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Liberals aim to secure long-term role for feds in national child-care system

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Families Minister Karina Gould introduced legislation Thursday in an attempt to secure a long-term role for Ottawa in daycare and future-proof the Liberal vision of a national child-care system.

The proposed legislation, Bill C-35, sets out the federal government’s commitment to long-term funding for provinces and Indigenous Peoples, as well as the principles that will guide those funds. It does not make any specific financial promises.

The Liberal government has brought in a national child-care plan that aims to cut daycare fees by an average of 50 per cent by the end of this year — and down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

The 2021 federal budget pledged $30 billion in new spending on child care over five years, with another $9.2 billion annually after that.

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Enshrining the role of the federal government in the system is one way to make it harder to dismantle should another party win the next election, said Gould.

“We want to protect what we have built,” she said at a press conference Thursday.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said in the past that his party, if elected, would abolish the existing child-care plan and replace it with a tax credit that goes directly to families.

The Liberal government of former prime minister Paul Martin signed child-care deals with the provinces with the goal of creating a national daycare system in 2005, but Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper cancelled the agreements after he came to power the next year.

A future Conservative government would not be able to abolish the Liberals’ new program as “hastily” as Harper did, said Susan Prentice, the Duff Roblin professor of government at the University of Manitoba.

If future governments wish to renege on the long-term commitments proposed in the bill, they would have to take the step of repealing or amending the legislation, Gould said.

“Conservatives wouldn’t be able to hide this,” she said. “They would have to very publicly tell Canadians that they do not believe in affordable child care.”

In an emailed statement, Conservative families critic Michelle Ferreri did not directly respond to Gould’s intention to make it harder for her party to scrap the program if it forms government.

She said her party recognizes that families should have access to affordable and quality child care, but said that care is still elusive.

“Despite Liberal promises, affordable child care continues to be out of reach for many Canadian families, as already-long wait lists for child-care spots continue to get even longer,” she wrote.

Government officials who provided a briefing on the condition that they not be named said the bill was drafted to respect provincial and territorial jurisdiction and Indigenous rights. They said it does not impose conditions on other levels of government, which was the top concern of other governments during the consultation process.

All provinces appear on track to reduce their child care fees by 50 per cent by the end of the year except for Manitoba, Gould said. That province already has some of the lowest child-care fees in the country, at about $20 per day, and is likely to reach the benchmark by early next year.

Prentice said the bill shows reticence to step too far into provincial jurisdiction.

Any accountability provisions would be part of the individual bilateral agreements signed with each province and territory, which will need to be renegotiated every five years.

“For the moment, that may be the best we’ve got,” she said, but added that she hopes the legislation is continuously improved over time.

“There may in fact be a point down the road where stronger terms and conditions are built in, but for the moment, I still think that it signals a very important sea change.”

The fact that fees have already been reduced will make it politically challenging for provinces to walk away from the program after the current five-year term is up in 2026, Gould said.

“They would be leaving a lot of federal money on the table, but more importantly, they’d be leaving a lot of families in the lurch,” she said.

The Liberals had promised to introduce the legislation by the end of this year as part of their confidence-and-supply agreement with the NDP, in which the New Democrats have agreed to support the minority government on key votes in the House of Commons to avoid triggering an election before 2025.

That means the bill is all but certain to pass.

If passed, the legislation would also require the minister to report annually to the public about federal funding contributions, child-care accessibility and affordability.

It also legislates the creation of a national advisory council on early learning and child care, which the government announced at the end of November.

NDP families critic Leah Gazan said her party pushed for human rights to be included in the bill. It makes reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and UN conventions focused on the rights of children, the rights of persons with disabilities and the elimination of discrimination against women.

“I think it’s a really strong first step,” Gazan told reporters outside the House of Commons on Thursday.

Still, she said the bill is not perfect and she’ll be putting forward amendments when the it is reviewed in committee.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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New job as head baker helps Ukrainian newcomer find familiarity in Winnipeg – CBC.ca

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Life in Canada is off to a sweet start for a Ukrainian baker who has found a new home for her creations in Winnipeg.

Hanna Tokar, who has only been in Canada for just over a month, is now the head baker at the Winnipeg location of the Butter Tart Lady.

