Chawathil First Nation lies just 600 metres north of the Trans-Canada Highway in southwestern B.C., but it feels much more remote when you try to log onto the internet from here.
That’s apparent when, from behind a Plexiglas barrier at the band office, finance manager Peter John attempts to run an online speed test to measure the dial-up connection.
It takes nearly two minutes for the page to load, and once it does, the meter shows the download speed is an agonizingly slow one megabit per second (Mbps)
With that kind of setup, it means students struggle with online classes, and the band can’t hold video meetings.
“Everything they could get out of the internet, they’re not able to really get it because it’s not there,” John said.
When the pandemic thrust most school, work and services online, it further highlighted not just how essential the internet has become but also the urban-rural divide around access.
The CRTC recommends that every household have access to broadband with download speeds of at least 50 Mbps, and the federal government has set a goal to have Canada-wide broadband by 2030.
According to the CRTC, nearly 86 per cent of households overall have that level of service currently, but in rural areas only 40 per cent do. In First Nation communities, it’s estimated that just 30 per cent of households have internet connections with the recommended speed.
And even while the connections in remote areas are often slower, the service tends to be more expensive.
Deanna John, a child-and-family advocate as well as a band councillor for Chawathil First Nation, said those in the community who have internet pay around $130 dollars a month, while others come to the band office after hours to see if they can tap into the building’s network. Some choose to take a 35-minute bus ride to Chilliwack to use the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, she said.
The limited internet has made it harder for residents to get health care.
John said the community’s doctor, who used to come about once a week before the COVID-19 pandemic, is unable to see patients online. Some residents have instead been driving to the nearby town of Agassiz for appointments.
“I would like [the internet] to be up and available … so we’re not struggling with our kids falling back on education and that we’re actually connecting our people to the mental health specialists out there,” said John.
John said the band had been speaking with Telus about upgrading the internet but was told it would cost tens of thousands just to increase the speed at the band office.
In the 2019 budget, the federal government announced $1.7 billion in funding to support high-speed internet in remote and rural areas: $1 billion is slated for a Universal Broadband Fund, for extending internet infrastructure; $600 million for satellites, which can help connect some of the most remote communities; and $85 million to top up an ongoing program called Connect to Innovate which helps fund specific community projects in rural and First Nation communities.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), a not-for-profit organization that manages the .ca domain and advocates for better internet service, says it is currently working with about 400 rural communities to map connection speeds neighbourhood by neighbourhood. The organization also runs a yearly $1.25-million grant program to help communities invest in projects including internet infrastructure.
“Canada’s internet service providers have passed over a lot of communities because they’re just not worth it financially,” said Josh Tabish, corporate communications manager with CIRA.
“This is where we need the government to step up.”
He said experts believe it will cost up to $6 billion to roll out broadband across Canada and he believes the federal government needs to act faster. The application for the Universal Broadband fund has yet to open.
Tabish said about one in 10 Canadian households have no internet connection whatsoever, and the pandemic has exacerbated the gap in connectivity between rural and urban areas. He said high-speed internet has become even faster in cities, while it has plateaued in remote areas.
In the meantime, he said, those without it struggle with daily life.
Spotty satellite connection
In the hamlet of Ryder Lake, residents have been pleading for better internet for years. The community is made up of sprawling acreages and farms that stretch up a lush green mountainside in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
The landscape was one of the reasons Sheri Elgermsa and her family of six moved here despite the fact that only satellite internet is available. When CBC News visited, her family was only getting about nine Mbps download speed.
WATCH | Family of 6 schedules online time due to slow speed, spotty service
“When we moved up here eight and a half years ago, the internet … was a social thing. It was nice-to-have,” Elgersma said.
“Now it’s become essential.”
When schools were closed back in the spring and classes moved online, Elgersma had to sit down with her four children and work out a schedule, as the internet connection would only allow one person to be online at any given time.
If there were any classes overlapping, she said, she would have to pick one over another.
Her oldest son, Elijah, 18, was often the priority, as he was wrapping up his final year of high school. He is now enrolled in a university program and has online classes two days a week, but even with no one else in the house allowed online at those times, the internet is still an issue.
“All of a sudden it kind of goes frozen and I miss half the stuff,” Elijah said.
“It’s a little bit frustrating.”
Canada's top doctor calls for 'structural change' to address COVID-19 inequities – CTV News
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is calling for “structural change” across health, social, and economic sectors in the wake of COVID-19, in a new report highlighting the successes and shortfalls in the country’s pandemic response to date.
