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Business group slams new Ontario retail rule, others laud expanded COVID-19 tests

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 13th, 2021

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is criticizing new provincial lockdown rules in Ontario, saying they are unfair to small businesses.

For the 28 days beginning Thursday, Ontario’s non-essential retail stores can only open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday that grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations can keep their regular hours.

The new rules come after the province’s latest models suggested that without new restrictions, daily COVID-19 deaths could double between now and the end of February, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford warning the health care system is “on the brink of collapse.”

CFIB president Dan Kelly said he worries the new policies limiting opening hours risk further crowding at essential retailers like Walmart stores or Amazon warehouses instead. (Walmart Canada said it will comply with government restrictions and continue using a custom app to count capacity, as well as doing temperature checks for associates and other wellness measures.)

“We think that allowing small firms to serve one or three customers at a time would actually take the pressure off of the big box stores,” said Kelly.

Kelly said the policies announced by Ford’s government are confusing for non-essential retailers, which are being told they can stay open with limited hours even as their customers are told that non-essential trips are banned altogether.

“I don’t understand why a small bookstore can’t hand the book – outdoors – to a customer after eight. But you can line up at Costco and buy it,” Kelly said.

“If you send a product to a third-party delivery (service), like through the mail or through a courier, the … restriction won’t exist. But if you, as a business owner, happen to deliver it on your way home to your customer nearby, that’s prohibited. And we’re struggling to figure out on what planet that helps stop the spread of COVID.”

Kelly says his group, which represents 42,000 Ontario businesses, isn’t calling for stores to be wide open, but would like to see restrictions closer to those enacted by British Columbia.

“Ford has toasted his relationship with small business owners,” said Kelly. “No province in Canada has locked down small retailers while allowing box stores to remain open. Not a single one. All of them have medical offices of health advisors at the provincial and municipal level.”

Yet other business groups had praise for Ontario’s new policies.

Two construction industry groups said the new restrictions on its industry, which are similar to those seen last April, are necessary.

“While the new restrictions will slow the delivery of new housing for some projects, case levels have gotten to the point that all sectors and residents must be part of the solution,” said a joint statement the Building Industry and Land Development Association and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association.

“The government of Ontario continues to show confidence in the construction industry to operate in a safe environment … We will continue to work with members to remind them of the immense responsibility that comes with Essential Workplace designation under the Emergency Orders.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters group applauded a policy it said would improve workplace safety by allowing more access to COVID-19 testing.

“The manufacturing sector has worked aggressively to introduce protocols and provide a safe work environment,” said Dennis Darby, the manufacturing group’s chief executive, in a statement.

“The announcement today by Premier Ford that the sector could continue to operate through the pandemic while maintaining these standards is welcomed by manufacturers across the province.”

Still, the rest of the supply chain may start to feel the effects of struggles for small retailers, as independent shops aren’t ordering stock for fear there will be no customers, said Albert Stortchak, chair of the Broadview Danforth BIA in Toronto.

With inventory from Christmas still languishing on shelves and no end in sight, Stortchak said it can be tough for local shops to watch big box retailers “eat their dinner.”

“We are willing to step up and be responsible and do our part,” said Stortchak.

“We’re not against big box (stores) … it’s just the inconsistency between big business and small business.”

House ready to ask VP to help oust Trump; impeachment next

LISA MASCARO, ZEKE MILLER AND MARY CLARE JALONICK, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 13th, 2021

The U.S. House rushed ahead Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice-president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.

The House voted Tuesday night on a resolution urging Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote and “declare what is obvious to a horrified nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”

Democrats proceeded even though Pence said he would not do what the resolution asked. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said it would not be in the best interest of the nation and it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Meanwhile, four Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday, cleaving the Republican leadership and the party itself.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were bracing for more violence ahead of Democrat Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

With Pence’s agreement to invoke the 25th Amendment ruled out, the House will move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, argued that Trump must go because, as she said in Spanish, he’s “loco” – crazy.

Republican Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, and Fred Upton of Michigan announced they, too, would vote to impeach.

But Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said the “cancel culture” was just trying to cancel the president. He said the Democrats had been trying to reverse the 2016 election ever since Trump took office and were finishing his term the same way.

Though a handful of House Republicans will join the impeachment vote — and leaders are allowing them to vote as they wish — it’s far from clear there would then be the two-thirds vote needed to convict from the narrowly divided Senate. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania did join Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

Unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest.

The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration, and Capitol Police urged lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.

With new security, lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors Tuesday night to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about it.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.

Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down Biden’s first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID relief while also conducting the trial.

As Congress resumed, an uneasiness swept the halls. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. Many lawmakers were voting by proxy rather than come to Washington, a process that was put in place last year to limit the health risks of travel.

One of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was among those echoing the president, saying “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together.”

The impeachment bill drafted by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California, joined by Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

Like the resolution to invoke the 25th Amendment, the impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.

Trump was impeached by the House in 2019 over dealings with Ukraine and acquitted in 2020 by the Senate.

Ontario declares 2nd provincial emergency, issues stay-at-home order

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Jan 13th, 2021

he Ontario government has declared a second provincial emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic as case numbers continue to spike.

Effective Jan. 14 at 12:01 a.m., a stay-at-home order is being issued province-wide, requiring everyone to stay home with exceptions for essential purposes.

This means all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.

Premier Doug Ford said while making the announcement, “The system is on the brink of collapse.”

“The dangerous U.K. variant of COVID is being found across the province … if we don’t move fast, our hospital ICUs could be overwhelmed by the beginning of February,” added Ford. He says health officials tell him it’s not a matter of if the new U.K. strain will take hold, but when and how wide.

Outdoor gatherings are now limited to five people and wearing a face mask or covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance. Going outside for exercise is still permitted.

Individuals who live alone are still allowed to join with another household to “help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation.”

There was no change to the number of people allowed at weddings, funerals and religious services, remaining at 10 outdoors and 10 indoors, however they must be compliant with mask rules.

Schools in hotspot regions not returning for in-person learning until Feb. 10

All schools in the hotspot regions of Toronto, York, Hamilton, Peel and Windsor-Essex will also not return for in-person learning until Feb. 10. There will also be further measures taken at schools which include masking required for Grades 1 to 3 and requirements to wear masks outdoors, enhanced screening and an increase in testing.

An announcement on when schools in other Public Health regions will open is expected on Jan. 20.

Non-essential retailers such as liquor stores, hardware stores and those offering curbside-pick up, can only be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Stores that sell groceries, pharmacies and restaurants are not restricted by these hours.

All construction sites deemed non-essential will also be closed.

These enhanced measures are expected to be in place until at least Feb. 11.

Ford says there will be an inspection blitz at big box stores like Costco and Walmart in the coming days to ensure they are properly following COVID protocols.

“The people of Ontario, we’re strong, we’re resilient … tough times don’t last but tough people do,” said Ford.

There will also be greater authority given to officials who will enforce the new orders. People who are non-compliant will be fined and further penalties could be up to a year in jail.

Advocates have also been calling for another moratorium on evictions that was introduced during the first lockdown.

The Ford government says they are “exploring all options available to put a temporary residential evictions moratorium in place, and will have more to say in the coming days.”

The province will also be providing up to 300,000 COVID-19 tests per week to key sectors including manufacturing, warehouses, long-term care homes and schools in order to quickly identify and isolate positive cases.

Ontario to lay out ‘legal parameters’ of stay at home order

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 13th, 2021

he Ontario government is expected to provide more details Wednesday regarding its newly issued stay-at-home order, which takes effect Thursday.

The province says it will publish the “legal parameters” for the order online and offer more clarification on the measure.

As of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, residents will have to stay home except for essential purposes such as grocery shopping, accessing health care and exercising.

The province says police and bylaw officers will have the power to enforce the stay-at-home order and issue tickets to rule-breakers, but hasn’t given details on how that will play out.

