Stay home. Stay home. Stay home.
That’s been the consistent plea from public health authorities for nearly two months now.
Stay home to avoid catching COVID-19. Stay home to avoid spreading it. Stay home to stay healthy.
The message seems to have landed. Workplaces and public spaces have closed, leaving the streets of even Canada’s biggest cities looking like virtual ghost towns at times.
But that can only last so long, right? Surely stir-crazy Canadians will eventually look at the generally declining numbers of new COVID-19 cases and conclude that it must be safe to venture outside, just a little bit, even if the government is saying otherwise? Especially once blustery spring weather is replaced by warm, sunny summer?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to think so. On Thursday, in announcing that some national parks will be reopened June 1, Trudeau seemed to suggest that the decision was in part based on getting ahead of expected behaviours.
“We know that you can’t prevent Canadians from going outside when the weather is nice,” he said.
The latest data available from two tech giants’ tracking of Canadians’ movements during the pandemic indicates that the prime minister may be correct in that assessment.
Google has been maintaining mobility reports for many countries during the pandemic. The reports are compiled based on data from Google users who allow the company to track the locations they visit and keep a log of them.
The company’s latest report for Canada, which contains data up to May 7, shows that while Canadians are spending far less time at stores, offices and transit stations than they were before the pandemic, the numbers are slowly inching back to the pre-pandemic normal.
In retail and recreation – a category that includes restaurants, shopping malls, libraries and theatres, among other destinations – the amount of time logged by Canadians in mid-April was approximately 50 per cent below what it was before the pandemic. By early May, the drop was closer to 40 per cent.
Canadians are also, based on Google data, spending more time in grocery stores, pharmacies, workplaces and transit stations than they were even a month ago, and slightly less time in their homes.
The most telling statistic, though, might be the amount of time spent in parks. That figure was near or below the pre-pandemic baseline for several weeks, reaching a low of nearly negative 40 per cent in early April. It shot up as soon as May hit. On May 7 – the last day for which data is available – Canadians spent 32 per cent more time in parks than they did before the pandemic, according to Google.
Some of that can be explained by loosening restrictions in certain parts of the countries. Time spent in parks on May 7 was the most abnormally high in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, both of which have started reopening their normal societies. In Ontario, which has been slower to reopen, Google reports that park usage remains closer to pre-pandemic (i.e. winter) levels.
Apple has a different method for estimating movement patterns during the pandemic. Its Mobility Trends Reports compare current search volumes in Apple Maps for driving, walking and transit directions to pre-pandemic levels, on the assumption that fewer users asking for directions correlates with fewer people using each method of transit.
According to Apple’s data, the number of routing requests from Canada fell sharply in the second half of March and bottomed out around Easter weekend. There have been steady week-by-week increases since then, with May 8 bringing the highest search numbers since the pandemic began. On that day, requests for driving directions were at 85 per cent of their usual levels, and requests for walking directions at 76 per cent of their usual levels. Both of these numbers were regularly around 50 per cent in early April.
Public transit directions continue to lag well behind, having risen from lows of 18 per cent in early April to pandemic-era highs of 25 per cent last week.
Based on the trends in Apple’s data, it is entirely possible that requests for walking and driving directions could be back in the range of their usual levels as soon as this weekend.
This may help explain why Trudeau followed his comment that nobody can stop Canadians from enjoying nice weather with this: “You just have to help them do it safely. Continue to impress upon them the need for physical distancing. Recognize that certain areas are more vulnerable than others.”
From the prime minister, at least, it seems the message may be shifting from “stay home” to “stay safe.”
No difference between racism in Canada and the U.S., activists say – CTV News
Some of Canada’s leaders have said that systemic racism does not exist in the country the way it does in the U.S. However, Canadian activists say the racism black people face in each country is no different.
Former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday that racial tensions do not stop at the border.
“When people think about racism they look at what’s happening in the States and they put on these blinders, and they presume that racism… only exists when you can blatantly see it happening — when someone’s being choked with a knee, when someone’s being shot at, when someone is dying,” Caesar-Chavannes said. “That’s not the case of our reality every single day. Systemic racism, microaggressions exist in our institutions.”
Protests began last week in Minneapolis in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. The protests have since spread across other parts of the world and Canadians have joined in solidarity.