“I do see COVID-19 as a catalyst for collaboration between health, social, and economic sectors, and I have observed at the federal level, but also from local levels, and provincial levels,” she told reporters during a press conference discussing the report.
Tam said that while there are examples of decisions taken that begin to address some of these shortcomings—such as increasing affordable housing availability and financial supports for low-income and precarious workers—these policies should be extended past the emergency phase of the pandemic.
“What I’m really, really keen to see is that this continues… The report is calling for this to be a more sustained approach,” she said. “Why can’t we have those governance structures beyond the crisis and into recovery?”
In the Public Health Agency’s annual report made public on Wednesday, Tam offers new insights and statistics related to Canada’s battle against the novel coronavirus over the last several months and the “serious threat” the virus continues to pose.
For example, in Canada:
- 80 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities;
- 19 per cent of national cases are among health-care workers; and
- 92 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had at least one underlying health condition.
The annual report is entitled “From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19,” and it gives an overview of COVID-19’s consequences so far, such as the disproportionate health impacts experienced by workers who provide essential services, racialized populations, people living with disabilities or mental illnesses, and women.
It also includes recommendations on how to improve the country’s pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery.
The report says the “structural change” should include improving employment conditions and conditions inside long-term care homes, increasing access to housing, as well as enhancing Canadians’ ability to access social and health services both in-person and online.
Tam said she hopes that in future pandemic planning, “it can’t just be health and public health making it known that all other departments and different sectors, and different aspects of societies need to be part of the response. We need to sort of build it in explicitly so that, you know, future pandemics and health crises have those other supports come into play immediately.”
As Tam argues, Canadians’ health depends on their social and economic well-being and the severity of COVID-19 illness may be influenced by their access to these kinds of supports.
“No one is protected until everyone is protected,” says Tam in the report.
Tam’s overall recommendations are distilled into three calls:
- Sustaining governance at all levels for “structural change” in health, social, and economic sectors. The report notes that the health of people in Canada was not equal before COVID-19, but that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing shortcomings. Tam suggests that more data needs to be collected and used to inform policy decisions to eliminate inequities and mitigate some potential long-term pandemic impacts;
- Harnessing “the power of social cohesion” to control and minimize the virus’ spread. She suggests this can be done by leaders sharing evidence and information to provide Canadians with confidence in taking public health precautions such as mask-wearing; and
- Strengthening public health capacity. Tam says that more work is needed to ensure Canada’s public health system is able to handle case surges while having the capacity to deal with non-COVID-19 health issues, including re-evaluating “what sustained investments and the future of public health would look like.”
The report also goes over the timeline from the first confirmed case in Canada and when community transmission began, to the various rolling restrictions and travel advisories imposed.
From a global perspective, according to the report, Canada ranked 79th out of 210 countries with respect to total cases per million inhabitants, and 26th for total deaths per million, as of Aug. 22. The outbreaks in Canadian long-term care homes are cited as a driving factor in why Canada is so high on the list of countries when it comes to deaths.
“Pandemic preparedness did not extend into these settings leaving residents vulnerable to the introduction, spread and impact of a novel virus,” the report states.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Tam was asked whether she thinks enough lessons from the first wave have been learned to prevent the same high rate of deaths in long-term care homes. She said that so far the scale of the outbreaks inside these homes is not as large, and efforts have been taken to improve infection control, but the virus is “very sneaky” and preventing more seniors’ deaths still depends on the actions all Canadians take.
“Right now the second resurgence, a lot of the cases are in the younger adult population, but what we’re seeing is that it’s beginning to permeate through other age groups including the elderly,” Tam said.
Further, analysis of international travel-related cases between January and March found that 35 per cent of cases entered Canada from the United States, 10 per cent from the U.K. and France, and 1.4 per cent from China. Once travel restrictions were imposed, 91 per cent of reported cases by August originated in Canada.
The report notes that in the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, individual and collective public health measures need to be taken to control the pandemic. However, “accurate, timely and clear communication” has been a challenge.
Tam notes that there have been “a number” of issues on this front, such as Canadians being exposed to a vast amount and varying quality of information and the confusion spawning from the frequently-moving goal posts when it comes to public health advice due to the evolving science.
“Information needs to be tailored and locally contextualized, while at the same time balanced with consistent key messaging being shared across the country,” the report states.
Tam is advising that as long as the virus is uncontrolled, public health officials and governments need to be transparent and provide regular updates on COVID-19 and up-to-date guidance.
It’s a part of Tam’s mandate to provide Health Minister Patty Hajdu with a report on the state of public health in Canada annually, which then is tabled in Parliament.
