CRA urged to extend tax deadline as looming strike a ‘threat’ to small business
A looming strike by Canada Revenue Agency workers over an ongoing labour dispute “poses a threat to small businesses,” an independent group has warned, calling for an extension of the tax deadline.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in a statement Monday urged the agency and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)-Union of Taxation Employees (UTE), which represents more than 35,000 CRA workers, to quickly reach an agreement.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Dan Kelly, CFIB president in the statement, arguing that a potential strike could create uncertainty for small businesses in the middle of tax season.
Canadians have until May 1 to file their income tax and benefit returns. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has said it has no plans to delay that deadline even if workers walk off the job.
In the event of a strike, the agency has warned some services may be affected, with delays in processing some income tax and benefit returns, particularly those filed by paper.
That’s a concern for the CFIB, Kelly said.
“With certain CRA services being delayed or unavailable during a labour disruption, we worry that many small businesses may not be able to get answers in a timely manner or to submit their tax payment on time,” Kelly said.
The CRA told Global News last week that a “potential strike in no way impedes the ability of Canadians to file their taxes electronically or on paper.”
As of Friday, more than 35,000 agency workers were in a legal position to strike.
That’s in addition to the 122,000 other Public Service Alliance of Canada federal workers who entered a strike position as of April 12.
The federal government and the unions are in disagreement over wages, remote work and contracts.
“If CRA workers, in addition to more than 120,000 other federal public servants, go on strike, the impact on small businesses could be massive,” Kelly said.
“We’re looking to both sides to come to a quick resolution at a cost taxpayers can afford.”
The unions’ demand of a 33 per cent pay raise over three years for CRA employees could cost Canadians close to $1 billion in taxes, CFIB estimates.
“The proposed wage increase would also be extremely costly to Canadians and add to their already heavy tax burden,” Kelly said.
Among its list of demands, CFIB is asking the CRA to maintain full service to small businesses, ensure clear communication of small business owners’ responsibilities in the context of a strike, and consider back-to-work legislation if negotiations fail.
A final round of negotiations this week between PSAC and CRA is set to kick off Monday.
CFIB, which has more than 97,000 members, is Canada’s biggest association of small and medium-sized businesses.
Canadian wildfires drive smoke into U.S., with no letup expected soon – CBC.ca
Northeastern U.S. airports issued ground stops early Thursday as the weather system that’s driving the ongoing Canadian-American smoke out — a low-pressure system over Maine and Nova Scotia — “will probably be hanging around at least for the next few days,” according to National Weather Service meteorologist.
“Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy, at least until the wind direction changes or the fires get put out,” Brian Ramsey of the NWS said. “Since the fires are raging — they’re really large — they’re probably going to continue for weeks. But it’s really just going be all about the wind shift.”
That means at least another day, or more, of a dystopian-style detour that’s chased players from ball fields, actors from Broadway stages, delayed thousands of flights and sparked a resurgence in mask wearing and remote work — all while raising concerns about the health effects of prolonged exposure to such bad air.
Across the eastern U.S., officials warned residents to stay inside and limit or avoid outdoor activities again Thursday, extending “Code Red” air quality alerts in some places for a third straight day as forecasts showed winds continuing to push smoke-filled air south.
Air delays, but few cancellations: Buttigieg
Disruptions to arrivals and departures were noted by a few northeastern U.S. airports early Thursday.
“Reduced visibility from wildfire smoke will continue to impact air travel today,” the FAA said, advising travellers who might be affected to check its website for updates.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, in an MSNBC interview, said the smoke was affecting the multiple airports in the New York-New Jersey, Philadelphia and Maryland-D.C. areas “in a big way.”
“If there’s good news, it’s that this has led to relatively few cancellations; we’ve been able to keep the system going through ground delay programs,” Buttigieg said, while noting that travellers to the affected airports over the next few days should check for updates.
Cancellations and postponements in the world of sports that began the previous day continued on Thursday.
Major League Baseball postponed a home game at Nationals Park between Washington and the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks to June 22. As well, the New York Racing Association cancelled live racing in Belmont, N.Y., two days before the facility is scheduled to host the final leg of the Triple Crown with the Belmont Stakes.
“Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday,” association president and CEO David O’Rourke said in a statement.
Plumes of fine particulate matter were experienced on Wednesday as far south as North Carolina. Health officials from Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Ohio and Kansas warned residents that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere.
In Washington, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered schools to cancel outdoor recess, sports and field trips Thursday. In suburban Philadelphia, officials set up an emergency shelter so people living outside can take refuge from the haze.
