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Update on COVID-19 emergency aid and the CFL in peril; In The News for April 30

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Apr 30th, 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 April 30 …

COVID-19 in Canada …

OTTAWA — Canadians will get an update today on two of the costliest emergency aid programs the federal government has initiated to help them weather the COVID-19 crisis.

The parliamentary budget officer is scheduled to post a costing note on the 75 per cent wage subsidy — a program the government expects to cost $73 billion and which it has called the largest economic policy in Canada since the Second World War.

Yves Giroux is also expected to post a costing note on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is providing $2,000 a month for four months to Canadians forced out of work due to the pandemic.

The government has estimated the cost of that program at $35 billion, but has expanded the eligibility criteria several times to add those initially left out, including workers earning up to $1,000 per month, seasonal workers and those who have exhausted their regular employment insurance benefits.

In total, the federal government has so far poured $145 billion into emergency aid and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised more to come, including for seniors.

In other Canadian news …

OTTAWA — The search continues today for a Canadian military helicopter that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea while participating in a NATO exercise off the coast of Greece.

Greek state broadcaster ERT was first to report that a Canadian military helicopter had gone down in the water between Italy and Greece on Wednesday.

The broadcaster later said one body had been found and five others on board were missing.

The Canadian Armed Forces says the Cyclone was deployed on board the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton.

Cyclone helicopters carry a crew of four, including two pilots, a tactical operator and a sensor operator with space for several passengers.

They are primarily based on naval vessels and used for hunting submarines, surveillance and search and rescue.

Also this …

REGINA — Kelly Knowles is a hair stylist in Regina who could go back to work next month, but right now her son’s daycare is only accepting children of essential workers.

She says without a daycare, she can’t start booking clients in her salon.

Experts say provinces planning to relax public health restrictions around COVID-19 and reopen businesses have to first deal with the issue of child care.

Jennifer Robson, a professor in political management at Carleton University, says without child care, parents with young kids who have the chance to go back to work will have to decide who stays home.

And she says often because of gender roles and a gap in pay, it’s women.

Robson says for the economy to fully recover and household incomes to rebound, women need to get back to work and child care is essential for that.

Lindsay Tedds, a professor of economics at the University of Calgary, says most women have already borne the brunt of the pandemic and, without child-care, that could be exacerbated.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A memo sent to California police chiefs says Gov. Gavin Newsom will order all beaches and state parks closed starting Friday to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The California Police Chiefs Association sent the bulletin to its members Wednesday evening. Association President Eric Nunez said it was sent to give chiefs time to plan ahead of Newsom’s expected announcement today.

Most state parks already are closed and many communities have shut their beaches, but some of those open in Ventura and Orange counties attracted large crowds last weekend, drawing Newsom’s ire. He called them an example of “what not to do” if the state wants to continue its progress in fighting the virus.

In Washington, the federal government’s physical distancing guidelines are soon to expire, and President Donald Trump says he’s not extending them.

Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is predicting that the country will be “really rocking again” by July.

The White House’s “30 Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines expire today.

COVID-19 around the world …

JERUSALEM — Physical distancing doesn’t come naturally in Israel. But the country, known for its informal, in-your-face mentality, seems to be setting a new standard for public demonstrations in the age of coronavirus.

During the past two weekends, thousands of people have gathered in organized geometric patterns in Tel Aviv’s central square to comply with social distancing rules as they express their anger over the continued rule of a prime minister charged with serious crimes.

The demonstrations, resembling a vast glowing human matrix in stunning aerial photos, have become a poignant symbol of the country’s duelling political and health challenges.

COVID-19 in sports …

TORONTO — Toronto Mayor John Tory has been in a similar spot to where CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie finds himself today.

And just like when he was commissioner during troubling times before the turn of the century, Tory believes the CFL can survive its latest crisis.

On Tuesday, Ambrosie divulged the CFL is asking the federal government for up to $150 million in federal assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal involves $30 million now to manage the current affect the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on league business, and up to another $120 million if the 2020 campaign is cancelled.

Ambrosie added the league’s long-term future would be in peril if the season was wiped out.

Tory served as a volunteer CFL commissioner from 1996-2000. During his first season, the league did not have enough cash to pay Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts players in the Grey Cup game in Hamilton.

Fortunately, Tim Hortons provided the league with extra funds to ensure the players’ cheques would clear.

