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Trudeau first foreign leader to speak with Biden

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WASHINGTON —
Joe Biden‘s White House has a lot in common cause with Canada, Justin Trudeau said Friday as he urged people to look past the new U.S. president’s decision to kill off the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The two countries have great partnership potential in the Biden era, particularly when it comes to a shared vision of tackling climate change while fuelling economic growth, the prime minister said.

“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States; that’s the case with any given president,” he told a news conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence.

“In a situation where we are much more aligned — on values, on focus, on the work that needs to be done to give opportunities for everyone while we build a better future — I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”

The two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes late Friday — Biden’s first phone call with a foreign leader since taking office.

Trudeau expressed Canada’s “disappointment” with the Keystone decision, and Biden acknowledged the difficulties it has caused, said a federal official familiar with what was discussed.

“The Prime Minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers,” says the readout of their conversation released by the Office of the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister and President reiterated the urgent need for ambitious action on climate change, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and agreed to work together on net-zero emissions, zero-emissions vehicles, cross-border clean electricity transmission, and the Arctic.”

By and large, the tone of the call was “overwhelmingly positive,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the call.

Trudeau also expressed concern about Biden’s Buy American plan to ensure U.S. workers and manufacturers are the primary beneficiaries of his economic recovery strategy.

The leaders agreed to continue to discuss Canada’s concerns about an issue that the two sides have been discussing for months, and will continue to talk about as the administration finds its feet, the source suggested.

Biden and Trudeau also agreed to meet next month, although it’s not clear given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic what form that meeting would take.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said the federal government would be there to support oilpatch workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan who have been hurt by Biden’s decision.

But there’s little doubt the fight is far from over, particularly if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has anything to say about it.

“The United States is setting a deeply disturbing precedent for any future projects and collaboration between our two nations,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Trudeau he released Friday on Twitter.

“The fact that it was a campaign promise makes it no less offensive. Our country has never surrendered our vital economic interests because a foreign government campaigned against them.”

Biden believes a brisk economic recovery doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama, who blocked the project in 2015, and as president he still does, Psaki said.

Kenney and other champions of the project, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., argue it has changed significantly since the Obama administration cancelled it five years ago.

As word emerged this week of the project’s imminent demise, Calgary-based owner TC Energy revealed plans to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it achieves net-zero emissions by 2030.

Kenney wrote Wednesday’s decision came “without taking the time to discuss it with their longest-standing ally,” although Hillman insists she has been in near-constant discussions with the Biden team ever since May, when they promised to cancel the project.

He called the decision a violation of the investor-protection provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and called on Trudeau to press the U.S. for compensation on behalf of TC Energy and the Alberta government.

“I strongly urge you to ensure that there are proportionate economic consequences in response to these unfair U.S. actions,” Kenney wrote.

“If the U.S. is unwilling to listen, then we must demonstrate that Canada will stand up for Canadian workers and the Canadian economy.”

Biden’s decision has critics among U.S. conservatives as well: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, called it a job-killing “virtue signal” to climate crusaders.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused Biden of erasing 11,000 potential jobs in the U.S. “with the stroke of a pen … by presidential edict.” Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the president was “pandering to fringe activists.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the move does little besides kill jobs, “disappoint our strong ally, Canada, and reverse some of our progress toward energy security.”

And Idaho senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both signed on to co-sponsor a Republican bill aimed at allowing construction on the project to continue, despite Biden’s decision to rescind the permit.

“The Keystone project is the linchpin of America’s energy independence and job creation strategy,” Risch said in a statement.

“Shutting it down leaves us dependent on the likes of OPEC and Russia to help power the country and undermines the pact we made with our northern ally, Canada, which remains supportive of the project.”

Source: – CTV News

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Ontario reveals more details on COVID-19 vaccination plan, but most won't get a reservation for months – CBC.ca

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An online portal for booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario is set to launch on March 15, the head of the province’s immunization task force said Wednesday, but it will likely be months longer before many people are able to get a reservation.

The announcement from retired general Rick Hillier comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week.

Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario’s version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don’t require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.

“I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly,” Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working “furiously” to test the system.

