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WestJet's retreat from Atlantic Canada pushes the federal government into a corner – CBC.ca

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Two hours after WestJet announced on Wednesday that it was curtailing its flights to and from Atlantic Canada, an email went out to all MPs and senators from Liberal MP Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on all aspects of the Canadian economy, but few industries have been more negatively impacted than the air sector,” Bittle wrote in a letter first obtained by Radio-Canada.

“Many of you have reached out to us to share your thoughts about the current impact of COVID-19 on the air sector. At this stage, we would like to hear from all parliamentarians [on] what is required to support a robust air sector in Canada.”

Last month’s throne speech promised “further support for industries that have been the hardest hit, including travel,” and the government’s consultations on support for the air sector apparently were due to start this week.

While demands for government aid to the air travel sector have been building for months, WestJet’s regional retreat will drive those demands to a new level.

For the federal government, the case for doing something to prop up airlines and airports might be stronger than the case for doing nothing. But even if the government wants — or needs — to intervene, it still has to work out a way to do so that it can defend politically.

Bubble trouble

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King was among those calling on the federal government to take action on Wednesday. But it’s the region’s own “Atlantic bubble” pandemic policy — which imposes registration requirements on travellers from outside of Atlantic Canada and compels them to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the region — that has caused the demand for flights in and out of the region to crater.

The Liberals probably don’t want to be blamed if reductions in air service across the country become permanent. And sure enough, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC’s Power & Politics that he came away from a conversation with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc on Wednesday with the impression that “something’s going to happen” for the ailing industry.

WATCH | Atlantic premiers concerned as WestJet ends most flights in region:

Premiers are expressing concern after WestJet announced it would shut down most of its operations in Atlantic Canada. 9:52

The federal response to the pandemic has not ignored the country’s largest companies. All businesses have been able to access the federal wage subsidy. In May, the Liberals rolled out a targeted loan program known as the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF).

WestJet has made use of the wage subsidy; Richard Bartrem, VP of marketing communications at WestJet, called it “terrifically helpful.” WestJet has not sought assistance through the LEEFF program.

“The conditions that were placed [on] it just made it unwieldy in terms of our ability to recover from the pandemic,” Bartrem said.

Critics have claimed LEEFF was rolled out too late and offers loans at terms less generous than what is available in the private sector. (When it was introduced, then-finance minister Bill Morneau called the program an option of “last resort” — so it might have been designed to not be popular.)

Only one company has been approved for a LEEFF loan to date, according to the federal government. Not long after the federal government announced that loan to Gateway Casinos (which operates 26 facilities across Canada), Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre was on his feet in the House of Commons ripping into the decision as an irresponsible use of public funds.

That’s the risk a government takes whenever it offers help to specific firms or industries — even in the midst of a global economic crisis.

The nationalization route

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has had to fend off questions already about compelling airlines to refund customers for flights that were cancelled by the pandemic.

At the time, Garneau’s stated reason for not forcing airlines to offer refunds seemed practical. Some struggling airlines might have collapsed completely if they were forced to pay back that money, he said. But if (or when) the federal government offers airlines support, the political conflict over refunds will come roaring back.

When Chrystia Freeland became finance minister in August, the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents major carriers, wrote to her to outline a request for financial support in the form of “loans, loan guarantees or direct assistance.” Airline unions have asked for $7 billion in federal loans.

The airlines also want “a national framework to ease interprovincial travel restrictions … reciprocal border agreements with targeted safe countries” and the deployment of rapid COVID-19 testing.

Other countries have moved already to rescue their national carriers — in some cases through outright nationalization. The German government, for instance, now owns 20 per cent of Lufthansa. In Canada, any nationalization presumably would have to involve both Air Canada and WestJet.

LEEFF’s limitations notwithstanding, the program’s design suggests the government knew that it would have to justify and defend any effort to bail out a major corporate entity. LEEFF loan recipients have to abide by conditions that include restrictions on executive compensation and a requirement for climate-risk disclosure. Perhaps new conditions would help make loans for airlines more politically acceptable.