Michelle Wierda, the owner of the bakery, offered her a job after seeing a Facebook post Tokar made where she shared her struggles finding employment in Winnipeg.

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“I saw her pictures and I thought, ‘I have to interview her,'” Wierda told host Marcy Markusa in a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.

“I saw her attention to detail. Her work is just spectacular. It looked very delicious.”

Before coming to Canada, Tokar owned a bakery she operated by herself in her hometown of Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine.

She was forced to permanently close its doors when she came to Canada, fleeing Kherson after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A woman with her dark hair pulled away from her face rolls dough on a crowded wooden surface.
Tokar says she was surprised to get the offer to work in the Winnipeg bakery. ‘It was actually my dream to have that job here,’ she says. ‘So it was amazing for me.’ (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Tokar said she was shocked to get the offer to work at the Winnipeg bakery.

“I didn’t expect [to] … have an offer to work in a bakery, because it was actually my dream to have that job here. So it was amazing for me,” she told Information Radio.

Missing home

Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

Since then, more than 800,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have applied for special temporary resident visas to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry said as of late December, more than 132,000 Ukrainian nationals had entered Canada since the start of 2022.

While Tokar’s parents are safe elsewhere in Europe, she says she prays for her grandparents who stayed in Kherson, which has experienced heavy damage due to shelling. 

“I actually miss Ukraine. I actually miss my friends and my life — my previous life,” Tokar said.

“I really want  them to really be proud of me, so that’s why when I have a job I called them and my grandparents really cried.”

As she settles into her new role as head baker at the Butter Tart Lady’s Winnipeg location, the return to what has been a lifelong passion provides Tokar with familiarity in a new place. 

Woman with long curly blonde hair smiles in front of an array of baked goods.
The Butter Tart Lady owner Michelle Wierda says she instantly knew when she saw Ukrainian newcomer Tokar’s work on Facebook that she wanted the young baker to come in for an interview. (Submitted by Michelle Wierda)

Although she is still new to the position, Tokar is already infusing the menu with traditional Ukrainian treats, something Wierda is excited about. 

Of these treats is pampushky, a Ukrainian garlic bread that is traditionally served with borscht, Tokar explained.

On the two days she made pampushky, it sold out immediately, said Wierda.

As they look toward to the future, the two women are excited for their partnership.

“I love to be so creative and imaginative, and that’s what I’ve seen in Hanna, is that she’s very determined,” Wierda said. “She has a strong ambition to excellence and she’s always researching, looking for new ideas, new things.”

For Tokar, this experience provides hope for what life in Canada can be. 

“You know, I never expect that, like, some foreign people can support me like that,” she said.

“And I really like appreciate the kindness of people.”

Information Radio – MB6:15Baker from Ukraine is frosting cupcakes while connecting with a new community in Winnipeg

Marcy Markusa speaks with local bakery owner Michelle Wierda, a.k.a. “The Butter Tart Lady,” and her new head baker, Hanna Tokar, who is settling in Winnipeg after leaving Ukraine.

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Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca

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The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.

“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. 

The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.

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Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode. 

These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium. 

When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery. 

Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.

When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.

This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.

“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”

Stress-testing batteries

In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.

“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.

Different number readings are seen on a battery testing device that's a black box with six dials.
Some of the testing equipment used to regulate the temperature of each experiment. The coloured numbers indicate the temperature of each heated compartment in which battery cells are being tested. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C. 

For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C. 

If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.

Seeing red

During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.

It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.

Something new had been created inside the battery.

They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity. 

Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.

But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?

Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET). 

PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery? 

Tale of the tape 

Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.

Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery. 

A piece of metallic tape sits on a wooden table.
One of the metallic sheets removed from a coil inside a cylindrical battery. Each layer of the coil is held in place by plastic tape, shown here as the greenish strips. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”

Tech industry takes notice

Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.

Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.

“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”

The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.

A man in a plaid shirt walks through a room full of battery technology.
Metzger walks through one of the battery-testing laboratories at Dalhousie University. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles. 

“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”

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U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive for a joint news conference at the conclusion of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, Mexico on Jan. 10.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.

Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.

Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.

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Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.

The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.

Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.

Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.

Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.

“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.

The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.

Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”

It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”

But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”

He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.

“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.

On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.

The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.

The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.

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