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C$30 billion will be put for long-awaited national childcare program

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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada will invest up to C$30 billion ($23.9 billion) over five years to set up a long-promised national childcare program and help female employment recover from harm done by the COVID-19 pandemic, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday.

Freeland, who has stressed her feminist credentials since becoming Canada‘s first female finance minister last August, said Ottawa wanted to bring the average daily fee for regulated childcare down to C$10 within five years and halve costs by the end of next year.

“COVID has brutally exposed something women have long known: without childcare, parents – usually mothers – can’t work,” she said in prepared remarks to lawmakers as she delivered her first budget, noting that women’s participation in the labor force had fallen to its lowest in more than two decades.

Freeland noted that Quebec, which has the highest female employment of any province, has had its own heavily subsidized childcare system for 25 years, under which parents currently pay around C$8.35 a day.

Monthly childcare fees for toddlers range from C$181 in Quebec cities to above C$900 in most other Canadian cities.

If a national program is set up, Quebec will be able to use its share of the money to improve its own system.

The C$30 billion is designed to cover half the cost of the program. The provinces, which deliver many social programs, will cover the other 50%.

Starting in the 2025-26 fiscal year, the center-left Liberal government will invest at least C$8.3 billion annually into the program.

Earlier this month, Freeland said COVID-19 had “created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany” on the importance of early learning and childcare.

For decades, Canadian federal governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program. High cost and the need to negotiate with the provinces have inhibited action.

“This is not an effort that will deliver instant gratification. We are building something that, of necessity, must be constructed collaboratively,” Freeland said.

The government will formally unveil legislation setting up the program later this year, at about the time Liberal insiders predict an election. The pledge could eat into support for the rival left-leaning New Democrats, who have long demanded a national system.

In November, Freeland set aside C$420 million for training and retaining child care workers.

Speaking ahead of the budget, YMCA Canada chief executive Peter Dinsdale said a successful national program would require capital supports to build new spaces and clear, national standards. But staffing would be the key issue, he added.

Freeland also promised to help other vulnerable sectors. The aid includes C$8.9 billion over six years in additional support for low-wage workers and C$3 billion for provinces to help improve long-term care facilities, which were very badly hit by the pandemic.

($1=1.2537 Canadian dollars)

(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Amran Abocar and David Gregorio)

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New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.

 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Canada fossil fuel workers want victorious Trudeau to keep retraining pledge

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s narrow election victory this week reinforced Canada‘s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but workers in the country’s sizable fossil fuel sector said they also expect him to keep his promises to retrain them for jobs in a clean-energy economy.

Oil worker advocacy group Iron & Earth estimates Canada will need around C$10 billion ($7.8 billion) over 10 years to retrain fossil fuel workers, but is sceptical about government promises to help after past pledges failed to materialise.

“At what point do these stop being promises and start being actions? These are people’s livelihoods on the line,” said Luisa Da Silva, executive director of Iron & Earth.

Da Silva said the country risks losing the skilled labour crucial to a clean energy economy if the government does not prioritise transition funding, which the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes as important to ensure no workers are left behind as the world decarbonizes.

As the clean energy economy takes off, it will generate some 640,000 jobs by 2030, a 50% increase from 2021, with strong growth in Alberta, industry body Clean Energy Canada forecasts.

But Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta, a provincial government-funded organization that invests in emissions-reducing technology, said it would be difficult to recreate the sustained economic contribution that was associated with the oil and gas sector.

Two years ago, the Liberal Party announced a “Just Transition Act” to support and retrain oil and gas workers, but only launched consultations to shape that legislation in July, and then put it on hold in August when the election was called. Trudeau announced a similar programme worth C$2 billion during the 2021 election campaign.

The oil and gas industry is Canada‘s highest polluting sector, accounting for 26% of all of carbon output. Yet Canada is the world’s No. 4 oil producer and some 450,000 jobs directly or indirectly linked to the industry are at risk over the next three decades as the country slashes climate-warming carbon emissions, TD Bank estimates.

So any talk of shrinking the sector is touchy, particularly in the staunchly conservative energy heartland of Alberta where many oil and gas workers live in remote communities scattered across the prairies and northern boreal forest. Trudeau sparked fury among them in 2017 when he talked about “phasing out” the oil sands.

Those remarks contributed to a wipe-out of Liberals in Alberta during 2019 election, although Liberal candidates are leading or elected in two seats in the just-concluded 2021 election. Failing to help retrain workers could batter local economies and sap support from government efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“With the loss of any position in the oil and gas industry, the effect trickles down seven times due to the loss of economic spinoff effects,” said Gerald Aalbers, mayor of Lloydminster, a city of 31,000 straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where an estimated 15% of jobs depend on the fossil fuel industry.

