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Canadian warships missing from NATO naval forces for first time since 2014

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OTTAWA — For the first time in eight years, Canadian warships are not involved in either of two NATO naval task forces charged with patrolling European waters and defending against Russian threats.

The revelation has cast a spotlight on what experts say are the growing trade-offs that Canada is having to make with its navy, which is struggling with a shrinking fleet of aging ships and a lack of trained sailors.

Canada had been a consistent presence in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, deploying at least one Halifax-class frigate to the North Atlantic or Mediterranean on a rotational basis.

The federal Liberal government made a point of deploying a second frigate in March as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That ship had been planned for a months-long deployment in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

But Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande says Canada does not have any frigates attached to either of the NATO naval groups since HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax returned to their home port last month.

“With the return home of HMCS Montreal and Halifax on July 15, the CAF does not currently have a ship tasked to either Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 or 2,” Lamirande said in an email. “This is the first time this has occurred since 2014.”

Lamirande linked the decision not to send any new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two such vessels to the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the Halifax-class fleet’s maintenance and training requirements.

Canada has instead deployed two smaller Kingston-class coastal defence vessels to work with a different NATO naval force that is focused on finding and clearing enemy mines.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said that will help Canadian sailors gain experience in an important area of naval warfare while still showing Canada’s commitment to European security.

But he conceded in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, “we are stretched from a resource perspective. And so we’ve got to make those decisions as to where we invest, and when we invest.”

He added that he approved the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are growing, “because we want to deliberately increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, because we are a Pacific nation.”

China last week launched a massive military exercise around Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its territory, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. The exercise came amid growing fears of a potential Chinese invasion.

University of Calgary shipbuilding expert Timothy Choi said the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a large role in constraining Atlantic Fleet’s ability to send another frigate in the short term.

“To my mind, it doesn’t mean the availability of the ships and crews have deteriorated over the last few years,” he said.

“Rather it’s the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources into a smaller time frame which results in more time required to recuperate.”

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicted Canada will have to make increasingly difficult trade-offs in where to send its warships given the size and state of its navy.

While Canada has 12 frigates, Perry said the navy’s maintenance and training requirements mean only a handful are available to deploy at any given time. Canada used to also have three destroyers, but those vessels were retired in 2014.

Adding to the difficulty is the growing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and are becoming increasingly more challenging to fix and maintain, according to both senior officers and internal reports.

“Those decisions about trade-offs are going to become increasingly difficult because, and we’re already experiencing this, the maintenance cycle on a ship that old is becoming more intense, more labour-intensive and longer,” Perry said.

Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the navy and Canadian Armed Forces are also expected to face growing pressures to maintain a presence in not Europe, Asia and the Arctic.

“It’s going to be very pressing because there’s going to be demands on all three of those geographic environments,” MacDonald said. “On top of anywhere else we operate: the Caribbean, West Africa, South America.”

The federal government is overseeing construction of a new fleet of warships to replace the frigates and destroyers, but the multibillion-dollar project has been plagued by cost overruns and repeated delays.

The navy, like the rest of the military, is also facing a severe shortage of personnel.

In the meantime, MacDonald predicted the Kingston-class minesweepers will continue to pick up more slack as the navy faces increasing demands overseas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Ontario reports 72 new COVID-19 deaths as wastewater signals climb once again – CBC.ca

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Ontario is reporting 72 new deaths linked to COVID-19, as wastewater signals are once again on the rise after trending downward for months, according to the latest report from Public Health Ontario.

New data released Thursday from the Ontario Ministry of Health shows the number of people in hospital with the virus climbed from 1,141 this time last week to 1,265 this week. 

The number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 also rose slightly from 129 to 133. Of those, 57 patients require a ventilator to breathe, about the same as last week’s total of 58.

Test positivity on Thursday dropped slightly to 12.5 per cent, down from 13.1 per cent last Thursday.

Meanwhile, the latest report from Public Health Ontario, which is updated every Friday, shows the level of the novel coronavirus seen in Ontario’s wastewater began creeping upward around the first week of September and is estimated to have been climbing since.

That’s after a period of plateau and slow decline following a peak in early July.

Data from Public Health Ontario shows the amount of the novel coronavirus seen in Ontario’s wastewater began creeping upward around the first week of September and are estimated to have been climbing since. (Public Health Ontario)

Wastewater signals have increased in most parts of the province, including in the Greater Toronto Area, with the Central East and West regions seeing the steepest climbs. Central East includes Haliburton Kawartha and Pine Ridge; Peterborough; and Simcoe Muskoka, while Central West includes Brant County; Haldimand-Norfolk; Hamilton and Niagara Region.

The news comes as Ontario opened Omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine bookings to all adults Monday.

Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore noted vaccine uptake among Ontario’s youngest age group was lower than expected.

“We have work to do to continue our (official) message,” he told The Canadian Press at the time. “It will accelerate as we head into indoors and head into the fall as we perceive the risk of transmission will increase.”

The most recent wave of the illness to hit Ontario — which started on June 19 and peaked in early August —  is being fuelled largely by Omicron variant BA. 5.

Experts have said reported case counts are a severe underestimate of the actual extent of COVID-19 infections in Ontario. 

