As Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips often says: “There’s never a shortage of weather stories in Canada.”
Once again, from coast to coast to coast, 2019 proved to be another record weather year for Canada.
Here are the top 10 weather events for Canada in 2019, compiled by Phillips.
1. Another record-setting Ottawa River flood
In the No. 1 spot is the spring flooding of the Ottawa River.
It was a perfect set-up along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers: Temperatures were below normal for seven straight months — from October 2018 to April 2019 — meaning the ground never experienced the gradual thaw that often comes with spring, nor could it absorb any falling rain. Upstream, the heavy snowpack was unable to thaw, and the region experienced several rounds of heavy rains over five weeks.
On May 1, the Ottawa River swelled, breaking the previous record in 2017. More than 6,000 residents were flooded out of their homes in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., and hundreds more from Pembroke, Ont. to Sherbrooke, Que. not to mention the flooding of precious farmland. As a result, two people died.
2. Active hurricane season as predicted
The 2019 hurricane season was a particularly active one, just as the Canadian Hurricane Centre and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration had both forecast.
Post-tropical storm Erin was the first to reach Canadian shores, on Aug. 29. It triggered flash flooding, though it was a bit of a blessing to farmers who had endured a dry summer until then.
But it was Dorian that will be most remembered. The powerful Category 5 hurricane produced winds of 300 km/h over the Bahamas and lingered, almost at a standstill, for 24 hours. Eventually, it made its way to Nova Scotia, transitioning to a post-tropical storm with winds of 155 km/h. It knocked out power to nearly half a million people across Atlantic Canada. The Insurance Board of Canada estimated that Dorian caused $140 million to insured property, with most of it in Nova Scotia.
3. (S)no-good Prairie fall
The West is no stranger to early snowfalls, but 2019 turned out to be a dinger. At the end of September, Calgary experienced a harsh, early, snowy surprise. Over four days, 32 cm fell in the city, the greatest depth of snow left on the ground in 65 years.
Southern B.C. wasn’t left out of the snowy mess; 35 to 50 cm of snow was dumped across many mountain passes. And a few weeks later, it was Manitoba’s turn. From Brandon to Winnipeg, snow blanketed the area. States of emergency were declared in 11 communities and more than 6,000 people were evacuated from First Nations communities.
4. A brutal FFFFebruary in Canada
February is often thought of as the harshest month of winter, and 2019 certainly lived up to that expectation.
Though the planet was experiencing an El Niño event — a warming in a region of the Pacific that typically brings milder weather to parts of Canada — the Arctic air took an icy grip on the country and wouldn’t let go.
In B.C., along the coast, reaching into the Interior, it was 9 C below normal. In Calgary, February was the coldest month in 83 years. And southern Alberta could just forget about the Chinook: in 2019 it was 14 C colder than normal in the region.
Meanwhile, Toronto received a year’s worth of snow in January and February alone. And Atlantic Canada? The region experienced its coldest February in 25 years.
5. Record heat continues in Arctic
Unfortunately, nothing changed in the Arctic.
Once again, 2019 proved to be another record warm year. In September, the Arctic sea ice reached its yearly minimum at 4.15 million square km, the second-lowest on record, tied with 2007 and 2016.
“The North is the most important story,” Phillips said. “It will be the most important story of the century.”
And it wasn’t just the climate — it was the weather itself, he said.
On June 2, an EF-1 tornado was spotted near Fort Smith, N.W.T., just the fourth confirmed north of 60 degrees latitude in Canada. In mid-July the Canadian Forces Station in Alert, Nunavut, recorded a searing temperature of 21 C — 14 C warmer than average. And on Aug. 10, there were several lightning strikes within 500 km of the North Pole, a true rarity indeed.
6. Too dry early, too wet later on the Prairies
While weather may just be an inconvenience to most people, for farmers it can mean the difference between putting food on the table or not.
And in the Prairies, farmers had to deal with some truly inconsistent weather in 2019.
Even before the growing season began, farmers struggled with some of the driest conditions since record-keeping began 133 years ago. Edmonton had its driest spring on record, Regina had its driest March and Winnipeg its driest first half of the year with a measly 91 mm of precipitation (its average is 235 mm from January to June).
But once the rains started, they didn’t stop.
Edmonton recorded 55 days of rain through June to August, tying for the most number of days since 1881. And it wasn’t just the rain: Alberta and Saskatchewan had an early, mid-September snowfall with more of the same — including rain — in October. As a result, many farmers lost large amounts of their crops.
7. How the Grinch stole…Halloween?
Sadly, instead of a treat, many children this Halloween received a nasty trick.
