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Government gets unanimous consent to quickly pass legislation for COVID-19 help

JOAN BRYDEN , THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Mar 25th, 2020

The government received unanimous consent to quickly pass emergency legislation to free up $82 billion to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 crisis.

After a day of tense negotiations, MPs began debating the bill in the wee hours of morning, with a vote planned within a couple of hours.

The motion sent to the Speaker stated the House would resolve itself into a committee for no more than an hour to consider the matter with members getting up to five minutes for a question, and will be adjourned until April 20 after the third reading.

Starting the week of March 30, the finance minister will give a biweekly report on all actions undertaken to the pandemic, and will be discussed on April 20.

The Standing Committee on Finance will begin a review of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act within six months of the day on which the it receives royal assent and will report its findings to the House no later than March 31, next year.

The motion also said that unless the Speaker received a notice from the House leaders of all four recognized parties it would remain adjourned until a future date.

Earlier on Tuesday, Conservatives raised objections to what they dubbed a Liberal “power grab,” which led to a late-night discussion and early hours of Wednesday.

An emergency sitting of the House of Commons was suspended moments after it began as Conservatives balked at provisions that would give the government sweeping powers to unilaterally spend, borrow and change taxation levels without Parliament’s approval for the next 21 months.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said early in the day that his party would support emergency efforts to get money to Canadians struggling with the COVID-19 crisis, but would oppose any attempts by the Liberal government to expand its power.

His warning came before a small group of 32 MPs gathered in the Commons to debate and vote on legislation to deliver $82 billion in financial aid and tax deferrals to individuals and businesses, as proposed last week by the government to deal with COVID-19 and its ensuing economic havoc.

They convened as scheduled. However, the sitting had only just begun when government House leader Pablo Rodriguez asked that it be suspended so that the government could continue negotiating details of the legislation with opposition parties.

“Canadians need support to get through this. Fast,” Rodriguez tweeted shortly after the sitting was suspended. He said talks were ongoing and he expected MPs to reconvene later Tuesday.

But almost six hours later, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet angrily denounced the delay. If the government can’t get the unanimous consent needed to pass the legislation in one day, as hoped, Blanchet called on the government to put the bill through the normal, lengthy legislative process necessary to get the money flowing as quickly as possible.

He guaranteed Bloc support to approve the legislation.

The Commons eventually returned briefly Tuesday evening to extend the day’s sitting. Negotiations with the Conservatives were to continue and it remained possible that the Commons could yet approve the legislation by the end of the day.

If it does get through the Commons, the plan was for the Senate to approve it Wednesday, followed immediately by royal assent.

At a morning news conference, Scheer said the Conservatives had no issue with the relief package promised by Trudeau last week. But they wouldn’t agree to give the government a blank cheque to spend and tax as it pleases for almost two years, as initially proposed in a draft of the bill shared with opposition parties on Monday.

“Any conversation about new government powers should not get in the way of passing this much-needed assistance,” he said. “Canadians are counting on us.”

Even as Scheer was speaking, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the legislation would be tabled “without clause 2,” suggesting the bill would not contain the offending elements.

At his own news conference outside his residence, where he remains in self-isolation after his wife contracted COVID-19, Trudeau said the government is trying to balance the need to act quickly to help Canadians with the need to remain accountable to Parliament.

“It is an exceptional situation that requires extreme flexibility and rapidity of response by governments to be able to help Canadians and react to a situation that we’ve seen is moving quickly every single day,” he said.

“So saying, we have a Parliament that works, we have an Opposition that is doing its job of making sure that we are taking the right steps the right way.”

Trudeau arrived late for his news conference because he was on the phone with opposition leaders.

He said the government was negotiating “up until the last minute” to find a way to give it the flexibility it needs to get the money into Canadians’ hands quickly while maintaining “our democratic institutions and the values that are so important to us all.”

