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Quebec education minister to unveil updated COVID-19 back-to-school plan

Quebec education minister to unveil updated COVID-19 back-to-school plan

Kyle Mack | posted Monday, Aug 10th, 2020

Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is set to unveil its COVID-19 strategy for a return to class today as schools prepare to reopen in less than a month.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has been under pressure to provide updated details, as other provinces have done in recent weeks.

Parents have raised several concerns including questions about remote learning, smaller class sizes and details of how another COVID-19 shutdown would be handled.

Under Quebec’s back-to-school strategy announced in June, the government said students across the province would return to class full time from pre-school to Grade 9, with in-class bubbles of six children and physical distancing.

Teachers would move between classrooms and maintain a two-metre distance from students.

For students in Grades 10 and 11, the current plan offers them the choice to go back full time or attend classes in person once every two days.

School boards are responsible for creating contingency measures should a COVID-19 outbreak occur.

Roberge, Health Minister Christian Dube and Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, will take part in today’s news conference in Montreal.

On Friday, Arruda explained the general approach to the return to school.

“If our expectation is to have no cases in schools, that’s nearly impossible,” he said.

He added it is more important to make sure COVID-19 outbreaks are not widespread in schools when they do occur.

This story by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Elections Canada recalculates, says voter turnout last fall higher than 2015

Kyle Mack | posted Friday, Aug 7th, 2020

Elections Canada says voter turnout in last fall’s federal election was actually slightly higher than the 2015 election. A sample ballot box is seen ahead of the 2019 federal election at Elections Canada’s offices in Gatineau, Que., Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Elections Canada says voter turnout in last fall’s federal election was actually slightly higher than the 2015 election.

The independent agency initially reported a slight decline in turnout, to 67 per cent from 68.3 per cent in 2015.

But it now says that turnout was actually up by 0.9 per cent.

The new estimate comes from an Elections Canada study based on the number of eligible electors who cast ballots in the past two federal elections.

The agency says the study is more accurate than the way voter turnout has been calculated in the past, based on a sample survey of registered voters.

Because voter registration rates vary from election to election, the agency says it can be misleading to compare turnout from different elections based on registered voters.

The study does not change the estimate that 67 per cent of eligible Canadians voted last November.

But it does recalculate the 2015 result, estimating turnout in that election was 66.1 per cent — more than two points lower than initially reported.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Oilers increase capacity for online 50/50 raffle ahead of Game 4 against Blackhawks

Kyle Mack | posted Friday, Aug 7th, 2020

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (50) stands prior to taking on the Edmonton Oilers in NHL Stanley Cup qualifying round action in Edmonton, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation says its server provider has increased capacity for its online 50/50 raffle for Friday’s hockey game.

On Wednesday, the draw “shattered an all-time record” and had to close early after it reached the server provider’s maximum allowable ticket sales.

The Oilers Entertainment Group says the final jackpot for Game 3 of the Oilers-Blackhawks series was more than $5.4 million, with one lucky winner taking home about $2.7 million.

No winner has yet been announced.

Janet Riopel, board chair for the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, says the online raffles have exceeded her expectations.

She adds that the foundation’s server provider has been able to increase capacity by two-and-a-half times.

She says half the funds are used by the foundation to support organizations focused on vulnerable populations in downtown Edmonton and youth sports throughout northern Alberta.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020

The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil: a fiscal hawk with a folksy demeanour

Kyle Mack | posted Friday, Aug 7th, 2020

HALIFAX — During more than six years as Nova Scotia premier, Stephen McNeil earned a reputation as an ardent fiscal conservative who wasn’t shy about taking on the province’s public sector unions.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic upended every province’s finances earlier this year, McNeil could boast about delivering five consecutive balanced budgets.

Last week, when the 55-year-old Liberal leader announced the province’s projected deficit had reached $853 million, he returned to a familiar theme by warning public sector employees it was time for them to dampen their wage expectations.

“We have to get back and focusing on those fundamentals, things that allowed us as a province to get into the good fiscal position we were in,” he said at the time. “All of us are going to play a role in this, and that means all of those in the public sector are going to have to play a role too.”

McNeil won back-to-back majority governments in 2013 and 2017, largely by promising and delivering on platforms that focused on keeping provincial spending in check. The platforms weren’t sexy, but they won votes.

The 12th of 17 children, McNeil said he learned about frugality and perseverance after his father died. McNeil was only eight years old at the time. His mother, Theresa, had to raise 17 children on her own.

“She had no driver’s licence and hadn’t worked outside the house,” McNeil said in 2013. “The next morning, she woke up and said, ‘We’re it.’ We were all looking at her.”

As the former owner of an appliance repair business, McNeil often talked about how his experience running a small business gave him a keen appreciation for the financial challenges that most Nova Scotians face.