Unfortunately, for kids in the East, it was donning a snowsuit, carrying an umbrella or, well, no Halloween at all.
It was wet and windy in southern Ontario: the town of Stratford received the most with 109 mm of rain. In Port Colborne, winds topped 129 km/h.
Meanwhile, in Chibougamau, Que., 30 cm of snow fell. And there was snow and rain across Newfoundland.
But it was a delayed Halloween for 20 municipalities across Quebec, including Montreal, as the festivities were postponed by a day.
8. Spring missing in the East
Spring means longer days, the sight of green grass, budding trees and warmer weather. But that just wasn’t the case in much of Canada in 2019. And once again, it was the dreaded Polar Vortex who squelched our fun.
Across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin, it was the coldest spring in 22 years. By the end of May, less than five per cent of Ontario farmers’ crops had been planted.
In April, the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia had endured almost triple the month’s rainfall with some of the coldest soil temperatures in two decades.
In New Brunswick, Moncton’s average May temperature was almost three degrees colder than average. And once again, farmers felt the crunch across the region.
9. Saint John River floods again
Persistent rain and snow and a lack of thaw was behind the flooding of New Brunswick’s Saint John River once again.
At the New Brunswick-Maine border, the river had its largest stream flow in 67 years. In Fredericton, the river reached its peak at 8.37 metres, breaking 2018’s record, and coming in second highest after 1973.
It was particularly difficult for residents as they desperately tried to protect their property. Canada’s military was eventually called in to assist after 1,500 people were evacuated. Ultimately, 16,000 homes and buildings were damaged by floodwaters with 145 roads were shut down.
And while the province is no stranger to floods, Phillips points out that the last two floods — both the 2018 and 2019 ones — were considered to be once-in-a-hundred-year floods. However, the past year saw less of an impact than the year previous.
“There are lessons to be learned from some of these [stories], too, that we realize that the 100-year storm is becoming the 10-year storm,” Phillips said. “So we need to do things differently. We just can’t sit there and [say] ‘Oh,well Mother Nature is going to get us.’ We need to do something about it.”
10. Fewer fires, more burning
After an intense fire season in 2018, it was a fairly quiet fire season in 2019, with fires down 40 per cent across the country.
Roughly 422,000 lightning strikes were recorded in B.C. — which experienced its worst season in history in 2018 — far surpassing the average of 266,000. But the good thing is, it was accompanied by wet weather.
But it was Alberta that broke from the trend, where fires consumed an area roughly 14 times that of the average. It was the second-worst season on record. By the end of May, 10,000 people had been evacuated from their homes.
Ontario also experienced severe forest fires. In northwestern Ontario, forest fires caused poor air quality in several First Nation communities for almost two weeks, resulting in 2,500 residents being evacuated.
In the end
Phillips said there’s a message to be taken away from these weather events.
“There’s no region that I would say had the worst weather,” said Phillips. “It’s not new weather, though … it’s the same old weather that our grandparents talked about, but it’s just that the statistics are different: the frequency, the intensity, the out of season, out of place, anything like that that just seems to make it different than it was.”
And he reminds Canadians: “Mother Nature holds all the trump cards.”
Here is Phillips’ complete list of Top 10 Weather Stories of 2019 including a breakdown for regions across the country.
Today’s coronavirus news: Federal deficit hits $148.6 billion; Ford announces tougher COVID-19 restrictions as 409 new cases reported – Toronto Star
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
3:50 p.m.: The federal government ran a deficit of $148.6 billion during the first four months of its 2020-2021 fiscal year, the result of unprecedented spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result compared with a deficit of $1.6 billion for the same period in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
In its monthly fiscal monitor, the Finance Department says program expenses for the four-month period of April to July hit $215.7 billion, up $111.1 billion, or 106.2 per cent, from the same period a year earlier.
About $50.4 billion of the overall increase of $55.1 billion from the same period the year before was related to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which starts to expire this weekend.
3:45 p.m.: WestJet Airlines Ltd. is warning furloughed workers who receive the federal wage subsidy they will see their pay cut by up to 53 per cent starting Sunday.
The maximum weekly payment for more than 3,000 employees on furlough — a mandatory leave of absence — who rely on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) will drop to $400, down from $847, according to a WestJet memo sent out Wednesday.
Flight attendants called on the government to clarify when and how much money will arrive in company coffers via the federal subsidy in order determine whether wages can return to current levels.
“WestJet can’t float our wages until Ottawa fills in the blanks, so our members are seeing their cheques cut in half,“ said Chris Rauenbusch, who represents about 4,000 WestJet flight attendants — 2,500 are furloughed — with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Effective Sept. 27, the pay cut applies to all furloughed cabin crew and corporate employees. It was not clear whether WestJet’s 700 furloughed pilots are also affected.
