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Premier Ford tests negative, self-isolating after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Apr 21st, 2021

Premier Doug Ford is self-isolating after a staff member he was in close contact with tested positive for COVID-19. Ford has since tested negative.

A statement from the premier’s office says the staff member was tested Tuesday after learning they had been at risk of exposure.

Ford had been in close contact with the staffer on Monday. When he learned of the exposure risk, the statement says Ford immediately left the legislature and was tested.

Despite his test result being negative, Ford is following public health advice for close contacts of positive cases and is self-isolating in Toronto.

Other members of the premier’s staff who have been deemed close contacts of the individual who test positive will also be isolating.

“The Premier will continue leading this government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic while in isolation, including briefings with officials and communicating with the public,” read the statement.

Ford received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on April 9.

The premier has been absent in the legislature over the last two days and when Health Minister Christine Elliot was asked where he was, she said he was busy and trying to find vaccines for everyone.

Rogers cell service slowly returns following day-long outage

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Apr 20th, 2021

Service for Rogers and Fido cellular phone customers appeared to return Monday evening following a nationwide outage.

“Rogers wireless calls, SMS & data services are starting to return to normal for our customers,” Rogers said in a tweet Monday evening. ” It will take several more hours for all customers and regions to return to full service.”

Rogers said earlier in the day it had identified the cause of intermittent service outages that affected customers across Canada.

In a statement, Chief Technology Officer Jorge Fernandes said technicians “pinpointed a recent Ericsson software update that affected a piece of equipment in the central part of our wireless network.”

Customers across the country began reporting issues on social media Monday morning, with some experiencing complete service failure, while others said they could make calls but not use data.

Reports indicated customers who call in for help could be on hold for as long as three hours.

Dozens of online posts indicate the problem has already lasted for a number of hours.

“We sincerely apologize and thank our customers for their patience,” the company said in a statement.

Although the service disruption appeared to be concentrated in southern Ontario, an outage map suggested the problems spanned the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

Vaccines available to 35+ in 5 York Region postal codes, 60+ across municipality

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Apr 20th, 2021

York Region is lowering the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility age to 35 and over in five high priority postal codes.

Those born in 1986 or earlier living in the following postal code areas will be eligible to get the shot as of Tuesday morning:

  • L4L
  • L6A
  • L4K
  • L4J
  • L3S

In addition, York Region residents aged 60 and older can also book an appointment for their shot starting Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Approximately 20,000 appointments are available for these groups. More will become available based on vaccine availability as the region continues to experience a “serious reduction” in supply, as per a release on Monday.

Walk-ins are not available and residents must book on the online portal or via phone at the specific clinic they choose.

The region has implemented a colour-coded system on the booking portal to make it easier to identify which clinics may have available appointments:

  • Red: Appointments Fully Booked
  • Orange: Limited Availability
  • Green: Now Booking

 

York Region spokesman Patrick Casey added that, with the AstraZeneca vaccine now approved for those 40 and older, residents in the region are encouraged to book appointments at select pharmacies and primary care settings in York Region or at the Soccer City vaccine clinic in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

Previously identified age groups are still eligible for vaccines and can also book appointments.

Ford reaching out to international allies as AstraZeneca shipment to Ontario likely delayed

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Apr 20th, 2021

The Office of the Premier says he was notified Monday to “be prepared” for delays to the two shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine that were expected from the federal government later this month and next month.

This after Moderna shipments to Canada have already been cut and delayed.

“As we look to expand our rollout of AstraZeneca to younger age groups and into more pharmacies, any delays to vaccine shipments would be devastating for Ontario right now as we battle the third wave of this pandemic,” said spokeswoman Ivana Yelich in a statement.

She said the information is yet to be confirmed, but in the meantime, Premier Doug Ford is increasing efforts to source more vaccines directly from international allies.

Ford has reportedly already spoken with the Consulate General of the United States and Canada’s ambassador to Denmark who are passing the request upwards to their administrations.

