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Can the Conservative Party reinvent itself in time to avoid disaster?

THE BIG STORY | posted Thursday, Jul 22nd, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, recent polls from across the spectrum show the Conservative Party of Canada struggling to mount a meaningful challenge to the Liberals in the next election—which seems to be fast approaching. More concerning than the low polling numbers is another statistic: The percentage of Canadians who would be willing to consider voting conservative. That’s at 41 percent, down seven points since 2019.

The Conservative party’s current pool of voters is shrinking. Who are they losing, and why? What might bring them back into the fold? Are their other groups who might be drawn to a more centrist party and is the CPC willing to take the short-term pain of alienating a hard-right base to chase votes in the centre?

GUEST: Max Fawcett

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Feds host antisemitism summit to hear Jewish community’s concerns about rising hate

MAAN ALHMIDI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jul 21st, 2021

OTTAWA — Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger says a national summit on antisemitism the federal government is hosting today will allow community members to speak directly with politicians in an environment that ensures their safety.

Chagger says in an interview the government will be listening and engaging with community members aiming to turn their ideas into actions to implement policies that reflect the diversity of Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal ministers, opposition critics, premiers and mayors will be participating in the summit along with Jewish community members from across the country.

Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, says he will be speaking about the rise of antisemitism not only in Canada, but also internationally, which he likens to almost an “explosion.”

He says Jews are being targeted and threatened in their neighbourhoods and their synagogues, memorials and institutions have also been attacked and vandalized.

B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights organization, says it recorded 2,610 antisemitic incidents last year, which was the fifth consecutive record-setting year for antisemitism in Canada.

The organization says 44 per cent of violent antisemitic incidents in 2020 were COVID-19-related, with Jews being spat on and otherwise assaulted, driven in part by antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Cotler says he will be proposing a 10-point action plan to combat antisemitism in Canada during today’s summit.

“The summit is as timely as it is necessary, but it will only be effective if, in fact, we implement an action plan,” he says.

He says his proposed plan will call on the government to mandate and implement a comprehensive national action plan to combat antisemitism by enhancing security and protection for Jewish institutions including synagogues, schools, community centres and memorial sites. The plan would also provide more resources for Holocaust and antisemitism education, among other elements.

He says Canadian governments should learn from the best practices and the failures of European countries who have developed plans and proposals to combat antisemitic hate crimes.

The federal government will also hold a summit on Islamophobia this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2021.

——

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

How ‘best before’ dates waste tons of Canadian food

THE BIG STORY | posted Wednesday, Jul 21st, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, you’ve probably thrown something out when it was past the date on the package—even if it didn’t really seem like it had gone bad. Better safe than sorry, or as the campaign used to tell us, “When in doubt, throw it out.” But best before dates are not the same as expiry dates, and this misunderstanding is behind millions of kilograms of food wasted every year.

Where did best before dates come from and what was their initial intention? Why does everything have a best before date now, even things like candy or chips … or water? How can we reverse decades of conditioning and teach people to use common sense and good judgement, rather than an arbitrary date, to determine when to toss otherwise edible food?

GUEST: Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

A look at COVID-19 reopening plans across the country

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 20th, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and case numbers drop across the country, the provinces and territories have begun releasing the reopening plans for businesses, events and recreational facilities.

Most of the plans are based on each jurisdiction reaching vaccination targets at certain dates, while also keeping the number of cases and hospitalizations down.

Here’s a look at what reopening plans look like across the country:

Newfoundland and Labrador:

The province’s reopening plan begins with a transition period during which some health restrictions, like limits on gatherings, will loosen.

Requirements for testing and self-isolation lifted entirely for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on Canada Day, while those requirements will ease over the next few months for travellers with just one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If case counts, hospitalization and vaccination targets are met, the province expects to reopen dance floors as early as Aug. 15, and lift capacity restrictions on businesses, restaurants and lounges while maintaining physical distancing between tables.

As early as Sept. 15, mask requirements for indoor public spaces will be reviewed.

Nova Scotia:

Nova Scotia has further reduced COVID-19 public health orders after entering the fourth phase of its reopening.

Under the new rules, retail stores can operate at full capacity, churches and other venues can operate at half capacity or with a maximum of 150 people, and up to 50 people can attend outdoor family gatherings.