Despite a surge in anti-racism protests globally, Canadian author and activist Desmond Cole told CTVs Your Morning that is not a new movement in either Canada or the United States.
“Black people have literally been saying the same thing for generations and it feels like the desperation to be heard before — [that] we’re completely unable to live in this society — the desperation is what’s changing, but nothing that we’re saying is new,” Cole said in an interview on Wednesday.
Cole said that police are repeatedly sent to help when a crisis involves a black person because Canadians are still afraid of black people.
“We keep insisting that there’s no other way, but obviously somebody who’s trained in de-escalation, somebody who’s trained to talk to people, someone who doesn’t have a weapon, someone who can offer services and support, that person is obviously a better person to come and respond,” Cole said.
Cole said the federal government needs to look at other ways to help black people when they are in crisis rather than sending the police.
“When somebody is in crisis, what we do now is we say, ‘Let’s send several burly men with guns, who have a licence to kill to go and support somebody who may be in mental health crisis.’ We don’t care about the fact that maybe that person might be terrified of an armed response to their house.”
Caesar-Chavannes said racism in Canada can be seen daily when considering incarceration rates and health statistics.
“When you look at our health outcomes, when you look at our justice system and the overpopulation of our prisons with black and indigenous people, you have to really think about whether or not systemic racism does not actually exist in this country because I think it’s our lived reality every day,” Caesar-Chavannes said.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT RACISM IN CANADA
Caesar-Chavannes said politicians don’t have to look any further than the country’s Indigenous populations to understand that “racism has and continues to exist in Canada.”
Before steps can be taken to address racism in Canada, Caesar-Chavannes said there first needs to be “an accountability and an understanding [of] racism existing.” She said Canada’s leaders cannot throw around the term ‘anti-black racism’ without having concrete steps to help solve the issue.
“It needs to start with adequate, sustained and intentional funding for programs that address anti-black racism in a way that organizations [and] programs don’t have to keep seeking and looking for funding and jumping through hoops to get that funding,” Caesar-Chavannes said.
To do so, Caesar-Chavannes said “unusual suspects” — anyone who has “intersections of intersecting identities” — need to help drive these conversations forward and to suggest “ways for the government to actually create equity for equity seeking groups.”
Caesar-Chavannes explained that women, black women, Indigenous people, religious minorities and people with disabilities, among others, need to be part of the conversation to create change.
“We need to have those unusual suspects at the table. If you’re having the same conversations right now with the same people that you had conversations with two years ago, you need to really change and think about if you want, sustainable change and if you want lasting change — change that’s going to have a real impact with people on the ground,” she said.
At the beginning of the 43rd Parliament, Caesar-Chavannes shared on Twitter her 43 goals that she hoped to accomplish during the term, including increasing the number of black people in Cabinet, increasing the number of black staffers, and to understand that diversity is ubiquitous.
“We’ve not had an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) or a Deputy Minister (DM) of black heritage, a black person, in any of those positions since the formation of our country. And I think the federal composition of our system needs to be reflective of the population that it serves and that includes on the bureaucratic side,” Caesar-Chavannes said in an interview with Your Morning.
She quit the Liberal caucus in March 2019 to sit as an independent after alleging that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been hostile towards her.
POLICING AND CORPORATE POWER
Toronto community organizer and human rights activist Akio Maroon said in an interview with CTV News Channel that defunding the police would help address racism in Canada.
“Demilitarizing the police, defunding the police, that would be a start. I think Toronto’s police budget is $1.08 billion… And that is just way too much,” Maroon said on Wednesday. She added that that money could be spent elsewhere to better address the issue.
“The money that we are spending for law enforcement, we can move that money to mental health resources, we can have after school programs, we can educate our community members,” Maroon said. “There are other ways in which we could be looking at reinvigorating our justice system without this kind of carceral environment.”
In addition to the police, Cole said corporations can also be blamed for continued racism against black people, saying both of their powers should be disbanded.
While corporations including Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, Spotify and Amazon have taken to social media to share statements in support of anti-racism protests, Cole says they need to do more.
“Corporations have too much power like the police do. They are a huge part of this problem if not the main source of this problem, because all of this labour that poor people are doing is to serve these corporations while we die against it,” Cole said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found that black people are at a higher risk of in-hospital death compared to white people.
