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Inside the RCMP's cross-country manhunt for 2 teenage killers – CBC.ca

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A ghosted girlfriend, a family home with guns and ammunition, and french fries left scattered around a murder victim. 

These are some of the puzzle pieces that RCMP investigators tried to fit together last summer in the wake of three killings in northern British Columbia, and the ensuing cross-country manhunt for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19.

The details come from a dozen warrant applications, newly unsealed following a court challenge by CBC News and other media outlets. They help complete the picture of a sprawling and confused triple-homicide investigation, one where the RCMP eventually got their men — found dead by their own hands deep in the Manitoba bush — but failed to ever uncover the motivation for their brutal crimes.

From the first instance, the remoteness of the crime scenes caused problems for police.

After a highway maintenance worker reported the discovery of two bodies and a shot-up van near the Liard River Hot Springs on Highway 97, near the Yukon border, early on the morning of July 15, it took officers from the closest RCMP detachment in Fort Nelson, B.C., three hours to make their way to the site.

There, they found the bodies of a young man and young woman, face down in a ditch. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds and had been dead for hours — “cold to the touch,” according to a trucker who was one of the first upon the scene. 

Police quickly established that the van belonged to Lucas Fowler, a 23-year-old Australian citizen who was in the country on a work visa. And they found a bank card belonging to Chynna Deese, a 24-year-old American, on the ground near the woman’s body.

But positive identification of the victims took a full two days. A search warrant for the van, obtained from a Burnaby, B.C. court on the afternoon of July 15, wasn’t executed until late the next morning. And then the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) demanded a warrant before it would hand over photos and passport information for the vacationing couple. (Fowler had entered the country on April 16, while Deese had arrived just days before their deaths, on July 6.) 

The bodies of tourists Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, left, were found near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15, 2019. University lecturer Leonard Dyck, right, was found dead four days later near Dease Lake, B.C. (New South Wales Police; University of British Columbia)

The making of a manhunt

At the murder scene, investigators uncovered some disturbing details. There were gunshot entry wounds on both the front and the backs of the bodies. And a number of bullets were found lodged in the bloody dirt beneath — an indication that the assault had continued as the couple lay helpless on the ground. 

The autopsies, conducted in Abbotsford, B.C., on July 19, catalogued seven separate injuries for Deese and five for Fowler, although the particulars have been blacked out in the released warrant applications.

At the time, the RCMP had no real leads. There was an hours-long gap between the last sightings of Fowler and Deese alive — from witnesses who had stopped on the evening of July 14 to offer assistance repairing their broken down van — and the discovery of their bodies early the next day. Investigators released a sketch of an unknown man who was seen talking to the couple around 10:30 that night, labelling him a “person of interest,” but later determined he was just another would-be helper.

(After police later zeroed in on McLeod and Schmegelsky, they found footage from security cameras along Highway 97, or the Alaska Highway, that showed the pair were already long gone — hundreds of kilometres north of the murder scene on their way to Whitehorse — when the first 911 call was received early July 15.) 

RCMP have confirmed that Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were seen in Meadow Lake, Sask. If spotted, the suspects should not be approached, and RCMP say 911 or local police should be contacted immediately. 0:16

It wasn’t until the morning of July 19, when police received a call about a burning pickup truck along Highway 37, 60 kilometres south of another northern B.C. community, Dease Lake, that the investigation started to mushroom into one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history.

The first officer found a still-smoldering Dodge parked beside a bridge with camping gear, including a stove, propane tanks and the yellow nozzle of a gasoline jerry can, scattered about the area. The partially charred licence plate revealed that the vehicle was registered to Kam McLeod.

The constable was preparing to leave when a motorist flagged him down to report that he had found a dead body in a roadside gravel pit, about 2.5 kilometres farther down the highway.

Fast-food mystery 

The older, heavyset man with a white beard was lying on his back, bloodied and burned, his torn clothes revealing multiple wounds. The fact that he had been shot wasn’t readily apparent.

One thing that leapt out to the officer was the presence of what appeared to be scattered french fries and a red cardboard McDonald’s container on the ground between his legs. The odd discovery is referred to repeatedly across the warrants, usually prefaced by a single, blacked-out word, suggesting there was something noteworthy about the state of the food.