Capacity limits for dance classes, music lessons and indoor play spaces have also been lifted.

Organized sports practices, games, league play, competitions and recreation programs can involve up to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors without physical distancing.

Day camps can operate with 30 campers per group plus staff and volunteers, following the day camp guidelines. In addition, professional and amateur arts and culture rehearsals and performances can involve up to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors without physical distancing.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated residents of long-term care homes can now have visitors in their rooms and visit their family’s homes, including for overnight stays.

New Brunswick:

New Brunswick has moved into Phase 2 of its reopening plan, having reached its goal of having 20 per cent of people 65 or older vaccinated with two doses of a COVID vaccine.

Premier Blaine Higgs says the change opens travel without the need to isolate to all of Nova Scotia after opening to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Travellers from elsewhere in Canada who’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can enter the province without the need to isolate, while those who haven’t had a shot must still isolate and produce a negative test before being released from quarantine.

Other changes allow restaurants, gyms and salons to operate at full capacity as long as customer contact lists are kept.

In the third phase, the province will lift all COVID-19 restrictions.

Prince Edward Island:

Prince Edward Island has dropped its requirement that non-medical masks be worn in public indoor spaces.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says masks are still encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and businesses are free to adopt stricter rules.

Officials say those who serve the public, such as in restaurants, retail stores and hair salons, should continue to wear a mask.

All health-care facilities will continue to require masks until 80 per cent of eligible P.E.I. residents are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the province has allowed personal gatherings to increase so that up to 20 people can get together indoors and outdoors. Restaurants are allowed to have tables of up to 20. Special occasion events like backyard weddings and anniversary parties of up to 50 people hosted by individuals are permitted with a reviewed operational plan.

Organized gatherings hosted by a business or other organization are permitted with groups of up to 200 people outdoors or 100 people indoors.

On Sept. 12, the province expects physical distancing measures to be eased, as well as allowing personal and organized gatherings to go ahead without limits.

Quebec:

Quebec’s government has removed capacity restrictions in retail stores across the province and reduced the two-metre physical distancing health order to one metre.

Quebecers from separate households are now required to keep a one-metre distance from one another indoors and outdoors instead of two metres.

The previous two-metre distance now applies only at places characterized by physical activity or singing.

Outdoor events are limited to a maximum of 5,000 people, while Indoor events are capped at 3,500 spectators.

Fans and those attending theatres or other performance venues must keep at least one empty seat between each other, and wearing a mask in public spaces remains mandatory.

All of Quebec is now at the lowest green alert level under the province’s COVID-19 response plan as public health restrictions continue to ease.

Last month, the province permitted gyms and restaurant dining rooms to reopen. Supervised outdoor sports and recreation are also allowed in groups of up to 25 people.

Quebec ended its nightly curfew on May 28, and also lifted travel bans between regions.

Ontario:

Ontario has moved to the third step of its reopening plan, allowing for more indoor activities including restaurant dining and gym use, while larger crowds are permitted for outdoor activities.

Masking and physical distancing rules, however, remain in place.

Social gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Religious services and other ceremonies are allowed indoors with larger groups of people who are physically distanced.

Nightclubs and similar establishments are open to 25 per cent capacity. Crowd limits have expanded for retail stores and salons, which can offer services that require masks to be removed.

Spectators are permitted at sporting events, concert venues, cinemas and theatres, with larger limits on crowds for outdoor events.

Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, bingo halls and amusement parks are also open with larger crowd limits on outdoor attractions.

Manitoba:

Manitoba is loosening restrictions and allowing extra freedoms for people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as it moves into the second phase of its reopening plan.

Indoor gatherings are now allowed for up to five people, on top of those who live in a household, and 25 people in indoor public spaces. Outdoor gatherings are expanded to 25 people on private property and 150 in public spaces.

Restaurants and bars are allowed up to 50 per cent capacity and opening hours are extended until midnight. Retail stores can run at 50 per cent capacity or 500 people, whichever is lower. Fitness centres can open at 50 per cent capacity, but masks are still required.

Outdoor weddings and funerals can have up to 150 people and indoor events now have a limit of 25. Faith-based gatherings can expand to half capacity or 150 people indoors.