Blanchet said the Bloc agrees the government needs some flexibility to quickly get financial relief to Canadians and businesses without having to recall Parliament each time — but that extraordinary power need not last longer than September.

Scheer, meanwhile, sidestepped questions about whether the Tories are prepared to vote against the emergency-aid bill if it’s not changed to their satisfaction. Defeat of the bill would be a vote of no confidence for the minority Liberal government and possibly trigger an election.

The bill only needs one party’s support to pass the Commons eventually but it needs the support of every MP present to be put through on the one-day schedule the Liberals want.

“Our hope is that (the government) will stay focused on providing to Canadians, not focused on a power grab. Not focused on giving themselves unprecedented new powers,” Scheer said.

The Conservative position on the bill was complicated by one of its own MPs, Scott Reid, who threatened on his website Tuesday to show up in the Commons, despite not being one of the designated 11 Tories who were supposed to be present, and deny the unanimous consent needed to expedite the bill’s passage.

He later amended his post to say he has no objection to same-day passage of the relief measures provided MPs have enough time to read and understand the bill.

Parliament adjourned on March 13 until at least April 20 as part of a countrywide effort to curb the spread of the virus. It was recalled Tuesday to deal with the emergency aid package but with only about one in every 10 MPs present in the Commons, seated at least two metres apart.

After agreeing to extend the sitting beyond 7 p.m., Scheer began to cross the aisle to speak privately with Rodriguez. The two men pulled up short and spoke to each other at a safe distance.

One in five Canadians think COVID-19 pandemic blown out of proportion: Poll

JOAN BRYDEN THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Mar 24th, 2020

OTTAWA — One in five Canadians weren’t taking the deadly COVID-19 pandemic seriously as recently as last weekend, a new poll suggests.

In a Leger poll conducted between Friday and Sunday, 16 per cent of respondents said the crisis was partly blown out of proportion and another four per cent believed it was blown way out of proportion.

As well, 16 per cent said the crisis was having no impact on them going out to stores, restaurants or other places; 17 per cent said it was having no impact on the social distance they’re keeping from others; and 21 per cent said it was having no impact on visits with friends and family.

Nine per cent said they were still planning to let their kids play outside with other children.

While the poll suggests the vast majority of Canadians were taking the crisis seriously and abiding by government advice to stay home as much as possible, Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque says the 20 per cent who weren’t taking it seriously could jeopardize nationwide efforts to curb the rapid spread of the respiratory virus.

“That 20 per cent of people must go down if we want to collectively achieve the objectives of flattening out the curve,” Bourque said in a interview, referring to the goal of keeping the number of COVID-19 cases from overwhelming the health care system.

The poll, conducted for The Canadian Press, surveyed 1,508 adult Canadians randomly selected from its online panel. Leger’s internet-based survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.

Various provincial governments have begun threatening to impose hefty fines on individuals and businesses that flout orders to close or keep at least two-metres distance from other people. A number of premiers have expressed outrage over Canadians who congregated in parks and on beaches over the weekend while others held house parties or otherwise socialized in groups beyond their immediate family.

There have also been instances of individuals refusing to self-isolate for 14 days after travelling abroad or not abiding by quarantines after testing positive for COVID-19.

Bourque said governments have little choice but to crack down when one-fifth of the population does not appear to be taking the crisis seriously.

The poll suggests that 18-34 year olds were most likely to think the crisis is overblown — 27 per cent compared to 14 per cent for those 55 years of age or more.

But on all other questions, Bourque said the poll found little difference among age groups, including on the level of fear people are feeling.

Forty-one per cent of respondents said they were somewhat afraid of personally contracting the virus; another 16 per cent said they were very afraid. Eighteen per cent said they currently have one or more of the commons symptoms of COVID-19: a cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing and/or a fever.

Forty-four per cent said they were somewhat afraid someone in their immediate family will contract the disease; another 26 per cent were very afraid.

Only four per cent said they personally know someone who’s been diagnosed with the disease.