“I’ve seen it at that level of despair,” Tory said. “We came back from that to the point where the league was very strong over the last number of years.

“It’s just now this pandemic has (brought) many very well-run organizations to their knees and the CFL has the same kind of problems many other businesses in Canada have.”

In 1997, the CFL faced another financial crisis that threatened its survival. But the league secured a much-needed US$3-million loan as part of a partnership with the NFL that it ultimately repaid, with interest.

So, Tory isn’t surprised to hear the CFL is having problems once again.

“The fact they’ve turned to government, to me, would be part of what I think they should do.”

But Tory said that’s not all the CFL could be doing to help remedy the situation.

“To me, I think they should show a little, good old-fashioned CFL creativity,” he said. “Turn to the TV networks and say, ‘OK, what can you do,’ because the TV networks are the beneficiary of having this great Canadian game that attracts a lot of interest around the country.”

Then Tory would look to CFL owners.

“I’d say, ‘OK, what can you do,’ knowing some of them in places like Regina are community owners and they can’t do as much,” Tory said. “But there could be something, I think, the owners could do collectively.”

Tory would also get CFL fans involved.

“If you sort of do the math, I think I’m right in saying they’d have about 100,000 fans a week,” he said. “Maybe you could have a bit of a campaign among the fans with each buying sort of a membership into the CFL.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2020.

The Canadian Press

CFL asking government for up to $150M in financial aid due to coronavirus

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 29th, 2020

TORONTO – The Canadian Football League is asking the federal government for up to $150 million in financial assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that the league’s proposal involves three phases: $30 million now to manage the impact the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on league business; additional assistance for an abbreviated regular season; and up to another $120 million in the event of a lost 2020 campaign.

The CFL hasn’t given up on staging a 2020 season but it has postponed the start of training camps — which were to open next month.

It has also and pushed back the beginning of the regular season — which was scheduled to begin June 11 — to early July, at the earliest.

Many provincial governments already have said there will not be sports events with large crowds this summer.

The Grey Cup is scheduled for Nov. 22 in Regina.

Financial aid for students and Canadian YouTube series; In The News for April 29

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 29th, 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 April 29 …

COVID-19 in Canada …

OTTAWA — The House of Commons will be asked today to give rapid approval to legislation authorizing $9 billion in promised financial assistance for students facing bleak summer job prospects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But whether the Trudeau government will get the unanimous consent needed to expedite the bill’s approval in a matter of hours today remained to be seen late Tuesday.

The government was continuing negotiations with opposition parties on details of the bill, which was shared with them on the weekend.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said his party wants changes that would ensure the legislation includes incentives for young people to take available jobs, rather than stay home and collect the emergency aid.

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, says the governing Liberals are open to changing the bill.

New Democrat and Green MPs have also been pushing for the aid package to be expanded to include international students who remain in Canada over the summer.

In other Canadian news …

FORT McMURRAY, Alta. — Officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo say the flooding in the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray remains a critical situation, with the mayor calling it a one-in-century disaster made all the more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 25-kilometre ice jam is causing major flooding, forcing nearly 13,000 people from their homes in the downtown.

Data shows the Clearwater River was still rising Tuesday and the Athabasca River had only dropped by about four centimetres.

More than 6,000 people have registered at two evacuation centres and the municipality says the number is expected to grow.

Evacuees are being put up in hotels and work camps so they can continue to follow the COVID-19 physical distancing requirements.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump says his administration is considering requiring travellers on certain international flights to undergo temperature and virus checks.

Trump says it hasn’t been determined yet whether the federal governor or the airlines would conduct the testing, and “Maybe it’s a combination of both.”

Trump’s comments Tuesday came during a White House event touting a loan program designed to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program. He said the Small Business Administration has processed more loans in 14 days than it has in the previous 14 years.

Also Tuesday, unions in the U.S. meat packing industry said Trump is jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.

Trump signed an executive order under the Defence Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure during the coronavirus outbreak. The goal is to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves.

More than 20 meatpacking plants have closed temporarily because of the outbreak. At least 20 workers have died.

COVID-19 around the world …

BEIJING — China is taking another step toward returning to business as normal by scheduling its most important political meeting of the year for late May.

The National People’s Congress was supposed to convene in March but was called off as COVID-19 sickened thousands of people, filling hospitals and disrupting daily life in the country where the pandemic began.

The Congress meeting will start on May 22, and an advisory body will convene a day earlier.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the 3,000 or so delegates would come to Beijing as usual or if the meeting would be held virtually through videoconferencing.

