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Damages from spring derecho in Ontario, Quebec now top $1 billion

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OTTAWA — Repair bills from the cluster of wind storms that pummeled southern Ontario and western Quebec in May are now over $1 billion, and with contractors stretched thin the recovery will last well into next summer.

As recovery crews face another colossal restoration job in the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona in the Atlantic provinces, the contractors who step in when Mother Nature lays down her wrath cannot keep up.

Kyle Douglas, a co-owner at the recovery contracting firm CRCS DKI in Oshawa, Ont., fit an interview into his day this week in between meetings about whether he had crews or equipment he could send to Atlantic Canada, and negotiations with a company that specializes in booking accommodation and travel for disaster recovery workers.

“We’ve definitely seen a frequency uptick of weather events, ‘cats’ is what we call them in our industry,” said Douglas.

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“Cats” is short for catastrophic events. Douglas said it’s not unheard of for disaster recovery crews to go from one event to the next. After a major flood hit Calgary in late June 2013, the industry mobilized to head to Alberta only to be called back a month later, when downtown Toronto was underwater.

Douglas said that is happening more often.

“This is something we got to get our heads around for sure,” he said.

Fiona is believed to be the strongest storm ever to hit Atlantic Canada. The straight line of heavy wind storms that hit Ontario and Quebec on May 21 wasn’t the most intense wind storm in Canada, but it was the first time a storm of that magnitude swept through the most densely populated corridor of the country.

Referred to as a derecho, the storm began around Sarnia, Ont., and travelled more than 1,000 kilometres through to Quebec City over nine hours. It resulted in at least four confirmed tornadoes and multiple downbursts with wind speeds as high as 195 km/h.

At least 11 people were killed, mostly from falling trees as the storm caught many by surprise in the middle of a beautiful Saturday afternoon on the May long weekend.

The recovery costs are still mounting.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said the insured losses will top $875 million, making it the sixth most-expensive storm for insurance companies in Canadian history.

It affected more than 15 million people, and an estimated 1.1 million homes lost power. More than half of Hydro Ottawa’s customers went dark, and it took more than two weeks to restore everyone.

The utility has estimated it spent about $30 million to repair the grid, but a spokesman said there are still “vulnerabilities” in the system. The utility said it had more than 1,000 unique power outages and had to replace 400 hydro poles.

Hydro-Québec said derecho damage to its power grid cost $70 million, including replacing 1,125 hydro poles, 400 transformers and 40 kilometres of power lines.

Hydro One, which has more than 1.4 million customers in rural Ontario, reported fixing outages for more than 760,000 customers, replacing 2,500 poles and 500 transformers but hasn’t yet associated a direct cost with the storm.

The City of Ottawa says its storm bill is around $20 million, including damage to municipal buildings, replacing 175 traffic lights and 650 traffic signs. As of September, crews removed 450 uprooted stumps from city property but had more than 2000 more left to go.

There are also individual repairs that aren’t reflected in any of those costs. Like a $5-to-$8 million repair of the heritage building and airport hangar near the Ottawa airport, which is used to welcome foreign dignitaries. The Canadian Armed Forces said it could be up to two years before final repairs are completed, though temporary fixes allowed part of the building to reopen for use last week.

Other bills reported to date include $1.5 million from the city of Kitchener and $3.3 million in Peterborough.

Dave Barton, the mayor of Uxbridge, Ont., said his municipality is still adding up the cost. Along with Ottawa, Uxbridge, a township of about 21,000 people about 70 kilometres northeast of Toronto, took the brunt of the damage from the derecho.

Barton said the recovery “is starting to come together,” though a local church and several apartment buildings were damaged so badly it will be a long time before they are restored.

Douglas said his company spent about 100 days on the emergency repairs in Uxbridge, but is already booked well into next summer to do the final repairs to all the roof damage.

He said the recovery effort was hampered by the same supply chain issues and labour shortages the entire country is suffering from, but he was not expecting the emotional baggage that is coming with it.

“Everyone’s still recovering from the COVID hangover, so there’s a lot of heightened emotions,” he said. “Homeowners and business owners had a pretty rough year of being shut down, told to stay home, reopened, shut down, sent home — and then their business or houses destroyed. So from an emotional standpoint, this has probably been the hardest one we’ve ever dealt with in the history of our company.”

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

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be 'challenged' to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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World Cup 2022: How soccer is evolving in Canada – CTV News

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

Where do we get our story ideas? You. Emails, DMs, letters and tweets get to us and we read them all. Share your story with us and you can help us make a difference at W5@bellmedia.ca.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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