“I didn’t train to be the premier,” he said before the 2013 election. “I was out working. I made my living carrying a tool box.”

Throughout his first term, the premier took aim at the public sector, repeatedly reminding Nova Scotians that public sector wages had increased 11.5 per cent over the previous seven years — well above the increases seen in the private sector.

In April 2014, his government forced 2,400 striking nurses back to work by introducing legislation that required all health-sector unions to draft essential services agreements before any job action could occur.

And in February 2017, he imposed a contract on 9,400 public school teachers, ending a two-month work-to-rule campaign.

Union leaders were enraged.

“Of course, we all remember the unions rallying around Province House,” McNeil told reporters Thursday after he stunned the province by announcing his sudden decision to leave public life.

“I think for the first five years, I don’t think I had a (legislative) session where there wasn’t some form of a protest — but that’s governing.”

The Liberals won a reduced majority in May 2017, but it was clear the premier’s get-tough approach with the public sector was not the main reason for the government’s loss of seven seats.

Instead, critics focused on the fact that McNeil had failed to deliver on a promise to make sure every Nova Scotian had access to a family physician. At the time, about 100,000 Nova Scotians were still looking for a doctor. By last month, that number had fallen to 45,000.

During his second term, McNeil made a point of investing in health care. The $2-billion redevelopment of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax has been described as the largest health-care project in the province’s history.

A soft-spoken man with an imposing 6-foot-5 frame, McNeil could appear stern when fielding questions from the media. But that perceived lack of warmth never bothered the premier.

“Some might see me as a bit stiff and not as jovial as I really am,” he said in 2013.

McNeil won praise for his steady leadership during the past five months, but one moment of anger in April spoke volumes about the his otherwise low-key personality.

Struggling to find the words to persuade Nova Scotians they had to limit their travel to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, McNeil raised his voice during a news conference, saying: “Stay the blazes home!”

His folksy expression went viral. The phrase soon appeared on coffee cups, T-shirts and an endless loop of social media memes.

In the end, McNeil said Thursday it was time to move on after 17 years in provincial politics — and 13 years as Liberal leader.

After attending a cabinet meeting, he said he had planned to leave politics in the spring, but the pandemic prompted him to stay on the job.

Later in the day, McNeil issued a brief statement that showed his softer side.

“We have accomplished so much together,” he said. “I may not have always gotten it right. But here’s what I know for sure: we are better together and being kind matters.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Aug. 7

Kyle Mack | posted Friday, Aug 7th, 2020

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Aug. 7, 2020:

There are 118,561 confirmed cases in Canada.

– Quebec: 60,133 confirmed (including 5,687 deaths, 50,886 resolved)

– Ontario: 39,809 confirmed (including 2,783 deaths, 35,906 resolved)

– Alberta: 11,296 confirmed (including 205 deaths, 9,984 resolved)

– British Columbia: 3,881 confirmed (including 195 deaths, 3,315 resolved)

– Saskatchewan: 1,387 confirmed (including 19 deaths, 1,164 resolved)

– Nova Scotia: 1,071 confirmed (including 64 deaths, 1,005 resolved)

– Manitoba: 459 confirmed (including 8 deaths, 348 resolved), 15 presumptive

– Newfoundland and Labrador: 266 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 263 resolved)

– New Brunswick: 176 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 168 resolved)

– Prince Edward Island: 36 confirmed (including 36 resolved)

– Yukon: 14 confirmed (including 11 resolved)

– Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)

– Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved)

– Nunavut: No confirmed cases

– Total: 118,561 (15 presumptive, 118,546 confirmed including 8,966 deaths, 103,104 resolved)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Canadian citizen sentenced to death in China on drug charge

Kyle Mack | posted Thursday, Aug 6th, 2020

BEIJING — China has sentenced a third Canadian citizen to death on drug charges amid a steep decline in relations between the two countries.

The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong’s penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.

Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

The brief court statement gave no details but local media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country’s manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools and began making the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu’s home in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district.

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms (266 pounds) of the drug from Xu’s home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain killer that has become popular among club goers in China and elsewhere.

Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise as a global technology power.

In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.

Soon after, China handed a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial, and in April 2019, gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.

China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu’s sentencing and current China-Canada relations.

“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday. “This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”

Like many Asian nations, China deals out stiff penalties for manufacturing and selling illegal drugs, including the death penalty. In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite allegations he was mentally disturbed.

“Death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes,” Wang said. “China’s judicial authorities handle cases involving criminals of different nationalities in accordance with law.”