There was no ID on the body, but the man’s pockets were full of change. Investigators theorized that he had still been alive when he arrived at the gravel pit because of the mud on his shoes. They found 13 items near the body, including cigarette butts, a Molson beer can, a Red Bull can, and plastic flex ties — the kind that could be used to bind a person’s hands together.

The RCMP now had three bodies and two crime scenes, some 500 kilometres apart. But the burned-out pickup made them fear that Schmegelsky and McLeod might also have fallen victim to a killer.

Another traveller alerted police to the presence of a substantial amount of blood on the floor and walls of a rest-stop outhouse on the other side of the bridge.

And there were more discoveries along Highway 37: A trash can that had been set alight, and at another rest stop five kilometres south of the third body, a black and yellow folding knife and Kam McLeod’s employee ID from the Walmart in Port Alberni, B.C.

The warrant to search the torched vehicle makes specific mention of firearms, ammunition and “edged weapons,” noting that injuries on the newly discovered body implied a knife and a gun had been used. It also expresses a belief that “biological samples” could be taken from the flex ties.

A failed romance and a jilted girlfriend

An officer from a local detachment on Vancouver Island visited the family homes of McLeod and Schmegelsky on the afternoon of July 20. He was told that the two young men had left Port Alberni on July 12, with plans to travel to Whitehorse in search of work. They had last contacted their families on July 17 via text message.

McLeod’s parents described their son and his friend as “introverted loners and gamers.” Schmegelsky’s grandmother revealed that he had recently been upset about being rejected by a girl — McLeod’s younger sister.

Police asked if either had a gun with them and were told no, and that no firearms were missing from the family homes.

A poster with images of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod is attached to the side of a grocery store in Gillam, Man., last summer. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

However, there were also indications that the pair were cutting links with their hometown. 

McLeod’s girlfriend told the RCMP that he had left without saying goodbye. “Seriously sorry, but I’m not coming back,” he wrote in a text message sent on July 13. And when she reached him on his cellphone the next night — a few hours before the murders of Fowler and Deese — McLeod refused to say where he was and abruptly cut off the call. 

The police tried to trace the pair via their debit and credit card transactions, but McLeod’s last purchase had come on July 12 at a sporting goods store in Nanaimo, B.C. (It would be days before the RCMP figured out that he had bought a gun, a 39-mm SKS, a non-restricted, semi-automatic rifle, along with a box of shells.) 

Schmegelsky’s last purchase was $20 worth of gas at a station on the Alaska Highway early on the morning of July 18.

Attempts to locate the friends by tracking their cellphones were similarly unsuccessful. Schmegelsky’s phone had been out of service since July 15. And after the final text to Port Alberni on July 17, McLeod’s cell remained switched off. Police would later find his bent SIM card on the ground near the third body.

From ‘missing’ to ‘wanted’

The RCMP were still struggling to identify the third victim when a tipster in Saskatchewan reported that two young men matching McLeod and Schmegelsky’s descriptions had purchased gas at a Co-op in Meadow Lake on July 21. A local officer reviewed the surveillance tape early the next morning and confirmed that it was the missing B.C. teens — and that they were driving a new vehicle, a silver Toyota RAV4.

By late afternoon on July 22, police had determined that the pair were now the prime suspects in all three killings.

A Vancouver woman had called the RCMP after seeing a composite sketch of the victim that had been released to the media and posted online. She said it appeared to be her husband, Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old botanist who lectured at the University of British Columbia. He had left home on July 16 to watch grizzly bears in the wilderness.

His wife last heard from him via text on July 18. She told police that he often slept in his car while on roadtrips — a silver Toyota RAV4.

RCMP officers carry a coffin to a plane in Gillam, Man., following the discovery of the bodies of Schmegelsky and McLeod last August. (CBC)

The hunt for McLeod and Schmegelsky spanned over five provinces and territories and grew to involve hundreds of officers and volunteers, as well as the Royal Canadian Air Force. A total of 19 warrants were obtained.  

The court submissions built upon each other, layering new details over the old. 

An Aug. 1 application for access to online gaming profiles reveals that McLeod sometimes used the handle “angelofdeath,” while Schmegelsky at times went by “Bryerbrown123 [KKK].”

A different filing for Mac and SSID information made the same day outlines a July 25 search of the McLeod family home in Port Alberni, describing a number of long guns locked securely in a gun safe, but two more rifles left out in the open on a bed and two additional guns stored underneath it. 

