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Feds to unveil agreements with provinces to top up essential workers’ pay

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce Thursday cost-sharing agreements with a number of provinces to top up the wages of essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those agreements are expected to involve a transfer of federal funds to the provinces, each of which will be able to decide for itself which essential workers most need a pay boost.

The flexible agreements are intended to allow provinces to tailor the program to suit their different needs.

However, it was the continuing tragedy in long-term care homes — residents of which account for more than 60 per cent of Canada’s some 4,200 deaths so far — that first prompted Trudeau several weeks ago to offer a federal assistance to boost wages.

Specifically, he proposed a pay boost for personal support workers and other front-line health workers in long-term care facilities who earn less than $2,500 per month.

The crisis in long-term care has been blamed, at least in part, on the fact that health and personal care workers in those facilities are typically poorly paid and have had to work in multiple homes to make ends meet, thereby spreading the deadly virus that causes COVID-19 among the most vulnerable population.

Part of the objective in proposing a federal wage top-up was to encourage more essential workers to stay on job, even at the risk of their own lives, and to compensate them for recent orders in some provinces banning them from working in multiple facilities.

As more workers in long-term care homes have fallen ill, many facilities have been struggling to provide basic care for residents. Both Quebec and Ontario, where the problem is most acute, have requested help from the military.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and government House leader Pablo Rodriguez are to hold a briefing this morning, updating the number of armed forces personnel who are now helping out in long-term care homes in the two provinces.

Quebec moved to top up essential workers’ pay even before Trudeau’s offer, announcing a $4-per-hour pay hike for workers in private long-term care homes, as well as a $24.28 per hour salary to attract new workers to fill in as attendants at the facilities.

Since then, several provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have followed suit with similar programs. Federal cost-sharing agreements with those and other  provinces are expected to be unveiled today.

Ontario, with financial support from Ottawa, has announced a $4-per-hour increase for front-line workers at long-term care homes, retirement homes, emergency shelters, supportive housing, group homes, correctional institutions and youth justice facilities, as well as for those providing home and community care and some hospital staff.

As well, Ontario’s front-line employees who work more than 100 hours a month will receive bonus payments of $250 per month for four months.

Saskatchewan, with $53 million in federal support, has announced a temporary wage supplement of $400 per month for those who work with seniors, in group homes and in child care.

 

Union calls for inquiry, criminal probe, into coronavirus-related deaths at long-term care homes

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The union that represents over 60,000 frontline healthcare workers in Ontario is calling for public inquiries — and criminal investigations — into coronavirus-related deaths at long-term care homes in the province.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) president Sharleen Stewart said on Tuesday the union has sent letters to both Toronto and Peel Regional Police, urging them to begin criminal negligence investigations after the deaths of three personal care workers that Stewart believes were avoidable.

“Were these people properly protected in their (long-term care) homes? We are calling on them to take a look at occupational health and safety,” she told 680 NEWS.

“I don’t think they did everything they could to prevent those three deaths.”

In a release Tuesday, the SEIU said it was also calling on Premier Doug Ford’s government to “immediately commission a public inquiry, pursuant to section 3 of the Public Inquiries Act, to investigate the deaths of residents and frontline workers at Ontario’s long-term care homes.”

The union also wants the Office of the Chief Coroner to look into the deaths.

“The purpose is to look back at what was done and more importantly what wasn’t done…” Stewart stressed. “Where were the mistakes made? We didn’t learn from SARS obviously because they didn’t take any of (those) recommendations forward, which is what we want investigated as well.”

“Enough is enough,” she added. “We’ve got to go in there and we have to see what went wrong from the very beginning.”

According to the latest statistics provided by the province, 218 outbreaks have been reported in long-term care homes and 697 deaths have been reported among residents/patients in long-term care homes.

A spokesperson for Peel police says they have received the letter from SEIU regarding criminal negligence, and the police service will take time to review that request.

Coronavirus: Ontario lowers liquor prices for bars and restaurants

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Ontario government is temporarily lowering minimum prices for liquor sold in bars and restaurants in what they say is a move to help the struggling hospitality industry as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Effective immediately, the price for whiskey, gin, rum, and other spirits will be temporarily reduced from the current licensee minimum price of $2.00 per 29 mL to $1.34 per 29 mL,” an Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) news release said Tuesday night.  “By making spirits more affordable the government is providing further support to restaurants, bars, and other establishments that cannot serve patrons in-house during the current state of emergency.”

The AGCO added that this pricing structure would only apply to takeout and delivery orders from bars and restaurants that come with food orders.

The measure will expire on Jan. 1, 2021.

“Licensed establishments may still choose the price at which they will sell alcohol, as long as they are not lower than the minimum price requirements,” the AGCO said.

The government has also temporarily removed a requirement for cider manufacturers to have at least five acres of planted fruit in order to operate a store on site.