3:30 p.m.: Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer is making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces in Winnipeg, as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in the capital city.
Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday there are 54 new cases of the virus in the province — 44 of them are in the Winnipeg health region.
In response, the city has been moved up to a code orange classification in the province’s pandemic response system.
Indoor and outdoor gatherings are also be restricted to 10 people.
The mask mandate comes into effect on Monday. Roussin said it will be in place for at least a month.
The restrictions will also apply to communities in the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region surrounding the city.
Earlier this week, the province’s top doctor said that in half of recent cases people had visited bars, pubs and restaurants.
Public health officials are consulting with the restaurant industry, Roussin said, and further restrictions could be coming.
For now, restaurants and bars can be open but people must wear a mask when they aren’t seated at a table eating or drinking.
There have been 1,764 COVID-19 cases in Manitoba and 487 are currently active. Thirteen people are in hospital and six are in intensive care. Nineteen people have died.
2 p.m. (updated): Ontario is making bars and restaurants shut down earlier and is closing all strip clubs in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 rates in the province.
The measures take effect Saturday, with bars and restaurants ordered to stop serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and to close by midnight except for takeout and delivery.
The province is also ordering all strip clubs to close.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said outbreak clusters in the establishments, particularly among people in the 20-39 age group who account for the majority of new infections, are driving the growth of COVID-19, along with private social gatherings.
The move comes after the province changed the rules surrounding social gatherings last week, lowering the number of people permitted at outdoor events to 25 and indoor events to 10.
Ontario reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and one new death related to the virus.
1:45 p.m. A court has ordered the Ontario government to restore health insurance coverage for residents who face medical emergencies while travelling outside of the country.
The Out-Of-Country Travellers Program was eliminated by Premier Doug Ford’s government on Jan. 1, when the province stopped paying for emergency health care coverage for those who travelled abroad.
In a ruling released Wednesday, the Ontario Divisional Court said the province must reinstate the $200-to-$400-per-day coverage for emergency in-patient services and the as much to $50 per day for emergency outpatient and doctor services.
“The Canadian Snowbird Association is pleased with the court’s decision,” said Karen Huestis, president of the association that took the government to court.
“The ruling affirms the right of Ontario residents to out-of-country emergency insurance coverage, as required by the Canada Health Act.”
12:58 p.m. A group representing amusement fair operators is calling for government support, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to its industry.
The Canadian Association of Amusement Operators says its members have lost nearly all of their projected revenue for the year as many annual fairs and carnivals have been cancelled.
The group says operators still have to deal with expenses such as insurance, rent and maintenance despite not being able to hold their events.
It says fairs offer cultural and economic value to communities, noting that individual amusement operators can employ between seven to 100 employees.
The group warns that without support, such events may not be able to return in the future.
It is asking both federal and provincial governments for support.
12:48 p.m. The federal Conservatives have been denied their request to have the House of Commons sit this weekend to debate new COVID-19 aid legislation.
Opposition House leader Gerard Deltell said earlier Friday the provisions in the bill demand detailed and urgent scrutiny.
Bill C-2 is scheduled for debate next Monday and Tuesday.
Deltell proposed that all of Sunday be devoted to studying it as well, in what’s known as a committee of the whole.
That format gives MPs a chance to grill the government without the more restrictive timelines that characterize regular debate.
But the Conservative motion in the House of Commons did not receive the unanimous consent it needed to pass Friday.
12:05 p.m. The federal government has signed a deal with AstraZeneca to get up to 20 million doses of its experimental vaccine for COVID-19.
At the same time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is spending $440 million to join the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX, as well as the COVAX market fund to help less wealthy countries buy access to vaccines as well.
Canada’s commitment under COVAX is split equally in half, with $220 million securing 15 million more doses of vaccines for Canadians, and $220 million to help low and middle-income nations buy doses.
The deal with AstraZeneca is the sixth such private pact with vaccine makers for Canada.
12:00 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting a new case of COVID-19 today.
The new case is an individual between 30 and 39 years old in the Bathurst region.
Public Health says the case is related to travel from outside of the Atlantic bubble and the individual is self-isolating.
The number of confirmed cases in the province is now 200 while 191 people have recovered and there are seven active cases.
11:34 a.m. The federal Conservatives say they want the House of Commons to sit this weekend to debate new COVID-19 aid legislation.
Opposition House leader Gerard Deltell says the provisions in the bill demand detailed and urgent scrutiny.
Past COVID-19 legislation has passed fairly swiftly with all-party consent but at the time, Parliament was not sitting as normal.