COVID-19 in sports …

The Spanish government says professional athletes in the country can resume training individually next week.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says “basic” training for professional athletes will be permitted beginning Monday. It’s the start of the first phase of the plan aimed at easing the lockdown measures that have been in place since March 14.

High-performance sports facilities will be allowed to reopen in the second phase of the plan, which will begin as early as May 11, depending on the situation in each province.

Sanchez did not say when sports competitions, such as the domestic soccer league, are expected to resume.

The Spanish league has said it doesn’t plan to restart before the end of May. The league has already sent clubs a detailed protocol with safety guidelines on how to return to practice.

COVID-19 in entertainment …

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer appears in a new educational video series on YouTube.

Dr. Howard Njoo sits down to answer questions about COVID-19 by some of Canada’s top YouTube creators in four videos, three of which are now available.

YouTube says the content is a collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The company says the series is “an effort to share factual, authoritative information with a younger audience that may not be consuming news via more traditional sources.”

Creators in the videos include Simply Nailogical, an Ottawa-based crime statistics analyst for the Canadian government whose YouTube channel features nail art.

Then there are do-it-yourself entrepreneurs The Sorry Girls and Peter McKinnon, a Toronto-based photographer who poses questions to Njoo from his paramedic cousin.

Upcoming participants include Jay Machalani, a bilingual Quebec-based creator and medic for the Canadian Forces who posts on the channel jayaddict.

COVID-19 and your food …

McDonald’s Canada says it will start importing beef as Canada’s beef supply chain struggles to meet current demand amid COVID-19.

The restaurant chain, which prides itself on using only Canadian beef, says in a statement that its change in policy is due to limited processing capacity at Canadian suppliers, such as a Cargill Inc. plant near High River, Alta.

Cargill has shuttered operations temporarily after a worker died from the COVID-19 coronavirus and hundreds of other employees tested positive.

McDonald’s says in a statement it will start sourcing beef from its pre-approved suppliers and facilities outside of Canada effective immediately.

The company says it is also temporarily removing its Angus burgers from menus in Canada — though restaurants may sell them until supplies run out.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Loblaw reports Q1 profit and sales up as customers stockpiled supplies

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 29th, 2020

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Loblaw Companies Ltd. reported its first-quarter profit rose compared with a year ago as shoppers stockpiled supplies due to the pandemic, however it said costs also rose as it ramped up spending to protect its workers and customers.

The company, which owns Loblaws grocery stores and the Shoppers Drug Mart chain, says it earned a profit attributable to common shareholders of $240 million or 66 cents per share for the 12-week period ended March 21.

That compared with a profit of $198 million or 53 cents per share in the same quarter last year.

Revenue totalled $11.8 billion, up from nearly $10.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

Food retail same-stores sales rose 9.6 per cent, while drug retail same-store sales climbed 10.7 per cent as pharmacy same-store sales rose 10.6 per cent and front store same-store sales gained 10.7 per cent.

On an adjusted basis, Loblaw says it earned $352 million or 97 cents per share, up from $290 million or 78 cents per share a year earlier.

Canadians divided over making coronavirus vaccine mandatory: poll

LEE BERTHIAUME, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

While researchers across the planet race to find a vaccine for coronavirus, a new poll suggests Canadians are divided over whether getting it should be mandatory or voluntary — setting up a potentially prickly public health debate if a vaccine becomes available.

The federal government has committed tens of millions of dollars to help find or create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory illness that has infected at least 48,000 Canadians and killed more than 2,700.

Yet the poll conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that while 60 per cent of respondents believe people should be required to get the vaccine once it is ready, the other 40 per cent think it should be voluntary.

While that doesn’t mean only 60 per cent would get the vaccine themselves, Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque nonetheless said he would have expected much higher support for a mandatory vaccine given the scale and scope of the pandemic.

“It’s almost as if it’s seen as just another flu vaccine,” Bourque told The Canadian Press. “I myself would have expected a higher number given the severity, given the crisis we’re in. But Canadians are kind of divided on this.”

The Leger poll was conducted April 24 to 26 and surveyed 1,515 adult Canadians recruited from Leger’s online panel. The internet-based survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.

Older Canadians, who are most at risk of serious harm from COVID-19, were more likely to support a mandatory vaccine. Respondents who identified themselves as likely to vote Liberal were also most likely to agree with a mandatory vaccine while those leaning Conservative were least likely.