Canada to provide $5M in humanitarian aid to Lebanon

Kyle Mack | posted Thursday, Aug 6th, 2020

The Canadian government is providing $5 million in humanitarian assistance to help the citizens of Lebanon who are reeling from a devastating explosion Tuesday that killed hundreds and left thousands more injured.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne says $1.5 million will go to the Lebanese Red Cross to provide food, shelter and emergency medical services.

“Canada stands with the people of Lebanon in this harrowing time,” tweeted Champagne.

“We will continue to monitor the situation on the ground closely. We stand ready to provide additional assistance, as appropriate.”

New Democrat international development critic Heather McPherson says the humanitarian aid is gravely needed and the Lebanese people will require significant international support.

McPherson says beyond assisting with immediate food, medical, and other needs, the federal government must take concrete action to assist the international community’s long-term humanitarian efforts.

As international aid flights began to arrive in Beirut, investigators probing the deadly blast focused Wednesday on possible negligence in the storage of tons of a highly explosive fertilizer in a waterfront warehouse.

The blast killed 135 people and injured about 5,000 others.

The investigation is focusing on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it.

The Port of Beirut and customs office is notorious for being one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon where various factions and politicians, including Hezbollah, hold sway.

Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless.

Hospitals were overwhelmed by the injured. One that was damaged in the blast had to evacuate all its patients to a nearby field for treatment.

It was the worst single explosion to strike Lebanon, a country whose history is filled with destruction _ from a 1975-1990 civil war, conflicts with Israel and periodic terrorist attacks.

WE controversy takes bite out of Trudeau, Liberal popularity: Poll

Kyle Mack | posted Wednesday, Aug 5th, 2020

OTTAWA — A new poll suggests nearly half of Canadians would support an election if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is found to have broken the Conflict of Interest Act again.

The survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies also suggests the WE controversy has taken a bite out of Trudeau’s popularity as well as that of the federal Liberal party, putting the Conservatives within striking distance of victory.

The poll comes as the federal ethics commissioner is investigating Trudeau over an alleged conflict of interest in relation to the government’s decision to have WE Charity run a $912-million student volunteer program.

Trudeau was previously found to have broken the ethics law for accepting two paid family vacations from the Aga Khan and improperly pressuring then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

The prime minister has apologized for not recusing himself from WE Charity decision given his and his family’s connections to the Toronto-based development organization, but denied any wrongdoing.

The Leger online poll of 1,531 Canadians over age 18 took place July 31 to Aug. 2 and cannot be given a margin of error because it is not a random sample.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Mystery seeds showing up in Canadian mailboxes highlight ‘brushing’ scams

Kyle Mack | posted Wednesday, Aug 5th, 2020

MONTREAL — The packages of mysterious seeds that have been making unsolicited appearances in mailboxes across North America are drawing attention to an online review scam that has recently appeared in Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned gardeners last week not to plant any seeds they received in the mail without ordering, warning that they could be from invasive species or even carry pests.

While Canadian authorities have not provided an update, the United States Department of Agriculture has suggested the seeds may be part of a “brushing” scam, where sellers send unsolicited items to random customers and then post fake positive reviews online.

Jessie St-Cyr, a spokeswoman with the Better Business Bureau, says this type of scam has recently begun popping up in Canada.

She says sellers send light or inexpensive items to people so they appear to be verified customers when reviews are posted online in their names.

While customers usually aren’t charged for the items, she said recipients should change their passwords for online retail sites and verify bank statements to ensure fraudsters aren’t accessing sensitive information, such as credit card numbers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020

The Canadian Press

Explosion rocks Beirut and Trudeau popularity drops: In The News for Aug. 5

Kyle Mack | posted Wednesday, Aug 5th, 2020

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Aug. 5.

What we are watching in Canada …

Nearly half of Canadians would support an election being called if the federal watchdog finds Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act again over the WE charity affair, a new poll suggests.

The survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies also suggests the WE controversy has taken a bite out of Trudeau’s popularity, as well as that of the federal Liberal party, putting the Conservatives within striking distance of victory.

“To me these are numbers that will certainly worry or concern the Liberals at this moment because even though it’s in the summer, this is raising a lot of eyebrows,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

The online poll of 1,531 adult Canadians took place July 31 to Aug. 2, in the days following Trudeau’s appearance before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the deal with WE. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered truly random.

The survey results come as federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion is investigating both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau over whether they broke conflict-of-interest rules in relation to the government’s decision to give the WE organization a sole-sourced contract to run a $912-million student-volunteer program.

Trudeau was previously found to have broken the Conflict of Interest Act for accepting two paid family vacations from the Aga Khan and for improperly pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was then attorney general, to halt the criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Also this …

A Canadian company is telling the government today that its trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on animals completely blocked the virus, but it must conduct human trials to know whether it has found a possible cure for the pandemic.

