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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Some provincial authorities saw encouraging signs in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, even as experts warned that it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the data and provinces scrambled to deal with a looming shortage of Pfizer vaccines.

As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 715,072 cases of COVID-19, with 73,919 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,120.

Officials in both Quebec and Manitoba noted that case numbers have dropped slightly in recent days and suggested that their populations’ efforts to control the virus could be paying off.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said case numbers in his province appeared to be dipping.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” he told a news conference as the province reported 118 cases. “We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal.”

Roussin said the province is looking at easing some restrictions in the coming days, but that any changes would be gradual.

Quebec reported 1,634 new COVID-19 cases, which included about 200 from the previous day that weren’t noted because of a delay. The province had broken the 3,000-case mark in early January and has a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,900 cases a day.

Health Minister Christian Dubé noted on Twitter that the Quebec City region in particular had seen a decline in the number of new infections recently, which he saw as a sign that “the sacrifices that we’re asking of Quebecers are bearing fruit.” However, he asked Quebecers to continue their efforts in order to reduce the number of hospitalizations, which rose Monday after three straight days of decline.

Universite de Montreal public health professor Benoit Masse said it will take another week or two to know whether the downward trend will be sustained and to gauge the impact of the recently imposed curfew. He said the province should know more by Feb. 8, when curfew restrictions are set to lift.

Ontario also reported its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since early January, with 2,578 new infections, but the province completed a little more than 40,000 tests Sunday, compared with more than 60,000 the day before.

British Columbia reported 301 new cases on Monday, its lowest increase in over two months. However, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the risk of spreading the virus remains high.

She said there is increased transmission in the Interior and Northern health regions because of social gatherings, which are what caused a jump in infections in B.C.’s Lower Mainland a few months ago.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported no new COVID-19 cases for the second time this month, as did Newfoundland and Labrador. There were four new cases reported in Prince Edward Island.

The news was less positive in New Brunswick, where the Edmundston region entered the province’s highest pandemic-alert level, ushering in new restrictions on businesses in the region after a record-breaking number of new cases on Sunday. The province reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday after recording 36 the day before.

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 290 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.

Across the North, there were no new cases confirmed in the Northwest Territories, though officials are investigating probable cases in Fort Liard. There were no new cases reported in Yukon or Nunavut.

Vaccine supply questions

Provinces were also reviewing their vaccine programs to contend with a reduced supply of Pfizer-BioNTech doses after the company said last week it was cutting back on promised deliveries over the next month as it works to expand production.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that his province was pausing appointments for people to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine due to the supply shortage.

“Even with a new shipment of Pfizer expected later this week, we won’t have enough supply to continue with new first-dose appointments,” he said, noting that the province had set aside vaccines for people who were due for their second doses, and those appointments would continue. Alberta reported 474 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 11 additional deaths.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, had a similar message as her colleague in Manitoba on Monday, saying Alberta is “making progress” but is “not out of the woods yet.”

Manitoba stopped booking new appointments over the weekend, but health officials announced Monday that those bookings would resume, with room for about 4,000 new appointments this week and next.

Ontario also acknowledged it was working with a supply crunch that would see its next two shipments of Pfizer vaccine reduced by 20 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Health Minister Christine Elliott said the situation would last until late February or early March when larger shipments begin to arrive.

The province announced that a new hospital set to open in Vaughan would be used to relieve a capacity crunch because of rising COVID-19 admissions. Elliott and Premier Doug Ford said the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital would add 35 new critical care beds and 150 medical beds to the province’s bed capacity.

Hospital capacity has been a concern in many provinces, with doctors in Ontario and Quebec being told to prepare for the possibility of implementing protocols to decide which patients get access to life-saving care in the case of extreme intensive care unit overcrowding.

Nationally, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are still increasing, according to Canada’s chief public health officer. Dr. Theresa Tam noted that hospitalizations tend to lag one or more weeks behind a surge in cases.