Businesses, such as casinos, museums and movie theatres, can open at 50 per cent capacity but only fully vaccinated Manitobans can take part. An upcoming Blue Bombers CFL game will also be open fully to fans who are double-vaccinated.

Saskatchewan:

Saskatchewan has removed all public health orders — including the province-wide mandatory masking order, as well as capacity limits on events and gathering sizes.

Premier Scott Moe says the province decided to go ahead with full implementation of Step 3 of its Reopening Roadmap because more than 70 per cent of residents over the age of 18 and 69 per cent of those over 12 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite the lifting of the health orders, Regina and Saskatoon say they will still keep up extra cleaning in municipal facilities.

Alberta:

All remaining COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on July 1.

There are no longer limits on weddings, funerals or bans on indoor social gatherings. In addition, there are no more limits on gyms, sports or fitness activities, no more capacity limits at restaurants, in retail stores or in places of worship.

Anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will still be required to self-isolate and protective measures at continuing care centres may remain.

The overall requirement for masks in public indoor spaces has ended, but masks may still be required in taxis, on public transit and on ride shares.

Some remaining COVID-19 health restrictions in continuing-care centres have also been eased.

The province says it is no longer limiting the number of visitors, since vaccination rates are rising and there have been few cases in care homes.

Visitors, however, still need to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure, and masks are still required in common areas.

The province recommends people wear a mask at all times when visiting a care home if they have not been fully vaccinated, including children under 12.

Limits on dining and recreation activities have been eliminated, and residents are not required to be screened if they are re-entering the building or go into quarantine if they have gone off site.

British Columbia:

The province took the next step in its reopening plan on Canada Day when most COVID-19 restrictions were removed and outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people got the go ahead.

Restaurants and pubs no longer have limits on the number of diners, but people are still not allowed to mingle with those at other tables. Masks are no longer mandatory and recreational travel outside the province can resume.

Casinos and nightclubs are open for the first time in 16 months, but some barriers remain in place and socializing between tables is not allowed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says some businesses may want people to continue wearing masks for now, and everyone should comply with those requirements or face the potential of fines.

Meanwhile, visitors to long-term care homes will soon be allowed to see loved ones without COVID-19 restrictions. Dr. Henry says the return to unscheduled visits will begin July 19, but staff will be required to report whether they have been immunized.

All COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be removed on Labour Day.

Nunavut:

Public health orders affecting what is allowed to open vary by community.

Restrictions in Iqaluit were eased on July 2. Travel restrictions in and out of Iqaluit have been lifted. A household can now have up to 10 people in their home and up to 50 people can gather outdoors.

Theatres and restaurants can also open at 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is less.

Meanwhile in Kinngait and Rankin Inlet, outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people and those indoors are restricted to a household plus 15 people. Restaurants and bars are allowed to open for regular business at 50 per cent capacity, and there must be a two metre distance between tables, with no more than six people seated or around each table.

Northwest Territories:

Up to 25 people are allowed in a business that is following an approved COVID-19 plan. Households can have up to 10 people with a maximum of five guests from another household.

Non-essential travel outside the territory is not recommended, and leisure travel into the territory is not permitted.

The territory is no longer requiring masks to be worn in public places in Yellowknife and three other communities.

Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola says it’s still a good idea to wear a mask indoors when there is a crowd, poor ventilation, or shouting or singing.

Yukon:

Yukon has expanded the rules for gatherings, allowing up to 200 people to gather, as long as masks are worn indoors and other health protocols are followed.

Fully vaccinated people can have personal gatherings of up to 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors, but the unvaccinated are encouraged to stick with their “safe six” because they are at significantly higher risk.

Bars and restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity with restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Additional wildfire evacuation orders issued in B.C. because of wildfires

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 20th, 2021

At least 160 properties have been ordered to evacuate as an aggressive wildfire burns in the south Okanagan.

The Osoyoos Indian Band ordered the evacuation of more than 100 properties Monday because of the Inkaneep Creek wildfire on the band’s land, about six kilometres north of Osoyoos.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says flames were moving rapidly north and it declared a local state of emergency Monday night and ordered the evacuation of 60 properties, followed by evacuation alerts for nearly 100 others and the entire town of Oliver.