Ontario officials have also reached out to the ambassador to Norway and Ford is set to speak with the EU ambassador to Canada and the High Commissioner of India later Monday to “ask for any extra AstraZeneca vaccines.”

On Friday, Moderna said it will be cutting its vaccine shipment to Canada by half. The vaccines that were scheduled for delivery at the end of April will now be 650,000 doses instead of 1.2 million.

Further, the company said that of the 12.3 million doses scheduled to arrive in the second quarter of the year, one to two million will now be pushed back to the third quarter.

Procurement minister Anita Anand said Moderna advised that the changes are due to a slower than expected ramp-up of the drugmaker’s production capacity and is affecting a number of countries.

Federal Budget 2021: A focus on childcare, jobs, post-pandemic recovery

HANA MAE NASSAR, CORMAC MAC SWEENEY, AND MIKE EPPEL | posted Tuesday, Apr 20th, 2021

OTTAWA – Affordable childcare, supporting the workforce, and equality in the economy are some of the key highlights out of the Liberal government’s Budget 2021.

WATCH: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/04/19/federal-budget-2021/

The Liberals are outlining their way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with growing the economy the main driver for recovery.

“We must punch our way out of the COVID recession,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland Monday.

“…this is an economic shock of a very particular kind. We are not suffering because of endogenous flaws or imbalances within our economy. Rather, the COVID recession is driven by an entirely external event – like the economic devastation of a flood, blizzard, wildfire, or other natural disaster.”

The overarching theme for this budget is, as has been the case in the past, equality in the workforce. In this budget, which includes $101.4 billion in spending, the Liberals are putting an emphasis on new measures that will help women, families, and minority Canadians, as well as get businesses back up and running, and looking ahead to a greener future.

WATCH: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/04/19/federal-budget-2021/

This year’s budget is a first on many fronts. It’s the first one by the Liberals as a minority government, the first in the midst of a global pandemic, and the first as the federal government reports a record deficit.

Since the last budget was tabled in March 2019, much has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed thousands of jobs, put many in uncertain ways, and left the federal government in a massive financial hole. As a result of spending to try to get Canadians through the health crisis, the federal deficit has skyrocketed, with the total for 2020-2021 now sitting at $354 billion. While that is less than what was projected in the fall economic update ($382 billion), getting the country back into the black will not be a simple task.

There is no date by which the federal government expects to eliminate its debt.

While the federal deficit is lower than was initially projected, Ian Lee, associate professor of management at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, says when we’re talking about billions of dollars, the difference between $354 billion and $382 billion is marginal.

“I’m sure they were very careful, they wanted to come in a little bit lower than what was forecast in the fall statement, and they did, give them credit, but it’s still a gargantuan number. In roughly three years, they will have doubled the debt-to-GDP ratio of the federal government to the Canadian economy,” he said.

Some see budget 2021 as a pre-election platform for the Trudeau Liberals. This fiscal plan needs the support of at least one other party, or the Liberals risk a snap election.

Here are the top takeaways:

GETTING THROUGH COVID-19

The budget, of course, accounts for the fact that we continue to live amidst a global pandemic. Budget 2021 continues to underscore the federal government’s promise that every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated will have received all necessary doses by September. However, in addition to making vaccine promises, the federal budget also makes proposals to fill gaps that were exposed early on in this pandemic.

Protecting our seniors

Budget 2021 proposes $3 billion over five years to Health Canada to support provinces and territories in making sure standards are upheld in long-term care. The pandemic unveiled major inadequacies in long-term care facilities across the country, with people living in these centres being the hardest-hit demographic months into the health crisis.

In addition to funding for long-term care, the federal government plans to work with jurisdictions to ensure seniors and others living in care are living “in safe and dignified conditions.” Money is also being proposed to help Statistics Canada improve its data infrastructure and collection when it comes to supportive and primary care, as well as pharmaceuticals.