“This change will allow all licensed manufacturers of cider to sell their products on-site or deliver directly to consumers across Ontario,” the AGCO said.

Government faces opposition grilling over coronavirus response

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Trudeau government is expected to face a grilling Wednesday from opposition parties over its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

A small number of MPs are to convene for a once-a-week, in-person sitting of the House of Commons and they are expected to zero in on the perceived deficiencies of the billions of dollars in emergency aid programs the federal government has implemented to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

Among the criticisms, the outraged reaction of Canadian farmers to the $252 million in support announced Tuesday for the agri-food sector — far less than the $2.6 billion deemed necessary by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Trudeau will not be in the Commons to deflect the criticism — he is to be at a base in Trenton, Ont., for a repatriation ceremony for the six members of the Forces who died in last week’s helicopter crash off the coast of Greece.

Nor will he be giving his usual morning briefing on the COVID-19 crisis.

The absence of the prime minister and lack of any new announcements will shift the focus from what the government is doing to combat the pandemic to what opposition parties contend it is doing wrong.

A virtual sitting of MPs on Tuesday featured plenty of criticism about the agriculture support program falling short of what’s needed — from all parties.

Both Trudeau and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau argued that farmers already have a number of existing income stabilization programs to fall back on. Still, Trudeau called the $252 million just an initial investment, indicating that more support is coming.

Farmers have been hit by reduced demand for some of their crops as a result of restaurants being closed since mid-March to curb the spread of the disease. And they’ve had difficulty getting the usual number of needed temporary foreign workers into the country to work on farms.

Beef, pork and poultry producers have been faced with the prospect of having to cull their animals due to reduced capacity at meat processing plants, which have been particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of COVID-19.

In addition to criticism of the support provided so far for farmers, each opposition party has favoured themes they are likely to continue raising.

The Conservatives have lately focused on the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit for those thrown out of work by the pandemic, arguing that it provides a disincentive to work.

New Democrats have been pointing out the gaps in the CERB and pushing for a universal benefit available to everyone hurt by the pandemic.

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have been demanding assurances — yet to be given — that companies that use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes will not benefit from any of the federal emergency aid programs.

And all opposition parties, particularly the Bloc, have been urging the government to provide financial support for seniors — something that is expected to be announced later this week.

Ceremony to be held for service members who died in helicopter crash

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Canadian military is to hold a special ramp ceremony Wednesday at Canadian Forces Base Trenton to repatriate remains of a service member and honour all six who died in a helicopter crash off the coast of Greece.

The Cyclone helicopter carrying six Armed Forces members crashed into the Ionian Sea on April 29. Defence officials have said it was returning to HMCS Fredericton at the end of a NATO training mission.

The remains of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough were recovered while the other five service members on board are missing and presumed dead. The remains of one other person have been recovered but not yet identified.

Those service members whose remains were not recovered will be represented by military headgear resting on pillows to be carried by fellow military members.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET and can be live streamed on the Canadian Armed Forces Facebook page.

Following the ceremony, a procession will proceed down the Highway of Heroes from Trenton to Toronto.

“Despite the challenges presented by the current COVID-19 environment and the need to maintain physical distancing, 8 Wing/CFB Trenton is committed to a dignified and respectful repatriation for our fallen aviators and sailors,” the Canadian Armed Forces said Tuesday.

Physical distancing protocols have been built into the ceremony, the military said. Except for pallbearers, all CAF members on parade will remain two metres apart.

All in attendance will be wearing masks and gloves will be worn by pallbearers and those unable to physically distance.

While such processions have traditionally been accompanied by crowds gathering along the highway to show their support and honour those who have died, the Ontario government is asking people to watch it from home because of COVID-19.

Polar Vortex to crash Mother’s Day Weekend

ADAM STILES | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

With Mother’s Day weekend coming up, many folks are likely thinking it’s time to get some plants in the ground, but the mother of us all may be thinking otherwise.

Mother Nature and her good friend the Polar Vortex are coming to town this weekend and between the two of them, they could bring us record low temperatures and several frosty mornings around the GTA.

So keep those seedlings in the house for at least another week and maybe hold off on the trip to garden centre for your curbside pick up until we get into next week.

Here’s what the next seven days look like:

How rare is this type of cold weather?

Toronto hasn’t had a May temperature below the freezing mark since 2005’s month of May at Pearson Airport.

Where do the record lows stand?

The average low temperatures for this week over the past 30 years is about 5 to 6 degrees

Here are the lowest temps we’ve hit for this week in the past three decades:

May 5: -3.9 (1969)

May 6: -3.9 (1968)

May 7: -5.6 (1966)

May 8:  -3.3 (1966)

May 9: -2.2 (1966)

May 10: -3.9 (1947)

Toronto’s best shot at breaking any of these record lows will come Friday and Saturday (May 8 and 9) with temperatures forecast to dip below freezing here in the city.