When the online portal, along with a telephone booking system, launch in March, Ontarians aged 80 and over will be the next priority. Hillier cautioned that anyone who is not in that age group, or who is not trying to make a reservation for a person in the 80-plus age group, will not be able to book an appointment in the weeks that follow.

Officials expect to begin vaccinating people 80 years and over by the third week of March. 

The proposed schedule in the following weeks, Hillier said, will look something like this as long as supplies of vaccine stay steady:

  • April 15: vaccinations begin for people 75 years old and over.
  • May 1: vaccinations begin for people 70 years old and over.
  • June 1: vaccinations begin for people 65 years and over.
  • July 1: vaccinations begin for people 60 years and over.

Essential workers, meanwhile, should begin getting their shots the first week in May, Hillier said, with the final decision about who qualifies in that category still to come from cabinet. The task force has already submitted its recommendations, he added.

Hillier wouldn’t say when those 60 years old and under who are not essential workers should expect to start getting shots. 

“A great question, we don’t need to answer it right now. Early summer is when we might be able to discuss that issue,” Hillier said.

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier on Ontario’s vaccine rollout timeline:

Ontarians aged 80 and over will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the third week of March, said retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force as he outlined a series of dates for the vaccine rollout. 1:07

He also did not provide even a rough timeline for when people under 60 with underlying medical conditions or those living in higher-risk neighbourhoods might expect to be given a first dose of vaccine.

Hillier did say, however, that where Ontarians can expect to get a shot will be based on their postal code. They will be delivered through a combination of mass vaccination clinics, community centre programs pharmacies.

Asked why Ontario’s platform wasn’t launched sooner considering Alberta and Quebec residents will be booking vaccines imminently, Ford said at a news conference Wednesday that he respectfully disagrees the province is lagging behind.

Ford pointed to Alberta’s system crashing Wednesday on its first day of operations and said Quebec hasn’t administered a single second dose of the vaccine thus far.  

In a series of tweets, Dr. Isaach Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the task force, said that primary care providers will help staff vaccination sites and will eventually be able to offer shots at their own clinics once additional vaccines are approved for use by Health Canada.

Several options on the horizon are more stable than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available, Bogoch said. Approval of further vaccines could “significantly speed up” the rough timeline offered by Hillier.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Each public health unit will eventually be expected to give out up to 10,000 doses per day, though some larger health units should be doing considerably more, Bogoch said. For example, Toronto Public Health expects to have capacity for up to 400,000 shots per week, with most administered at nine mass vaccination sites, he added. 

As of Feb.14, all residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes — generally defined as those that provide memory care — who wanted a vaccine had been given their first shot.

So far the province has administered a total of 602,848 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 251,590 people have gotten both doses.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford also announced Ontario will spend $115 million to provide tuition-free training to 6,000 prospective personal support workers. The programs, which are set to be up and running in April, will consist of paid placements with students completing in six months, rather than eight.

The government will also provide approximately $2,000 in financial assistance to some 2,200 students already completing studies in the PSW fields. 

Asked if the province will move to institute paid sick days for PSWs, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, didn’t answer directly. 

1,054 new cases of COVID-19

The news comes as Ontario reported another 1,054 cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths of people with the illness Wednesday morning. 

The additional cases include 363 in Toronto, 186 in Peel Region and 94 in York Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Simcoe Muskoka: 53
  • Windsor-Essex: 50
  • Thunder Bay: 45
  • Waterloo Region: 44
  • Ottawa: 40
  • Hamilton: 38
  • Durham Region: 35
  • Halton Region: 26
  • Niagara Region: 13
  • Middlesex-London: 10

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)

The Ministry of Education also reported 112 school-related cases: 89 students, 18 staff members and five people who were not identified. As of yesterday, 16 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools were closed due to COVID-19.

Ontario’s lab network completed 54,852 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.4 per cent. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases rose to 1,084. A steep drop in the seven-day average that began on Jan. 12 has levelled out.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 675 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 as of yesterday. Of those, 287 were being treated in intensive care and 182 needed a ventilator.