“These impacts affect everyone, as the health-care workforce and health system bear a heavy strain, important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs,” she wrote in a statement.

She said an average of 4,705 COVID-19 patients a day were being treated in Canadian hospitals during the last seven days, including an average of 875 in ICUs.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | WHO chief warns of ‘catastrophic moral failure’ over vaccine distribution:

The wealthier countries of the world are buying up too much of the COVID-19 vaccine supply and leaving too little for poorer countries, says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 0:57

As of early Tuesday morning, more than 95.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 52.7 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.

In the Americas, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s incoming White House press secretary says his administration does not intend to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for Europe, the U.K., Ireland and Brazil.

The message from Jen Psaki came Monday evening after the White House said President Donald Trump had lifted the restrictions for those countries, effective Jan. 26. Psaki then tweeted: “On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.”

She went on: “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Trump imposed the travel restrictions early in the pandemic to slow the spread of the coronavirus to the U.S. They prevented most people without American citizenship or residency from travelling to the U.S. from the affected regions.

People sit in their car as health-care workers draw their blood at the Southside Church of Christ in Los Angeles, Calif., on Monday as free rapid COVID-19 antibody and PCR tests were administered to local residents in honour of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil kicked off a nationwide COVID-19 immunization program on Monday by distributing doses of a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech following an emergency use authorization, although the pace of vaccination will depend on delayed imports.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday the government aimed to compensate for a reduction in deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc. with those from other providers.

South Africa, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine doses, will be getting nine million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said. The hardest-hit country in Africa, South Africa has seen more than 1.3 million reported cases and more than 37,000 deaths.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the government will extend physical distancing measures due to expire this week as the city remains on heightened alert after the number of COVID-19 infections climbed back into triple digits.

Health workers in Hong Kong worked this week to test thousands of residents after an outbreak in an old residential building located in a busy commercial and residential area. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

China was dealing with coronavirus outbreaks across its frigid northeast on Tuesday, prompting additional lockdowns and travel bans ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. The country reported another 118 cases on Tuesday, with 43 of those in the province of Jilin. Hebei province just outside Beijing saw another 35 cases, while Heilongjiang province bordering Russia reported 27 new cases.

Beijing, where some residential communities and outlying villages have been placed under lockdown, reported just one new case.

A fourth northern province, Liaoning, has also imposed quarantines and travel restrictions to prevent the virus from further spreading, part of measures being imposed across much of the country to prevent new outbreaks during the holiday.

Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has been building a complex of prefabricated housing units to allow the quarantine of more than 3,000 people as it struggles to control more infections.

China has reported a total of 88,454 cases and 4,635 deaths since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. China does not include people who test positive but have no symptoms in its count.

A multinational team of investigators from the World Health Organization is currently in Wuhan undergoing two weeks of quarantine before beginning field visits in hopes of gaining clues into the origins of the pandemic.

New Zealand said it was looking to secure a small batch of COVID-19 vaccines early to protect its high-risk workers, as pressure mounts on the government to vaccinate its population.

Pakistan on Monday approved the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a government statement said, two days after AstraZeneca’s vaccine developed with Oxford University received a similar authorization.

In Europe, eurozone finance ministers pledged continued fiscal support for their economies on Monday and discussed the design of post-pandemic recovery plans as the European Commission warned the COVID-19 crisis was making the bloc’s economic imbalances worse.

Members of the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion prepare before taking samples of waste water to detect the presence of the novel coronavirus outside a nursing home in Marseille, southern France, on Tuesday. (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

Norway has pledged to help fight the global pandemic by donating vaccines to low-income countries as soon as the vaccines are approved, its foreign aid minister said Tuesday.

“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines reach people in the world’s poorest countries isn’t just about being charitable or acting on a moral imperative. It’s also in the best interest of every country to do so,” Dag-Inge Ulstein, the Norwegian minister for International Development, told The Associated Press.

“If the virus is circulating in one country, the rest of the world remains at risk.”