Air Quality Alerts over parts of the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic <a href=”https://t.co/A3RX3bxaUJ”>https://t.co/A3RX3bxaUJ</a>
In Baltimore, the Maryland Zoo was closing early Thursday due to the conditions.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state was making a million N95 masks — the kind prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — available at state facilities, including 400,000 in New York City. She also urged residents to stay put.
“You don’t need to go out and take a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller,” Hochul said Wednesday night. “This is not a safe time to do that.”
More than 400 fires burning
More than 400 blazes burning across Canada have left 20,000 people displaced. The U.S. has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada, among the countries that are helping in the effort to tamp the fires.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden by phone on Wednesday. Trudeau’s office said he thanked Biden for his support and that both leaders “acknowledged the need to work together to address the devastating impacts of climate change.”
Biden also urged affected residents to follow guidelines set by local officials to stay safe.
“It’s critical that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, listen to local authorities to protect themselves and their families,” Biden said on Twitter.
Smoke from the blazes has been lapping into the U.S. since last month but intensified with recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were considered out of control Wednesday.
Eastern Quebec got some rain Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said no significant rain is expected for days in the remote areas of central Quebec where the wildfires are more intense.
How ‘severe and unusual’ smoke from Canadian wildfires is spreading and what it means for your health
Vast portions of eastern Canada and the United States are covered in smoke and haze, as wildfires continue to rage out of control in Quebec and other provinces.
The smoke has prompted air quality warnings in many cities and towns in Quebec, Ontario and beyond in Canada, and resulted in hazy, apocalyptic skies and warnings in places like New York City and Washington, D.C.
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CBC News spoke to experts and consulted recent studies to show the potential health impacts of the smoke in the air — and the extent to which it has spread across North America.
“The levels of air pollution that we’re seeing today are severe and unusual in Canada and in parts of the U.S.,” said Rebecca Saari, an air quality expert and associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
“These are poor air quality days, especially in certain areas, where people should be aware and protecting themselves.”
She says such events are likely to be more common as climate change intensifies and prolongs the hot, dry conditions that wildfires need to thrive.
For June, the fire risk is considered well above average in almost every province and territory. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the risk is considered average. In P.E.I., the risk is low across the island.
Overall, people across Canada are facing an especially difficult wildfire season, and federal government officials have said their modelling shows increased wildfire risk in most of the country through August.
Roughly 130 forest fires are currently burning in Quebec, with just under 100 of them considered out of control.
A storm system off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia has pushed the smoke from those fires toward Ontario and to the U.S., with poor visibility as far south as North Carolina and into the Midwest.
It has also spread further east, and officials as far as Norway warned the smoke could affect air quality there on Thursday.
The air quality improved early Thursday in Ontario and Quebec, but was forecast to get worse in many parts of Ontario again later in the day and through the weekend.
How bad is the haze?
Different countries use different indexes to measure air quality.
While the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) used in Canada reflects current knowledge of the health effects associated with air pollution and measures on a scale of 10, the Air Quality Index (AQI) used in the U.S. is based on air quality standards and is measured on a scale of 0 to 500. The higher the value, the greater the level of air pollution.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the AQI exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered “hazardous.”
Meanwhile, the air quality in Toronto ranked among the worst in the world for much of Wednesday, near the level of Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, according to IQair, an online service that monitors and tracks air quality using the AQI.
The levels in Kingston and points further east in Ontario were considerably worse on both scales.
Those areas had among the highest levels of particulate matter — known as PM2.5 levels — in the country.
Those particles are so small — 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair — that they can go into the lungs and into the bloodstream, said Dr. Samir Gupta, a respirologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“So you can imagine the havoc that they wreak in the lungs themselves,” he said. “That’s the most sensitive organ to all of this in terms of breathing symptoms, particularly people who have underlying lung conditions like asthma.”
Air quality in terms of cigarettes
A recent Stanford University study quantified what breathing in that particulate matter would mean in terms of cigarettes.
According to the study, an AQI measurement of 20 is equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day.
The study noted that exposure to wildfire smoke causing an AQI of 150 for several days would be equivalent to smoking about seven cigarettes a day if someone were outside the whole time.
By that calculation, Kingston residents who spent eight hours outside Wednesday smoked the equivalent of nine cigarettes.
Most of Western Canada had a break from the smoky air after struggling with poor quality last month, though some regions, including Vancouver, were designated as “moderate risk.”
If an area has been designated as “very high risk,” Environment Canada advises the general population to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities.
It recommended that at-risk populations, such as young children, seniors and those with chronic conditions, to avoid strenuous activities altogether.
Many of the tips people picked up during the pandemic are useful now, said Scott Weichenthal, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal.
“If you have to work outside, wear a mask, a proper mask that filters out the small particles, like an N95 mask,” he said.
“If you don’t need to be outside when it’s very polluted, don’t be.”