Fifty-six per cent said the crisis was already having an impact on their work, 54 per cent said they were stocking up on food and supplies at home and 47 per cent said it’s had an impact on their ability to visit loved ones in hospital or long-term care homes.

As well, 48 per cent said the crisis had impacted their retirement savings or other investments, 38 per cent said it’s affected their income, 35 per cent their capacity to financially assist other family members, 27 per cent their ability to pay bills and 21 per cent their ability to meet mortgage payments or pay rent.

Sixteen per cent said they’d lost their job.

Despite the hard hits, respondents signalled a relatively high level of satisfaction with the way governments are responding to the crisis. Sixty-five per cent were very or somewhat satisfied with the federal government’s performance, 67 per cent with their municipal governments.

That rose to 79 per cent for provincial governments — fuelled by a whopping 94 per cent satisfaction rate in Quebec.

Fully 63 per cent of respondents said they expect the crisis to last a few months, 12 per cent said more than a year. But 23 per cent predicted it will last a few weeks and two per cent said just a few days.

For the coming week, 60 per cent said they planned to go grocery shopping, 19 per cent planned to get takeout food from a restaurant, 15 per cent planned to get food delivered, 14 per cent intended to go to a convenience store and 11 per cent to a liquor store — although some provinces have now ordered non-essential businesses to close.

Nine per cent said they planned to shop for groceries online, five per cent planned to visit friends and two per cent intended to patronize a restaurant or bar.

Kalen Schlatter guilty of first-degree murder in death of Tess Richey

NEWS STAFF, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Mar 24th, 2020

Kalen Schlatter has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Tess Richey.

The jury began deliberating on Friday and had to weigh more than a month’s worth of Crown evidence before reaching its verdict on Monday evening.

When the verdict was read a woman cried out “Yes!” and others burst into tears.

Schlatter, 23, had pleaded not guilty to killing Richey, whose body was found in an outdoor stairwell in Toronto’s Gay Village.

Schlatter took the stand in his own defence, testifying that Richey was alive when he left her following a consensual sexual encounter in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2017.

Prosecutors, however, successfully argued that Schlatter was determined to have sex with Richey, who he had met hours earlier, and lured her into the alley where he forced himself on her and strangled her when she attempted to fight him off.

The jury heard that Schlatter’s semen was found on Richey’s pants and his saliva on the inside of her bra.

Jurors also viewed security footage that showed the pair walking into the alley together just before 4:15 a.m. with Schlatter leaving alone roughly 45 minutes later.

Richey was never seen alive again.

It’s not yet clear when Schlatter will be sentenced. The COVID-19 pandemic could push sentencing back until June, the judge said before calling a recess to discuss with lawyers.

Parliament to debate emergency spending and government powers in COVID-19 fight

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Mar 24th, 2020

The House of Commons sits Tuesday to deal with an emergency bill to spend billions of dollars to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and cushion some of its economic harms.

The opposition parties have said they’ll back the $82 billion in direct spending and deferred taxes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to put up to prepare the country for mass illness and help Canadians cope with lost jobs and wages.

The Liberals backed off an attempt to get the federal cabinet extraordinary power over taxes and spending, so ministers could act without Parliament’s approval for months — powers the Conservatives balked at giving them, at least on the scale the Liberals sought.

When there’s a minority government like the one Trudeau leads, the chance to bring the government down on a spending bill is what gives the opposition its power.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s and Quebec’s premiers are ordering non-essential businesses to close their workplaces by midnight tonight, provinces are contemplating closing their borders to each other, and Trudeau has hinted that harsh measures might be used to keep people from gathering in groups.

The death toll in Canada reached 24 yesterday as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 passed 2,000.

Coronavirus: Ontario releases list of essential workplaces and services

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Mar 24th, 2020

The Government of Ontario released the list of essential workplaces and services on Monday night.

Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday afternoon the shutdown of all non-essential services across the province in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Here is the list provided by the government:

Supply chains

1.    Businesses that supply other essential businesses or essential services with the support, supplies, systems or services, including processing, packaging, distribution, delivery, and maintenance necessary to operate;

Retail and Wholesaling

2.    Businesses engaged in the retail and wholesale sale of food, pet food and supplies, and household consumer products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences and businesses, including grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, markets, and other similar retailers;

3.    Businesses that provide essential items for the health and welfare of animals, including feed, animal food, pet food and animal supplies including bedding;

4.    Beer, wine and liquor stores and alcohol producers, and stores that sell beer and wine through arrangements with authorized providers; cannabis stores and cannabis producers;

5.    Gas stations, diesel, propane, and heating fuel providers including providers of motor vehicle, aircraft and water/marine craft fuels;

6.    Motor vehicle, auto-supply, auto, and motor-vehicle-repair, including bicycle repair, aircraft repair, heavy equipment repair, watercraft/marine craft repairs, car and truck dealerships, and related facilities;

7.    Hardware stores and stores that provide hardware products necessary to the essential operations of residences and businesses;

8.    Business providing pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical services, including pharmacies and dispensaries;

9.    Businesses that supply office products and services, including providing computer products and related repair and maintenance services, for individuals working from home and for essential businesses;

10. Safety supply stores (for e.g. work clothes, Personal Protective Equipment);

Food Services and Accommodations

11. Restaurants and other food facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery or takeaway, together with food delivery services;

12. Hotels, motels, shared rental units and similar facilities, including student residences;

Institutional, Residential, Commercial and Industrial  Maintenance

13. Businesses that provide support and maintenance services, including urgent repair, to maintain the safety, security, sanitation and essential operation of institutional, commercial industrial and residential properties and buildings, including, property management services, plumbers, electricians, custodial/janitorial workers, cleaning services, security services, fire safety, and sprinkler systems, building systems maintenance and repair technicians and engineers, mechanics, (e.g. HVAC, escalator and elevator technicians), and other service providers who provide similar services

Telecommunications and IT Infrastructure/Service Providers

14. Businesses engaged in providing or supporting Information Technology (IT) including online services, software products and related services, as well as the technical facilities such as data centers and other network facilities necessary for their operation and delivery;

15.  Businesses providing telecommunications services (phone, internet, radio, cell phones, etc) as well as support facilities such as call centres necessary for their operation and delivery;

Transportation

16. Taxis and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for activities of daily living;

17. Businesses and facilities that provide transportation services to businesses and individuals including by air, water, road, and rail including providing logistical support, distribution services, warehousing, and storage, including truck stops and tow operators;

18. Businesses that provide materials and services for the operation, maintenance and safety of transportation systems (road, transit, rail, air, and marine) including the delivery of maintenance services such as clearing snow, response to collisions, and completing needed repairs to the transportation systems.

Manufacturing and Production

19. Businesses that extract, manufacture, process and distribute goods, products, equipment, and materials, including businesses that manufacture inputs to other manufacturers (e.g. primary metal/ steel, blow molding, component manufacturers, chemicals, etc. that feed the end-product manufacturer);

20. Businesses, facilities, and services that support and facilitate the two- way movement of essential goods within integrated North American and global supply chains.

Agriculture and food production

21. Businesses that farm, harvest, process, manufacture, produce or distribute food, including beverages, crops, animal products and by-products, aquaculture, hunting, and fishing;

22. Businesses that support the food supply chain including assembly yards, livestock auctions, food distribution hubs, feed mills, farm equipment suppliers, feed suppliers, food terminals and warehouses, animal slaughter plants and grain elevators;

23. Business that support the safety of food including animal and plant health and animal welfare;

24. Businesses that provide veterinary services, and that supply veterinary and animal control medications and related supplies and testing kits;

25. Businesses that help to ensure safe and effective waste management including deadstock, rendering, nutrient management, biohazardous materials, green waste, packaging recycling;

Construction

26. Construction projects and services associated with the healthcare sector, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space;