The report is based on Canadian data available from January to the end of August, and notes that because the virus and evidence around it continues to rapidly evolve, “the report was written with the knowledge that the story of this pandemic is continuing to change every day.”
TIMELINE OF KEY MILESTONES
- December 31, 2019: PHAC was notified of a pneumonia-like illness of unknown cause originating in Wuhan, China.
- January 22, 2020: Canada implements novel coronavirus screening requirements for travellers returning from China. Residents are asked additional screening questions to determine if they have visited the city of Wuhan, China.
- January 25, 2020: First presumptive confirmed case of 2019-nCoV related to travel to Wuhan, China confirmed in Ontario.
- February 20, 2020: First COVID-19 case in Canada from travel outside mainland China, from Iran, reported in British Columbia.
- February 23, 2020: First recorded COVID-19 case in Canada linked to community transmission.
- February 24, 2020: Alberta records first COVID-19 case in Canada linked to travel to the U.S.
- March 7, 2020: First COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home in Vancouver, British Columbia involving 79 cases.
- March 11, 2020: Canada surpasses 100 reported COVID-19 cases.
- March 12-22, 2020: Physical distancing measures are implemented across the country. All provinces and territories declare a state of emergency and/or public health emergency. Non-essential businesses close or have significantly reduced capacity; gatherings are restricted; schools close; advisory issued for those who can, to work from home.
- March 13, 2020: The Government of Canada recommends avoiding non-essential travel outside of Canada,
- March 16, 2020: Government of Canada advises all travellers entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.
- March 18–19, 2020: Additional international travel advisories and border restrictions are implemented: Entry to Canada by air is prohibited to all foreign nationals (except those from the United States); Canada and the United States agree to temporarily restrict non-essential travel across the Canada-US border; International flights are redirected to only 4 airports.
- March 28, 2020: First reported outbreak among temporary foreign workers in an agricultural setting, involving 23 people.
- April 7, 2020: Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health issue a statement supportive of wearing non-medical masks as an additional layer of protection for other people in close proximity.
- April 14, 2020: Largest known COVID-19 outbreak reported at homeless shelter in Toronto, Ontario, involving 164 cases.
- April 15, 2020: Lockdown in response to largest known outbreak at a correctional facility in Laval, Quebec involving 162 cases.
- April 17, 2020: First reported COVID-19 outbreak in an isolated northern community in Saskatchewan, affecting 117 residents.
- April 24, 2020: New Brunswick is the first province to ease physical distancing restrictions.
- May 6, 2020: Alberta reports a COVID-19 outbreak at a meat processing plant, which becomes the largest outbreak at a single location in Canada (by the end of August) with 1,560 people confirmed.
- June 17, 2020: First COVID-19 outbreak in a religious-cultural community declared in Saskatchewan, involving 285 people.
Timeline source: Public Health Agency of Canada.
Bank of Canada plans to keep interest rate near zero until 2023 – CBC.ca
The Bank of Canada says it has no plans to change its benchmark interest rate until inflation gets back to two per cent and stays there, something it says isn’t likely to happen until 2023.
The central bank said Wednesday it has decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.25 per cent. The news was expected by economists, as although the economy is showing signs of recovering from the impact of COVID-19, things are still a long way from normal, so cheap lending will be needed for a long while yet.
The bank outlined a fairly bleak assessment of the worst case scenario when it laid out its last Monetary Report in July. But the roughly eight months since COVID-19 began in Canada have given the bank a clearer picture of how things are shaking out, even if the picture isn’t always rosy.
“With more than six months since the onset of the pandemic, the Bank has gained a better understanding of how containment measures and support programs affect the Canadian and global economies,” the bank said.
“This, along with more information on medical developments related to COVID-19, allows the bank to now make a reasonable set of assumptions to underpin a base-case forecast.”
Rocked by COVID-19, the central bank says it expects Canada’s economy will shrink by 5.7 per cent this year, but grow by 4.2 per cent next year, and 3.7 per cent in 2022. Inflation, meanwhile, is expected to be 0.6 per cent this year,
1.0 per cent next year, and 1.7 per cent in 2022.
Those growth and inflation projections, however, are based on two leaps of faith: that there won’t be a second — or third — widespread lockdown in Canada, and that a vaccine or some sort of effective treatment will be widely available by the middle of 2022 at the latest.
“The breadth and intensity of re-imposed containment measures, including impacts on schools and the availability of child care, could lead to setbacks,” the bank said in the quarterly Monetary Policy Report that accompanied the rate decision.
Impact on mortgages
The bank’s outlook and rate decisions have real world impact on Canadian borrowers and savers. Fixed-rate mortgages are priced based on what’s happening in the bond market, but the central bank’s rate has a direct impact on variable rate mortgages.
