MONTREAL, CANADA —
Birds of a feather normally flock together, but the pandemic has divided Canada’s “snowbird” warm weather migrants into two camps: those staying home this winter and those heading to Florida no matter the cost.
Nearly a million Canadians make the annual pilgrimage, fleeing to the southern United States to pass what would otherwise be gray and snowy months with their toes tucked in the sand and ocean breeze in their hair.
The coronavirus has led a majority to forgo the trip this year — but for those flouting Canada’s repeated calls to stay put, the price tag on winter at the beach has skyrocketed.
With the land border between the U.S. and Canada closed for non-essential travel since March, Canada has implored its citizens to stay home.
“Now is not the right time for a vacation abroad,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, as the country’s second coronavirus wave surges with no sign of slowing.
About 900,000 Canadians spend a large portion of the winter in Florida and in other southern U.S. states, Johanne Blain, director of the Canadian Snowbird Association for the French-speaking province pf Quebec, told AFP.
She estimates that only 30 per cent of that number are doing so this year, however.
That said, rules on the U.S. side are fairly welcoming to sun-starved northerners: The country is allowing in Canadians who fly even for non-essential travel. Canada, on the other hand, is not admitting Americans under the same circumstances.
And while Canadians do not have to respect quarantine rules in Florida, they must do so for 14 days upon return home.
Those who want to make the trip by car or motorhome, meanwhile, simply take advantage of a legal loophole to circumvent the closed land border.
Michael Couturier, CEO of Quebec-based Transport KMC, leads the way.
His clients board a plane in the Montreal suburbs and arrive 12 minutes later in Plattsburgh, New York, where a KMC employee meets them with their vehicle, transported across the border.
The experience does not come cheap: Each plane ticket costs C$500 (around $390) and hauling the vehicle 55 miles (90 kilometers) across the border sets customers back $1,000.
Around 2,000 people have so far used the service, according to Couturier.
‘CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE’
“All we want… is to have peace of mind and be surrounded by joy, not gloom,” a “snowbird” who had recently arrived in Florida with her husband, told AFP.
“We can’t take it anymore, we just want to live our life, we are 60 years old, we decided to live in a motorhome,” she said, requesting that her name not be used.
Whether or not to head south is “a bit of a heartbreaking decision” for those who spend all year in motorhomes, Blain said.
Such snowbirds generally do not have a permanent home and migrate seasonally between Canada and Florida, often for many years, she said.
Snowbirds are also paying top dollar to have companies like KMC transport their vehicle all the way to Florida for an average price of C$1,500-1,800 — but it can cost up to $4,500.
“Thanks to the snowbirds, we had to hire more personnel to meet the demand,” Couturier said. “It’s a very good situation for us right now.”
More than 3.6 million Canadians officially visited Florida last year, or one in 10 people.
Blain said she and her husband will not be among those visiting this winter and did not want to run the risk of catching the coronavirus.
Florida has reported more than twice as many cases as Canada — around 1.2 million — despite having a population that is only a little over half the size.
“When you are sick, you are vulnerable, and on top of that not even in our own country, even if we do have functioning health insurance,” she said.
“We’re better off close to family, because you never know what can happen,” she said.
Federal government settles lawsuit with Canada's former ambassador to Israel – CBC.ca
A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge the details.
The federal government is refusing even to disclose the date the settlement was reached.
Vivian Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by Stephen Harper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced her with Deborah Lyons in 2016.
In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her mandate and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.
The following year, the former ambassador succeeded in adding to her lawsuit the name of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing her of intentional infliction of mental suffering.
A mysterious letter
Bercovici made an offer to halt her lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford in a letter she wrote to Alan Bender, a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter, on Nov. 5, 2019.
Radio-Canada spoke with Bender, who said Bercovici told him she wanted to do something to thank him after he had saved her life. Bender said he suggested dropping the lawsuit and Bercovici followed up with the offer in writing on Nov. 5.