As the RCMP indicated in their September report on the homicide investigations, two firearms were used to kill Fowler and Deese and one was used to kill Leonard Dyck. The gun that was used on both July 15 and July 19 was the SKS purchased in Nanaimo. The RCMP have recently disclosed that they have since determined that the second firearm used — a “ghost gun” made up of scavenged parts of at least five different Chinese-made guns — was also legally obtained by McLeod on July 12, along with 750 rounds of ammunition, from a small store in Port Alberni. 

A lucky escape

The warrants also provide the identity of a man who might well have been targeted by McLeod and Schmegelsky on the night of July 17, near Haines Junction, Yukon, two hours west of Whitehorse.

Kenneth Albertsen, a resident of Palmer, Alaska, told police that he had just pulled over and crawled into his back seat for a nap when a slow-moving truck inched to a stop 50 metres in front of his vehicle.

“They sat there for a little while and then the passenger door on the truck opened and someone stepped out holding a long gun. And that got my attention, right away,” Albertsen said in an interview with CBC News. 

As the man with the gun walked into the woods and started to weave his way back through the trees like he was stalking prey, Albertsen decided to make a hasty escape, noticing another young man behind the wheel of the truck as he sped past.

The 54-year-old later came to believe that the pair were after the boat he was towing behind his own truck. 

“God saved me,” he said.

Albertsen’s recollection of the make and colour of the vehicle didn’t match McLeod’s pickup, but RCMP have said that the timing, location and physical description of the men makes them believe it was Schmegelsky and McLeod.

The manhunt reached its apex following the discovery of the torched remains of Dyck’s Toyota outside Gillam, Man., on July 22, almost 3,000 kilometres east of the initial murder scene. 

As police and volunteers manned roadblocks and scoured the surrounding bush, and military search planes patrolled the skies above, police hatched a plan to deal with the pair after their arrest.

An Aug. 2 warrant application mentions a “cell mate undercover operation,” with hopes that McLeod and Schmegelsky will “develop a bond” with the jailhouse operatives and implicate themselves in the murders. 

But the Aug. 7 discovery of two bodies in the wilderness, just eight kilometres from the burned out RAV4, made such a ruse unnecessary.

The six videos that the pair left behind on a digital camera they had stolen from Dyck have never been released. The RCMP has described them as suicide notes, and last wills and testaments. The men admitted responsibility for the three murders, police say, but provided no explanation and expressed no remorse.

The mystery of the french fries found surrounding Dyck’s body also endures. If McLeod and Schmegelsky brought them along, they must have come from Whitehorse, the closest McDonald’s along their route, but an eight-plus hour drive from that scene.

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Why Canadians should elect their Governor General – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by Charlotte Dalwood, a juris doctor student at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

A scandal involving workplace harassment and verbal abuse at Rideau Hall triggered former Governor General Julie Payette’s resignation in January. But the bigger scandal is that governors general are unaccountable to the Canadian people, and this one will not go away when Payette’s successor is sworn in – or until the position is reformed to make it an elected office.

It is essential there be such public accountability, because the Governor General wields substantial power, both at home and abroad.

Right now, oversight of Canada’s de facto head of state comes largely from the prime minister.

This starts with the selection of someone to fill the role. While the Queen approves her viceregal, she does so on the prime minister’s advice.

And the prime minister is under no obligation to consult the Canadian public before offering it. In Payette’s case, this allowed Justin Trudeau to choose a candidate whose history of mistreating staff his office had failed to identify.

Once the decision is made and a new governor general installed, it also falls on the prime minister to hold this figure accountable for their day-to-day activities. Canadians have few ways of providing this oversight themselves, since access to information laws do not apply to the Governor General’s office. This means the goings-on at Rideau Hall are largely hidden from the public.

Canadians must therefore take it on trust that the prime minister will not only monitor the Governor General to learn of any abuses of their powers as they occur, but also intervene to stop them.

WATCH | Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns after scathing workplace review:

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigned on Thursday after a scathing review about a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. The review followed CBC reporting into allegations of workplace harassment and bullying in the Governor General’s office. 2:50

Giving Canadians a direct say in who occupies the country’s highest government position, along with the ability to monitor their conduct, won’t rule out the possibility of future scandals occurring. But it would bring heightened accountability to the Governor General’s office, and strengthen the demands on the person holding it to perform their role in a way that promotes the public’s interests.

