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‘Really screwed the pooch’: Kenney upset with feds over Coutts blockade, texts say

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OTTAWA — Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney accused the federal government of leaving provinces “holding the bag” to clear “Freedom Convoy” protesters who blockaded a border crossing in southern Alberta, a public inquiry has learned.

Documents released Tuesday by the inquiry looking into the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act last winter include text messages between three federal cabinet ministers, including Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

In messages that LeBlanc told his cabinet colleagues he had received from Kenney, the then-premier accused Ottawa of not caring about the Canada-U.S. border closure in Coutts, Alta., and complained about the federal decision to decline Alberta’s request for military equipment that could help remove protest vehicles.

LeBlanc, whose job is to work directly with provincial leaders, sent the messages to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Feb. 11, three days before the Alberta RCMP moved in to make arrests in Coutts.

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One message in the group chat, which LeBlanc attributed to Kenney, said: “Your guy has really screwed the pooch.”

“This trucker vax policy is obviously just dumb political theatre,” the message said, apparently referring to a federal policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination for cross-border truckers. The policy sparked the convoy protests, which ultimately saw demonstrators railing against other COVID-19 restrictions and the federal government.

“Calling them all Nazis hasn’t exactly helped. And now the provinces are holding the bag on enforcement,” the message read.

The message continued with an allegation that private vendors would not provide tow trucks or other heavy equipment to “move these freakin’ trucks” because protesters, described as “crazies,” were making death threats.

“And you guys turned down our request for army equipment to help us. Because apparently, the Government of Canada doesn’t really care about the international border being closed,” the message said.

“But don’t worry, the RCMP commander in Alberta just told me proudly that he has secured some psychologists to do a profile assessment on the protesters. I said, ‘that’s great news, deputy commissioner, ‘do any of them know how to drive a tow truck.’”

In response to the texts that LeBlanc said were from Kenney, Alghabra wrote: “Speaking of bonkers.” LeBlanc replied: “Totally.” Further text messages in the conversation were not released.

The blockade in Coutts forced the closure of the highway and border crossing for more than two weeks before it was broken up on Feb. 14, when RCMP seized guns and charged four men for conspiracy to commit murder.

The same day, the federal government moved to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to continued protests in downtown Ottawa.

When a commission lawyer asked LeBlanc whether Kenney was referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the message that had him say “Your guy has really screwed the pooch,” LeBlanc testified he did not ask.

“This text message was the premier empathically expressing his frustration,” he said.

It’s not the first time the commission has seen testy exchanges between federal ministers and their provincial counterparts, particularly in Ontario.

The commission has heard that members of the federal cabinet were frustrated with what they considered to be a lack of willingness from the Ontario government to come to the table to hammer out a solution to the blockades.

Earlier in the day, the public inquiry was shown a text message from Mendicino’s chief of staff, Mike Jones, who back in February said Ontario’s former solicitor-general Sylvia Jones used an expletive when communicating how she didn’t “take edicts.”

The Ontario government did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, which is in its final week, has previously heard that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet was highly concerned about the possibility that the “Freedom Convoy” might inspire further protests after demonstrators’ blockade in Coutts and another six-day border closure in Windsor, Ont.

The inability of authorities to convince or find tow truck operators willing to remove protest vehicles was one of the reasons Trudeau’s government has argued the Emergencies Act was necessary, because it gave law enforcement the authority to compel companies to do the job.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, Laura Osman and David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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Ontario pharmacists get greenlight to prescribe COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid – CBC.ca

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Starting next week pharmacists in Ontario will be able to prescribe the antiviral drug Paxlovid as a treatment for COVID-19, the health minister said Thursday.

Sylvia Jones made the announcement at a morning news conference in Toronto, where she said the prescriptions will come at no cost to patients. The new policy takes effect December 12.

There are about 4,000 pharmacists in the province who are already dispensing the drug. The prescription program will work on an opt-in basis, so it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to take part.

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Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said in a related statement the change will expand access to the medication, increase protection to the most vulnerable, and ease hospital pressures.

It’s a move Dr. Kieran Moore said last month the government was considering in part to help keep people out of hospital, especially in rural areas where access to primary care physicians can be limited.

The antiviral medication is taken orally within five days of symptom onset and is recommended for people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, including people over 60 and people who are immunocompromised.

The announcement comes as hospitals in the province continue to strain under pressure from multiple respiratory illnesses.