However, many people want to spend their later years at home as opposed to in a care facility. Budget 2021 also proposes $90 million over three years to launch the Age Well at Home Initiative which would help community organizations support low-income and other vulnerable seniors stay home for longer.

The budget also proposes increasing Old Age Security for seniors 75 years and older, starting in 2022.

CHILDCARE

$10 a day childcare

Could Canadians see $10 a day daycare become a reality? That’s the plan, according to Budget 2021, which outlines steps to get to that goal by 2025-26.

Working with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous partners, the Liberals are proposing the introduction of the National Early Learning and Child Care Plan. This plan aims to get families get back to work, while knowing their children are safe and well taken care of, without digging themselves into a financial hole.

The government’s ambitious goal is to bring fees for regulated childcare down to $10 a day on average within the next five years. This has been a major ask, both on provincial and federal levels, for years.

The Liberals plan to invest up to $30 billion over the next five years, as well as $8.5 billion in ongoing spending to support this vision. The party aims to see a 50 per cent reduction in average fees for regulated early learning and childcare by the end of 2022. This would apply across Canada, except for Quebec, which already has programs in place to keep rates down through what the Liberals call a “well-established system.” The budget includes a potential agreement with that province to help it continue to improve its system.

WATCH: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/04/19/federal-budget-2021/

Budget 2021 suggests the plan could help get as many as 240,000 workers into the labour force, which could result in a 1.2 per cent rise in the real GDP over the next two decades.

Of course, with additional spaces comes the need for additional childhood educators. Budget 2021 proposes training and development for this sector.

The plan to get rates down to $10 a day is contingent on partnerships with the provinces and territories.

Canada’s Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework

Budget 2021 aims to build on the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework, which was co-developed with Indigenous partners in 2018. This includes a proposed investment of $2.5 billion over the next five years to ensure Indigenous families have access to high-quality care that fits their needs. Hundreds of millions of dollars are also being proposed for before and after-school care, as well as physical improvements and renovations to early learning and childcare centres.

Helping children with disabilities

Budget 2021 proposes $29.2 million over two years to help children with disabilities. This money would be provided to Employment and Social Development Canada through the Enabling Accessibility Fund to help support centres and make physical upgrades to improve accessibility.

HELPING BUSINESSES AND THE WORKFORCE

Extending and expanding supports

Budget 2021 proposes an extension to many of the COVID-19 support programs introduced last year to help Canadians weather the pandemic. The extensions would apply to the Canada Wage Subsidy, the Canada Rent Subsidy, and Lockdown Supports until Sept. 25, 2021.

Meanwhile, the federal Liberals are proposing up to 12 additional weeks for the Canada Recovery Benefit, to a maximum of 50 weeks, in addition to an additional four weeks to a maximum of 42 for the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.

The budget is also looking to make Employment Insurance more accessible to Canadians across the country. In addition, it is looking at making longer-term reforms to the EI program (page 89), including changes to sickness benefits to help Canadians who may need longer support to deal with illness or treatment.

However, what is noticeably missing from Budget 2021 is a paid sick leave program. This is despite repeated calls from opposition leaders and industry stakeholders, with calls growing over the course of the past year due to the pandemic.

The federal government also plans to introduce legislation to establish a $15 per hour minimum wage, rising with inflation, for those in the federally regulated private sector. It says provisions will ensure that provincial and territorial wages that are higher will prevail. The government estimates this increase in the minimum wage will help more than 26,000 workers across the country.

Canada Recovery Hiring Program

With many businesses having been forced to lay off staff and remain closed for months on end, Budget 2021 is proposing a new program to help these companies hire back staff and get back on their feet.

The Canada Recovery Hiring Program, which would run from June to November, proposes $595 million to support eligible businesses in this endeavor. The program would offset a portion of the extra costs employers have to deal with when reopening, for example by increasing wages or hours, or hiring additional bodies. Eligible businesses would claim either the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy or this new program — whichever is higher.

