Public service strike: union updating on negotiations
Canada’s largest federal public service union is expected to reveal what came of last-ditch talks over the weekend after threatening the largest strike against a single employer in Canada’s history.
Mediated contract negotiations between the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Treasury Board continued over the weekend in what the union described as the government’s final chance to reach a deal.
“This is the government’s last opportunity to show workers the respect they deserve. Workers can’t wait, and we’re ready to take strike action,” the union said in a Friday statement in which it announced a news conference in Ottawa for Monday morning.
Some 155,000 employees are prepared to walk off the job, including 35,000 workers from the Canada Revenue Agency.
The biggest sticking point in the negotiations appears to be pay increases, as the union is calling for raises to keep up with the rising cost of living and historic inflation.
The government offered a roughly 2 per cent average wage increase each year over a five-year period, while the union has pushed for annual raises of 4.5 per cent.
The union also wants to put greater limits on contract work, more anti-racism training and provisions for remote work on the table.
Though some 35,000 federal public servants in the union are deemed essential workers, the strike mandate has raised concerns about how important government services that are already backlogged, like the processing of immigration and employment insurance applications, will function.
A strike would likely delay income tax and benefits returns, and the delivery of passports would be limited to Canadians in emergency or humanitarian situations. Other government departments would also be affected.
If the union decides to strike, it has indicated it may take a staggered approach so that some workers remain on the job at all times.
The public servants have been without a contract for nearly two years, and the union declared talks had reached an impasse in May 2022.
The Treasury Board of Canada released a statement last Wednesday saying there is a realistic path ahead that includes “wage increase proposals that align with an agreement already reached with one bargaining agent.” It said those proposals were recently approved for more than 90,000 Canadian Forces members.
In December, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier approved a new collective agreement with the Association of Canadian Financial Officers that included a salary increase of 11 per cent over four years.
Last month, Canadian Armed Forces members signed a new four-year deal with a compounded wage increase of 10.4 per cent.
The Canadian Labour Congress issued a statement in support of workers looking for a wage increase on Saturday, as the parties sat down for final talks.
“When the federal government lowers wages for its workers, it impacts all workers from every sector, whether they are public sector workers, private sector workers, unionized or non-unionized — these workers are also taking a hit, seeing their wages being pushed further down,” congress President Bea Bruske said in the statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2023
'High risk of province-wide drought' this summer, authorities warn – CBC.ca
Much of B.C. could face a long, significant drought this summer, according to provincial forecasters.
The warning is particularly worrying to those who depend on water for their livelihoods, such as cattle ranchers and the agricultural sector.
“What we’ve seen now from the past month of heat is that the high-elevation snow is rapidly depleting,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre. “We’re on pace to be the earliest snow-free that the province has recorded.
“We’ve had just a phenomenal melt so far, and where it’s a little bit scary is … we’re moving into this year in a really precarious position.”
The most recent B.C. Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, released Thursday based on June 1 data, warned of “long-term, significant drought” unless there is substantial and sustained rainfall over the coming months.
According to provincial data, current snow levels are 29 per cent of what’s normal for this time of year. That’s down from 66 per cent just two weeks ago, indicating a very fast melt.
The possibility of a severe drought comes after high-temperature records for May were smashed in multiple communities across the province, causing faster and earlier snow melt than usual.
While raging wildfires are top-of-mind for many in the province now, a prolonged drought could worsen the economic toll of this year’s extreme hot and dry weather.
‘We are not going to starve our animals’
Previous droughts have hit the province’s agriculture sector particularly hard, with many ranchers forced to cull many of their cattle because of food shortages going into winter.
“It’s a little bit bleak out there right now as we look through the cracked crystal ball we’ve got,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, which represents ranchers. “And we don’t know what’s coming, but it’s enough that we’re concerned.”
He said there are basically two main resources ranchers need to support their herds: grass for food, and water.
“If we don’t get the rain to grow the grass, we have no choice but to reduce the amount of cattle we have,” he told CBC News. “We are not going to starve our animals.
“Unfortunately when we see a widespread drought … often the only opportunity for that breeding stock is to send them to market and to be processed for food, and that is very challenging for our guys that have spent generations building herds.”
In 2021, the provincial and federal governments announced increased supports for the ranching sector, including a more than $100-million boost to the joint AgriRecovery fund, supports for cattle relocated by wildfires, and a Wildfire Emergency Feed Program to offer two weeks of support for commercial livestock businesses without feed.
“In our industry we’ve developed a very good infrastructure for water storage,” Boon, himself a long-time rancher, said. “Water storage is the key to everything out here right now, as we see climate change and climate adaptation — the more we store, the more we’re able to manage.”
The B.C. report released this week warns of “severe water availability concerns” for human use.