The former ambassador wrote in the letter: “I would be prepared to end my lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford, with no terms or conditions, at the earliest opportunity … This is the clearest and most emphatic expression of appreciation I can make for your compassion and recent tremendous help that has saved my life.”
A copy of the letter was sent by an anonymous source to many journalists and media. Radio-Canada was able to confirm that it was written by Bercovici.
Bender, a Kuwaiti-born Toronto businessman who works in the field of international mediation, told Radio-Canada that he mainly works for the ruling families of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf.
He said he was asked by important political figures, including one from Israel, to intervene to help Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv. He said he saved Bercovici’s life along with her professional and personal reputation.
Bender said he doesn’t want to give any more details about how he saved Bercovici’s life and reputation without her permission; she does not wish to comment.
Bender told Radio-Canada he is an active member of the Liberal Party and that he acted on his own when he suggested that Bercovici drop the lawsuit. He said Telford and the government only learned of his involvement when he gave Telford Bercovici’s letter.
Bender made international headlines when Saudi Arabia’s authorities had him testify against a Saudi businessman, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was detained following the so-called anti-corruption drive launched by the Crown Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017.
Lawsuit remained active
According to court documents, Bercovici’s lawsuit remained active after the letter was given to Bender.
In December 2019, the month after the letter was sent, lawyers representing the Government of Canada were back in Ontario Superior Court seeking to have Telford’s name removed from the lawsuit.
In his January 2020 decision, the judge sided with the government on its request that Telford be removed from the lawsuit, and Bercovici was ordered to pay court fees incurred by the government.
After this date, nothing else appears on the court register in relation to Bercovici’s lawsuit against the Government of Canada.
Silence from the PMO
Sources first told Radio-Canada that there had been a settlement in the lawsuit. For three days, Radio-Canada tried to get information about the settlement and a comment from the government about the letter.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Justice referred those requests to Global Affairs Canada.
After directly contacting the department a few times and reaching out to the Foreign Affairs minister’s office, a spokesperson for Global Affairs sent this short response on Wednesday night:
“A settlement has been reached. We cannot comment on the details.”
It is still not known who leaked the letter to the media and why, or whether there is a link between the settlement and the letter. The email address the letter was sent from no longer exists.
Canada's COVID-19 case numbers show early positive signs – CBC.ca
Cases of COVID-19 are declining in many parts of Canada, but experts say those early positive signs are dependent on widespread restrictions.
Quebec, now under a province-wide curfew, has seen new cases decline. Ontario has showed 10 consecutive declines in its seven-day average, a metric that helps to spot long-term trends compared to daily numbers that can spike up and down.
Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, said most of the provinces seem to be declining.
“Ontario’s kind of uncertain, Saskatchewan’s growing still or again, but the rest are kind of flat or declining,” said Colijn, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health.
“That’s the first decline we’ve seen in Quebec and Ontario for quite a while,” she said. “In our models, it looks like a genuine decline.”
More tools needed
In B.C., for example, Colijn said the epidemic is stabilizing with strict measures such as telling people not to socialize outside their household.
But Colijn fears Ontario’s stay-at-home order, Quebec’s curfew and restrictions in other provinces aren’t solutions that people can sustain for months.
If people don’t limit their number of contacts with others then cases will start to climb again until vaccinations reach the general population.
“Unless we want to do this for six months, we do need to be thinking about throwing other tools that we have available at this problem.”
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Colijn said widespread restrictions, symptomatic testing and contact tracing remain cornerstone tools. But those tools should be supplemented with wider rapid testing technologies coming to the fore, which Colijn believes could support re-opening the economy.
Sask. heading in the wrong direction
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, divides the country’s into three main groups based on per-capita case counts:
- The top: Atlantic Canada, which has the fewest cases.
- The middle: Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., which have showed month-long improvements in COVID-19 activity following lockdowns. If trends in Ontario and Quebec continue, then they could be added to the middle group.
