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Defence chief calls on Canadians to rally behind military during personnel crisis

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OTTAWA — The commander of the Canadian Armed Forces is calling on the country to rally behind its military as it faces an unprecedented personnel crisis that he says is threatening its ability to protect and defend Canada.

“We’re here to defend our way of life, now and into the future,” chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said. “So we need a whole-of-society effort to help us bring the Armed Forces back to where it needs to be for the dangerous world ahead.”

The extraordinary appeal comes as Eyre and his subordinates are struggling to fill around 10,000 empty positions at a time when Canada’s military is facing a growing number of threats and requests for help at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, the defence chief issued an order setting a new direction for the military after years of high-tempo deployments and operations, making recruitment and retention of personnel its top priority.

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About one in 10 positions within the Armed Forces sits empty after years of lagging recruitment rates and there is a growing shortage of non-commissioned officers and other mid-level leaders.

“We need to rebuild the Armed Forces, we need to get the numbers back up,” Eyre said in an interview. “And we’ve got to do it with a sense of urgency and priority because it is affecting our ability to respond around the world.”

Neither the order nor an accompanying retention strategy provide a clear picture of exactly why Canadians are steering clear of recruiting centres, or why the military is having trouble keeping troops in uniform.

The retention strategy instead emphasizes the need for better data on departures, while Eyre said military officers are “seized” with the same issue when it comes to recruitment.

The defence chief was quick to note that his isn’t the only organization having trouble attracting talent, with a labour shortage across the country.

But the Canadian military is dealing with unique challenges, starting with a reputational problem after reports of sexual misconduct involving senior leaders and concerns about the presence of right-wing extremists in the ranks.

Not all the difficulties are self-inflicted. Some are due to the nature of military service. Most Canadian Armed Forces bases and wings are located in rural communities, whereas the majority of the country’s population lives in cities.

“Let’s face it: Petawawa is a little bit different than downtown Toronto or even Ottawa,” Eyre said. “But to create the operational output required, we have to push people to Cold Lake, Bagotville and the coasts.

“So cracking that code — how do we incentivize movement to those locations — this is the big challenge.”

An opinion poll conducted on behalf of the Defence Department earlier this year found most Canadians reluctant to consider a military career.

“Asked whether they would consider joining the CAF, young men were more likely than young women to say they would, but overall, less than half of any group typically indicated they would,” reads a summary report.

“Men and women alike were deterred by the idea of having to leave their families and/or move around frequently, requiring them to uproot their families.”

The poll also found public concern about sexual misconduct and racism in the ranks.

Many of the recruitment and retention challenges are not new, and past commanders have rolled out a litany of initiatives aimed at fixing them.

Those include everything from signing bonuses in certain occupations to preaching the importance of diversity in the ranks and promising to weed out inappropriate behaviour.

Those efforts have continued under Eyre.

A new dress code dramatically eases rules around how troops can look and dress. Despite some outside criticism, the move has been embraced by many Armed Forces members as long overdue.

“The walls have not come tumbling down and we didn’t lose operational effectiveness overnight,” Eyre said of the new gender-inclusive dress code, which also for the first time allows long hair, fingernail polish and face tattoos while in uniform.

“I’m more concerned about: Can they fight? Are they fit? Do they follow orders?”

Eyre has opened the door to other changes, such as more remote work and easing the requirement that members be physically able to perform their duties and deploy on missions at any given time as a condition of employment.

The defence chief said he is also working to ensure troops can afford to live. That includes updating an allowance to offset the costs of living in more expensive communities, which has been frozen since 2009.

“The price of accommodation is skyrocketing,” he said. “But it’s more acute for our members because we expect them to move across the country on a more frequent basis. And so addressing that is right at the top of the list of things that need to be fixed.”

Eyre acknowledges that it has been difficult trying to change an institution with decades of established tradition — a tradition that he has been immersed in for nearly 40 years. But he says he and the Armed Forces have no choice.

“It’s a case of embracing them, trying or experimenting new things,” he said. “Because the path we are on, the stuff that we’ve tried, it hasn’t been working out that great.”

Asked about whether such changes risk turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool — single, white men — Eyre acknowledged the “paradox” that as the population increases, the traditional pool is shrinking.

But he says that underscores the need to embrace diversity, and that those who don’t agree with the changes probably aren’t who Canada wants in uniform anyway.

What Eyre says he needs is buy-in from the rest of the country, including a recognition of the stakes involved.

“It’s not just the Canadian Armed Forces that needs to be concerned about Canadian Forces recruiting.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Ontario pharmacists get greenlight to prescribe COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid – CBC.ca

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Starting next week pharmacists in Ontario will be able to prescribe the antiviral drug Paxlovid as a treatment for COVID-19, the health minister said Thursday.

Sylvia Jones made the announcement at a morning news conference in Toronto, where she said the prescriptions will come at no cost to patients. The new policy takes effect December 12.

There are about 4,000 pharmacists in the province who are already dispensing the drug. The prescription program will work on an opt-in basis, so it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to take part.