Across all ages, the number of Ontarians going to emergency departments with respiratory complaints remains well above pre-pandemic seasonal averages, according to Ontario’s Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES) database.

Some pediatric hospitals have stopped surgeries and other procedures to maintain capacity for patients seeking care for respiratory symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s children’s hospital has accepted staffing help from the Canadian Red Cross and opened a second pediatric intensive care unit, though others had not sought extra support as of this week.

Jones touted co-operation between pediatric and community hospitals one innovation helping to make sure more health-care professionals are trained to treat children with respiratory illnesses.

She also said it has been a difficult flu season and thanked health-care workers for their efforts under tough conditions.

“I really want to reinforce that these are incredibly dedicated, incredibly talented, educated people who have stepped up and continued to step up through what has been a very challenging virus season,” she said.

Throughout the surge in respiratory illnesses in Ontario, Jones has insisted that the province was prepared to handle it. With respect to steps some hospitals have had to take to deal with an influx of patients, both Jones and Premier Doug Ford have credited them with “thinking outside the box” and not doing “business as usual.”

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Bank of Canada raises key interest rate to 4.25 per cent, its highest since 2008 – CTV News

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The Bank of Canada has raised its overnight rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 per cent, marking its seventh rate hike in nine months. The last time the bank’s policy rate was this high was in January 2008.

The inflation rate remained high at 6.9 per cent in October, well above the bank’s 2 per cent target. Higher gas prices put upward pressure on the cost of most goods and services, according to the Consumer Price Index released by Statistics Canada last month.

The bank says the economy continued to operate in excess demand during the third quarter and the labour market in Canada remained tight. With unemployment remaining at historic lows, Statistics Canada reported average hourly wages rose by 5.6 per cent year-over-year in October.

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The bank says tighter monetary policy is affecting domestic demand in the Canadian economy, with declines in the housing market and consumption moderating during the third quarter. Since its monetary report in October, the bank continues to expect economic growth to stall through the end of this year and into the first half of 2023.

“The November GDP data showed us that economic activity in Canada had already started to shrink,” said Sheila Block, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Given that slowdown, any hopes for a soft landing have been crushed by today’s rate hikes.”

During a press conference following the bank’s last rate announcement on Oct. 27, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem signalled “the tightening phase will draw to a close, we are getting closer, but we aren’t there yet.”

On Wednesday, the bank did not rule out further rate increases to tackle inflation.

“Looking ahead, Governing Council will be considering whether the policy interest rate needs to rise further to bring supply and demand back into balance and return inflation to target,” reads the release.

However, experts think it will be difficult for the bank to raise rates during a period of low growth.

“It will be very hard for a central bank to raise interest rates when the economy is in a recession,” said Kevin Page, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy President and CEO. “I think it is highly probable that the central bank will not need to raise interest rates in the short term (next three to six months).”

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre blamed the cost of living crisis on the federal government’s increased spending during the pandemic.

“It’s another uppercut for Canadians,” said Poilievre. “It’s all because of the inflationary deficits and spending of Justin Trudeau.”

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for other measures to help combat inflation.

“The federal government has to do more to look at the solutions around inflation,” said Singh during a press conference in Ottawa. “Some of those solutions include acknowledging that high profits in the corporate sector — corporate greed — is contributing to the cost of living going up.”

In the House of Commons, Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault defended his government’s policies to address the increased cost of living.

“The bank is doing their job. We’re doing our job by making sure we have the fiscal fire power to face what’s going to come,” he said during Question Period. “We’re helping Canadians to buy a new home, we’re advancing the payments for worker benefits and we’re also making sure student loan interest gets removed forever.”

The next policy rate announcement is expected on Jan. 25, 2023.

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Media shunning transparency law due to worsening delays, journalist says

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Veteran journalist Dean Beeby says reporters are abandoning the federal Access to Information Act as a research tool because turnaround times are terrible and getting worse.

The access law allows journalists and others who pay a $5 fee to request documents — from internal emails and expense claims to briefing memos and studies — but it has long been criticized as antiquated and poorly administered.

Federal agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time to process a request.

The law has not been significantly updated since its introduction almost 40 years ago, and many users complain of lengthy delays as well as heavily blacked-out documents or full denials in response to their applications.

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Beeby, an independent journalist who spent much of his career at The Canadian Press, says bureaucrats now realize they face a much bigger blowback from releasing information than from withholding it — and the law provides a rich menu of excuses to keep things buried.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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