With rates for this program and the subsidy expected to ramp down in the coming months, the federal government hopes this slowdown will incentivize businesses to get hiring as soon as possible to maximize their return through these supports.

This new program would help Canadian-controlled private corporations, individuals, charities, and non-profits, and is expected to cost about $595 million in 2021-22.

Getting businesses into the new age

In addition to hiring workers, the federal Liberals want to help bring businesses into the digital age with ease. That’s where the Canada Digital Adoption Program comes in. The proposed program would support businesses in the adoption of new technology to help them grow. It’s expected to provide businesses with the support and information they need, as well as training workers to actually use these technologies.

The Canada Digital Adoption Program could create thousands of jobs and help as many as 160,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, according to the budget document.

The budget proposes a Digital Services Tax on revenue from digital services that rely on data and content contributions from Canadian users. At a rate of three per cent, the Digital Services Tax would apply to large businesses with gross revenues of €750 million or more. The tax would be applicable at the start of 2022, until there is a multilateral approach.

“Our government is committed to working with our partners at the OECD to find multilateral solutions to the dangerous race to the bottom in corporate taxation,” she added.

The Liberals estimate this tax could generate about $3.4 billion in revenue over five years.

A GREENER ECONOMY

While the government has tied Canada’s COVID-19 recovery to a growing economy, the federal Liberals are also shining a light on the importance of going green.

Budget 2021 makes note of the real and significant threat climate change poses and proposes a number of action plans to address the matter.

The plan proposes to provide $5 billion over seven years to the Net Zero Accelerator, which would allow the government to support projects to help reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

Budget 2021 also looks to make investments in clean tech, with up to $1 billion proposed on a cash basis over five years to help draw in private sector investments for these projects.

The Liberals want to reduce general corporate and small business income tax rates for businesses that manufacture zero-emissions technologies to help incentivize that sector. However, reductions would being on Jan. 1, 2022 and be gradually scaled back starting at the beginning of 2029.

Examples of zero-emissions technologies include the manufacturing of wind turbines, solar panels, and more.

OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BUDGET 2021

Student supports

As we look ahead to a post-pandemic world and economy, the federal Liberals are looking to support students and graduates.

Budget 2021 looks to double the Canada Student Grant for two more years, and waive interest fees on federal student loans for an addition two years, through March 2023. In addition to waiving interest fees, the budget proposes giving more than 450,000 low-income borrowers access to “more generous repayment assistance,” though it’s unclear what exactly that entails.

The budget looks to help create 215,000 additional skills development and work opportunities to help Canadian youth and students get into or rejoin the workforce over the course of the next two years.

Fighting systemic racism

Building off promises in the fall economic statement, Budget 2021 makes proposals to continue work in fighting for a more equitable and inclusive Canada. It calls for $11 million over two years to go toward the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to scale up efforts to empower racialized Canadians and fight against racism.

The money can be used by the foundation to fund initiatives

In addition to this, Budget 2021 proposes $2 million to enhance Public Safety Canada’s program to help protect communities that are at risk of hate-motivated crimes. This funding can be used by organizations to enhance security infrastructure.

Affordable housing

As part of Budget 2021, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation would receive $2.5 billion over seven years to address urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians. Money is broken down, with some being allocated to building additional units, while other portions would go to supports for low-income earners and women.

A cost for vaping and more taxes on tobacco

Budget 2021 is taking aim at vaping products, noting the government plans to introduce new taxes on vaping products starting in 2022. It’s unclear how much taxes on these products would amount to, however, the federal government says it’s open to working with provinces and territories to develop a coordinated approach to dealing with these items.

Tobacco users will also likely see their products cost more if Budget 2021 passes. In an effort to achieving its goal of less than five per cent of the population using tobacco products by 2035, the federal Liberals are looking to increase duty on these items. To give you an idea, this would result in an increase of about $4 per carton of 200 cigarettes, along with increases to other tobacco products.