The political downside to bailouts

But even if the Trudeau government changed the terms of LEEFF to make it more industry-friendly, it still could be left to explain why the airline industry — or any other group of wounded firms — deserves special attention right now.

The Liberals have avoided taking a sector-specific approach to pandemic relief to date. If they start providing sector-specific assistance now, the floodgates will open — other sectors will demand the same assistance, or at least call on the Liberals to explain where they’re drawing the line and why.

The government’s throne speech specifically mentioned one avenue for assistance: supporting regional routes for airlines. “It is essential that Canadians have access to reliable and affordable regional air services,” the speech said. “This is an issue of equity, of jobs, and of economic development.”

That’s a justification for targeted support. Would that be enough?

There’s also the question of timing. As Premier Higgs acknowledged in his interview with Power & Politics, financial support will be of limited use as long as large numbers of people are uncomfortable with the idea of flying — and have nowhere to go.

Free-market disciples might turn their noses up at all of this, but the Trudeau government probably doesn’t see this as the right moment to insist on laissez-faire economics. And perhaps the other federal parties will be reluctant to make the case for doing nothing as well.

For Trudeau, the challenge is to come up with an approach that makes things better — without making his government’s political burden significantly heavier.

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Ontario reports 821 new cases of COVID-19, 2nd-most since resurgence began in August – CBC.ca

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Ontario reported 821 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the second-most on a single day since a resurgence of the illness began in the province in mid-August.

Toronto once again saw the most with 327, while 136 were recorded Peel Region and 79 in Ottawa.

The new case count is the highest number the province has seen in the second wave, since 939 cases were reported on Oct. 9. The seven-day average of new daily cases, which had been slowly dropping over the last several days, ticked back up with today’s update and is now about 743. 

Notably, just over 24,000 tests were completed yesterday — the lowest number of tests Ontario has processed on  a single day since Sept. 9. The province previously said it aimed to be processing 50,000 tests per day by mid-October, and as many as 68,000 daily by mid-November. 

The number of confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus in Ontario is 6,237, an all-time high.

Hospitalizations, as well as the number of patients in intensive care and using ventilators, all went up. Hospitalizations rose from 252 yesterday to 274 today, ICU patients went from 69 yesterday to 72 today, and people in the ICU using ventilators went from 40 to 45. 

The province is also reporting three more deaths.

Premier appeals to people with symptoms to get tested

Asked Tuesday about the relatively low levels of testing in the last 24 hours, Premier Doug Ford said the province’s labs have now cleared through a backlog of tests that once ballooned to more than 90,000 and that there is capacity for as many as 50,000 daily, but that people can’t be forced to be tested.

Ford said the province has set up additional testing units in hotspots, but some people seem to be holding back from getting an assessment.

The province changed its testing guidelines last month, making COVID-19 tests available only to symptomatic people by appointment at its assessment centres.

The change came after the government was heavily criticized for hours-long lineups at walk-in testing centres that assessed people with or without symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ontario is extending most of its emergency orders until Nov. 21 as the province faces a resurgence of COVID-19.

In a news release Tuesday, the provincial government announced the extension will be in place for 30 days with exceptions for orders around pandemic pricing on electricity and electronic access to personal health records.

“With the cold and flu season upon us and the continuing high number of COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the province, it’s critical we continue to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of Ontarians,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.  

Masks not required in dance studios, province says

The province has also updated its pandemic rules to allow dance classes to resume in Ontario’s four hot spot areas.

Asked Tuesday why small fitness studios aren’t allowed to open under the current regulations but dance studios are, Ford drew a distinction between the two saying that unlike fitness studios, dance studios are cohorted.

The province announced this week that dance classes will be allowed to resume in hotspot areas as long as dances are pre-registered and physical distancing is observed.

Masks are not required inside the studios.

Asked why that is, Health Minister Christine Elliott told reporters Tuesday, “It’s because of the distance and the separation between the dancers that can be maintained such that the masks aren’t necessarily required.”

Airborne transmission of COVID-19 however has not been ruled out, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updating its guidance this month to say infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. 

NDP bring motion to eliminate for-profit LTCs as some face insurance woes

Also Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she would introduce a motion to remove for-profit companies from the long-term care system and replace them with an “all non-profit and public system.”