Earlier this month, members of Ontario’s since-dissolved science advisory table said they would have advised against the province’s decision to scrap COVID-19 isolation requirements had they been consulted on the move.

On Aug. 31, the province scrapped the mandatory five-day isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19.

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Canada’s economic activity creeps up, unexpectedly – Al Jazeera English

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The economy grew 0.1 percent in July, compared with a forecast for a 0.1 percent decline, but inflation persists.

Canada’s economic activity unexpectedly edged up in July, data shows, while gross domestic product (GDP) in August was most likely flat, with the surprise gain seen unlikely to change much for the central bank.

The Canadian economy grew 0.1 percent in July, compared with analysts’ forecast for a 0.1 percent decline, Statistics Canada data showed on Thursday. Growth in goods-producing industries more than offset the first decrease in services-producing industries since January.

“The economy fared better than anticipated this summer, but the showing still wasn’t much to write home about,” Royce Mendes, head of macro strategy at Desjardins Group, said in a note.

The slight gain in July and likely lack of growth in August suggest third-quarter annualised GDP growth of about 1 percent, well below the Bank of Canada’s most recent forecast of 2.0 percent, analysts said.

“After a solid first half of the year, momentum appears to be slowing as multi-decade-high inflation and rapidly rising interest rates weigh on the economy,” Benjamin Reitzes, Canadian rates and macro strategist at BMO Economics, said in a note.

The Bank of Canada raised rates by 75 basis points to 3.25 percent earlier this month to fight inflation, which began to cool slightly in July, but is still running at levels not seen in nearly 40 years.

The July GDP data showed oil sands extraction drove growth, jumping 5.1 percent on higher output, with crop production also helping, up 7.2 percent mainly on volumes of wheat and other grains.

Demand for Canadian wheat has increased since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a special military operation, helping push up export volumes.

But Canada’s retail trade sector contracted sharply in July, falling to its lowest level since December 2021, pushed down by a 7.1 percent decline in output at petrol stations, Statscan said, though that likely reversed in August.

Accommodation and food services also contracted in July, driven by less activity at bars and restaurants.

Hot inflation meant the Bank of Canada was likely to increase interest rates at its next decision in late October, but then the game may change, economists said.

“The deceleration in economic momentum is why we see the Bank of Canada only hiking rates once more in October,” Mendes said. Money markets are betting on a rise in October, with one more in December or January to bring the central bank’s policy rate to 4.00 percent.

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Canada matching more donations for Pakistan flood aid, will raise cap to $5M – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

The federal government will extend its matching of donations to help people dealing with catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in hopes the crisis doesn’t fall off the public radar.

“I felt that it wasn’t getting the (media) coverage that a crisis like this deserves,” International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a Thursday interview.

Severe monsoon rains this summer have affected more than 33 million people, many of whom have needed emergency food, water, sanitation and health services.

More than one-third of Pakistan was underwater, including much of its agricultural land, which experts believe will spark a food shortage.

Sajjan said he saw devastating scenes on a visit to the country earlier this month.

“When I was flying over affected areas, you literally could not see the end,” he said.

“Countries that have had the least to do with contributing to climate change are actually now the most greatly affected by it.”

On Sept. 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match up to $3 million in donations made to the Humanitarian Coalition and its dozen member charities.

That matching campaign was due to end on Wednesday.

Sajjan said it will be extended, and the amount is now capped at $5 million.

Ottawa previously committed $30 million of its own spending.

Sajjan said the idea has been to respond to the immediate, interim and long-term needs of the country, to make sure the right amount of aid dollars reach the correct places.

“What we’re doing is funding in chunks, to make sure we’re assessing the needs in a timely basis so the resources can be there,” he said.

“Now we that we have a little bit of breathing space, we are looking at the midterm need assessment.”

Canada will likely fund climate mitigation work in the country once it has recovered, to lower the impact of future floods, Sajjan said.

He noted that Canada helped fund the early-warning system that officials told him was key to saving lives this summer.

That came after massive 2010 floods in Pakistan.

Within a year, the former Harper government pledged $71.8 million for relief efforts, including $46.8 million from donations Ottawa had matched.

When asked why Canada is only matching slightly more than one-tenth that amount, the Humanitarian Coalition said the funding is in line with cost-matching in past crises such as the 2021 earthquake in Haiti.

“To be sure, the match amount is modest, but it does fit within a recent range,” wrote spokeswoman Marg Buchanan.

She said the amounts are based on what humanitarian groups predict people will donate, “influenced by timing, waning media interest and other dominant stories.”

NDP development critic Heather McPherson argued the Liberals have been slow to put up the funding promised for other humanitarian initiatives.

She pointed to unspent funds in Ukraine and for reproductive health elsewhere.

“Their announcements are starting to be a little slim; I don’t think people are feeling very reassured,” McPherson said.

The Conservatives have called on the government to allow cost-matching for more organizations responding to disasters, including the flooding in Pakistan.

“It is easier (for Ottawa) to say that it is going to match a contribution to this big player, as opposed to saying it is going to match donations to all of the organizations that are doing this work,” Garnett Genuis told the Commons this week.

“Organizations tell me that they get calls from previous donors who say they were going to donate to what they were doing, but they actually want to donate to another organization that is getting matched.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

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