The order was announced Tuesday as the province declared a state of emergency — its second of the COVID-19 pandemic — and unveiled a series of new restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.

They include prolonging the pause on in-person learning in schools in five southern Ontario hot spots — Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Windsor-Essex — to Feb. 10.

Child-care centres for kids not yet in school will remain open, however.

The government has also restricted hours of operation for non-essential retailers currently offering delivery and curbside pickup to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., and imposed a five-person cap on outdoor social gatherings.

Wearing a mask is also now recommended outdoors when physical distancing is difficult.

The new restrictions were announced hours after the province released projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.

One of the experts behind the projections said that if the province’s COVID-19 positivity rate is at five per cent, there will be more than 20,000 new cases reported each day by the middle of next month.

If the rate climbs to seven per cent, that means the province will see 40,000 new daily cases.

The projections also indicate deaths from COVID-19 will surpass those in the pandemic’s first wave unless people dramatically reduce their contact with others.

Trump Homeland Security chief abruptly quits at tense time

BEN FOX, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 12th, 2021

President Donald Trump’s acting head of the Department of Homeland Security abruptly resigned Monday, leaving the post ahead of schedule as the nation faces a heightened terrorism threat from extremists seeking to reverse the election.

The announcement by acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was perplexing. It came less than a week after he pledged to remain in office and just 10 days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Wolf cited a legal challenge to his leadership as a reason for his resignation, but that had surfaced months ago.

“For months we have known Chad Wolf has been serving illegally in his position, so the timing of his resignation from the Department today is questionable,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “He has chosen to resign during a time of national crisis and when domestic terrorists may be planning additional attacks on our government.”

Wolf, who had been serving in an acting capacity since November 2019 and was never confirmed by the Senate, said he was compelled to leave by “recent events,” including court rulings that found he could not legally hold the position. He did not specify the other events or cite other factors.

“These events and concerns increasingly serve to divert attention and resources away from the important work of the Department in this critical time of a transition of power,” he said in a written message to DHS employees.

The resignation comes a day before Trump is set to visit the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Trump’s signature political project and one overseen by DHS.

Wolf’s departure followed the abrupt resignation of other Cabinet officials angered by Trump’s role in encouraging the mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 over his false claims of election fraud.

Wolf condemned the violent attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, calling it “tragic and sickening.” He also said then he would stay on at DHS until the end of the administration to ensure a smooth transition and to help the department stay focused on the threats facing the nation.

It was unclear what prompted him to change course with the nation braced for the potential for more violence ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration. The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C

The White House had no immediate comment.

Wolf led DHS as it carried out Trump administration priorities on immigration and law enforcement, prompting criticism that he politicized a department that was created to better protect the nation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The department was accused during his tenure by a whistleblower of suppressing facts in intelligence reports that Trump might find objectionable, including information about Russian interference in the election and the rising threat posed by white supremacists. Wolf and the department denied the allegations.

The acting secretary defended his tenure in his statement to employees, saying DHS had strengthened border security and successfully launched the cybersecurity agency that helped safeguard the 2020 election.

“I leave knowing that the Department has positioned itself for an orderly and smooth transition to President-elect Biden’s DHS team,” he wrote. “Welcome them, educate them, and learn from them. They are your leaders for the next four years — a time which undoubtedly will be full of challenges and opportunities to show the American public the value of DHS and why it is worth the investment.”

Peter Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will serve as acting head of the Department of Homeland Security until the Biden administration takes over.

“Right now, our nation is facing significant challenges and it is our privilege to support the nationwide efforts to fight the pandemic and protect our homeland,” Gaynor said in a message to FEMA employees. He announced that his post would be filled by Bob Fenton, the Region 9 administrator for the agency, on an acting basis.

Biden has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, a former senior DHS official, to lead an agency that carried out Trump administration priorities on immigration and law enforcement and was criticized for becoming politicized as a result.

Trump appointed Wolf acting secretary in November 2019, following the resignation of Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary who took over following the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Wolf had been a chief of staff to Nielsen and an undersecretary in the agency as well as an official at the Transportation Security Administration, a component of DHS. He has also worked as a lobbyist.