This is necessary in a democratic nation, considering the Governor General’s powers and responsibilities.

Domestically, this figure summons and dissolves Parliament, grants Royal Assent to federal legislation, and ensures Canada is never without a prime minister able to command the House of Commons’ support.

They hold reserve powers, such as the ability to unilaterally dismiss a government and veto proposed laws, that allow the Governor General to safeguard democratic norms.

The Governor General is also one of Canada’s key diplomatic representatives on the international stage. Via state visits to other countries, events at home to welcome visiting dignitaries, and other official means, the viceregal supports and advances Canada’s foreign policy objectives.

The office is thus far from a merely ceremonial one. Indeed, an incompetent or ineffective governor general could do real damage to Canada’s constitutional order and global stature.

Which is why the whole country has a stake in who carries out the duties of governor general, as well as in how that person does so.

WATCH | Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says vetting process for Julie Payette’s replacement will be more robust:

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the Privy Council Office plans to advise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming week on replacing the governor general. 7:04

Transitioning to an elected governor general would afford the electorate an opportunity to weigh in on both counts via regular votes. In order to secure re-election, governors general would need to ensure they are exercising their powers to Canadians’ satisfaction.

Occupying an elected post would also empower an incumbent governor general to act as a much-needed counterbalance to the prime minister’s power.

As an appointee under the current system, Canada’s unelected representative head of state cannot override the recommendations of its democratically elected head of government, except in the most unusual of situations, without contradicting Canadian democratic values. Constitutional convention therefore dictates that the Governor General will almost always defer to the prime minister’s advice.

A skilled prime minister can take advantage of this fact to manipulate the Governor General’s powers to advance their own agenda and undermine parliamentary opposition. In 2002, for example, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament, avoiding the tabling of a report into the sponsorship scandal. In 2008 and again in 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper used the Governor General’s authority to prorogue Parliament and keep his minority government in power. Most recently, Prime Minister Trudeau requested Parliament be prorogued in August 2020 during the WE Charity controversy.

An elected viceregal, by contrast, would have an independent mandate from the Canadian people. This mandate would provide the Queen’s representative with a democratic basis for rejecting prime ministerial advice that does not reflect popular sentiment, advice that is particularly likely during periods of minority rule in the House of Commons.

In other words, by exercising greater oversight over their de facto head of state, Canadians would also be exercising greater oversight over their head of government.

And they would be doing it at the ballot box, which in a democratic society is where all of Canada’s leaders — including the Governor General — should be held to account.


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Ontario expecting shorter timeline for COVID-19 vaccine rollout after good news on dosing and AstraZeneca – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Health Minister Christine Elliott says that with the approval of a new COVID-19 vaccine in Canada and new guidelines for administering second doses, Ontario is “recalibrating” its timeline for rolling out vaccines and may be able to get more people their first dose sooner than initially thought.

“We were looking at the end of the summer, probably into perhaps September,” Elliott told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s fair to say that we will be able to shorten that timeline, given the new volumes of vaccines coming in with AstraZeneca, and the extension of the first and second doses for both Pfizer and Moderna, meaning we can get more first dose into more arms faster.”

Last week, Health Canada rubber-stamped the AstraZeneca vaccine, the third COVID-19 vaccine that has now been approved for use in the country. On Wednesday, a national panel of vaccine experts also recommended extending the interval between first and second vaccine doses to four months, based on data showing good protection after just a single dose.  

While it looks like the province’s vaccination program may proceed more quickly than first thought because of the two developments, Elliott said it is too soon to set a new target date.

“We expect that our timelines will be reduced overall, but I can’t give you a specific date right now,” she said.

The provincial government is expected to announce the next steps of its vaccination plan on Friday, CTV News has learned.

Speaking to CP24 on Thursday morning, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is also a member of the province’s 10-person vaccine distribution task force, said recent developments indicate that Canada will be able to significantly speed up its timeline for vaccinating members of the general population.

“I think it is very, very, very likely that most Canadians will be able to have a vaccine by, just guessing here, but could be the early part of the summer,” he said Thursday.

The federal government previously said that all Canadians who want a vaccine should be able to receive one by late September.

Bogoch noted that after a sluggish start to vaccine shipments, more doses are finally starting to arrive in Canada.