Forest fire smoke envelops Toronto, bringing poor air quality, pollution
Environment Canada has increased the air quality risk level for Toronto on Wednesday, up from Tuesday, as forest fire smoke continues to blanket the city.
A special air quality statement remained in place for the city on Wednesday night, saying high levels of pollution had developed due to the wildfires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario.
The federal weather agency predicts Toronto will reach a risk level of nine on the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) on Thursday. The index measures air quality based on how it will impact health. That number indicates high risk during the day and means people may want to consider cancelling outdoor activities.
“There’s a ridge over Ontario right now, so it means these winds are consistently bringing in poor air quality,” said Trudy Kidd, an operational metrologist with Environment Canada.
On Tuesday, the city was at moderate risk and on a level five on the scale of one to ten.
Moderate risk levels mean the general population need not cancel “usual activities” unless you start to experience symptoms like throat or cough irritation. For at-risk populations at that risk level, people are urged to consider rescheduling outdoor activities if symptoms are present, according to Environment Canada.
Those with lung disease, such as asthma, people with heart disease, older people, children, pregnant people and those who work outside are at higher risk of experiencing health effects, the agency said.
Don’t light campfires, premier says
Premier Doug Ford commented on the wildfires and poor conditions on Wednesday during question period, urging the public refrain from lighting campfires.
Ford said half of the forest fires in Ontario were started by lightning strikes and the other half were caused by human activity, such as campfires not being properly extinguished.
When the index indicates a high level of risk, the general population should consider rescheduling or reducing outdoor activities if symptoms are experienced. At-risk populations should reschedule outdoor activities, according to Environment Canada.
“Stop those outdoor activities and contact a health-care provider, if you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath or wheezing, asthma attacks, cough, dizziness or chest pains,” Kidd said.
“Poor air quality will persist into the weekend,” Environment Canada said. The agency’s most recent statement was firmer than Tuesday, as the agency previously said there were hopes the conditions would ease by the weekend. A low pressure system that could bring in cleaner air may arrive by Sunday, Kidd said.
“Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Continue to take actions to protect your health and reduce exposure to smoke,” Environment Canada said.
Air quality and visibility due to the wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour. But wildfire smoke can be harmful even at low concentrations, it said.
Wear a mask if outside, Environment Canada suggests
If you must spend time outdoors, Environment Canada recommends wearing a well-fitted respirator type mask, such as an N95, to help reduce exposure to fine particles in smoke.
“These fine particles generally pose the greatest risk to health. However, respirators do not reduce exposure to the gases in wildfire smoke,” the federal weather agency said.
Environment Canada recommends the following:
- If you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath, wheezing, severe cough, dizziness or chest pains, stop outdoor activities and contact your health care provider.
- If you are feeling unwell and experiencing symptoms, stay inside.
- Keep your indoor air clean.
- Keep your doors and windows closed if the temperature in your home is comfortable.
- Take a break from the smoke by temporarily relocating or finding a place in your community with clean, cool air such as a library, shopping mall or community centre.
- If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and your face can help reduce your exposure to fine particles in smoke.
- Be sure to check on people in your care and those who may be more susceptible to smoke.
- Evacuate if told to do so.
- Review your wildfire smoke plan and make sure you have enough medical supplies if the smoke continues to be an issue.
Toronto-area school board moves recess indoors
Due to the air quality warning for the Toronto area, one school board in the region has opted to move recess inside for safety, while others say they are monitoring the situation.
The York Catholic District School Board said in a statement on Tuesday evening that indoor recess would be held indoors all day on Wednesday due to poor air quality.
The Peel District School Board said Tuesday that “strenuous outdoor activities” scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday would be cancelled, including athletic events. While outdoor recess is allowed to continue, it encouraged students to “avoid strenuous activity” and stay inside if they chose.
The Toronto District School Board made the same changes and issued the same guidance as Peel. Further, it said “TDSB schools will also ensure that HEPA air filters are continuing to be used,” and it will monitor the situation. The Toronto Catholic District School Board left the choice up to schools, stating that it recommends indoor recess be considered along with possibly rescheduling activities.
The Dufferin Catholic District School Board said it will also keep an eye on the air quality on Wednesday and that it would be going ahead with field trips due to difficulties in rescheduling.
Schools aren’t the only thing in the city that’s affected — in an e-mail sent to CBC News, Toronto Blue Jays spokesperson Madeleine Davidson said that due to poor air quality, the dome is closed for Wednesday night’s baseball game.
On Wednesday night, the Toronto Zoo said it would limit its hours from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday due to poor air quality from the smoke and provide protective masks to staff and volunteers required to work outdoors.
The zoo said it would also limit access to the outdoors for some animals as well as limit the amount of time that staff and volunteers work outside.
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