So telegraphing that rates are going to stay low for long presents something of a conundrums for borrowers, says James Laird, Co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial.
“There is no wrong answer right now,” Laird said.
“Canadians who derive value from certainty should choose a fixed rate. For Canadians who are open to a little more risk, considering a variable rate is certainly appropriate, since the Bank is committed to keeping rates where they are for at least another two years.”
Economist Sri Thanabalasingam with TD Bank says the bank made it clear on Wednesday that the road to a full recovery will be slow.
“There’s a long way to go for the Canadian economy to emerge out of this crisis, ” Thanabalasingam said.
“The path forward is filled with uncertainty, most of which could set the recovery back a step or two, [so] the bank is set to continue to provide monetary support for many years to come.”
Bank of Canada keeps key interest rate on hold – CTV News
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says federal aid programs won’t last forever, making the comments on the same day the Bank of Canada targeted 2022 for an economic recovery from COVID-19.
The road to recovery is dependent on the path of the pandemic, and the central bank warned the road will be bumpy over the next two years.
Some businesses may never reopen, while some unemployed workers won’t find a new job, leaving some parts of the economy and workforce behind as conditions, hopefully, improve.
In a speech Wednesday afternoon, Freeland defended the depth of that spending, which will send the deficit to a historic level.
But she said she isn’t among those who believe “that deficits don’t matter for a government.”
“Whether on Bay Street or Main Street, there are no blank cheques, and there are no free lunches,” she says in the text of her speech.
“Our fiscally expansive approach to fighting the coronavirus cannot and will not be infinite. It is limited and temporary.”
She said the federal government will impose spending limits upon itself, rather than waiting for “more brutal external restraints” from international market forces.
Freeland didn’t say what those spending guardrails will be, only that she’ll have more to say on it soon.
The central bank’s updated economic outlook released earlier Wednesday said government aid has played a key role in providing a financial lifeline to individuals and businesses.
Changes to employment insurance and new benefit programs will increase households’ disposable income, officials write, adding that the bank expects government aid to provide important support to the economy throughout the recovery.
The country has reversed about two-thirds of the economic decline seen in the first half of the year, the Bank of Canada said Wednesday, exceeding expectations.
Officials estimate the economy will still shrink by 5.7 per cent this year, but grow by 4.2 per cent next year, and 3.7 per cent in 2022, meaning gross domestic product won’t rebound to pre-pandemic levels for another two years.
The road to recovery will be uneven across sectors and choppy over time, governor Tiff Macklem said, and likely to cause long-lasting damage to some people’s job prospects.
“The effects of this have been very uneven. I think that underlines the importance of the income-support programs that the government has provided to protect the most vulnerable, and that has underpinned this recovery,” Macklem said.
As for how long the aid should last, Macklem said it was up to the government.
The bank held its overnight rate target at 0.25 per cent on Wednesday, which is where it will stay until the economy has recovered and inflation is back on target. The bank forecasts that annual inflation at 0.6 per cent this year, 1.0 per cent next year, and 1.7 per cent in 2022.
The bank also announced Wednesday that it intended to buy more longer-term bonds because those have a “more direct influence on the borrowing rates that are most important for households and businesses,” hoping to prod consumption.
James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca, said the outlook suggests low interest rates until at least 2023, which is the earliest the bank anticipates the economy would be able to handle higher rates.
The projections for growth and inflation mark a return to the bank’s usual practice of giving a longer view for the economy in its quarterly monetary policy report.
The report said the six months of experience with containment measures and support programs, as well as more information on medical developments like vaccines, has given the bank a better foundation to make a base-case forecast.
Underpinning the bank’s outlook are two major assumptions: that widespread lockdowns won’t be utilized again and that a vaccine or effective treatment will be widely available by mid-2022.
The country has recouped about three-quarters of the three million jobs lost in March and April. Emergency federal aid has replaced lost wages for millions of workers, and provided loans and wage subsidies to struggling businesses.
The hardest-hit sectors, such as restaurants, travel and accommodations, continue to lag as the economy recuperates.
Workers in those sectors, as well and youth and low-wage workers, continue to face high levels of unemployment, the report says.
All may be hit hard again by any new rounds of restrictions, the report notes. Some areas of the country have already imposed such public health restrictions in the face of rising COVID-19 case counts.
“The breadth and intensity of reimposed containment measures, including impacts on schools and the availability of child care, could lead to setbacks,” the report says.
“Long breaks in employment have the potential for longer-term impacts on the income prospects of vulnerable groups.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2020
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