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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.?’”

Most Canadians comfortable with pace of easing coronavirus restrictions: poll

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

OTTAWA — As provinces start to tiptoe toward normalcy by gently lifting restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, a new poll suggests Canadians are largely happy with the pace.

People in most provinces taking steps to reopen were between 60 and 70 per cent supportive of those moves, while 16 to 30 per cent would like to see their government slow down a little.

Some provinces have already begun loosening physical distancing measures put in place as the growth in the number of COVID-19 cases started picking up steam in March.

In Quebec, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Canada, the province is allowing some retail stores to reopen outside of Montreal with an eye to reopen the manufacturing and construction sectors next week. On Monday it pushed back the reopening of non-essential stores in the Montreal area at least another week.

Ontario, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the country, is allowing the partial reopening of some seasonal businesses. Manitoba has gone even further, allowing slightly restricted access to libraries, museums, and restaurant patios.

But in Alberta, which plans to allow certain retail stores, restaurants and daycare centres to reopen as early as May 14, people seem less comfortable with how quickly things are moving.

There, 50 per cent of respondents would like the province to slow down.

The poll, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies between May 1 and 3, surveyed 1,526 adult Canadians and 1,002 adult Americans randomly recruited from its online panel. The internet-based survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.

“Alberta is a bit different,” said Christian Bourque, vice-president of Leger.

“Everywhere else people seem to be in tune with what their governments have announced.”

Bourque was surprised by the latest results, considering similar polls in the last weeks indicated Canadians wanted to see major milestones hit before physical distancing measures were lifted, such as the development of a vaccine or a two-week period without new cases.

“I expected people to be even more cautious than they are,” he said.

In the latest poll, 28 per cent said they would be comfortable lifting restrictions if there are only sporadic cases and no pressure on the health-care system.

One reason for the acceptance of provincial plans to gradually reopen may be the steady support and trust respondents have expressed in their governments, which have remained high throughout the Canadian epidemic, Bourque said.

That’s in stark contrast to the United States, where 43 per cent of respondents expressed satisfaction with measures put in place by President Donald Trump to fight COVID-19. In Canada, 77 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with what Ottawa is doing.

The other reason may be that people are starting to slip when it comes to following the rules.

In general, the poll suggests Canadians’ fear of themselves or a loved one contracting the virus is lower than it was at the end of March. And while 27 per cent of Canadians said they did not comply with at least one of the public health measures two weeks ago, that number grew to 35 per cent in the latest poll.

That’s mainly because people are a little more likely to visit friends and family now, Bourque said. Last week only 16 per cent reported doing that and this week it was 18 per cent.

“More people now find it harder to do everything governments are asking them to do,” he said.

Sarah Gunn’s Mother’s Day Gift Giving Guide

Sarah Gunn | posted Monday, May 4th, 2020

1. Gifts That Give – SickKids Hospital

Mother’s Day Gift Set

https://getbettergifts.sickkidsfoundation.com/collections/homepage/products/mother-s-day-gift-set

Memory Box

https://getbettergifts.sickkidsfoundation.com/collections/homepage/products/memory-box

 

2. A La Carte Gift Ideas

Poppy and Peonies – bags www.poppiesandpeonies.com

Bluboho – jewelry www.bluhobo.com

Fiori Flowers – flowers www.fiorioakville.com

Cambie – blanket www.cambiedesign.com

Report: China hid coronavirus’ severity to hoard medical supplies

WILL WEISSERT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Monday, May 4th, 2020

U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak – and how contagious the disease is – to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it, intelligence documents show.

Chinese leaders “intentionally concealed the severity” of the pandemic from the world in early January, according to a four-page Department of Homeland Security report dated May 1 and obtained by The Associated Press. The revelation comes as the Trump administration has intensified its criticism of China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying Sunday that China was responsible for the spread of disease and must be held accountable.

The sharper rhetoric against China coincides with administration critics saying the government’s response to the virus was inadequate and slow. President Donald Trump’s political opponents have accused the president and his administration of lashing out at China, a geopolitical foe but critical U.S. trade partner, in an attempt to deflect criticism at home.

The analysis states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies. It attempted to cover up doing so by “denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data,” the analysis states.

The report also says China held off informing the World Health Organization that the coronavirus “was a contagion” for much of January so it could order medical supplies from abroad – and that its imports of face masks and surgical gowns and gloves increased sharply.

Those conclusions are based on the 95 per cent probability that China’s changes in imports and export behaviour were not within normal range, according to the report.

Trump has speculated that China could have unleashed the coronavirus due to some kind of horrible “mistake.” His intelligence agencies say they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.

Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Pompeo said he had no reason to believe that the virus was deliberately spread. But he added, “Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories.”

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