Now it is, and Deltell is suggesting that putting the new bill through the ordinary legislative paces will take too long.
Among other things, Bill C-2 would create a new benefits regime to support those who have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the existing emergency response benefit is scheduled to end Saturday.
He wouldn’t say whether his party actually agrees or disagrees with those measures, only that Conservative MPs want to ensure they are fully scrutinized to make sure they are best for Canadians.
11:30 a.m.: A Queen’s University student who lives in residence has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Kingston, Ont., university says the student is self-isolating.
Close contacts of the individual will be contacted by public health officials as the case is investigated.
11:10 a.m.: Quebec has recorded 637 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 70,307, the provincial health ministry said on Friday.
While there were no deaths from COVID-19 recorded during the past 24 hours, four deaths between Sept. 13 and 23 are now believed to be from the disease, brining the total number of deaths in Quebec to 5,814.
11:03 a.m. The number of total active COVID-19 cases in publicly funded schools across Ontario has jumped to 238.
In its latest data released Friday morning, the province reported 29 more school-related cases — 10 more students were infected for a total of 110; 10 more staff members for a total of 50 and 9 more individuals who weren’t identified for a total of 78.
There are 198 schools with an active case, which the province notes is 4.1 per cent of the 4,828 publicly funded schools.
11:03 a.m. Some Ontario pharmacies started offering COVID-19 tests on Friday as the province tries to ease the burden on busy assessment centres.
The appointment-only tests, however, can only be requested by certain asymptomatic individuals — and just who qualifies and how they can get the test was already causing some confusion.
One woman alerted to possible exposure by the COVID Alert app lined up to get a test before a Shoppers Drug Mart opened at 8 a.m. in downtown Toronto but learned she wasn’t eligible.
Laura Smith said she also didn’t realize pharmacy testing was by appointment only, and that she struggled to find information after getting the alert Thursday night.
“I didn’t see where to schedule so I came by,” said Smith, who said it was her first time trying to get tested.
“Now I know,” she said with a shrug, adding that she planned to head to an assessment centre to wait in line.
The pharmacy tests — available at up to 60 locations across Ontario — are being offered to select asymptomatic individuals, such as those with loved ones in long-term care homes, close contacts of a case or high-risk workers
10:43 a.m. In late May, as spring turned to summer, Premier Doug Ford told every Ontarian who wanted a COVID-19 test to go get one — even if they didn’t have symptoms. “Just show up,” he said.
This week, as summer turned to fall, that offer was revoked. Ontario will no longer test asymptomatic people who arrive at assessment centres and have no exposure to a confirmed case or outbreak, with narrow exceptions, officials said Thursday.
Data from the province’s public health agency backs up the policy switch, demonstrating that this type of testing is of extremely low value, while carrying significant costs. Swabbing huge volumes of asymptomatic people burdens the system — contributing to the long lineups and lagging turnaround times that have plagued Ontario — and discovers few new cases.
Experts praised Thursday’s announcement, calling it overdue.
But they warned it could be challenging to communicate the change to the public — especially since Ford announced just Wednesday that 60 pharmacies would offer COVID testing, but only for asymptomatic people. Officials clarified Thursday that pharmacies would offer tests to those with confirmed exposures and other targeted groups.
10:30 a.m. The next Ontario election is supposed to be 615 days away, but the Progressive Conservatives will officially nominate the party’s 72 MPPs as candidates on Saturday, the Star has learned.
Senior Tory insiders, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations, say they will also have standard-bearers in the other 52 Ontario ridings they do not hold by next March.
But the first priority is to ensure incumbents, who are not being challenged for their nominations, are ready to go.
That has triggered speculation at Queen’s Park that Premier Doug Ford may call an election before the scheduled June 2, 2022 vote.
10:18 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting another 409 cases of COVID-19. Locally, there are 204 new cases in Toronto with 66 in Peel and 40 in Ottawa. Sixty-five per cent of Friday’s’s cases are in people under the age of 40. More than 41,800 tests were completed.
9:46 a.m. Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health has confirmed that they have successfully secured additional doses of the influenza vaccine for the region this year.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced in June that Public Health had appealed to the province for more doses of the flu shot. He said that the region would need to “prepare for the worst” if the request didn’t come through.
Influenza typically causes a 10 to 15 per cent admission pattern in KFL&A area hospitals, Dr. Moore noted, as well as a 20 to 30 per cent increase in emergency department visits. COVID-19 and the flu also present similarly, particularly in adult patients, meaning a high flu prevalence could strain local COVID-19 testing capacity, as people try to distinguish the ailments.
By inoculating more people against influenza, Public Health hopes to reduce the overall strain it typically exerts on the health care system, and spare resources for managing COVID-19.