27. Construction projects and services required to ensure safe and reliable operations of critical provincial infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy and justice sectors beyond the day-to-day maintenance;

28. Construction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors;

29. Construction work and services that supports health and safety environmental rehabilitation projects

Financial activities

30. Capital markets (e.g., the TSX);

31. Banking & Activities related to Credit Intermediation; credit unions;

32. Insurance;

33. Businesses that provide pension services and employee benefits services;

34. Businesses that provide financial services including payment processing, the payroll division of any employer (as defined by the Employment Standards Act/Occupational Health and Safety Act), any entity whose operation is the administration of payroll, banks and credit unions;

Resources

35. Businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of mining materials and products (e.g. metals such as copper, nickel, and gold) and that support supply chains in Northern Ontario including;

a.    Mining operations, production, and processing;

b.    Mineral exploration and development;

c.     Mining Supply and Services that support supply chains in the mining industry including maintenance of operations, health, and safety.

36. Businesses that provide chemicals and gases to support the natural resource sector analytical labs and drinking water and wastewater sectors and other essential businesses;

37. Businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of forestry products (e.g. lumber, pulp, paper, wood fuel, etc.);

38. Businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of aggregates to support critical infrastructure repairs and emergency response requirements (e.g. sandbags, armor stone barriers, etc.);

39. Businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of petroleum and petroleum by-products;

Environmental Services

40. Businesses that support environmental management/monitoring and spill clean-up and response, including environmental consulting firms, professional engineers and geoscientists, septics haulers, well drillers, pesticides applicators and exterminators, management of industrial sewage/effluent (eg for mining operations), and environmental laboratories;

Utilities and Community Services

41. Utilities, and Businesses that support the provision of utilities and community services, including by providing products, materials, and services needed for the delivery of utilities and community services:

a.    Waste Collection, Waste/ Sewage Treatment and Disposal, operation of landfills, and Hazardous Waste Disposal;

b.    Potable drinking water;

c.     Electricity Generation, transmission, distribution, and storage;

d.    Natural Gas distribution, transmission, and storage,

e.    Road construction and maintenance;

f.      police, fire, emergency services including coroner services and pathology services ;

g.    corrections and courts services;

h.    other government services including licenses and permits;

42. Businesses engaged in or supporting the operation, maintenance and repair of critical infrastructure (railways, dams, bridges, highways, erosion control structures, etc.);

Communications Industries

43. Newspaper publishers;

44. Radio & Television Broadcasting;

45. Telecommunications providers;

Research

46. Businesses and organizations that maintain research facilities and engage in research, including medical research and other research and development activities;

47. Businesses that provide products and services that support research activities;

Health Care and Seniors Care and Social Services

48. Organizations and providers that deliver home care services;

49. Retirement homes;

50. Long-term Care Facilities;

51. Independent health facilities;

52. Laboratories and specimen collection centres;

53. Manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers of pharmaceutical products and medical supplies, including medications, medical isotopes, vaccines, and antivirals; medical devices and medical supplies

54. Manufacturers, logistics and distributors of products and/or services that support the delivery of health care in all locations (including but not limited to hospitals, labs, long-term care homes, other residential health care, physicians, nurse practitioners and midwives, and home care services);

55. Businesses that provide products and/or services that support the health sector or that provide health services, including mental health and addictions and counselling supports.

56. Businesses that sell, rent or repair assistive/mobility/medical devices, aids and/or supplies.

57. Businesses that provide personal support services (many seniors and persons with disabilities, who can afford to, hire individuals to assist with the activities of daily living).