The drought concerns are especially for the province’s Northeast, North Peace, Vancouver Island, South Coast, Southern Interior, Kootenay, and Columbia regions.
“If we continue this for another three or four months, we could be in a situation come September or October like we were last year, but potentially even worse,” the River Forecast Centre’s Boyd said.
“It becomes an issue for fish and and other stream ecosystems — and an issue for water availability and just extreme, extreme low flows.”
Canada's visaless entry system crashes, leaving many travellers stranded – CBC.ca
The collapse of the website that processes Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs) has caused missed flights, stress and financial pain to many travellers trying to reach Canada.
This week, Canada expanded the number of countries eligible for the eTA system, which replaces a full visa requirement for countries whose citizens are considered at lower risk of overstaying. Travellers from these countries pay a $7 Cdn fee and fill out an online application in a process that would normally take just minutes.
“This exciting development means that more individuals from around the world can now embark on unforgettable adventures, explore our diverse landscapes, reunite with family and friends, and immerse themselves in our vibrant culture without the hurdle of visa requirements,” said a statement from Sean Fraser, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which oversees the eTA system.
But the immediate effect of the change was the opposite.
A predictable surge, not predicted
IRCC appears not to have anticipated that adding 13 new countries with a combined population of over a quarter of a billion people would lead to a sudden surge in applications, but that’s what happened.
A spokesperson for IRCC said the biggest spike in applications came from the Philippines.
Servers were overwhelmed and the collapse of the system affected not only applicants from the 13 new countries, but from others that were already in the eTA system.
British citizen Amy Monerawela was scheduled to travel to Toronto with her family from London, England, but they were unable to get through the eTA site.
“We’ve had four people working on it since this morning,” she told CBC News on Friday evening from her London home. “And I mean sat around this table working on it from different devices, with different operating systems and different browsers. None of us are technophobes, we know what we’re doing, and we’ve not been able to crack it.”
“We got through to the payment page once, and when we went to put the card details in, it refreshed the page and kicked us out.”
Users reported several different problems with the site, including crashes, freezes and various error messages.
Cancellations come with heavy costs
Monerawela says that between their non-refundable Air Transat flights and a prepaid Airbnb, her family will lose thousands of dollars. They will also miss the chance to see family in Canada for the first time since the pandemic began.
One of their daughters is wheelchair bound and has other medical issues that make travel very difficult, she explained. The family had already paid to forward some medical items their daughter needs to Toronto.
Gabriel Contreras already missed his flight from Spain to visit a sister who lives in Canada. He was refused boarding on the first leg of the trip from Madrid to Amsterdam because of the eTA issue.
He said that even if the problem were fixed tomorrow, he and his travel partner would have to buy two new tickets for 970 euros each. The new flights would end up costing him more than $2,700 Cdn.
“That’s way too much for us,” said Contreras, who noted that since he only has one week off for travel, he’s decided to cancel his visit rather than rebook.
“The whole process has been jarring,” he told CBC News, saying his impression of IRCC was “really bad” and that “We’re a bit mad about the whole thing.”
Contreras says he will try to recover the lost money from travel insurance.
Lack of communication from IRCC, travellers say
Some travellers complained about the lack of communication from IRCC, noting that it had failed to respond to phone calls or tweets.
According to passengers, the eTA site stopped working properly on Thursday. IRCC posted a tweet around noon on Friday acknowledging the problem:
“Online service for eTA applications is currently intermittently available. Please try again later. We appreciate your patience. Travellers are still required to have the appropriate travel documents to travel to or transit through Canada.”
When is this going to be fixed? It makes so sense- people can’t enter Canada without paying this $7 yet its an issue with your server?
“How can this still be required if it’s impossible to access?” responded one frustrated traveller.
Other responses included: “My 17 year old brother’s eTA hasn’t come back and we fly in 9 hours ?!?!?!?!?! What do we do, such bad customer service – no response from your webform!”
“Because of this my friend was not allowed on his $1,000 USD flight,” wrote another. “We had to cancel all our other flights and plans in Canada, costing us another $500 USD. The Canadian embassy said the online application is the only way. You should have a back-up in case this happened.”
“The hardship you caused to travellers is immense,” wrote another person. “All the pain just to collect $7.”
Some of the passengers who missed flights said they weren’t even planning to stay in the country, but were merely transiting through Canada on layovers to other destinations such as Australia.
“Embarrassing that you even need a visa to transit through Canada,” one person complained.
‘I think they don’t care’
Some travellers also expressed annoyance to CBC News at IRCC’s unwillingness to waive the $7 fee, allow people to complete the forms on arrival, or offer any kind of alternative that would have saved their travel plans.
“I tried to contact them over the phone,” said Monerawela. “I got sent to a webpage. They haven’t tweeted back to anybody. I think they don’t care, that’s how it feels. They don’t care how this is affecting people’s lives, people’s finances.”