The Ontario government appears to be applying the same logic. On Tuesday, the province’s Health Minister Christine Elliot unveiled details of a fall pandemic response plan. The first of six “pillars” in the plan is aggressive flu vaccination.
“The Ontario government is implementing the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history,” the government announced. “The campaign is part of the province’s comprehensive plan to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19.”
8:44 a.m. With only one week separating the end of one and the start of the other, the Tour de France and the French Open were shaping up as a double bill of sports entertainment, with masked but nevertheless live crowds, that would bear out President Emmanuel Macron’s arguments that the country can live with the coronavirus. The virus, however, had different ideas.
Whereas the three-week Tour reached Paris last Sunday having pulled off the coup of getting through the country’s worsening epidemic without any virus positives among its 176 riders, the French Open isn’t proving so lucky with its timing. Play is still scheduled to start Sunday, but organizers’ plans to have thousands of spectators there each day to cheer for Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and others are being drastically scaled back as infections soar across France.
Last Sunday, tournament director Guy Forget had appeared in upbeat mood on French TV with the exhausted-looking Tour director, who tested positive himself during the race and hadn’t been sure it would get to Paris. Forget congratulated him for the cycling roadshow that drew smaller but still sizable and enthusiastic crowds, and looked forward to welcoming 5,000 spectators per day at Roland Garros. Although postponed from their usual slots in June and July both events decided not to cancel, unlike many others as the virus spread across the globe.
“Thanks to the Tour, thanks to tennis, sports are resuming again,” Forget said. “We want to experience beautiful emotions.
“If it’s 5,000 spectators, that’s better than nothing,” he added. “We see the glass half full.”
Less so now.
On Thursday, hours after the tennis tournament carried out a socially-distanced electronic draw, with no players present, France’s prime minister announced that new crowd-size limits introduced this week in Paris and other cities would also apply to Roland Garros. His office confirmed Friday that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed each day. Three weeks ago, the tournament had still been planning for 11,500, divided between its Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen and Simonne Mathieu arenas. That was then cut last week to 5,000 and now to 1,000.
8:24 a.m. The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee agreed to cut costs by simplifying next year’s games in 52 areas, including staffing and events.
The number of staff and stakeholders will be reduced by 10-15 per cent, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said in a press conference Friday, following a two-day meeting with IOC executives on how to simplify the postponed games. Some events including opening ceremonies, as well as services such as food and transportation, will be scaled back.
“The opening ceremonies need to be inspirational, but not too festive,” Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto said in the same briefing. “We are starting to modify the details.”
The local sponsors of the Tokyo games have yet to extend their contracts, which are set to expire in December, Muto said. The total amount that will be saved from the simplification has yet to be estimated, as has the limitation to the number of spectators, he said.
IOC member John Coates, who also joined the briefing via teleconference, said he isn’t concerned about the athletes’ qualification process as the federations are managing it well.
Originally scheduled for this summer, the event was postponed by a year in March due to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 1 million people worldwide. Organizers had earlier said they were considering cost-cuts in more than 200 areas.
6:46 a.m. Tottenham received a bye Friday to advance to a League Cup meeting with Chelsea after its game against Leyton Orient was called off due to a coronavirus outbreak at the fourth-tier team.
Tottenham will now host Chelsea on Tuesday in the fourth round in a run of three home games in three different competitions across five days. Jose Mourinho’s side plays Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday and Maccabi Haifa in Europa League qualifying on Thursday.
Orient’s League Two game on Saturday against Walsall has also been called off due to members of the squad having to self-isolate.
The east London club had hoped to rearrange the match against Tottenham after it was called off hours before Tuesday’s kickoff. League Cup organizers decided that it “was unable to fulfil its obligations to complete the fixture … and shall therefore forfeit the tie.”
6:18 a.m. Cyprus is ramping up coronavirus testing for soccer players and shutting down smaller stadium locker rooms following the emergence of large clusters of COVID-19 infections at two first division teams.
Officials from the health ministry and the Cypriot soccer federation have decided to carry out random coronavirus tests on five people from each of 20 teams from all divisions every week. Another 7,000 tests will be carried out on players from all divisions except the first division.
All stadium locker rooms smaller than a certain size will be closed and health officials will start inspections of all soccer stadiums and team installations to ensure health protocols are followed.
Any player who tests positive for COVID-19 is immediately placed in isolation under the existing protocols. Players who test negative within 24 hours of a confirmed case will be allowed to return to practice and take part in scheduled matches.
Cypriot clubs Nea Salamina and Ethnikos Achnas recently saw a spike in coronavirus infections.