The BC Wildfire Service website shows the blaze has already burned an estimated seven square kilometres and personnel worked through the night, reporting “aggressive fire behaviour.”

Separate fires in the southern Interior forced the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to order the evacuation of 28 properties near the community of Westwold on Monday and seven properties near Heffley Lake, the latest in a string of orders from the district.

The fires affecting the regional district are among nearly 300 burning across the province.

The orders came as the provincial organization that co-ordinates emergency support warned that available accommodation for thousands of wildfire evacuees was strained to the limit in the Thompson and Cariboo regions, and some evacuees were being sheltered as far south as Chilliwack.

Emergency Management B.C. has encouraged anyone who decided to leave their homes for larger communities due to smoky conditions to consider returning to make space for those facing a direct threat. Smoky conditions shift and move, so those who left their homes don’t necessarily reduce their exposure, it said in a statement Sunday.

Environment Canada has air quality statements in effect across Western Canada on Monday due to smoke from wildfires between British Columbia and Ontario.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Canada set to receive 7.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses this week

MAAN ALHMIDI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Jul 19th, 2021

OTTAWA — The federal government is expecting to receive about 7.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week, as it adjusts its distribution strategy amid waning vaccination rates and substantial supply.

The new deliveries will include about 3.1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four million doses of Moderna.

“In the coming weeks, we will cross a symbolic threshold of 66 million doses, signalling that there are enough doses in Canada to vaccinate every currently eligible Canadian,” Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie said Thursday at a virtual news conference from Ottawa.

Brodie, who is overseeing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country, said Canada is moving to a “more nuanced” approach as the supply of doses is on the verge of outstripping demand.

More than two million doses of vaccine are already being held back because provinces have said they can’t use them yet, she said.

The move marks a shift away from the early strategy of sending doses around the country as quickly as possible after they arrive.

“As we pivot from limited supply to sufficient supply, we are implementing a more nuanced approach to ensure that the vaccines are stewarded in a manner that best supports Canada’s enduring domestic needs, as well as optimizes options for supporting global vaccination efforts,” Brodie said.

Provinces can draw more doses from the reserved amount when and if they need to do so.

Canada’s vaccination rate remains among the highest in the world, but is starting to slow as the pool of people still looking for a first or second dose shrinks.

As of Friday, almost 79 per cent of eligible Canadians had received at least one dose of a vaccine and more than 50 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Canada has already said it plans to donate the remaining 17.7 million doses in expected shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the COVAX global vaccine-sharing alliance.

Those doses will be shipped to developing countries that are nowhere close to the level of immunization Canada now enjoys. In Africa, about three per cent of the population has now received at least one dose, and 1.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, warned countries such as Canada, where vaccinations are high and case loads under control, to remember the pandemic is not over.

On Thursday, the WHO reported the number of COVID-19 deaths in Africa jumped 43 per cent over the last week, as the Delta variant continued its devastating spread.

Several provinces indicated Thursday that they’ve had to destroy some doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that expired July 1 before they could be used. Health Canada had already extended the expiry date for those doses by one month.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health said Thursday it had 3,190 doses of AstraZeneca that would be destroyed, Prince Edward Island said it was destroying 3,200 doses and New Brunswick 960.

Demand for AstraZeneca plummeted in May after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were preferred because they weren’t associated with the rare but serious side-effect of blood clots potentially linked to AstraZeneca.

Canada has yet to say if or when it will donate any doses of Pfizer or Moderna.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said 95 million doses of the two vaccines will be delivered by the end of September. That is at least 20 million doses more than Canada could use even if 100 per cent of Canadians chose to get fully vaccinated.

Most polls suggest about 80 per cent of Canadians will be vaccinated. Currently, the vaccines aren’t authorized for kids under the age of 12, although there’s hope that vaccine trials on younger children will be finished by the end of the summer.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Thursday Canada will keep enough doses to ensure supply for younger children when they become eligible. There are about 4.8 million kids in Canada under the age of 12.

“We will never do anything that will jeopardize our ability to have, quickly and safely, access to all the vaccines necessary to immunize any eligible Canadian,” LeBlanc said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2021.