Ulstein gave no timeframe or figures for vaccine quantities but said the rollout will take place “in parallel to the current vaccination of the Norwegian population.”

Norway’s move came a day after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities around the world.

Swiss authorities, meanwhile, have started mass-testing residents and visitors in St. Moritz after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the upscale ski resort area.

People were asked to register online and come in for free tests to a local gym and a beverage store on Tuesday after two luxury hotels were put under quarantine Monday. All schools, kindergartens and skiing schools were closed.

Officials said at least two dozen cases were detected in the two hotels, which local media identified as the Palace and the Kempinski hotels. The Kempinski said late Monday that health authorities had confirmed cases of the mutated coronavirus among the hotel’s employees.

“Local health officials have ordered that all guests and staff at the hotel should be quarantined to minimize exposure to the public,” a spokeswoman for Kempinski told The Associated Press. “The hotel is strictly following the advice of the local health authorities and World Health Organization guidelines.”

All people in St. Moritz who were five and older were asked to participate in the test, which was voluntary. Swiss media reported that the variant detected in St. Moritz was first found in South Africa.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8:50 a.m. ET

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Why Canadians should elect their Governor General – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by Charlotte Dalwood, a juris doctor student at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

A scandal involving workplace harassment and verbal abuse at Rideau Hall triggered former Governor General Julie Payette’s resignation in January. But the bigger scandal is that governors general are unaccountable to the Canadian people, and this one will not go away when Payette’s successor is sworn in – or until the position is reformed to make it an elected office.

It is essential there be such public accountability, because the Governor General wields substantial power, both at home and abroad.

Right now, oversight of Canada’s de facto head of state comes largely from the prime minister.

This starts with the selection of someone to fill the role. While the Queen approves her viceregal, she does so on the prime minister’s advice.

And the prime minister is under no obligation to consult the Canadian public before offering it. In Payette’s case, this allowed Justin Trudeau to choose a candidate whose history of mistreating staff his office had failed to identify.

Once the decision is made and a new governor general installed, it also falls on the prime minister to hold this figure accountable for their day-to-day activities. Canadians have few ways of providing this oversight themselves, since access to information laws do not apply to the Governor General’s office. This means the goings-on at Rideau Hall are largely hidden from the public.

Canadians must therefore take it on trust that the prime minister will not only monitor the Governor General to learn of any abuses of their powers as they occur, but also intervene to stop them.

WATCH | Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns after scathing workplace review:

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigned on Thursday after a scathing review about a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. The review followed CBC reporting into allegations of workplace harassment and bullying in the Governor General’s office. 2:50

Giving Canadians a direct say in who occupies the country’s highest government position, along with the ability to monitor their conduct, won’t rule out the possibility of future scandals occurring. But it would bring heightened accountability to the Governor General’s office, and strengthen the demands on the person holding it to perform their role in a way that promotes the public’s interests.

This is necessary in a democratic nation, considering the Governor General’s powers and responsibilities.

Domestically, this figure summons and dissolves Parliament, grants Royal Assent to federal legislation, and ensures Canada is never without a prime minister able to command the House of Commons’ support.

They hold reserve powers, such as the ability to unilaterally dismiss a government and veto proposed laws, that allow the Governor General to safeguard democratic norms.

The Governor General is also one of Canada’s key diplomatic representatives on the international stage. Via state visits to other countries, events at home to welcome visiting dignitaries, and other official means, the viceregal supports and advances Canada’s foreign policy objectives.

The office is thus far from a merely ceremonial one. Indeed, an incompetent or ineffective governor general could do real damage to Canada’s constitutional order and global stature.

Which is why the whole country has a stake in who carries out the duties of governor general, as well as in how that person does so.

WATCH | Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says vetting process for Julie Payette’s replacement will be more robust:

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the Privy Council Office plans to advise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming week on replacing the governor general. 7:04

Transitioning to an elected governor general would afford the electorate an opportunity to weigh in on both counts via regular votes. In order to secure re-election, governors general would need to ensure they are exercising their powers to Canadians’ satisfaction.