5:54 a.m. Angry restaurant and bar owners are demonstrating in Marseille to challenge a French government order to close all public venues as of Saturday to battle resurgent virus infections.
The protesters, and local officials in France’s second-biggest city, are also threatening legal action, to try to block the order via the courts. They argue that Marseille’s virus case rise has been stabilizing, and that the central government in Paris is unfairly singling out Marseille for the toughest virus measures in the nation.
The government argues that hospitals in this Mediterranean city are under strain and the closures are the only way to stem the spread while avoiding new lockdowns. The French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe is under similar orders.
The central government also ordered less severe new restrictions for a dozen other cities, including Paris, where infections and hospitalizations are growing but the rate of infection per 100,000 people is lower than Marseille or Guadeloupe.
On Thursday France reported more than 16,000 new infections, and more than 10% of intensive care beds nationwide are now occupied by COVID-19 patients. France has reported 31,511 virus-related deaths, among the highest tolls in Europe.
4 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will join Canada’s top public health officers Friday for their daily update on the worsening COVID-19 health crisis.
Trudeau is expected to have an announcement about his government’s ongoing efforts to protect Canadians and combat the potentially deadly novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
But he’s also expected to start joining chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her deputy, Howard Njoo, more regularly at their daily briefings — a sign of how serious the second wave of COVID-19 has already become.
During the first wave last spring, Trudeau held daily news conferences outside his home, Rideau Cottage, but those tailed off and finally stopped as the pandemic went into a bit of a lull over the summer.
The coronavirus is now back, with caseloads spiking dramatically in the four largest provinces over the past few weeks.
4 a.m. Some Ontario pharmacies will begin offering COVID-19 tests Friday as the province tries to ease the burden on busy assessment centres.
Up to 60 pharmacies are offering the appointment-only tests to certain asymptomatic individuals, such as those with loved ones in long-term care homes, close contacts of a case or high-risk workers.
Meanwhile, the government announced yesterday that the province’s assessment centres will now focus on testing those with symptoms, exposure to a case and people involved in outbreak investigations.
Premier Doug Ford had previously said anyone who wanted a test could get one at an assessment centre but changed that message yesterday.
That means some people with no symptoms who are simply seeking reassurance they don’t have the virus will not be able to access testing offered by the province.
Ford is also expected to announce another part of the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan Friday.
4 a.m. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he’s urging his MPs to be hypervigilant amid concerns they could bring COVID-19 from Ottawa back to their ridings.
But he won’t stop them from using the same private testing clinic he did after he was turned away from a public facility in Ottawa that was over capacity. “Well, what I’m actually going to do is try and get (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau off his duff to get some tests so that people can do in their home like they can in most G7 countries,” O’Toole said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.
O’Toole is nearing his final days in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. He first sought testing at a public site last Wednesday, but after several hours in line, was turned away.
A call to the public health office for MPs directed him to a clinic and he went the next day without realizing it was a fully private establishment set up for MPs, he said.
He had thought he was going directly to the same kind of private laboratory used for medical testing by many Canadians.
“So should there be a special clinic where people get superior access? No,” he said.
Thursday 5:36 p.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting the second consecutive day with slightly slower COVID-19 growth than recent days, according to the Star’s latest count.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the health units were reporting another 416 new confirmed or probable cases, slightly below a trend that has seen the rate of new infections grow at an accelerating pace since early August.
The province’s seven-day average for new cases is now at 414 new cases daily, slightly more than double what the health units were reporting 11 days ago on Sept. 13. Earlier this week, that average had been on a pace to double about every nine days.
Ontario last saw such rapid exponential growth before the pandemic’s first peak in the spring. Although Ontario is still well below that peak level — about 600 infections a day, reported in late April — the current rate of case growth, if sustained, would see the average eclipse that rate by early October.
Thursday saw significant case totals reported across the province: Toronto reported 191 new cases, it’s most since early June; Ottawa reported 82; York Region added 35; Waterloo Region 18; Durham Region 17 and Halton Region 16.
Peel Region meanwhile reported a relatively low 23 new cases, its lowest 24-hour total this month. (The health unit has averaged 79 cases a day over the last seven days)
The province has now seen a total of 50,810 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,876 deaths.
No new fatal cases were reported in the last 24 hours.
The vast majority of the province’s COVID-19 patients have since recovered, and the recent rise in cases has not yet resulted in an equivalent jump in hospitalizations or deaths. That’s in part because the recent increase has not yet hit the vulnerable outbreak settings — like long-term-care homes — which produced thousands of serious illnesses among highly vulnerable populations in the spring. Rates of hospitalization and death have also tended to lag behind weeks behind case jumps.