The nine deaths reported today bring Ontario’s official toll to 6,893. 

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Coronavirus updates from Canada and around the world – CBC.ca

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World

Coronavirus vaccine makers told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to expect a big jump in the delivery of doses over the coming month, and the companies insist they will be able to provide enough for most Americans to get inoculated by summer.

For the latest news on what’s happening with COVID-19 on Feb. 24, 2021, click here

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Bank of Canada warns buyers of 'early signs' of overheating in housing market – CBC.ca

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Despite early signs of overheating in Canada’s housing market, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem so far has no plans to raise interest rates until the economy and employment are back on track following the slump caused by COVID-19.

Speaking remotely to the combined Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce on Tuesday, Canada’s top central banker said that the economy would continue to need monetary stimulus, likely until 2023, even though there are already signs it could be distorting the residential real estate market.

“In that low-for-long world, there are risks that housing could get carried away, so that is something we will be looking at very carefully,” Macklem said in response to a question from a member of the remote audience.

Some observers have already expressed worries that the Canadian housing market is rising at an unsustainable pace, leaving critics — including some in the real estate industry — nervous of a boom, followed by a devastating bust once interest rates finally start to rise.

Women and youth hardest hit

But while Macklem also expressed concern, he said that even though the bank predicts the economy will begin to surge by the end of this year, high unemployment among Canada’s most vulnerable groups means the economy will continue to need a helping hand.

“Because women and youth hold so many of the jobs in the hardest-hit sectors, they have borne a disproportionate share of the job losses,” Macklem told his audience, and he said that many of the jobs that have disappeared will not come back.

Already, long-term unemployment — measured as people who want to work but have not found a job in more than 26 weeks — is currently holding at more than half a million people, a level not seen in the economy in 30 years. Macklem said failure to get those people into jobs will lead to what he called “labour market scarring.” In other words, it would result in permanent damage to the Canadian workforce.

He suggested that while the bank is holding rates at rock-bottom levels, in return employers in his audience need to contribute by helping to train the types of employees they needed. That applied especially in the digital economy.

WATCH | COVID-19’s unequal economic recession in Canada:

More than a million Canadians are still under- or unemployed as a result of COVID-19, but the crisis also allowed others, who were easily able to work from home, save more money. 2:34

Low-wage jobs were hit the hardest. Not only did technology-related employment not fall as far, but the demand for tech workers has bounced back to levels higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. And he said that employers must help create their own workforce in an economy that is increasingly digital and automated.

“Technology is no longer a sector,” Macklem said. “It’s every sector.”

But he said that rebuilding the workforce and the economy in that new form will be a process of months and years, and he reiterated that there is little fear of inflation and thus rate hikes because there remains plenty of slack in the economy.

Beware ‘extrapolative expectations’

But just as low rates have led to increased borrowing by businesses that has helped spur expansion and share prices, low mortgage rates have made it easier for prospective homeowners to bid up the price of houses.

So far, Macklem said, the move toward bigger houses further away from city centres has not been speculation so much as the need for more working — and learning — space for employees who no longer have to commute to the office. Part of the evidence for that is that larger, more distant homes are rising in value, whereas inner-city properties are attracting fewer buyers and renters.

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, speaking remotely to the combined Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce on Tuesday, said the bank would keep a close eye on the housing market and think about how to contain a housing bubble that could lead to future trouble. (Don Pittis/CBC)

But there are signs that the practical motivation for rising prices may be changing to the kind of speculative frenzy seen in 2016 and 2017 that the government tried to quell with tax measures and stress tests some of which were relaxed last year.

“What we get worried about is when we start to see extrapolative expectations, when we start to see people expecting the kind of unsustainable price rises we’ve seen recently go on indefinitely, and they’re basing their decision on those kinds of assumptions,” he warned.

And while he did not describe what kind of actions he would take to stimulate jobs without overstimulating housing, Macklem said the bank would keep a close eye on the housing market and think about how to contain a housing bubble that could lead to future trouble.

“When we see people starting to buy houses solely because they think prices are going to go up, that is a warning sign for us,” he told the audience. “We are starting to see some early signs of excess exuberance.”

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis

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