- The bottom: Saskatchewan, which Muhajarine said isn’t even heading in the right direction, with an average of 300 new cases daily.
Muhajarine is concerned about the steep climb in COVID-19 deaths in the Prairie province.
“On Dec. 1, we had 51 deaths and by Jan. 1 it tripled to 155,” he noted.
In the first 21 days of the month, another 84 people have died in Saskatchewan.
“We really need to reverse course,” Muhajarine said. “To do that, we need very strict measures with a stay-at-home order and enforcement of orders. When we see the case numbers reverse course, we have to get our testing, tracing and isolation regime back up.”
Restrictions on retail stores, restaurants and bars could help bring cases, hospitalizations and deaths down given how Saskatchewan is “stretched to the limit,” he said.
Even places with early signs of decline, like Ontario, will see hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb for a period because of the lag time from new infections in December, health experts say.
Essential workplaces key for Ontario
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., said the province’s seven-day averages are encouraging.
“We’re now more than two weeks past what would be the New Year’s surge,” Chakrabarti said, referencing people socializing over the holidays despite advice from public health officials and politicians to stay at home.
Now that the holiday peak in new cases is over, regular winter transmission of the virus is happening in the population, he said.
Chakrabarti recalls how during the province’s first wave in the spring, cases came down and then were stuck at a plateau for months, which he said could happen again.
Driving case counts down further would ease pressure on health-care systems and protect vulnerable residents of long-term care homes.
The key, he says, is to tackle where transmission is still happening: essential workplaces.
“We were seeing people getting infected at work and then bringing it home to their family, where it was being amplified,” he said of the first wave. “That’s still happening and something a lockdown doesn’t address.”
It’s why Chakrabarti and others advocate for:
“Yes, there are some people who are breaking the rules,” Chakrabarti said. “But we also need to look at the very different industrial setups because these factors are huge, right? This is one of the reasons why things haven’t ever really turned quickly in Ontario.”
Now hiring: StatCan needs 32000 Canadians to administer 2021 census – CTV News
Statistics Canada plans to hire 32,000 employees across Canada to conduct the next census in May 2021.
StatCan said in a press release on Thursday that individuals will be hired in “both big and small communities” to collect “crucial data that will be used to plan for the future.”
The agency says positions available include supervisory and non-supervisory roles between March and July 2021.
“Over the past 100 years, through the census, Statistics Canada has captured an ever-evolving snapshot of the country and its people. Canadians have relied on census data to tell them about how the country is changing and about what matters to them,” Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada at Statistics Canada, said in the release.
Arora noted that the data from the “large-scale nation project” holds even more significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we all work to respond to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we collectively pursue data-driven solutions that work for families, businesses and diverse communities from coast to coast to coast,” Arora said.
With COVID-19 in mind, Statistics Canada said the census process has been adapted to ensure Canadians have the opportunity to be heard “in the best and safest way possible.”
According to the release, census procedures have been redesigned to limit the amount of contact required to participate, with the majority of Canadians being able to complete the questionnaire through a “user-friendly” online application.
StatCan said it will provide all equipment required to keep census employees safe while on the job, and will have employees work close to home in their local communities.
The agency says census staff will “identify dwellings on maps, follow up with respondents by phone and conduct physically distanced in-person interviews, when required.”
According to the press release, census workers will be paid between $17.83 to $21.77 per hour, depending on position. In select northern and remote communities, StatCan says the rate of pay ranges from $29.25 to $31.25 an hour. In addition, all employees will be paid for authorized expenses.
The agency said applicants must be 18 years or older, eligible to work in Canada and able to commit to a “flexible work schedule,” including on evenings and weekends.
“As we prepare for the 2021 Census, we thank all Canadians who have trusted Statistics Canada to tell their unique stories and capture the diverse and changing portrait of our nation as it grows and evolves,” Arora said.
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