“We need to take action to protect seniors and fix the long-term care system for good, and we have to do it now,” Horwath said in a tweet.

A vote on the motion is expected this afternoon. 

Meanwhile, some of Ontario’s long-term care homes are having trouble securing liability insurance for COVID-19, a situation that could force some of them to close, says a group representing more than 70 per cent of the province’s homes.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association says its homes are being offered new policies without a key provision: coverage for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The association has now turned to the federal government for help, saying potential claims could place a burden on the homes’ finances, and that loans could be denied over the lack of coverage.

Previously, long-term care homes received $5-million to $10-million coverage for damages or claims related to infectious diseases, CEO Donna Duncan said.

Now, insurance companies are including a “contagious disease exclusion endorsement” in policies for the homes, she said.

Her association has pleaded its case to the federal government in a letter sent late last week, asking Ottawa to provide a “backstop” and essentially insure the insurance companies.

Ontario to provide COVID-19 liability protection to some workers, businesses

Also Tuesday, Attorney General Doug Downey introduced a new bill that would provide liability protection to some workers, businesses and non-profits against COVID-19 exposure-related lawsuits. 

Downey says the bill, if passed, would ensure anyone making an “honest effort” to follow public health guidelines while working or volunteering not be exposed to liability. The bill will not prevent lawsuits against those who willfully, or through “gross negligence”, endanger others, he said.

The government says health-care workers and institutions, front-line retail workers, and charities and non-profits would be covered by the bill.

The legislation would also cover coaches, volunteers and minor sports associations.

Outbreak at CAMH worsens   

Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is reporting three more patients have tested positive for COVID-19 on a unit at its Queen Street site.

It follows confirmation Sunday of an outbreak at the unit, when it said two people had COVID-19.

Two other Toronto hospitals also confirmed outbreaks over the weekend. 

The centre says it has implemented standard infection prevention and control procedures for respiratory outbreaks, including closing the unit to admissions and transfers. 

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How Nigerian forces opened fire on Protest in Lagos

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Protest in Lagos against police brutality  turned bloody on Tuesday despite a state-wide curfew, with eyewitnesses telling News Media that multiple demonstrators have been shot by soldiers.

Demonstrators have taken part in daily protests across the country for nearly two weeks over widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment, and extortion by a police unit know as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Tuesday saw the state governor impose a 24-hour curfew and deploy anti-riot police to the city.
One witness at the protests, Akinbosola Ogunsanya, said the shooting began after the lights were turned off at the Nigerian city’s Lekki tollgate. “Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” he said. “They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I just survived, barely.”
Ogunsanya added that barricades on either side of the scene were blocking ambulances.
Another witness, Temple Onanugbo, said he heard what he believed were bullets being fired from his home nearby and that the sound lasted “for about 15 to 30 minutes.”
Speaking to News Media from the scene of the shooting, Onanugbo said he saw “multiple bodies laying on the ground,” when he arrived to help those injured.
The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident, according to the Lagos Governor’s spokesman, Gboyega Akosile. According to a tweet by Akosile, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also “advised security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew.”
The protests at the Lekki toll gate have been mostly peaceful, with demonstrators singing the national anthem, staging sit-ins, and praying.
Earlier in the day, Sanwo-Olu had imposed a 24-hour curfew, including the closure of all Lagos schools. Only essential service providers and first responders have permission to be on the streets of Lagos, which has an estimated population of more than 20 million people.
“Dear Lagosians, I have watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society,” Sanwo-Olu tweeted as he announced the 4 pm (local time) curfew.
SARS was disbanded on October 11 and a new police unit to replace it will be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Reuters reported Monday. Protest in Lagos are demanding further protections against the police, including independent oversight and psychological evaluation of officers.
Death and severe injuries amid the protests have been reported since the weekend.
Amnesty International said on its Twitter account Tuesday that it has received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters.”
A 17-year-old died in police custody on Monday in Kano, a city in the north of the country, after allegedly being tortured, according the human rights group. Many protestors and journalists were assaulted by police and thugs in the capital Abuja on the same day. Videos on social media show dozens of cars belonging to protestors burning and Amnesty International said three people died.
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Canada sees 2,341 new coronavirus cases as deaths near 10,000

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Canada added 2,341 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the country’s total case count to 203,476.