Bourque suggested this was a reflection of ideological differences seen throughout the crisis: those on the left of the political spectrum are more willing to accept government intervention than those on the right who prioritize personal freedoms.

The poll also looked for the first time at what activities Canadians would feel comfortable doing once government restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 are finally lifted, including returning to their offices, shopping, dining out and attending concerts and sporting events.

The results, which comes as many provinces are unveiling tentative plans and timelines for easing restrictions, was a mixed bag. Respondents were comfortable with some activities but not others, particularly those involving large groups of people in the same place.

The majority (58 per cent) felt they would be comfortable allowing in-home renovations by contractors, going to farmers’ markets (57 per cent) and shopping at the mall (53 per cent). And only 15 per cent said they would not be comfortable returning to their own workplaces.

Yet only 45 per cent said they would be comfortable eating in a restaurant while 24 per cent would feel comfortable going to the gym, 23 per cent flying on an airplane and 21 per cent attending a large gathering such as a concert or sports event.

“The ones that are at the top, these are activities where people feel they can manage some form of social distancing,” Bourque said.

The poll also indicated the level of trust and satisfaction Canadians feel toward their leaders and public-health officials has remained consistently high since a similar poll was conducted the previous week. The number who were afraid of catching COVID-19 also remained unchanged.

Yet the number of respondents who admitted to breaking at least one of the guidelines around managing COVID-19, such as practising physical distancing, going out only for necessities and washing their hands more often, was found to have increased to 33 per cent from 27 per cent.

“To me it’s an indication that they’re looking for deconfinement news because they’re starting to slack off a little bit on what they should be allowed to do,” Bourque said. “I think if there is no plan for deconfinement, people will start to become more delinquent.”

Local restaurants feel squeezed by delivery apps’ commission fees

BRENNA OWEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

VANCOUVER — Restaurants struggling to survive during the COVID-19 crisis have turned to take-out and delivery, but the fees charged by food-delivery companies are eating away their bottom line, some operators say.

Physical distancing measures have decimated dine-in service, which accounts for most industry revenue, said Mark von Schellwitz, a vice-president of the non-profit Restaurants Canada.

Margins are typically less than five per cent at the best of times, he said, and delivery platforms can take up to 30 per cent commission.

Companies including Uber Eats, DoorDash and SkipTheDishes say they’re offering restaurants various supports and the opportunity to keep serving customers, while maintaining their own operations.

“We think they need to sharpen their pencils to reduce the fees … or an increasing number of members will be asking us to implement some sort of a fee cap,” said von Schellwitz, pointing to the temporary 15 per cent cap on commissions established in San Francisco this month.

Terrence Feng owns and operates Kin Kao, a Thai restaurant along Vancouver’s Commercial Drive that previously generated about 15 per cent of its revenue with take-out and 10 to 12 per cent through delivery.

Now, delivery accounts for 50 to 60 per cent and the rest is take-out, said Feng.

“We were basically at break even, if we’re lucky, given the current commission rates.”

Feng said profits have improved in the last couple of weeks because DoorDash cut its commission fees in half for local restaurants on April 13. The commission rate can vary by restaurant, and Feng said Kin Kao now pays 14 per cent.

DoorDash said its investment of up to $100 million to cut the fees will continue through the end of May.

Kin Kao is still paying 28 per cent commission on sales through Uber Eats, said Feng.

Uber said in a statement that it’s supporting restaurants in a sustainable manner by waiving delivery fees for customers, thereby generating more orders. It said commission fees help cover operating costs and to reduce them would make it difficult to maintain a safe and reliable platform.

Both Uber and DoorDash are also waiving commission fees for orders placed through the app that are picked up in person.

Gino Herring, the general manager of Vancouver Italian restaurant Sprezzatura, said they had never used food delivery platforms before the pandemic, but quickly adopted Uber Eats, DoorDash and SkipTheDishes.

Dine-in service accounted for 90 per cent of the restaurant’s revenue, said Herring, and now it’s about 80 per cent from delivery.

Although he’s pleased with sales, Herring said the companies’ fees are “aggressive” and local restaurants aren’t in a position to negotiate.

“It’s a bit predatory, but we operate at the behest of those apps,” he said.

SkipTheDishes is Canada’s largest food delivery network, headquartered in Winnipeg. CEO Kevin Edwards said the company has a vested interest in ensuring its vendors make it through the pandemic.