Trump had said he liked the “flexibility” of having senior officials in an acting status despite criticism that it keeps people from long-term planning that would give an agency more stability.

The president sent Wolf’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation after the Government Accountability Office determined that neither Wolf nor his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were legally eligible to run DHS because of a violation of the rules of succession in federal agencies.

That finding has put policy changes under their tenure, especially related to immigration, in potential jeopardy because of legal challenges, including one as recently as Friday in which a federal judge blocked sweeping asylum restrictions imposed by the administration.

FBI warns of plans for armed protests at all 50 U.S. state capitals next week

COLLEEN LONG, MICHAEL BALSAMO AND MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 12th, 2021

The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 U.S. state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, stoking fears of more bloodshed after last week’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.

An internal FBI bulletin warned that, as of Sunday, the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of some extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The FBI issued at least one other bulletin — they go out to law enforcement nationwide on the topic — before the riots last week. On Dec. 29, it warned of the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures, the second official said.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters on Monday that the Guard is also looking at any issues across the country,

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close co-ordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested.”

The riots followed weeks of online calls for violence in Washington in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A tweet in which Trump promised that last Wednesday’s event “will be wild” fueled a “month-long frenzy of incitements, strategizing, and embrace of violence against lawmakers,” according to a research group that tracks online extremism activity, In a report issued Saturday, the SITE Intelligence Group also warns that the Capitol attack has emboldened Trump-supporting extremists.

“No matter how all this plays out, its only the beginning,” posted a user on TheDonald message board, according to the report.

Oakville mayor resigns from Halton Police Board after approving police chief’s Florida trip

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Jan 12th, 2021

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton has resigned as Chair of the Halton Police Board after approving Halton Police Chief Steve Tanner’s controversial trip to Florida.

Tanner released a statement last Friday apologizing for travelling to Florida in late December to address “personal business matters.”

At the time, Tannersaid the trip was taken with the approval of Burton.

On Monday, Burton resigned from the police board in a letter to Halton Regional Chair, Gary Carr.

“I am resigning now as a member of the Halton Police Board, deeply regretful for my response to the chief’s proposed trip, proud of what we have accomplished in my years as chair…” he wrote.

“I regret sincerely that I focused at the time on the ways the chief’s trip qualified as essential travel. I should have recommended against it because it could generate public concern about me not setting a higher example than the rules and guidelines actually called for.”

When news broke that Tanner was in Florida, Burton released a statement of support for the police chief.

“Chief Steve Tanner informed me in advance of his travel to tend to a property matter,” Burton wrote. “I had no objection. Chief Tanner continues to have my full confidence. The chief leads our police service in an exemplary manner and will continue to do so.”

Tanner later apologized, saying flying south “was a poor decision, and one that I deeply regret.”

Trudeau to shuffle cabinet as Bains departs as innovation minister

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 12th, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to conduct a small shuffle of his cabinet Tuesday, sparked by the departure of Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and industry.

Rumours of the impending shuffle began circulating late Monday.

According to sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the moves, Bains has informed Trudeau that he does not intend to run in the next federal election, which could come as early as this spring.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is expected to replace Bains.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is expected to take over from Champagne at Global Affairs Canada.

Trudeau is expected to elevate Toronto-area MP Omar Alghabra to cabinet to take on the Transport portfolio.

Alghabra has been parliamentary secretary to several ministers, including Trudeau.

Trudeau’s minority Liberal government could be toppled if the opposition parties unite against it _ potentially after the next budget in the spring, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the federal deficit skyrocketing.

Bains’s department will be a key player in the government’s plan to reignite the shattered economy once the pandemic is over.

Trudeau has been clear that critical portfolios need to be overseen by ministers who intend to be around for the long haul and who can sell the government’s agenda during the next election campaign.

He made that argument last August, when Bill Morneau abruptly resigned as finance minister and gave up his seat in the House of Commons. Morneau was replaced by Chrystia Freeland.

 

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