“We’re living in a crisis right now where people are dying of a communicable disease that we have never seen before this year, and corporations are still forcing people to go to work for minimum wage,” Cole said. “Black people are disproportionately dying of COVID, working for these corporations instead of staying home.”
Trudeau positions Canada as champion of co-ordinated global recovery plan – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will continue today to make the case for a co-ordinated global response to cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s poorest countries.
He’ll be among the leaders and heads of state to deliver remarks during a virtual summit of the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS).
Among other things, he is expected to promise that Canada will partner with developing countries, which stand to be the hardest hit by the pandemic, and help to rally the world behind measures like debt relief to help them survive the crisis.
That is similar to the message Trudeau delivered last week while co-hosting a major United Nations summit, alongside UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Without a global co-ordinated recovery plan, the UN estimates the pandemic could slash nearly $8.5 trillion US from the world economy over the next two years, forcing 34.3 million people into extreme poverty this year and potentially 130 million more over the course of the decade.
While no country has escaped the economic ravages of the deadly novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, developing countries, already in debt distress before the pandemic, cannot afford the kinds of emergency benefits and economic stimulus measures undertaken in wealthy, industrialized countries like Canada.
Bank of Canada holds rate steady, saying COVID-19 economic impact 'appears to have peaked' – CBC.ca
The Bank of Canada held its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.25 per cent on Wednesday and said it thinks the economic impact of COVID-19 on the world’s economy “appears to have peaked.”
Canada’s central bank has dropped its rate dramatically since the pandemic began, cutting its rate from 1.75 per cent in late February to 0.25 per cent barely a month later.
The bank’s rate influences the rates that Canadian borrowers and savers get from their banks on things like mortgages and bank accounts. The central bank cut its rate in an attempt to encourage borrowing and investing to stimulate the economy, but those rate cuts weren’t the only thing it did to try to buttress the economy from the unprecedented hit of COVID-19.
The bank also started a number of bond and debt-buying programs in order to make sure there is enough cash in the system.
It announced on Wednesday it will tinker with two of them because things are starting to look up, but it is still buying up government bonds at a record-setting pace in order to make sure banks have enough cash on hand to lend to credit worthy borrowers.
“The Bank’s programs to improve market function are having their intended effect,” the bank said. “After significant strains in March, short-term funding conditions have improved. Therefore, the Bank is reducing the frequency of its term repo operations to once per week, and its program to purchase bankers’ acceptances to bi-weekly operations.”
Bank of Montreal economist Benjamin Reitzes noted that “both of these operations have seen much less take-up (or none at all) of late.”
“The bank stands ready to adjust these programs if market conditions warrant,” the central bank said. “Meanwhile, its other programs to purchase federal, provincial, and corporate debt are continuing at their present frequency and scope.”
In barely two months, the feverish pace of bond buying to buttress the economy has ballooned the bank’s balance sheet by $125 billion, Toronto-Dominion Bank economist James Orlando calculated.
Slowing the frequency of new purchases is likely to bring that number down a little, but stimulus measures will remain in place for a while yet, CIBC economist Royce Mendes says.
“The bank had accumulated a large swath of short-term securities on its balance sheet, but now that those programs can wind down, the composition of the bank’s balance sheet is likely to change.”
Worst case scenario avoided for now
The reason for the bank’s cautious optimism is the bank’s belief that Canada has avoided the worst-case economic scenario that it painted in April.
The central bank now expects GDP to decline between 10 and 20 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, less than the 15 to 30 per cent decline forecast in April.
“Massive policy responses in advanced economies have helped to replace lost income and cushion the effect of economic shutdowns,” the bank said in explaining its rate decision. “Financial conditions have improved, and commodity prices have risen in recent weeks after falling sharply earlier this year.
The rate decision means that Canadians with variable rate mortgages shouldn’t expect any changes to their lending rate any time soon.
“The historically low mortgage rates currently in the market are here to stay until the economy approaches the level it was at before the pandemic started,” said James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial.
“This means that anyone with a variable rate can expect prime to remain unchanged. Fixed rates will stay near historic lows.”
Wednesday’s decision is the last one under the leadership of Stephen Poloz. Tiff Macklem was named to replace him. Macklem “participated as an observer in governing council’s deliberations for this policy interest rate decision and endorses the rate decision and measures announced in this press release,” the bank said Tuesday.
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