And a leading health-care expert says the findings are promising even though they haven’t been peer-reviewed.

Providence Therapeutics says it needs federal funding to move forward, but it has not heard back from the Trudeau government since May, the month after submitting a $35-million proposal to conduct first-stage human trials.

Providence has told the government it could deliver five million doses of its new vaccine by mid-2021 for use in Canada if it were able to successfully complete human testing, but it has heard nothing.

Eric Marcusson, the San Francisco-based co-founder of Providence and its chief science officer, says the company has concluded testing on mice that showed its vaccine was able to block the entry of the novel coronavirus into their cells.

Successful tests in animals can provide proof of the concept behind a potential new medicine or vaccine before trials in ever-larger groups of human subjects determine how well the drug works in the body and whether it has harmful side-effects.

Trials in humans are expensive and usually time-consuming.

ICYMI (in case you missed it) …

The deep valleys scarred into the surface of Mars under thick sheets of ice show that the planet once mirrored the Canadian High Arctic, says a new study.

Published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study says many of the valley networks carved into the surface of Mars were formed by water melting beneath glacial ice. It means there were fewer free-flowing rivers than previously thought.

Study author Anna Grau Galofre, a former University of British Columbia PhD student in the department of Earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences, said about 3.5 billion years ago the Martian surface looked like the surface of Canada 20,000 years ago.

“We’re talking about a planet that’s painted like a brother of Earth,” she said.

Grau Galofre and her team compared surface data of Mars with that of Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic.

The study describes Devon Island as a cold, dry, polar desert, where the glaciers and their retreat imitate what took place on Mars billions of years ago.

“Imagine ice sheets that are kilometres thick, really, really thick,” she said.

“If you were to just lift the ice sheet and see below, you would see a landscape. And this landscape is constituted of several different channels, expanded pathways like the plumbing of the ice.”

What we are watching in the U.S. …

At least five people were killed as Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain Tuesday along the U.S. East Coast after making landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina, where it caused floods and fires that displaced dozens of people.

Two people died when Isaias spun off a tornado that struck a North Carolina mobile home park. Another person died in Pennsylvania when their vehicle was overtaken by water and swept downstream. Two others were killed by falling trees toppled by the storm in Maryland and New York City, authorities said.

Isaias sustained top winds of up to 65 mph (105 kph) more than 18 hours after coming ashore, but it was down to 50 mph max winds as of 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm’s centre was passing through the middle of Vermont, moving north-northeast at about 40 mph (65 kph).

As Isaias sped northward, flooding threats followed. The Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was projected to crest early Wednesday at 15.4 feet (4.7 metres), its highest level in more than 150 years. By Tuesday night, the river had already topped its banks in low-lying Manayunk, turning bar-lined Main Street into a coffee-colored canal.

Aerial video by WRAL-TV showed fields of debris where rescue workers in brightly colored shirts picked through splintered boards and other wreckage of the Windsor, North Carolina, mobile home park where two people were killed. Emergency responders searching the area Tuesday afternoon found no other casualties, and several people initially feared missing had all been accounted for, said Ron Wesson, chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. He said about 12 people were hospitalized.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the city’s port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 70 people were killed and 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.

It was not clear what caused the blast, which struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ, and was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200 kilometres (180 miles) across the Mediterranean. Lebanon’s interior minister said it appeared that a large cache of ammonium nitrate in the port had detonated.

The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and a severe economic and financial crisis.

For hours after the explosion, the most destructive in all of Lebanon’s troubled history, ambulances rushed in from around the country to carry away the wounded. Hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies, and generators to keep their lights on.

For blocks around the port, bloodied residents staggered through streets lined with overturned cars and littered with rubble from shattered buildings. Windows and doors were blown out kilometres (miles) away, including at the city’s only international airport. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.

Videos showed what appeared to be a fire erupting nearby just before, and local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The fire appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering the more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.

Also this…

Philippe Tawileh was with his wife and children watching television after dinner when they heard a blast and felt the house shake.

The family of five who live in Byblos (Jbeil), about 40 kilometres north of Beirut in Lebanon, rushed to look out the window but couldn’t see anything, Tawileh said in a WhatsApp interview Tuesday night.

“We felt like an earthquake and we heard the blast. It was very loud, big, huge.”

That’s when he turned on the news while simultaneously scrolling through his social media to find out what was happening.

Tawileh’s 22-month-old son, Alexandre, was born in Montreal and is a Canadian citizen. His two other children are nine-year-old Andrew and eight-year-old Adriana.

His wife, Rawane Dagher, who is a pediatrician, recently accepted a job at a hospital in Montreal. They are waiting for their documents to immigrate, which have been delayed by the pandemic, he said. His parents and brother live in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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