More not-so-great news

There is a risk of snow in the forecast to kick off the weekend.

The cold air and wind will come together on Friday and bring lake effect snow in the snow belts.

Toronto has the chance of seeing some flurries again on Saturday night with a weak system passing by. Don’t worry — it usually melts quickly this time of the year.

Why is it so cold?

It appears that the atmosphere is a bit plugged up and the blocking pattern that has plagued most of the spring vibes here in Toronto is still sticking around for at least another week or so.

While this is happening here, the west coast is destined for temperatures in the mid 20s in British Columbia’s lower mainland by the weekend.

So the heat building in the west is something that we could see as a sign of hope that when the blocking pattern breaks down or shifts out of the eastern half of North America, we may flip the switch and go straight into summer.

In the meantime the upper level steering winds or the Jet Stream are positioned well to our south. That allows the cold arctic air to descend south from the north and has us reaching for the layers this Mother’s Day weekend.

Any sign of this pattern breaking down?

In the long range, and I mean really long range (so don’t bet the rent on this one), there are signs that temperatures will start to come out of the cellar by the May long weekend.

They should at least get close to the seasonal daytime highs, which for this time of year are between 17 to 20 degrees.

But until then, the next 10 to12 days here in southern Ontario will be cool.

Trespassers caught on cherry blossom livestream camera

MALEEHA SHEIKH AND DILSHAD BURMAN | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

Usually at this time of year, residents and visitors from around the GTA would be shoulder to shoulder, taking in the cherry blossoms at High Park. But with social distancing restrictions in place, High Park is closed to the public, as most other parks across the city.

While the majority of people continue to follow social and physical distancing rules, the park closure wasn’t enough to deter a select few selfie-seekers overnight.

The city has set up a livestream on their website that broadcasts the blossoms during their brief bloom period and dubbed it BloomCam so residents can still get a glimpse of the Sakura flowers during peak bloom which lasts between four to ten days.

As it turns out, not only is it a great way to get a look at the beautiful rare blooms, but it was also perfect for capturing the two trespassers in the act as they climbed a cherry tree and took photos. They were caught on video wandering the park around 1:45 a.m.

Mayor John Tory said he does not regret the decision to close the park.

“Perhaps with the exception of those two, I believe people either stayed away from the park entirely, which is what we were trying to do — not because we were kill joys or because we didn’t want people to enjoy the blossoms — but because we were nervous based on the advice from the Medial Officer of Health, about the crowd scene and what that might do to spread the virus,” he said. “People thankfully stayed away. Do I have any second thoughts about that? No. I believe it was the right thing to do in the circumstances.”

Mayor Tory went on to say that opening parts of the park during the very short bloom season was an option initially, but was told by city officials that a partial closure would not be enough to ensure proper physical distancing.

The trespassers have not been found yet, but Toronto police tell CityNews the two people seen in the livestream footage could face charges of trespass to property and/or mischief and be issued a $750 ticket. They add that officers continue to conduct patrols of entryways, the park’s perimeter and onsite – including during the overnight hours.

Police and bylaw officers have been patrolling city parks and amenities since March. They say within the first four days of May alone, they’ve issued 11 physical distancing tickets and in total they’ve warned or spoken to over 13,000 people about the bylaws in place with regards to COVID-19.

Local media was welcomed into High Park Monday for a short period of time and CityNews’ cameras captured some beautiful views of the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Ontario calls for a national strategy on contact tracing of coronavirus cases

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

Ontario’s premier is calling for a national strategy on contact tracing.

Doug Ford said he spoke with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday about the matter and planned to make the case to his provincial counterparts this week.

“We need a national plan for contact tracing. Right now each individual province is doing it, but we need a national plan, to work with the federal government and all the provinces, the 10 provinces and the three territories,” Ford said.

“It’s absolutely critical moving forward for many reasons.”

A request to Freeland for comment was not immediately returned.

Thorough contact tracing is a labour intensive containment strategy in which each person diagnosed with coronavirus is not only isolated but questioned about any behaviour that might have caused anyone in their social circle to also be infected.

Along with rigorous testing, it’s widely regarded as a key step to containing future waves or outbreaks as COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Ontario’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said Monday there would be advantages to a national approach, but acknowledged it is a challenge.

“The full package of the contact management and containment is more the challenging one,” said Williams, referring to the process as akin to “a full police investigation.”

“One of the challenges we have is: Are we going to start opening up where we have inter-provincial travel again? Domestic flights et cetera? (In that case) other provinces want to know: ‘Do you have things to control in Ontario? We’d like to know.’ Or, ‘Do you have things to control in Manitoba, P.E.I., B.C.?’”

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