Occupying an elected post would also empower an incumbent governor general to act as a much-needed counterbalance to the prime minister’s power.

As an appointee under the current system, Canada’s unelected representative head of state cannot override the recommendations of its democratically elected head of government, except in the most unusual of situations, without contradicting Canadian democratic values. Constitutional convention therefore dictates that the Governor General will almost always defer to the prime minister’s advice.

A skilled prime minister can take advantage of this fact to manipulate the Governor General’s powers to advance their own agenda and undermine parliamentary opposition. In 2002, for example, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament, avoiding the tabling of a report into the sponsorship scandal. In 2008 and again in 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper used the Governor General’s authority to prorogue Parliament and keep his minority government in power. Most recently, Prime Minister Trudeau requested Parliament be prorogued in August 2020 during the WE Charity controversy.

An elected viceregal, by contrast, would have an independent mandate from the Canadian people. This mandate would provide the Queen’s representative with a democratic basis for rejecting prime ministerial advice that does not reflect popular sentiment, advice that is particularly likely during periods of minority rule in the House of Commons.

In other words, by exercising greater oversight over their de facto head of state, Canadians would also be exercising greater oversight over their head of government.

And they would be doing it at the ballot box, which in a democratic society is where all of Canada’s leaders — including the Governor General — should be held to account.


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Ontario expecting shorter timeline for COVID-19 vaccine rollout after good news on dosing and AstraZeneca – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Health Minister Christine Elliott says that with the approval of a new COVID-19 vaccine in Canada and new guidelines for administering second doses, Ontario is “recalibrating” its timeline for rolling out vaccines and may be able to get more people their first dose sooner than initially thought.

“We were looking at the end of the summer, probably into perhaps September,” Elliott told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s fair to say that we will be able to shorten that timeline, given the new volumes of vaccines coming in with AstraZeneca, and the extension of the first and second doses for both Pfizer and Moderna, meaning we can get more first dose into more arms faster.”

Last week, Health Canada rubber-stamped the AstraZeneca vaccine, the third COVID-19 vaccine that has now been approved for use in the country. On Wednesday, a national panel of vaccine experts also recommended extending the interval between first and second vaccine doses to four months, based on data showing good protection after just a single dose.  

While it looks like the province’s vaccination program may proceed more quickly than first thought because of the two developments, Elliott said it is too soon to set a new target date.

“We expect that our timelines will be reduced overall, but I can’t give you a specific date right now,” she said.

The provincial government is expected to announce the next steps of its vaccination plan on Friday, CTV News has learned.

Speaking to CP24 on Thursday morning, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is also a member of the province’s 10-person vaccine distribution task force, said recent developments indicate that Canada will be able to significantly speed up its timeline for vaccinating members of the general population.

“I think it is very, very, very likely that most Canadians will be able to have a vaccine by, just guessing here, but could be the early part of the summer,” he said Thursday.

The federal government previously said that all Canadians who want a vaccine should be able to receive one by late September.

Bogoch noted that after a sluggish start to vaccine shipments, more doses are finally starting to arrive in Canada.

“The real inflection point is as March turns into April. You are going to start to see the mass vaccine clinics expand, and then of course the massive expansion of the vaccines going into pharmacies,” he said.

“That giant shift really is at the tail end of March.”

To date, Ontario has administered 784,828 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 268,118 of the province’s 14 million residents have received two doses for full immunization.

Ontario is expecting to receive approximately 700,000 more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next four weeks. While provincial allocations for the Moderna vaccine have not been updated on the federal government’s website, the company previously promised to deliver 1.3 million doses to Canada in the month of March.

At least 113,000 AstraZeneca doses manufactured in India are destined for Ontario after arriving in Canada this week.

Johnson and Johnson decision expected within a week

“We are actually starting to see a significant number of vaccines coming to the country, especially with AstraZeneca coming in. We are getting half a million doses now and much more of that in the coming weeks,” Bogoch said.