The Liberals estimate this increased tax could result in increased revenues by $2.1 billion over five years.

Reducing credit card fees

COVID-19 has forced many businesses to shift to more digital payments, with merchants and customers alike looking to decrease contact out of transmission concerns. However, credit card fees can be high, and in some cases, unaffordable for businesses to manage.

While no figure has been proposed, the federal government says it will engage with stakeholders to look at how the average overall cost of providing credit card payment options can be brought down. The consultations will also look to ensure small businesses are profiting from pricing similar to larger businesses, and that consumers don’t lose access to their existing rewards.

-With files from Xiaoli Li

Stage set for historic federal budget as COVID-19 continues to rage

CORMAC MAC SWEENEY AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 19th, 2021

Extending emergency supports and initiatives to get businesses hiring post COVID-19 will be among the key highlights of the federal budget on Monday.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will present the document in the House of Commons, more than two years after the Liberals’ last such spending plan was unveiled.

While the Liberals have portrayed the budget as their vision for shaping Canada’s economy for a post-pandemic world, they are also facing pressure to better support people and businesses now struggling with the third wave of COVID-19.

Sources confirm to CityNews Parliament Hill reporter Cormac Mac Sweeney that a national child care plan will be the centerpiece of the budget. While the plan still requires additional work with the provinces, the expectation is it could be up and running within two years.

With much of the country suffering through a third wave of COVID-19, the Trudeau government is expected to extend main emergency supports until the fall while also introducing a new hiring program that will incentivize businesses to hire as the economy emerges from the ravages of the pandemic.

There will also be programs targeting supports for marginalized Canadians, women and young people who have been hardest hit with job losses throughout the pandemic.

According to a report from Reuters, the budget will also include a sales tax for online platforms and e-commerce warehouses, a digital services tax for Web giants, and a tax on vacant residential property owned by non-resident, non-Canadian owners. While there is also expected to be a luxury tax on items such as new cars, private aircraft and yachts, the budget is not expected to include a so-called wealth tax.

The one thing the budget will not do is provide a date for when the federal books will be back in the black. The deficit is expected to come in around $400 billion after the fall economic statement pegged it at $381.6 billion.

Opposition parties have spent the past few weeks laying out their demands and will be watching to see whether the government has responded before deciding whether to support the budget or not.

The Liberals need at least one party to support the budget to prevent a snap election, which opinion polls suggest most Canadians do not want at the moment.

Trudeau says federal government to send health care workers to Ontario

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 19th, 2021

The federal government announced it was mobilizing its own resources and co-ordinating with lesser-hit provinces to send health-care workers and other support to help Ontario as it battles record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told a news conference that the federal government will co-ordinate and cover all the cost of relocating health-care workers who are sent to help from other provinces, including by using military aircraft.

Some Atlantic provinces are expected to provide estimates of the number of personnel they can send in the next day or two, he said, adding the federal government is also drawing up lists of available staff that could be deployed from departments such as national defence and immigration.

LeBlanc held a media availability along with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to announce emergency aid for the hard-hit province.

Leblanc told The Canadian Press in an interview that the federal government decided to take a “leadership role” after Ontario reached out to other provinces and territories for assistance.

Ottawa has offered to cover the costs of health-care personnel deployed from elsewhere to help in Ontario, Leblanc said.

“Newfoundland is hoping by tomorrow or Tuesday to have a clear picture of the first tranche,” Leblanc said. “The same thing is true with the other Atlantic provinces.”

Trudeau said in a video update earlier Sunday that health workers employed by federal government departments would be redeployed to Ontario, and the Greater Toronto Area in particular. The timeline for any such deployment was unclear.