——

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Inside Canada’s broken military justice system

THE BIG STORY | posted Monday, Jul 19th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, last week, retired general Jonathan Vance, former chief of the defence staff, was charged with obstruction of justice related to an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. That sounds like a shocking piece of news, but really it was an almost inevitable conclusion of the latest scandal that put Canada’s military justice system, or lack thereof, on the front pages.

This has been a story for decades now, and various governments and the armed forces have frequently vowed to fix it. Committees are formed. Reports are written. Recommendations are made. And then we end up here. Again. Why?

GUEST: Marie-Danielle Smith, Maclean’s

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Clean-up begins after tornado destroys homes, injures people in Barrie

NICOLE THOMPSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS; AND NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, Jul 16th, 2021

Residents and repair crews in Barrie are cleaning up after a EF-2 tornado tore through a neighbourhood, damaging homes and injuring several people.

Paramedics said eight people were taken to hospital, and several others were treated for minor injuries.

In an update on Friday, Environment Canada said a damage survey team from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Western University’s The Northern Tornadoes Project determined a preliminary rating of EF-2 with maximum a wind speed of 210 km/h.

The national weather agency said thunderstorms moved into the region on Thursday afternoon, “producing a tornado that blasted the southern part of the city.”

“Just after 2:30 p.m. Thursday, a tornado tracked from the miniature golf course on Huronia Road and Mapleview Drive (in south Barrie) and continued eastward towards Prince William Way where it caused significant damage on the north side of Mapleview Drive.”

The national weather agency said trees were uprooted, vehicles were toppled, and at least 10 roofs flew off. The second floor of two homes was destroyed, and roof shingles were also damaged or came off from other homes.

Barrie Fire said Thursday that 20 to 25 structures were significantly damaged with at least two or three completely destroyed. Fire Chief Cory Mainprize said roughly 20 homes are considered uninhabitable, with two or three completely destroyed.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman also said no one was unaccounted for.

“I can’t tell you how incredible it is that nobody has been killed, and I hope that as all the secondary searches are completed and the patients are treated in the hospital, that that continues to be the case,” he said on Thursday.

“Because this certainly could have been a much more serious disaster.”

Crews are expected to start making some of the repairs Friday, including patching up roofs that weren’t too badly damaged.

Lehman says the community has already started coming together to support those who lost the most to the tornado, donating food and supplies.

He noted it’s a familiar scene to many long-time Barrie residents. A tornado killed eight people and injured more than a hundred others in the city in 1985. Hundreds of homes in the Allendale neighbourhood were destroyed.

“The scenes today are reminiscent of it,” Lehman said. “I lived in that neighborhood as a boy. I mean, it’s shocking, you know, you never expected to see it again.”

Yesterday’s tornado brought back memories for 70-year-old Judy Arksey, too.

“It was like deja-vu,” she said. “I got one look at the sky and I knew what was coming.”

She was in her daughter’s car in the driveway when the tornado ripped down the street yesterday. Her two grandkids — aged six and 16 — were with them.

“I remember the horses being lifted up out of the racetrack during the other tornado, and I thought, here goes our car with my grandkids in it,” Arksey said.

As soon as she saw the sky, she said, she told them to look down so they wouldn’t see what was coming for them.

Luckily, she said, the car stayed on the ground despite taking a beating in the strong wind, and she and her family escaped injury.

She said the community has come together in the wake of yesterday’s destruction, just like it did 36 years ago.

Arksey spent two weeks volunteering after the 1985 tornado, she said, helping out however she could at the church.

“I’m too old to do that this time,” she said.

Family doctors want to come off the bench for the “last mile” of vaccinations

THE BIG STORY | posted Friday, Jul 16th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, most vaccines in Canada are administered by family doctors, so when Covid-19 vaccinations began to receive approval late in 2020, those physicians got ready to roll up their sleeves and dive in. But the call never came. While a few pilot projects let a relative handful of doctor’s offices receiving doses, the vast majority of family physicians were left out.

And now that Canada’s vaccine uptake has plateaued and begun to decline, those doctors could be the key to reaching the holdouts. They want to leverage their relationships with patients to get results that mass clinics can’t. Will provincial governments let them into the game?

GUEST: Dr. Elizabeth Muggah, President, Ontario College of Family Physicians

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

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