“If you look in the crystal ball, it is likely that we’ll have (the) Johnson & Johnson (COVID-19 vaccine) and even with some of the delays that Johnson & Johnson is having in manufacturing, we are seeing other indications that they will be able to ramp up manufacturing… At the end of the day, it just points to much shorter timelines for Canadians.”

Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Thursday that a decision on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely be made within the next week.

“The review of the Johnson & Johnson submission is going very well. It is progressing and we are expecting to have that completed and a decision in the next few days. I would say within the next seven days or so,” she told reporters.

If approved, Canada is expecting to receive a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of September, however the delivery schedule is still unclear. On Thursday, federal officials said shipments could begin sometime in the second quarter of the year.

More encouraging news came earlier this when the panel of experts who provide advice to Ottawa on vaccinations said second doses of COVID-19 vaccines can now be administered up to four months after the first dose is given, allowing vaccines to flow to more members of the population sooner.

The panel cited emerging clinical evidence from the U.S., Israel and the UK that indicated the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines provides 90 per cent or better protection from coronavirus infection for much longer than initially thought.

The Ford government has signalled that it plans to accept that recommendation and delay second doses beyond the current 28-day timeframe.

“Most places in Canada will likely be spacing out the doses between dose one and dose two by anywhere from three to four months,” Bogoch said. “You can just vaccinate way more people in a shorter period of time.”

AstraZeneca to be used in pharmacy pilot starting next week

While some Ontario municipalities have begun to vaccinate people over the age of 80 who are living in the community, the province’s largest city has not yet been able to begin vaccinating members of the general population.

Toronto’s mayor has said that the city is still focused on trying to vaccinate other priority populations, including frontline health-care workers.

In the meantime, Elliott confirmed Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be used in a pilot project starting next week that will see vaccines distributed through pharmacies in three health units, including Toronto.

The storage requirements for the vaccine are simpler, making it easier to distribute through remote locations such as pharmacies.

“It can be moved more easily. It doesn’t have the same kind of temperature requirements that the Pfizer vaccine has and to a lesser extent Moderna,” Elliott told reporters. “I would say that in addition to pharmacies, you may also see it in primary care centres, and perhaps even in larger vaccination clinics.”

Ontario has said that keeping in line with advice from the  National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), it will only distribute the Astra Zeneca vaccine to those under 65 years of age.

Infection-prevention measures still important in the meantime

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams called the possible shortening of the vaccination timeline “good news” Thursday.

“This means we can accelerate faster, and we have some advise on timelines that we might be able to move up on the previous predictions of early fall to complete, we may have it even sooner than we had anticipated, and this is good news for all,” he said.

However he cautioned that people still need to stick to public health advice while the vaccine rollout is underway, especially with the more contagious variants of the virus on the loose in the province.

“We still have to hold the other ones down while we undertake this task,” he said. “So our task of  maintaining our distancing, masking, staying home when sick, getting tests when we need to get tested, keep to your household, stay home if you do not need to (go out), limit your activities, even if you are in a zone within the framework that allows you to access those activities.”

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How a bridge to Canada got the axe from American lawmakers – CBC.ca

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Funding for this bridge between upstate New York and the Ottawa-Montreal region, seen here in March 2020, was included in a major U.S. pandemic-relief bill. Then it was chopped. (Christine Muschi/Reuters)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

As American lawmakers inched toward approving a bill with an eye-watering 13-digit price tag, it was apparently a bridge to Canada that proved a bridge too far.

Funds to upkeep an existing cross-border bridge from Massena, N.Y., to Cornwall, Ont., were included in, and have now been stripped out of, a $1.9 trillion US pandemic-relief bill that Congress could pass any day.

Less than one-millionth of the bill’s overall price tag had originally been set to fund operations of the half-century-old Seaway International Bridge, jointly run by the Canadian and U.S. governments.

The original version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives guaranteed $1.5 million for several months’ funding of the span, which connects upstate New York with the Ottawa-Montreal area through Cornwall, Ont.