“The real inflection point is as March turns into April. You are going to start to see the mass vaccine clinics expand, and then of course the massive expansion of the vaccines going into pharmacies,” he said.

“That giant shift really is at the tail end of March.”

To date, Ontario has administered 784,828 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 268,118 of the province’s 14 million residents have received two doses for full immunization.

Ontario is expecting to receive approximately 700,000 more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next four weeks. While provincial allocations for the Moderna vaccine have not been updated on the federal government’s website, the company previously promised to deliver 1.3 million doses to Canada in the month of March.

At least 113,000 AstraZeneca doses manufactured in India are destined for Ontario after arriving in Canada this week.

Johnson and Johnson decision expected within a week

“We are actually starting to see a significant number of vaccines coming to the country, especially with AstraZeneca coming in. We are getting half a million doses now and much more of that in the coming weeks,” Bogoch said.

“If you look in the crystal ball, it is likely that we’ll have (the) Johnson & Johnson (COVID-19 vaccine) and even with some of the delays that Johnson & Johnson is having in manufacturing, we are seeing other indications that they will be able to ramp up manufacturing… At the end of the day, it just points to much shorter timelines for Canadians.”

Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Thursday that a decision on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely be made within the next week.

“The review of the Johnson & Johnson submission is going very well. It is progressing and we are expecting to have that completed and a decision in the next few days. I would say within the next seven days or so,” she told reporters.

If approved, Canada is expecting to receive a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of September, however the delivery schedule is still unclear. On Thursday, federal officials said shipments could begin sometime in the second quarter of the year.

More encouraging news came earlier this when the panel of experts who provide advice to Ottawa on vaccinations said second doses of COVID-19 vaccines can now be administered up to four months after the first dose is given, allowing vaccines to flow to more members of the population sooner.

The panel cited emerging clinical evidence from the U.S., Israel and the UK that indicated the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines provides 90 per cent or better protection from coronavirus infection for much longer than initially thought.

The Ford government has signalled that it plans to accept that recommendation and delay second doses beyond the current 28-day timeframe.

“Most places in Canada will likely be spacing out the doses between dose one and dose two by anywhere from three to four months,” Bogoch said. “You can just vaccinate way more people in a shorter period of time.”

AstraZeneca to be used in pharmacy pilot starting next week

While some Ontario municipalities have begun to vaccinate people over the age of 80 who are living in the community, the province’s largest city has not yet been able to begin vaccinating members of the general population.

Toronto’s mayor has said that the city is still focused on trying to vaccinate other priority populations, including frontline health-care workers.

In the meantime, Elliott confirmed Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be used in a pilot project starting next week that will see vaccines distributed through pharmacies in three health units, including Toronto.

The storage requirements for the vaccine are simpler, making it easier to distribute through remote locations such as pharmacies.

“It can be moved more easily. It doesn’t have the same kind of temperature requirements that the Pfizer vaccine has and to a lesser extent Moderna,” Elliott told reporters. “I would say that in addition to pharmacies, you may also see it in primary care centres, and perhaps even in larger vaccination clinics.”

Ontario has said that keeping in line with advice from the  National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), it will only distribute the Astra Zeneca vaccine to those under 65 years of age.

Infection-prevention measures still important in the meantime

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams called the possible shortening of the vaccination timeline “good news” Thursday.

“This means we can accelerate faster, and we have some advise on timelines that we might be able to move up on the previous predictions of early fall to complete, we may have it even sooner than we had anticipated, and this is good news for all,” he said.

However he cautioned that people still need to stick to public health advice while the vaccine rollout is underway, especially with the more contagious variants of the virus on the loose in the province.

“We still have to hold the other ones down while we undertake this task,” he said. “So our task of  maintaining our distancing, masking, staying home when sick, getting tests when we need to get tested, keep to your household, stay home if you do not need to (go out), limit your activities, even if you are in a zone within the framework that allows you to access those activities.”

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How a bridge to Canada got the axe from American lawmakers – CBC.ca

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Funding for this bridge between upstate New York and the Ottawa-Montreal region, seen here in March 2020, was included in a major U.S. pandemic-relief bill. Then it was chopped. (Christine Muschi/Reuters)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

As American lawmakers inched toward approving a bill with an eye-watering 13-digit price tag, it was apparently a bridge to Canada that proved a bridge too far.