The province lists 3,774 active cases of the disease, a number that has been rising in recent weeks.
The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.
The province cautions its separate data, published daily at 10:30 a.m., may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”
Ottawa prepares to squeeze big U.S. tech firms over loss of revenue for Canadian news outlets – CBC.ca
Advocates for Canada’s news media sector have welcomed the federal government’s clearest pledge yet to squeeze web giants for compensation. But there’s evidence it will be a long, difficult process.
Major U.S.-based tech firms such as Facebook and Google have long been accused of funnelling advertising revenues away from Canada’s struggling news organizations while not paying the outlets for their copyrighted content.
In its throne speech on Wednesday, the Liberal government put it this way: “Web giants are taking Canadians’ money while imposing their own priorities.”
In the speech, read by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, the government vowed, “Things must change, and will change.”
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has been signalling his intent to take on the Silicon Valley companies for months, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis, there was no guarantee that it would remain a legislative priority.
Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, said after the speech that he was encouraged by the government’s message.
“We’ve felt for a long time that we’re contributing a lot to these platforms and getting nothing back,” he told CBC News in an earlier interview. “It’s because we’re in this essentially powerless position that we’re asking government to intervene.”
His newspaper is among countless media organizations across the country imperilled by an ongoing loss of ad revenue, compounded by the pandemic.
A tally by the Canadian Association of Journalists at the end of April found that 50 outlets had recently closed and 78 had cut staff, resulting in 2,053 job losses.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an advocacy group, now estimates the job cuts in journalism have surpassed 3,000 since COVID-19 struck in the early part of the year.
Some news outlets have benefited from Ottawa’s wage subsidy program during the pandemic — and a tax credit-based media bailout before that — but the loss of revenues to web giants is seen as a longer-term threat.
“This is a six-alarm fire, and the government needs to act right now — this parliament — to start imposing the rule of law over these Silicon Valley giants that are cratering our industries,” said Daniel Bernhard, executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
Cox and Catherine Tait, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, were among the Canadian media executives who signed a joint letter to all federal party leaders in February, demanding fairer rules surrounding competition, copyright and taxation for online content.
Now comes brass tacks. We are looking forward to specific policy from <a href=”https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@JustinTrudeau</a> on 1) making sure tech companies pay their fair share of taxes and 2) are held liable for the hateful and illegal content they publish 3) support public and private Canadian media 2/3
Media, tech firms have complicated relationship
Guilbeault has been working on a plan to address the imbalance between Canadian news organizations and the web giants. As it stands, platforms like Facebook and Google can share headlines and snippets of news articles without directly compensating the outlets.
What’s more, the tech firms sell advertising on the content they didn’t create.
It’s a complicated relationship, however. Local and national media outlets also rely on web traffic driven by search engines and social media platforms — some of the sites most visited by Canadians.
WATCH | Regulations for tech giants to ‘pay their fair share,’ minister says:
“The days where the [tech] companies could decide just about everything … are over,” Guilbeault said in a recent interview.
While legislation could come as early as this fall, few details are known about how the government plans to address the issue.
The throne speech provided this vague hint: “The government will act to ensure [web companies’] revenue is shared more fairly with our creators and media.” The speech also alluded to tackling “corporate tax avoidance by digital giants.”
Guilbeault acknowledged he has “an uphill battle” ahead. Experiences abroad confirm that.
Experiences in other countries offer lessons
In France, Google refused to comply with a 2019 European Union directive to pay to use snippets of news stories. Instead, the platform removed article extracts from search results, leaving only the links.
The matter was hardly resolved. Earlier this year, the French competition authority ordered Google back to the bargaining table.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University Ottawa, said he does not expect Facebook to easily co-operate, either.
“The risk, if we move toward licensing links, is that news stories are going to disappear for Canadians from social media services” altogether, he warned.
Geist pointed to Australia, which has a population approximately two-thirds the size of Canada’s and may provide the best preview of the battle brewing here.
A draft code published over the summer by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission drew swift rebukes from both Google and Facebook. The plan would allow for news publishers to negotiate with the tech firms for compensation when their content is reposted.
In response, Facebook “reluctantly” threatened to ban the sharing of news articles on its platforms in Australia. Critics pointed out it would still be possible to post false stories.
Google, for its part, said the Australian strategy put the search engine and its sister platform YouTube “at risk.”
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“I think the idea is right — there needs to be some sort of fair exchange,” but identifying the correct process poses a challenge, said Andrea Carson, an associate professor in the department of politics, media and philosophy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who received a grant from Facebook to research online misinformation.
“I’m not sure any country, at this point, has worked out best practices yet.”