On Friday evening, some passengers attempting to obtain eTAs reported receiving a message in response suggesting repairs might not be coming for days.
A note explains that IRCC will “perform updates to its online system” from 12 am to 5:30 am on June 13.
“The eTA application will not be available at that time. We apologize for the inconvenience. To apply for an eTA, please return after 5:30 am on June 13.”
CBC News was seeking clarification from IRCC on the precise meaning of that note at the time of publication.
Spate of homophobic vandalism puts southern Manitoba LGBTQ community on edge – CBC.ca
For Jessi Ingalls, this weekend’s Pride parade in the southern Manitoba city of Morden was supposed to be a celebration.
But after having a Pride flag ripped from the home she shares with her partner and two children last weekend, she says she’s now going to Saturday’s parade as an act of defiance.
“It’s definitely more of a protest. It’s not so much a celebration,” she said Friday.
“It’s more of ‘we’re here and we’re not going away, and you need to either learn to love and accept that or be quiet.'”
The tearing down of Ingalls’s flag overnight last Saturday is one of several acts of homophobic vandalism in the Pembina Valley region, as Morden — a city of just over 9,000 — prepares for its second ever Pride parade, following one in 2019.
A van, two Pride flags, and a church have all been vandalized recently in Morden and the nearby city of Winkler.
The day before her flag was torn down, Ingalls said she was having a yard sale when someone working for a political campaign showed up and tried to start a debate.
“I asked him to leave after explaining that they’re hurting people. And then that night, overnight, our flag was ripped off.”
The following day, a van that belonged to a friend in Winkler, which had been decorated for Pride, was spray-painted with a homophobic slur, Ingalls said.
“She’s got five kids, and they have to drive around with that van like that, when it’s supposed to be spreading love and kindness and acceptance.”
And on Wednesday, rainbow-coloured decorations outside St. Paul’s United Church in Morden were torn down and left in the street.
The church’s minister, Carrie Martens, said she was expecting something like that to happen — so the church bought extra supplies.
Unfortunately, these acts of hostility aren’t new to Martens, who identifies as part of the queer community. During Pride month last year, Martens says she fielded an angry phone call over a rainbow flag in the church’s window “indicating that I was leading my congregation to hell.”
But in recent months, it feels like that anger is growing, Martens said.
“We’ve been just noticing that there’s this gradual incline in anti-rainbow [LGBTQ] rhetoric going around the community.”
Acts of hostility
CBC News has contacted the Morden Police Service to find out whether it is investigating any of the incidents but did not receive a response before deadline on Friday.
CBC has also contacted the Manitoba RCMP for the same information.
Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said he’s aware of the incidents, and he and his council have extended their support to the local LGBTQ community.
He’s planning on walking in Saturday’s parade along with other members of city council.
“We’re not going to allow our rainbow community to suffer that intimidation,” said Burley. “Council is squarely in the corner of the rainbow community, and we have their backs.”
The incidents in Morden come on the heels of other acts of homophobic vandalism in Manitoba and beyond in recent months.
There have been various reports across Canada of LGBTQ and transgender flags being stolen, damaged and even burned.
Last month, a Pride flag was stolen from a Winnipeg school just days after several books that covered LGBTQ and Indigenous themes were taken from a teacher’s classroom.
Amid reports of increased hate — including 2021 Statistics Canada data that found a 64 per cent rise in hate crimes related to sexual orientation from the year before — the federal government said this year it would provide emergency funding to help Pride festivals across Canada ensure security.
People who talked with CBC about the latest incidents said they worry the current political climate could be contributing to hostility against the LGBTQ community in southern Manitoba, especially with a byelection this month in Portage-Lisgar — the federal riding that includes Morden and Winkler.
It’s all left some members of the community feeling on edge, said Peter Wohlgemut, president of Pembina Valley Pride, which supports LGBTQ people in the region.
“Some people quite obviously are feeling unsafe or feeling rather targeted,” Wohlgemut said.
“It’s violence directed against our community.… That is very concerning and makes people wonder, ‘am I safe in my community?'”
Ingalls said the vandalism at her home has left her shaken.
“I moved here and I expected this to be, like, my forever home. I have two kids and we raise our kids here. They go to school here. We contribute to society the same way everybody else does,” she said.
“To not feel safe because somebody came onto my property and took something while my kids were sleeping in the middle of the night, it doesn’t give us a lot of security anymore.”
Still, she said she feels encouraged by the level of support she’s seen in the community.
“If you drive through Morden and Winkler right now, there’s more Pride flags hanging from houses than we’ve ever seen,” she said.
“People are going out and buying it specifically just to show support and show that this isn’t how our community normally is. This is not how we raise our kids. This is not the community that we want for each other.”
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