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Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said in a related statement the change will expand access to the medication, increase protection to the most vulnerable, and ease hospital pressures.

It’s a move Dr. Kieran Moore said last month the government was considering in part to help keep people out of hospital, especially in rural areas where access to primary care physicians can be limited.

The antiviral medication is taken orally within five days of symptom onset and is recommended for people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, including people over 60 and people who are immunocompromised.

The announcement comes as hospitals in the province continue to strain under pressure from multiple respiratory illnesses.

Across all ages, the number of Ontarians going to emergency departments with respiratory complaints remains well above pre-pandemic seasonal averages, according to Ontario’s Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES) database.

Some pediatric hospitals have stopped surgeries and other procedures to maintain capacity for patients seeking care for respiratory symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s children’s hospital has accepted staffing help from the Canadian Red Cross and opened a second pediatric intensive care unit, though others had not sought extra support as of this week.

Jones touted co-operation between pediatric and community hospitals one innovation helping to make sure more health-care professionals are trained to treat children with respiratory illnesses.

She also said it has been a difficult flu season and thanked health-care workers for their efforts under tough conditions.

“I really want to reinforce that these are incredibly dedicated, incredibly talented, educated people who have stepped up and continued to step up through what has been a very challenging virus season,” she said.

Throughout the surge in respiratory illnesses in Ontario, Jones has insisted that the province was prepared to handle it. With respect to steps some hospitals have had to take to deal with an influx of patients, both Jones and Premier Doug Ford have credited them with “thinking outside the box” and not doing “business as usual.”

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Bank of Canada raises key interest rate to 4.25 per cent, its highest since 2008 – CTV News

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The Bank of Canada has raised its overnight rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 per cent, marking its seventh rate hike in nine months. The last time the bank’s policy rate was this high was in January 2008.

The inflation rate remained high at 6.9 per cent in October, well above the bank’s 2 per cent target. Higher gas prices put upward pressure on the cost of most goods and services, according to the Consumer Price Index released by Statistics Canada last month.

The bank says the economy continued to operate in excess demand during the third quarter and the labour market in Canada remained tight. With unemployment remaining at historic lows, Statistics Canada reported average hourly wages rose by 5.6 per cent year-over-year in October.

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The bank says tighter monetary policy is affecting domestic demand in the Canadian economy, with declines in the housing market and consumption moderating during the third quarter. Since its monetary report in October, the bank continues to expect economic growth to stall through the end of this year and into the first half of 2023.

“The November GDP data showed us that economic activity in Canada had already started to shrink,” said Sheila Block, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Given that slowdown, any hopes for a soft landing have been crushed by today’s rate hikes.”

During a press conference following the bank’s last rate announcement on Oct. 27, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem signalled “the tightening phase will draw to a close, we are getting closer, but we aren’t there yet.”

On Wednesday, the bank did not rule out further rate increases to tackle inflation.

“Looking ahead, Governing Council will be considering whether the policy interest rate needs to rise further to bring supply and demand back into balance and return inflation to target,” reads the release.

However, experts think it will be difficult for the bank to raise rates during a period of low growth.

“It will be very hard for a central bank to raise interest rates when the economy is in a recession,” said Kevin Page, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy President and CEO. “I think it is highly probable that the central bank will not need to raise interest rates in the short term (next three to six months).”

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre blamed the cost of living crisis on the federal government’s increased spending during the pandemic.

“It’s another uppercut for Canadians,” said Poilievre. “It’s all because of the inflationary deficits and spending of Justin Trudeau.”

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for other measures to help combat inflation.

“The federal government has to do more to look at the solutions around inflation,” said Singh during a press conference in Ottawa. “Some of those solutions include acknowledging that high profits in the corporate sector — corporate greed — is contributing to the cost of living going up.”

In the House of Commons, Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault defended his government’s policies to address the increased cost of living.

“The bank is doing their job. We’re doing our job by making sure we have the fiscal fire power to face what’s going to come,” he said during Question Period. “We’re helping Canadians to buy a new home, we’re advancing the payments for worker benefits and we’re also making sure student loan interest gets removed forever.”

The next policy rate announcement is expected on Jan. 25, 2023.

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Media shunning transparency law due to worsening delays, journalist says

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Veteran journalist Dean Beeby says reporters are abandoning the federal Access to Information Act as a research tool because turnaround times are terrible and getting worse.

The access law allows journalists and others who pay a $5 fee to request documents — from internal emails and expense claims to briefing memos and studies — but it has long been criticized as antiquated and poorly administered.

Federal agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time to process a request.

The law has not been significantly updated since its introduction almost 40 years ago, and many users complain of lengthy delays as well as heavily blacked-out documents or full denials in response to their applications.

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Beeby, an independent journalist who spent much of his career at The Canadian Press, says bureaucrats now realize they face a much bigger blowback from releasing information than from withholding it — and the law provides a rich menu of excuses to keep things buried.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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