Guilbeault has been monitoring such efforts overseas and expects other governments will follow suit soon.
“If it’s two, three, four, five [countries], I think it’s going to become impossible for Facebook to start boycotting everybody,” he said.
A statement issued by Facebook on Thursday did not directly address the issue of compensating news organizations in this country. “We welcome new rules for the internet that support innovation, free expression and the digital economy,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
A representative for Google Canada said the company looks forward “to continued collaboration with the [Department of Canadian Heritage] to explore new ways to support the Canadian creator and media ecosystem.”
Guilbeault is working on requirements for streaming services to contribute more to Canadian content as well. Regulations are also in the works for social media companies to address harmful content — for example, the quicker removal of hate speech or any incitement to violence.
“We have worked hard over the decades to have a safe Canada in the real world, and that’s what we’re trying to translate onto the web,” Guilbeault said. “Right now, one could argue that it’s not really the case.”
Canada's top doctors reveal flip side to public praise: 'I've had death threats' – CTV News
The top health officials co-ordinating Canada’s COVID-19 response say the majority of public reaction to their work has been positive — but they’ve also received some abusive feedback that ranges from “well-thought-out insults” to “death threats.”
“I’ve got a lot of positive responses, but there are many people who don’t like what I do, or don’t like the way I say it or don’t like my shoes and feel quite able to send me nasty notes, to leave phone calls, to harass my office staff,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top doctor, speaking Tuesday.
“I’ve had to have security in my house, I’ve had death threats,” she added.
Her comment made headlines after she revealed the death threats she’d been facing — and it prompted reporters to quiz other health officials about how they’ve been treated by the public.
While the other public health officers did not report death threats, they said they had been on the receiving end of some abuse.
Dr. Heather Morrison, who serves as the top doctor in P.E.I., said she’s received a small amount of feedback that’s been frightening.
“Overwhelmingly, it’s been so wonderful,” Morrison told CTV News in an interview.
However, she conceded that “there have been threats, at times.”
“It makes me concerned for my family, and my children, and my staff,” Morrison said.
While some doctors, such as Henry and Morrison, reported outright threats, others said that while they hadn’t faced any threats, there had been a heaping of criticism levelled towards them.
“Dr. Hinshaw has received a wide range of correspondence from Albertans,” said a spokesperson for Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“While this includes strong personal and professional criticisms, she has not received death threats or hate mail to date.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said in her Wednesday press conference that it’s “unfortunate” people feel public servants “deserve to be the target of such harassment.”
“In the Public Health Division we’ve had our share of emails that aren’t necessarily in agreement with some of the things that we have done, but you know, we have to accept that as part of the job I guess,” she added.
Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said in her own Wednesday press conference that she has also been on the receiving end of insults — but no threats.
“I haven’t had any threats. I’ve had some very-well-thought-out insults sent my way, but for the most part, no, no threats,” she said.
RESEARCH POINTS TO WOMEN FACING MORE CRITICISM ONLINE
At least one study indicates that the numbers reflect what these doctors are describing — and may point to a gender divide in the negative feedback they face.
Erin Kelly is the CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., which uses Artificial Intelligence for human behaviour research. She studied the feedback these public health officer face using a randomized, controlled sample of 270,000 Canadians taken from Twitter.
Kelly said the randomized, controlled sample she studied was taken from Twitter between October 1, 2019 to September 22, 2020. She said her results had a margin of error of +/- 1 per cent, with a 95-per-cent confidence interval 19 times out of 20.
She said they found, overall, discussion about Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry was “well in excess of 80 per cent positive, so overall Canadians feel they’re doing a good job.”
“However, we have seen for some of them like Bonnie Henry, feelings about her have been on the decline since about April, and especially since July, that contestations questioning her competence have been increasing,” Kelly said.
She added that roughly a quarter of the discussions about Tam were what she would “classify as racist.”
“But the bigger picture that we see is a gender bias in how public health officials are being perceived,” Kelley said.
She explained that where there are negative comments directed at public health officials, “it comes overwhelmingly from men.”
She said that when this was compared to the comments Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams faces, “the comments from men were overwhelmingly positive.”
“So it’s not as though they’re always negative about public health officials generally, it seems to be splitting along gender lines,” Kelly said.
When asked about this gender difference, Alberta’s top doctor said it would be “difficult” to compare what she’s experienced with the feelings among her colleagues.
“It’s not something I’ve discussed with my male colleagues across the country so that might be something of interest to find out if they’re experiencing some similar frustrations,” Hinshaw said.
“I think it is quite understandable that people do feel angry, it’s just really important that, if people are feeling angry, that they frame their concerns in a respectful way…whether people in leadership are women or men.”
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