“It certainly doesn’t do Skip any good to have any restaurants struggling,” he said.

The company initially offered restaurants a 15 per cent rebate on commissions before increasing the rebate to 25 per cent through the end of May. It’s also offering reduced fees for restaurants that use their own delivery staff when an order is made through its app.

Edwards said his company will think about how it can enhance its support for local vendors, but he’s not sure what form it would take, and the company also has to ensure its own viability.

“Our net revenue is not nearly what people believe it to be and taking 25 per cent and applying it to a rebate obviously changes that,” he said.

Foodora announced Monday that it’s closing Canadian operations next month, saying Canada is a highly saturated market for online food delivery and the company was unable to reach a level of profitability sustainable enough to continue operations.

Feng said local restaurants that don’t have any other way to get food to customers are “handcuffed” to the delivery apps, while struggling to turn a profit during the pandemic.

“If everybody stood up in the industry and said, ‘You know what, that’s too much’ … then I think they’d be way more willing to play ball. But when they know that 95 per cent of their clients can’t do anything about it, they can flex their muscle a little big more, right?”

Edmonton chef Paul Shufelt avoided delivery apps when he opened The Workshop Eatery, opting for an in-house delivery system instead.

In early April, Shufelt posted a video on Facebook breaking down the costs of running a restaurant and how commission fees can affect the bottom line. It’s since garnered more than 586,000 views and Shufelt said he’s heard from hundreds of restaurant operators who are struggling with the fees.

Shufelt said for many restaurants, reliance on delivery is likely here to stay, even after physical distancing restrictions are loosened.

“I think that’s going to make things really hard for restaurant owners who already barely make enough to keep the doors open.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

MPs to meet virtually Tuesday to discuss coronavirus measures

CORMAC MAC SWEENEY | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

Federal politicians will be facing off in Ottawa on Tuesday but it will look much different than usual.

Members of Parliament will be holding their first virtual meeting since a majority of parties in the House of Commons agreed to hold just one in-person and two online meetings each week to respect health advice during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, small committees have met through video link, but never have all 338 MPs been asked to debate online like this.

This massive Zoom meeting will see the opposition hold the government to account and Conservatives say they are ready to question the Liberals on emergency stockpiles, gaps in the emergency benefits, and the restart of the economy.

“The Liberals have been slow to react, and their failures have cost Canadians,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.

“The Prime Minister owes Canadians an explanation and a plan to fix his mistakes.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the economic restart needs to be a slow and cautious process.

“If we get this wrong, everything we have sacrificed over the past many weeks could have been in vain,” he explained.

This is not technically a sitting of the House, so it will be a different format.

MPs will be allowed a five-minute time slot to ask multiple questions of the prime minister and his cabinet.

On Wednesday, politicians will debate and vote on the government’s $9-billion aid package for students, but that will happen in person with a limited number of MPs.

Crisis lines face volunteer, cash crunch even as COVID-19 drives surge in calls

TERESA WRIGHT, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 27th, 2020

OTTAWA — Despite a surge in demand due to COVID-19, many distress centres across Canada are dangerously close to folding thanks to major declines in both volunteers and revenue.

Stephanie MacKendrick, CEO of Crisis Services Canada, which runs the only national suicide-specific helpline in Canada, says community distress centres across the country have seen 30 to 50 per cent more crisis calls since the pandemic began.

Yet they have also seen fewer volunteers, with some reporting a loss of up to 90 per cent.

While centres have started turning to paid staff to make up the difference, their cash flows have also been hit hard as their main sources of revenue — training and workshops — have dried up overnight due to the pandemic.

MacKendrick calls this the “perfect storm” for these centres, with many now struggling to stay afloat.

MacKendrick says that is why her organization has asked Ottawa to provide $15 million in emergency funding to keep distress centres from having to close their doors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Wage subsidy program for businesses opening for applications Monday

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Apr 27th, 2020

Some key developments are coming this week in the country’s relentless struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.

They begin Monday with businesses being allowed to apply for the federal government’s $73 billion wage subsidy program.

Companies that qualify will get a subsidy worth 75 per cent of each employee’s wages, up to $847 per week, retroactive from March 15 to June 6. And for those organizations that can, the government is asking employers to fill in the remaining quarter.

First payments are expected to arrive by the end of next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be talking about that, as well as some other coming initiatives, at his daily coronavirus briefing.

 

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