58. Health care professionals providing emergency care including dentists optometrists and physio-therapists;

59. Not-for-profit organizations that provide critical personal support services in home and also provide residential services for individuals with physical disabilities (such as the Centre for Independent Living and March of Dimes);

60. Businesses and all other organizations that support the provision of food, shelter, safety or protection, and/or social services and other necessities of life to economically disadvantaged and other vulnerable individuals, including but not limited to food banks, violence against women emergency shelters, homeless shelters, community housing, supportive housing, children’s aid societies, residential services for adults with developmental disabilities and for children, and custody and detention programs for young persons in conflict with the law;

Justice Sector

61. Professional and social services that support the legal and justice system;

Other Businesses

62. Rental and leasing services, including automobile, commercial and light industrial machinery and equipment rental;

63. Businesses providing mailing, shipping, courier and delivery services, including post office boxes;

64. Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers;

65. Professional services including lawyers and paralegals, engineers, accountants, translators;

66. Businesses providing funeral, mortician, cremation, transfer, and burial services, and any related goods and products (such as coffins and embalming fluid);

67.  Land registration services, and real estate agent services and moving services;

68.  Businesses providing security services including private security guards; monitoring or surveillance equipment and services;

69. Businesses providing staffing services, including temporary help;

70. Businesses that support the safe operations of residences and essential businesses;

71. Businesses that provide for the health and welfare of animals, including veterinarians, farms, boarding kennels, stables, animal shelters, zoos, aquariums, research facilities, and other service providers;

72. Child care services for essential workers, and home child care services of less than six children;

73. Businesses providing cheque cashing services;

Business Regulators and Inspectors

74. Organizations, including Administrative Authorities, that regulate and inspect businesses.

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Toronto to provide free, 24/7 childcare for essential and critical service workers

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Mar 23rd, 2020

The City of Toronto says it will provide free childcare 24 hours a day, seven days a week for children of essential and critical care workers as they serve on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus.

The announcement comes after the Province of Ontario said Sunday that it will allow some childcare centres in the province to stay open to care for the children of health workers and first responders.

The centres in Toronto will be funded by the province. They are expected to open as soon as possible and will be available for children from infant to age 12.

The centres will be spread across Toronto and will be in existing city-run childcare facilities. They will be operated by City of Toronto licenced childcare workers.

An online registration system will be established to sign up for the centres and will be released soon.

“Given social distancing is not feasible when caring for young children, additional measures will be taken, in consultation with Toronto Public Health and the City’s Occupational Health and Safety program, to maintain a healthy and safe environment,” the city said in a statement. “Precautions will include daily screening of children and families prior to admission, increased cleaning, and reduced group sizes.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the new policy less than a week after all child care centres in the province were ordered to close when the government declared a state of emergency.

He said centres could provide up to 50,000 spaces by the end of the week but will be required to follow existing health and safety requirements when it comes to COVID-19.

The centres will also be required to limit the number of children they care for at one time, he added.

“This is an important step to enable our frontline workers to focus exclusively on saving lives and preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Lecce said.

“Essential” and “critical care workers” have been defined by the province and the city says a list of those services will be available soon to clarify who is eligible to apply.

The province says centres will be required to follow existing health and safety requirements and have plans in place should any staff, children or parents be exposed to COVID-19.

March break is over, but Ontario students are still out of class

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Mar 23rd, 2020

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is bracing parents for the new normal on what would have been the first day back to class after March break.

He issued an open letter last night saying that the government is looking at ways to keep coursework going if the COVID-19 pandemic prevents classes from resuming on April 6 as planned.

Lecce announced earlier this month that the province’s publicly funded elementary and secondary schools would shutter for two additional weeks following March break.

Now he says that it’s possible students will have to continue their classes online during the global outbreak.

The province has already created an online learning portal to help prevent students from falling behind, and is looking at expanding online courses.

Lecce also says he’s making sure that students on track to graduate won’t be thwarted by the novel coronavirus.

He says he’s removed the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test as a requirement for graduation, and is working with his counterparts in the ministries of colleges and universities and labour to ensure students will be able to apply for post-secondary education as usual.

He’s also urging parents to talk openly with their kids about the pandemic and acknowledge how emotionally difficult it can be to see things change so drastically.

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