Health authorities in Canada’s provinces also said another 16 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

The new fatalities bring the country’s total death toll to 9,794.

News of the new infections comes as health officials work to slow the spread of the virus as Canada faces a second wave of the pandemic.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the fight against the virus is “far from over.”

“And to win it, we have to keep working together,” he said. “Canada is a big country, the pandemic is playing out differently in different provinces and territories.

“That’s why I’m asking everyone to keep following the guidelines of their local public health authorities.”

In Ontario, 821 new cases were reported, and health officials said three more fatalities had occurred.

The new infections bring the province’s total case count to 65,896, and its death toll to 3,053.

However, 56,606 people have recovered from the virus, while 4,714,326 tests have been administered in Ontario.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, 877 new cases of the respiratory illness were detected and health authorities confirmed 11 more people have died.

Since the pandemic began, 95,216 people have contracted the respiratory illness in the province.

Thus far, 80,468 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Quebec, while 2,839,254 people have been tested.

Forty-three new cases of the virus were reported in Saskatchewan on Tuesday, but the province’s death toll remained at 25.

A total of 233,017 tests for the novel coronavirus have been administered in Saskatchewan, while 1,987 people have recovered after falling ill.

Manitoba saw 109 new cases of the virus, but no new deaths.

Since the pandemic began, 1,703 people have recovered after contracting the illness, while 235,530 tests have been conducted.

Further west in Alberta, 323 new cases were reported, and health authorities said one more person had died, bringing the province’s death toll to 293.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Alberta has seen 22,996 COVID-19 infections, however, 19,500 people have recovered.

To date, 1,653,361 tests for the novel coronavirus have been administered.

British Columbia health officials said 166 new cases have been detected, and one more person has died.

The new infections bring the province’s total case load to 11,641.

One epidemiologically-linked case was also reported, meaning it has not yet been confirmed by a laboratory.

B.C. has seen 9,871 people recover from the respiratory illness and health officials have administered 736,637 tests.

No new infections or deaths related to COVID-19 were reported in New Brunswick, meaning the province’s total case count remained at 313.

So far, 215 people have recovered after becoming sick.

Provincial health authorities have administered 93,656 tests to date.

Nova Scotia did not report any new cases or deaths relating to the virus, either.

This means the province’s case count and death toll remained at 1,097 and 65, respectively.

A total of 106,748 tests for the virus have been conducted in Nova Scotia, while 1,027 have recovered after contracting COVID-19.

One new coronavirus case was detected in Prince Edward Island, bringing the province’s total case load to 64.

However, 61 of those cases are considered to be resolved.

The island, which has not yet seen a death associated with COVID-19, has conducted 42,377 tests.

Newfoundland did not detect any new infections or deaths on Tuesday.

The province, which has seen 287 confirmed cases, has not reported a new case since Thursday.

So far, 272 people have recovered from the virus, while 49,117 have been tested.

New case in the territories

One new case was reported in the Northwest Territories on Tuesday, bringing the total case count in the region to six.

However, five of those cases are considered to be resolved. The territory has tested 5,939 people to date.

In the Yukon, 17 cases of the virus have been confirmed, 15 of which are considered to be resolved.

The territory has not yet seen a COVID-19 related death, and has tested 3,785 people.

Nunavut has not yet seen a confirmed case of the virus.

Global cases approach 41 million

The number of novel coronavirus cases remained under 41 million on Tuesday.

According to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, by 7:20 p.m. ET there were a total of 40,652,097 COVID-19 cases around the world.

Since the virus was first detected in China late last year, it has claimed 1,122,036 lives.


The United States remained the country with the greatest amount of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with more than 8.2 million infections.

So far, more than 220,000 people have died in the U.S. after testing positive for coronavirus.

India has reported the second-most cases at 7.5 million, and has seen over 115,000 fatalities.

 

 

Source:- Global News

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