“It’s a vital, necessary access point between our two countries,” Steven O’Shaughnessy, the town supervisor of Massena.

That funding is gone in the latest version of the bill, which could be advanced into law any day by the U.S. Senate.

If adopted, the bill would become the first major piece of legislation passed during Joe Biden’s presidency and would fund a vast array of causes, from reducing child poverty to expanding access to health care to sending out $1,400 relief cheques to Americans.

What’s the backstory

Critics called it a ‘bridge to nowhere’ and accused top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker, of pork-barrel politics. But New York Republicans wanted the bridge funding, too. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

So how did one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in American history, which will affect tens of millions of lives, stumble over a bridge that ends near the Cornwall BBQ in southeastern Ontario?

As fate would have it, that bridge became a symbolic talking point for critics of the bill.  

Republicans pointed to it as an example of how myriad items unrelated to the pandemic are being crammed into a supposed rescue package.

“We have millions upon millions of dollars for this lovely bridge to get from New York into Canada,” Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said earlier this week, inflating the price of the bridge upkeep. “And, folks, how is that helping us fight COVID?

“This is supposed to be a COVID recovery package. And somehow I don’t see my Iowa taxpayers benefiting from those porky pricey projects.”

Never mind that funding for the bridge has previously been supported by New York lawmakers from both parties, including Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and the area’s House lawmaker, Elise Stefanik.

It became Exhibit A of the idea that this 630-page bill, which would also allot billions of dollars to expanding health coverage and decreasing child poverty, is about more than COVID.

It was derided on Fox News, in its news coverage and by its hosts, as a “bridge to nowhere.”    

But it’s more complicated than that. 

The bridge, which has seen toll revenues drop during the pandemic, sits in the district of New York Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik. She has previously supported additional funding for the bridge but voted against the stimulus bill that included $1.5 million US for upkeep of the span. ( Republican National Convention/Handout via REUTERS)

Democrats have argued that most of this bill’s items are, indeed, connected to COVID-19 — including that bridge funding.

The pandemic has caused a spectacular drop in cross-border traffic, with a 70 per cent plunge in toll fees collected at the bridge since last year, said a U.S. official with the binational Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.

So why not just fund the bridge in a transportation bill instead of a pandemic-relief bill?

Blame the joys of the American legislative process. 

A generation of partisan gridlock has resulted in fewer bills becoming law. So majority parties have tended to rely more often on a legislative shortcut, a process called reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass with just 51 Senate votes instead of 60.

The catch with that process is it can only be used once a year, on a budget bill. Which is how you wind up with all sorts of unrelated items crammed together in what is colloquially referred to in Washington as a Christmas tree bill.

In the end, under this particular tree, there was nothing left for Cornwall and Massena.

What’s next

Democrats pulled that item, and some other items, out of the Senate bill to help silence the naysayers and ease its adoption.

The bridge is now funded through the end of this month thanks to $2.5 million delivered from the Canadian government last year. 

But the U.S. official said the cash originally in the bill would have supplied funding from next month to September. Without it, the official said, there could be an impact on its services and its essential workers.

The bridge itself is in decent physical shape after millions of dollars in renovations over the last decade.

Bernadette Clement, mayor of Cornwall, said she hopes it stays that way because it not only connects families and friends and the regional economy but also supports international trade, with hundreds of commercial trucks using it each day.

The Seaway International Bridge joins Cornwall, Ont., and Massena, N.Y. It is a regional link between Canadian and American communities and also a commercial trade link that sees hundreds of trucks per day. (CP)

“It is extremely important to our national economies,” Clement said. “The maintenance of those bridges — it’s critical for us.”

When asked what happens after this month, a Canadian government spokesperson said the bridge’s critical needs will be met — but did not immediately say whether it might require an additional cash injection from Ottawa.

It wouldn’t be the first time political gridlock in the U.S. left Canada with the bill for a cross-border bridge. 

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