have resisted using it in its first year, including the fact it effectively requires the buyer to pay mortgage insurance, by keeping down payments below 20 per cent. Tremain believes some first-time buyers may have balked at that extra monthly cost, and pursued other options to try to reach that 20 per cent mark instead. She said she’d also heard concerns from lenders about the government sharing any home value appreciation. Paul Taylor, president and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada, echoed those concerns and added that some buyers may also struggle with the very idea of co-owning their homes. Though he believes the changes coming in the spring are a “net positive,” he also questioned whether the incentive would be as successful as the feds had projected. When asked by the Star about the first-year numbers for the program and several of the concerns in this story, a federal department of finance official reiterated in an email the rule changes planned for spring 2021. They would “make homeownership more affordable,” they wrote. Both Tremain and Ken Bowman of Meridian Credit Union backed the incremental approach that Ottawa seemed to be taking. “I don’t think frenetic change on something as important as a housing strategy is particularly inspiring,” Bowman said. Both speculated that the pandemic may have hindered uptake in 2020. But UBC professor Paul Kershaw, founder of the research and advocacy group Generation Squeeze, believes a fundamental shift is needed to address the challenges that first-time buyers face in big cities. While he believes the strategy is “well thought-out,” he urged more attention to the root causes of unaffordability. He pointed to a Generation Squeeze report last year, which found that it took a typical 25- to 34-year-old in the GTA 21 years to save up a 20 per cent payment for an average-priced home. If first-time buyers were getting older in the city, Kershaw said others may find themselves in the same situation as Chouinard. “They need to have enough space in that home so that they’re not using closets as a nursery,” he said. Diana Petramala, a senior economist with Ryerson University, said even with the updated rules, new buyers looking near downtown Toronto would be limited mostly to one-bedroom units, or older two-bedrooms. Buying a townhouse might be more possible, she said, in the outskirts — areas like Durham or Simcoe. While Chouinard and her husband were ultimately able to purchase a first home with three bedrooms within the city, it took a combined household income well above the cutoff for federal help and renting into their 30s to do so. Chouinard said a friend of hers recently left the city after nearly a decade, feeling it just wasn’t affordable; she suspects others are in the same boat. “It does eat away at the attractiveness of Toronto as a city for young professionals,” she said. Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
Some 7,000 people are facing eviction hearings in Ontario this winter, and tenant advocates are urging solidarity among neighbours and across Toronto to keep people in their homes. The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) is “in a full-throttle blitz to clear its backlog,” said Kenneth Hale, the director of legal services at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), noting there is a particular focus on processing eviction applications for non-payment. While Premier Doug Ford promised earlier this year that no one would be evicted during the pandemic, his government lifted a moratorium on hearings back in August, and the LTB has since kicked back into gear despite higher COVID-19 caseloads than in the first wave. “The government thinks that it’s more important that investors get paid than low-income people are protected from viral infection,” Hale said. In response, the Keep Your Rent advocacy group is inviting those facing the tribunal to share details — they’ve collected more than a hundred of these so far — in order to better prepare them to fight. “We are telling them that they need to be communicating with their neighbours, they need to realize that they are part of a bigger struggle, that they are not alone in being behind on rent during COVID,” said MaryAnn Icaro, who got active with Keep Your Rent early in the pandemic and has been observing hearings in the recent uptick. “What we've been seeing, especially for these tenants that we are not in contact with, that are not organizing, that are isolated, they are finding themselves with standard orders,” she said, which typically give a tenant less than two weeks to pay their arrears. After eight months of pandemic-related income loss, that could amount to thousands of dollars. “Tenants have minutes to plead their case to these judges,” she said. In one recent online hearing, she said neighbours and other supporters intervened by going down the hall to notify a tenant who had, in fact, paid their arrears and didn’t know they still needed to attend or that the landlord would not mention the payment. A spokesperson for Tribunals Ontario, of which the LTB is a part, did not respond to a request for comment. The Ford government has introduced legislation this year, Bill 184, which makes it easier for tenants to be evicted, including by waiving a requirement for another LTB hearing if a tenant agrees to a rent arrears plan and then misses a payment. “These politicians will not save us, they’ve orchestrated this crisis,” Icaro said, noting that Keep Your Rent is instead focused on improving tenants’ negotiating position with their landlords. This is what tenants in properties owned by corporate landlord MetCap Living plan to do this Saturday when they show up at the real estate company’s headquarters seeking a meeting with CEO Brent Merrill. Tenants who have withheld rent since April plan to say they are willing to pay if Merrill agrees not to seek to evict those who can’t, Icaro said. She also pointed out that tenants in various locations across the city, including in the Crescent Town neighbourhood near the Victoria Park subway station, have made it clear to their landlord that they will block any efforts by sheriffs to enforce evictions. That may stave off the immediate threat, but ACTO’s Hale said a deeper reckoning with the housing crisis and troubles at the tenancy tribunal looms. “Community efforts to fend off the sheriff are not going to be successful in the long run,” he said. “We need a justice system that works for everyone, including low-income people.”Alastair Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
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A family is left homeless after a fire engulfed their mobile home on 15 Wilson Avenue in Elgin on Dec. 1. Wanda MacDonald, her partner, three children and a son-in-law, escaped unharmed. They managed to save their six dogs and a cat, although one cat is still missing. “I was in the house, on Facebook at the time, when Jason (her son) yelled that the bike was on fire, (although) they’re not sure if that’s what caused it,” MacDonald said. The fire is still under investigation. The family has no home insurance to cover their losses. MacDonald and her family went into the house a few times to save their pets, even though the house was on fire. “A lot of people say animals are just animals, but they’re not. They’re family members,” she explained. She said her most immediate need is a three or four-bedroom place to rent. “That’s all I’m looking for--just enough space for my family. We’ve been calling around, but most places are rented,” MacDonald added. She said her family has been getting huge donations from people in the community, but her father’s home, located right beside hers, can’t store the couches, beds and other items they’ve received. “Our family is so grateful. I just want to say thank you to the community for helping out.” Country Squire in Gananoque had been letting them stay at the hotel, but “our last stay is tonight, we have to be out of there tomorrow,” she said. Her son Adam, 21, and her daughter both purchased brand new acoustic guitars for Christmas, but both guitars were burned in the fire. “That’s all they wanted for Christmas,” MacDonald said. MacDonald can be reached at 613-532-4827. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family. Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit widened 1.7% in October to $63.1 billion. The politically sensitive gap in the trade of goods with China and Mexico grew.The gap between the goods and services the United States sold and what it bought abroad rose from $62.1 billion in September, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Exports rose 2.2% to $182 billion, led by sales of aircraft engines. Imports increased 2.1% to $245.1 billion on an uptick in shipments of auto parts.The deficit in the trade of goods with China rose 9% to $26.5 billion and the gap with Mexico rose 10% to $11.8 billion.So far this year, the overall gap in the trade of goods and services with the rest of the world has risen to $536.7 billion, up 9.5% from January-October 2019.President Donald Trump, who vowed to reduce the trade deficit, has imposed tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum and on $360 billion in Chinese products. It is unclear how much of Trump's aggressive trade policies will be retained by President-elect Joe Biden.The coronavirus, however, has upended trade in services such as education and travel in which the United States runs persistent surpluses. U.S. services exports are down nearly 20% so far this year, and America's trade surplus in services dropped in October to $18.3 billion, lowest since August 2012.The U.S. ran an October deficit of $81.4 billion in the trade of goods such as autos and appliances.Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press