“The costs to retool the economy and businesses, let alone employees, will be tremendous.”

‘ONE-INDUSTRY CITY’

Canada‘s petroleum sector, which includes oil and gas extraction and refining, contributes about 5.3% to national GDP.

The Trudeau government is working with major producers like Suncor Energy to develop technologies like carbon capture to allow companies to bury emissions underground rather than cut production.

Still, downsizing of the industry seems inevitable if Canada is to meet its 2050 net zero goal, and an interim target of cutting emissions 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030.

In the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, where a nearly a third of all jobs are in fossil fuels, workers are nervous.

“We are a one-industry city,” said Dirk Tolman, 59, a heavy equipment operator and union leader at Suncor, who has worked in the oil sands since 2008. “Without the oil sands I don’t know if anybody would be staying in Fort McMurray.”

Even if clean energy jobs do replace oil and gas jobs, they are unlikely to be in the same location.

Sean Cadigan, a professor of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who has studied the impact of the collapse of Atlantic Canada‘s fishing industry in the 1990s, said oil and gas communities need new industries to develop alongside any shutdown of fossil fuels.

“(Otherwise) it will lead to a profound dislocation of people and that will always have grave impact on communities left behind,” he said.

($1 = 1.2822 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio)

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Canada election: several ridings still to close to call – CTV News

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TORONTO / OTTAWA —
While Canadians didn’t have to wait too long on election night to find out who will lead the next government, there are still several individual seats too close to call and it could take a few days to get clear results with mail-in ballots still to be counted.

As of Wednesday evening, nine seats had yet to be called, according to CTVNews.ca’s election tracker, with the Liberals leading in five of the races, the Conservatives leading in one, the Bloc Quebecois leading in one, and the NDP in two.

The number still to be decided won’t affect the overall election result, which saw the Liberals returned with a minority government, the Conservatives the Official Opposition, and both the Bloc and NDP holding enough seats to hold the balance of power when it comes to the Liberals passing key legislation.

But the outcomes of the individual races will have an impact on the people who live in those ridings, and could also end up affecting the outcome of free votes, where members don’t always vote along party lines, as well as the overall demographic breakdown of the House of Commons.

Seat counts can sometimes be seen as a referendum on party leaders, and any last-minute changes to the projected counts will be assessed by the parties as they take stock of their overall electoral showing.

Of course, there are some seats that may hold more symbolic or strategic value for certain parties.

For example, there’s little doubt the Liberals loved winning back the British Columbia seat of Vancouver Granville, which they lost after Jody Wilson-Raybould was expelled from the Liberal caucus over the SNC-Lavalin scandal. She went on to win the seat as an independent in the 2019 federal election, but chose not to run for re-election this year.

CTV News’ Decision Desk declared Liberal Taleeb Noormohamed the winner of the riding on Wednesday evening, beating out NDP candidate Anjali Appadurai by just 258 votes. In Vancouver Granville, 5,359 local mail-in ballot voting kits had been returned to Elections Canada by election day.

Former NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau was hoping to make a political comeback in her home riding of Berthier Maskinongé, and was in a close fight with incumbent Bloc Quebecois MP Yves Perron, but by Wednesday evening, CTV News’ Decision Desk had declared she’d been defeated, by 933 votes.

While it’s not uncommon for some tight races to stretch into the following day after an election, the wild card this year is the record number of mail-in ballots cast due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest numbers from Elections Canada, more than 1 million mail-in ballots were returned this year, about 83 per cent—851,213—of which were from people voting in their home ridings. It’s these local mail-in ballots that the agency is still working through.

It’s taking time to get these results because Elections Canada must verify that these voters have not also voted in person, as well as conduct other layers of ballot integrity assessments before these votes can be counted.

The scrutineering process began on Tuesday and the agency has begun to report the results with most expected on Wednesday, though in some ridings it could take until Friday.

The Liberals and NDP are also locking horns in the Toronto riding of Davenport, where incumbent Liberal Julie Dzerowicz leads the NDP’s Alejandra Bravo by 318 votes.

Also hanging on a razor’s edge is the race in Sault Ste. Marie, where Liberal incumbent Terry Sheehan leads Conservative Sonny Spina by just 55 votes, and where 1,660 local mail-in ballots having been returned.

There is still one seat in Edmonton too close to definitively call, which represents a potential defeat of a Conservative incumbent.

In Edmonton Griesbach, NDP candidate Blake Desjarais is leading Conservative Kerry Diotte by 1,006 votes, in a riding where 1,482 mail-in ballots have been received.

Next door, in Edmonton Centre, CTV News’ Decision Desk declared Liberal Randy Boissonnault the winner on Wednesday night, with 616 votes over Conservative James Cumming.

To stay on top of the results as they continue to be reported in real time from Elections Canada, bookmark our live results map.

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