There was no immediate word on whether the Ford government would accept Ottawa’s offer but a spokeswoman for Ontario’s health minister says the government is grateful for the federal show of support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will continue to work with all levels of government and health care partners to protect the health and safety of Ontarians and combat this deadly virus.”

Two days earlier, Premier Doug Ford issued a nationwide appeal for support for Ontario’s strained hospitals and other health-care resources.

Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

LeBlanc said both he and Trudeau had spoken with several premiers across the country who expressed concern about the situation in Ontario and voiced an interest in helping.

“I think at a moment like this, the whole country says to itself, ‘What can we do to help the people of Ontario?” Leblanc said.

He added that Dr. Allison Furey, the wife of Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier, would be part of the Atlantic contingent heading to Ontario.

Speaking earlier in the video he posted to social media, Trudeau said he had discussed Ontario’s plight with the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

“They are working hard to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days,” he said.

He said the federal government will also work with Ontario cities to deploy rapid tests to hard-hit locations.

Meanwhile, data released by Canada’s chief public health officer shows that the average daily number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country jumped by more than 30 per cent between April 9 and 15 compared to the week before.

The latest national-level data found that an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day reporting period, representing a 34 per cent increase over the week before.

An average of 41 people died each day during the same period, which is 38 per cent higher than the previous week.

Dr. Theresa Tam said cases, test positivity rates and intensive care admissions are all rising as Canada battles a wave of COVID-19 that is driven by more contagious variants.

Ottawa police won’t issue fines as border restrictions take effect Monday

DANI-ELLE DUBÉ | posted Monday, Apr 19th, 2021

Ottawa police say they plan to start enforcing restrictions on interprovincial travel at the Ontario-Quebec border on Monday but for the time being, there are no plans to issue fines to anyone trying to enter the province.

As part of the Ford government’s enhanced stay-at-home measures announced Friday, non-essential travel into Ontario from Manitoba and Quebec is restricted and a person may be stopped by police who may ask questions as to their purpose for coming into the province.

Ottawa police say they will have checkpoints set up on a 24-7 basis on the Ontario side of the Champlain, Portage, Chaudière and Macdonald-Cartier bridges, as well as the Quyon and Bourbonnais ferries.

Police will also have a presence at the Alexandra Bridge, as the provincial order also applies to pedestrians and cyclists.

Insp. Michel Marin of the Ottawa Police Service tells CityNews Ottawa there are no plans to issue fines to drivers, cyclists or pedestrians trying to enter the province.

“We’re trying to plan this in a way that [the interaction at the border] is going to be a short conversation,” he said. “If we’re asking them to turn around for whatever reason, we’ll be keeping tabs on that.”

Police say individuals will not have to show any special documentation beyond that to operate a vehicle, however, they will be required to provide their name, address and reason for travelling.

As for repeat offenders who continue to try and cross the border, police say they are still working out those details.

“We’re also going to find out from other agencies who have done this in the past — if they’ve had any of those types of issues,” Marin explained. “But I don’t see ourselves going into a position where we’re going to be providing fines to people who are constantly trying to come into the province with good reason.”

Permitted reasons to cross into the province under the new restrictions include, but are not limited to, being an essential worker, travelling for medical care, transportation of goods or to Indigenous Treaty rights

Marin stressed that their approach is limited to the Ottawa Police Service, and that the OPP and RCMP will not be assisting but instead will have their own plans when it comes to their jurisdictions.

Ontario Provincial Police will have checkpoints set up along the Ontario-Quebec border in eastern Ontario and those not travelling for essential reasons will be refused entry in Ontario.

OPP officials say with very few exceptions they will be stopping incoming passenger vehicles with out-of-province plates to determine their reason for crossing the border.

Officials say commercial vehicles, such as transport trucks, will be permitted to pass without entering border checkpoints. And while vehicles bearing Ontario license plates will be required to enter the checkpoint, they will also be allowed to proceed.

Similar checkpoints will also be set up along the Ontario-Manitoba border.

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