Funds to upkeep an existing cross-border bridge from Massena, N.Y., to Cornwall, Ont., were included in, and have now been stripped out of, a $1.9 trillion US pandemic-relief bill that Congress could pass any day.

Less than one-millionth of the bill’s overall price tag had originally been set to fund operations of the half-century-old Seaway International Bridge, jointly run by the Canadian and U.S. governments.

The original version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives guaranteed $1.5 million for several months’ funding of the span, which connects upstate New York with the Ottawa-Montreal area through Cornwall, Ont.

“It’s a vital, necessary access point between our two countries,” Steven O’Shaughnessy, the town supervisor of Massena.

That funding is gone in the latest version of the bill, which could be advanced into law any day by the U.S. Senate.

If adopted, the bill would become the first major piece of legislation passed during Joe Biden’s presidency and would fund a vast array of causes, from reducing child poverty to expanding access to health care to sending out $1,400 relief cheques to Americans.

What’s the backstory

Critics called it a ‘bridge to nowhere’ and accused top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker, of pork-barrel politics. But New York Republicans wanted the bridge funding, too. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

So how did one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in American history, which will affect tens of millions of lives, stumble over a bridge that ends near the Cornwall BBQ in southeastern Ontario?

As fate would have it, that bridge became a symbolic talking point for critics of the bill.  

Republicans pointed to it as an example of how myriad items unrelated to the pandemic are being crammed into a supposed rescue package.

“We have millions upon millions of dollars for this lovely bridge to get from New York into Canada,” Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said earlier this week, inflating the price of the bridge upkeep. “And, folks, how is that helping us fight COVID?

“This is supposed to be a COVID recovery package. And somehow I don’t see my Iowa taxpayers benefiting from those porky pricey projects.”

Never mind that funding for the bridge has previously been supported by New York lawmakers from both parties, including Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and the area’s House lawmaker, Elise Stefanik.

It became Exhibit A of the idea that this 630-page bill, which would also allot billions of dollars to expanding health coverage and decreasing child poverty, is about more than COVID.

It was derided on Fox News, in its news coverage and by its hosts, as a “bridge to nowhere.”    

But it’s more complicated than that. 

The bridge, which has seen toll revenues drop during the pandemic, sits in the district of New York Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik. She has previously supported additional funding for the bridge but voted against the stimulus bill that included $1.5 million US for upkeep of the span. ( Republican National Convention/Handout via REUTERS)

Democrats have argued that most of this bill’s items are, indeed, connected to COVID-19 — including that bridge funding.

The pandemic has caused a spectacular drop in cross-border traffic, with a 70 per cent plunge in toll fees collected at the bridge since last year, said a U.S. official with the binational Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.

So why not just fund the bridge in a transportation bill instead of a pandemic-relief bill?

Blame the joys of the American legislative process. 

A generation of partisan gridlock has resulted in fewer bills becoming law. So majority parties have tended to rely more often on a legislative shortcut, a process called reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass with just 51 Senate votes instead of 60.

The catch with that process is it can only be used once a year, on a budget bill. Which is how you wind up with all sorts of unrelated items crammed together in what is colloquially referred to in Washington as a Christmas tree bill.

In the end, under this particular tree, there was nothing left for Cornwall and Massena.

What’s next

Democrats pulled that item, and some other items, out of the Senate bill to help silence the naysayers and ease its adoption.

The bridge is now funded through the end of this month thanks to $2.5 million delivered from the Canadian government last year. 

But the U.S. official said the cash originally in the bill would have supplied funding from next month to September. Without it, the official said, there could be an impact on its services and its essential workers.

The bridge itself is in decent physical shape after millions of dollars in renovations over the last decade.

Bernadette Clement, mayor of Cornwall, said she hopes it stays that way because it not only connects families and friends and the regional economy but also supports international trade, with hundreds of commercial trucks using it each day.

The Seaway International Bridge joins Cornwall, Ont., and Massena, N.Y. It is a regional link between Canadian and American communities and also a commercial trade link that sees hundreds of trucks per day. (CP)

“It is extremely important to our national economies,” Clement said. “The maintenance of those bridges — it’s critical for us.”

When asked what happens after this month, a Canadian government spokesperson said the bridge’s critical needs will be met — but did not immediately say whether it might require an additional cash injection from Ottawa.

It wouldn’t be the first time political gridlock in the U.S. left Canada with the bill for a cross-border bridge. 

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